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The best smart displays you can buy

Smart displays have evolved quite a bit since the initial debut of Amazon’s first Echo Show back in 2017. In fact, the category didn’t really come into its own until Google joined the fray with its own line of hardware about a year later. Now, both of these companies are essentially dominating the smart display landscape, with each offering their own take on a smart assistant with a screen.

It’s that screen that makes smart displays so much more useful than smart speakers. Rather than just having a voice recite the current weather report, for example, you can see a five-day forecast as well. The same goes for when you ask about your shopping list or calendar; it's simply easier to see the whole list or your day's appointments at a glance.

Plus, displays offer other benefits that speakers can't, like watching videos or checking your webcam to see who's at your front door. They're especially handy in the kitchen, where you can use them for step-by-step cooking instructions. And, thanks to touchscreens, you can often navigate through functions and settings a lot faster than using your voice.

Amazon vs. Google

The first question you should ask is whether you'd rather be in Amazon's ecosystem or Google's. If you have a lot of Google products in your home, like Nest thermostats or Nest cams, then a Google-powered model makes more sense. If you have Amazon products, like a Fire TV Stick or a Ring cam, Amazon would obviously be a better choice. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable to have products from competing companies in the same home, but just realize they might not work seamlessly with each other.

Aside from that, the two systems also offer some unique features. Google, for example, works best if you have an existing Google account and use services like Calendar and Photos. In fact, we especially love Google smart displays because they work well as digital photo frames. You can set it up to automatically pull in pictures of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and the algorithm is smart enough to use what it thinks are the best shots — so less chance of blurry photos or images of your eyes half-closed showing up, for example.

It might seem like a minor point, but seeing as the display is on standby 90 percent of the time, its secondary function as a digital photo frame is very welcome. All Google smart displays also support YouTube and YouTube TV, step-by-step cooking instructions and all of the usual benefits of Google Assistant, like weather reports. As with Assistant on the phone, it also has voice recognition, so only you can see your calendar appointments and not others.

Amazon's smart displays, on the other hand, are slightly different. Instead of YouTube, they offer some alternative video streaming options, including Amazon Prime, NBC and Hulu. They also come with two browsers (Silk and Firefox), which you can use to search the web or watch YouTube videos – a handy enough workaround given the lack of a dedicated app.

Amazon devices offer step-by-step cooking instructions as well, thanks to collaborations with sources like SideChef and AllRecipes. In fact, the cooking instructions sometimes include short video clips. But although you can use Amazon's displays as digital photo frames, the process is not quite as intuitive as Google’s, and Amazon doesn’t have anything comparable to Google’s photo-sorting algorithm.

The best smart displays

Smart displays come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some are better suited to certain rooms in the home than others. So while we do have some favorite all-around picks, we've also compiled a list of smart displays that would suit specific use cases as well.

The best Google smart display: Google Nest Hub

We at Engadget tend to prefer Google smart displays because most people are likely already entrenched in the Google ecosystem due to the ubiquity of Google services like Gmail, Calendar and so forth. We also tend to find Google Assistant to be a little smarter than Alexa, especially when bringing up answers from the web. As mentioned earlier, we also really like the tie-in with Google Photos and the smart photo-sorting algorithm.

Our favorite smart display overall is Google's latest Nest Hub. Its 7-inch size is a better fit in more rooms, and its unobtrusive design combined with its soft fabric exterior blends nicely into your existing home decor. It does everything we think most people would want in a smart display, like YouTube videos, step-by-step cooking instructions, smart home controls and the ability to check in on your Nest cams if you have any.

In fact, the Nest Hub is especially useful if you have a Nest video doorbell, as the camera view of who’s at the front door will show up on the screen. An ambient light sensor helps to detect the light and color temperature of the environment and adjusts the screen to match. Plus, if you choose, it can help track your sleep patterns if placed next to your bed.

Another feature of the Nest Hub is actually a lack of one: It doesn't have a camera. That gives it that additional layer of privacy that many people covet, and it's also a lot more suitable for personal spaces like the bedroom. Sure, you could also cover up a camera with a shutter, but with the Nest Hub you don't have to remember to do that.

Buy Nest Hub at Walmart - $100

Runner up: Google Nest Hub Max

If you like Google but you miss having a camera for video calls, or you just prefer a bigger screen, consider the Google Nest Hub Max. At 10 inches instead of seven, it works a lot better for watching videos from YouTube and YouTube TV. It's especially useful in the kitchen, where it functions as a kind of portable television, and you can see more of those step-by-step cooking instructions at a glance. The bigger display also means a larger photo frame, which you may prefer.

As mentioned, the Nest Hub Max adds a camera to the mix. It doesn't have a physical shutter, which is a concern, but you can shut it off with an electronic switch. You can use the camera for video calls with Google's Duo service as well as Zoom, and it can also function as a Nest Cam to help you keep an eye on your house when you're away. Another benefit of the camera is the addition of Face Match facial recognition for authentication purposes, which we found to be a little more accurate than just using Voice Match.

Last but not least, the Nest Hub Max's camera adds a unique gestures feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding up your hand to the screen. It's not entirely necessary, but it's potentially useful if you're in a noisy environment and just want the music to stop without having to shout over everyone. Or perhaps you have messy hands while cooking and don’t want to dirty up the display.

Buy Nest Hub Max at Walmart - $170

The best Amazon smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon

Our favorite Amazon smart display is the second-gen Echo Show 8. Its 8-inch screen is just right; it doesn’t take up as much space as the Echo Show 10, but it’s also more suitable for watching videos than the tiny Echo Show 5. Like other Amazon smart displays, it has a built-in camera, but there is a physical camera cover to help alleviate privacy concerns.

As such, the Echo Show 8 is a compelling choice if you want the option of using your smart display for video calls. Not only is the camera quality fantastic, but the Show 8 has a feature that automatically frames your face and follows your movements during video calls. It’s useful if you want to move around as you’re chatting, or if you have rambunctious children and pets running around the house and you want to involve them in the conversation. You can use the Echo Show 8 to make calls between other Echo Show displays, or through Skype or Zoom.

As with the other smart displays, the Echo Show 8 also works as a digital photo frame and can be used to keep up with the news, check the weather and control smart home devices. If you want to use your smart display to play music, we also really like the Echo Show 8’s audio quality on account of its deep bass and rich tone.

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $130

Runner up: Amazon Echo Show 5

Nicole Lee / Engadget

At only 5.5 inches wide, the Echo Show 5 is one of the smallest smart displays on the market, and as a result, will work nicely on a desk or a nightstand. In fact, one of the reasons we like the Echo Show 5 so much is that it doubles as a stellar smart alarm clock. It has an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen's brightness automatically; a tap-to-snooze function so you can whack the top of it for a few extra minutes of shut-eye; plus a sunrise alarm that slowly brightens the screen to wake you up gently.

The Echo Show 5 does have a camera, which might make you a touch queasy if you are privacy conscious – especially if this is supposed to sit by your bedside. Still, it does have a physical camera cover, which can help ease any fears.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $85

The best smart clocks

Perhaps a smart display doesn't appeal to you because you don't care about watching videos on it. But maybe the idea of a smarter alarm clock like the Echo Show 5 intrigues you. In that case, I’d recommend the 4-inch Lenovo Smart Clock 2, which isn't a full-fledged smart display because you can't play any videos on it, but it does use Google's smart display tech, so you can use it for controlling your smart home as well as checking out your Nest Cams.

We also like it because it lacks a camera, which makes it perfect for your nightstand. It has all of the features we want in a smart alarm clock, like an ambient light sensor, that tap-to-snooze function and a sunrise alarm. Plus, the latest version can double as a night light – you can swipe down the display to enable it – and you can get an optional wireless charging base to go with it.

If the Smart Clock 2 is too advanced for you, Lenovo does offer an even simpler version called the Smart Clock Essential. It really isn’t a smart display at all – it’s really more of a smart speaker with a clock – but it does perform many of the same functions as the Smart Clock 2.

Lenovo sells the Smart Clock Essential in two different versions: One has Google Assistant, while the other is powered by Alexa. The one with Google Assistant has a built-in night light, an extra USB port for charging devices and a mic-mute button. The one with Alexa, on the other hand, is compatible with an optional docking station that can be used with accessories such as a wireless charging pad or an ambient light dock (it comes in either a sea lion or a squid shape) that can act as a night light.

Buy Lenovo Smart Clock 2 at Walmart - $70Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential at Walmart - $33

Amazon knocks $80 off Anova's Precision Cooker sous vide machine

Father's Day is right around the corner, so you might be sniffing around for the perfect gift for dear ol' dad. If he likes fiddling around the kitchen, then consider giving him a sous vide machine, which helps ensure the perfect medium-rare steak or chicken breasts that are never dry or overcooked. Sous vide machines can be pretty pricey, but thankfully the Anova Precision Cooker is on sale right now; it has dropped to a new price of $139 from its original $220. 

Buy Anova Precision Cooker Nano at Amazon - $139

Cooking via sous vide really just means cooking foods in a water bath. You'd typically place food inside a sealed bag and submerge it in a water-filled vessel. A sous vide machine attached to it essentially regulates the temperature of the water so that the food is cooked low and slow to the desired doneness. 

Anova's Precision Cooker lets you do that easily right out of the box thanks to its on-board controls. It also has WiFi so you can connect it to Anova's companion app, which comes with a plethora of recipes and a handy tutorial in case you need some guidance. 

The Precision Cooker is usually pricier than the Nano, which is what we normally recommend, but it does have a few advantages. It has an adjustable clamp compared to a fixed-position model, and it can fit on thicker vessels (up to 1.2 inches). Plus, it has 1,000 watts instead of the Nano's 750 watts, which means it can heat the water faster as well. Since this deal drops the price of the Precision Cooker down to nearly the same price as the Nano, we think it's absolutely worth the upgrade. 

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

Amazon knocks $80 off Anova's Precision Cooker sous vide machine

Father's Day is right around the corner, so you might be sniffing around for the perfect gift for dear ol' dad. If he likes fiddling around the kitchen, then consider giving him a sous vide machine, which helps ensure the perfect medium-rare steak or chicken breasts that are never dry or overcooked. Sous vide machines can be pretty pricey, but thankfully the Anova Precision Cooker is on sale right now; it has dropped to a new price of $139 from its original $220.

Buy Anova Precision Cooker Nano at Amazon - $139

Cooking via sous vide really just means cooking foods in a water bath. You'd typically place food inside a sealed bag and submerge it in a water-filled vessel. A sous vide machine attached to it essentially regulates the temperature of the water so that the food is cooked low and slow to the desired doneness.

Anova's Precision Cooker lets you do that easily right out of the box thanks to its on-board controls. It also has WiFi so you can connect it to Anova's companion app, which comes with a plethora of recipes and a handy tutorial in case you need some guidance.

The Precision Cooker is usually pricier than the Nano, which is what we normally recommend, but it does have a few advantages. It has an adjustable clamp compared to a fixed-position model, and it can fit on thicker vessels (up to 1.2 inches). Plus, it has 1,000 watts instead of the Nano's 750 watts, which means it can heat the water faster as well. Since this deal drops the price of the Precision Cooker down to nearly the same price as the Nano, we think it's absolutely worth the upgrade.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

The best smart home and kitchen sales we found for Memorial Day

If you’ve been waiting to upgrade your home with the latest gear, this weekend might be the time to do so. From robot vacuums to Instant Pots, there are a number of great sales for connected appliances and kitchen gadgets for Memorial Day this year. As you can imagine, there are quite a lot of them, so we’ve collected some of the best ones below.

Anker Eufy RoboVac 11S

Engadget

Anker’s Eufy RoboVac 11S is one of our favorite budget robot vacuums thanks to its slim profile, smart features and affordable price. Now it’s even cheaper at just $150. It doesn’t have WiFi, but it does have a remote control. It also has three different modes so you can pick just how powerful you want the suction to be.

Buy Eufy RoboVac 11S at Amazon - $150

Anker Eufy RoboVac 15C Max

Amazon

If you want an upgrade, however, the Anker Eufy RoboVac 15C Max is also on sale for $250, or 11 percent off its normal price. It has features like WiFi, stronger suction and it charges itself when it’s low on power. Plus, the 15C Max is compatible with either Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.

Buy Eufy RoboVac 15C Max at Amazon - $250

iRobot Roomba i3 EVO

iRobot

Those with pets might want to consider the iRobot Roomba i3 EVO at just $280, which is 20 percent off its retail price of $350. It has dual multi-surface rubber brushes that can handle any floor type while staying tangle-free. The i3 EVO is also pretty smart. In addition to Alexa or Google integration, it can learn the layout of your home and create an “imprint smart map” so that you can easily tell it which room to clean and at what time. It will even learn your tidying habits over time and suggest extra cleaning if needed.

Buy Roomba i3 EVO at Amazon - $280

iRobot Roomba i3+ EVO

iRobot

Want a version that empties itself? Then get the iRobot Roomba i3+ EVO for $450 (18 percent off $550), which comes with a Clean Base Automatic Dirt Disposal unit that can hold up to 60 days worth of dirt and debris so you only need to clean it every couple of months.

Buy Roomba i3+ EVO at Amazon - $450

Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer

Ninja

Sometimes you just want to air fry two different foods at once, and the Ninja Foodi Dual Zone Air Fryer (on sale for $155) lets you do that with ease. It was our pick for best dual-zone air fryer because of how quickly it heats up and its quiet operation. It was also smart enough to adjust cooking times so that the two baskets will finish cooking around the same time.

Buy Ninja Foodi Dual Zone at Amazon - $155

Instant Pot Duo

Instant Pot

The Instant Pot, everyone’s favorite multicooker, is also on sale this weekend – it’s now $79, down from $100. The Duo is one we recommend for most people, as it’s easy to use and can perform multiple functions. This model can sauté, cook rice, slow cook, pressure cook, sterilize, keep food warm, and make yogurt. You can find out how to make the most of your Instant Pot with our guide.

Buy Instant Pot Duo at Amazon - $79

Google Nest Audio

Google

You can now pick up Google's Nest Audio smart speaker for $65 from Adorama. Or, if you want two, you can grab a pair for just $120. That's an especially great deal if you're in need of a stereo setup. Google's Nest Audio has excellent audio quality too, and you can link it up to your choice of music streaming service. Of course, it's powered by Google Assistant, so you can ask it to play whatever you like, ask for the weather forecast, your day's appointments, the local sports scores and more.

Buy Nest Audio (2 pack) at Adorama - $120Buy Nest Audio at Adorama - $65

Google Nest Hub

Engadget

Google's Nest Hub smart display is down to just $65, and the Nest Hub Max is also on sale at Adorama for $179. The Hub Max is geared more for communal areas like the living room or the kitchen, while the smaller Hub is geared more for private spaces like the bedroom. That's also why the Hub doesn't have a camera, while the Hub Max does (you can use it to make video calls on Google Duo as well as Zoom). Google's smart displays are great not just for viewing Nest Cam footage but also watching YouTube clips, getting step-by-step cooking instructions or just controlling the rest of your smart home. 

Buy Google Nest Hub at Adorama - $65Buy Google Nest Hub Max at Adorama - $179

Amazon Echo Show 8

Engadget

Not to be left out, Amazon's Echo Show 8 and Show 5 are discounted today too: the larger model is now $100 while the 5-inch smart display is $50. The Echo Show 8 is our personal favorite of the two, as it's not as large as the Show 10, but not quite as small as the 5. It's great for watching videos, viewing photos, looking up recipes and more. The Show 8 is especially wonderful for video calls as it has excellent camera quality plus an auto-framing feature that will focus on you and follow your movements as you chat. 

If you prefer a smaller display, however, the Show 5 is fantastic too. It works much better as a smart alarm clock as it's sized to fit perfectly on a nightstand. Like all Echo Shows, you can tap the Show 5 to snooze and it has a sunrise alarm that will gradually brighten the display to wake you up. 

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $100Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $50

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

A beginner's guide to smart sous vide

Sous vide cooking has been the province of professional chefs for decades, and for good reason: A temperature-controlled water bath ensures perfectly cooked food. Instead of worrying about whether a steak is medium rare or whether that chicken breast will be dry, simply dial in the desired temperature, dunk in your vacuum-sealed food ("sous vide" is French for "under vacuum"), wait a while and your food will be done to perfection, with little to no guesswork required.

If you haven’t tried this method yet, it’s not as complicated as you might think. Wand-like immersion circulators have been on the market for several years now, making sous vide cooking affordable and accessible to home chefs. Several Instant Pot models even have a sous vide mode that holds the water at a set temperature, though it’s not quite as accurate as dedicated machines. If you’re curious about giving sous vide a go, we’ll walk you through the process of choosing the right machine for you and share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned through our own experiments.

How to pick a smart sous vide machine

Almost all of the immersion circulators on the market work the same way, so you really can't go wrong whichever you choose. That said, there are a few criteria to keep in mind when comparison shopping. For one, you'll want it to keep an accurate temperature and to maintain that temperature for an extended period of time, especially for foods that take over a day to cook. (This isn't uncommon, especially for tough cuts of meat.) It's better if it's powerful enough to heat up water quickly, though you could always help it along by using hot tap water to start.

Engadget picks

Several Engadget staffers tend to prefer the sous vide devices from Anova, as the company has a strong track record for precision and the interface is intuitive. Anova offers several different models at varying power levels (and price points). The lower-end Nano, for example, won't heat up water as quickly and doesn't have an adjustable clamp, but it's only $129 and will likely suit most home cooks. If you're a little more ambitious or see yourself cooking a lot of things via sous vide , upgrading to the higher-end Precision Cooker or Precision Cooker Pro might make sense.

We’d recommend the Anova Precision Cooker Nano for most people on account of its affordable price, compact size and intuitive controls. The companion app is helpful as well, as it comes with hundreds of recipes that will get you started on your sous vide journey. The Breville Joule is our runner-up because, while it lacks onboard controls, it’s a little more compact than the Anova, while the companion app has a “visual doneness” guide that lets you know what the food should look like when it’s cooked.

Another popular choice is the Breville Joule (formerly known as the Chefsteps Joule, until Breville acquired the brand), which is a personal favorite of mine due to its small size. It's a little more powerful than the aforementioned Nano and can heat up water a few minutes faster. I also like that it has a magnetic base, making it easier to attach to certain pots. The one downside is that it lacks onboard controls; the only way to use it is via the companion app. I personally don't find this to be a problem, but if you simply need to be able to see the temperature at a glance and dial it up or down with ease, this might not be for you.

It's also worth mentioning the Monoprice Strata, which is the cheapest of the lot at only $70. There's no WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity here, but it gets the job done all the same.

What else to consider

At a minimum, the other items you need to cook sous vide are a large metal pot (big enough to fill with water) and zipper-lock freezer bags to put the food in. Alternatively, you can use reusable silicone bags such as these from Stasher. Rather than using a vacuum sealer to get rid of air, you would use the water displacement method: Immerse the bagged food in the water while partially unsealed, and water pressure will push the air through the opening. Once everything is mostly underwater, you can seal the bag and it'll stay submerged.

If it still floats, you can stick one or two spoons in the bag, and that will hopefully weigh things down. (J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats also suggests using a large binder clip attached to the bottom of the bag along with a heavy spoon.) If you're concerned about water getting in the bag, you can attach the bag tops to the pot with binder clips, thus keeping the bag upright.

If you're really serious about sous vide, you might want to invest in some specialty equipment. Instead of pots, for example, you could opt for large restaurant-grade plastic containers by Cambro or Rubbermaid. Not only is plastic a better insulator than metal, but there's generally more space for more food, which is handy when you're cooking for a crowd.

Whether you use a pot or a plastic container, it's best to cover the vessel with plastic wrap when cooking for long periods, to keep evaporation to a minimum. Some companies, like Chefsteps, offer custom silicone pot lids that are made specially to accommodate their sous vide cookers. Alternatively, Lopez-Alt offers a much cheaper and more ingenious solution: cover your water in ping pong balls. They'll slow down evaporation.

Additionally, while zipper-lock bags work well for most tasks, it's still not a bad idea to get a vacuum sealer along with thicker plastic bags designed specifically for sous vide. For one, this lets you sous vide vegetables or braised meats, which typically require a higher temperature. (Zipper-lock bag seams might fail when it's that hot.) This also lets you freeze a bunch of food, vacuum seal them and sous vide packets straight from the freezer, which is convenient for batch cooking.

You likely already have this at your disposal, but another handy tool is a good skillet to sear your meat. That sous vide device might be able to cook your steak to medium rare, but it won't be able to brown it. A cast iron skillet, on the other hand, will. You could also consider a torch like the Bernzomatic TS8000, and we've seen others use a Searzall — but a cast iron skillet is far more affordable than either option. Of course, if you have a grill, you can use that too.

There are other miscellaneous items that could prove useful. Lopez-Alt likes having a pot lid organizer immersed in the container to help separate several submerged bags. If you want to make custard, yogurt or breakfast cups with your sous vide cooker, you should get yourself some mason jars too.

One more indispensable item worth considering: a trivet to rest your water vessel on so you don't destroy your countertop.

Sous vide recipe resources

Since affordable sous vide cookers have been in the market for a few years now, there’s no shortage of recipes and guidelines online to help you figure out what to do with your newfangled kitchen gadget. The links below are some of our favorites, though bear in mind that a lot of this is based on personal taste. Your mileage may vary.

Anova

It only makes sense that the maker of one of the most popular sous vide machines also has a deep library of sous vide recipes. If you're ever at a loss as to what to make via sous vide, simply peek at this website, where you can search for recipes from professionals and amateurs alike.

Serious Eats

We've mentioned it several times here already in this guide, but Serious Eats truly is a remarkably useful resource for all things sous vide. Its guide to sous vide steak is a favorite among Engadget staffers, as is its take on slow-cooked sous-vide style eggs, which results in some of the best eggs I've ever had.

Chefsteps

Years before making the Joule, Chefsteps made a name for itself as a cooking school with a heavy emphasis on food science, tech and molecular gastronomy. That's probably why the sous vide recipes from Chefsteps are some of the more creative ones we've seen. One recipe, for example, teaches you how to make that perfect chicken breast along with the perfect accompaniment for said chicken breast — perhaps a crunchy apple fennel salad and a buttery carrot puree. Other favorite recipes include wonderfully tender salmon filets, juicy pork chops and Chefsteps' own interpretation of the "sous vide egg bites" you sometimes find in certain Starbucks shops.

Sous Vide at Home

This is actually a cookbook from the people behind the Nomiku WiFi sous vide machine (which has since been discontinued), but the recipes in it will work with any sous vide device. Not only does it have beautiful photographs, but it also offers fantastic recipes like jerk chicken wings, duck confit and chocolate pots du creme.

Other noteworthy recipes:

Sous vide alternatives

Instant Pot / Best Buy

Aside from immersion circulators like the ones mentioned here, you could also opt for multi-purpose appliances that offer sous vide-like functions. Several Instant Pots, for example, offer such a feature. They include the Instant Pot Pro, Duo Plus, Pro Plus, Duo Crisp and Max. Unfortunately, however, they do not circulate the water like the aforementioned immersion circulators, and the temperatures aren’t quite as precise (which is a definite downside if you need something cooked to a specific temperature). But if you don’t really care about that, or you just want to dabble occasionally in sous vide, this might be a viable option.

If you’re dead set on a multi-tasking appliance and you have the money to spend, consider the Anova Precision Oven. Thanks to its use of steam, you can indeed use it to cook foods via sous vide but without the need for plastic bags. It also uses a fan to circulate the moist air around the food and a probe thermometer helps keep foods at a precise temperature. And, of course, the Precision Oven can be used as a regular oven as well, and is great for baking breads and bagels. It is, however, quite expensive at $600 and takes up a lot of counter space.

Images: Will Lipman for Engadget (Anova / holiday light background)

The best kitchen gadgets you can buy

At the most basic level, the only kitchen equipment you really need are a knife, cutting board, a heatproof vessel of some kind and perhaps a utensil or two. But if you really want to take your cooking to the next level – and who doesn’t? – you’ll want to invest in a few accoutrements. From pressure cookers to toaster ovens, these are our favorite kitchen must-haves that will make cooking easier, faster and maybe even more enjoyable.

Best multi-cooker: Instant Pot Duo Plus

Instant Pot

If you haven’t yet hopped on the bandwagon, a multi-cooker like the Instant Pot could become part of your regular rotation. This cult favorite can perform multiple tasks, including pressure cooking, slow cooking, sautéing, rice cooking, yogurt making, steaming and warming. The combination of all these features make it easy to prepare stews, soups, braises and more. You can make cheesecake in it too! Our favorite model for most people is the Instant Pot Duo Plus because it’s simple to use, with several quick-cooking modes for soup, eggs, porridge and grains. It has sterilizing and sous vide cooking functions too.

Want a smarter Instant Pot instead? Consider the Instant Pot Pro Plus. It not only has updated features like a canning function and an oven-safe inner pot, but you also get WiFi connectivity and a companion app, which offers step-by-step guided instructions for over 800 recipes. Plus, you can use it to release the Instant Pot’s steam remotely. You can also use the app to set a timer to release the steam automatically.

Buy Instant Pot Duo Plus at Amazon - $130Buy Instant Pot Pro Plus at Amazon - $200

Best thermometer: Thermapen One

ThermoWorks

Nobody wants to eat undercooked meat, but it’s pretty inedible when it’s overcooked as well. One way to avoid either extreme is to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Our favorite is the Thermapen One from ThermoWorks. It gives readings instantaneously, and the screen rotates automatically depending on how you’re holding it. The auto-wake and sleep feature is useful for quick temp checks, and its IP67 waterproofing rating means you don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping it in the sink.

The ThermoPop is a more affordable option in ThermoWorks’ lineup. It’s not quite as fast as the Thermapen One, and it doesn’t have the rotating display or backlight. But it still measures temperatures accurately and while it’s not waterproof, it is splash resistant.

Buy Thermapen One at ThermoWorks - $105Buy ThermoPop at ThermoWorks - $35

Best food scale: Escali Primo

Escali

Bakers everywhere know that the most precise way to measure ingredients is with a scale. A “cup of flour” can be wildly different depending on how you scoop it, while a scale can tell you exactly if you have 120 grams. A digital scale is best for the most accurate measurements, and we especially like the Escali Primo. You can switch between grams and ounces with a single press, and importantly, there’s also a tare button that zeros out the weight so you can keep measuring in the same container. One reason we like the Escali Primo over other models is that it has a very long auto-off timer, allowing it to stay on for four minutes before shutting off. That’s important for when you need the extra time to chop up vegetables or gather other ingredients without having to worry about the scale resetting to zero.

Buy Escali Primo at Amazon - $25

Best air fryer: Instant Vortex Plus

Instant Brands

The hottest kitchen gadget right now seems to be the air fryer, presumably because the idea of “frying” foods without the oily mess is an easy sell. Really, though, air fryers are just miniature convection ovens. They’re typically pod-shaped and often come with a removable basket. There are also toaster ovens with an air-frying function – see our recommendations below – if you prefer to have a multi-purpose appliance.

Though both have their own merits, if you think you’re going to be air-frying a lot, we actually recommend a dedicated pod-shaped air fryer. These devices tend to result in crispier food, plus they’re easier to clean. One of our favorites is the Instant Vortex Plus with ClearCook and OdorErase. As the name suggests, it has a window so you can see what you’re cooking, as well as odor-eliminating filters that help reduce cooking smells – not many other air fryers have both. It also doesn’t take up as much space as a large toaster oven and it has easy to use controls.

Buy Instant Vortex Plus at Amazon - $150

Best stand mixer: KitchenAid Artisan series

KitchenAid

Sure, you could probably mix together a batch of cookie dough by hand, but it’ll take time and quite a bit of upper body strength. That’s even truer if you want to knead bread dough or whip up a meringue. Save yourself the trouble by getting a stand mixer. The favorite among bakers and amateur cooks for years have been KitchenAid’s Artisan series. It’s durable, powerful and it comes with your choice of paddle, hook and whisk attachments. We also like that the KitchenAid mixers are compatible with a variety of accessories and attachments that can turn the machine into an ice cream maker, a meat grinder and a pasta machine just in case you want to expand your culinary horizons.

Buy Artisan stand mixer at KitchenAid - $449

Best blender: Vitamix Explorian series

Vitamix

It’s hard to beat the Vitamix in this space. The high-performance blender brand makes machines that do more than just prep smoothies, but can also make sauces, batters and soups. It’s especially handy if you have a habit of adding tougher ingredients into your recipes – things like nuts, dried fruit and frozen produce. Whereas other, less powerful blenders may leave chunks once you introduce hardier ingredients, the Vitamix won’t, leaving you with a silky smooth final product.

Depending on the model you get, you can also buy different attachments to make the most of the blender’s powerful base. You can pick up 64-ounce containers for making smoothies for your whole family at once or a “dry grain” container that’s outfitted with a blade specifically for grinding up things like whole grains so you can make your own flour.

Vitamix currently has four series of blenders: the basic Vitamix One, which comes in at $250; the slightly more advanced Explorian series, which starts at $350 and is arguably best for most people; the Legacy series, starting at $400; and the advanced Ascent series, which will set you back at least $500. Yes, these are expensive machines, but it’s worth investing in if you do a lot of blending or like to experiment with making things from scratch.

Buy Explorian at Vitamix - $350

Best toaster oven: Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro

Breville

A toaster oven is a surprisingly versatile appliance. Yes, you can use it to toast bread, buns, and all manner of baked goods. But it’s also a great alternative when you don’t want to warm up your whole house with your full-size oven. It heats up far faster too, which makes it a more efficient choice for warming up leftovers.

We love the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro as it’s big enough to roast a chicken and it also has other functions like dehydrate, proof and air fry (thanks to a super convection mode). It also includes presets for baking pizzas and toasting bagels. A step up from that is the Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro, which adds WiFi connectivity so you can control it from your phone. The app has lots of recipes, too, and there’s an “autopilot” feature that automatically adjusts the temperature during cooking.

If you don’t want something quite so large, a smaller and more affordable alternative is the Panasonic Flash Express. It’s roomy enough to handle a slice of pizza but definitely won’t take up as much space as the Breville. It’s definitely a great option if all you want is a toaster oven for heating up frozen snacks or toasting several bread slices at once.

Buy Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro at Breville - $400Buy Panasonic Flash Express at Amazon - $170

Best sous vide machine: Anova Precision Cooker Nano

Anova

If you want to make sure your expensive steak is perfectly medium rare without having to constantly monitor its temperature, consider getting a sous vide cooker. These machines let you cook anything inside a temperature-controlled water bath so that it’s done to perfection. We’ve successfully made steak, chicken, burgers, eggs and even yogurt in a sous vide cooker, and the results have been perfect every time.

Our favorite model is the Anova Precision Cooker Nano. It’s relatively affordable, it’s compact enough to store in a drawer and the controls are easy to use. The companion app is thoughtfully designed as well, with hundreds of recipes and the option to control the machine remotely. There are other sous vide cookers that might be more advanced, but the Nano is the only one that combines affordability and precision in this compact of a form factor. And even though there’s a companion app, you don’t have to use it; you can easily adjust the temperature with the on-board controls and the large digital display.

Another option we recommend is the Breville Joule. It’s a little more expensive and it lacks the digital readout that the Anova has, but it’s even more compact. Plus, it has a magnetic base that makes it a little easier to attach to certain pots. We’re also a fan of the Joule app, which has a “visual doneness” guide that shows you photos of how the food should look when it’s done.

Buy Precision Cooker Nano at Amazon - $129Buy Breville Joule at Amazon - $200

Best smart displays: Amazon Echo Show 8, Google Nest Hub

Google

Though they’re not made specifically for the kitchen, smart displays from either Amazon or Google make wonderful cooking companions. Searching for recipes is as easy as using your voice (you can say “Look up recipes for tomato soup,” for example). Each recipe features a list of ingredients that you can easily add to your phone, plus step-by-step instructions that you can follow along on screen as you cook. Some recipes even have photo or video guidance, which is especially helpful for beginner cooks. Additionally, you can use smart displays to set timers – a must-have feature for kitchen use.

As for which smart display to choose, we recommend going with either the Amazon Echo Show 8 or the 7-inch Google Nest Hub. They each have a decent screen size for reading through recipes and are fairly affordable as well. We generally prefer the Nest Hub because we like YouTube (there are plenty of great cooking shows on there), but the Echo Show 8 does offer apps for Food Network Kitchen and Allrecipes. Of course, you should pick the smart display that best aligns with your preferred ecosystem regardless. You can read more about picking the best smart display here.

If you prefer a more portable device, tablets are also fantastic options. You can look up recipes from any source you like, including blogs and social media, which aren’t always accessible on smart displays – be sure to check out our guide on online cooking resources for some examples. Sure, you can use your phone as well, but a tablet’s larger screen can make all the difference when you want to read a recipe at a glance. We probably wouldn’t suggest a super high-end tablet for kitchen jobs – you don’t want to cover your $1,000 possession in flour do you? – but a model with 720p resolution is fine for watching recipe videos. For iOS users, we recommend Apple’s 10.2-inch iPad, while we think Android users will be happy with Amazon’s Fire HD 8.

Buy Nest Hub at B&H - $100Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $130

Valentina Palladino contributed to this report.

The best online resources for cooking at all skill levels

A key part of adulting is learning to feed ourselves. Some might opt for restaurants or takeout for sustenance, but that can get expensive. The best option is to learn to cook your own meals. That might sound harsh, especially if cooking doesn't sound fun to you, but there are a plethora of resources online for cooks of all levels. Be it beginner how-tos or deep-dive YouTube videos, we hope this list of Engadget staff favorites will get you started on your path to culinary confidence. Oh, and if you’re ever confused about measurements, a tool like this recipe converter is a good reference to keep on your bookmarks tab.

Recipe sites

Serious Eats

If you self-identify as a nerd and you’re also into cooking, you probably already know about Serious Eats. The site rose to prominence several years ago under the helm of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who often takes a decidedly scientific approach to cooking. Lopez-Alt has since transitioned to a consulting role at Serious Eats (he has his own vlog, which is well worth following as well), but the site remains strong under new leadership. It offers tips on basics like food prep and storage, as well as a slew of how-tos and step-by-step instructions for everything from breaking down a chicken to kneading your own bread.

Try this: Quick and Easy Pressure Cooker Black Beans with Chorizo

NYT Cooking

This is the only recommendation on this list that requires payment — $1.25 a week or $40 a year — but I personally think it’s worth it. The site and accompanying app (for iOS and Android) is well organized and intuitive to use, with bright and colorful photos along with an ever-changing list of curated recipe recommendations and suggestions. I especially like the search function, where you can not only enter in the ingredients you have on hand, but also filter by the sort of meal you want to make iIs it for breakfast? A snack? Or dinner?) along with any dietary restrictions. If you don’t want to cough up the subscription fee, however, NYT’s YouTube channel is a great resource as well.

Try this: Spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric (YouTube)

The Kitchn

The Kitchn is a daily food magazine that’s been around since the mid-2000s, and it frequently serves up not just recipes but also fun features like a celebrity recipe showdown (check out this one that compares the pot roast recipes between Alton Brown, Ina Garten, Taste of Home and the Pioneer Woman). Of course, The Kitchn also publishes plenty of tips and tricks to help readers be a better cook. 

Try this: Maple Corn Cakes

YouTube channels

Food Wishes

“Hello, I’m Chef John, from Food Wishes dot com” is the familiar refrain that you’ll hear at the beginning of every Food Wishes video, and it never fails to warm my heart. His tone is so welcoming and cheerful that it cheers me up every time I hear it. A YouTube favorite (he has over four million subscribers), he’s also a favorite among a few Engadget staffers, and for good reason. Not only is he goofy and charming, his recipes are also almost always geared toward the novice chef, with clear and concise instructions. He also encourages viewers to experiment, use their senses, play around with food, and to think of cooking as art as much as science.

Try this: No-Knead Country Bread

Binging with Babish

Binging with Babish is a popular YouTube channel (over 9.6 million subscribers) that’s primarily focused on recreating foods from TV shows and movies. Some famous examples include the Krabby Patty from Spongebob Squarepants and ratatouille from, well, Ratatouille. But host Andrew Rea can cook “normal” foods too, and the popularity of his channel led him to host a spin-off series called “Basics with Babish” that’s geared toward the beginner.

Try this: Chickpeas

Food52

The Food52 website can be considered a one-stop shop for cooking enthusiasts, as there’s an online store along with recipes and a community board. But the real highlight for me is its YouTube channel, which features excellent shows such as Sweet Heat by Rick Martinez (the former Bon Appetit editor showcases recipes with both a sweet and spicy element), Big Little Recipes (focuses on recipes with a short ingredient list) and Genius Recipes, which, well, shows “genius” recipes created by notable chefs.

Try this: How to Make the Easiest Beefy Mac Rice Cakes

Dessert Person

Have a sweet tooth? Then look no further than Claire Saffitz’s YouTube channel, where she bakes up everything from apple pies to oatmeal pecan cookies. Her personality is a combination of cranky and lovable, which I adore, but more importantly, her recipes are excellent. She gives very detailed instructions and the results are almost always delicious. She makes a lot of savory baked goods as well, such as sourdough bread and quiche.

Try this: The Best Oatmeal Cookies

Maangchi

Maagchi has been referred to by The New York Times as the Julia Child of Korean cooking, and the description couldn’t be more apt. Not only does she have a friendly and bubbly personality, she does a wonderful job of demystifying Korean cooking and making it approachable to beginners and advanced cooks alike. From Korean classics like kimchi jjigae and bibimbap to sweet treats like Korean doughnuts, she makes it all seem within reach. 

Try this: Korean Street Toast (Gilgeori-Toast)

Dietary concerns or special diets

101 Cookbooks

For a site that is entirely dedicated to vegetarian cuisine, I highly recommend 101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson, which has been an online favorite for decades. I’m a huge fan of her simple, straightforward recipes that are able to turn a carnivore like me into a lover of plant-based meals (a personal favorite is this cauliflower soup).

Try this: Chickpea and Rice soup with Garlic Chile Oil

Nom Nom Paleo

You don’t need to be on the paleo diet to fall in love with Nom Nom Paleo, a mini-empire that consists of a food blog, two award-winning cookbooks, and a podcast, among other things. The New York Times has referred to Michelle Tam, the creator of the site, as the Martha Stewart of Paleo, because of how accessible she makes it seem. After perusing her site and trying her recipes, you'll no longer think of the paleo diet as restrictive; instead you might find yourself eating more than ever. Tam has also tailored some of her recipes to fit Whole30 or keto diets as well.

Try this: Garbage Stir-Fry with Curried Cabbage

Clean and Delicious

If you’re not strictly vegetarian or paleo, but you still want a healthy diet, check out the Clean and Delicious food blog by Dani Spies. A wellness and weight loss coach, Spies believes in a balanced diet and “clean eating,” but without foregoing the foods you love. For example, there’s a recipe for lemon bars on her site, but it’s made with whole wheat flour and doesn’t have dairy or refined sugar. All of the recipes on her site reflect this philosophy; they’re either gluten-free, paleo, vegan or vegetarian and they are also often low-carb, keto, dairy-free or nut-free. I also like her Instagram and YouTube channel, where she also shares tips on mindful eating and healthy living.

Try this: Healthy Banana Bread Muffins (YouTube)

Staff recommendations

There are simply way too many food sites on the internet to list them all, but here are a few more that were recommended by our staff that you might find useful.

Chinese Cooking Demystified

This is one of the best YouTube channels for learning all the ins and outs of authentic Chinese cooking from people who actually live in China. It’s very detailed, well-produced and offers great advice on recreating these dishes in a Western kitchen. I also love that it teaches technique in addition to just recipes. To this day, I still come back to this video on how to stir-fry any vegetable.

Minimalist Baker

The blog Minimalist Baker features recipes that use 10 ingredients or less and only take about 30 minutes to make. Weekend Editor Igor Bonifacic is a big fan as well, mostly due to the site’s wealth of vegetarian recipes, like this curried cauliflower lentil soup.

Budget Bytes

Budget Bytes is a great resource for those watching their wallets, as each recipe gives you a breakdown of estimated costs for each ingredient. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino said that the site is also really good for beginners.

Rainbow Plant Life

If you’re looking for vegan recipes, Rainbow Plant Life has a ton of them. Palladino loves the cashew cream recipe and appreciates that the site’s founder, Nisha, has a trove of vegan-friendly Instant Pot recipes to try as well.

Pick Up Limes

Another staple for accessible vegan recipes is Pick Up Limes. Palladino says that the Healthiest Ever Granola recipe is one of her favorites, and she likes that the Pick Up Limes website makes it easy to filter recipes by type of ingredients, preparation time, allergens and more.

Richard Bertinet’s White Bread Masterclass

Richard Bertinet’s video on white bread comes highly recommended for its sheer simplicity. It proves that all you need to make bread is bread flour, yeast and salt. Senior Reporter Dan Cooper says the video is also a sure-fire way of calming him down when stressed.

Half Baked Harvest

Editor-in-Chief Dana Wollman and Senior News Editor Billy Steele frequently trade Slack messages with dinner recommendations. (What’s for dinner? Ask a coworker, of course.) The answer from either person is often a Half Baked Harvest link. The site is home to a vast library of free recipes that, in our experience, tend to work as advertised. We’re fans of her nightly Instagram Story cooking demos as well, not to mention her tacos.

Joy the Baker

Wollman says she discovered Joy by accident through her warm, self-effacing Insta Stories, only to discover she has an equally clever blog offering a mix of sweet and savory baking recipes.

Pixel 6a vs. the competition: The mid-range gets better with Tensor power

While flagship phones continue to be expensive, many phone manufacturers now offer mid-range options that are far more affordable. Today, Google announced the Pixel 6a, the latest of its "a" line of phones that are designed to fit that need. It looks and feels a lot like the Pixel 6, but it has a smaller footprint roughly the size of the Pixel 5 and a smaller display. It also has the same 5G as the 6 and the 6 Pro, Titan M2 security, and the same Tensor SoC as the P6 Pro. But it's certainly not the only mid-range handset on the market. Here, we've compared it with the iPhone SE 2022 as well as the Samsung Galaxy A53 to give you an idea of how it stacks up against its rivals. Be sure to check back soon to see how the Pixel 5a fares in our review.

None

Pixel 6a

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

iPhone SE

Pricing

$449

$450

$429 / $479 / $579

Dimensions

152.2 x 71.8 x 8.9 mm (5.99 x 2.83 x 0.35 in)

159.6 x 74.8 x 8.1 mm (6.28 x 2.94 x 0.32 in)

138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches)

Weight

178 g (6.3 oz)

189 g (6.67 oz)

144g (5.09 ounces)

Screen size

6.1 inches (156 mm)

6.5 inches (165.1 mm)

4.7 inches (119.4 mm)

Screen resolution

1,080 x 2,400 pixels (429 ppi)

1,080 x 2,400 pixels (405 ppi)

1,334 x 750 (326 ppi)

Screen type

OLED, 60Hz

Super AMOLED, 120Hz

Retina HD LCD

Battery

4,410 mAh

5,000 mAh

Up to 15 hours, mAh unknown

Internal storage

128 GB

128 / 256 GB

64 / 128 / 256 GB

External storage

None

Up to 1TB microSD

None

Rear camera(s)

Dual Pixel Wide: 12.2 MP, f/1.7

UltraWide: 12MP, f/2.2

Wide: 64 MP, f/1.8

UltraWide: 12 MP, f/2.2

Macro/Depth: 5 MP, f/2.4

Wide: 12 MP, f/1.8

Front camera(s)

8 MP f/2.0

32 MP f/2.2

7 MP, f/2.2

Video capture

4K at 30, 60 fps

4K at 60 fps

4K at 60 fps

SoC

Google Tensor

Exynos 1280

Apple A15 Bionic

CPU

Octa-core 2.8 GHz

Octa-core (2.4 GHz & 2.0 GHz)

3.23 GHz hexa-core

GPU

ARM Mali G78

Mali-G68

quad-core Apple GPU

RAM

6 GB

6 / 8 GB

4 GB

WiFi

802.11 ax

802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

802.11ax

Bluetooth

v5.2

v5.1

v5.0

NFC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Operating system

Android 12

Android 12

iOS 15

Other features

IP67 certified, USB-C

IP67 certified, USB-C

IP67 certified, Lightning port

Follow all of the news from Google I/O 2022 right here!

What we bought: Peloton’s Lanebreak offered just the kick I needed to get back in the saddle

Four years ago, I decided to purchase a Peloton bike. I was spending way too much on membership dues at a luxury gym I hardly attended, and I was intrigued by the idea of an exercise bike with live and on-demand classes. Even though the bike is expensive, I bought it on an installment plan; the monthly payments worked out to be around $100 less than that underused gym membership. Add in the fact that both my husband and I could use it for the price of a single subscription, and I was sold.

While I still do like the bike, I’ll admit that I haven't been using it as much in recent months. I just haven’t been very motivated, and when I do get the energy to go for a ride, I sometimes feel discouraged by my poor performance. Of course, I know that the beauty of the Peloton is that you can ride at your own pace, but it can feel demoralizing to rank at the bottom of the leaderboard all the time.

Recently, however, Peloton added a new “gamified” experience to the Bike and Bike+ called Lanebreak. Instead of following instructors in a class, you’ll be cycling along different tracks and at different difficulties in order to get a high score. Seeing as I’m a fan of fitness games – I really like Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure as well as Just Dance, for example – I was excited to try it out.

Engadget

Lanebreak is found in the “More Rides” section in the Peloton menu, which is also where the Scenic Rides and Just Ride options are. In the game, there are six different tracks, and you navigate from one to the other with the bike’s resistance knob (you’ll know which one you’re in by the rotating wheel avatar). The farthest left is with the least resistance, while the furthest right is with the most resistance. As you might expect, the farther right you go, the more points you can score.

In order to gain points, you have to complete a few different tasks, which are either one after another on the same track or dispersed on to separate tracks. One is to simply cycle in the lane with blue bars, each of which represents “Beats.” These score points every time you go over them. Another is to cycle really fast in an orange “Breakers" section until the meter is “charged” – the more it’s charged, the more points you’ll get. Last but not least, there are “Streams,” where you’re tasked with holding your target cadence within a specified range.

At the end of a Lanebreak workout, your total score is based on all the Beats, Breakers and Streams that you’ve completed and collected throughout the game. You’ll also see a high score on the Lanebreak leaderboard for that particular game.

The length of a Lanebreak workout runs the gamut from five minutes to 30, and there are four different levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert. There’s also a wide variety of music playlists to pick from, such as “Rock Riot'' and David Bowie remixes.

Engadget

I have to say, I had a lot of fun. The look and feel really reminds me of Guitar Hero, a game which I have fond memories of. I enjoy navigating to the different tracks and then cycling as hard as I can to score the maximum points. I tend to score fairly well in the beginner and intermediate levels, but I dare not venture into advanced or expert modes just yet. I was a little concerned that a 20 or 30 minute game might feel repetitive, but I actually really liked it – the song mixes help keep things interesting.

There are a few downsides, though. For one thing, the resistance knob can be a little fiddly, which is not great when I’m trying to make quick lane changes. Plus, there’s no real break for you to take a sip of water; you kind of just have to miss out on a few points when you’re hydrating. Of course, as there’s no instructor, you’ll also miss out on motivation shoutouts and stretching exercises. But I find that the gameplay aspect of Lanebreak is fun enough to make up for that.

Perhaps the best part of Lanebreak is that it got me back cycling after several months of not doing so. It really made me fall in love with cycling all over again. After a five-minute Lanebreak session yesterday, for example, I navigated over to the on-demand library and took a 20-minute beginner class. I felt great afterwards, and didn’t care at all about where I was on the leaderboard.

How to organize your desk at home

A healthy work from home environment is more than just setting up a laptop on a desk. If you want a more functional space, you should try to keep it neat and clutter-free as well. Here are a few recommendations from our staff that will help you organize your desk and hopefully be more productive as a result.

Monitor risers

Amazon

We suggested getting an external monitor in a previous WFH guide, too, and for good reason. It seriously increases your screen real estate and is oftentimes easier on the eyes. However, not all monitors are height adjustable and they do take up quite a bit of desk space. A monitor stand or riser is a way to resolve that. A simple yet effective one is the Amazon Basics model, which has stackable legs for your desired height (up to 4-⅞ inches) plus an 11-inch wide storage space underneath to store your laptop or other knick knacks.

If, on the other hand, you want something a little more stylish, this bamboo monitor stand from SONGMICS is a particularly attractive one. It comes with compartments designed to fit your phone, coffee mug, stationary, notepads and more. There are also well-placed cut-outs to help manage your cords and cables. We should note that the height isn’t adjustable, but in my experience its 3.35-inch range was enough to raise our monitor to eye level. This particular model also works well as a laptop stand thanks to three holes designed for optimal heat ventilation.

If you really don’t want a monitor on your desk at all, consider a monitor arm. This is an especially good choice if you’re restless and need to change your monitor position frequently. One of our favorites is the Jarvis monitor arm by Fully, which features a 360-degree swivel. It has a removable VESA plate and a clamp mount, plus the option of mounting the arm to grommet holes if your desk has them. It accommodates 13- to 32-inch monitors and can support a max weight of 19.8 pounds.

Buy Amazon Basics monitor rise at Amazon - $18Buy SONGMICS stand at Amazon - $52Buy Jarvis monitor arm at Fully - $129

Laptop stands

Will Lipman Photography

If you’re using your laptop as-is on your desk or on your lap, you’re doing it wrong. Hunching your shoulders to look at your screen is harmful for your posture, which can lead to back, neck and arm pain if you’re not careful. Instead, you’ll want your screen to be at eye level, and if you don’t have an external monitor, that means elevating your laptop with a stand. This has the added benefit of giving you more desk space as well.

We particularly recommend the Rain Design iLevel2. The height is easily adjustable thanks to a front slider, and its tilted design is also great for keeping your laptop cool. Alternatively, a slightly more affordable option is Rain Design’s own mStand, which has a fixed height and a cable organizer in the back that helps keep wires tucked away. Plus, it’s available in four different colors: black, gold, silver and space gray.

A slightly more affordable option is the Amazon Basics Laptop Stand, and though it has a fixed height, there’s a cable organizer in the back that helps keep wires tucked away.

If you do own an external monitor but don’t have a lot of extra space, we recommend a vertical stand. This one from Omoton can hold your closed laptop upright, which goes a long way in keeping your desk organized. It has an adjustable width varying from 0.55 to 2.71 inches, which should fit most laptops. The stand itself is made from scratch-resistant anodized aluminum alloy and has a wide, heavy base that will prevent your laptop from tipping over.

Buy Rain Design iLevel 2 at Amazon - $70Buy Rain Design mStand at Amazon - $40Buy Amazon Basics laptop stand at Amazon - $40Buy Omoton vertical stand at Amazon - $27

Laptop dock

CalDigit

Most laptops only have a limited number of ports, which could mean juggling multiple cables and cords. A dedicated docking station can help fix the clutter — we've recommended CalDigit's TS3 Plus in the past, and now the company came out with an updated version of it: the Thunderbolt Station 4. It looks quite similar to the TS3 Plus from a design perspective, but there are a number of differences in its connectors. The TS4 supports up to 98W charging for your host machine and includes three Thunderbolt 4 ports, five USB-A ports, a 2.5GbE Gigabit Ethernet connector, microSD and regular SD card slots and more. The USB-C port on the front of the device supports 20W power, so you can connect something like an iPhone wireless charger and get the fastest charge possible. Some of its USB ports also support offline charging, which means they can power up phones and tablets even when the TS4 isn't connected to its host device. It's steep at $359, but it's worthwhile if you want a highly capable docking station.

Another solid, and more affordable, option is the Lention 11-in-1 docking station. We like it because you can tuck it away beneath your laptop so it’s out of sight, and it gives a bit of a height boost as well. The Lention has ports for HDMI, VGA and DisplayPort, SD and Micro SD card readers, four USB ports (one USB-C, two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0), Ethernet and a 3.5mm audio jack.

Buy Thunderbolt 4 Station at CalDigit - $360Buy Lention 11-in-1 docking station at Amazon - $120

Phone chargers

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

A dedicated phone stand is a great way to keep your desk clutter-free while charging your handset at the same time. If you have a phone without wireless charging, we recommend the Lamicall stand, as it has a feeder hole for the charger cord on the back. The stand is made from a high-quality aluminum alloy and the cradle can be tilted back and forth for different viewing angles. If you like, you can position your phone horizontally to watch videos.

If you do have a phone with wireless charging, we strongly recommend using a wireless charger so you don’t have to mess around with pesky cords. The Anker PowerWave Stand is a good option as it supports 10W high-speed charging with the latest Samsung Galaxy handsets and 5W charging with the iPhone 12. We especially like how affordable it is ($16 as of this writing), though keep in mind that you need to supply your own power brick.

If you want to charge an iPhone, AirPods and Apple Watch all at once, consider a multi-device charger. One of our favorites is the Mophie 3-in-1 wireless charging stand, thanks to its compact form factor. We like that it has a small divot that was designed perfectly to hold an AirPods case so that there’s no risk of misalignment. Another excellent choice is the Logitech Powered 3-in-1 Dock, which could potentially be great for couples or those of you who own two handsets. That’s because the flat surface area for the AirPods case can also be used to charge a second phone.

Buy Lamicall stand at Amazon - $13Buy Anker PowerWave Stand at Amazon - $20Buy Mophie 3-in-1 charging stand at Amazon - $140Buy 3-in-1 dock at Logitech - $130

For those with an iPhone with MagSafe capabilities (the iPhone 12 or higher), we also like Belkin’s 3-in-1 Wireless Charger. The iPhone attaches to it automatically without the need for alignment, and you can swivel it from portrait to landscape. Plus, it offers up to 15 watts of fast wireless charging.

If you want something more affordable, this Anker MagGo charging station is a solid option as well. It only has a single magnetic charging pad on the front for your phone, but it does have a bunch of ports – three AC outlets, two USB-C ports and two USB-A ports – for charging other devices.

One way to really save some space is to get a lamp with a wireless charger built into the base. The IKEA Hektar has a classic look with a 5W induction charger, plus an extra USB port so you can charge two devices at once. Alternatively, this LED desk lamp by AFROG packs in a lot of features in a relatively small footprint. It has a wireless charger, a USB charging port, five lighting modes with seven levels of brightness plus a 30 or 60 minute shutoff timer.

For a more futuristic design, the Taotronics LED desk lamp’s slim style might be more your speed. It supports fast charging up to 7.5 watts (for iPhones) or 10 watts (for Samsung Galaxy phones) an extra USB port on the side; five different color temperatures; and an option for a one-hour dimmable desk lamp timer that’ll turn off when you go to bed.

Buy Belkin 3-in-1 charging stand at Amazon - $110Buy Anker MagGo charging station at amazon - $110Buy Hektar at IKEA - $75Buy AFROG lamp at Amazon - $29Buy Taotronics desk lamp at Walmart - $70

Standing desk converter

Fully

For those who want to get into standing desks but don’t have the money or space, a standing desk converter is a great alternative. It can convert any table into a work space, plus it provides additional storage underneath. The Cora from Fully is one that we like a lot, thanks to its sturdy aluminum frame. Lifting or lowering it is as easy as pressing the handles on either side, and it’s super lightweight so you can easily move your workspace out of sight at the end of the workday.

A slightly more affordable alternative is the Flexispot 31-inch standing desk converter. It’s not quite as attractive as the Cora, but it’s still pretty sturdy. Plus, it comes with a removable keyboard tray, which not only frees up space on the desktop, but also improves your posture when typing either when standing or sitting.

Buy Cora desk converter at Fully - $159Buy Flexispot desk converter at Amazon - $120

Cable management

Cable Clips

Like most people, you probably have a mess of cords dangling behind your desk. A simple way to overcome that is with a few simple cable management tools. The easiest would be to use either twist ties or Velcro wrap ties like these, which are strong, reusable and affordable.

Another option is to use a cord management organizer like these cable clips. They let you organize seven cables with a single clip, which you can then attach to your desk or wall with a self-adhesive backing. You’ll never have to worry about the cord falling behind the desk.

One common eyesore in most homes are those overflowing power strips with cables strewn all over the place. A cable management box like this one from D-Line can help keep all of it contained in one attractive unit and make areas under your desk easier to clean. The box comes in white or black, has three cord entry and exit points and is large enough to fit most power strips.

Buy Velcro wraps at Amazon - $12Buy cable clips at Amazon - $8Buy D-Line cable management box at Amazon - $20

Headphone stands

Lamicall

Over-the-ear headphones provide superior sound, but can take up a good deal of space on your desk when not in use. Instead, try hanging them on a headphone stand which, aside from keeping your space tidy, can also protect your headphones from getting scratches. This affordable one from Lamicall is made out of aluminum and ABS plastic and has a low center of gravity, which makes for a more stable base. It also has a simple and stylish “bird-shaped” look that will add a nice touch of flair to your desk space.

Alternatively, you can also choose to keep your headphones out of sight entirely with an under-desk hook like the Anchor, which has space for two sets of headphones. It’s made out of premium silicone and secures safely to your desk with 3M adhesive strips. There are optional screw mounts if you want to make the placement a little more permanent.

Buy Lamicall headphone stand at Amazon - $16Buy Anchor headphone hook at Amazon - $15