Most people will be familiar with Microsoft’s flagship suite of productivity software, Microsoft 365. It includes household names such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as lesser-known products such as Outlook, OneNote, and OneDrive.
For many years, it has been the standard in productivity software, which is still the case today. However, there are also a lot of changes within the Microsoft 365 universe.
In the past year, Microsoft has deepened its commitment to a subscription-based pricing model and phased out many of its standalone products. This is because Microsoft 365 is designed to work as an ecosystem rather than an assortment of separate applications. Appropriately combined, Microsoft 365 provides businesses with a comprehensive, all-in-one digital workspace, including communications, cloud storage, backup and syncing, and productivity apps.
In this in-depth article, we explore all facets of the suite’s flagship platforms and discuss why it might be worth investing in Microsoft 365 for your business.
We think it is the best office software available in 2021, but if you’re not convinced, you might want to check out our guide to the best alternatives to Microsoft 365.
Plans and Pricing
Microsoft 365 pricing is straightforward, and there are several options for businesses. Four are suited to small- and medium-sized organizations, two are oriented toward large enterprises, and three are designed for first-line workforces. All plans are bought on a subscription basis, with either monthly or annual payments.
Small- and medium-sized businesses can choose between four plans: Basic, Standard, Premium, and Apps. With each of these plans, every user receives 1TB of OneDrive storage space.
Basic costs $5 user/month and includes OneDrive and Teams along with online versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It isn’t truly a Microsoft 365 subscription because it doesn’t include desktop or mobile apps, but it may suit some organizations’ needs.
Standard costs $12.50 user/month, and includes all Microsoft 365 desktop and mobile apps, including Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, Excel, OneDrive, OneNote, and Teams.
Premium costs $20 user/month and offers all the apps included in Standard plus advanced cyberthreat protection and administrator controls. This is ideal for organizations managing sensitive customer or financial data.
Apps costs $8.25 user/month and is suited to businesses wanting the Microsoft 365 apps discussed in this article without some of the more advanced collaborative and cloud-based features.
For Enterprises, there are two options: E3 and E5.
The E3 plan costs $32 user/month. It includes all Microsoft 365 apps, unlimited OneDrive storage, plus a range of cyber auditing, data protection, and identity and access management functionalities not included in Microsoft’s business plans.
The E5 plan is the company’s most expensive, coming in at $57 user/month. For this considerable price, you get access to everything Microsoft has to offer. That’s everything included in the E3 plan plus even more advanced and comprehensive account management solutions, usage analytics, and threat protection. It is suited only to large organizations with hundreds of employees.
If you simply want a Microsoft 365 subscription for your first-line workforce, there are also options for this.
The Microsoft 365 F3 plan costs only $10 user/month, while the Office 365 F3 plan and Legacy F1 plan cost $4 user/month.
Microsoft Word is perhaps the best known of the Microsoft 365 platforms and is for many people the definitive word processing app.
In 2020, Word is still one of the best apps for writing, no matter the genre. It comes with an extensive (and at times overwhelming) set of features, a vast range of templates, and the performance and reliability one should expect in a Microsoft product. In short, if you need to write or edit a text-based document, there is little you won’t be able to do on Microsoft Word.
The platform comes with best-in-class collaboration and review features, making it ideal for team-based use within organizations, particularly when used alongside OneDrive and the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite. Multiple people can co-author documents, access previous versions of a file, track changes, and provide real-time feedback to collaborators. OneDrive makes it easy to send links to colleagues that allocate the appropriate level of permissions within a Word document.
Another strength of Word is its sharing and exporting features. Users can export documents in several file types, including OpenDocument Text (.odt), Portable Document Format (PDF), and Microsoft Word format (.docx). Each of these formats is widely supported and means you will very rarely, if ever, have compatibility issues. This separates Word from a competitor such as Apple Pages that suffers endlessly from compatibility woes.
Although we simply can’t list all of Word’s fantastic features, some of our favorites include built-in speech-to-text, automatic translation, and the immersive reader mode. The addition of 3D graphics is another feature that separates Microsoft Word from the rest of its competitors.
Although the platform does feature some annotation and drawing capabilities, Word works best for text-based projects. If you want to express your creative side, you’ll want to check out Microsoft OneNote.
Microsoft Word apps are available on most platforms, including Windows, Android, macOS, iOS, and iPadOS. Although it works best on desktops and iPads, its mobile apps are useful for making last-minute changes to documents while on the go or for jotting down important ideas.
To dive deep into the platform’s strengths and weaknesses, read our recently updated Microsoft Word review.
OneNote is Microsoft’s note-taking app, and it has been designed with both students and professionals in mind. Although it looks great on paper and boasts an impressive range of features, it has struggled to achieve the popularity of other platforms such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Nonetheless, OneNote has found a home amongst students and academics. We think it is one of the best note-taking platforms and is under-leveraged in business and organizational contexts.
One of OneNote’s greatest strengths is that it enables you to organize your notes comprehensively. Top-level parent categories are known as notebooks. Within notebooks, you’ll find sections and then individual pages. We’ve used several note-taking apps and believe OneNote is the best for keeping your thoughts and ideas in order.
Another strength is that you can access your files when you need them, because full integration with Microsoft OneDrive means your notes, sketches, and brainstorms are available across all your devices through the power of cloud sync technology. And with software available on iOS, macOS, iPadOS, Windows, and Android, we’re sure that accessing your files won’t be an issue. There is also a web app for taking notes while on the move.
Most likely, you’ll need to share your notes with colleagues or clients, and fortunately, OneNote makes this straightforward. It is possible to invite other users to view and edit a notebook, even if they don’t have their own Microsoft 365 subscription. It’s also possible to export specific pages in PDF format, which is ideal for attaching notes to emails in Microsoft Outlook.
OneNote’s user interface is also impressive and feature rich. It enables users to write and highlight text, sketch free-hand, insert images, graphs, stickers, equations, and even add audio clips to their notes. These features, along with many we don’t have space to mention, are why OneNote is one of the most powerful note-takers available in 2020.
Our OneNote review examines in detail exactly why OneNote excels and how you can leverage this software within your organization.
Microsoft Excel. The name alone fills many people with excitement and others with dread. However, we don’t think anyone should be intimidated by Excel. It is easier to use than you might think and more powerful than you ever could have imagined. In only a few hours of training, you will be confident enough to create and leverage advanced spreadsheets on the platform.
With Microsoft Excel, you can work with over 17 billion cells in a single spreadsheet. This compares to only 5 million with Google Sheet. Such raw computing power means that even large organizations with extensive databases can rely on Excel to get the hard work done.
Another strength of Excel is its extensive list of functions, now numbering over 450. These enable users to manipulate and visualize data in innovative ways to provide rich insight into their data. Experienced users can also design and implement their own macro functions using VBA code.
As with all Microsoft 365 apps, compatibility is not an issue. Apps are available on almost all operating systems, and users can export their spreadsheets in three formats: Microsoft (.xlsx), OpenDocument Spreadsheets (.ods), and Portable Document Format (.pdf). It is also possible to open Excel documents on other platforms such as Google Drive.
It’s not all good news, though. Although Microsoft did add co-authoring in recent years, this area is still a distinct weakness of the platform. In order to collaborate in real-time, all users need a Microsoft 365 subscription and the latest version of Excel. This precludes employees from working with many people external to your organization. However, when co-authoring is possible, it is reliable, responsive, and incredibly useful.
Cloud storage has exploded in popularity in recent years, and OneDrive is Microsoft’s entrant in this fiercely competitive market. It is among the best cloud storage platforms for both consumers and businesses.
Not only is the platform a secure place to store your essential data and documents, but its interfaces are straightforward and easy to use. Thumbnails are displayed for a wide range of file formats, while intelligent AI search functionalities make it easy to find what you’re looking for.
However, what really makes OneDrive stand out is its full integration with all other Microsoft 365 apps. This deep integration makes Microsoft 365 an ecosystem of digital productivity, rather than just a bundle of individual applications.
Firstly, OneDrive is secure. All files are encrypted, both in transit and at rest. This alone makes the platform more secure than many competitors and means anyone stealing or intercepting your data will receive nothing but indecipherable text.
However, Microsoft goes even further. The Personal Vault is a sub-folder providing end-to-end encryption for your most sensitive files. So no one, not even Microsoft, can decipher or access this data.
Administrators can also strengthen their employees’ accounts by enforcing two-factor authentication and periodic password changes.
This advanced security architecture means businesses both large and small can trust OneDrive with their most essential documents and files.
Secondly, OneDrive is easy to access and use. Apps are available on most devices and work reliably. A responsive and well-designed web app is also available, which we think is one of the most impressive cloud storage web apps we’ve analyzed.
Finally, the platform works alongside all other Microsoft 365 apps. It is the default save location and enables users to collaborate in real-time with colleagues. As changes are made on another device, they will simultaneously appear on your device. This means OneDrive is more than just a cloud storage platform, but also a cloud-syncing platform.
While we’re on the topic of collaboration, let’s also talk about shared files and folders. OneDrive enables users to share both files and folders using custom links. These shared files and folders will then appear in a dedicated folder found on both users’ OneDrive home screen. So if you’re an organization where team-based work is essential, Microsoft 365 will be ideal.
If you want to know more about OneDrive, our review has all the answers.
For more than two decades, PowerPoint has helped everyone design compelling and appealing presentations, from elementary school children to Fortune 500 executives. We still think it is the best platform for creating presentations, and we’ll tell you why.
PowerPoint provides several tools to inspire inspiration. The most obvious is Microsoft’s extensive range of templates, which are free for Microsoft 365 subscribers. Employees can also use the presentation coaching tool, which will provide advice and feedback on your pace and style of presenting.
Another powerful feature (also available in Microsoft Word) is the ability to insert and manipulate 3D images. 3D files can be rotated, inverted, or tilted to maximize their utility in a presentation. This separates PowerPoint from most of its competitors.
Like with other Microsoft 365 apps, users can collaborate and provide feedback in real-time. OneDrive integration also makes it ideal for designing and managing presentations in a business context.
However, there is a limitation: collaboration on PowerPoint is only possible on the web app, not the desktop or mobile versions of the software. This is a fairly significant limitation, and is disappointing considering how well the platform performs in all other categories.
If you’re itching to know more about the platform, our Microsoft PowerPoint review was recently updated and explains everything you need to know about the software.
Teams is the newest addition to the Microsoft family, but arguably the most important. In short, Teams combines audio and video conferencing (think Skype) with workplace communications (think Slack). It is a central destination for coordination and communication, which is integral to business efficiency as we increasingly work remotely.
Like OneDrive, Teams is designed to be the glue that brings together all the other apps and features of the Microsoft 365 suite. It leverages cloud technology to help employees work collaboratively in real-time across several platforms.
The video conferencing features of Microsoft Teams are impressive, enabling employees to organize and conduct one-to-one conversations or company-wide meetings. It is even possible to organize webinars and information sessions with up to 10,000 participants. Within calls, participants enjoy screen sharing and call recording, live captions, background blur technology, and chat functionalities.
Communications channels sit alongside video conferencing and enable users to communicate in groups dedicated to different topics, such as a team-based project, company-wide announcements, or the office Christmas party. This keeps messages on-topic and enables employees to compartmentalize their communications.
There’s so much to know about Microsoft Teams that we couldn’t list it all here. However, our in-depth Teams review does the job for us.
Microsoft Outlook is a staple of the Microsoft suite and has helped users organize their emails for decades. Although it isn’t as popular as Google’s Gmail or Apple’s Mail, we think it is one of the best email clients, particularly if you already use other Microsoft 365 apps.
Spam and malware blockers are included, although that is standard with most email clients. Businesses can also use group inboxes, which enables multiple employees to send and receive emails from a single email address.
However, one feature we particularly like is the categorizing of emails into folders: the focused inbox and the other inbox. The focused inbox collects messages that the platform’s algorithms believe are particularly important or urgent, making it easier for employees to respond to the most important emails quickly.
And of course, Outlook is designed from front to back to integrate seamlessly with other Microsoft 365 apps. So if you’re after a straightforward, integrated, and responsive email client, Microsoft 365 is one of our top recommendations.
When it comes to customer support, Microsoft is one of the best in the business. Even with consumer plans, the company is always quick to respond and diligent in troubleshooting issues. When we contacted the company via its online chat window, we received a response and answer to our question in only four minutes.
While some apps enable users to access support directly in app, we recommend heading to the Microsoft support website. This extensive library of how-to guides, video tutorials, and community forums has the answer to almost all possible issues. It is the best online support center we’ve seen for this software category, and there is a significant amount of business-specific advice and support.
Businesses can also contact Microsoft by phone and online chat, with the more premium plans understandably offering a more timely and responsive service. Microsoft’s knowledgeable technicians and cybersecurity experts are also on call as part of the advanced cyberthreat detection services offered in premium plans.
So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to Microsoft 365. We think this digital ecosystem is the best office software money can buy, and we hope you agree.
Microsoft 365 combines feature-rich document creation and productivity apps such as Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Excel with the power of cloud technology in OneDrive. And we can’t forget Microsoft Teams, the all-in-one digital communications platform that ensures your employees will be operating as effectively as possible.
We’ve also outlined the many different subscription options available to businesses. There’s a plan for all organizations, whether it be a small team of five, a multi-location team of 50, or a large-scale enterprise with hundreds or even thousands of employees.
The best gaming chair – Review Top 8 best gaming chair 2021
The best gaming chair is about more than just making your PC gaming setup look like the ultimate streaming pod; picking the right chair is about making sure your most precious possession is safely looked after. And no, I’m not talking about the RTX 3080 you somehow managed to bag at MSRP, I’m talking about your fragile human body. We spend probably far too long sat at our desks, so it’s important you make the right choices about the seat you’re sat in. If you’ve spent thousands of dollars on an extreme gaming PC build, it’s only fair to give your gaming chair just as much attention.
If you’re simply looking for everyday comfort, the best gaming seats may seem over the top. With wannabe-racer bucket seats, and gaming chairs covered in satanic runes running rampant, we’ve made sure to include a few sleek office-style chairs in here too. Whichever route you go down, keep your posture in mind. It may be the last thing on your mind as you embark on a ten-hour raid, but we implore you: Don’t disregard ergonomics.
We’ve tested tens of gaming chairs from today’s most well-known companies to find luxurious and affordable places to park your rear. Check those out below. And if the chairs are a bit rich for your butt, then our cheap gaming chair roundup may be more up your street.
Top 8 Best gaming chairs 2021
1. Secretlab Titan Evo 2022
The best gaming chair made even better
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
The Secretlab Titan Evo 2022 is everything we’ve been looking for in a gaming chair. That’s why it’s rightfully taken the top spot in our best gaming chair guide from the previous incumbent, the Secretlab Titan. It was an easy decision to make, though. The Secretlab Titan Evo 2022 does everything the Titan, and Omega below, can, except better.
User-friendly ergonomics make the Titan Evo 2022 a great fit for long nights gaming or eight hours tapping away for work, and that comes down to its superb built-in back support. It’s highly adjustable, which means you can nail down a great fit with ease. There’s also something to be said for the 4D armrests, comfortable seat rest, and magnetic head cushion.
You read that right, a magnetic head cushion. A simple solution to fiddly straps, the Titan Evo 2022 does away with all that with a couple of powerful magnets.
Secretlab also reckons its new Neo Hybrid Leatherette material is more durable than ever, though there’s still the option for the Softweave fabric we’ve raved about in the past.
The chair is available in three sizes: S, R, and XL.
As a complete package, then, the Secretlab Titan Evo 2022 is the archetype of a great gaming chair. It is a little pricier than its predecessors, but we think it’s worth the price tag. And anyways, that higher price tag is why we still recommend the Omega below for a cheaper option while stock lasts.
The more affordable Secretlab chair
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
The Secretlab Omega is one of the most finely constructed chairs we’ve tested, and although it has largely been replaced by the Titan Evo 2022 above nowadays, the higher price tag of that chair might see the Omega remain a popular option for those looking to save a little cash.
From the casters to the base, the lift mechanism, armrests, and seat back, Secretlab has used some of the best materials available. The Omega was upgraded with Secretlab’s 2020 series of improvements, which includes premium metal in the armrest mechanism, making it silky smooth to adjust and even more durable, and adding the company’s ridiculously durable PU Leather 2.0.
The chair features a high-quality, cold-cured foam to provide support. It feels a little firm at first but gets more comfortable after extended use. The Omega stands out from the crowd with its velour memory foam lumbar and head pillows. These are so comfortable that we could smoothly fully recline the chair and take a nap if we wanted to. Though that’s not a great look in the office… If you’re looking to treat your body with a chair that will genuinely last, the Secretlab Omega is worth every penny.
3. Logitech G x Herman Miller Embody
The best ergonomic gaming chair
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Herman Miller Embody. It occupied a top position in our best office chair roundup for a long time, but that has come to an end. Not for lack of comfort or acclaim, simply because the famed chair manufacturer has partnered up with Logitech to create something tailor-made to our gaming rumps.
Admittedly, the Logitech G x Herman Miller Embody doesn’t differ much from its commercial cousin. That’s hardly a mark against it, however. The Embody’s cascading back support design and absurdly high quality make a welcome return but now comes with a few more flourishes to win over gamers. Specifically, extra cooling material designed to support a more active gaming position.
It’s not so much the changes that make the Embody stand out as one of the best gaming chairs going. It’s what’s been kept the same. The tried and tested Embody design is simply one of the best chairs for office work or gaming. It’s incredibly comfortable over prolonged use, supports an active and healthy posture, and is easily fitted to your frame.
The warranty, too, is a standout feature. At 12 years, including labor, and rated to 24-hour use over that time, it’s a chair that is guaranteed to last you over a decade, if not longer. So while the initial price tag may seem steep, and that it is, the reality is you’re certain to get your money’s worth in the long run. And your back will be thankful for it, too.
The best office chair for gaming
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
If you’re the sort of person who prioritizes functionality over flash, the NeueChair is an excellent option. This isn’t to say it’s not stylish—quite the opposite; the NeueChair comes in a sleek, muted obsidian or flashy chrome/silver, both with bold, sweet curved supports on the back and an attractive black mesh. But, more importantly, the NeueChair is built to last, with a heavy, sturdy industrial construction. Even the chair’s weight in the packaging indicates a solid piece of carefully constructed industrial art: it’s heavy and substantial.
Assembling it is a breeze, as it comes in two discrete pieces and is simply a matter of inserting the casters and then pushing the two parts together. Almost every aspect of the seat is adjustable, from the armrests to the lumbar support system that lets you change the height depth of the backrest. It’s one of the best office chairs I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit in, and if you can afford the admittedly steep price tag, well worth the investment.
5. AndaSeat Kaiser 2
The best gaming chair for a larger frame
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
If you’re a big and tall gamer, you might have noticed that there aren’t many gaming chairs that can support your unique build. Whether it’s a lower weight capacity or too short, or even feels like it’ll break as soon as you sit in it, finding a chair for you might seem nearly impossible.
The AndaSeat Kaiser 2 screams large and in charge, supporting gamers up to 397lbs and 7ft tall. The Kaiser 2 is built on a solid steel frame with oversized bars to provide support.
Covered in premium PVC leather and extra thick memory foam cushioning, the Kaiser 2 manages to look more like a gaming chair for grownups. Available in black and a lovely maroon, no more will have to stuff yourself into a tiny gaming chair hope for the best. The Kaiser 2 manages to do both the function, comfort, and style you want in your premium gaming chair.
6. Noblechairs Hero
The best gaming chair for back support
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
When buying a gaming chair, it’s easy to forget your health. After all, most are advertised as luxurious, cushioned thrones that soothe your every ache as you smash the crap out of your foes in Apex Legends. But that isn’t true, and for some, it’s important to pick a chair that takes back support seriously. With some of the team have used it daily for almost a year, we can thoroughly recommend the Noblechairs Hero in uPVC leather. While not the most exciting of chairs, or the sportiest, it certainly does a good job of taking care of your back.
The Hero is easy to assemble, except for the bit where you attach the back to the seat, so make sure you have a buddy for that. It’s firm and supportive, and extremely sturdy. As a word of warning: it is substantial, so if you prefer a softer chair that isn’t as good for your lumbar, this maybe isn’t for you.
Aside from that, it has a decent recline, can withstand frames of up to 330 lbs, and has fully adjustable armrests. It’s heavy but glides pretty easily on the supplied casters. It’ll look just fine in both an office or gaming setup, so you’re getting a chair that can do both. Not bad, if you can afford it.
7. Corsair T3 Rush
A simple gaming chair with style
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Corsair’s latest addition to its lineup of premium gaming chairs, the T3 Rush, has gotten a much-needed facelift. The T3 Rush is an insanely comfy chair thanks to its memory foam lumbar pillow but, more importantly, uses a breathable soft fabric in place of faux leather. The benefit of this is that it retains less heat, keeping you fresh and comfy instead of sweating in your squeaky pleather.
The Rush also reclines to a ridiculous 180 degrees in case you wanted to lie back and take a comfy cat nap before you take on another marathon streaming session of Apex Legends or CS: GO.
The only major downside of the T3 Rush is it is designed for smaller-framed users. If you require a little larger seat, the T3 will be an uncomfortably tight fit. Other than that, the T3 Rush is an impressive-looking gaming chair that doesn’t need a loud color to make a statement.
8. DXRacer Master
A real money-no-object option
REASONS TO AVOID
The DXRacer Master is a chair for people with money to spend, but it justifies the price by being an extremely luxuriant and comfortable chair. What’s more, the DXRacer Master can be customized with modular parts (sold at an added cost) like mesh seat and backrests, leg rests, and even a rotating arm that bolts onto the base and can hold anything from a laptop to your phone.
Choosing not to invest in these extra parts won’t compromise the chair itself, though, because DXRacer went all out on its features. Built-in lumbar support and an adjustable, rail-mounted headrest are great features, along with 4D armrests. The microfiber leather is especially nice, and much of the chair is made of metal, which makes it feel sturdy.
It’s clear that the DXRacer Master was built to last, and its understated look is great if you’re not into the flashy designs seen on most other gaming chairs. But, boy, it will cost you for all this luxury: The DXRacer Master is still $80 more than the Secret Lab Omega, our favorite chair. But it’s worth considering if you want to go all out and get something with all the bells and whistles.
The best gaming chairs FAQ
Are gaming chairs actually bad?
Between recent articles about the effects of sitting down on your body and our experimentation with standing desks, you might think PC Gamer has fallen out of love with the humble chair. That could not be further from the truth. As gamers and office workers, we spend a significant chunk of each day sitting on our money makers in front of screens. Given that most of us don’t plan to change that anytime soon, it only makes sense to do so in a great chair. So that’s what I set out to find.
“If you’re typing and working at the computer, you really want more upright support so that you can maintain neutral spine posture and let the chair hold you up,” she said. “But when you switch to a gaming mode, you may want to recline a little bit to relax your lower back while still having good support in that position. So a locking backrest and/or some tension control is important.”
Another feature to look for, though it tends to be found on more expensive models, is a seat pan slider. This enables you to slide the positioning of your butt forwards or backward relative to the backrest.
Are gaming chairs really worth it?
The best gaming chairs will complete your PC setup, not just from an aesthetic point of view, but because you will likely be spending hours sat in front of your machine, they will give you the support needed to keep your spine healthy too.
Is a gaming chair better than an office chair?
Nope! You can find good or bad examples of both, and believe us there are plenty. That said, some office chairs are great for gaming and vice versa, and there are ‘office chairs’, like the Herman Miller Embody, that blend the line between both.
Are gaming chairs good for your posture?
The best gaming chairs look out for you and your back. When it comes to chair design, lumbar support is vital. The first thing you should look for in a new gaming chair is whether it has any built-in support to help your body maintain an ideal posture. Some even come with lumbar support pillows that work to some extent. Multi-adjustable arm-rests, upholstery, and general style are also important; note these features aren’t cheap.
Does every gaming chair fit every body type?
Different chair models accommodate different heights and weights, so make sure to check your fit. Look at the width and depth of the seat, too. Some chairs claim that you should sit cross-legged, but that depends on your size and legs’ length.
The Best VR Headsets for 2021
There are a handful of quality virtual reality headset options, whether you’re looking for a standalone model or one that tethers to your PC or console. Jack into another dimension with these top-rated VR headsets and platforms.
Virtual reality is a fascinating way to travel using nothing more than the power of technology. With a headset and motion tracking, VR lets you look around a virtual space as if you’re actually there, or play a game as though you’re in it. VR’s been gaining traction in recent years thanks to compelling games and experiences, though it still seems very much in a state of flux, with headsets coming and going fairly rapidly. We’re tracking the best of what’s currently on the market here.
Oculus is focusing its efforts on a standalone VR headset, the Quest 2, but providing the option to connect it to a PC. HTC has the tethered Steam-friendly Vive Cosmos and Vive Pro 2. Sony has the PS4-compatible PlayStation VR. Valve has its own expensive Index headset. Even Microsoft is (sort of) supporting its Windows Mixed Reality platform with a scant few third-party headsets. Here’s what you need to know about all of them.
The Big Question: Which VR Headset Is the Best?
Modern VR headsets now fit under one of two categories: tethered or standalone. Tethered headsets like the HTC Vive Pro 2, PlayStation VR, and Valve Index are physically connected to PCs (or in the case of the PS VR, a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5). The cable makes them a bit unwieldy, but putting all of the actual video processing in a box that you don’t need to directly strap to your face means your VR experience can be a lot more complex. Either external sensors or outward-facing cameras provide full 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) movement tracking for both your head and your hands, thanks to motion-sensing controllers.
The least expensive tethered options are currently around $400, and that’s before you address the processing issue; the Valve Index, Vive Cosmos, and Vive Pro 2need pretty powerful PCs to run, while the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4.
Standalone headsets offer the greatest physical freedom by completely removing the cables and not requiring an external device to handle processing. The Oculus Quest 2 uses similar outward-facing cameras to the now-discontinued Oculus Rift S to provide 6DOF motion tracking, and similar 6DOF motion controls. The Quest 2 lacks a dedicated gaming PC’s processing power, but its high-end mobile processor can still push detailed, smooth graphics.
Oculus Quest 2
The Oculus Rift was the first big name in the current wave of VR, and Oculus is still a major player in the category. The company’s bowing out of the dedicated, tethered VR headset, though, discontinuing the Rift S in favor of focusing entirely on the standalone Quest 2. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy PC VR on the company’s new headset; you’ll just need to get an accessory cable for it.
The Oculus Quest 2 is a $300 standalone VR headset powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, a considerable upgrade in power over the original Quest and its Snapdragon 835 chipset. It offers a comprehensive VR experience in a single package with no wires needed (except to charge the headset), and currently provides the highest resolution of any consumer VR headset at 1,920 by 1,832 per eye. It has two motion controls for full 6DOF head-and-hand motion tracking, and offers a surprisingly robust library of VR software in its onboard store.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy tethered VR with the Quest 2, though. The $79 Oculus Link cable is a five-meter USB-C cable that lets you connect the Quest 2 to your PC and use it just like the tethered Rift S to play PC-specific VR games like Half-Life: Alyx. The cable is expensive, but considering the Quest 2 is $100 less than the original Quest, it still comes out ahead in value even after adding the accessory.
Valve’s own PC-tethered VR headset, the Valve Index, is one of the priciest. It costs $999 if you buy everything you need for it to work (except the computer, of course). That’s hard to swallow, even if the Index features a 120Hz refresh rate, notably higher than most of its competitors (with an experimental 144Hz mode). Yet, the Valve Index is currently our favorite tethered VR headset.
Although the headset itself isn’t that impressive, its controllers are revolutionary. They can track individual finger movements, making games (that take advantage of them) much more immersive than the standard trigger grips on other controllers.
It’s very impressive technology, and wowed us enough to recommend this headset. The Index’s higher refresh rate makes for smoother action, as well, which is another nice bonus. If you already have an HTC Vive or Vive Cosmos Elite, and their base stations (not the regular Cosmos), you can buy only the controllers for $280 to breathe new life into your VR experience without investing in the full Valve Index system.
HTC Vive Pro 2
If you want the highest-resolution VR experience, the HTC Vive Pro 2 is the headset to get. This high-end PC VR headset targets both enthusiasts and professionals, with the sharpest picture available at 2,448 by 2,448 pixels per eye. It easily offers the best visuals we’ve seen in VR so far. It’s also very pricey, at $799 for just the headset; you still need to add the base stations and controllers (but on the bright side, you can use the Valve Index controllers with it).
The Vive Pro 2 (and Vive Cosmos below) works with SteamVR just like the Oculus Quest 2, and has its own VR software store in the form of Viveport. Viveport offers the Viveport Infinity membership that provides unlimited access to VR experiences through a subscription service instead of a la carte software purchases.
HTC Vive Cosmos
HTC’s Vive Cosmos is the upgraded version of the original Vive, and the company’s more affordable VR offering. It features a higher resolution, and replaces the external base stations with outward-facing cameras for motion tracking. It’s a comprehensive package for whole-room VR, and is one of the more affordable PC-tethered setups at $699 for the whole package.
For even better motion tracking, the Vive Cosmos Elite brings back external base stations to augment how it follows your head and motion controllers, though it’s more expensive at $899.
Sony PlayStation VR
The PlayStation VR is compelling thanks to Sony backing its development, plus the PlayStation 4’s affordability and availability compared with gaming PCs. All you need is the headset, a PlayStation 4, and a PlayStation Camera (now included with most PlayStation VR bundles). PSVR’s also compatible with the PlayStation 5, but you’ll need to request a free adapter from Sony for the PlayStation Camera to work.
There are some excellent games on PS VR like Moss, Rez Infinite, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Five Nights at Freddie’s: Help Wanted. Many PlayStation VR games work with the DualShock 4, so you don’t even need motion controls. However, those motion controls are where the PlayStation VR lags behind; the headset still uses the PlayStation Move wands from the PlayStation 3 era, and they aren’t nearly as capable or comfortable as the Oculus Touch controllers. They’re also expensive, and not always included in PlayStation VR bundles.
Sony is working on a new PlayStation VR system for the PlayStation 5, with redesigned controllers. The new headset hasn’t been revealed yet, but the company has released a preview of the new controllers.
Windows Mixed Reality
Microsoft has been promoting its partnership with multiple headset manufacturers to produce a series of Windows 10-ready “mixed reality” headsets for the last few years. The distinction between virtual reality and mixed reality is so far dubious, but it indicates an integration of augmented reality (AR) technology using cameras on the helmet.
From the different headsets we’ve tested, the hardware is sound and the setup is simple, but position tracking isn’t as accurate as tethered headsets with external sensors or the Quest 2 with its outward-facing tracking cameras. Also, the Windows Mixed Reality store doesn’t have as many compelling VR experiences as the Rift and SteamVR stores, though you can use SteamVR games on Windows Mixed Reality headsets, again with some software wrestling.
While several third-party manufacturers have worked on Windows Mixed Reality headsets over the last few years, the only current-generation consumer Windows Mixed Reality headset is the HP Reverb G2.
What Happened to Phone-Based VR?
VR headsets that use your smartphone to serve as both the brains and display of the system were once commonplace, with Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR letting anyone with a compatible phone get a VR experience for under $150.
These headsets have slowed to a trickle, and Google has discontinued its Daydream View headset while Samsung hasn’t updated the Gear VR since the Galaxy S9’s arrival. You can still find cheap shell headsets, but the software ecosystem and support for them is almost nil. For now, phone-based VR is effectively dead.
The Best Augmented Reality Headsets
You might have seen some other famous visual headsets pop up over the last few years, including the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap One. They aren’t on this list for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that they’re augmented reality (AR) headsets, not virtual reality headsets. And yes, there’s a difference.
Basically, these AR headsets have transparent lenses that let you look at your surroundings instead of completely replacing your vision with a computer-generated image. They project images over whatever you’re looking at, but those images are designed to complement and interact with the area around you. You can make a web browser pop up in the middle of a room, for instance, or watch animals run around your coffee table. It’s fascinating technology that could hint at the future of computing.
The emphasis here is on the future, as in several years away. That brings us to the second biggest reason the HoloLens and Magic Leap One aren’t in this list: They aren’t consumer products. Both devices are purely intended as development hardware, so AR software can be made for their platforms. Considering each headset costs several thousand dollars, you shouldn’t expect a large library of AR experiences for a while. Outside of specific enterprise and education uses, AR headsets are an early adopter playground at best, and not for most users.
With that in mind, we’ll continue to track the best new VR headsets as they are released, so make sure to check back soon for updates. And after you find the right headset, check out our best VR games list.
Best mechanical keyboard for typing 2021
Ready to experience best-in-class typing? A mechanical keyboard delivers the feel and feedback that your typical keyboards lack. This guide features the top performers in our testing.
If you’re a computer user of, shall we say, “a certain age,” you remember a time when a room-filling cacophony of clicking was synonymous with typing as words appeared…uh, on a sheet of paper. Typewriters were, in a sense, the original mechanical keyboard, and generations of 20th-century office workers and aspiring novelists honed their typing chops on them.
But as the hardy, ribbon-based machines gave way to computers, a different kind of mechanical keyboard came to the fore: the battlewagon keyboards of the early days of computing. And they were beasts. They used keys that clicked and rattled, and many of them felt like they would last forever. (Indeed, some of them are still in service.)
That’s the appeal of today’s mechanical computer keyboards: They feel like products built for the ages, in these days of disposable tech. Even throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, mechanical keyboards were as common a part of computer setups as floppy disk drives—because the people who were creating and using them knew what typing could, and should, be. Sadly, with the explosion of the home PC market in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, sturdy mechanical boards fell out of favor, as manufacturers looked for cheap, mass-market ways of getting tens of millions of people on their machines and online. Typing, that most basic of computing activities, became something you and your fingers had to endure, not enjoy, on subpar gear.
Luckily, the keyboard-quality pendulum has swung back in the other direction over the last decade. Mechanical keyboards are once again viable, even popular, alternatives to the bundled cheapie. They cost more, but they are far more rugged than a run-of-the-mill model. And keyboard makers now make them in lots of flavors to serve most major subclasses of buyers: productivity-minded users (with plain models), gamers (with keyboards replete with LED bling and macro features), ergonomically minded folks, and more.
A mechanical keyboard is a bit of an investment, though, so here’s what you need to know in order to make the right choice.
At the Heart of Mechanical: The Key Switch
First and foremost, the thing that defines a mechanical keyboard is the key switch it uses. Most budget keyboards today use dome-switch technology, which registers a keypress when you type and push down a silicone dome and connect two circuit-board traces. (This technology is also sometimes referred to as “membrane switch” or “rubber dome,” with minor variations in the essential design.) Though this style is easy and inexpensive to manufacture, pressing the keys requires a relatively large amount of force, which can result in a heavy, mushy feel to the fingers and a lack of either tactile or auditory feedback when you type. Plus, after a fairly “short” time (five million keystrokes, give or take), the domes can lose their springiness and either work less well or stop working altogether. So, you’ll probably have to replace the keyboard at least once or twice over the life of the computer that you use it with.
Mechanical switches, by contrast, get rid of the silicone altogether. Pressing down on the key activates a real, physical switch, usually involving a spring as the pushback mechanism, that registers what you type. Because the parts used are much more substantial than those in dome-switch keyboards, mechanical keyboards typically have a much longer life span. (Many boast ratings of 50 million keystrokes or more per switch, and may well outlast the first—or fifth!—computer you use them with.) The typing feedback also creates a more direct relationship between your fingers and what appears on the screen. Because of the hardware involved, mechanical keyboards tend to be thicker, heavier, and more expensive than their dome-switch counterparts. They are more of an investment, but one that will pay off in sheer satisfaction if the quality of typing really matters to you.
When shopping for a mechanical keyboard, you will want to pay attention, above all else, to the kind of switch it uses, and whether it offers auditory feedback (in other words, a click you can hear) or tactile feedback (a “bump” you can feel), or both. Also important is the amount of pressure that the switches require to activate (the “actuation force”). That will greatly affect its functionality and the possibility of finger fatigue.
The Classics: Cherry MX Switches
The best known and most frequently encountered mechanical key switches come from a company called Cherry Industrial. These “Cherry MX” switches come in a range of styles that offer different operation and feedback to better match with your own personal preference, and the work or play you plan to do most on them. (Note that most have an actuation point of 2mm.)
The different types of Cherry MX keys are named for colors. This rundown of the most common Cherry switches will help you better match what you need with the mechanical keyboards you can buy. Keep in mind that some keyboard makers use switches of a similar style, made by companies other than Cherry. But almost every manufacturer maintains the same basic “color” scheme and related traits to help keep confusion down. (So, for example, Cherry MX Blue switches, and Blue-“style” switches from other makers, both tend to be clicky.)
Cherry MX Blue
A close approximation of the old-school buckling-spring switch (see below), but with a new-style mechanism, Cherry MX Blue switches are both tactile and clicky. With Blue switches, you feel as well as hear the completion of a keystroke (via a bump when it activates, and a distinct click). These switches are ideal for serious typists (many of whom insist that the switches deliver a turbocharging bounce you can’t get anywhere else), but they are not best for gaming applications, as they have a rather higher actuation force (50 centi-Newtons, or cN) than you might prefer for a fast-twitch gun battle.
Another potential downside of the Blues: Some people find the keys’ audible click quite loud (and possibly, annoying), which may cause problems in close quarters, whether at the office or at home. An office full of Cherry MX Blue keyboards will sound suspiciously like a big-city newsroom, circa 1935.
Cherry MX Black
With the highest actuation force of the standard Cherry varieties (60cN), the Cherry MX Black switch can come across as stiff. This type is thus less suitable for the kind of nimble key work most speed and touch typists depend on, and fast-fingered gamers tend to shun it. But this makes Black an excellent switch for cases where precision is paramount: entering mission-critical data (say, for an accountant or at a point-of-sale terminal) or for certain kinds of more deliberate gaming, as you will seldom have to worry about accidentally striking a key twice. Cherry MX Black switches are also neither tactile nor clicky.
Cherry MX Red
Similar to MX Black, Cherry MX Red switches lack both tactile and auditory feedback. But they have a lower actuation force (45cN), so they can be hit more quickly and more often, giving you the edge in any game demanding ultra-quick input.
MX Red keyboards tend to be favored by gamers who play games that require fast-twitch actions. These same qualities, however, keep them from being a good choice if typing is your primary activity, as they make it easier to register more keystrokes than you intend or to trigger typos on a slightly stray stroke. Certain highly precise typists, though, will appreciate their light touch.
Cherry MX Brown
If you spend about as much time scribing emails and Word documents as you do mowing down charging zombies in first-person shooters, the Cherry MX Brown switch may be for you. Its 45cN actuation force is identical to what you get from the Red switch and, like it, the switch isn’t clicky, but it gives you the same typing-boosting tactile bump you get from Blue. It’s often cited as a good balance for gaming and typing between the clicky MX Blues and the “fast” MX Reds.
Cherry MX Speed Silver
Much like MX Reds, Cherry MX Speed Silvers demand the same 45cN actuation force, albeit with a shorter actuation point of just 1.2mm. (Reds have a 2mm actuation point.) The total travel distance is shorter too, at 3.4mm as opposed to the 4mm travel distance of the Cherry MX Reds. Having to press down less of a distance contributes to these switches’ namesake trait: speed. As a result, the delay between pressing down a key and performing an action is kept to a minimum, making Speed Silvers a refreshed favorite for gamers.
Other Cherry MX Switches
The above switches are the kinds you’re most likely to find in a keyboard you purchase today, but Cherry’s rainbow does extend a bit further, to a few much less common types. Cherry Clear switches are tactile like Brown, but possess a higher actuation force; Green switches can be considered stiff Blues, both tactile and clicky; and White switches are quieter Greens. Several other types have specialized uses (such as just for space bars), but they will seldom be identified as such on any package or marketing material.
The Non-Cherry Brigade
A number of companies make switches that either mimic or try to improve on the Cherry MX switch functionality. Some gaming-keyboard switches, for example, have shorter actuation points to register your keypress action more quickly. Razer, for one, recently developed a hybrid “Mecha-Membrane” variety that uses mechanical means to activate a silicone dome switch. We’ve seen this used in the likes of the Ornata Chroma, as well as in the Cynosa Chroma and its underglow-laden twin, the Cynosa Chroma Pro. But we’d consider these spinoffs as opposed to true mechanicals. (Cooler Master and SteelSeries have offered similar “hybrid” switches.)
Razer also offers true mechanical switches, known as Razer Green (tactile and clicky), Razer Orange (tactile and silent), and Razer Yellow (linear and silent). Here’s where one vendor goes off the color rails: The Razer Greens are most similar to Cherry MX Blue switches, Razer Oranges are closest to Cherry MX Browns, while Razer Yellows are congruent to Cherry MX Reds. Razer key switches exhibit unique travel distances and actuation points, too: Greens and Oranges are 4mm deep and actuate at 1.9mm, and Yellows are 3.5mm deep and actuate at 1.2mm. You’ll want to try these before you buy as they are a world of their own.
Logitech’s mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, have become increasingly popular for their homebrew Romer-G switches. These come in both Tactile and Linear flavors and are rated for a whopping 70 million keystrokes. Romer-G switches are outfitted with an actuation distance between that of the Cherry MX Reds and Silvers, and they require the same 45cN force to actuate. Furthermore, Logitech now posits GX Blue switches as an alternative to Cherry MX Blues.
None of these has become quite as popular or as widespread as the Cherry MX switches, though, so for the most part they’re not worth discussing in depth. If you come across a keyboard brand using an unfamiliar switch type, try to determine both its actuation force (explained above) and its actuation point (at which depth of the keypress what you type is registered).
Compare these values with those of the Cherry switches, and you should get an idea of what you’re in for. Trying them in person is also recommended; we’ve tried imitation Blue, Brown, and other switches, and noted some subtle and not-so-subtle differences in feel from the Cherry standard. One major, common maker of Cherry-like key switches is Kaihua Electronics, better known by its subsidiary brand Kailh. Kailh switches are often used in lower-cost mechanical models, and indeed, if you yank a keycap off a late-model mechanical keyboard and don’t see the word “Cherry” on the switch, “Kailh” is the next most likely branding you might see.
One of the most unusual switches you can find is, in fact, a quintessential mechanical example. The buckling-spring switch was used in the now-legendary IBM Model M keyboards that made such an impact in the 1980s—some of which are still in use today. It can still be found in keyboards from Unicomp, the company that acquired the manufacturing rights to it. (The Unicomp Ultra Classic definitely lives up to its name.) Buckling-spring keyboards use a genuine spring to activate the switch; when it buckles in the middle as you press it, it causes tactile and aural feedback (the latter from the spring hitting the sidewall of the switch enclosure). Keyboards using this style of switch are rare these days, but they’re prized for their unparalleled typing capability and psychological satisfaction.
Their switches aside, mechanical keyboards have the same feature considerations as other kinds of keyboards. You may want key backlighting, whether of one color or an entire spectrum you can program at your whim. (“Per-key” RGB backlighting, in which you can program each key across the whole RGB spectrum, is the ne plus ultra of key backlighting, but it adds to the cost. See our favorite RGB keyboards.) Multimedia controls, whether they’re activated by pushing separate buttons or using a Function key to access a secondary ability on one of the standard keys, can make it easy to adjust volume or move backward and forward in your track list while playing music.
Look for convenience features such as a volume dial or roller. (Corsair is well known for nifty volume rollers on some of its high-end mechanical boards, but other makers have adopted them, too.) And dedicated macro buttons can be a real boon for gamers, saving you the trouble of executing tricky key combinations or menu manipulations every time you want to perform a common action.
Most mainstream and gaming models offer a 10-key numeric pad, which laptops frequently lack and is a necessity for anyone who needs to tally numbers or enter data into a spreadsheet. So-called “tenkeyless” models slice off the numeric pad in the interest of space savings and keeping your typing and mousing hands closer together. Bear that in mind if you’re looking at gaming keyboards, as tenkeyless models are a recent trend especially in that subclass. If you want to go even smaller, 60 percent keyboards eliminate even more keys. Check out our 60 percent keyboard guide for everything you need to know about the category.
So, Which Mechanical Keyboard Should I Buy?
In any case, whatever you want from a keyboard, you can find a mechanical keyboard capable of making it a reality—with more heft, longevity, and style than you may have thought possible. Mechanical keyboards are back and here to stay, and likely to only get better as more and more buyers realize the benefits they offer to laser-focused typists, hardcore gamers, and everyone in between.
If you’re not wedded to mechanical key switches, check out our overall roundup of the best general-purpose keyboards we’ve tested, as well as the best gaming keyboards. And if you’re in the market for a pointing device to go with your keyboard, check out our looks at the best computer mice and the best gaming mice.
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