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Call of Duty: Vanguard feels tired, handing Halo Infinite an opportunity

Laggy, dull maps, uninspired, and derivative. And that's the free CoD: Vanguard beta.

You'd think that Activision would have learned that the appetite for World War II-era shooters has waned after watching Call of Duty: WWII sink off the radar quicker than usual. Competing shooter Battlefield V didn't fare particularly well either, with updates to the game canceled earlier than previously planned. Regardless of this, Activision plowed ahead with yet another WW2 shooter, this time dubbed Call of Duty: Vanguard. If there was any evidence that Call of Duty's various teams are running out of ideas, this is surely it.

I've been playing Call of Duty: Vanguard's open beta for the past few days. I am technically the game's target audience, as an aging curmudgeon who fondly remembers the "glory days" of WW2-styled shooters. I'm also one of those rare gamers who consider Call of Duty: World at War to be their favorite Call of Duty of all time. Crazy, right?

It's with that in mind I'd hoped Call of Duty: Vanguard would bring me back into the CoD fold. There's something undeniably infectious about Call of Duty's brand of twitch shooting, after all. And regardless of what I or anyone else says, we all know it'll be among this year's best-selling games. As was the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that.

Increasingly, though, I wonder how long Activision's stable of Call of Duty-focused studios can get away with simply reskinning last year's entry over and over and over. Call of Duty: Vanguard is still in beta, several weeks away from release. There's something even duller than usual about this year's entry, though, and not something that can be simply smoothed over between now and launch. With games like Halo Infinite and Battlefield 2042 hot on Call of Duty's tail, the lack of quality in Vanguard presents competitors with a unique opportunity.

It's not just the bugs

I really, really wanted to like this one, but increasingly it feels like the Call of Duty titles that exist outside of the Treyarch/Infinity Ward paradigm are doomed to mediocrity.

Call of Duty: Vanguard takes place in an "alternative" WW2 setting, featuring weapons and gadgets that defy the technological knowledge of the era. I saw people spawning a mini tank "Goliath" that was basically a reskinned RC-XD remote-controlled bomb, which looked incredibly silly given the setting. World War shooters often tend to strike a darker, more somber tone out of respect for the carnage of the era, but Vanguard seems to just say "screw it," baking in reams of sci-fi stuff that don't make any sense in the time period. Laser dot sights and guided missiles abound.

The lack of inspiration is apparent in every corner of Vanguard's design.

The thing is, they only just slightly don't make sense. It might seem like an odd thing to complain about, but I feel like if you're going to toy around with the facts of history, go all-in. Go full-blown Wolfenstein. It's not like Call of Duty hasn't done this before with CoD: Zombies, with its tesla-inspired steampunk weaponry and demonic enemies. The half-measure in Vanguard just makes me feel like it's all shoehorned in haphazardly and thoughtlessly, with a mindset of, "What abilities can we reskin and reliably port?" as opposed to building something unique. There was certainly an opportunity here to do something fresh with the time period, alas, the lack of inspiration is apparent in every corner of Vanguard's design. If you want modern warfare, why not, I dunno, just make modern warfare?

The weapons available in the beta don't offer the punchy kind of feedback I generally expect of Call of Duty. From the sound effects to the visual cues, everything feels underdeveloped. Of course, it's a beta, and there might be time to rectify some of these aspects, although I doubt we're going to get improvements to the things like map design this late in the game.

For Call of Duty Vanguard, Sledgehammer and Raven are injecting 24 vs. 24 battles into maps that clearly weren't designed for it. More than once I spawned behind enemy lines, literally on top of enemies sometimes, and racked up massive kill streaks against enemies that hadn't fully loaded back into the game yet. And of course, I had it done to me too. There are also just mountains of bugs with the Xbox Series X|S versions. Visual glitches, shaders exploding, texture load-ins causing stuttering, and full-blown console crashes. Of course, this stuff will be polished over for launch — or at least you'd have to hope as much — but it doesn't shake the feeling that this game is coming in hot.

There's just a general lack of quality and thoughtfulness throughout, it feels like. When I obtained the nine-kills killstreak to spawn dogs, I couldn't help but audibly laugh as they literally popped magically out of thin air. I found myself getting killed by literally nothing at times too, only to learn later that it was "incendiary bullets," which burn you to death even if a player gets off a spray-and-pray bullet on you. There's nothing in-game to tell you that you died to incendiary bullets either. No visual feedback, and it's not even reflected in the kill log. You just slowly die, and there's no counter. I cannot for the life of me imagine why how they could possibly think this is good design.

Getting killed by spray and pray fire bullets is the epitome of fun.

Across the board, I couldn't shake the sense of been there, done that about Vanguard. Fans of the modern Call of Duty games will lament the loss of scorestreaks, which grants access to those powerful on-use abilities as a reward for completing game objectives rather than kills. I am generally a fan of killstreaks, but the fact that the ones on offer are identical to past games again, smacks of unthoughtful, rushed planning. If they decided to take a step backward to killstreaks, why not offer something new in the process? Vanguard has some destructible walls scattered around, and the ability to blind fire around corners is new, although I'm not sure exactly how useful either of them is right now.

It's things like the above that contribute to the sense of fatigue, not only as a player but on the developer side too.

I wish they'd kill the annualized Call of Duty

I know this will never happen, as long as people keep buying the game year in, year out. The annualized Call of Duty game has become something of a ritual at this point, with fans lining up to accept whatever lackluster product Activision puts out. And hey, I'm not blaming anyone for it. For all its flaws, Call of Duty still offers a unique feel that even its closest competitors apparently can't emulate. But do we really need the annualized Call of Duty anymore?

Activision shareholders would emphatically say "yes!" but in the era of Call of Duty: Warzone, Call of Duty: Mobile, and on-going updates, I'm increasingly curious whether or not it wouldn't be better for literally everyone, players and devs included, to move Call of Duty to a two-year cadence. Not only would it give the developers time to make something truly fresh and unique, and polished. Activision could continue to harvest infinite amounts of cash from its freemium offerings, and who knows, maybe upping the quality of the mainline games would make them more popular, not less.

Not many people know this, but dogs in the 1940s had the ability to appear out of thin air.

I realize what I'm saying is futile, though. I also realize I'm in the minority. Nobody really cares that Call of Duty's servers are laggy, with players experiencing completely different things between the client side and host side. Nobody seems too bothered about the lack of originality, or the unstable client. Or the fact that mixing PC and console players kills competitive balance. Nobody seems bothered that they're charging $10 for literally nothing to get the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game.

Year in, year out. Call of Duty has an audience, and there's nothing wrong with that, even though the franchise is clearly tired and far past its prime. We may be the minority, but there are a growing number of gamers who are desperate for something — anything — new.

Halo Infinite and Battlefield 2042 could capitalize

Call of Duty: Vanguard will go head to head against Battlefield 2042 and Halo Infinite later this year. When you factor in how utterly meh Call of Duty: Vanguard is, I'd say there's a perfect storm of opportunity for competitors to get eyeballs on their offering this year to CoD's detriment. This is all without mentioning the unprecedented lawsuit Activision is facing with the U.S. government into its toxic workplace culture practices. If I ever felt slimy about supporting Activision games before, you can quite firmly bank on the fact that I do now.

Halo and Battlefield generally offer more stable servers, with Halo Infinite covering the intimate arena-style gameplay, and Battlefield 2042 encompassing the huge-scale epic battle end of the spectrum. Can either of them realistically dethrone the behemoth that is Call of Duty? Probably not, but after getting some hands-on time with Vanguard, it's hard to overlook the fact that there's rarely been a better opportunity. The upcoming Halo Infinite beta and Battlefield 2042 beta could help prove that.

Call of Duty: Vanguard is targeting a Nov. 5, 2021, launch date on PC, PS4, PS5, and on the best Xbox consoles, Xbox One, Series S, and Series X.

Call of Duty: Vanguard

From $60 at Microsoft From $60 at Walmart

Call of Duty: Vanguard is shaping up to be, well, another Call of Duty. If you're not tired with the franchise, the latest installment drops on Nov. 5, 2021, on practically every platform.

Do older Surface Pro Type Covers work with Surface Pro 8?

Best answer: No! Unfortunately for current Surface Pro Type Cover owners, the Surface Pro 8 uses an all-new connector due to the new design and shape. It does, however, work with the newer Surface Pro X Type Cover. You'll have to grab the new $99 Surface Pro Type Cover if you want to hammer out some docs on this thing.

Why do I need a new Type Cover for the Surface Pro 8?

In the past, Microsoft has generally offered backwards and forwards compatibility with the Surface Type Cover line, letting you use previous-gen Type Covers on the Surface Pro 7, for example. This year's Surface Pro 8 revision is one of the biggest we've had in recent years, however, with a refreshed chassis and design profile.

The new size and shape of the Surface Pro 8 simply don't lend themselves to the current slate of Surface Pro Type Covers. However, it does work with the Surface Pro X Type Cover, which has a bay for the new Surface Slim Pen.

The Surface Pro 8 follows the design language of the Surface Pro X a little more closely than its previous incarnations, so it makes sense that Microsoft would fall back on the Pro X Type Cover instead. Although, it's a little frustrating too, given that the Pro X Type Cover is anywhere up to $40 more expensive than the previous-gen standard Surface Type Covers.

Can I buy a cheaper third-party Surface Pro X Type Cover?

The market for third-party Surface Pro X Type Covers right now is practically non-existent. The Surface Pro X wasn't the most popular incarnation of the Surface line, owing to its ARM-based architecture. In the right hands, the Surface Pro X is a truly great PC, but it potentially isn't ready to go fully mainstream yet. However, the arrival of the Surface Pro 8 and its Pro X Type Cover requirement means that manufacturers will be looking to adapt their designs for the new market. It's fair to assume that the Surface Pro 9 and 10 will also use this new connector style, so we can expect some third-party options to appear in the coming weeks and months ahead.

If you don't want to blow an additional $130 dollars on a Pro X Type Cover, you can just use a regular Bluetooth or standard USB-based keyboard with the Surface Pro 8, since it is, at the end of the day, just another Windows PC. Take a look at our best Bluetooth keyboards roundup for some options.

Our pick

Surface Pro X Type Cover

$140 at Microsoft Store

Not cheap, but necessary

Unless you plan to use the Surface Pro 8 entirely as a tablet, a Surface Type Cover is a pretty essential piece of kit. Sadly, it's not cheap, but you can use basically any keyboard you want with the Surface Pro 8, thanks to USB and Bluetooth support.

Call of Duty: Vanguard feels tired, handing Halo Infinite an opportunity

Laggy, dull maps, uninspired, and derivative. And that's the free CoD: Vanguard beta.

You'd think that Activision would have learned that the appetite for World War II-era shooters has waned after watching Call of Duty: WWII sink off the radar quicker than usual. Competing shooter Battlefield V didn't fare particularly well either, with updates to the game canceled earlier than previously planned. Regardless of this, Activision plowed ahead with yet another WW2 shooter, this time dubbed Call of Duty: Vanguard. If there was any evidence that Call of Duty's various teams are running out of ideas, this is surely it.

I've been playing Call of Duty: Vanguard's open beta for the past few days. I am technically the game's target audience, as an aging curmudgeon who fondly remembers the "glory days" of WW2-styled shooters. I'm also one of those rare gamers who consider Call of Duty: World at War to be their favorite Call of Duty of all time. Crazy, right?

It's with that in mind I'd hoped Call of Duty: Vanguard would bring me back into the CoD fold. There's something undeniably infectious about Call of Duty's brand of twitch shooting, after all. And regardless of what I or anyone else says, we all know it'll be among this year's best-selling games. As was the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that.

Increasingly, though, I wonder how long Activision's stable of Call of Duty-focused studios can get away with simply reskinning last year's entry over and over and over. Call of Duty: Vanguard is still in beta, several weeks away from release. There's something even duller than usual about this year's entry, though, and not something that can be simply smoothed over between now and launch. With games like Halo Infinite and Battlefield 2042 hot on Call of Duty's tail, the lack of quality in Vanguard presents competitors with a unique opportunity.

It's not just the bugs

I really, really wanted to like this one, but increasingly it feels like the Call of Duty titles that exist outside of the Treyarch/Infinity Ward paradigm are doomed to mediocrity.

Call of Duty: Vanguard takes place in an "alternative" WW2 setting, featuring weapons and gadgets that defy the technological knowledge of the era. I saw people spawning a mini tank "Goliath" that was basically a reskinned RC-XD remote-controlled bomb, which looked incredibly silly given the setting. World War shooters often tend to strike a darker, more somber tone out of respect for the carnage of the era, but Vanguard seems to just say "screw it," baking in reams of sci-fi stuff that don't make any sense in the time period. Laser dot sights and guided missiles abound.

The lack of inspiration is apparent in every corner of Vanguard's design.

The thing is, they only just slightly don't make sense. It might seem like an odd thing to complain about, but I feel like if you're going to toy around with the facts of history, go all-in. Go full-blown Wolfenstein. It's not like Call of Duty hasn't done this before with CoD: Zombies, with its tesla-inspired steampunk weaponry and demonic enemies. The half-measure in Vanguard just makes me feel like it's all shoehorned in haphazardly and thoughtlessly, with a mindset of, "What abilities can we reskin and reliably port?" as opposed to building something unique. There was certainly an opportunity here to do something fresh with the time period, alas, the lack of inspiration is apparent in every corner of Vanguard's design. If you want modern warfare, why not, I dunno, just make modern warfare?

The weapons available in the beta don't offer the punchy kind of feedback I generally expect of Call of Duty. From the sound effects to the visual cues, everything feels underdeveloped. Of course, it's a beta, and there might be time to rectify some of these aspects, although I doubt we're going to get improvements to the things like map design this late in the game.

For Call of Duty Vanguard, Sledgehammer and Raven are injecting 24 vs. 24 battles into maps that clearly weren't designed for it. More than once I spawned behind enemy lines, literally on top of enemies sometimes, and racked up massive kill streaks against enemies that hadn't fully loaded back into the game yet. And of course, I had it done to me too. There are also just mountains of bugs with the Xbox Series X|S versions. Visual glitches, shaders exploding, texture load-ins causing stuttering, and full-blown console crashes. Of course, this stuff will be polished over for launch — or at least you'd have to hope as much — but it doesn't shake the feeling that this game is coming in hot.

There's just a general lack of quality and thoughtfulness throughout, it feels like. When I obtained the nine-kills killstreak to spawn dogs, I couldn't help but audibly laugh as they literally popped magically out of thin air. I found myself getting killed by literally nothing at times too, only to learn later that it was "incendiary bullets," which burn you to death even if a player gets off a spray-and-pray bullet on you. There's nothing in-game to tell you that you died to incendiary bullets either. No visual feedback, and it's not even reflected in the kill log. You just slowly die, and there's no counter. I cannot for the life of me imagine why how they could possibly think this is good design.

Getting killed by spray and pray fire bullets is the epitome of fun.

Across the board, I couldn't shake the sense of been there, done that about Vanguard. Fans of the modern Call of Duty games will lament the loss of scorestreaks, which grants access to those powerful on-use abilities as a reward for completing game objectives rather than kills. I am generally a fan of killstreaks, but the fact that the ones on offer are identical to past games again, smacks of unthoughtful, rushed planning. If they decided to take a step backward to killstreaks, why not offer something new in the process? Vanguard has some destructible walls scattered around, and the ability to blind fire around corners is new, although I'm not sure exactly how useful either of them is right now.

It's things like the above that contribute to the sense of fatigue, not only as a player but on the developer side too.

I wish they'd kill the annualized Call of Duty

I know this will never happen, as long as people keep buying the game year in, year out. The annualized Call of Duty game has become something of a ritual at this point, with fans lining up to accept whatever lackluster product Activision puts out. And hey, I'm not blaming anyone for it. For all its flaws, Call of Duty still offers a unique feel that even its closest competitors apparently can't emulate. But do we really need the annualized Call of Duty anymore?

Activision shareholders would emphatically say "yes!" but in the era of Call of Duty: Warzone, Call of Duty: Mobile, and on-going updates, I'm increasingly curious whether or not it wouldn't be better for literally everyone, players and devs included, to move Call of Duty to a two-year cadence. Not only would it give the developers time to make something truly fresh and unique, and polished. Activision could continue to harvest infinite amounts of cash from its freemium offerings, and who knows, maybe upping the quality of the mainline games would make them more popular, not less.

Not many people know this, but dogs in the 1940s had the ability to appear out of thin air.

I realize what I'm saying is futile, though. I also realize I'm in the minority. Nobody really cares that Call of Duty's servers are laggy, with players experiencing completely different things between the client side and host side. Nobody seems too bothered about the lack of originality, or the unstable client. Or the fact that mixing PC and console players kills competitive balance. Nobody seems bothered that they're charging $10 for literally nothing to get the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game.

Year in, year out. Call of Duty has an audience, and there's nothing wrong with that, even though the franchise is clearly tired and far past its prime. We may be the minority, but there are a growing number of gamers who are desperate for something — anything — new.

Halo Infinite and Battlefield 2042 could capitalize

Call of Duty: Vanguard will go head to head against Battlefield 2042 and Halo Infinite later this year. When you factor in how utterly meh Call of Duty: Vanguard is, I'd say there's a perfect storm of opportunity for competitors to get eyeballs on their offering this year to CoD's detriment. This is all without mentioning the unprecedented lawsuit Activision is facing with the U.S. government into its toxic workplace culture practices. If I ever felt slimy about supporting Activision games before, you can quite firmly bank on the fact that I do now.

Halo and Battlefield generally offer more stable servers, with Halo Infinite covering the intimate arena-style gameplay, and Battlefield 2042 encompassing the huge-scale epic battle end of the spectrum. Can either of them realistically dethrone the behemoth that is Call of Duty? Probably not, but after getting some hands-on time with Vanguard, it's hard to overlook the fact that there's rarely been a better opportunity.

Call of Duty: Vanguard is targeting a Nov. 5, 2021, launch date on PC, PS4, PS5, and on the best Xbox consoles, Xbox One, Series S, and Series X.

Call of Duty: Vanguard

From $60 at Microsoft From $60 at Walmart

Call of Duty: Vanguard is shaping up to be, well, another Call of Duty. If you're not tired with the franchise, the latest installment drops on Nov. 5, 2021, on practically every platform.

Mojang keeps posting Minecraft pixel-style concept games, and I want it

Minecraft is teasing me.

One thing Microsoft has gotten much better at in recent years is social media. The company's various teams across Xbox and Windows have gotten really good at engaging customers and fans of their products, and Microsoft's game studios are no different.

Obsidian has an impressive TikTok account full of creative news takes for its varied games. Wasteland 3 studio inXile is not shy to ratio cheeky gamers on its Twitter account either. The Microsoft main account for Xbox has also gotten really good, full of hilarious (and even award-winning) memery and frequent engagement with the community. I think I have to say, though, my favorite social media presence across all of Xbox is probably Mojang, of Minecraft fame.

Mojang in some ways has to shoulder a bigger audience than Xbox itself, with one of the most played games in history. Minecraft is more than a mere game at this point and has become something of a cultural phenomenon. The game's unique cozy feel also permeates the company's social presence, particularly on Instagram, with fun and cute posts that celebrate the various aspects of the blocky craft 'em up.

The social team at Mojang has started posting pixel art for imaginary Minecraft games lately. They're fun takes on alternative-universe games where Minecraft existed as a pixel-style side-scroller on the NES or a top-down RPG on the Game Boy. Kudos to the artists, because increasingly I find myself actually wanting these games.

Layers of nostalgia

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, so the saying goes. It works pretty well on social media too. Video games and movies are being remade with reckless abandon, with mixed results. Of course, nostalgia is very marketable. It's fun and fuzzy, in a world that seems uncertain and chaotic at the best of times. Let's not get too dark though, eh?

Like many of you reading this, I have nostalgia for the '90s, particularly so the 2D-gaming era of the Master System, the Super Nintendo, and so on. Games like Gunstar Heroes, Pokémon Yellow, Super Metroid, and more, remind me of those cozy times. Marrying that feel with Minecraft is a natural fit.

Retro-inspired games are big business too. There are tons of pixel-style games on the market right now, with games like Narita Boy and Star Renegades modernizing the style. What was once a hardware restriction has become a calling card to simpler times, and Minecraft itself obviously extends that nostalgia with its blocky art style, complete with large pixels.

Imagining what Minecraft would have looked like on a NES or a Sega Mega Drive is a fun exercise, but could it be a reality?

An opportunity to explore new genres

Minecraft has started branching out and exploring new genres in recent years. Minecraft Earth may have flopped and failed, but Minecraft Dungeons found continued success as an isometric Diablo-like, that leveraged Minecraft's lore and world and elevated it. These social posts make me interested in the possibilities.

Pixel art potentially allows Minecraft to explore other genres without going deep on photo-realistic graphics and the associated tech. I can envisage a Stardew Valley-style Minecraft game that emphasizes farming mechanics, community building, with light isometric RPG combat too. What about a Pokemon-style RPG? That uses some of the critters and creatures they dreamt up for Minecraft Earth? Of course, I also love the idea of a side-scrolling action-platformer Minecraft, perhaps with some of the digging features, exploring caves and dungeons while battling pixel-styled Ghasts or Endermen.

Maybe it'll never happen, but hey, the artwork is so cool I just can't help but imagine it.

One thing's for sure: More Minecraft is coming

Sure, these concepts are probably just that: concepts, but they're fun enough to spark the imagination. One thing I know for sure: There is more Minecraft coming. I know from trusted sources that Mojang has at least two all-new projects that aren't Minecraft or Minecraft Dungeons, although I have no idea exactly what those games might look like. Perhaps we'll discover that all of those pixel-style art posts were in fact teases for full-blown projects ... or maybe not. One can hope, though.

LucidSound LS15X Xbox/PC review: A champion budget wireless headset

For those who want to break into the wireless headset space without breaking their bank balance.

LucidSound proves itself time and time again to be among the more consistent headset manufacturers on the market. Their LS35X has enjoyed favorable placements on our best Xbox Series X, S headsets roundup for many months, and I think this budget-tier offering may also find its way onto there very soon too.

Recently, Microsoft launched a budget wireless Xbox headset which fell short on sound quality across the board. While LucidSound's LS15X does make some compromises, it absolutely nails the fundamentals and defies its price point with very impressive audio and features, giving you a significant saving in the process.

LucidSound LS15X

Bottom line: LucidSound's LS15X has sat up and shown the competition how budget wireless headsets should be done. Great audio quality, mic monitoring, and a jaw-dropping price point prove that you don't need to spend above $100 to get a good wireless experience.

The Good

  • Great sound for the price
  • Solid feature set with big battery life
  • Attractive design with multiple color options

The Bad

  • Quality of materials takes a hit
  • Mic isn't the best in the world
  • Moving parts have inconsistent action

$81 at Amazon

LucidSound LS15X: Price and availability

The LucidSound LS15X is available widely from all major retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, and so on. It costs $81 at most sources we checked, although the price can fluctuate a bit. This is a headset that may also pick up sales here and there during events like Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday.

LucidSound LS15X: What's good

I got these in a short while ago, and while I'm a fan of LucidSound, I generally have poor expectations of wireless headsets below the $100 mark. They often make far too many compromises to be worth recommending over a comparable wired headset, which often come in cheaper while also sporting better build quality in some cases. I am pleasantly surprised with the LS15X though, and pleased to report that it bucks the trend somewhat.

Category LucidSound LS15X
Speakers 50mm Neodymium, over-ear
Colors Black, blue
Battery life Up to 15 hours
Compatibility 3.5mm (sold separately), Xbox/PC wireless
Mic Detachable omni-directional
Features EQ modes, on-ear controls, mic mute LED, mic monitoring
Price $81

The headline act on the LS15X is without a doubt the sound quality. While many similarly priced wireless headsets make large sacrifices in the sound department to hit that lower price tier, LucidSound's LS15X simply does not. I played Call of Duty: Vanguard beta and Battlefield V to test them out and was unexpectedly impressed by the entire soundstage. I felt as though I was using a far more expensive headset, owing to excellent positional awareness buoyed by Windows Sonic on my Xbox, with clear highs that very accurately exposed enemy movements. I can firmly attest that I landed more than an extra few kills as a direct result of this headset.

It's no slouch in the immersion department either, offering warm, sweeping bass that sounds natural despite the cutting highs. The mids are balanced too, and although there's no software to go truly granular tweaking the EQ, it offers some solid presets that give a good out-of-the-box experience.

The headline act on the LS15X is without a doubt the sound quality.

Many wireless headsets often sacrifice features at this price point, but I was pleased to find full sidetone mic monitoring on the microphone, meaning you hear gentle feedback when you speak into the mic. Speaking of which, the microphone isn't incredible sounding, but it does get the job done, and has a mute LED and detachability for good measure.

The headset sports similar on-ear controls to its more expensive brethren with circular dials and buttons baked right onto the headset. The USB dongle provides a perfectly stable signal too, across marathon play sessions that can last anywhere up to 15 hours, thanks to beefy battery life.

I was pleased to find that this headset was sufficiently comfortable too. Leather-style earcups are far cooler than cheaper fabric some budget headsets seem to tend to use, and the head strap is broad with a generous degree of adjustability, making this an ideal headset for both youngsters and people with oversized skulls like myself. There's frankly very little to complain about with this headset, but like any product, it's not absolutely perfect.

LucidSound LS15X: What's not so good

While LucidSound didn't compromise on the fundamentals, as in audio quality, it did downgrade the microphone versus some of its more expensive cousins. The flexibility is nowhere near as pliable as LucidSound mic booms often are either, but honestly it's a minor gripe. There aren't many gaming headsets out there that are truly suitable for content creation, and the mic here is still clear for comms chat, without generating any echoes.

Perhaps the biggest compromise is the general build quality and construction. While you won't notice it when you're wearing it, it does feel a little brittle in the hand, and not nearly as dense as a more expensive headset might be. The adjustable head strap doesn't quite hold its position either, which is a bit odd, although it doesn't affect the wearability.

Another grievance I have with LucidSound headsets in general is the lack of information on what the dials and buttons do. Many competing headsets have an on-board voice that tells you which buttons you've pressed and what each of the controls do. The dials make a chime when you hit their maximum setting, and don't offer any sort of feedback when you're moving through levels.

Despite being a rotational interface, I've learned through trial and error that turning the dial is more like pressing a button, and you need to stop after turning it for the firmware to catch up a bit. Because of this lack of feedback, it's hard to tell if your audio adjustments are going through until you've muddled through the headset's idiosyncrasies.

For reference, the left dial controls master volume, while the right controls chat balance. Turning the left dial clockwise turns the volume up, while turning the right dial clockwise adjusts the balance towards chat comms. It can be confusing if you're trying to adjust both at the same time to figure out where you want the sound to be, unless you keep the instructions handy while you learn it off by heart. It would easily be solved by some sort of informative feedback, whether it was a physical click on the dial like the official Xbox Wireless Headset offers, or an on-board voice assistant like the Turtle Beach Stealth series offers. Either way, once you've learned how it all works, it won't cause you any more problems. The lack of clarity may frustrate a younger gamer, though. I know it bloody well frustrated me, and I've been using wireless LucidSound headsets for half a decade.

LucidSound LS15X: The competition

The LucidSound LS15X competes with the likes of the official Xbox Wireless Headset from Microsoft, and the Turtle Beach Stealth 600 for affordable wireless supremacy. The only advantage the Xbox Wireless Headset has here is the addition of Bluetooth and direct-to-Xbox wireless connectivity, the LS15X body slams it on literally every other facet, offering better sound across the board.

The Turtle Beach Stealth 600 Gen 2 comes a little closer, but is generally $20 more expensive. The onboard assistant makes the Stealth 600 a little easier to use out of the box, but considering the LS15X has a more impressive sound stage and a lower price point, I'd say the unintuitive controls are a worthwhile trade-off. The Stealth 600 does have direct-to-Xbox wireless connectivity, but the LS15X's USB dongle can be swapped between Xbox and PC at whim, saving you from buying an additional Xbox Wireless dongle.

LucidSound LS15X: Should you buy it?

Honestly, this is $ for $ the best budget wireless headset I've used. It doesn't make any compromises on the fundamentals, offering an impressive and tactical soundstage ideal giving you advantages without sacrificing immersion. The soundscape sounds warm and naturalistic with impressive bass effects, which can be accentuated further with an EQ adjustment key.

You should buy this if ...

  • You want a great Xbox / PC wireless experience without breaking the bank
  • You don't mind having an "average" mic experience geared wholly towards comms

You shouldn't buy this if ...

  • You'd prefer to not sacrifice a USB port
  • You want something that can withstand a bit of "mishandling," shall we say

I'm not sure this headset would survive being thrown across the room in a fit of lag-induced rage, with compromises to materials and build quality. It is, however, very comfortable, with airy leather-style cups and a broad and generous head strap that felt comfortable after several hours of sweaty Call of Dutying.

4.5 out of 5

You could do far, far worse than the LS15X. You won't be creating content using the microphone and it is a bit annoying how unintuitive the volume controls are, but for just over $80, this is probably the best "affordable" wireless headset on the entire market right now. Well done, LucidSound.

LucidSound LS15X

Bottom line: The LS15X defies its $81 price tag with a warm, balanced sound profile, a rich feature set, high-tier comfort, completed with beefy battery life. For those seeking a wireless PC and Xbox headset that won't hurt your wallet, look no further.

$81 at Amazon

The Surface Pro 8 may have leaked, with 120hz display and Thunderbolt

A retailer may have outed the Surface Pro 8 a bit early.

A big leap for the Surface Pro.

What you need to know

  • A retail listing for the Surface Pro 8 has appeared.
  • While the render is of the Surface Pro X, we believe the leaked specs are likely accurate.
  • Microsoft has a Surface reveal event coming up on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

This Wednesday, Microsoft will kick off a new Surface hardware event, and we expect to see the Surface Duo 2, a new Surface Book with a refreshed hinge, and much more. Although, one new Surface may have leaked ahead of its September 22 announce date.

Twitter account Shadow_Leaker posted (via The Verge) the above retail image of a purported Surface Pro 8 although we believe the render is actually of the Surface Pro X which appeared when the Microsoft SQ2 chip was announced. However, the specs the leakster posted may in fact be accurate.

The supposed specs include 11th-gen Intel Core processors, a 13-inch 120Hz display, dual Thunderbolt interfaces, and replaceable SSDs which we've seen on the Surface Pro X and Surface Laptop line previously. Of course, the Surface Pro 8 will also launch with Windows 11 as standard.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 Exposure ✅

- Intel's 11th-generation Core processor
- 13" 120Hz High Refresh Rate Narrow Border Screen
- Windows 11
- Dual Thunderbolt Interfaces
- Replaceable SSD Hard Drives#Microsoft #Surface #SurfacePro8 pic.twitter.com/ITFftYG4dg

— Sam (@Shadow_Leak) September 19, 2021

Adding Thunderbolt support would be a major boost for the Surface Pro line, which has up until now used only the proprietary Surface port and USB-C interfaces for data. Opening it up to Thunderbolt adds in the potential for external GPUs for gaming and other devices that require more speed and bandwidth. On top of that, this will also mark the first time a Surface device has had a 120Hz display, giving it much smoother motion than previous Surface screens.

Not only will these upgrades benefit gaming scenarios across the board, but they will also benefit inking and drawing, which is bottlenecked somewhat by the choppy refresh rate of previous 60Hz Surface devices. Microsoft is also working on Dynamic Refresh Rates for Windows 11 to rival Apple's ProMotion technology to that end, and 120Hz is an obvious progression of that commitment.

Our senior editor Zac Bodwen weighed in on the leaks on Twitter. "Think of it as a combination of the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X design," says Bowden in a follow-uptweet. "Display is larger with thinner bezels, chassis is slightly tweaked, supports the new Pro X Type Covers, but the device is still thicker/more like the classic Pro chassis than the Pro X chassis."

While the render in the listing is not what the Surface Pro 8 will look like, the specs seem likely to be accurate. Either way, we won't have to wait long to find out, as the Surface event kicks off this Wednesday on September 22, 2021.

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