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In my final preparations for moving to the seacoast this coming weekend, it’s dawned on me how my workflow will be a lot different, whether I like it or not.
For the next six months, I’ll be living and working in a myriad of places, spending most of my blogging time at the picturesque beaches at the beautiful Mediterranean city of Rovinj, situated on the north Adriatic Sea in Croatia.
Thanks to its all-day battery, a 13-inch 2013 MacBook Air will be the cornerstone of my mobile office, with a little help from my 128GB iPad Air doubling as a cellular hotspot and a second screen device for social media interactions.
I’m also adamant to have a flexible iPad stand wherever I go, one that would prop up my device for easier reading and at the same time provide the flexibility of prolonged typing at slightly slanted angles.
Desktop iPad stands such as the recently reviewed Slope by Dekke are out of the question – they’re bulky and too impractical for outdoor use. Luckily, there’s no shortage of mobile stands that are a joy to carry around.
The second-generation Compass for iPad by premium accessory maker Twelve South is a dream come true for all you road warriors out there who strive as much for portable nirvana solutions as yours truly.
After spending nearly a month with the Compass 2, I’m happy to report that it’s one of the best portable tablets stands around. It’s so compact it fits in your pocket (or a purse/handbag) and versatile enough to support slanted typing or prop up the device…
Before we dive into the Twelve South Compass 2 review, it must be noted that the accessory has been conceived as a portable multipurpose iPad stand which folds out in an instant to become a comfortable typing stand. Or, it can serve as a tripod-like easel holding your device in portrait or widescreen mode at about a 55-degree angle for comfortable hands-free use.How’s this thing different from Compass 1?
Twelve South engineers have retooled the already amazing 2010 Compass with a tweaked design making it play nicely with any iPad model, including the current-generation iPad Air and iPad mini. It has a more FaceTime-friendly viewing angle and is wider so more stable, too.
Compared to the original, Compass 2 is a bit taller, 0.2 inch wider and a hair (0.1 inch) thicker. Closed, it’s 180mm wide, 29.6mm tall and 12.7mm deep, though notably heavier at 8.2 ounces (232 grams) versus the original’s 6.8 ounces (193 grams).
Another improvement: Compass 2 stands higher off the ground, providing about an inch of space for easy access to charging so you can hook up a Lightning cable underneath without worrying about breaking it.Packaging
Best product experiences start with packaging – just ask Apple, whose product boxes are as meticulously design as the gadgets inside them.
Twelve South’s design prowess are evident in the eye-catching tall and narrow box which could be easily mistaken for a premium Swiss chocolate or a pricey necklace were it not for the transparent top exposing parts of the product.
If only other people paid more attention to their boxes.Design and build quality
If only other people paid more attention to their boxes.
Twelve South has made a name for itself by designing accessories with great build quality and Compass 2 is no exception. The minute you hold it in your hand, you’ll become fully aware this is a thoughtfully designed accessory.
Forged from heavy gauge steel and with accented rubber segments serving as a form of device protection (more on that later), Compasss 2 is sturdy and doesn’t feel like it’s going to break if you look at it the wrong way.
Compass 2 next to Dekke’s Slope iPad stand.
Compass 2 next to Dekke’s Slope iPad stand.
Thanks to smart engineering, it folds flat to literally fit inside your pocket, stowing in an included 7×1 inch padded nylon travel case (instead of a velvet one like before). Air travelers needn’t worry: Compass 2 doesn’t violate any TSA restrictions so airport security shouldn’t have any issues with it.How does Compass 2 work?
Compass 2 supports two modes: the 55-degree angle for enjoying content and the low-angle typing mode at about fifteen degrees.
There are three large legs: two upfront ones, each sporting a smaller leg to hold your device upright, and a third leg on the back to stabilizes the stand at a 55-degree angle.
To transform from viewing to the typing angle, you just close the back leg and fold down a shortened secondary one in the middle of it. This will allow you to rest your device at a low-angle position suitable for typing.
The original edition suffered from its front legs not being close enough to support the iPad mini in portrait orientation comfortably. Compass 2 has addressed this design oversight by bringing the front legs about an inch and a half closer together so now your full-size iPad and iPad mini now both can be docked easily.
In the background: my 13-inch MacBook Air on top of Twelve South’s BookBook case.
To ensure the metal stand won’t scratch your iPad – or your table, for that matter – Twelve South has covered every piece that touches the device in soft protective silicone which adds extra grip.
This includes not only the legs, but also the arm supports and – as an added nice touch – the Twelve South logo itself. And don’t fret about the whole stand wobbling when typing on your iPad or tapping on-screen objects.
That’s because the silicone protection does a really good job of keeping the stand attached to most surfaces, including glossy worktops like mine. It also prevents the device from shifting when placed upon the stand and reduces wear on surfaces.
It certainly pays to agonize over every detail.What’s it good for?
It certainly pays to agonize over every detail.
I’ve found the 55-degree angle perfect for FaceTime. It’s just more natural because the stand elevates your iPad so the camera sits higher.
When propped up in portrait or landscape, your iPad also becomes the perfect canvas to show off your vacation photos to friends and family, watch video and listen to music enhanced with full-screen cover artwork.
It’s not just about media consumption: the upright mode lends itself nicely to keeping tabs on Twitter and other social media channels or engaging in a myriad of other second-screen activities which don’t require a lot of typing, copying and pasting.
In fact, I wrote this entire review on my iPad – the first half on the train and the rest while sipping my coffee in the sunshine in a trendy little part of the city this morning – and not once did I feel impeded by the imperfections of typing on the virtual keyboard.Do I need one?
I’ve tried many different kinds of stands for my iPad.
Compared to Dekke’s Slope Slope, Belkin’s FlipBlade Adjust and a host of other more or less innovative tablet stands, Compass 2 emerges victorious in terms of versatility, good looks and portability. It’s just way sturdier and more functional than the original.
If you’re in the market for a fully functional, truly portable and yet affordable iPad stand, I’d seriously recommend giving Compass 2 a shot. But wait, why not use the Smart Cover instead?, I hear your cry.
This is why…
Apple’s Smart Cover (left) vs Compass 2 (right).
Apple’s Smart Cover (left) vs Compass 2 (right).
The thing I’ve always hated about Apple’s Smart Cover and loved about Compass 2 is that it elevates my device up out of the danger zone, in either orientation. If you’ve ever used an iPad in the kitchen to follow recipes while cooking, you’re aware of the dangers of your iPad getting soaked in spilt milk.
Laugh all you will, but a lot of people tend to check out the news while enjoying their tea in the morning, FaceTime while having lunch, sift through their email and enjoy their smoothie at the same time and what not.
If you multitask like this, you’ll be glad that Compass 2 elevates your device out of these typical danger zones. Besides, it does resemble a kitchen until a bit, doesn’t it?Shut up and take my money
If you’re going to be using an ultra-portable tablet such as an iPad wherever you go, you better pair it with an equally portable stand.
Compass 2 is available in Silver, Tactical Black or Candy Apple Red for $39.99 at Amazon. It ships free in the United States, and for a low flat rate in a bunch of international markets.
The asking price is the same as Apple’s less functional Smart Cover and compares rather favorably to the vast majority of multi-angle iPad stands from other vendors.Compass 2 at a glance
• Fixed angles: can’t adjust the upright/slanted angle
Buy the Twelve South Compass 2 it on Amazon
You're reading Twelve South Compass 2 Review: This Ultra
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is a big, ugly brick of a phone that does its best to make up for it in sheer specs. It almost succeeds too, with best-in-class display, phenomenal performance, and a compelling camera offering that’s let down only by its inconsistency. Factor in rubbish battery life on the Exynos variants available in the UK and Europe, and the S20 Ultra is really only for the specs-obsessed.
What to do with a phone like the Galaxy S20 Ultra? Samsung’s biggest phone yet is a specs monster that cranks everything up to 11 – and camera zoom all the way to 100. But all that power comes at a price – both literal and metaphorical.
While fantastic in many circumstances, the camera setup has some obvious weak points that make photo quality inconsistent, and battery life on the international model is poor despite a huge cell. Samsung is asking you to compromise on size, design, battery, and price all for the sake of souped up specs and a camera that still just isn’t the best around. That’s a trade-off I don’t think many people would – or should – make.Price and availability: How much!?
It probably goes without saying, but the S20 Ultra isn’t cheap. Starting at £1,199/ $1,399 for 128GB storage and jumping up to £1,399/$1,599 for 512GB it actually costs even more than Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Flip foldable at full spec, and is cheaper only than the Galaxy Fold out of the Korean giant’s current lineup.
You might be more tempted by the regular S20 or S20+. They start from £799/$999 and £999/$1,199 respectively, and offer almost all the same specs as the Ultra in smaller form factors – it’s only really in the camera where the Ultra pulls apart.
Depending on spec the Ultra is actually pricier than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which starts from £1,149/$1,099 (though with only 64GB storage) and is comfortably more than almost every Android rival. And with top spec flagships from other brands available for hundreds less, Samsung has an even harder time than ever convincing people to pay its premium.
To be blunt, at this price point this phone either needs to be damn near perfect, or it needs to excel so fantastically in one or two areas that it justifies the omissions elsewhere. The S20 Ultra just isn’t quite there.Design and build: Chief of chonk
The first thing you need to know about the S20 Ultra is that it’s big. Like, really big. A heckin’ chonker of a phone.
You might like big phones. You might be used to an S9+ or S10+, or maybe even one of Samsung’s Note phones. This is bigger than any of them.
And not just in terms of the gargantuan 6.9in display, interrupted only by a hole-punch camera, now smaller and central . I mean sure, that’s an enormous screen (bigger even than the 6.8in panel in last year’s Note 10+) but razor thin bezels take the edge off – literally – and the decision to cut the curves and return to flatter edges keeps the big display easy to use.
The problem is more that the S20 Ultra is thick. And heavy. It feels out of proportion, especially compared to the sleeker S20 and S20+, and unbalanced thanks to the sheer weight of the camera module at one end.
And we’ve got to talk about that camera module. Setting aside the specs for now, the Ultra’s quad camera setup is an eyesore. It takes up a huge chunk of the phone’s rear, sticks out a mile, and the decision to plaster ‘Space Zoom 100x’ on the back of a £1400 phone is almost unconscionable.
Despite being so large there apparently still wasn’t space for a headphone jack, which has been squeezed out across the S20 line. The dedicated Bixby button is gone too, though by default a long press on the power button now activates him instead – something you can change, fortunately.
Throw in the fact that the only colours available on the Ultra model are grey or black – despite flashier finishes being available on the cheaper models – and it’s clear that this phone is an almost pure expression of form over function. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done – but is just getting the job done enough at this price?Camera: Too much but never enough
Let’s talk camera. This is clearly where Samsung’s focus lies, as it’s just about the only area where the Ultra’s specs diverge in a big way from the other S20 phones.
At the heart of the rear setup is a 108Mp f/1.8 (dropping the variable aperture tech Samsung has used for the last couple of years) shooter that serves as the main lens. By default shots aren’t taken at 108Mp, but instead the phone uses pixel binning to combine nine pixels into one (‘nona-binning’ in Samsung’s terminology) to generate crisper, more detailed 12Mp photos with enhanced dynamic range.
Photos are, broadly speaking, great. Between the high pixel count and the sheer size of the sensor, the Ultra’s camera can produce phenomenal levels of detail and deep, vivid colour without veering too far into the over-saturated aesthetic you’d get from the likes of Huawei (though I’d still tone the saturation down a touch if I could).
If you prefer you can switch to taking full 108Mp shots. These take a second to process, so run a little slower, and file sizes range from 30-50MB per shot. It’s a credit to Samsung’s pixel-binning tech that for the most part you won’t be able to tell the difference though, and the main benefit to the high-res photos is the freedom to crop in without losing much crispness or detail – not something you’re likely to need too often. The downside is that the dynamic range is definitely worse in the 108Mp photos, so in most cases I’d recommend sticking to standard shooting.
That 108Mp main sensor is joined by a 12Mp ultra-wide that holds its own surprisingly well against the main lens, together with a depth sensor and arguably the phone’s main selling point: a 48Mp telephoto lens.
If you’re in the US this may be the first super-zoom smartphone you’ve been able to pick up, though those of us elsewhere in the world have seen similar tech already in the Huawei P30 Pro or Oppo Reno 10x Zoom last year.
Like those two phones before, Samsung’s ‘Space Zoom 100x’ actually hinges on a 5x telephoto, which can be cranked up to 100x thanks to extra digital zoom. This is, to be blunt, a shameless gimmick. You do not need 100x zoom and you will not like the photos you take at 100x zoom, not least because without a tripod your hands will never be steady enough to get the shot you want.
Still, as tech gimmicks go it remains a very impressive one, and the 100x max zoom does surpass Huawei and Oppo’s previous limits. And at 5x zoom the lens excels – there’s some loss of vibrancy and colour depth (to be expected with an aperture of f/3.5) and it struggles a little with moving targets like animals, but the detail it can capture is remarkable.
So the S20 Ultra camera is great. When it works.
You may have heard that early samples of the phone had a few photographic flaws, which actually caused me to delay publishing this review while Samsung got me a new handset with a patch that fixed a few.
First up, you can discard any reports of aggressive skin smoothing – this was clearly a software issue, and the patch fixes it entirely, so by the time you get the phone it shouldn’t be a problem.
The other common problem was with the autofocus, and I have more mixed news there. At first the autofocus was incredibly slow, sometimes taking a few seconds to find a focal point. It’s sped up, and is now only slightly sluggish, but pretty much as you’d expect.
Unfortunately, the fix highlights one flaw that Samsung can’t really fix: this is a rubbish camera for macro photography. This is likely a result of the move to the larger 108Mp sensor, which introduces a natural bokeh effect. That’s very welcome most of the time, but the naturally shallow depth of field means photos of close subjects tend to look soft compared to the usual flat focus other phones produce.
You might think you don’t often take close-ups, but the problem isn’t restricted to super-close macro photos – even photographing a plate of food for Instagram tends to leave bits of it in focus and other parts fuzzy. I’d expect more from a phone this price, and I imagine many others would too.
Other camera tricks are fine if not remarkable. Night mode is improved by the larger sensor, but Samsung’s algorithm game is still behind Apple and Google’s, especially when it comes to handling mixed light sources, so the results are good but still not the best around despite the hardware improvements, especially when it comes to white balance. The option to do night-time hyperlapses is also a fun tool that few of us will ever use more than once.
Single Take is a handy feature for the indecisive among us, letting you capture up to 10 seconds and then using an algorithm to generate a few short videos and photos from different lenses, in theory getting the best moments all at once. It actually works very well, with one caveat: it slaps some aggressive stock music on top of all of your videos, getting in the way of any audio you might have actually wanted to capture.
Fortunately the S20 Ultra is better on regular video, shooting 4K at 60fps and even 8K at 30fps. You almost certainly don’t need to shoot in 8K (the file sizes are monstrous, and what are you even going to watch it back on?) but the fact that a phone can do it, and do it pretty well, remains mind blowing. I can’t show you though, because YouTube won’t let me upload an 8K video sample anyway – yet further proof that the rest of the tech world just isn’t there yet.
You can also jump directly between the front and back cameras while shooting video (though not 8K, to be clear) letting you seamlessly jump between filming yourself and something else – a vlogger’s dream no doubt.
As for that selfie camera, there’s just the one, but it’s an f/2.2 40Mp sensor (a big jump from the 10Mp on the other S20s). Samsung still cheats a bit by letting you switch between ‘regular’ and ‘wide’ within the camera app, but this is really just a choice between using the full lens and a cropped version.
Either way, shots look great (besides suffering the same skin softening problems as the rear camera). There’s a narrower colour range than from the rear lenses, but impressive detail – though we’re surely hitting the upper limit for selfie cameras here, as no-one needs to see my close-up pores in any more detail than this.Display: Big and beautiful
If the camera is the biggest draw in the S20 Ultra, the display is a close second.
I’ve already mentioned the sheer size – 6.9in for the forgetful – but it’s a phenomenal display beyond that, and perhaps the best in any smartphone right now. The Super AMOLED panel caps out at 3200×1440, supports HDR10+, and can display at a refresh rate of 120Hz.
read our refresh rate explainer for a more detailed breakdown. A faster refresh rate means smoother scrolling, more fluid animations, and the potential for higher frame rates while gaming. Most phones have 60Hz displays, and a few – like the latest OnePlus models – have 90Hz. Samsung isn’t the first to add 120Hz (that was the Razer Phone) but it is the first to put such a fast display in a mainstream, non-gaming device.
The results speak for themselves, and the S20 Ultra is as beautiful from the front as it is an eyesore from behind. The panel here is bright and vivid, with deep contrast, excellent viewing angles, and all the benefits 120Hz brings. The choice to rein in the curved edges pays off too, increasing usability enormously while leaving just enough of a rounded edge to look the part.
The other major caveat is that the two top features – 3200×1440 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate – are incompatible. This is presumably in an effort to save the battery (more on that next) as both are major power draws, but if you crank up the refresh rate to full you’ll have to drop the resolution to 2400×1080, and vice versa.
Essentially you’ll have to choose between smoother animations or higher resolution imagery (or just drop both down to conserve power further). Either way you’re unlikely to be unhappy though, and while the option to combine the two might be appealing, the potentially battery impact would not be.Battery: Exynos strikes again
So yeah, let’s talk battery. It isn’t good, despite the generous 5,000mAh capacity.
It’s worth pointing out that I’ve been reviewing a model with Samsung’s own Exynos 990 processor. That’s what ships in most parts of the world, though the US and a select few other markets get S20 phones with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, and from talking to North American reviewers it sounds like those models might have better battery life.
As for mine, I’ve seen all-day battery life, but not by much. Most days I’ve used the S20 Ultra it’s been on about 20% when I go to bed, after anywhere between 3 and 5 hours of screen-on time. That’s fine, but it’s really the bare minimum for a new phone, and I worry that after 12+ months of use it might not make it to the end of the day any more.
The big caveat is that this is using the 120Hz refresh rate, and switching down to 60Hz (while leaving resolution down at FHD+, not max) does seem to help, though not by as much as you’d think – I’d estimate it saved me 10% or so across a full day’s use at most. That reinforces the sense that the issue here is less the display and more the power-hungry Exynos chipset – echoing similar issues with the S10 series.
Of course, some will say that if you care about battery you should turn down the refresh rate, lower the resolution, switch off 5G and more. Those trade-offs might be worth it for some, but for my part I think it defeats the point of spending over a grand on a top-of-the-line flagship if you then have to turn half the features off in order to keep it running.
It helps that charging is fast. Samsung ships a 25W wired USB-C charge with the Ultra, which was capable of taking my phone from empty to 56% in half an hour. It’s actually capable of charging even faster – 45W – but you’ll have to buy the more powerful charger separately. It’s also capable of 12W wireless charging – the same speed as last year’s S10 phones.5G: Future-proof
5G is one of the other headline features – it’s technically in the phone’s full name after all – though I’d still hesitate to consider 5G alone a reason to upgrade.
Our Exynos model only supports sub-6 frequencies – the type currently used in European infrastructure – though the US Snapdragon models also support mmWave, which makes them a bit more future-proof.
I’ve been testing the S20 Ultra with a Vodafone 5G SIM, and while 5G speeds are impressive coverage still isn’t widespread enough – even in central London, where our office is – so it remains a challenge to actually find a 5G connection.
That will improve of course, and so there’s an argument for getting a 5G phone now so that you’re ready for when the networks get better in a year or two’s time, especially since almost every new flagship this year will have 5G support.
Essentially, don’t count the 5G support against the Ultra even if you are a skeptic, but don’t think of it as a key reason to make the upgrade.Specs and performance: Ultra fast
As for the rest of the specs, they’re predictably monstrous. The aforementioned Exynos 990 (or Snapdragon 865) is joined by 12GB or 16GB of fast LPDDR5 RAM, and 128GB or 512GB of storage.
The phone is whip fast, and comfortably handles anything you can throw at it. That’s reflected in our benchmark scores too, which are among the fastest we’ve ever recorded – though I still can’t help but wonder if the Snapdragon variant would be that little bit faster.
The phone comes in single SIM and dual SIM variants, and each supports MicroSD cards up to 1TB. Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC round out the connectivity features, while from a security standpoint you get the same face unlock and ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner as in last year’s Samsung flagships.Software: Same ol’, same ol’
The S20 Ultra ships with Android 10 – the latest version of Google’s operating system – along with Samsung’s One UI 2.
After last year’s overhaul the company has been more conservative from a software standpoint this year, and the main additions are handy sharing features that will only work with other Samsung Galaxy users.
Quick Share is essentially AirDrop for Galaxy phones, while Music Sharing lets friends connect to your Bluetooth speaker through your phone without worrying about fiddly pairing processes, but both are exclusive to other recent Samsung devices, so they’ll only help if all your friends grab Samsung phones too.
Power users will enjoy a feature that lets you lock up to three (or five, on the higher RAM model) apps into memory so that they always open quickly, and right where you left them (as if I need anything to help me spend more time on Twitter). Most people won’t care, but then I guess this phone isn’t for most people anyway.
The only other major software addition is Spotify integration into Bixby routines, which is great news if you’re one of the three people who uses Bixby routines and also has a Spotify subscription.Verdict
The S20 Ultra is not a phone that most people should buy. It’s too expensive for most people to afford, too big for most people to want, and too ugly for the remaining few to ever want to show off.
Still, it’s a phone packed with technical achievements, not least in the camera, which at its best is capable of outclassing every competing flagship, even if it’s maddeningly inconsistent and struggles in closeups.
The 120Hz refresh rate is the crowning jewel to what might be the best display on a phone right now, but the hit to battery life makes it bittersweet – a problem exacerbated by Samsung’s continued insistence on shipping its inferior Exynos chipsets in handsets outside the US, leaving them with reduced battery life and hamstrung performance.
If the camera is the only thing you consider when buying a phone the S20 Ultra makes a compelling case for itself, but for everyone else it just goes a few compromises too far.Related stories for further reading Specs Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Specs
Android 10 with One UI
6.9in Wide Quad HD+ (3200×1440) Dynamic AMOLED 2X
120Hz refresh rate
Exynos 990 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 octa-core processor
128/512GB internal storage
microSD card slot (up to 1TB)
108Mp, f/1.8, OIS rear camera + 12Mp ultra wide, f/2.2 + 48Mp Tele, f/3.5 + depth sensor
40Mp, f/2.2 front camera
Embedded Ultrasonic Fingerprint scanner
2D Face Recognition
11ax dual-band Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
5G NSA/SA/DSS over Sub-6 or Sub-6 & mmWave (Snapdragon only)
5000mAh non-removable battery
45W wired charging (25W charger included)
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
IP68 dust & waterproof rating
166.9 x 76.0 x 8.8mm
Excellent Android skin
Solid battery life
Programmable lights on the backCons
Cameras are below par
Screen hard to see outdoors
Only IP54Our Verdict
The Nothing Phone (2) is a small hardware upgrade over the Phone (1), with a better display and chipset. The software is improved too, but the cameras remain behind the competition.
It’s hard to start a technology company from nothing – perhaps that’s one of the reasons former OnePlus exec Carl Pei named his new company Nothing back in 2023.
So far, the brand has released a phone and three models of earbuds. The hype it builds around its products works well in tech enthusiast circles but hasn’t yet broken through into the mainstream.
Nothing’s new smartphone, the Nothing Phone (2), is an improved version of 2023’s Nothing Phone (1) and I’m not sure it’s going to help the company break through, even though it is getting a full US release. It has a very similar design and camera and feels almost identical in day-to-day use.
The software is better, but the older phone is promised an update with the improved OS, so it’s not a reason for existing owners to upgrade.
It means the Nothing Phone (2) is a solid, well-priced mid-range phone at $599/£579/€679 – but there are a lot of those on the market already. Not all of them have programmable flashing lights on the back, though.Design & build
Programmable LED lights
I’ll do my darnedest not to spend this whole review comparing the Phone (2) to the Phone (1) – but not much has changed here:
Nothing Phone (1) (top), Nothing Phone (2) (bottom)
Henry Burrell / Foundry
That said, I commend Nothing for at least doing something interesting with the design. Everyone who saw me using the Phone (2) wanted to know what it was (or thought it was an iPhone).
The Phone (2) is well built with a 100% aluminium frame and transparent glass on the back showing a neat array of internals and ‘glyph’ LED light strips that flash to signal calls, notifications, and other programmable things.
These lights are a little different to the Phone (1) – for instance the central light is now in six strips rather than one, and the camera lights are split in two. The lights nearest the bottom can indicate the charging level while face down.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
One of the central light strips now has 16 different sections and can be used to show the progress of a countdown timer, your volume level, or even how long until your Uber arrives. Nothing is hoping for more third-party app buy-in, but there’s much less utility in a single light strip compared to what developers can do with information in Apple’s Dynamic Island software on the iPhone 14 Pro.
The glyph lights do make the Phone (2) stand out against the iPhone 12 from which this design was likely cribbed, from the flat sides with curved corners to the rounded display and elongated buttons.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
My review sample is the grey model that is lighter than the closer-to-black of the Phone (1). There’s also a white model I’ve not seen.
The rear glass is slightly curved at the edges for a smooth feel, but the front Gorilla Glass over the display is flat. Overall, the phone’s dimensions are 162.1 x 76.4 x 8.6mm, weighing in at 201g. I find the phone a little cumbersome and certainly can’t use it comfortably with one hand.
I was a little disappointed with the haptics: the vibration motor that buzzes when you use the keyboard is quite rattly and is audible in very quiet rooms. I adjusted it and it improved, but it’s below the quality of more expensive phones.
On the front there’s a nicely even bezel around the edge of the screen that’s punctuated by a central camera cut-out at the top.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
There’s no headphone jack to be seen, with a USB-C port at the bottom. There’s also no charging brick in the box, but you do get Nothing’s lovely transparent-tipped USB-C-to-C cable.
I find the phone a little cumbersome and certainly can’t use it comfortably with one hand
It’s also disappointing the phone only has an IP54 dust and water resistance rating, implying it can handle rain and splashes but won’t survive a dunk in the bath, pool, or sea. The similarly priced Samsung Galaxy A54 and Google Pixel 7a both have superior IP67 ratings.Screen & speakers
Decent stereo speakers
The Nothing Phone (2) has a 6.7in OLED screen, a tad larger than the Phone (1)’s 6.55in.
I found it a good quality display. It can refresh at up to 120Hz and uses LTPO tech to scale the refresh rate right back down to 1Hz when not needed to save battery. Not many phones at this price use LTPO.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
The issue is the panel doesn’t get bright enough. Even indoors with a bit of sun I went to turn up the slider only to see it was at the maximum setting.
Outdoors the screen is very difficult to see clearly. Nothing says it gets up to 1,000 nits outdoors – it’s not enough, and one of the most annoying things about the Phone (2). It can hit 1,600 nits indoors.
Because of this frequent dimness in the sunshine, I often ran the phone in light mode to more easily read the screen – I rarely do this and use most other review phones in dark mode as it’s my preference.
The phone comes fitted with a screen protector out of the box, but it’s cheap and plastic. For a phone that encourages you to put it face down all the time to see the lights on the back, I got some horrendous scratches within three days on mine. You will want a case with a lip to protect the screen, and a transparent one at that, or you won’t able to see the lights.
Because of this frequent dimness in the sunshine, I ran the phone in light mode to easier read the screen – I rarely do this
Dual stereo speakers are table stakes on mid-range phones and the Phone (2) delivers. They get plenty loud and will do for podcasts, YouTube, and gaming, but music sounds a little thin and piercing at high levels.Specs & performance
Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset
The main internal upgrade over Phone (1) is that Phone (2) has the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset, silicon also found in the OnePlus 10T and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4. This gives you 5G support, but check which bands it works with and if it’s compatible with your carrier, particularly in the US.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
It’s not the latest 8 Gen 2 from Qualcomm, but the phone is fast enough for everything from day-to-day use flipping between apps right up to playing Call of Duty Mobile for half an hour with no issues.
It’s not perfect though, and there were moments that I could tell the OS was stalling slightly. This is a powerful phone, but I’ve not found it as smooth in tandem with the software as recent OnePlus or Samsung phones in the same price range.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
My Phone (2) review sample had 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, the former likely helping with performance. You can also opt for the base 8GB/128GB version, or a full fat 12GB/512GB. No models have a microSD slot but all do have dual physical SIM card slots.
Here’s how the phone performed in benchmark tests on the CPU and GPU compared to the Phone (1) and some other similar spec and similar priced rival phones:
The in-screen fingerprint scanner is placed quite low down on the screen and works well, and can also be used for biometric sign-in to third party apps, unlike the face unlock, which is fast and effective for unlocking the phone.Camera & video
Main 50Mp lens disappoints
32Mp front facing
The Phone (2) uses the Sony IMX890 f/1.88 sensor for its main camera, but in reality this is an incredibly similar sensor to the IMX766 used in the Phone (1). It means there are barely any improvements here, and I’ve been disappointed by the shots I’ve taken.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
The IMX890 is actually same sensor used in Pei’s old company’s recent OnePlus 11, which I reviewed, and found its main camera consistent and of excellent quality.
The Nothing Phone (2)’s main camera is not those things. It’s good to shoot with in a pinch, but far from perfect. It’s not as good as the Pixel 7a for still shots, a phone that costs over $100/£100/€100 less.
For a phone marketed partly around its photo improvements, the Phone (2)’s cameras are merely OK
In broad daylight – like most smartphones in 2023 – the main camera is solid. It captures 12Mp stills by default but you can also shoot at full 50Mp. It gives relatively true-to-life colours, with a decent focal range that reacts well when I tapped the screen to change focus:
But Nothing’s image processing is overly aggressive, either sharpening photos too much or adding an orangey tint to skin tones and surfaces in all but the best lighting conditions. It also struggles with bright sun, meaning shots can often blow out the sky or make the subject too dark depending on the focus point:
There’s also bad shutter lag, particularly when zoomed in, and sometimes the shutter button doesn’t react at all.
Video is standard and as good as you’d expect from a phone of this price. It can record at 4K up to 60fps. There is good stabilisation (both optical and electronic) and an action mode that successfully keeps judders down, but it isn’t as good as the action mode on the iPhone 14 (admittedly a pricer phone).
The ultrawide lens is acceptable for taking in more of a scene with its 50Mp f/2.2 Samsung JN1 sensor. It even manages low-light OK, but image quality suffers when you zoom in and notice detail is lost:
Henry Burrell / Foundry
There’s no telephoto lens but you can shoot at 2x with a toggle in the app using digital zoom, and then zoom further up to 8x.
The 32Mp front facing camera is actually the most pleasing of all, producing crisp, bright, well detailed shots:
Henry Burrell / Foundry
For a phone marketed partly around its photo improvements, the Phone (2)’s cameras are merely OK. If camera is your priority, get a Pixel 7a for cheaper.Battery & charging
Decent all-day battery life
15W wireless charging
Battery life is excellent. Unplugging at 7am, I usually had 80% left by midday, and 30% left by 10pm or so. The 4700mAh cell is doing admirable work here, and I reckon the energy-saving LTPO display tech helps too.
In PCMark’s battery test it scored 14 hours and 17 minutes, a very decent score that betters the 5000mAh Galaxy S23 Ultra‘s 12 minutes and 43 minutes.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
There’s no charging brick in the box, but Nothing does give you its nice sort-of-transparent USB-C-to-C cable. Nothing says you can fully charge the phone in 55 minutes at 45W with the right charger – using a compatible one of my own I got it to 32% in 15 minutes and to 65% in 30 minutes, and it indeed hit 100% on 55 exactly.
There’s also 15W wireless charging and the phone itself can act as a 5W charger for accessories like earbuds that have Qi charging built in.
Thoughtful, stylish software skin
Three years of Android updates
Four years of security patches
The Phone (2) runs Android 13 at launch with Nothing OS 2.0, an updated skin. It’s the best thing about the device, offering a genuinely unique look and feel to the home screen. I love it.
Android 13 lets you ‘theme’ apps to a chosen colour palette but requires app developers to offer such a themed app icon. Even on Google Pixel phones if you theme the apps on your home screen, some will likely not play ball and stay colourful.
Nothing OS 2.0 is the best thing about the device, offering a genuinely unique look and feel to the home screen
Nothing has a new icon pack that themes all apps for you. It’s very good, and means icons appear white with a black icon in light mode or black with a white icon in dark mode. It’s also easy to make your home screens look quite different with some tweaks to the layouts, widgets, and Nothing’s wallpapers:
Henry Burrell / Foundry
Aside from the home screen customisation, the OS is actually quite plain. Menu headers and the new always-on display uses a digital clock-style dot matrix font, but otherwise the look and feel are similar to what you might find on a Nokia or Motorola phone that doesn’t change too much from basic Android.
There’s also a ringtone composer (what is this, 2002?) with sounds supplied by Swedish House Mafia, and you can program the glyph lights to flash in sync with your creations. There are ten preset tones for calls and others for notifications, which you can assign to apps or contacts.
I liked the ability to set ‘essential notifications’ – so now if I have the phone face down, one of the lights will stay lit if my wife has messaged me. It’s handy.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
You can flip the phone over to mute it, too, and set things like double tapping the screen to lock it.
Nothing is promising three years of Android updates (to 2026) and four years of security patches every two months (to 2027). That’s solid, and only one year behind Samsung on each front. It’s impressive that a new company is beating the software support of Nokia, Sony, and others. Then again, so far it only has two phones to keep updated.Price & availability
The Nothing Phone (2) starts from $599/£579/€649 for the 8GB RAM/128GB storage model.
You can also get 12GB/256GB for $699/£629/€699 and 12GB/512GB for $799/£699/€799. The latter sounds expensive, but it’s a good price for that much storage.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
Nothing is only selling the Phone (2) through its official store and a few select retail partners. It has no mobile carrier partners for the device.
You could also opt for the excellent Google Pixel 7a, sacrificing an LTPO display for a much better camera at just $499/£449/€509.Verdict
The Nothing Phone (2) has flagship specs at a mid-range price, but it still feels mid-range. The display and camera in particular are disappointing, and the bulky build makes it a large and awkward phone to handle.
Yet Nothing OS 2.0 is excellent, and makes Android feel different from other manufacturers’ phones in a good way. The phone also has great battery life and packs in wireless charging, and the glyph lights are clever – but you’ll either love them or hate them.
Familiar mid-range pitfalls stick out such as an IP54 rating, a dim screen, and sometimes cheap-feeling haptics. But if you love the aesthetic and don’t think the lights are a gimmick, then the Nothing Phone (2) is worth considering, especially as it is guaranteed four years of software support.Specs
6.7in 120Hz LTPO OLED display
50Mp, f/1.8 OIS main camera
50Mp, f/2.2 ultrawide camera
32Mp, f/2.45 selfie camera
45W wired charging
15W wireless charging
5W reverse wireless charging
Glyph Interface LED lights
Android 13 with Nothing OS 2.0
159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3mm
Excellent performance for even hot i9 CPUs
Clean aesthetics and design language
Available in both DDR4 and DDR5Cons
You’ll need an LGA 1700-specific cooler
It’s cheaper than others, but also missing Thunderbolt 4 and more SATA portsOur Verdict
There aren’t a lot of options for mini-ITX builds, but the Gigabyte Z690i Aorus Ultra Plus ITX motherboard stands out for its price-to-performance feature set, and clean design. And as an added bonus, it’s also cheaper than many of its competitors that offer the same (or lesser) specs.
The small form factor gaming PC is not just a fad: It’s now a mainstream choice that promises a pint-sized powerhouse with fewer compromises in 2023.
With the arrival of Intel’s 12th-generation Alder Lake, new technologies such as DDR5 and PCIe Gen 5 are here. That’s not even the exciting part—CPUs such as the Core i9-12900K blaze the trail for gaming and can moonlight as workstations, too. (This mainstream display of CPU virtuosity is partly to blame for the decline in high-end desktops.)
All that power can now fit in the palm of your hands thanks to the Gigabyte Z690i Ultra Plus. It’s the recent upgrade meant to address issues in the original Z690i Ultra. We’ll discuss the strengths and weakness of this motherboard, pricing, features, and if it will work in your build.Gigabyte Z690i Aorus Ultra Plus ITX: The specs
What exactly can you pack into a small motherboard? As it turns out, quite a lot! Let’s take a quick peep at what’s included, and we’ll discuss what features and specs matter most.
A special note: The original Z690i Ultra had a few issue, mostly with system instability when combined with PCIE Gen 4 GPUs. The company opened up an upgrade program that allows owners of the original Z690i Ultra to upgrade to the Z690i Ultra Plus.
It lacks some Thunderbolt 4 ports, but overall a solid connectivity setup.
Mini-ITX form factor (6.7 x 6.7 inches)
Support for Intel 12th-gen Alder Lake LGA 1700 CPUs
10+1+2 Digital VRM with 105 amps
DDR5 RAM (DDR4 version also available)
PCIe Gen 5 16x Slot
Two M.2 slots
HDMI and DisplayPort out
8 USB ports on back, plus front USB3.2 Type C
Intel Wi-Fi 6E
Intel 2.5Gbe LAN
RGB fusion header
2 SATA 6GB/S ports
Q Flash Plus BIOS
Realtek ALC4080 Codec
The Gigabyte Z690i Aorus Ultra Plus offers a clean and aesthetic design.
Thiago TrevisanGigabyte Z690i Aorus Ultra Plus ITX: The features
mentioned in this article
Asus ROG Strix Z690-i
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Impressive list of specs, right? It has almost everything you’d want—the only Z690 Mini ITX motherboard that packs a little bit extra is the Asus Strix-I that we recently reviewed. That includes Thunderbolt 4, and a daughtercard giving you four SATA ports. It comes in at an MSRP of $439, however—much more expensive than the $330 Gigabyte Ultra Plus Z690i here.
Let’s see how it fares:Positive features:
Networking? Check! Newest Wi-FI 6E, and Intel 2.5Gbe LAN
Great power delivery 10+1+2 Direct Digital VRM—Handles i9 12900k? Definitely!
PCIe Gen 5 16x slot
DDR5 RAM, but DDR4 version is also available, which is more of a rarity for ITX Z690
Update BIOS without CPU functionality (you’ll need this when you least expect it, trust us..)
M.2 slot—make that double M.2 slots!
Realtek onboard audio
Improved Gigabyte BIOS for tinkerers
MSRP of $330—cheaper than the $439 Asus option, and only missing a few featuresDownsides:
You’ll need an LGA 1700 specific cooler or bracket; no backwards compatibility with LGA 1200 as with the Asus Z690 offerings
Limited to just two SATA ports
Previous Ultra version had issues that may scare off some new buyers, but Gigabyte seems to have addressed them in this updated version
Seem to be U.S only, so overseas buyers will be limited
Yes, it has a backplate.
Thiago TrevisanGigabyte Z690i Aorus Ultra Plus ITX: Design
It has a backplate! Sorry, had to get that one out of the way first. Otherwise, It’s a little bundle of power. Adorable, isn’t it? With a nice, clean design—it only has subtle clues that it packs a punch with its Aorus styling. The build quality, more importantly, feels solid.
Tastefully done implementation of RGB is here, of course. In most Mini-ITX builds, the RGB is seldom seen due to tightly packed tiny cases—but some do let that luminescent light shine through.
Overall, a straightforward design that keeps the features on tap in a clean, well-laid-out scheme. Substantial physical feel on the build quality is very welcome as well, and yes, we’re a fan of backplates. (Useful or not, they’re cool!)
The hot and heavy i9 12900K is no longer scary for Mini-ITX boards: Much like the Asus Strix-I, this board packs enough power and cooling capabilities to tame the beast.
Running anything less than an i9 12900K? Likewise, it will handle them marvelously. Indeed this board would make a perfect pairing for the 12700K or even the 12600K, depending on your use case.
DDR5 performance is also here, and while there are certainly some diminishing returns, it’s nice to be future-proof. If you’d like to save a few bucks and still maintain great performance, the DDR4 version of this motherboard has an MSRP of $309. (And you’ll save on the DDR4 RAM cost, too)
Intel Core i5-12600K
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PCIe Gen 5 and Gen 4 also keeps your GPU and NVME M.2 capabilities in the same league as the bigger Z690 ATX options.
The Gigabyte UEFI BIOS has been greatly improved from previous generations as well, making adjustments and important system tweaks simple.
I generally prefer to use the BIOS for a few very specific tasks: setting the XMP profile for RAM, manual CPU overclocking, setting hard drive boot order, and even a fan profile if I’m not using a dedicated fan controller.
BIOS updates, and the occasional tinkering with other settings deeply imbedded within are all simple with this BIOS. Q Flash is also available without a CPU, for a BIOS update if needed. Gigabyte also offers a suite of software that can be installed within windows itself, such as RGB Fusion and other system controls—but generally I’d rather keep certain tasks to the BIOS as software is often less stable in my experience.
It might not be as flashy as other boards, but we liked the understated design of the Gigabyte Z690i Aorus Ultra Plus.
Thiago TrevisanBottom line
Mini-ITX builds are all the rage, and the selection of motherboards is generally a smaller pool compared to ATX. Gigabyte has a great price-to-performer here for this segment. Its updated form also squashes the issues of its Ultra predecessor, so that can give consumers a confidence boost.
Coming in a $330 is not cheap, but there are no other options that offer the same feature set for this price. The Asus Z690 Strix-I costs much more, and cheaper ITX boards lack the rich spec list of the Z690i Ultra Plus. (Gigabyte also offers a “Lite” version of this board, but sans the next-gen features.) MSI’s Z690i Unify competitor is also more expensive. While the Ultra Plus is not as loaded as the Asus Strix, the cheaper price and *nearly all* of the relevant features land it with a respectable showing.
I confess, I worried when I saw that Google had stuck with a single main camera sensor. At a time when most of the Pixel 2’s rivals are embracing twin lenses, it felt like that was a decision that could instantly date a brand new phone. Turns out, though, there’s plenty you can do with some very clever algorithms.
Both the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL share the same 12.2-megapixel main camera. It now has an f/1.8 aperture, rather than the f/2.0 of the original Pixel, and both optical and electronic image stabilization. The laser autofocus of before has been joined by dual-pixel phase detection. It’ll shoot up to 4K at 30 fps video, or 1080p at up to 120 fps.
On the front, there’s an 8-megapixel fixed focus camera, with f/2.4 aperture. It tops out at 1080p at 30 fps. However, because Google is doing its photographical magic tricks with software rather than dual camera hardware, the selfie-cam doesn’t miss out.
The main camera is fast. Very fast. Quick to load – double-tapping the power button launches it even before the lock screen – and quick to take shots. Moving subjects that left a blur on rival smartphone cameras were crisp and clean in the Pixel 2’s shots.
Its images are bright, colorful, and show great contrast. The steadying hand of Google’s algorithms are never far away, no matter how you’re shooting. Stills are automatically captured as Motion Photos, the Pixel 2’s take on Live Photos from the iPhone, where a few seconds of video brackets each picture. They’re automatically trimmed to what the software thinks is the cleanest loop, too, and you can export them as short movies or GIFs through Google Photos.
HDR is also on by default, the Pixel 2 firing off numerous frames to combine their data. Interestingly, it does that in preference to relying on the optical image stabilization and longer shutter speeds. Again, the results can be astonishing: plentiful detail and minimal grain. Google has actually developed its own system-on-chip, the Pixel Visual Core, which not only does the HDR processing but at a fraction of the energy the Snapdragon 835 would demand. Right now, oddly, nothing actually accesses it: even the Pixel 2’s own camera app isn’t touching it. That should change eventually, though, and in time Google plans to also open Pixel Visual Core access to third-party apps using the Android Camera API.
It’s the Pixel 2’s Portrait mode where the power of Google’s software really shows its hand. Early, software-driven attempts to add background bokeh, or blur, to single-camera devices had generally lackluster results. Better were the dual-camera approaches, like the iPhone 8 Plus’ Portrait mode, which can build a depth map of the scene by using both slightly-offset cameras simultaneously. Even so, they can still struggle with fine detail like hair, and get things wrong around the edges of subjects.
Google took a data-first approach, training the algorithm responsible for Portrait mode with millions of sample faces, and then combining that with the dual-pixel data from the new sensor. On paper, with an offset so small as to be invisible to the human eye, it shouldn’t work. In practice, it’s producing some of the best Portrait mode images I’ve seen.
I take a lot of iPhone Portrait mode photos of our cat, but often her whiskers either suddenly fade out or just cut off into blur prematurely. The Pixel 2, however, keeps those tiny hairs crisp, even as the background is blurred. If you’re not in the habit of running a feline photo studio, you should see the same benefit around human hair: no more weirdly fuzzy beard halos, for example. The fact that the Pixel 2 uses its f/1.8 aperture for bokeh shots, too, whereas the iPhone 8 Plus is relying on its f/2.8 telephoto camera, makes a big difference too.
Since it’s software that’s at the heart of the system, not hardware, it means Google can extend Portrait mode to its front facing camera too. The selfie cam obviously doesn’t have the dual-pixel sensor, and the resulting photos aren’t quite as refined around the edges as when you use the back camera, but it’s still very impressive. It also means that both sizes of Pixel 2 get the functionality, as opposed to Apple only offering it on its larger iPhone.
The other place that the software and hardware partnership shows its worth is in video stabilization. There’s none of the jelly-like wobbles or judders some phones suffer, just the OIS and EIS working in tandem.
Some of the more playful features I couldn’t test yet. Google’s AR stickers, interactive characters and emojis that you can drop into photos and video captured on the Pixel 2, will be arriving in the coming months. Face-retouching, which does at least smooth your skin out without making you look entirely rubbery, isn’t available in Portrait mode yet; it’ll arrive in mid-October.
Samsung’s Galaxy Book two-in-one provides a surprisingly potent combination of price, performance, and battery life, all wrapped up behind an excellent Samsung AMOLED display with HDR.
Samsung’s Galaxy Book is a 2-in-1 12-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard that gets pretty much everything you care about right. Its price, performance, and battery life are all among the best we’ve tested.
Adam Patrick MurrayPrice: Galaxy Book’s value proposition
While some competing 2-in-1 products we’ve reviewed cost upwards of $1,400, the version of the Samsung Galaxy Book we tested ships for $1,300. The price includes 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, plus optional LTE connectivity via Verizon. A more full-featured version starts with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. There’s also a microSD card slot that accepts cards up to 256GB. Inside you’ll find 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.1 BLE.
Adam Patrick Murray
The Galaxy Book’s beautiful Super AMOLED display is definitely a selling point.
I expected the Galaxy Book to lean a bit more upon Samsung’s legacy of quality Android tablets, however. It’s no crime to exclude a physical Windows button, as the Galaxy Book does. I was a bit surprised, though, to discover that the screen bezel was a bit on the chunky side. The Galaxy Book’s dimensions are fine: 11.47 x 7.87 x 0.29 inches, and just over 2.5 pounds with the keyboard attached, or about 2.78 pounds if you add the small, cellular-style USB-C power charger. Still, the tablet felt somewhat awkward to hold in the hand.
Adam Patrick Murray
Though the Surface Pro 4 (bottom) is thicker than the Galaxy Book, it weighs slightly less when you attach both keyboards.Features: A mobile pedigree, for better and for worse
Unfortunately, buying a Galaxy Book brings up a new consideration for many: what USB standard your peripherals use. Samsung has committed wholeheartedly to USB-C, with a pair of ports than can be used for charging or for peripherals. That’s fine for phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, which use USB-C for charging but rarely connect to a wired USB device. The PC ecosystem encompasses a vast number of legacy devices, however, and you undoubtedly own some pre-USB-C device that you’ll want to connect to the Galaxy Book. At least Samsung was somewhat merciful: There’s a traditional headphone jack.
Adam Patrick Murray
One of these things is not like the other.
Samsung clearly tapped its mobile team in other aspects of the design. Some people simply love taking photos with a tablet’s rear camera, and Samsung’s high-quality 13MP part should serve you well. Photos were sharp and bright, although the tablet can take seconds to focus. A more mundane 5MP camera sits up front.
Adam Patrick Murray
The S-Pen may be a bit less ergonomic than other styluses, but you don’t have to charge it, either.
The new S-Pen can sense 4,000 levels of pressure, a distinction I’ve never felt was particularly important for the average user. Interestingly, the S-Pen also allows you to ink a broader stroke by angling the pen’s nib against the keyboard, like a pencil. Compared to the Surface Pen, Apple Pencil, and others, however, the S-Pen is skinnier and a bit less comfortable to hold, with a single button and no eraser function. It doesn’t require charging, however, which is a plus.Keyboard: the Book’s foldable keyboard doesn’t suck
Samsung’s Galaxy Book connects to the keyboard with just a single strip along its edge. The hold is so secure that I was genuinely worried I’d rip the keyboard while trying to disconnect it. Others, like the one for Microsoft’s Surface Pro, use a similar strip, plus a second that together form the keyboard’s hinge. Without that second strip, the Book’s keyboard lies flat.
Most two-in-one tablets also provide a kickstand-like part that folds out from the rear of the tablet. The Galaxy Book does not, instead requiring you to fold the cover into one of four positions to recline it at a specific angle. If you need it (I did), a cheat sheet of sorts is printed on the cover. What elevates the Book’s foldable cover over others I’ve used is its magnetic edge, which matches up with magnets along the tablet’s backside. When you fold the cover to the appropriate position, the two strips grab each other securely.
Adam Patrick Murray
Magnetic strips inside the Galaxy Book keyboard cover connect to similar strips inside the tablet, helping to steady it at different positions.
Unfortunately, however, Samsung’s Galaxy Book is primarily a desktop machine. While on your lap, the Galaxy Book’s keyboard secures the tablet as well as any I’ve tried. Still, though I found one keyboard position that worked for lap typing, everything felt wobbly and uncertain.
Adam Patrick Murray
Thought the keyboard sits flat, it’s not that uncomfortable.Performance: Galaxy Book is among the best
The Galaxy Book performed impressively well for a 2-in-1. A fair number of hybrid and convertible laptops use Core m chips—solid performers, but not on a level with Intel’s mainstream Core processors. Because it’s equipped with a dual-core 15-watt processor, Samsung’s Galaxy Book can get away with including a Core i5 chip instead of a Core i7. The Galaxy Book’s processor also belongs to the current 7th-generation line of Core CPUs, so you’ll see a slight boost in performance over systems still equipped with 6th-generation Skylake parts.
The Galaxy Book shapes up well against some higher-profile hybrids, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet, the HP Elite x2, and the much more expensive Microsoft Surface tablets. It also holds its own against convertibles with weaker hardware, like the Dell XPS 2-in-1. When pitted against similarly equipped devices, it offers equal or slightly better performance.
IDG IDG IDG
With Maxon’s CineBench benchmark, which renders a static 3D scene, the Galaxy Book’s processor struggles a bit. Though the benchmark provides a single-thread test, we use its multithreaded test to tax the processor thoroughly for the few minutes it takes the test to run. In this pure CPU test, the Galaxy Book holds its own among its Core i5-equipped peers.
Handbrake uses the tablet’s processor to transcode video files into different formats. Our benchmark involves taking a large 30GB MKV file and converting it into a smaller MP4 using the software’s Android Tablet preset. Here, we want the fastest processing time possible. While laptops in this class aren’t expected to be fast, Samsung’s Galaxy Book still trails its peers by a small amount. Note the that the Surface Pro 4, another tablet laptop, is faster by about 10 minutes.
Finally, there’s battery life, always a critical metric for a portable device. We set the screen to generate a consistent level of light (between 250-260 nits), adjust the volume to 50 percent while earbuds are plugged in, then loop a 4K video in Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the battery expires. It’s a good test to measure real-world battery performance. With a runtime of over ten hours on a 40 watt-hour battery, the Galaxy Book is a winner.
IDGBundled apps: Samsung’s apps are hit-and-miss
Like its phones, Samsung couldn’t resist bundling its own apps, which provide alternatives to the way Windows works. Duplicating functionality that exists elsewhere works only if you improve upon it, though, and Samsung’s record there is spotty.
For instance, instead of Windows Hello capabilities, Samsung offers this solution: Download the Samsung Flow app (if you own a Galaxy S6 smartphone or a more recent model) and connect the Book to the phone via Bluetooth. You can then lock your PC while leaving your phone unlocked, tap the phone to the NFC sensor on the keyboard, and then scan your finger on the phone’s fingerprint sensor. If everything goes well, your PC will unlock in a snap. By that time, though, you could have typed in a Windows password.
Adam Patrick Murray
Underneath this Samsung Galaxy S6 is an NFC chip, which must be tapped with the phone to enable its fingerprint reader.
When it doesn’t work, it seems superfluous. Case in point: Samsung Notes, a preloaded Galaxy Book app which serves as a hybrid of Google Keep and OneNote. A more useful alternative is Samsung Recovery, which can be used to back up data, restore a previous recovery point, or return to the original factory image.
Adam Patrick Murray
Smart Select allows you to do three things of note. The first, selecting a region of the screen reproduces the Windows 10 Snipping Tool, which you can share or save to your hard drive. But you can also take that area you’ve highlighted and extract the text, which can be rather handy when used with a photo of a document. Finally, there’s the GIF creator.
IDGConclusion: the Galaxy Book is worth a look
Samsung’s Galaxy Book touches all the bases of what makes a solid Windows tablet: a sharp display, very good performance, and excellent battery life, all for a reasonable price. As for Samsung’s choice of USB-C—a port expander or dongle might not be the most convenient option, but it will carry you through. Eventually, you’ll begin shifting your own personal ecosystem to the newer connectivity format.
The keyboard matters, though. I still prefer the more rigid keyboards of the Microsoft Surface lineup, and I think you will too.
Samsung does a good job of mitigating the inconveniences, however, and the 2-in-1’s value is unquestionable. Right now, the Galaxy Book is among the best two-in-one devices on the market.
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