Posts with «apple» label

The best smartwatches

Just a few years ago, the case for smartwatches wasn’t clear. Today, the wearable world is filled with various high-quality options, and a few key players have muscled their way to the front of the pack. Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already decided that it’s time to upgrade from a standard timepiece to a smartwatch. Maybe you want to reach for your phone less throughout the day, or maybe you want to stay connected in a more discrete way. The list of reasons why you may want a smartwatch is long, as is the list of factors you’ll want to consider before deciding which to buy.

What to look for in a smartwatch

Cherlynn Low

Compatibility

Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while Wear OS devices play nice with both iOS and Android. Smartwatches made by Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and others are also compatible with Android and iOS, but you’ll need to install a companion app.

The smartwatch OS will also dictate the type and number of on-watch apps you’ll have access to. Many of these aren’t useful, though, making this factor a fairy minor one in the grand scheme of things.

Price

The best smartwatches generally cost between $300 and $400. Compared to budget smartwatches, which cost between $100 and $250, these pricier devices have advanced fitness, music and communications features. They also often include perks like onboard GPS, music storage and NFC, which budget devices generally don’t.

Some companies make specialized fitness watches: Those can easily run north of $500, and we’d only recommend them to serious athletes. Luxury smartwatches from brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot can also reach sky-high prices, but we wouldn’t endorse any of them. These devices can cost more than $1,000, and you’re usually paying for little more than a brand name and some needlessly exotic selection of build materials.

Battery life

Battery life remains one of our biggest complaints about smartwatches, but there’s hope as of late. You can expect two full days from Apple Watches and most Wear OS devices. Watches using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor support extended battery modes that promise up to five days on a charge — if you’re willing to shut off most features aside from, you know, displaying the time. Snapdragon’s next-gen Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors were announced in 2020, but only a handful of devices – some of which aren’t even available yet – are using them so far. Other models can last five to seven days, but they usually have fewer features and lower-quality displays. Meanwhile, some fitness watches can last weeks on a single charge.

A few smartwatches now support faster charging, too. For example, Apple promises the Series 7 can go from zero to 80 percent power in only 45 minutes, and get to full charge in 75 minutes. The OnePlus Watch is even speedier, powering up from zero to 43 percent in just 10 minutes. (Mind you that turned out to be one of the only good things about that device.)

Communication

Any smartwatch worth considering delivers call, text and app alerts to your wrist. Call and text alerts are self explanatory, but if those mean a lot to you, consider a watch with LTE. They’re more expensive than their WiFi-only counterparts, but data connectivity allows the smartwatch to take and receive calls, and do the same with text messages, without your phone nearby. As far as app alerts go, getting them delivered to your wrist will let you glance down and see if you absolutely need to check your phone right now.

Fitness tracking

Activity tracking is a big reason why people turn to smartwatches. An all-purpose timepiece should log your steps, calories and workouts, and most of today’s wearables have a heart rate monitor as well.

Many smartwatches also have onboard GPS, which is useful for tracking distance for runs and bike rides. Swimmers will want something water resistant, and thankfully most all-purpose devices now can withstand at least a dunk in the pool. Some smartwatches from companies like Garmin are more fitness focused than others and tend to offer more advanced features like heart-rate-variance tracking, recovery time estimation, onboard maps and more.

Health tracking on smartwatches has also seen advances over the years. Both Apple and Fitbit devices can estimate blood oxygen levels and measure ECGs. But the more affordable the smartwatch, the less likely it is that it has these kinds of health tracking features; if collecting that type of data is important to you, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

Engadget

Music

Your watch can not only track your morning runs but also play music while you’re exercising. Many smartwatches let you save your music locally, so you can connect wireless earbuds and listen to tunes without bringing your phone. Those that don’t have onboard storage for music usually have on-watch music controls, so you can control playback without whipping out your phone. And if your watch has LTE, local saving isn’t required — you’ll be able to stream music directly from the watch to your paired earbuds.

Always-on displays

Most flagship smartwatches today have some sort of always-on display, be it a default feature or a setting you can enable. It allows you to glance down at your watch to check the time and any other information you’ve set it to show on its watchface without lifting your wrist. This will no doubt affect your device’s battery life, but thankfully most always-on modes dim the display’s brightness so it’s not running at its peak unnecessarily. Cheaper devices won’t have this feature; instead, their screens will automatically turn off to conserve battery and you’ll have to intentionally check your watch to turn on the display again.

NFC

Many smartwatches have NFC, letting you pay for things without your wallet. After saving your credit or debit card information, you can hold your smartwatch up to an NFC reader to pay for a cup of coffee on your way home from a run. Keep in mind that different watches use different payment systems: Apple Watches use Apple Pay, Wear OS devices use Google Pay, Samsung devices use Samsung Pay and so forth.

Apple Pay is one of the most popular NFC payment systems, with support for multiple banks and credit cards in 72 different countries, while Samsung and Google Pay work in fewer regions. It’s also important to note that both NFC payment support varies by device as well for both Samsung and Google’s systems.

Engadget Picks

Best overall: Apple Watch

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The Apple Watch has evolved into the most robust smartwatch since its debut in 2015. It’s the no-brainer pick for iPhone users, and we wouldn’t judge you for switching to an iPhone just to be able to use an Apple Watch. The latest model, the Apple Watch Series 7, has solid fitness-tracking features that will satisfy the needs of beginners and serious athletes alike. It also detects if you’ve fallen, can carry out ECG tests and measures blood oxygen levels. Plus, it offers NFC, onboard music storage and many useful apps as well as a variety of ways to respond to messages.

The main differences between the Series 7 and the Series 6 that preceded it are the 7’s larger display, its overnight respiratory tracking and faster charging. The slight increase in screen real estate allows you to see things even more clearly on the small device, and Apple managed to fit a full QWERTY keyboard on it to give users another way to respond to messages. The faster charging capabilities are also notable – we got 10 percent power in just 10 minutes of the Watch sitting on its charging disk, and it was fully recharged in less than one hour.

While the $399 Series 7 is the most feature-rich Apple Watch to date, it’s also the most expensive model in the Watch lineup, and for some shoppers there might not be clear benefits over older editions. Those who don’t need an always-on display, ECG or blood oxygen readings might instead consider the Apple Watch SE, which starts at $279.

We actually regard the Watch SE as the best option for first-time smartwatch buyers, or people on stricter budgets. You’ll get all the core Apple Watch features as well as things like fall detection, noise monitoring and emergency SOS, but you’ll have to do without more advanced hardware perks like a blood oxygen sensor and ECG monitor.

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399Buy Apple Watch SE at Amazon - $279

Best budget: Fitbit Versa 2

Dropping $400 on a smartwatch isn’t feasible for everyone, which is why we recommend the Fitbit Versa 2 as the best sub-$200 option. It’s our favorite budget watch because it offers a bunch of features at a great price. You get all of these essentials: Fitbit’s solid exercise-tracking abilities (including auto-workout detection), sleep tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, blood oxygen tracking and a six-day battery life. It also supports Fitbit Pay using NFC and it has built-in Amazon Alexa for voice commands. While the Versa 2 typically costs $150, we’ve seen it for as low as $100.

Buy Fitbit Versa 2 at Amazon - $150

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

David Imel for Engadget

Samsung teamed up with Google recently to revamp its smartwatch OS, but that doesn’t mean Tizen fans should fret. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the latest flagship wearable from Samsung and it runs on WearOS with the new One UI, which will feel familiar if you’ve used Tizen before. Also, the watch now comes with improved third-party app support and access to the Google Play Store, so you can download apps directly from the watch.

We like the Galaxy Watch 4 for its premium design as well as its comprehensive feature set. It has a 3-in-1 biometric sensor that enables features like body mass scanning, bloody oxygen tracking and more, plus it has a plethora of trackable workout profiles. Both the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Watch 4 Classic run on new 5nm processors and have more storage than before, as well as sharper, brighter displays. They both run smoothly and rarely lag, but that performance boost does come with a small sacrifice to battery life: the Galaxy Watch 4 typically lasted about one day in our testing, which while not the best, may not be a dealbreaker for you if you plan on recharging it every night.

Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Amazon - $250

Fashion-forward options

Fossil

Yes, there are still companies out there trying to make “fashionable” smartwatches. Back when wearables were novel and generally ugly, brands like Fossil, Michael Kors and Skagen found their niche in stylish smartwatches that took cues from analog timepieces. You also have the option to pick up a “hybrid” smartwatch from companies like Withings and Garmin – these devices look like standard wrist watches but incorporate some limited functionality like activity tracking and heart rate monitoring. They remain good options if you prefer that look, but thankfully, wearables made by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and others have gotten much more attractive over the past few years.

Ultimately, the only thing you can’t change after you buy a smartwatch is its case design. If you’re not into the Apple Watch’s squared-off corners, all of Samsung’s smartwatches have round cases that look a little more like a traditional watch. Most wearables are offered in a choice of colors and you can pay extra for premium materials like stainless steel. Once you decide on a case, your band options are endless – there are dozens of first- and third-party watch straps available for most major smartwatches, allowing you to change up your look whenever you please.

Cherlynn Low contributed to this guide.

The best gifts for the new grads in your life

Surviving years of college is no small feat, so the graduates in our lives deserve rightful praise and celebration. Whether your graduate is going out into the world to get their first job or continuing with their education, there are a number of gadgets you can gift them that will make them smile and also come in handy on a daily basis. If you’re stumped on what to give to the tech-savvy grad in your life, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite tech for you to consider.

Chromecast with Google TV

Google

Recent graduates moving into a new place may not want to shell out money for cable or a satellite subscription. But just because they’ve cut the cord doesn’t mean they can’t watch quality content. Thanks to streaming sticks like Chromecast with Google TV, watching content on various streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and more is super easy, regardless of what kind of TV they have.

The latest Chromecast with Google TV works especially well for those with a YouTube TV subscription as its “Live TV” tab works as a channel guide for the service. Just like previous Chromecasts, they can also use it to “cast” their computer screen to the TV, too.

Another benefit over other streaming sticks is that it has Google Assistant integration. Your grad can ask it to display the five-day weather forecast, show the live feed from their Nest camera, turn their Philips Hue lights on or off, or play their favorite Spotify playlist. As a bonus, they can use Google Assistant to find shows to watch or to launch apps. — Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Walmart - $50

YouTube TV subscription

YouTube

Regardless of whether you gift a Chromecast with Google TV, we think a YouTube TV subscription will make an excellent present for them. The service essentially replaces cable or satellite, and your graduate can easily use their phone, laptop or connected TV to access it. The platform offers pretty much all the standard network and cable offerings including sports channels like ESPN, so they won’t have to worry about missing their favorite team’s game. You can either pay for the subscription directly or buy them a Google Play gift card. — N.L.

Subscribe to YouTube TV - $65/month

Apple Watch Series 7

Engadget

Watches make great graduation gifts, and the Apple Watch is arguably the best one to get for the iPhone fan in your life. As Apple’s latest flagship wearable, the Series 7 is packed with features both basic and advanced. On a daily basis, most will use the Watch for tracking activity, recording workouts, buying coffees with Apple Pay and checking iMessage alerts on the fly. But the Watch also has perks like blood oxygen tracking, ECG measurements and fall detection that your grad may only use now and again, but will appreciate in crucial moments. Plus, the Series 7 has the largest screen of any Apple Watch to date, as well as the best battery life and a faster charging time, too. And if your grad prefers the style of more traditional timepieces, they can customize their Watch with bands that give them that look. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399

Instant Pot Duo Plus

Engadget

Once they leave dorm life behind, graduates should learn how to make something other than instant ramen. For newbies, we recommend an appliance like the Instant Pot Duo Plus. This trendy kitchen device can be used as a slow cooker, yogurt maker, rice cooker and, of course, a pressure cooker.

Not only is it easy to use, it can be a huge time saver: just set it, do other chores (or just rest up) and your meal will be ready when it beeps. It’s a wonderful solution if your grad has a tiny stovetop in their first apartment, and it cuts down on dishwashing if you use the Instant Pot for a lot of one pot meals.

If you do get your loved one this excellent kitchen gadget, we suggest you send them a link to our Instant Pot guide so they’ll get the most out of their new toy. There are also a bunch of dedicated Instant Pot recipe sites and cookbooks that will keep them busy for a while – Rainbow Plant Life’s Instant Pot page and Dinner in an Instant are a couple of our favorites. — N.L.

Buy Instant Pot Duo Plus at Amazon - $120

Logitech Streamcam

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

While laptops’ built-in webcams are getting better, most of them still don’t quite cut it for all of the Zoom calls many of us continue to have nowadays. Your graduate will likely have to take calls like this on a regular basis and the Logitech Streamcam is a gadget that can help them put their best face forward. The webcam shoots sharp video in 1080p/60fps and its handy auto-exposure feature helps make dark rooms less cave-like on screen. It also has built-in microphones with noise reduction, so your grad should sound as good as they look on these calls. Additionally, the Streamcam was designed with game streamers and content creators in mind, and that makes it a great all-purpose webcam that your graduate can use for both work and play. — V.P.

Buy Logitech Streamcam at Amazon - $170

Sony WH-1000XM4

Billy Steele / Engadget

There’s a good chance that your graduate will be working from a few different locations when they start their first job. Maybe they’ll spend half of their time in an office and the other half at home, but you can help them stay focused anywhere by gifting them the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. These are our current favorite high-end cans thanks to their excellent sound quality and equally stellar active noise cancellation. Their Adaptive Sound Control feature automatically changes the level of noise cancellation depending on your location and what you’re doing, blocking out as much of the world as necessary without the user needing to do much work. With this iteration, Sony also added multi-device connectivity, too, so your graduate can seamlessly go from listening to music on their laptop to taking a call from their smartphone. — V.P.

Buy WH-1000XM4 at Amazon - $348

OXO Brew 8-cup coffee maker

OXO

Who doesn’t want a caffeine hit in the morning before they head into work? For that we recommend the OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker. OXO typically makes excellent tasting coffee, and since this one is certified by the Specialty Coffee Association, it will certainly meet your grad’s standards as well. This model is easy to use, has a thermal carafe to keep their brew hot for hours, and has an option to brew directly into a mug. — N.L.

Buy OXO coffee maker at Amazon - $200

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential

Engadget

Why settle for a boring ol’ alarm clock when you can gift your grad a smarter option? The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential comes in both Google Assistant and Alexa varieties, and does a lot more than just tell time. These compact gadgets can give them the weather forecast, play a Spotify playlist or simply display their appointments for the day.

Which you choose depends on the virtual assistant your grad prefers – we generally recommend the Google version for Android users and those that rely on Google services like Calendar and Drive for their personal and professional duties. Everyone else is likely safe getting the Alexa version. And if you want to step it up a bit, the $90 Lenovo Smart Clock 2 comes with a docking area with a wireless charging pad, so they can power up their phones more easily overnight. — N.L.

Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential at Walmart - $50Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential (Alexa) at Amazon - $50

Apple AirTag

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

We could all use a little help finding our stuff sometimes – new graduates especially. With new internships, jobs, side hustles and more, grads have a ton to keep track of and an AirTag can give them peace of mind by digitally locating their most important items. AirTags can attach to keys, wallets, handbags and more with the right accessories, and then your grad can check out the location of their stuff using the Find My app on iOS. They can program their contact information into the AirTag, in case a stranger needs to return their things, and those with newer iPhone can use the Precision Finding feature to be led directly to their stuff. For those who often misplace their belongings, Bluetooth trackers like these can be crucial. — V.P.

Buy AirTag at Amazon - $29

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Engadget

Voracious readers will appreciate an e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. The latest model has a larger, 6.8-inch display that has 17 front lights and an adjustable warm light setting that reduces eye strain. The design is compact and sleek, and the robust battery lasts for weeks between charging. And if they like reading in the tub or by the pool, the Paperwhite is also waterproof.

If you want to give your grad something even more special, however, consider gifting them the Paperwhite Signature Edition. It has 32GB of storage, wireless charging support and a light sensor that can automatically adjust the screen brightness according to their surroundings. It’s about $50 more than the regular Paperwhite, but they will certainly appreciate it. — N.L.

Buy Kindle Paperwhite at Amazon - $140

Beats Studio Buds

Billy Steele/Engadget

One of the great things about Beats’ Studio Buds is that both Android and iOS users can wear them and get a fairly similar experience. These Beats aren’t just for iPhone users, as those with Android devices have access to convenient features like Find My and fast pairing. The brand has come a long way when it comes to sound quality, too. These buds are well-tuned with a punchy bass, and iOS users will be able to get Spatial Audio on select tracks. The Studio Buds also have solid ANC with transparency mode, plus a compact, comfortable design that transitions well from study sessions to workout routines. — V.P.

Buy Beats Studio Buds at Amazon - $150

Anker 633 MagGo 2-in-1 Wireless Charging Station

Anker

Anker’s MagGo 2-in-1 wireless charging station is the gadget to give if you want to set your grab up with basically everything they’d need to never run out of power again. The bundle includes a wireless charging stand that can power both a phone and a pair of earbuds at the same time, and the phone portion detaches into a portable, magnetic, 5,000 mAh battery pack. The MagGo lineup is MagSafe-compatible, so if your grad has a newer iPhone, they’ll be able to take the slim pack with them by snapping it to the back of their smartphone. Also included is a 25W USB-C adapter, which can power the whole system with the proper speed. — V.P.

Buy MagGo 2-in-1 charging station at Amazon - $120

Yeti Rambler 20oz Tumbler with MagSlider lid

Yeti

If your grad needs coffee or tea to stay productive throughout the day, a Yeti Rambler is an excellent gift for them. These classic tumblers have a double-walled, insulated design that keeps hot drinks hot for hours, while also being BPA-free. The latest versions have Dracut color coatings, which won’t fade, peel or crack with age (or when you put them in the dishwasher), so their favorite color will come through for years to come. Plus, the Ramblers now come with MagSlider lids, which, while not spill-proof, use magnets to make opening and closing (and cleaning) the lid super easy. — V.P.

Buy Yeti Rambler at Amazon - $35

How to sell your used and unwanted gadgets

It’s new-phone season again, between all the announcements at Mobile World Congress last month and the inevitable release of new iPhones and Pixels looming in the fall. Which means you'll be faced with a hard choice: upgrade or stick it out another year with your current device. The annual cycle of new flagship handset releases can be a little tough on your wallet, though, which is why you might want to offset the cost by putting your old device up for sale. But which trade-in service will yield you the biggest bang for your buck? And how much of a pain will it be? We've rounded up some of the leading contenders for offloading your old electronics. Not just phones, either — perhaps you have an old laptop that isn't quite cutting it anymore, or maybe you've got some other stuff sitting in the closet collecting dust.

Trade-in sites

If you're looking for the littlest hassle and want your money as soon as possible, there are plenty of sites that will automate the trade-in process. You'll select your device from a list, get a quote within a minute and send the device back for cash in a matter of days.

Decluttr

Decluttr definitely lives up to its name. Not only can you sell phones from a number of manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung and HTC, but the site also takes lots of physical media, including CDs, DVDs, video games and books. For devices, you'll be asked for a general assessment of its condition, and given a quote immediately. Once you complete your order the site will send you a free shipping label. Decluttr also reaches back pretty far like with sales of the iPhone 6, though it'll offer you only $5 for an 16GB model in good condition.

uSell

uSell operates as a broker, searching other sites for their best offers on a given device and taking care of the rest. Like most buyback sites, it's big on iPhones, but you can still sell off other manufacturers' devices; it really depends on who's buying them at that point. The selection is a bit of a grab bag — newer phones like the Galaxy S21 aren't listed, though you can get a quote for the iPhone 11 ($305 for an unlocked, “flawless” 64GB model). Once you complete your order the site will send you a free shipping kit to send out your phone, and you can get paid for the item via PayPal or an old fashioned check.

ecoATM

If you don't want to have to worry about packaging up your old device and mailing it off, or would like to receive your payout right away, there's always ecoATM. It's literally there in the name: an automated machine that you place your device into and it examines the handset and pays you on the spot. It accepts the biggest brands (i.e., Apple and Samsung), along with devices from a wide variety of manufacturers, including LG, Motorola and ZTE. If the machine determines that your device isn't worth anything at all, you can still use ecoATM to responsibly recycle your old gadget. You'll find ecoATM kiosks in Walmart stores and malls across the country.

Amazon

While browsing Amazon listings, it’s likely you’ve come across products marked as “refurbished.” Well, if you’ve ever wondered where those come from, a lot of them likely hail from Amazon’s trade-in program. The company will put its own products, like Kindle readers and Fire tablets front and center, but you can also send in phones and gaming products in for an Amazon gift card as well. It’s not great if you want cash, but if you’re looking to upgrade an Amazon device this option is your best bet, as trading in an older device also nets you a 20 percent discount in addition to the store credit.

Apple

This is a good option if you’re looking to upgrade to a newer Apple device. You can trade in iPhones, iPads, Macs and even Apple Watches. That’s notable as wearables are a device category you don’t often see on trade-in sites. Apple will even take your old Android phone if you were thinking of making the switch. The trade-in values are on par with other sites, and you can get your payout in the form of a gift card instead if you’d rather wait before making a new purchase, put it toward media purchases or even just use it in an Apple Store. Which, by the way, also accepts trade-ins in case you’re not comfortable shipping your old but still expensive device.

It'sWorthMore

The nice thing about It’sWorthMore is that its on-site forms handle a larger variety of gadgets than other sites, incorporating companies such as Microsoft, Sonos and even GoPro in addition to standards like Apple, Samsung and Google. You’ll answer a few standard questions about your device’s condition and whether you still have the original box — obviously, the more you’ve kept from the original packaging, the better. You’ll then get a ballpark estimate of its worth and a prepaid shipping label to print out. Once your device is received you’ll generally receive the assessment and payment via check, PayPal or Zelle within two to three business days.

BuyBackWorld

The appeal of BuyBackWorld is that device assessment is a streamlined process: Instead of having to answer a barrage of detailed questions for your device you can just give it a general assessment and let the site handle the rest. Just like with It’sWorthMore, BuyBackWorld will provide a printable shipping label in your confirmation email but, if you don’t have a printer or boxes to pack your device up, you can always have the site send you a free shipping kit, which can handle every gadget the site takes except desktop computers.

GadgetGone

If you’ve read through the other site descriptions, GadgetGone’s modus operandi should be familiar: To sell a product, you’ll have to answer a few questions about what type of device you have and what condition it’s in, after which the site will generate a prepaid shipping label. At least here you can find brands like OnePlus included among the options, and you can also sell MacBooks and Mac Minis here. The site’s biggest gimmick is that you can also send in photos of your pets; you won’t get any additional money but your fur baby (or scaled or feathered friend) may be featured on social media.

Store trade-ins

Sometimes you need your money right now, or just don't want to trust your device to the vagaries of various shipping companies. There are a few nationwide retailers that accept trade-ins for cash or store credit. Additionally, wireless carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint will all give you credit toward a new phone.

Best Buy

Best Buy also offers trade-ins both by mail and in-store — with more than 1,000 locations, this might be extremely convenient for you. You fill out the form online and bring that to customer service. It's easy, but there's one big downside: You can get your payout only via a Best Buy gift card. This is great if you spend a lot of money with them anyway, but less good if you really need cash.

GameStop

GameStop is infamous for buying games back at ridiculously low prices and flipping them at near retail, but don't let that stop you from making some quick cash when you need to quickly clear your closet of old electronics and games. And yes, I said cash: GameStop offers store credit, a Visa prepaid card or actual money if you want to take your bounty elsewhere. For example, you can trade in Animal Crossing for the Switch and get $21 in store credit or $17 cash, which isn't bad when new copies are going for $50 on Amazon. GameStop also accepts phones and connected home devices, though the prices aren't going to match what you'd get from an online trade-in site.

Consumer to consumer

Sometimes you prefer to cut out the middleman and get a bit more personal — a transaction where you're selling your device directly to another person instead of letting a faceless site flip it for you as a "refurbished" unit. In those cases, you want a site that's more user-to-user, though a few will still automate certain bits to make your sale as smooth as possible.

Swappa

Swappa is a marketplace site, which means sellers can set their own price. So if you're getting rid of a newer phone, this is probably the best way to go — the iPhone 13 fetches around $729, for example. That's a huge improvement over what you'd get selling through a site like Decluttr, which is offering only $506 for a 128GB unit.

Amazon

When shopping on Amazon, you've probably been tempted by some of those marketplace deals in the past and, chances are, if you list an item on there, someone will give your old device a look. Since almost everyone on earth seems to have an Amazon account, your potential customer base is huge, and it costs only $0.99, plus a percentage based on category, to sell an item through the site. The downsides are that Amazon isn't really optimized for individual sales; you'll be competing with wholesale companies and even bots that will tweak the price of a product automatically in response to the competition.

eBay

eBay is sort of the Wild West of sales sites, but the biggest advantage is that you can sell anything there and hopefully find a buyer, regardless of how old a product is. Even so, the site has come a long way in the past decade or so, adding structured categories that can help lead customers to your product — for phones, you can search by network, color or storage capacity, and even filter for features like 4K video or fingerprint sensors.

In the end, it still works as it always did: You list a product and set an end date for the listing with a minimum price, or just set a "Buy It Now" price if you don't want to wait to see how an auction turns out. Chances are you already have an eBay account with a feedback score, so there's no extra setup required on your part. Your first 50 listings are free every month, and you'll pay 10 percent of the purchase price only if an item sells. The biggest downside is that you're competing with a lot more sellers, and chances are there's always someone willing to undercut you on price.

Cash-back comparison

Ultimately, the site you go with should be whatever's most useful and convenient, but if you just care about how much money you'll end up with, we've priced out a few recent flagship handsets just to give you an idea of what each site offers. We've also thrown in the Xbox One X, because it might be time to sell yours off and finally upgrade to an Xbox Series X.

All phone prices are for the lowest storage capacity, either 64GB or 128GB. The prices are for the unlocked models when available, or the carrier where it's being traded. These are only estimates, and were valid the day this post was written. Prices will fluctuate daily or, in the case of sites like Amazon and eBay, hourly.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G

Google Pixel 5

Xbox One X (1TB)

Decluttr

$446

$292

$287

$190

uSell

$480

N/A

N/A

$120

ecoATM

$265

$140

$90

N/A

Sprint

$330

$225

$205

N/A

Verizon

$338

$288

$195

N/A

T-Mobile

$360

$225

$190

N/A

AT&T

$330

$290

$200

N/A

Best Buy

$380

$275

$250

$200

GameStop

$369 cash / $461 credit

$252 cash / $315 credit

N/A

$188 cash / $237 credit

Swappa

$594

$540

$280

$245

Amazon

$536

$537

$309

$430

eBay

$445

$525

$300

$150

BuyBackWorld

$450

$300

$175

$125

It'sWorthMore

$463

$303

$203

$180

GadgetGone

$465

$335

$290

$160

If you were looking to sell some games, we've also got a shorter list, because not every site accepts game trade-ins. GameStop will offer you more money than what's listed below if you're a member of its Elite or Elite Pro programs.

Battlefield 2042 (Xbox Series X/S)

Horizon Forbidden West (PS5)

Pokémon Legends Arceus (Switch)

Decluttr

$7.62

$28

$28

GameStop

$1.76 cash / $2 credit

N/A

$26 cash / $33 credit

Amazon

$50

$68

$51

eBay

$10

$46

$53

Once you've picked a site and listed your item, there are a few important things to remember before you ship off your device. The most important, when disposing of a phone or laptop or any other device containing personal data, is to do a full factory reset of your device. That also means turning off "Find My iPhone" and the activation lock on iOS devices. See if you can unlock the phone, too; you'll actually get more money selling a carrier-free device. And finally, make sure you've backed up any important data you may have, like contact info, game save data and, of course, photos. Cash is great, but it won't save your memories.

Images: Mike Blake / Reuters (ecoATM); Alamy (Gamestop); Getty Images for eBay (eBay)

How to recycle your used and unwanted gadgets

You're probably used to sorting your garbage into bins: green for paper or blue for plastic and glass. But when it comes to electronics, we're still used to selling those off or tossing them into the trash heap. Unfortunately, our gadget addiction has real consequences for the planet, making it imperative that we dispose of everything responsibly.

Sure, you can try parting with your stuff for cash, but it's a pain, and it can be tough, if not impossible, to find someone who wants a busted Xbox or 20-year-old CRT. Few places have curbside pickup — in fact, some localities make it illegal to leave electronics for the garbage collectors — so you're going to have to find a reputable center to take it. We've gathered some of the resources to help you dispense of your broken and unwanted computers, televisions and any other gadget flotsam that's been taking up space in your closet.

National chains

There is no national electronics recycling law at this time, so you won't find any federal programs to assist you with getting rid of old devices. The USPS does run a program for federal agencies and their employees, but it's not available to the general public. Instead, the rest of us have to rely on nationwide retailers to toss out our old stuff.

Best Buy

Best Buy has more than 1,000 locations in the United States, so it's likely you have one nearby where you can drop stuff off. You just need to take it to the customer service counter. They'll issue you a receipt too, but keep in mind that you can't claim the drop-off as a deduction on your taxes because Best Buy isn't a charity.

You can even recycle televisions and monitors, though you'll be charged a fee of $30 per item to cover the higher costs of transporting and disassembling them. (Consumers in California are not charged the $30 fee, while locations in Connecticut and Pennsylvania will not accept televisions at all.) If you're turning in a printer, you’ll get up to a $50 voucher toward the purchase of a new Epson EcoTank printer.

Also be aware that Best Buy limits you to three items per household per day, including up to two televisions.

Staples

Recycling your stuff at Staples is similar to Best Buy — just bring your products to the customer-service counter. But it’s more limited in that you can only bring in seven items a day, and the store won’t accept televisions at all. Staples Rewards members also receive a small credit of $2 for every used ink cartridge they turn in, up to 20 a month.

Office Depot

Office Depot has more than 1,300 locations, but unlike Staples and Best Buy, it won't recycle your old gadgets for free. If you're only getting rid of a few phones or batteries, those can be turned in at no charge. For everything else, you must purchase a Tech Recycling Box, which costs $5, $10 or $15 depending on the size. Once you have the box, you can fill it with as many items as you want, provided they all fit inside, including smaller televisions. So it's a great deal if you have a lot of stuff you want to dispose of. These can be turned in either in person or by mail.

Home Depot and Lowes

You can dispose of old rechargeable batteries, old phones and CFL bulbs in the dropoff boxes at any of 2,300 Home Depot or 2,200 Lowe’s locations. The bins are usually located in the front of the store, and Home Depot has an 11-pound limit on individual items.

Manufacturers

If you can't make it to a retail location, especially when you need to get rid of only one or two items, many companies offer recycling programs for their own products. They'll even pay for shipping. Some run their own programs while others use outside organizations. We've outlined policies from a handful of manufacturers below.

Amazon

While Amazon would love to direct you to its trade-in program, you're probably reading this post because there's stuff you can't sell, and for those items Amazon offers mail-in recycling. You can send in your busted Kindles, Fire TVs and even Dash Buttons, as well as select peripherals like keyboards and mice. You'll just need to fill out some forms online and generate a shipping label, which you can slap on any box. Drop it off at a UPS location, and you're good to go; Amazon will cover all the costs.

Apple

Apple

If your iPhone or MacBook is still in good shape, you should consider selling it, but if it's old or beat up you can still score a gift card by turning it into Apple's recycling program. For iPhones, iPad and Apple Watches you'll be asked to fill out a form attesting to the product's condition and given a trade-in quote, with a working iPhone 5 going for $35 and an iPhone 7 Plus scoring you $315. For Macs, you'll be asked to provide a serial number as well. Though Apple won't give you cash for anything it deems old or unacceptable, you can still mail it in or bring it to any Apple Store so it can be responsibly disposed of.

Dell

Dell offers drop-off recycling via a partnership with Goodwill. Not every location participates, but there are more than 2,600 that do. And, because it's a charity, you may even be able to deduct it as a donation on your taxes. Dell also has a mail-back program on its site where you can generate a shipping label and drop the package off at a FedEx location instead.

Epson

You can ship old products back to Epson by simply creating a shipping label on its site and dropping it off at a FedEx location. Or just drop it off at a Best Buy location for a $30 or $50 voucher toward a new Epson printer.

HP

If you can, HP recommends taking its products to the nearest Best Buy. But if that's not feasible, the company participates in a program that will even buy back some items. You'll be asked to fill out a form with the make, model and condition, and the recycler will email you a prepaid shipping label to mail the package within 30 days. If you're doing a buyback you'll receive a paper check in the mail. Because this isn't an in-house program with HP, you can also send in items from other companies — check the drop-down list for firms like Canon and Toshiba as well as more obscure and out-of-business manufacturers.

Other manufacturers

Many other companies use outside recyclers to dispose of their products, and you'll often see the same names popping up again and again across different manufacturers. This should simplify things in some cases — you should be able to send in products from multiple sources in one package. You just need to fill in the make and model to generate a prepaid shipping label. However, different states have different rules on what you can return, so the drop-downs for selecting your product may vary by area.

Two major recycling companies you'll notice a lot are RLGA, which covers Acer, Canon, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft and Motorola, and MRM, which recycles products for Alcatel, BlackBerry, Barnes & Noble (nook), TCL and Toshiba.

Phones

Cell phones are the easiest gadget to recycle — if you haven't already decided to sell yours off on eBay or via sites like Decluttr and ecoATM. But, if you can't or won't make some cash off of it, you can send it to:

Call2Recycle, which has drop-off centers all over the country in many chain stores, including Lowes and Home Depot. It will also accept rechargeable batteries.

Cell Phones for Soldiers accepts phones in any condition and sells them to refurbishers or recyclers. The proceeds go toward purchasing phone cards for troops so they can call their friends and family back home. To be clear, the phones are not given directly to the soldiers.

The four major US carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — all offer free recycling. You can trade in your old device in-store or send it in for a credit toward a new phone, or let them straight up recycle it. AT&T also participates in Cell Phones for Soldiers.

If you do decide to try your luck with ecoATM to see if your old phone is still worth a few bucks and it turns out it's worth nothing, you can at least rest easy knowing that the company will also recycle your phone responsibly.

States

There may not be a national law dictating that you must recycle your electronics, but at least 26 states have passed rules that vary widely on what they demand of manufacturers and consumers. Almost all states that do collect products for recycling provide this service free, with the bill footed by the companies in some way. Most provide some local programs to help you get rid of your stuff, regardless of whether recycling your gadgets is required or optional.

States where you can no longer dispose of electronics in the regular trash and must recycle them include: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

The following states have laws requiring manufacturers to pay for recycling, but you, the consumer, are not actually required to recycle your electronics: Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The following states have some special circumstances worth noting:

Connecticut: Does not allow recycling centers to charge you a fee for turning in electronics, so many organizations and retailers that would usually charge for recycling televisions and monitors do not accept them. Because you cannot dispose of them curbside, you can take them to a municipal transfer station for free.

New York: If you live in a New York City apartment building with 10 or more units, contact your landlord about getting an ecycleNYC drop-off box installed in your building. It’s super convenient and free.

Pennsylvania: Does not allow retailers to charge you a fee to recycle, so places like Best Buy and Staples will not accept televisions or monitors. Many recycling centers have also closed as a result of underfunding. Some nonprofit recyclers may still accept the items, and you should check to see if your local government is hosting any drop-off events. Lancaster and Dauphin Counties also still run civic recycling programs.

Virginia: This state does not have a dedicated statewide recycling program, but some localities run their own programs including Fairfax, Loudoun and Rockbridge counties, and cities like Arlington. Check each municipality’s site for details.

The best Apple Watch accessories you can buy

It didn’t take long for the Apple Watch to become perhaps the most ubiquitous wearable. Even more so than the iPhone, the Apple Watch is a device you can truly make your own with the right accessories. It is, after all, a watch, and like traditional timepieces it’s meant to reflect your personal style. While the most obvious way to customize your Apple Watch is with funky bands, there are cases, stands, wireless chargers and other accessories you can buy that can inject a bit of you into all aspects of Apple Watch ownership. We tested out a bunch of Apple Watch accessories to see which are worth your money.

Spigen Thin Fit case

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

While plenty of us use cases to protect our smartphones from drops and scrapes, you may not think to do the same for your smartwatch. After all, a device that’s literally strapped to your body isn’t as prone to accidental drops as a device that moves in and out of your pocket all day. Chalk it up to me being clumsy, but I’ve knocked my Apple Watch on more door frames than I’d like to admit. For less than $25, a case is a good option if you don’t want to take any chances with that $279-plus smartwatch on your wrist.

“Cases” are basically bumpers that surround the edges of the Apple Watch, and some of them even cover the screen. I personally prefer a bumper-style case because, if I’m going to cover the display, it’ll be with a dedicated screen protector. Spigen’s line of Apple Watch cases are solid and they come in two different levels of bulk. The Rugged Armor series has a shock-absorbent layer and raised bezels, making it especially well suited for those who prioritize protection over fashion. Spigen’s Thin Fit series is more my speed: It sits flush against the Watch’s display, but still gives you an extra layer of protection. You can even choose a color that matches your Watch to help it blend in. Two added perks of Spigen’s cases are that they snap on quickly and easily, and they’re quite affordable at around $14 a piece.

Buy Spigen Thin Fit at Amazon - $14

Zagg InvisibleShield screen protector

Zagg

If you don’t want the extra bulk that comes with a case, a screen protector will give you at least a bit more of a safeguard than sporting a naked Watch. Zagg’s InvisibleShield line is a reliable one that provides shatter protection, clarity and enhanced touch-sensitivity. When installed properly (Zagg gives you clear instructions and all the tools you need to do so), you’ll probably forget you have a screen protector on your Watch. These blend in almost seamlessly with the Watch’s hardware, and if you do accidentally ding the screen, the protector should take all of the damage.

Buy Invisible Shield screen protector at Amazon - $10

Anker Nano Pro 20W charger

Anker

The latest Apple Watches don’t come with power adapters, so you’ll have to dig one out of your drawer or get a new one to charge it up. Choosing the latter is probably best since Series 7 owners will get a new, USB-C-toting cable, so you’ll need an appropriate adapter to get all of that fast-charging goodness. Anker’s 20W Nano Pro is a good pick because it’s compact and has a few safety features built in. Inside is a dynamic temperature sensor that helps prevent overheating, plus a power tuner chip that helps adjust output based on your device. That second feature is likely more important than the first if you’re primarily using this tiny brick with your Apple Watch, but both will be handy if you ever need to use it with your iPhone. What’s more, the Nano Pro can fast charge iPhone 13s, providing a 50-percent top-up in only 25 minutes, and you can get one that matches the color of your handset if you wish.

Buy Anker Nano Pro 20W at Amazon - $20

Apple MagSafe Duo charger

Apple

Apple makes one of the more elegant solutions to charging your iPhone and Apple Watch while traveling. The $129 MagSafe Duo has spaces to wirelessly charge both devices and folds up into a neat square when not in use. The Apple Watch pad flips upward as well, allowing you to use the gadget in Nighttime mode while it’s charging. While this accessory does come with a USB-C to Lightning cable to provide power to the system, it does not come with an AC adapter so you will have to remember to pack your own.

Buy MagSafe Duo at Amazon - $129

Belkin Boost Charge Pro portable fast charger

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Apple Watch chargers are a bit different than Lightning cables in the sense that you probably have only one of the former and many of the latter. Those who travel or commute often should consider getting a second Apple Watch charger, that way you’re not stuck if you forget to pack your one and only before a long weekend trip. Belkin’s Boost Charge Pro portable fast charger is a great option, particularly for those who have a Series 7. The square pad uses Apple’s new fast-charging module, so it’ll be able to power up the Series 7 from 0 to 80 percent in roughly 45 minutes.

You can simply sit your timepiece on the module to charge, but it also flips up so you can use the Watch in Nightstand mode while it’s powering up on your bedside table. To support different Watch sizes and protective cases, the pad also has a dial on its underside that lets you adjust the height of the charging module. Plus, the attached USB-C cable that tucks away on the bottom of the pad is four feet long, giving you a bit more placement flexibility than other chargers.

The main drawback is its $60 list price, but those strapped for cash should consider Anker’s version, which is very similar to Belkins and only $43. It won’t fast-charge the Series 7, but it will power up the device just like it would a Series 6 or earlier. I also prefer how the attached USB-C cable coils up into the base on this one – it’s a bit neater than Belkin’s solution.

Buy Boost Charge Pro at Belkin - $60Buy Anker Foldable Charging Dock at Amazon - $43

Bellroy Compact Tech Kit

Bellroy

You’ll likely have your Apple Watch strapped to your wrist while traveling, but it’s a good idea to have a pouch or case that can hold the gadget along with any accessories you need when you’re not wearing it. Bellroy’s Compact Tech Kit is an attractive option not only because of its minimalist design, but the multiple loops and pockets on the inside. It can easily hold your Apple Watch charging cable, an AC adapter and a few extra bands, and you’ll still have space for things like AirPods, a Lightning cable for your iPhone and even a larger power adapter for your laptop. If you don’t mind something a bit more utilitarian, Bagsmart’s small travel organizer is a good option that also costs just $17.

Buy Compact Tech Kit at Bellroy - $55Buy Bagsmart small travel organizer at Amazon - $17

Apple Watch stands

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

If you want to use the Apple Watch’s handy Nightstand mode while it’s charging, I’ve found that Watch holders can make the experience much better. My Watch often topples over or rolls about when I simply trust it to sit on its side next to my bed, but that’s easily fixed with a stand. Elago’s stands may be simple, but they have a lot of personality, coming in colorful dome shapes and in the forms of retro tech. The biggest problem with them, particularly the dome stands, is that they can be prone to sliding around on your desk or nightstand if there’s any tension on your charging cable. But they hold the Apple Watch well and, at under $15, they’re affordable ways to inject more personality into your accessory game.

We previously recommended Spigen’s $11 S350 stand as another basic option, but we’d now opt to upgrade to the PowerArc ArcField wireless charger. Coming in at $37, this one looks almost identical to the S350 stand but it comes with an Apple Watch charging module built in, plus an attached, 6.6-foot USB-C cable. It also comes with a few rubber pads of different heights, allowing you to adjust the stand to the right height based on your Watch’s size and if you have a case protecting it. While it costs more than a standard silicone stand for your Apple Watch, it’s worth it for the additional charging power – plus if it does become your main home charger, that frees up the charging cable that came with the Apple Watch to be your on-the-go option.

Buy Elago dome charging stand at Amazon - $10Buy Elago W6 charging stand (iPod) at Amazon - $13Buy Spigen PowerArc ArcField wireless charger at Amazon - $37

Apple Watch bands

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

You probably made your way to this guide because you already have an Apple Watch that you’re ready to deck out. But if you haven’t made the purchase yet, consider using the Apple Watch Studio to customize the timepiece to your liking. Doing so will let you choose the precise band style and color you want, and there are definitely a few that are worth getting directly from Apple. Both the Sport Band and the Sport Loop are good basic options for everyday and exercise use, but you can find alternatives for much less elsewhere.

Apple’s Solo Loop is a good one if you just want to slip your Watch on in the morning without worrying about notches or buckles — just make sure you get the right size when you order. I’m also partial to the Nike Sport Band because its carefully placed holes make it breathable and extra comfortable for working out. But if you want that one, you’ll have to buy the Apple Watch Nike edition, which is just a regular Watch with the Nike+ Run Club app preinstalled.

But if you or your loved one already have an Apple Watch, it’s easy to find additional bands across the web. When it comes to basic silicone straps, you can find packs of three to six bands for less than $20 but the quality may be questionable. Look for brands with many high ratings on Amazon if you insist on getting the best bang for your buck. You can also use FakeSpot’s Amazon integration to get an idea for how trustworthy a product’s reviews are.

A few reputable brands that make Apple Watch bands are Spigen, Elago and Casetify. Spigen’s Silicone Fit band feels the most similar to Apple’s Sport Band. The material is soft, comfortable and it’s a hair thinner than Apple’s. The biggest difference is that you’ll pay around $10 for one of Spigen’s bands as opposed to $50 for one of Apple’s.

Buy Apple Watch bands (5 pack) at Amazon - $20Buy Spigen Silicone Fit band at Amazon - $10

Elago’s Sport Bands are made of fluoro-rubber material, so they’re a bit thicker and more substantial than Apple’s standard silicone band. They also have traditional buckle closures, giving them a style that better transitions from workouts to workplaces. They are a good option if you like the simplicity of Apple’s own bands but don’t want to shell out $50 for one.

Casetify occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, offering printed and customizable Apple Watch straps that truly stand out. They come in metal, leather, silicone and recycled plastic and you can get as specific as you want. There are plenty of solid colors to choose from as well as dozens of floral and animal prints. Casetify also has trendy collaborations with Disney, Netflix’s Squid Game and other pop-culture heavyweights, and even bands you can personalize with your recipient’s name or initials. While Casetify’s straps are on the expensive side, ranging from $40 to $72, it’s a price worth paying if you absolutely must have a band that fits your style to a tee.

Buy Elago sport band at Amazon - $19Shop Casetify Apple Watch bands

The best accessories for your new iPhone

New iPhone 13 owners should think about the accessories they want for their new handset not long after unboxing it. Like with last year’s iPhone 12s, this year’s models don’t come with a charging adapter, so that’s one thing you’ll probably need to have on hand. If you plan on going all-in on wireless charging could you skip that, though, and thankfully there are many more MagSafe accessories to choose from now than there were last year. We’ve tested out some of the newest iPhone accessories available and gathered the best ones here.

Apple MagSafe wireless charger

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

There are often better and cheaper alternatives to Apple’s first-party accessories, but the company’s MagSafe wireless charger is worth considering if you have a new iPhone. Like all other MagSafe accessories, this charging pad uses magnets to attach to the back of the latest iPhones and it’s surprisingly strong. Not only can you safely pick up your handset and use it with the disk still attached, but the iPhone can dangle by the charger’s cord without falling off. (You still probably shouldn’t do this.)

The charging plate itself is about a quarter-inch thick so it barely adds any heft to the iPhone. The magnets only attach to the latest iPhones, but it will still charge older models wirelessly, going back to the iPhone 8. I only wish the cable were longer than three feet so that you had more leeway to use your iPhone on the couch or in bed while powering it up.

Apple’s accessory comes in at $39 (although we’ve seen it go on sale a few times), but if you want to spend a bit less, Spigen’s $25 ArcField magnetic wireless charger is a decent dupe. It’s magnets are nowhere near as strong as those on Apple’s charger — so you definitely shouldn’t pick up your iPhone by this cable — but it’ll power up your handset and stay put while doing so.

Buy Apple MagSafe wireless charger at Amazon - $39Buy Spigen ArcField at Amazon - $25

Mophie 4-in-1 wireless charging mat

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

You may have accumulated a number of devices that support wireless charging at this point and Mophie’s 4-in-1 charging mat is an easy way to power them all. It’s an 11-by-8-inch rectangle with four spaces for different items to charge simultaneously. Two of those spots are large enough to accommodate smartphones while the other two in the center are smaller and fit things like AirPods perfectly. It also has an optional attachment for an Apple Watch, which means it could actually charge up to five devices at the same time.

I found the mat useful as a charging hub, turning to it each night to charge my iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods Pro. It’s worth noting that both my iPhone and my AirPods Pro live in cases, and I didn’t have to remove either in order to charge them with Mophie’s mat. But while the mat’s size allows it to do a lot at once, it’s also tough to find a big enough spot for it. It’ll fit on most nightstands, but you may have to rearrange things first. Mophie has a 3-in-1 charging station that takes up less space and has dedicated spots for your iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods.

Buy Mophie 4-in-1 charging mat at Amazon - $150Buy Mophie 3-in-1 charging station at Amazon - $110

AirPods

Billy Steele/Engadget

It’s well known now that AirPods are the best wireless earbuds for those with iPhones. Apple made its standard AirPods even better this year with the introduction of the third-generation models, which have an improved design, noticeably better sound and longer battery life. We appreciate the new “contoured” design, which is way more comfortable than previous AirPods, and the H1 chipset makes features like hands-free Siri and speedy pairing and switching possible. They’re well worth their $179 price tag — but if that’s a bit steep for you, Beats’ new Studio Buds are a good alternative. At $150, they have the same H1 chip inside along with balanced sound that doesn’t sacrifice the punchy bass that Beats devices are known for.

Buy AirPods (3rd gen) at Amazon - $179Buy Beats Studio Buds at Amazon - $150

Anker Nano II 45W GaN charger

Anker

While Apple’s 20W charger works just fine, you can opt for a more versatile adapter in Anker’s Nano II 45W charger. Not only can it fast-charge an iPhone, but it can also power up a 2020 MacBook Air at full speed, along with mid-sized devices like iPads. It’s 34 percent smaller than other 45W chargers, and it uses GaN technology to prevent overheating. We also appreciate that its prongs flip down to make the adapter even more compact when you need to travel with it. The 45W model will set you back $40, but Anker also makes a $34 30W version and a $66 65W two-port model for when you want to charge your phone and your laptop at the same time.

Buy Nano II 45W charger at Amazon - $40Buy Nano II 30W charger at Amazon - $34Buy Nano II 65W charger at Amazon - $66

AirTags

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Apple’s AirTags make it easy for iPhone users to locate things they might misplace. Just attach one of the tiny Bluetooth trackers to your keys, backpack or wallet and then use the Find My app to keep track of them. If you know your stuff is within reach, you can force the AirTag to play a tune to lead you to it. And when you truly don’t know where something is, you can enable Lost Mode to be automatically notified when the Find My network locates the item. AirTags only work with iPhones, but iPhone users have other Bluetooth tracker options (namely Tile’s). But Apple’s gadgets have a convenience level that’s similar to AirPods — your iPhone will automatically identify a new AirTag nearby and immediately pair with it, and it’s quite simple to manage multiple AirTags in the Find My app.

Buy AirTag at Amazon - $29

Anker 637 MagGo charging station

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Remember Amazon’s adorable Echo Spot, the orb-like smart display that was eventually replaced by the Echo Show 5? Well, Anker’s latest magnetic charging station looks much like it, just without the tiny touchscreen and with a lot more connectivity options. The 8-in-1 device has a magnetic charging pad on the front and a bunch of ports on its back: three AC outlets, two USB-C ports and two USB-A ports. The magnets in the charging pad are quite strong and able to hold up an iPhone 13 Pro Max so it looks like it’s floating in mid air. You can even use it when your iPhone has a MagSafe case on, too. Since the iPhone screen is angled upward and clearly visible while charging, Anker’s device would make a good addition to a desk, or even a nightstand for those who want to use their phone as their evening clock. And on top of that, it’ll keep all your other cables organized and (mostly) out of sight.

Buy MagGo desktop charging station at Amazon - $100

Anker Powerline II USB-C to Lightning cable

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

We’ve been fans of Anker’s Powerline charging cables for a long time and its Powerline II USB-C to Lightning cord is no exception. First, it’s more affordable than Apple’s — you’ll pay $19 for a three-foot cable from Apple, whereas Anker’s three-foot cord costs $13. It also has MFi-certification, which means it’s passed enough tests to get Apple’s seal of approval as a safe, reliable iOS accessory. While not all of them are made out of braided nylon, those that don’t still have a 12,000-bend lifespan so you can use it without fear of wire fraying after a few weeks. Anker also has a similar USB-C to C cable in the Powerline III series that should work well for charging the latest iPads and MacBooks.

Buy USB-C to Lightning cable at Amazon - $13

Belkin MagSafe Car Vent Mount Pro

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Belkin’s MagSafe car mount is easier to use than one of those fussy clamps you pray will stay put on a vent while you’re driving. The strong magnets truly make this accessory — the iPhone 13 snaps into place on the mount’s credit-card sized plate and doesn’t budge even if you have to quickly swerve to avoid hitting a squirrel. The clip that attaches to your car’s vent is also quite snug and you can swivel your phone into landscape or portrait mode.

Even if you don’t drive to work on a daily basis anymore, this will come in handy on the days you’re in the office and when you need to consult Google Maps during your next roadtrip. Just remember that this mount won’t charge your iPhone; it’s just a magnetic holder. You can, however, weave a charging cable through an opening in the back of the mount so you can neatly power up your phone while driving.

Buy MagSafe car mount at Amazon - $40

Peak Design Mobile Tripod

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

There are plenty of ways to prop up your iPhone, but Peak Design’s new mobile tripod is one of the more elegant solutions I’ve tried. It’s a 0.3-inch thick plate made of anodized aluminum with strong magnets inside and three legs that fold down and out. It attaches to the back of the latest iPhone and delivers a generous lift off the surface it’s sitting on. Out of all of the stands I’ve used, it’s the one that looks and feels most like a tripod thanks to its micro ball-head, which lets you adjust the angle of your phone nearly 360 degrees, and its three legs, which provide much more support than your standard phone-case kickstand.

The Mobile Tripod is a solid option for those who use their phone cameras for everything from family photos to vacation landscape shots, and those who want to use their phone almost as a second screen while travelling. It’s a bit steep at $80, but you’re paying for a sturdy accessory with a thoughtful design — plus the Peak name. Of course, there are plenty of more affordable MagSafe phone stands such as Moft’s Snap-On Stand and Wallet, which props up your iPhone while holding a few credit cards, Anker’s MagGo phone grip, and the now-ubiquitous PopSockets. Just keep in mind that, while MagSafe accessories like these are convenient, they ultimately won’t be as sturdy as something securely snapped onto your smartphone. All of the MagSafe stands, wallets, chargers and other accessories I’ve tried eventually fell off if I applied enough force.

Buy Mobile Tripod at Peak Design - $80Buy Moft Snap-On Stand and Wallet at Amazon - $30Buy MagGo phone grip at Amazon - $16Buy MagSafe PopGrip at Amazon - $30

MagSafe cases

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

There are many more MagSafe cases available now than there were just a year ago, and they run the gamut from affordable to quite expensive. If you like silicone cases, it’s usually best to save some money and get a third party one rather than buying Apple’s. However, the first-party silicone MagSafe case is worth considering for its luxurious feel and slim design. It doesn’t add much heft to the iPhone at all and it gives you a bit more protection against scratches and drops. It also has a premium, smooth texture that makes it nicer to hold than cheaper silicone cases.

Apple also makes hard-shell MagSafe cases, but we typically prefer Otterbox for that level of protection. The company’s Symmetry+ line is only a hair thicker than Apple’s but they are slightly more flexible, making it easier to take your iPhone in and out. They also have Otterbox’s signature rubberized bumper around the edges and, although you can’t remove it like you can with some of its other heavy-duty cases, it provides an extra cushion if you accidentally drop your iPhone.

But Otterbox’s cases will set you back $60 or more — for something more budget-friendly, Spigen’s Mag Armor series is worthy of consideration. At around $20 each, these cases are made of shock-absorbing TPU and they have a raised lip around the camera array to protect it. They’re compatible with MagSafe accessories and they only add about 0.15-inches of thickness to the overall profile of your iPhone. These are good options if you want to add only what’s necessary to your phone to protect it against the occasional drop or bump.

Shop Otterbox Symmetry+ casesBuy Spigen Mag Armor case at Amazon - $20

The best 2-in-1 laptops you can buy

The perfect hybrid machine that’s just as good a tablet as it is a laptop still doesn’t exist. But, in 2021, companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google continued to improve their operating systems for machines that do double duty. Windows 11 has features that make it friendlier for multi-screen devices, while Android 12L is on the horizon and promises an optimized experience for larger displays. Plus, with the rise of ARM-based chips for laptops, especially Apple’s impressive M1 series, prospects for a powerful 2-in-1 with a vast touch-friendly app ecosystem is at an all-time high.

These machines still have their limits, of course. Since they’re smaller than proper laptops, they tend to have less-powerful processors. Keyboards also tend to be less sturdy, with condensed layouts and shallower key travel. Plus, they’re almost always tablets first, leaving you to buy a keyboard case separately. (And those ain’t cheap.) So, you can’t always assume the advertised price is what you’ll actually spend on the 2-in-1 you want.

Sometimes, getting a third-party keyboard might be just as good, and they’re often cheaper than first-party offerings. If you’re looking to save some money, Logitech’s Slim Folio is a cheaper option, and if you don’t need your keyboard to attach to your tablet, Logitech’s K780 Multi-Device wireless keyboard is also a good pick.

While we’ve typically made sure to include a budget 2-in-1 in previous years, this time there isn’t a great choice. We would usually go with a Surface Go, but the 2021 model is too expensive. Other alternatives, like cheaper Android tablets, are underpowered and don’t offer a great multitasking interface. If you want something around $500 that’s thin, lightweight and long-lasting, you’re better off this year looking at a conventional laptop (like those on our best budget PCs list).

Chris Velazco / Engadget

When you’re shopping for a 2-in-1, there are some basic criteria to keep in mind. First, look at the spec sheet to see how heavy the tablet is (alone, and with the keyboard). Most modern hybrids weigh less than 2 pounds, with the 1.96-pound Surface Pro 8 being one of the heaviest around. The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7+ are both slightly lighter. If the overall weight of the tablet and its keyboard come close to 3 pounds, you’ll be better off just getting an ultraportable laptop.

You’ll also want to opt for an 11-inch or 12-inch screen instead of a smaller 10-inch model. The bigger displays will make multitasking easier, plus their companion keyboards will be much better spaced. Also, try to get 6GB of RAM if you can for better performance — you’ll find this in the base model of the Galaxy Tab S7+, while this year’s iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 8 start with 8GB of RAM.

Finally, while some 2-in-1s offer built-in LTE or 5G connectivity, not everyone will want to pay the premium for it. An integrated cellular radio makes checking emails or replying to messages on the go far more convenient. But it also often costs more, and that’s not counting what you’ll pay for data. And, as for 5G — you can hold off on it unless you live within range of a mmWave beacon. Coverage is still spotty and existing nationwide networks use the slower sub-6 technology that’s barely faster than LTE. 

Engadget Picks

Best overall: Surface Pro 8

Dana Wollman/Engadget

There’s no beating the Surface series when it comes to 2-in-1s. They’re powerful, sleek tablets running an OS that’s actually designed for productivity. The Surface Pro 8 is Microsoft’s latest and it addresses most of the issues we had with its predecessor. It’s thinner and looks more modern, borrowing the design of last year’s Pro X. Plus, it has a 120Hz display that makes scrolling endless spreadsheets or emails feel much faster. Just remember to drop the refresh rate to 60Hz if you want to get respectable battery life out of this thing. Windows 11 also offers a better split-screen experience for on-the-go multitasking.

Like most of the other 2-in-1s on this list, the Pro 8 doesn’t come with a keyboard cover — you’ll have to pay extra for that. That’s a shame, considering it starts at $1,099. Microsoft offers a variety of Type Covers for its Surface Pros ranging from $100 to $180, depending on whether you want a slot for a stylus on it. But at least they’re comfortable and well-spaced. You can also get the Surface Slim Pen 2 ($130) for sketching out your diagrams or artwork, and it also features haptic feedback for a more responsive experience.

Buy Surface Pro 8 at Microsoft starting at $1,099

Best for Apple users: 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021)

Chris Velazco/Engadget

If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, the best option for you is obviously an iPad. The 12-inch Pro is our pick. Like older models, this iPad Pro has a stunning 12.9-inch screen with a speedy 120Hz refresh rate, but this year it uses mini-LED backlighting to deliver greater dynamic range. Apple’s M1 chipset is impressively fast too, and more than good enough for most tasks. Plus, the latest iPadOS is superior to older versions thanks to widgets and quick notes support.

Apple’s new Magic Keyboard provides a satisfying typing experience, and its trackpad means you won’t have to reach for the screen to launch apps. But it’ll also cost you an extra $300, making it the most expensive case on this list by a lot. The iPad also lacks a headphone jack and its webcam is awkwardly positioned along the left bezel when you prop it up horizontally, so be aware that it’s still far from a perfect laptop replacement. Still, with its sleek design and respectable battery life, the iPad Pro 12.9 is a good 2-in-1 for Apple users.

Buy 12.9-inch iPad Pro at Amazon - $1,099

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

While Windows is better than iPadOS and Android for productivity, it lags the other two when it comes to apps specifically designed for touchscreens. If you want a tablet that has all the apps you want, and only need it to occasionally double as a laptop, the Galaxy Tab S7+ is a solid option. Though it was released last year, it’s still the best Android-powered 2-in-1 around. You’ll enjoy watching movies and playing games on its gorgeous 12.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen, and Samsung includes the S Pen, which is great for sketching and taking notes. The Snapdragon 865+ processor and 6GB of RAM keep things running smoothly, too.

Thankfully the company significantly improved its keyboard case over previous models, with more comfortable and responsive keys. You could type for hours on this thing and not hate yourself (or Samsung). The battery life is also excellent, so you won’t need to worry about staying close to an outlet. The main caveat is that Android isn’t great as a desktop OS and, while Samsung’s DeX mode offers a somewhat workable solution, it has plenty of quirks. Still, with Android 12L on the horizon, a simple software update could ease some pain.

Buy Galaxy Tab S7+ at Samsung - $849

Best Chrome OS option: HP Chromebook x2

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Android might suck as a desktop operating system, but Chrome OS doesn’t. If most of your tasks take place inside a browser, the HP Chromebook x2 will serve you well. It has great battery life, an excellent 11-inch screen and looks nice, to boot. HP even includes the keyboard and stylus with the tablet, which almost none of the competition does.

Chrome still isn’t a great OS in tablet mode, and the Chromebook x2’s Snapdragon 7c processor sometimes struggles if you rack up too many tabs. It’s also a little pricey at $600, but you can often find it for $400 when it goes on sale at sites like Best Buy. That makes it a solid choice considering everything HP includes for the money.

Buy Chromebook x2 at HP - $679

The best smartwatches, fitness trackers and wearables to gift

What better way to show someone you love them than getting them a gadget that they can wear on their person all day? Okay, maybe there are plenty of better ways, but a wearable can not only convey how much you care, but it can also help the user take better care of themselves.

Our list of the best wearables includes not only obvious things like smartwatches and fitness trackers, but also a touch-sensitive backpack that will let the hiker on your list keep their hands free while trekking through the mountains. Though the typical price here of about $200 to $300 might be steep for some, it might be a good range for those looking for something that a few friends can all chip in on. But we’ve also included budget-friendlier options if you prefer.

Apple Watch SE

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

A smartwatch is a great gift for anyone that’s trying to stay on top of their busy schedules, keep tabs on their health or remain connected without having to look at their phone every 30 seconds. The Apple Watch SE is a solid choice for any first timer — it has all of the core features of the more-premium Series 7, but costs significantly less. Your loved one will be able to use it to track their workouts and sleep while getting their iPhone alerts and messages on their wrist. The watch will also detect if they’ve fallen and alert the user’s emergency contacts, not to mention warn the wearer of any heart rate irregularities. Of course, no smartwatch is meant to replace a consultation with a doctor, so think of it more as a way to get some data than as a tool for diagnosis.

If you believe your friend could benefit from a bigger screen, longer battery life, ECG readings and an always-on display, the $400 Series 7 is a better choice. But you’ll have to decide if those main differences are worth the premium.

Buy Apple Watch SE at Amazon - $279Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Apple

The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch around. Unfortunately it won’t work with Android phones. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for those over in Google-land, and the best of them is the Galaxy Watch 4. It runs the new Wear OS co-engineered by Samsung and Google, marrying an intuitive side-scrolling interface and great health-tracking with a plentiful third-party app library. That means your friend can reply to your texts from their wrist, get updates on their cab rides or takeout orders, track their calorie intake or log workouts through their favorite apps. Those who are into their physical and muscular composition will also appreciate the Watch 4’s body fat-scanning tool.

If the person you’re shopping for prefers a more classic-looking timepiece and doesn’t mind a chunkier device, they might enjoy the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. It features a spinning bezel that lets the user whiz through widgets quickly and easily, and the etchings on the frame lend a traditional look to the smartwatch.

Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Samsung - $250Buy Galaxy Watch 4 Classic at Samsung - $350

Fitbit Charge 5

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Those looking for something with a lower profile will prefer a Fitbit band. Despite its relatively small size, the Fitbit Charge 5 packs a ton of hardware including a heart rate monitor, onboard GPS and an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor. Altogether, it can help your loved one track their pulse, fitness and even stress levels. Fitbit also has one of the more insightful sleep-logging tools around, using cardio readings to determine if they’ve entered deep, REM or light sleep zones.

The company also made its touchscreen full-color on the Charge 5, which is a vast improvement over the last model’s greyscale version. This does diminish battery life, but the Charge 5 still manages to last up to seven days (though, that drops to two with the display set to Always On).

Buy Charge 5 at Amazon - $180

Fossil Gen 6

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For the Android smartwatch user who wants a little more fashion cred on their wrist, the Fossil Gen 6 is a worthy option. These are the company’s first to run the new Wear OS, but with some custom watch faces and tweaks for health-tracking. They have bright, crisp 1.28-inch AMOLED screens and offer continuous heart-rate monitoring, as well as a blood oxygen sensor.

Battery life has always been a big shortcoming of smartwatches, and Fossil is attempting to make up for that by offering fast charging on the Gen 6. It promises you can get up to 80 percent in 30 minutes, so your giftee doesn’t have to spend too long waiting around for their watch to power back up. And since this is a Fossil wearable, there are plenty of attractive strap and case options that will suit your loved one’s tastes.

Buy Gen 6 smartwatch at Fossil - $299

Amazon Echo Frames

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Not all wearables are watches: there’s been a recent surge in speaker-glasses hybrid devices. The Amazon Echo Frames are the most comfortable, though. Like the Bose Frames and Razer’s Anzu, they offer open-ear style speakers built into the arms of the eyewear so that the wearer can hear what’s playing on their computer or phone without blocking out the rest of the world. Amazon’s version also offers easy access to Alexa, so the user can get hands-free help with setting timers or turning on their smart lights.

The Echo Frames can be fitted with prescription lenses and come in an inoffensive style that should fit most faces (there’s only one size available). Those who don’t need glasses can also opt for blue-light filtering lenses or shades instead. If you know someone who wants to listen to music or their favorite YouTube livestream at work, while still being able to hear when their boss calls them into the office, the Echo Frames are a good option.

Buy Echo Frames at Amazon - $250

Withings Steel HR

Withings

Some diehard watch aficionados don’t like the idea of a black mirror staring up at them when smartwatch batteries die, but still want a timepiece that can track basic health metrics. For these folks, the Withings Steel HR is an attractive, well-rounded product. It has a traditional analog watch face with a tiny round black-and-white screen that shows step counts and small status indicators. A sub-dial displays progress towards the wearer’s daily move goal, and runners can link the watch to their phone’s GPS to map their routes.

The device’s onboard heart rate and blood oxygen sensors help the user gauge their cardio performance, and swimmers or divers will appreciate the water resistance of up to 50 meters. Best of all, since this doesn’t have a large, battery-draining screen, it can last up to 25 days on a charge.

Buy Steel HR at Withings - $180

Garmin Forerunner 55

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Garmin

The hardcore runner or marathoner in your life will most likely have heard of Garmin. The company is known for its GPS and heart rate monitors, and athletes swear by their running watches. The Forerunner 55 is a great device for those looking for something that excels at sports-tracking with long-lasting battery. It’ll last up to two weeks, while monitoring the user’s respiration, heart rate, step count and more. The wearer can also get basic notifications, music playback controls and apps on the watch.

But it’s Garmin’s robust sports features that will win your giftee over. These include comprehensive run coaching with cadence alerts, pace suggestions, estimated finish time and recovery guides. The Forerunner 55 also tracks stress and menstrual cycles and offers emergency contact tools when the wearer feels unsafe.

Buy Forerunner 55 at Amazon - $199

Samsonite x Google Konnect-i backpack

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Samsonite

Who knew a backpack could be smart? The Samsonite Konnect-i bag features touch-sensitive fibers woven into its strap to enable Google’s Jacquard technology. This lets the wearer tap and swipe on the surface to do things like answer phone calls, play or pause music and more by connecting to their phone. For those who need to pay attention to their commute instead of fumbling around with a phone when they’re on the go, the Konnect-i backpack can keep their hands free and eyes alert. If you have the money to spare and want to give your friend a serious style upgrade, Google also teamed up with Saint Lauren on a $1,150 branded version.

Buy Konnect-i backpack at Samsonite - $199

The best laptops and tablets to give as gifts

If you’re thinking of getting a laptop or tablet as a gift, you’ve got a wealth of options. Thanks to the latest round of hardware from Intel, Apple, AMD and NVIDIA, all of our portable devices have gotten steadily faster and more efficient. Even the cheapest iPad can be a decent productivity machine, while gaming laptops now have almost all of the power of their desktop siblings. And with the arrival of Windows 11, it's a perfect time to give someone a nifty PC upgrade, especially since very old computers won’t be able to step up.

Dell XPS 13

Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but the XPS 13 is still the best Windows ultraportable you can buy. The design hasn't changed much, but that's not a huge problem: It's still incredibly light and features extraordinarily thin screen bezels. And now you can also take advantage of Intel's latest 11th-generation processors. The XPS 13 can also be configured with an OLED screen, an ideal gift for someone who could use a bright and color accurate display. And if you’ve got someone in mind who could use even more power, the new XPS 15 has the same sleek design, but it has more room for a bigger display and better hardware.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell starting at $950

Apple MacBook Air

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Apple's MacBook Air hasn't been upgraded since last year's miraculous model — which gave it the winning combination of Apple's M1 processor, a fan-less design, and incredible battery life — but it's still one of the best laptops on the market. It's powerful enough to handle most productivity tasks and a few games, and whoever’s lucky enough to get it won’t have to worry about any fans spinning up, since it’s completely passively cooled. You can also find the M1-equipped MacBook Air on sale occasionally, making it one of the smarter gift purchases this season.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Apple iPad

Apple

Kudos to Apple for continually improving its entry-level iPad. Once again, it's one of the best tablet gift options on the market. It's faster than ever, thanks to Apple's A13 Bionic processor, and it includes more storage. The $329 model now comes with 64GB, or you could bump up to 256GB for $479. That's more than enough space to save every episode of Bluey and several seasons of Sesame Street to survive long car trips. Sure, the design hasn't changed much since last year, but that doesn't matter much — it’s still a more than capable tablet.

Buy iPad at Amazon - $329

Amazon Fire HD 10

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Amazon's Fire tablets are basically just video-first Android slates, but they also prove you don’t have to pay a ton to buy a useful tablet for someone. This year, the Fire HD 10 is a bit faster, has 50 percent more memory and features a slightly brighter screen. And, as a bonus, there's a Bluetooth keyboard accessory that can turn it into a cheap productivity tablet. But its core selling point is the same as always: it can tackle most tablet tasks easily, and it won’t cost too much. (There are also kid-centric Fire tablets worth considering, which come with a more durable case and two years worth of free replacements.)

Buy Fire HD 10 at Amazon - $150

Razer Blade 15

Razer

You can take all of the praise we've given Razer's Blade 15 over the years and apply it to the latest model. Razer's flagship gaming notebook still has a sleek unibody aluminum case, and it packs in the latest CPUs and GPUs, including NVIDIA's top-end RTX 3080. And thanks to improved screen choices, you can also gift models with fast 1,440p displays, which are sharper than 1080p screens, and easier to run natively than 4K displays. If portability is a greater concern, take a look at the new Razer Blade 14, a sub-four-pound notebook sporting AMD's latest processors.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer - $1,700

ASUS Zephyrus G15

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If the gamer in your life wants something more flashy and a bit lighter than the Razer Blade, consider the Zephyrus G15. With the combined power of AMD's latest processors and NVIDIA's latest graphics cards, it'll handle practically any game thrown at it. And if you're on a budget, you can find lower-end models cheaper than the equivalent Razer's. Mostly, though, we love this laptop because it has pretty much everything we'd want in a mobile gaming rig — that includes an excellent keyboard, a speedy 165Hz 1440p screen and excellent battery life. The only downside is that there's no webcam, but any aspiring streamer would rather have a separate external camera anyway.

Buy Zephyrus G15 at Best Buy - $1,550

Acer Chromebook 512

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The best Chromebooks are cheap, sturdy and powerful enough to handle basic school and office work. Acer's Chromebook 512 is one of the best current options, especially if you're looking for something for a child. It has a spill resistant keyboard, a sturdy impact-resistant case, and anchored keys that are harder for kids to pull off. Its Intel Celeron N4000 chip isn't the fastest, but it's enough to work on Google Docs, Sheets and Presentations without breaking too much of a sweat.

Buy Acer Chromebook 512 at Amazon - $200

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sometimes it seems like there are just too many PC ultraportables to choose from, but Microsoft's Surface Laptop line are always a solid option. They feature some of the best keyboards on the market, excellent displays and support for all of Microsoft's notebook accessories, like the Surface Stylus. But mostly, we appreciate them for their design simplicity. They're sturdy, attractive and built for productivity. The latest 15-inch model also packs in speedy AMD processors that are powerful enough to play a few rounds of Overwatch.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft starting at $799

The best ultraportable laptops you can buy

A decade ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop weighing less than three pounds with a profile slimmer than a paperback book. Now every manufacturer has at least one, making even some of the most jaded tech reviewers exclaim “how did they do this?”

But, even with the ubiquity of ultraportable laptops, some continue to stand out for their ability to balance sleek designs with powerful performance. As with any else, though, the best ultraportable laptops still demand some sacrifices. We’re here to help you decide which ones are worth making.

What to expect

The first thing to remember is that the term “ultraportable” is subjective. There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules governing the weight and thickness. We at Engadget define an ultraportable laptop as one that weighs less than three pounds and measures less than 0.75 inch thick at its widest point. Usually that means you’re talking about 13-inch and 14-inch laptops, though occasionally a 15-inch device hits the mark too.

Most ultraportables have high-end design touches like ultra-slim bezels, gem-cut edges, and premium materials because they tend to sit at the top of the line. Companies spend a lot of time and money engineering them to be as thin and light as possible without sacrificing too much on power and battery life. They tend to be made from metal, carbon fiber or a mix of the two, and their enclosures are usually just thick enough to include the latest Intel or Ryzen processors, large batteries and enough RAM and storage for most people’s needs.

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

What you won’t find in most ultraportables are high-powered GPUs or loads of ports. Most have integrated graphics chips (think: Intel UHD) because anything more powerful would take up space and pose heat-management problems. When it comes to ports, the edges of these laptops simply don’t have a lot of free space. You’re almost guaranteed to get a couple Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C ports on the newest notebooks, but some have already abandoned the USB-A standard, which is a shame.

Also, due to the flagship caliber of most ultraportables, you can expect to pay top dollar for these. Most start at $1,000, gradually increasing in price as you bump up the specs. However, there are a few we’d recommend that often come in below the $1,000 mark, either thanks to slightly lower starting prices or frequent sales. We’ve included a “budget” pick in this guide, but just know that “budget” in this case doesn’t mean cheap; it means relatively affordable.

One other thing that’s important to consider is battery life. Manufacturers have gotten better at eking out more juice from their devices. We recommend buying one rated for at least eight to 10 hours.

You can take all of that advice and wade through the plethora of product pages on the Internet to find the best ultraportable laptop for you. But if you don’t have that kind of time or patience, we’ve compiled a list of the devices that we consider to be the best options available right now.

Engadget picks

Best overall: Dell XPS 13

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Dell didn’t overhaul the XPS 13 for 2021, because why fix what isn’t broken? Instead, the company brought in more optional add-ons so customers could make its flagship laptop as personalized as possible — as long as they have the cash to do so.

The XPS 13 has been one of our favorite laptops for years thanks to its slim, attractive design, powerful performance and solid battery life. In 2020, we saw Dell remove the excessive chin bezel below the screen, letting the 13.4-inch display extend from corner to corner. It now has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is better than before but not quite as good as a 3:2 ratio. We prefer taller screens because they reduce the amount of scrolling necessary to browse web pages and review documents comfortably. The XPS 13’s display continues to support HDR and Dolby Vision, so you’ll get top-notch video quality whenever you stream. New for 2021 is the optional 3,456 x 2,160 OLED display, which you can add to the XPS 13 for about $300 extra.

The XPS 13 remains just as thin and light as it has been for the past couple of years. It weighs only 2.64 pounds and measures just over a half-inch thick at its widest point. We also like its spacious trackpad and comfortable, scissor-switch keyboard. It may not be the flashiest ultraportable on our list, but honestly we kinda dig the XPS’ subtle design. It looks and feels like a flagship device, but it never feels ostentatious.

Those set on the XPS 13 in 2021 will find Tiger Lake processors powering the laptop, and the option to trick it out with up to 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. Notably, the base model includes 8GB of RAM much better than the 4GB minimum on past models. Four gigs is rarely enough for a daily driver (unless you’re looking at a Chromebook), and it’s reassuring to see Dell finally came around on that. If you’re going to upgrade anything when ordering directly from Dell, we recommend springing for the Core i5 processor instead of sticking with the base Core i3.

Buy Dell XPS 13 starting at $999

Best for Apple fans: MacBook Air M1

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Apple continues to make the MacBook Air a compelling option for most people thanks to the M1 chipset in the latest model. And that’s really the star of the show here — the MacBook Air M1 is blazing fast, running native apps like Safari and GarageBand without breaking a sweat. The laptop wakes almost instantly when you open its lid, sites load swiftly and scrolling is seamless. And because M1 is ARM-based, you’ll be able to run iOS apps on the Air, too.

While the MacBook Air M1 looks familiar on the outside, a big difference under the hood is that there’s no fan. Although you sacrifice a bit in the way of heat management, it means the laptop runs more quietly than before. And just because its appearance hasn’t changed, doesn’t mean it looks dated. It still has an attractive 2.8-pound unibody enclosure, a gorgeous 13.3-inch Retina Display, a TouchID fingerprint sensor and a comfortable keyboard with springy buttons (no problematic butterfly keys to be found here).

Along with the M1 processor, the latest MacBook Air comes most readily with 8GB of RAM and either 256GB or 512GB of storage. If you order directly from Apple, you can increase the RAM to 16GB and get as much as 2TB of internal storage. A fully specced-out model will set you back $1,800, but most people will find that their needs are met by the 256GB base model.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon starting at $999

Best convertible: HP Spectre x360 13

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

The Spectre x360 13 is the culmination of years of improvements on HP’s part. It combines most of the things we’d want in a laptop, including a versatile convertible design. Old-school 2-in-1s had a tendency to be wobbly and unstable, but this is anything but. Its metallic hinges provide a sturdy structure for the machine when in laptop mode and spin smoothly whenever you need to work in tent or tablet mode.

The model we reviewed in 2019 had a 1080p touchscreen, but HP gives you the option to outfit the Spectre x360 13 with a 4K AMOLED panel — a good choice for creatives and streaming aficionados (just be prepared for shorter battery life). By no means is a 4K display necessary on a 13-inch machine, but companies have been adding them as options on flagships to satisfy all the display nerds out there. Regardless of the screen you choose, the laptop’s 90-percent screen-to-body ratio will provide an immersive experience when you’re watching movies on Netflix. The keyboard is also quite comfortable and we particularly like that HP made the buttons as large as possible, stretching them all the way to the edges of the chassis.

In addition, HP included an IR camera for Windows Hello, a Precision touchpad and a few more ports than you’d expect to see on an ultraportable of this size. Its edges hold two USB-C ports for charging and data, a USB-A port and a microSD slot. The machine’s 14.5-hour battery life makes it even more versatile, as it lasts an entire work or school day with juice left to spare.

The worst thing we can say about the Spectre x360 13 is that its webcam produces grainy video and HP includes a bit more bloatware than other OEMs. Also, the machine's jewelry-like design may not be to some shoppers’ tastes, but it’s not garish enough for us to knock it either. It also helps that the base model now includes an 11th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an FHD touchscreen for just over $1,000. What’s more, HP is one of the few companies to include a stylus with its flagship convertible at no extra cost, meaning you can use it as a digital notebook straight out of the box.

Buy Spectre x360 13 at HP starting at $1,109

Best budget option: HP Pavilion Aero 13

Daniel Cooper / Engadget

In order to appeal to Gen-Z users, HP made its Pavilion Aero 13 laptop as thin and light as possible while keeping it at a relatively affordable price. Starting at $749, the laptop weighs only 2.2 pounds and takes some design notes from the company's Spectre and Elitebook lines. That makes it a pretty attractive machine, and that's not something we take for granted at this price range.

While its keyboard is not backlit by default, it is comfortable to type on even if the layout is slightly more cramped than usual thanks to the page up/down key column on the right side. You also get a big trackpad and a 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,200 display on the base model, plus the option to upgrade to a 2,560 x 1,600 display if you like. We also appreciate the port variety on this machine: two USB-A ports, one HDMI connector, one USB-C port and a 3.5mm audio jack. HP has generally done a good job keeping as many connectors as possible on even its flagship laptops, and it's nice to see that its budget notebooks received the same treatment.

We reviewed the top-tier model that costs $999, but the base model isn't anything to scoff at. It includes a Ryzen 5 5600U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which is impressive when you consider other flagship laptops with similar RAM and storage amounts cost $250 more to start. While it does force some sacrifices, the Pavilion Aero 13 is not one to overlook if you want a good value laptop.

Buy Pavilion Aero 13 at HP starting at $749