Posts with «gear» label

The best GPS running watches for 2023

Because I'm the editor of Engadget by day and a volunteer coach in my free time, I often get asked which GPS watch to buy. (People also ask what I'm wearing and the answer is: All of them. I am testing all of them.) For my part, the best running watches are quick to lock in a GPS signal, offer accurate distance and pace tracking, last a long time on a charge, are comfortable to wear and easy to use.

Advanced stats like VO2 Max, or maximum oxygen intake during workouts with increasing intensity, are also nice to have, along with training assessments to keep your workload in check and make sure you're getting in effective aerobic and anaerobic workouts. It's also a plus when a watch supports other sports, like cycling and swimming, which all of these do to varying extents. As for features like smartphone notifications and NFC payments, they’re not necessary for most people, especially considering they drive up the asking price.

Without further ado, I bring you capsule reviews of four running watches, each of which I ultimately recommend, none of which is perfect. And keep in mind, when it comes time to make a decision of your own, there are no wrong answers here: I like Apple and Garmin enough, for instance, that I switch back and forth between them in my own training.

The best running watch that’s also a smartwatch: Apple Watch

Pros: Stylish design; a great all-around smartwatch you'll want to use even when you're not exercising; automatic workout detection; heart-rate and blood oxygen monitoring; support for lots of third-party health platforms; auto-pause feels faster than on Garmin watches; zippy performance and fast re-charging; optional LTE is nice to have.

Cons: For iPhone users only; shorter battery life than the competition might concern endurance athletes; fewer performance metrics and settings than what you'd find on a purpose-built sports watch.

Don't think of the Apple Watch as a running watch. Think of it as a smartwatch that happens to have a running mode. Almost eight years after the original Watch made its debut, Apple has successfully transformed its wearable from an overpriced curiosity to an actually useful companion device for the masses. But being a gadget for the masses means that when it comes to running, the Apple Watch has never been as feature rich as competing devices built specifically for that purpose.

Before I get to that, a few words on why I like it. The Apple Watch is the only one of these watches I’d want to wear every day. (And I do: After reviewing Apple Watches for years, I finally purchased one in fall 2021.) The most recent model is stylish, or at least as stylish as a wrist-worn computer can be, and certainly more so than any running watch I've encountered. The aluminum, water-resistant body and neutral Sport band go with most outfits and will continue to look fresh after all your sweaty workouts and jaunts through the rain. And the always-on display is easy to read in direct sunlight.

The battery life is 18 hours, according to Apple. Indeed, I never have a problem making it through the day. I’m often able to put the watch back on after a night of forgetting to charge it and still have some juice left. If you do forget, even a few minutes of charging in the morning can go a long way, even more so now that the Watch supports even faster charging than before. Plus, the new low power mode in watchOS 9 can help you extend the life of your Watch on particularly long days.

That said, it’s worth noting that other running watches claim longer usage time — between 30 and 40 hours in some cases. When it comes to workouts specifically, Apple rates the battery life with GPS at up to seven hours. Given that, I would trust the Watch to last through a short run or even a half marathon, but I'm not sure how it would fare in one of my slow, five-hour-plus marathons. We haven't put the higher-end Apple Watch Ultra through such paces yet, but it's worth mentioning that it has the longest battery life of any Apple Watch with a promised 36 hours (and we got about three days worth of regular use during our testing).

The built-in Activity app is simple and addictive: I feel motivated to fill in my "move" (active calorie), exercise and stand rings each day. I enjoy earning award badges, even though they mean nothing. I'm grateful that the Apple Health app can pull in workouts from Garmin and every other brand featured here, and then count that toward my daily exercise and stand goals (but not my move goal, curiously).

My one complaint is that the sensors don’t always track standing time accurately. I have failed to receive credit when standing for long periods in front of a stove, but occasionally I’ve been rewarded for doing absolutely nothing.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

As for running specifically, you're getting the basics and not much else. You can see your distance, calorie burn, heart rate, average pace and also rolling pace, which is your pace over the past mile at any given moment. You can also set pace alerts — a warning that you're going faster than you meant to, for example. Like earlier Apple Watches, you can also stream music or podcasts, if you have the cellular-enabled LTE model.

Because the watch has a GPS sensor, you can leave your phone at home while running. Of course, no two brands of running watches will offer exactly the same distance readout on a run. That said, though Apple never explicitly claimed the Watch offers improved accurate distance tracking, the readouts here do feel more accurate than on earlier models. It’s possible that Apple is making ongoing improvements under the hood that have added up to more accurate tracking performance.

For indoor runners, the Apple watch integrates with some treadmills and other exercise equipment, thanks to a two-way pairing process that essentially trades notes between the device and gym gear, formulating a more accurate estimate of your distance and effort using that shared data. In my experience, the Watch usually agrees with the treadmill on how far I ran, which is not always the case with other wearables.

I also particularly appreciate that the Apple Watch automatically detects workouts after a certain period of time. I use this feature daily as I walk to and from the subway and around my neighborhood. After 10 minutes, the familiar vibrating tick, with a message asking if I want to record an outdoor walk. The answer is always yes, and the watch thankfully includes the previous 10 minutes in which I forgot to initiate a workout.

Regardless of the workout type, all of your stats are listed on a series of pages, which you swipe through from left to right. In my early days using the watch, it was tempting to use the Digital Crown as a stopwatch button, similar to how I use other running watches. This urge has mostly subsided as I've gotten more comfortable with the user interface.

Like many of its competitors, the Apple Watch has an auto-pause option, which I often use in start-and-stop workouts. I also found in side-by-side comparisons (one watch on each wrist), that auto-pause on the Watch reacts faster than on Garmin models.

Conveniently, the Apple Watch can export workouts to MyFitnessPal so you get credit for your calorie burn there. Of note, the Watch has all of the health features that the previous generation, including a built-in ECG test for cardiac arrhythmias, along with fall detection, a blood oxygen test, respiratory tracking, emergency calls and menstrual tracking. Also like previous models, there’s a built-in compass and international emergency calling.

Unfortunately, the stats themselves are fairly limited, without much room for customization. There's no mode for interval workouts, either by time or distance. There's also not much of an attempt to quantify your level of fitness, your progress or the strenuousness of your workouts or training load. None of this should be a dealbreaker for more casual runners.

For more detailed tracking, your best bet is to experiment with third-party running apps for the iPhone, like Strava, RunKeeper, MapMyRun, Nike Run Club and others. It's through trial and error that I finally found an app with Watch support and timed intervals. But at the end of the day, it's easier to wear a purpose-built running watch when I'm running outdoors, sync my data to Apple Health, get my exercise and standing-time credit, and then put the Apple Watch back on the first chance I get. But if you can only afford one smartwatch for training and life, there's a strong case for choosing this one.

The best for triathletes: Garmin Forerunner 745

Pros: Accurate distance tracking; long battery life; advanced fitness and training feedback; stores up to 500 songs; works with Garmin Pay.

Cons: Garmin’s auto-pause feature feels slower than Apple’s; more advanced features can sometimes mean the on-device UI is tricky to navigate; features like Garmin Pay drive up the price but may feel superfluous.

If the Apple Watch is for people who want a smartwatch that also has some workout features, the $500 Garmin Forerunner 745 is for athletes in training who want a purpose-built device to help prepare for races. The various sensors inside can track your heart rate, VO2 Max and blood oxygen (with the option to track all-day and in-sleep, as opposed to just spot checking). On the software side, you get daily workout suggestions, a rating that summarizes your performance condition, animated on screen workouts, a cycling power rating, a sleep score and menstruation tracking. You can also create round-trip courses as well as find popular routes though Garmin’s Trendline populating routing feature.

Like other Garmin watches, even the entry-level ones, you also get feedback on your training load and training status (unproductive, maintaining, productive, peaking, overreaching, detraining and recovery), a “Body Battery” energy rating, recommended recovery time, plus Garmin Coach and a race time predictor. And you can analyze “running dynamics” if you also have a compatible accessory.

The slight downside to having all of these features is that the settings menu can be trickier to navigate than on a simpler device like the entry-level Forerunner 45. Fortunately, at least, a home screen update released back in fall 2020 makes it so that you can see more data points on the 1.2-inch screen with less scrolling required.

Speaking of the screen, the watch, available in four colors, is easy to read in direct sunlight, and weighs a not-too-heavy 47g. That light weight, combined with the soft silicone band, makes it comfortable to wear for long stretches. Garmin rates the battery life at up to seven days, or up to 16 hours with GPS in use. (That figure drops to six hours when you combine GPS tracking with music playback.) In my testing, I was still at 88 percent after three hours of GPS usage. Most of my weekday runs are around 35 minutes and that, it turns out, only puts a roughly two- or three-percent dent in the battery capacity.

In practice, the watch also seemed quicker than my older Forerunner 645 Music to latch onto a GPS signal, even in notoriously difficult spots with trees and cover from tall buildings. As always, distance tracking is accurate, especially if you start out with a locked-in signal, which you always should. Like I said earlier, though, I did find in a side-by-side test, Garmin’s auto-pause feature seems sluggish compared to Apple’s.

Aside from some advanced running and cycling features, what makes the 745 one of the more expensive models in Garmin’s line are its smartwatch features. That includes Garmin Pay, the company’s contactless payments system, and the ability to store up to 500 music tracks on the device. You can also mirror your smartphone notifications and use calendar and weather widgets. Just know you can enjoy that even on Garmin’s entry-level model (more on that below).

I can see there being two schools of thought here: if someone plans to wear this watch for many hours a week working out, it may as well get as close as possible to a less sporty smartwatch. Then there’s my thinking: You’re probably better off stepping down to a model that’s nearly as capable on the fitness front, but that doesn’t pretend as hard to be a proper smartwatch.

For those people, there’s another mid-range model in Garmin’s Forerunner line that’s cheaper and serves many of the same people who will be looking at the 745. The Forerunner 245 offers many of the same training features. It also mostly matches the 745 on pool swimming, but you do appear to lose a bunch of cycling features, so you might want to pore over this comparison chart before buying if you’re a multisport athlete.

What you give is Garmin Pay; the option of all-day blood oxygen tracking; the sleep score; a gyroscope and barometric altimeter; floors climbed; heat and altitude acclimation; yoga and pilates workouts; training load focus; the Trendline feature; round-trip course creation, Garmin and Strava live segments; and lactate threshold tracking (and for this you would need an additional accessory amway).

At the opposite end of the spectrum (for people who actually wish the 745 could do more), there’s the Forerunner 945 LTE which, true to its name, adds built-in LTE connectivity. This model also holds 1,000 songs, up from 500 on the 745, and adds niceties like preloaded maps and a host of golfing features, if golf is also your jam.

The best for most people: Garmin Forerunner 45S

Pros: Accurate distance tracking, long battery life, heart rate monitoring and interval training at a reasonable price; lightweight design; offered in a variety of colors; smartphone notifications feel limited, but could be better than nothing.

Cons: Garmin’s auto-pause feature feels slower than Apple’s.

I purposefully tested the expensive Garmin Forerunner 745 first, so that I could start off with an understanding of the brand’s more advanced tech. Testing the Forerunner 45S, then, was an exercise in subtraction: If I pared down the feature set, would I miss the bells and whistles? And would other runners?

It turns out, mostly not. As an entry-level watch, the 45S offers everything beginners (and even some intermediate) runners could want, including distance tracking, basic fitness tracking (steps, calories), heart rate monitoring and a blood oxygen test. Also, as much as the 45S is aimed at new runners, you’ll also find modes for indoor and outdoor cycling, elliptical machines, stair climbers and yoga.

Coming from the 745, I was especially pleased to see that many of Garmin’s best training and recovery features carry down even to the base-level model. That includes training status, training load, training effect, Garmin Coach, Body Battery, stress tracking, a race time predictor and running dynamics analysis (again, an additional accessory is required). Like other Garmin watches, you can enable incident detection, with the caveat that you'll need your smartphone nearby for it to work.

It even functions as a perfunctory smartwatch, with smartphone notifications, music playback controls, calendar and weather widgets, and a duo of “find my phone” and “find my watch” features. Although I’ve criticized Garmin’s smartwatch features in the past for feeling like half-baked add-ons, I was still pleasantly surprised to find them on what’s marketed as a running watch for novices.

As for the hardware, the watch feels lightweight, at 32 grams for the 39mm model (36g for the 42mm). It’s available in five colors, slightly more than Garmin’s more serious models. The 1.04-inch screen was easy to glance at mid-workout, even in direct sunlight. The battery, which is rated for seven days (or 13 hours in GPS mode) does not need to be charged every day. In fact, if it really is beginners using this, their short runs should barely put a dent in the overall capacity. As with the Forerunner 745, my complaint is never with the battery life, just the fact that you have to use a proprietary charging cable.

And, while this watch wasn’t made for competitive swimmers, you can use it in the pool without breaking it. The 5 ATM water resistance rating means it can survive the equivalent of 50 meters of water pressure, which surely includes showering and shallow-water activities.

For what it’s worth, Garmin sells a slightly more expensive model, the Forerunner 55, which for adds respiration rate tracking, menstrual tracking, an updated recovery time advisor and pacing strategies.

The best under $100: Amazfit Bip S

Pros: Lightweight design; long battery life; accurate GPS tracking; built-in heart rate monitor; water resistant; basic smartwatch features.

Cons: Crude user interface; limited support for third-party apps; can’t customize how workout stats are displayed on the screen; pausing workouts feels labored (which is a shame because you’ll be doing it often).

I kept my expectations low when I began testing the Bip S. This $70 watch comes from Amazfit, a lesser known brand here in the US that seems to specialize in lower-priced gadgets. Although I didn’t know much about Amazfit or its parent company Huami, I was intrigued by the specs it offered at this price, most notably a built-in heart monitor — not something you typically see in a device this cheap.

As you might expect, a device this inexpensive has some trade-offs, and I’ll get to those in a minute. But there’s actually a lot to like. The watch itself is lightweight and water resistant, with a low-power color display that’s easy to read in direct sunlight. That low-power design also means the battery lasts a long time — up to 40 hours on a charge. Perhaps most importantly, it excels in the area that matters most: as a sports watch. In my testing the built-in GPS allowed for accurate distance and pace tracking. If you’re not a runner, or you just prefer a multi-sport life, the watch features nine other modes covering most common activities, including walking, yoga, cycling, pool and open-water swimming and free weights.

And did I mention the heart rate monitor? These readings are also seemingly accurate.

What you lose by settling for a watch this cheap is mainly the sort of polished user experience you’d get with a device from a tier-one company like Apple or even Garmin (not that Garmin’s app has ever been my favorite either). In my review, I noticed various goofs, including odd grammar and punctuation choices and a confusingly laid-out app.

I was also bummed to learn you could barely export your data to any third-party apps, other than Strava and Apple Health. You also can’t customize the way data is displayed on-screen during a workout, while your goals don't auto-adjust the way they might on other platforms. Fortunately, at least, these are all issues that can be addressed after the fact via software updates — hopefully sooner rather than later.

Simple CNC Gear Production with Arduino

We’ve seen plenty of people 3D printing custom gears over the years, but [Mr Innovative] decided against an additive process for his bespoke component. He ended up using a simple CNC machine that makes use of several components that were either salvaged from a 3D printer or produced on one. Using a small saw blade, the machine cuts gear teeth into some plastic material and — presumably — could cut gears into anything the saw blade was able to slice into, especially if you added a little lubrication, cooling, and dust removal.

If you’ve built a 3D printer, you’ll see a lot of familiar parts. Stepper motors, aluminum extrusion, straight rods, bearing blocks, and rod holders are all used in the build. There’s also a lead screw and the associated components you usually see in a printer’s Z-axis. Naturally, an Arduino drives the whole affair.

The saw blade was custom-made from a washer, grinding an edge and using a 3D printed template to cut teeth in it. We might have been more inclined to use a cut-off wheel from a rotary tool, but this certainly did the trick. An LCD accepts the gear diameter and number of teeth. The stepper rotates the correct number of degrees and another stepper lowers the cutting head which is spinning with a common DC motor.

As impressive as this machine is, the fact remains that a 3D printer can produce more complex designs. For example, a herringbone pattern can help with alignment issues. It has been done many times. You can even use a resin printer, although you might prefer to stick with FDM.

Hack a Day 10 Oct 16:30

The best smart speakers you can buy

When Amazon first introduced Alexa and the Echo speaker years ago, the idea of talking to a digital assistant wasn't totally novel. Both the iPhone and Android phones had semi-intelligent voice controls — but with the Echo, Amazon took its first step toward making something like Alexa a constant presence in your home. Since then, Apple and Google have followed suit, and now there's a huge variety of smart speakers available at various price points.

As the market exploded, the downsides of having a device that's always listening for a wake word have become increasingly apparent. They can get activated unintentionally, sending private recordings back to monolithic companies to analyze. And even at the best of times, giving more personal information to Amazon, Apple and Google can be a questionable decision. That said, all these companies have made it easier to manage how your data is used — you can opt out of humans reviewing some of your voice queries, and it's also less complicated to manage and erase your history with various digital assistants, too.

The good news is that there's never been a better time to get a smart speaker, particularly if you're a music fan. For all their benefits, the original Amazon Echo and Google Home devices did not sound good. Sonos, on the other hand, made great sounding WiFi-connected speakers, but they lacked any voice-controlled smarts.

That's all changed now. Sonos is including both Alexa and Google Assistant support in its latest speakers. Google and Amazon, meanwhile, made massive improvements in sound quality with recent speakers. Even lower-end models like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini sound much better than earlier iterations. With the growing popularity of these speakers, there are now more options than ever. Let’s walk through the best choices at different price points and for different uses.

Picking an assistant

The first thing most people should do is decide what voice assistant they want to use. Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are both well-supported options that are continually evolving, with new features added at a steady clip. A few years ago, Alexa worked with more smart home devices, but at this point, basically any smart device worth buying works with both.

It's mostly a matter of personal preference. If you already use Google Assistant on your Android phone, it makes sense to stick with that. But while Alexa isn’t quite as good at answering general knowledge questions, it syncs just fine with things like calendars from your Google account. And it works with perhaps the widest variety of smart home devices, as well. If you’ve never used Alexa or Google Assistant, you can download their apps to your smart phone and spend some time testing them out before buying a speaker.

As for Apple, you won’t be surprised to learn its HomePod mini is the only Siri-compatible speaker on the market, now that Apple has discontinued the larger HomePod. Siri has a reputation for not being as smart as Alexa or Google Assistant, but it’s totally capable of handling common voice queries like answering questions, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, making calls and playing music. Technically, Siri and Apple’s HomeKit technology doesn’t work with as many smart home devices as the competition, but it’s not hard to find compatible gear. And since the HomePod mini arrived last fall, Apple has added some handy features like a new Intercom tool. Apple is also starting to support music services besides Apple Music. Currently, Pandora is the only other option, but Apple has confirmed that Amazon Music will eventually work natively on the HomePod mini as well.

Best smart speaker under $50: Amazon Echo Dot

Engadget

Most people's entry point into the smart speaker world will not be an expensive device. Amazon's fourth-generation Echo Dot and Google's Nest Mini are the most obvious places to start for two important reasons. One, they're cheap: Both the Nest Mini and Echo Dost cost $50. Two, they're capable. Despite the low price, these speakers can do virtually the same things as larger and more expensive devices.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon - $50Buy Nest Mini at Walmart - $50

The Nest Mini was released in late 2019, but Amazon just refreshed the Echo Dot in 2020. After testing both devices, I think the Echo Dot is the best small smart speaker for most people. Amazon keeps improving the audio quality across its Echo line, and the Echo Dot is no exception. It produces much louder and clearer audio than I’d expect from a $50 speaker. The Nest Mini doesn’t sound bad, and it’s perfectly fine for listening in the bedroom while getting ready for the day, but the Echo Dot is a better all-purpose music listening device.

From a design perspective, Amazon broke the mold with the latest Echo Dot. Instead of a small puck like the Nest Mini, the new Dot is shaped like a little globe. It’s much bigger than the Nest Mini, but that size gives it room for higher-end audio components. The Dot keeps the handy physical volume buttons and mute switch on top, along with a button to activate Alexa. While the Dot doesn’t look as sleek as the Nest Mini, having physical buttons makes it easier to adjust volume and mute the mic. I do wish the Dot had a way to physically pause music; on the Nest Mini, if you tap the middle of the device, the music stops.

Another benefit the Echo Dot has over the Nest Mini is its 3.5mm audio out jack, which means you can plug it into other speakers and instantly upgrade the audio quality. When you do that, you can ask Alexa to stream music, and it'll output to whatever speaker you have connected. That'll help you get more mileage out of the Dot in the long run. The Nest Mini answers with a handy wall mount, for people who want to keep their counter or shelf clear. The Echo Dot’s new bulbous form is definitely not suited to this, so if you want a speaker you can really hide, the Nest Mini is probably the better choice.

Overall, the Dot is the best choice for most people, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Nest Mini, either. I generally prefer using Google Assistant over Alexa, and anyone who feels the same should go ahead and get the Nest Mini. The Dot does sound notably better, so if you plan to listen to audio on a regular basis, that’s probably the way to go. But if you only plan to use it for a quick song or podcast when you’re getting ready in the morning, just pick your favorite assistant and go from there.

Best smart speaker under $100: Amazon Echo

Amazon

Amazon, Apple and Google all have $100 smart speakers: the fourth-generation Echo, the HomePod mini and the Nest Audio, respectively. All three companies claim superior audio quality, so for lots of people these speakers will be the sweet spot between small speakers like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini and bigger, more expensive models like the Sonos One.

Buy Echo at Amazon - $100Buy HomePod mini at B&H - $100Buy Nest Audio at Walmart - $100

Once again, Amazon punches above its weight. Like the Dot, the new Echo is totally redesigned and the new internals were made with music in mind. It combines a three-inch woofer with two 0.8-inch tweeters — a more advanced setup than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini. (The Nest Audio uses a three-inch woofer but only a single 0.75-inch tweeter, while the HomePod mini makes do with a single “full range” driver and two passive radiators.)

In practice, this means the Echo is noticeably louder than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini and much better suited to filling a large room than the competition. It also delivers an impressive bass thump and powerful mid-range frequencies. In fact, my main complaint with the speaker is that highs aren’t quite crisp enough. Compare the Echo to a Sonos One and the One sounds much more lively, while the Echo comes off a bit muddy. Then again, the Sonos One costs twice as much as the Echo.

While the Echo may beat the Nest Audio and HomePod mini on volume and bass, Google and Apple’s speakers are not bad options. The HomePod mini is the quietest of the three speakers, but it still sounds balanced across the entire audio spectrum. The bass isn’t too assertive, but there’s more presence than I would have expected given its tiny size (it’s by far the smallest of these three speakers).

And it has a few nice perks if you’re using an iPhone 11 or newer. Thanks to the U1 “ultra-wideband” chip in recent iPhones, the HomePod mini can tell when there’s a phone near it, which makes handing off music from your phone to the speaker (or vice versa) quite simple. Playback controls for the HomePod mini will automatically pop up as well, and your phone’s lock screen will display music suggestions if the speaker isn’t currently playing. Setup is also dead-simple — just bring an iPhone or iPad near the speaker and it’ll automatically start the process.

Google’s Nest Audio is also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s a little louder than the HomePod mini, and has stronger bass, to boot. It doesn’t have the same overall power and presence that the Echo does, but for $100 it’s a well-balanced speaker that should serve most people’s needs.

All three of these speakers support stereo pairing as well, if you want more volume or crave a more immersive experience. For $200, two Echoes will fill a large room with high-quality sound and enough bass to power a party. A pair of HomePod mini or Nest Audio speakers aren’t quite as powerful, but it makes for a great upgrade if you’re a more avid listener. A pair of Nest Audio or HomePod mini speakers sounded great on my desk during the workday. I don’t need overwhelming volume but can appreciate the stereo separation. And two of those speakers together can easily power a larger living space, although the Echo is the better choice if volume is a priority.

Here too, I think that picking the assistant that works best in your house and with your other gadgets is probably the most important factor — but given Alexa’s ubiquity and the new Echo’s superior sound quality, I think it’s the best smart speaker at this price point.

Best midrange smart speakers: Sonos One, Amazon Echo Studio

If you have more than a passing interest in music, the Echo Dot and Nest Mini aren't really going to cut it. Spending more money to upgrade to a speaker designed with audio in mind is one of the best decisions I've made. For years, I didn't have a proper home music solution, but in the end the modest investment has made my life much more pleasant.

For a long time, my default recommendation was the $219 Sonos One. It hits a sweet spot of size and convenience, and it's a huge upgrade in sound quality over the Nest Mini or Echo Dot, not to mention the larger Echo and Nest Audio. You can use either Alexa or the Google Assistant with it, and Sonos supports a huge variety of music services. But most importantly, it simply sounds great, especially if you tune the speaker to your room using the Sonos iOS app. It takes just a few minutes and makes the One sound lively, with punchy bass and clear highs.

Buy Sonos One at Sonos - $219Buy Echo Studio at Amazon - $200

But Amazon flipped the script in 2019 with the Echo Studio, a $200 Alexa-powered smart speaker that can stand up against the Sonos One. Yes, it's larger than nearly every other speaker in this guide, but the bang-for-the-buck factor is extremely high with the Echo Studio. Naturally, it's a full-fledged member of the Alexa ecosystem, which means you can do multi-room playback with other Echo speakers or set up two Studios in a stereo pair. All of Alexa's features are on board here, and it has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, if you happen to need that.

The Echo Studio has a few other unique features for music lovers. If you sign up for Amazon's hi-def music service, you can play a (very limited) selection of songs in Sony's 360 Reality Audio format; Amazon refers to this as "3D music." It may sound great, but the selection is so sparse that we can't recommend it as a reason to buy into the Echo Studio — but it will be nice as Amazon expands its catalog over time. That said, the Echo Studio’s five-speaker, 360-degree design naturally provides a more 3D effect than a speaker like the Sonos One, which has a more traditional forward-firing design.

The Studio also supports Dolby Atmos, making it a candidate for a home theater setup — but it only works with Amazon's own Fire TV devices. And using a single speaker for watching movies is odd; it may sound great, but it's not the immersive experience you'll get with a dedicated soundbar and surround speakers. A stereo pair plus Amazon's Echo Sub should sound notably better, but we haven't been able to get that setup yet.

Given the quality of the Studio, the speaker shines when used with a high-def streaming service, like Amazon Music HD or Tidal's HiFi tier. The downside is that you'll pay for those — but if you want to stick with standard Spotify or Apple Music, the Studio still sounds great.

While the Studio is comparable to the Sonos One in terms of pure audio quality, the Sonos ecosystem does have a few advantages over Amazon. Sonos speakers that support voice commands, like the One, work with either Alexa or Google Assistant. So if you prefer Google, Sonos is probably the way to go. And Sonos speakers work with a much broader set of music services. I’ve spent a lot of time recently comparing the One to the Echo Studio, and I go back and forth on which is superior in terms of music quality. They definitely have different profiles, and while I have come to prefer Sonos over Amazon, I know plenty of people (including my colleague Billy Steele) who find the opposite to be true.

If you have a smaller home and aren't concerned with multi-room playback, the Echo Studio should be your pick. But if you're interested in building out a multi-room setup over time, Sonos currently provides a greater variety of speakers for that mission. But either way, you'll end up with a setup that puts something like the Echo Dot or Nest Mini to shame.

Best smart speaker for music lovers: Sonos Five

As nice as the Echo Studio and Sonos One are, there's only so much you can get out of them. If you crave more bass, clarity and stereo separation, the Sonos Five is one of our favorite pure music speakers. It has all the conveniences of the One (except for one, which we'll get to) and sounds significantly better than any other Sonos speaker. It also sounds much better than the Echo Studio and anything Google is currently selling.

Buy Sonos Five at Sonos - $549

That said, the Five stretches our definition of a smart speaker here because it doesn't have a built-in voice assistant. But it's so good at music playback that it's worth recommending you pick one up along with an Echo Dot or Nest Mini. Both of those speakers work with Sonos, so you can use voice commands to control the Five just as you would a dedicated Alexa or Google Assistant device. It’s also easier to recommend than it was a year ago, because Sonos refreshed the speaker last spring with a new wireless radio as well as more memory and a faster processor. This means it should stay current and work with future Sonos software updates for years to come.

Since we're talking "best" here, I'm going to go ahead and recommend that true music junkies splash out on two Five speakers and pair them in stereo. Put simply, it's the most enjoyable experience I've had listening to music in years; I found myself picking up new details while listening to albums I've heard over and over again. It's a wonderful experience and worth saving for if you're a music lover. Put simply, I didn't know what I was missing until I tried the Five.

Best portable smart speaker: Sonos Roam

Engadget

While many people will be happy with a few speakers strategically placed throughout their home, you might want something that works outside as well as inside. Fortunately, you can find speakers that pair voice controls and strong music playback performance with portable, weatherproof form factors. For my money, it's hard to beat the Sonos Roam for sheer versatility, not to mention audio quality.

Buy Sonos Roam at Sonos - $179

When used inside the home, the Roam works like any other Sonos speaker. It fits in with an existing multi-room Sonos setup, or you can get a pair for stereo playback. Like most other Sonos speakers, it works with either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and it supports essentially every major music service available. It sounds very good given its tiny size; it’s quieter and not quite as clear as the Sonos One, but it still packs a surprising bass thump and distinct highs.

Since it was designed with on-the-go usage in mind, the Roam has a battery and Bluetooth so you can take it anywhere and use it far away from your WiFi network. And its diminutive size makes it easy to take it everywhere, both around the house and out and about. It’s also the first Sonos speaker that is fully waterproof, as well as dust- and drop-resistant, so you shouldn’t worry about taking it to the pool or beach.

The Roam gets about 10 hours of battery life, whether you're on WiFI or Bluetooth. There are other portable speakers that last longer, so if you’re really going to push the battery you might be better served by another option.

Sonos also has another portable option, the Move. Like the Roam, it’s a full-fledged Sonos speaker when on WiFi and works with Bluetooth when you’re away from home. But it’s $400 and much larger than the Roam, and even bigger than the Sonos One. This means it is very loud and has better audio quality than all the other speakers I’ve mentioned, but it’s not something you can toss in a bag and bring with you anywhere. When I reviewed it, I liked having a speaker I could tote around the house with me and out to my porch, but the Roam does that all just as well in a much smaller package. The Move is a good option if you want a high-quality speaker for a living room with the option to occasionally drag it to the backyard.

While this guide is all about smart speakers, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention all of the solid portable speakers out there that either have limited smart features or none at all. We have an entire guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers, and some of our favorites that support smart voice commands come from Bose. The $149 SoundLink Flex supports Siri and Google Assistant commands, plus it has an IP67 design that's roughly the size of a small clutch bag. It pumps out bright, dynamic sound and can pair with other speakers for stereo sound, too.

On the higher end of the spectrum, the $399 Bose Portable Smart speaker supports Alexa and Google Assistant commands, and since it can connect to WiFi, you can ask your preferred assistant to play music from Spotify, Amazon Music and other services. On top of that, it produces well-rounded sound, sports an IPX4 design with a convenient carry handle and will last up to 12 hours on a single charge.

The best affordable Windows laptops you can buy

If you’re a regular Engadget reader, you probably don’t think of cheap Windows laptops when you think of daily drivers. But it would be a big mistake to ignore these devices — if not for yourself, for others you may know. There’s a reason why companies like Acer, ASUS, Dell and the like make Windows devices under $500 — lots of people have strict budgets to adhere to and others just don’t need the power that comes with a flagship laptop.

Affordable Windows notebooks are great options for people that only use a computer to check email, shop online or post on Facebook. (Hello, mom and dad?) They’re also good for kids who have no business putting their sticky little hands on a $2,000 gaming rig. And, depending on what you need them for, these devices can be decent daily drivers, too.

What about Chromebooks and tablets?

Now, you may be inclined to recommend a Chromebook or a tablet to all of the people listed above. Those instincts aren’t wrong, but Chromebooks and tablets aren’t for everyone. Tablets will only work for the most mobile-competent users like kids who have been grabbing smartphones out of their parents’ hands since they’ve been dexterous enough to do so. Tablets can also be just as expensive as some of the cheapest Windows laptops, and that’s without a mouse or keyboard.

Chromebooks are a good alternative for those that basically live in a browser. However, there are some who just don’t want to give up the “traditional desktop.” And Chrome OS is more limited than Windows when it comes to the programs you can install and run.

What Windows laptops do well

Wachiwit via Getty Images

So what can you realistically accomplish on a cheap Windows laptop? Quite a bit, especially if you’re doing one thing (or a limited number of things) at a time. They’re great for web browsing, checking email, video streaming and more — but, yes, all of those things can be done on Chromebooks as well. Windows laptops have a big advantage, though, in Microsoft Office. While yes, there is a browser based version, the native, desktop apps are considered a must have for many and will run smoothly on even the most bare-bones laptops. The only caveat is that you may run into some slowdown on low-powered devices if you’re working with large data sets in Excel or a lot of photos and graphics in Powerpoint.

When it comes to specs, a bright spot for Windows laptops is storage. Even the most affordable devices tend to have at least 128GB SSDs. That will come in handy if you prefer to keep your most important files saved locally on your laptop. In contrast, cheaper Chromebooks often have less storage because they’re built on the assumption that you’ll save all of your documents in the cloud. Not only is that less convenient when you need to work offline, but it also limits the size of programs and files that you can download. So, not great for hoarding Netflix shows before a long trip.

Windows also has thousands of apps that you can download from its app store. Chromebooks have some Chrome apps, numerous browser extensions and the ability to download Android apps, but quality control is… inconsistent. Android apps, in particular, often haven’t been optimized for Chrome OS, which makes for a wonky user experience. Windows may not have as many apps as Android, but at least the experience is fairly standard across the board.

Windows also gives you the ability to download and use programs from other sources, like direct from the developer. You can run things like Adobe Creative Suite, certain VPNs and programs like GIMP, Audacity and ClipMate on a Windows device, which just isn’t possible on Chrome OS. Chromebooks limit you to the apps and programs in The Play Store and the Chrome Extensions store, reducing any others to unusable, space-sucking icons in your Downloads folder.

What to look for in a cheap Windows laptop

While you can do a lot even when spending little on a Windows laptop, you must set your expectations accordingly. The biggest downside when purchasing a budget laptop (of any kind, really) is limited power. Many Windows laptops under $500 run on Intel Celeron or Pentium processors, but you can find some with Core i3/i5 and AMD Ryzen 3/5 CPUs at the higher end of the price spectrum.

Specs to look for in a sub-$500 Windows laptop

  • Intel Core i or AMD Ryzen 3 processors

  • 8GB of RAM

  • An SSD with at least 128GB of space

  • 1080p display

  • Mostly metal designs

We recommend getting the most powerful CPU you can afford because it will dictate how fast the computer will feel overall. RAM is also important because, the more you have, the easier it will be for the laptop to manage things like a dozen browser tabs while you edit a Word document and stream music in the background. However, with sub-$500 laptops, you’re better off getting the best CPU you can afford rather than a laptop with a ton of RAM because the CPU will have enough power to handle most tasks that cheap laptops are designed for (If you’re editing RAW images or 4K video, you’ll want to invest in more RAM… and a laptop well above $500).

When it comes to storage, consider how much you want to save locally. If you primarily work in Google Docs or save most things in the cloud, you may not need a machine with a ton of onboard storage. Just remember that your digital space will also be taken up by apps, so it may be worth getting a little extra storage than you think you need if you know you’ll be downloading big programs. A final side note: SSDs are ubiquitous at this point, not to mention faster and more efficient than HDDs, so we recommend getting a laptop with that type of storage.

You also don’t have to settle for an entirely plastic notebook either. There are options in the sub-$500 price range that are made, at least in part, with metals like aluminum. Those will not only be more attractive but also more durable. As for screens, there’s a healthy mix of HD and FHD options in this price range and we recommend springing for a notebook with a 1080p display if you can. Touchscreens aren’t as common in the under-$500 space as standard panels, but you’ll only really miss one if you get a 2-in-1 laptop.

A final note before we get to our picks: Cheap Windows laptop models change all the time. Unlike more expensive, flagship machines, these notebooks can be updated a couple times each year. That can make it hard to track down a specific model at Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart or any given retailer. We’ve listed some of our current favorite models below, but if you can’t find any of them available near you, just keep in mind our list of specs to look for in a cheap laptop – they’ll guide you to the best machines available at the moment.

Engadget picks

Acer Aspire 5

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Acer’s Aspire 5 series has been a reliable pick for quite some time now. Most recently, we tested out the A514-54-395V, which has a 14-inch 1080p display and runs on an 11th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

Performance was similar to the previous Aspire 5 model that we tested, but you will find some design differences on the A514-54-395V. Namely, it’s a 14-inch machine, not a 15-inch one, and it doesn’t have a full number pad on the right side of the keyboard. It still has an aluminum top cover, which gives it a more premium feel, but Acer removed the backlight on the keyboard on this one, which is a bummer. Thankfully, though, the keyboard is just as comfortable to use as the one on the previous model.

In addition to new WiFi 6 support, the latest Aspire 5 has an additional, crucial USB-C port. This was lacking on the previous model we tested, so we’re happy to see it included on this version. And it accompanies the ports that were already present: three USB-A connections, one HDMI socket, a headphone jack, a lock slot and a drop-jaw Ethernet port. As promised, Acer increased the average battery life on this model to 10 hours. On the previous model, we were clocking in roughly six hours of battery life, so this is a much-needed improvement.

Buy Acer Aspire 5 at Adorama - $430

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Lenovo’s Flex 5 14 is a good alternative if you want a more portable laptop with a battery life that will keep you going all day long. It runs on an AMD Ryzen 3 4300 processor, with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and it’s accompanied by a 14-inch 1080p IPS display and an array of ports that includes one USB-C connection. If you care about future-proofing, that USB-C port will be critical. You may not have a lot of USB-C accessories right now, but that will most certainly change in the coming years.

The typing experience is also top-notch: while it doesn’t have a number pad, its keys have that rounded-bottom shape that’s similar to keys on Lenovo’s ThinkPad machines. They make a satisfying clicking sound while you’re typing, but they’re not loud enough to bother those around you.

And despite being a budget machine, the Flex 5 14 isn’t flimsy. The palm rests don’t creak under pressure and it’s easy to carry this laptop one-handed around a room. I also appreciate its convertible design, which gives you more flexibility. And like most Lenovo machines, the Flex 5 14 has a webcam that you can cover with a physical shutter.

The Flex 5 14 also has the upper-hand over the Aspire 5 when it comes to battery life: The former lasted about 16.5 hours in our testing, whereas Acer’s machine lasted roughly 10 hours. That makes the Lenovo option the clear winner if you’re looking for a laptop that can last all day and then some.

Buy Lenovo Flex 5 14 at Walmart - $470

Surface Laptop Go 2

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Microsoft's new Surface Laptop Go 2 here, even though it starts at $600. It’s certainly a decent option to consider if you’re really into the Surface line. Undoubtedly, the Laptop Go 2 has one of the best designs you’ll find on any cheap Windows notebook, with a minimalist aesthetic, thin bezels surrounding its display and a relatively like 2.5-pound weight. It’s 12.4-inch PixelSense touchscreen has 1,536 x 1,024 resolution, and it’s still pretty crisp despite not being an FHD panel. You’re also getting a 720p webcam, a fairly comfortable keyboard (albeit with no backlight) and a port array that includes one USB-A connection, one USB-C socket, a headphone jack and a power slot.

In addition to the attractive design, another reason why you may want to spring for the Laptop Go 2 is that even the base model runs on an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 processor. We found it to provide snappy performance, and you’ll probably notice a difference if you’re coming from a machine with a Core i3 processor or something even less powerful. We were also impressed by the Laptop Go 2’s battery life – it lasted nearly 15 hours in our testing, and since Microsoft improved the interior thermal system, you shouldn’t hear excessive fan noise when you’re using it.

There are two big downsides to the Laptop Go 2: the higher starting price and the base model’s 4GB of RAM. You’ll pay $600 for a machine with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and while those specs aren’t terrible, we usually recommend spring for a machine with at least 8GB of RAM. It’ll make multitasking much easier and more efficient, thereby improving your experience using the notebook in the long run. You’ll have to spend $700 to get that amount of memory in the Laptop Go 2, which is still cheaper than flagship notebooks, but not as affordable when compared with our other picks.

Buy Surface Laptop Go 2 at Microsoft starting at $600

How to buy a vlogging camera

With the explosion of TikTok and the growth of video on YouTube, Twitch, Instagram and other platforms, interest in vlogging has increased exponentially since we last updated our guide. If you’re one of those creators and a smartphone is no longer good enough, it may be time to upgrade to a purpose-built vlogging camera.

Some models are specifically designed for vlogging, like Sony’s ZV-E10 mirrorless camera that launched last year, or Panasonic’s compact G100. Others, like the new Panasonic GH6, Sony A7S III and Canon EOS R6 are hybrid cameras that offer vlogging as part of a larger toolset.

All of them have certain things in common, like flip-around screens, face- and/or eye-detect autofocus and stabilization. Prices, features and quality can vary widely among models, though. To that end, we’ve updated our guide with all the latest models designed for every vlogger from novice to professional, in all price ranges. Engadget has tested all of these to give you the best possible recommendations, and we’ll even discuss a few rumored upcoming models.

One caveat to this year’s guide is that a parts shortage has limited production of many cameras, causing shortages and higher prices. Sony, for one, halted production of the aforementioned ZV-E10 for a time, and models from Fujifilm and others are also hard to find. The good news is that the shortage appears to be easing, so hopefully we’ll see normal supply levels in the near future. 

What do you need in a vlogging camera?

Vlogging cameras are designed for filmmakers who often work alone and either use a tripod, gimbal, vehicle mount or just their hands to hold a camera. It has to be good not just for filming yourself, but other “B-roll” footage that helps tell your story.

The number one requirement is a flip-around screen so you can see yourself while filming. Those can rotate up, down or to the side, but flipping out to the side is preferable so a tripod or microphone won’t block it.

Steve Dent/Engadget

Continuous autofocus (AF) for video with face and eye detection is also a must. It becomes your camera “assistant,” keeping things in focus while you concentrate on your content. Most cameras can do that nowadays, but some still do it better than others.

If you move around or walk a lot, you should look for a camera with built-in optical stabilization. Electronic stabilization is another option as long as you’re aware of the limitations. You’ll also need a camera with a fast sensor that limits rolling shutter, which can create a distracting jello “wobble” with quick camera movements.

4K recording is another key feature. All cameras nowadays can shoot 4K up to at least 24 fps, but if possible, it’s better to have 4K at 60 or even 120 fps. If you shoot sports or other things involving fast movement, look for a model with at least 1080p at 120 fps for slow-motion recording.

Video quality is another important consideration, especially for skin tones. Good light sensitivity helps for night shooting, concerts, etcetera, and a log profile helps improve dynamic range in very bright or dark shooting conditions. If you want the best possible image quality and can afford it, get a camera that can record 4K with 10-bits (billions) of colors. That will give you more options when you go to edit.

Don’t neglect audio either — if the quality is bad, your audience will disengage. Look for a camera with a microphone port so you can plug in a shotgun or lapel mic for interviews, or at least one with a good-quality built-in microphone. It’s also nice to have a headphone port to monitor sound so you can avoid nasty surprises after you’ve finished shooting.

You’ll also want good battery life and, if possible, dual memory card slots for a backup. Finally, don’t forget about your camera’s size and weight. If you’re constantly carrying one while shooting, especially at the end of a gimbal or gorillapod, it might actually be the most important factor. That’s why tiny GoPro cameras are so popular for sports, despite offering lower image quality and fewer pro features.

The best action and portable cameras

If you’re just starting out in vlogging or need a small, rugged camera, an action cam might be your best bet. In general, they’re easy to use as you don’t have to worry about things like exposure or focus. Recent models also offer good electronic stabilization and sharp, colorful video at up to 4K and 60 fps. The downsides are a lack of control; image quality that’s not on par with larger cameras; and no zooming or option to change lenses.

DJI Pocket II

DJI

Last time around we recommended the original Osmo Pocket, but the Pocket II (no more “Osmo”) has some big improvements. As before, it’s mounted on a three-axis gimbal and has impressive face tracking that keeps your subject locked in focus. However, the new model has a larger, much higher resolution 64-megapixel sensor, a faster lens with a wider field of view and improved microphones. As before, you can get accessories like an extension rod, a waterproof case and more.

What really makes the Pocket II great for vlogging are the follow modes combined with face tracking. If you’re working solo, you can simply set it up and it’ll rotate and tilt to follow you around. That also applies for walk-and-talk vlogging, so you don’t have to worry about focus or even pointing the camera at yourself. For $346, it’s not only good for beginners, but is a handy tool for any vlogger.

Buy DJI Pocket II at Amazon - $349

GoPro Hero 10 Black

Engadget

The Hero 10 Black is what we called a “big, invisible upgrade” over the Hero 9, itself a much improved camera over the Hero 8 Black we recommended last time. That’s largely due to the new processor that unlocks features like higher-resolution 5.3K 60p and 4K 120fps video, much improved Hypersmooth 4.0 stabilization, an improved front-screen and more. All of that makes it ideal to mount on a drone, vehicle, helmet, bicycle and more, at a very manageable $350 price with a 1-year GoPro subscription.

Buy Hero 10 Black bundle at GoPro - $350

DJI Action 2

DJI

DJI took a much different approach compared to GoPro with its latest Action 2 camera – no with more Osmo branding. Rather than being a standalone camera, it’s a modular system with a magnetic mount that lets you add a touchscreen module with a secondary OLED display and three additional microphones, or a battery module for longer life and an extra microSD slot. As with the Pocket 2, it offers tons of accessories like a 3-in-1 extension rod and more. It’s a versatile option if you do more than just action shooting, and is priced well starting at $399.

Buy DJI Action 2 at Amazon - $399

The best compact vlogging cameras

Compact cameras are a step-up option from smartphones or action cameras, with larger sensors and much better image quality. At the same time, they’re not quite as versatile as mirrorless or DSLR cameras (and not necessarily cheaper) and they lack advanced options like 10-bit video. For folks who want the best possible quality without needing to think too much about their camera, however, it’s the best option. 

Sony ZV-1

Steve Dent/Engadget

Sony’s ZV-1 came out in 2020 and it’s still the best compact vlogging camera available. Based on the RX 100 V, it has a decently large 1-inch 20.1-megapixel sensor and fixed 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8mm equivalent lens. Based on the RX100 V, it has a 1-inch 20.1-megapixel sensor and fixed 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8mm (equivalent) lens. It also offers a lightweight body, built-in high-quality microphone (plus a microphone port), flip-out display, best-in-class autofocus and excellent image quality. It also has vlogging specific features like “product showcase” and background blur.

While the $799 ZV-1 can’t shoot 10-bit video, it comes with Sony’s S-Log picture profiles that give you increased dynamic range for shooting in challenging lighting conditions. The flaws include a lens that’s not quite wide enough when you’re using electronic stabilization, mediocre battery life and the lack of a true touch display and headphone port. That aside, if you’re looking to step up from a smartphone, it does the job nearly perfectly.

Buy Sony ZV-1 at Amazon - $799

Canon G7 X Mark III

Engadget

Canon’s G7 X Mark III should also be front of mind for vloggers looking for a compact option. It also packs a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor, but has a 24-100 mm f/1.8-2.8 35mm equivalent zoom — quite a bit longer than the ZV-1 at the telephoto range. It can shoot 4K at up to 30 fps, while offering optical image stabilization, a microphone input (though no headphone jack) and even the ability to livestream directly to YouTube. The downsides are contrast-detect only autofocus and a screen that tilts up but not to the side. For $749, it’s still a great option, though.

Buy Canon G7 X Mark III at Amazon - $749

The best mirrorless/DSLR vlogging cameras

This is the class that has changed the most over the past couple of years, particularly in the more affordable price categories. Interchangeable lens cameras give you the most options for vlogging, offering larger sensors than compact cameras with better low-light sensitivity and shallower depth of field to isolate you or your subject. They also offer better control of your image with manual controls, log recording, 10-bit video and more. The drawbacks are extra weight compared to action or compact cameras, extra complexity and higher prices.

Fujifilm X-S10

Jonas Dyhr Rask/Fujifilm

Fujifilm’s X-S10 has displaced the X-T4 as the best vlogging camera out there, thanks particularly to the more affordable price. It ticks all the boxes for vloggers, offering in-body stabilization, 10-bit 4K external video with F-Log recording (at up to 30fps) along with 1080p at a stellar 240 fps, a screen that flips out to the side and easy-to-use controls. It also comes with a headphone jack and USB-C port that doubles as a headphone jack. The main downside is the limited touchscreen controls, but you get a lot of camera for just $1,000.

Buy Fujifilm X-S10 at Adorama - $999

Sony ZV-E10

Sony

The best Sony APS-C camera for vlogging is now the ZV-E10. While using many of the same aging parts as the A6100, including the 24.2-megapixel sensor, it has a number of useful features for self-shooters. High on the list is Sony’s excellent autofocus, which includes the same background defocus and Product Showcase features found on the ZV-1 compact. It also offers electronic SteadyShot, a fully articulating display and more. The biggest drawback is rolling shutter that can get bad if you whip the camera around too much. If you can find one, it’s priced at $700 for the body or $800 in a bundle with Sony’s 16-50mm F/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens.

Buy Sony ZV-E10 at B&H - $698

Panasonic GH6 and GH5

Steve Dent/Engadget

Panasonic’s GH5 was an incredibly popular vlogging camera for a very long time and was actually replaced by two cameras, the $2,200 GH6 and more budget-oriented $1,700 GH5-II. The GH6 is a large upgrade in nearly every way, offering 5.7K at 60 fps and 4K at up to 120 fps, along with ProRes formats that are easy to edit. It also comes with the best in-body stabilization on any camera and great handling. The downside is sub-par contrast-detect autofocus and battery life that’s not amazing.

It’s also worth a look at the GH5 Mark II, which is not only $500 cheaper but particularly well suited for live-streamers. It’s not a huge upgrade over the GH5, but does more than most rival cameras for the price, offering 4K 10-bit 60p video, a fully articulating display and excellent in-body stabilization. As with the GH6, the main drawback is the contrast-detect autofocus system.

Buy Panasonic GH6 at Amazon - $2,200Buy Panasonic GH5 at Amazon - $1,700

Panasonic G100

Panasonic

Panasonic’s G100 is purpose built for vlogging like the ZV-1, but also allows you to change lenses. It has a fully-articulating flip-out screen, 5-axis hybrid (optical/electronic) stabilization, 4K V-Log-L video at up to 30 fps (though sadly cropped at 1.47X for 4K video), 1080p at up to 60 fps, and contrast detect AF with face/eye detection. The coolest feature is the Nokia OZO system that can isolate audio to a specific person via face-detection tracking — something that can theoretically improve audio quality. Best of all, you can grab it right now with a 12-32mm lens for $750.

Buy Panasonic GH100 at Amazon - $750

Canon EOS M50 Mark II

Canon

Another good buy if you’re on a budget is Canon’s EOS M50 Mark II, particularly if you’re okay with 1080p video only. While not a huge upgrade over the original M50, Canon has made it more compelling for vloggers with a fully-articulating display, continuous eye-tracking in video and live streaming to YouTube. It does support 4K, but with a heavy 1.5 times crop and contrast-detect autofocus only. Still, it’s a good option for folks on a budget, selling for $699 with a 15-45mm lens.

Buy Canon EOS M50 Mark II at B&H - $699

Canon EOS R6

Steve Dent / Engadget

If you’ve got the budget for it, Canon’s EOS R6 offers nearly every feature you need in a vlogging camera. You can shoot 10-bit 4K video at up to 60 fps, and the Dual Pixel autofocus with eye and face tracking is incredibly reliable. It also offers 5-axis optical stabilization, a flip-out display and a relatively compact size. As you may have heard, overheating can be an issue, but firmware updates have improved that issue and it only applies to the more demanding video settings.

Buy Canon EOS R6 at Amazon - $2,500

Fujifilm X-T4

Steve Dent/Engadget

The Fuijfilm X-T4 is a great all-around mirrorless camera for vlogging. It has everything you need, including a fully-articulating display, continuous eye- and face autofocus, 10-bit 4K log recording at up to 60 fps, 5-axis in-body stabilization, microphone and headphone jacks (the latter via USB-C) and lower noise in low light.

Image quality, especially in the skin tones, is lifelike and the sensor has minimal rolling shutter. It also offers good battery life and comes with dual UHS-II card slots. Finally, it’s fairly light considering all the features, and Fujifilm has a good selection of small lenses ideal for vlogging. What I don’t like is an autofocus system not quite as fast or accurate as Sony’s and the fairly steep $1,700 asking price for the body only.

Buy Fujifilm X-T4 at Amazon - $1,700

Nikon Z fc

Nikon

If you want to look great while vlogging, check out Nikon’s stylish Z fc. It’s largely identical to the Z50, with features like a 20.9-megapixel APS-C sensor, 4K at 30 fps and a reliable phase-detect autofocus system with face detection. However, the Z fc brings a vari-angle touchscreen to the party and has a beautiful vintage body covered with convenient manual controls. It doesn’t have built-in optical stabilization, but you can get that via a lens. The best feature, though, is the price – you can get one for $1,100 with a 16-50mm lens.

Buy Nikon Z fc at B&H - $1,100

Upcoming cameras

If you’re not quite ready to buy, there are some interesting options on the horizon. Canon just announced the EOS R7, a mirrorless EOS R version of its popular EOS 7D DSLR. It has an APS-C sensor and all-new RF-S lenses, meaning that it might replace Canon’s current M-series cameras. Specs include a 32.5-megapixel APS-C sensor, 4K 60 fps video, an articulating display and more. All of that will make it a top vlogging option, if our upcoming review confirms the hype.

On top of that, Canon also announced a cheaper EOS R10 model with a 24.2-megapixel sensor that could also be an ideal vlogging camera. Both cameras are coming out towards the end of 2022.

In addition, Fujifilm just launched the X-H2S, its new $2,500 flagship mirrorless camera. With a 26.2-megapixel stacked and backside-illuminated sensor, it offers a raft of impressive features. Some of the highlights include 40 fps blackout-free burst shooting, faster autofocus, 6.2K 30fps video, a flip-out display and 7-stop in-body stabilization. If you’ve got the budget, this could be a solid vlogging choice when it arrives on July 7th.

The best smart displays you can buy

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

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

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

Amazon vs. Google

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

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

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

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

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

The best smart displays

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

The best Google smart display: Google Nest Hub

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

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

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

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

Buy Nest Hub at Walmart - $100

Runner up: Google Nest Hub Max

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

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

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

Buy Nest Hub Max at Walmart - $170

The best Amazon smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon

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

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

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

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $130

Runner up: Amazon Echo Show 5

Nicole Lee / Engadget

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

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

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $85

The best smart clocks

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

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

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

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

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

The Engadget guide to the best midrange smartphones

A great smartphone doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Years of commoditization have brought features once exclusive to high-end devices – including big batteries, multi-camera arrays and high refresh rate displays – down to their more affordable siblings. As one of Engadget’s resident mobile geeks, I’ve reviewed dozens of midrange devices. So I’m here to help you figure out what features to prioritize when trying to find a phone for less than $600.

What is a midrange phone, anyway?

While the term shows up frequently in articles and videos, there isn’t an agreed-upon definition for “midrange” beyond a phone that isn’t a flagship or an entry-level option. For this guide, our recommendations cost between $400 and $600. Any less and you should expect significant compromises. If your budget is higher, though, you should consider flagships like the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22.

What factors should you consider when buying a midrange smartphone?

Buying a new device can be intimidating, but a few questions can help guide you through the process. First: what platform do you want to use? If the answer is iOS, that narrows your options down to exactly one phone. (Thankfully, it’s great.) And if you’re an Android fan, there’s no shortage of compelling options. Both platforms have their strengths, so you shouldn’t rule either out.

Obviously, also consider how much you’re comfortable spending. Even spending $100 more can get you a dramatically better product. And manufacturers tend to support their more expensive devices for longer. It’s definitely worth buying something toward the top limit of what you can afford.

Having an idea of your priorities will help inform your budget. Do you want a long-lasting battery? Do you value speedy performance above all else? Or would you like the best possible cameras? While they continue to improve every year, midrange phones still involve some compromises, and knowing what’s important to you will make choosing one easier.

Lastly, pay attention to wireless bands and network compatibility. If you don’t want to worry about that, your best bet is to buy directly from your carrier. To make things easier, all the phones we recommend are compatible with every major US wireless provider and can be purchased unlocked. 

What won’t you get from a midrange smartphone?

Every year, the line between midrange and flagship phones gets blurrier as more upmarket features trickle down. When we first published this guide in 2020, it was difficult to find $500 devices with waterproofing or 5G. Now, the biggest thing you might miss out on is wireless charging. Just remember to budget for a power adapter too – many companies have stopped including them. Performance has improved in recent years, but can still be hit or miss as most midrange phones use slower processors that can struggle with multitasking. Thankfully, their cameras have improved dramatically, and you can typically expect at least a dual-lens system on most handsets below $600.

Engadget picks

The best midrange Android phone: Pixel 5a with 5G

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

It may look dull, but there’s a lot to like about Google’s $450 Pixel 5a. For one, it features the best cameras at this price. It may not have as many lenses as some of the other options on this list, but thanks to Google’s expertise in computational photography, the 5a delivers pictures that are on par with phones that cost hundreds more.

The Pixel 5a has a few other things going for it. Thanks to its large 4,680mAh battery and efficient chipset, you won’t have to worry about running out of juice. In fact, Engadget managing editor Terrence O’Brien found he could easily get a full day of use. The 5a also supports 5G and is certified IP67 for water and dust-proofing. Plus, as a Pixel phone, the 5a will receive the latest updates and security fixes from Google weeks and months before other Android phones.

Of course, no $450 phone is perfect. The Pixel 5a has an aging Snapdragon 765G chipset, and you can find plenty of midrange phones with more responsive displays.

One thing to note: The Pixel 6a is right around the corner and will go on sale on July 28th for $449. I suggest waiting until Engadget gets a review unit so you have details on things like battery life and performance before you make a decision.

Buy Pixel 5a 5G at Amazon - $450

The best (and only) iPhone under $600: iPhone SE

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If you can get past its dated design and small 5.4-inch display, the iPhone SE is the fastest phone you can buy for less than $600. No other device on this list has a processor that comes close to the SE’s A15 Bionic. What’s more, you can expect Apple to support the 2022 model for years to come. The company is only just ending support for the first-generation SE after six years. The company hasn’t said how long it intends to furnish the latest SE with new software, but it’s likely to support the device for a similar length of time.

For all its strengths, the iPhone SE is held back by a dated display. Not only is the SE’s screen small and slow, but it also uses an IPS panel instead of an OLED, meaning it can’t deliver deep blacks. Additionally, that screen is surrounded by some of the largest bezels you’ll find on a modern phone. That’s not surprising. The SE uses the design of the iPhone 6, which will be a decade old in two years. And if the SE looks dated now, it will only feel more tired in a few years.

Shop iPhone SE at Apple

The midrange phone with the best screen: Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

For the best possible display at this price, look no further than Samsung’s $450 Galaxy A53 5G. It features a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display that is ideal for watching TV shows and movies. Plus the 120Hz panel is the fastest on this list. Other standout features include a 5,000mAh battery and versatile camera system. The A53’s three cameras may not deliver photos with the same detail and natural colors as the Pixel 5a, but it can capture bigger scenes with its two wide-angle lenses.

Like the other Android phones on this list, the A53 isn’t the fastest performer. At best, Samsung’s Exynos 1280 is a lateral move from the Snapdragon 750G found in the Galaxy A52 5G. And though the A53 is $50 cheaper than its predecessor, it no longer comes with a power adapter and headphone jack, so the difference may not end up being much.

Buy Galaxy A53 5G at Samsung - $450

An ultra-budget 5G option: OnePlus Nord N200 5G

Brian Oh / Engadget

If you only have around $200 to spend on your next phone, you could do a lot worse than the OnePlus Nord N200 To start, it features a big 5,000mAh battery that will easily last you a full day. The N200 also has a 90Hz display and 5G connectivity, which are tricky to find at this price. Best of all, it doesn’t look like a budget product.

But the N200 is also a good illustration of why you should spend more if you can. I the slowest device on this list, due to its Snapdragon 480 chipset and paltry 4GB of RAM. Its triple main camera system is serviceable during the day but struggles in low light and doesn’t offer much versatility beyond a disappointing macro lens. OnePlus also doesn’t plan to update the phone beyond the soon-to-be-outdated Android 12. In short, the N200 is unlikely to last you as long as any of the other recommendations on this list.

Buy OnePlus Nord N200 at Amazon - $240

Chris Velazco contributed to this report.

The best smartwatches

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

What to look for in a smartwatch

Cherlynn Low

Compatibility

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

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

Price

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

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

Battery life

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

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

Communication

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

Fitness tracking

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

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

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

Engadget

Music

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

Always-on displays

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

NFC

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

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

Engadget Picks

Best overall: Apple Watch

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

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

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

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

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

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

Best budget: Fitbit Versa 2

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

Buy Fitbit Versa 2 at Amazon - $150

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

David Imel for Engadget

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

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

Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Amazon - $250

Fashion-forward options

Fossil

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

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

Cherlynn Low contributed to this guide.

The best gifts for dad under $50

Us kids know how hard it is to buy gifts for parents. It’s either a case of they don’t want anything or they’ve already gone out and bought the product you had your eye on without telling you. Especially tech-savvy dads. But there are some oft-forgotten, cheaper gifts that can do the job without breaking the $50 barrier. From console controllers to tracking tags, smart lights to charging accessories, our ideas will tick the list of even the most hard-to-buy-for father figure in your life.

8BitDo Pro 2 controller

8BitDo

It might look a bit retro, but make no mistake, 8BitDo’s Pro 2 controller is crammed full of tech. The Bluetooth handheld connects to your Switch, PC and mobile device, offering a familiar thumbstick and D-Pad layout, as well as back paddles and a profile switcher. That means dads will be able to use the controller in Switch or Android mode or pair it as an X-input or D-input device. Perfect for gaming while on the move.

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

Roku Express 4K+

Engadget

Now that we’re truly in the streaming age, finding a TV with Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max etc built in is a lot easier. But we both know that at least one of your dad’s televisions probably doesn’t (and could use a little help with modernization). That’s where Roku’s Express 4K+ streamer comes in. With support for all modern streaming services, the Express 4K is easy to set up and with its simple remote just does the job.

Buy Roku Express 4K+ at Amazon - $40

LastPass subscription

LastPass

Does your dad have at least one password with “123456” in it? Instead of shaming him, consider getting him a password manager instead. While most browsers come with their own built-in password tools, a LastPass Premium subscription operates across a wide variety of devices, browsers and operating systems. It’ll save all of his passwords and suggest stronger ones all day long, but it isn’t limited to just that: Feed it addresses, card details and other important information and it’ll reduce the time and effort it takes to fill in those pesky online forms.

Buy LastPass Premium starting at $3/month

ThermoWorks ThermoPop

ThermoWorks

We’re big fans of ThermoWorks’ Thermapen Mk4, but spending $100 on an instant-read thermometer may not be in your budget. Luckily, you can still upgrade your dad’s cooking toolkit with the $35 ThermoPop, a compact, lollipop-like thermometer that is accurate and easy to use. It has a single button that turns it on and rotates its backlit digital display so you can always read it properly, regardless of how you’re holding it. Temperature readings pop up in about 3-4 seconds, so it won’t take long for dad to figure out if his brisket is cooked to perfection. With a temperature range of -58 to 572°F and a splash-proof design, the ThermoPop could end up being dad’s new favorite kitchen tool.

Buy ThermoPop at ThermoWorks - $35

Anker Nano II GAN Charger

Engadget

In this day and age, gadgets are getting better at holding their charge for most – if not all – of the day, but there are often times when dad’s smartphone (complete with folding case and belt clip) needs a quick top-up. The good thing about Anker’s Nano II GAN Charger is that it isn’t just a phone charger; you can hook this thing up to a MacBook (Air or Pro) and have it charged in no time. Anker says it’ll charge an iPhone 13 up to three times faster than an original 5W charger and juice Samsung phones at full speed via Super Fast Charging. It’s also compact, saving space on his outlets, but also making it a perfect accessory to throw in a backpack or store in a coat pocket for those on-the-move recharges.

Buy Anker Nano II (65W) at Amazon - $50

Rocketbook Eco-Friendly reusable notebook

Rocketbook

If dad isn’t one for to-do lists or electronic note-taking and instead prefers to write things down for later, the Rocketbook line of reusable notebooks are a solid choice. It works in two ways: the 32-page notebook features special pages that allow the Pilot Frixion pen to write like any normal pen. However, after fifteen seconds, you can use the microfiber cloth to erase any mistakes or wipe it completely, leaving a perfectly blank page. Before dad does that, however, Rocketbook’s AI app can digitize any of the writing or drawings, saving them to a phone or tablet for later reading.

Buy Rocketbook notebooks at Amazon - $34

Nintendo $50 eShop Gift Card

Engadget

If dad has a Nintendo Switch (or one of the company’s handhelds), then he’s probably already pretty up-to-speed on the Nintendo eShop. Every so often, the company will reduce a wide range of first-party and indie games, allowing you and dad to build out your collection for a lot less. The good news is that throughout the year, retailers will often offer discounts on eShop credit, which when combined with an existing sale, can lighten dad’s overall spend on games. Deals are often around 10 percent off, meaning you’ll be able to secure a $50 card for just $45.

Buy Nintendo eShop gift card at Amazon - $50

Blink Mini Camera

Blink

From unwanted intruders to porch pirates, security cams are a very useful tool not only as a deterrent, but also to capture irrefutable proof of wrongdoing. Blink (from Amazon), has a wide range of indoor and outdoor home security products, but its basic 1080p indoor plug-in camera is a solid choice for keeping an eye on pets, but also unwelcome guests in the dead of night. It comes with two-way audio, allowing dad to covertly startle a friend or family member, and motion detection, letting him focus on the specific areas of the home. The Blink Mini also ties in perfectly with Alexa, so it’s a solid choice for families who already own an Echo device.

Buy Blink Mini at Amazon - $35

iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit

iFixit

Not every dad is handy with tools, but if yours likes to take things apart just to be able to put them back together again or prefers to fix things rather than buying a new one, iFixit’s Essential Electronics Toolkit could come in handy. With a bunch of precision bits, tweezers, suction handle, SIM eject tool and sorting tray, this kit is perfect for DIY screen replacements or opening up a tablet or laptop to fix a worn-out component. It’s also perfect for eyeglasses, should dad need to repair them too.

Buy Essentials Toolkit at Amazon - $25

JLab Go Air Pop earbuds

JLab

Listening to music on-the-go doesn’t need to be expensive. JLab’s Go Air Pop wireless earbuds are a perfect example of that. For just $20 (sometimes less), these small but colorful Bluetooth buds offer on-board touch controls, the ability to use either earbud independently, EQ presets and IPX4 moisture resistance (meaning they’ll survive a low-pressure spray of water). They’re also really solid in the battery life department, too: the Go Air Pops will provide dad up to eight hours on a charge but the case will give you three additional charges before you need to plug the entire set in.

Buy JLab Go Air Pop at Amazon - $20

Fitbit Aria Air smart scale

Engadget

Nobody is saying that dad needs to lose or gain weight, but he’s looking for a better way to track his body measurements then a smart scale could help. Make no mistake: the Aria Air isn’t as fancy as some of the smart scales on the market – complete with body composition metrics – but it’s very accurate and nice-looking scale that tracks body weight and BMI. If dad already has a Fitbit smartwatch or tracker, it’ll put it alongside his existing exercise data, giving him a nice snapshot of his overall fitness and body health.

Buy Fitbit Aria Air at Amazon - $50

Amazon Smart Thermostat

Engadget

No smart home is complete without a smart thermostat handling all of the family’s heating and hot water needs. Everyone can argue all they like about the temperature inside the house, but dad can control the thermostat remotely with Amazon’s cheap Smart Thermostat. Sure, its usual retail price is normally a tiny bit higher than the $50 limit we’ve set here but we have seen it regularly come down to a low of $48, which is when you should probably jump on it. The Smart Thermostat itself is backed by Honeywell and ties nicely in with Alexa, which can do dad’s bidding for him (whether it be via an Echo smart speaker, display or app).

Buy smart thermostat at Amazon - $60

The best gifts for new dads

It's hard to be a new parent even during the most idyllic times. So what can you do to help? How about gifting a new dad something to make their lives a bit easier. Maybe they just need a breather from the hellstorm of diapers and sleep training. Or perhaps they want a better way to distract their screaming spawn. Here are a few options to consider.

10.2-inch iPad

Apple

Apple's entry-level iPad is one of the most useful devices for any new parent. It can be your child's gateway to video chatting with their grandparents (and with the new Center Stage cameras, they’ll always be in frame), or a life-saving distraction during long car rides. It could be a new dad's way to catch up on their favorite show while stuck dealing with mealtime. Or it could be a way for growing kids to read interactive stories and play games. The iPad can be whatever you want it to be. And paired with a decent case, it can be durable enough to survive life with tiny humans. (And if it does break, at least it's far cheaper to replace than an iPad Air, or a typical laptop.)

Buy 10.2-inch iPad at Amazon - $329

Jabra Elite 85t earbuds

Engadget

There's no question that we love Jabra's lineup of wireless earbuds. The Elite 85t delivers solid active noise canceling, a slim and light design, and excellent sound. And best of all, they cost around $200 and you can often find them for around $150. No matter which smartphone you have, the 85t are an excellent way to catch up on podcasts while trying to rock a baby to sleep. And they'll be even more useful during the rare bit of downtime for new parents. They're perfect for rocking out to your favorite tunes, or pair them to your TV or set-top box to enjoy late-night movies without making much noise.

Buy Jabra Elite 85t at Amazon - $200

SmartNoggin Nogginstik

SmartNoggin

This relatively cheap rattle is deceptively useful. It has a light-up face to keep babies interested, multiple textures for them to explore, and a mirror on the bottom for them to learn their own faces. It was a secret weapon during my child's first-year tantrums, so much so that I've gifted it to every new parent I know. It's not high tech at all, but it's a reminder that they’re called classics for a reason.

Buy Nogginstik at Amazon - $24

Sonos Roam

Engadget

Sonos' most portable speaker is an excellent choice for new parents, especially if they’ve already bought into the Sonos ecosystem. It's small enough to throw in a bag, giving new parents a way to play some tunes during a picnic. It relies on Bluetooth, so pretty much any device can connect to it. But the best part is that it also works over Wi-Fi with an existing Sonos setup. So if you start playing some songs on your larger Sonos speakers, you can easily pipe that over to the Roam and bring it to your backyard. And since it's from a brand that's known for excellent sound quality, you can expect everything to be much richer than other cheap Bluetooth speakers.

Buy Roam at Sonos - $179

Apple Watch Series 7

Apple

The Apple Watch is great for working out — but it can also be a handy tool for new parents. It's a simple way to keep tabs on texts and other notifications when your hands are full with a baby or baby-related ephemera. It lets you start and stop podcasts when you can't reach your phone. And — here's the kicker — it's also a perfect way to distract youngins and de-escalate shouting matches. It turns out, having a tiny screen on your wrist that can display photos is pretty useful! And it's also a relatively safe device for babies to fiddle with, thanks to its touchscreen. (Of course, you can take your pick of any competing smartwatch for Android users, but we'd recommend Samsung's Galaxy Watch 4.)

Buy Apple Watch Series 7 at Amazon - $399Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Amazon - $250

GoPro Hero10 Black

GoPro

Action cameras are great for vacations and high-impact sports, but they can be just as useful for new parents. It's the sort of thing you can strap onto a hat when you go out for a light hike with a little one, or just leave it running in your backyard to capture their first steps. Sure, we've all got smartphone cameras, but it's tough to leave those running for extended periods, and they're still a bit distracting if you're dealing with a child. A camera like the Hero10 Black, on the other hand, is something you can just set, forget and discover little video treasures later.

Buy Hero10 Black at Amazon - $500

Theragun Mini

Theragun

Keeping up with a new baby can lead to aches and pains in muscles that dad never knew he had. The Theragun Mini can give him the opportunity to get a massage without leaving the house. While there are much bigger and more powerful Theragun machines, the Mini is a good size for beginners and those who want to take its muscle relief power wherever they go. It has a single button that dad can use to change the massage gun’s speed and its ergonomic design makes it easy to reach different parts of the body. And arguably the best part is its 150-minute battery life — while that might not seem like a long time, it truly is when you consider the fact that you don’t need to use it for more than a few minutes each day to feel the results. With that schedule, dad could use the Theragun Mini every day for a month or more before needing to recharge it.

Buy Mini at Theragun - $199

Comixology

Comixology

It’s hard to keep up with comics when kids are around, but Comixology makes it easy to catch up on your favorite releases. If you know a comic nerd who’s eager to see what the X-Men are up to, or who just wants to catch up on long-running graphic novel series, it’s worth sending them an Amazon gift card that they can use with Comixology. It’s particularly useful for anyone who has an iPad or a decent Android tablet. Not surprisingly, bright and portable screens are one of the best ways to appreciate comic art!

Buy Amazon gift cards for Comixology

Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Game controller

Fisher Price

A perfect gift for any gamer dads in your life, the Laugh and Learn Controller is basically a baby-proofed version of a modern gamepad. There's a joystick, directional pad, and array of buttons for kids to fiddle with. But like any good distracting toy, it also lights up and makes sounds to keep them entertained. It's not exactly complex, but it's inexpensive and effective. That's particularly true for parents of little ones who always gravitate to their expensive console controllers.

Buy Laugh and Learn Controller at Amazon - $10

Greens Steel insulated tumbler

Greens Steel

Coffee, tea or another caffeinated beverage is an essential for many new dads and Greens Steel’s insulated tumblers can keep their drink of choice hot or cold for hours. While we all appreciate that luxury, it’s especially important for parents who often find themselves sipping tepid coffee hours after they brewed their first cup because they got distracted with kid duties. These tumblers are made of 18/8 food grade steel and they have a double wall vacuum that maintains temperatures for up to 12 hours. And regardless of which size you get (20-, 30- or 40-ounce) they all fit into standard-sized cup holders, so dad can bring his drink with him when he runs out for an emergency diaper restock.

Buy Greens Steel tumbler at Amazon - $29