Belkind Soundform Rise True Wireless Earbuds

At NZ$130 a pair, the Belkin Soundform Rise True Wireless Earbuds are a low-cost alternative for people who want cord-free sound.

You can pay four times as much for noise cancelling wireless earbuds. Belkin offers the more upmarket Soundform Freedom earbuds at close to twice the price.

Which means the price is going to be a major selling point for the Soundform Rise Earbuds.

What do you get for NZ$130? The short answer is that you get earbuds that are good enough for casual use.

They aren’t going to win prizes for sound quality or features but they get the job done without emptying your wallet.

Bass boost

The sound quality isn’t bad. There’s audible bass boosting which can be tiresome after a time. I took them as loud as I dared without hearing distortion.

The Soundform Rise earbuds do rock better than other forms of music. Classical tracks sound unnatural, electronic music misses something in the mid-range.

If you are an audiophile, you’re not going to buy these. Otherwise, you won’t hate the sound. At the same time, if you switch to other, more expensive alternatives, you may be surprised by what you were missing with the Rise earbuds.

There is no active noise cancelling. You shouldn’t expect that at this price.

Away from music, the sound is great for making phone calls and using voice controlled apps. There’s a small amount of Bluetooth fuzziness, but you’ll hear callers and be heard when you make calls. That’s what matters.

Belkin’s physical design is not up to Apple, Sony or Bose standards, but it is serviceable.

Could be more comfortable

They are not as comfortable and don’t fit as securely as rival wireless earbuds. There are three sizes of earbuds, which should cover your needs. This is one of the compromises you make buying low-cost wireless earbuds.

Like other modern earbuds there are touch controls. At first it’s not obvious what actions trigger the functions – you’ll get used to that soon enough.

One thing that annoyed me in testing was how easy it is to hit the wrong command. I found music leaping forward to the next track or back to the start when I wasn’t expecting that to happen.

Unlike rivals, Soundform Rise earbuds don’t stop playing when you take them out of your ear. This may be a good thing for you.

Bluetooth pairing is harder than with other earbuds. This could be a reviewer-only issue, I’ve tested many Bluetooth sound devices in recent years. Yet I found I needed to restart pairing more often that I’d like.

Belkin says you get five hours battery life. And 19 hours with the case. This was hard to test, but it felt like the manufacturer’s claims were optimistic.

Verdict: Belkin Soundform Rise True Wireless Earbuds

There’s nothing exciting or earth-shattering about the Soundform Rise earbuds. They get the job done. They are not expensive. You won’t be delighted, but nor will you be disappointed.

If you can stretch to the NZ$230 needed to buy the Belkin Soundform Freedom earbuds, then you’ll get a better experience.

Long battery life, unfussy design and an innovative approach to better microphone performance make the Poly Voyager Focus 2 Bluetooth headphones a solid work-from-home performer.

Poly Voyager Focus 2

At a glance

For:Battery life, Acoustic Fence feature
Against:Expensive, not optimised for music
Maybe:Lacks passive noise cancelling, can be used with voice assistants
Verdict:Emphasis on productivity uses means Poly offers something different.
Rating:4.5 out of 5
Price:NZ$520
Web:Poly NZ

Noise-cancelling headphones or ear buds make working from home easier. They cut out the background noise allowing you to focus on your video calls.

Poly takes this idea a step further with the Voyager Focus 2.

Acoustic Fence

A feature Poly calls the Acoustic Fence uses noise cancelling to cut out extra sounds picked up by the headset’s boom microphone.

Poly talks about “creating a noise-free bubble in front of your mouth”. That’s marketing nonsense-speak.

The factual story is better. The same active noise cancelling (ANC) technology that cuts the background noises you hear, reduces them as you speak into to the microphone.

It means your voice cuts through. People at the other end of a conversation get to hear your voice above any background hubbub.

Active noise cancelling

Shared flats, family homes and business offices can be noisy places. Active noise cancellation will cut through a lot of that.

ANC technology is best when drowning out constant sounds, say a jet engine, road traffic or air conditioning. It manages to do a decent job if you need to make important work calls when kids are yelling or dogs are barking.

Voyager Focus 2 has three levels of ANC, you can switch between them using controls on the headset. The highest level removes most, but not all external sounds.

The lowest level means you might hear if someone in the same room wants to get your attention or a flight attendant is telling you to put the tray table up.

Passive noise cancelling

Headphones tend to have two types of noise cancellation. ANC is electronic, passive noise cancelling works by having the headphone cups fit tight around your ears.

That’s not the case with the Voyager Focus 2. The speakers sit on your ears, they don’t surround them.

Because there’s no passive noise cancellation you won’t get perfect silence, plenty of nearby noise will leak through.

In practice that’s less of a problem than you might thing. Full noise cancelling is important if you want to drift off to sleep listening to music on a long haul flight. It’s not always the best choice when working.

Comfortable

Over-ear headsets need to be comfortable for the long haul. Voyager Focus 2 start with an advantage, it is the lightest Active noise cancellation (ANC) headset I’ve tested to date.

Because they don’t have ear cups for passive noise cancelling they don’t need to clamp tight unlike the JBL Live 660NC.

This loose fit makes them idea for long calls. You won’t forget you are wearing them, but they won’t be a burden.

Battery life

Active noise cancelling means there are small computers in the headset doing the work. This needs power. So does the Bluetooth wireless used to connect the headphones to other devices.

Wired headphones draw power through the cable. Wireless ones need batteries.

Poly says the Voyager Focus 2 can go 19 hours between charges. That’s hard to check without extensive testing. What I can tell you is that the headphones’ batteries last longer than in rival models.

The review model came with a charging stand which you can connect to a spare USB port. It uses USB-A, not USB-C which would make more sense in 2021.

Does the Voyager Focus 2 stand out in a crowded market?

Headphone sales are booming as people adapt to working from home. Almost electronics device brand offers products in this space. Poly brings something unique to the party.

While headphones and earbuds can be hard working tools, you wouldn’t know that from the marketing. Most brands treat them as consumer devices and emphasis the features that matter when your are relaxing.

Poly takes the opposite approach. The Voyager Focus 2 headphones are made for productivity first.

You can have fun with them. But that’s not Poly’s selling point. These headphones will make you more productive, they will help you work better.

This was obvious from the moment they headphones arrived. Rival models come in fancy packages. These came in a plain brown box. Poly employs the style of packaging that enterprise computing firms use to send pallet loads of hardware to corporations.

There’s a good chance that if your employer is buying headphones, this is what you’ll get.

Poly’s plain box packaging sends a clear signal: This is not a consumer toy, it’s a tool for work.

Voyager Focus 2 verdict

Work-from-home headphones is a crowded and competitive market. There are plenty of options. You can find many cheaper alternatives to the Poly Voyager Focus 2.

Yet if you need headphones for work more than for entertainment, these are an excellent choice. You’ll get the productivity benefits of being able to hear video conversations and being heard at the other end.

What’s more they’ll will stay comfortable for longer than many rival headphones and the batteries will go longer between charges.

If you’re paying your own way, you might choose a headset that’s better for fun activities and is good enough for work. If your employer is paying the bill or you are an employer buying headphones for your workers, the Poly Voyager Focus 2 will be better for your productivity.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation may be pricey but it is one of the most powerful laptops you can buy. If you need raw power, this delivers.

At a glance

For:Graphics performance, great display, keyboard and build quality.
Against:Sound quality and webcam could be better. Pricey.
Maybe:Battery life, screen ratio. Non-touch screen.
Verdict:Packs the most Windows laptop power into the smallest package. Good choice if you need the grunt.
Rating:4.5 out of 5
Price:From $3530, as reviewed $5400.
Web:Lenovo

Who is the ThinkPad P14s for?

Lenovo engineered the ThinkPad P14s for demanding users who need mobility. We used to call them power users.

It offers Intel CPU options that, when added to the Nvidia Quadro T500 graphics processor, are more than powerful enough for heavy duty work but not the most demanding workloads.

There are 17 and 15-inch models for people who need bigger screens. These can get big and hefty.

With a case that is 18mm deep and 330 by 230 mm elsewhere, the 14-inch model is the most portable P series model.

Lenovo thinkpad P14s - open

On the move

You might choose this if mobility is your priority.

While it is ideal for serious on-the-go photo or light video work, if you work in animation, CAD or need heavy video rendering you may prefer a less mobile computer with more grunt.

It would be good for scientific computing in the field and number crunching through large databases. Developers would be a key market and people who need to demonstrate creative work.

If you are reading this and think the price tag is outrageous; you are not the target market.

This machine is overkill for everyday computing. If your work means spending time waiting for calculations to finish, then you’ll see a return on your investment in weeks.

Above all, it’s a ThinkPad

Lenovo inherited the bento lunchbox inspired ThinkPad design when it acquired the brand from IBM in 2005. It has run with it ever since.

While Lenovo has tried other ideas, ThinkPad remains a classic premium business-focused laptop design. ThinkPads tend to be robust, but they are not tanks.

It’s a physical format that suits a powerful workstation.

The ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation is made to get work done. It looks that way from the moment you unpack the box.

Black and red

You won’t be surprised to hear the ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation keeps the black plastic case with red trim.

It includes the tiny, red, joystick-like TrackPoint controller which, once you adapt to using it, moves the cursor around the screen.

In case that’s not enough, there’s an excellent three button TrackPad. Because I’m a touch typist and prefer not to move my hands away from the keys, I find the TrackPoint works best. Both TrackPoint and Trackpad are accurate

No-one beats Lenovo when it comes to laptop keyboards. That’s true with the P14s keyboard. There is plenty of key travel for touch typists. Each key is sculpted and backlighting is best in class. It feels right.

Basics

The review model has a 14-inch display. Inside there is the 11th generation Intel Core i7–1185G7 processor. It has 32GB of Ram and 512Gb of storage. We mentioned the Nvidia Quadro T500 4GB graphics card earlier.

Lenovo sent the model with the UHD (3840 by 2160 pixel) display.

That configuration adds up to a New Zealand list price of $54001.

By any standard this is a lot of money for a laptop. Yet the second generation ThinkPad P14s i is no ordinary computer.

There is a base model P14s for NZ$3530. It’s hard to see who might choose that over a more conventional high-end laptop. This technology comes into its own when you pump up its specification.

Lenovo ThinkPad P14s half open

Mobility

At 1.5Kg the P14s is light for this class of 14-inch laptop. That achievement is spoiled somewhat by the small 65w power brick and cables that add another 320g. Yet you won’t stretch your arms moving it around.

It feels robust enough to be hauled around town or, if you’re flying at the moment, on to planes without any worries. There’s a small amount of flex in the plastic case which can soften blows.

Display

Given the premium nature of the ThinkPad P14s, the bezels are large by the standard of modern laptops. The aspect ratio is 16:9. Lenovo missed a trick here2.

The non-touch display on the review laptop is nothing short of stunning.

It is luscious and bright, has high 3840 by 2160 pixel resolution, great colour and fast response. Thanks to the 500 nits of brightness, you can read the screen fine in sunlight.

White coloured areas on screen can glare at times… you may need to adjust the brightness down if you are in dark conditions.

In use

There are no applications in my armoury that could begin to trouble the ThinkPad P14s. I tried video editing, page design and audio rendering software without ever seeing any signs of stress.

While it handled almost everything with ease, there was one area of less than stellar performance: Video calling.

Many laptops have inadequate webcams. That’s to be expected on low-cost computers. You might expect better from something that costs more than five grand.

Lenovo’s 720p webcam is poor. 720p is about 0.9 megapixels. That’s a fraction of what you might find even on a modestly priced mobile phone.

Webcam

For comparison, my iMac has a 1080p webcam which is 2.1 megapixels. I thought that was low. My iPad has an 8 megapixel front facing camera.

In practice, P14s webcam pictures are blurry with washed out colours. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a boss who has shelled out for an employee to buy a P14s wondering where the money went.

Likewise, the P14s speaker and microphone are adequate, not outstanding. I found I needed to use earbuds to get better video call performance.

Lenovo ThinkPad P14s front

Battery

Lenovo has the balance between portability and battery life about right. The processor, GPU and screen consume plenty of power and yet I could get close to ten hours between charges. I haven’t attempted to measure battery life when driving the system harder, no doubt it would drop.

Bits and pieces

  • The privacy shutter is a nice idea, but it was hard to find, hard to use and feels like it will be the first thing on the laptop to break.
  • I’m not going to dismantle a $5400 review laptop, but looking at the screws on the case, this would be easy to take apart if you want to upgrade components.
  • Wi-Fi 6 support is welcome. Should be a minimum in any 2021 device. It may pay to upgrade your wireless router if you buy this computer.
  • There’s a fan in the case, but you wouldn’t know it. My home office is quiet, but it was rare to notice any noise even when more demanding tasks might need extra cooling.
  • The P14s includes 12 ports – there’s a list on the website spec page. You probably won’t need a docking station with this, but Lenovo offers plenty of options if that’s your preference.

Verdict: ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation

Lenovo has crafted a top quality, premium Windows workstation for professionals who need power while on the move.

It looks good, feels good and delivers on the promised high performance. Mobility and battery life are on a par with less powerful laptops.

This is not a laptop for everyone, the price makes that clear.


  1. As an aside, the Lenovo web site warns you may need to wait weeks to get this configuration. ↩︎
  2. I much prefer a square screen 16:10 or 3:2 because writing needs less width, more depth. ↩︎