Posts with «author_name|nicole lee» label

The best board games to gift this 2023 holiday season

Board games are great gifts for anyone who wants to spend time with loved ones and disconnect from technology. But instead of pulling out the same old classics like Monopoly and Scrabble, we recommend giving some new board games a try. Thankfully, this space is full of unique sets that run the gamut from word puzzles to whodunnits to calming playthroughs that showcase the beauty of the little things in life. Here, we’ve compiled a list of games that you might not have heard of, but will still make excellent gifts this holiday season. From games with giant monsters to those with haunted mansions, we’re sure at least one of these will be a hit with friends and family.



King of Tokyo


Betrayal at the House on the Hill (3rd Edition)

Clank! Catacombs

Ark Nova


Marvel Dice Throne


Votes for Women



This article originally appeared on Engadget at

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 when looking for the best smart display for you is whether you prefer Amazon’s or Google’s ecosystem. 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 the best 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.

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.

The best Amazon smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8

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.

Runner up: Amazon Echo Show 5

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.

Best smart clock: Lenovo Smart Clock 2

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.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

How to make the most of that Instant Pot you just bought

The Instant Pot is one of those rare kitchen appliances to reach not just cult status, but broad mainstream appeal. An “all-in-one” multicooker that promises to replace a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a slow cooker and more, the Instant Pot has risen to fame in part thanks to its versatility and also the fact that it’s a good electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook food at an accelerated rate — think pulled pork in an hour, or chicken curry done in 10 minutes. And because it’s electric, you just press a few buttons and walk away without having to keep an eye on it.

It’s no wonder why the Instant Pot has become a favorite among home cooks, even those of us on the Engadget staff. Not only have a few of us bought it for ourselves, we've recommended it in past gift guides. Sure, it's not a gadget in the traditional sense (although there is a WiFi-connected version with an app), but it does have a lot of crossover appeal thanks to its promise of all-in-one efficiency.

But what do you do when you get one? With so many recipes on the internet and so many different things you can do with it, where do you even start? In this guide, I'll attempt to give you a primer on the first steps you should take when you get one, some tips and tricks on how to use it and a few favorite recipes and source links. A lot of this comes from personal experience; I've been an Instant Pot owner for a few years. I'll also note that the listed recipes reflect my own taste, but hopefully this guide will provide a good start for your own culinary adventures.

How Instant Pots work

For the uninitiated, the Instant Pot is an "all-in-one" kitchen gadget that promises to replace a rice cooker, a yogurt maker,a slow cooker and more. But the real reason the Instant Pot has risen to fame is that it's also a very good electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook food at an accelerated rate; imagine pulled pork in an hour instead of five or a chicken curry done in 10 minutes. And because it's electric, you just press a few buttons and walk away. Unlike a stovetop pressure cooker, there's no need to keep a constant eye on it.

There are several Instant Pot models to choose from. Some of the lower-end ones lack the yogurt mode, and a couple of the higher-end models have extra features like sous-vide cooking and canning, but all of them have the pressure cooker function, and indeed, much of this guide focuses on that.

Which Instant Pot model is right for you?

Best for most: Instant Pot Duo (6-quart)

There are several Instant Pot models to choose from. Some of the lower-end ones lack the yogurt mode, and a couple of the higher-end models have extra features like sous-vide cooking and canning, but all of them have the pressure cooker function.

The Instant Pot Duo strikes the right balance of features, size and power for most people. It has pretty much every function you’d want, including modes for sauté, slow cooking, yogurt making and of course pressure cooking. We find that the six quart model is perfect for a couple who likes to meal-prep or have leftovers, or for a family of four.

Best for single users: Instant Pot Duo (3-quart)

Living by yourself? Then you might want to scale down to the three quart model, which has most of the same features as the six-quart model, except in a smaller footprint.

Upgrade pick: Instant Pot Pro

The Instant Pot Pro is designed for enthusiasts, offering an assortment of upgrades over other Instant Pots. The inner bowl has an extra thick bottom that can go on the stove, plus it has handles so it’s easier to lift. It comes with 28 customizable programs for different foods, and there are five favorites buttons that you can assign to frequently used settings. The steam release switch has also been upgraded to reduce noise and splatter, and there are even steam release reminder alerts with 5- and 10-minute pre-sets. The Pro is also one of a few Instant Pots that’s compatible with an optional QuickCool lid, which helps you release pressure faster.

If you want WiFi: Instant Pot Pro Plus

The Pro Plus includes many of the same features as the regular Pro, except it has WiFi connectivity as well, which allows it to control with a mobile app. This lets you release the steam remotely, or schedule when you want to do it after the cook is done.

A brief word on other Instant Pot models: 

  • The Duo Plus is an upgraded version of the Duo Series. It has two additional functions: sous vide (for temperature-controlled cooking) and sterilizer (a steam shortcut for sterilizing items like baby bottles). There’s also a cooking progress status bar plus an anti-spin design that keeps the inner pot in place when you’re sauteing.

  • The Duo Crisp + Air Fryer is basically an Instant Pot that comes with an additional lid that adds dry-heat cooking methods like baking, broiling, dehydrating and of course air frying. There’s also a $200 Pro version that pairs the air fryer lid with the Pro model mentioned above.

  • The Instant Pot Max is best if you’re really into canning your own foods. It’s the only one that’s capable of reaching 15 PSI, which is needed for pressure-canning.

  • The Star Wars Instant Pots are a great choice for avid Star Wars fans or anyone who appreciates novelty appliances. They’re really just rebranded versions of the Duo, with the same exact functionalities and features. They come in five iterations: Little Bounty, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, BB-8 and R2-D2.

What about sous vide?

If you’re interested in trying sous vide but don’t want to make an investment in a standalone device, then the Instant Pot Pro, the Duo Plus, the Pro Plus, the Duo Crisp or the Max are good choices.

Getting started

The Instant Pot has three parts: the housing with the cooking element at the bottom; the stainless steel inner pot; and the lid, which comes with a sealing ring plus a steam-release valve. Setup is as easy as putting the inner pot inside the housing and plugging it in. You'll also want to attach the tiny condensation collector on the back if the instructions call for it.

The first thing to do is a "water test," which not only helps familiarize you with the basic pressure cooker features, but confirms your appliance is in proper working order. To do this, put three cups of water in the pot, twist the lid on — it'll make a sound when it's locked in place — and set the pressure cooker on high for two minutes. The way to do this varies from model to model; on the Duo machines, you'll have to press Manual, select High, then dial down the time to two minutes. On something like the Ultra, you just need to go to the Pressure Cooker menu, dial it to two minutes and select High.

Then, make sure your valve is set to "Sealing" so that the Instant Pot can build pressure. On the Duo machines, this means rotating it so the arrow points up, while on the Ultra, the valve will automatically be set to Sealing. Finally, press "Start." The Instant Pot will then build up that pressure to High, maintain it for the set two minutes, and then stop. In some cases, you'll hear hissing and see steam coming out of the Instant Pot. This is totally normal. You'll know the Instant Pot is under pressure when the float valve pops up and the hissing quiets down.

The lid cannot be opened when the Instant Pot is under pressure; you must depressurize it first. Once the cooking is done, you can let the pot naturally depressurize (also known as "Natural Release"), which simply means leaving it alone for 20 or so minutes until the float valve comes down.If you don’t want to wait that long, you can do a manual release (also known as "Quick Release") by switching the valve to "Venting." To do that on the Duo models you rotate the valve; on the Ultra, press the steam release button on top. This method will release a lot of steam, so I suggest doing this under a range hood if you have one. Again, once the float valve comes back down, you'll know the Instant Pot has been depressurized.

Doing the water test teaches you the basics of sealing the Instant Pot, setting it and depressurizing it. Plus, if anything goes wrong along the way — especially if it doesn't seal the pressure — you can call the retailer or manufacturer to troubleshoot or ask about a return or exchange. It's a step that many people skip, but I recommend it for beginners.

Instant Pot accessories

The Instant Pot is ready to use right out of the box, but if you want to get even more functionality out of it, then you might want to consider some accessories. The following are just a few suggestions that we think will elevate your Instant Pot experience.

Tempered glass lid

The main reason to get an Instant Pot is to use it as a pressure cooker, but it has other functions too. If you want to use it as a slow cooker or you simply want to keep your food warm, you’ll want to invest in a tempered glass lid like our Editor-In-Chief Dana Wollman did. This lid is also a good way to keep your food covered if you want to transfer the inner pot to a table or in the fridge.


Steaming food in the Instant Pot is quick and easy, but you’ll want specific equipment to get the job done right. Instant Pot makes two styles of silicone steamers; one is a stacking model that you can use for dumplings or fish, and another is a collapsible one that is ideal for batch-cooking vegetables. If you need even more capacity, we recommend this Hatrigo mesh steamer basket.

Along your Instant Pot discovery journey, you might come across a phrase called “PIP cooking.” This stands for Pot-in-Pot and involves putting another vessel inside the Instant Pot. This method is great if you’re cooking foods that don’t contain liquid (such as cheesecake) or you simply want to cook in smaller quantities. One of our favorite accessories for this is the Aozita Stackable Steamer, which not only acts as a steamer, but also contains tiered containers so that you could cook multiple foods at once.

Sealing ring

If you use your Instant Pot for both savory and sweet applications, then we suggest getting extra sealing rings so that the odor of one doesn’t affect the other. You don’t really want your cheesecake to smell like pulled pork or vice versa.

Air fryer lid

As the name suggests, the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid essentially turns your Instant Pot into an air fryer. It’s a good option if you don’t want two appliances taking up space on your kitchen counter, and this add-on does a decent job of “air frying” foods. Still, the Lid really only works for small batches as well as smaller pieces of food. Even a hot dog is too large to fit inside the air fryer basket.

If you’re going to use the air fryer lid to add roasting and broiling capabilities to the Instant Pot — so you can brown a roast chicken or melt the cheese on a lasagna, for example — then it’s not a bad option. But as far as air frying goes, I’d recommend saving up and investing in an actual air fryer instead.

Tips and tricks

Don't worry about all the buttons

When you first get the Instant Pot, you might be overwhelmed by all of the different buttons on the front of it. There are ones that say "Meat/Stew," "Chili/Beans," "Multigrain," "Egg" and even "Cake." With the exception of a few, most of these are simply shortcuts that Instant Pot programmed ahead of time. You might never need to use them.

The most important buttons to know are "Sauté," which (as you might expect) lets you sauté things in the pot, and the aforementioned "Manual" or "Pressure Cooker" function. The rest are pretty superfluous, with the exception of "Keep Warm," "Cancel" and non-pressure cooker functions like the "Slow Cooker" or "Yogurt" (which helps maintain the cultured milk at a specific temperature).

Add at least half a cup of liquid, and don't go over the maximum

One of the things you'll learn about pressure cooking is that you don't need to add as much liquid as you would in regular recipes. But you'll still need to add some because the pressure cooker requires moisture to build that pressure. Otherwise, the Instant Pot could overheat and show an "OvHT" or “BURN” error on the display. On the other hand, you shouldn't fill it up beyond two-thirds capacity, which is handily marked on the inside of the inner pot. The Instant Pot probably won't explode on you — it has a lot of safety features to prevent that — but you probably shouldn't test its boundaries.

Cooking times aren't always accurate

Setting the pressure cooker timer for two minutes doesn't mean the entire cooking time is two minutes. You have to take into account the amount of time the Instant Pot needs to come to pressure and the time it'll need to depressurize. The more stuff you have in the pot (and the colder it is), the longer it takes. Because of that, a "five-minute" chicken curry could really be more like 10 or 15 minutes from start to finish.

Clean it carefully and frequently

The inner pot is dishwasher safe, which is convenient, but the rest has to be cleaned by hand. Also, don't make the same mistake I did and accidentally spill something hot directly on the cooking element. The outer shell is hard to clean because you can't put it in the sink — electricity and water don't mix, after all — and you risk damaging the appliance. As for the lid, hand wash it after every use. You'll also notice after a while that the sealing ring — the rubber/silicone gasket on the inside of the lid — might develop a smell as it absorbs the scent of the food you're cooking. I recommend soaking it in a vinegar solution, or you could also put it on the top rack of your dishwasher.

You can't cook everything with it

Sure, you can cook everything from dog food to jam in the Instant Pot, but it's not a miracle worker. You can't deep fry in it. You can't bake a pie in it. Don't be ridiculous.

Recipes and guides

Now you're all ready to cook, and you're probably dying to know what to make in it. Due to the popularity of the Instant Pot, you'll find no shortage of cookbooks and recipe tutorials online. The Facebook group I mentioned is a good place to start, and there are countless YouTube tutorials as well. Here are just a few of my favorite resources:

Pressure Cook Recipes

Amy and Jacky are part of the OG Instant Pot community, and their site is great for beginners. Not only will you get the low-down on the aforementioned water test, but you'll also get great recipes for bone broth, "fail-proof" rice, yogurt, cheesecake and more.

Nom Nom Paleo

Whether or not you're into the "paleo" lifestyle, you'll like Michelle Tam's list of Instant Pot recipes. Pressure cookers are great for shortening the amount of time for cooking braised meats, and she has a lot of recipes that cater to your inner carnivore. Her Instant Pot pulled pork recipe is still my go-to, and the short ribs are great as well.

Serious Eats

My personal favorite site for pressure-cooker recipes is probably Serious Eats. All of these recipes are fantastic. I've tried the chicken stock, the mushroom risotto, the chicken pho, the chicken and chickpea masala, and they've all been outstanding.

The New York Times

Another personal favorite is The New York Times’ Cooking section, which has a list of wonderful pressure-cooker-friendly recipes. My favorites are from Melissa Clark, who has written two Instant Pot cookbooks: Dinner In an Instant and Comfort in an Instant. There's a recipe in Comfort in an Instant for spaghetti and meatballs that I was hugely skeptical of but turned out to be one of the most remarkable things I've ever made. I also love the recipes for chicken korma and shrimp biryani.

Other sources

Here are a few other guides that I found very useful in my own Instant Pot journey, and they contain links to many more recipes and sites than I have space for here:

With all of this information in your arsenal, you should have no fear in picking up an Instant Pot. Thankfully, not only is the base model pretty affordable at less than $100, Amazon frequently puts it on sale either on Prime Day or on Black Friday. So if you haven't bought one just yet, it's not a bad idea to wait until one of those times of year to get one at a deep discount. And when you do, come on back here, read through the guide once more and venture off on your own pressure-filled culinary adventures.

Images: Detroit Free Press via Getty Images (First Instapot); Portland Press Herald via Getty Images (Instapot / chopping board); Boogich via Getty Images (cooking)

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

A beginner's guide to smart sous vide

Cooking via “sous vide” might sound complicated and intimidating, but it’s actually a lot easier than you might think. French for “under vacuum,” “sous vide” simply translates to immersing vacuum-sealed food in a temperature-controlled water bath until the food is cooked to your liking. Instead of worrying about whether a steak is medium rare or whether that chicken breast will be dry, you can just dial in your desired temperature, wait a few hours, and you’ll get perfect results without the guesswork.

Though sous vide cooking was once the province of professional cooks with expensive equipment, affordable options are now widely available. Wand-like immersion circulators have made sous vide cooking accessible to home chefs for several years now. And, like a lot of kitchen tools now, many sous vide devices even have companion apps and WiFi connectivity that make the process even more automated. If you’re curious about giving sous vide cooking 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

If you’re going to choose a sous vide machine, we definitely recommend getting a smart one, which means it either has Bluetooth or WiFi capabilities (or both). That’s because this often adds a whole lot more features than you might otherwise have. We suggest getting models with a companion app that will help you set up and monitor your sous vide temperature remotely. Bluetooth-only models work when you're within 30 to 40 feet of the cooker, while those with WiFi let you supervise your food from anywhere in your home, or as long as you're on the same network. We also tend to prefer apps that come with recipes already on it, especially if you’re new to sous vide cooking and need some help getting started.

Other factors 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.


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.


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. 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 $700 and takes up a lot of counter space.

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

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

What we bought: The NuPhy Air75 is the low-profile, Mac-friendly mechanical keyboard I’ve been looking for

For as long as I can remember, my primary keyboard has been the standard wireless model from Apple. I even upgraded to the Magic keyboard when it was introduced in 2015. After all, I thought, it works with my MacBook Pro, I type relatively well on it, and that’s what I need from a keyboard.

Yet, I harbored a secret lust for mechanical keyboards. There’s a part of me that misses the tactile feel of the chunky keyboards of my youth, especially as someone who spends so much time typing like I do. Plus, since I’m working from home full-time now, I no longer have to worry about annoying cubicle neighbors with the sound of my typing.

So, a few months ago, I decided on a whim to look into the whole mechanical keyboard thing a little more. It took me weeks of research, but I finally found one that seems to fit all my needs: the NuPhy Air75. As it turns out, I fell down a rabbit hole when researching this space. I ended up reading lots of reviews, watching dozens of YouTube videos and diving deep into the product category. I learned about different kinds of keyboards (full-size, tenkeyless, 75 percent, 65 percent), various switches (linear, tactile, clicky), keycaps and so much more. To be honest, I was a little intimidated by it all, but after all this research, I was sold. That luscious sound of clicky keys finally got me to consider getting one.

NuPhy Air75

My research helped me set a few important criteria for the keyboard I wanted. First and foremost, I wanted one with a Mac-specific layout. I know that most keyboards will work with both Macs and PCs, but not all have Mac layouts and I really just prefer the keys to match the OS that I’m using. Next, it needs to be wireless — I don’t like cords and cables messing up my desk. I also wanted the keyboard to support multiple devices so that I could easily switch it between my work and personal laptops. Additionally, I prefer hot-swappable switches and keycaps so that I could have the freedom to swap them out if I wanted. Last but not least, I wanted a relatively low-profile keyboard, as I didn’t want to use a wrist rest.

That’s how I settled on the NuPhy Air75. It’s Mac friendly, low-profile, has hot-swappable switches and it’s wireless, with the ability to connect up to four devices – three via Bluetooth and one via a 2.4GHz receiver. I also really like the 75-percent size, as the layout is similar to what I’m already used to with the Apple keyboards. Importantly, I could also purchase it right away from Amazon instead of having to wait for a group order, which is a common practice in the mechanical keyboard market. As for the switches, I chose the Gateron Brown tactile ones as I’ve read reviews that suggest they’re a good middle ground between the smooth linear Red switches and the clickier Blue switches.

I’ve now been using the Air75 for months, and I adore it. I’ll admit that it took me a while to get accustomed to it at first. The keys have a relatively short travel distance thanks to how low-profile they are and I made a lot of typos in the beginning. But I soon got used to the layout, and typing on it is now second nature to me. I love the feel of the Brown switches, too.

NuPhy Air75

I also really like the overall build quality of the Air75. The aluminum frame is solid, and the default PBT (Polybutylene terephthalate) keycaps have a great look and feel as well. I like that the spacebar and Enter keys are yellow and orange respectively. The keyboard has two LED light strips on either side that I find quite attractive, plus they’re functional; you can customize them so that they light up if the keyboard is low on battery, or when the caps lock is engaged. In addition, it’s super easy to connect via Bluetooth, and swapping the keyboard between my two laptops is simple as well (it’s just a matter of pressing the Function key and an assigned number).

I do have a couple of nitpicks, though. The NuPhy Air75 has a RGB lighting feature, but because the keys are low-profile and not translucent, it’s pretty hard to notice them. I ended up not using it at all because it does drain the keyboard’s battery. Another is that due to the low-profile nature of the keyboard, it’s difficult to find third-party keycaps that will fit in the aluminum frame (there just aren’t that many low-profile keycaps on the market). One of the features of customizable mechanical keyboards like these is that you can easily swap out keycaps to whatever color and design you want, but that’s not so easy here.

I saw a YouTube video a few months ago that compared the feeling of typing on a mechanical keyboard to that of writing with a fountain pen, and I have to agree. Fountain pens make handwriting such a joy thanks to how fluid and smooth it feels. Similarly, typing on the NuPhy Air75 is a pleasure because of that tactile and satisfying feedback. Now that I’ve tried mechanical keyboards like the NuPhy Air75, I don’t think I can ever go back to the standard Apple models.

The best gifts for people who work from home

It’s the year 2022 and going to the office for work is no longer the norm for a lot of people. You probably know at least one person in your life who’s remote either part-time or full-time. Working from home has its perks – not having a commute being chief among them – but it’s not without challenges. Household disturbances are big ones, as well as poor lighting or simply the lack of professional-level equipment that they might have access to only in-office. That’s why we recommend giving them a gift or two that will help with those shortcomings. From noise-canceling headphones to an ergonomic footrest, here’s a list of things that’s sure to make their WFH life a lot easier.

Mooas Multi-Cube Timer


One of the most difficult obstacles with working from home is all the distractions. You’re constantly sidetracked by temptations like TV, the internet or just easy access to the kitchen. A potential solution to that is to use one of these multi-cube timers from Mooas as a productivity tool. Each side corresponds to different lengths of time; to start the timer, you’ll flip the cube so your desired time faces upwards. Flipping the LCD display upwards again will pause it, while turning the display downwards will stop the timer.

There are a number of ways to use them, but I like using the Pomodoro Technique with these. I’ll enable the 30 minute timer which then encourages me to focus just on my work for the allotted time period. Once time is up, I give myself a five minute rest, and then I start it over again. You can also use them as a reminder to stand up and stretch every so often. These timers come in a variety of colors, each with different time pre-sets, so be sure to pick the one with the time lengths you think your loved one will want. — Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer

Buy Mooas timer at Amazon - $19

Belkin BoostCharge Pro 3-in-1 MagSafe charging station

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Apple devotees will appreciate Belkin’s BoostCharge Pro, which will charge an iPhone, an Apple Watch and a pair of AirPods simultaneously. Not only will this save your loved one quite a bit of desk space, it also reduces cord clutter as it only requires a single power cable. Additionally, though the charging pad has 15W MagSafe for the iPhone 12 and up, it’s actually compatible with any phone with wireless charging; it just won’t be quite as fast. That means it’ll work with iPhones 8 and up as well as compatible Android devices. — N.L.

Buy Belkin BoostCharge Pro at Amazon - $140

Logitech Lift Vertical mouse

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If someone you love spends all of their time on a laptop for work, getting them a wireless mouse can improve the ergonomics of their setup immensely. Not only are they generally more comfortable to use than trackpads, but they can also help improve posture and prevent hand cramping – especially if you get a vertical mouse. Logitech’s Lift is one of its latest vertical mice and it’s ideal for small- to medium-sized hands (those with large hands should check out the MX Vertical instead). The 57-degree angle in its design places their hand in the natural handshake position, which will put less pressure on their wrist than a standard mouse would. It also has a comfortable, soft-touch finish with four customizable buttons that are easy to reach. They’ll be able to connect it to their laptop via a USB receiver or Bluetooth and, regardless of which method they choose, the Lift will last two years before needing replacement AA batteries. — Valentina Palladino, Senior Commerce Editor

Buy Logitech Lift Vertical at Amazon - $70

Lume Cube Video Conferencing Lighting Kit

Lume Cube

If your loved ones already have a camera they like, then getting them a lighting rig is a great next step for improving how they look on videos, live streams and more. While a typical desk lamp might cast a shadow or make them look washed out, a proper lighting kit will illuminate their face and show off their best side.

We like Lume Cube’s Video Conferencing Lighting Kit because it’s small and lightweight enough to fit on tablets, laptops or desktop monitors. The built-in frosted lens and additional white diffuser softens the light so it’s easier on the eyes while also adding a glow to your appearance. The brightness and color is adjustable to fit whichever lighting environment you happen to be in. The Kit has a built-in extended battery so you can use it on the go, but you can also just plug it directly into your computer’s USB port to run indefinitely.

If they also need their video-lighting rig to be a desk lamp, we would recommend Lume Cube’s Edge Desk light instead. It also has adjustable brightness and color temperatures, which will help make them look great in front of the camera, but it can also swivel around to be used as a regular desk lamp when they’re not on a call. It attaches securely to most desks via a clamp which won’t take up much real estate at all. Bonus: It has built-in USB-C and USB-A charging ports which can be used as additional power sources. — N.L.

Buy Lume Cube lighting kit at Amazon - $70Buy Lume Cube Edge desk light at Amazon - $130

Flexispot standing desk converter


By now we all know the benefits of a standing desk, but that doesn’t change the fact that most of them are super expensive. Instead of spending a ton on one, you can work with what you already have – and that might be the better option if you or someone you love already invested in a nice regular desk. A standing desk converter like this one from Flexispot lets you turn your existing desk into one that you can either stand or sit at. This model also comes with a dedicated keyboard tray, so you can separate your workspace a bit and keep things as ergonomic as possible. But the best part is that it costs a fraction of what an actual standing desk would. — V.P.

Buy standing desk converter at FlexiSpot - $210

Logitech C920S Pro Full HD webcam


Remote workers might not have to see their co-workers anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have meetings. Any WFH employee will tell you that their days are often inundated with Zoom calls and Google Meet video conferences. That’s why an external webcam is essential, at least if you care about looking good. Our favorite is the Logitech C920S Pro HD webcam, which offers 1080p video quality, autofocus capabilities and white balance adjustment. One big benefit over regular built-in webcams is that they’ll be able to position it however they like, which makes it that much easier to put unsightly household messes out of view. It has a large 78-degree field of view plus a lens cover that will protect your loved ones’ privacy when not in use. — N.L.

Buy Logitech C920S Pro Full HD at Amazon - $85

Ergofoam Ergonomic Adjustable Foot Rest


Those who sit at their desks all day will appreciate a more ergonomic setup for less back and neck pain. One way to achieve that is with the Ergofoam Ergonomic Adjustable Footrest, which helps provide fim support for your feet and ensure your sitting position is upright. The footrest is made out of memory foam and is covered in a plush velvet, making it super comfortable as well. This particular model is adjustable to two different heights, which is great for those who need a slightly taller footrest. Additionally, the footrest can be flipped upside down and used as a rocker to keep your feet moving, improving your circulation. — N.L.

Buy Ergofoam foot rest at Amazon - $50

Sony WH-1000XM5

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It can be hard to control the environment you’re working in when you work from home. You may have kids yelling around you, pets barking, meowing or otherwise making noise and maybe even your partner taking a Zoom call in the room next door. A pair of noise-canceling headphones will become your best friend when you need to block out the world and get things done, and there’s none better than Sony’s WH-1000XM5 right now. They have a refined design and an even more comfortable fit when compared to the (still excellent) XM4 that came before them, and Sony managed to improve upon their already stellar sound quality and ANC.

Thanks to double the number of processors and microphones and a separate V1 chip, the WH-1000XM5 is even better at blocking out human voices and other higher frequencies than its predecessors. And what might be even better is their 30-hour battery life; you’ll be able to use them for hours each day for multiple days before they need a recharge. — V.P.

Buy WH-1000XM5 at Amazon - $398

Ember Mug 2

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you know someone who has a tendency to let their cup of coffee or tea get cold, consider giving them the Ember Mug 2. It’s a self-heating smart mug that keeps beverages at just the right temperature – either for up to 1.5 hours or all day long if the mug is kept on its charging coaster. They can dial in their desired temperatures anywhere from 120 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The companion app also lets them save preset temps for their favorite drinks. — N.L.

Buy Ember Mug 2 at Amazon - $130

BenQ Screenbar

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

While a desk lamp is useful for working in lowlight, it can sometimes obstruct the monitor or worse, shine glare into it. A monitor light like BenQ’s ScreenBar is a fantastic alternative, as it reduces that glare while illuminating your desk at the same time. It has a built-in ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the ScreenBar’s brightness according to its surroundings. You can also change the temperature of the light from warmer to cooler hues. Since the ScreenBar attaches to the monitor, it won’t take up valuable space on your desk too. — N.L.

Buy BenQ Screenbar at Amazon - $109

Anker 577 Thunderbolt docking station

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It’s easy to get carried away building your perfect work-from-home desk setup, only to realize that it’s not as efficient as it could be. Wires cluttering your space, extra connectors and peripherals you don’t use, all of those things can make your desk a place you dread sitting down at each morning. But Anker’s 577 Thunderbolt docking station, and others like it, can remedy that by giving you one multi-purpose, powerful brick into which you can plug all of your necessities.

This model has 13 ports, so there’s a good chance you’ll be covered at every turn, plus it supports 85W laptop charging, so you’ll always have plenty of power fueling your machine as you use it. In addition to supporting 1-Gbps USB-C data transfer, Gigabit Ethernet and 4K HDMI, it also lets you connect to two 5K external displays at once, just in case you’re going for that space-commander look. — V.P.

Buy Anker 577 docking station at Amazon - $330

The best gifts for travelers in 2022

Be it for work or play, many people are taking trips again, which makes travel-related gifts an excellent idea. Whether your loved ones are globetrotters or frequent business travelers, it’s time to look into upgrading their existing on-the-go kit. We’ve curated a list of various items your friends and family will appreciate. Things like sleep masks and packing cubes are essential, and tech gear like battery packs and noise-canceling headphones can make the hectic parts of traveling a bit less stressful. We’re sure at least one of these will help make your loved ones’ next adventure a lot more enjoyable.

Anker 622 Magnetic Battery

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Anker’s 622 MagGo will make a great gift for anyone with an iPhone 12 or newer. The 5,000 mAh magnetic battery pack will adhere and charge any MagSafe-compatible device, which means they no longer need to worry about carrying charging cables when they’re out and about. It’s also super slim at 0.5 inches and is about the size of a deck of cards so it won’t add any extra bulk either. And there’s a bonus: It has a built-in foldable kickstand that will prop their iPhone up at a comfortable viewing angle, making it perfect for long flights. — Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer

Buy Anker 622 battery at Amazon - $60

Ostrich Pillow Hot & Cold Eye Mask


Sleep masks are a travel essential. They help you get precious z’s on long flights or when you’re suffering from jet lag. But not all sleep masks are the same. The really good ones don’t just fully cover the eyes, but also have enough layers to ensure complete darkness when worn. We also prefer padded models that mold to your face for added comfort and security.

The Ostrich Pillow Hot & Cold Eye mask meets all of those requirements and more. It has a clay bead core that applies gentle pressure to your eyelids for extra stress relief, and it even offers heat and cold therapy (warm it up in the microwave or place it in the freezer). This helps soothe away tense facial muscles or reduce eye strain, which is always welcome after a stressful travel day. — N.L.

Buy eye mask at Ostrich - $39

Sony WH-1000XM5

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you know someone who always complains about crying babies and chatty neighbors on flights, they’ll likely appreciate a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Sony’s WH-1000XM5 is one of Engadget’s favorites, easily making the best wireless headphones list this year. Senior Editor Billy Steele says it’s comfortable to wear for long periods, has an impressive 30-hour battery life, excellent sound quality and stellar ANC. It also has a combination of touch and physical controls, which means your giftee won’t have to reach for their phone every time they want to switch tracks. — N.L.

Buy WH-1000XM5 at Amazon - $398

Kobo Libra 2

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Instead of spending your time scrolling on your phone while you wait for your delayed flight to take off, pick up an e-reader like the Kobo Libra 2. It lets you bring your whole digital library with you wherever you go, so you can catch up on your favorite cozy mystery series instead of swiping aimlessly through Instagram during every idle moment. Plus, Kobo devices have direct integration with Overdrive, and that means you can access your local library’s e-book offerings from the Libra 2. So even when your digital pile of e-books isn’t appealing to you, you can borrow a new read from the library in just a few seconds.

Additionally, we like the Libra 2 for its seven-inch E Ink display with brightness adjustment, blue light reduction and optional Dark Mode, and its ergonomic design that includes page-turn buttons. If you want the latter on a Kindle, you’ll have to shell out $250 for the Kindle Oasis, so the Libra 2 is an affordable alternative. If you do prefer the Kindle ecosystem and the perks that come with programs like Kindle Unlimited, we recommend the latest Kindle, which comes in at $100. — Valentina Palladino, Senior Commerce Editor

Buy Kobo Libra 2 at Amazon - $180

Incase Accessory Organizer


One of the challenges of traveling is having to corral all of your various cables and chargers, especially if you plan on bringing more than one electronic device. Incase’s Accessory Organizer, however, makes that whole process a lot easier. Made from sturdy lightweight nylon, the bag has lots of room for not just your phone but also a ton of accessories. It has several loops for holding pens and chargers, zip and mesh pockets for battery packs and cables, a padded faux fur pocket that’s ideal for storing your phone without scratching the screen, and more. The whole thing is just the size of a paperback book and it lies flat, so it’s easy to stow away in your backpack. Unlike a lot of other similarly-priced accessory organizers on the market, the Incase organizer is also water-repellent, which is an important factor in keeping your gear free from damage. — N.L.

Buy accessory organizer at Incase - $50

Bellroy Tech Kit


For a more stylish take on the accessory pouch, consider the Bellroy Tech Kit, which is made out of a combination of leather and a water-resistant woven fabric. It’s as functional as it is handsome, with a magnetic slip pocket that’s wide enough to fit a power bank or a mouse and several elastic loops to hold pens, cables and chargers. Plus, the zip opening hinges out to provide full access to the pouch’s contents, making it easy to access everything quickly. — N.L.

Buy Tech Kit at Bellroy - $60

Peak Design Packable tote

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It’s always a good idea to bring a reusable bag with you while traveling. It gives you flexibility and will prevent you from attempting to stuff a bunch of essentials into your main carry-all at the last minute. There are thousands of options out there, but we like Peak Design’s Packable tote because it doesn’t have the typical reusable bag design and it remains affordable at only $20. It’s made of 100-percent recycled ripstop nylon, which is resilient and as well as water resistant, and it has a zip closure, which is something most other reusable bags don’t have. It’ll keep your items more secure thanks to that, and it’s easier to carry in different ways thanks to its single shoulder/hand strap that sports microfiber padding for extra comfort. We also like that it has an interior pocket that can hold a phone, wallet or keys, and it takes up a surprisingly little space when it’s packed into itself. — V.P.

Buy Packable Tote at Peak Design - $20

July Carry On


A travel must-have is a reliable piece of carry-on luggage, and the July Carry On certainly fits that bill. It has a built-in ejectable power bank that sits conveniently underneath the handle. It has a 10,000 mAh battery with one USB-C, one microUSB and two USB-A ports that’s able to charge not just your loved one’s phone but their laptop too. And since it’s ejectable, they can easily take it out in order to be compliant with airline flight regulations.

Additionally, the bag itself is very well-designed. It’s made out of a crush-proof polycarbonate shell, is outfitted with anodized aluminum bumpers and quiet spinner wheels, and it has a Y-Strap compression system that lets them fit in more clothes. It also comes in a variety of eye-catching colors. — N.L.

Buy carry on at July - $295

Foldable electric kettle


Not every hotel room comes with a coffee machine or some way to boil water, and the same goes for AirBnBs. If you have a friend or family member who simply must have their morning cup of tea everywhere they go, that’s a problem. A foldable electric kettle like this one from Loutytou is the perfect solution. It folds down to a compact, portable size when not in use, but expands to a full-size kettle that holds about 600ml of water. Just plug it into a power outlet, flip the switch, and they’ll have hot water in about six minutes. On a recent road trip, I used it not just for tea but also for making instant cup noodles in the middle of the night. It proved to be a savior for not just my sanity but those pesky midnight cravings as well. I also appreciate that the power cord and handle are detachable, making it easier to stow away. — N.L.

Buy foldable electric kettle at Amazon - $50

Anker PowerCore 65W 2-in-1 power bank

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you’re looking for the mother of all chargers to take with you on your next trip, Anker’s 733 2-in-1 power bank is the one to get. It’s both a 65W wall charger and a 10,000mAh portable battery in one, allowing you to charge pretty much anything at full speed no matter where you are. Flip out the built-in prongs and plug it in to power up your laptop, or use it on a flight when your smartphone needs a top-up. It has two built-in USB-C ports and one USB-A port, so not only do you have a variety of charging options, but it can handle powering up three devices simultaneously. Plus, it has Anker’s PowerIQ 4.0 technology for higher efficiency and ActiveShield 2.0 for improved temperature monitoring. — V.P.

Buy Anker PowerCore power bank at Amazon - $100

Newvanger travel power adapter


An adapter like Newvanger’s isn’t the sexiest gift ever, but it’s something all international travelers will want to keep in their bags. This model has the detachable input plugs that will work with European, UK and Australian outlets, making it an essential for anyone who wants to use their existing electronics while they’re traveling. It also has two USB-A ports built in, so you can power up a couple of mobile devices while you’re also using the main plug for things like your laptop or Nintendo Switch. Plus, it has built-in fuse protection so you won’t have to worry about your gadgets getting fried when you’re in a foreign country. — V.P.

Buy travel power adapter at Amazon - $20

What we bought: Anker's MagSafe battery pack charges and pulls double duty as a phone stand

After nearly four years with the iPhone X, I finally upgraded to the iPhone 13 late last year. This might seem silly, but perhaps my favorite feature is not the 12-megapixel camera or Super Retina HD display – it’s the MagSafe support. I know that MagSafe actually debuted a year earlier with the iPhone 12, but there weren’t as many MagSafe accessories out then as there are now. One of my recent favorites is the Anker 622 Magnetic Wireless Portable Charger, which helps ensure my phone never runs out of battery.

To be fair, the iPhone 13 actually has decent battery life. In our review, we found that it easily outlasted its predecessor by a couple of hours, lasting almost two days with our standard battery test. However, I don’t always remember to charge my phone, and I use my phone constantly when I’m out and about. That’s especially true if I need to access Google Maps for directions. I do have a 25,000mAh ZMI power bank, but while it’s useful for travel, it’s just too bulky to fit in my everyday bag. I needed a smaller and lighter solution to use on the regular.


I considered Apple’s own MagSafe Battery Pack, but its $99 price tag is a little too steep for me, plus it only has a 1,460mAh capacity. I then discovered Anker has a line of MagSafe portable chargers, one of which is the 622. It’s only $70, which is far cheaper than Apple’s, and it also has a lot more battery life with 5,000mAh capacity. On top of that, it has a built-in kickstand and comes in a variety of colors. I bought one without hesitation. (I went with the Misty Blue option.)

I’ve been using it for a few months now, and it’s great. It attaches to my phone through my MagSafe-compatible case without any problems (I use this one from Smartish), and charges it from empty to about 80 percent in just a few hours. I love that I can use it without any extra USB cables dangling out of my bag.

Additionally, that bonus fold-out kickstand is surprisingly useful. It lies flat when not in use, but you can fold it out into a 30-degree angle stand, with a magnet holding it in place. I can rotate the phone to either portrait or landscape mode, which lets me prop the phone up to watch videos when I’m traveling. I especially like that it’s so slim and portable – it’s barely the size of a deck of cards.

I do have a few nitpicks with it, though. It occasionally gets super hot when it’s charging, which makes it a little uncomfortable to have in my pockets. Also, since the USB-C port is on the bottom, I can’t charge the battery pack while it’s in the kickstand position. Finally, I do sometimes wish it had more battery capacity, especially if I’m on a long-haul flight. If I had to get a MagSafe battery now, I’d probably opt for the Anker 633 instead, which just launched a couple of months ago. It’s thicker, but it has a 10,000mAh capacity, a sturdier kickstand, a high-speed charging option via USB-C, and it’s not much more at just $80.

What we bought: This LED desk lamp gave me the best lighting for video calls

Over the past two years, my work-from-home situation morphed from temporary to permanent, and I’ve had to reconfigure my home office as a result. I purchased a standing desk, a monitor, and spent countless hours rearranging my furniture. One of my primary concerns is that I have a relatively small space, and therefore prefer things that can pull double duty. So when I decided to update my desk lamp, I knew I needed a multi-tasker that wouldn’t take up a lot of real estate. For me, the Edge Light from Lume Cube ended up being the perfect solution.

Prior to purchasing the Edge Light, I relied mostly on a lamp that I bought from CB2 nearly twenty years ago. It’s good looking but it has a large six-inch base that takes up quite a bit of space. It also doesn’t provide the right lighting environment for video calls. While it’s serviceable enough as a desk lamp, the light is just too warm and subdued for Zoom sessions. Plus, it’s not flexible enough for me to angle the light to illuminate my face properly. That’s a problem when, like most everyone else, I was suddenly having multiple video meetings a week. I really noticed it when I was a guest on a podcast; watching the video back made me realize how poor the lighting was.

Lume Cube

That prompted me to purchase a cheap ring light from Amazon, but I soon realized that was a mistake. Suddenly I had not one but two lamps taking up residence on my small desk. I knew I needed to rethink my entire lighting situation.

That’s why I was glad when I saw that Lume Cube, which is known for its portable photo/video lighting rigs, had come out with the Edge Light late last year. It’s essentially an LED desk lamp that also doubles as a video conferencing light. On top of that, it’s a clamp-on model, which means it wouldn’t take up a lot of space. It is fairly pricey at $120, but since it appeared to solve so many of my pain points, I decided it would be worth it.

I’ve now had it for a few months, and I absolutely love it. It has freed up so much real estate on my desk. It’s tall enough to position behind my webcam when I need it for video calls, and thanks to its five pivot points, I can easily swing it around so that I can use it to illuminate my desk. The lighting is fantastic, too – I can adjust both the brightness and the warmth so that it’s bright but not too harsh. According to the company, it provides multi-level diffusion for soft light and has a color adjustability between 3200 and 5600K.

Lume Cube

The controls are pretty intuitive – simply tap the circular button to switch between brightness and warmth, and then tap the plus and minus signs to adjust the levels to your liking. The buttons are all “soft touch,” meaning they don’t need any pressure. On top of that, the lamp actually comes with two charging ports – one USB-A and one USB-C – which I am always using to charge up all of my various devices and accessories.

Perhaps my one complaint is that the light does produce a tiny bit of glare on my glasses when it’s positioned directly in front of me. The company suggests getting two Edge Light lamps to reduce this effect, but that’s a little too rich for my blood. I’ve since managed to angle the light so that the glare isn’t as bad, which is good enough for me.

Amazon Fire 7 (2022) review: You don't get much for $60

If you want a tablet just for browsing the internet, watching videos and playing games, you won’t need anything fancy. Amazon’s Fire tablets are exactly that. Most of them are under $200, and the Fire 7, which has been updated for 2022, starts at just $60 ($75 if you don’t want ads on the lock screen). It offers upgraded internals, as well as Amazon’s Fire OS 8, which adds minor improvements like a dark mode. Yet, it still suffers from many of the same limitations that plagued older models, like the lack of Google apps.

Updated hardware

The 2022 Fire 7 tablet has 2GB of RAM (double that of previous generation) and is powered by the same quad-core 2.0GHz processor as the Fire HD 8. Amazon also promises longer battery life and, importantly, now uses a USB-C port instead of micro-USB. That alone makes this worth the upgrade, since USB-C is fast becoming the new charging standard.

Aside from that, the overall look and feel of the Fire 7 is unchanged. It’s made out of plastic, with thick bezels surrounding its 7-inch display. Yet, it does feel durable. I also didn’t mind the bezels, as they gave me room to grip the tablet without accidentally launching apps.

The screen is one of the bigger disappointments with the Fire 7, though. Its 1,024 by 600 resolution just looks terribly dull, with fuzzy images and muddy colors. Even for a budget tablet – and granted, there aren’t that many in this price range – a display that’s less than full HD in this day and age seems outdated.

The rest of the Fire 7’s hardware is the same as its predecessor. It has 2-megapixel cameras on the front and rear, 16 or 32GB of built-in storage (expandable up to 1TB with microSD card) and a 3.5mm headphone jack. As expected, the camera quality isn’t impressive, but it’ll work for a quick video chat. Just don’t expect to use it for actual photography, unless you’re really into super grainy, washed out images.

Amazon Fire 7

Meh performance, but solid battery life

Though the new Fire 7 has more RAM and a quad-core 2.0GHz processor, don’t expect lightning-fast performance. Navigating the Fire OS interface feels smooth for the most part, but it’s still sluggish at times. I experienced some lag when switching apps and scrolling through Instagram, for example. It can handle basic tasks like checking email, but the Fire 7 won’t be as fast as modern smartphones.

My favorite thing about the new Fire 7 is its long battery life. Amazon says it should last up to 10 hours on a charge, but of course that depends on how you use it. In the usual battery test we run for Android devices (where we play a locally stored video on loop), the Fire 7 lasted for close to 15 hours. I mostly used it to watch Prime videos, read books on the Kindle app, check Instagram and Twitter, and play a few rounds of Candy Crush Saga. After several days of occasional use (an hour or so a day for a week), the Fire 7 still has around 48 percent battery. I should note, however, that the Fire 7 doesn’t offer wireless or fast-charging. It comes with a 5W charger, which took around four hours to top up the battery. 

New software, but same ol issues

The Fire 7 comes with Fire OS 8, which adds Android 11 features like a system-wide dark theme. Yet, the interface looks the same. Like all other Fire tablets, it runs Amazon’s proprietary skin that forced me to use Amazon-approved apps rather than ones from the Google Play Store. As someone who relies a lot on Google apps, I was frustrated by this. Instead of the native version of Gmail or YouTube, for example, I had to use inferior third-party apps that just didn’t look or feel as intuitive.

If you’re an Amazon die-hard, however, you’ll benefit from Fire OS. As soon as I logged in, all of my favorite Amazon content showed up on the home screen, like TV shows on Prime Video, personalized recommendations on Kindle Unlimited, suggested Audible books based on my purchases and more.

Of course, the caveat is that you won’t be able to delete Amazon-related apps like Kindle, Goodreads and Prime Video. Plus, you won’t see recommendations for shows and content that’s not on Amazon – no Netflix suggestions, for example. It makes sense that Amazon would push its own services, but it’s still annoying.

Like other Amazon products, the Fire 7 features hands-free Alexa, which makes controlling my smart home devices easier. It’s also helpful for getting the weather forecast, the latest sports scores or answers to random trivia questions.

Amazon Fire 7


The thing you should know about Fire tablets is that they aren’t typical Android devices – you’ll need to sideload the Google Play Store, for example, if you want to use Google apps. Amazon’s proprietary interface prioritizes its own apps like Prime Video and Kindle over others. But if you already heavily rely on Amazon services, I can see how the Fire 7 might be tempting – it delivers an Amazon-curated experience for cheap.

Unfortunately, if you want a tablet in the $60 price range, you don’t have many non-Amazon options. Two of the more affordable non-Amazon tablets at this time appear to be the Lenovo Tab M7 (starting at $96) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 Lite (starting at $100). We haven’t reviewed them just yet, but both at least let you use Google apps without resorting to third-party options.

If you’re dead set on a budget Fire tablet, I actually recommend the Fire HD 8 instead. It has a superior HD display, longer battery life and wireless charging. It also supports Show Mode, which basically turns it into a portable Echo Show. At $90 (with ads), it’s $30 more than the Fire 7, but I think it’s well worth the extra cost.