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Arse Technica rolls again: We review the All33 Backstrong C1 chair

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Not too long after reviewing the Anda Fnatic and Secretlab Omega gaming chairs, I began getting offers of review samples for other chairs. The most curious of the bunch was the one we’re reviewing today: the $599 All33 Backstrong C1.

The Backstrong C1 touts itself as chiropractor-designed—the chiropractor being Dennis Colonello. Colonello teamed up with industrial designer Jim Grove to build a chair that supports and allows movement of “all33” of the vertebrae in a sitter’s spine. Colonello, based in Beverly Hills, has served as a sort of chiropractor to the stars for decades—which perhaps helps explain the new chair’s laundry list of A-list celebrity endorsements.

Design and appearance

The design itself is eye-catching and perhaps even a little visually befuddling. The seat and lower back are mounted on a pivoting horizontal axis, independent of the upper back of the chair, with open space visible in an arc separating the two. The overall effect is reminiscent of mod furniture—the late sixties and early seventies’ vision of futuristic design.

Nothing in the literature I’ve seen for the Backstrong explains the actual function of the independently pivoting lower seat—and just looking at the pictures, I didn’t have the foggiest idea, beyond it being different from anything I’d seen before. Actually sitting in the chair provides the answer—it’s all about lumbar support.

Basically, you can’t really slouch in the Backstrong C1. You can sit however you like—but the seat itself follows your butt as you do, and the weight of your own legs positions the lumbar support firmly into the curve of your spine. The Backstrong C1 is a one-trick pony—more on that later—but that one trick is amazing.

A six-year hitch in the Navy followed by a career in systems administration has left me with a much-abused lower back that won’t tolerate a lack of lumbar support for long. There’s absolutely no chance of getting that lack of support in this chair. If your butt is in it, your lumbar region is getting support, and in my experience with this chair, that’s all there is to it.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of ergonomic adjustment possible with the C1. The seat height is adjustable via the usual gas lift, and the chair has about 30 degrees of recline available… and that’s pretty much it.

Head, arms, and dining room

There’s no headrest for the chair—the back ends at roughly neck height. My wife actually likes that, since it means she can put her hair in a bun without feeling like there’s a clenched fist being shoved into her skull. But it’s double-plus-ungood for the typical gamer posture, reclined to the max with a controller propped on your chest.

The armrests can be flipped up entirely, getting them out of the way if you like to roll your chair up extremely close to the desk—but they aren’t otherwise adjustable in height, width, or angle. And the tilt lock is extremely limited—the mechanism only engages when the chair is fully upright, so you can’t (for example) lock the tilt at five or 10 degrees reclined.

With its light weight and easy rolling, fantastic comfort, and eye-catching looks, the Backstrong C1 would in my opinion make a great conference room chair. If it were less expensive, I’d want six of them at my dining room table right now. But its lack of ergonomic adjustability and support beyond the lower back should probably exclude it from serious consideration for the kind of “everything chair” I think most people are looking for in a home office.

Unboxing and assembly

The Backstrong C1 comes in a significantly smaller and lighter box than either of the gaming chairs we reviewed last month—the specifications on the box claim a net weight of 47 pounds, which is about right, and a gross of 61, which must have included a wooden pallet that we didn’t receive. Although the box says “team lift,” most able-bodied readers can be a team of one if they try hard and believe in themselves.

On opening the box, I was greeted with an absolute mess—a heap of random cardboard sheets, a plastic sleeve that had come loose from the adjustment arm it was supposedly protecting, and a mysterious rolled-up hunk of cardboard I’m still scratching my head about greeted me when I pried the glued-together top flaps loose. Luckily, I don’t actually care about unboxing, and none of the components themselves were damaged.

Better yet, there was a large sheet of lightweight foam folded into the box, which served as an excellent place to set the seat back on my concrete carport floor while I worked—an enormous improvement over trying to set it on the remains of a clear plastic bag, which is what I needed to do with both the Anda and Secretlab gaming chairs.

As unimpressed as I might have been with the “unboxing experience”—scare quotes intended—the actual assembly was fantastic. This is probably the only piece of furniture I’ve ever assembled that genuinely didn’t need its instruction manual. This is how you assemble the Backstrong C1:

  • press the casters into the starfish-shaped base
  • sit the gas lift in the hole in the center of the base
  • bolt the seat plate onto base of the seat (using provided hex driver and four bolts)
  • lift seat, and guide the central hole in the plate onto the gas lift
  • cut zip ties, and unfold the seatback until it audibly locks into position

That’s it. There are even extremely obvious red-on-white labels on the seat plate and seat which demonstrate the orientation of the plate. There were no gotchas, no “but this part was tricky,” and I have no complaints. There is no easier assembly outside a one-piece lawn chair.

The manual said assembly of the chair would take about 11 minutes, but according to the timestamps on my photos, I only needed nine—and at least four of those were me taking photos along the way.

Conclusions

Enlarge / Left: Anda Fnatic gaming chair. Right: All33 Backstrong C1.

Jim Salter

I really like the All33 Backstrong C1—its lumbar support is out of this world, and I am desperately in need of as much lumbar support as I can get. Unfortunately, it won’t let me love it the way its $599 purchase price demands. It’s a fantastic (if oddly styled) chair for the dining room table—especially for folks who tend to get lost in a good book and stay at the table for longer than a solo breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) really demands. In that setting, the flip-up armrests also mean you can scoot all the way belly-up if you don’t want soup in your lap.

But in the office, I find the C1 just too limited to be a serious contender. Nonadjustable armrest height and width means this chair won’t support keyboard and mouse hands properly for many, if not most, people. The lack of tilt lock in any position other than fully upright is a real downer, and the lack of a headrest makes the full 30-ish degree recline feel downright weird.

I really hope to see a follow-on design from this company with a full range of ergonomic adjustments and features. In the meantime, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend the Backstrong C1 as a high-end, full-purpose office chair—because despite the price, it really isn’t one.

The Good

  • Absolutely out-of-this-world lumbar comfort and support
  • Slouchers OK—instead of forcing your posture, the Backstrong follows your spine wherever you put it
  • Lightweight and good-quality casters make this chair unusually mobile
  • You can flip up the armrests entirely, if you want to belly-up tightly to a desk or table
  • Eye-catching, retro-futuristic good looks
  • No obnoxious branding (or any visible branding at all)
  • 275-pound user-weight limit

The Bad

  • Lots of exposed plastic
  • Minimal padding, of moderate quality
  • The “vegan leather” upholstery we tested is best described as “acceptable” (there’s also a fabric option we did not receive or test.)
  • Can’t adjust armrest height
  • Can’t adjust armrest width
  • Can’t adjust armrest angle
  • Can’t lock tilt anywhere but fully upright
  • No headrest

The Ugly

  • Shenanigans with the asking price—currently listed as “$1,199 / $799 / use code 2020 for an additional $200 off.”

Listing image by All33

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LG says it might quit the smartphone market

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As usual, things are not looking good for LG’s phone division. As reported by The Korea Herald, LG Electronics CEO Kwon Bong-Seok sent out a staff-wide memo that the company was considering making major changes to its smartphone division, including possibly quitting the smartphone business.

Last week, Korean news outlet TheElec also wrote about this memo in a now-deleted post. The post was deleted because LG brutally debunked the report, calling it “completely false and without merit.” This week, LG is confirming basically the same memo report from the Korea Herald, complete with comments from LG. The Verge also got a thumbs-up from LG about the report.

“Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about time for LG to make a cold judgment and the best choice,” an LG official told the Korea Herald. “The company is considering all possible measures, including sale, withdrawal, and downsizing of the smartphone business.”

LG’s smartphone business has been suffering for a while. As the report points out, LG’s smartphone division lost about 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) over the past five years. The official earnings count has the division at 22 consecutive money-losing quarters. Today you won’t find LG on a “Global smartphone market share” chart; instead, it will be buried down in the “other” category. In the US, Counterpoint has LG at 13 percent of the market, due mostly to pre-paid sales.

LG Electronics’ CEO only landed the position 13 months ago and has undoubtedly been evaluating LG’s only money-losing division over the past year. In an interview in January 2020, shortly after being appointed CEO, Kwon promised “LG Electronics’ mobile business is going to be profitable by 2021.” It’s still not clear if that’s considered a reasonable goal for the company.

TheElec’s original scoop is backed up and translated here. You should definitely take it with a grain of salt since the outlet deleted the post and isn’t standing behind it, but so far, it seems to be correct. It contains an interesting tidbit that’s not in the other report: that LG will announce a direction for its mobile unit on January 26. TheElec also claimed that LG sent out a directive to “stop all developments except for the i project,” with “i project” being a code name for LG’s flexible-display LG Rollable smartphone. The last bit of the report sounds very plausible in raising the possibility that the LG brand will never truly leave the smartphone market and will instead farm out the logo to various white-label ODM companies.

Why would anyone buy an LG phone?

LG has never had a solid sales pitch for the smartphone wars. At the high end of the market, LG has always seemed to be overshadowed by its bigger Korean rival, Samsung. It shipped high-spec phones with heavy Android skins and a bad update plan, and when Samsung offers the same thing with bigger brand recognition, why would anyone pick LG? At the low end of the market, especially in the US, the company has reliably shoveled cheap, anonymous phones into carrier stores and the pre-paid market. This is something that needs to be done, but again, there’s nothing here that would make LG stand out from the crowd.

If anything, LG has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to building smartphones. The company’s phones are known for dying early and going into “boot looping,” an unusable Android failure state where the phone reboots repeatedly due to bad flash memory. LG was sued over boot loops in 2017, with the lawsuit naming every high-profile LG device released in 2015 and 2016. LG ended up settling. I know I’ve personally laid four LG-made Google Nexus 5Xs to rest over boot loop issues.

When the company wasn’t occupying the same lane as Samsung, it was trotting out ridiculous gimmicks that would be forgotten a year or two later: there was the LG G5 with its modular accessories, like a clip-on camera grip; the inexplicably banana-shaped LG G Flex; and an obsession with various “dual screen” designs like the LG V10’s notification display, the LG V50’s clip-on second screen, and the LG Wing’s “T” shaped design. You can see the company trying to do something different to stand out, but none of these ideas was good, or at least they weren’t a hit with consumers.

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CBS All Access is dead, long live Paramount+: “New” streaming service launches March 4

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Enlarge / Star Trek: Picard will be offered on the new/old streaming service.

It’s time for yet another streaming service—sort of. ViacomCBS has announced that Paramount+ will launch on March 4, but it’s more of an evolution than a wholly new service, as it replaces and expands upon the company’s previous service, CBS All Access.

The move to replace CBS All Access was announced several months ago. It’s in large part a result of the completion of the merger between CBS and Viacom, as CBS All Access launched before that merger, but the merger greatly increased the content library that could be put on a streaming service run by the company.

In addition to shows associated with the CBS TV network, Paramount+ will include content from properties Viacom brought to the mix, including MTV, BET, Comedy Central, VH1, and Nickelodeon, as well as theatrically released films from Paramount Pictures.

Beyond the myriad Star Trek shows that CBS All Access has already offered, planned original series for Paramount+ include a series based on The Godfather as well as a revival of VH1’s Behind the Music.

The sizzle trailer for Paramount+.

March 4 is the planned launch day in the US and Latin America, and a launch is planned in Nordic countries on March 25, as well as Australia around the middle of the year. Canada will also receive the service sometime this year, but a date has not been named—however, CBS All Access will be rebranded to Paramount+ right away in that country even before new content is introduced.

Before this point, CBS All Access was arguably best known for its various Star Trek programs; it included all the Star Trek TV series that aired on broadcast TV in the past, plus new Trek series like DiscoveryPicard, and Lower Decks. It did not, however, have the Star Trek movies at first, as those were owned by Paramount. The merger brought all Star Trek TV and movie content under one corporate roof.

CBS All Access also aired live TV, sports programming, and some additional shows like the critically acclaimed The Good Fight. Those will continue under Paramount+.

The past year and a half has seen numerous new streaming networks launch, including Peacock (NBC Universal), Disney+, and HBO Max, among others.

The onslaught has disappointed those who expected a service like Netflix or Hulu to offer virtually all content for a flat $10-per-month fee, but that was never going to be economically viable, especially as production costs for TV series have risen in recent years as viewers have responded to more lavishly produced shows—something the industry refers to as “prestige TV.”

The new normal for TV appears to be similar in some respects to cable, with each media company delivering a channel that primarily consists of the company’s own content, plus small amounts of licensed content.

Still, there are some significant differences in the new normal as compared to how TV used to work, even beyond the fact that the content is now delivered over the Internet. For example, the services aren’t bundled, so viewers can pick and choose which channels to pay for, and there are far fewer (and in some cases, no) commercials.

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CentOS is gone—but RHEL is now free for up to 16 production servers

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Enlarge / CentOS used to be the preferred way to get RHEL compatibility at no cost. CentOS is gone now—but Red Hat is extending no-cost options for RHEL further than ever before.

Last month, Red Hat caused a lot of consternation in the enthusiast and small business Linux world when it announced the discontinuation of CentOS Linux.

Long-standing tradition—and ambiguity in Red Hat’s posted terms—led users to believe that CentOS 8 would be available until 2029, just like the RHEL 8 it was based on. Red Hat’s early termination of CentOS 8 in 2021 cut eight of those 10 years away, leaving thousands of users stranded.

CentOS Stream

Red Hat’s December announcement of CentOS Stream—which it initially billed as a “replacement” for CentOS Linux—left many users confused about its role in the updated Red Hat ecosystem. This week, Red Hat clarifies the broad strokes as follows:

To summarize: we’re making CentOS Stream the collaboration hub for RHEL, with the landscape looking like this:

  • Fedora Linux is the place for major new operating system innovations, thoughts, and ideas—essentially, this is where the next major version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is
    born.
  • CentOS Stream is the continuously delivered platform that becomes the next minor version of RHEL.
  • RHEL is the intelligent operating system for production workloads, used in nearly every industry in the world, from cloud-scale deployments in mission-critical data centers and localized server rooms to public clouds and out to far-flung edges of enterprise networks.

Although CentOS Stream could be considered appropriate and perfectly adequate for enthusiasts and home-labbers, the lack of a long, well-defined life cycle made it inappropriate for most production use and, especially, production use by shops that chose a RHEL-compatible distribution in the first place.

New no-cost, low-cost, and simplified RHEL access

As of February 1, 2021, Red Hat will make RHEL available at no cost for small-production workloads—with “small” defined as 16 systems or fewer. This access to no-cost production RHEL is by way of the newly expanded Red Hat Developer Subscription program, and it comes with no strings—in Red Hat’s words, “this isn’t a sales program, and no sales representative will follow up.”

Red Hat is also expanding the availability of developer subscriptions to teams, as well as individual users. Moving forward, subscribing RHEL customers can add entire dev teams to the developer subscription program at no cost. This allows the entire team to use Red Hat Cloud Access for simplified deployment and maintenance of RHEL on well-known cloud providers, including AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

Considering the previous public outrage about CentOS 8’s early demise, we reached out to Red Hat for clarification regarding availability guarantees—specifically, whether any guarantee was given that the terms of the free small-production use will stay valid for the length of general support for the RHEL version they cover. After some deliberation, this was the official answer:

A Red Hat subscription gives you access to all available versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux except for those in extended support. This access ends when the subscription ends, as does access to all related documentation, support, services, patches, etc., so it’s important to think about the subscription separately from the platform.

The Red Hat Developer program isn’t a fly-by-night or quickly-produced program; it has existed since early 2015 with multi-system deployments supported from 2018. The big change today is that now a small number of production systems can now be included under the subscription for individuals, but the program itself is tried and true. We’ve never removed anything from the program, only added to it, highlighted by today’s announcement.

The Individual Developer subscription is currently set up as a one year subscription. Renewals will be a simple process as close to “clicking a button” as possible. We have no intent to end this program and we’ve set it up to be sustainable—we want to keep giving the users that want to use RHEL access to it. The primary reason we need a subscription term is because it is legally difficult to offer unlimited terms globally and as new laws come into effect, for example GDPR, we need to be able to update the terms and conditions. This is similar to how our customers buy Red Hat subscriptions for fixed terms, not in perpetuity.

Our intent is to keep small-production use cases as a key part of the Red Hat Developer program and the Individual Developer subscription to help bring enterprise-grade Linux to more users.

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