Review: Samsung Galaxy Buds+

The Samsung Galaxy buds are becoming an affordable true wireless headphone option for those who don’t want to shell out the full price for the Bose and Sennheiser alternatives, but they’re not without their flaws.

Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy buds are becoming an affordable true wireless headphone option for those who don’t want to shell out the full price for the Bose and Sennheiser alternatives. While these are more accessible to the budget market in comparison to their premium competitors, you do get what you pay for, and there are issues that we’ll talk about. In this review, I’ll give some thoughts about the Galaxy Buds+ as a true wireless option for several uses.

If you’re just here for the TL,DR (too long, didn’t read), skip on down to the Conclusion section.

Build Quality

The Samsung Galaxy Buds+ and included wireless charging case are constructed entirely of plastic, but that doesn’t mean they feel cheap. The charging case is much weightier than I expected, but not heavy enough to be a burden. It feels nice in the hand. The buds themselves are also plastic, but feel sleek and well-built; they definitely don’t feel cheap at all. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they feel “premium,” they do feel quality enough that I don’t immediately have concerns about it, and don’t regret the purchase.

The wingtips for the earpieces and the silicone plugs are pretty much what you would expect. The only note here is that I will be interested to see how the wingtips hold up if swapped regularly, as they are silicone/rubber and must be stretched to remove or install on the buds. While this might not be normal usage since most folks will pick the combination which works best for them and leave it at that, I am still concerned to see how they hold up. Other wireless earbud solutions I have used previously have had the silicon/rubber portions of the construction be the weak point and those fell apart long before the device stopped working (looking at you, Bose SoundSports–review coming soon).

Sound Performance

The most important part of my review–of course–will be sound performance. After all, isn’t the point of purchasing audio gear having your music sound good? Before I dive into some analysis here, please do note that the Galaxy Buds+ do have a built-in software EQ via the Samsung Wear (wearables) app on Samsung smartphones, which offers various EQ presets, however, I will be performing my analysis with a direct bluetooth connection to my PC without any EQ, that way the analysis will apply to those of you who might use these on non-Samsung devices. I am also listening without the ambient noise pass-through enabled, and with the default wingtips and small eartips installed. I’ve selected twelve (12) songs from my usual list of analysis tracks to analyze to get a good baseline of how these little buds from Samsung perform. I’ll list a few likes/dislikes for each song. If you’d like to hear further thoughts on any particular aspect of the buds’ sound performance on a particular song, let me know in the comments below. Also, for your convenience, I’ve included the Spotify links below, though I recommend the FLACs or another source if you have it available. Now let’s get to it!

“Bad Guy” – Billie Eilish

  • Dislike: Bass is muddled, muted, and sort of sloppy, which is unfortunate as this song has some seriously fun bass.
  • Dislike: Snare/snaps are not crisp at all and feel like the higher end of the treble falls off.
  • Like: Adequate separation to be able to discern timing differences in various snaps and overlapped vocal parts.

“Water Night” – Eric Whitacre, performed by the BYU Singers

  • Like: Harmonies are still smooth in the beginning, despite the overlap of the many, many different parts.
  • Dislike: Lower parts don’t hum and fill the space as nicely as they do when listening on other gear.
  • Dislike: at 1:17, the Galaxy Buds+ do not perform well with the intricate and swelling treble harmonies. While other gear allows you to hear the ringing of each part without blowing out the earbuds, the Galaxy Buds+ got crackly during the swell and really ruined that part of the song. I do admit this is a tough part of a tough song for many headphones and earbuds, but I am still disappointed with the poor performance from the Buds+ here.
  • Dislike: You can faintly hear a hissing during soft/quiet parts of the song. I have verified this is not room/recording noise from the song.

“Sir Duke” – Stevie Wonder

  • Like: As with Bad Guy earlier, there is pretty good separation of the different parts here. Earbuds are notorious for having poor sound stage and spatial imaging, and that’s fine–they’re not exactly for critical listening. While you won’t get that level of detail and space with the Buds+, they do a decent enough job at letting you hear all the different parts of the music.
  • Dislike: Again, I’m hearing not as punchy of bass as I would like, and not as crisp treble. It all feels very softened. And this is a punchy song.

“Formed by Glaciers” – Kubbi

  • Like: The mutedness of the Buds+ kind of works here. The song starts out quiet, but rich and reflective. At 1:20, the type of muted bass the song incorporates works really well with the lack of punchy bass that the Buds+ provide. If you listen to a lot of music with bass like this, then my comments about the limited and muddled bass may be negligible to you.
  • Like: Immersion was much better on this track, whereas previous tracks it really felt more like I was sitting with earbuds in, listening to the song, rather than experiencing the song.
  • Dislike: Beginning around 1:45, the cello, bass, and other deep stringed instruments come in. The bow pulling across the strings of these instruments produces a lot of beautiful texture when recorded–however the Buds+ didn’t reflect that at all.

“La Luna – Binaural” – Ottmar Liebert + Luna Negra

  • Like: The different claps at the beginning of the song do actually sound various and differentiated.
  • Dislike: At 1:14 when the guitars come in, I felt like I was listening to the song live, but from behind a thin sheet of plexiglass. Again, overall very muted.

“Radioactive” – Our Last Night (Originally performed by Imagine Dragons)

  • Like: These earbuds definitely perform quite a bit better for rock, punk, metal, and heavier/grittier music. Separation was pretty good and things felt more crisp. Part of that is inherently due to the type of music, but the performance really started to shine a little more instead of being dull.
  • Like: The texture of screams and heavier vocals was present and defined, and surprisingly not muddled like I’d experienced otherwise prior.
  • Dislike: There is a particular cymbal that is repeatedly hit in this song. The Buds+ do not like the frequency at which the sound is produced. You can hear a little bit of textured hiss as the drivers get fuzzy.

“Iscariot” – Fundamentally Sound

  • Like: Finally, some a capella portion felt like it filled the space a bit better. This is partly due to the song, but something with the key and tonality of the vocalists combined with some really neat resonance really pops here.
  • Like: Starting 0:35, the texture of the vocalists’ voices (particularly the /n/ sounds being held) are much better and are actually interesting.
  • Dislike: There are definitely details being lost. This recording has some mouth and minor breathing noises that I can usually hear on other gear, but don’t hear here.
  • Dislike: At 3:45, the bass and percussive voice that comes in sounded like I was listening to it from the room next door, while the rest of the sounds were present in a you’re-in-the-room sense.

“Xanny” – Billie Eilish

  • Dislike: I know I sound like a broken record, but the bass performance is less-than-desirable. While this bass line is fairly muted, there is a lot of texture that the Buds+ simply didn’t deliver.
  • Like: The sweeping/panning at 1:02 is pretty smooth and makes its way from ear to ear without any gaps or interruptions.
  • Dislike: At the same spot, 1:02, there is an odd ring part-way through one of the sweeps that I’ve not heard on other gear before, including my critical listening gear. I wonder if this is issues with the drivers/build.

“Africa” – Toto

  • Like: Harmonic separation is good enough and the different parts of the chorus (the most iconic part of the song) are easy to hear and blend smoothly.
  • Like: At 3:03, the marimba/vibraphone/whatever-it-actually-is has some great little pings and pops as the mallets strike the bars.
  • Dislike: As with the previous tracks, not clear enough bass.

“The Ground” – Ola Gjeilo, Tenebrae + The Chamber Orchestra of London

  • Dislike: It is difficult to discern the different stringed instruments and their strings being played. There is a lot of texture here that is lost, despite it being a smooth harmony.
  • Dislike: While there is quite a bit of bass here in this song, the texture and tone of the basses’ voices is completely lost.
  • Dislike: There are quite a few places where the drivers peak, as they did in Eric Whitacre’s “Water Night,” ruining swells and treble parts.
  • Like: Piano part and keyfalls come through roughly as expected and the quiet piano parts are well-heard.
  • Like: You can discern some of the quiet noises of the conductor moving, which I like.

“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – Small Town Titans

  • Like: Here again we find that the Buds+ perform much better for harder styles of music. These earbuds do this song some justice compared to the prior tracks.
  • Like: There is a lot of texture in the vocalist’s voice at the beginning of this song, and it shows through clear and cleanly when listening with the Buds+. This was shocking given the performance of the earbuds on other tracks.
  • Like: When the vocalist plays around with his tone and different “characters” in the verse around 1:30, the tone is really quite good considering the previous performances and the fact that these are earbuds. You can really hear and enjoy the difference between his placed and proper intonation and when he pulls it forward to the front of his mouth or gets wider with it.

“Blank Space” – Taylor Swift

  • Important Note: I decided to add this song after I had written the Call Quality section of this post. After having used the microphones on the Buds+ to do a recording test, the sound performance when listening completely changed. I checked my Windows audio settings, and everything was still the same as when I had previously done my analysis. This is wildly inconsistent, and alarming.
  • Treble is now suddenly very crisp — too much so. Snares hurt your ears and most sounds above the mid range seem to be crackling. Actually, there’s lots of crackling in general, and it sounds hardware-related.
  • Bass is still very lost and muddled.
  • Sound is now overall very shrill.
  • Harmonies are present, but less defined.

Call Quality

Just…no. During my test of call quality, the audio was constantly popping, and the people on the other end of the call were also hearing the popping. There was also an annoying buzzing sound the entire call. Volume on my side was okay, but the other people I was calling commented that beyond the cutting out and popping, I was very quiet as well. Below is a recording using the built-in microphone.

A test audio recording using the built-in microphones of the Samsung Galaxy Buds+

Battery Life

With wireless headphones or earbuds, the big question–next to sound performance–is obviously going to be how long the battery lasts. My prior wireless earbuds were the Bose SoundSports. To me, the seven (7) hour battery life was acceptable, and the norm. Especially with other offerings on the market such as Razer’s true wireless solution only having four (4) hours of listen time. Imagine my pleasant surprise when my first day with the Buds+ was not interrupted at all by lack of battery. I was able to make it through a full day of music listening, many phone calls and video conferences, and tinkering with my new earbuds without having to charge. When I got to the late evening, I did have to top off while I finished my tinkering for the first day, but just 10 minutes of fast charge got me another several hours of listening.

Price Point

With an MSRP of $149.99 and the fact that Amazon typically has these earbuds on sale for $99.80, they are certainly an option for those who do not wish to pay the full retail price of other options such as Bose’s QuietComfort, TrueWireless, or Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless offerings. Or of course Apple’s AirPods Pro, for the iPhone crowd.

Conclusion

So. I would say that for the $99.80 plus tax that I paid, the earbuds and included charging case are pretty decent for listening to rock, punk, metal, or heavier genres, as long as you don’t want to listen too loudly, and you’re not looking to do any critical listening.

If you’re an audiophile, these are not the earbuds for you. If you’re someone just looking for some portable earbuds that are truly wireless, effortlessly pair with your devices, and come with a charging case, this could be an option for you.

If you’re looking for something to listen to music and make/take any kind of call or communication with, these are not it.

Overall I would say that these have their place, but the MSRP of $149.99 is too high, and the earbuds deliver disappointing performance overall. This is particularly frustrating since the Buds+ are the second and “improved” iteration of Samsungs true-wireless audio offering.

Do you have the Samsung Galaxy Buds+? What are your thoughts on them? Do you have other true wireless earbuds you love, and why? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Additional Reading

Samsung Galaxy Buds+ on Amazon

Review: Amcrest AWC201-B HD Webcam

Disclaimer: This product was provided to me free of charge by Amcrest specifically for review. While the product was provided to me by the manufacturer for the purpose of review, I am not sponsored by Amcrest and my review is purely objective. I currently do not own any other Amcrest products.

Griff

Introduction

In 2020, who hasn’t had a Zoom meeting, Teams meeting, Facebook messenger video call, or some other form of video telecommunication? Relatively few people as compared to previous years. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on families and organizations alike, video calls have become commonplace and a staple of daily life. As this change came about, many people found that they needed a webcam. Or if they already had one, that they wanted a better one. Within just a couple short months, the world’s supply of webcams got scarce. As someone who works in IT for a living and regularly orders hardware like webcams, it really was a bit of a problem. Several months into the shortage, Amcrest brought their AWC201-B HD webcam offering to the market. A little over a week ago, I received my unit from their product testing program and began to use it. In this review, I’ll explore the benefits and pitfalls of this web camera and hopefully provide you with the information you need to make a decision about purchasing the device or exploring Amcrest’s offerings.

Specifications

Technical Specifications for the AWC201-B from Amcrest’s website.

The AWC201-B (for lack of a better name) can provide HD resolution video at 30 frames per second. While the spec sheet on their website doesn’t seem to mention it, the AWC201-B is a 2 megapixel web camera, according to Amazon.com. It has a six (6) foot long USB 2.0 cable which is not detachable, and has the expected tripod mount and built-in microphone. I was pleased to see when looking at the box that the device includes a privacy cover that can be flipped open or closed. Cable length is fairly standard. While pretty much universally compatible, there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly attention-catching about the device apart from a pleasing design that sits nicely atop a monitor. But, let’s not fret about that. I’ll be filling out the rest of this review throughout the week.

Audio performance

Alright, it’s time to get rolling on this review. First up let’s have a listen to the audio quality of the built-in microphone.

First, I have a recording of a pre-determined script, using my Moano AU-PM421 studio microphone. This is obviously significantly better quality than we can expect from a webcam–especially at Amcrest’s price point–but it serves as a reference point to what I actually sound like, as realistically as possible.
Next up, here is the recording of the same pre-determined script, using the built-in microphone on the Amcrest AWC201-B HD webcam. We notice a significant difference here, which is okay in and of itself, as the quality of microphone is expected to vary widely when comparing a standalone, dedicated professional microphone against the built-in microphone of a budget web camera.
Lastly, I have a recording of the same pre-determined script, using the built-in microphone of my usual webcam in my home office–the Vitade 960A HD webcam. You’ll notice that the audio quality here is much closer to the type of audio you get from the Amcrest AWC201-B, but that it is still much clearer with significantly less background noise/hiss.

Still image performance

Below is a quick look at still image performance using my daily driver, the Vitade 960A, as a reference point for comparison to the Amcrest AWC201-B.

First, here is a reference image from the Vitade 960A HD webcam that I grabbed during a video call. This is my daily driver for home office use.
Second, here is the still image from the Amcrest AWC201-B HD webcam–from the same video call as the first image.

Notice the color temperature here. Neither image is white-balance corrected, so the coloring/hue/tint/saturation/white balance are directly native from the camera. Also note that the colors in the first image from the Vitade are actually accurate. The color interpretation here with the AWC201-B is interesting; it is much cooler and more analytical. While less accurate, in some ways it sort of makes the image a bit easier to view. I also noticed that despite both cameras being 1920×1080 in resolution, the Amcrest did not provide nearly as crisp and clean an image as the 960A. It is, by all means, still a usable image and things are easy to discern. I would consider the still image from Amcrest’s new offering to fall in the “acceptable” range.

Taking a look at side-by-side comparison of the image quality, we see that the Vitade 960A 1080p webcam (left) provides much better details when zoomed into 75 than the Amcrest AWC201-B (right).

Note the blurry skin from the Amcrest in the cheekbone region, and how hair appears to be a solid blotch of color, rather than having the texture of hair. With the Vitade, texture of hair is discernible.

Also note that in all the above images, XSplit VCam software is in use to change the background (the integration/interfacing with this software is discussed later in the review).

“I reject your background, and substitute my own.”

Adam Savage, probably.

Video performance

Video Test from Amcrest AWC201-B HD Webcam. [Update: I did later discover that the microphone error I was getting is a Windows error due to a Windows setting. That said, this is the only camera that I have this issue with, so that is still odd to me.]
Video Reference Test from Vitade 960A HD Webcam.

Interfacing with software

A key feature of a webcam, for me, is the ability to adjust the image. While there was no included software, or software available to download from Amcrest’s website, I did find that the generic controls of other applications such as Xplit VCam were able to adjust the image.

Screenshot of the video processing adjustments available in XSplit VCam that worked on the Amcrest AWC201-B.

While the image processing controls worked, the camera controls themselves were not compatible:

Screenshot of the camera adjustments available in XSplit VCam that didn’t work on the Amcrest AWC201-B.

But what about other software? Is the AWC201-B easily used “plug-and-play” with common applications such as Microsoft Teams and Discord?

While other parts of the experience with this webcam have been shaky, I was pleased to find that the camera really is “plug-and-play” for the most part. Microsoft Teams is a daily application for me, working in IT and with the rest of my teammates located some 300 miles away. In the video footage earlier, I talked about the issues connecting the webcam to my laptop to record the test video. While the built-in Windows 10 camera app gave me trouble, I didn’t have any issues setting the webcam as my device in Teams and making a call. In fact, the call quality was quite good despite the performance shortcomings in basic tests earlier. As far as Discord went, I also had an easy experience. After plugging in the webcam, Discord detected it and asked if I would like to switch to it. After clicking Switch and turning on my video in a channel, the video delivery was pretty smooth and clear albeit low-detail (likely due to the webcam only being 2 megapixels). Audio performance–again–was clear and significantly better than in the audio-only tests.

I also used the webcam to stream/import video feed into OBS Studio as well (which I use to record tutorials) and had no issues there either.

Build quality

Let’s talk build quality. While I may have found some of the technical features to be lacking in the camera, the same can’t be said for the actual build quality. The shape, design, and weight of the webcam is pleasing. Heavy enough to not feel cheaply made, but light enough to be convenient and non-intensive to use or transport. I do like the wide, slim design. In fact, I prefer this shape and design to my Logitech C920 that I use at work (quite bulky) and my Vitade 960A that I use at home (perfectly round). The hinge for adjusting the angle of the webcam moves easily, but also has enough stopping resistance to stay put once you adjust it. Rubber grips on the adjustable arm used for resting atop a computer monitor keep it relatively in-place.

As I mentioned in the Introduction, this webcam includes a privacy cover that can be flipped open or shut. The odd thing about it, is that it comes uninstalled. Upon unboxing, I had to peel the cover off the back and adhere it to the device. It took two or three tries to get it to sit on there level and not look “janky.”

My only major complaint regarding build quality is the cheap USB-A male connector. As mentioned above in the video tests, I couldn’t even plug the webcam into my laptop because if even the most microscopic movement of the connector occurred, the device disconnected completely. This is an issue I have not experienced with any USB peripheral of mine otherwise.

Price

$39.99 USD

Opinions will vary regarding price. I personally thing $30-40 is the “budget” end of webcams. So for me, $39.99 USD for the quality that this provides is about right. I might personally think it’s worth more in the $29.99-34.99 range, however, given it is only 2 megapixels and the USB connector is cheap. I do feel the price is just slightly too high given the fact that it is only a 2 megapixel camera, whereas Logitech’s C310 which is probably the best competitor in the price range, is a 5 megapixel camera with incredibly better performance all around, despite only being 720p instead of 1080p.

Conclusion

So who is this webcam for? I’m not entirely sure who Amcrest’s intended target customer is, but I could see this being a good option for someone who;

  • does not yet/currently have a webcam and needs one for work,
  • needs to order webcams at scale/bulk that are usable for basic video conferencing applications, but won’t break the bank,
  • needs a webcam but does not plan to stream on any platform,
  • plans to use the webcam only for one or two major/reputable video-calling platforms and doesn’t plan on doing any crazy integrations or production.

Pros

  • 1080p HD resolution
  • Even exposure weighting
  • Pleasing design
  • Includes privacy cover
  • Only $39.99

Cons

  • Poor color replication
  • High distortion
  • Cheap USB connector
  • Only 2 megapixels
  • Microphone is usable, but not great

As someone who spends a large portion of his day on video calls or streaming video to others, I can’t say I would purchase this for my personal use, but that’s not because it isn’t a worthy consideration. I simply don’t buy budget gear. This is a product that is worth considering for people who need a budget webcam and don’t necessarily care about crystal-clear audio and video, but need it to function well enough. Reviewing it for what it really is–a budget webcam–I’d give it 3.5/5 stars. It’s affordable, it mostly “just works” and is clear enough for general use.

What webcam are you using, and what do you like about it? Do you have an Amcrest webcam? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Additional reading

Amcrest AWC201-B Product Information

Amcrest AWC201-B on Amazon

Review: Logitech MX Master 3

To many people, a mouse is a mouse. You move it and press the buttons, and it clicks things on your computer screen, and that’s it. But for full-time office workers, PC gamers, and other folks, there’s more to a mouse. Functionality, convenience, features, weight, responsiveness, etc. In this article I look at the Logitech MX Master 3. I’ve had the last two MX Master series mice (the MX Master and the MX Master 2S) and have really liked them. Let’s see how their latest addition to their tried-and-true line of pointing peripherals stand up.

Use Case

For reference, I should explain that I purchased the MX Master 3 for use in my office at work. My current role is as an information technology coordinator, so I manage day-to-day IT operations for a local casino. I also assist on our Service Desk for other locations in our western division. While a fair amount of my time is spent around the property, I do spend a lot of time at my desk doing computer work. I often have two devices at my desk, and I also take my keyboard and mouse with me from home to work. The primary use is simply productivity at my desk.

Features

Charging | The MX Master 3 features a USB-C port that can be used to charge the internal, non-removable battery. It’s nice to see USB-C connectivity on the mouse, as the vast majority of my other devices and peripherals have moved to include the port, and I would really hate having to throw a solitary micro-USB cable into the mix. USB-C is fairly universal these days unless you’re in the iPhone world in the United States, so this was a nice convenience for me. If you’re not a fan of USB-C for some reason, fret not. The MX Master 3’s 500 mAh Li-Po battery will last you about 70 days. I personally turn mine off at night when I leave the office, so I’ve only charged the device maybe 3 times since purchasing it in early 2020.

Buttons | Obviously the mouse has the standard left-click and right-click buttons. These are not at all mushy and provide an immediate and solid “click” noise when depressed. Between those is Logitech’s infinity scroll wheel, which looks and feels to be made of metal, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t. Along with the infinity scroll wheel, there is a button just below it to enable or disable the infinite scroll feature–in case moving at hundreds of lines of text in a few seconds isn’t your cup of tea. At the side of the device there is a horizontal scroll wheel made of the same material, though not featuring infinity scroll, as well as forward/back buttons and multi-tasking button that is the equivalent of the Windows keyboard shortcut Win+Tab.

Logitech Software | The MX Master 3 is also compatible with Logitech’s softwares such as Flow and Options, allowing you to custom map buttons to different shortcuts, as well as copy from one device and paste on another. While a little bit gimmicky for my taste, it definitely works and is a feature worth noting on a mouse that is marketed for productivity.

Ergonomics | Like previous MX Master series mice, the MX Master 3 features a contoured shape intended to make gripping the mouse more comfortable for extended periods of time and at an angle that is less harmful to your wrist and arm.

Connectivity | With the MX Master 3, the user gets two options for connecting to a device. Logitech includes a nano-transceiver similar to the Unifying tranceivers we are all so familiar with–though it is important to note that the MX Master 3 is not Unifying-compatible. Additionally, users can choose to connect the device via onboard bluetooth. Not only is bluetooth available, but three bluetooth connections can be made and stored. There is a button on the bottom face of the device allowing users to click to switch between bluetooth connections. This is the route for which I opted.

Gripes

Wear & Tear | Much to my dismay, the Logitech MX Master 3 does not take daily use too well in terms of aesthetics. I’ve had the device for about 8 months now, and the left-click plastic button/panel is already worn and shiny. I wash my hands often and keep a clean work area, yet somehow the is a disproportionate amount of wear and shine on the left-click button. It’s a shame, because the MX Master 3 is a beautiful device, and the fast wear on the plastics kind of makes it feel cheap–which is an issue at it’s price point. Logitech isn’t a stranger to this issue, as both the MX Master and MX Master 2S also had issues with plastic wearing and discoloring. I’d think they would have resolved that issue in the design for their new flagship mouse, but I guess not.

Ergonomics | Overall, the ergonomics of this mouse feel quite good and it is comfortable to hold in hand. My only gripe here is that the raised palm area is angled just barely too far back, putting my fingertips not quite as far forward as I prefer. But, do note that this is entirely personal preference, and your mileage my vary.

Inconvenient Switcher | Why do companies continually insist on putting things like buttons and charging ports on the bottom of their devices? (Looking at you and your Magic Mouse, Apple). Logitech got the charge port right by including it at the front of the device, but still decided to put the bluetooth connection button on the bottom of the device. If the mouse featured a singular bluetooth connection, I would think this would be fine. But given that the device is centered around productivity and highlights the triple-bluetooth connection feature, it would be nice to have the switcher button readily accessible, rather than having to pick up the mouse, turn it over, and press the little button before setting the mouse back down and resuming work on your other device. While not hugely inconvenient, I find this design option odd where the marketing for the mouse is largely focused on productivity.

Price | Okay. So I’m the guy whose friends know as the one who spends more than most on things like mice, keyboards, and tech in general. So higher price points for quality products are no foreign concept to me. With a current purchase price of $99, the MX Master 3 falls in the upper-range of mice in terms of price–especially for Logitech. I would be okay with the price if the plastics stood up against time better and the connection toggle switch was more conveniently located. But given these two things, I recommend picking one up used for $70-80 instead.

Conclusion

Overall, I love my Logitech MX Master 3. While the bluetooth toggle switch is inconveniently located, the triple bluetooth connection feature is definitely great and I use it daily. The mouse is comfortable enough for daily use (8-10 hours). With great battery life and the abiltiy to easily change which device you’re connected to, this mouse is certainly a staple for my work kit. Despite my gripes, I would be comfortable recommending this mouse to anyone who used multiple devices on an all-day/every-day kind of basis.

Have you tried Logitech’s MX Master 3? What about another mouse you like? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Review: Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

I highly recommend Mistborn to any young/adult who is looking for an enjoyable, detailed, but serious fantasy with an incredibly unique and exciting hard magic system. You won’t want to put it down and wish you were an Allomancer so you could keep your body awake to read all 672 pages of it. Seriously…read it.

Front cover of Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

Introduction

Allow me to start off by disclaiming that I am by no means an author, or knowledgeable about writing, written works, or anything of the sort. I’m just some guy. And I enjoy reading.

Long have I enjoyed not only reading, but reading fantasy. There’s just something to diving into the pages of an author’s mind and becoming completely absorbed by the world they’ve created that is difficult to resist.

Sadly, the past six or so years have held a cacophony of events which have limited my time and drive to read. The group of people with which I choose to spend/invest my limited leisure time all love to read. For some time, our casual musings included not the most recent reading adventures; as of late, however, a frequent topic amongst friends became the works of Brandon Sanderson. The name kept popping up in casual conversation as my friends and associates continued to read his works with a fierce passion–nearly an addiction.

Beyond the fact that I’ve always had a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and felt I was missing out on the conversations surrounding Sanderson’s creations, the incessant conversation about his many works eventually brought me to ask a close friend, Preston, about the author’s works and where I might dip my toes in–so to speak–and make my return to reading fantasy.

Mistborn,” came his recommendation. He said it is a great place to try out Sanderson’s writings. If you like it, you can read the rest of the trilogy, and if not, Mistborn stands up on its own as a great book.

Some days shortly thereafter, while on a vacation visting my family in Idaho, I stopped at a Barnes & Noble with my wife, Alexis; the short visit to the store resulted in my purchase of the Mistborn trilogy and the beginnings of my expedition into Sanderson’s works of epic fantasy. And epic, it was.

Setting

The Final Empire…it’s dark. It’s bleak. It’d almost be apocalyptic if it weren’t for the structured society dragging its feet through existence. Ash constantly falls from the sky. Buildings, roads, and people blacked by soot. Skaa slave in the fields, in the mills, and in the forges. It’s not happy, yet it draws you in and makes a reader want to know more about why that world is the way that it is.

Map of The Final Empire (1021) from Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn takes place in the Central Dominance, between the cities of Luthadel and Fellise. The map of the Final Empire is quite more expansive than that, though I presume we read of much more of the map in the succeeding two books in the trilogy.

Character Development

The core group of characters is likable and generally introduced. The two foremost characters–Vin and Kelsier–have the most development, rivaled only by a man named Sazed. Vin is a 16 year old female thief with a difficult past that can make readers a tad emotional. Kelsier is a mysterious male some years older with both a hero complex and a knack for causing trouble. They’re a great pair. Sazed is also some years older, and arguably more mysterious than Kelsier, though we do get some decent looks into his past. To avoid giving too much of the tale away, I’ll just say this: the rest of the core group receives some shallow explanation, but we get only small hints into their characters, with no extensive backstory. It works quite well though; at no point did I feel the character development was detrimentally lacking.

Pacing

The pacing of the book was nice, in my opinion. There’s always the sense that there is a direction that the story is heading, and that there is a purpose for what you’re reading. While the whole book isn’t action-packed, or lots of huge events, there is value and enjoyment in the small details and thorough explanations of settings, events, and preparations of the characters. At no point did I feel like I was reading filler, that things were moving too slowly, or that things were moving too quickly. The combat scenes are described in high detail, but maintain a sense of rapid pace during the scene. Some friends who have read the book said they felt it was a slow start, but as someone who enjoys the mundane, I felt the pacing to be perfect.

Style

For Mistborn, Sanderson seems to adopt a descriptive/narrative writing style. It works quite well. An epic fantasy is sure to be a narrative, else it would not be entertaining to a reader. But beyond telling a story, the depth and amount of detail that Sanderson provides in his writing is thorough, vivid, and allows the reader to easily paint the scene and happenings in their head as they read. Not only is the narrative entertaining, but the detail is enjoyable. Despite having not read a book for some years, I was easily able to picture the setting, scenes, characters and their personalities, and the events of the story. In short, I’d liken the style to that of Tolkien, though with a less “stiff,” feel to the writing, if that makes sense. It’s ever so slightly less wordy and with far fewer commas in each sentence.

Point-of-View

The reader reads Mistborn primarily from the point of view of Vin and Kelsier, who both have distinctive voices and styles of speaking and thinking. One chapter may be from Vin’s viewpoint, while the next one may be from Kell’s (Kelsier’s). Or you may get both at the same time from 3rd person. The mix of viewpoints is nice and keeps things interesting–unlike some books where Chapter 1 is from Character A’s point of view and Chapter 2 is from Character B’s point of view and that pattern just repeats for 500 pages.

Theme

Overall there is a theme of the possibility of evil succeeding. In fact, the amount of hope there is for the main characters’ success and salvation is small and weak. It’s desperate. But the hope that exists carries over to the reader. You become invested in what the characters are doing and want so badly for them to succeed.

I want to make special note that Sanderson really developed various aspects of The Final Empire. There are religious, political, social, economic, moral, and a variety of other issues and facets to the story that really make it feel comprehensive and almost real.

Bringing it all Together

I started Mistborn on the first day of my six day vacation. I’d read for an hour or two a day, and by the end of the vacation, I had made it to Part 5 of the book. Generally, I read rather quickly, so take that statement with a grain of salt–or an entire saltshaker, should you prefer to do so. In those six days, I hated having to put the book down. I could have sat and read that book all day if I hadn’t had other things I needed and wanted to do during my limited days away from normal life. When I finished the book, all I wanted was more. I needed more. Luckily, there are the two succeeding books in the trilogy; it is my understanding that they take place in the same setting–The Final Empire–so it is my hope that I’ll “get my fix” there.

Overall, I highly recommend Mistborn to any young/adult who is looking for an enjoyable, detailed, but serious fantasy with an incredibly unique and exciting hard magic system. You won’t want to put it down and wish you were an Allomancer so you could keep your body awake to read all 672 pages of it. Seriously…read it.

Have you read Mistborn or any of Sanderson’s other works? What are your thoughts? You know I’d love to read them below in the comments. Until next time!


Additional Reading & Resources

Buy Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (non-affiliate, non-sponsored link)

Buy Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson (non-affiliate, non-sponsored link)

Map of The Final Empire from 17thShard

Blizzard’s Overwatch — Four Years In

I love Overwatch. Many of my free hours over the past three years have been poured into the game both casually and competitively. Not only that, but I desperately want the game to improve and succeed. In this blog article, I want to take a look at some comments from members of a local Overwatch team on which my wife and myself play, as well as some of the ups and downs over the past three years and talk about the future of the game.

Front cover of Overwatch from Blizzard

“I need healing!”

“I need healing!”

“I need healing!”

Okay, enough of the Genji/DPS jokes. Let’s face it: at this point, four years in, most gamers–and many non-gamers–have heard of Blizzard’s FPS/MOBA hybrid game, Overwatch. Bringing what was supposed to be the best of the battle arena and shooter genres together in a fun, fast-paced, and accessible game for all to enjoy. At least that was the idea. Before I dive too far into this post, let me at least be clear about this. I love Overwatch. Many of my free hours over the past three years have been poured into the game both casually and competitively. Not only that, but I desperately want the game to improve and succeed. In this blog article, I want to take a look at some comments from members of a local Overwatch team on which my wife and myself play, as well as some of the ups and downs over the past three years and talk about the future of the game.

Strong Start

Activision Blizzard blew industry developers and consumers away by clearing $1bn in revenue by Q1 of 2017–a mere 7-9 months after its release on 2020/05/24, leading to the studio-publisher duo to begin tying in Overwatch content into some of its other hit games, including Heroes of the Storm (Grubb, 2017).

Overwatch’s 40+ million players were greeted with a diverse cast of playable characters spanning four categories–Damage, Defense, Tank, and Support–and twelve maps spanning Assult, Escort, Hybrid, and Control game modes (GamePedia, 2020). In the coming years, 9+ additional maps and 11+ heroes have been added to the game, as well as Arcade game modes, seasonal/special events, and the both popular and infamous Competitive Play mode.

I spent a long time playing just a few heroes–Junkrat, Mei, and Mercy–but loved the variety among the characters and challenged myself to try to learn how to play many of them. Nearly every day, my friend Jess and myself would play multiple games and have a blast working with different team compositions, messing around, and learning the game. Before long, I felt I was getting a grip on the game and really started performing consistently when we would play. During that next year, we began to play the competitive mode. Season 1 was exhilarating! I knew this game had a lot going for it.

In conversation, I asked several of our friends and teammates their feelings and thoughts on the strengths of the game and what it was that kept us all coming back to it day after day and week after week. “…the character differences/abilities are a huge strength,” said Caleb, a flex-player on our team and our primary shot-caller, “I love the intriguing world they developed.” His sentiment is echoed by myself as well as Jess: “I enjoy the game play and how no two heroes feel the same.”

Overwatch also started off with a small amount of lore and backstory, and added to that story over the years. “I love the lore…I just wish there was more of it,” said Lexi, one of our team’s unrelenting support players. In the first year or so, Blizzard did a good job and keeping players dialed in on what was going on in Overwatch by releasing comics, animated shorts for many characters which introduced interesting backstory, and other content which furthered the depth of the universe in which the game is set.

“I love the team aspect,” said Albert, one of our team’s most solid tanks, “it doesn’t matter how good a one-trick DPS player is. If there is bad teamwork/communication, the team will typically get a loss.” The team aspect is easily one of the most alluring things about the game, in my opinion. I love strategy and working with others to overcome obstacles and problems.

For the first year or two, Blizzard also made QoL–Quality of Life–adjustments and also major changes to certain parts of the game to improve the experience for players. The Defense heroes category was merged into the Damage category–which makes sense. Those are your three roles: Damage, Tank, and Support. Down the line they also introduced Role-Queue, which requires players to queue for a particular role so you couldn’t have a team of all-supports, all-tanks, etc. This also improved game queue times as well by taking some weight off the matchmaking system. At least through the first year or so of the game, I applaud Blizzard for their introduction of Overwatch to the genres.

Game Gone Wrong

The honeymoon phase of the game didn’t last, though. Issues eventually became more prevalent, noticeable, and players began to become more and more frustrated. I have a lot of opinions on what’s wrong with the game and how the game could be improved, just as many players of many games do with any game. But I didn’t want this post to just be me ranting and raving about issues in the game, so I sought out the opinions of some of my teammates. Below are some of the issues that I most often hear mentioned over the past three years.

Competitive Ranking & Balancing

“Competitive” play, as it is called by Blizzard, has long been my preferred mode of play. The tweaked rules to encourage a more competitive playstyle by each team and restriction on role selection in the game mode make it closer to what I want from the game.

In Competitive Play, Overwatch uses a Skill Rating scoring system to match players with players of similar skill level–supposedly. “It’s not communicated to the players effectively,” said Caleb. This is evident, as many players have no idea how exactly the system works, since it seems to have more to it than simply you-win-you-go-up-you-lose-you-go-down. The lack of a clear and functional skill rating system results in lots of mismatched games where one team is horrifically higher skilled than the other, or where both teams will get a mix of players from a huge range of ranks putting inexperienced players into a more complex game, making the matches much more difficult to play and neigh impossible to enjoy.

When asked what he dislike most about the game, Jess responded: “how hard it is to climb in competitive. It feels like you lose too much [SR] when you lose and don’t gain enough when you win.” Caleb agreed, revisiting his earlier opinion: “…competitive feels like constant punishment. I understand SR balancing, but I don’t believe it was established correctly.”

Blizzard’s Blindness

Unfortunately as the last three years have passed, it seem’s Blizzard’s drive to develop the game further has declined. Despite new maps and heroes being released, the gameplay and in-game experience have come crashing down in quality. In competitive play, roughly 45-60% of games our team plays are cancelled within the first 60 seconds of the game due to someone leaving the match. In many other games, a random player your team picked up as a 5/6th player will throw the game just because the team won’t pocket them and cater to their every desire or someone else plays the hero they want to play.

“The players are inherently toxic,” explained Caleb, “and I get that is present in every game, but it feels like there is less of an effort coming from Blizzard to combat that.” In June of 2018–two years into the game–Blizzard added a mechanic called Endorsements as a feeble attempt to combat toxicity by encouraging good sportsmanship.

At the end of a match, players can endorse teammates as Shot Caller, Good Teammate, or Sportsmanship. Shot Caller can be awarded if you feel a player was a leader in the game and/or provided strategies that led the team to victory. Good Teammates are pretty self-explanatory. You can endorse your teammate as a Good Teammate if you felt they were helpful throughout the match via communication and gameplay. Finally, a player can endorse any teammate or opponent with Sportsmanship if they felt that player showed a positive attitude throughout the match. Players are incentivized to endorse each other by a small amount of XP they can gain by doing so (Fandom, n.d.).

It sounds like a nice concept, but in reality it isn’t viable. Every player ends up with a high Sportsmanship rating no matter what as people will endorse just about anybody with Sportsmanship just to get the XP. The Endorsement Level doesn’t reflect anything useful either, as there is decay on the rating over time. So if you have a perfect Endorsement Level of 5, but don’t play for a month, you’ll come back and have a low Endorsement Level, even though you may still be the fantastic team player that you were when you took a break or before you got busy with another game. This has both positive and negative consequences. But even apart from that, the Endorsement system doesn’t provide anything functional. All it does is show you an Endorsement Level. There’s no penalty for being low-rated in Endorsements. You can’t avoid low-endorsed players. You can’t choose to play with highly-endorsed players. And Blizzard doesn’t do anything with the system other than let it exist. Other games and their developers within the genres have multiple vehicles by which they combat toxicity in the community, but Blizzard again chooses to not implement a basic and necessary component of FPS and MOBA games in Overwatch. But managing toxicity isn’t the only place Blizzard has grown complacent or cold-shouldered.

“In year one, we were always talking about who the new characters are that are coming out…the maps were being introduced…they had comics and animations dropping left and right. Then they put all of their effort into OWL (Overwatch League) and now it feels like the non-competitive players have been left behind.” Caleb explained his frustrations with the apparent lack of drive Blizzard has to maintain their game. “I was a constant player since the game’s release and really stopped playing like only a month ago. When you guys [our team] ask me if I want to play Overwatch, I usually am more down to chill in chat with you to hang out rather than to actually play the game.”

Lexi shares the same view as Caleb, she explains: “The biggest problem with Overwatch is that it is getting left behind by its creators while they work on other things. They don’t hype [the game] up as much as they once did or create the new content within the game that was keeping it fresh for the die-hard fans.” Additionally, she mentioned how the issue with Blizzard ignoring Overwatch post-OWL was exacerbated by the announcement and development of Overwatch 2–the campaign/PvE sister-game to Overwatch.

The lack of attention Blizzard has paid to the actual issues in the game is echoed by many, many players in the player base. Jess, my original Overwatch buddy, said “I wish we got a more consistent hero release schedule.” I myself have felt the same way. Initially, the game had a lot of content getting released–both in game and in other canon materials as well such as comic books and animated shorts that really sucked the player into the universe of Overwatch. But that died out quickly. With the introduction of the E-sports format of the game–Overwatch League–the non-professional format of the game fell by the wayside as changes became catered to the professional players and Blizzard focused more on monetizing OWL, rather than keeping their largest player base happy. Hero releases seem intermittent and just whenever Blizzard can squeeze one in or when the pros complain about having not had another hero added. Map releases, the same. Community morale? At this point, it’s questionable whether Blizzard understand what that is.

Constant Crippling Changes

Like just about any other multiplayer game, character balancing is important and Blizzard attempts to maintain the balance of the game, though most would agree that they fail spectacularly to do so.

“I’m really not a fan of the drastic changes they make when doing patches,” Albert said. “Ultimately, [it] seems to favor the DPS side of things. DPS have a difficult time with double shield and bunker (two popular team compositions), so they nerf the tanks and shields and utility to better compensate for the DPS’ ability.”

I have to agree with this as well, since the changes Blizzard makes to the game’s heroes are constant, and rarely benefit the game. Seriously, I wonder if anybody at Blizzard ever actually plays the game they develop.

There was a period of time when every game you played, each team would have a Reaper, and they’d go the whole game without dying, and would likely have play of the game as well. Following a string of buffs to Reaper, he just couldn’t die. He was too strong. The same thing has happened with many characters, and to some but in reverse. Just within the past year, a newer hero on the roster, Brigitte (I linked the pronunciation, since most players say it completely different), got absolutely nerfed into the ground to the point where she was nearly unplayable. This is a common theme in the game and the end doesn’t appear to be in sight.

It would be great if Blizzard could figure out their hero roster and balance it to the point where you could play mostly any combination of characters (within the constraints of role queue, of course) and have a valid chance at winning. But right now, that’s not the case. It too much pushes the unintended development of a meta in the game.

Maddening Metas

“But the meta right now is…”

“Oh, but they’re not part of the meta right now…”

“Well since our supports don’t want to play the meta I guess we’ll lose…”

Do these sound like stupid statements? Congratulations, you’re an intelligent human being. The situation with metas in Overwatch is just as maddeningly stupid and it sounds. Because Blizzard cannot balance their hero roster and continually cripple various characters while making other characters god-like, unintentional team combinations become the most powerful–and sometimes, the only way to win.

Here is just a sampling of metas from the past couple of years:

  • Classic Death Ball
  • Classic Dive
  • The President
  • Pick Comp
  • 2-3-1
  • Classic Anti-Dive
  • Beyblade
  • G.O.A.T.S
  • Triple-DPS Dive
  • Quad-Tank
  • Nanovisor
  • Nanoblade
  • SaaS (Somba-as-a-Support)
  • Phar-Mercy Dive
  • New Anti-Dive
  • Pulled Pork (Orisa-Hog)
  • Pirate Ship
  • Disruption Dive

And the list goes on (Milella, n.d.). There is a mind-numbing amount to learn about metas in Overwatch, and unfortunately, its something that players are inadvertently required to learn in order to win matches. This can be quite daunting for new players, and monotonous for all players.

Overwatch Ongoing

So what is in store for the future of Overwatch? Many say that it is already a dead game, and we are inclined to agree, though it still maintains more than 700k players online at any given time (PlayerCounter, 2020). “They say it’s a dead game,” Caleb says, “which super sucks because I love this game.” If Blizzard wants to stop bleeding players and maintain the playerbase’s interest in the game, some changes are going to be necessary. I have a few recommendations that I feel would help the game improve, but they are simply my opinions so take them with a grain of salt–or an entire salt shaker, if you prefer.

Suggestion: Rename “Competitive Play” to “Ranked Play”

Come on, guys. Nearly every other game out there with a competitive mode calls it ranked. Competitive isn’t a game mode. It is an attitude with which a player plays the game. What is the game doing when the players play that mode? Right now, it feels like it’s competing with them–hence the earlier discussed painful grind to climb in rank. What does Blizzard say the game is doing in that mode? Ranking players via Skill Rating. Let’s get with the program, guys.

Suggestion: Add “Unranked Play”

After changing the name of Competitive Play to Ranked Play, Blizzard should also introduce Unranked Play. This mode would have the same rules, mechanics, and environment as Ranked, but without the actual Skill Rating mechanic. This would allow players to play and practice the Ranked game mode without penalty to their Skill Rating, offering a great training solution for Ranked players and casual players alike. Of course, Quick Play could still be kept, either retaining its Quick Play moniker or changing to Casual Play. These concepts aren’t outlandish by any means, as this is a fairly standard format for many online multiplayer games.

Bringing it All Together

Alright. It’s time to step off the soapbox. As I said in the introduction to this article, I love Overwatch. Despite it’s many, many flaws and the frustration that it causes myself and the rest of our team, it has the potential to be an amazing game. It has brought many hundreds of hours of enjoyment, entertainment, and bonding for myself, my wife, and our friends. Overwatch still has a fairly dedicated playerbase, even if it is smaller than previously, and there are plenty of things Blizzard could still do to really polish the game into an enjoyable FPS/MOBA hybrid. While we may not be playing it heavily right now due to being a bit down-in-the-dumps about the state of the game, we continue to hope for a bright and shiny fifth year of the game.

Have you played Overwatch? What are your favorite things about it? What your frustrations? Suggestions? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts!


Additional Reading

Fandom (n.d.). Endorsements. Overwatch Wiki. https://overwatch.fandom.com/wiki/Endorsements

Grubb, J. (2017). With $1 billion in revenue, Overwatch is Blizzard’s fastest-growing franchise. VentureBeat. https://venturebeat.com/2017/05/04/with-1-billion-in-revenue-overwatch-is-blizzards-fastest-growing-franchise/

GamePedia (2020). List of maps by release date. Overwatch Wiki. https://overwatch.gamepedia.com/List_of_maps_by_release_date#:~:text=There%20were%20originally%2012%20maps%20at%20the%20launch,Since%20then%2C%209%20additional%20maps%20have%20been%20added.

Milella, V. (n.d.). All Overwatch Pro Team Compositions in Each Meta. EsportsTales. https://www.esportstales.com/overwatch/all-pro-team-compositions-in-each-meta#:~:text=%20All%20Overwatch%20Pro%20Team%20Compositions%20in%20each,Doomfist%E2%80%99s%20high%20burst%20damage%2C%20this%20composition…%20More%20

PlayerCounter (2020). Overwatch Live Player Count. https://playercounter.com/overwatch/


Griffeth Barker is a casual gamer who has been playing Overwatch since release both independently, casually with friends, and semi-competitively with a local team. Direct quotations from team members in this article were used with express permission from those respective team members. Statements made in this blog article are the personal opinions of various individuals regarding the game Overwatch and do not reflect the opinions or positions of any company or other organization with which the team members are affilated.