You might’ve seen password managers in the news recently because of the breach affecting LastPass customers. We need to trust that all of our logins, banking credentials and other sensitive information has been neatly locked away, only accessible by us when we need it. But most tech is fallible, and the benefits of unique, strong passwords across your online presence outweigh the risks. Password managers remain a great way to securely store all of the credentials you need on a regular basis. We tested out nine of the best password managers available now to help you choose the right one for your needs.
How do password managers work?
Think of password managers like virtual safe deposit boxes. They hold your valuables, in this case usually online credentials, in a section of the vault only accessible to you by security key or a master password. Most of these services have autofill features that make it convenient to log in to any site without needing to remember every password you have, and they keep your credit card information close for impulse purchases.
But given that passwords are one of the top ways to keep your online identity secure, the real value of password managers is staying safe online. “It's just not possible without a password manager to have unique, long and hard-to-guess passwords,” Florian Schaub, an associate professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, said.
Common guidance states that passwords should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. This is the exact opposite of using the same password everywhere, with minor variations depending on a site’s requirements. Think of how many sites you have credentials on — it’s an impossible task to remember it all without somewhere to store them safely (no, a sticky note on your desk won’t cut it). Password managers are more readily accessible and offer the benefit of filling in those long passwords for you.
Are password managers safe?
It seems counterintuitive to store all your sensitive information in one place. One hack could mean you lose it all to an attacker and struggle for months or even years to rebuild your online presence, not to mention you may have to cancel credit cards and other accounts. But most experts in the field agree that password managers are a generally secure and safe way to keep track of your data, and the benefits of strong, complex passwords outweigh the possible risks.
The mechanics of keeping those passwords safe differs slightly from provider to provider. Generally, you have a lengthy, complex “master password” that safeguards the rest of your information. In some cases, you might also get a “security key” to enter when you log in to new devices. This is a random string of letters, numbers and symbols that the company will send you at sign up. Only you know this key, and because it’s stored locally on your device or printed out on paper, it’s harder for hackers to find.
These multiple layers of security make it difficult for an attacker to get into your vault even if your password manager provider experiences a breach. But the company should also follow a few security basics. A “zero-knowledge” policy means that the company keeps none of your data on file, so in the event of an attack, there’s nothing for hackers to find. Regular pentests and security audits keep the company up to par on best practices, and other efforts like bug bounty programs or hosting on an open source website encourage constant vigilance for security flaws. Most password managers now also offer some level of encryption falling under the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES 256-bit is the strongest, because there are the most number of possible combinations, but AES 128-bit or 192-bit are still good.
Who are password managers for?
Given their universal benefit, pretty much everyone could use a password manager. They’re not just for the tech-savvy people or businesses anymore because so much sensitive information ends up online behind passwords, from our bank accounts to our Netflix watch history.
That’s the other perk of password managers: safe password sharing. Families, friends or roommates can use them to safely access joint accounts. Texting a password to someone isn’t secure, and you can help your family break the habit by starting to use one yourself, Lisa Plaggemier, executive director at National Cyber Security Alliance, said. Streaming is the obvious use case, but consider the shared bills, file storage and other sites you share access with the people around you as well.
Are password managers worth it?
You likely already use a password manager, even if you wouldn’t think to call it that. Most phones and web browsers include a log of saved credentials on the device, like the “passwords” keychain in the settings of an iPhone. That means you’ve probably seen the benefits of not having to memorize passwords or even type them out already.
While that’s a great way in, the downfall of these built-in options are that they tend to be device specific. If you rely on an Apple password manager, for example, that works if you’re totally in the Apple ecosystem — but you become limited once you get an Android tablet, Lujo Bauer, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of computer science, at Carnegie Mellon University, said. If you use different devices for work and personal use and want a secure way to share passwords with others, or just don’t want to be tied to one brand forever, a third-party password manager is usually worth it.
How we tested
We tested password managers by downloading each of the nine contenders on iPhone, Android, Safari, Chrome and Firefox. That helped us better understand what platforms each manager was available on, and see how support differs across operating systems and browsers.
As we got set up with each, we took note of how they iterated on the basic features of autofill and password generators. Nearly all password managers have these features, but some place limits on how much you can store while others give more control over creating easy-to-type yet complex passwords. From there, we looked at extra features like data-breach monitoring to understand which managers offered the most for your money.
Finally, we reviewed publicly available information about security specs for each. This includes LastPass, which more experts are shying away from recommending after the recent breach. For the sake of this review, we’ve decided not to recommend LastPass at this time as fallout from the breach still comes to light (The company disclosed a second incident earlier this year where an unauthorized attack accessed the company’s cloud storage, including sensitive data).
Many security experts trust 1Password with their private information and, after testing it out, it’s clear why. The service includes industry standard encryption, a “secret key” that only you know on top of your master password, a zero-knowledge policy that means it keeps no data, and other security features like frequent audits and a bug bounty program.
Plus, it has a pretty intuitive feel. A tutorial at download helps you import passwords from other managers onto 1Password so that you don’t feel like you’re starting over from scratch. It also clearly rates the strength of each password and has an “open and fill” option in the vault so that you can get into your desired site even more quickly. We also liked the option to scan a set up code to easily connect your account to your mobile devices without too much tedious typing.
At $3 per month, the individual subscription comes with unlimited passwords, items and one gigabyte of document storage for your vault. It also lets you share passwords, credit card information and other saved credentials. If you upgrade to the family plan for $5 each month, you’ll get to invite up to five people (plus more for $1 each per month) to be a part of the vault.
Number of tiers: 4
Pricing: $3/month for Individual, $5/month for Families, $20/month for Teams Starter Pack, $8/month per user for Business
Best free password manager: Bitwarden
Bitwarden’s free plan includes unlimited passwords on an unlimited number of devices, which is more than we’ve seen from some of its competitors. There are drawbacks like you can only share vault items with one other user, but we think that’s a fair tradeoff.
Bitwarden is based on open-source code, meaning anyone on GitHub can audit it, which is a good measure of security. On a personal level, it includes security audits of your information, like a data breach report, that can keep you in the know about when your passwords have been leaked and when it's time to change them. Plus, it’s widely available across the platforms we tested with a level of customization, options to access your vault and more.
Bitwarden may be the best free password manager, but it does have a paid version and we do think it’s worth it. At $10 annually for individuals or $40 for families, you unlock encrypted file storage, emergency access, unlimited sharing and more. But the free version comes with the basics that can get anyone set up on password management easily.
Number of tiers: 3
Pricing: Free, $3/month per user for Teams Organization, $5/month per user for Enterprise Organization
Best cross-platform availability: NordPass
Across password managers we tested, cross-platform availability was relatively similar. Most are widely available across web browsers and different operating systems, including our other top picks on this list. But we wanted to give a nod to NordPass here because of how easy the service makes it to access your vault from any platform.
NordPass has a free option with unlimited passwords and syncs across devices. A $2-per-month premium subscription keeps you logged in when switching devices, comes with security notifications and allows for item sharing. A family subscription comes with six premium accounts and only costs $4 per month. This makes it a pretty good budget option as well. Besides the pairing code to connect accounts, NordPass is a pretty standard password manager. Scanning a code gets me from my laptop to mobile device to work computer super easily. If you’re constantly switching devices and those extra few seconds save your sanity, it’s worth considering.
Number of tiers: 3
Pricing: Free, $2/per month for Premium, $4/month for Family
Best for shared access: Dashlane
Dashlane has four subscription options: A free user gets access to one device with unlimited passwords; an advanced user pays $3 per month to get upgraded to unlimited devices and dark web monitoring; for $5 per month, a premium user also gets VPN access and an $7.49-per-month family plan includes access for up to 10 people.
It met all the criteria we looked for, but with a clear emphasis on sharing credentials. Dashlane highlights “secure sharing” starting at its free level, which is a feature that some competitors keep behind a paywall. Access for up to 10 members in a family plan is one of the bigger plans we’ve seen as well. While we were testing it, password sharing seemed front of mind with a tab dedicated to it in Dashlane’s browser extension. Arguably the biggest caveat here, though, is lack of Linux support.
Number of tiers: 4
Pricing: Free, $3/month for Advanced, $5/month for Premium, $7/month for Friends and Family
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-password-manager-134639599.html?src=rss
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 sound quality. Engadget’s resident expert Billy Steele has written plenty about the listening experience in his standalone reviews, which I’ve linked throughout, but for my purposes the differences were too subtle to make or break a purchasing decision.
In the end, I never quite mastered some of the over-complicated controls, but at no point did an earbud fall out while I was exercising. I also never came close to running out of juice. So, participation trophies for everyone? Ha: The companies wish. I do indeed have some favorites, while some fell short in key areas.
How we tested
Even if earbuds aren’t marketed specifically as workout headphones, a sturdy, 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 best workout headphones we tested for this guide is rated IPX4. That means there’s no dust protection, and the buds can withstand splashes from any direction, and are sweat resistant, but probably shouldn't be submerged. The most durable set of true wireless earbuds we tested, Jabra’s Elite Active 4, is rated IP57, which means a high level of both dust and water protection. Whereas the IPX 4 models can handle splashes, the Elite Active 4 can be immersed for up to 30 minutes in up to a meter (or about 3.2 feet) of water.
For a detailed breakdown of all the possible permutations, I recommend checking out this guide published by a supplier called The Enclosure Company.
Earbuds we tested
Beats Powerbeats Pro
Beats Fit Pro
Jabra Elite Active 4
Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
Active noise cancelation
For the 2022 update to this guide, I decided to add a note up top about active noise cancelation (ANC), simply because most of the available models now offer it. And since the user experience is actually pretty similar across different brands, I thought it would be easier to share what noise canceling features they have in common, rather than repeat myself.
First of all, no noise cancellation is perfect. If you’re looking for sport earbuds that you can continue wearing even after you’re done working out, you might still hear some noise from the outside world, 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 Wireless Workout Headphones
The best all-purpose wireless workout headphones: Jabra Elite 4 Active
Pros: Reasonably priced for the feature set; sleek, compact design; one of the lightest charging cases we tested (and some of the longest battery life); more durable than most; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; works with Spotify Tap on Android.
Cons: Onboard controls aren’t intuitive, but Jabra offers helpful instructions in its app; less comfortable after prolonged use than other brands.
Much like the Elite Active 75t we tested a few years back, the newer Elite Active 4 earbuds 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 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 wireless workout headphones: Beats Powerbeats Pro
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs seamlessly with iOS devices; intuitive controls with mirrored access on the left and right sides; tied with Sony for the longest earbud battery life.
Cons: Ear-hook design isn’t the most discreet, and doesn’t fit so well with sunglasses; relatively heavy charging case; no active noise cancelation, transparency mode or customizable EQ; speaking to an assistant is slightly less convenient if it’s not Siri.
For the purposes of this guide I tested two pairs of Beats headphones: the Beats Fit Pro earbuds, and the 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 you're an audiophile or 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.
Pros: Comfortable, stable fit; pairs easily with iOS devices; compact, lightweight charging case; adds ANC and transparency modes, which the Powerbeats Pro lacks.
Cons: A smaller design than the Powerbeats Pro means shorter battery life and the loss of a physical volume rocker; no customizable EQ.
One of my main complaints about the Powerbeats Pro is that they don’t fit as well if you’re wearing sunglasses (or, in pandemic times a mask). This is where the Beats Fit Pro have the advantage: Their discreet design that promises to stay out of the way and safe even during sweaty workouts.
Available in four colors, the buds are easy to insert and comfortable to wear – just twist the bud to fold the wingtip into your upper ear. And, because the earbuds are smaller than the Powerbeats Pro, the case is markedly lighter and more compact (55g versus 80g on the Pro). Between the lightweight case and the less dorky design, the Beats Fit Pro make a strong case for themselves as earbuds you can wear not just during workouts, but everywhere.
Because the Beats Fit Pro were released more recently than the Powerbeats Pro, they have active noise cancellation, a feature older Powerbeats and AirPods products are lacking. At the same time, Apple built in a transparency mode – ideal for runners like me who would feel safer if they could still hear ambient cues like footsteps and car horns. Lastly, it supports Apple’s Spatial Audio format for a more immersive sound and will automatically kick in if you’re playing a compatible track.
For working out, the audio is fine. But if you can only afford one pair of earbuds, my colleague Billy Steele indicated in his review that the sound quality is mediocre. He found calls could be patchy and, as he notes, Beats is one of the few brands that doesn’t offer users a customizable EQ.
Out of the box, the earbuds are set to active noise cancellation. There are two ways to adjust this: You can hold down the physical button on either earbud to cycle through audio profiles. Or, you can find the earbuds in your Bluetooth settings menu and click further to see a more detailed menu of options. Not only can you adjust the mode there, but you can also change what those physical buttons do. By default, they’re for toggling audio profiles, but you can also set them up so that one earbud controls volume up, and the other volume down. Personally, I preferred having the option of adjusting the volume from my earbuds mid-workout; it’s easy to just pick an audio mode before your run and stick with it.
Other than the slightly limited volume controls, the Beats Fit Pro works much like other Beats- and Apple-branded headphones. Press the physical button once to play or pause tracks; double press to skip forward; and triple press to replay a track. For anyone upgrading from an older pair of Beats or Apple earbuds, the transition should be easy. My only word of caution is that I found the physical button on the Beats Fit Pro harder to find by feel, as it’s smaller and less indented than the button on the Powerbeats Pro.
Apple rates the Beats Fit Pro for six hours of listening time per earbud, plus an additional 18 hours from the USB-C charging case. You can also wear just one bud if you like, to squeeze out even more runtime. In my testing, the battery on the buds dropped down to 89 percent after a 35-minute run. Extrapolate that, and the math comes close to Apple’s six-hours-per-bud claim. If you’ve managed to completely exhaust both the earbud and case, Apple says its “Fast Fuel” feature will get you back to one hour of use after five minutes of charging, the same claim Jabra makes for the comparably priced Elite Active 7. (Note: Apple’s one-hour estimate assumes you won’t be using ANC.)
Under the hood, the earbuds have the same Apple-made H1 chip as the Powerbeats Pro and Apple’s newer AirPods, allowing for hands-free “Hey Siri,” audio sharing with other AirPods or Beats headphones, and automatic switching between devices. The headphones also work with the Find My app, even on Android devices.
What you get: Reasonably priced earbuds that prioritize a light design and good audio quality.
Pros: Lightweight; reasonably priced; support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format; the earbuds themselves claim relatively long battery life; customizable EQ; supports Google Fast Pair.
Cons: No ANC or transparency mode; slightly trickier to pair on iOS than other earbuds we tested; the charging case has lower capacity than competing models; they have a larger, more bulbous design than others we tested (but are no less comfortable).
With the 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 for iPhone users 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 options in this guide with a lower price tag, 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 wireless workout headphones: Anker Soundcore Liberty 3 Pro
Pros: The only buds we tested with wireless charging; long battery life, especially on the charging case; active noise cancelation, a transparency mode and customizable equalizer; lots of options for setting up the controls to your liking.
Cons: Larger and a little harder to insert than competing models; touch-sensitive controls can be finicky; worse sound quality than the competition; in-app battery indicator doesn’t give you a percentage.
The 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 wireless 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 for customization of 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.
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 of battery life 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.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-wireless-workout-headphones-191517835.html?src=rss
The perfect hybrid machine that’s just as good a tablet as it is a laptop still doesn’t exist. But throughout last year, companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google continued to improve their operating systems for machines that do double duty. Windows 11 has features that make it friendlier for multi-screen devices, while Android has been better optimized for larger displays. Plus, with the rise of ARM-based chips for laptops, especially Apple’s impressive M series, prospects for a powerful 2-in-1 with a vast touch-friendly app ecosystem is at an all-time high.
Even the best 2-in-1 laptops still have their limits, of course. Since they’re smaller than proper laptops, they tend to have less-powerful processors. Keyboards are often less sturdy, with condensed layouts and shallower travel. Plus, they’re almost always tablets first, leaving you to buy a keyboard case separately. (And those ain’t cheap!) So, you can’t always assume the advertised price is what you’ll actually spend on the 2-in-1 you want.
Sometimes, getting a third-party keyboard might be just as good, and they’re often cheaper than first-party offerings. If you’re looking to save some money, Logitech’s Slim Folio is an affordable option, and if you don’t need your keyboard to attach to your tablet, Logitech’s K780 Multi-Device wireless keyboard is also a good pick.
While we’ve typically made sure to include a budget 2-in-1 laptop in previous years, this time there isn’t a great choice. We would usually pick a Surface Go, but the latest model is still too expensive. Other alternatives, like cheaper Android tablets, are underpowered and don’t offer a great multitasking interface. If you want something around $500 that’s thin, lightweight and long-lasting, you’re better off this year looking at a conventional laptop (like those on our best budget PCs list).
When you’re shopping for a 2-in-1, there are some basic criteria to keep in mind. First, look at the spec sheet to see how heavy the tablet is (alone, and with the keyboard). Most modern hybrids weigh less than 2 pounds, with the 1.94-pound Surface Pro 9 being one of the heaviest around. The iPad Pro 12.9 (2022) and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8+ are both slightly lighter. If the overall weight of the tablet and its keyboard come close to 3 pounds, you’ll be better off just getting an ultraportable laptop.
You’ll also want to opt for an 11-inch or 12-inch screen instead of a smaller 10-inch model. The bigger displays will make multitasking easier, plus their companion keyboards will be much better spaced. Also, try to get 6GB of RAM if you can for better performance — you’ll find this in the base model of the Galaxy Tab S7+, while this year’s iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 8 start with 8GB of RAM.
Finally, while some convertible laptops offer built-in LTE or 5G connectivity, not everyone will want to pay the premium for it. An integrated cellular radio makes checking emails or replying to messages on the go far more convenient. But it also often costs more, and that’s not counting what you’ll pay for data. And, as for 5G — you can hold off on it unless you live within range of a mmWave beacon. Coverage is still spotty and existing nationwide networks use the slower sub-6 technology that’s barely faster than LTE.
Best overall: Surface Pro 9 (Intel)
There’s no beating the Surface series when it comes to 2-in-1s. They’re powerful, sleek tablets running an OS that’s actually designed for productivity. The Surface Pro 9 is Microsoft’s latest and great tablet, and it builds upon the already excellent Pro 8. It features speedy 12th-gen Intel CPUs and all of the major upgrades from last year, including a 120Hz display and a more modern design. It’s the best implementation of Microsoft’s tablet PC vision yet.
Don’t confuse this with the similarly named Surface Pro 9 with 5G, though, which has a slower ARM processor and inferior software compatibility. Built-in cellular is nice and all, but the Intel Pro 9 is a far better PC.
Like most of the other convertible laptops on this list, the Pro 9 doesn’t come with a keyboard cover — you’ll have to pay extra for that. That’s a shame, considering it starts at $1,000. Microsoft offers a variety of Type Covers for its Surface Pros ranging from $100 to $180, depending on whether you want a slot for a stylus. But at least they’re comfortable and well-spaced. You can also get the Surface Slim Pen 2 ($130) for sketching out your diagrams or artwork, which features haptic feedback for a more responsive experience.
Best for Apple users: 12.9-inch iPad Pro
If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, the best option for you is obviously an iPad. The 12-inch Pro is our pick. Like older models, this iPad Pro has a stunning 12.9-inch screen with a speedy 120Hz refresh rate, as well as mini-LED backlighting. This year, it includes Apple’s incredibly fast M2 chip and more battery life than ever before.
Apple’s Magic Keyboard provides a satisfying typing experience, and its trackpad means you won’t have to reach for the screen to launch apps. But it’ll also cost you an extra $300, making it the most expensive case on this list by a lot. The iPad also lacks a headphone jack and its webcam is awkwardly positioned along the left bezel when you prop it up horizontally, so be aware that it’s still far from a perfect laptop replacement. Still, with its sleek design and respectable battery life, the iPad Pro 12.9 is a good 2-in-1 for Apple users.
Best for Android users: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+
While Windows is better than iPadOS and Android for productivity, it lags the other two when it comes to apps specifically designed for touchscreens. If you want a tablet that has all the apps you want, and only need it to occasionally double as a laptop, the Galaxy Tab S8+ is a solid option. You’ll enjoy watching movies and playing games on its gorgeous 12.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen, and Samsung includes the S Pen, which is great for sketching and taking notes. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip and 8GB of RAM keep things running smoothly, too.
Last year, Samsung dramatically improved its keyboard case, making the Tab an even better convertible laptop. You could type for hours on this thing and not hate yourself (or Samsung). The battery life is also excellent, so you won’t need to worry about staying close to an outlet. The main caveat is that Android isn’t great as a desktop OS, even with the benefits of Android 12L. And while Samsung’s DeX mode offers a somewhat workable solution, it has plenty of quirks.
The Instant Pot is one of those rare kitchen appliances to reach not just cult status, but broad mainstream appeal. An “all-in-one” multicooker that promises to replace a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a slow cooker and more, the Instant Pot has risen to fame in part thanks to its versatility and also the fact that it’s a good electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook food at an accelerated rate — think pulled pork in an hour, or chicken curry done in 10 minutes. And because it’s electric, you just press a few buttons and walk away without having to keep an eye on it.
It’s no wonder why the Instant Pot has become a favorite among home cooks, even those of us on the Engadget staff. Not only have a few of us bought it for ourselves, we've recommended it in past gift guides. Sure, it's not a gadget in the traditional sense (although there is a WiFi-connected version with an app), but it does have a lot of crossover appeal thanks to its promise of all-in-one efficiency.
But what do you do when you get one? With so many recipes on the internet and so many different things you can do with it, where do you even start? In this guide, I'll attempt to give you a primer on the first steps you should take when you get one, some tips and tricks on how to use it and a few favorite recipes and source links. A lot of this comes from personal experience; I've been an Instant Pot owner for a few years. I'll also note that the listed recipes reflect my own taste, but hopefully this guide will provide a good start for your own culinary adventures.
How Instant Pots work
For the uninitiated, the Instant Pot is an "all-in-one" kitchen gadget that promises to replace a rice cooker, a yogurt maker,a slow cooker and more. But the real reason the Instant Pot has risen to fame is that it's also a very good electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook food at an accelerated rate; imagine pulled pork in an hour instead of five or a chicken curry done in 10 minutes. And because it's electric, you just press a few buttons and walk away. Unlike a stovetop pressure cooker, there's no need to keep a constant eye on it.
There are several Instant Pot models to choose from. Some of the lower-end ones lack the yogurt mode, and a couple of the higher-end models have extra features like sous-vide cooking and canning, but all of them have the pressure cooker function, and indeed, much of this guide focuses on that.
Which Instant Pot model is right for you?
Best for most: Instant Pot Duo (6-quart)
There are several Instant Pot models to choose from. Some of the lower-end ones lack the yogurt mode, and a couple of the higher-end models have extra features like sous-vide cooking and canning, but all of them have the pressure cooker function.
The Instant Pot Duo strikes the right balance of features, size and power for most people. It has pretty much every function you’d want, including modes for sauté, slow cooking, yogurt making and of course pressure cooking. We find that the six quart model is perfect for a couple who likes to meal-prep or have leftovers, or for a family of four.
Best for single users: Instant Pot Duo (3-quart)
Living by yourself? Then you might want to scale down to the three quart model, which has most of the same features as the six-quart model, except in a smaller footprint.
Upgrade pick: Instant Pot Pro
The Instant Pot Pro is designed for enthusiasts, offering an assortment of upgrades over other Instant Pots. The inner bowl has an extra thick bottom that can go on the stove, plus it has handles so it’s easier to lift. It comes with 28 customizable programs for different foods, and there are five favorites buttons that you can assign to frequently used settings. The steam release switch has also been upgraded to reduce noise and splatter, and there are even steam release reminder alerts with 5- and 10-minute pre-sets. The Pro is also one of a few Instant Pots that’s compatible with an optional QuickCool lid, which helps you release pressure faster.
If you want WiFi: Instant Pot Pro Plus
The Pro Plus includes many of the same features as the regular Pro, except it has WiFi connectivity as well, which allows it to control with a mobile app. This lets you release the steam remotely, or schedule when you want to do it after the cook is done.
A brief word on other Instant Pot models:
The Duo Plus is an upgraded version of the Duo Series. It has two additional functions: sous vide (for temperature-controlled cooking) and sterilizer (a steam shortcut for sterilizing items like baby bottles). There’s also a cooking progress status bar plus an anti-spin design that keeps the inner pot in place when you’re sauteing.
The Duo Crisp + Air Fryer is basically an Instant Pot that comes with an additional lid that adds dry-heat cooking methods like baking, broiling, dehydrating and of course air frying. There’s also a $200 Pro version that pairs the air fryer lid with the Pro model mentioned above.
The Instant Pot Max is best if you’re really into canning your own foods. It’s the only one that’s capable of reaching 15 PSI, which is needed for pressure-canning.
The Star Wars Instant Pots are a great choice for avid Star Wars fans or anyone who appreciates novelty appliances. They’re really just rebranded versions of the Duo, with the same exact functionalities and features. They come in five iterations: Little Bounty, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, BB-8 and R2-D2.
The Instant Pot has three parts: the housing with the cooking element at the bottom; the stainless steel inner pot; and the lid, which comes with a sealing ring plus a steam-release valve. Setup is as easy as putting the inner pot inside the housing and plugging it in. You'll also want to attach the tiny condensation collector on the back if the instructions call for it.
The first thing to do is a "water test," which not only helps familiarize you with the basic pressure cooker features, but confirms your appliance is in proper working order. To do this, put three cups of water in the pot, twist the lid on — it'll make a sound when it's locked in place — and set the pressure cooker on high for two minutes. The way to do this varies from model to model; on the Duo machines, you'll have to press Manual, select High, then dial down the time to two minutes. On something like the Ultra, you just need to go to the Pressure Cooker menu, dial it to two minutes and select High.
Then, make sure your valve is set to "Sealing" so that the Instant Pot can build pressure. On the Duo machines, this means rotating it so the arrow points up, while on the Ultra, the valve will automatically be set to Sealing. Finally, press "Start." The Instant Pot will then build up that pressure to High, maintain it for the set two minutes, and then stop. In some cases, you'll hear hissing and see steam coming out of the Instant Pot. This is totally normal. You'll know the Instant Pot is under pressure when the float valve pops up and the hissing quiets down.
The lid cannot be opened when the Instant Pot is under pressure; you must depressurize it first. Once the cooking is done, you can let the pot naturally depressurize (also known as "Natural Release"), which simply means leaving it alone for 20 or so minutes until the float valve comes down.If you don’t want to wait that long, you can do a manual release (also known as "Quick Release") by switching the valve to "Venting." To do that on the Duo models you rotate the valve; on the Ultra, press the steam release button on top. This method will release a lot of steam, so I suggest doing this under a range hood if you have one. Again, once the float valve comes back down, you'll know the Instant Pot has been depressurized.
Doing the water test teaches you the basics of sealing the Instant Pot, setting it and depressurizing it. Plus, if anything goes wrong along the way — especially if it doesn't seal the pressure — you can call the retailer or manufacturer to troubleshoot or ask about a return or exchange. It's a step that many people skip, but I recommend it for beginners.
Instant Pot accessories
The Instant Pot is ready to use right out of the box, but if you want to get even more functionality out of it, then you might want to consider some accessories. The following are just a few suggestions that we think will elevate your Instant Pot experience.
Tempered glass lid
The main reason to get an Instant Pot is to use it as a pressure cooker, but it has other functions too. If you want to use it as a slow cooker or you simply want to keep your food warm, you’ll want to invest in a tempered glass lid like our Editor-In-Chief Dana Wollman did. This lid is also a good way to keep your food covered if you want to transfer the inner pot to a table or in the fridge.
Steaming food in the Instant Pot is quick and easy, but you’ll want specific equipment to get the job done right. Instant Pot makes two styles of silicone steamers; one is a stacking model that you can use for dumplings or fish, and another is a collapsible one that is ideal for batch-cooking vegetables. If you need even more capacity, we recommend this Hatrigo mesh steamer basket.
Along your Instant Pot discovery journey, you might come across a phrase called “PIP cooking.” This stands for Pot-in-Pot and involves putting another vessel inside the Instant Pot. This method is great if you’re cooking foods that don’t contain liquid (such as cheesecake) or you simply want to cook in smaller quantities. One of our favorite accessories for this is the Aozita Stackable Steamer, which not only acts as a steamer, but also contains tiered containers so that you could cook multiple foods at once.
If you use your Instant Pot for both savory and sweet applications, then we suggest getting extra sealing rings so that the odor of one doesn’t affect the other. You don’t really want your cheesecake to smell like pulled pork or vice versa.
Air fryer lid
As the name suggests, the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid essentially turns your Instant Pot into an air fryer. It’s a good option if you don’t want two appliances taking up space on your kitchen counter, and this add-on does a decent job of “air frying” foods. Still, the Lid really only works for small batches as well as smaller pieces of food. Even a hot dog is too large to fit inside the air fryer basket.
If you’re going to use the air fryer lid to add roasting and broiling capabilities to the Instant Pot — so you can brown a roast chicken or melt the cheese on a lasagna, for example — then it’s not a bad option. But as far as air frying goes, I’d recommend saving up and investing in an actual air fryer instead.
Tips and tricks
Don't worry about all the buttons
When you first get the Instant Pot, you might be overwhelmed by all of the different buttons on the front of it. There are ones that say "Meat/Stew," "Chili/Beans," "Multigrain," "Egg" and even "Cake." With the exception of a few, most of these are simply shortcuts that Instant Pot programmed ahead of time. You might never need to use them.
The most important buttons to know are "Sauté," which (as you might expect) lets you sauté things in the pot, and the aforementioned "Manual" or "Pressure Cooker" function. The rest are pretty superfluous, with the exception of "Keep Warm," "Cancel" and non-pressure cooker functions like the "Slow Cooker" or "Yogurt" (which helps maintain the cultured milk at a specific temperature).
Add at least half a cup of liquid, and don't go over the maximum
One of the things you'll learn about pressure cooking is that you don't need to add as much liquid as you would in regular recipes. But you'll still need to add some because the pressure cooker requires moisture to build that pressure. Otherwise, the Instant Pot could overheat and show an "OvHT" or “BURN” error on the display. On the other hand, you shouldn't fill it up beyond two-thirds capacity, which is handily marked on the inside of the inner pot. The Instant Pot probably won't explode on you — it has a lot of safety features to prevent that — but you probably shouldn't test its boundaries.
Cooking times aren't always accurate
Setting the pressure cooker timer for two minutes doesn't mean the entire cooking time is two minutes. You have to take into account the amount of time the Instant Pot needs to come to pressure and the time it'll need to depressurize. The more stuff you have in the pot (and the colder it is), the longer it takes. Because of that, a "five-minute" chicken curry could really be more like 10 or 15 minutes from start to finish.
Clean it carefully and frequently
The inner pot is dishwasher safe, which is convenient, but the rest has to be cleaned by hand. Also, don't make the same mistake I did and accidentally spill something hot directly on the cooking element. The outer shell is hard to clean because you can't put it in the sink — electricity and water don't mix, after all — and you risk damaging the appliance. As for the lid, hand wash it after every use. You'll also notice after a while that the sealing ring — the rubber/silicone gasket on the inside of the lid — might develop a smell as it absorbs the scent of the food you're cooking. I recommend soaking it in a vinegar solution, or you could also put it on the top rack of your dishwasher.
You can't cook everything with it
Sure, you can cook everything from dog food to jam in the Instant Pot, but it's not a miracle worker. You can't deep fry in it. You can't bake a pie in it. Don't be ridiculous.
Recipes and guides
Now you're all ready to cook, and you're probably dying to know what to make in it. Due to the popularity of the Instant Pot, you'll find no shortage of cookbooks and recipe tutorials online. The Facebook group I mentioned is a good place to start, and there are countless YouTube tutorials as well. Here are just a few of my favorite resources:
Amy and Jacky are part of the OG Instant Pot community, and their site is great for beginners. Not only will you get the low-down on the aforementioned water test, but you'll also get great recipes for bone broth, "fail-proof" rice, yogurt, cheesecake and more.
Whether or not you're into the "paleo" lifestyle, you'll like Michelle Tam's list of Instant Pot recipes. Pressure cookers are great for shortening the amount of time for cooking braised meats, and she has a lot of recipes that cater to your inner carnivore. Her Instant Pot pulled pork recipe is still my go-to, and the short ribs are great as well.
My personal favorite site for pressure-cooker recipes is probably Serious Eats. All of these recipes are fantastic. I've tried the chicken stock, the mushroom risotto, the chicken pho, the chicken and chickpea masala, and they've all been outstanding.
Another personal favorite is The New York Times’ Cooking section, which has a list of wonderful pressure-cooker-friendly recipes. My favorites are from Melissa Clark, who has written two Instant Pot cookbooks: Dinner In an Instant and Comfort in an Instant. There's a recipe in Comfort in an Instant for spaghetti and meatballs that I was hugely skeptical of but turned out to be one of the most remarkable things I've ever made. I also love the recipes for chicken korma and shrimp biryani.
Here are a few other guides that I found very useful in my own Instant Pot journey, and they contain links to many more recipes and sites than I have space for here:
With all of this information in your arsenal, you should have no fear in picking up an Instant Pot. Thankfully, not only is the base model pretty affordable at less than $100, Amazon frequently puts it on sale either on Prime Day or on Black Friday. So if you haven't bought one just yet, it's not a bad idea to wait until one of those times of year to get one at a deep discount. And when you do, come on back here, read through the guide once more and venture off on your own pressure-filled culinary adventures.
Images: Detroit Free Press via Getty Images (First Instapot); Portland Press Herald via Getty Images (Instapot / chopping board); Boogich via Getty Images (cooking)
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/instant-pot-guide-131534709.html?src=rss
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.
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
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.
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 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+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 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 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
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Forza Horizon 5deftly 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.
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
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
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.
Acer Aspire 5
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.
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.
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.
A great smartphone doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Years of commoditization have brought features once exclusive to high-end devices – including big batteries, multi-camera arrays and high refresh rate displays – down to their more affordable siblings. As one of Engadget’s resident mobile geeks, I’ve reviewed dozens of midrange devices. So I’m here to help you figure out what features to prioritize when trying to find a phone for less than $600.
What is a midrange phone, anyway?
While the term shows up frequently in articles and videos, there isn’t an agreed-upon definition for “midrange” beyond a phone that isn’t a flagship or an entry-level option. For this guide, our recommendations cost between $400 and $600. Any less and you should expect significant compromises. If your budget is higher, though, you should consider flagships like the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S22.
What factors should you consider when buying a midrange smartphone?
Buying a new device can be intimidating, but a few questions can help guide you through the process. First: what platform do you want to use? If the answer is iOS, that narrows your options down to exactly one phone. (Thankfully, it’s great.) And if you’re an Android fan, there’s no shortage of compelling options. Both platforms have their strengths, so you shouldn’t rule either out.
Obviously, also consider how much you’re comfortable spending. Even spending $100 more can get you a dramatically better product. And manufacturers tend to support their more expensive devices for longer. It’s definitely worth buying something toward the top limit of what you can afford.
Having an idea of your priorities will help inform your budget. Do you want a long-lasting battery? Do you value speedy performance above all else? Or would you like the best possible cameras? While they continue to improve every year, midrange phones still involve some compromises, and knowing what’s important to you will make choosing one easier.
Lastly, pay attention to wireless bands and network compatibility. If you don’t want to worry about that, your best bet is to buy directly from your carrier. To make things easier, all the phones we recommend are compatible with every major US wireless provider and can be purchased unlocked.
What won’t you get from a midrange smartphone?
Every year, the line between midrange and flagship phones gets blurrier as more upmarket features trickle down. When we first published this guide in 2020, it was difficult to find $500 devices with waterproofing or 5G. Now, the biggest thing you might miss out on is wireless charging. Just remember to budget for a power adapter too – many companies have stopped including them. Performance has improved in recent years, but can still be hit or miss as most midrange phones use slower processors that can struggle with multitasking. Thankfully, their cameras have improved dramatically, and you can typically expect at least a dual-lens system on most handsets below $600.
The best midrange Android phone: Pixel 5a with 5G
It may look dull, but there’s a lot to like about Google’s $450 Pixel 5a. For one, it features the best cameras at this price. It may not have as many lenses as some of the other options on this list, but thanks to Google’s expertise in computational photography, the 5a delivers pictures that are on par with phones that cost hundreds more.
The Pixel 5a has a few other things going for it. Thanks to its large 4,680mAh battery and efficient chipset, you won’t have to worry about running out of juice. In fact, Engadget managing editor Terrence O’Brien found he could easily get a full day of use. The 5a also supports 5G and is certified IP67 for water and dust-proofing. Plus, as a Pixel phone, the 5a will receive the latest updates and security fixes from Google weeks and months before other Android phones.
Of course, no $450 phone is perfect. The Pixel 5a has an aging Snapdragon 765G chipset, and you can find plenty of midrange phones with more responsive displays.
One thing to note: The Pixel 6a is right around the corner and will go on sale on July 28th for $449. I suggest waiting until Engadget gets a review unit so you have details on things like battery life and performance before you make a decision.
If you can get past its dated design and small 5.4-inch display, the iPhone SE is the fastest phone you can buy for less than $600. No other device on this list has a processor that comes close to the SE’s A15 Bionic. What’s more, you can expect Apple to support the 2022 model for years to come. The company is only just ending support for the first-generation SE after six years. The company hasn’t said how long it intends to furnish the latest SE with new software, but it’s likely to support the device for a similar length of time.
For all its strengths, the iPhone SE is held back by a dated display. Not only is the SE’s screen small and slow, but it also uses an IPS panel instead of an OLED, meaning it can’t deliver deep blacks. Additionally, that screen is surrounded by some of the largest bezels you’ll find on a modern phone. That’s not surprising. The SE uses the design of the iPhone 6, which will be a decade old in two years. And if the SE looks dated now, it will only feel more tired in a few years.
The midrange phone with the best screen: Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
For the best possible display at this price, look no further than Samsung’s $450 Galaxy A53 5G. It features a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display that is ideal for watching TV shows and movies. Plus the 120Hz panel is the fastest on this list. Other standout features include a 5,000mAh battery and versatile camera system. The A53’s three cameras may not deliver photos with the same detail and natural colors as the Pixel 5a, but it can capture bigger scenes with its two wide-angle lenses.
Like the other Android phones on this list, the A53 isn’t the fastest performer. At best, Samsung’s Exynos 1280 is a lateral move from the Snapdragon 750G found in the Galaxy A52 5G. And though the A53 is $50 cheaper than its predecessor, it no longer comes with a power adapter and headphone jack, so the difference may not end up being much.
If you only have around $200 to spend on your next phone, you could do a lot worse than the OnePlus Nord N200 To start, it features a big 5,000mAh battery that will easily last you a full day. The N200 also has a 90Hz display and 5G connectivity, which are tricky to find at this price. Best of all, it doesn’t look like a budget product.
But the N200 is also a good illustration of why you should spend more if you can. I the slowest device on this list, due to its Snapdragon 480 chipset and paltry 4GB of RAM. Its triple main camera system is serviceable during the day but struggles in low light and doesn’t offer much versatility beyond a disappointing macro lens. OnePlus also doesn’t plan to update the phone beyond the soon-to-be-outdated Android 12. In short, the N200 is unlikely to last you as long as any of the other recommendations on this list.
Just a few years ago, the case for smartwatches wasn’t clear. Today, the wearable world is filled with various high-quality options, and a few key players have muscled their way to the front of the pack. Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already decided that it’s time to upgrade from a standard timepiece to a smartwatch. Maybe you want to reach for your phone less throughout the day, or maybe you want to stay connected in a more discrete way. The list of reasons why you may want a smartwatch is long, as is the list of factors you’ll want to consider before deciding which to buy.
What to look for in a smartwatch
Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while Wear OS devices play nice with both iOS and Android. Smartwatches made by Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and others are also compatible with Android and iOS, but you’ll need to install a companion app.
The smartwatch OS will also dictate the type and number of on-watch apps you’ll have access to. Many of these aren’t useful, though, making this factor a fairy minor one in the grand scheme of things.
The best smartwatches generally cost between $300 and $400. Compared to budget smartwatches, which cost between $100 and $250, these pricier devices have advanced fitness, music and communications features. They also often include perks like onboard GPS, music storage and NFC, which budget devices generally don’t.
Some companies make specialized fitness watches: Those can easily run north of $500, and we’d only recommend them to serious athletes. Luxury smartwatches from brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot can also reach sky-high prices, but we wouldn’t endorse any of them. These devices can cost more than $1,000, and you’re usually paying for little more than a brand name and some needlessly exotic selection of build materials.
Battery life remains one of our biggest complaints about smartwatches, but there’s hope as of late. You can expect two full days from Apple Watches and most Wear OS devices. Watches using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor support extended battery modes that promise up to five days on a charge — if you’re willing to shut off most features aside from, you know, displaying the time. Snapdragon’s next-gen Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors were announced in 2020, but only a handful of devices – some of which aren’t even available yet – are using them so far. Other models can last five to seven days, but they usually have fewer features and lower-quality displays. Meanwhile, some fitness watches can last weeks on a single charge.
A few smartwatches now support faster charging, too. For example, Apple promises the Series 7 can go from zero to 80 percent power in only 45 minutes, and get to full charge in 75 minutes. The OnePlus Watch is even speedier, powering up from zero to 43 percent in just 10 minutes. (Mind you that turned out to be one of the only good things about that device.)
Any smartwatch worth considering delivers call, text and app alerts to your wrist. Call and text alerts are self explanatory, but if those mean a lot to you, consider a watch with LTE. They’re more expensive than their WiFi-only counterparts, but data connectivity allows the smartwatch to take and receive calls, and do the same with text messages, without your phone nearby. As far as app alerts go, getting them delivered to your wrist will let you glance down and see if you absolutely need to check your phone right now.
Activity tracking is a big reason why people turn to smartwatches. An all-purpose timepiece should log your steps, calories and workouts, and most of today’s wearables have a heart rate monitor as well.
Many smartwatches also have onboard GPS, which is useful for tracking distance for runs and bike rides. Swimmers will want something water resistant, and thankfully most all-purpose devices now can withstand at least a dunk in the pool. Some smartwatches from companies like Garmin are more fitness focused than others and tend to offer more advanced features like heart-rate-variance tracking, recovery time estimation, onboard maps and more.
Health tracking on smartwatches has also seen advances over the years. Both Apple and Fitbit devices can estimate blood oxygen levels and measure ECGs. But the more affordable the smartwatch, the less likely it is that it has these kinds of health tracking features; if collecting that type of data is important to you, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.
Your watch can not only track your morning runs but also play music while you’re exercising. Many smartwatches let you save your music locally, so you can connect wireless earbuds and listen to tunes without bringing your phone. Those that don’t have onboard storage for music usually have on-watch music controls, so you can control playback without whipping out your phone. And if your watch has LTE, local saving isn’t required — you’ll be able to stream music directly from the watch to your paired earbuds.
Most flagship smartwatches today have some sort of always-on display, be it a default feature or a setting you can enable. It allows you to glance down at your watch to check the time and any other information you’ve set it to show on its watchface without lifting your wrist. This will no doubt affect your device’s battery life, but thankfully most always-on modes dim the display’s brightness so it’s not running at its peak unnecessarily. Cheaper devices won’t have this feature; instead, their screens will automatically turn off to conserve battery and you’ll have to intentionally check your watch to turn on the display again.
Many smartwatches have NFC, letting you pay for things without your wallet. After saving your credit or debit card information, you can hold your smartwatch up to an NFC reader to pay for a cup of coffee on your way home from a run. Keep in mind that different watches use different payment systems: Apple Watches use Apple Pay, Wear OS devices use Google Pay, Samsung devices use Samsung Pay and so forth.
Apple Pay is one of the most popular NFC payment systems, with support for multiple banks and credit cards in 72 different countries, while Samsung and Google Pay work in fewer regions. It’s also important to note that both NFC payment support varies by device as well for both Samsung and Google’s systems.
Best overall: Apple Watch
The Apple Watch has evolved into the most robust smartwatch since its debut in 2015. It’s the no-brainer pick for iPhone users, and we wouldn’t judge you for switching to an iPhone just to be able to use an Apple Watch. The latest model, the Apple Watch Series 7, has solid fitness-tracking features that will satisfy the needs of beginners and serious athletes alike. It also detects if you’ve fallen, can carry out ECG tests and measures blood oxygen levels. Plus, it offers NFC, onboard music storage and many useful apps as well as a variety of ways to respond to messages.
The main differences between the Series 7 and the Series 6 that preceded it are the 7’s larger display, its overnight respiratory tracking and faster charging. The slight increase in screen real estate allows you to see things even more clearly on the small device, and Apple managed to fit a full QWERTY keyboard on it to give users another way to respond to messages. The faster charging capabilities are also notable – we got 10 percent power in just 10 minutes of the Watch sitting on its charging disk, and it was fully recharged in less than one hour.
While the $399 Series 7 is the most feature-rich Apple Watch to date, it’s also the most expensive model in the Watch lineup, and for some shoppers there might not be clear benefits over older editions. Those who don’t need an always-on display, ECG or blood oxygen readings might instead consider the Apple Watch SE, which starts at $279.
We actually regard the Watch SE as the best option for first-time smartwatch buyers, or people on stricter budgets. You’ll get all the core Apple Watch features as well as things like fall detection, noise monitoring and emergency SOS, but you’ll have to do without more advanced hardware perks like a blood oxygen sensor and ECG monitor.
Dropping $400 on a smartwatch isn’t feasible for everyone, which is why we recommend the Fitbit Versa 2 as the best sub-$200 option. It’s our favorite budget watch because it offers a bunch of features at a great price. You get all of these essentials: Fitbit’s solid exercise-tracking abilities (including auto-workout detection), sleep tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, blood oxygen tracking and a six-day battery life. It also supports Fitbit Pay using NFC and it has built-in Amazon Alexa for voice commands. While the Versa 2 typically costs $150, we’ve seen it for as low as $100.
Samsung teamed up with Google recently to revamp its smartwatch OS, but that doesn’t mean Tizen fans should fret. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the latest flagship wearable from Samsung and it runs on WearOS with the new One UI, which will feel familiar if you’ve used Tizen before. Also, the watch now comes with improved third-party app support and access to the Google Play Store, so you can download apps directly from the watch.
We like the Galaxy Watch 4 for its premium design as well as its comprehensive feature set. It has a 3-in-1 biometric sensor that enables features like body mass scanning, bloody oxygen tracking and more, plus it has a plethora of trackable workout profiles. Both the Galaxy Watch 4 and the Watch 4 Classic run on new 5nm processors and have more storage than before, as well as sharper, brighter displays. They both run smoothly and rarely lag, but that performance boost does come with a small sacrifice to battery life: the Galaxy Watch 4 typically lasted about one day in our testing, which while not the best, may not be a dealbreaker for you if you plan on recharging it every night.
Yes, there are still companies out there trying to make “fashionable” smartwatches. Back when wearables were novel and generally ugly, brands like Fossil, Michael Kors and Skagen found their niche in stylish smartwatches that took cues from analog timepieces. You also have the option to pick up a “hybrid” smartwatch from companies like Withings and Garmin – these devices look like standard wrist watches but incorporate some limited functionality like activity tracking and heart rate monitoring. They remain good options if you prefer that look, but thankfully, wearables made by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and others have gotten much more attractive over the past few years.
Ultimately, the only thing you can’t change after you buy a smartwatch is its case design. If you’re not into the Apple Watch’s squared-off corners, all of Samsung’s smartwatches have round cases that look a little more like a traditional watch. Most wearables are offered in a choice of colors and you can pay extra for premium materials like stainless steel. Once you decide on a case, your band options are endless – there are dozens of first- and third-party watch straps available for most major smartwatches, allowing you to change up your look whenever you please.
Us kids know how hard it is to buy gifts for parents. It’s either a case of they don’t want anything or they’ve already gone out and bought the product you had your eye on without telling you. Especially tech-savvy dads. But there are some oft-forgotten, cheaper gifts that can do the job without breaking the $50 barrier. From console controllers to tracking tags, smart lights to charging accessories, our ideas will tick the list of even the most hard-to-buy-for father figure in your life.
8BitDo Pro 2 controller
It might look a bit retro, but make no mistake, 8BitDo’s Pro 2 controller is crammed full of tech. The Bluetooth handheld connects to your Switch, PC and mobile device, offering a familiar thumbstick and D-Pad layout, as well as back paddles and a profile switcher. That means dads will be able to use the controller in Switch or Android mode or pair it as an X-input or D-input device. Perfect for gaming while on the move.
Now that we’re truly in the streaming age, finding a TV with Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max etc built in is a lot easier. But we both know that at least one of your dad’s televisions probably doesn’t (and could use a little help with modernization). That’s where Roku’s Express 4K+ streamer comes in. With support for all modern streaming services, the Express 4K is easy to set up and with its simple remote just does the job.
Does your dad have at least one password with “123456” in it? Instead of shaming him, consider getting him a password manager instead. While most browsers come with their own built-in password tools, a LastPass Premium subscription operates across a wide variety of devices, browsers and operating systems. It’ll save all of his passwords and suggest stronger ones all day long, but it isn’t limited to just that: Feed it addresses, card details and other important information and it’ll reduce the time and effort it takes to fill in those pesky online forms.
We’re big fans of ThermoWorks’ Thermapen Mk4, but spending $100 on an instant-read thermometer may not be in your budget. Luckily, you can still upgrade your dad’s cooking toolkit with the $35 ThermoPop, a compact, lollipop-like thermometer that is accurate and easy to use. It has a single button that turns it on and rotates its backlit digital display so you can always read it properly, regardless of how you’re holding it. Temperature readings pop up in about 3-4 seconds, so it won’t take long for dad to figure out if his brisket is cooked to perfection. With a temperature range of -58 to 572°F and a splash-proof design, the ThermoPop could end up being dad’s new favorite kitchen tool.
In this day and age, gadgets are getting better at holding their charge for most – if not all – of the day, but there are often times when dad’s smartphone (complete with folding case and belt clip) needs a quick top-up. The good thing about Anker’s Nano II GAN Charger is that it isn’t just a phone charger; you can hook this thing up to a MacBook (Air or Pro) and have it charged in no time. Anker says it’ll charge an iPhone 13 up to three times faster than an original 5W charger and juice Samsung phones at full speed via Super Fast Charging. It’s also compact, saving space on his outlets, but also making it a perfect accessory to throw in a backpack or store in a coat pocket for those on-the-move recharges.
If dad isn’t one for to-do lists or electronic note-taking and instead prefers to write things down for later, the Rocketbook line of reusable notebooks are a solid choice. It works in two ways: the 32-page notebook features special pages that allow the Pilot Frixion pen to write like any normal pen. However, after fifteen seconds, you can use the microfiber cloth to erase any mistakes or wipe it completely, leaving a perfectly blank page. Before dad does that, however, Rocketbook’s AI app can digitize any of the writing or drawings, saving them to a phone or tablet for later reading.
If dad has a Nintendo Switch (or one of the company’s handhelds), then he’s probably already pretty up-to-speed on the Nintendo eShop. Every so often, the company will reduce a wide range of first-party and indie games, allowing you and dad to build out your collection for a lot less. The good news is that throughout the year, retailers will often offer discounts on eShop credit, which when combined with an existing sale, can lighten dad’s overall spend on games. Deals are often around 10 percent off, meaning you’ll be able to secure a $50 card for just $45.
From unwanted intruders to porch pirates, security cams are a very useful tool not only as a deterrent, but also to capture irrefutable proof of wrongdoing. Blink (from Amazon), has a wide range of indoor and outdoor home security products, but its basic 1080p indoor plug-in camera is a solid choice for keeping an eye on pets, but also unwelcome guests in the dead of night. It comes with two-way audio, allowing dad to covertly startle a friend or family member, and motion detection, letting him focus on the specific areas of the home. The Blink Mini also ties in perfectly with Alexa, so it’s a solid choice for families who already own an Echo device.
Not every dad is handy with tools, but if yours likes to take things apart just to be able to put them back together again or prefers to fix things rather than buying a new one, iFixit’s Essential Electronics Toolkit could come in handy. With a bunch of precision bits, tweezers, suction handle, SIM eject tool and sorting tray, this kit is perfect for DIY screen replacements or opening up a tablet or laptop to fix a worn-out component. It’s also perfect for eyeglasses, should dad need to repair them too.
Listening to music on-the-go doesn’t need to be expensive. JLab’s Go Air Pop wireless earbuds are a perfect example of that. For just $20 (sometimes less), these small but colorful Bluetooth buds offer on-board touch controls, the ability to use either earbud independently, EQ presets and IPX4 moisture resistance (meaning they’ll survive a low-pressure spray of water). They’re also really solid in the battery life department, too: the Go Air Pops will provide dad up to eight hours on a charge but the case will give you three additional charges before you need to plug the entire set in.
Nobody is saying that dad needs to lose or gain weight, but he’s looking for a better way to track his body measurements then a smart scale could help. Make no mistake: the Aria Air isn’t as fancy as some of the smart scales on the market – complete with body composition metrics – but it’s very accurate and nice-looking scale that tracks body weight and BMI. If dad already has a Fitbit smartwatch or tracker, it’ll put it alongside his existing exercise data, giving him a nice snapshot of his overall fitness and body health.
No smart home is complete without a smart thermostat handling all of the family’s heating and hot water needs. Everyone can argue all they like about the temperature inside the house, but dad can control the thermostat remotely with Amazon’s cheap Smart Thermostat. Sure, its usual retail price is normally a tiny bit higher than the $50 limit we’ve set here but we have seen it regularly come down to a low of $48, which is when you should probably jump on it. The Smart Thermostat itself is backed by Honeywell and ties nicely in with Alexa, which can do dad’s bidding for him (whether it be via an Echo smart speaker, display or app).