9 best email marketing services you need to convert a B2B client


We decided to offer up this blog topic in two ways because there are certain variables with business to business (B2B) marketing that exist that use marketing in different ways.

Two kinds of email lists in play

One list serves as hoarding of contacts. The list may generate contacts from the use of pop-ups from your website visitors or special event and trade show sign-up sheets. Does any of this sound familiar? These people share a common interest and wish to follow your company after learning more about you. Bear in mind that they may not be anywhere ready for direct interaction, let alone conversion. You may take the compliment just the same that they have a wish to keep your company on their radar. Your marketing team keeps these contacts up-to-date on the latest news, promotions, and enlightening content. This practice is maintained to string along your contacts’ interest until they are ready to act. If your company’s cost of goods and services are expensive, don’t expect conversions from this kind of email marketing. The journey is one of patience. Instead, the objective is to hold their interest enough to stay connected by making visits to your website for blogs and announcements on cue, thanks to email marketing. That way when they are ready for your product or service, they know exactly where to start.

The misconception is that the mass hoarded list is the end-all-be-all list of all email marketing. This assumption is mistaken because the next example is of greater importance.

The second list is made up of active contacts making their way through the funnel. These particular contacts, however, require targeted emails to their needs and business at a carefully timed frequency to guide them through the conversion funnel. Your sales team grooms this list through a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program. In the CRM, sales professionals track their contacts and engagements with their prospects and customers through the point of conversion and beyond for retention.

Which tools to use?

If your contact lists are small, you may be successful for a while keeping up with all marketing efforts through one program. As your list grows, you find yourself delegating the mass-marketing to another marketing team while Sales focuses on those concentrated in the sales funnel through the CRM. When you reach this volume, different programs may serve those distinct purposes of your contact lists.

Mass email marketing

This list is to benefit your mass-marketing efforts for those collected contacts along your path.

Constant Contact

This company is a favorite email service provider for businesses just getting their feet wet with email marketing. One exceptional quality that puts them above the rest is their fantastic customer support. You can get all the help you need from their live chat, emails, discussion forums, and a vast library of resources.

Sendinblue

We rate this as an excellent bulk email service for absolute beginners. Their intuitive drag and drop platform makes it easy for the most novice user to jump in and start creating right away. Sendinblue also offers short message service (SMS) marketing as a separate offer. One unique quality with Sendinblue is that there are no subscriptions. Pricing is based on the number of emails sent with no contact volume limits.

Drip

We like Drip for its email marketing automation for E-commerce business. Not only can you customize messages based on website visitor behaviors (cart abandonment, clicks, returning visitors, etc.), but you can implement more integrations such as text, social, and more, customized to your workflow.

AWeber

This brand is one of the more popular lead generation services because it’s easy, and it’s affordable. AWeber is also easily integrated with your WordPress website, opt-in builder, and landing page builder.

MailerLite

If you’re starting with email marketing and your budget is tight, MailerLite allows you to build your list for free until you grow to 1000 subscribers.

Mailchimp

While Mailchimp’s claim to fame is mass emailing and flexible integration, not as many of its subscribers utilizing its other marketing tools on the platform. Some significant updates have arrived in May, so if you’ve not taken a peek recently, visit their site today.

CRM and Sales tools

Keep in mind that these tools also have email marketing functionality so that they may work splendidly for email campaigns. These tools and their built-in features are distinctively useful for Sales teams, however a bit overkill in features for a Marketing team that would find more value in the mass email marketing tools.

Keap

If you’ve heard of Infusionsoft (also built by Keap) think of Keap of a simpler version of that tool. This all-in-one tool for CRM, sales, and marketing automation enable you to organize your client information and syncs with Gmail and Outlook to manage it all in one place. In addition to great-looking emails, Keap also features templates for proposals, estimates, invoices, and payments, to name a few.

AutoPilot

Just like the email marketing tools, AutoPilot is intuitive and easy to create with drag and drop platform for the email editor.

An added feature that your sales team will love is AutoPilot’s collaborative tools that enable your team to work together. The annotate & collaborate feature allows your team to mark up a customer journey and engage the group for feedback. Work is easily shared so everyone remains informed with each campaign.

GetResponse

Talk about versatility! GetResponse is about as close as you can get to an all-in-one solution. Along with marketing and automation, add CRM, landing pages and a webinar solution to boot! If you weren’t already impressed enough, the service is available in 20 different languages. There are over 500 built-in templates and direct integration with Shutterstock for creative options.

Each of these services includes a library of templates to choose from for your email creations, but your options don’t have to stop there on these and many other platforms. If you seek an original look that stands as a statement on its own and is perfectly in-sync with your specific branding, that’s where MailBakery is at your service. Have you got a design that you are ready to bring to life? Your first coding is free as a way that we can offer you a taste of our dazzling delights. What have you got to lose? Let’s get baking!

Udemy Class Review: Raspberry Pi Bootcamp


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The Raspberry Pi began life as a simple teaching instrument designed to make it easier for young minds to learn to program. Today that’s still the primary purpose of Raspberry Pi devices, but the product has also taken on a new life as a hobbyist mini computer. In these two capacities, it has been used to create numerous other devices from TV boxes to robots.

Although the Raspberry Pi is relatively easy to program by design, learning to set up the Raspberry PiSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and create devices with it remains a challenge. That’s where Udemy’s Raspberry Pi Bootcamp: For the Beginner course comes in. This course aims to teach you everything you need to know to enable you to develop your own Raspberry Pi devices.

Course Review

Before diving into the course itself, I should mention that this course predominantly works with the Raspberry Pi 3. Due to the similarities between the various Raspberry Pi devices, however, most if not all of the lessons should be applicable to any model of the Raspberry Pi.

After giving you a brief overview of some of the many things you can learn to do with the Raspberry Pi, the lecturer dives straight into teaching you how to install Raspbian on an SD card for use with a Raspberry Pi. Raspbian is a Linux distribution that has been specifically configured for use on the Raspberry Pi. This is followed by instructions on how to connect the Raspberry Pi to a keyboard, mouse, and display, as well as a step by step guide on setting up the Raspbian software.

If you simply wish to use the Rasberry Pi as a computer for web browsing, multimedia consumption, and light gaming, then you can technically stop the course here. Later in the course there is a section dedicated to setting up the Raspberry Pi as a game system that you may also be interested in, but other than that there is little reason for you to continue the course.

If you plan to use the Raspberry Pi for other purposes beyond just as a media player and gaming device, however, then there is still a lot of useful information in the following lectures. Next up in the course is a lesson over the GPIO pins, which are used to connect various other devices.

Using the GPIO pins and a breadboard, the lecturer instructs you on how to use the GPIO to connect a simple LED. From here the lecturer teaches you how to control the LED using the GPIO pins, and he provides you with downloadable code files from GitHub to make this easier.

The following lectures dive into more detail with dedicated lessons on how to set up an Apache web server, control circuits connected to the Raspberry Pi from a web interface, and creating a Google Home clone.

Conclusion

Throughout these lectures, the information provided is delivered in a clear and easy to understand manner. I didn’t have a Raspberry Pi device on hand to follow along with the instructions given in the course, but using this material as a guide I’m quite certain that I would be able to with ease.

Realistically, this course just scratches the surface of what’s possible with the Raspberry Pi, but it feels well thought out. It focuses on hitting important topics and simple lessons that keep the course easy for everyone to follow. At the same time, after taking the course you will have a solid base for which to build upon as you continue to learn and grow your knowledge of using the Raspberry Pi. If you’ve been wanting to learn how to use a Raspberry Pi, then I’d highly recommend this course. Currently, you can get it from Udemy for $19.99.

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Fitbit Versa 2 review – gpgmail


The Versa didn’t single-handedly save Fitbit, but it gave the struggling wearable company a way forward. The smartwatch demonstrated the potential for life beyond the fitness tracker. It also proved that Fitbit was finally ready to offer a product that could compete with the utterly dominant Apple Watch.

Last year’s Versa Lite was, by all accounts, a misstep. The device was an attempt to capitalize on one of the Versa’s strongest selling points: price. It was a miscalculation, however. The discount wasn’t enough to justify the missing features, and Fitbit’s financials took a hit as things finally appeared to be heading in the right direction.

By that account, the Versa 2 arrives just in time to help offset soft smartwatch sales numbers, a year and a half after the first device arrived. The new device doesn’t represent a radical departure from the first version. Nor should it. After the disappointing Ionic, Fitbit got things pretty right with the original Versa.

The smartwatch offered a solid, fitness-focused alternative to the Apple Watch for Android users and those looking for something cheaper than that $400 wearable. At $200, it’s priced the same as its predecessor. And that feels just about right, given the design and feature set.

Honestly, you can’t mention the design without invoking the Apple Watch. I’m sure Fitbit would rather have a conversation about the device that isn’t utterly dominated by Apple, but, well, the evolution of the Versa’s design is asking for it. Here’s what CEO James Park told me when the product launched:

“With phones, it’s like every phone starts to look the same. But for us, we try to blend a round design and the square design into what we call the squircle design that tries to capture both one that looks more like a traditional watch piece but still has a squareish form factor to display information. So we think we’ve struck the right balance. And I think whether it looks like an Apple Watch or not is kind of irrelevant. We’re trying to look at the customer experience and try to see what’s best for the user.”

There’s probably something to that, though to be fair, the default watch design is round, not square, and most non-Apple products have gone that route. That said, Fitbit did acquire the Pebble design team, and the argument can certainly be made that the new device shares some clear characteristics with the pioneering startup’s products.

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Moving beyond those superficial interests, the hardware is quite nice, particularly given the $200 price point. The display has been upgraded from LCD to AMOLED, though it’s still surrounded by a pretty massive black bezel on all sides. The casing is a nice brushed metal — a dark gray in the case of the one I chose. I also opted for the 44mm version. It’s the larger of the two models, but it fits great — it was even reasonably comfortable to sleep in, which can’t be said for most smartwatches.

Good on Fitbit for making a 40mm version available, as well. This was a major oversight on past devices from a company with such a larger female user base.

There’s a single button on the device, which doubles as power and an Alexa trigger. That’s one of the bigger additions here. After spending millions on acquisitions to build its own OS and ecosystem, a smart assistant is probably a bridge too far at this point. A deal with Amazon, however, is mutually beneficial to both parties. Fitbit gets access to a leading smart assistant with little to no investment and Amazon gets a leg up on wearables.

Interestingly, there’s no speaker on the device. Alexa can hear you via the built-in mic, but it can’t respond accordingly. That means the answers are displayed visually instead. It’s a novel way to interact with Alexa and in most cases probably easier than holding your watch up to your ear. That said, Alexa was always irritatingly slow, first listening, then thinking, then returning the result. I’m not sure if that’s an easy software fix for Fitbit but it’s less than ideal.

The app selection has thankfully improved since last time as well. Fitbit’s still got a long ways to go to compete with Apple, but the addition of Spotify feels like a pretty big win for the company. It’s a big step up from the Deezer integration the Ionic launched with.

FitbitOS is fairly simple, but that’s fine. It works well with the small screen size. A decade of experience means Fitbit’s got a solid selection of health software features. It will be interesting to see what the company adds to the device with its $10 a month Fitbit Premium service. I’ve got some doubts on that one, but I’m willing to hold off judgement until I try it. Unlike Apple, Fitbit has offered sleep tracking for some time (expected to come to the Watch with tomorrow’s update). There’s a new Sleep Score feature, as well, which distills your patterns into something a bit more easily digestible.

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The battery has been improved to five days, which was about right in my testing. That’s certainly a big plus over the Apple Watch, particularly for a device that’s meant to be worn regularly to bed. Obviously that number will fluctuate quite a bit depending on usage and whether you opt for the always-on display — another nice feature.

The Versa 2 is a nice update over the original. There’s not enough here to warrant an upgrade, but it should help maintain Fitbit’s spot as one of the few viable Apple Watch competitors. And that $200 price point certainly doesn’t hurt.


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World of Warcraft Classic vs. Retail, Part 1: Which Early Game Plays Better?


Ever since World of Warcraft Classic launched, I’ve been burning a significant amount of time in Azeroth. While the game is no longer as popular as it once was, it’s played on an ongoing basis by millions of people worldwide. Classic offers a unique chance to return to the original version of a multiplayer game and to experience a bit of gaming history in the process. This article compares the leveling and adventuring experience of the first third of WoW, spanning levels 1-20.

In this article, “Retail” refers to the current version of the game, “Classic” refers to the new servers Blizzard launched in late August, and “Vanilla” refers to the original game and associated experiences from 2004 onwards. References to Vanilla are historical references.

About the Author, Test Rules

I have played World of Warcraft since well before the game launched. I joined the Closed Beta in March 2004, just after the Tri-Horde push. I briefly played a Paladin, but ultimately wound up maining a Warlock and hit Lvl 60 before the game launched. I wrote extensively on Warlocks at the time, but once WoW had actually shipped I decided I’d rather try a new role and class and rolled a Paladin on Zul’jin. I have mained a Paladin ever since and have reviewed the game and its expansions over the past 15 years, for various publications.

Lakeshire, Redridge Mountains. Left is Retail, right is Classic. I’m rather proud of how well I was able to blend these two images, screenshots are hard to match across two different game clients. Click to enlarge.

I’ve tested the game(s) by leveling a Paladin in both Retail and in Classic. I recall the original Paladin leveling experience in Classic, and I wanted to use a class I was familiar with in both versions of the game. Paladins are not the fastest levelers in Classic, but they have excellent survivability. They are also capable of fulfilling all three of the game’s primary roles (DPS, healing, tanking) while leveling in both Classic and Retail. Protection Warriors are preferred tanks for endgame raiding in Classic, but for leveling, all of the hybrid classes (Druid, Shaman, Paladin) have healing, DPS, and tanking options.

My goal with this series of articles is to compare the leveling and game experience between Classic and Retail, without taking advantage of any of the additional bonuses Retail players can use to level faster. Retail WoW offers Heirloom gear — items that increase in level every time you do. Several of these items also increase the amount of experience you earn. My Retail playthrough does not use these items. I do not craft gear for my Retail Paladin using a different character. This means that my Retail Paladin will not level as quickly as a Retail player with alts is likely to level today. My goal, however, is not to compare the experience of playing WoW with tons of alts, but to compare how the game feels and plays with a new player experiencing the game for the first time in both versions. I’ve met people in Classic and Retail experiencing WoW for the first time in 2019.

I have sought to duplicate my original play-through in all the particulars I can still remember. My Paladin — Tovah on Classic, Tovahlt on Retail — has used the same zones for leveling and played through the same content. I have taken the same professions (Blacksmithing, Mining) on both. I have spent time in game leveling both my professions and my character, but I handle the profession leveling at natural down points for doing so. I have avoided going Away From Keyboard (AFK) on either character so that my leveling speed measurements remain accurate. If I need to go AFK, I log out first.

I have used no add-ons for my Lvl 1-20 experience. While I played with add-ons as an endgame Vanilla raider, there weren’t very many available when I was leveling in the earliest parts of Classic, and I wanted to replicate my experience as closely as possible.

Finally, please keep in mind that this is a leveling comparison that specifically focuses on Lvl 1-20. It is not a dungeon comparison or a DPS/tanking comparison. It most certainly is not an endgame raid comparison. I will address all of these topics as they are relevant in future articles.

Let’s Get to Fighting

The first thing to know about World of Warcraft Classic versus Retail is that these are two different games that happen to share a common engine and the same graphical assets. The experience of playing a Paladin in WoW Classic is entirely different from the experience of playing in WoW Retail. Retail is faster, more polished, and less grindy, but has a very different difficulty curve. Classic is slower and requires more grinding, but can also feel more rewarding.

Three Corners, at the border of Elwynn and Redridge. Classic WoW, click to enlarge.

In both cases, my Paladin begins the game with a handful of core capabilities. In Classic, Paladins use what’s called the Seal/Judgement system. Seals affect your attack in various ways. My first Seal, Seal of Righteousness (SoR), inflicts a flat amount of additional holy damage on any mob I strike. I can then cast Judgement a target to inflict additional damage, but this consumes the Seal (which must be re-cast and costs mana). In Retail, I have a quick melee attack, Crusader Strike, on a long cooldown. Judgment still exists in Retail, but it isn’t linked to any other attack and doesn’t require that I refresh a separate ability after I use it. Characters in Retail WoW have far fewer spells than Classic WoW does and class abilities are gated based on your current specialization (Holy, Retribution, or Protection for healing, damage-dealing, and tanking roles).

Three Corners, Retail WoW. Click to enlarge

The first difference I notice favors Retail. Casting Crusader Strike and watching the animation play is viscerally more interesting than SoR. SoR adds damage, but it doesn’t play a different attack animation when it triggers. The flow of combat is completely different between the two games. In Retail, mobs die so quickly, there’s no meaningful skill or strategy required to deal with them. I spend far more time waiting for my two abilities (Crusader Strike and Judgment) to come off cooldown than anything else.

In Classic, you start with the Holy Light healing spell and the game expects you to use it. It becomes immediately apparent that the class is designed around the idea that you will heal during combat. Retail creatures have far fewer hitpoints and kill speed in Retail is much faster than it is in Classic. It can take 15-60 seconds to kill a single creature in Classic, particularly if it is 3-4 levels higher than you. In Retail, this is impossible — all creatures are the same level you are unless you deliberately enter a zone you aren’t ready to play in yet. You don’t even get a heal until Lvl 8 and you’ll scarcely use it.

The slideshow above compares Retail and Classic WoW in terms of graphical settings, draw distance, and some other changes between the two versions. I went for as close to an “apples-to-apples” comparison as I could frame between the two.

Game Difficulty, Leveling Speed

The biggest difference between Retail and Classic is the underlying difficulty of the game. Classic WoW can be genuinely difficult, particularly if you wander around in areas intended for players above your level. It is not unusual to see mobs spawn in packs of 3-5. A Paladin between levels 1-20 might manage to kill a pack of three monsters but pulling 5 creatures at equal level with normal gear is going to get you killed. Mobs are often packed close together and spawn with no warning. Because creatures in Classic WoW have their own independent levels, you can adjust the game difficulty by where you choose to play. Playing in a zone with quests a little too low for you will be easier; playing in a zone where the quests are orange or red will be significantly harder or downright impossible. There are fewer quests overall, and you may wind up making long treks to other areas (or simply killing monsters) to finish off a level and open more content.

In Retail WoW, all creatures are the same level you are. They have far fewer hitpoints and you carve through them like butter. This level-matching means that the game offers a flat difficulty curve. Classic WoW had some quests that were substantially harder than others. In Retail, quest difficulty is static and stuck on “Easy.” This disparity is part of why leveling in Retail is so much faster than leveling in Classic. Retail also has more quests available, the quests are gathered into the same area to make finding them easier, quest items are highlighted, and there are more flight points to move you around the early zones. When you don’t have a mount yet, those flight points are worth their weight in gold.

In Classic, if I see someone running away from a group of enemies, it’s because they’re about to die. In Retail, if I see someone being chased by a group of enemies, it’s because they’re gathering them up for more efficient slaughter. If I had to pick one observed difference between the two games that captures the essence of playing them, it would be that.

Classic doesn’t have to be a challenge, but you can play it that way if you want to. Retail leveling simply isn’t challenging. The only exception to this was when I walked into the Deadmines (a 5-man instanced dungeon) and started killing the elite mobs on my own. Gold elite mobs in Classic will have your guts for garters if you try to take them 1v1 in the early part of the game. In Classic, I have to be careful about how many mobs I pull, and what level they are relative to me. I also have to make sure I’m topped up on mana and health before a multi-mob fight and I will have to heal between every engagement. In Retail, I almost never stop to eat or drink.

The combined impact of these changes means that leveling in Retail WoW is much, much faster than in Classic. Below are my leveling times for each level in Classic versus Retail. The line isn’t straight because I was able to bounce through some levels faster than others by turning in a ton of quests at the same time. The graph below shows my cumulative leveling time at each level. The trend is quite clear:

As of this writing, I have played 492 minutes (8.2 hours) in Retail and 1713 minutes (28.5 hours) in Classic. 17-18 was a pain point; the zones I was questing in were both stuffed with players and it took me a while to complete quest objectives. I also spent time leveling up professions at 17. I hit Lvl 20 in Retail more than 3x faster than I achieved the same goal in Classic.

In Classic WoW, the best way to increase your leveling speed is to level in dungeons or do quests in groups. The relatively short time I spent going from 18-19 and 19-20 is because I ran Deadmines in the first instance and grouped up with people to do quests in the second. In Retail, it scarcely matters. Hitting dungeons is a good way to learn how to group and get some quests out of the way, but you don’t need to do it. If you have Heirloom gear, you already have better items than you’ll get otherwise.

How the Class Evolves

In Classic WoW, the Paladin is a support class, with strong, short-term buffs. Paladins have more buffs than any other class and our buffs have unique effects that no other single class has. We can give bonuses to attack power and mana regeneration, reduce the damage taken by physical attacks, reduce the threat other classes generate, transfer damage taken by other classes to ourselves, and buff the resistances of other classes (and ourselves) to various elemental damage. I’m still missing most of these abilities at Level 20, but I cast the ones I have constantly. In Classic WoW, your choice of specification (Ret, Holy, Protection) is basically a “flavor” layered on top of a strong support class. Running around the world and buffing random folks is one of the joys of Classic WoW and people frequently return the favor, even though our buffs are short (5 minutes).

In Retail WoW, each class has far fewer abilities and the abilities you do have are tied much more tightly to your particular spec. Because Blizzard has made a number of changes to WoW to reduce its difficulty and the importance of grouping, most of our buff capability is gone as well. In Classic, I buffed people from Lvl 1 forward. In Retail, I won’t even get Blessing of Kings until Lvl 58. Distinctive class abilities in Classic, like the ability to Lay on Hands (fully heal my target at the expense of all my mana), are already unlocked by Lvl 20 but don’t unlock until much later in Retail.

Both versions of the game have Talent points that you invest periodically to improve your skills and abilities. In Classic, you begin unlocking talent points at Lvl 10 and earn one talent point per level. The value of each individual talent point is mostly low. Classic WoW has certain core talents in each tree that you unlock after investing a certain number of points.  One problem with Classic that hits every class in one way or another is that certain talents have much less utility than others. Discipline Priests, for example, have to invest 5 points in either Wand Specialization (more wand damage) or 15% fear/stun/interrupt resistance. Wand damage is marginally useful for leveling. Neither option is very good.

Every class has a number of subpar talent choices like this. Retribution Paladins, however, have some reasonably solid choices for talent point investment when leveling and my 11th talent point at Lvl 20 unlocks the primary DPS ability I’ll use for the rest of the game: Seal of Command. Talents cannot be changed in Classic without paying gold to an NPC who can reset them for you, and the fee for resetting your talents goes up each time you do it, to a maximum of 50 gold.

Technically this is a screenshot from WoWHead, but it displays the data in higher resolution than a cropped shot in WoW. Classic WoW Paladin Talent Calculator 

In Retail WoW, talents are unlocked every 15 levels except for the last. Each specialization has its own talent tree and there are always three options for each level. The retail talent system reflects Blizzard’s efforts to fix the old Talent system. Every class in Classic WoW has at least some talents that are borderline useless, and some classes have entire trees or roles that are unused in the endgame due to poor design and a deliberate decision made by Blizzard to force all of the hybrid classes into principally healing roles for endgame content. Retail WoW has never completely solved the useless talent problem, but there’s usually at least one good option out of three. This system may well work better mechanically, but it doesn’t feel as fulfilling while leveling, at least not to me. Opinions on this point are split and may reflect how good (or bad) your classes talent trees were in Classic to start with.

Paladin-Talents-Retail

WoW Paladin Talents Retail. Some of the Classic talents are still available in this tree.

I have far fewer talents and spells to juggle in Retail than in Classic. Combined with the very low difficulty and high kill speed, this makes Retail WoW rather boring to play while leveling by comparison. The flip side, as we’ve seen, is that leveling is much faster. At Lvl 20, my Classic Paladin’s utility comes from his ability to heal himself and others during combat, his damage, and his buffs. In Retail, I kill things quickly… and that’s pretty much it.

Why Leveling Is More Fun in Classic WoW

Leveling in Classic WoW is slower than in Retail, but in my opinion, it’s also far more fun. There’s a contradiction at the heart of the Classic versus Retail comparison that has to be unpacked to be understood. By every objective metric, Retail should be more fun. Leveling is faster, and difficulty is more consistent. Quests are easier to do. Some quest chains are frankly more interesting, thanks to the use of phasing content (phasing refers to the ability to change how the world looks for players who are on a specific part of a quest chain; WoW Classic completely lacks this feature).

But one consequence of this complete lack of difficulty is a sort-of boring sameness. In Classic, I check people’s health bars as I run by and buff nearly everyone I see. Even if I had buffs in Retail WoW, they wouldn’t matter, because no one needs them. Kill speeds are so fast, there’s no point in even trying to help someone. By the time I reach them, they’ve already killed whatever mob they targeted. It’s still faster to level in a group, but there’s no real need to work together in any way to do it, beyond targeting the same type of mob. When I group with other people in Classic, I assume whatever role will bring utility to the group — healing, if I’m the only healer, or DPSing if I’m not.

The dramatically lower difficulty and the way the game has been streamlined means that many NPC trainers are useless in Retail today. They still exist, but they can’t teach you anything — skills are acquired automatically, at no cost. Classic WoW requires you to carefully manage your money and weigh the benefits of purchasing an item on the AH against what your future skill upgrades will cost you. Retail requires no such calculation.

Why has Blizzard flattened, accelerated, and simplified leveling this way? Because of alts.

When Blizzard built World of Warcraft, it designed the game to make it easy to hit max level and to maintain alternative well-geared characters, known as “alts.” New character classes and races have been introduced with several expansions, along with new starting areas or experiences to give players incentive to hit the leveling treadmill once again.

While it’s absolutely possible to level a character in WoW using different zones (and therefore having different experiences), people who have leveled 4-12 alts have long since worn the bloom off the metaphorical rose. Players have consistently pushed Blizzard to make leveling faster and easier. When the overwhelming majority of people are playing in the endgame, making people run a bunch of dungeons to hit maximum level in an acceptable amount of time just encourages them to quit playing altogether. All of the changes Blizzard has made to leveling, as near as I can tell, stem from a desire to make the game more accessible to people leveling their 10th character as opposed to their first. And players have relentlessly pushed for these changes because no one really enjoys running through the exact same content for the 10th or 15th time.

It makes perfect sense, but the end result is a substandard experience. Thus far, from levels 1-20, there’s virtually no challenge in Retail WoW. Classic WoW is not particularly hard by default, but you can play it in a way that’ll stretch your own abilities. The wide availability of buffs and the difficulty of higher-level content encourage grouping in a way that Retail doesn’t require.

Community

Right now, two things are true:

  1. WoW Classic’s community is vastly more vibrant, polite, fun, and enjoyable than anything currently going on in retail.
  2. I am not certain I can argue this makes WoW Classic’s community “better” in any lasting way.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the current community atmosphere in WoW Classic is more fun than anything I’ve seen in retail in years. People are grouping together, playing together, and being downright polite. Chat is full of mock arguments over whether it’s called Deadmines or Van Cleef, not political debates. Chuck Norris memes and discussions of vanilla game mechanics dominate chat. Yes, I’ve seen people being jerks. It hasn’t been the norm.

I have a few ideas about why this is true.

First, remember that a lot of people have fond memories of WoW Classic. Nostalgia is a powerful draw; being able to run content with your friends and family for the first time, again is a powerful draw. I know parents who play WoW with their children and spouses who raid together. A lot of people are having a lot of fun in Classic for this reason alone. Happy people buff each other, they take turns on spawn points, and they line up for quests. Classic WoW’s very early game (1-10) is definitely more difficult than Retail WoW’s equivalent, but Elwynn Forest is still a pretty gentle place to play.

When I’m walking in Stormwind…

WoW’s early game hits an agreeable sweet spot in terms of leveling speed, and while zone crowding is annoying, there are usually some ways to mitigate it — some zones are more popular than others, and there are optimal routes to take in terms of leveling speed. Spawn rates and drop rates are low enough to be annoying, but they aren’t so annoying as to make the game unplayable. There are advantages to having a lot of people running around. Folks are willing to group up easily and groups can knock out higher-level quests than a solo player can. Leveling speed in groups is fast enough to compete with Retail, and the game encourages grouping. Right now, the game is easy enough that even a not-very-good player can play it.

I’ve spoken to people who explicitly say they came back to Classic because they wanted the more challenging experience it offers. I’m one of them. There’s a contingent of retail players that sneer at the idea that anyone would want to go back to Classic. They’re wrong to do so. A lot of people, including me, are having more fun in Classic than we’ve had in Retail WoW in years.

But as nice as the current situation is, any fair consideration of the topic has to acknowledge the other side of the coin.

Yes, Classic WoW is currently a fun, happy place to be — certainly happier than retail. But the bloom is currently very much on the rose. There’s a certain critical mass of players that need to be moving through a zone in World of Warcraft Classic to ensure enough people to form groups for various dungeons, or even for quests. Without enough people to do group quests or dungeons, you’re locked out of the better items and quicker leveling these areas offer. People who like doing quests to see the plot points don’t get to see them. Gear that would make your leveling easier remains out of reach.

As people level up, the early zones empty out, and leveling slows down. It’s going to be harder to find people to group up with to do quests and move through content quickly. Running dungeons is a great way to level, but running dungeons on alts still requires finding people to play with. As the early zones empty out, groups get harder to find. Joining a guild can help, but leveling alts was still a pretty slow process and one consistent complaint that players made to Blizzard was that it was too hard to find people to run dungeons with.

I’m only discussing community in terms of groups in this article — the damn thing is long enough already — but I think that makes sense for 1-20, where most grouping is done in temporary clusters rather than in-guilds. Nonetheless, Classic WoW encourages grouping for mob-tagging and faster questing/dungeoneering. That’s a wonderful thing when there’s plenty of people to play with. It’s not great at all when you don’t have them around.

WoW Classic is designed to funnel players toward endgame content. Level 60 is the end-state. This is one issue that’s going to reoccur, and that’s why I’m not terribly comfortable waxing poetic about the wonderful nature of the Classic community. It’s not because people aren’t being helpful; they very much are. It’s because some of the changes that Blizzard put into the game between Vanilla and Battle for Azeroth may have weakened the community bonds of the game, but they were changes Blizzard made to try and support what many players themselves said they wanted. At the same time, yes, there were players who were absolutely against these changes. Every expansion of WoW has made significant changes to the underlying game mechanics.

The social dynamics of WoW changed when cross-server battlegrounds went in (I was making my own run for Commander at the time). They changed when multi-queue battlegrounds went in. They changed when the LFG and LFR tools were put into the game. There are people who preferred the social dynamics of the game in Vanilla and people playing Battle for Azeroth today who wouldn’t go back to Vanilla if you paid them to do it. I don’t know that one is better than the other, but I do know that Vanilla’s original social model certainly wasn’t perfect.

But I will say this. There is no better time to play Classic World of Warcraft than right now. The game is best experienced on a well-populated server, with plenty of people leveling alongside you.

Classic Isn’t Perfect, But It Wins the Early Game Comparison

Are there downsides to Classic? Absolutely. You’ll spend a lot of time running hither-and-yon in search of quest mats and quest givers, taking notes from Person A to Person B, and staring at the ass-end of a gryphon. Retail has some better quests and better quest availability. Being able to find a group in the dungeon finder can be a godsend if you only have a little while to play and wanted to get in a dungeon run. Retail WoW is more flexible and vastly more respectful of your time. If I had to pick which game I’d rather level five characters in, I’d pick Retail. Asked which game I’d rather level in once — at least from 1-20 — I’d pick Classic. That may change as we progress.

In some of my past articles on WoW, some of you have asked why I didn’t really dive into the differences between Retail and Classic. This article is the reason. Once I started unpacking the differences, there were a lot of differences to be unpacked — so many that after some consideration, I realized I’d have to split the article into parts. There’s simply no other way to speak to the way WoW has evolved in its intervening years or to explore the differences in content and community.

One thing I also want to note is that I’m not speaking strictly from nostalgia, here. Last year, I persuaded my fiancée to give WoW a try for the first time and leveled a Monk with her. I’ve done the leveling experience in Retail already and my opinion on it hasn’t changed that much between then and now. Doing it on two different versions of the same character class gave me a lot of insight into how Paladins have changed and having Classic to play has let me refresh my 15-year-old memories — but it hasn’t changed my thoughts on the Retail side of the experience.

I understand why Blizzard has made the changes that it made to WoW and why it made them, but I hope the company spends some time analyzing the fact that a 15-year-old memory of its game offers a better starting experience than the current one does. I’m not saying WoW has to evolve back towards Vanilla to make itself more fun, but the current Retail experience just isn’t as good. It feels hollowed-out compared with the original game, and the lack of any real difficulty means I’m not looking forward to playing it as much as I’m enjoying Classic — at least so far. We’ll see what 21-40 hold.

In conclusion, for those of you who made it this far, I’ll leave you with the below. Keep an eye out for Hodor and Ronda Rousey.

I’m glad to be back in Classic — gladder than I ever thought I would be, to be honest. That may change as I move into the endgame. It’s not clear yet if Druids, Shaman, and Paladins will get a better shake in non-healing rolls in 2019 than they got in 2004, and a lot of hybrid players were unhappy with WoW precisely because of this limitation. Classic WoW had endgame balance problems that are not apparent while leveling and while I’m focused on reviewing the game as I’m playing it, I recall those issues all too well.

But all of that is in the future. For now, I’m off to craft myself a hammer and see what I can smash with it.

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Google Nest Hub Max review – gpgmail


There were two standout features I really appreciated off the bat about the original Nest (nee Google Home) Hub: its compact size and its lack of camera. The new Nest Max has decidedly neither of those things.

After releasing a model that offered an interesting alternative to the Echo Show, Google’s taking Amazon’s flagship smart screen head-on with the Max. It’s a device that leverages the learnings of the earlier, smaller model, while applying new case users.

As far as design goes, Google decided not to mess with a good thing here. The Max is nearly identical to the Hub, albeit scaled up, from seven inches to ten. The form factor is the familiar tablet mounted atop a fabric speaker base. It’s simple, it’s subtle, and it will fit in with most decors. Lenovo’s given Google a run for its money with its own Assistant displays, but so far as I’m concerned the Nest line is still the best looking product in the category.

The addition of a camera is really the most radical difference here for a few reason. The most immediate is, of course, security. Google successful avoided inserting itself into that conversation with the original Hub. The reason was simple: it was a product designed to live on nightstands. Sure, the topic of privacy is a slippery slope that most of us have already tumbled halfway down, but for many the idea of introducing a cloud-connected camera into the bedroom was understandably a bridge or two too far.

Facebook, notably, stepped into yet another hornets’ nest when it launched its camera-sporting Portal device amid its own privacy scandal(s) — and rightfully so. Google, however, has inserted itself back into that conversation with Hub Max. Put in the company’s position, one would imagine doing as much as possible to ease users’ peace of mind about privacy concerns.

A physical shutter is a pretty quick and easy way to do precisely that. It’s a helpful sort of shorthand — heck, even Facebook included a clip-on shutter in hopes of nipping some of those concerns in the bud. It’s honestly a bit baffling that Google didn’t do the same — a strange oversight it appears to have made largely for aesthetic reasons.

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There is, of course, a switch in the rear, which turns off both the microphone and camera, illuminating a red light to the side of the camera in the process. That a red light can both indicate either camera off or record on different devices is a design conversation for another day, I suppose.

But Google’s decision to include a camera isn’t arbitrary. The truth is that it effectively unlocks a whole slew of new functionality here and further distinguishes Nest Hub products from Amazon’s offerings. And, naturally, it also unlocks further privacy concerns in the process. The biggest piece of the puzzle is a kind of personalization that wouldn’t be accessible through other means.

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During setup, the device walks you through a similar process that smartphones implement to enable unlock. Using your phone’s camera, it grabs a 3D image of your face. When the Nest Hub Max spots you, it will greet you with a note along the lines of “Good afternoon, Brian,” and the image of you associated with your Google profile. When you’re locked in, the device tailors all of its suggestions to you. It’s a clever way of swapping between accounts.

Of course, like so many other things, it feels like a piece of a slippery slope. Google, of course, has already identified the sound of your voice, which it can also use to provide bespoke content, but that’s a less dynamic approach to this kind of implementation. You can certainly opt out, though you’ll be missing out on a reasonably large piece of the puzzle here.

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The camera also brings the ability to video chat through Duo. The Hub Max utilizes a similar zoom feature as Facebook’s Portal — a dynamic pan that was initially positioned as that product’s killer app. Implementation here is similarly effective, moving and zooming out to follow the subject and included additional people at once. The digital zooming does notably degrade image quality, however.

The other big piece of the puzzle is security camera functionality. It is, after all, a Nest device. Given that it’s not a devoted security product, however, Google is positioning that feature as more of a supplement to existing Nest devices. In other words, you place your Nest Cam in key areas and use the Hub Max’s camera to fill in the gaps. It works similarly to those devoted devices (including features like geofencing), though it lacks some features like night vision.

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Handily, the device will let you know when it’s being used as a camera, sporting a “Nest Cam being viewed” notification, for added privacy. And, of course, it can be used with a variety of other connected cameras and smart home devices, serving as a kind of centralized control panel. There are a handful of compatible video services that can be added on set up, including HBO Now and CBS. No Netflix at the moment — and likely no Amazon Prime, ever, though Chromecast functionality addresses that to some degree.

The bottom speaker is bigger, louder and bassier (and stereo, to boot) than the original Home Hub. But it’s probably not sufficient for most as a standalone speaker. That said, the ability to pair it with another Home speaker makes it a nice companion to something like the Home Max, with the inclusion of a screen that displays and serves as a control panel while you’re listening to music.

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Notably, there are only two mics on board — fewer than many comparable smart home devices. In spite of the mics and improved sound, however, Google hasn’t built in the spatial-based level tuning you get on the higher-end Home Max.

At $229 (and available now), the Nest Hub Max is priced to compete with the Echo Show. It’s a stronger entry in most respects, and while the camera carries the aforementioned privacy concerns, it’s a clear sign of how Google’s strengths are coming together to create a superior smart home product.


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Fairphone 3 is a normal smartphone with ethical shine – gpgmail


How long have you been using your current smartphone? The answer for an increasing number of consumers is years, plural. After all, why upgrade every year when next year’s model is almost exactly the same as the device you’re holding in your hand?

Dutch social enterprise Fairphone sees this as an opportunity to sell sustainability. A chance to turn a conversation about ‘stalled smartphone innovation’ on its head by encouraging consumers to think more critically about the costs involved in pumping out the next shiny thing. And sell them on the savings — individual and collective — of holding their staple gadget steady.

Its latest smartphone, the Fairphone 3 — just released this week in Europe — represents the startup’s best chance yet of shrinking the convenience gap between the next hotly anticipated touchscreen gizmo and a fairer proposition that requires an altogether cooler head to appreciate.

On the surface Fairphone 3 looks like a fairly standard, if slightly thick (1cm), Android smartphone. But that’s essentially the point. This 4G phone could be your smartphone, is the intended message.

Specs wise, you’re getting mostly middling, rather than stand out stuff. There’s a 5.7in full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (expandable via microSD), a 12MP rear lens and 8MP front-facing camera. There’s also NFC on board, a fingerprint reader, dual nano-SIM slots and a 3,000mAh battery that can be removed for easy replacement when it wears out.

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack: The handy port that’s being erased at the premium smartphone tier,  killing off a bunch of wired accessories with it. So ‘slow replacement’ smartphone hardware demonstrably encourages less waste across the gadget ecosystem too.

But the real difference lies under the surface. Fairer here means supply chain innovation to source conflict-free minerals that go into making the devices; social incentive programs that top up the minimum wages of assembly workers who put the phones together; and repairable, modular handset design that’s intended to reduce environmental impact by supporting a longer lifespan. Repair, don’t replace is the mantra.

All the extra effort that goes into making a smartphone less ethically challenging to own is of course invisible to the naked eye. So the Fairphone 3 buyer largely has to take the company’s word on trust.

The only visual evidence is repairability. Flip the phone over and a semi-opaque plastic backing gives a glimpse of modular guts. A tiny screwdriver included in the box allows you take the phone to pieces so you can swap out individual modules (such as the display) in case they break or fail. Fairphone sells replacements via a spare parts section of its website.

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Despite this radically modular and novel design vs today’s hermetically sealed premium mobiles the Fairphone 3 feels extremely solid to hold.

It’s not designed to pop apart easily. Indeed, there’s a full thirteen screws holding the display module in place. Deconstruction takes work (and care not to lose any of the teeny screws). So this is modularity purely as occasional utility, not flashy party trick — as with Google’s doomed Ara Project.

For some that might be disappointing. Exactly because this modular phone feels so, well, boringly normal.

Visually the most stand out feature at a glance is the Fairphone logo picked out in metallic white lettering on the back. Those taking a second look will also spot a moralizing memo printed on the battery so it’s legible through the matte plastic — which reads: “Change is in your hands”. It may be a bit cringeworthy but if you’ve paid for an ethical premium you might as well flaunt it.

It’s fair to say design fans won’t be going wild over the Fairphone 3. But it feels almost intentionally dull. As if — in addition to shrinking manufacturing costs — the point is to impress on buyers that ethical internals are more than enough of a hipster fashion statement.

It’s also true that most smartphones are now much the same, hardware, features and performance wise. So — at this higher mid-tier price-point (€450/~$500) — why not flip the consumer smartphone sales pitch on its head to make it about shrinking rather than maximizing impact, via a dull but worthy standard?

That then pushes people to ask how sustainable is an expensive but valueless — and so, philosophically speaking, pointless — premium? That’s the question Fairphone 3 seems designed to pose.

Or, to put it another way, if normal can be ethical then shouldn’t ethical electronics be the norm?

Normal is what you get elsewhere with Fairphone 3. Purely judged as a smartphone its performance isn’t anything to write home about. It checks all the usual boxes of messaging, photos, apps and Internet browsing. You can say it gets the job done.

Sure, it’s not buttery smooth at every screen and app transition. And it can feel a little slow on the uptake at times. Notably the camera, while fairly responsive, isn’t lightning quick. Photo quality is not terrible — but not amazing either.

Testing the camera I found images prone to high acutance and over saturated colors. The software also struggles to handle mixed light and shade — meaning you may get a darker and less balanced shot that you hoped for. Low light performance isn’t great either.

That said, in good light the Fairphone 3 can take a perfectly acceptable selfie. Which is what most people will expect to be able to use the phone for.

Fairphone has said it’s done a lot of work to improve the camera vs the predecessor model. And it has succeeded in bringing photo performance up to workable standard — which is a great achievement at what’s also a slightly reduced handset price-point. Though, naturally, there’s still a big gap in photo quality vs the premium end of the smartphone market.

On the OS front, the phone runs a vanilla implementation of Android 9 out of the box — preloaded with the usual bundle of Google services and no added clutter so Android fans should feel right at home. (For those who want a Google-free alternative Fairphone says a future update will allow users to do a wipe and clean install of Android Open Source Project.)

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In short, purely as a smartphone, the Fairphone 3 offers very little to shout about — so no screaming lack either. Again, if the point is to shrink the size of the compromise Fairphone is asking consumers to make in order to buy an ethically superior brand of electronics they are slowly succeeding in closing the gap.

It’s a project that’s clearly benefiting from the maturity of the smartphone market. While, on the cellular front, the transformative claims being made for 5G are clearly many years out — so there’s no issue with asking buyers to stick with a 4G phone for years to come.

Given where the market has now marched to, a ‘fairer’ smartphone that offers benchmark basics at a perfectly acceptable median but with the promise of reduced costs over the longer term — individual, societal and environmental — does seem like a proposition that could expand from what has so far been an exceptional niche into something rather larger and more mainstream.

Zooming out for a second, the Fairphone certainly makes an interesting contrast with some of the expensive chimeras struggling to be unfolded at the top end of the smartphone market right now.

Foldables like the Samsung Galaxy Fold — which clocks in at around 4x the price of a Fairphone and offers ~2x the screen real estate (when unfolded), plus a power bump. Whether the Fold’s lux package translates into mobile utility squared is a whole other question, though.

And where foldables will need to demonstrate a compelling use-case that goes above and beyond the Swiss Army utility of a normal smartphone to justify such a whopping price bump, Fairphone need only prick the consumer conscience — as it asks you pay a bit more and settle for a little less.

Neither of these sales pitches is challenge free, of course. And, for now, both foldables and fairer electronics remain curious niches.

But with the Fairphone 3 demonstrating that ethical can feel so normal it doesn’t seem beyond the pale to imagine demand for electronics that are average in performance yet pack an ethical punch scaling up to challenge the mainstream parade of copycat gadgets.


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At a Glance: MSI GE65 Raider Review


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MSI is one of the most active companies in the gaming laptop market. With a half-dozen ongoing product lines and multiple products in each, MSI’s approach is to flood the market with tons of choices for gamers to choose from. In general, this is great, as it often helps to have plenty of options. But it can also create some confusion as to which system is best, and some laptops such as MSI’s GE65 Raider get left without a clear position in the market.

Design

In terms of its size and design, the GE65 Raider sits directly between MSI’s more compact GS65 Stealth and more powerful GT63 Titan notebooks. Aesthetically the Raider looks like the Titan’s little brother, with the two systems looking quite similar overall. The Raider at 26.9mm thin is significantly smaller than the Titan (39.8mm), giving it a clear advantage in portability. The Raider, in turn, is considerably thicker than the 17.9mm-thin Stealth.

So far then the Raider looks to be targeted as a solution between these other two systems, but this doesn’t hold true when we and components into the mix. All three systems support processors up to Intel Core i9 9th Gen, but the best GPU you can get in the Raider is an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070. Both the Titan and the Stealth support RTX 2080 graphics cards though, which gives them an advantage in their top-tier configurations.

The Raider does have one advantage over the Stealth, however: It features better cooling hardware, thanks in part to its larger form factor.

Test Model & Benchmarks

Our sister site PCMag got hold of one of MSI’s GE65 Raider notebooks and tested it against several other systems including the aforementioned Stealth. The system tested came equipped with an Intel Core i9-9880H processor with eight CPU cores and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 graphics card as well as 1080p 240Hz display. As configured, this system sells for $2,699. The rest of the system specs, as well as the specs of the other tested notebooks, can be found in the chart below.

As the only octa-core processor in the group, the MSI GE65 Raider blows everything else out of the water when tested with Cinebench R15.

We see the same results when testing with Photoshop CC. It’s clear that these six-core processors simply can’t stand up against the bigger eight-core CPUs in a head to head competition.

This trend continues when we turn our attention to synthetic gaming benchmarks. Although the GPU in the MSI GE65 Raider is outclassed by the GPUs inside of the Acer Predator Triton 500 and the Gigabyte Aero 15-Y9, the Raider still pulls ahead in these tests thanks to its more powerful processor. It’s possible that the Raider’s thermal solution is also helping to improve the notebook’s performance relative to the other systems, but we don’t have sufficient evidence to know this for sure.

What’s even more surprising is that the RTX 2070 inside of the Raider continues to run laps around the RTX 2080s inside of the Acer Predator Triton and Gigabyte Aero 15-Y9. This is especially noticeable on Rise of the Tomb Raider, which shows the Raider with between a 13 and 31fps lead over the Acer Predator Triton 500.

Conclusion

According to PCMag, while performing these tests the CPU and GPU maintained average temperatures of 83C and 80C, respectively. At the same time, the GPU reportedly maintained an average core clock of 1,630MHz, which is significantly higher than the RTX 2070’s stock clock speed of 1,440MHz. This indicates it has been factory overclocked by MSI to improve performance. Clearly the thermal solution also performed exceptionally well during these tests, as thermal throttling was not a noticeable issue.

Thanks to its exceptional performance against the competition as well as its high-end specs, I’d recommend the MSI GE65 Raider as an excellent solution for those in need of a powerful gaming laptop. You can get it now from Amazon for $2,699.00.

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Udemy Class Review: Ubuntu for Beginners


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The operating system market today is dominated by Microsoft and various versions of Windows to such an extent that some people still don’t even know there are alternatives. One of the most popular is Ubuntu, a free OS based on Linux. If you’ve never used Ubuntu, you will likely encounter difficulties performing relatively simple tasks such as installing programs. Not to fear though: The Ubuntu For Beginners course from Udemy aims to teach you exactly what you need to know to get up and running on Ubuntu.

Course Overview

Starting up this lecture series you’ll want to skip straight to section 2. The first section is aptly titled “Course Overview” and will list off the topics that will be covered in the course, but there aren’t any real lessons here. Section 2 explains what Ubuntu is and some of the pros and cons of using it as opposed to other operating systems. An important distinction of Ubuntu is there are versions with long-term support with regular software updates, which is uncommon in the Linux world.

Next, the lecturer will instruct you on how to obtain a copy of Ubuntu and install it. This really isn’t all that different from installing Windows from a flash drive, but for true beginners, this could prove useful. This is followed with some information about using a virtual machine, which will be helpful for students unfamiliar with that software.

About a quarter of the way through the course you will start to be taught how to use the OS itself. First up is installing applications using the terminal, followed by the commands to uninstall applications. The lecturer then teaches you how to do these tasks using the graphical interface, and then he dives into additional lessons involving the terminal interface such as managing accounts.

Large portions of the next few sections are spent working closely with the terminal, so get used to this above image. The lecturer will teach you how to perform numerous tasks inside of the terminal and focuses on its use for the remainder of the course. Although this is beneficial and likely where new Ubuntu users could use the most instruction, there is a notable lack of information on how to use the graphical user interface.

Conclusion

Evaluating the course as a course is somewhat difficult. The course is well organized and the individual lessons feel well-paced and informative. The high volume of tasks you will learn to perform from inside Ubuntu would undoubtedly prove useful if you plan to use the operating system on a regular basis. But the course as a whole feels like a lot to absorb in just one sitting and far more than you need to just use the OS on a basic level.

I can’t really fault the course for providing too much information, though, and if you want to learn how to use Ubuntu I would recommend it, but I’d also suggest taking the course slowly over an extended period. Students will likely benefit the most from taking just the first half of the course and then taking time to use the operating system and familiarize yourself with the software. The remaining lessons could then be taken as needed, which I feel will ultimately make the course easier and more effective for most students. If you are interested in trying this course, you can get it now from Udemy for $18.99.

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At a Glance: Acer Predator Helios 300 (2019) Review


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Acer’s Predator Helios gaming laptops have been highly competitive in recent years, offering a strong balance between performance and affordability. The new 2019 Predator Helios 300 systems come equipped with the latest processing technology from Intel and Nvidia, giving these new systems a clear edge over last year models.

Design and Hardware

Along with the upgraded hardware comes an updated appearance that helps the new 2019 systems stand apart from their 2018 predecessors. Instead of the overplayed red-and-black color scheme, these new systems are predominantly black with teal highlights. The notebook’s chassis is primarily constructed out of plastic, but the system does feature a metal plate behind the screen that helps to reinforce the body and give the system a more expensive and premium look.

Our sister site PCMag received one of these units from Acer for testing purposes and ran it through a series of benchmarks to gauge its performance. This system came equipped with an Intel Core i7-9750H processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics processor as well as 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The Predator Helios 300 also features a 1080p 144Hz display, and it sells for $1,199.99 as configured.

The test results were compared against four other systems. The full specs for these other systems are listed in the chart above.

Benchmarks

Kicking things off with Cinebench R15, we see the three i7-9750H notebooks dominating the less well equipped Dell G5 15 SE and the Lenovo Legion Y530 — no real surprise there. The Predator Helios 300 manages to best the MSI GS65 Stealth in this test, but it’s not quite fast enough to surpass the Dell G7 15.

Testing with Photoshop CC shows the Acer Predator Helios 300 pull into first place with the Dell G7 15 falling down into third.

The gaming tests run by PCMag show the Acer Predator Helios 300 performing relatively well against the competition, especially against the Dell G7 15 that comes with a more powerful RTX 2060 graphics processor. Generally we would have expected to see the Dell G7 15 maintain a sizable lead over the competition in these tests, but instead, it struggles to surpass the GTX 1660 Ti inside of the Acer Predator Helios 300. Testing with 3DMark shows the Acer notebook just slightly behind the Dell G7, and when tested with Unigine Superposition 1.0 the Dell G7 falls far behind the Acer Predator Helios 300 and MSI GS65 Stealth at 720p resolutions.

Technically the Dell G7 returned the highest average frames per second when tested with both Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, but the Acer Predator Helios 300 is just one frame per second behind in both titles.

This should come as a real slap in the face for Dell, as it sells the tested G7 15 laptop for roughly $600 more than Acer Predator Helios 300, in large part due to the faster GPU. Unless there is a major sale going on or you are just a big fan of Dell, this removes any real incentive to buy the Dell system when you can have essentially the same performance from the Acer Predator Helios 300 for significantly less.

Conclusion

It’s always enjoyable to see a product get the upper-hand on a significantly more expensive competitor, but does that make the Predator Helios 300 worthwhile? In short, yes. Currently, you can pick up the Acer Predator Helios 300 on sale from Amazon for $1,099. Of the systems included in these tests, the two that came closest to matching the Predator Helios 300 were the Dell G7 15 and the MSI GS65 Stealth. The first of these retails for around $1,803.99 whereas the latter notebook costs $1,699. These higher price tags may come with some extra features and benefits, like the MSI GS65 Stealth’s full metal exterior and more compact form factor, but in terms of raw performance, neither of these more expensive systems best the Acer Predator Helios 300.

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Pepipost – your secret email superhero!


An email delivery tool that is the best-kept secret

That secret is kept a little too much, in our opinion, and MailBakery’s coding works brilliantly with this tool, so we thought a shout-out is worthwhile to share!

Pepipost is an email delivery service that works with either API or SMTP. Pepipost can send triggered emails to a list of subscribers or transactional emails, which are event-based or behavior-based (confirmations, receipts, invoices). They can also handle auto-responding to inquiries for lead nurturing in longer sales cycles.

Pepipost is made by developers for developers, and always in a state of growth. One of their latest integrations is artificial intelligence to ensure inbox delivery. Pepipost has (and evangelizes) a philosophy of keeping the email ecosystem clean. They do this by encouraging good sender practices.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) optimizing delivery efficiency

As a large email distributor, efficiency is what keeps your emails sending and arriving without any hiccups or delays. To ensure our efficiency as our data continues to grow, we introduced Pipe: a multi-objective resource allocation system. Pipe observes minute shifts of email delivery and adjusts the delivery throughput based on what it learns.

  • Delivery optimization (DO): DO breaks down your marketing campaign into several sub-campaigns internally, then structures and delivers them to maximize inbox delivery.
  • Dynamic WARM-UP system: This helps to build the reputation of new emailers. Pipe looks and learns from the parameters of prior emails, analyzing the number of emails delivered, bounce rate, open rate, click rate, and complaints. Pipe uses what it learns and arrives at the number of emails to send as your reputation builds.
  • KILL SPAMMER:  With the thousands of daily signups coming through Pepipost, a significant number of those signups are spammers, which can hurt the reputation of the sender community. KILL SPAMMER can identify good senders from bad ones and take action automatically.

Tips to being a good steward

Your emailing practices should not be a “send it and forget it” activity. Anything worth doing is worth putting some vigor into it!  Not only that, you have an online reputation to live up to. If too many of your emails find their way to spam folders, then many more will follow automatically. If your email never reaches the recipient, then all of your blood, sweat, and tears spent disappears in vain.

Contact management

Keep your contact list up to date by way of accuracy and activity. First of all, keep your contact list tidy by removing any bounced email addresses promptly to avoid repeating (and more charges).

Make sure your contact list contains recipients that want to be there. I’m talking about contacts that gave their email with a genuine interest in receiving future communications. Forcing them to provide an email or using an email address for anything other than the original intention only leads to eventual unsubscribing or worse yet, spam reports. Raise your hand if you ever begrudgingly gave your email address to get through a form, only to unsubscribe shortly after that because you were bombarded with emails. I thought so!

Another tip when people sign up for your email list is to set up your system to send a confirmation. This gives the recipient a chance to unsubscribe right away and decreases the chances of your email getting into spam folders.

Avoid the temptation to purchase email lists. Outdated emails are an easy prediction. You could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a list filled with bogus email addresses, spam traps, and typos. Expect a very high bounce rate from these lists. You will soon learn the ROI isn’t worth it.

Validate emails as they are received. Email validation verifies if an email is deliverable and valid. A couple of free tools worth mentioning that validate email addresses are ValidateEmailAddress and  EmailValidator . Look around, though. These aren’t the only ones out there.

Pay attention to reporting. If a recipient is repeatedly ignoring your emails and not bothering to open them, resist the urge to hold onto that valid email and remove them from the list. This will avoid any additional charges. Decide if that cutoff will be 3 emails, or 5 or 10. Develop a schedule to keep your contact list tidy.

Segment your contacts to make sure your emails speak directly to their interests. Imagine sending gardening emails to recipients that are most interested in NASCAR racing. I know it’s an extreme contrast, but you get the idea! Tailoring emails to these segmented recipients significantly increases the chances of them opening the email and reading the content. Some common examples of useful segmentation might be active customers, sales funnel, geographical area, business type, or common interests.

Getting the emails opened

Now that we have ensured that the emails are going to a valid inbox, how do we get them opened?

What’s that perfect time for your audience to receive an email? Run a couple of test emails to gauge the level of interaction when you send emails at different days and different times. For example, when it comes to business to business (B2B) emails, having a marketing email in their inbox first thing in the morning is likely to be ignored. Fridays are often the kick start of a three-day weekend, so emails arriving on Friday afternoon may wait until the next Tuesday. Also, consider the typical break schedule or time between meetings. Do you want to catch your readers at the perfect pause? If your emails are going to personal inboxes, when are they ready to sit down and explore your content?

Personalize messages to get your readers’ attention. If they provided their name already, take advantage of it, for it does get their attention. It may take a little longer, but a conversion at the end makes it all worthwhile.

Subject lines are the first chance to catch their attention. Make it fabulous, so they want to open and read more. With the use of cell phones, consider the reduced space that your readers will see. You have about 15-25 characters (that’s only 4-6 words) to catch their attention.

Don’t be too salesy. In fact, hide the sales pitch down below unless it’s a promotion they can’t refuse. Instead of turning your email into a straight-up ad, provide some useful content to enrich their lives or even their experience with your company or product.

Because Pepipost is focused strictly on mail delivery, the coding behind building and formatting of emails is where we come in. MailBakery builds the code for templates and skins to create a customized professional impression to your customers. Our code integrates beautifully with companies like Pepipost and many others. From our Template store to a piece custom-designed for your brand, we guarantee you will love it! Tell us what you are thinking and get a quick quote today.