Every month, Engadget features what our editors are currently into, whether it be video games, podcasts or gadgets. These are not official reviews; they’re simply our first-hand experiences. This week, Senior Editor Nicole Lee gives her take on the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker.
A long-standing joke among my family and friends over the past couple of decades is that I’m not a true Asian. Why? Because I didn’t have a rice cooker. Since rice is a staple of the Asian diet, rice cookers are commonplace in most Asian households. But for years, I refused to get one. That is, until recently, when I finally gave in and got a $195 Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. And ironically, what I ended up liking most about it isn’t rice at all.
The reason I held off was mostly that I didn’t think I needed it. Since I only live with my husband, I told myself I didn’t need a single-purpose appliance. After all, I could already make rice on the stove with just a saucepan. I’ve become adept at making small portions of rice over the years. Plus, it only takes 18-or-so minutes. A rice cooker, on the other hand, can typically take 35 minutes or longer. So even though I enjoy rice enough to make it regularly, I just couldn’t quite justify the seeming inconvenience.
This, however, was challenged over this past winter break. We had our family over on Christmas Eve, so I ordered takeout from a local Chinese restaurant. At one point, we ran out of rice, so I set about making more on the stove. I had to make rice for around 10 people, which I’m not used to doing. Long story short, my calculations were off, and the rice I made ended up crunchier than I would like. Of course, my family didn’t complain, but I was still a little upset with myself. That’s when I reconsidered getting a dedicated rice cooker.
After some research, I opted for the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. Sure it’s expensive – you can easily get basic models for less than $50 – but I wanted one that can cook all kinds of rice such as short-grain and medium-grain white rice, long-grain jasmine rice, sweet (or sticky) rice, brown rice and more. More importantly, I wanted a cooker with “fuzzy logic” (yes, that’s an industry term), which essentially means that the device has a computer chip. This gives it the smarts to adjust temperature and cook time to accommodate other variables, such as human error (like what I experienced over Christmas), to ensure perfectly cooked rice every time.
I’ve now had it for a few weeks, and I love it. It really does make cooking rice so much easier. Instead of having to fuss over the stove, I can just rinse the rice, add water, push a button and walk away. It also has a “Keep Warm” function that lasts over five hours, giving me plenty of time to prepare dinner as the rice cooks. It also comes with a handy guide that tells you the proper rice and water ratio for all the different kinds of rice. On top of that, it has a timer so you can have the rice ready whenever you want it.
But I’d argue the killer function of the Neuro Fuzzy isn’t rice at all. I’ve discovered that it actually makes amazing oatmeal from steel-cut oats. I learned about this from an NYT Cooking recipe for “Rice Cooker Steel-Cut Oats,” (link requires subscription) and it is really such a game changer for me. Steel-cut oatmeal usually takes 20 or so minutes to make, and I don’t usually have time for it in the mornings. But with the rice cooker, I just dump in one cup of oats followed by four cups of water and a teaspoon of salt before I go to bed, set the timer for 8AM, toggle the menu to the Porridge setting, press Cook, and I get to wake up to fresh oatmeal every morning. What’s more, the resulting oatmeal is the best I’ve ever had. The texture is so creamy and smooth, making it the perfect vehicle for both sweet and savory applications. I like mine with spam, spinach and furikake.
Additionally, and it admittedly sounds silly to talk about a rice cooker this way, but the Neuro Fuzzy is just adorable. Its long oval shape gives it a rounded, egg-like appearance that I find aesthetically pleasing. It also plays a tune whenever it starts or ends cooking. My favorite design feature, however, is its power cord: it’s retractable! This way you can store it away without a nest of cables to contend with.
Perhaps the only real downside of the Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker is that it’s pretty slow. White rice takes around 40 or so minutes to cook, while brown rice can take 90 minutes or longer (stovetop timing on the other hand, ranges from 18 minutes for white rice to 45 minutes or so for brown rice). Still, that’s a small price to pay for perfectly cooked rice, creamy morning oatmeal and, hopefully, no more ruined Christmases.
And when you do hear of plant-based milks, it's more likely to be dairy alternatives like almond milk, soy milk or oat milk. Even then, it's rare for a dairy-free version to taste like the real thing. That’s exactly the selling point of Silk’s new line of plant-based milk, Nextmilk. It will be available in both full fat and reduced fat versions (MSRP is $4.99 for a 59-ounce carton). It’s going on sale today in grocery stores like Target, Kroger, Publix and HEB, among others.
I tried a sample of Silk’s Nextmilk last week and while it’s tasty, I wasn’t fooled into thinking it tastes like cow's milk. It tastes more like a richer, fattier version of oat milk. It does have a similar creamy mouthfeel to regular milk and the taste is a little closer to dairy than other plant-based milks I’ve tried, but it doesn’t quite replace dairy for me.
The ingredients list reflect what I tasted: It consists primarily of oat milk, plus smaller proportions of coconut milk, coconut oil, soy protein isolate, chicory root extract, cane sugar, sunflower oil, a vitamin and mineral blend, sea salt, locust bean gum, gellan gum, sunflower lecithin, soy lecithin and “natural flavor.”
Still, it’s quite delicious, and it might be close enough to dairy for some people. When eaten with cereal or as an accompaniment to cookies, for example, I thought Nextmilk was a more than acceptable substitute. It also mixes well in coffee and tea. “Silk Nextmilk was specially formulated to meet dairy-lovers’ taste expectations through a remarkably delicious blend of plants that are designed to deliver on key attributes of dairy milk, like taste and texture,'' a Danone (Silk’s parent company) spokesperson told Engadget.
Additionally, Danone says that Nextmilk can be used as a one-to-one alternative to traditional dairy milk in recipes. At the same time, however, the company is also working on another product called So Delicious Wondermilk, which arrives next month and was specifically developed for culinary purposes.
“While Silk Nextmilk is meant for everyday dairy lovers and offers great versatility [...] Wondermilk beverages were developed with culinary-focused consumers in mind and taste great in recipes,” the spokesperson said. When it arrives, Wondermilk will only be available through natural food channels like Whole Foods and Sprouts.
Danone is not the first to attempt a dairy-free alternative that tastes closer to real milk. Impossible Foods, the company behind the Impossible Burger, is also working on this, with a product tentatively called Impossible Milk. However, its availability is still unknown.
Amazon’s Echo Show line has been around for four years, but until now the screen sizes have ranged from five to10 inches, making it ideal as a multipurpose bedside alarm or a companion screen in the kitchen. The 15-inch Echo Show 15, available now, is by far the largest size Amazon has attempted, and it’s also notably the first Echo Show you can mount on your wall. Because of that, the company is betting some people will use it not just as a digital photo frame, but also as a family bulletin board. If that’s specifically what you want out of a smart display, the Echo Show 15 could be a niche but very fitting match. Somehow, though, we suspect that’s not most people.
Framed like a painting
The Echo Show 15 looks like it belongs in a gallery. Its 15.6-inch screen is surrounded by a 0.7-inch white bezel (similar to the matting around a painting), which itself is housed in an elegant black metal enclosure. It’s also quite slim at only 1.4 inches thick. If you told me this was a picture frame, from far away I would probably believe you. The one telltale clue is the camera on the top left corner. You can hide it with a physical shutter using a toggle at the top edge of the frame, where you’ll also find volume controls and a microphone mute button.
Since the Show 15 was designed to be hung on a wall, it comes with a mounting bracket along with the necessary hardware. (You’ll have to supply your own electric drill of course.) Amazon only supplies a five-foot electrical cord, though, so you’ll want to mount the device reasonably close to an outlet. Alternatively, you can also route the wire through the wall like you might with a TV, but that’s a more complicated setup.
You can choose to mount the Show 15 horizontally or vertically, but you can’t rotate it while it’s still on the wall. You’ll have to take it off, flip the bracket, then put the display back on. The same goes for a desktop stand; you’ll have to choose your preferred orientation before placing the Show 15 on it.
I didn’t want to drill into my walls (especially not to accommodate a device I’m merely borrowing for this story), so I opted to use the Sanus Tilt Stand that Amazon sent me for review. It’s fairly hefty and bulky, taking up considerable space on my kitchen counter. As its name suggests, the stand lets you tilt the Show up to 30 degrees for better viewing angles. It’s a decent alternative to wall hanging, but if I’m going to have a desktop Alexa-powered display, I’d probably choose one of the other Echo Shows as they’re smaller.
Still, the 15.6-inch screen here is the best out of all of the Echo Shows, with a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. The display is so bright and sharp that I can see it clearly across the room (about nine feet away). When it shows full-screen photos and pictures, the frame really does look like a piece of art. It reminds me of the Lenovo Smart Frame we saw at CES 2020, and even Samsung’s The Frame TV, except they’re both a lot bigger – the Lenovo Smart Frame has a 21.5.-inch display while the Frame TV lineup ranges from 32 to 85 inches. Plus, the Smart Frame only showed photos, while The Frame TV is a television that shows art, both of which lack Amazon’s smart display capabilities.
Speaking of the sort, one of the key benefits of the large screen is Amazon’s latest Echo Show feature: widgets. Aside from the standard array of rotating home screen content like headlines and weather updates, part of the display can now be customized with tiles. Options include a calendar, a shopping list, sticky notes, to-do lists, the weather forecast, maps and an Amazon package delivery tracker. There’s also a “What to Eat” widget that houses recipe recommendations, restaurant delivery choices and Blue Apron meal kit suggestions.
This widgets feature will roll out to all Echo Shows eventually, but only the Echo Show 15 will have them persistently on the home screen. You can add as many widgets as you like, though the Echo Show 15 will only display up to six at a time, depending on the tile size. It also pushes the ones you use the most to the front, and you can rearrange them to your preference.
I found the widgets helpful to see all of my information at a glance. I made heavy use out of the “smart home favorites” widget, which lets me view my security cam feeds and control my smart lights with a single tap. I also liked the picture-in-picture live camera view, which allowed me to see who’s at the front door while watching a video.
Unfortunately, right now there aren’t many third-party widgets – just 14 at the moment. The company has said it’s built an API for developers to build their own widgets, but it’s unclear if more are coming soon. I would like to see a Spotify widget in addition to the one for Amazon Music, for example. Browser shortcuts for easier access to my favorite websites would also be helpful.
Visual ID face recognition
Another feature making its debut on the Echo Show 15 is Visual ID, which is similar to Face Match on Google’s Nest Hub Max. It’s a face-recognition feature that shows you information and widgets that are personalized to you, like your day’s appointments or your to-do list. Whenever I came into view, the Echo Show 15 displayed greetings like “Good morning, Nicole.” It’s smart enough to distinguish me from my husband, who it also recognized well. Visual ID also lets you send messages; when my husband told Alexa to “leave a note for Nicole that says ‘I love you’”, I saw it pop up on the screen later that day.
This feature won’t be unique to the Echo Show 15 for long; Amazon says the second-gen Echo Show 8 and the third-gen Echo Show 10 will also receive Visual ID through a future update. As for privacy concerns, the company says data for both Visual ID and Voice ID (which is already on all other Echo devices) is stored on the device, with nothing going to the cloud. But if you’re still feeling uneasy, you can simply disable both those features altogether. Additionally, you can view and delete your voice recordings on the Alexa app, if that makes you feel better.
Disappointing camera quality
Much of the Echo Show 15’s other features are on par with what Amazon offers across the rest of its smart display line, including the ability to set timers, stream music, control Alexa-compatible smart home devices and make video calls. In addition, it has plenty of streaming video options including Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu and even less obvious services like TikTok and Sling TV. That said, YouTube is only accessible via the browser, and the Show 15 doesn’t support Disney+ or HBO Max (which Google’s Nest Hub offers).
Even though Amazon supports video calls via Skype, the Alexa app or to anyone with an Echo device (Zoom support is coming in 2022), the Echo Show 15 inexplicably uses a subpar camera that’s not as sharp as the 13-megapixel sensors on the Echo Show 8 and Echo Show 10. Plus, the Show 15 doesn’t offer Amazon’s auto-framing feature that keeps you centered in the scene.
Because the Echo Show 15 is so slim, I’m not surprised the audio quality is as mediocre as it is. It was fine for the occasional chill playlist, but there’s hardly any bass, so I would definitely not use this for entertaining guests.
There’s really nothing quite like the Echo Show 15 in terms of size. The closest is Facebook’s Portal+, which also measures 15.6 inches. But the Portal+ cannot be mounted on a wall and lacks many of the Echo Show’s apps and features. It also costs $50 more. That said, the Portal+ has a nicer camera with excellent video chat features, so it’s better for calls.
The Echo Show 15’s closest competitors are its own siblings, the Echo Show 8 and the Show 10. They all have the same features, except, again, the wall mountability. And yes, its larger display is better-suited for widgets on the home screen. That’s about the only real advantage, though, as Visual ID and widgets will be coming to the smaller Echo Shows too. The Show 8 and Show 10 also offer markedly better camera and audio quality. Sure, you’ll have to swipe to see the widgets, but that’s not a big hindrance. The Show 8 is also cheaper at $130 (the Show 10 is closer in price at $250).
The Echo Show 15’s main advantage is that it can be mounted on a wall, and frankly, that’s the only reason to get it. Yes, the screen is beautiful and makes for a pretty digital photo frame, but the rest of its features aren’t better than the smaller Echo Shows. Plus, its camera is somehow even worse than on smaller Echo Show devices. Unless you’re really committed to the idea of having a smart display on your wall, you’re better off with one of Amazon’s other Echo Shows.
But on the whole, 2021 was still a pretty big year for streaming. Netflix now has 214 million global subscribers, and services like Disney+ and HBO Max lured customers with exclusive TV shows and movies. US platforms, like Peacock, expanded internationally and online-only programming was well-represented at multiple award shows. Titles exclusive to streaming, such as Squid Game and WandaVision, became part of the cultural landscape. A slow year or not, it’s clear that this is how most of us watch our shows now. Here are some of the biggest stories in streaming this year.
Netflix continues to dominate
As mentioned above, Netflix is the undisputed leader in streaming with over 214 million subscribers worldwide. Sure, it’s faced a few challenges from rivals like Disney+ and Amazon Prime, but Netflix is still holding strong. Part of that is due to the company’s strategy of investing in original content that you can’t get anywhere else, like Stranger Things and The Crown.
And of course, there’s Squid Game which is undoubtedly the number one TV show of the year. Netflix has said that around 142 million households watched the Korean-language show, making it the most-viewed new show in Netflix history. There’s also the recently released Red Notice, which became the service’s most-watched movie in its first 28 days of release, with around 328.8 million viewing hours in that time span. That tops the previous record held by Bird Box, which had 282 million viewing hours back in 2018.
Still, 2021 wasn’t without its hiccups. The largest one by far is when Netflix employees staged a protest over the CEO’s remarks defending Dave Chappelle’s standup special, which was heavily criticized for its transphobic content. CEO Ed Sarandos has since said he “screwed up” on the messaging, but has not rescinded his defense.
Disney+ proves it’s a serious contender
Disney+, on the other hand, currently has 118.1 million paid subscribers worldwide, which doesn’t quite compare to Netflix. But the service still gained ground in 2021, with around 43 million more subscribers compared to last year. A lot of that can be attributed to Disney’s powerhouse brands such as Pixar, Star Wars and, especially in 2021, Marvel.
2021 was when the Marvel Cinematic Universe released four different TV shows, all exclusively on Disney+: WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki and Hawkeye. This is a big deal, as Marvel has said that these TV series are key to the MCU’s “Phase Four” chapter, indicating that fans will likely want to watch them in order to understand the context behind upcoming movies set in the same universe.
But there was more to these shows that made them required viewing. As the first out the gate, WandaVision set the tone. The episodes were meant to be watched weekly, as each one spurred so-called “water cooler” discussions in-person and online. This felt a lot like “anti-binging” TV, as much of the appeal of these shows lay in the anticipation of what would happen next. At the very least, it showed that Disney+’s slate of original content — which also includes The Mandalorian and the upcoming The Book of Boba Fett — could hold its own against that of more established platforms.
The biggest move, however, was when Warner Bros. announced that every single one of its movies in 2021 would have a one month exclusive access period on HBO Max concurrent with the film’s domestic release. This meant that big blockbuster movies like Suicide Squad, Dune and Matrix 4 would be available on HBO Max on the same day they debuted in theaters for an entire year.
While some may have heralded this phenomenon as the future of entertainment, it looks to be short-lived. Disney revealed a few months ago that all of its remaining 2021 movies will get a 45-day head start in theaters. This could be due to strong responses to titles like Free Guy and Shang-Chi, but Disney might also want to avoid lawsuits like the one Scarlett Johansson filed for breach of contract over shortened theatrical releases. Warner Bros. also said that it’s going back to theater-first releases in 2022. It looks like the direct-to-streaming revolution isn’t quite here just yet.
Other notable streaming news
Paramount+ replaces CBS All Access, which essentially opens up the service to other ViacomCBS channels, such as Comedy Central and VH1, plus Paramount’s existing movie library.
Discovery+ makes its debut. The service features content from HGTV, Food Network, Animal Planet, TLC, the Magnolia Network, and Discovery.
AT&T spun off its WarnerMedia division and merged it with Discovery in a $43 billion deal. The new company will combine Warner’s film division, HBO Max and Discovery+.
Roku purchased Quibi’s shows and released some of them as “Roku Originals.”
Roku pulled YouTube TV from its channel store amid a contract dispute with Google. The latter apparently requested priority placement in search results and wanted to block results from other providers while the app was in use. As of December 8th, both parties have finally agreed to a multi-year extension.
In other notable YouTube TV news, the service recently lost access to all of Disney's channels, which includes ESPN, ABC and FX, as Google and Disney had failed to strike a deal. After just a couple of days, however, the two companies reconciled and reached an agreement, thus restoring all of the aforementioned channels. When YouTube TV initially lost those channels, Google had dropped the price of the service by $15 (from $65 to $50 in the basic package). Now the price is back to normal. However, if users had already initiated the cancellation process, Google will still honor the one-time $15 credit if they resume their membership.
WWE Network ceased operations as most of its content moved to Peacock.
Peacock aired multiple live Olympics sporting events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.
Universal made a deal where Peacock and Amazon Prime Video would have some streaming rights for its live-action movies after their theatrical run. They would air on Peacock for four months, then on Prime Video for 10 months, and then back to Peacock for at least another four months. This kicks into effect in 2022.
Netflix gained exclusive streaming rights to all of Sony’s upcoming movies, including upcoming titles in the Spider-Man franchise.
While the growth in streaming might be slowing, there are still plenty of shows and movies to anticipate next year. Netflix has confirmed that the aforementioned Sandmanwill be released in 2022, as well as The Witcher: Blood Origin and new seasons of favorites like Stranger Things, The Crown and Ozark. Disney+ will continue its MCU run of TV shows with Ms. Marvel, and will introduce a couple of Star Wars series too: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor. Perhaps the two biggest TV series to get excited about, however, are HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon, and Amazon’s epic Lord of the Rings series, which is set thousands of years prior to The Hobbit.
The smart home has never been more accessible, with more affordable entry points than ever. From security cameras to smart light bulbs, pretty much any internet-connected device that you can control via an app is enough to get you started on your smart home journey. But before you dive in, we advise taking a few preliminary steps. For one, don’t try to outfit your entire smart home in one go. Not only can this be quite expensive, we think it’s generally best to buy just one or two items first to see if you like them. From there, you can figure out if you want to buy more devices, making sure that they’re compatible with one another. Below are our suggestions for the best of each smart device category, with alternate suggestions where appropriate.
Before you start, pick a voice assistant
While plenty of smart home devices are platform agnostic, there are some — smart speakers and smart displays in particular — that require you to choose your voice assistant. Currently, that means deciding if you’ll use the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa on a regular basis. (I’ll address Siri in a moment.) They’re both compatible with various smart home products from light bulbs to robot vacuums, but there are certain devices that work best with either Google or Amazon. Nest products, for example, are more compatible with Google-powered speakers and displays. They can still work with Amazon devices, but certain features might be disabled. The same holds true with Amazon products: They work better if they’re in the same ecosystem.
So how do you choose between Alexa and Google Assistant? It really depends on your personal preferences. Do you listen to Audible, watch Prime Video and tend to do a lot of shopping on Amazon? Then you might lean toward an Alexa-powered product. Do you use a lot of Google services like YouTube and Google Podcasts? A Google-powered device might be best.
If you want a voice assistant that’s great at answering questions, Google Assistant tends to be better than Alexa. Amazon’s helper, on the other hand, currently supports more smart home products. The company’s smart speakers and displays also support the Zigbee smart home protocol, and some devices even have built-in smart home hubs. Both Google and Amazon devices can sync with your calendar, though Google’s tend to work better with Google services. Plus, if you already have an Android phone, you might be more comfortable with Google Assistant anyway.
But what about Siri? Apple’s assistant is an option as well, but it doesn’t have the same level of device support as Google and Amazon. The HomePod mini and the (now discontinued) HomePod are the only Siri-compatible speakers on the market at the moment, too. That said, it’s not too hard to find HomeKit-compatible gear as more third-party companies add support for it, but you currently have a smaller pool of devices to choose from.
Best smart speaker: Sonos One
Our recommendation for the best smart speaker is the Sonos One. It’s compact enough to fit in most areas in your home, but more importantly, it delivers excellent audio quality that’s superior to a lot of other smart speakers out there. When tuned properly to the acoustics of your room — which requires the iOS app — the sound is fantastic, with punchy bass and clear highs. Unfortunately, the Android app doesn’t have TruePlay tuning (Sonos has not said whether it’s in the works), but the speakers should still sound admirable. It’s also compatible with a slew of streaming services, including major ones like Spotify and Pandora.
The main benefit that a Sonos speaker brings over the competition is that it’s a gateway to a multi-room audio setup that you can build out over time. It’s also convenient if you plan on building a home theater setup later on, as the One integrates well with Sonos soundbars. On top of that, the Sonos One supports both Alexa and Google Assistant, so you don’t have to worry about picking one voice assistant over the other.
If you’re not interested in a multi-room audio setup, we also like Amazon’s Echo Studio. The price is comparable to the Sonos One and the audio quality is on par, too. As you can imagine, this is an especially compelling choice if you already know you’d prefer Alexa over Google Assistant.
For those with tighter budgets, there are a handful of smart speakers around $100. We recommend picking up one of the three latest smart speakers from either Google, Amazon or Apple. Out of the three, we think the Echo has the best audio quality. Our colleague Nate Ingraham said its bass is impressive and the mid-range frequencies are pretty powerful. You can also pair two together to get even better stereo sound.
The best Alexa-powered smart display is the Echo Show 8. The Echo Show 5 is a little too small, while the Echo Show 10 and its rotating screen take up too much space. The Echo Show 8, on the other hand, is perfectly sized for most rooms in the house. Like other Alexa-powered smart displays, it supports plenty of video streaming services including Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix and it comes with a couple of built-in browsers that you can use to surf the web. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support YouTube, which is a pretty notable omission considering how ubiquitous the service is. As a workaround, you can access it via the aforementioned browsers, but the experience isn’t as smooth as if it were a native app.
You can use the Show 8 to make video calls with any phone or tablet with the Alexa app. Alternatively, it supports Skype, Zoom and Amazon’s own Chime service. Like the Nest Hub Max, the Show 8 also has an optional face-tracking feature that follows your movements around the room during a call.
Our favorite Google-powered smart display is the second-generation Nest Hub. It has a 7-inch screen, which makes it just big enough to fit in most rooms in the house. The size also makes it work well as a digital photo frame. You can set it up to pull in pictures of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and there’s a smart algorithm that automatically uses the best shots while avoiding the blurry ones. As you might expect, you can also use the display to watch YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services.
Plus, a smart display without a camera is great if you want to place it in more intimate places like the bedroom, where you might be more protective of your privacy. If you place it by your bedside, the Nest Hub also has a sensor that can track your sleep patterns, if you opt in.
If you prefer a display with a camera, we recommend splurging on the higher-end Nest Hub Max. Its built-in camera can be used for video calls with Google Duo, Google Meet and Zoom. It also has an optional face-tracking feature that lets the camera follow you around during calls. One benefit of the camera is that it gives you the option for Face Match, a feature that automatically recognizes individual members of the house and then displays the information that’s pertinent only to them, like calendar alerts.
Additionally, the camera adds a unique gestures feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding up your hand to the screen, which is convenient if you need to stop the music without having to shout across the room. The Nest Hub Max also has better audio quality than the Hub thanks to its larger speakers.
One of the easiest entry points to the smart home is to swap out some of your existing light bulbs with smart ones. Smart light bulbs let you control your lighting remotely, either via an app and with your voice. They add automation and scheduling to the mix, so you can have them turn on and off at certain times of the day. Some also let you adjust their brightness and color temperature, or even let you create a custom light scene.
Our favorite smart lighting products come from Philips Hue, and the White and Color Ambiance LED Smart Button Starter Kit is a particularly good entry point as it includes three Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance 60W LED smart bulbs; a Hue hub that lets you control up to 50 lights; and a Smart Button if you want to have the option of turning off the lights without having your phone around.
This kit offers lots of versatility in lighting styles; you can change not just the brightness but also the color temperature and experiment with all different shades of the rainbow, decking out your room in whatever light scene you desire. If that seems a little too daring, Philips offers alternatives: The Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit lacks the color option, while the Hue White Starter Kit won’t let you adjust the color temperature.
The main reason we prefer Philips Hue bulbs is that they’re widely supported across smart home ecosystems. Not only can you find them pretty much anywhere, but they’ll work with Google, Amazon and Apple’s HomeKit. Since all the bulbs connect to the Hue hub via the Zigbee protocol (and not your home’s WiFi), it tends to be more reliable and it won’t slow down your home internet connection either.
If you’re not quite ready to dive into a whole lighting ecosystem or you just prefer a more affordable alternative, we suggest GE’s Cync Full Color Direct Connect Smart LED Bulb. Formerly known as C by GE, these bulbs don’t require a connecting hub: just screw in the bulb, connect it with the app, and you’re done. It, too, offers an array of lighting options in all manner of colors, and you can set schedules as well. Cync’s Direct Connect system works with both Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, but you’ll need to get a hub if you want to connect to Apple’s HomeKit.
Security cameras are helpful for catching intruders, nabbing porch pirates or just keeping an eye on your pet while you’re out of the house. Our favorite is the Wyze Cam V3 for its wide range of features along with its affordable price. Plus, thanks to its IP65 waterproof rating it can be used either indoors or outdoors, and it has color night vision that’s capable of recording nighttime video in full color.
Like previous-gen models, it sends alerts to your phone whenever it detects sound or motion. You can also customize Motion Detection Zones that allow you to adjust just how sensitive you want it to be. It also offers 24/7 continuous video recording that you can store via a 32GB microSD card (not included).
We especially like that the Wyze doesn’t require a subscription; free cloud storage is included with the purchase, and you’ll always have access to the last 14 days of recording on the app. Be warned, however, that the free account can only hold 12-second clips every five minutes. If you want it to record unlimited motion, consider upgrading to a Cam Plus subscription, which includes additional features like alerting you if it detects a person or a package. Fortunately, it’s inexpensive at $2 a month or $15 a year.
There’s a lot to like about the Wyze Cam V3, but it needs to be plugged in. For a wireless alternative, we like the Blink Indoor and Outdoor cameras. They both run on AA batteries, so you can place them anywhere you want, and they’ll run for around two years before you need to replace the batteries. The Blink Outdoor is weather resistant, but otherwise both cameras are the same. They both have night vision, motion detection and two-way audio. You can store clips in the cloud via the Blink Subscription Plan or you can also save events locally to a Sync Module 2 via a USB flash drive (sold separately). Unfortunately, Blink works with Alexa only, which could be a non-starter for some.
Best doorbell camera: Arlo Essential Video Doorbell
If you want a camera specifically for your front door, a doorbell camera makes more sense than a standalone option. Our favorite is the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell, which is compatible with Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple HomeKit. It delivers high-quality HDR footage along with a 180-degree view so you can see a person from head to toe and it can ring your phone with a video call whenever someone rings the bell. There’s also two-way audio so you can talk to whoever’s at the door.
A highlight of this doorbell is that it comes with a three-month trial to Arlo’s Smart subscription service, which includes a motion detection feature that can tell the difference between a person, package, vehicle or animal. Senior Editor Devindra Hardawar said that he really appreciated the package alerts; it did a good job of telling him whenever UPS dropped off a box. It’s such a useful feature, in fact, that we recommend keeping the service beyond the trial period.
You should be able to use the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell with either Google or Amazon’s smart displays, but it won’t be fully integrated. You’ll be able to view the webcam on the display, but if someone rings the doorbell, they won’t automatically show up on the screen. If you want that particular feature, you’ll have to use either a Google doorbell like the Nest Video Doorbell or an Amazon doorbell like the Blink Video Doorbell (for Google and Amazon displays, respectively).
Our favorite robot vacuum is the iRobot Roomba 694. We recommended it in our budget robot vacuum guide as it did a great job cleaning hard and carpeted surfaces. (We liked the Shark Ion RV761, too, but the Roomba 694 is a newer model.) Plus, the app is really easy to use for luddites and the tech savvy alike. And just in case you don’t have access to the app — maybe you left your phone in another room, for example — the Roomba 694 has manual controls as well.
One of the reasons the Roomba 694 cleans so well is that it has a three-stage system that tells it to suck up dirt while also navigating around obstacles. When it encounters an especially filthy area, it focuses in on it, making sure it’s clean before moving on. You can also manually instruct it to clean a specific spot in case you need it. And if you prefer to talk to your robot vacuum, the Roomba 694 works well with both Alexa and Google Assistant.
If you don’t mind spending more money on an even better robot vacuum, we recommend the Roomba i7+. It cleans both carpet and hard floors well, but it’s quieter and smarter. It has a mapping technology that helps it keep track of all the different rooms in your home to clean it in the most efficient way possible. But the coolest thing about the i7+ is that after each job, it automatically empties its bin into a clean base that can hold about 30 jobs worth of dirt. In short, the i7+ is worth the splurge if you want a robot vacuum that doesn’t require a lot of attention.
Smart plugs are the easiest way to add a bit of connectivity to your home without spending a ton of money. Connect your regular non-smart lamp and voila, it’s internet connected and you didn’t have to spend a fortune. The best one we’ve tried is from Wyze, thanks largely to its easy-to-use app. We were able to fly through the installation process; pairing was seamless and connecting it to WiFi was simple as well. We especially love that it offers two-factor authentication (the rest of the smart plugs we tried did not have this). You can schedule it to go on and off at different times and days. The Wyze Plug works with Alexa, Google Assistant (though you’ll have to go through the Google Home app to pair it) plus the IFTTT service.
Another smart plug option: TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini
Another solid option is TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini. We didn’t find the app as easy to use — installation was not as seamless as the Wyze — but once you get past that, it’s still just as capable. Just like with the Wyze Plug, you can schedule the plug to turn on and off at certain times and days of the week. On top of that, the Kasa actually offers scheduling around sunrise or sunset times, a feature that the Wyze lacks. It works with Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, IFTTT plus Samsung SmartThings.
Black Friday typically presents lots of opportunities to smarten up your abode, with everything from connected bulbs to robot vacuums undergoing deep discounts for the holidays. We’ve already seen a few of these items go on sale as part of early Black Friday efforts, and we’ll definitely see more today and over the weekend. These devices include not just the aforementioned bulbs and robot vacuums but also sous vide machines, Instant Pots, Nest Hubs and more. To prevent you from sifting through all these sales yourself, we’ve done the hard work for you. Here are some of the best ones we’ve seen so far.
iRobot Roomba 694
One of our favorite robot vacuums, the iRobot Roomba 694, is now $95 off, which brings its price down to $180. It does a great job cleaning both hard and carpeted surfaces, plus the app is easy to use. It has a three-stage cleaning system plus dirt detect sensors that will prompt it to clean high-traffic spots of your home more thoroughly. It navigates obstacles really well too. It’ll even suggest an extra clean during high pollen or pet shedding season. The Roomba 694 is compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa as well.
If you don’t mind spending more money, iRobot’s higher-end Roomba i3+ is on sale for $300 (down from $400). It’s a little more intelligent with personalized cleaning suggestions and it automatically recharges itself too. You can also get the i3+ with an automatic dirt disposal unit, where it’ll empty itself out so you don’t have to.
The Shark AV2501 AI robot vacuum with the extra-large HEPA self-empty base is usually $650, but is now at an all-time low price of $450. Not only does it empty itself, but the base actually has a 60-day capacity. That means you can go two whole months before having to take it out. On top of that, the true HEPA filtration captures 99.97 percent of dust and allergens, it has LIDAR technology to accurately map out your home, and you can set up schedules, on-demand cleaning, UltraClean Mode and more via the app, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
iRobot's latest vacuum, the Roomba j7+, has dropped to $649 at Wellbots when you use the code ENGADGET200 at checkout for $200 off. This is one of the higher-end robo-vacs the company makes and it has new AI-driven computer vision technology that can detect objects and move around them as it cleans. That means it'll better avoid things like chairs and table legs, as well as unexpected obstacles like pet poop. It also comes with a clean base into which the robot will empty debris at the end of every cleaning job.
Black Friday is usually a great time for those looking to score a great deal on an Instant Pot, and this year is no different. Currently, the six-quart Instant Pot Duo Plus is half off, bringing it from $120 to just $60. It’s one we think works great for most people due to its simple design plus it has plenty of features. Not only is it an excellent pressure cooker, you can also use it for slow cooking, sautéing, cooking rice, making yogurt, steaming, sous vide cooking and sterilizing.
Other models are on sale too. The six-quart Duo Crisp is now $100 ($50 off) while the six-quart Pro is $80 ($50 off) and the eight-quart Pro Crisp is $170 ($80 off). The Duo Crisp has many of the same features as the Duo Plus, except it has an additional crisping lid that adds additional features such as broiling, dehydrating and air frying. The Pro adds a few extra features for advanced users, such as five programmable buttons for your own recipes, while the Pro Crisp has an additional air fryer lid.
Another pressure cooker on sale is the Ninja Foodi Deluxe XL. The price has dropped from $250 to just $140, which is a 44 percent discount. The Ninja Foodi Deluxe XL has an 8 quart capacity plus a crisping air-frying technology built right in, so there’s no need to buy two separate appliances. It has 12 different functions: pressure cook, air fry, steam, slow cook, yogurt maker, sear, bake, roast, broil, dehydrate, sous vide and keep warm.
August has dropped the price of its WiFi smart lock to $170. If you’d rather upgrade your deadbolt entirely however, then August’s WiFi Smart Lock is the better option. It’s down from $230 to just $180. It easily installs on any door and you can grant access to friends and family using the app. It has built-in WiFi so you don’t need an external WiFi hub, and it’ll work seamlessly with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit. Features like Auto-Unlock and DoorSense bring peace of mind, instantly opening the door when you’re nearby and alerting you when it’s locked safely behind you. We praised it in our review for its ease-of-use and security features.
CYNC’s full color direct connect smart bulbs are discounted for Black Friday: the 4-pack is down from $45 to $35, while the 2-pack is down from $24 to just $17. These light bulbs are great because all you need to do is screw them in and connect them directly to GE's app; there’s no need for a separate WiFi hub. They can change to all kinds of different colors plus different color temperatures as well. The app lets you schedule the lights for certain times of day, and you can also use either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to control your lights.
Philips Hue White & Color Ambiance A19 LED smart lights
Philips’ Hue White & Color Ambiance A19 LED Starter Kit is down from $190 to $140 for Black Friday. This kit comes with three bulbs, a Hue Bridge to connect them to, plus an included dimmer switch just in case you prefer not to use your phone to control the lights. You can sync them with your movie, music or game for a custom mood lighting. The app also lets you schedule wake and sleep routines with the lights. Plus, you can control them with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit.
Philips is also selling a Bluetooth version of the A19 in a 3-pack for $100 (down from $135). They have the same color profiles and dimming capabilities, and you can connect them to your phone via Bluetooth for instant light control in one room. If you want the full set of smart lighting features however, you’ll still want the Hue bridge mentioned above. If you're more interested in Hue light strips, a starter pack that includes the Hue bridge is 55 percent off and down to $50.
Google’s Nest Hub Max was originally priced at $230 but is now $180. The Nest Hub Max is basically Google Assistant housed inside a 10-inch display. It works as a digital photo frame and you can also use it to watch YouTube videos and step-by-step cooking instructions. There’s a built-in camera which can be used for facial recognition so that each family member can access their own notes and calendar. You can also use it for video calls via Google Duo, Meet or Zoom. It’s especially useful if you have Nest devices in the house, as you can use it to check out Nest cams and control various other smart home products.
If you’d rather have a smart display without a camera, then consider Google’s 2nd-gen Nest Hub. It is also deeply discounted for Black Friday, with a 50 percent discount that drops it from $100 to $50. It has all of the features of the Nest Hub Max but without the camera, which makes it more suitable for more intimate settings like the bedroom. In fact, the 2nd-gen Nest Hub even has a sleep sensor, which you can use to figure out your sleeping patterns.
Google’s Nest Audio is the company’s best smart speaker to-date, and it’s currently down from $100 to just $60. The Nest Audio is attractive, minimalist and best of all, it has really great audio quality. The sound is even better if you have two paired in stereo mode, and since the Nest Audio is so affordable right now, you could afford to get two for not much more than the original price. Like other Google Assistant speakers, the Nest Audio lets you set reminders, ask various questions and control your smart home.
If you don’t care that much about audio quality and size is important to you, Google’s second-generation Nest Mini is on sale now too. Down from $50, it’s 50 percent off at just $25. The tiny hockey-puck like speaker might not sound as good as the Nest Audio but the audio is actually decent for its size. Of course, the main reason to get it is for Google Assistant, which will answer all your queries, let you set reminders and calendar appointments, and control your smart home too.
Say goodbye to WiFi dead zones with this Google Nest WiFi router 3-pack, which is currently on sale for just $249 (originally $349). This bundle includes one mesh router along with two access points, which is ideal for those with mid- to large-sized homes. Not only does it have a simple installation process, but each access point comes with a built-in smart speaker. This means that you don’t need to purchase an additional smart speaker if you don’t want to; each will have Google Assistant’s smarts baked right in. Plus, the mesh WiFi network will improve your home internet considerably, making it faster and more reliable.
Google’s outdoor Nest Cam Battery is down from $180 to $150, for a total savings of $30. This security camera is meant to be used outdoors due to its weather resistance, though you can use it indoors too if you like. As its name suggests, it’s entirely battery-powered so it doesn’t need to be hardwired into your house. You can have back-and-forth conversations with whoever’s on the other end of the camera and if you have a Nest Aware subscription, you’ll get 24/7 live view recording as well. It’ll even notify you if it sees a person, animal, or vehicle.
Google’s top-of-the-line smart thermostat is down from $250 to just $180 for Black Friday. As its name suggests, the Nest Learning Smart Thermostat will learn your home system over time. From there, it’ll change the temperature to make your home more energy efficient. So if you’re usually out of the house between 9AM and 5PM for example, it’ll automatically turn down the thermostat during those times without you having to prompt it. Plus, the Nest Learning Smart Thermostat looks quite sleek as well due to its metal trim.
The more affordable smart thermostat from Google is also on sale right now. The Nest Smart Thermostat has dropped from $130 to just $100 for Black Friday. You can get it in a few different colors — Snow, Charcoal, Fog and Sand. It’s slimmer than the higher-end Nest Thermostat, and it has a touch-sensitive edge and a mirrored display that looks great on the wall. It also has plenty of smarts, with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa controls, plus an Eco mode that’ll keep your home at a specified temperature when you’re out of the house.
The Echo Show 8 smart display is on sale for $90, or $40 off its normal rate. It earned a score of 87 from us for its attractive design, stellar audio quality and improved camera for video calls. This smart display has arguably the best sized display for anywhere in the home — its 8-inch screen could work well on nightstand, a kitchen counter, an entry table and many other places. Both the first- and second-gen Show 8s have discounted bundles that include a Blink Mini camera for only $5 extra, too.
If you prefer something a bit smaller, the Echo Show 5 has dropped to $45, or $40 off its normal price. This is the best Echo smart display if you want one as a smart alarm clock. We like its ambient light sensor, smart home controls and tap-to-snooze feature.
Amazon's Echo smart speaker is on sale for $60 right now. We gave it a score of 89 for its solid audio quality, attractive design and inclusion of a 3.5mm audio jack. Out of the popular $100 smart speakers, we think the Echo has the best audio quality of them all, and you'll only enhance the experience if you have two of them playing together in stereo mode.
For those more concerned about space than audio quality, the tiny Echo Dot has dropped to $30, and you can grab the Echo Dot with Clock for only $35. These are much better suited for small spaces like a home office or a nightstand. We gave the Dot a score of 88 for its good audio quality for the price, compact design and tap-to-snooze feature.
The Blink Indoor and Outdoor one-camera kits are on sale for $50 and $60, respectively. These cams are totally wireless, so you can place them almost anywhere. They supports 1080p recording, motion alerts, two-way audio and temperature monitoring, too. If you want something even more compact and don't mind dealing with a wire, the Blink Mini is also on sale for only $20.
Lenovo’s Smart Clock is a few years old now, which is probably why it’s so deeply discounted; it’s down from $80 to just $35. It’s still a really solid alarm clock with plenty of Google Assistant smarts. You can use it to check the weather, stream your favorite tunes and control your smart home too. You can use it to check out compatible Nest cams around the house. It also has plenty of clock features such as different clock faces and the ability to set custom schedules, alarms and timers. You can also just yell “Stop” to shut off the alarm in the morning. There’s a USB port in the back that you can use to charge your mobile devices too.
Alternatively, you can get the newer Lenovo Smart Clock 2, which has dropped from $90 to $70 for Black Friday. It has essentially the same features as its predecessor, but it now has a wireless charging dock attached. That means you can charge a couple of devices at the same time; one on the Qi charging pad and one via a USB cable.
For something a little more basic, the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is down from $50 to $30. It’s a much simpler version of the two other Lenovo Smart Clocks. Instead of an LCD display, all it shows are big LED numbers. But it still has built-in Google Assistant and it has a nightlight as well.
Facebook’s Portal has dropped from $180 to just $80, making it a really good deal. The Portal is a smart display that’s mostly focused on video calls. It has a smart camera tech that can actually pan and zoom to keep you in frame as you move around the room. Plus, it supports a wide array of video call platforms including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Zoom, Webex and GoToMeeting. It has a lot of video call features as well such as AR effects, fun backgrounds, storytime animations and more. Built-in Alexa also gives it smart home controls and step-by-step cooking instructions as well.
Other Facebook Portal devices are on sale as well. The Portal+ is down from $350 to $300 while the Portal Go has dropped from $200 to $150. The Portal+ has the largest screen at around 14 inches, making it more suitable for larger spaces like a living room or a big kitchen. The Portal Go, on the other hand, is meant to be portable and carried from room to room; it even has a handle on the back.
The TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini has dropped from $18 to $13. It’s one of our favorite smart plugs due to its ease of use. It can turn any electronic item into a smart one, be it a simple lamp or a humidifier. When plugged into the Kasa, the devices can be controlled easily using the app. You can turn them on and off, create schedules and set timers using the app. If you want to use voice command, it works with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant as well.
Arlo’s Pro 4 Spotlight Camera Security Bundle is down from $600 to $400 for Black Friday. It includes three wire-free cameras, all of which can be used either indoors or outdoors. They can capture 2K HDR footage in color night vision. There’s also a built-in spot light, two-way audio so you can communicate with anyone on the other side of the camera, plus a smart siren that can be triggered automatically or remotely. They’re battery-powered so you don’t need to hard-wire them in too, which is great. The Arlo Pro 4 cameras are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant plus the IFTTT protocol.
Netgear has a few items on sale for Black Friday this year. One is its Orbi AX4200 Tri-Band Mesh WiFi System, which is down from $750 to $650. The company says it’ll cover up to 7,500 square feet with reliable WiFi. This bundle comes with three different Orbi units along with a built-in cable modem. It’s compatible with WiFi 6 and Netgear promises speeds of up to 4.2Gbps over 40 devices. The company is also offering the system in a pack with one router and three satellites for $550 (down from $650), which will cover up to 10,000 square feet instead.
The Eero 6 dual-band mesh WiFi system is down to $77, or 40 percent off its normal price. One node can cover up to 1,500 square feet and it supports WiFi 6. The Eero Pro 6 is also on sale and it's a bit more advanced than the standard 6: it's a tri-band system that supports WiFi 6 and covers up to 2,000 square feet with just one node.
The Breville Joule is one of our favorite sous vide cookers and its price has dropped by 20 percent; the white version is now $160 while the stainless steel option is $200. Sous vide cookers are wonderful because they’re able to cook foods at precise temperatures. This way you can get perfectly done meats every time, no guesswork required. The Joule is particularly impressive because it’s small, sleek and it fits perfectly inside the kitchen drawer. It works with WiFi and Bluetooth, and you can use the app to control the temperature from anywhere in the home.
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Shortly after releasing as well as in grocery stores, the California-based company is introducing yet another faux meat product. It’s called Impossible Meatballs, and unlike the others, it’s actually debuting in retail before restaurants. Impossible Meatballs will be available at Walmart stores this month and at additional retailers later this year. They’re priced at around $6.48 per pack.
Instead of being made out of one “animal,” the Impossible Meatball was designed to be a mix of both “beef” and “pork.” According to the company, each meatball is a custom mix of Impossible Burger and Impossible Sausage along with a “homestyle meatball” seasoning blend that includes dried onions and garlic. They come in a resealable freezer bag, and each contains around 14 or so meatballs. There’s around 12 grams of protein per serving.
I received a sample of the meatballs over the weekend. They come already cooked so all you need to do is reheat them via the oven, microwave, stovetop or air fryer. The oven method was listed as recommended so I baked them in a single layer on a baking tray in a 350-degree oven for 17 minutes. The end result is quite delicious — very savory and moist. I could still tell they weren’t really made out of meat though; they lacked a certain texture that I missed. But when I doused them in marinara sauce, that didn’t quite matter as much.
In addition to selling Impossible Meatballs, Walmart will also introduce a dedicated plant-based section of its frozen aisle that will feature various Impossible Foods products. That includes Impossible Chicken Nuggets, Impossible Sausage in spicy and savory flavors, Impossible Burger and the aforementioned Impossible Meatballs.
According to the company, Impossible Meatballs is a retail-led product aimed at grocery shoppers. That’s a slightly different strategy than the company’s previous faux meat products, which debuted at restaurants first before being rolled out to grocery stores. However, Impossible Meatballs will still be available for restaurants later this month.
Keeping your home clean, organized and secure can be a chore, and your loved ones likely feel the same way. Fortunately, there are gadgets that can help make it a little easier. We review smart speakers, robotic vacuums and Instant Pots all year long, and for the holiday season we’ve compiled a list of our recent favorites in the home tech space that will make excellent gifts. And your giftee doesn’t have to be tech savvy to use all of them either — plenty of our recommendations amount to baby steps into the smart home world for those who would rather start off slow.
Instant Pot Pro
We almost always recommend the multi-purpose Instant Pot in our holiday gift guides and this year is no exception. But instead of giving your loved one the regular model, why not level up? Designed for avid cook, the Instant Pot Pro brings several key upgrades over previous models. The inner pot has an extra thick bottom that lets you heat it on the stove, plus handles that make it easier to lift. It has 28 customizable programs for different foods, and there are five favorite buttons that you can assign to frequently cooked meals. It also has steam release reminder alerts with 5- and 10-minute pre-sets. It’s available in two different sizes, but we’d recommend the six-quart version for most families.
Sous vide cooking essentially means keeping foods in a temperature-controlled water bath, ensuring they’re done to perfection. This used to require expensive equipment, but sous vide cookers have become inexpensive over the past few years. One such device is the Anova Precision Cooker Nano, which can be found for around $100, and can be controlled through either an app or physical buttons. It’s one of the most affordable sous vide machines around, yet it delivers precise temperature controls. The app also comes with an assortment of helpful recipes to help get users started on their sous vide journey.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more, we also like Breville’s Joule for its sleek, minimalist design. It doesn’t have the physical controls that the Nano does, but it makes up for that with its compact form factor that’s a little easier to fit in a kitchen drawer. Either option will ensure medium-rare steak, juicy chicken breasts or just a perfectly soft-cooked egg.
If your loved one is a great cook with counter space to spare, consider getting them the Anova Precision Oven. It’s a luxury purchase, for sure, but it’s well worth the price for serious home cooks. This combination convection-steam oven can cook food in both wet and dry heat, letting you control temperature and humidity levels. What this means is that your special someone can make juicy roast chicken with crispy skin as well as crusty artisan-style bread all in one machine. Plus, it has WiFi and a companion app that lets cooks keep an eye on their food from anywhere.
Video doorbells are useful for seeing who’s at the front door from the comfort of your couch. One of our favorites is the Nest Hello (now called the Nest Doorbell Wired), which is why we were pleased when Nest came out with a new battery-operated version, the Nest Doorbell Battery. It’s a great gift for both homeowners and renters, as you don’t need to hardwire it. Battery life is anywhere from one to six months depending on how active it is (it’s shorter if you live on a busy street, for example). The Doorbell notifies them whenever there’s a person, animal or vehicle near the front door. It can also let them know when a package has been placed, which is great for pre-empting theft. In addition, it offers three hours of event video history for free, with the option to purchase more space through a Nest Aware subscription.
If you do get a Nest Doorbell for someone, you might want to consider gifting them a Nest Hub as well. The two are designed to work together: anytime someone rings the doorbell, the camera view of who’s at the front door will show up on the Nest Hub’s screen. Even without the doorbell, however, the smart display is a great device to have around the home — especially if your loved one already uses the Google Assistant. It works as a digital photo frame and they can use it to watch YouTube and Netflix. It can also make calls via Google Duo and offers recipe videos along with step-by-step cooking instructions. If the user so chooses, they can track their sleeping patterns when they place the device next to their bed.
For those who prefer Alexa over the Google Assistant, the Echo Show 8 is a great alternative to the Nest Hub. It also works as a digital photo frame and its 8-inch display is a good size for streaming shows from Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu while prepping dinner. It can also be used to keep up with the news, check the weather and control smart home devices. Since Amazon has a partnership with Allrecipes and Food Network Kitchen, users can find assorted recipes and instructional videos as well.
Air purifiers are great gifts for anyone who has allergies, lives in a polluted area or just wants to breathe easier at home. And if you want to give someone a smarter air purifier, consider the Mila Air. It ships with one of seven pre-configured HEPA filters that can filter out particles and allergens like pollen and dust. It also has a ton of customization options: there’s a “Housekeeping Service” mode that goes full blast when no one’s in the room, a “Sleep Mode” that turns the lights off and reduces the fan speeds at night, plus a “White Noise” mode that mimics soothing sounds like waterfalls. The Mila also has a bevy of sensors that can tell you if there’s carbon monoxide in the air, or if the humidity is too high.
Blink’s indoor camera offers the gift of peace of mind in a compact and affordable package. Your loved one will appreciate the fact that Blink is wireless and battery-powered; since they don’t have to place it near an electrical outlet, it can sit almost anywhere. They also won’t have to worry about recharging the camera since it can last up to two years on its two included AA batteries. Aside from just letting them monitor their home, it also features customizable motion alerts so they’ll only get alerted when they want to. Plus, there’s two-way audio so they can hear and speak to the person (or pet) on the other end.
Maybe you have someone in your life who could use a little help cleaning up after themselves. For that, we recommend getting them one of our favorite robot vacuum cleaners, the iRobot Roomba 694. It can suck up dirt and debris from both hardwood and carpeted floors, with an edge-sweeping brush taking care of dusty corners. The companion app lets them control it remotely, or they can set up a cleaning schedule so the little robot can do its thing at a set time. It even automatically docks and recharges itself if it’s low on battery.
Smart locks are a great way to add security and convenience to any home. We recommend August’s WiFi smart lock because it’s easy to use, and since it fits over an existing deadbolt, it’s great for both homeowners and renters. It lets your loved ones unlock the door completely hands-free, which is great if they have their arms full of groceries. They can set it so that it automatically locks once the door is closed, or after a set period of time. If someone’s at the door but they’re at the office or in the backyard, they can easily let them in with a single finger tap. Plus, they can grant access for specific friends or family members, which means they might never need to put the key under the doormat ever again.
With a smart plug, any appliance can be part of a connected home for not a lot of money. TP-Link’s Kasa smart plug is a particularly good one because it is both affordable and incredibly compact (and if you’re really short on space, there’s a mini version that’s even smaller). Together with its companion app, they can schedule a timer to turn on and off anything from Christmas lights to a coffee maker. It’s also compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, which lets them add voice control to any outlet.
With most of us having so many gadgets and smart home devices, perhaps the best thing you can give your loved one is the gift of better WiFi to keep things running smoothly. Amazon’s Eero routers will deliver just that. The latest models support WiFi 6, the latest and fastest WiFi standard, and will support 75-plus devices simultaneously. It also covers up to 1,500 square feet with WiFi speeds up to 900 Mbps, so it’s unlikely they’ll ever have to deal with dead spots or buffering again. The Eero 6 also comes with a built-in Zigbee smart home hub that lets them connect compatible devices without having to purchase a separate device.
Add some color to your loved one’s life with the Philips LED smart bulb starter kit, which comes with four multi-color bulbs plus a Hue Hub that connects them all together. The bulbs can fill the room with millions of different colors so they can choose from warm moody lighting for a cozy atmosphere or rainbows for parties. In the companion app, they can create timers and routines so that their lights gradually turn on in the morning or off in the evening. And it’s scalable: They can eventually have up to 50 lights connected to one Hue Hub, giving them the freedom to outfit their whole home with smart lights if they wish.
One of Clubhouse’s defining characteristics was that all of the audio chats that happened on its platform were live. Once the conversation was over, it was over. That helped build an air of exclusivity around Clubhouse’s audio chat rooms, especially in the earlier days where only influencers and celebrities had access to the app.
But now, the company seems to have changed its tune. Clubhouse has just called Replay, where users can choose to record the audio chat and then save it to a club or profile. They can be downloaded and shared externally too, just in case someone wants to use it as a podcast or a TikTok soundtrack.
the best of live ✨ but later!
Replays are here and they're so much more than just a recording. Creators can download audio, and when you listen on Clubhouse, you'll see all the dynamics of the stage, PTRs, *and* hop from speaker to speaker.
Replay will also support pinned links, a recent feature that allows chat moderators to link out to different sites during a conversation. Those links will remain fully interactive to those who are listening to the recording later on as well.
Listeners to a recorded conversation can skip to the next speaker, pause, scrub, or make a 30-second clip. They can also listen to it at 1.5 or 2x speed. However, be aware that creators will be able to see who’s listening to their Replays. They’ll also be able to have a “total room count” to see how many people in total — both live and recorded — listened to the room. Starting next week, Replays will appear on Clubhouse’s discovery pages, which includes search.
As TechCrunch points out, Replay is obviously great for those who don’t have time to catch a live audio event, which in turn makes Clubhouse more appealing to those with busy schedules. As Clubhouse gets more competition such as Twitter Spaces and Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms, it’ll likely need even more features to help differentiate itself from its rivals.
Board games are a great gift for anyone who wants to spend time with friends and family without staring at the TV. They’re interactive, fun, and you get to tell everyone to put away their phones and tablets for a while. But instead of pulling out the same old classics like Monopoly and Scrabble, we recommend giving some new titles a try. Here, we’ve compiled a list of games that you might not have heard of, but will still make excellent gifts this holiday season. Some are perfect for fantasy and video game nerds, while others are likely to be a hit with the whole family.
Trails: A Parks Game
Trails is a great little board game for anyone who loves hiking or even just the idea of it. In Trails, players hike on picturesque nature paths while gathering resources, taking pictures and encountering wildlife, earning points along the way. Whoever gets the most points wins. The art in this game is beautiful, featuring 11 national park illustrations from the Fifty-Nine Park Print series. Trails makes an especially great game for nature lovers, as a portion of every game sale is donated to the National Park Service.
If your loved one is a fan of open-world video games such as Skyrim or No Man’s Sky, Sleeping Gods could well be the perfect board game for them. In this cooperative game, you and up to three friends play the part of Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew, who find themselves lost in the Wandering Sea. With a game atlas of connecting maps and a thick choose-your-own-adventure style storybook, players will have to explore the land to uncover its secrets, fight beasts, complete quests and make game-changing decisions. It all adds up to an engrossing and immersive experience sure to please anyone who loves a good story.
MCU fans will definitely appreciate it if you give them Marvel United, a game where the player and their friends have to work together to defeat the forces of evil. They can take on the role of one of seven heroes such as Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow, each with their own unique powers and abilities. To win, players must choose their cards carefully and also collaborate with their partners to combine each other’s actions whenever possible. They’ll have to fight off henchmen, rescue civilians and, of course, take down one of three super villains: Red Skull, Ultron or Taskmaster. If X-Men is more their style, you could get them the Marvel United: X-Men version instead, where they get to play as characters like Professor X, Cyclops and Storm.
Canvas is perhaps one of the prettiest board games we’ve ever seen — it’s so lovely that we almost want to hang the cover on a wall. It’s apropos because in Canvas, players are painters in an art competition. They collect art cards, layering them on top of one another to create their own unique “painting.” As they do so, certain icons will be revealed or hidden, which will determine the resulting score, depending on the objectives for that round. It might sound confusing, but Canvas is a beginner friendly game that should make a great gift for art lovers of all stripes.
Space Invaders is an enjoyable dexterity game for the whole family, even for those who don’t remember playing the classic arcade title of the same name. In this game, players have to work together to defeat descending aliens plus the UFO mothership before their health runs out. But instead of smashing buttons, they’ll take turns launching battle tokens with a mini catapult, and each player has a special ability they can deploy as well. It all adds to a bunch of silly fun that anyone aged eight and up can partake in.
Another excellent family game is Summer Camp, which will have your loved ones recalling fond memories of canoeing, making friendship bracelets and roasting marshmallows. In this game, players are racing against each other to earn merit badges in different categories such as adventure, arts and crafts, cooking, friendship, outdoors, games and water sports. They’ll want to buy the right cards, build the best combos and beat their opponents across the finish line to get the most points possible. It might not be as fun as actually being at summer camp, but hey, at least they won’t get eaten by mosquitos while playing.
If your loved one isn’t new to the world of tabletop gaming, then consider giving them Summoner Wars 2nd Edition, a tactical dueling card game that pits them against a rival to see which one will reign supreme. Players take on the role of powerful summoners that each control a large army of units in the form of cards, which are then placed in a head-to-head board. They also choose one of six different factions, each with unique attacks and moves. Some wield dark magic that can drain enemies, while others utilize brute strength to force their way through. If they’re really into combat games with a lot of tactics and strategy, Summoner Wars would make a thoughtful gift. The only downside is that you'll have to gift this a bit late as it comes out on January 12, 2022.
Wrath of the Lich King: A Pandemic System Board Game
For those who are really into World of Warcraft but might not have a lot of board gaming experience, Wrath of the Lich King: A Pandemic System Board game is the perfect introduction to the pastime. Based on a WoW expansion of the same name, players will take on the roles of legendary characters such as Thrall, Varian Wrynn, Sylvanas Windrunner, Tirian Fordring and Jaina Proudmoore, all of which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played WoW. They’ll travel around the frozen continent of Northrend, completing quests and setting up strongholds in order to defeat armies of the undead and, eventually, the Lich King himself.
Why the long name? Well, the game utilizes similar mechanics found in Pandemic, a much beloved board game about eradicating the world of diseases. Those who are already familiar with Pandemic should be able to learn the game quite easily as a result, though Wrath of the Lich King has enough differences that it won’t feel like the same thing.
One of the most popular video games in 2017 was Cuphead, a run-and-gun style video game that features a hand-drawn 1930s art style. If you know someone who loved it when it came out, they might be interested in this card and dice version of the same game. Players play as Cuphead, Mugman, Elder Kettle or Ms. Chalice, and will attempt to defeat a gauntlet of bosses by rolling dice. Players can roll the dice as many times as they want per round, but there’s one problem: the time limit. It all adds up to a chaotic experience that really emulates the insane adrenaline rush of the original video game.