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The books and movies we’re gifting this year

Having somehow made it through a second year of global pandemic and political unrest, give the loved ones on your holiday shopping list the greatest gift of all: an alternative to doom-scrolling. In Engadget’s 2021 Media Gift Guide you’ll find a diverse selection of books — fiction and nonfiction alike — as well a host of streaming content suggestions that will keep their recipients entertained through the holidays and beyond. If you’ve got a book, show or movie that you think would make the perfect present, tell us all about it in the comments below!

Fiction

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

NYT bestselling author, Rebecca Roanhorse — the literary force behind Star Wars: Resistance Reborn — has done it again. Her latest fantasy series, Between Earth and Sky, takes readers on an epic journey of trauma, healing, vengeance, and eventual redemption. The first book in the series, 2020’s Black Sun, weaves a masterfully engrossing — and markedly inclusive — tale that eschews the common Arthurian Legend retellings in favor of a unique fantasy world inspired by pre-Columbian America cultures. If you’ve got a fan of fantasy on your holiday shopping list, pick up Black Sun for them before the sequel, Fevered Star, drops next April.

Buy Black Sun at Amazon - $13

Age of Madness trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

The ending of Game of Thrones was nothing short of a slap in the face to fans. I mean, really, all that and Bran wins? GTFOH. If you’ve got a fan of George “Double R” Martin on your holiday shopping list, do them a favor and turn them on to Joe Abercrombie’s Age of Madness trilogy. Set in a world in which the seeds of industrialization have just taken hold even as the age magic and mysticism stubbornly refuses to be uprooted, AoM tells a tale of mighty nations at war while the powerful elites who rule them vie for control over both their countries’ external fates and their courts’ internal politics. Packed with captivating characters, political intrigue, incredible reversals of fortune and stunning betrayals, Age of Madness is a grimdark masterpiece where everybody, for once, gets exactly what they deserve.

Buy Age of Madness trilogy at Amazon - $35

1414º by Paul Bradley Carr

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Whether we like it or not, this is Jeff Bezos’ world and the rest of us just live in it. Our current slate of 21st century techno-robber barons have achieved unfathomable wealth and unassailable power; but as Paul Bradley Carr’s latest novel, 1414º, illustrates, you can’t spend that money or wield that influence when you’re dead. If you’ve got a fan of high-tension whodunnits and techno-thrillers on your holiday shopping list, 1414º will be a surefire hit.

Buy 1414º at Amazon - $5

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Martha Wells can’t stop, won’t stop, dropping Murderbot hits. The reigning queen of hard sci-fi released Fugitive Telemetry — the sixth book in her Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Alex Award winning series — earlier this year and let me tell you from experience, it is a banger. Our self-aware SecUnit anti-hero is back in another standalone adventure, this time on the trail of a vicious murderer aboard Preservation (space) Station. If the sci-finatic on your holiday shopping lists enjoys space intrigue and robotic mysteries, you can’t go wrong with Fugitive Telemetry.

Buy Fugitive Telemetry at Amazon - $12

Undying Mercenaries series by B.V. Larson

The year is 2052 and Earth finds itself unwillingly annexed into a galactic empire it didn’t even know existed and is presented with a simple choice: provide our new alien overlords with a viable commercial product or face extermination. Thus, Earth’s mercenary legions are born. Armed with alien-made weaponry and a mysterious technology that allows soldiers to be reconstructed after being killed in battle — like reloading from a previous save point but far more gooey — Earth’s legions set out across the stars to fight the wars that the galaxy’s elder races are too self-important to fight themselves. Already 16 books deep, author B.V. Larson continues to lead the genre of military sci-fi from the front, so if you’ve got a fan of Starship Troopers, Aliens-style space marines, or Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow on your holiday shopping list, congrats! You can cross them off now.

Buy Undying Mercenaries series (16 books) at Amazon - $110

Nonfiction

JGalione via Getty Images

Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond by Ashley Jean Yeager

Far from a household name, astronomer Vera Rubin’s pioneering research helped convince the scientific community of the possibility that dark matter — the mysterious materials that make up a vast majority of the universe but cannot be observed — actually exists. In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond (not to be confused with Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, a collection of Rubin’s own essays), author Ashley Jean Yeager takes readers on an inspiring biographical journey through the astronomer’s early year before examining the challenges she faced working in an often hostile, male-dominated field, and her eventual vindication and professional triumphs — looking at you Vera C. Rubin Observatory. If you’ve got a younger someone on your holiday shopping list who’s interested in pursuing STEM, this could well be the book that puts them on a path towards scientific greatness.

Buy Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond at Amazon - $15

N-4 Down by Mark Piesing

During the Zeppelin’s heyday, airships weren't just a means of the well-to-do to slowly get to distant destinations in comfort and luxury, they also offered a new means of (albeit pokey) exploration. N-4 Down by Mark Piesing takes readers on a thrilling, nail-biting adventure of the largest arctic rescue operation in history as famed Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, rushed to save the surviving crew of the airship Italia, which crashed during its attempt to land men at the North Pole in 1928. The history and aeronautical buffs on your holiday shopping list are going to absolutely love it.

Buy N-4 Down at Amazon - $15

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

For the last 10,000 years, humanity has had an unprecedented and largely destructive impact on the environment around us. But as climate change increasingly wreaks its own havoc on us in return, humanity must now work to reverse or at least mitigate the harm that we have caused. In Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert examines just what we can do to make things right with Mother Earth and avoid a catastrophic climate crisis.

Buy Under a White Sky at Amazon - $13

The Quiet Zone by Stephen Kurczy

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Green Bank, West Virginia is, technologically speaking, stuck in the 1950s. And for good reason! This bucolic Appalachian town is home to the ultra-sensitive radio telescope at the Green Bank observatory, which necessitates that basically every device that can emit a radio signal — everything from iPads to microwaves — be heavily restricted. In The Quiet Zone, journalist and author Stephen Kurczy, embeds himself in Green Bank to give readers a firsthand look at what life could be like without our precious digital tech. The Quiet Zone is the perfect gift for the aspiring luddite on your holiday shopping list.

Buy The Quiet Zone at Amazon - $13

Streaming

thianchai sitthikongsak via Getty Images

Given the myriad COVID-induced supply chain challenges that retailers are girding for this upcoming holiday season, finding physical copies of these titles could prove to be a bit of a challenge. So, perhaps consider gifting the book worms on your holiday shopping list the Kindle Paperwhite and a subscription to Amazon Kindle Unlimited? Virtually every one of the books listed above are available on the digital service along with millions of others as well as magazines and periodicals.

But there’s only so much one can read during those long winter nights so why not curl up on the couch with a nice cup of hot cocoa and watch some sterling examples of our new Golden Age of Television? If you’ve got a Trekkie on your holiday shopping list, you really can’t go wrong with a subscription to Paramount+. The $5 - $10 a month service unlocks a plethora of Star Trek shows including the Emmy award-winning Picard and the hilarious Lower Decks.

For the cinephile on your list, assuming you can’t get your hands on the upcoming Criterion 4K collections, an HBO Max subscription works just as well. For $10 a month, you’ll give the gift of a massive movie selection as well as popular weekly news and interview series like Pause with Sam Jay and This Week Tonight with John Oliver, not to mention incredible documentaries like Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.

Got someone with small children on your gift list? Throw them a bone with a Disney+ subscription. The service hosts nearly the entirety of Disney’s massive, decades-deep archives along with new family-friendly series and episodes arriving daily.

All the gear you need to game-stream like a pro

Sure, it’s easier than ever to start your own video game streaming channel, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a streamer. There are dozens of factors to consider before pressing that big GO LIVE button on YouTube or Twitch, such as lighting, audio quality, video output and software organization — and that’s just to get on-air. If you want to succeed as a streamer, it also takes practice, charisma, luck and, of course, the proper equipment.

While we can’t help with the patience, natural talent or social factors that determine who becomes a streaming star, we can recommend the tools to make a channel look as professional as possible from day one. If anyone on your gift list is serious about diving into the business of video game streaming, these are the gadgets they’ll be ecstatic to unwrap (and show off on-camera).

Blue Yeti

Blue Microphones

Classic. Iconic. Legendary. Whichever descriptor you pick, the Yeti by Blue remains one of the most reliable, ubiquitous pieces of technology in the live-streaming business. The Yeti is a USB microphone, meaning it’s plug-and-play with most rigs, and it has a specific setting (cardioid pattern) that’s great for live streaming. It’s also more affordable than comparable mics while offering high-quality sound and simple set-up.

Buy Blue Yeti at Amazon - $130

HyperX QuadCast S

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Some mics are built to blend in with their surroundings, and others are designed to stand out — like the QuadCast S by HyperX. The QuadCast S has a light-up core with customizable RGB effects, adding a pop of color to the screen at all times (yep, even when your queue time hits 10 minutes). It also has an internal pop filter and four polar patterns, including cardioid.

Buy HyperX QuadCast S at Amazon - $160

EPOS Sennheiser Game One

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Uncomfortable headphones can destroy an otherwise enjoyable gaming session, and this is extra-true for streamers, who don’t have the time or brainpower to deal with squashed ears. Sennheiser’s Game One headset offers incredibly crisp audio in a cozy, breathable frame, complete with velour earpads that play well with glasses. An open-back design provides 3D sound and lets streamers hear their surroundings without sliding one ear to the side. The Game One is also in the same price range as mid-tier headsets from Razer, HyperX or SteelSeries, but its unique open-acoustic design provides high-quality, crystal clear — and comfy! — soundscapes.

Buy EPOS Game One at Amazon - $130

Razer BlackShark V2

Razer

If you’re looking for style and performance in a budget-friendly headset, Razer has you covered. The BlackShark V2 is a relatively affordable gaming headset with everything a streamer needs, from memory foam ear cushions to a detachable mic. This one is a sound-isolating headset, making it good for public streaming spaces with a lot of background noise. Razer knows what it's doing when it comes to gaming accessories, and the Black Shark V2 is a tried-and-true device for any player, all in that classic black-and-green look.

Buy BlackShark V2 at Amazon - $100

Elgato Stream Deck MK.2

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Elgato’s Stream Deck is the piece of equipment that most streamers don’t realize they need, at least until they get one. This little baby is a customizable desktop controller with 15 LCD keys that can be set to launch and manage apps like Twitch, YouTube, OBS, Spotify and XSplit. It’s especially handy for live situations, where streamers need to smoothly swap among programs and monitor multiple apps at the same time.

Buy Stream Deck MK.2 at Amazon - $150

Logitech C922 Pro Stream

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

One thing every streamer needs is a quality camera. Logitech makes a range of reliable webcams, but for streamers today, a good starting place is the C922 Pro Stream. It hovers around $100, and it streams in 1080p at 30fps or 720p at 60fps, with built-in autofocus and lighting correction. The C922 is a workhorse that’ll get the job done with little fuss.

Buy Logitech C922 Pro Stream at Amazon - $100

Razer Kiyo Pro

Razer

There’s only so much lighting you can squeeze into a single streaming space, and that’s where Razer’s Kiyo Pro comes in. It’s a USB camera with an adaptive light sensor that makes the most of dim, backlit and string-lighted environments, and it’s capable of capturing footage at 1080p and 60fps, or in HDR mode at 30fps. This is a high-quality streaming camera with a wide-angle lens and a sleek circular profile, and it comes with a privacy cover to ensure there are no on-air accidents.

Buy Kiyo Pro at Amazon - $199

Razer Ripsaw HD

Razer

For truly professional-looking streams, a capture card is a must, and Razer’s Ripsaw HD is one of the best. The Ripsaw HD is a plug-and-play device that records and streams gameplay at 1080p and 60fps, while allowing the game itself to hit 4K and 60fps. This is how the experts do it.

Buy Ripsaw HD at Amazon - $160

Lightsmoon Line Lamp

Lightsmoon

Once the basic bits of tech are out of the way, it’s time to add some style to your streamer’s scene. Lighting is an easy way to set the mood and draw the eye of new viewers, and the Line Lamp by Lightsmoon is a classy, unobtrusive option for customizable, multicolor ambiance. The Line Lamp is designed to fit in the corner of a room, reflecting off the walls and making the whole room glow with minimal hardware.

Buy Line Lamp at Lightsmoon - $280

Govee Glide Wall Light

Govee

For a mounted lighting option, the Govee Glide Wall Light is the way to go. It consists of six bars that snap together in various configurations, with a range of lighting effects, plus Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice capabilities built-in. Govee’s Glide Wall Light is dimmable, customizable and it has six modes that automatically react to music.

Buy Glide wall light at Amazon - $100

REAWUL large RGB mouse pad

REAWUL

Want a quick, easy and cheap way to make a streaming space pop? Get a big, light-up mouse pad. The large RGB mouse pad by REAWUL is an extended mat that measures 80cm by 30cm, easily covering the area of a full-size keyboard and mouse, with light-up edges. The pad has 14 RGB lighting modes with steady and animated options, and it’s powered via USB. At less than $20, this is a steal as well as a showstopper.

Buy RGB mouse pad at Amazon - $20

Small, affordable gadgets that make great stocking stuffers

It’s easy to think that the best gadget gifts are the fanciest and most expensive things. But there are plenty of options out there for the techie in your life that don’t require you to empty your wallet. If you’re struggling to come up with the right present for the early adopter in your life, we’ve gathered some of our favorite things that are both small and affordable. The best part? Everything comes in at $50 or less.

Chromecast with Google TV

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you’re at a loss when it comes to a good, cheap gift for the techie in your life, you can’t go wrong with a Chromecast. The latest Chromecast with Google TV is the one to get right now and it doesn’t matter if your giftee uses Google products already. Like other Chromecasts, this one lets you stream movies and TV shows from major services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu andHBO Max, among many others.

The Google TV interface has always been pretty easy to navigate, but it’s simpler than ever thanks to the remote that now comes included with the Chromecast. It has an Assistant button, giving you quick access to voice commands, plus a circular D-pad, shortcut buttons for YouTube and Netflix, and support for HDMI-CEC and IR, allowing you to control your entire TV with it. And, unlike larger set-top boxes or smart TVs that your recipient may already have, the Chromecast is portable, so they can take it with them to make binge-watching their favorite shows easier when they’re not at home.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Best Buy - $50

Apple AirTags

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Most of us have someone in our lives who misplaces everything — their keys, wallet, purse or backpack, the list goes on. If that person in your life happens to also own an iPhone, AirTags make great gifts and you can buy one for only $30. (You could even get an AirTag case for them, too, and still spend less than $50.) These quarter-sized Bluetooth trackers pair almost immediately with iOS devices and can then be tracked using the Find My app.

You can use them to keep track of nearly anything, but they work best on items that take clips or keyrings or things like backpacks that have small pockets. In addition to showing their location, the Find My app also lets you force the AirTag to play a loud chime so you can more easily find it in your home. And if you’re close enough to the missing item, Apple’s Precision Finding feature can literally guide you to it using the tech in your iPhone’s U1 chip.

Buy Apple AirTag at Amazon - $29

KeySmart Classic key holder

KeySmart

Those who have a mess of jangling keys weighing down their pockets may benefit from a KeySmart holder. The $23 Classic model is the best for most people as it’s slim and holds up to 14 keys in a neat little sandwich of sorts, in between two aluminum and stainless steel pieces. It’s easy to stack all of your keys on either end of the KeySmart and, once installed, you can rotate out only the key you need to unlock your door. The Classic also comes with a loop ring so you can easily attach your stuffed KeySmart to something larger like your car key.

Buy KeySmart Classic at Amazon - $23

Anker Nano II GaN charger

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Chargers like the Nano II GaN 65W adapter from Anker may not be the first things that come to mind when you’re exploring tech gift ideas, but they are some of the most useful gadgets out there. We all have so many devices — phones, tablets, smartwatches, headphones, earbuds, and more — and most of them need regular charging. An extra charger like Anker’s lets you power up more devices at once, but it also does so more efficiently. The gallium nitride technology inside this small cube prevents it from overheating even when charging up a larger device like a MacBook Pro. It’s also 58 percent smaller than the MBP’s own charging adapter, so it’ll take up less space in a bag or backpack when you’re on the go.

Most bricks of this size aren’t able to support fast-charging for multiple devices, but the 65W capacity of this Nano II model makes it a good option for all of your devices. Just before publishing this story, the 65W model went up in price by a few dollars, pushing it over our $50 threshold — but Anker sells 45W and 30W models as well, so you can get the same charging technology for even less.

Buy Anker Nano II (65W) at Amazon - $55Buy Anker Nano II (45W) at Amazon - $40Buy Anker Nano II (30W) at Amazon - $34

Anker USB-C to Lightning cable

Anker

As with chargers, we all could use an extra cable on hand in our living rooms, backpacks, on our desks at work or anywhere else where we need to power up. Anker’s got plenty of Powerline II charging cables for all types of devices, but arguably the two most useful are the MFi-certified USB-C to Lighting cable and the USB-C to C connector. The former supports fast-charging and has been tested to withstand the bends and twists necessary to fuel your iPhone in strange places. The latter can fast-charge many devices and it works with larger tablets and laptops as well, making it a good all-purpose cable for your various USB-C gadgets.

Buy Anker USB-C to Lightning cable at Amazon - $15Buy Anker USB-C to C cable at Amazon - $20

Joby GripTight One GorillaPod stand

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Joby

Joby’s GorillaPod stands aren’t just for aspiring social media stars or photographers. The GripTight One stand in particular is a handy tool that anyone will find useful when they need to take a quick family photo, prop their phone up to watch a YouTube video, or hold their phone at a better angle to take a selfie. Its clamp grip can hold all smartphones and its rubber feet prevent it from slipping. But the flexible legs are the kicker here — they let you wrap the stand around objects like railings so you can get the best angle possible when shooting photos or videos. And considering how compact and lightweight it is, Joby’s stand is one of the best options out there for a travel phone stand.

Buy Joby GripTight One at Amazon - $35

Mophie 15W Wireless Charging pad

Mophie

Charging pads are like charging cables: It never hurts to have an extra wireless charging pad lying around. Mophie’s 15W pad is one of the nicer looking ones we’ve seen with its rounded square design, ultrasuede finish and LED indicator light. It’s compact enough to fit on a crowded side table next to your couch or on your desk. With 15W of power, it’ll fast-charge most smartphones and it works with cases up to 3mm thick. And, since it supports the Qi standard, you can use it to power up almost anything else with a wireless charging case, like those wireless earbuds you just bought.

Buy Mophie wireless charging pad at Amazon - $50

Bandai Original 90s Tamagotchi

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Suckers for ‘90s nostalgia will be thrilled to find an original Tamagotchi in their stocking. The digital pet from 1997 is back and, at least with this model, not much has changed. You’ll still be tasked with feeding, cleaning and taking care of your Tamagotchi using the three buttons on the egg-shaped device. Yes, you can even discipline the creature when it’s bothering you — just make sure not to neglect it to the point of starvation.

Buy Original 90s Tamagotchi at Amazon - $20

Bellroy Classic Pouch

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Some people have started to go back into the office and maybe you know someone who’s been trying to bring some small comforts from home into the workplace. Shuttling mice, charging cables, power banks and keys to and from anywhere can make it look like a bomb went off inside your bag. Bellroy’s Classic Pouch is a good way to tame that mess. Measuring 5.5 x 8.9 inches, this half-moon, zippered pouch can fit most small essentials that you’d want to keep with you at all times. Inside are a few organizational pockets, including one with a magnetic closure,. We also appreciate the nine sophisticated colors that it comes in, and many of the pouches are made of water-resistant, woven fabric created from recycled plastic bottles.

Buy Classic Pouch at Bellroy - $50

Samsung EVO Select microSDXC card (256GB)

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Samsung

It can be easy to underestimate the value of having more storage. Flash drives, memory cards, portable SSDs and the like are gadgets that many people don’t have when they need it the most. Samsung’s EVO Select microSD card would make a good gift for any number of people in your life: photographers, gamers and all-around nerds. Samsung’s memory cards are some of the most reliable out there and also the most versatile — this one has read speeds up to 100MB/s and write speeds up to 90MB/s. That makes this a great option for those who want more storage on their smartphone or tablet. It also comes with a full-sized adapter so those with DSLR cameras will make good use out of it, too. Lastly, this would make a great gift for someone whose Nintendo Switch is packed with games, allowing them to download and play more titles than they could before.

Buy EVO Select microSD card (256GB) at Amazon - $40

Yubico Yubikey 5 NFC

Yubico

Having a good password isn’t always enough, which is why you should turn on two-factor authentication for your most precious accounts whenever possible. The Yubikey 5 NFC gives you a physical way to unlock your devices when you’re asked to authenticate for a second time. This particular model has NFC, so you can simply tap it to a compatible device to verify your identity. It’s also a USB-A dongle of sorts, so you can plug it into your laptop so you’ll always be recognized when you’re using it. Yubico sells a USB-C NFC version as well, but at $55 it’s just a bit too expensive for this guide. We also appreciate that the entire Yubikey NFC series works with Windows, Mac, Chrome OS and most mobile devices, and that the keys are made from durable water- and crush-resistant fiberglass.

Buy Yubikey 5 NFC at Yubico - $45

PopSockets PopGrip for MagSafe

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget Popsockets

If you scoffed at PopSockets when they first came out, you’re not alone. But these circular doodads are actually great ways to better grip and prop up your phone. The only “problem” with older PopSockets is that they were a bit inconvenient to take off if you wanted to go socket-free for a time. But those with new iPhones don’t have to deal with that annoyance anymore thanks to the PopGrip for MagSafe, which is basically just a magnetic version of the classic PopSocket. It’ll attach to the back of any compatible iPhone and pop off which ease whenever you want to switch out your case. Also, the PopSocket itself has a swappable top, so you can add more of your personality to it with some of the company’s many interchangeable tops.

Buy MagSafe PopGrip at Amazon - $30

The best board games to gift this holiday season

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

Keymaster Games

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.

Buy Trails at Target - $20

Sleeping Gods

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Red Raven Games

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.

Buy Sleeping Gods at Amazon - $85

Marvel United

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / CMON

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.

Buy Marvel United at Amazon - $35

Canvas

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Road to Infamy

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.

Buy Canvas at Amazon - $45

Space Invaders

Buffalo Games

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.

Buy Space Invaders at Target - $20

Summer Camp

Buffalo Games

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.

Buy Summer Camp at Target - $25

Summoner Wars 2nd Edition

Plaid Hat Games

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.

Buy Summoner Wars at Amazon - $49

Wrath of the Lich King: A Pandemic System Board Game

Z-Man Games

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.

Buy Wrath of the Lich King at Target - $60

Cuphead: Fast Rolling Dice Game

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget / Cuphead

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.

Buy Cuphead at The Op - $50

How to buy a monitor in 2021

With the COVID pandemic still upon us, a monitor is one of the most important computer buying decisions you can make. Luckily, there’s never been more choice, and we’ve seen vast improvements in color accuracy, size and resolution since our last update.

It’s great to have lots of choice, but it can also make your buying decision a challenge. For example, do you need HDR, and if so, how bright should your monitor be? How important is color accuracy, refresh rates and input lag? What size do you need? Should it be curved or straight?

Luckily, we’ve done the research and can help you figure all that out depending on your specific needs and, most importantly, budget. Read on to see exactly what to look for in a monitor and which makes and models to choose.

The basics

Screen size, resolution and display format

In this day and age, screen size rules. Where 24-inch displays used to be more or less standard (and can still be useful for basic computing), 27-, 32-, 34- and even 42-inch displays have become popular for entertainment, content creation and even gaming these days.

Nearly every monitor used to be 16:9, but it’s now possible to find 16:10 and other more exotic display shapes. On the gaming and entertainment side, we’re also seeing very wide and curved monitors with aspect ratios like 21:9. If you do decide to buy an ultrawide display, however, keep in mind that a 30-inch 21:9 model is the same height as a 24-inch monitor, so you might end up with a smaller display than you expected. As a rule of thumb, add 25 percent to the size of a 21:9 monitor to get the size you need.

4K is nearly a must for content creators, and some folks are even going for 5K or all the way up to 8K. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need a pretty powerful computer to drive all those pixels. And 4K should be paired with a screen size of 27 inches and up, or you won’t notice much difference between 1440p. At the same time, I wouldn’t get a model larger than 27 inches unless it’s 4K, as you’ll start to see pixelation if you’re working up close to the display.

One new category to consider is portable monitors designed to be carried and used with laptops. Those typically come in 1080p resolutions and sizes from 13-15 inches. They usually have a lightweight kickstand-type support that folds up to keep things compact.  

HDR

HDR is the buzzy monitor feature to have these days, but be careful before jumping in. Some monitors that claim HDR on the marketing materials don’t even conform to a base standard. To be sure that a display at least meets minimum HDR specs, you’ll want to choose one with a DisplayHDR rating with each tier representing maximum brightness in nits.

However, the lowest DisplayHDR 400 and 500 tiers may disappoint you with a lack of brightness, washed out blacks and mediocre color reproduction.If you can afford it, choose a model with DisplayHDR 600, 1000 or True Black 400, True Black 500 and True Black 600. The True Black settings are designed primarily for OLED models, with maximum black levels at .0005 nits.

Where televisions typically offer HDR10 and Dolby Vision or HDR10+, most PC monitors only support the HDR10 standard, other than a few (very expensive) models. That doesn’t matter much for content creation or gaming, but HDR streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other services won’t look quite as punchy. 

Refresh rate

Refresh rate is a key feature, particularly on gaming monitors. A bare minimum nowadays is 60Hz, and 80Hz refresh rates and up are much easier on the eyes. However, most 4K displays top out at 60Hz with some rare exceptions and the HDMI 2.0 spec only supports 4K at 60Hz, so you’d need at least DisplayPort 1.4 (4K at 120Hz) or HDMI 2.1. The latter is now available on a number of monitors, particularly gaming displays. However, it’s only supported on the latest NVIDIA RTX 3000- and AMD RX 6000-series GPUs and requires a very powerful PC.

Inputs

There are essentially three types of modern display inputs: Thunderbolt, DisplayPort and HDMI. Most monitors built for PCs come with the latter two, while a select few (typically built for Macs) will use Thunderbolt. To add to the confusion, USB-C ports may be Thunderbolt 3 and by extension, DisplayPort compatible, so you may need a USB-C to Thunderbolt or DisplayPort cable adapter depending on your display.

Panel type

The cheapest monitors are still TN (twisted nematic), which are strictly for gaming or office use. VA (vertical alignment) monitors are also relatively cheap, while offering good brightness and high contrast ratios. However, content creators will probably want an IPS (in-plane switching) LCD display that delivers better color accuracy, image quality and viewing angles.

If maximum brightness is important, a quantum dot LCD display is the way to go — those are typically found in larger displays. OLED monitors are now available and offer the best blacks and color reproduction, but they lack the brightness of LED or quantum dot displays. Plus, they cost a lot.

The new panel on the block is MiniLED. It’s similar to quantum dot tech, but as the name suggests, it uses smaller LED diodes that are just 0.2mm in diameter. As such, manufacturers can pack in up to three times more LEDs with more local dimming zones, delivering deeper blacks and better contrast. 

Color bit depth

Serious content content creators should consider a more costly 10-bit monitor that can display billions of colors. If budget is an issue, you can go for an 8-bit panel that can fake billions of colors via dithering (often spec’d as “8-bit + FRC”). For entertainment or business purposes, a regular 8-bit monitor that can display millions of colors will be fine.

Color gamut

The other aspect of color is the gamut. That expresses the range of colors that can be reproduced and not just the number of colors. Most good monitors these days can cover the sRGB and Rec.709 gamuts (designed for photos and video respectively). For more demanding work, though, you’ll want one that can reproduce more demanding modern gamuts like AdobeRGB, DCI-P3 and Rec.2020 gamuts, which encompass a wider range of colors. The latter two are often used for film projection and HDR, respectively. 

Engadget picks

Best monitor around $200

Acer KG241Q

Acer

Whether you need a monitor for gaming, entertainment or work, Acer’s 24-inch KG241Q offers a lot of value. Resolution is limited to 1080p, but it delivers a 144Hz refresh rate and comes with AMD FreeSync support. Other features include a 1-millisecond lag time, 300 nits of brightness, HDMI and DisplayPort inputs and a tilting stand. The downsides are tricky access to the ports and a TN display that looks dim at an angle, but it’s a heck of a steal right now at $155.

Buy 24-inch Acer KG241Q at B&H Photo - $180


Best monitors around $300

ASUS ProArt PA278QV

ASUS

Moving your budget up by just $100 opens up a whole lot more options. A case in point is our pick for content creation chores, the ASUS ProArt PA278QV. You get a larger 27-inch size, increased 2,560 x 1,440 resolution and a superior IPS panel. As with other ProArt models, the PA278QV is designed specifically for photo and video editing, with a 100 percent Rec.709 gamut, Calman verified color accuracy and ProArt presets and palettes for different kinds of work. It also offers DisplayPort and HDMI ports and tilt, swivel, pivot and height adjustments. That’s a lot of monitor for a current street price of $315.

Buy 27-inch ASUS ProArt PA278QV at B&H - $319

Dell S2522HG

Dell

There are numerous decent gaming monitors around $300, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to one: Dell’s S2522HG. For a monitor in this price range, you get a lot: a 24.5-inch IPS 1080p display with a 240Hz refresh rate, 400 nits of brightness, 1-millisecond response time and AMD Free-Sync and NVIDIA G-Sync compatibility. It comes with HDMI, DisplayPort and SuperSpeed USB 3.2 Gen1 inputs, along with a stand that allows for height adjustment, tilt, swivel and pivot. You can pick one up now at Amazon for $320.

Buy 24-inch Dell S2522HG at Amazon - $320


Best monitor around $400

LG 27UK500

LG

LG’s 27UK500 is a nice all around monitor that can cover gaming, entertainment and some content creation. The 27-inch 4K IPS display covers 98 percent of the sRGB gamut and supports HDR10 with 10-bit color, though it only outputs 300 nits of brightness so it isn’t DisplayHDR certified. If you like 4K gaming, it can handle that decently thanks to AMD FreeSync support, a 60 Hz refresh rate and a 5-millisecond response time. The downsides are a tilt only stand, but it’s very well priced at just $347. 

Buy 27-inch LG 27UK500 at B&H - $347


Best monitors around $500

BenQ PD2700U

BenQ

For creatives, the BenQ PD2700U pushes all the right buttons. The 27-inch 4K IPS panel delivers 10-bit HDR color and covers 100 percent of the sRGB gamut with Calman verified Delta E color accuracy less than 3. It’s also a fine choice for entertainment and gaming with 350 nits of brightness, a 1300:1 contrast ratio, viewing angle of 178 degrees and a 5-millisecond response time. It has tilt, swivel, pivot and height adjustment and most of the ports you need, including HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4. You can pick one up now at B&H for $500.

Buy 27-inch BenQ PD2700U at B&H Photo - $500

Acer Nitro XV252Q

Acer

Acer’s Nitro XV252Q is the only gaming monitor under $500 that supports 360 Hz refresh rates, but there’s more to it than just that. The 24.5-inch HD display outputs 400 nits of brightness, so it’s DisplayHDR 400 certified for HDR games and movies. It also comes with AMD FreeSync compatibility, a 99 percent sRGB color gamut and DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.0 connections. You can tilt, swivel, pivot and adjust the height by up to 4.7 inches, and it looks pretty snazzy, with very slim side and top bezels.

Buy 25-inch Acer Nitro XV252Q at Amazon - $500


Best monitors under $700

Dell UltraSharp 27 U2720Q

Dell

Dell’s 27-inch, 4K U2720Q IPS monitor offers 4K HDR performance for a decent price. It conforms to the DisplayHDR 400 spec while offering 10-bits of color and 99 percent sRGB coverage, with a Delta E color accuracy of less than two out of the box. So this is a good monitor for HDR movies and doing some graphics chores, particularly HDR video work — all for under $700.

Buy 27-inch UltraSharp U2720Q at Dell - $580

Acer Predator XB273K

Acer

Though it’s marketed as a gaming monitor thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate, 1-millisecond response time and G-Sync support, Acer’s 4K quantum dot Predator XB273K is really a jack of all trades. It’s also DisplayHDR 400 compatible, covers 90 percent of the challenging DCI-P3 color gamut and offers a Delta<1 color accuracy. You also get tilt and height adjustments, HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 ports and pivot and height adjustment.

Buy 27-inch Acer Predator XB273K at Amazon - $621


Best monitor for Mac users

LG Ultrafine 4K and 5K

LG

Apple’s $5,000 Pro Display XDR is much too rich for most of us, so the next most logical option is LG’s $1,300 Ultrafine 5K display, also sold on Apple’s Store. With a 27-inch 5K panel, you not only get very high resolution but also 500 nits of brightness (albeit, without HDR capability). It’s color-accurate out of the box, making it great for video- and photo-editing work on a Mac or MacBook. Finally, it supports Thunderbolt 3 with daisy chaining and power delivery, all of which is very useful for Mac users.

If that model is too much, you can also consider LG’s 24-inch Ultrafine 4K. For nearly half the price ($700), it offers many of the same features (including the powered and daisy-chained Thunderbolt ports, color accuracy and more) in a smaller size and with just a bit less resolution.

Buy LG Ultrafine 5K at Apple - $1,300Buy LG Ultrafine 4K at Apple - $700

Best ultrawide monitor

MSI Optix MPG341CQR

MSI

Ultrawide 21:9 monitors are a great option for some types of content creation, flight sims and financial work. The best model this year (with perhaps the worst name) is MSI’s Optix MPG341CQR. With an 1800R curve and 3,440 x 1,440 resolution it’s ideal for gaming, with the 120Hz refresh rate, 1-millisecond response time and HDR 400 also helping in that regard. It also offers a frameless design, tilt, swivel and height adjustment and HDMI 2.0/DisplayPort 1.4 ports. It also has an LED strip that provides helpful cues for in-game status like remaining health or ammo, too.

Buy 43-inch MSI Optix MPG341CQR at Amazon - $645

Best portable monitor

ViewSonic VG1655

ViewSonic

To best complement your laptop, a portable monitor should be small, lightweight and not too expensive. The model that best meets all those requirements is ViewSonic’s VG1655. At 15.6 inches and weighing under 2 pounds, the 1080p 60 Hz IPS display can be toted around fairly easily but still provide crisp, clear visuals. It’s also reasonably bright at 250 nits, comes in standard and touch version, packs dual speakers and has a built-in stand with a cover.

Buy 15-inch ViewSonic VG1655 at Amazon - $250

Best HDMI 2.1 monitor

Acer Nitro XV282K

Acer

If you’re gaming on the bleeding edge at 4K and 120Hz, you’ll first need either a fast PC or PS5/Xbox Series X console. If you’ve got that and would prefer to use a monitor rather than a TV, your best bet will soon be Acer's Nitro XV282K display. Along with 4K resolution at up to 144Hz, it offers a 1-millisecond refresh rate, 10-bit color and 400 nits (DisplayHDR 400 compatible) of brightness. It comes, of course, with an HDMI 2.1 input, along with DisplayPort 1.4. It’s not yet available, but should arrive soon for $900.

Pre-order 28-inch Acer Nitro XV282K at B&H - $899

Best luxury monitor

ASUS ProArt PA32UCG-K

ASUS

ASUS still holds the prize for best luxury monitor, but it discontinued the previous mini-LED $4,000 ProArt PA32UCX monitor and replaced it with the $5,000 PA32UCG-K display. It uses the same mini-LED tech, but ups the ante with 1,600 nits of brightness, an HDMI 2.1 port, 4K 120Hz resolution, 10-bit, 98 percent DCI-P3 coverage and an impressive 85 percent Rec.2020 coverage. Oh, and it’s one of the few monitors out there that supports Dolby Vision, along with HDR10 and HLG.

You’re probably doing it wrong if you’re using a $5K monitor for gaming. However, it does support AMD FreeSync (good for gaming creation) and has a 5-millisecond response time, very respectable for a display essentially designed for professional colorists. And to that end, color accuracy is calibrated to Delta E < 1 and it’s a true 10-bit panel delivering billions of colors.

Buy 32-inch ASUS ProArt PA32UCG-K at B&H - $4,999

Best 8K display

Dell UltraSharp 32 UP3218K

Dell

Faster than we think, 8K video will be upon us, so you might be pondering an 8K monitor to stay ahead of the curve. Dell’s UP3218K is part of its UltraSharp lineup for creators, so it not only delivers 8K (7,680 x 4,320) 60p resolution but other nice pro features, too.

The 10-bit native IPS panel delivers 400 nits of brightness, though the UP3218K isn’t an HDR monitor. It also delivers 1.07 billion colors and covers 98 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut, with a Delta E of less than two out of the box. It’s also one of the few monitors that flips around 90 degrees, making it good for portrait photo work.

This monitor isn’t cheap either at $3,500 (8K monitors are still very rare), but Dell’s UP3216Q 4K monitor has most of the features for less than half the price. It’s not quite as bright at 350 nits and covers just 87 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut, but it offers 1.07 billion colors and is just as precise for color correction out of the box.

Buy 32-inch UltraSharp UP3218K at Dell - $3,755

The best fitness trackers you can buy

The fitness tracker isn’t dead, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the people keeping these little devices alive. Smartwatches have all but taken over the mainstream wearable space, but the humble fitness tracker remains an option for those who want a gadget to do one thing right all the time. Despite the headwinds, there are still a bunch of fitness bands out there to choose from. Engadget has tested many of them and picked out the best for most people.

What do fitness trackers do best?

The answer seems simple: Fitness trackers are best at monitoring exercise, be it a 10-minute walk around the block or that half marathon you’ve been diligently training for. Obviously, smartwatches can do that too, but there are some areas where fitness bands have the upper hand: focus, design, battery life and price.

When I say “focus,” I’m alluding to the fact that fitness trackers are made to track activity well; anything else is extra. They often don’t have the bells and whistles that smartwatches do, which could distract from their activity-tracking abilities. They also tend to have fewer sensors and internal components, which keeps them smaller and lighter. Fitness trackers are also a better option for those who just want a less conspicuous device on their wrists all day.

Battery life tends to be better on fitness trackers, too. While most smartwatches last one to two days on a single charge, fitness bands will last five days to one week — and that’s with all-day and all-night use.

When it comes to price, there’s no competition. Most worthwhile smartwatches start at $175 to $200, but you can get a solid fitness tracker starting at $70. Yes, more expensive bands exist (and we recommend a few here), but you’ll find more options under $150 in the fitness tracker space than in the smartwatch space.

When to get a smartwatch instead

If you need a bit more from your wearable, you’ll likely want a smartwatch instead. There are things like on-watch apps, alerts and even more robust fitness features that smartwatches have and fitness trackers don’t. You can use one to control smart home appliances, set timers and reminders, check weather reports and more. Some smartwatches let you choose which apps you want to receive alerts from, and the options go beyond just call and text notifications.

But the extra fitness features are arguably the most important thing to think about when deciding between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch. The latter devices tend to be larger, giving them more space for things like GPS, barometers, onboard music storage and more. While you can find built-in GPS on select fitness trackers, it’s not common.

Engadget picks

Best overall: Fitbit Charge 5

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Fitbit's Charge 5 has everything most people would want in a fitness tracker. First and foremost, it's not a smartwatch. That means it has a slightly lower profile on the wrist and lasts days on a single charge while tracking activity and sleep. It also has a full-color AMOLED display — a big improvement from the smaller, grayscale screen on last year's Charge 4. That display, along with a thinner design, make Charge 5 feel more premium than its predecessor.

But it also costs $180 — $30 more than the Charge 4 — and that's due in part to the design upgrades but also some additional features. The Charge 5 has EDA sensors for stress tracking and it will eventually support ECG measurements and Daily Readiness Scores (the latter is for only for Premium subscribers). Those are on top of existing features that were carried over from the Charge 4 — most notably, Fitbit Pay support and built-in GPS. The former lets you pay for coffee or groceries with a swipe of your wrist, while the latter helps map outdoor runs, bike rides and other activities. Built-in GPS remains the star of the show here — it's fast and accurate, making the Charge 5 the best option if you want a do-it-all wearable that’s focused on fitness.

Buy Charge 5 at Amazon - $180

Alternative: Garmin Vivosmart 4

Engadget

A more subtle-looking alternative is the $100 Garmin Vivosmart 4. It’s thinner than the Charge 5 and fits in a bit better with bracelets and other jewelry you might wear regularly. But its attractive design is only part of its appeal — Garmin knows how to track fitness, and the Vivosmart 4 is proof that you don’t need to drop hundreds on one of the company’s fitness watches to get a capable device.

Like the Charge 5, the Vivosmart 4 tracks all-day activity and sleep and has a pulse ox sensor for blood oxygen saturation measurements. It has only connected GPS capabilities, and it has universal music controls that can control the playback of most anything. The band is also waterproof and can track basic swim workouts, plus it also has a battery life of up to seven days. While it’s similar to the Charge 5 in that the Vivosmart 4 works with both Android and iOS devices, it’s a bit more flexible as it syncs with Apple Health (the Charge 5 and other Fitbit devices do not).

Buy Vivosmart 4 at Amazon - $130

Best budget: Fitbit Inspire 2

Fitbit / Tile

If you only have $100 to spare, the Fitbit Inspire 2 is the best option. It strips out all the luxury features from the Charge 5 and keeps only the essentials. You won’t get built-in GPS, Fitbit Pay or Spotify control but you do get excellent activity tracking, automatic workout detection, smartphone alerts and plenty more. As the updated version of the Inspire HR, the Inspire 2 includes a heart rate monitor, which the device uses to keep track of all-day heart rate, active zone minutes, sleep stages and more.

The Inspire HR is thinner than the Charge 5 but it also has interchangeable bands, so you can switch up its style whenever you feel like it. Its design is also swimproof, and it should last up to 10 days on a single charge. Fitbit also recently added Tile-tracking to the Inspire 2, allowing you to find your misplaced band using the Bluetooth locator feature and the Tile mobile app. All of these features make it the best value fitness tracker you can get.

Buy Inspire 2 at Fitbit - $100

Alternative: Samsung Galaxy Fit 2

Samsung

The $60 Samsung Galaxy Fit 2 band is almost like a more affordable Garmin Vivosmart 4. The two trackers share the same skeletal design but the Galaxy Fit looks a bit more utilitarian — you can swap out its bands, though — something you can’t do on Garmin’s device.

We haven’t given the Fit 2 the full review treatment, but Engadget’s Cherlynn Low was impressed with the original Galaxy Fit: the Tizen-based interface is colorful and easy to use, and plenty of people will appreciate its durable, no-nonsense design. It tracks a bunch of workouts as well and even has auto-exercise recognition. That’s on top of its daily activity tracking and sleep monitor, all of which uses the built-in heart rate monitor to collect pulse data throughout the day.

The kicker for the Galaxy Fit 2 is battery life — the tiny tracker can last for up to 15 days on a single charge, and you can even extend it to 21 days if you change some settings. That’s much longer than most competing bands, so even if Samsung isn’t as comprehensive as Garmin or Fitbit is when it comes to fitness data collection and analysis, the Galaxy Fit 2 is a good option for those who want a basic tracker that they can safely forget to charge each night.

Buy Galaxy Fit 2 at Amazon - $60

Most fashionable: Withings Move

Engadget

All of the previously mentioned fitness trackers are attractive in their own way (bonus points to those that have interchangeable bands), but they share a similar look. There aren’t many alternative designs for these devices anymore. The $70 Withings Move watch is an exception, and one of the most traditionally fashionable fitness trackers you can get. It’s an analog watch with a couple of health monitoring features including step, calorie, distance and sleep tracking, connected GPS, auto-recognition for more than 30 workouts and a water-resistant design. But we really love it for its button-cell battery, which can last up to 18 months before needing a replacement.

Buy Withings Move at Amazon - $70

The best outdoor gear for the fall

The weather is starting to get cooler, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to head indoors for winter just yet. There’s ample time to enjoy the backyard, porch or balcony before the first snowfall. We’ve rounded up the best outdoor gear for cooking, relaxing and imbibing this fall, from a pizza oven, to a uniquely designed fire pit and a smart outlet for your outdoor lighting.

Ooni Karu 16

Ooni

If you’ve opened Instagram in the last several months, chances are you’ve seen someone firing up an Ooni pizza oven in their backyard. The company has become even more popular during the pandemic, and rightfully so. Its line of wood- and gas-fired pizza ovens allow you to make restaurant-quality pies at home. The Karu 16 is the company’s latest offering, with a larger stone for bigger pizzas, an easier to access fuel chamber and a built-in thermometer. The door is also attached so it’s simpler to use and has a glass window so you can keep an eye on things without losing heat. Like commercial Neapolitan-style ovens, the Karu 16 can reach temperatures of up to 950 degrees Fahrenheit, and does so in just 15 minutes. This model runs on wood chunks out of the box, but the company offers an optional gas burner for $100.

Buy Karu 16 at Ooni - $799

Traeger Ironwood 650 and 885

Billy Steele/Engadget

Cooler weather is a perfect time to tune up your backyard pitmaster skills. Even if you’re a beginner, Traeger’s line of WiFi-connected pellet grills can guide you through the entire cooking process. The company’s app, which allows you to control and monitor its grills remotely, is also packed with recipes and step-by-step guidance.

Personally, I like the Ironwood series, which comes in two sizes with 650 and 885 square inches of grilling space. They sit in the middle of Traeger’s lineup, and offer the best bang for your buck. Low and slow smoking? Yep. Hot and fast searing? They do that too. And with the company’s pellet sensor, you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel halfway through a 10-hour brisket sesh.

Shop Ironwood series at Traeger starting at $1,400

Weber Genesis II EX-315

Engadget

Weber is best known for its charcoal kettle grills, but its gas models aren’t too far behind. Following up on the smart grilling tech it built into its SmokeFire pellet grills in 2020, the company brought the Weber Connect system to its gas lineup earlier this year. There are a number of options here, but the Genesis II EX-315 is a great mid-range choice. Thanks to the Connect tech, you get real-time food doneness updates, estimated completion times and fuel level monitoring.

Weber Connect also offers step-by-step guidance based on the food you're cooking and the LED display on the grill shows both meat and ambient temperatures. Of course, the grill is WiFi-enabled, so all of this info can be sent to your phone. And if you get caught in the dark, a handle-mounted light and backlit control knobs are there to help.

Buy Genesis II EX-315 at Weber - $1,030

Thermoworks Thermapen One

Thermoworks

The Thermapen is the grilling tool I use most often. It’s handy for making sure I’m not serving undercooked chicken or overcooking a pricey steak I’ve had in the sous vide for hours. It’s also great to have in the kitchen to instantly check temps of things like bread. Thermoworks unveiled the successor to its wildly popular Thermapen Mk4 earlier this year with the Thermapen One. The device is super fast, giving you a reading in one second. It’s also more accurate and has a brighter display than the previous model. The screen automatically rotates depending on how you hold it, plus an auto-wake and sleep feature and IP67 rating keep things running smoothly.

Buy Thermapen One at Thermoworks - $105

Meater Plus probe thermometer

Meater

I’ll admit it: when I first saw Meater’s wireless food probes I was skeptical that they would work well. The Meater Plus has all of the convenience of the company’s original wireless probe, but with extended Bluetooth range. Each one has two sensors, so it can monitor both internal food temperature and the ambient temp of your grill. All of the info is sent to the company’s app where you can set target temperature, get estimated completion times and follow step-by-step directions if you need them. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about routing wires since the Meater Plus is completely wireless and stays out of your way. Not having to fight food probe cords is a grilling innovation I’m sure a lot of people can get behind.

Buy Meater Plus at Amazon - $100

Thermacell E-55

Thermacell

Last year, the Thermacell Patio Shield kept us mosquito-free for socially-distanced outdoor activities. For 2021, the company is back with the E-55 that offers a 20-foot coverage area and is fully rechargeable. This slightly larger unit runs on a Li-Ion battery instead of burning fuel to keep the biting bugs at bay for up to 12 hours. If you need more protection for you and the fam, you can buy refills for up to 40 hours of use. Also, like other Thermacell products, the E-55 doesn’t give off any odor, so you’ll barely notice it’s there.

Buy Theramcell E-55 at Amazon - $40

Solo Stove

Billy Steele/Engadget

As the temperatures drop, a fire pit is a cozy place to spend your time. However, most of the cheap options you’ll find at your local big box store aren’t really designed to channel smoke away from you or to maximize airflow. Solo Stove’s stainless steel fire pits do both, creating a roaring fire that won’t smoke you out. Each of the three models, ranging from $269 to $599, are portable(ish) and burn whatever variety of wood you happen to have. I’ve been testing the Ranger, the smallest and most portable option. While you can certainly set these right on the ground or concrete patio, I highly recommend splurging for a stand and a weather-proof cover which cost around $80 for the Ranger and Bonfire models.

Buy Solo Stove starting at $269

TP-Link Kasa outdoor smart plug and dimmer

TP-Link

I tested the Kasa Outdoor Smart Plug for our first backyard guide and I was immediately hooked. TP-Link recently announced a new model of the smart plug in addition to a dimmable single-outlet version. Both are waterproof and plug into your existing outside outlet to give you one or two spots for lights and other gear. With the two-plug option, you can control each one independently. The Kasa app allows you to set a schedule, timer, runtime and more for each plug, so you can automate when those string lights over the deck turn on. Additionally, they work with Alexa and Google Assistant, so you don’t even need to pick up your phone most of the time. Plus, 300 feet of WiFi range means you shouldn’t have trouble connecting these to your home network for use.

Buy Kasa outdoor smart plug at Amazon - $25

Sony SRS-XB13

Sony

When you need tunes outside, whether that’s at home or on the go, Sony’s tiny XB13 speaker is a great option. Its small size makes it insanely portable, but it still manages big sound thanks to Sony's Extra Bass feature and Sound Diffusion Processor. It’s rated IP67 for dust- and water-proofing so taking it outside shouldn’t incite anxiety. What’s more, it has a UV coating for protection from the sun. You can use the XB13 for hands-free calls and employ two of them at once for a stereo pair. It lasts up to 16 hours on a charge and will only set you back $60.

Buy SRS-XB13 at Amazon - $58

Brumate Toddy and Toddy XL

Brumate

I’ve been a big fan of Brumate’s beverageware since I bought myself a Hopsulator Trio for a beach vacation a few years ago. I still use it all the time, during both warm and cool months. However, when the temperatures begin to dip, I tend to reach for hot beverages more often, so Brumate’s Toddy insulated mug is a better option. The cup works well to keep drinks hot or cold and the trademark feature is the spill-proof lid. That thing has saved me from massive cleanup more times than I can count. The regular Toddy can hold 16 ounces while the Toddy XL doubles the capacity to 32 ounces.

Buy Brumate Toddy starting at $30

The best gaming laptops you can buy, plus how to pick one

For a few years now, gaming laptops have been some of the most intriguing PCs around. They’ve gotten thinner and lighter, naturally — but they’ve also become vastly more powerful and efficient, making them suitable for both work and play. They’ve adopted some bold innovations, like rotating hinges and near desktop-like customizability. Gaming laptops are where PC makers can get adventurous.

If you’re a professional in the market for a beefy new computer, and you like to play a few rounds of Apex Legends on occasion, it may make more sense to go for a gaming notebook instead of a MacBook Pro-like workstation. You’ll still get plenty of power for video encoding and 3D rendering, plus you may end up paying less than you would for some comparable workstations.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

What's your budget? 

Your laptop buying journey starts and ends with the amount of money you're willing to spend. No surprise there. The good news: There are plenty of options for gamers of every budget. In particular, we're seeing some great choices under $1,000, like Dell's G15, which currently starts at $930. PCs in this price range will definitely feel a bit lower quality than pricier models, and they'll likely skimp on RAM, storage and overall power. But they should be able to handle most games in 1080p at 60 frames per second, which is the bare minimum you'd want from any system.

Stepping up to mid-range options beyond $1,000 is where things get interesting. At that point, you'll start finding PCs like the ASUS Zephyrus ROG G14, one of our favorite gaming notebooks of the last few years. In general, you can look forward to far better build quality than budget laptops (metal cases!), improved graphics power and enough RAM and storage space to handle the most demanding games. These are the notebooks we'd recommend for most people, as they'll keep you gaming and working for years before you need to worry about an upgrade.

If you're willing to spend around $1,800 or more, you can start considering more premium options like Razer's Blade. Expect impeccably polished cases, the fastest hardware on the market, and ridiculously thin designs. The sky's the limit here: Alienware's uber customizable Area 51m is an enormous beast that can cost up to $4,700. Few people need a machine that pricey, but if you're a gamer with extra cash to burn, it may be worth taking a close look at some of these pricier systems.

What kind of CPU and GPU do you want?

The answer to this question used to be relatively simple: Just get an Intel chip with an NVIDIA GPU. But over the last two years, AMD came out swinging with its Ryzen 4000 and 5000-series notebook processors, which are better suited for juggling multiple tasks at once (like streaming to Twitch while blasting fools in Fortnite). In general, you’ll still be safe getting one of Intel’s latest 10th or 11th-gen H-series chips. But it’s nice to have decent AMD alternatives available for budget and mid-range laptops, especially when they’re often cheaper than comparable Intel models.

When it comes to video cards, though, AMD is still catching up. Its new Radeon RX 6000M GPU has been a fantastic performer in notebooks like ASUS’s ROG Strix G15, but it still lags behind NVIDIA when it comes to newer features like ray tracing. I’ll admit, it’s nice to see a Radeon-powered notebook that can approach the general gaming performance of NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 and 3080 GPU.

If you want to future-proof your purchase, or you’re just eager to see how ray tracing could make your games look better, you’re probably better off with an NVIDIA video card. They’re in far more systems, and it’s clear that NVIDIA has had more time to optimize its ray tracing technology. RTX GPUs also feature the company’s DLSS feature, which uses AI to upscale games to higher resolutions. That’ll let you play a game like Destiny 2 in 4K with faster frame rates. That’s useful if you’re trying to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor.

NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 is a decent entry point, but we think you’d be better off with at least an RTX 3060 for solid 1080p and 1440p performance. The RTX 3070, meanwhile, is the best balance of price and performance. It’ll be able to run many games in 4K with the help of DLSS, and it can even tackle demanding titles like Control. NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 is the king of the hill; you’ll pay a premium for any machine that includes it.

It’s worth noting that NVIDIA’s mobile GPUs aren’t directly comparable to its more powerful desktop hardware. PC makers can also tweak a GPU’s voltage to make it perform better in a thinner case. Basically, don’t be surprised if you see notebooks that perform very differently, even if they’re all equipped with the same RTX model.

What kind of screen do you want?

Screen size is a good place to start when judging gaming notebooks. In general, 15-inch laptops will be the best balance of immersion and portability, while larger 17-inch models are heftier, but naturally give you more screen real estate. There are some 13-inch gaming notebooks, like the Razer Blade Stealth, but paradoxically you'll often end up paying more for those than slightly larger 15-inch options. We’re also seeing more 14-inch options, like the Zephyrus G14 and Blade 14, which are generally more powerful than 13-inch laptops while still being relatively portable.

But these days, there are plenty more features to consider than screen size alone. Consider refresh rates: Most monitors refresh their screens vertically 60 times per second, or 60Hz. That's a standard in use since black and white NTSC TVs. But over the past few years, displays have evolved considerably. Now, 120Hz 1080p screens are the bare minimum you'd want in any gaming notebook — and there are faster 144Hz, 240Hz and even 360Hz panels. All of those ever-increasing numbers are in the service of one thing: making everything on your display look as smooth as possible.

For games, higher refresh rates also help eliminate screen tearing and other artifacts that could get in the way of your frag fest. And for everything else, it just leads to a better viewing experience. Even scrolling a web page on a 120Hz or faster monitor is starkly different from a 60Hz screen. Instead of seeing a jittery wall of text and pictures, everything moves seamlessly together, as if you're unwinding a glossy paper magazine. Going beyond 120Hz makes gameplay look even more responsive, which to some players gives them a slight advantage.

Steve Dent/Engadget

Not to make things more complicated, but you should also keep an eye out for NVIDIA's G-SYNC and AMD's FreeSync. They're both adaptive sync technologies that can match your screen's refresh rate with the framerate of your game. That also helps to reduce screen tearing and make gameplay smoother. Consider them nice bonuses on top of a high refresh rate monitor; they're not necessary, but they can still offer a slight visual improvement.

One more thing: Most of these suggestions are related to LCD screens, not OLEDs. While OLED makes a phenomenal choice for TVs, it's a bit more complicated when it comes to gaming laptops. They're limited to 60Hz, so you won't get the smoother performance you'd find on a high refresh rate screen. And they're typically 4K panels; you'll need a ton of GPU power to run games natively at that resolution. OLED laptops still look incredible, with the best black levels and contrast on the market, but we think most shoppers would be better off with an LCD gaming laptop.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

A few other takeaways:

  • Get at least 16GB of RAM. And if you're planning to do a ton of multitasking while streaming, 32GB is worth considering.

  • Storage is still a huge concern. These days, I'd recommend aiming for a 1TB M.2 SSD, which should be enough space to juggle a few large titles like Destiny 2. Some laptops also have room for standard SATA drives, which are far cheaper than M.2's and can hold more data.

  • Normally we'd recommend getting your hands on a system before you buy, but that's tough as we're in the midst of a pandemic. I'd recommend snagging your preferred system from a retailer with a simple return policy, like Amazon or Best Buy. If you don't like it, you can always ship it back easily.

  • Don't forget about accessories! You'll need a good mouse, keyboard and headphones.


Engadget picks

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The best gaming laptop for most people: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14

Starting price:$1,599 (Current model with RTX 2060)

Recommended spec price (Ryzen 9, RTX 3060): $1,799

If you can't tell by now, we really like the Zephyrus G14. It's compact, at just 3.5 pounds, and features AMD's new Ryzen 5000-series chips paired together with NVIDIA's latest graphics. It's a shockingly compact machine, and while its 14-inch screen is a bit smaller than our other recommendations, it looks great and features a fast 144Hz refresh rate. We also like its retro-future design (some configurations have tiny LEDs on its rear panel for extra flair). While the G14 has jumped in price since last year, it’s still one of the best gaming notebooks around. The only downside: It doesn't have a webcam, which can be inconvenient in the era of never-ending Zoom calls. Still, it's not that tough to attach an external camera. (If you want something bigger, consider the Zephyrus G15.) 

Buy ASUS Zephyrus G14 at Amazon - $1,599


Dell

The best budget option: Dell G15

Starting price:$1,029

We've been fans of Dell's G5 line ever since it first appeared a few years ago. Now dubbed the G15, it starts at just over $1,000 and features all of the latest hardware, like Intel's 11th-generation CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series cards. (You can also find AMD's Ryzen chips in some models.) It's a bit heavy, weighing over five pounds, but it's a solid notebook otherwise. And you can even bring it into mid-range gaming territory if you spec up to the RTX 3060.

Buy G15 at Dell starting at $1,029


Devindra hardawar/Engadget

The best premium gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15

Starting price:$1,700

Recommended model (QHD, RTX 3070): $2,200

Razer continues to do a stellar job of delivering the latest hardware in a sleek package that would make Mac users jealous. The Blade 15 has just about everything you'd want, including NVIDIA's fastest mobile GPU, the RTX 3080, as well as Intel's 11th-gen octa-core CPUs and speedy quad-HD screens. You can easily save some cash by going for a cheaper notebook, but they won't feel nearly as polished as the Blade.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer starting at $1,700


Acer

A solid all-around option: Acer Predator Triton 500 SE

Starting price:$1,749

While we've seen some wilder concepts from Acer, like its 360-degree hinge-equipped Triton 900, the Triton 500 is a more affordable bread and butter option that doesn't break the bank. This year, it’s bumped up to a 16-inch display, giving you more of an immersive gaming experience. It’s relatively thin, weighs just over five pounds , and it can be equipped with Intel's 11th-gen CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series GPUs. Acer's build quality is as sturdy as ever, and it has most of the standard features you’d need in a gaming notebook.

Buy Acer Triton 500 SE at Best Buy - $1,749


Razer

The best way to go big: Razer Blade 17

Starting price:$2,399

Take everything we loved about the Razer Blade 15, scale it up to a larger 17-inch screen, and you’re pretty much in gamer paradise. If you can live with its six-pound weight, the Blade 17 will deliver the most desktop-like gaming experience that you can find in a notebook. It’s relatively slim, and it’s perfect for binging Netflix in bed. The Blade 17 is also a smart choice if you’re editing media, as its larger screen space makes it perfect for diving into larger timelines. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes you just want to go big or go home, right?

Buy Blade 17 at Razer starting at $2,399

The best ultraportable laptops you can buy

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

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

What to expect

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

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

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

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

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

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

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

Engadget picks

Best overall: Dell XPS 13

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

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

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

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

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

Buy Dell XPS 13 starting at $999

Best for Apple fans: MacBook Air M1

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

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

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

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

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon starting at $999

Best convertible: HP Spectre x360 13

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

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

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

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

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

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

Best budget option: HP Pavilion Aero 13

Daniel Cooper / Engadget

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

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

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

Buy Pavilion Aero 13 at HP starting at $749

The best Switch controllers for every player level

The Nintendo Switch is pretty popular, but its included Joy-Cons aren’t for everyone. Some players feel the detachable controllers are a bit small for their hands. Many players miss having a regular D-pad. Whatever your reasons for wanting to upgrade your Switch controller situation, know that there are alternatives — it’s just a matter of picking the one that fits your needs. We tested out a bunch of Switch controllers to see which are worth your money.

For casual gaming: Joy-Cons

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Honestly, there’s a lot to like about the included Joy-Cons. They come right in the box and can be separated from the system so two people can play. The system also includes a special gamepad grip so you can hold them in your hand like any standard controller. So if you are in fact, happy with your Joy-Cons, there’s no need to switch them out. Just tweak them a little depending on your needs. Find them a tad too small? FastSnail’s matte rubber shells can make them a little easier for large hands to hold, and Hori’s Analog Caps can make the thumb sticks grippier. 

Buy FastSnail grips at Amazon - $14Buy Hori analog caps at Amazon - $9

There’s really no good way to replace the Joy-Cons entirely with a third-party copy. Some Joy-Con-like controllers won’t connect wirelessly, while others lack key features like vibration or an NFC reader. But there are some tradeoffs that are worth it. For example, if you like to play a lot of 2D platformers in handheld mode, Hori’s D-pad controller will restore the beloved cross-shaped directional button to your gameplay. If you’re looking for something that’s also more comfortable in your hand, the company’s $50 Split Pad Pro is also worth a look. It has a D-pad on the left side and a more ergonomic grip than your standard set of Joy-Cons. But it also makes the entire assembled Switch a lot chunkier.

If you like to play your Switch with groups (or you’ve experienced the dreaded “drift” issue), chances are you’ve picked up one or two extra pairs of Joy-Cons. Which means you’re going to need a place to charge the spares. PowerA makes an excellent $25 charging station that can be plugged into your Switch dock (or any device with a USB port) and handles four Joy-Con-like controllers at once — that includes third-party gamepads as well as Nintendo’s own Switch-compatible NES controllers (see below).

Buy Hori D-pad controller at Amazon - $60Buy Split Pad Pro at Amazon - $88Buy PowerA charging dock at Amazon - $25

For action-packed games: Pro-level controllers

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Sometimes you just want a standard controller to play your favorite action titles — and standard in 2020 means something like you’d get packed in with an Xbox, with grips for the heels of your hands, shoulder buttons and triggers, two thumb sticks, a set of four buttons on the right and a D-pad on the left. Nintendo knows that, which is why it created the Pro Controller. This first-party gamepad pairs easily with the Switch and features a D-pad on the left, while still maintaining features like the infrared sensor and vibration that might go missing on third-party alternatives. The only downside is the $70 price, but avid players of games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will appreciate the refined controls and increased comfort.

While you can plug your Pro Controller directly into your Switch dock to charge, it’s not the most elegant solution. PowerA also makes an attractive $25 dock that accommodates both Joy-Cons and the Pro Controller, which should keep your gaming area nice and tidy.

Buy Pro Controller at Amazon - $70Buy PowerA dock at Amazon - $25
Kris Naudus / Engadget

When the price of the Pro Controller is a bit rich for your blood or out of stock, PowerA makes its own version with the same arrangement of buttons. The Enhanced Wireless Controller skips the rechargeable battery in favor of AAs, which has its downsides, but at least when it runs low on juice you can just pop in a new pair of batteries and get right back to gaming. Unfortunately, there’s no USB-C port to connect with so you’ll have to pair the device wirelessly — which can be finicky and may take a few tries before your Switch recognizes the controller. It also lacks vibration, so you won’t get tactile feedback in games where it’s helpful. And the plus and minus buttons are placed a bit closer to the center, so those with smaller hands will have to reach a bit further to press them.

If you’d prefer not to have to recharge — or buy batteries for — your gamepad, PowerA also makes a wired version of the same controller that connects via USB. It’s got the same look and feel, but you won’t have to struggle as much with getting your console to recognize it, and there’s no potential for wireless lag, making it ideal for fast-paced shooters and fighting games. The included cord is 10 feet long so it should reach most couches just fine.

While most third-party controllers tend to mimic the Xbox style of gamepad, anyone more familiar with the PlayStation’s distinctive DualShock design will probably prefer the $50 Pro 2 from 8BitDo. The retro-styled controller has the same general layout as the classic SNES gamepad, but adds twin thumb sticks, palm grips, back buttons, control remapping and even sensitivity adjustments. It’s truly the Swiss Army knife of Switch controllers.

Buy Enhanced Wireless controller at Amazon - $60Buy PowerA wired controller at Amazon - $23Buy 8bitdo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

For old school gaming: Niche and retro controllers

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Twenty years later and the preferred controller layout for Super Smash Bros. players is still the one made for the GameCube, which is why today it’s still possible to buy new gamepads straight from Nintendo. The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Edition GameCube Controller is identical in layout and design to the original gamepads, though now it connects via USB so it can be used with the Switch. The only downside to the reissue is that it doesn’t come in a bold shade of purple anymore.

However, if you’re still sporting a classic GameCube controller with its proprietary connector, you can also pick up an adapter that will let your Switch accommodate up to four old-school gamepads. Nintendo sells one on its store, but the Y Team controller adapter is also a good alternative that costs less and can be bought at Amazon.

But you might not want to be tethered to your console — especially if you have fond memories of kicking back on your couch with a Wavebird in hand to play GameCube games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Killer 7. PowerA’s Nintendo GameCube-Style wireless controller is the closest you can get to recreating that feeling short of plugging a few RF dongles into a GameCube adapter.

Buy Smash Bros. controller at Amazon - $73Buy Y Team adapter at Amazon - $14Buy PowerA Game Cube-style controller at Amazon - $55
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

What if your retro tastes go even further back, say to the NES and SNES era? If you’re subscribed to Nintendo Online, you have access to over 100 classic titles, so you might want a more “authentic” controller to use with them. Nintendo Online subscribers can buy retro-style wireless gamepads directly from the company, though the $60 set of two small, rectangular NES controllers will remind you why we’ve moved on from that design. The dog-bone shape of the $30 SNES model is more hand friendly and can still be used with the NES games, so it’s a better use of your funds should you decide you want to recreate your childhood gaming experiences.

If you don’t need an exact copy of your beloved childhood gamepads it’s worth looking at 8BitDo instead: It makes a variety of classic-styled controllers that add just enough modern features to make them useful for a wider variety of games. Its models are almost all wireless, and there are some design changes to make the controllers more comfortable and easier to use. We’ve already recommended the DualShock-like Pro 2, but the $45 SN30 Pro also offers features like dual thumb sticks and vibration in the dog-bone controller style.

If you’re looking for something more portable, however, the $25 8BitDo Lite is smaller and swaps out the thumb sticks for two D-pads, keeping the four button arrangement on each side. It’s great for 2D games and it even matches the color scheme of the Switch Lite. 

Before you try any of the controllers listed in this guide, remember to update your Switch to the latest firmware — the 8BitDo controllers will run on any version, but the PowerA gamepads need your system to run at least version 6.0.0.

Buy NES controller pack at Nintendo - $60Buy SNES controller at Nintendo - $30Buy SN30 Pro at Amazon - $45Buy 8bitdo Lite at Amazon - $25