Posts with «personal finance - lifestyle» label

The Kasa Smart Plugs Mini EP25 four-pack is down to its lowest price yet

There's something truly nice about not having to get up when you realize that light across the room is still on. If you're looking for that ease then check out the current sale on our favorite smart plug. The Kasa Smart Plug Mini EP25 four-pack is on sale for $32.58, down from $50. The initial deal cuts its price to $37.58 with a $5 coupon available at checkout (though its limited to one per order). 

The Kasa Smart Plug Mini EP25 works with Android and iOS devices and offers assistant support from Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Samsung SmartThings. The plug has a stable connection, and you can give each one a unique name for easy control. The app is also clean and intuitive to use, with features such as timers, vacation mode and schedules.

There's also a deal on Amazon's Smart Plug, down to $20 from $25. We named it the best smart plug for Alexa-enabled homes, so this might be your best bet if you have a few Amazon Echo devices scattered around your house. You can use the existing account and designate the plug as a light in settings. Once that's set, all you need to do is tell Alexa which lights to turn on and off. 

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Watch a recycling machine shake apart old hard drives to recover components

Traditional hard drives typically contain useful components. But dismantling them manually would be too labor-intensive. As things stand, old hard drives tend to go through a shredder and it's often down to luck whether there's anything usable left after that process. A company called Garner Products claims to have a better solution with its DiskMantler.

This machine (spotted by Ars Technica) uses a mix of shock, harmonics and vibration to shake apart a hard drive. The process loosens screws and other fasteners — no matter what kind of oddly shaped screw heads are used — to free up parts like circuit boards, drive assemblies, actuators and rare-earth magnets. The process reportedly takes between eight and 90 seconds for most hard drives, and around two minutes for welded helium drives.

The DiskManter can seemingly disassemble as many as 500 hard drives a day and only a fifth or so of the planet's e-waste is recycled. So at least for now, Garner's recycling efforts may seem a bit like a drop in the ocean. However, if the company can help to retrieve valuable components such as rare-earth magnets without having to break them down into elements and starting the production process over, that surely has to be a net positive.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

A four-pack of Chipolo One Bluetooth trackers is on sale for $60 right now

Bluetooth trackers are handy little things that can help you find valuables after misplacing them. Our pick for the best Bluetooth tracker is the Chipolo One, and a four-pack has dropped to a record low price. The bundle (which usually costs $75) is currently available for just $60, which makes each tracker just $15. Alternatively, you can buy a single tracker for $20 (usually $25).

The Chipolo One can't really measure up to the crowd-sourced finding network of AirTags or Tile trackers, so it's perhaps not the best option for monitoring the location of your luggage while traveling. However, it does a more than capable job of helping you find items around the house. It has the loudest ring of all the trackers we've tested, for one thing, and there was no delay between pressing a button in an app and hearing the Chipolo One trill away.

The One can be easy to spot, since it's a colorful plastic disc. It's fairly hardy too, since it has IPX5-rated splash resistance and a two-year battery life (the battery is replaceable). One other feature in the One's favor is that it's compatible with both iOS and Android, and we found it straightforward to pair with an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phone.

The aspect of the One that particularly impressed us was its separation alerts. Once you get around 350 feet away from the tracker, you'll get an alert on your phone asking if you might have left an item somewhere. Through your maps app, Chipolo can guide you back to the location where your phone and the One were last in contact. Of course, you can ring the tracker once you're close by to help you find it.

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The best smartphone cameras for 2024: How to choose the phone with the best photography chops

I remember begging my parents to get me a phone with a camera when the earliest ones were launched. The idea of taking photos wherever I went was new and appealing, but it’s since become less of a novelty and more of a daily habit. Yes, I’m one of those. I take pictures of everything — from beautiful meals and funny signs to gorgeous landscapes and plumes of smoke billowing in the distance.

If you grew up in the Nokia 3310 era like me, then you know how far we’ve come. Gone are the 2-megapixel embarrassments that we used to post to Friendster with glee. Now, many of us use the cameras on our phones to not only capture precious memories of our adventures and loved ones, but also to share our lives with the world.

I’m lucky enough that I have access to multiple phones thanks to my job, and at times would carry a second device with me on a day-trip just because I preferred its cameras. But most people don’t have that luxury. Chances are, if you’re reading this, a phone’s cameras may be of utmost importance to you. But you’ll still want to make sure the device you end up getting doesn’t fall flat in other ways. At Engadget, we test and review dozens of smartphones every year; our top picks below represent not only the best phone cameras available right now, but also the most well-rounded options out there.

What to look for when choosing a phone for its cameras

Before scrutinizing a phone’s camera array, you’ll want to take stock of your needs — what are you using it for? If your needs are fairly simple, like taking photos and videos of your new baby or pet, most modern smartphones will serve you well. Those who plan to shoot for audiences on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube should look for video-optimizing features like stabilization and high frame rate support (for slow-motion clips).

Most smartphones today have at least two cameras on the rear and one up front. Those that cost more than $700 usually come with three, including wide-angle, telephoto or macro lenses. We’ve also reached a point where the number of megapixels (MP) doesn’t really matter anymore — most flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and Google have sensors that are either 48MP or 50MP. You’ll even come across some touting resolutions of 108MP or 200MP, in pro-level devices like the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Most people won’t need anything that sharp, and in general, smartphone makers combine the pixels to deliver pictures that are the equivalent of 12MP anyway. The benefits of pixel-binning are fairly minor in phone cameras, though, and you’ll usually need to blow up an image to fit a 27-inch monitor before you’ll see the slightest improvements.

In fact, smartphone cameras tend to be so limited in size that there’s often little room for variation across devices. They typically use sensors from the same manufacturers and have similar aperture sizes, lens lengths and fields of view. So while it might be worth considering the impact of sensor size on things like DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, on a smartphone those differences are minimal.

Sensor size and field of view

If you still want a bit of guidance on what to look for, here are some quick tips: By and large, the bigger the sensor the better, as this will allow more light and data to be captured. Not many phone makers will list the sensor size in spec lists, so you’ll have to dig around for this info. A larger aperture (usually indicated by a smaller number with an “f/” preceding a digit) is ideal for the same reason, and it also affects the level of depth of field (or background blur) that’s not added via software. Since portrait modes are available on most phones these days, though, a big aperture isn’t as necessary to achieve this effect.

When looking for a specific field of view on a wide-angle camera, know that the most common offering from companies like Samsung and Google is about 120 degrees. Finally, most premium phones like the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S24 Ultra offer telephoto systems that go up to 5x optical zoom with software taking that to 20x or even 100x.

Processing and extra features

These features will likely perform at a similar quality across the board, and where you really see a difference is in the processing. Samsung traditionally renders pictures that are more saturated, while Google’s Pixel phones take photos that are more neutral and evenly exposed. iPhones have historically produced pictures with color profiles that seem more accurate, though in comparison to images from the other two, they can come off yellowish. However, that was mostly resolved after Apple introduced a feature in the iPhone 13 called Photographic Styles that lets you set a profile with customizable contrast levels and color temperature that would apply to every picture taken via the native camera app.

Pro users who want to manually edit their shots should see if the phone they’re considering can take images in RAW format. Those who want to shoot a lot of videos while on the move should look for stabilization features and a decent frame rate. Most of the phones we’ve tested at Engadget record at either 60 frames per second at 1080p or 30 fps at 4K. It’s worth checking to see what the front camera shoots at, too, since they’re not usually on par with their counterparts on the rear.

Finally, while the phone’s native editor is usually not a dealbreaker (since you can install a third-party app for better controls), it’s worth noting that the latest flagships from Samsung and Google all offer AI tools that make manipulating an image a lot easier. They also offer a lot of fun, useful extras, like erasing photobombers, moving objects around or making sure everyone in the shot has their eyes open.

How we test smartphone cameras

For the last few years, I’ve reviewed flagships from Google, Samsung and Apple, and each time, I do the same set of tests. I’m especially particular when testing their cameras, and usually take all the phones I’m comparing out on a day or weekend photo-taking trip. Any time I see a photo- or video-worthy moment, I whip out all the devices and record what I can, doing my best to keep all factors identical and maintain the same angle and framing across the board.

It isn’t always easy to perfectly replicate the shooting conditions for each camera, even if I have them out immediately after I put the last one away. Of course, having them on some sort of multi-mount rack would be the most scientific way, but that makes framing shots a lot harder and is not representative of most people’s real-world use. Also, just imagine me holding up a three-prong camera rack running after the poor panicked wildlife I’m trying to photograph. It’s just not practical.

For each device, I make sure to test all modes, like portrait, night and video, as well as all the lenses, including wide, telephoto and macro. When there are new or special features, I test them as well. Since different phone displays can affect how their pictures appear, I wanted to level the playing field: I upload all the material to Google Drive in full resolution so I can compare everything on the same large screen. Because the photos from today’s phones are of mostly the same quality, I usually have to zoom in very closely to see the differences. I also frequently get a coworker who’s a photo or video expert to look at the files and weigh in.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

You can now use your phone to get started with Amazon’s palm-reading tech

Amazon just launched an app that lets people sign up for its palm recognition service without having to head to an in-store kiosk. The Amazon One app uses a smartphone’s camera to take a photo of a palm print to set up an account. Once signed up, you can pay for stuff by using just your hand, ending the tyranny of having to carry a smartphone, cash or a burdensome plastic card.

The tech uses generative AI to analyze a palm's vein structure, turning the data into a “unique numerical, vector representation” which is recognized by scanning machines at retail locations. You’ll have to add a payment method within the app to get started and upload a photo of your ID for the purpose of age verification.

The app launches today for iOS and Android. Previously, you’d have to go to a physical location to sign up for Amazon One. Beyond payments, the tech is also used as an age verification tool and as a way to enter concerts and sporting events without having to bring along a ticket.

Once you hand over your palm-print to the completely benevolent Amazon corporation, you’ll have unfettered access to each and every Whole Foods grocery store throughout the country. Amazon, after all, owns Whole Foods. Amazon One payments are also accepted at some Panera Bread locations, in addition to certain airports, stadiums and convenience stores.

There are obvious privacy concerns here, as passwords can change but palms cannot. Amazon says that all uploaded palm images are “encrypted and sent to a secure Amazon One domain” in the Amazon Web Service cloud. The company also says the app “includes additional layers of spoof detection,” noting that it’s not possible to save or download palm images to the phone itself.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Blipblox myTRACKS groovebox is a complete music production studio for kids

Back when I was a kid (puts on old man glasses) we had the Casio SK-1. We’d spend all day making samples of burps and turning them into stupid little songs, but that’s about as far as it went. You couldn’t layer tracks or anything. Modern children, however, are about to get an actual full-featured groovebox, thanks to Playtime Engineering.

The Blipblox myTRACKS is a complete music production studio, according to Playtime. It features a built-in microphone for sampling (just like the Casio SK-1) but also 50 instrument sounds and 25 pads to play them on. These sounds can be arranged into five tracks, resembling many grooveboxes intended for adults, and there are two FX processors and a range of effects. Sure, it looks like a toy and probably feels like a toy, but it’s not really a toy. To that end, the announcement video shows an adult going to town on the thing once the kids are asleep.

You can transform sounds and add effects via two bright purple levers on the side, which work just like typical mod wheels. You’ll be able to buy sound packs online and upload them via USB-C. There's even a MIDI port. It's a groovebox, though not as high-tech as something like the Teenage Engineering OP-1 Field, or the Roland MC-707

Downloading sound packs and modulating effects may be a bit too complicated for the younger kids in your life, but the myTRACKS also includes hundreds of built-in melodies and drum loops to play around with and have fun. There’s also a randomization feature that the company says “instantly creates new songs for unlimited fun and inspiration.” These songs are likely to annoy you as you go about household chores, but it's better than a child staring at a tablet all day, right?

Playtime Engineering

Now the bad news. The kid-centric groovebox is just a Kickstarter project, for now, with shipments eventually going out in November. However, this isn’t Playtime Engineering’s first rodeo with this type of gadget. The company has released numerous child-friendly synthesizers and music-making devices in its Blipblox line. There’s the original Blipblox synth and the more recent Blipblox After Dark. We praised both of these instruments for being appropriate for children, but still enjoyable for adults. The myTRACKS Kickstarter goes live on April 9 and pricing will range from $250 to $300 for backers.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Steam Families puts game sharing and parental controls in one place

Steam is introducing a new way for your clan to play games together. The platform has announced Steam Families, a collection of game-sharing (and monitoring) features for parents and children currently available in beta. It takes the place of Steam Family Sharing and Steam Family View, rolling in some of their existing features alongside updates. 

Each member of a Steam Family will have a section called "family library" in their games list where they can access shareable games. Ownership remains with the purchaser, but each new title bought will appear in the list. You can play another member's games even when they're online (as long as they're playing another game). Plus, you can save your own progress and achievements. 

You can invite up to five other family members to your Steam Family account, with each member assigned the role of parent or child. Only adults can manage the account or implement parental controls, such as setting playtime limits (and reviewing requests for more), seeing playtime reports and choosing which games a child can play. Plus, they can control access to the Steam Store and chats. 

Steam Families also streamlines the process of children getting parental approval to buy games (thus, ideally for Steam, making them more frequent). Children can now request an adult on the plan to pay for their shopping cart, which a parent can manage via email or phone by pressing approve or decline. 

Steam Family is currently in beta and requires each member to join to participate. You can find the option to join under Interface and then choose Steam Family Beta in the Client Beta Participation dropdown menu. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

How to make your smartphone last longer

Replacing a smartphone every two years is partially why billions of phones go into landfills each year. If stacked flat atop one another, that many handsets would reach farther than the ISS. But we’ve become accustomed to that 24-month time frame because wireless carriers often push an upgrade on biennial contracts, and many smaller phone makers only offer software support for two years. But now, with longer software commitments from major manufacturers, along with growing right-to-repair legislation, many newer phones can stay in our pockets for closer to seven trips around the sun. Here’s how you can extend the lifespan of your smartphone and avoid shelling out hundreds before it’s absolutely necessary.

How to make your smartphone last longer


Use a case

It’s a flashy move to carry a naked phone around, but the chances of a handset making it through a tumble go up dramatically when you employ extra protection. We recommend a number of them in our guide to iPhone cases and in our eco-friendly phone cases guide. In my family, we’ve been happy with Mous cases. Though we’ve never subjected our phones to the brutality seen in the company’s ads, I can say that these cases have seen my partner’s aging Samsung Galaxy and my elderly iPhone through some pretty gnarly spills, sparing them from scratches or worse.

Take care of the built-in battery (or use a power bank)

Since a phone’s battery is often the first thing to show signs of age, it’s worth it to follow recommendations for extending its lifespan. Lithium-ion batteries don’t perform well in heat and you should avoid charging them if it’s hotter than 95 degrees — doing so can degrade the battery quickly and even cause them to malfunction. They’ll tolerate cold weather better, but can get sluggish when things get too chilly.

If you’re storing a phone for a while, it’s best to do so with the battery at half charge, rather than full or empty. In fact, Li-ion cells last longer when they spend less time being either completely discharged or full — that’s why battery optimization features in iPhones and Pixel phones delay overnight charging to 100 percent until about an hour before you typically grab your mobile. And while it’s sometimes necessary to charge a battery quickly, a slower charging method when speed isn’t critical will put less stress on the ionic components and help extend the cell’s life.

But over time, any battery will eventually wear down. The cell powering my iPhone 11 can make it through a typical day, but if I’m traveling, relying heavily on navigation or using the phone as a hotspot, it’ll need a top-off before bedtime. That’s easy if I’m home, but out in the world, a battery pack is an essential. I have a slew of them on hand after testing for our best power banks guide and the two I grab most often are the Otterbox Fast Charge, because it looks cool and has a good capacity, and the Nimble Champ Pro, because it’s crazy fast.

If you really want to give your phone a new lease on life, a new internal battery could be the ticket. For Pixel phones, you can go through Google’s official channel for either a walk-in or mail-in repair, or you can pick the DIY route with iFixit’s Pixel repair kits and instructions. For iPhones, you can start with Apple’s official page, go through Best Buy or other third-parties, or try iFixit’s methods. Samsung also has an in-house option, or you can try Best Buy or iFixit. Depending where you go and the model of your phone, the price for a new battery and installation will likely run you between $45 and $150 — still far less than ditching your handset for something brand new.

Clean up your phone’s storage

Most advice on how to declutter your phone and make it run faster centers on one thing: freeing up space. Your phone’s OS will likely have suggestions for clearing up storage space, like automatically offloading unused apps or deleting year-old messages. You can also do things manually by deleting any apps you don’t use. Next, consider the photos and videos you’re storing locally and either opt to pay for cloud storage or transfer the files to a computer or an external backup device. You can also consider getting rid of any music and movies you may have downloaded for offline use, and deleting old messages and large attachments. A good rule is to keep your storage at around 80 percent capacity. Once you’ve deleted and transferred what you can, restart your phone to give it a chance to clear up its temporary memory.

Why you can (and should) extend the life of your smartphone

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The e-waste stream grows each year and doesn't do great things for human or planetary health. Smartphone companies are offering better and more consistent trade-in deals, but even some electronic recycling has its faults. Simply hanging onto a device instead of opting for a new one is the most efficient way of cutting back on a phone's environmental impact — plus it'll save you money.  

While every giant phone maker would like you to believe that upgrading annually is critical, it’s worth noting that new generations of phones often bear strong resemblance to the prior year’s model. We called both the latest iPhone and Google Pixel the most significant updates in years, but prior to that, upgrading didn’t make much sense. The latest Samsung Galaxy phone has a slew of new AI tricks, but physically, it’s not much different than the one that came before it.

With only minor hardware upgrades, the more exciting new features come via over-the-air software updates. When Google released the Pixel 8 last October, the company promised security and software updates for a full seven years. Samsung came out with the Galaxy S24 in January of this year and committed the same support for its handsets. Apple hasn’t made the same pledge, but when the launch of iOS 17 last year cut support for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, both models had enjoyed around six years of updates from launch.

What Apple did announce is that the batteries in all four models of the iPhone 15 last twice as long as the company originally claimed. Originally, battery capacity was listed at 80 percent of the original full charge after 500 cycles. Now, that same capacity rate applies to 1,000 cycles. The improvement, Apple says, comes courtesy of advanced battery tech and better power management from the operating system. It’s true battery technology has improved in capacity over the years, but longevity hasn’t gone up across the board, as a study by PhoneArena makes clear.

More advancements in battery life spans may be on the horizon particularly as the EV industry grows, which also relies on lithium-ion cells. For now, declining battery health is usually the most noticeable issue affecting older phones. This year, the European Parliament voted for rules surrounding battery-powered devices and included a mandate to allow consumers to “easily remove and replace” batteries. That won’t go into effect until 2027, and there will be plenty of interpretation as to what “easily” means. But EU mandates are what made Apple finally ditch Lightning ports on iPhones in favor of USB-C, so this could eventually be a step towards (once again) having smartphones with swappable batteries.

Even in the US, legislation will soon compel companies to make repair a better option. Right-to-repair bills were passed last year in New York, Minnesota and other states. California has the strongest rule, and it even garnered Apple’s support. Once the law goes into effect in July, it will require companies to provide repair tools and documentation, and to sell components for seven years after the last new model is made for any device costing more than $100. Of course, the law didn’t say anything about prohibiting “parts pairing,” in which a device only works properly when repaired with official parts by a manufacturer-authorized repair center.

Currently, a number of phones have decent repairability scores, according to the online repair community iFixit (the FairPhone 5 gets the highest marks). After California’s law goes into effect, more models may become user-repairable, considering few manufacturers are likely to ignore the state’s nearly 40 million customers. In the meantime, authorized repair is an option, as is self-repair for the more industrious.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Annual subscriptions to Max are currently 40 percent off

If you're ready to commit to a year of Max, you can do so for a 40 percent discount. Right now, every tier of the streaming service is on sale — that includes the ad-free, 4K version for $140 annually, which works out to $12 per month instead of the regular $20 monthly. The least expensive sub is ad-supported and goes for $70 yearly, or $5.83 per month as opposed to $10. Between the two is an ad-free level without 4K support that's going for $105 for the year, when you'd usually pay $192 for 12 months.  

The deal is open to all new subscribers. Existing subscribers who buy their service direct from can also take advantage. If you're a returning subscriber and previously went through, the Apple App Store or Google Play, you can also get the discount. Unfortunately, only new subscribers via Fire TV are eligible. The timing of the deal is tied to March Madness promotions, as Max will stream all 2024 Division I NCAA men's basketball championship games live, along with other live sports

For those who don't remember, Max is the name given to the streaming service that combines HBO's programming with Discovery+ content. While the name may be less memorable, the smooshing of the two services means more content to peruse — from brands like HGTV and Food Network — in addition to fine HBO fare like The Last of Us and True Detective. It's also where you can find Studio Ghibli films and A24 movies. Plus Our Flag Means Death, though canceled, was fantastic. There's a reason we named Max one of the best streaming services out there. 

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The best budget Android phone for 2024

One of the best things about the Android ecosystem is the availability of truly affordable phones for as little as $150. By comparison, the cheapest iPhone is based on a dated design and starts at $429. However, picking the right one can be a bit tricky, as reducing the price of a phone can sometimes result in too many trade-offs. So to give you a hand, we tested a bunch of the most popular options and put together a list of our favorite cheap Android phones.

How low should you go?

We tend to define a budget phone as costing between $150 and $350. Any lower and the device runs the risk of suffering from too many compromises, and above that, you cross over to pricier midrange handsets (if you're open to spending more, we shouted out a couple of our favorites at the very end of this guide).

But for those with a little wiggle room, there are some things to consider. For example, a child may be better off with a cheaper device, especially if it’s intended mainly for emergencies or texting parents (and not social media). On the higher end of this price spectrum, sub-$350 phones have come a long way thanks to improved performance, better cameras and nicer displays. This makes them a viable alternative to premium flagships, even if you have the freedom to spend more.

What to look for in a budget Android phone

When it comes to affordable devices, you get what you pay for. Most phones in this price range are made out of plastic, though the fit and finish of a specific model can vary a lot based on price. A bright screen is also important. Typically you’ll get LCD panels with a 60Hz or 90Hz refresh rate, but some phones may have OLED screens with increased color saturation. Long battery life is critical as well, so we tend to favor devices with larger power cells of around 5,000 mAh. In this price range, performance can vary a lot, so look for devices with at least 8GB of RAM and processors that can deliver stutter-free visuals. It’s also important to consider support length, as periodic operating system and security updates can extend the longevity of your device, which will save you money in the long run.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at