Wednesday, January 4, 2023 Tuesday, January 17, 2023
I recently went hands-on with a wireless Lavalier microphone called the Comica Vimo S Mi (affiliate link). This budget-minded microphone features two wireless transmitters, a pair of receivers, and a wireless charging case. The Vimo S Mi’s receiver attaches directly to your iPhone’s Lightning port for recording audio within apps. As I showcase in my hands-on video, it’s not the perfect microphone for every application, but it’s a big step up from the audio you get internally from your camera’s on-board microphone, and pairs nicely with the iPhone’s stock Camera app or with third-party apps like Filmic Pro and LumaFusion.
Watch the full video walkthrough as I discuss some of its pluses and minuses. Full disclosure: Comica sent me this unit for review and has allowed me to keep it.
The Level Lock Plus looks very similar to other products in the company’s portfolio, but this particular smart lock works with Apple’s home key feature that it first introduced in iOS 15. Home keys let you unlock your Level Lock via the NFC radio in your iPhone or Apple Watch. This feature, as I’ve stated many times before, is a downright game-changer for smart locks, and instantly makes the Level Lock Plus worthy of your consideration.
Level was founded by two ex-Apple employees — John Martin, a former VP of the company’s apps division, and Ken Goto, a former senior director of engineering. The Apple design DNA is readily apparent in all of Level’s products, including the Level Lock Plus, which is an improved version of the Level Lock – Touch Edition.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not surprising that design is a priority for Level given the company’s DNA.
Not only is the Level Lock Plus physically small, but it’s also low-key and inconspicuous. Most people, even those steeped in tech, would be hard-pressed to recognize they were looking at a smart lock at first glance, and this is clearly by design.
There are no gaudy keypads (although it’s an option if you want one), no wild designs just for the sake of being different, and perhaps most notably, virtually no branding that the user can see. It’s a high quality device that looks like any normal lock, but it’s deceivingly smart at the same time. With the added convenience of Apple home keys support to unlock doors via NFC using iPhone or Apple Watch, it’s an even more compelling option.
Unlike some of the other smart locks that I’ve tried in the past, installing the Level Lock Plus could not be any easier. The packaging is laid out clearly, and the instructions are direct and straightforward.
As long as your current deadbolt has a smooth throw without needing to push or pull on the door to lock it, installation should be a breeze. If you find that you need to push or pull on your door to lock your existing lock, that could indicate that the door or the jam may have swelled or warped. An automatic smart lock will lack the needed torque to work past this issue. This applies to any smart lock, not just the Level Lock. Fix your door first!
Step 1: Disassemble your current lock, removing the lock housing, deadbolt, and strike plate.
Step 2: Install the Level Lock bolt into your door with words TOP facing upwards. Use a Philips screwdriver to secure the bolt to your door with the bolt plate screws. Slide on the motor and secure it with the connecting screw, and then fasten the strike plate to your door jam with the strike plate screws.
Step 3: On the entry side of the door, with the bolt retracted, thread the tailpiece of the key housing through the center hole in the motor along with each of the mounting stalks. Secure the opposite side of the housing with the included security bolts, then snap on the interior magnetic paddle.
Step 4: Unscrew the bolt cap and insert the CR2 battery with the flat end towards the cap. You should hear a welcome chime indicating that the connections and battery were installed properly.
Using the Level Lock Plus
Download the Level Home app on your iPhone, create an account, and connect your Level Lock. After doing so, you’ll be prompted to configure your Level Lock Plus using the Home app.
There are a lots of ways to unlock your door using the Level Lock Plus. These methods include the following:
Level Home app via Bluetooth
NFC-enabled key cards
Touch to Unlock / Auto Unlock
Home app tiles, and automation
Apple home key
Keypad (sold separately)
In my video walkthrough above, I demonstrate many of the methods for unlocking and locking your door using Level Lock Plus. Of course the normal Siri/Home app control is present, alongside lock controls baked into the company’s own Level Home app. But I also appreciate having the ability to use regular old hardware keys. This is great for household members that aren’t able (or willing) to adapt to new technology. Watch the video to hear my commentary on each unlocking method.
Level recently noted to the Verge that a firmware update is in the works to add Matter support over Thread, and that’s big news. This will open up the Level Lock Plus to more ecosystems outside of the current HomeKit and Amazon Sidewalk platforms:
Today, the Lock Plus (like all of Level’s locks) only works with Apple Home and Ring, but Level confirmed to The Verge that all its locks will be updated to support Matter-over-Thread, which will throw open the gates to any compatible smart home platform, including Google Home and Samsung SmartThings.
Indeed, there are many ways to unlock the Level Lock Plus, but one of the primary reasons why you’d consider this lock over most other smart locks on the market is because it supports NFC-enabled Apple home key. With home key, all you need to do is tap to unlock your Level Lock Plus with your iPhone or Apple Watch.
Apple home key is the same technology that I raved about in my previous review of the Schlage Encode Plus. Schlage’s offering is the only other smart lock that I’ve been able to test with home key support, and I was blown away by how well it worked.
I have the similar feelings about using home keys with the Level Lock Plus. Just tap the lock with your iPhone or Apple Watch, and your door is unlocked in just a few seconds. Home key, by default, requires users to identify using Face ID or passcode, but enabling Express Mode lets home keys work faster without authenticating.
Another feature that Express Mode enables is the ability to use home key even when your iPhone needs to be charged. Thanks to a battery reserve that keeps the NFC radio available, you won’t be locked out of your house just because you forgot to charge you iPhone.
In a recent video, YouTuber LockPickingLawyer showed that the Level Lock Plus is extremely easy to pick using a rake tool or access via a simple bump key and hammer method. While this is somewhat concerning given the $329 price point of this lock, I have a slightly more measured take when it comes to lock security.
In my opinion, locks are primarily there to give homeowners peace of mind, and prevent someone from simply opening your door and walking inside. If someone really wants inside, they could simply break a window. That’s not to ignore the fact that Level did not include a more robust cylinder inside its flagship product, but, as shown by LockPickingLawyer, many consumer grade locks can be picked with the right tools. That being said, as Level notes in its FAQ, a user could have the Level Lock Plus rekeyed by a locksmith with a more robust cylinder if they wanted to, but it would have been nice if it shipped with a more fortified cylinder to begin with.
After using Apple home key, I’d never recommend a smart lock again that didn’t support the feature — it’s just that good. That leaves few options, as of now, for home key-enabled smart locks.
The aforementioned Schlage Encode Plus (if you can find it) is a great option, although its design is the polar opposite of what Level is doing. With Schlage’s offering, it includes a keypad along with a design that makes it clear that it’s a smart lock. There’s not anything wrong with that design route, but it’s anything but inconspicuous.
With the Level Lock Plus, you get the most important home key feature, but you also get a design that’s decidedly minimalistic and normal looking. It gives you the latest and greatest smart lock technology in Apple home key support, while looking like a regular lock that you might scoop up from a spur-of-the-moment weekend visit to Home Depot.
If Schlage’s Lock were readily available and I could pick between the two, I’d probably learn more towards Schlage’s offering due to its built-in keypad and stronger reputation as far as security is concerned. The Level Lock Plus is, in my opinion, the better looking lock, but after using both I’d say that the Schlage Encode Plus just edges out the Level Lock Plus.
At any rate, if you prefer the look and design of the Level Lock Plus, I don’t think you can go wrong with it. It’s a solid lock option right now for those in the Apple ecosystem, and it will get better as future firmware updates are released.
Design – Extremely low key and unassuming design, looks like a normal lock.
Battery level – More granular battery level readings would be helpful.
Installation – Full install can be finished in just minutes.
Sound – Could benefit from even quieter lock/unlock confirmation sound options.
Hardware key – Non-techies will appreciate having a simple hardware key.
Security– Easily picked, according to some sources, but lock can be rekeyed for enhanced security.
Home Key – A game-changing technology that is a must-have for modern smart locks.
Thread/Matter support – Level will update the Lock Plus to support Matter over Thread.
Tuesday, August 16, 2022 Thursday, November 17, 2022
The Twelve South Curve Flex is a brand new stand for your MacBook that builds on the concept of the company’s original Curve stand. Whereas the original Curve provided a solid metal one-piece design, Curve Flex features two adjustable dual hinges that allow users to elevate their MacBook screen while simultaneously adjusting the angle of the keyboard.
I recently went hands-on with the Curve Flex, which launches today, and paired it with my silver M2 MacBook Air. If you’re a MacBook owner, Should you consider adding the Curve Flex to your desktop setup? Watch my hands-on video review for the details.
Twelve South marketed the original Curve stand as a beautifully curved one-piece design with no extra parts or moving pieces. While such a design has its advantages, it also brings forth some limitations. For example, the original Curve provides a single keyboard angle and features a static 6.5 inches of height off of the desktop.
The Charleston, South Carolina-based company introduced the Curve Flex to afford users more flexibility to dial in the ideal display height and keyboard angle for their desktop setup. The Curve Flex features the height-adjustability of Twelve South’s HiRise for MacBook, while also letting users configure the best angle for typing on the MacBook’s keyboard.
The Curve Flex is ideal for those who wish to align their MacBooks next to an external display for a more ergonomic desktop workspace. Users can then user their MacBook to control input, or more ideally, pair a trackpad/mouse and keyboard for a more comfortable setup.
Curve Flex design and build quality
The original Curve, which Twelve South still sells, is comprised of a solid piece of aluminum in either matte black or matte white colors. Because of the one-piece design with no moving parts, its the more solid of the two when compared to the dual-hinge Curve Flex.
Despite the nature of the design, this adjustable stand feels very well built. Although it somewhat encroaches on the elegance of the original Curve design, Twelve South employed the use of a cross bar to assist with stability on the Curve Flex. And like its forebear, it features a non-slip surface on the bottom that ensures firm footing while on the desktop.
The Curve Flex is available in matte black or matte white colorways. I imagine most will opt for the matte black by default, but I went for the matte white. I think matte white looks nice on a white or natural wood desktop surface.
Strengths and weaknesses
This product’s main strength is in its name: Flex. Thanks to the hinge design, the unit can elevate your MacBook’s display anywhere between 2 and 22-inches and adjust the angle of the MacBook’s keyboard up to 45 degrees. Not only that, but the unit can fold flat when not in use, making it an ideal travel companion. Twelve South even includes a handy travel sleeve inside the box.
Unlike the Curve Flex, the original Curve featured no moving parts, so it provides a more surefooted desktop presence than the Uber-adjustable Flex. If stability and permanence are the most desirable qualities you’re looking for in a stand, then check out the original Curve instead.
I’m including this stand in my upcoming roundup of my favorite MacBook Air accessories. Be sure to Subscribe to Cellular on YouTube for more hands-on coverage with the M2 MacBook Air.
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This is a particularly interesting question in relation to the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro, because this computer is nearly identical to the 2020 model with the exception of Apple’s new M2 system on a chip. In my eyes, this new MacBook Pro exists for a few key reasons:
Apple sells a lot of 13-inch MacBook Pro machines
The previous 13-inch MacBook Pro is approaching two years old in November, and was due for a refresh
This is Apple’s entry-level “Pro” MacBook, and at $1299, its base configuration is $700 cheaper than the base model 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro chip
R&D and manufacturing costs are minimized since this design has been used before
There’s no complex explanation here — Apple sells a lot of 13-inch MacBook Pro computers, so it was updated with Apple’s new M2 chip in order to keep selling more.
Who is it for?
I look at the MacBook Pro similarly to how I look at fleet vehicles. They are able to do the job, but don’t bring a lot of added bells and whistles to the table. The M2 MacBook Pro does the job, featuring a new “engine” with higher performance than its predecessor, but it’s not at all exciting, and saves all of the fancy stuff — XDR display, MagSafe, SD Card slot, extra Thunderbolt port — for its bigger siblings.
If you need a new MacBook, then the 2022 MacBook Pro is among the cheapest that you can buy brand new. It also comes with M2 Apple Silicon that should last plenty of generations of software updates going into the future.
“If you need a new MacBook, then the 2022 MacBook Pro is among the cheapest that you can buy brand new”
The chassis on this MacBook Pro — both inside and outside — is indistinguishable from its predecessor. It features the same I/O, including two Thunderbolt USB4 ports located on the left side of the machine, and the same 3.5mm headphone jack on the right side.
The screen is also identical to the previous model. It features the same 13.3-inch IPS display with 2560-by-1600 native resolution, along with other familiar specs: 500 nits of brightness, wide color support, and True Tone for accurate white balance in ambient light.
The 2022 MacBook Pro also ensures that the controversial Touch Bar remains available on a brand new Apple laptop for at least one more generation. The Touch Bar, which has received a lukewarm response since its debut back in 2016, has been eliminated on all of Apple’s laptops with updated designs starting with last year’s 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro releases.
With all of that being said, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is still a beautifully-designed laptop, and in most cases puts PC designs to shame. Just because it isn’t the latest and greatest design doesn’t automatically make it bad. 2020’s MacBook Pro blew everyone’s mind with how good it was, and that was mostly owed to Apple Silicon. For the most part, the same rings true with the M2-powered MacBook Pro.
The most important 2022 MacBook Pro feature is easily the Apple M2 Chip, which makes its worldwide debut in this machine. The M2 is the follow-up to the venerable M1 chip, the first such in-house-designed chip for Macs, and an utter game-changer performance-wise when compared to Intel chips.
The M2 builds on the M1 in several key ways. The M2 uses the same 5nm process, but features a noteworthy increase in transistors going from 16 million on the M1 to 20 million on the M2. The M2 features an 8-core CPU paired with a 10-Core GPU — two additional GPU cores than its predecessor.
The 16-core Neural Engine is now more capable than before. The upgraded Neural Engine can now perform 15.8 trillion operations per second which is a sizable step above the 11 trillion ops on the two-year-ago model.
Finally, the M2 features faster memory, with 100GB/s memory bandwidth versus roughly 70GB/s with M1. And buyers can configure up to 40% more unified memory than before, with users presented with an 8, 16, and new 24 GB build-to-order option. Although a far cry from the 64GB option on the 14-inch MacBook Pro, when coupled with the additional bandwidth, having 8GB of extra memory headroom will make a difference for video workflows, 3D rendering, virtualization, etc. when compared to M1.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the 13-inch MacBook Pro only affects the base model with 256GB of SSD storage. As revealed by Max Tech, Apple is using a single 256GB NAND module in its base model MacBook Pro instead of two 128GB NAND modules in parallel like it did in the M1-powered base machine. This change results in slower SSD speeds than the previous 13-inch base model MacBook Pro.
On one hand that is a problem, because the MacBook Pro should be at least as fast as its predecessor across the board. In terms of SSD speed for the base $1299 configuration with 256GB of storage, that is not the case.
Of course, one could make the argument that those who are concerned with the speed of the SSD wouldn’t be opting for the base configuration anyway, and I agree with this to an extent. The audience for this baseline MacBook Pro is generally not the same audience that cares about SSD performance beyond the fact that it be fast enough to do basic tasks competently, such as launching apps.
However, as others have said, I think this means that Apple should have simply set the new baseline at 512GB if doing otherwise yields performance that is demonstrably slower than its predecessor.
The other big weakness is that, because this machine isn’t powered by the higher end Pro and/or Max variants of the M2 chip, there’s not enough bandwidth to support more more than two Thunderbolt ports, which are located solely on the left-side of the machine. As someone who frequently interfaces with Thunderbolt and USB-C peripherals, this is a big downside for me, but your experience may vary.
At $1299 for the base model, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is easily the most affordable brand new MacBook Pro that you can purchase today. The higher-end 14-inch model starts at $1999, a $700 increase over the baseline 13-inch version. Hence, in terms of value when compared to the 14-inch model, there is a substantial amount of money to be saved.
If you’re coming from an Intel MacBook, then the M2 MacBook Pro will, like its predecessor, blow you away. The performance and battery life runs circles around MacBook Pro models with Intel chips. For those making the move from Intel hardware, you will be downright thrilled with the upgrade.
However, when compared to the previous M1 MacBook Pro, value is limited. For starters, you get a slower SSD in the base model, and outside of the M2 performance increases and build-to-order memory upgrade, it’s more or less the exact same machine design-wise and feature wise. With these things in mind, I’d say that the 2022 MacBook Pro provides a wide range of value propositions for perspective buyers.
The 2022 MacBook Pro is about as vanilla as it gets when it comes to Apple laptops. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the M2 chip that powers the machine is extremely capable, and will be a huge upgrade for those coming from Intel-powered MacBooks.
But if you already have 2020’s MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with the M1 chip, the upgrade is considerably less compelling. If I were looking to upgrade to the latest Apple Silicon, I’d instead wait for the M2-powered MacBook Air refresh that’s scheduled to come available later this month.
Despite being rated for two hours less battery life than the MacBook Pro, I think the upcoming MacBook Air is hands-down the better computer for the majority of users at this price tier. With the 2022 MacBook Air, you get all of the following advantages over the MacBook Pro:
Brand new thinner design (0.44 inch vs 0.61 inches)
Slightly larger 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display
Much thinner bezels
Lighter chassis (2.7 pounds vs 3.0 pounds)
Silent, fanless design
New exciting color options (Starlight and Midnight)
MagSafe 3 support
1080p FaceTime HD Camera
Full-size function keys
No Touch Bar (for those that hate it)
$100 cheaper for base model
Advantages of the MacBook Pro:
Active cooling for less throttling
67W USB-C Power Adapter vs 30W
Battery life (20 vs 18)
Touch Bar (for those that like it)
Stereo speakers with high dynamic range
Studio-quality three-mic array
In my opinion, none of those advantages add up to make the MacBook Pro a better machine than the MacBook Air, but if you really value the Touch Bar, or you value battery life over anything else, then those are areas you might possibly consider when making a decision. Personally, despite having not yet tested the MacBook Air, I think the decision is a no-brainer: skip the MacBook Pro, get the MacBook Air.