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The top video streaming services that are worth your money

The number of video streaming services available has increased dramatically over the past few years as everyone decides they want a piece of the pie. The days when Netflix was your only option are long gone now, and while that’s great for all of us itching to discover our next favorite TV show, it can also be confusing and expensive. You’re now tasked with figuring out which video streaming services have the content you want to watch, which fit into your budget, which have the most compelling original series and movies, and more.

We at Engadget wanted to make that process easier for you so we’ve compiled a list of the best video streaming services you can subscribe to right now, with our favorite picks spanning across all content types and budgets. Now, should you go out and subscribe to all of the services listed here? Probably not, unless you’re a true cord cutter aching for content. But these are the services that offer the best bang for your buck, regardless of whether you’re a sports buff, a classic movie lover or a general streaming enthusiast.

Netflix

Netflix

Compared to other streaming services, no one offers more high-quality content at a single price than Netflix. Pick any category you can think of and Netflix probably has something that will fit the bill. Plus, new content is released every week and as a worldwide service, Netflix is consistently adding movies and TV shows from around the globe that can change the viewing experience in ways you may not have considered (Are you sure you’re not into K-Dramas, Finnish detective thrillers or British home improvement shows?).

Netflix is available in almost every country on the planet, and its app or website runs on most of the devices that connect to the internet. Those apps are also some of the most easy-to-use of any service. That doesn’t mean it’s always simple to choose something to watch, but when it comes to swapping profiles or simply picking up where you left off, it doesn’t get better than this. If you’re heading off the grid — or onto a plane — then you can easily download most (but not all) of its content to watch on your iOS or Android device.

If you somehow don’t have Netflix already (or someone to share a login with) then getting a taste of it is a little more complicated than it used to be. Netflix dropped its free trial period in the US a while ago so it’s important to have all your information in order before going in to create an account.

The other thing to keep in mind is that maybe if you’ve let your account lapse, the service that exists now is very different from what you would’ve seen two years ago, or five, or ten. Remaining the dominant player in subscription streaming has required adjustments to stay on top with a changing mix of content and plans to choose from.

In the US, there are three levels of Netflix you can subscribe to. All of them include unlimited access to the same content, work on the same devices, none of them include advertisements and you can cancel or pause them at any time. The difference between Basic ($10 per month), Standard ($15.50 per month) and Premium ($20 per month) comes down to picture quality and the amount of simultaneous streams allowed.

At the Basic level you can expect 480p, aka DVD quality, and only a single stream available. If you’d like to watch streams in HD and allow for the possibility of up to two streams at once, then you’ll need to step up to the Standard package. If you share your account with multiple people or have a newer 4K display, then you may want the Premium package. You can watch content in the highest quality available going all the way up to 4K/HDR (F1 Drive to Survive, Stranger Things and Altered Carbon are some of my favorites at the level) and have four streams at once on one account.— Richard Lawler, Senior News Editor

Amazon Prime Video 

Amazon

If you think of Amazon’s Prime Video package as a Netflix-lite, or even if you’ve only used it once or twice then you may be underestimating the options available. The ad-free (other than trailers) subscription service is available as part of Amazon Prime, which you can purchase for either $15 per month, or $139 annually. While the subscription started out as a way to get free shipping on more purchases, Amazon has tacked on benefits that extend across books, music, games and even groceries. If you’d prefer to get Prime Video only, it’s available as a standalone for $9 per month.

We’ll focus on the video service, which includes a selection of original and catalog content that is a lot like what Netflix and the others offer. In recent years Amazon Prime has increased its original output with award-winning series like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as highly-regarded genre content like The Boys and The Expanse.

When it comes to where you can watch Amazon Prime Video, the list of options rivals Netflix. Streaming boxes and smart TVs, whether they’re part of Amazon’s Fire TV platform or not, are almost a given. Game consoles? Check. The only major gap in compatibility was Google’s Chromecast, and it closed that hole in the summer of 2019.

Amazon also has a significant amount of content that’s available to watch in 4K and HDR and unlike Netflix it won’t charge you extra for the privilege. The same goes for simultaneous streams — Amazon’s rules say you can have up to two running concurrently. When it comes to downloads, Amazon allows offline viewing on its Fire devices, Android and iOS.

The only downside is that Amazon’s apps aren’t quite on par with Netflix in terms of usability. While all the features are there, simple things like reading an episode summary, enabling closed-captions or jumping out of one show and into another are frequently more frustrating on Amazon than on other platforms. The company also frequently insists on bringing its Fire TV-style interface to other platforms instead of using their native controls. That can make it harder to use, although on platforms where it hews to the built-in controls, like Roku, can be easier to use.

One other thing to think about is that Amazon’s video apps link to its on-demand store, and include access to Channels. For cord-cutters who just want a consistent experience across different devices, that means you can easily buy or rent content that isn’t part of the subscription. Amazon Channels lets you manage subscriptions to Britbox, Showtime, Paramount+ and others.

Last but not least, there’s one thing Amazon has that you won’t get from Netflix, and can’t get from Hulu or YouTube: Thursday Night NFL action. Prime Video is now the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football, starting with the 2022 season. — R.L.

HBO Max

HBO Max

In 2020, HBO decided to take the fight to its streaming competitors with HBO Max. It supplanted the existing HBO channels, as well as streaming via HBO Go or HBO Now by refocusing on original content and rebuilding the service for the modern era. HBO Max has the advantage of linking to one of the deepest (and best) content libraries available, drawing from the premium cable channel’s archives, the Warner Bros. vault, Studio Ghibli, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street and Turner Classic Movies.

If you pay for HBO from one of the major TV providers, then congratulations — you probably already have access to the full HBO Max experience. Just activate your account and start streaming. Otherwise, you can subscribe directly over the internet. HBO Max has a free 7-day trial, and costs $15 per month (or $150 a year) for the no-ads tier.

The company just came out with an ad-supported tier, which costs $10 per month or $100 per year. Along with ads, you won't be able to download content for offline viewing. Currently, HBO Max only offers 4K HDR streaming for certain content, and only those with the ad-free plan can access it. It can support up to three streams simultaneously, and offers individual profiles.

Since launch, HBO Max has come to more TV platforms and it's now available on Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Samsung and others. You can also stream it via a browser, Sony and Microsoft’s game consoles or with mobile apps on Android and iOS. It also includes support for AirPlay and Google’s Cast feature, which help it work with more smart TVs than just the ones listed here.

HBO Max content includes premium stuff that Warner yanked back from Netflix and others, like full series runs of Friends and The Fresh Prince, or DC Universe-related TV series and movies. The HBO library speaks for itself, with Game of Thrones, The Wire and older stuff like Band of Brothers, Flight of the Conchords or Entourage. It’s also investing in all-new content for HBO Max, like its Game of Thrones spin-off, House of the Dragon and a series based on the Last of Us video game.

We should mention, however, that HBO Max has recently canceled several shows ahead of the Discovery+ merger as a cost-cutting move. It is deprioritizing kid and family content, leading to the removal of Sesame Street spin-offs and a handful of Cartoon Network titles. Movies like Batgirl and Scoob!: Holiday Haunt has also been axed. Despite these changes, HBO Max still has one of the best content libraries of any streaming service and is worthy of consideration. — R.L. and Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer

Hulu

Hulu

Hulu started out as a bit of a curiosity — a joint venture by NBC, News Corp and a private equity firm to compete with Netflix by offering new episodes of TV shows. Then, after Disney joined up in 2009, bringing along its content from ABC and the Disney Channel, Hulu became a streaming network worth paying attention to. Today, Hulu's focus is still on recent TV episodes, but it also has a strong library of original series and films (like The Handmaid's Tale and Only Murders in the Building), as well as an archive of older TV and movies that often puts Netflix to shame.

Now that Disney owns a majority controlling stake in Hulu, following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, the service is less of a collaboration between media giants. (Comcast still offers NBCUniversal content, but it can choose to have Disney buy out its shares as early as 2024.) Instead, it's yet another feather in Disney's increasingly important digital empire, alongside Disney+ and ESPN+. That may not be a great thing for the competitiveness of streaming services in general, but for subscribers it means they can look forward to even more quality content, like all of the FX shows that hit Hulu earlier this year.

Hulu subscriptions start at $7 a month (or $70 a year) with ads. You can also bump up to the ad-free plan for $13 a month (worth it for true TV addicts). The company's Live TV offering is considerably more expensive, starting at $70 a month with ads and $76 a month ad-free, but you do get Disney+ and ESPN+ services bundled in. Hulu allows two of your devices to stream at the same time, and you can also download some content for offline viewing. Live TV subscribers can also pay $10 a month for unlimited streaming at home (and for up to three remote mobile devices).

Given that it's one of the longest-running streaming services out there, you can find Hulu apps everywhere, from TVs to set-top boxes. The company has been slow to adopt newer home theater technology, though — we're still waiting for surround sound on Apple TV and many other devices, and there's no HDR at all. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor

Disney+

Disney

Disney+came out swinging, leveraging all of the company's popular brands, like Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel. It's your one-stop-shop for everything Disney, making it catnip for kids, parents, animation fans and anyone looking for some classic films from the likes of 20th Century Pictures. And unlike Hulu, which Disney also owns, there aren't any R-rated movies or shows that curious kiddos can come across.

Given the company's new focus on streaming, Disney+ has quickly become a must-have for families. And at $8 a month (or $80 a year), it's a lot cheaper than wrangling the kids for a night out at the movies (or even buying one of the Disney's over-priced Blu-rays). You can also get it bundled with ESPN+ and Hulu for $14 a month. Some Verizon FiOS and mobile customers can also get Disney+, Hulu and ESPN for free.

Disney+ supports four simultaneous streams at once, and also lets you download films and shows for offline viewing. (That's particularly helpful when you're stuck in the car with no cell service and a crying toddler. Trust me.) You can access Disney+ on every major streaming device and most TV brands. While the service launched without support for Amazon's Fire TV devices, it's now available there as well. — D.H.

Apple TV+

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Apple spared no expense with its streaming platform, launching with high profile series like The Morning Show. While they weren’t all hits initially (See you later, get it?), Apple TV+ has since amassed a slew of must-watch programming like Ted Lasso, Severance, and For All Mankind. Clearly, the iPhone maker is taking a different approach than Netflix or Disney, with a focus on quality and big celebrity names, rather than bombarding us with a ton of content. But that strategy seems to have paid off.

For $5 a month, there’s a ton of great shows and movies to dive into. But if you’re a dedicated Apple user, it may be worth moving up to an Apple One plan, which also bundles Apple Arcade, Music, and 50GB of iCloud storage for $15 a month. Step up to $20 monthly, and you can bring in your whole family with up to 200GB of iCloud storage. And for $30 a month, Apple throws in News+ and Fitness+. – D.H.

YouTube TV

YouTube

YouTube TV is a great option for cord cutters who still want to watch live TV without having to sign up for a contract. It carries over 85 different channels, so it’s highly likely that you won’t miss your cable or satellite subscription at all if you switch over. YouTube TV even carries your regional PBS channels, which is a rarity on most streaming services.

Where YouTube TV really shines is in the sports department. Not only does it offer sports-carrying channels like CBS, FOX, ESPN, NBC, TBS and TNT, it also offers specific sports coverage networks like the MLB Network, NBA TV and the NFL Network. You can even opt for a Sports Plus package for an additional $11 a month if you want specific sports channels like NFL RedZone, FOX College Sports, GOLTV, FOX Soccer Plus, MAVTV Motorsports Network, TVG and Stadium. Unfortunately, however, YouTube TV recently lost the rights to carry Bally Sports regional networks, which means that you won’t get region-specific channels such as Bally Sports Detroit or Bally Sports Southwest.

One particularly strong selling point for sports fans is that instead of always remembering to record a particular game, you can just choose to “follow” a specific team and the DVR will automatically record all of its games. Plus, if you happen to have jumped into the match late, there’s a “catch up with key plays” feature that lets you watch all the highlights up until that point so that you’re up to speed.

YouTube TV is on the expensive side at $65 a month, which might not be much more than your basic cable package. If you want to add 4K viewing (which is currently only available through certain sporting events) plus unlimited streaming, you’d have to cough up an additional $20 a month.

It currently offers one of the best cloud DVRs available. YouTube TV’s DVR has unlimited storage plus you have up to nine months to watch your recorded content before they expire. There are also no DVR up-charges here; you can rewind or fast forward through the recorded content as you please by default. We should note, however, that the on-demand content on YouTube TV does have ads which you can’t fast-forward through.

There’s also a plethora of premium channels that you can add for as low as $3 per month, such as Showtime ($11 a month), HBO Max ($15 a month), Starz ($9 a month), Cinemax ($10 a month) and EPIX ($6 a month). You can also subscribe to an Entertainment Plus bundle that includes HBO Max, Showtime and Starz for $30 a month. Other niche add-ons include CuriosityStream ($3 a month), AMC Premiere ($5 a month), Shudder ($6 a month), Sundance Now ($7 a month), Urban Movie Channel ($5 a month), and Acorn TV ($6 a month). — N.L.

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu

Aside from on-demand and original content, Hulu also offers a Live TV add-on that lets you stream over 80 channels without a cable or satellite subscription. It’ll cost $70 a month, but that includes access to both Disney+ and ESPN+. Pay about $6 more and you’ll also be able to watch on-demand shows without any ads, which can’t be said with YouTube TV. As of April 2022, Hulu’s Live TV option also has unlimited DVR for up to nine months. That includes on-demand playback and fast-forwarding capabilities.

Hulu allows two simultaneous streams per account, but you can pay $15 more if you want unlimited screens (and up to three remote mobile devices). If you want, you can also add premium add-ons to your Hulu plan, such as HBO Max, Cinemax, Showtime, or Starz.

Hulu’s Live TV service is a great option for sports fans, as it has access to channels like CBS, FOX, ESPN, NBC, TBS, TNT and more, all of which should deliver content for fans of most major sports like football, basketball and baseball. Hulu also added NFL Network and NFL RedZone in 2021. However, Hulu plus Live TV does not carry the NBA TV or the MLB Network, so you could miss out on additional sports coverage. — N.L.

ESPN+

ESPN / Disney

Without a doubt, ESPN’s standalone service is the best deal in sports streaming. No one can compete with the network when it comes to the sheer volume of content. The platform hosts thousands of live college sporting events, plus MLB, MLS, NHL, NBA G League games and more. There’s plenty of pro tennis as well, and ESPN+ is an insane value for soccer fans.

On top of select MLS matches, ESPN+ is the US home of the Bundesliga (Germany) and the EFL cup (Carabao Cup). It’s also the spot for the UEFA Nations League international competition in Europe.

ESPN offers a slate of original shows and the full catalog of its 30 For 30 series on the service. And lastly, ESPN+ is the home of UFC. Fight Nights, Dana White’s Contender Series and other shows stream weekly or monthly, plus the app is how you access PPV events.

That’s a truckload of sports for $10 a month. If you splurge for Disney’s bundle with Disney+ and Hulu (ad-supported), you can get all three for $14 per month. — Billy Steele, Senior News Editor

Paramount+

ViacomCBS

Formerly CBS All Access, Paramount+ may get the most attention for originals like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and The Twilight Zone, but it’s becoming a sports destination as well. The app began streaming NWSL soccer matches last summer when the league returned to the pitch. CBS also announced that All Access would be the streaming home of the US women’s league. Unfortunately, you can’t watch every match there, but it’s a start.

Soon after, CBS added UEFA Champions League and Europa League soccer to its sports slate. The Champions League is the biggest competition in club soccer, pitting teams from various countries around the continent against each other to see who’s the best. Europa League does the same, but with less glory. Paramount+ is now the home of Series A soccer (Italy) and will broadcast CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, which the US Men’s National Team will participate in.

At $6 a month with limited commercials, or $10 a month ad-free, Paramount+ isn’t a must have sports destination just yet. You can stream NFL and other games that air on your local CBS station inside the app, but the network is still filling out a well-rounded slate. For now, it’s more of a necessity for soccer fans than anything else. — B.S.

NBC Peacock

Comcast

NBC made it clear before Peacock’s debut that Premier League soccer would be available on the standalone service. What we didn’t expect was that the network would put so many games there, basically forcing anyone who’s more than a casual fan to subscribe. This is partially due to PL scheduling. In the US, that means you need the $5/month service and access to NBC Sports network (through cable or live TV streaming) to follow comprehensively.

NBCUniversal had a similar structure in the past where one game per time slot was broadcast on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold was used as the overflow. Gold was also the home to cycling, Olympic sports and more. Now the Premier League is being used to push the new service Peacock, and with the current scheduling format, even more games are relegated to streaming only. Thankfully, Peacock does offer match replays, so there’s some added value there if you can’t be parked in front of your TV all day on Saturday and Sunday. Games currently run from about 7:30AM ET to around 5PM ET (matches usually at 7:30AM, 10AM, 12:30PM and one around 2:30 or 3:00PM).

Peacock also shows coverage of US Open tennis, NFL Wild Card games and will host “select events” from upcoming Olympics in Tokyo and Beijing. There’s also a smattering of sports talk shows available for free with paid users getting on-demand replays of Triple Crown horse racing and more. — B.S.

The Criterion Channel

Criterion

While it's easy to find modern films on Netflix and other streaming services these days, classic cinema is often tougher to find. FilmStruck tried to solve that problem, but it couldn't find a large enough audience to survive. Now there's the Criterion Channel, which delivers a rotating array of its cinephile-approved library for $11 a month or $100 a year. (Where else can you stream something like the incredible ramen noodle Western Tampopo?)

It's a service that's built for movie lovers: It's chock full of commentary tracks, conversations with writers and directors, and some of the company's renowned special features. The Criterion Channel also does a far better job at curating viewing options than other services. Its double features, for instance, pair together thematically similar films, like the classic noir entries Phantom Lady and Variety. What’s more, its editors make it easy to find all of the available films from a single director, for all of you auteur theory connoisseurs.

Sure, it costs a bit more than Hulu and Disney+, but The Criterion Channel gives you access to a library that's far more rewarding than the latest streaming TV show. You can watch on up to three devices at once, and there's also offline viewing available for iOS and Android devices. It also supports major streaming devices from Apple, Amazon and Roku, but as far as TV's go, it's only on Samsung's Tizen-powered sets. Unfortunately, The Criterion Channel is only available in the US and Canada, due to licensing restrictions. — D.H.

Shudder

Shudder

Sometimes, a good horror movie is the only way to deal with the constant anxiety of a global pandemic, a potential climate apocalypse and the seeming downfall of modern society. If that describes your personality, it's worth taking a look at Shudder, AMC Network's streaming service dedicated to everything spooky. You'll find plenty of horror classics, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Shudder has also gotten into the original content game with unique films like Host, which takes place entirely over a Zoom call.

If you're a bit squeamish, Shudder probably won't sell you much on horror. But for fans of the genre, it's a smorgasbord of content to dive into. You can try it out free for seven days, and afterwards it's $6 per month (or $57 annually). Shudder only supports viewing one stream at a time, and there's no support for offline viewing yet. You can find Shudder on major streaming device platforms, but since it's so niche, don't expect to find it on smart TVs anytime soon. — D.H.

The best PC games for 2022

So how do you categorize a beast like gaming on the PC? With decades of titles to pluck from (and the first port of call for most indie titles, too), there's so much to choose from. Gaming on your PC adds the benefits of (nearly always flawless) backward compatibility and console-beating graphical performance — if you've got the coin for it. The whole idea of what a PC is and where you can play it is shifting, too, with the rise of handheld “consolized” PCs like the Steam Deck. We've tried to be broad with our recommendations here on purpose – there are so many great games out there for your PC, consider these some starting points.

Beat Saber

Beat Games

Beat Saber is a euphoric gaming sensation that makes the most of virtual reality. You'll swing your unofficial lightsabers at incoming boxes, slicing and slamming them to the beat of the soundtrack. Similar to iconic rhythm-rail-shooter, Rez, which has its own VR iteration, Beat Saber often makes you feel like you're creating the music as you hit your cues. We might have had initial reservations on the soundtrack at launch but new tracks and customizations continue to add to the challenge. There's even a level creator for PC players, making this the definitive version.

Buy Beat Saber at Steam - $30

Control

505 Games

Take the weird Twin Peaks narrative of Alan Wake, smash it together with Quantum Break's frenetic powers and gunplay, and you've got Control. Playing as a woman searching for her missing brother, you quickly learn there's a thin line between reality and the fantastical. It's catnip for anyone who grew up loving The X-Files and the supernatural. It's also a prime example of a studio working at their creative heights, both refining and evolving the open-world formula that's dominated games for the past decade.

Buy Control at GOG.com - $40

Disco Elysium Final Cut

ZA/UM

Disco Elysium is a special game. The first release from Estonian studio ZA/UM, it's a sprawling science-fiction RPG that takes more inspiration from D&D and Baldur's Gate than modern combat-focused games. In fact, there is no combat to speak of, instead, you'll be creating your character, choosing what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then passing D&D-style skill checks to make your way through the story. You'll, of course, be leveling up your abilities and boosting stats with items, but really the game's systems fall away in place of a truly engaging story, featuring some of the finest writing to ever grace a video game.

With the Final Cut, released 18 months after the original, this extremely dialogue-heavy game now has full voice acting, which brings the unique world more to life than ever before. After debuting on PC, PS5 and Stadia, Final Cut is now available for all extant home consoles – including Nintendo’s Switch.

Buy Disco Elysium Final Cut at GOG.com - $40

Halo Infinite

343 Industries

Master Chief's latest adventure may not make much sense narratively, but it sure is fun to play. After the middle efforts from 343 Industries over the last decade, Halo Infinite manages to breathe new life into Microsoft's flagship franchise, while also staying true to elements fans love. The main campaign is more open than ever, while also giving you a new freedom of movement with the trusty grappling hook. And the multiplayer mode is wonderfully addictive (though 343 still needs to speed up experience progression), with a bevy of maps and game modes to keep things from getting too stale. The only thing keeping it from greatness is its baffling and disjointed story.

Buy Halo Infinite at Steam - $60

FTL: Faster Than Light

Subset Games

Who hasn't wanted to captain their own spaceship? Well, after a few hours of FTL: Faster Than Light, you might be rethinking your life goals. FTL is a roguelike, which means every game starts from the same spot. All you have to do is travel through a number of star systems, recruiting crew members and collecting scrap as you make your way towards a final showdown against a stupidly overpowered ship. Gameplay is roughly divided between a map view, where you can take as much time as you like to chart the most efficient route to your goal, and combat events which play out in real-time (although you can and will be using a pause button to slow things down).

Where the real fun comes in is in the narrative, which plays out in two ways. There's the structured side, where every so often you'll be asked to make decisions that may improve or hinder your chances of survival. And then there's the natural story you create for yourselves, as you're forced to decide, for example, whether it's worth sacrificing a crew member for the greater good.

Buy FTL: Faster Than Light at GOG.com - $10

Hades

Supergiant Games

Hades is the first early access title to ever make our best PC game list. It's an action-RPG developed by the team behind Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. You play Zagreus, son of Hades, who's having a little spat with his dad, and wants to escape from the underworld. To do so, Zagreus has to fight his way through the various levels of the underworld and up to the surface. Along the way, you’ll pick up “boons” from a wide range of ancient deities like Zeus, Ares and Aphrodite, which stack additional effects on your various attacks. Each level is divided into rooms full of demons, items and the occasional miniboss.

As Hades is a “roguelike” game, you start at the same place every time. With that said the items you collect can be used to access and upgrade new weapons and abilities that stick between sessions. Hades is on this list not for any reason other than it’s super accessible and very, very fun. You can jump in for 30 minutes and have a blast, or find yourself playing for hours. It's been in early access for well over a year at this point, and is tremendously polished, with a full release expected in the latter half of 2020.

Buy Hades at Steam - $25

Half-Life: Alyx

Valve

Half-Life: Alyx feels like a miracle. After 13 years away from the franchise, Valve delivered a genuinely thrilling prequel to Half-Life 2 while also charting new territory for VR gameplay. The gravity gloves, its key new feature, is the closest I’ve ever felt to having telekinetic powers. It gives you multiple movement options so you don’t get sick trotting around the expansive environments. Oh yeah, and it’s also absolutely terrifying, banking on the claustrophobic nature of VR. There’s no looking away when a facehugger leaps at you from the dark, or when a horrifically deformed zombie gets in your face. It might sound a bit hyperbolic, but Alyx might end up being one of the most important titles of this generation. Building a big-budget game for a niche VR market doesn’t make much sense for most companies, but for Valve, it’s Tuesday.

Buy Half-Life: Alyx at Steam - $60

Nier Automata

Square Enix

Nier Automata takes the razor-sharp combat of a Platinum Games title and puts it in a world crafted by everyone's favorite weirdo, Yoko Taro. Don't worry, you can mostly just run, gun and slash your way through the game, but as you finish, and finish and finish this one, you'll find yourself pulled into a truly special narrative, that's never been done before and will probably never be done again. It's fair to say that the PC release, as is unfortunately often the case, wasn't exactly the best and is still remarkably lacking in options, but it's at least stable now, and trust us when we say this one is unmissable.

Buy Nier Automata at Steam - $40

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Asobo Studio

Microsoft Flight Simulator came out at the perfect time, when the world was on lockdown and airline travel was an impossibility for most people. Not only does Flight Sim let players pilot a vast array of aircrafts, but it presents the world on a platter in stunning, ridiculous detail. It’s an escape, it’s educational and it’s entertaining – is that what they mean by E3? – and there’s really nothing else on its level when it comes to realistic physics simulations. Pandemic or no, Microsoft Flight Simulator is an incredible achievement with a long tail both inside and outside of the video game industry.

Buy Microsoft Flight Simulator at Steam - $60

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Capcom

Many were ready to write off the Resident Evil series after the disaster that was Resident Evil 6. What started as the horror game on the original PlayStation had become a bloated mess of an action game. Instead of throwing the whole franchise in the trash and forgetting about it, Capcom took a hard look at what wasn't working, which — surprise! — was basically everything, and thoroughly rebooted the formula. Borrowing from Kojima's PT and, in some ways, Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is horror through powerlessness. For the majority of the game, you're basically unable to do anything but run from or delay your foes. And that's what makes it so good.

Buy Resident Evil 7: Biohazard at Steam - $20

Return of the Obra Dinn

3909

This is an unforgettable ghost-story-slash-murder-mystery with a distinctive old-school graphical style. It's unlike any game we've played in a while, with a low-key musical score and a style of puzzle solving that's like one satisfying, grisly riddle. In Return of the Obra Dinn, you're put aboard a ship, alone. There is, however, a corpse near the captain's cabin. As you track the deceased's final footsteps, leading to yet more grisly ends, you need to figure out what happened. Who killed who? And who is still alive? Special mention to the sound effect that kicks in every time you solve the fates of three of the crew. Goosebumps.

Buy Return of the Obra Dinn at GOG.com - $20

The Witcher 3

CD Projekt S.A.

It might be the best open-world RPG out there. Despite now being several years old, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a dense action game that acknowledges the maturity of the player with multiple — occasionally harrowing — storylines, choices that have consequences and almost too much game to wrestle with. It's not perfect; the combat system is rough, frustrating death comes in the form of falling from just a few feet and there's a lot of quest filler alongside many incredibly well thought out distractions. The scope and ambition on display will have you hooked, and once you're done, there are some excellent expansions to check out.

Buy The Witcher 3 at GOG.com - $50

Forza Horizon 5

Playground Games/Microsoft

Forza Horizon 5 deftly walks a fine line by being an extremely deep and complex racing game that almost anyone can just pick up and play. The game has hundreds of cars that you can tweak endlessly to fit your driving style, and dozens of courses spread all over a gorgeous fictional corner of Mexico. If you crank up the difficulty, one mistake will sink your entire race, and the competition online can be just as fierce.

But if you’re new to racing games, Forza Horizon 5 does an excellent job at getting you up and running. The introduction to the game quickly gives you a taste at the four main race types you’ll come across (street racing, cross-country, etc.), and features like the rewind button mean that you can quickly erase mistakes if you try and take a turn too fast without having to restart your run. Quite simply, Forza Horizon 5 is a beautiful and fun game that works for just about any skill level. It’s easy to pick up and play a few races and move on with your day, or you can sink hours into it trying to become the best driver you can possibly be.

Buy Forza Horizon 5 at Steam - $60

The best affordable Windows laptops you can buy

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

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

What about Chromebooks and tablets?

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

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

What Windows laptops do well

Wachiwit via Getty Images

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

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

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

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

What to look for in a cheap Windows laptop

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

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

  • Intel Core i or AMD Ryzen 3 processors

  • 8GB of RAM

  • An SSD with at least 128GB of space

  • 1080p display

  • Mostly metal designs

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

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

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

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

Engadget picks

Acer Aspire 5

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

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

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

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

Buy Acer Aspire 5 at Adorama - $430

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

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

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

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

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

Buy Lenovo Flex 5 14 at Walmart - $470

Surface Laptop Go 2

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

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

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

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

Buy Surface Laptop Go 2 at Microsoft starting at $600

The Engadget guide to the best midrange smartphones

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

What is a midrange phone, anyway?

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

What factors should you consider when buying a midrange smartphone?

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

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

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

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

What won’t you get from a midrange smartphone?

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

Engadget picks

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

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

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

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

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

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

Buy Pixel 5a 5G at Amazon - $450

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

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

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

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

Shop iPhone SE at Apple

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

Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

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

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

Buy Galaxy A53 5G at Samsung - $450

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

Brian Oh / Engadget

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

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

Buy OnePlus Nord N200 at Amazon - $240

Chris Velazco contributed to this report.

The best smartwatches

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

What to look for in a smartwatch

Cherlynn Low

Compatibility

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

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

Price

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

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

Battery life

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

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

Communication

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

Fitness tracking

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

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

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

Engadget

Music

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

Always-on displays

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

NFC

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

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

Engadget Picks

Best overall: Apple Watch

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

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

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

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

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

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

Best budget: Fitbit Versa 2

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

Buy Fitbit Versa 2 at Amazon - $150

Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

David Imel for Engadget

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

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

Buy Galaxy Watch 4 at Amazon - $250

Fashion-forward options

Fossil

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

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

Cherlynn Low contributed to this guide.

The best gifts for dad under $50

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

8BitDo Pro 2 controller

8BitDo

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

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

Roku Express 4K+

Engadget

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

Buy Roku Express 4K+ at Amazon - $40

LastPass subscription

LastPass

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

Buy LastPass Premium starting at $3/month

ThermoWorks ThermoPop

ThermoWorks

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

Buy ThermoPop at ThermoWorks - $35

Anker Nano II GAN Charger

Engadget

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

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

Rocketbook Eco-Friendly reusable notebook

Rocketbook

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

Buy Rocketbook notebooks at Amazon - $34

Nintendo $50 eShop Gift Card

Engadget

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

Buy Nintendo eShop gift card at Amazon - $50

Blink Mini Camera

Blink

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

Buy Blink Mini at Amazon - $35

iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit

iFixit

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

Buy Essentials Toolkit at Amazon - $25

JLab Go Air Pop earbuds

JLab

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

Buy JLab Go Air Pop at Amazon - $20

Fitbit Aria Air smart scale

Engadget

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

Buy Fitbit Aria Air at Amazon - $50

Amazon Smart Thermostat

Engadget

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

Buy smart thermostat at Amazon - $60

The best gifts for new dads

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

10.2-inch iPad

Apple

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

Buy 10.2-inch iPad at Amazon - $329

Jabra Elite 85t earbuds

Engadget

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

Buy Jabra Elite 85t at Amazon - $200

SmartNoggin Nogginstik

SmartNoggin

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

Buy Nogginstik at Amazon - $24

Sonos Roam

Engadget

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

Buy Roam at Sonos - $179

Apple Watch Series 7

Apple

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

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

GoPro Hero10 Black

GoPro

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

Buy Hero10 Black at Amazon - $500

Theragun Mini

Theragun

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

Buy Mini at Theragun - $199

Comixology

Comixology

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

Buy Amazon gift cards for Comixology

Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Game controller

Fisher Price

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

Buy Laugh and Learn Controller at Amazon - $10

Greens Steel insulated tumbler

Greens Steel

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

Buy Greens Steel tumbler at Amazon - $29

The best grilling gear

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

Traeger

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.

Shop Timberline series at Traeger

Weber Genesis II EPX-335

Engadget

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. 

Buy Genesis EPX-335 at Weber - $1,700

Ooni Karu 16

Ooni

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.

Buy Karu 16 at Ooni - $799

Thermoworks Thermapen One

ThermoWorks

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.

Buy Thermapen One at ThermoWorks - $105

Meater+

Meater

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.

Buy Meater+ at Amazon - $100

Anova Precision Cooker Nano

Anova

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. 

Buy Anova Precision Cooker Nano at Amazon - $129Buy FoodSave FM2000 at Amazon - $115Buy FoodSave V4400 at Amazon - $199

Stanley IceFlow Tumblers

Engadget

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.

Buy IceFlow tumbler at Stanley - $30

Brumate Hopsulator Duo and Trio

Brumate

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.

Buy Hopsulator Trio at Amazon - $30Buy Hopsulator Duo at Amazon - $30

The best gifts for grads under $50

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

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.

Buy Nano Pro 20W at Amazon - $20

Google Chromecast with Google TV

Google

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.

Buy Chromecast with Google TV at Walmart - $50

8Bitdo Pro 2

8BitDo

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.

Buy 8Bitdo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

RavPower 16,750mAh portable charger

RAVPower

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.

Buy portable charger at RavPower - $36

2022 Tile Mate

Tile

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.

Buy Tile Mate at Amazon - $25

Logitech Pebble

Logitech

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.

Buy Logitech Pebble at Amazon - $30

Greens Steel Beast insulated tumbler

Greens Steel

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.

Buy Greens Steel tumbler at amazon - $29

Bodum Chambord French Press

Bodum

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.

Buy Chambord French Press at Amazon - $38

Tribit XSound Go

Tribit

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.

Buy Tribit XSound Go at Amazon - $48

Repel Windproof Double Vented travel umbrella

Revel

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.

Buy Repel umbrella at Amazon - $32

  

The best wireless workout headphones you can buy

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

Water resistance

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

Durability rating

Beats Powerbeats Pro

IPX4

Beats Fit Pro

IPX4

Jabra Elite Active 4

IP57

Sony WF-C500

IPX4

Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro

IPX4

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

Billy Steele/Engadget
  • 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.

Buy Elite 4 Active at Amazon - $120

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.

Buy Powerbeats Pro at Amazon - $200

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

Billy Steele/Engadget
  • 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.

Buy Beats Fit Pro at Amazon - $200

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

Engadget
  • 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).

Buy WF-C500 at Amazon - $100

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

Engadget
  • 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.

Buy Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro at Amazon - $170

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.