Trending February 2024 # Review: Owc’s Express 4M2 Thunderbolt 3 Enclosure Accommodates Four M.2 Ssds # Suggested March 2024 # Top 10 Popular

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The OWC Express 4M2 is a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure that can accommodate up to four M.2 NVMe SSDs simultaneously for up to 8TB of storage. It features a compact design and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports for daisy chain setups along with DisplayPort for connecting to an external display.

OWC says that speeds for the 4M2 can reach up to 2800 MB/s read. To reach those speeds, you’ll need four fast drives configured with RAID 0 using the included SoftRAID software.

The 4M2, with its massive 8TB capacity and fast speeds is particularly apt for video editing workflows. But the enclosure, which costs $349 without any drives inside, requires a considerable investment to get the most out of it. Should you consider OWC’s chassis if you need the throughput speed and storage space? Watch our video walkthrough inside for the details.

Specifications

Four M.2 NVMe SSD slots

Compact design

Advanced SoftRAID engine

Thunderbolt Certified for Mac and Windows

2 x Thunderbolt 3 ports (supports daisy chain)

0.5m Thunderbolt 3 cable included

DisplayPort 4K@60Hz connectivity

Dimensions: 5.4 x 4.4 x 2.4-inches

Weight: 1.76 lbs

1 Year OWC Limited Warranty

Price $349.99

Video walkthrough

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My first impression of the OWC Express 4M2 is that it’s really small. After reviewing products with four 2.5- or 3.5-inch drive bays, I’m used to seeing larger storage enclosures like the CalDigit T4 or the Akitio Thunder3 Quad X. Like those enclosures, the OWC Express 4M2 comes equipped with four drive bays, but the difference is the drive “bays” are super-tiny M.2 slots.

M.2 drives look almost like sticks of gum, measuring roughly 3-inches by less than an inch. As you can probably gather from those measurements, it doesn’t take a lot of real estate to house four M.2 drives. Because the drives are so small, the OWC Express 4M2 enclosure measures only 5.4 x 4.4 x 2.4-inches. Stack two 3.5-inch mechanical hard drives on top of each other, and you’ll get a rough idea of what it’s like to have the OWC Express 4M2 sitting on your desk.

The unit sports a black exterior with perforated holes on the front panel to help facilitate air flow. Feet on the side and on the bottom of the unit allow it to rest horizontally or vertically depending on your preference.

I recommend keeping the 4M2 resting in its horizontal position, because this causes the fan to face downward, helping to suppress some of its fan noise. It’s not that the fan is obnoxiously loud either way, but it’s definitely noticeable in a quiet room, and even more so when the enclosure is sitting in a vertical position.

M.2 drives generate a lot of heat, and thus fans are a requirement and can’t be disabled. OWC says its gone through a lot of testing to ensure that the fan is well matched with the enclosure to help manage heat, and doesn’t support replacing the fan with what some may deem as quieter third-party solutions.

Keep in mind that the OWC Express 4M2 is just an enclosure, and you’ll need to add one or more M.2 drives to the internal bays in order to use it. Installing M.2 drives inside the enclosure is a fairly straightforward process. Simply remove a couple of thumb screws, remove the cover, disconnect the fan, and install the modules. Once the M.2 drives are installed, just reconfigure everything in reverse.

If you’re looking to get the best performance out of the 4M2, then you’ll need to invest in four fast M.2 NVMe drive modules, and be willing to configure all four modules in a RAID 0 configuration using the included SoftRAID software.

OWC would be happy to sell you its own M.2 drives, but there are also other options from companies like Samsung. While they’re slowly coming down in price, high-end M.2 SSDs are still very expensive. A single 2TB module can easily be found north of $1000, so you can probably do the math on how utterly expensive it would be to equip the OWC Express 4M2 with high-end drives to meet the maximum 8TB capacity.

To aid my testing, OWC included four of its own 2TB OWC Mercury M.2 drives. These drives cost about $900 a piece, which means that four of them plus the $349 enclosure will run you just south of $4000 before tax.

Obviously such a setup will be price prohibitive for many users, but the investment can be worth it if you’re in the line of work that not only requires speed, but a large amount of fast storage as well. You’re not going to find a standalone 8TB external SSD on the market just yet, so if you’re working with extremely large 4K, 6K, or 8K uncompressed media, the OWC Express 4M2 coupled with four M.2 SSDs may prove to be an ideal setup for something like an iMac Pro or MacBook Pro.

Also, consider for a second that a RAID enclosure like the Promise Pegasus R4 with four 2TB SATA III SSDs costs about $4,699.00, and you start to see that an 8TB OWC Express 4M2 configuration isn’t so crazy after all. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider the Promise Pegasus if you need access to big pools of local storage. I’ll have a follow-up analysis of the Promise Pegasus R6 to detail the benefits of that product in the near future.

Speed Tests

Below you’ll find a chart outlining the read and write results from several speed tests using my iMac Pro. As I normally do, I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, AJA, and QuickBench for testing.

The results showcase a drive that’s extremely fast for both read and write, and will have plenty of headroom to handle uncompressed high resolution video workflows with ease. It’s not the fastest drive array that I’ve ever tested, but the speed, amount of storage, and form factor are all qualities that make the 4M2 stand out.

Above is another test using iostat on the Mac terminal. This command allows you to monitor TPS and MB/s for a specific drive. This measures how often a selected drive can perform I/O tasks, and the speed at which they do. I used this command in conjunction with a simple 54GB file transfer between my Mac and the OWC Express 4M2. I then performed the same test with the recently-reviewed Samsung X5 Portable SSD.

The Samsung X5 is extremely fast, but the above test results show how the OWC Express 4M2 excels at maintaining a consistently fast speed over a long file transfer period. As you can see from the data points above, this particularly applies when writing data to the drive. The Samsung X5 throttles down when writing after about 13 seconds, and stays there for the remainder of the transfer, while the OWC Express 4M2 keeps trucking along. Depending on your workflow, this could have a significant impact on performance.

Conclusion

We live in a world where very fast external storage is not uncommon. Samsung’s recently-launched X5 SSD, for instance, puts up better numbers in some situations, but worse performance in others. If you’re looking for a drive that’s consistently fast, and you need tons of storage to boot, you might consider decking out an enclosure like the OWC Express 4M2 with fast M.2 media. However, most users engaging in 1080p and 4K workflows won’t require this type of throughput or storage amount for their working drive. Those users would be served just as well by less expensive options.

In other words, the OWC Express 4M2 is the type of enclosure built to meet the specific needs of someone working with lots of heavy data. If that describes your workflow, then it may prove to be a worthwhile investment.

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Review: Caldigit Thunderbolt 3 Docking Station

CalDigit TS3 is a solid options for pros looking to expand the functionality of their MacBook Pro or Thunderbolt 3 equipped iMac.

More accessories have been hitting the market aimed at pros. Both in functionality, as well as in price. The CalDigit TS3 falls into this category with a wide array of ports, however it still leaves a few areas to be desired.

In use

The first thing I liked about the TS3 was the minuscule size. It is relatively small considered to other options out there. Of course, many docks can achieve this by offloading their power components into an external brick that can be quite large. In this case, the power adapter is almost as large as the unit itself. This is probably a worthwhile tradeoff, as that can sit below your desk, keeping it clutter-free, and giving the dock a smaller footprint.

One of the best things about a Thunderbolt 3 dock isn’t just the ports it provides. It’s the simplicity it offers. You can sit down at your desk, plug in a single cable to your MacBook Pro, and have access to everything connected to the dock. That includes an external display, additional storage options, speakers, ethernet, and even charging. That’s right, the CalDigit is able to provide up to 100 watts of power, which is more than enough for even the 87 watt power draw on your 15″ MacBook Pro.

Port-wise, your options are vast. On the front, you have audio in/out, and a USB 3.1 port. One thing to note of value, the USB port on the front is powered, even if your machine isn’t connected. That means if you have something like an iPhone plugged in, it will continue to charge without your Mac. On the back of the unit, you have several more options available.

2 eSATA ports

2 USB 3.1 ports

Gigabit ethernet

DisplayPort (up to a 5k display)

2 Thunderbolt 3 ports

Aside from the dock, you also have a Thunderbolt 3 cable included. It is a half meter cable, which is perfect if your dock is sitting on the top of your desk. If you want to place the TS3 elsewhere, you may need one of the 1 or 2 meter options that CalDigit has available.

Quick note on the difference between the 2 cables however. The longer length of the Thunderbolt cable requires an active cable, instead of a passive one. It needs additional hardware in the cable to guarantee throughput at the longer distances. Why does any of that matter? Because the benefit of longer lengths comes at the cost of USB 3.0 and 3.1 compatibility. That means the short cable included works with USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1. The longer cables are more robust, have a thicker gauge cord, and are compatible with USB 2.0 aside from Thunderbolt 3.

Advantages

For pro users, especially those with some legacy hardware, this may be the best dock. I’m not sure of many other Thunderbolt 3 hubs that support eSATA which is extremely useful. I also appreciate the size and orientation options. It is easier to adapt to your space, instead of the other way around.

There are a few I/O options that I feel are lacking here on the TS3, notably SD or Micro SD card ports. As a photographer and videographer, that is one of the utmost important things to me, which means I’m still left with an adapter. That said, I use XQD type cards frequently, and those always require an external reader, and mine happens to have SD inputs as well, so it isn’t a huge deal. I can see for others, this would be a painful thing to leave off.

I’d also prefer HDMI over the Display Port, but that is just easier to handle with Thunderbolt 3, and all other major hubs opt for the same interface, so it isn’t something exclusive to CalDigit.

Wrap up

I find myself squarely in the “fan” column when it comes to the CalDigit TS3. It is overly robust, with nearly all the ports I could use. I’m sure if I was to get granular, I could nitpick things all day, but when the device itself is so solid, nitpick is all you can do.

What Is M.2 Ssd? Does Your Computer Need M.2 Ssd?

As computers, predominantly the laptops, continue to shrink in size, its components like the storage drives also needed to congruently get smaller. In the past few decades, computer storage has transformed from that typical 2 square meter product to ultra-modern flash drives – which now fit into the thinnest of laptops and Ultrabooks. Behold the M.2 SSD (M-dot-2) form factor, that’s nips the size of conventional solid-state storage to the minuscule size of a USB stick.

If you are planning to buy an M.2 SSD drive for your next computer, here’s all that you need to know.

What is M.2 SSD

M.2 is a form factor for SSDs (solid-state drives) which looks like a stick of gum. M.2 SSDs are rectangular and most of them are 80 x 22mm (L x W) but can be shorter or longer (i.e., 30 mm, 42 mm and 110 mm). The M.2 SSD drives which are longer hold more NAND chips and hold extra capacity than the shorter versions. These drives can also be single or double-sided. The most common size is labeled M.2 Type-2280.

M.2 SSD cards are archetypally used in modern mobile computing devices. M.2 SSDs are not compatible with older systems because this form factor is not like mSATA cards. Owing to its compactness factor, thin laptops are increasingly using M.2 SSDs as they take very less room, unlike the traditional SATA drives. Also, since it’s designed for mobile devices, these aren’t fit for large enterprise storage systems.

Now about the cost and vendors, this type of SSDs are widely available in the market now and typically cost from $0.25-$0.75 per gigabyte. Samsung and Intel are the most popular vendors for M.2 SSDs. Other vendors include Toshiba, Kingston, Team Group, Plextor, and Adata.

Identifying different sizes of M.2 SSD

M.2 SSD cards and motherboard slots differ in sizes, both in the width and length of the card. The size of M.2 SSD can be identified using the four- or five-digit number in its name. The first two digits are its width, while the others are its length. For example, M.2 type – 2280 card; it’s 22 mm wide and 80 mm long. For desktop and laptops, 22 mm width M.2 SSDs are standard. The current available sizes for M.2 modules are as follow:

Widths – 12, 16, 22, and 30 mm

Lengths – 16, 26, 30, 38, 42, 60, 80, and 110 mm

An 80 mm or 110 mm length card can hold 8 NAND chips for 1 TB of capacity. Furthermore, M.2 SSDs go up to 2TB in storage size.

Keying Structure

With several notched pins, M.2 modules can be easily plugged into a mating connector, which further enhances its easy compatibility. Definite Notched pins match to a unique Key, ranging from A (having pins 8-15 notched) to M (having pins 59-66 notched).

The typical M.2 SSD keying structure includes B key, M key or B+M Key. For WD M.2 SSDs, the keys used are B and M (B+M) on WD Green SSD and WD Blue SSD models, while the WD Black PCIe SSD uses only the M key.

M.2 SSD Storage Pros

Extra Speed

Compacted Form Factor

The technology of the Future

Improved Power Consumption

Reliable and dependable

1] Extra speed

M.2 SSDs are designed for the PCIe connector, which has far more caliber than the traditional SSDs. These add to the sheer difference in speed of SSD technologies, and these reasonably priced M.2 SSDs have the power to fetch 15x faster speed. Users will also be able to get M.2 SSDs which leverage the NVME protocol, these offer much lower latency.

Operating systems like Windows utilize the system’s storage most of the time, hence an upgrade makes things smoother. The difference in speed will also be evident in the system’s boot times and reduced game load screens.

2] Compacted Form Factor

So, if you are planning a portable build, then an M.2 SSD is one stern consideration for reducing the weight and space factor. The traditional 2.5-inch SSDs are almost the size of your entire hand, but M.2 SSDs lie on 2 to 3 fingers. In addition to this, M.2 connectors plug straight into the motherboard, eliminating the need for extra cabling. These drives cut down the weight of SSDs from 50 grams to just 7 grams, i.e., equivalent to the weight of a leaf on a tree.

3] Technology of the Future

If you get a system which supports M.2 drives, you will open plenty of upgrade options in the future. Like PCIe storage and NVME, M.2 is another innovation that is expected to dominate the consumer market in a few years.

4] Improved Power Consumption

Mobile computers systems have a very limited running time depending upon the size of their battery and the power consumed by the different components. Since the interface of M.2 SSD is a part of the SATA 3.2 specifications, it includes few features that are beyond just the interface, like DevSleep. This new feature creates a lower power state and cuts down the amount of power used by the devices. This helps in extending the running time for the systems and put it to sleep rather than powered down amid several uses.

5] Reliable and dependable

M.2 SSD Cons

Spotting an M.2 SSD which fits your motherboard can be a difficult job for those who aren’t too conversant with computer hardware. These drives come with many complications, here’s a quick rundown:

Two connectors support only a few selective ‘keys,’ hence can connect to connectors with the same keying.

Only a few M.2 drives and connection points support NVME, i.e., the faster data transfer protocol.

Users might have to switch their M.2 drive to PICe mode in their system BIOS.

Two drives which use SATA connection can condense the overall computer performance.

Hence before making the final purchase, a user needs to check if their motherboard is compatible with M.2 and explore their connections options and setup steps.

Another con is the price, getting newer modern technologies like Intel Optane can demand 4X cost.

Final Thoughts

Do you need M.2 SSD? Well, owing to the array of pros every modern computer needs M.2 SSD, not just for its compact structure and sleekness, but to stay relevant with the new and upcoming technologies.

Review: Kingston’s Hyperx Predator Pcie Ssd Offers Fast M.2 Performance

All PCIe SSDs, no matter what the flavor, are expensive. Case in point: the M.2/AHCI/PCIe 2.0 Kingston HyperX Predator PCIe SSD, which has a towering MSRP of $764 for the 480GB version. Then I saw the $499 street price and the performance numbers. I can live with the price for 1.2GBps, though of course, I’d much rather cohabit with $300.

The Kingston HyperX Predator PCIe SSD is an M.2 drive that also ships with a PCIe expansion card adapter.

As with several faster-than-SATA storage upgrades such as Plextor’s M6e, the HyperX Predator PCIe SSD is simply an M.2 drive on a x4 PCIe expansion card adapter. M.2 is the socket successor to mSATA. Both are small-form-factor connectors with SATA channels that were created primarily for laptops, but M.2 is also found increasingly on desktop motherboards because of the versatility its four PCIe lanes provides. It can handle fast SSDs, plus a number of different types of peripherals.

But it’s only recently that vendors have started shipping M.2/PCIe drives such as the Predator PCIe SSD, Samsung’s XP941 and SM951, and others, rather than the older M.2/SATA drives such as the Plextor M6e. It’s an important improvement: SATA maxes out at about 600MBps, while an M.2 drive that can use four PCIe lanes has 2GBps (PCIe 2.0) or 4GBps (PCIe 3.0) of bandwidth to play with. The HyperX Predator’s controller is PCIe 2.0, so it’s capped at 2GBps, but that’s still significantly faster than a SATA solution.

The only downside is price: M.2/PCIe drives are twice as fast, but as you can see from the Predator PCIe SSD, significantly more expensive.

PCWorld

The M.2-based HyperX performance was commendable but not faster than Intel’s cheaper 750-series.

Performance

This is the full-height version of the HyperX Predator PCIe SSD, but it comes with a half-height end piece as well. You can also remove the drive and use it in a M.2 slot.

While a M.2/PCIe solution is pricy, it’s easier and more elegant than striping cheaper SATA bus SSDs in RAID 0. You also know you’ll get the performance you paid for. When using four drive RAID 0 arrays, I’ve seen up to 1.4GBps using Intel 730 drives, but as little as 850GBps from other combined drives. Intel apparently has some tricks in its RST technology that it can leverage with its drives.

Recommendations

The 480GB HyperX Predator PCIe SSD’s $499 street price is $200 less than the OCZ Revo Drive 350, but costs twice as much as an equivalent-capacity SATA SSD, as well as $100 more than the Intel 750 series. I’d recommend the latter if there were more widespread support for booting from an NVMe drive. If you do have NVMe boot support, the Intel 750 is the one you want.

If your motherboard has an M.2 connector there’s also Samsung’s new SM951, which is PCIe 3.0 (most M.2 slots are PCIe 2.0, but an increasing number are 3.0) and slightly cheaper than the Predator at the moment. But the SM951 doesn’t currently ship with a PCIe adapter card. That leaves the HyperX Predator PCIe SSD as easily (cost considered) your best storage upgrade for non-NVMe/M.2 desktop systems—in other words, just about every mainstream PC in existence.

Android M Developer Preview: Features And Review

During Google I/O 2014, Google released the Android L Developer Review to the community so as to allow developers to test their apps on the new Android version. Android L was later released as Android Lollipop to the mass public. In Google I/O this year, Google similarly released the next version of Android Developer Preview – Android M – to the community. I have been testing it out for the past week. Let’ see how the next version of Android is shaping up.

Interface

Android M, at the moment, feels less like a dramatic leap and more like a necessary upgrade.

Past versions of Android – Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean to KitKat, even KitKat to Lollipop – all marked major improvements in interface and functionality. Lollipop to Android M, however, feels more like an upgrade to Lollipop than the next big step forward. For the most part, if you’re used to using stock Android, running Android M won’t seem very different at all, especially coming from Lollipop. Most things still function the same as always, your favorite Android apps don’t tend to lose compatibility with future versions of Android, and so on.

M does have a multitude of changes, however, and we’ll start by covering the most apparent ones.

The app drawer has been revamped from the traditional Android side-scrolling. Now, you scroll up and down to find your apps, with your four most used apps at the top of the screen just under a search bar for your apps, akin to the Start Menu in Windows. Interface overhauls like this are mostly a matter of opinion, but for me, I find vertical scrolling much more inconvenient than before, and prefer swiping between different screens of apps in alphabetical order. Finding the exact app I want requires slightly more time and effort, and for a smartphone, I feel like the user experience should be more inclined toward making it easier. For the final version of Android M, I rather hope that they add an option to switch back to the old app drawer for stubborn conservatives like myself who prefer to keep our UI consistent.

Appearance

This is yet another area where Android M feels more like an iteration on Lollipop than a true evolution. While the Developer options in Settings offers theme customization (something I hope is expanded upon beyond simple Light and Dark themes), for the most part, Android M’s aesthetics are all traditional Android and Lollipop fare. Unlike in Lollipop, there is no major design overhaul in Google’s apps. Material Design is still the next big step, and it remains present in Google Now and other Google apps.

Material Design is already pretty solid, so I doubt there will be major changes to it. Any changes to be made to it in the future will likely be very minor.

Apps, Features and Customization

Part of Android M’s feature set is improved battery management which is most noticeable whenever you put your phone into sleep mode or leave certain applications idle for long periods of time. This shouldn’t be very problematic to most users, but if you happen to use certain legacy applications – such as IM clients that are supposed to always be open and online – you may find yourself bumping into some strange issues. These new battery features result in some strange power-saving attempts, and I feel it may be the reason behind the issue in the image you’re about to see.

Do you notice how some of those app icons are extremely pixelated in comparison to the rest? I’ve never encountered this issue on previous versions of Android, so if I had to guess the reason behind it, it would be intended to reduce the performance required to keep the home screen and app drawers constantly rendered. The new battery-saving features, I would estimate, extended my phone’s battery life by about two hours, which was very nice considering the battery life issues I had previously.

New to Android M’s App Settings are a multitude of features – notification priority, application permissions and battery optimizations. These battery optimizations may cause issues with older, legacy applications. To fix that, go to “Battery” and disable battery optimization. This will make that single app consume more power than it would otherwise, however. For the most part, the battery optimizations should come across as a very welcome change, and once the little bugs I mentioned are ironed out (likely by the official release), it’ll mark a great step forward for battery life on Android phones.

Aside from that, application permissions are perhaps the most major feature addition to Android M. This means apps like Facebook that want to access and control almost everything on your phone.

Conclusion

Even in its early state, Android M already feels like what Lollipop was meant to be, with Material Design back in full force, various battery life optimizations and bug fixes. The new features are quite promising – controlling application permissions and notification priority are wonderful features for power users, adding capabilities previously only possible with rooted devices and custom ROMs.

I had my minor irks, such as with the App Drawer, but Android M will likely be a very hot choice once it’s finally completed and released. I look forward to using the final version of Android M.

Until then, the Developer Preview doesn’t offer many major improvements and feels more like a single step forward than a true revolution.

Christopher Harper

I’m a longtime gamer, computer nerd, and general tech enthusiast.

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Lg G Flex 2 Review

Though the camera experience has gotten a bit of an update, in mostly speed, quality seems to be on par with other high-end competitors.

The app is quite simplistic, taking on a minimal interface that requires you to only tap the point of focus and once focused, you get your shot. This is due to the laser-guided autofocus that makes this one of the fastest cameras to use in the market today. Unless you have a subject running around in the frame, you’ll get your picture in seconds with little issue. Other modes include a burst mode that is triggered by holding the shutter down, panorama, a dual shooting mode that uses both cameras in the same shot, and HDR, that does enhance backlit subjects and adds a little bit of color to photos.

The biggest update to the camera experience centers around the self-portrait taker, who will be able to use the 2.1 megapixel front facing camera to quickly and easily review the shot by moving the phone downward in a natural curve. The picture will automatically appear when the phone detects this movement, making self portrait shots pretty easy to check out immediately, and delete if necessary.

Picture quality, though, is pretty uneven, and quite dependent on the lighting in one’s scene. In the camera shootout, I found that while there were good shots captured in broad daylight, going indoors already showed a big change in the detail capture and color saturation, with subjects that are supposed to have very vivid colors getting washed out. As the scene loses lighting, the pictures get noisier, making this a less than ideal companion to have in lower light, or even in indoor situations like at parties. Despite OIS+ helping with the general jittery movements in photo and video, it and the laser guided autofocus are about all that differentiates this camera from others, considering its otherwise mostly standard quality.

As mentioned before, it’s the software on this phone that seems to result in the performance issues with the G Flex 2.  Even though it has been updated to Lollipop, it doesn’t seem as though the G UI has really been optimized to its fullest potential on the Snapdragon 810.

That said, there have been a few changes to the way it works, because of Lollipop. The recent apps screen has been changed to a rolodex Lollipop style, and the notification dropdown now uses cards. But seeing the original style in the quick settings atop the notifications already alludes to the fact that the G UI is mostly still the same, inside and out.

The app drawer has the same style, now very cluttered by the sheer amount of extra applications that were pre-installed on this version of my phone. The settings area is tabbed, and it houses the many different options that you can turn on to tweak the experience, when it comes to one handed usage, some gestures, and a section to mess with the Knock Code. Speaking of the Knock Code, it is still a pretty nice way of unlocking the phone from the prone position. The main enhancement here is the addition of quick peek, which can be activated on a turned off screen by dragging one’s finger down the screen to see the time and the notification bar.

There are certainly some useful features here, but what is particularly disappointing is that without many changes to how the interface looks, we also didn’t get many changes in the optimization. As it stands, this version of the G UI simply isn’t the best showcase for what was supposed to be a super-powered processing package, and that is probably the biggest let down.

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