After receiving a flogging from privacy critics, Facebook is scrambling to make its smart display video chat screen Portal more attractive to buyers. Today Facebook is announcing the addition of a web browser, plus some of Messenger’s Instant Games like Battleship, Draw Something, Sudoku and Words With Friends. ABC News and CNN are adding content to Portal, which now also has a manual zoom mode for its auto-zooming smart camera so you can zero in on a particular thing in view. Facebook has also added new augmented reality Story Time tales, seasonal AR masks, in-call music sharing through iHeartRadio beyond Spotify and Pandora that already offer it and nickname calling so you can say “Hey Portal, call Mom.”
But the question remains who’s buying? Facebook is already discounting the 10-inch-screen Portal and 15-inch Portal+. Formerly $100 off if you buy two, Facebook is still offering $50 off just one until Christmas Eve as part of a suspiciously long Black Friday Sale. That doesn’t signal this thing is flying off the shelves. We don’t have sales figures, but Portal has a 3.4 rating on Amazon, while Portal+ has a 3.6 — both trailing the 4.2 rating of Amazon’s own Echo Show’s 2. Users are griping about the lack of Amazon Video support for Ring doorbells, not receiving calls and, of course, the privacy implications.
Personally, I’ve found Portal+ to be competent in the five weeks since launch. The big screen is great as a smart photo frame and video calls look great. But Alexa and Facebook’s own voice assistant have a tough time dividing up functionality, and sometimes I can’t get either to play a specific song on Spotify, pause or change volume or other activities my Google Home has no trouble with. Facebook said it was hoping to add Google Assistant to Portal, but there’s no progress on that front yet.
The browser will be a welcome addition, and allow Facebook to sidestep some of the issues around its thin app platform. While it recently added a Smart TV version of YouTube, now users can access lots of services without those developers having to commit to building something for Portal given its uncertain future.
The hope seems to be that mainstream users who aren’t glued to the tech press where Facebook is constantly skewered might be drawn in by these device’s flashy screens and the admittedly impressive auto-zooming camera. But to overcome the brand tax levied by all of Facebook’s privacy scandals, Portal must be near perfect. Without the native apps for popular video providers like Netflix and Hulu, consistent voice recognition and more unique features missing from competing smart displays, the fear of Facebook’s surveillance may be outweighing people’s love for shiny new gadgets.
It has been rumored for years, but now even Reuters is claiming that Samsung is killing the Galaxy Note. Samsung’s big-screen, stylus-packing phone has struggled for years to differentiate itself from the Galaxy S line, and with the rise of foldables, Samsung apparently doesn’t have room anymore for redundant slab phones. Reuters says that “the South Korean tech giant does not have plans to develop a new version of the Galaxy Note for 2021” and “development efforts that normally would have been directed to the Note would now be channeled into its foldable phone range.” That would mean 2020’s Galaxy Note 20 is the last of Samsung’s Note line.
In the early days, the Note line led the charge toward ever-bigger screen sizes, but for many years now, the Note has struggled to justify its existence compared to the mainline Galaxy S series, which gets released earlier in the year. Usually, the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note have similar specs, similar screen sizes, and similar designs, leaving only a stylus as the Note’s defining feature. We usually skip reviewing the Note line because there’s nothing to say compared to the S phone released earlier in the year, and every year you’ll see calls from various outlets to kill the Note because it just has nothing new to offer.
Reuters claims the Galaxy Note’s one defining feature, stylus support, will actually be ported over to other devices. The report says the S21 “will have a stylus” and the “next version of Samsung’s foldable phone” (we assume this means the Galaxy Z Fold 3) “will be compatible with a stylus.”
It’s important to understand the distinction between a stowable stylus and “stylus compatible.” The Galaxy Note line famously comes with a stowable stylus, meaning a big chunk of the body is hollowed out so the pen can be stored inside the phone. There are already renders of the Galaxy S21 out there based on the CAD files sent to case manufacturers, and there is no hole in the phone for a stowable stylus. If we want to make Reuters’ reporting and the renders align, it sounds like Samsung will sell a compatible stylus alongside the Galaxy S21, but you won’t have anywhere to store it.
The upside to not having stylus storage is that hollowing out the phone does cost a bit in the runtime department, since any spare space in a phone is usually filled with battery. Consider that this year’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S20 Ultra both have 6.9-inch displays, but the S20 Ultra has a 500mAh battery advantage over the Note (5000mAh versus 4500mAh), thanks to not needing stylus storage.
The Note launches toward the end of the year have mainly only made sense from a marketing standpoint: the Galaxy S line comes out at the beginning of the year, as soon as Qualcomm’s new SoCs are ready, and by the time the holiday season rolls around with new iPhones and other competition, Samsung doesn’t want to send a nine-month-old phone into the fray. Producing a new phone model, even if it is nearly identical to the model from nine months earlier, gives the tech giant a new round of news coverage, promotions, and other attention it otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
With the rise of foldable smartphones, Samsung’s “flagship” lineup doubled in size last year. Besides the usual Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Note 20, there was the phone/tablet hybrid, the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and a foldable flip phone, the Galaxy Z Flip. These two new models offer real differentiation over the Galaxy S line, and with the more crowded lineup, it makes sense to kill the Note line in favor of elevating the Galaxy Fold as the main holiday phone.
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.
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.
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
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
Shenanigans with the asking price—currently listed as “$1,199 / $799 / use code 2020 for an additional $200 off.”
By Cyber Monday, most of us have been through the home-office setup phase of working from home but, with lengthening timelines to return to the office, Cyber Monday might be a good time to grab some of the essentials or upgrades you’ve been eyeing. Maybe the time has come to finally get the office chair that makes you feel like you’re floating or the desk that floats, er, stands up with you. Or perhaps you’re starting to run out of desk space or disk space and need something to organize or offload the clutter.
Whatever the case, we’ve found deals on some of our top picks for work-from-home gear, as well as a few high-value deals on Macs, Surface devices, iPads, noise-canceling headphones, and much more.
Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
Best Cyber Monday office chair deals
Steelcase’s Gesture made our top pick for office chairs for offering serious comfort and adjustability at a similarly serious price. It’s not the type of comfort you melt into, but rather the kind that keeps you feeling comfortable and supported while effortlessly avoiding fatigue, thanks to it’s wide-ranging adjustability which works well with different body types and your various posturers and positions throughout the day. If that all sounds nice, but you just can’t justify the price, Fully’s Desk Chair gets all the basics done well, while the company’s Tic Toc chair provides an outlet for bored or nervous energy while working thanks to its balanced “rocking stool” construction.
Best Cyber Monday standing desk deals
Standing desks can make work, at home or elsewhere, a much more comfortable and less fatiguing experience. We put Fully at the top of our picks for standing desks thanks to the desk’s solid build, wide-ranging customizability, and dearth of accessories that make working from home easier. If you already have a desk that doesn’t elevate, you can top it with one of Fully’s standing desk converters with keyboard and mouse trays.
Fully Jarvis bamboo standing desk for $475.15 at Fully (normally $559).
Fully Cooper standing desk converter for $254.15 at Fully (normally $299).
Fully Cora standing desk converter for $126.65 at Fully (normally $149).
Best Cyber Monday laptop deals
Perhaps the pièce de résistance of your WFH setup (if not already provided for you) is the computer you’re working on. Whether you’re in the market for one of the impressive new M1 Macs seeing modest $50 discounts or a Surface device with a few hundred dollars of savings there’s plenty to choose from this Cyber Monday.
The MacBook Air and Surface Book 3, discounted by $100 and $300, respectively, both earned our recommendations for working from home in our home office setup guide. These are the biggest savings you can expect throughout the year on Surfaces, and likely MacBooks, as well. If gaming-level power is something you need Razer’s 15-inch Blade ($300 off), HP’s Omen 15 ($350 off), and Dell’s G5 15 SE ($200 off) represent some of the best grabs currently available.
Apple computer deals
Microsoft laptop deals
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 laptop—Intel Core i5-1035G7, 13.5-inch 2256×1504, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for $979.99 at Microsoft and Amazon (normally $1,300).
Microsoft Surface Book 3 2-in-1 laptop—Intel Core i5-1035-G7, 13.5-inch 3000×2000, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for $1,299.99 at Microsoft (normally $1,600).
Lenovo Yoga C940 2-in-1 laptop—Intel Core i7-1065G7, 14-inch 1080p, 12GB RAM, 512GB SSD for $999.99 at Microsoft (normally $1,200).
HP Spectre x360 13t 2-in-1 laptop—Intel Core i7-1165G7, 13.3-inch 1080p, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for $883.49 at HP (use code: 5STACKBFCM21—normally $1,100).
HP Envy x360 15 2-in-1 laptop—AMD Ryzen 7 4700U, 15.6-inch 1080p, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD for $788.49 at HP (configure specs at checkout, select Intel AX 200, and use code: 5STACKBFCM21—normally $1,000).
HP EliteBook 840 G7 laptop—Intel Core i5-10210U, 14-inch 1080p, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for $716.80 at HP (configure specs at checkout, select backlit keyboard, 720p webcam, and 65W adapter—normally $1,200).
HP Omen 15 (15-EN0013DX) gaming laptop—AMD Ryzen 7 4800H, 15.6-inch 1080p 144Hz, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB for $849.99 at Best Buy (normally $1,200).
Dell G5 15 SE gaming laptop—AMD Ryzen 7 4800H, 15.6-inch 1080p 144Hz, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Radeon RX 5600M 6GB for $849.99 at Best Buy (normally $1,050).
Razer Blade 15 (2020) laptop—Intel Core i7-10750H, 15.6-inch 1080p 144Hz, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, GTX 1660 Ti GPU for $1,299.99 at Amazon (normally $1,600).
Best Cyber Monday monitor deals
We rated a number of Dell monitors highly in our home office setup guide thanks to their ease of use, solid detail and color representation, and wide-ranging adjustability for different lighting situations and visual needs. If you don’t require super high refresh rates for gaming, the deals below look to be great value in the 24- and 27-inch category. Upping refresh rates a bit, you can snag a 144Hz IPS gaming monitor from LG with more than a $50 discount.
27-inch Dell UltraSharp 27 (U2719D) monitor—2560×1440, 60Hz, IPS + $150 Dell e-gift card for $359.99 at Dell (GC good for 90 days—normally $540).
24-inch Dell P2421 monitor—1920×1200, 60Hz, IPS for $149.99 at Dell (normally $260).
24-inch Dell UltraSharp 24 (U2417H) monitor—1080p, 60Hz, IPS for $159 at Amazon (normally $230).
27-inch LG 27GL850-B gaming monitor—2560×1440, 144Hz, IPS, FreeSync for $446.99 at Adorama and B&H (normally $500).
23-inch Lenovo L23i-18 monitor—1920×1080, 60Hz, IPS for $99.99 at Lenovo (normally $130).
Best Cyber Monday storage deals
Often times, employer-provided computers don’t come with a ton of storage. Adding a fast backup solution or external storage drive saves you from having to mix up your personal drives with your work ones and, particularly In the case of the Samsung T5 SSD, it can probably do it a lot faster than the drives you have now. If speed isn’t as important as vast amounts of storage, Western Digital’s 6TB external HDDs provide great value, and even more with $20 off.
Best Cyber Monday dock and adapter deals
Whether you’re juggling multiple computers, monitors, or other peripherals, a great dock can help keep things in order. Instead of having to plug in multiple cables each time you need to swap computers or use an external hard drive, just use one of these port-heavy alternatives. While CalDigit’s TS3 Plus dock retains its top sport for our favorite docks, the CalDigit Pro UCB-C dock is a bit more universal since it can work on either Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C through the same cable. If you need a smaller or more portable option you can hook up two displays with the Thunderbolt Mini dock or ethernet, USB-A, HDMI, and more with Anker’s 7-in-2 MacBook-specific adapter.
CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt 3 dock—2x Thunderbolt 3, 5x USB-A, USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, USB-C 3.1 Gen 2, DisplayPort 1.2, Ethernet, SD for $199.99 at Amazon (clip $20 coupon—normally $245).
CalDigit Pro USB-C dock—1x Thunderbolt (backwards compatible with USB-C), 3x USB-A, USB-C 3.2 Gen 1, USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, 2x DisplayPort 1.2, Ethernet, SD for $179.99 (normally $200).
CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 mini dock—dual DisplayPort 1.2, ethernet, USB-A 3.0 for $79.99 at CalDigit and $119.99 at Amazon (normally $150).
Anker 7-in-2 USB-C adapter for MacBooks—1x USB-C data port, 2x USB-A ports, HDMI, SD, and microSD card at Amazon for $39.99 (normally $59.99).
Best Cyber Monday iPad deals
When you’re working from home, sometimes you just need to change up the monotony of sitting (or standing) at your desk. iPads are often well-supported for use within organizations, so you may be able to get away with lying down and tapping through some work tasks. Alternatively, iPads make an excellent wireless secondary display for MacBooks through Apple’s Sidecar feature, so there’s more than one way for an iPad to make work easier.
You can still grab the latest generation 11-inch iPad Pro for $569.99 for pro-level tasks, down from it’s usual $600 price tag or the previous generation iPad Air for a nice balance of lightness and heavy work. Add a keyboard folio case for protection or a detachable bluetooth keyboard with trackpad for laptop usability.
Apple iPad Air (64GB, latest generation) 10.9-inch tablet for $569.99 at Amazon (normally $599).
Apple iPad Air (64GB, previous generation) 10.5-inch tablet for $429.99 at Best Buy (normally $500).
$100 Apple gift card with purchase of an iPad Pro.
Apple Smart Keyboard Folio for 12.9-inch iPad Pro (4th gen) for $120 at Amazon (normally $189).
Apple Smart Keyboard Folio for 11-inch iPad Pro (2nd gen) and iPad Air (4th gen) for $129 at Best Buy (normally $170).
Brydge 7.9 Bluetooth keyboard for Apple iPad Mini for $79.99 at Amazon (normally $100).
Brydge 10.2 Bluetooth keyboard for Apple iPad for $79.99 at Amazon (normally $130).
Brydge 10.5 Bluetooth keyboard for Apple iPad Air (2019) for $59.99 at Amazon (normally $90).
Brydge 11.0 Pro Bluetooth keyboard for 11-inch Apple iPad Pro and iPad Air (2020) for $99.99 at Amazon (normally $130).
Brydge 11.0 Pro+ Bluetooth keyboard with trackpad for 11-inch Apple iPad Pro and iPad Air (2020) for $139.99 at Amazon (normally $200).
Brydge 12.9 Pro Bluetooth keyboard for 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro for $99.99 at Amazon (normally $170).
Brydge 12.9 Pro+ Bluetooth keyboard with trackpad for 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro for $159.99 at Amazon (normally $230).
Best Cyber Monday noise-canceling headphone deals
Silence is golden, especially when you’re trying to focus. A good pair of noise-canceling headphones can drown out erroneous noises like construction or kids, allowing you to work in peace. If you can still hear them, you can try playing some lo-fi ambient music to focus since these headphones sound pretty good too. The Sony WH-1000XM4, Apple AirPods Pro, and Jabra Elite 75t all made our top picks for WFH gear in our complete guide.
Best Cyber Monday accessory and PC component deals