All posts in “Reviews”

2020 Ferrari F8 Spider First Drive | Al fresco driving without compromise

LOS ANGELES — Humanity may be hermetically sealed off by facemasks and lockdowns, but the 2020 Ferrari F8 Spider is ferociously gulping gallons of atmosphere into the cabin as I dice through Malibu’s canyon roads. At least the al fresco exotic can button up in a pinch: Give it 14 seconds at speeds up to 28 mph, and the two-piece hardtop envelops the cockpit, shielding the Giallo Modena two-seater from breathy bystanders.

Microbes were the last thing on my mind while piloting Maranello’s roadster du jour, especially in the remote confines of the coastal Santa Monica mountain range. With a 710-horsepower twin-turbo V8 tucked behind me, it’s easy to see why: this $396,994 prancing horse absolutely rips, ticking off a claimed 62-mph time of 2.9 seconds (figure around 2.7 clicks to 60 mph). With a long enough leash, it should whisk to 211 mph.

Ferrari says Spider customers are more likely to have a passenger and less likely to visit a race track. Sounds about right. In this application, emotion does hold more sway than outright performance stats, especially when you’re traversing the perfect road with sunlight kissing you and your co-pilot. When behind the Spider’s steering wheel —  which, like an F1 car, crams buttons, switches and dials for turn signals, wipers, high beams into a concentrated space — the sense of occasion is palpable. The Spider still manages 0-60 mph and top speed numbers identical to the coupe (though .4 seconds are sacrificed on the sprint to 124 mph). But some stats still matter: The open-air model is 154 pounds heavier (though 44 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the 488 Spider), and any convertible is inevitably flexier and less responsive than its closed-roof counterpart. For those keeping score at home, there are also some nitpicky stylistic concessions that come with the cabrio. For instance, the juncture of the C-pillar to the rooftop isn’t quite as fluid, and the gorgeous, red-headed engine isn’t on display like it is in the coupe, but rather is relegated to visual anonymity.

At least the powerplant is still raucous, though its acoustic imprint is less clear in this form since the folding hardtop mechanism is nestled above it like baffled layer cake. Though the 3.9-liter V8’s thrum is still loud enough to broadcast its presence for miles, the effect is incrementally less intoxicating within the cockpit. However, the mill does become more vocal when the centrally positioned tachometer gets within sneezing distance of the 8,000-rpm redline. In both coupe and convertible form, the F8’s twin-turbo power is inarguably engaging, even if you miss the wonderfully aural experience of the late, great 458’s naturally aspirated V8. While the old model had a sensory advantage, it can’t compete with the F8’s power production, which peaks with 710 hp at 8,000 rpm and 568 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,250 rpm. Not bad for its relatively diminutive, 3.9-liter displacement.

Clicking the small, steering wheel-mounted manettino alters your driving experience dramatically. Sport, the mildest setting next to Wet, curtails power quite a bit, and keeps the F8’s tail tucked in through corners. While straight-line acceleration is breathtaking — especially when the tires are warm enough to properly hook up — in Sport mode, one could quickly forget that the mid-mounted V8 churns over 700 horsepower. It’s even easier to be deceived in the corners since the electronic aids subtly curtail engine output in order to keep things tidy. But dial the clicker up to Race, or especially TC Off (which disables traction control), and the powerplant’s furious energy unleashes with tire-spinning gusto. Despite the considerable 58.5% of weight over the rear axle, the drivetrain is simply more tenacious than the rubber, yielding easily modulated slides when the throttle is goosed. The Michelin Pilot Super Sports are exceptionally sticky, but they’re simply no match for the monster power of the blown V8.

But it’s not all mechanical grip and rear-drive brawn: this Ferrari has a few electronic tricks up its sleeve, among them a brake vectoring system that was first introduced in the 488 Pista. By braking individual wheels when necessary, the F8 feels light on its feet, ready to juke its way through the twistiest of corners with eye-opening agility. Surprisingly little of my tester’s $94,494 worth of optional equipment is dedicated to performance, though the carbon fiber steering wheel (part of a $7,593 package) does impart a feeling of steering precision by reducing rotational inertia, and the optional carbon racing buckets ($9,112) convey a more direct link between my seat-of-the-pants and the road. These are incremental (and arguably aesthetic) improvements. But hey, if you’re already window shopping a sports car that starts at $297,250 (before the $3,950 destination fee and $1,300 gas guzzler tax), what’s another $100k for bits and baubles?

Getting into a high-speed rhythm proves surprisingly easy once you’ve acclimated to the F8’s sense of athleticism and immediacy. Though not quite as manic as special performance variants like the 488 Pista (or dialed-to-11 spinoffs like the F12 TDF), you’re best off managing this bad boy with a heightened attitude of mindfulness. Velocity accumulates nearly instantaneously, especially since the tachometer needle seems to find the 8,000-rpm redline quicker than you expect. The rev limiter feels surprisingly soft, but if you’ve decided the smooth, quick-shifting, dual-clutch seven-speed transmission isn’t for you, you’d better keep an eye open for those rapidly approaching revs. At least the LED-equipped steering wheel (part of the aforementioned $7,593 package) flashes red and blue to alert you of the impending power crescendo — and perhaps a subtle nod to law enforcement eventualities? Every Ferrari on the market comes equipped with standard carbon ceramic brakes, and the Spider’s operate with a bit of pedal effort, but outstanding feel and stopping power. At least they feel easier to modulate once they’re properly warmed up. And speaking of temperature, my F8 was spec’d without creature comforts like cooled/heated seats, though it did, thankfully, come with a $4,219 (!) Apple CarPlay option, which displays phone mirroring on the small dashboard-mounted screen next to the big, yellow tach.

If you’re obsessing over the skimpy standard equipment list and moaning about the real estate-like cost of entry, allow me to state the painfully obvious: The Ferrari F8 Spider probably isn’t for you. But if you’re a zealous (and spendy) driver with a hunger for stunning Italians, meandering roads, and healthy doses of Vitamin D, this open-air Ferrari just might be what the doctor ordered.

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Don’t Want to Shell Out for an Apple Watch? Buy This Instead

Editor’s Note: Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) has moved online and Baselworld 2020 is canceled, but that hasn’t stopped watch brands large and small from debuting their new wares. Stay on top of this year’s best new watch releases here.

Brand: Timex
Product: Metropolitan S
Release Date: June, 2020
Price: $179
From: Timex.com

I’ve made it years without ever considering buying a smartwatch, thank you very much. I don’t have need of any more notifications in my life. I like mechanical things. I am a luddite.

And yet, when Timex reached out with news of the new Metropolitan S, and I was intrigued. Would this make my workouts any easier? I recall running, phone in hand like a lunatic, in circles on a track for months on end, trying to shave time off a 3k. What an utter pain in the ass. On the other hand, there was no way I was going to drop $400+ on an Apple Watch. And I’m just old enough that seeing my mother — who has a data-equipped model — talk into her wrist still weirds me out. Maybe this Timex thing would be a nice happy medium? Let’s see, shall we…

What We Like

The Metropolitan S (there’s also an “R” version with a round, 42mm dial that resembles a mechanical watch, but that I didn’t test) is lightweight, well-sized at 36mm, and easy to operate (for the most part — more later). There’s enough functionality to satisfy most casual athletes’ workout requirements, but not so much as to be overwhelming to those of us who aren’t used to smartwatches. Available in both black and gold-tone with matching rubber straps, the “S” is also handsome and unobtrusive, much like the Apple Watch.

Functionality includes multiple workout profiles (outdoor running; walking; outdoor cycling; treadmill; indoor cycling; and freestyle); weather information; a heart rate monitor; notifications; an activity tracker; music control for your phone; alarms; utilities such as a compass and countdown timer; and more. Though much of this functionality can be accessed directly from the watch, poking around the Timex Smart app — which is itself very intuitive and easy to navigate — really cracks open the door to possibilities for more serious tracking and customization. (While the watch itself stores two faces, the app gives you access to many more that you can download.)

If you run several times a week, like I do, and you want a simple way to track your mileage and time, then the Metro S is a great solution. If you want notifications and weather info, it’s good for that, too, and of course, it’s perfect for timing simple tasks. You’re not going to get the same level of independent functionality that you’d get out of, say, and LTE-equipped smartwatch that can actually receive calls on its own, but for $179, you’re getting much more than a simple fitness tracker.

30m of water resistance means that you can wash the S off after a sweaty workout and not worry about damaging it, but Timex cautions you against taking it for a dip (no surprise there). The aluminum body is comfortable and lightweight, and you barely notice the strap on your wrist. In short, given my adversity to smartwatches, I was pleasantly surprised by the wearing experience.

Watch Out For

While I don’t have too many gripes with the Metropolitan S, one I do have is that the Gorilla glass screen can be difficult to operate when your hands are sweaty during a workout. Pushing the crown button to illuminate the watch is easy enough — so is holding it down in order to activate a pre-set command, such as stopping a workout — but actually swiping on the screen with anything other than dry, pristine fingers often requires multiple swipes. And if you’re trying to do this while running and not veering into traffic, it can be a bit of a pain. And one surprisingly annoying aspect of the workout app is that while running, the time only appears in a tiny corner of the screen — so if you need to check this while on the move, good luck. This seems like it could easily be updated via software, however.

GPS needs to be synched before each workout that involves distance (running, walking, etc.), and this can occasionally take a couple of minutes. More often that not, it takes under a minute, but I’m still hopeful that a future software update might quicken this process, or that it might be improved on a newer iteration of the S. Keep in mind, also, that the Metro S only synchs to your phone via Bluetooth, so this needs to be on in order to update the watch or download workouts to the app on your phone — which can be a battery drain.

Other Options

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 gives you a touch-sensitive bezel and works with Spotify Offline, meaning you can listen to playlists untethered from your phone, which you can’t do with the Metro S — however, this will run you $100 more than the Metro 2. And of course, the Apple Watch itself, in various iterations and series, is also an alternative. (Prices for the Series 5 GPS model are occasionally seen down around $300, making it an even more attractive proposition.)

Or, check our this list of our favorite GPS-based running watches, whose functionality mirrors in many cases that of the Metro R, beginning at around $100.

Verdict

Smartwatch technology has cheapened and proliferated to the point where even a basic, entry-level model comes packed with more functionality than most people can reasonably expect to squeeze from it. Such is the case with the Metropolitan S: if I only use a smattering of the tech that Timex manages to cram in here for $179, then I have no idea what the hell I would do with an Apple Watch. For my purposes — as a mechanical watch snob who goes for runs several times a week and likes to keep track of his stats — the S is the perfect smartwatch for me. The comfort, the ease of use, and most importantly, a feature set that feels comprehensive without overwhelming, is just what I need.

Whether you should shell out more for an LTE-equipped watch in order to make or receive calls or listen to music untethered (or less for a simple fitness tracker) is a very personal choice. Personally, I wouldn’t mind being able to listen to a podcast without have to run with my phone. But there’s also something nice about disconnecting and simply concentrating on the task at hand.

Timex provided this product for review.

This New E-Gravel Bike Is Fun for the Whole Damn Fam (Seriously)

Brand: Cannondale
Product: Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 1
Release Date: May 27, 2020
Price: $9,000
From: cannondale.com

Last weekend I went for a long ride, connecting a web of dirt roads around my rural county. Spinning knobby gravel tires for roughly two-and-a-half hours, I escaped the constant noise of current events and sweated out some stress. With my phone on airplane mode and a few snacks in my top tube bag, I was temporarily free.

The difference between last weekend’s 40-mile loop and previous weekend rides? My parents came along – and set the tempo.

For context, both of my parents are retired and in their mid-60s. They’re both healthy, in that they do a fair bit of gardening and on most days hike a mile or two, but well past the days of endurance workouts. The opposite is true for me. I’m an avid runner and cyclist, still seeing improvements in my early 30s. The equalizer? An e-bike of course. 

Before your inner skeptic starts yelling, hear me out. E-bike complaints are always the same chorus. “They go too fast, rip up trails, and push out of the way,” followed by “it’s cheating, you don’t even get a workout” and crescendoing with “they are noisy, big and dangerous!”

The problem with this angry ballad is that it’s far from the truth. All bikes can rip up trails, there is strong evidence to suggest you can get the same workout on an e-bike, and new models are nearly inaudible. Also, e-bikes are just damn fun. This becomes clear the moment you jump on one. 

On our Sunday ride, my parents both rode a new Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 1 from Cannondale. It’s an electric pedal-assist bike built for gravel and allowed our family to get outside together, helping us bond and exercise, two good things that seem especially critical these days. 

What We Like

The Topstone Neo Carbon has a lot going for it, starting with its Lefty fork, an iconic Cannondale feature. After riding it for the last few weeks – about 100 miles – I’ve grown progressively fond of its versatility. When locked out. the Lefty is stiff and great at climbing and when open it adds 30mm (a bit more than an inch) of travel, noticeably softening rough roads. Combined with a KingPin suspension in the rear (which also has 30mm of travel), the Topstone Neo provides comfort and traction on all surfaces.

I’m also a big fan of the drivetrain, a Bosch motor and battery that runs for about 50 miles, depending how hard you push it. The bike has room for large tires (stock is 42c, wider than most), a dropper post, and lots of gear mounts. Paired with a SRAM Eagle groupset with a 500 percent gear range, the Topstone Neo is great for riding on pavement and loose, steep climbs, too. Overall, this bike pushes the gravel category closer to the mountain world.

Watch Out For

There are three obvious trade-offs with the Topstone Neo. First, it’s not light. My $9,000 build is 43 pounds, without water, bike bags or other accessories. (Cannondale offers two lower price point options as well: the $6,500 Neo Carbon 2 and $5,800 Lefty 3). Also, due to larger tires, the top speed isn’t quite what my non-electric gravel bike can descend at. Last, when set on high power, the battery drains quite quickly, which can get you into trouble if you’re not paying attention.

Just over an inch of front and rear travel make going airborne more fun than frantic.

Other Options

There are a few e-gravel bikes already on the market, including Pinarello’s Dyodo Grevil ($4,500) Giant’s Revolt E+ Pro ($4,200), and my personal favorite, the Creo SL from Specialized. The bikes from Pinarello and Giant are notably lighter than the Topstone Neo, but don’t offer the same comfort or traction. The Creo is the only one of the four with a custom motor and battery, making it the lightest and the longest range — but also the priciest, ranging from $6,500 at the low end to $13,500 at the top. 

Verdict

In just a few weeks of testing I’ve taken the Topstone Neo a lot of places. We’ve ridden flowy singletrack, cruised 10 miles into town and back to pick up groceries, and gone on long dirt rides with my parents. For our neck of the woods, where nearly all of the roads are gravel and laden with potholes, it’s perfect. For other areas, maybe less so. Like any bike it depends on the type of riding you enjoy and have out your front door. Set at a reasonable price point for a high-quality carbon build, the new Topstone Neo has a rugged design and build for heavy users – people who want to get out and play hard.

Cannondale provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Nike’s Latest Pegasus Is Like a Warm Hug

One of the first things our testers — some of whom have been trying out the various iterations of Pegasus for years — noticed was a sense of stable comfort.

“I like how supportive and plush they feel from the moment you first step into them,” one commented. “It’s a much thicker and more supportive upper. The tongue is shorter and less flexible to be more supportive. The heel cup seems similar support wise, just a bit more padded.”

Adding to that sentiment, another tester saw a resemblance to Pegs of yore. “The new foam is noticeable,” he noted. “It’s a lot of softer and springier, but less responsive; the last two iterations of the Pegasus felt really quick and fast. I see the 37s as a return to form of sorts for what earlier iterations aspired to be: a no-nonsense running shoe for easy days.”

A third tester thought the shoe’s looks were also worthy of note. “The styling makes me feel like a better runner than I actually am,” he remarked. “I am not typically one to wear running shoes when not running, but I just might wear this pair for non-running activities.”

The phrase “the shoe for every runner” has a democratizing, middle-of-the-pack feel, but the flip side of that coin is that more ambitious runners might be left wanting.

“I don’t need this much support in running shoes so I’d like to slim down the upper,” said a female tester who has run Boston Marathon-qualifying times. “I prefer a shoe that’s lighter and more flexible. There’s a lot of cushion in this, especially due to the airbag that’s been shortened and is just in the forefoot now. You can feel that padding underfoot as a midfoot striker.”

She also shared a pro tip: “when you use a heel lock on this it’s extremely supportive, so that’s helpful if you feel like your ankles/lower calves get tired after runs.”

“I will wear these for easy/recovery days,” said another high-performing tester. “I would never take these to the track.”

Other Options

Given its level of cushioning and support, the new Pegasus has drawn comparisons to the Asics Gel-Cumulus and the Saucony Kinvara. That’s not too surprising, as both are hugely popular shoes at the top of their respective brand’s lines.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a shoe that boosts your speed work or helps you hit a new 10K PR, look elsewhere. However, if you’re more of a workhorse runner who appreciates support, cushioning and durability, you’ll likely find a fit here.

“A good overall option for new runners, people who just run a few times a week and/or run the same distance/intensity every time they run,” observed one of our testers. “People who do long runs, tempos and speedwork will still get use here, but they’ll want to supplement with other types of shoes.”

“I would recommend these to a runner who wants to feel their sneakers hug their feet,” another tester concluded. “These are for someone who wants to feel more cushion underfoot rather than feel the ground. If you’re used to running in a stability sneaker (slightly heavier) this is a good transition shoe to help mix up your repertoire.”

Bottom line: as a streamlined step up for stability fiends and a recovery shoe for speed freaks, the Pegasus 37 is true to its roots as a shoe for every runner. Just make sure to be clear about your plans for it before hitting the road.

Nike provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Olympus E-M1 III Is the Perfect Amount of Camera and Not an Ounce More

Brand: Olympus
Product: OM-D EM-1 Mark III
Release Date: February 2020
Price: $1,800
From: bhphotovideo.com

When comparing gadgets, it’s all too easy to start smashing together spec sheets. Speeds and feeds do matter, after all, and they’re conveniently objective and comparable! When it comes to sheer sensor size, the OM-D E-M1 Mark III — and all its Micro Four Thirds brethren, with their comparatively modest sensors — will always be instantly dwarfed by full-frame giants and even the crop sensors of Canon, Nikon, and the like. That’s no getting around it.

But the E-M1 Mark III, the product of more than a decade of refinement throughout the OM-D lineage, shows just how myopic that pixel-peeping perspective can be. Cribbing a suite of professional-grade features from the bulkier, pricier, awkward-ier EM-1x and squeezing them into the E-M1 line’s tight, tidy body, Olympus has put together a package that carries its 20.4MP sensor (and matching suite of affordable, portable Micro Four Thirds lenses) so much further than any inveterate spec nerd would ever expect them to go.

It’s extremely easy to hold, even with its more monstrous lenses attached.

The E-M1 Mark III is nothing short of a joy to wield. Studded in over a dozen single purpose buttons (plus a directional pad and a joystick, it’s designed such that all are in easy reach and none have ever gotten in my way. The E-M1’s extended grip, which sets it apart from its more affordable cousins, allows for an extremely solid hold that goes a long, long way considering how fractionally smaller Micro Four Thirds lenses are versus their full-frame or even APC-C counterparts. I found the Mark III eminently one-handable even sporting a 75-300mm (140-600mm 35mm equivalent) telephoto superzoom, but still slim enough to easily slide into my jacket pocket with a pancake lens affixed.

Better yet, the E-M1’s borderline magical 7.0 stop image stabilization (7.5 with compatible Olympus lenses), means you can fling it around by hand, even in low light conditions, without having to worry about slathering your images in soft focus. On an evening walk through Weehawken, New Jersey, I was stopping down to a shutter speed of 1/10s, and still getting tack-sharp focus so long as I stood still and took a deep breath. I could even stop down just a little further to get very passable light-stream long-exposures handheld, albeit with a little bit of blur in the background.

Handheld high-res mode helps bridge the gap to more sizable sensors.

Micro Four Thirds is definitively, decisively, triumphantly not for resolution-obsessed, unreconstructed pixel peepers, but part of the high-end body E-M1 Mark III’s appeal is that it is not entirely constrained to the limitations of its smaller sensor. The Mark III sports a handheld “high-resolution” mode (one of the features cribbed from the larger E-M1X), which quickly moves the sensor in sub-pixel increments in-body and overlays the results to compose a 50MP-equivalent composite shot in camera. Yes, the whole premise of the E-M1 relies on the notion that 20MP is usually enough (which I’d argue it is), but that extra bit of wiggle room opens up a ton of options that helps this plucky little camera fill in its the areas where it would ordinarily suffer. With a tripod, you can even get a 80MP-equivalent composite.

100% crop of an 80-megapixel image on the right

Now, this isn’t magic, so there are downsides. The worst is probably the painstaking 5-10 seconds it takes for the composite to finish, which absolutely broke my flow — especially when I (frequently) shot in high-res mode by accident after forgetting to turn it off. You cannot just have this on all the time. And if your subject is moving (or you are moving during a long exposure time), you’re going to get an and a failed composite, though the camera will still serve you up at standard-res image for your trouble. More limiting still, high-res mode put some hard limits on your settings like maximum f/8.0 aperture, and maximum 1600 ISO. Ultimately, this is for landscapes, architecture, product shots, portraiture — situations where time is on your side, and the lion’s share of variables are well under control.

But even with those considerable caveats, I found that one wide, high-res shot at the end of a shoot is indispensable to set my mind at ease as I leave the scene of a shoot. If I want to do a tight crop in post, I’ll have the extra pixels to make it work. If I want to make a gargantuan landscape print, all it takes is a tripod to put that possibility on the table. It’s far from full-frame performance, but it puts some common higher-res use-cases in comfortingly close reach on the rare occasion you might need them.

Video is a bit of a drawback.

While the E-M1 Mark III is generally an exercise in transcending its specs, there are a few places where the numbers fall a bit short in a way that feels more like deficiency than trade-off, specifically where it merely inherits features untouched from its 2016 Mark II forebear. The Mark III’s top firing speed of 18 frames per second with autofocus and 60 without is untouched from four years ago, as are its video capabilities. Yes, 4K in 24 fps is of course nothing to sneeze at, but here in 2020 there are telephones that boast the ability to shoot 4K 60, and 8K 24. Likewise, the somewhat lackluster 2.4MP electronic viewfinder comes up short of what you’d hope to find in an otherwise expensive and pro-grade camera.

These downsides are fortunately counterbalanced by features that expand the breadth of what the Mark III can shoot, instead of just cranking up some numbers. The addition of Live ND up to 5 steps, and Starry AF for simplifying the arduous process of focusing on the night sky extend the E-M1’s viability under the lighting extremes of high noon and midnight. And it’s that kind of flexibility that ultimately speaks the the E-M1’s triumph. With all the size and weight advantages of Micro Four Thirds and the advanced features of its pro-body, it makes for a camera that is wildly versatile and a joy to have on-hand. Something I personally value more highly than extra pixels, whether in my pictures or my EVF.

Olympus provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Eric Limer

Eric Limer is Gear Patrol’s tech editor. A resident of Weehawken, NJ, his current obsessions include mechanical keyboards, mechanical pencils and Formula 1.

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Sony’s New Noise-Canceling Buds Sound Great and Can Take a Real Beating

Brand: Sony
Product: Sony WF-SP800N Wireless Earbuds
Release Date: May 2020
Price: $200
From: bestbuy.com

The Sony WF-SP800N ($200) are the company’s newest pair of wireless earbuds that fall between the Sony WF-1000XM3 ($230), which are high-end noise-canceling earbuds, and the Sony WF-XB700 ($130), which are the more affordable and less feature-packed alternatives. The Sony WF-SP800N are wireless earbuds with active noise-cancellation, and they’re actually very similar to the Sony WF-1000XM3 (the two use the same companion app). But the WF-SP800N are wireless sport earbuds, and so have an ear wing design to stay securely in your ear, as well as the highest water- and sweat-resistance rating (IP55) of all Sony’s wireless earbuds.

It’s a combo that makes them a unique balance between sound quality and durability.

They’re great for exercising, but it’s definitely a niche fit.

The WF-SP800N wireless earbuds share a similar design as their 2018 predecessor, the now-discontinued Sony WF-SP700N, as they both utilize this unique silicone ear wing fit. I’ve been wearing them pretty much none stop for the past week — I’ve been running with them, wearing them on a stationary bike, and listening to music with them all day while working — and I’ve really had no issue in terms of fit. Like Sony’s other wireless earbuds, the WF-SP800N don’t fit right in your ear canal; instead, they hover a little bit on the outside of your ear. This enables Sony to pack bigger drivers and batteries into each earbud, but it makes them look pretty conspicuous in your ear.

The biggest problem I had with the Sony WF-SP700N was that they didn’t fit that well in their charging case. Almost too frequently, I would put the earbuds in the charging case and they wouldn’t properly lock-in, resulting in one (or neither) earbud not charging at all even though it was in the charging case. I didn’t have this problem with the new WF-SP800N, thankfully. The charging case has been totally upgraded so, like with Sony’s high-end WF-1000XM3, the earbuds magnetically snap into the charging case, making a satisfying click sound in the process.

The sound isn’t top-tier, but the buds can take a beating.

There’s no doubt that the WF-SP800N are feature-packed wireless earbuds that feel, in a lot of ways, just like Sony WF-1000XM3. They have the same capacitive touch controls on each earbud — the left controls ambient and ANC modes, while the right controls playback. If you fiddle with your earbuds, you might get frustrated with how sensitive they can be, just like with the Sony WF-1000XM3. And they use the same companion, which allows you to adjust things like EQ settings and whether you want the earbuds to automatically play/pause when you place them or remove them from your ear. Basically, you have a ton of freedom to customize your earbuds.

The caveat is that Sony WF-SP800N aren’t capable of the same levels of sound quality and noise-cancellation as the WF-1000XM3 because they lack the same QN1e processor, which does the bunk of the digital processing that makes those wireless earbuds so good. The result is that Sony WF-SP800N’s noise-canceling abilities don’t live up to the standard set by the Sony WF-1000XM3 or even Apple’s AirPods Pro. And the sound isn’t as rich, but more bass-heavy like the company’s new, more affordable WF-XB700 wireless earbuds. On the upside, they have an IP55 rating, which means they can shrug off dust and water jets from any angle, compared to the AirPod’s Pro IPX4 rating, which indicates no protection from dust, and shielding from mere splashes of water.

The battery life is secretly great.

Each WF-SP800N earbud gets about nine hours of battery life with noise-canceling turned on and 13 hours with it turned off. And the charging case provides a full charge to each earbud. By comparison, each AirPod Pro gets roughly four-and-a-half hours of run time with noise-canceling turned on, while the Sony WF-1000XM3 get about six. Battery life, for me, isn’t something I’ve cared too much about (because I’m a compulsive charge and rarely ever let my laptop, iPhone or headphones get below 50 percent), but if you do, the Sony WF-SP800N have better battery life than basically ever wireless earbud with active noise-canceling out there.

Sony provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

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Can You Justify Spending $800 on an Air Purifier, Humidifier and Fan Rolled Into One? Just Maybe

Though still foremost a vacuum company in the eyes of most consumers, Dyson has quietly remade itself into home wellness company. In the last five years, the brand has introduced lines of eye-friendly lighting and head-friendly hair care; but it’s most dramatic expansion has been in the air quality space, a category that, driven by more people living in more polluted environments, has been the subject of sizeable growth.

What started with bladeless fans found at Brookstone stores in the mall has evolved into a collection of highly capable, multifunctional fan-purifier-air-conditioner-heaters (depending on which you splurge on). The latest is the Dyson Pure Humidify + Cool, a literally named air purifier, conditioner and humidifier. Like all brand new Dyson gadgets, it comes at an eye-watering cost — $800 and up, in this case. I tested it for a month to find out if it’s worth it.

What’s Good

This Dyson’s greatest strength is channeling its many functions, features and monitoring system into utility. Because builders of today are so good at building in insulation, humidity levels in homes and apartments average around 15 to 20 percent, which is lower than some of the dryest places on earth. Artificially dry living translates to dry skin, itchy eyes and an increased likelihood for illness. Most humidifiers ask the owner to set the humidity levels, but Dyson takes this into its own hands. Through the Dyson Link App (which is its hub for controls and air quality data), it syncs the humidity level in your home with your local levels via weather data, which allows you to use less A/C to achieve similar coolness levels.

Long a pain point with humidifiers, Dyson’s is (almost) self-cleaning. It uses ultra-violet lights to purify water before its pushed into your home, and app tracks when the machine will need a “Deep Clean,” which amounts to filling the water tank up, dumping a provided packet of citric acid in, putting the tank back into the machine and punching the go button. No cleaning on your part, basically.

The Link App has come a long way, too. Available on Android and iOS, it’s home to all the controls and air quality tracking data (spoilers: cooking makes your air quality really bad). It also has a real-time tracker of your filter’s lifecycle (and the aforementioned cleaning cycle), letting you know exactly when you need a replacement. Mine dropped by 9 percent in a month and a half of owning it.

It also works with Siri or Alexa, though I didn’t test its capacity.

What’s Not as Good

It’s a cop-out to point to the price as a flaw, but “Starting at $800” isn’t easy to stomach for a device whose function is intentionally discreet. Some will find the brand’s stark colors and future-industrial aesthetic difficult to bring into their homes without some visual awkwardness. One final, admittedly petty complaint: the naming system Dyson uses to identify these machines is confusing as hell.

The control hum within the Dyson Link app.

Alternatives

There aren’t any one-to-one comps for this product. Your alternatives will be compromises, or you’ll have to buy multiple products. Frugal-minded shoppers might seek out Honeywell’s ultra-cheap humidifier, which also humidifies using evaporative technology (though obviously not as robust). Coway’s lineup of air purifiers arguably outperform Dyson’s own air purification systems, but don’t offer humidification, and cost close to the Dyson machine. If you opt for individual purchases, look for evaporative humidifiers that offer easier-cleaning solutions and purifiers that have replaceable HEPA filters.

Verdict

I think this is probably the best Dyson release in years. It isn’t the absolute best purifier or humidifier (it might be the best fan), but the deftness with which the functions are combined — through both hardware and software — is totally novel. You won’t find an air purifier and humidifier that provides the user with as much utility, actionable data and real-time support than this. It’s a machine that, somewhat miraculously, lives up to its lofty price tag.

Dyson provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Will Price

Will Price is Gear Patrol’s home and drinks editor. He’s from Atlanta and lives in Brooklyn. He’s interested in bourbon, houseplants, cheap Japanese pens, and cast-iron skillets — maybe a little too much.

More by Will Price | Follow on Contact via Email

Quick Review: This New Hiking Backpack Takes Cues from Vests… in a Good Way

CamelBak’s revolutionary idea to create on-the-go hydration was grounded in access, efficiency and speed. Those same values govern the design of the Octane 25, its new hydration backpack that blends elements of hiking daypacks with those of trail running vests in a design that’ll keep you covering ground… fast.

What We Like

XL Shoulder Straps

Shoulder straps define the form of a backpack, but they’re also frequently underutilized. The Octane’s, however, are not; they come loaded with six pockets, an emergency whistle, two chest straps and a holster for a hydration tube. There’s enough access to keep all the essentials up-front and at hand.

Comfy Ultralight Mesh

Mesh can be rigid; it can be scratchy. CamelBak used a soft type in the shoulder straps, so your skin can handle speed hiking in a sleeveless shirt.

So. Many. Sleeves.

There are three drop-in, sleeve-style pockets on the outside of the Octane’s main body. There are five on the shoulder straps. There are seven inside the main compartment. These kinds of pockets are great for stashing things quickly — like a layer removed midway up a mountain — and securely. They’re also great for those of us who are OCD about pack organization.

Understated Feature: It Opens Wide

CamelBak could’ve saved a few more grams by shortening the zipper that provides access to the main compartment. The company even could’ve argued that, with a pack this size, you don’t need wide-angle access to everything inside. But having the ability to unzip the compartment for a full view of everything is great, especially if you’ve stuffed your rain jacket at the bottom.

Watch Out For

This Isn’t a City-to-Mountain Backpack

It’s a technical mountain pack, a specialist. Sure, you could throw your laptop into the compartment where the hydration bladder hangs (if it’s a 13-inch or smaller), and you could stash keys, chargers and other daily tools in its many pockets. But the Octane won’t hold and protect these items the way other, everyday-oriented packs will.

No Structure

The Octane doesn’t come with a rigid back panel and offers little structural support. (This is another reason why if you want to carry a laptop, you should consider other bags.)

High Hipbelt

The hipbelt is more of a gut-belt. The thing is, you don’t really need it, but, unfortunately, it’s not removable. (Without, like, scissors, which seems a bit extreme.)

Is It For Me?

Do you prefer drinking from hydration bladders over water bottles? Do you take your snack breaks while moving? Do you prefer a light pack that will allow you to cover a lot of distance in a shorter amount of time? If you answered yes to any of these questions, CamelBak’s Octane 25 might be your new go-to pack.

Verdict

In the Octane 25, CamelBak continues its legacy of making fuel and gear accessible on the go by keeping the pack lightweight despite a high number of features, including lots of pockets on its oversized shoulder straps. The result isn’t wholly versatile, and it’s not without flaws, but it does create a compelling new option for those who want to carry less and move fast.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tanner Bowden

Tanner Bowden is a staff writer at Gear Patrol covering all things outdoors and fitness. He is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and a former wilderness educator. He lives in Brooklyn but will always identify as a Vermonter.

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This Delightful Drone Is an Excellent Escape From Reality

Brand: DJI
Product: Mavic Air 2
Release Date: April 2020
Price: $799
From: dji.com

I hadn’t flown a drone in probably two years (it’s not easy in New York City), but after my experience flying DJI’s newest foldable drone, the Mavic Air 2 while holed up in New Jersey, I want to do it every day.

I’m not an expert drone pilot or professional photographer, but the Mavic Air 2 asks neither of its pilot. It both is and isn’t an entry-level drone. It’s small and lightweight, and its foldable design could fool someone into thinking that it’s just a toy. But it’s also decked out with a serious camera and sensor so you can pull off some pretty spectacular photo and cinematic 4K videos at 60fps, and a $800 price point.

And yet, the Mavic Air 2 can do several things that DJI’s other Mavic drones (entry-level or high-end) can’t. It’s the first one that can shoot 4K video at 60 fps and 120 Mbps. It’s the only one that can capture 48-megapixel photographs (although this is limited to specific modes, most modes shoot 12-megapixel stills) as well as taking 8K hyperlapse videos (although there are limitations to this, too). And it’s the only one that can fly up to 34 minutes, which is pretty impressive. Basically, no other drone under $1,000 comes close to touching this thing.

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It’s easy to fly and it’s easy to not crash.

DJI calls Mavic Air 2 its “smartest drone ever” and what that means, in a nutshell, is that it can meet you halfway both in terms of taking good photos and videos, and not smashing into its surroundings. The Mavic Air 2 has built-in sensors all over its body to detect objects and it’s integrated with the latest object avoidance software — Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS) — so that it doesn’t run into anything, like a tree branch, a house or even your brother. This object avoidance works whether you’re flying it with the remote controller’s joysticks or you’ve set the drone on one of its many photo-and-video-shooting flight patterns or you’re just having the drone follow you.

The other thing is that you’re not going to lose the Mavic Air 2. Or at least you’re going to be hard-pressed to. Like all other of DJI’s drones, the Mavic Air 2 is integrated with the company’s latest safety technology. It’s not going to fly above 400 feet (or 120 meters) because that’s how high it’s legally allowed to fly. Flying too far laterally isn’t a concern either, because if it leaves its established range, it’ll automatically return to the pre-established home location that you’ve established. I’m not an expert drone pilot, but what I can say is that after almost 10 hours of flying, over trees, homes, yards and a river, I didn’t crash or come close to.

The Mavic Air 2’s secret weapon? Its app.

The Mavic Air 2 has good camera — its 1/2-inch sensor is slightly smaller than what you’d find in a nice mirrorless camera — and can take either 12- or 48-megapixel photographs. That high-resolution mode, however, has some limitations. It doesn’t work with SmartPhoto, a new scene-recognition feature that will adjust the camera settings depending on what the drone is looking at. And the results are pretty great!

BUt the real killer feature, content creation-wise, is the DJI Flight app, (the one the Mavic Air 2 requires you to use),  which makes flying and capturing content as simple as tapping your smartphone to lock onto a target, choosing the video quality and cinematic maneuver you want it capture, and then pressing “Go.” The app has built-in flying tutorials for basically everything that shows you exactly what the drone is going to do, too, so the process never feels overwhelming.

I could go on and on about the different preplanned aerial maneuvers, called “QuickShots,” that capture cinematic footage, but the bottom line is that they’re fun and simple to use. You can make the drone fly in huge circles around you and film you like you are Frodo and the drone is Pete Jackson. Or you can have the drone focus on you and then fly straight up, slowing rising to 400 feet, and capturing the world around you. These options form a library of options that are both easy to execute and awesome to witness, which makes it dead simple to create some really compelling footage. And with features like “FocusTrack” that essentially have the Mavic Mini 2 follow you, intelligently bobbing-and-weaving around things like trees and bushes, you don’t even need to be touching the controls to fly it.

It’s got great flight time, but you’ll still want more.

On paper, the Mavic Air 2’s 34-minutes of flight time is best-in-class. It’s longer than either the Mavic 2 Pro (31 minutes) and the Mavic Mini (30 minutes), and head-and-shoulders above the old Mavic Air (21 minutes). But still, that 34 minutes goes by fast. Especially when you don’t know exactly what you’re going to shoot, or your shooting in less than ideal conditions (wind is a nuisance and it’s not meant to be flown in inclement weather). Throw in the fact that the removable battery requires you to use a proprietary charger, and it could be problematic. More serious drone pilots should consider upgrading to the “Fly More” package ($988), which gets you two additional batteries (as well as a shoulder bag, ND filters and a charging hub). But of course, that kicks the price up to nearly a grand.

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DJI provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

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Google’s New Pixel Buds Really Are the Perfect Answer to AirPods

Brand: Google
Product: Pixel Buds
Release Date: April 2020
Price: $179
From: google.com

Google seemingly did everything to erase the first-generation Pixel Buds from public memory. The original Pixel Buds that were released in 2017, alongside the Pixel 2, were plagued with little issues ranging from overly sensitive touch controls to an awkward corded design that made placing the earbuds back in the charging case feel like more of a chore than second nature. Two and a half years later, apparently haven taken the scathing reviews to heart, Google corrected those errors and released next-generation Pixel Buds — yes, same exact name — and thankfully they’re a heck of a lot better.

The new Pixel Buds are exactly what Pixel owners have deserved for years. They have an terrifically small design and can pair almost instantly to any Pixel or Android smartphone (no opening Bluetooth settings required). They have intuitive touch controls so they’re easy to use. And they have the premium features that most people have come to expect — like sensors for ear detection, support for wireless charging and an IP4 water-resistance rating — combined with some features that only Google can deliver, like a conversation mode integrated with Google Translate.

After testing the new Pixel Buds for the past week, it’s safe to say that Google finally has what Apple has had for years: an excellent set of wireless buds.

They look and work a lot like AirPods. And I don’t hate it!

Let’s start with the charging case. Google has essentially taken everything that people love about the AirPods (second-generation) and integrated them into its new Pixel Buds. The charging case is almost the exact same size and it looks almost identical to the AirPods’s charging case. And it works essentially the same, too. The Pixel Buds magnetically clip into place, just like AirPods, and the lid makes an even more satisfying click sound when you open and shut it. (If you’re somebody who likes to fidget with your gadget, you’ll opening and closing this case — it’s that satisfying.) Plus, you can wireless charging the case if you want, too.

The actual wireless earbuds might be the smallest wireless earbud that I’ve ever tested. Really, they’re that tiny. They have a silicone eartip and ear-wing so that they twist-and-fit securely in your ear, and they have such a minimal profile because they rest well in your ear canal that most people wouldn’t know that you’re wearing them…other than the fact that they are white and look like Mentos. The ear-wing is not unlike what other many sport wireless earbuds have, like the Jaybird Vista, and likewise, I found that the Pixel Buds were very good running earbuds. (Yes, they have the same water-resistance rating as AirPods Pro.)

They’re feature-packed, with excess functionality you probably won’t use.

The Pixel Buds come with a lot of convenient features, but let’s start with something they don’t have: active noise-canceling or transparency modes. These are premium feature that a lot of wireless earbuds now have, including Amazon Echo Buds ($130), AirPods Pro ($249), Sony WF-1000XM3 ($228), but the Pixel Buds do not. Considering that the Pixel Buds are fairly expensive, at $179, this is probably the biggest gripe I have against them.

The Pixel Buds don’t let you adjust the EQ of the music either, but you can turn on Adaptive Sound, which is a mode where the Pixel Buds will automatically optimize your music based on the ambient noise around you. It works OK — the Pixel Buds increased the volume when I walked into a room where the TV on full blast and lowered when I went back into my office — but I’m not sure it’ll be a game-changer for anybody.

The Pixel Buds have built-in optical sensors so they can detect when they’re in your ears and will automatically play/pause the music, which is a feature that AirPods have had for years. Where the Pixel Buds also really shine is with their capacitive touch controls and how well they work. With a swipe forward or back, you can adjust the music volume. With one, two or three taps you can play/pause, skip or rewind tracks. And if you’re a big Google Assistant person, you can hold down either earbud, ask a question and a small voice will answer in your ear; you can ask a question or tell a command, like “call Will Price,” and the Google Assistant quickly does it for you.

I wasn’t really able to test out the Pixel Buds most novel feature, Conversation mode, because I didn’t really have a place to test it out while in quarantine. But the gist is that you can ask the Google Assistant to “help me speak Spanish” (or any other language) and it’ll launch Google Translate; from there you should be able to have a slow back-and-forth conversation between somebody who doesn’t speak the same language as you. Cool? Yes. But I’m guessing most people won’t use it much, if ever, unless they frequently travel abroad.

The Pixel Buds will sound good enough for most people… unless you need deep bass.

The Pixel Buds aren’t the best-sounding wireless earbuds — that title is still between the Sony WF-1000XM3, Sennheiser Momentum 3 or the AirPods Pro, in my opinion — but they sound better than most. Each earbud has what Google is calling “custom-designed 12mm drivers” and they do a good job hitting the mids and highs, and there’s good separation there. So depending on what you’re listening to, you can hear the different vocals and instrumentals pretty clearly.

The issue is that the low-range doesn’t have that punch you’d expect. For example, when the bass comes in during The Weeknd’s “Heartless” it feels kind of hollow. It’s not to be unexpected, however, as the Pixel Buds are tiny-little earbuds and I’m guessing can’t fit the big drivers to really generate that deep bass. It’s a small deficiency in what otherwise are pretty great sounding buds.

Google provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

This Weird Little Keyboard Made Me a Much Better Typist

Every day at work, I sit down at my desk and type hundreds, sometimes thousands, of words. I do it for a living. But that hasn’t saved me from being a lousy typist. I’m not slow. I certainly don’t hunt and peck. But I am sloppy as all get out. I let my hands carelessly flail over the keys, with overall top-speed hindered by lousy form and less than stellar accuracy, overworking a few fingers while letting others go underused. It’s OK though! I catch all, well most, well… some of the typos! But now, thanks to this strange grid-like keyboard called the Preonic, I’m slowly but surely improving, and I’m loving every frustrating minute of it.

The funny thing about modern-day computer keyboards, with their staggered horizontal rows and traditional QWERTY layouts, is that they have no real reason to look the way they do. These designs aren’t intended for comfort or efficiency. These now standard characteristics were designed for typewriters, to help ensure that the metal arms that pushed inked stamps into paper would be less likely to smash into each other and jam up while you type. Computer keyboards obviously aren’t subject to the same concerns but tend to stick to tradition for its own sake.

My lovely little grid boy, the Massdrop x OLKB Preonic Mechanical Keyboard to be specific, is a nerdy variety of mechanical keyboard that uses a different layout strategy known to ergonomic geeks as “ortholinear.” Instead of needlessly staggering keys to prevent non-existent jams, an ortholinear keyboard arranges its keys so that no heavily-used key is more than one space away from the finger assigned to press it. That way, the logic goes, your fingers don’t need to move as far and so can make their movements faster, and with less stress and strain. It’s a half-measure approach to improving ergonomics versus more extreme alternatives like switching away from QWERTY entirely.

Photo:Chandler Bondurant

Using an ortholinear keyboard for the first time is uncanny. It’s almost like what you’re used to, so muscle memory takes over at first. But every now and then, a key is a fair bit left or right of where sloppy muscle memory says it should be. When that happens, I’m forced to stop, slow down not just to make sure I’m hitting the right key, but also that I’m hitting it with the right finger.

The first few days were rough, but over about a week my speed has improved from “slightly below average with very strange typos” back up to “just about average.” Better yet, with better form, I’m making good use of all my fingers, instead of just half of them. Better yet? I’m not spending 30 percent of my time just riding the backspace key anymore.

Sure, there are other ergonomic hacks and efficiency tricks I might still try. Some people dump QWERTY entirely for bespoke, supposedly superior layouts. But the Preonic is a fun little conversation piece of a keyboard that’s helped me up my game in a matter of a week or so (relatively) pain free.

The Massdrop x OLKB Preonic Mechanical Keyboard is currently in the pre-order stage for the next round of production. Fair warning: it comes as a kit so some assembly is required, but there’s no soldering involved so it’s no more complex than playing with Legos.

Come on in, the water’s fine!

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Eric Limer

Eric Limer is Gear Patrol’s tech editor. A resident of Weehawken, NJ, his current obsessions include mechanical keyboards, mechanical pencils and Formula 1.

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High-Protein Cereal Might Be the Upgraded Quarantine Breakfast You’re Looking for

Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz grew up scarfing down bowls of sugary cereal watching Saturday morning cartoons (Recess and Rugrats, respectively). In an effort to capture that nostalgia, minus the risks associated with high-sugar diets, the two created Magic Spoon, an internet cereal brand that, according to its founders, has seen a major uptick in sales since the spread of coronavirus.

According to the box, Magic Spoon is the “high-protein, keto-friendly, non-GMO, gluten-free, grain-free, soy-free, wheat-free, nothing artificial, childlike cereal for grown-ups.” That’s a lot of things missing, which makes you wonder: what’s left?

What’s Good

Magic Spoon’s catalog of cereals — which include Fruity, Frosted, Cocoa, Cinnamon, Blueberry and Birthday Cake — rely on a sweetener blend of allulose, monk fruit and stevia. While monk fruit and stevia have been used to sweeten healthier versions of unhealthy foods for years (both are very popular in the low- and no-alcohol booze sector), allulose is a newcomer in the sugar alternative game.

Derived from foods like figs and kiwi, it has a tenth of the calories of cane sugar and 70 percent of the sweetness. The FDA doesn’t require zero-calorie sweeteners to be listed on the nutrition facts as added sugar, but it does require them to be counted under total carbohydrates. Unlike “bad” carbs — such as white flour — allulose is not completely metabolized by the body, so it doesn’t affect blood sugar or insulin levels. Magic Spoon has a listed 10 grams of total carbs, but factoring in the 6 grams of allulose and 1 gram of fiber, each serving nets only 3 grams of carbs.

The founders relied on their sweetener blend to mimic the sweetness of real sugar and to eliminate the aftertaste associated with sugar alternatives, which I must commend them on, because it works.

The texture of Magic Spoon’s cereal was one highlight I noticed immediately. Its crunch is comparable to a cereal like Froot Loops or Apple Jacks. There’s also an airiness to Magic Spoon’s cereal that’s reminiscent of Gerber’s Puffs, a cereal snack for babies (don’t ask me why I’ve eaten these). The texture of Magic Spoon’s cereal has a satisfying bite to it, and the airiness doesn’t make them feel too dense. Given it’s totally grain-free, this is impressive.

Each box of cereal has 11 grams of protein whereas competitors will have between 1 to 7 grams of protein. While competitors list sugar as their first ingredient, Magic Spoon’s first ingredient is a milk protein blend. For me, this translated to cereal that kept me full enough until lunchtime, a feat most cereals fail at. Last thing: the package design rules.

What’s Not as Good

If you’re looking for Milk Bar-level cereal milkiness, you’re not going to get it with Magic Spoon. For me, that’s a good thing; but I imagine some cereal lovers might be looking for the sickly sweet milk that comes after eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The milk at the end of the bowl of Magic Spoon isn’t so sweet that it feels like it’ll dig a cavity in my teeth, but is flavorful enough that it doesn’t feel like I’m drinking straight milk.

My biggest issue with Magic Spoon’s cereal is that, once chewed, the remnants start to gum up in my mouth. This is particularly noticeable when eating the cereal dry, which began to feel like Laffy Taffy stuck in my teeth. The issue is less prevalent when the cereal is eaten with milk, but a nuisance nonetheless.

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Alternatives

The direct-to-consumer healthy cereal space is still fairly new. Some competitors include Catalina Crunch, HighKey and The Cereal School. It seems each brand corners the market on a cereal shape — rings, spheres, kernels — but they all have similar selling points. For example, they all use natural sweeteners, market themselves as a healthy option and even a few hit on the nostalgia factor. Each brand’s price per bowl also tends to hover around $1 to $2.

Verdict

It’s easy to start snacking on the cereal and find yourself elbow deep in a box before you realize how much you’ve eaten. Each cereal captures the essence of the cereals they are based on. Blueberry, Magic Spoon’s take on on General Mills’ Boo Berry, and Cocoa, based on General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs, were my favorites. Magic Spoon costs $39 for a four-pack, and a bowl works out to $1.39. I found each 3/4-cup serving to be filling enough to hold me over until lunch without having to reach for snack in between.

Of course, like beauty, a cereal’s goodness is a matter of subjective taste. I tend to opt for savory breakfasts over sweet ones, but Magic Spoon had me reaching for a bowl of cereal over a plate of bacon. If you can stomach the cost of paying around $10 a box, then Magic Spoon justifies the price for the quality of its ingredients alone. Combined with the flavor and nostalgia factor, Magic Spoon made a product worth stocking up on.

Magic Spoon provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tyler Chin

Tyler Chin is Gear Patrol’s Editorial Associate for Editorial Operations. He’s from Queens, where tempers are short and commutes are long. Too bad the MTA doesn’t have a team like Ed-Ops.

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This $35 Security Camera Is Almost As Good As Its $300 Rivals

Brand: Amazon
Product: Blink Mini
Release Date: April 2020
Price: $35
From: amazon.com

When it comes to indoor home security cameras, you have two basic options. There are higher-end camera like the Nest Cam IQ Indoor ($299) that cost hundreds of dollars, or options like the new Blink Mini ($35) are a literal fraction of the price. These cheaper newcomers, lead by the $20 Wyze Cam that shook up the industry in 2017, can still compete with the best on most main features like motion sensing, night vision, two-way talk and access to  a 24/7 live feed with caveats in areas like video quality, object tracking and identification and video storage capabilities.

Amazon’s new Blink Mini perhaps the final form of that second trend. After acquiring Blink in late 2017, Amazon has released its most affordable home security camera to date, and one of the best options out there. With a catch: you have to be bought into to Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem, or be willing to buy in.

The Blink Mini is simple, in a good way.

The Blink Mini is cheap and gleefully adequate. Setup is as simple as plugging it in and pairing it to the Blink app, after which it will offer you a 1080p window into your home, with the option to engage motion alerts, turn on night vision in the dark or use two-way talk. It’s a great and affordable option for people who just want to check in on things while out of the house. It covers all the basics, though at a price slightly higher than the rock-bottom $20 Wyze Cam, but with the promise of a cheap subscription plan l cloud-based capabilities and deep integration with Amazon’s Alexa.

The Blink Mini is a $35 smart security camera that works exclusively with Alexa.

The Blink subscription plan is pretty cheap, and it’s free for the rest of the year.

Like the Wyze Cam, the Blink Mini leans on a paid subscription plan as a gateway to advanced features. Without a plan, the Mini will provide live footage, and short clips when motion is detected, but you won’t be able to save or download those. If you want to record footage, there’s the $3/month (or $30/year) “Basic” plan, which gets you 60 days of rolling video storage for a single camera, and a “Plus” plan ($10 per month or $100 per year) which does the same for unlimited Blink Mini cameras. Wyze’s Complete Motion Capture plan, by comparison, costs $1.49 per month per camera, and only holds archives for 14 days.

Every new Blink Mini owner gets a 30-day free trial of the Plus plan — a standard pack-in with every new Blink Mini — but for a limited time that trial will be extended through the end of 2020. Part of the reason is because the local storage module for the Blink Mini which will let you save video without paying for a cloud service, the Blink Sync Module 2 ($35), isn’t available yet. That, and of course Amazon would prefer if you try cloud storage and never go back. Either way, it is a good deal, especially if you buy your camera sooner rather than later.

Alexa support is the main, if not the only real draw.

The Blink Mini was designed as a direct rival to the Wyze Cam, which has been the go-to option for most people, and probably will stay that way for now. At $20, the Wyze came is cheaper, and is also compatible with voice control through Google Assistant, where the Amazon-owned Blink camera can only support Alexa. What’s more, both cameras cooperate with Amazon’s voice assistant basically identically. If you own an Echo Show, Echo Spot or the Fire TV, you can easily summon a live feed from either camera by voice, or disable the camera’s watching eyes with a voice command as well.

For now, at least! The Wyze Cam’s Alexa powers are, of course, conditional on Amazon’s support. Now that the shopping juggernaut has its own hardware competitor in the space, it is not too hard to imagine a world where that compatibility disappears. Or, alternatively, perhaps Amazon’s Blink cameras will gain additional, specific Alexa-specific superpowers. Either way, for the anyone who’s already comfortably invested in Amazon’s smart home ecosystem, the Blink is probably the safer long-term bet.

Amazon provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

These Are the AirPods Newest, Biggest Rival

Brand: Sony
Product: Sony WF-XB700 Wireless Earbuds
Release Date: April 2020
Price: $130
From: sony.com

Sony’s WF-XB700 ($130) are the company’s newest and most affordable wireless earbuds, and you can think of them as a stripped-down version of the Sony WF-1000XM3 ($228) — some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy. They lack the premium design and many of the premium features of the Sony WF-1000XM3, such as noise-canceling and transparency modes, but what they lack in features, they make up for in sound and price — you can buy the Sony WF-XB700 right now for $130 and they sound great.

Sony makes some of the best and most popular wireless headphones and earbuds, but for some time they’ve lacked a truly affordable pair of wireless earbuds. The Sony WF-XB700 fill that void and undercut the price of Apple AirPods ($159) by almost $30. Sony designed the WF-XB700 to be a direct rival to AirPods. And they are.

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It’s Sony’s sound, but not Sony’s best sound.

The Sony WF-XB700 are part of Sony’s “Extra Bass” family of products (that’s what the “XB” stands for), and are designed to have a similarly vibrant and punchy sound as many of the company’s wireless Bluetooth speakers and more affordable headphones. It’s a good sound, but you’re not going to hear the same level of detail (particularly in the midrange) you would in Sony’s higher-end products, like the Sony WF-1000XM3. Also, the Sony WF-XB700 aren’t compatible with any companion app like the Sony WF-1000XM3 are, so there’s a way of adjusting the EQ.

The Sony WF-XB700 are Sony’s most affordable true wireless earbuds to date. They cost $130.

These wireless earbuds lack some thrills but nail the basics.

These really are excellent entry-level wireless earbuds, designed for people who just want to stick them in their ears and have them work. There’s no setup process (aside from going into your smartphone’s Bluetooth settings) and there’s no need to download a companion app. There’s also really nothing on the earbuds to make it (potentially) confusing, like capacitive touch or optical sensors; there’s a single button on each earbud to adjust volume, play/pause and summon your smartphone’s virtual assistant. The Sony WF-XB700’s killer feature (other than sound and price) is probably its battery life; the earbuds and the charging case give you a total of 18 hours of playtime, which is better than AirPods.

They’re not the prettiest, but they fit great.

The Sony WF-XB700 definitely have a unique look and fit. Each earbud is a rather large oval shape and when you’re wearing them, the bulk of the earbud is actually on the outside of your ear. Bose and Sony’s wireless earbuds both have had this similar design, as it allows their earbuds to have bigger chambers, drivers and battery, but it does look a little odd. Despite this bulky style, the ergonomically-designed earbuds did fit excellently in my ear. They are water- and sweat-resistant (IPX4), which is exactly the same ruggedness as Apple’s AirPods Pro, so if you wanted to run with them or wear them to the gym, you can.

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Sony provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

This New Kit Proves Patagonia Is Taking Mountain Biking Seriously

Brand: Patagonia
Product: Dirt Roamer Mountain Biking Kit
Release Date: 2019/2020
Price: $99+
From: patagonia.com

Before my current life chapter as a freelance writer, I worked for five years in San Francisco. There, I commuted to and from work by bike every day, often by way of the Wiggle, a well-known route that might appear roundabout and indirect to anyone unfamiliar with the city’s hills. During this half-decade, my appreciation for well-made and cleverly designed cycling apparel blossomed — it only took a few days of sitting in an office with damp pants before I opted to upgrade to a better bike kit.

Despite a change in career (and a departure from my old bike route), my passion for two-wheeled adventures has only grown. These days I spend most of my saddle time riding gravel and occasionally summon the confidence to ride downhill on full suspension bikes, too. There is no feeling that compares to riding a bike, never mind make or model.

When the opportunity to test Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer biking kit arose, I had already been looking for a good excuse to connect with old riding friends and tackle some rocky singletrack. Patagonia released the Dirt Roamer jacket ($229), shorts ($99) and bibs ($179) last fall. Together, they represent the most substantial effort by the brand — which is perhaps better known for lower octane sports like hiking and fishing — to address the needs of mountain bikers. In 2020, Patagonia is adding pants to the line.

Needless to say, it was an easy yes, and I immediately started planning a weekend exploring the trails of California’s Eastern Sierra, despite being fully aware that mountain biking — especially on steep, slick and technical terrain — is still a bit foreign to me. Over two eight-hour riding days, I tested the capabilities of each piece that makes up the Dirt Roamer Kit.

What We Like

If you’re looking for a burly kit that’ll keep you dry in the rain, slush, sleet, snow and hail, the Dirt Roamer is one of the best. In the Eastern Sierra we had two days of pretty consistent rain and although I did get sweaty at times wrapped up in waterproof membranes, I was neither soaked nor terribly uncomfortable. Riding bikes presents new challenges to rain layers, and lots of allegedly waterproof bike jackets will shed water for an hour, maybe two, but eventually wet-out and let moisture in. The Dirt Roamer jacket and pants don’t, even in horrendous conditions during long days.

Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer Jacket ($229), Liner Bibs ($179), Pant (available soon) and Shorts ($99).

Despite being a true hardshell, the Dirt Roamer pants stretch enough for a full range of motion while pedaling, seated or standing. Patagonia built them with a contoured fit (the cut is slightly bent at the knee) to match a riding position. It was a smart decision. The Dirt Roamer pants also handled sharp brush and my two wipeouts on loose rocks well, showing no signs of wear and tear when the weekend was over. (Along with keeping you dry, they also might save you a good scrape or two.) For most riders that only hop in the saddle seasonally, pants may not be top of mind, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth considering.

The kit breathes reasonably well too. We rode mostly in 40- and 50-degree temperatures, which is ideal for a hardshell layer like this one. I’d undoubtedly use a lighter shell jacket and shorts for more prolonged aerobic rides, but because our weekend was cool and overcast, I didn’t sweat much on most of our climbs, a pleasant surprise.

Watch Out For

For longer rides (a half-day plus), I’d suggest saving some room in your pack to stow the jacket and pants. Just like backpacking or backcountry skiing, you can think of mountain biking apparel as a system of layers used in specific scenarios and at different times during a day out. This kit will get relatively warm and clammy when the sun comes out and temps rise because it’s not designed for summer weather. Fortunately, the pants have large zippers that enable a quick on/off, allowing you strip down while leaving shoes and pads tied and strapped. When you’re pedaling uphill (just like skinning up for another ski lap), you might also consider taking the shell and pants off, especially if it’s a long climb.

The Dirt Roamer kit is designed primarily for hardcore riders — that is, people that embrace mixed conditions. If you’re a fair-weather rider who opts for Netflix over mountain biking when it’s 40 degrees and raining sideways, the full kit may not be for you — stick with the shorts and liner bibs. But, for those weirdos who ride year-round in half-frozen slop, the fully waterproof Dirt Roamer pants and jacket are worth the investment.

Other Options

There aren’t many real competitors for the Dirt Roamer pants if you factor in the full bundle: waterproof, stretchy and breathable — the DTE Trousers (~$138) are the closest, but lack the fit and stretch. Destroyer’s forthcoming Sitkum Pant ($130) is also promising. While the mountain bike market is nearly saturated with quality shorts and softshell pants, there aren’t many hardshell pants that keep you dry through a full day of riding in wet conditions.

Verdict

If you plan to ride in the wet, cold and muddy offseason, pick up Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer mountain biking kit. It’s fully waterproof, breathes well, marries comfort with burliness, and, frankly, there isn’t really anything like it on the market. It isn’t perfect for all rides or weather, but it’s an essential addition for anyone who wants to break their bike out of storage as early in the year as possible and keep the tires rolling until ski season.

Patagonia provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The New iPhone SE Is the Perfect Entry-Level iPhone

Brand: Apple
Product: iPhone SE (2020)
Release Date: April 2020
Price: $399+
From: apple.com

Apple’s newest iPhone, the iPhone SE ($399+), isn’t the new hotness and it’s not meant to be. It’s an affordable iPhone that’s designed for people either haven’t upgraded their new iPhone in years (because they’re expensive) or who’ve never owned an iPhone before. It borrows the name of the original iPhone SE (released in 2016) and the design of the iPhone 8 (released in 2017), and adds new features like Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, extra storage (base: 64GB), water-resistance, wireless charging and a good camera.

Overall, the SE is a good iPhone that represents excellent value. Plus it feels nostalgic; I’d forgotten what is what like to small(er) screen and a Home button (no Face ID). But if I’m being honest, as somebody who has used the iPhone 11 Pro for the last few months, the iPhone SE really just made me miss my modern iPhone.

The iPhone SE (left) has a similar 12-megapixel wide-angle lens to the iPhone 11 Pro (right), but lacks the ultra-wide and telephoto lens.

The iPhone SE is blast from the past.

The iPhone SE is the first iPhone I’ve used in years that doesn’t have a nearly edge-to-edge display or Face ID. It has the same general look and feel as the iPhone 8, meaning there are large bezels at the top and bottom of the screen and there’s a Home button with Touch ID. The 4.7-inch Retina display might actually be the same display as the one on the iPhone 8. All this to say is that, for me, the new iPhone SE feels old, but to a lot of people it’s going to feel familiar — and that’s a good thing.

The camera is worth the upgrade.

One of the main reasons why people upgrade to a new smartphone is for the camera, and the iPhone SE has a very good one. It’s not the triple-lens system of the iPhone 11 Pro, granted, but I think most people will find that the iPhone SE’s one camera — which is a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens that’s very similar to the main camera on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro –can do many of the same things. It can still shoot Portrait Mode photos (from both front and back cameras) with all the different lighting effects. And it can still take 4K videos at up to 60fps.

The iPhone SE (left) has the same 4.7-inch Retina display as the iPhone 8, while the iPhone 11 Pro (right) has a 5.8-inch edge-to-edge display.

The SE doesn’t have a telephoto or ultra-wide lens like Apple’s flagship iPhones, so it’s going to be more limited. It doesn’t take great zoomed-in photos, which isn’t a big deal because, really, who uses zoom on their smartphone? But the ultra-wide lens is definitely a miss — I love taking photos with that. Also, the SE isn’t able to take Night mode photos like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, so if you’re somebody who takes a lot of low-light or nighttime photos, you’re going to be a little disappointed.

The iPhone SE is small, but not that small.

Before getting my hands on the new SE I was under the impression that it was going to be more pocketable than my current iPhone 11 Pro, but it’s really not. It’s a little bit smaller, sure, but I’m not buying the “get it because it’s the small iPhone” argument. It does feel noticeably lighter, however. The iPhone SE weighs 5.22 ounces while the iPhone 11 Pro weighs 6.63 ounces.

Apple provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

Review: Is Patagonia’s Mountain Biking Gear Any Good?

Brand: Patagonia
Product: Dirt Roamer Mountain Biking Kit
Release Date: 2019/2020
Price: $99+
From: patagonia.com

Before my current life chapter as a freelance writer, I worked for five years in San Francisco. There, I commuted to and from work by bike every day, often by way of the Wiggle, a well-known route that might appear roundabout and indirect to anyone unfamiliar with the city’s hills. During this half-decade, my appreciation for well-made and cleverly designed cycling apparel blossomed — it only took a few days of sitting in an office with damp pants before I opted to upgrade to a better bike kit.

Despite a change in career (and a departure from my old bike route), my passion for two-wheeled adventures has only grown. These days I spend most of my saddle time riding gravel and occasionally summon the confidence to ride downhill on full suspension bikes, too. There is no feeling that compares to riding a bike, never mind make or model.

When the opportunity to test Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer biking kit arose, I had already been looking for a good excuse to connect with old riding friends and tackle some rocky singletrack. Patagonia released the Dirt Roamer jacket ($229), shorts ($99) and bibs ($179) last fall. Together, they represent the most substantial effort by the brand — which is perhaps better known for lower octane sports like hiking and fishing — to address the needs of mountain bikers. In 2020, Patagonia is adding pants to the line.

Needless to say, it was an easy yes, and I immediately started planning a weekend exploring the trails of California’s Eastern Sierra, despite being fully aware that mountain biking — especially on steep, slick and technical terrain — is still a bit foreign to me. Over two eight-hour riding days, I tested the capabilities of each piece that makes up the Dirt Roamer Kit.

What We Like

If you’re looking for a burly kit that’ll keep you dry in the rain, slush, sleet, snow and hail, the Dirt Roamer is one of the best. In the Eastern Sierra we had two days of pretty consistent rain and although I did get sweaty at times wrapped up in waterproof membranes, I was neither soaked nor terribly uncomfortable. Riding bikes presents new challenges to rain layers, and lots of allegedly waterproof bike jackets will shed water for an hour, maybe two, but eventually wet-out and let moisture in. The Dirt Roamer jacket and pants don’t, even in horrendous conditions during long days.

Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer Jacket ($229), Liner Bibs ($179), Pant (available soon) and Shorts ($99).

Despite being a true hardshell, the Dirt Roamer pants stretch enough for a full range of motion while pedaling, seated or standing. Patagonia built them with a contoured fit (the cut is slightly bent at the knee) to match a riding position. It was a smart decision. The Dirt Roamer pants also handled sharp brush and my two wipeouts on loose rocks well, showing no signs of wear and tear when the weekend was over. (Along with keeping you dry, they also might save you a good scrape or two.) For most riders that only hop in the saddle seasonally, pants may not be top of mind, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth considering.

The kit breathes reasonably well too. We rode mostly in 40- and 50-degree temperatures, which is ideal for a hardshell layer like this one. I’d undoubtedly use a lighter shell jacket and shorts for more prolonged aerobic rides, but because our weekend was cool and overcast, I didn’t sweat much on most of our climbs, a pleasant surprise.

Watch Out For

For longer rides (a half-day plus), I’d suggest saving some room in your pack to stow the jacket and pants. Just like backpacking or backcountry skiing, you can think of mountain biking apparel as a system of layers used in specific scenarios and at different times during a day out. This kit will get relatively warm and clammy when the sun comes out and temps rise because it’s not designed for summer weather. Fortunately, the pants have large zippers that enable a quick on/off, allowing you strip down while leaving shoes and pads tied and strapped. When you’re pedaling uphill (just like skinning up for another ski lap), you might also consider taking the shell and pants off, especially if it’s a long climb.

The Dirt Roamer kit is designed primarily for hardcore riders — that is, people that embrace mixed conditions. If you’re a fair-weather rider who opts for Netflix over mountain biking when it’s 40 degrees and raining sideways, the full kit may not be for you — stick with the shorts and liner bibs. But, for those weirdos who ride year-round in half-frozen slop, the fully waterproof Dirt Roamer pants and jacket are worth the investment.

Other Options

There aren’t many real competitors for the Dirt Roamer pants if you factor in the full bundle: waterproof, stretchy and breathable — the DTE Trousers (~$138) are the closest, but lack the fit and stretch. Destroyer’s forthcoming Sitkum Pant ($130) is also promising. While the mountain bike market is nearly saturated with quality shorts and softshell pants, there aren’t many hardshell pants that keep you dry through a full day of riding in wet conditions.

Verdict

If you plan to ride in the wet, cold and muddy offseason, pick up Patagonia’s Dirt Roamer mountain biking kit. It’s fully waterproof, breathes well, marries comfort with burliness, and, frankly, there isn’t really anything like it on the market. It isn’t perfect for all rides or weather, but it’s an essential addition for anyone who wants to break their bike out of storage as early in the year as possible and keep the tires rolling until ski season.

Patagonia provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

The Magic Keyboard Really Is the Ultimate iPad Pro Upgrade

Brand: Apple
Product: Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro
Release Date: April 2020
Price: $299 (11-inch iPad Pro); $349 (12.9-inch iPad Pro)
From: apple.com

For the past month or more I’ve been working from home using Apple’s new MacBook Air. It’s been my preferred day-to-day computer because, even though I have a 2017 MacBook Pro, the Air’s new keyboard makes it way more comfortable to use — fewer typos. Plus, I’m mainly working in Chrome and don’t need that powerful of a machine.

For the past few days, however, I’ve tried to completely abandon the Air (and the Pro) and exclusively use the new iPad Pro as my computer. Obviously, there’s been a lot of debate if the iPad Pro could actually replace your laptop in the past two years, and one of the main stumbling points has been the keyboard — there weren’t really any good options(or at least, none that were as good as your laptop’s keyboard).

That’s the big change this year. Apple announced the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, its most advanced keyboard accessory ever for the iPad Pro. It basically takes the best features from the Air’s new keyboard — scissor switches, click-anywhere trackpad, backlit keys — and puts them in a form factor that works for the iPad Pro. At $299 and $349 for the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models, respectively, it’s an expensive add-on to an already expensive machine, but it’s really the only accessory that’s designed to make the iPad Pro feel like a Mac.

And it does. I’ve been typing and clicking on the Magic Keyboard for the last few days and it feels very similar to my Air. And it’s a night-and-day upgrade over the Smart Keyboard ($179+), Apple’s cheaper, other keyboard for the iPad Pro (which doesn’t have a trackpad). Here are my biggest takeaways.

It’s a joy to type on.

The keys on the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro use the same scissor mechanism as the keys on the new Air, and typing on both feels virtually identical. I love it and it’s a huge improvement from the minimal-travel butterfly keys on the older MacBook Pro and Air. Apple also decked this keyboard out with other familiar features, such as backlit keys that automatically adjust their brightness depending on ambient light conditions. The big omission here is that there are no function keys on the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard, meaning you’ll have to adjust things like screen brightness or speaker volume using traditional iPad/iPhone touch gestures. The other downside is that you can’t adjust the key’s backlight brightness on the keyboard itself — you have to go into a Settings menu — which might be a little annoying if you want to have the backlight off when watching movies or videos in a dark room.

These aren’t game changers — far from it — but it’s just one thing that kept reminding me: I’m using a tablet, not a laptop.

The trackpad is small, but everything you want.

There’s no getting around the fact that the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro is a shrunken-down version of the keyboard on the new Air; and since most people prefer big keyboards, it’s going to feel like a bit of a trade-off. The trackpad takes the bulk of the hit here as it’s roughly half the size of the trackpad on the Air. But aside from size, it feels almost identical — in fact, it might be even clicker. You can customize the speed of the cursor, and you can use one-, two- and three-finger swipe gestures. All exactly like you would do on a Mac.

The iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard (left) and the 2020 MacBook Air (right) are different in size, but feel very similar to type on.

This isn’t a flimsy add-on. It’s a well-made beast.

The keyboard magnetically clips onto your iPad Pro much the same way Apple’s other keyboard accessories, but it looks and feels a little different. It has a “dual-hinge, floating design” that looks pretty neat and allows you to adjust viewing angle between 90 and 130 degrees. It works well, but my only real complaint is that the display is right on top of the keyboard — it feels a bit crowded — but I guess that’s what you’d come to expect from an iPad accessory. That said, it’s really sturdy and feels premium — the iPad Pro doesn’t move around or sway when typing on this keyboard.

I’m not the most power user of the iPad Pro, admittedly. I wasn’t using Lightroom or Photoshop to tinker with photos, nor was I editing videos, so I can’t really speak to how using the Magic Keyboard with the iPad Pro would feel from the point of view from a creative, like a graphic designer, photographer or app developer. But as somebody who uses a Mac every day and has used many different iPads over the years, I can say that this the accessory that makes the iPad Pro feel most like a laptop. And it’s not even close.

Logitech is known for making great iPad accessories that are more affordable than what Apple is offering, but they don’t make a keyboard-and-trackpad combo for the new iPad Pros (yet). Its Combo Touch, for example, is extremely popular but only compatible with the iPad (7th generation), iPad Air (3rd generation) and older 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

The Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro is available right now.

(This article was written entirely using the iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard.)

Apple provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

More by Tucker Bowe | Follow on Instagram · Twitter · Contact via Email

Looking For a Smart Lock? This One Punches Well Above Its Weight

Brand: Wyze
Product: Wyze Lock
Price: $90 at launch, $100 list
From: wyze.com

Smart locks offer a whole host of features, depending on which one you settle on. There are locks that connect to smart assistants like Alexa or Google Home, ones that support biometrics and alarm system integration. But if you, like me, have smaller expectations of what your gadget should be able to accomplish, the Wyze Lock might be your best bet.

Controlled by the Wyze app, this smart lock offers the barebones capabilities you need to get the most basic and sanity-saving smart lock measures: namely the ability to check your phone to make sure the door is actually locked, and to set it up to lock behind you. After a few weeks of putting it through its paces, I definitely recommend it as a budget option for basic automation.

Installation is a breeze

One of my initial concerns with making the smart lock jump was how easy (and permanent) the installation process would be. I”m happy to report the Wyze is mercifully simple, subtle, and temporary. I’m a renter, and had basically no trouble replacing the apartment-facing side of my deadbolt in about 5 minutes, and my landlord will be none the wiser. Given how big and rectangular the Wyze lock is, it will take up a fair bit more real-estate on the inside of your door than some competing smart locks like the August, so beware of that if it might be an issue.

It’s missing smart home compatibility for now

The Wyze lock’s flagship feature — its $100 price point — also comes with a potential Achilles heel: no smart home support, at least not yet. As such, you can’t currently use Google Assistant or Alexa to lock your door with your voice, or whatever, but that seems dubiously useful to me and I have been more than happy using Wyze’s app, where you can unlock with the press of a button and a second or two of lag. It might be a little annoying if you already have a different smart home hub you are neck deep in, but given how little you actually need to interact with a lock, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem unless you are specifically looking to rig up some sort of advanced smart home use-case. And, when you are home, you can always just operate the sucker by hand if need be.

The primary way you interact with the Wyze lock is one big ol’ button.

But for a budget approach, it is the best

I wanted a smart lock for one primary reason: to not have to worry when I get that “Oh god, did I lock the deadbolt?” moment about 30 seconds after I hop into bed or leave the house. The Wyze lock is an extremely affordable way to save you the trip back to the front door. It might not be perfect for more advanced automation ideas, but if you are looking for peace-of-mind on a budget, you could do a lot worse.

Wyze provided this product for review.

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.
Eric Limer

Eric Limer is Gear Patrol’s tech editor. A resident of Weehawken, NJ, his current obsessions include mechanical keyboards, mechanical pencils and Formula 1.

More by Eric Limer | Follow on Instagram · Contact via Email

You’d Be Surprised How Solid This Pair of $29 Earbuds Is. We Were.

Brand: JLab Audio
Product: Go Air Wireless Earbuds
Release Date: February 2020
Price: $29
From: jlabaudio.com

The Go Air is the newest pair of wireless earbuds by JLab Audio, a company known for its great bang-for-your-buck headphones and earbuds. The Go Air are particularly interesting because they have similar features to many other wireless earbuds on the market — IPX4 water-resistance (same as AirPods Pro), 5-hours of battery life per earbud, and charging case that adds 15 extra hours (total) — and yet they cost just $29. That’s cheaper than many AirPods knockoffs that you can buy on Amazon. Heck, that’s cheaper than it costs to replace a lost AirPods (with AppleCare+). But at such a low price, these wireless earbuds can’t be good, right?

Well, you might be surprised. At a $29 price point, of course the JLab Go Air do not deliver incredible sound quality. But they are listenable and astoundingly reliable which makes them a great buy.

The charging case is both interesting and frustrating.

Right out of the gate you can see some of the corners JLab cut to get to this rock bottom price point. The Go Air does not include a wall adapter, for instance. Instead, there is a cable attached to the charging case, with a USB-A male connector, so you have to plug the case directly int a wall adapter or charger you already own.

The case also has no lid, presumably because a single piece with no hinge is cheaper to manufacture. The earbuds are held in place by relatively strong magnets, but without an actual lid, they are do have the potential to pop right out at any time. I was still able to dislodge them with one fell smack, similar to how you might get the last pair of Tic Tacs unstuck from the bottom of the container. A fun way to get your earbuds out, but definitely a danger if you drop the case.

The defining feature of the JLab Go Air definitely is price: they cost $29. But they’re not as bad as you might think.

The sound quality is predictably mediocre, but far from unlistenable.

I’m not here to tell you that the sound quality is great. In fact, it’s not. The bass is not very prominent and there’s a slight crackling in the background at times, especially when listening to pump-up pop and R&B music at high volumes, and it just can sound harsh. But then again, that’s what you get with a lot of really affordable headphones. It’s not gonna blow you away, but if you’re not somebody who just wants to listen to music on your commute or during a workout — yes, these are IPX4 — the JLab Go Air are likely to be fine. In fact, you’ll probably be over the moon that you didn’t have to drop $159 on AirPods or another “high-end” pair of wireless earbuds. And if you primarily listen to audiobooks or podcasts, they’re more than sufficient.

They’re dependable, which is more than you can say about a lot of wireless earbuds.

In my week of testing the earbuds’ audio never cut out, I never had any issues with fit or having them fall out of my earbuds, and I had never had any problems with battery life. In fact I was pleasantly surprised with how long they could go between charges. What’s more, they actually have some modern conveniences that you’d find in higher-end earbuds, such has sweat resistance and capacitive touch controls for play/pause and initiating your smartphone’s voice assistant. There’s even touch controls for adjusting the music’s EQ, though I can’t say the different modes made much of a difference.

All in all, the JLab Go Air are impressively competent for how cheap they are, and as such make terrific back-up buds or even daily drivers for those who are far more concerned about pricetags than sound quality.

JLab Audio provided this product for review.

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Tucker Bowe

Tucker Bowe has been on Gear Patrol’s editorial team since 2014. As a Tech Staff Writer, he tracks everything in the consumer tech space, from headphones to smartphones, wearables to home theater systems. If it lights up or makes noise, he probably covers it.

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