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.
The best midrange Android phone: Pixel 5a with 5G
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.
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.
The midrange phone with the best screen: Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best overall: Apple Watch
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
It’s not quite summer yet, but Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial start of the grilling season. To help you prepare for the next few months, we’ve compiled a list of the best gear for your outdoor cooking adventures. Based on reviews and testing, we’ve selected three grills that will all help you stay on top of your BBQ game. There are other devices too, with items that should help you serve up delicious food all year long and expand your skills in the process.
Traeger Timberline and Timerline XL
For its first smart grills for 2022, Traeger went all out. The company completely redesigned its high-end Timberline series, turning its premium pellet grills into outdoor kitchens. While the cooking chamber may look like any other Traeger grill, the company decided to put these new models on a rolling cart instead of four legs. Of course, this gives you more storage, but it also makes it easier to empty the pellet hopper. There’s a rail system on the front and sides of the grill to hold a range of accessories from paper rolls to sauce and rub compartments.
In terms of tech, Traeger swapped out the basic controls from its previous WiFi-equipped D2 grills in favor of a color touchscreen. There are more sensors inside to keep tabs on the cooking process in an effort to prevent flare-ups and the addition of lighting will help you see the cooking surface better after dark. The new Timberlines will also work with a specially-designed version of the wireless Meater probes (Traeger bought Meater in 2021), so you’re not reliant on the corded version that comes standard. Perhaps most importantly, the company added what it says is the first outdoor-rated induction burner for sauces, sides and searing.
Last year, Weber introduced its first smart gas grills. After developing its Weber Connect platform for the SmokeFire pellet grills and the Smart Grilling Hub, the company brought its Wi-Fi-connected cooking to a more widely used fuel source. For 2022, the company has refined things a bit with PureBlu high-heat burners, sear zone, side table, expandable top cooking grate and "Nightvision" LED lighting. If the EPX-335 doesn’t suit your needs, these new grills come in three- and four-burner configurations with porcelain enamel or stainless steel finishes. Plus, there are both propane and natural gas options.
Of course, the main attraction here is the Weber Connect integration. Just like it does on the SmokeFire pellet grills and the Smart Grilling Hub, the technology can guide you through every step of the grilling process. A mix of instructions and videos inside the Weber Connect app offer assistance to grillers of all skill levels, right down to when to flip your steak. What’s more, the system offers real-time food temperatures and estimated readiness countdowns right on your phone so you can better time side dishes (and keep the hangry crowd at bay). On its gas smart grills, Weber Connect can also keep tabs on fuel level so you’ll know when it’s time to swap tanks.
Ooni has built a stellar reputation for its pizza ovens, and rightfully so. The company’s gear is easy to use and it helps you create restaurant-quality wood-fired pies at home. Ooni’s latest oven is the Karu 16, which can accommodate multiple fuel sources and has room for larger pizzas. Out of the box this model can burn wood or charcoal, but Ooni sells gas burners for $100 and $150 (propane and natural gas versions).
In addition to overall size, the Karu 16 also has some conveniences that differentiate it from Ooni’s other ovens. First, a hinged door allows you to see what you’re cooking through a glass window. Second, there’s a front-mounted digital thermometer that shows the ambient temperature inside of the oven. Like other Ooni pizza cookers, the Karu 16 heats quickly, reaching 950 degrees Fahrenheit in about 15 minutes. And of course, the larger cooking area will allow you to make things besides pizza.
Over the years, a Thermapen has become my most-used grilling tool. I rely on it like a sous chef to make sure I’m cooking things to the correct temperature, especially chicken. It’s a versatile tool at the grill and in the kitchen. ThermoWorks Thermapen One is the follow up to its massively popular Thermapen Mk4. This new model shows temps lightning quick, giving you a reading in one second. ThermoWorks also improved accuracy and used a brighter display than the previous model. An automatically rotating screen makes the numbers easy to see no matter how you hold it, plus an auto-wake and sleep feature preserves battery life and IP67 rating protects it from accidental spills.
A wireless meat thermometer may seem like overkill when there are so many great (and affordable) wired options available. I too was skeptical at first, but I can assure you that not having to avoid those metal cables when you’re flipping or wrapping a large cut of meat is definitely worth the investment. For the Meater+, the Traeger-owned company extended the Bluetooth range from the original model. Each probe has two sensors, so you can keep tabs on both internal food temp and the ambient temperature of your grill. Stats are sent to the company’s app, and you can set target temps, view an estimated completion time or get some help with a cook if you need it.
A sous vide device might seem out of place in a grilling guide, but hear me out. Since I started using an Anova as part of my steak process, I’ve massively upped my game. Steaks are tender and juicy, with edge-to-edge doneness that’s difficult to achieve on a hot-and-fast grill. Basically, I sous vide for a couple hours (or more) and then sear the steaks on a grill to finish them off. Perhaps the best part is you don’t have to invest a ton to get one of these app-connected machines as the Precision Cooker Nano covers all the essentials for $129.
In order to make the most of your sous vide setup, you’ll want to also invest in a vacuum sealer. I have the FoodSaver FM2000. It doesn’t have some of the flashy features of more expensive units, but it covers the basics just fine. If you prefer something more robust with options like automatic moisture detection and bag storage, I’d recommend the FoodSaver V4400. Plus, you can use this to seal leftovers for the freezer or store other goods you don’t want air to get to. I’ve also found vacuum-sealed packs handy for reheating things like pulled pork. With sous vide, the meat doesn’t dry out like it would in the microwave. Sure, you could just use Ziploc bags, but I’ve done that, and a FoodSaver is worth the investment.
I’d argue one of the most important grilling tools is a cold beverage. And as the days get hotter, you’ll need to plan your drinkware carefully so your monster cocktail or water supply remains at a frigid temperature. I’ve tried a number of insulated aluminum cups over the years, but Stanley has been the best. The company is known for its classic thermos, but its lineup of cups, bottles and more are affordable and do a great job of keeping drinks cold for hours at a time.
Stanley has a ton of options that serve as alternatives to popular brands like Yeti, but the IceFlow Tumblers have been my go-to this spring. The larger 30-ounce cup can keep drinks cold for up to 12 hours while the 20-ounce version can do so for up to seven hours. There’s a solid handle and the built-in flip-down straw means the drinking area isn’t exposed to the elements quite as much. At $25 and $30 each, these are a fraction of the cost of the most expensive options, and they have better ice retention than some of those too.
Brumate’s Hopsulator products are warm weather essentials for me. I originally got one for the beach, but it has become a staple in my grilling arsenal too. The company’s Hopsulator Trio is a 3-in-1 option that holds 16-ounce cans or 12-ounce cans with a cold insert you keep in your freezer. It also comes with a lid so you can use it as a travel mug. The Hopsulator Duo also doubles as an insulated cup, but it’s designed for 12-ounce cans and doesn’t come with any cooling accessories. What’s more, Brumate has a third model for slim cans. So if hard seltzers are more your thing, there’s an option for you too.
Gifting can be difficult at any time, but it’s been particularly hard over the past couple of years. You may still be working with a tight budget, but you also want to give that grad in your life something that can help make the transition to post-school life a bit easier (and more fun). The tech gifts that come to mind immediately — iPhones, smartwatches, game consoles and the like — are not exactly budget-friendly. But there are handy gadgets out there that won’t drain your wallet completely. Here’s Engadget’s list of the best tech gifts under $50 for new graduates.
Anker Nano Pro 20W
Anker’s latest 20W charger will be a handy gift for any grad. More often than not, the new gadgets we buy today don’t come with AC adapters, so having an extra on hand can’t hurt. The Nano Pro can fast-charge the latest iPhones to 50 percent in only 25 minutes, plus it’s smaller than Apple’s own 20W adapter. It also has advanced features like a Dynamic Temperature Sensor, which keeps the charger from overheating, and a power tuner chip, which adjusts power output depending on the connected device. It may not be the trendiest graduation gift, but it’s one that your grad will likely take with them to work, on vacations and elsewhere.
Whether they’re still mooching off their parents’ subscriptions, or have finally sprung for their own Netflix account a streaming device is a great gift for a recent grad. The latest Chromecast with Google TV makes the original Chromecast experience much better by adding a physical remote to the mix, along with the new Google TV interface. The remote makes it easier to navigate and the on-screen menus, and the software will serve up TV and movie recommendations based on subscriptions you have. The Chromecast with Google TV supports services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max and more, and it’ll stream in 4K HDR with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Plus, you can still cast even more content from your smartphone or tablet to your TV.
We’ve been fans of 8Bitdo’s affordable, multi-platform controllers for quite some time, and the new, $50 Pro 2 is no exception. You can use it with the Nintendo Switch and on Windows, macOS, Android and Raspberry Pi, and you’re able to map functions to buttons using its companion smartphone app. The Pro 2 also adds new bumper buttons under each arm, something the previous version did not have. In general, 8Bitdo’s controllers are more ergonomic than, say, relying on a keyboard and mouse when playing PC games. They’re also a dramatic improvement over the Switch’s Joy-Cons which, if we’re honest, aren’t the most comfortable controllers to use for long stretches of time. The Pro 2 charges up via USB-C, but you can also remove the battery pack and replace it with AA batteries if you know you won’t be able to charge up frequently.
A portable changer is truly a gift that keeps on giving and RavPower’s 16,750mAh brick is strong enough to charge up smartphones and tablets alike. That’s enough to top off your iPhone 11 Pro Max 2.5 times or an iPad Air once. It has two iSmart output ports so you can power up two devices simultaneously, and its indicator lights will give you an idea of the brick’s remaining power level. Even with a larger-than-average capacity it’s surprisingly compact, measuring 5 x 3.15 x .9 inches, and its built-in flashlight can help you find lost items in a pinch.
While we often recommend AirTags to Apple users to keep track of their things, Tile’s trackers are another great option that’s more universal. Unlike AirTags, these tiny Bluetooth trackers work with Android devices as well, and are compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. Also, the latest Tile Mate has a built-in keyring hole, so your grad can unbox it, hook it onto their keys, set it up in the mobile app and get going. With a Bluetooth range of 250 feet, these trackers can help them locate their lost stuff quickly, plus they can add their contact information to the Tile – just in case someone else finds their things first. We also like the Mate’s IP67-rated design, which should protect it even when it’s exposed to the elements on rainy days.
Whether your grad will commute to their first office job or work from home, a wireless mouse is a must-have when on a computer all day. Logitech’s Pebble is a solid option because, not only can it easily disappear into a bag thanks to its slim profile, but it will also run for up to 18 months on its single AA battery. It’s not an accessory they’ll have to worry about charging up each night. We also like its ambidextrous design and its relatively quiet nature — unlike other mice, it makes little noise when you’re clicking and scrolling away. You’ll also have the option to connect it via Bluetooth or USB receiver, and there are a handful of fun colors to choose from.
It’s important for grads, busy with job applications, internships, new jobs and side hustles, to stay hydrated. Green Steel’s Beast insulated tumblers are good for hot and cold drinks, plus they’re made of 18/8 food grade steel that’s dishwasher safe and they come with metal straws and a splash-proof lid. And regardless of which size you get (20-, 30- or 40-ounce), they’ll all fit into standard sized cup holders. A 20-ounce model has been my morning companion almost every day for the past year or so and it still looks fresh. We also recommend Yeti’s Ramblers if you’re willing to drop a bit more on your grad’s new favorite mug.
If your grad is a coffee (or tea) lover, elevating their brewing game can make a big difference in their daily lives. Bodum’s Chambord French Press is a simple, affordable vessel that will be a step up from your standard drip coffee machine or aging teapot (while it’s marketed as a coffee maker, it could be used as a tea press instead). The container is made of borosilicate glass and you can get the frame in either plastic or stainless steel. Instead of paper filters a french press uses a plunger and mesh filter that pushes coffee grinds and tea leaves down, infusing flavor into the water above. That should save you money over time and creates less waste.
There are plenty of Bluetooth speakers out there, but Tribit’s XSound Go stands out for its simplicity. Measuring 6.7 x 2.2 x 2.3 inches, it’s nearly pocketable and can stay on your desk all day long while you work and then transition to a backyard party with ease. It’s IPX7 waterproof so it’ll withstand a dunk in the pool, and its 24-hour playtime lets you use it all day long without interruptions. It has good sound quality with deep, but not overpowering, bass and it includes a built-in mic with which you can take calls. Just pair it with your smartphone or tablet, choose your tunes and let the speaker do the rest of the work.
Hear us out — a good umbrella is an unexpected yet invaluable gift. Few things are worse than getting stuck in a downpour on your way to work, especially if you use public transit to get there. Repel’s windproof travel umbrella is just the right size — not too big or too small at 11.5 inches in length — and its nine reinforced fiberglass ribs prevent it from being blown inside-out easily. We also like its single-button design, allowing you to open or close it with one hand. Repel’s umbrella is one of those practical gifts that your grad will be glad to have at the most crucial times, and they’ll save money in the long run by not needing to buy a new, cheap umbrella every time the skies open up.
As some of you might know, I’m a runner. On occasion I review sports watches, and outside of work I’m a certified marathon coach. So when Engadget wanted to round up the best wireless workout headphones, I raised my hand.
In addition to fit and battery life, I considered factors such as style; ease of use; the charging case; the strength of the Bluetooth connection; support for assistants such as Siri and Alexa; water resistance ratings; and audio features such as noise cancelation and ambient sound modes. You’ll notice I don’t have much if anything to say about audio quality. Engadget’s resident expert Billy Steele has written about this plenty in his standalone reviews, which I’ve linked throughout, but for my purposes the differences were too subtle to make or break a purchasing decision.
In the end, I never quite mastered some of the over-complicated controls, but at no point did an earbud fall out while I was exercising. I also never came close to running out of juice. So, participation trophies for everyone? Ha: The companies wish. I do indeed have some favorites, while some fell short in key areas.
How we tested
Even if earbuds aren’t marketed specifically as workout headphones, a durable, water-resistant design will, by default, make them suitable for exercise. To avoid repeating myself throughout this guide, I’ll drop a quick primer here on durability, or ingression protection (IP), ratings. The first digit you’ll see after the “IP” refers to protection from dust and other potential intrusions. That spec is measured on a scale of 1 to 6. The second refers to water resistance or even waterproofing, in the best cases. Higher numbers mean more protection, while the letter “X” means the device is not rated for protection in that regard. The ratings for water resistance are ranked on a scale of 1 to 9.
All but one of the models we tested for this guide is rated IPX4. That means there’s no dust protection, and the buds can withstand splashes from any direction but probably shouldn't be submerged. The most durable set of earbuds we tested, Jabra’s Elite Active 4, is rated IP57, which means a high level of both dust and water protection. Whereas the IPX 4 models can handle splashes, the Elite Active 4 can be immersed for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter (or about 3.2 feet) of water.
For a detailed breakdown of all the possible permutations, I recommend checking out this guide published by a supplier called The Enclosure Company.
Earbuds we tested
Beats Powerbeats Pro
Beats Fit Pro
Jabra Elite Active 4
Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
Active noise cancelation
For the 2022 update to this guide, I decided to add a note up top about active noise cancelation (ANC), simply because most of the available models now offer it. And since the user experience is actually pretty similar across different brands, I thought it would be easier to share what they have in common, rather than repeat myself.
First of all, no noise cancellation is perfect. If you’re looking for earbuds that you can continue wearing even after you’re done working out, you might still hear some background noise, whether it be your robot vacuum or cars honking. The difference in quality with ANC enabled is undeniable; just don’t take these companies’ marketing claims too literally. Besides, I don’t recommend active noise cancellation while exercising outdoors; it’s not safe. And even if you are working out indoors, I still think a noise cancellation horse race is probably beside the point for the purpose of this guide.
The best all-purpose option: Jabra Elite 4 Active
What you get: A stylish, compact pair of wireless earbuds with a lightweight charging case to match.
Pros: Reasonably priced for the feature set; sleek, compact design; one of the lightest charging cases we tested (and some of the longest battery life); more durable than most; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; works with Spotify Tap on Android.
Cons: Onboard controls aren’t intuitive, but Jabra offers helpful instructions in its app; less comfortable after prolonged use than other brands.
Much like the Elite Active 75t we tested in 2020, the newer Elite Active 4 earbuds ($120) make a strong first impression, with a compact, stylish design and a lightweight charging case to match. Available in three colors, the earbuds aren’t just small and light, but they look especially sleek given that they don’t have any wingtips. Though they felt comfortable when I first put them in, my ears did feel a little sore by the end of a run.
Meanwhile, the 37.5-gram case is also among the lightest we tested, but still offers some of the longest battery life, promising a total of 28 hours. (Each individual earbud on its own is rated for seven hours. Jabra says you can return to an hour’s worth of juice after a 10-minute charge.)
In my testing, the earbuds were easy to insert and pair. Less easy is learning how to use the things. As you might expect, you press the right earbud once to stop and resume playback. You can also double-press the right bud to skip a track, and triple press it to play it again. But some of the other onboard controls are less obvious. To increase the volume, hold down the right earbud for a second; to lower it, long press the left earbud. Meanwhile, single-pressing the left earbud allows you to toggle between active noise cancelation, HearThrough mode, or neither. Lastly, double press the left bud to use a voice assistant.
The good news is, you don’t have to commit all those finger gestures to memory: Jabra’s Sound+ App for iOS and Android contains a helpful illustrated tutorial, which I recommend keeping open on your phone as you get settled in with your new earbuds.
I mastered the controls quickly enough, but the physical buttons on the earbuds require a little more pressure and coordination to get an accurate press in. I found myself waiting until I had slowed to a walk before I started fiddling with the tracks. Even then, I needed to be very deliberate to make sure I got it right. And usually I did. That said, given there’s no physical volume rocker, I did wish there were an aural cue confirming I had moved the volume up or down a notch; the progression from louder to softer (or vice versa) is very subtle.
After a roughly 35-minute run the battery was still at 90 percent – a similar showing to what I saw on the Beats Fit Pro, also featured in this guide. Like the Elite Active 75t I tested previously, the Elite 4 Active uses Jabra’s HearThrough technology. With that enabled, I could hear cars along my running route, though on an especially windy day the gusts drowned out softer noises like footsteps behind me. That’s despite the earbuds having four built-in mics with what Jabra calls a “mesh covering” for added wind noise reduction.
Although I tested the Elite 4 Active on an iPhone 12, the earbuds have some additional features on Android, including support for Spotify Tap, which resumes where you last left off listening to your Spotify account on any device. Android users also get support for Alexa and Google’s Fast Pair tech.
While I recommend the Elite 4 Active for most people, it’s also worth quickly mentioning the $180 Elite 7 Active, which adds Jabra’s ShakeGrip technology for what the company claims is a more secure fit. You also get slightly better battery life – eight hours per bud, or 30 hours with the case – and even faster charging (an hour of playback after a five-minute charge). Lastly, choosing the Elite 7 Active over the Elite 4 Active gives you the option of either Google Assistant or Alexa, as well as voice guidance. However, you’d be giving up call controls, which you do get on the Elite 4 Active.
The most comfortable option: Beats Powerbeats Pro
What you get: A comfortable, behind-the-ear hook design that’s easy to use and is deeply integrated with iOS.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs seamlessly with iOS devices; intuitive controls with mirrored access on the left and right sides; tied with Sony for the longest earbud battery life.
Cons: Ear-hook design isn’t the most discreet, and doesn’t fit so well with sunglasses; relatively heavy charging case; no active noise cancelation, transparency mode or customizable EQ; speaking to an assistant is slightly less convenient if it’s not Siri.
For the purposes of this guide I tested two pairs of Beats headphones: the $200 Beats Fit Pro earbuds, and the $200 Powerbeats Pro, earbuds with an over-the-ear hook design. I’ll start with the Powerbeats Pro, which I like better for exercising.
Other than being slightly conspicuous, the Powerbeats Pro comes in four colors and fits comfortably, though it doesn’t play as nicely with glasses and face masks as more compact in-ear designs. Compared to the other earbuds I tested, though, I felt especially confident the Powerbeats Pro would stay put during workouts.
Like Apple’s newest AirPods, the Powerbeats Pro use Apple’s H1 chip, which allows for particularly deep integration when you pair the earbuds with an Apple-made device. In addition to a fast, seamless pairing process, you can activate Siri by saying “Hey Siri,” without having to press a button. You can also share audio with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and can enjoy automatic switching between Apple devices.
For better and worse, the integration is so complete, in fact, that there’s no companion app; instead you check the earbuds’ and cases’ battery via other methods, such as a homescreen widget or by asking Siri.
The earbuds themselves are rated for nine hours of use, which is among the highest we’ve seen. The case is rated for a total of 24 hours of use, which isn’t bad, but given that it's not best in class you have to wonder why the case is as heavy as it is. (Heavy enough that my purse feels a little lighter without it.) iOS users won’t mind that the case charges via a Lightning cable and not USB-C, but others might be slightly put out.
If you’ve ever used AirPods or Apple’s old-school wired headphones, these should be pretty easy to master. Double-press the physical button on the earbud to skip tracks and triple-press it to go backward. I quickly came to love the physical key; it’s less finicky than a touch surface. I was also grateful for the mirroring of controls between the left and right earbuds — both left- and right-handed people should be happy.
Having tested other wireless earbuds that either lack onboard volume controls, or make it tedious, I have come to particularly appreciate the Powerbeats Pro’s onboard volume rockers – one for each earbud. I don’t know of any other workout earbuds that make it easier to adjust the volume, not even the Beats Fit Pro.
While it’s nice to have easier volume access, the audio experience is otherwise basic. There is no active noise cancellation or transparency mode. Not a dealbreaker for workouts, but something to consider if your goal is to get one pair of earbuds you can wear for everything.
Other features include support for voice assistants (yes, Google and Amazon too), but only Siri can be summoned by a voice command. You can also wear just one bud if you like (the right one) if all you need to do is talk on the phone, or if you want to keep an ear open to what’s going on around you.
Honorable mention: Beats Fit Pro
What you get: Many of the benefits of the Powerbeats Pro, with a more discreet design, a lighter charging case and the addition of ANC.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs easily with iOS devices; compact, lightweight charging case; adds ANC and transparency modes, which the Powerbeats Pro lacks.
Cons: A smaller design than the Powerbeats Pro means shorter battery life and the loss of a physical volume rocker; no customizable EQ.
One of my main complaints about the Powerbeats Pro is that they don’t fit as well if you’re wearing sunglasses (or, in pandemic times a mask). This is where the Beats Fit Pro have the advantage: Their discreet design that promises to stay out of the way and safe even during sweaty workouts.
Available in four colors, the buds are easy to insert and comfortable to wear – just twist the bud to fold the wingtip into your upper ear. And, because the earbuds are smaller than the Powerbeats Pro, the case is markedly lighter and more compact (55g versus 80g on the Pro). Between the lightweight case and the less dorky design, the Beats Fit Pro make a strong case for themselves as earbuds you can wear not just during workouts, but everywhere.
Because the Beats Fit Pro were released more recently than the Powerbeats Pro, they have active noise cancellation, a feature older Powerbeats and AirPods products are lacking. At the same time, Apple built in a transparency mode – ideal for runners like me who would feel safer if they could still hear ambient cues like footsteps and car horns. Lastly, it supports Apple’s Spatial Audio format for a more immersive sound and will automatically kick in if you’re playing a compatible track.
For working out, the audio is fine. But if you can only afford one pair of earbuds, my colleague Billy Steele indicated in his review that the sound quality is mediocre. He found calls could be patchy and, as he notes, Beats is one of the few brands that doesn’t offer users a customizable EQ.
Out of the box, the earbuds are set to active noise cancellation. There are two ways to adjust this: You can hold down the physical button on either earbud to cycle through audio profiles. Or, you can find the earbuds in your Bluetooth settings menu and click further to see a more detailed menu of options. Not only can you adjust the mode there, but you can also change what those physical buttons do. By default, they’re for toggling audio profiles, but you can also set them up so that one earbud controls volume up, and the other volume down. Personally, I preferred having the option of adjusting the volume from my earbuds mid-workout; it’s easy to just pick an audio mode before your run and stick with it.
Other than the slightly limited volume controls, the Beats Fit Pro works much like other Beats- and Apple-branded headphones. Press the physical button once to play or pause tracks; double press to skip forward; and triple press to replay a track. For anyone upgrading from an older pair of Beats or Apple earbuds, the transition should be easy. My only word of caution is that I found the physical button on the Beats Fit Pro harder to find by feel, as it’s smaller and less indented than the button on the Powerbeats Pro.
Apple rates the Beats Fit Pro for six hours of listening time per earbud, plus an additional 18 hours from the USB-C charging case. You can also wear just one bud if you like, to squeeze out even more runtime. In my testing, the battery on the buds dropped down to 89 percent after a 35-minute run. Extrapolate that, and the math comes close to Apple’s six-hours-per-bud claim. If you’ve managed to completely exhaust both the earbud and case, Apple says its “Fast Fuel” feature will get you back to one hour of use after five minutes of charging, the same claim Jabra makes for the comparably priced Elite Active 7. (Note: Apple’s one-hour estimate assumes you won’t be using ANC.)
Under the hood, the earbuds have the same Apple-made H1 chip as the Powerbeats Pro and Apple’s newer AirPods, allowing for hands-free “Hey Siri,” audio sharing with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and automatic switching between devices. The headphones also work with the Find My app, even on Android.
The best budget workout earbuds: Sony WF-C500
What you get: Reasonably priced earbuds that prioritize a light design and good audio quality.
Pros: Lightweight; reasonably priced; support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format; the earbuds themselves claim relatively long battery life; customizable EQ; supports Google Fast Pair.
Cons: No ANC or transparency mode; slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other earbuds we tested; the charging case has lower capacity than competing models; they have a larger, more bulbous design than others we tested (but are no less comfortable).
With the $100 WF-C500 earbuds, Sony is really emphasizing the small design: The earbuds themselves weigh 5.46 grams, while the charging case is 35g. That would be the lightest case we tested, and nearly the lightest pair of earbuds, barring the much pricier Elite Active 7. It’s worth noting that a lighter charging case means shorter case battery life (a relatively low 20 hours). Even then, the earbuds themselves offer some of the longest battery life of the bunch: 10 hours per bud. If you do run low on charge, you can get back up to an hour’s worth of capacity in 10 minutes, Sony says.
The earbuds, available in four colors, were larger than I was expecting given their light weight, but they’re easy to insert and fit comfortably. They are slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other buds I tested for this guide, though Android users will benefit from support for Google Fast Pair.
By default, a robotic voice will tell you the earbuds’ battery charge as you’re putting them in. I found this useful, though it meant that there was a delay in getting to hear whatever I had been listening to. You can always disable voice guidance in Sony’s Headphones app if that bothers you.
The truth is, I rarely had range anxiety with these headphones anyway: Unlike other earbuds, which took a roughly 10 percent hit after my usual 35-minute run, these were still at 100 percent. It’s unlikely I’ll ever wear out both the buds and charging case before getting to a wall charger.
The controls were also easy to master without having to consult Sony’s companion app. On the right earbud, press once to play or pause audio playback, or to answer or end a call. Double press to skip tracks, and triple press to go to the previous song. Long-pressing the right earbud launches or cancels a voice assistant. You can also long press to decline a call. On the left earbud, some of the controls are mirrored: you can press once to receive/end a call, and long-press to reject it. The left bud is also where the volume controls live: press once to raise it, and hold the button down to lower it.
As one of the cheaper options in this guide, the WF-C500 are the only ones without active noise cancellation. Which to me, isn’t a dealbreaker. The eartips already do a good enough job passively blocking noise, to the point where I was startled when a group of runners ran up from behind in the park and passed me. If anything, I wished the earbuds had a transparency mode that would allow more ambient noise through. Fortunately I could still hear louder noises like nearby traffic.
The lack of ANC aside, the audio quality is quite good – which makes sense, given Sony’s heritage in audio and home theater gear. Like other models listed here (barring Beats, anyway), you can adjust the EQ in the companion app. And, as you might expect, the earbuds support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which is similar to Apple’s spatial tech, which in turn is built on the Dolby Atmos format.
The most customizable: Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
What you get: Comfortable ANC earbuds with long battery life and customizable controls.
Pros: The only buds we tested with wireless charging; long battery life, especially on the charging case; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; lots of options for setting up the controls to your liking.
Cons: Larger and a little harder to insert than competing models; touch-sensitive controls can be finicky; worse sound quality than the competition; in-app battery indicator doesn’t give you a percentage.
The $170 Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro earbuds are available in four colors, and carry a big emphasis on ergonomic fit. That includes air-filled wings, silicone ear tips (similar to other brands) and a promise of air-pressure relief, per Anker. The earbuds don’t come with the eartips or wingtips attached, which adds some friction to the setup process but, on the plus side, you get a choice of four ear tip sizes, compared with three from most other headphone makers. Inside the Soundcore app you’ll find a fit test, but I actually ended up with a more comfortable fit by just following my gut. But it’s certainly worth playing around with.
The Liberty 3 Pro is right up there with the Sony CF-500 in terms of being some of the larger earbuds I tested for this guide. That said, they fit comfortably and stay put. I will say, however, that these were consistently harder to insert than some other brands I tested, even after I’d had a bit of practice.
When I originally published this guide, in September 2020, I ruled out Anker’s $55 Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 earbuds on account of their fussy touch controls and the fact that you couldn’t adjust the volume from the buds themselves. I’m happy to report that the situation has improved – mostly. First, the bad news: The controls are still finicky, and especially difficult to get right while moving. But, they do offer volume control. (Thank goodness.) The controls are also programmable inside the Soundcore app. So you can at least customize the long press and single, double and triple taps in a way that feels intuitive. In addition to music and volume playback, you can also use the controls to toggle audio modes or to activate a voice assistant (Google or Alexa).
Just as you can modify the earbud controls, you have options as far as sound quality, too. There are ANC and transparency modes, along with a “normal” setting in between. Also, like Sony and Jabra, Anker allows you to customize the EQ from within the app. Interestingly, wind reduction is a feature you have to actively opt into. Anker says this is because the wind reducing mode dings ANC performance, and since it’s unlikely people will often find themselves in strong winds, it may as well not be turned on by default. Later this year, Anker will push out a software update that will add “enhanced vocal mode,” which promises to increase vocal pickup in the area around you, according to an Anker spokesperson.
Additionally, Anker touts three mics per earbud, along with AI noise reduction. I can’t prove that there’s a connection here, but I did notice they sounded a little tinnier compared with other headphones. Sometimes, some random buzz even crept in. It’s hard to know if that slight distortion is a result of the AI doing its work, but I wonder.
As for battery life, the Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro has the distinction of being the only earbuds we tested for this guide with a case that can charge wirelessly. The buds themselves are rated for eight hours apiece, or 32 hours with the case, making this the longest-lasting charging case we tested for this story. Anker also says that you can return to three hours of capacity after 15 minutes of charging. After a 35-minute run, the battery indicator in the app showed a mostly full charge, though unfortunately Anker doesn’t give you a percentage.
It didn’t take long for the Apple Watch to become perhaps the most ubiquitous wearable. Even more so than the iPhone, the Apple Watch is a device you can truly make your own with the right accessories. It is, after all, a watch, and like traditional timepieces it’s meant to reflect your personal style. While the most obvious way to customize your Apple Watch is with funky bands, there are cases, stands, wireless chargers and other accessories you can buy that can inject a bit of you into all aspects of Apple Watch ownership. We tested out a bunch of Apple Watch accessories to see which are worth your money.
Spigen Thin Fit case
While plenty of us use cases to protect our smartphones from drops and scrapes, you may not think to do the same for your smartwatch. After all, a device that’s literally strapped to your body isn’t as prone to accidental drops as a device that moves in and out of your pocket all day. Chalk it up to me being clumsy, but I’ve knocked my Apple Watch on more door frames than I’d like to admit. For less than $25, a case is a good option if you don’t want to take any chances with that $279-plus smartwatch on your wrist.
“Cases” are basically bumpers that surround the edges of the Apple Watch, and some of them even cover the screen. I personally prefer a bumper-style case because, if I’m going to cover the display, it’ll be with a dedicated screen protector. Spigen’s line of Apple Watch cases are solid and they come in two different levels of bulk. The Rugged Armor series has a shock-absorbent layer and raised bezels, making it especially well suited for those who prioritize protection over fashion. Spigen’s Thin Fit series is more my speed: It sits flush against the Watch’s display, but still gives you an extra layer of protection. You can even choose a color that matches your Watch to help it blend in. Two added perks of Spigen’s cases are that they snap on quickly and easily, and they’re quite affordable at around $14 a piece.
If you don’t want the extra bulk that comes with a case, a screen protector will give you at least a bit more of a safeguard than sporting a naked Watch. Zagg’s InvisibleShield line is a reliable one that provides shatter protection, clarity and enhanced touch-sensitivity. When installed properly (Zagg gives you clear instructions and all the tools you need to do so), you’ll probably forget you have a screen protector on your Watch. These blend in almost seamlessly with the Watch’s hardware, and if you do accidentally ding the screen, the protector should take all of the damage.
The latest Apple Watches don’t come with power adapters, so you’ll have to dig one out of your drawer or get a new one to charge it up. Choosing the latter is probably best since Series 7 owners will get a new, USB-C-toting cable, so you’ll need an appropriate adapter to get all of that fast-charging goodness. Anker’s 20W Nano Pro is a good pick because it’s compact and has a few safety features built in. Inside is a dynamic temperature sensor that helps prevent overheating, plus a power tuner chip that helps adjust output based on your device. That second feature is likely more important than the first if you’re primarily using this tiny brick with your Apple Watch, but both will be handy if you ever need to use it with your iPhone. What’s more, the Nano Pro can fast charge iPhone 13s, providing a 50-percent top-up in only 25 minutes, and you can get one that matches the color of your handset if you wish.
Apple makes one of the more elegant solutions to charging your iPhone and Apple Watch while traveling. The $129 MagSafe Duo has spaces to wirelessly charge both devices and folds up into a neat square when not in use. The Apple Watch pad flips upward as well, allowing you to use the gadget in Nighttime mode while it’s charging. While this accessory does come with a USB-C to Lightning cable to provide power to the system, it does not come with an AC adapter so you will have to remember to pack your own.
Apple Watch chargers are a bit different than Lightning cables in the sense that you probably have only one of the former and many of the latter. Those who travel or commute often should consider getting a second Apple Watch charger, that way you’re not stuck if you forget to pack your one and only before a long weekend trip. Belkin’s Boost Charge Pro portable fast charger is a great option, particularly for those who have a Series 7. The square pad uses Apple’s new fast-charging module, so it’ll be able to power up the Series 7 from 0 to 80 percent in roughly 45 minutes.
You can simply sit your timepiece on the module to charge, but it also flips up so you can use the Watch in Nightstand mode while it’s powering up on your bedside table. To support different Watch sizes and protective cases, the pad also has a dial on its underside that lets you adjust the height of the charging module. Plus, the attached USB-C cable that tucks away on the bottom of the pad is four feet long, giving you a bit more placement flexibility than other chargers.
The main drawback is its $60 list price, but those strapped for cash should consider Anker’s version, which is very similar to Belkins and only $43. It won’t fast-charge the Series 7, but it will power up the device just like it would a Series 6 or earlier. I also prefer how the attached USB-C cable coils up into the base on this one – it’s a bit neater than Belkin’s solution.
You’ll likely have your Apple Watch strapped to your wrist while traveling, but it’s a good idea to have a pouch or case that can hold the gadget along with any accessories you need when you’re not wearing it. Bellroy’s Compact Tech Kit is an attractive option not only because of its minimalist design, but the multiple loops and pockets on the inside. It can easily hold your Apple Watch charging cable, an AC adapter and a few extra bands, and you’ll still have space for things like AirPods, a Lightning cable for your iPhone and even a larger power adapter for your laptop. If you don’t mind something a bit more utilitarian, Bagsmart’s small travel organizer is a good option that also costs just $17.
If you want to use the Apple Watch’s handy Nightstand mode while it’s charging, I’ve found that Watch holders can make the experience much better. My Watch often topples over or rolls about when I simply trust it to sit on its side next to my bed, but that’s easily fixed with a stand. Elago’s stands may be simple, but they have a lot of personality, coming in colorful dome shapes and in the forms of retro tech. The biggest problem with them, particularly the dome stands, is that they can be prone to sliding around on your desk or nightstand if there’s any tension on your charging cable. But they hold the Apple Watch well and, at under $15, they’re affordable ways to inject more personality into your accessory game.
We previously recommended Spigen’s $11 S350 stand as another basic option, but we’d now opt to upgrade to the PowerArc ArcField wireless charger. Coming in at $37, this one looks almost identical to the S350 stand but it comes with an Apple Watch charging module built in, plus an attached, 6.6-foot USB-C cable. It also comes with a few rubber pads of different heights, allowing you to adjust the stand to the right height based on your Watch’s size and if you have a case protecting it. While it costs more than a standard silicone stand for your Apple Watch, it’s worth it for the additional charging power – plus if it does become your main home charger, that frees up the charging cable that came with the Apple Watch to be your on-the-go option.
You probably made your way to this guide because you already have an Apple Watch that you’re ready to deck out. But if you haven’t made the purchase yet, consider using the Apple Watch Studio to customize the timepiece to your liking. Doing so will let you choose the precise band style and color you want, and there are definitely a few that are worth getting directly from Apple. Both the Sport Band and the Sport Loop are good basic options for everyday and exercise use, but you can find alternatives for much less elsewhere.
Apple’s Solo Loop is a good one if you just want to slip your Watch on in the morning without worrying about notches or buckles — just make sure you get the right size when you order. I’m also partial to the Nike Sport Band because its carefully placed holes make it breathable and extra comfortable for working out. But if you want that one, you’ll have to buy the Apple Watch Nike edition, which is just a regular Watch with the Nike+ Run Club app preinstalled.
But if you or your loved one already have an Apple Watch, it’s easy to find additional bands across the web. When it comes to basic silicone straps, you can find packs of three to six bands for less than $20 but the quality may be questionable. Look for brands with many high ratings on Amazon if you insist on getting the best bang for your buck. You can also use FakeSpot’s Amazon integration to get an idea for how trustworthy a product’s reviews are.
A few reputable brands that make Apple Watch bands are Spigen, Elago and Casetify. Spigen’s Silicone Fit band feels the most similar to Apple’s Sport Band. The material is soft, comfortable and it’s a hair thinner than Apple’s. The biggest difference is that you’ll pay around $10 for one of Spigen’s bands as opposed to $50 for one of Apple’s.
Elago’s Sport Bands are made of fluoro-rubber material, so they’re a bit thicker and more substantial than Apple’s standard silicone band. They also have traditional buckle closures, giving them a style that better transitions from workouts to workplaces. They are a good option if you like the simplicity of Apple’s own bands but don’t want to shell out $50 for one.
Casetify occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, offering printed and customizable Apple Watch straps that truly stand out. They come in metal, leather, silicone and recycled plastic and you can get as specific as you want. There are plenty of solid colors to choose from as well as dozens of floral and animal prints. Casetify also has trendy collaborations with Disney, Netflix’s Squid Game and other pop-culture heavyweights, and even bands you can personalize with your recipient’s name or initials. While Casetify’s straps are on the expensive side, ranging from $40 to $72, it’s a price worth paying if you absolutely must have a band that fits your style to a tee.
Game day is right around the corner, which means it’s one of the best times of the year to upgrade your TV. Aside from the holiday shopping season, the few weeks leading up to the Super Bowl have some of the best TV deals you’ll find throughout the year. Sets from Samsung, LG, Hisense and others can be hundreds of dollars off and you can even find devices like soundbars and streamers for less, too.
Just keep in mind that often the best discounts will be on more expensive TVs. That’s great if you’re looking for a high-end or very large television for your living room, but not ideal if you’re on a strict budget. But retailers like Amazon and Best Buy still have a bunch of TVs under $500 that are worth considering if you don’t want to spend too much — and it's possible to save money on those, too.
If you’re going to upgrade this year and plan to order online, we recommend doing so soon so you can have the new tube delivered and set up before game day arrives. Here are the best Super Bowl TV deals we could find, plus a few other home entertainment sales that are worth considering.
50-inch Samsung Class 7 4K smart TV
This highly-rated 50-inch Samsung 4K TV is $80 off and down to $400. This Tizen set has a crystal display plus support for HDR, Motion Rate 120 and Game Enhancer.
Hisense's 55-inch Quantum Dot 4K TV is 30 percent off and down to just under $600. It packs a lot of value into a relatively affordable TV — the set supports a 120Hz native refresh rate, Dolby Vision and Atmos, 1,000 nits of peak brightness and Game Mode Pro, the latter of which makes use of HDMI 2.1, low latency mode, variable refresh rates and more.
Samsung's 2021 55-inch Neo QLED smart TV is $300 off and down to $1,300. It uses Quantum Mini LED technology to improve details in both dark and bright scenes, and it supports things like 4K AI upscaling, Quantum HDR, 120Hz refresh rates, FreeSync Premium Pro and more.
Samsung's 65-inch Frame set is down to a record low fo $1,500, which is $500 off its normal price. In addition to 4K support and Quantum Dot technology, the Frame TVs have Art Mode, which lets you show pieces of art on the screen when you're not using it.
LG's 65-inch C1 OLED set is on sale for $1,800, or $300 off its normal price. In addition to excellent contrast, intense colors and webOS 6.0, it supports HDMI 2.1, NVIDIA G-Sync and FreeSync Premium for a better gaming experience along with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice commands.
This 75-inch Hisense set is down to $2,000, or $1,000 off its normal price. It uses a luminance control panel behind the 4K screen to manage color more accurately, plus it has high contrast and up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness. The set also supports HDR, Dolby Vision, 120Hz refresh rates, low latency mode, VRR and more.
This large Sony OLED smart TV has been discounted by $600, bringing it down to $2,900. It uses Sony's Cognitive Processor XR for strong performance and Acoustic Surface Audio+ for immersive sound, plus it supports 4K AI upscaling, XR Motion Clarity, HDMI 2.1 and more.
The latest Apple TV 4K is on sale for $160, or $20 off its normal price. While the 2021 version isn't drastically different from the previous model, its new Siri remote is a big selling point. We gave it a score of 90 for its speedy performance, HomeKit integration and the easy of use that comes with the improved Siri remote.
The Streambar Pro is $30 off and down to an all-time low of $150. It has all of the features that the standard Streambar does along with four 2.5-inch full range drivers, private listening and a lost remote finder in the Roku mobile app.
Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K has been discounted to $30, which is 40 percent off its normal price. This gives you 4K streaming with Dolby Vision in an ultra-compact package, and the stick also supports Dolby Atmos audio and Alexa voice commands.
The Fire TV Cube is down to $85, or only $10 more than its record-low price. Despite being a few years old, it's still a strong set-top box and the most powerful in Amazon's lineup. It supports 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Vision and Atmos, HDR10+ and Alexa controls for both your TV and compatible smart home gadgets.
Optoma's CinemaX P2 projector is $800 off, bringing it down to $2,499. This earned a spot in our best projectors guide thanks to its 3,000 lumen brightness, improved color accuracy and 80 percent DCI-P3 coverage.
Regardless of how 2021 went for you, 2022 is another chance for all of us to make the new year better than those that came before it. We set New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions, but it’s no wonder that so many people fail after just a few weeks – old habits die hard. Just as it’s important to have a supportive group of people cheering you on during those particularly hard days, it’s also important to have tools that make it easier to achieve your goals. Whether you’re trying to get healthy, be more organized, or read more, there are tech tools that can make your journey a bit easier (and maybe even more enjoyable).
A fitness tracker can help kickstart your exercise journey by passively monitoring your wins and showing you daily data about your steps, sleep patterns and more. Fitbit’s Inspire 2 is an all-around good option, not only because it’s fairly affordable at $100, but because it does pretty much everything a beginner would need a fitness tracker to do. It tracks daily steps, calories, heart rate, sleep and more, and it comes with 20 goal-based exercises that you can manually track or let the device’s automatic SmartTrack feature monitor for you. It also has 10-day battery life, so you rarely have to take it off to charge it. And with built-in Tile functionality, you’ll be able to more easily find the device if you do misplace it.
If you’d rather invest in an all-purpose wearable that also has serious fitness chops, the Apple Watch SE is a good choice. While it doesn’t include some of the bells and whistles that the Series 7 does, it still fferes the same core experience as any Apple Watch. It tracks all-day activity and heart rate, and watchOS finally does basic sleep tracking, too. In addition to built-in GPS for outdoor workouts, it supports dozens of trackable exercises along with fall detection and high and low heart rate notifications. The Apple Watch also excels over basic fitness trackers when it comes to table-stakes smartwatch features: You’ll be able to send and receive text messages from the device, as well as control music playback, smart home devices and more.
If running isn’t your thing, or it’s just inconvenient to do it where you live, finding exercise classes that you enjoy can make working out a habit you’re more likely to stick with for the long haul. You may prefer to do this through your local gym — that push to get out of the house and into a dedicated exercise space can be really effective for some — but there are plenty of online fitness classes as well that you can participate in from the comfort of your living room. I’ve tried my fair share of these services and my favorite has been Peloton. No, you don’t need one of the company’s expensive bikes or treadmills to take advantage of their classes. Access to the app-only version of the subscription costs $13 per month and it lets you take HIIT, strength, yoga and even outdoor running classes, many of which require little to no equipment at all.
If you can’t afford another monthly subscription fee, the internet has tons of free exercise resources — you just have to work a little harder to find the ones you jive with most. I highly recommend Fitness Blender, a free website where you can watch hundreds of workout videos and even set a schedule for yourself, assigning videos to specific days of the week. I like the quality and consistency of their videos, but you may connect more to YouTube workout videos if they’re taught by instructors you like; Heather Robertson and Move with Nicole are two personal favorites.
At least in the beginning, keeping track of new habits you’re trying to build can help you stick to them. While you can get deep into this subject if you wander down the bullet-journal rabbit hole, a habit-tracking app is probably the easier option. Done and Strides are two iOS options that let you log when you’ve completed a new habit you’re trying to build or when you avoided a bad habit that you’re trying to break. You can get pretty granular, customizing how often you want to do a task, setting reminders to log, reviewing stats and more. However, both apps have paid tiers to which you’ll be asked to subscribe after you create a few trackable habits.
If you’d rather avoid yet another subscription, consider an app like Streaks, which can be all yours for a one-time fee of $5. As for Android, Grow is a free app that takes a similar approach to habit tracking that Forest takes with time management. Plant a virtual tree for each new habit tracked and watch it grow every time you log a completion. There’s also Habitica, which turns habit tracking to an 8-bit RPG game in which your custom avatar levels up every time you log a task.
To-do and note-taking apps
The new year provides an opportunity to get back on track, and one way to do that is by finding organizational tools that work for you — and making sure those tools are as uncomplicated as possible. The worst thing that could happen is that your to-do list or note-taking system ends up being so cumbersome that you avoid using it. Keeping all of your necessary tasks in your head may work on easy days, but it can quickly get overwhelming when you have a million things to handle in both your personal and professional life. I’m a fan of Things for iOS and macOS because it’s detailed enough for big work projects, but simple enough for casual personal tasks. I also love the Today view, which shows me everything across all of my projects that requires immediate attention.
However, you’ll spend $80 to get Things for iOS, iPadOS and macOS — and it’s only available for Apple devices. Microsoft’s To Do is an alternative that, while less involved than Things 3, is free and works on almost every platform including iOS, Android and Windows, among others. You can keep it simple and just have a task list and a grocery list, or you can go deeper and add due dates, sub-tasks and even share lists with family members. And if you don’t want to bother with an extraneous app, you can always opt for the reminders app that (most likely) came preinstalled on your phone. That would be Reminders for iOS users and Google Keep for Android users.
Google Keep also doubles as a note-taking app, which will be a better solution if you’ve been constantly jotting down ideas for new projects on Post-It notes or scraps of paper that you eventually lose. Apple Notes is the default option for this on iOS devices, and there are plenty of other note-taking apps out there as well. I’m partial to Evernote simply because it’s become my digital file box of sorts. I take notes in it almost every day, but tons of things like online order receipts, messages from my doctor’s office and e-signed contracts all come to me through my email and eventually get saved and tagged in Evernote so I can easily find them in the future.
If you’re looking to up your organization game in the new year, a password manager is a great place to start. I’m partial to 1Password, but there are plenty of other options including LastPass (which has a free version), Bitwarden and Dashlane. After saving all of your passwords for various accounts, you only need to remember one (hence the name) to log in to your 1Password account and access all of the others. The service has browser extensions Chrome, Edge and others that will let you seamlessly log in with the proper credentials with just a few clicks, and 1Password has apps for most platforms including iOS and Android, so you can use it on all of your devices.
I also appreciate the Password Generator feature, which helps you create a new, secure password whenever one of yours has expired. LassPass has this too, and Dashlane even has a free tool that anyone can use to make more secure passwords. Not only does this take the onus of coming up with a strong key off your shoulders, but it also makes it easy to override old credentials with new ones.
Travel tech organizer
One of the consequences of the past two is the dual-office life. Many of us now work both from home and from an office, and the last thing you want to do when you arrive in either place is rummage around your backpack only to realize that you’ve left your mouse, charging cable or dongle at your other desk.
An organizer bag can prevent this before it happens – we’re partial to BagSmart tech organizers thanks to their utilitarian, water-repellent designs and their multiple pockets and dividers. They also come in different sizes, so you can pick the best one for your commuter bag. If you want something a bit more elevated, Bellroy’s Desk Pouch is a good option. It’s pricier but for the money you get a more elegant design, with a higher-quality material (recycled nylon, weave or ripstop, depending on the color you choose) and a structured base that keeps the bag upright on your desk.
Computer docking station
It’s all too easy for your work-from-home setup to get really messy really quickly. When you’re going through your busiest times at work, the last thing you’re thinking about is cable management, but dedicating a bit more effort into tidying up your workspace can make your day to day more efficient and more enjoyable.
We recommend some sort of docking station to keep your laptop, monitors, accessories and the like in check. A couple good options are CalDigit’s TS3 Plus and Plugable’s Universal Docking Station. The former has a compact, rectangular design with a total of 16 different ports on it, including a Gigabit Ethernet jack, five USB-A connections, two Thunderbolt 3 sockets and analog audio in/out ports. The latter stands up vertically on your desk and has 13 connectors, including HDMI and DVI ports, six USB-A connections and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. That DVI port may be a deciding factor for you depending on which monitor you have, and Plugable’s device comes with both DVI to HDMI and DVI to VGA adapters.
While both of those options are stationary, there are plenty of adapters out there that can give you similar organization while on the go, albeit in a less elegant package. Anker’s USB-C hub is an affordable solution that includes an HDMI port, microSD and SD card readers, two USB-C connections and two USB-A ports. It also supports 100W power pass-through, so you can charge your laptop through the hub while using it.
Eating healthier — or even just avoiding takeout multiple times a week — can be challenging in part because it usually means cooking more at home. Not only is that hard to do when you’re starting from zero, but it’s especially tough because it takes more time than ordering in from your phone. But tools like an Instant Pot can make the process easier because it cuts your active cooking time down drastically. You can find a plethora of recipes in which you simply throw a bunch of ingredients into the pot, set it and forget it until it’s time to eat.
We recommend the Instant Pot Duo for beginners because it’s relatively affordable and combines seven different cooking methods into one appliance, including rice cooking, steaming, pressure cooking, slow cooking and more. If you’re primarily cooking for yourself and a partner, the three-quart model will serve you just fine, but we recommend the six-quart model if you’re routinely cooking for four or more. If the thought of cooking at home actually excites you rather than fills you with anxiety, consider the Instant Pot Ultra, which includes a few extra modes like cake maker and egg cooker, or the Instant Pot Duo Crisp, which includes an air-fry lid.
One of the best things about cooking at home is finding recipes that you love so much that you want to make over and over again. You’ll want to keep those recipes safe and readily available so you can refer to them when you need a quick weeknight meal or a dish to bring to your next family reunion. Recipe cards are a great way to do this, and you’ll build up your rolodex of delicious meals over time. If you’d rather have a cookbook of sorts that you fill in yourself over time, opt for a recipe book instead.
If you’d rather keep your arsenal of recipes accessible at any time, anywhere from your phone, Paprika’s recipe management app is the best solution I’ve tried. The $5 app basically acts as your digital recipe box, allowing you to enter recipes of your own as well as download them from the internet. You know those hundreds of words that precede online recipes, in which the author divulges their entire life story before telling you their secret to making deliciously moist cornbread? Paprika strips all of those unnecessary bits out and only saves the ingredient list and the instructions. You can also make grocery lists and keep track of pantry staples in the app, so don’t be surprised if it quickly becomes one of your most-used kitchen tools.
Don’t take your habit of doom-scrolling on Twitter for hours every day into the new year. You could instead use the internet to find other things to read and the free Libby app is a good place to start. Powered by Overdrive, it connects you with your local library’s digital collection, allowing you to borrow and download all kinds of e-books, audiobooks, magazines, graphic novels and more. Libby also has a tag system that you can use to “save” titles for later without actually putting a hold on them (although you can do that in the app, too). If you find a bunch of audiobooks you eventually want to get to, you can give them all a “TBR” tag so you can quickly find them and borrow one when you need new reading/listening material.
As someone who uses Libby on a regular basis, I love how easy it is to borrow from my local library without leaving my home. However, there have been numerous times in which my library doesn’t have a title I’m looking for. If that happens to you often, you may want to consider a subscription service like Kindle Unlimited or Scribd, both of which give you unlimited access to a wide library of e-books for $10 per month. And for audiobook lovers, your options are Amazon’s Audible or Libro.fm, the latter of which lets you choose the local bookstore you want to support with your purchases.
E-readers are still around because so many people recognize how much better it can be to read e-books on a dedicated device — especially one with an e-paper display. Sure, you could read on your smartphone or a tablet, but staring at those screens all day long can be tiring for your eyes. An e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite or Kobo’s Clara HD is a better choice not only for its more comfortable display, but also because it focuses your attention on reading. (If you’ve ever picked up your smartphone intending to finish a chapter only to be distracted by email or Twitter, you know how crucial this is.)
The new Kindle Paperwhite has a 6.8-inch display with adjustable warm lights, 20 percent faster page turns and weeks of battery life. The Clara HD is similar, with a 6-inch E-Ink display, adjustable brightness and color temperature, along with weeks of battery life. If you already get most of your e-books through Amazon, the Paperwhite is the best option. You can listen to Audible audiobooks, too, if you connect a pair of wireless earbuds to the e-reader. Kobo’s device primarily gets books via the Kobo Store, but it also supports various file types like EPUB, PDF and MOBI. Plus, it has on-device integration with Overdrive, allowing you to borrow library books directly from the e-reader.