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Should You Buy a Mesh Wi-Fi System? An Expert Explains What You Need to Know

Mesh router systems are more popular than ever because it’s never been more important to have excellent home Wi-Fi. We have all sorts of devices that rely on it; whether that’s smart speakers or a smart security system, smart lights or just a smart TV. Maybe you just want to take your laptop anywhere in the house and be able to access the internet that’s as fast as it is in the best room of the house.

So, what is a mesh router system?

A mesh router is different than a traditional router system because it is able to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal from multiple points, rather than just one. There’s a router that connects to the modem, same as with a traditional router system, but then there are separate “points” that are positioned around the home that are able to rebroadcast the signal so that it covers more area. And the entire Wi-Fi signal is under one network name, so it’s really simple.

Traditional router systems, which your internet service provider (ISP) most likely provides, still work well enough for plenty of people, and if you’re not experiencing internet problems, then there’s no reason to switch to mesh router system. However, if you are having internet issues, a mesh router system might be a great solution.

Who Should Buy a Mesh Router System?

• If you’re constantly having to reboot your system — unplugging your router, waiting 10+ seconds and then plugging it back in — then you might want to think about switching to a mesh router.

• If there are multiple dead zones in your home, a mesh router promises to solve them. If you’re just looking to cure a singular dead zone, on the other hand, a Wi-Fi extender is probably the most cost-efficient solution. (Although, having multiple Wi-Fi extenders tends to add more complications, as each creates a new network and will have a different name, aka an SSID).

• If you have a home with multiple floors or just a large home — 3,000 square feet or more — a mesh router system can ensure great Wi-Fi coverage. You can just add extra points to your system and place them around your home.

The main downside to a mesh router system is that it’s a bit more expensive. It requires placing extra hardware around the house, and extra hardware is going to drive up the upfront price. Most of the popular mesh router systems, made by Google, eero, Netgear and Linksys, have starter kits that consist of a router and a singular point, and they usually go for between $250 and $300. You can then add more points, but each addition point tends to cost between $150 and $200.

We talked with Sanjay Noronha, the Lead Product Manager of Nest Wifi, who explained the advantages of a mesh router system, and the unique benefits Google’s solution affords.

Nest Wifi is newer, faster and more colorful than its predecessor, Google Wifi.

A mesh router system can’t work by itself. It still needs a modem, right?
This is true. Even if you don’t pay for cable, you need to have a modem from an internet service provider (ISP). However, once you have the modem you’re under no obligation to you use the internet provider’s router. “You can buy a third-party router from Best Buy for pretty cheap and you can save that recurring cost that they charge you — there’s like a $10 cost on your bill [each month],” Noronha explained. A mesh router is a great option if you want to solve the problem of multiple dead zones. Plus, these mesh router systems give you greater control of your home’s Wi-Fi.

How do the mesh points talk to each other? Is it a horizontal connection or is it more of a bubble?
The Wi-Fi signal that comes from the mesh router is shaped like a bubble. It spreads both horizontally and vertically. “Technically the antenna patterns are more like a donut,” said Noronha. “They kind of balloon out into two big globes that reach two floors up and two floors down, and they spread out to the sides as well. It’s a big donut with a small hole.” Then, each mesh point catches those antenna waves and then rebroadcasts it as its own donut.

Is the signal strength evenly distributed? Or is it weaker further away from the router or mesh point?
“It’s just physics,” said Noronha. “The further away you go from the source of the signal, the lower the signal will get. That is true for any system no matter what anybody will tell you.” If you want a more faster and stronger connection, as far as Nest Wifi is concerned, you can buy a two-pack of routers instead of a router-and-point starter kit. “We aren’t calling it a ‘pro pack,’ again this is all marketing, but the option is there for users who believe that they want a more robust connection.”

Is there a drop-off from a router-router pack to a router-point pack?
From a Wi-Fi point of view, a two router system is going to be more powerful. “If you’re just running a raw speed test, you’re probably going to see a little better coverage or speeds if you have two routers as opposed to a router and a point,” Noronha explained. “That’s just because routers are more powerful hardware and that’s again by design to allow more flexible placement of the points.” However, if you have a standard router and a point system, Noronha says you’ll be able to still run, in the furthest reaches of what Google considers ‘covered,’ two 4K TVs simultaneously in the room.

Is there a certain router per square foot ratio?
If you go to the Nest Wifi page on the Google Store’s website — here — and scroll down, it’ll help you figure out what kind of system is right for you. A one router system can cover up to 2,200 square feet. A router and point system, which Noronha says is probably best for most people’s homes, covers up to 3,800 square feet. Add a second point to the system and it’ll cover a home up to 5,400 square feet. Each point after that adds an extra 1,600 square feet.

If you get two routers, do you have to have two modems in your house, too?
No. What will happen is that the second router will mesh to the first router as a meshed point, Noronha explained. “So what you do is you put one of them by your modem and you put the other one somewhere else, like three or four rooms away, and then they will use their powerful radios to talk to each other, and then the second router will form a very powerful mesh point.”

What’s are the advantages of Nest Wi-Fi in particular?
There are a couple of advantages to using Google’s mesh router system. First, it uses the Google Home app and quickly walks you through the setup process, which should take less than 10. Each mesh point also has Google Assistant built-in and works exactly like a Google Home smart speaker (Noronha says each point has the same guts as a Google Home Mini, but actually sounds a bit louder because the cabinet is slightly larger.) Within the app, you’ll be able to see what your internet speed history is, how many points you have online, how many devices you have online. And you can run a quick speed test if you want, in the app or with a voice command. “You can say, ‘OK Google, run a speed test’ or ‘What’s my internet speed?’ or “Pause Wi-Fi for [person on Wi-Fi.’” You can also voice match these commands so, if you have kids, they can’t unpause the Wi-Fi whenever they want.

Within the Google Home app, you can also set up a guest network. “The guest network is a good thing from a Wi-Fi hygiene point of view,” Noronha said. “For example, a lot of my kids’ friends come over and they’ll have Windows laptops, which are notorious for viruses, and they could [spread] a virus to other devices on my network.” As for family Wi-Fi, within the app, you can easily set up scheduled pauses and turn on ‘safe search,’ so that kids can’t access explicit content.

Do you need to have other Google products or use Google’s other services to use Nest Wifi?
According to Noronha, Google’s mesh router system is designed to be neutral and agnostic. The new mesh points in Nest Wifi are integrated with Google Assistant and you could use them as Google Home speakers, so there’s obviously some preferential treatment there. (You can’t turn them into Alexa smart speakers, for example.)

The other thing that Nest Wifi has a “Gaming Preferred” mode that’s specifically designed for Stadia, Google’s new wireless gaming service. You can turn this on within the Google Home app and it optimizes the Wi-Fi connection for Stadia for a specific time. That said, you can prioritize the internet connection for any device, whether it’s a specific laptop, smartphone or even an Xbox One. All this can easily be done within the Google Home app.

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.

These Are My New Favorite Noise-Canceling Headphones

Brand: Bowers & Wilkins
Product: PX7 Noise-Canceling Headphones
Release Date: October 2019
Price: $399
From: amazon.com

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7 are the company’s new flagship noise-canceling headphones. They are essentially upgraded, redesigned versions of the B&W PX headphones, which we reviewed two years ago and loved for their industrial design and epic soundstage. The new models are lighter thanks to a carbon fiber design, and they now support USB-C fast charging. They cost the same, however, which is a fairly hefty $400 and puts them in the same price range as the new Bose Headphones 700.

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What We Like

There’s a lot to like about the Bowers & Wilkins PX7. They’re noticeably more comfortable to wear than the original PX headphones, thanks to their lighter design and more rounded earcup design. And they’re easier to control your music and the noise-cancellation because the physical buttons on the side of each earcup are more pronounced (and more clicky). On the left earcup, you can switch between four strengths of noise-cancellation (low, medium, high and off), with a subtle voice telling you which mode you’ve just switched to. On the right earcup, there are buttons to turn the volume up or down, as well as play/pause the music. There are optical sensors in the earcups so they’ll automatically play/pause when you put on and take off the headphones, just like AirPods.

The sound quality of the PX7 is, once again, the main reason to get these headphones — they sound exceptional. As was true with Bowers & Wilkins’s previous noise-canceling headphones, the PX7s create a very wide soundstage, more than any other noise-canceling headphones that I’ve tested. It feels like you’re in a concert hall listening to a live show, as you can hear all the instruments, where they were placed on the stage, and the vocals are crisp and clear.

According to Bowers & Wilkins, these are also the first headphones that support Qualcomm’s new Bluetooth aptX Adaptive technology, which allows them to wirelessly stream 24-bit/48kHz high-resolution audio with extremely low latency. So in addition to sounding excellent, the PX7s are designed to especially have zero lag, which is ideal for smartphone games and Netflix bingers.

Watch Out For

Bowers and Wilkins’s newest noise-canceling headphones aren’t the most travel-friendly. They aren’t completely foldable like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, although they do fold flat, and the rigidness of the headband and the size of the earcups — they’re rather large — means that you probably are going to treat them on the precious side. There’s also no app to adjust the EQ settings, which a lot of people tend to like (few people want another app on their smartphone), but it means you can’t adjust the sound signature if you don’t like it. Finally, $400 is undoubtedly on the expensive side.

Other Options

If you love the design and sound of the PX7 but aren’t a big fan of over-ear headphones, the company actually makes an on-ear version of these noise-canceling headphones: the B&W PX5 ($299). They’re a $100 cheaper and almost as good as the PX7, although the noise-cancellation isn’t as impressive and they don’t sound quite as good (the PX7 have larger speaker drivers than the PX5).

In terms of the style, sound quality and price, the two obvious alternatives are Bose’s new noise-canceling headphones, the Headphones 700 ($399), and Sennheiser’s new noise-canceling headphones, the Momentum Wireless 3 ($400).

Verdict

The Bowers & Wilkins PX7s are excellent noise-canceling headphones that prioritize sound quality over everything else, with maybe the company’s signature industrial design coming a close second. They might not be as travel-friendly as some of the more popular cans by Sony and Bose, but if you’re comfortable with the $400 price tag, these are some of our favorite noise-canceling headphones you can buy right now.

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Bowers & Wilkins 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.

This Unique Field Watch Is Perfect for the Design-Obsessed

Brand: anOrdain
Product: Model 2
Release Date: Fall 2019
Price: $1,230+
From: anOrdain.com

When they released their initial watch, the Model 1, in 2018, anOrdain grabbed our attention by its lapels. Here was an indie watch brand — a Scottish one –making an affordable grand feu-dialed watch. The dials sang, in beautiful colors, which was rare enough. But so did the rest of the watch: a spare, clean design, with a sensible case shape and unique typography inspired by a vintage map of the area around Loch anOrdain in northern Scotland.

In 2019, the company released their second watch, called simply the Model 2. It has the same affordability and grand feu enamel dial, with a palate of beautiful and interesting colors. But they tweaked the case and the feel of the entire watch significantly; rather than a simple 38mm 3-hander, this was 36mm. AnOrdain’s founder, Lewis Heath, told me they were excited that it had a “field watch feel.” Other reviewers have called it a tool watch. Compounded with the fact anOrdain discontinued the Model 1 in 2019, and there was a lot of pressure on this watch.

What We Like

Like the Model 1, the Model 2’s grand feu enamel dial is gorgeous in person. Color options are striking and unique. In fact, the design of this watch is unlike anything else out there — something you can’t say that about many other indie brands these days. Plus, at 36mm, it’s the perfect size for people who enjoy watches on the smaller side; more and more brands are putting out 38mm and 39mm watches these days, but few dare go this small. It works beautifully.

Who It’s For

Aesthetes, engineers, and architects. Yes, it’s got a few field watch features, like a movement with shock protection. But the styling of this watch is not at all for the dive watch- or tough beater field watch- set. It’s for watch lovers who like highly stylized watches, and who appreciate indie brands that strike out on their own when it comes to design.

Watch Out For

A purple watch sounds fantastic, but you might worry about not being able to match your look every day; should you go with the more plain grey and white? (A proper buyer’s conundrum.) Though very small, the Model 2 actually wears more like a 38mm due to its large crown guard. And even though its sapphire crystal has 6 layers of anti-reflective coating, I still found it reflective and hard to read in the sunlight. Oh, and the handwound Sellita SW210-1 has shock protection, which is great, but I found its roughly 38 hours of power reserve to require a bit too much winding. (Then again, maybe I’m a spoiled automatic guy.)

Other Options

The anOrdain Model 1, for one — but that’s been discontinued, which I find a great shame. Seiko’s Presage line is another great reasonably affordable take on the enamel dial look, and the three-hander comes in at about the same price. As far as unique design goes, you could call Nick Harris over at Orion Watches a similarly bold indie designer; NOMOS also comes to mind.

Review

The first concern when choosing an anOrdain watch is color. All the options are beautiful and interesting: the Model 2 is currently offered online in Torr Blue, Moss Green, Purple, Midnight Green, Grey, and White. (Not to mention the dazzling fumé dials, which go for ~$1,948.) I quickly realized I was spoiled for choice. Each of these was unconventional enough to warrant pause, even for a guy who enjoys his baby-blue, bakelite-bezeled Zodiac Sea Wolf.

One of the striking fumé dial Model 2 watches

The question of which color to pick throws the bigger question of the watch into focus. What is this watch? How would I wear it? If it’s an everyday wearer, would purple make sense? If it’s a field watch, would I want light blue to match the sky, or deep green to blend with the forest?

Eventually I settled (maybe I chickened out) on a grey dial. The idea here was to wear it every day, in a variety of uses, and I didn’t want to limit those by choosing a particularly bold color. The grey, in person, fit this use very well. Like grey eyes, it seemed to shift color depending on its surroundings: against a rare LA grey sky, it seemed dark; against lively greenery, it took on an olive hue.

The grand feu enamel dial is a selling point of the watch, and in person it did not disappoint. The enamel is slightly mottled when viewed up close, the subtlest kaleidoscope of hues. The slight dimple at the dial’s center, where the base of the hands connect, is one of my favorite peculiarities of the watch; it feels handmade, and yet perfect. The hand-painted hour markers in black and silver are gorgeous, with a different feel than those of the Model 1. The skeletonized syringe hands, alternatively, were a little disappointing: they felt a bit too stylized for my liking, and the luminous finishing on their tips looked a little rough.

At 36mm it’s oddly sized for the current market, but I personally found it the perfect fit: I’m constantly complaining that no brand makes a good, complete watch like my old Zodiac Sea Wolf, which is 35.5mm and doesn’t feel small at all. The Model 2 actually wears quite large on the wrist — I’d guess it closer to 38mm, if I didn’t know the diameter.

This is because the case is quite a hunk of metal. Not in respect to thickness — it’s 11mm, with a curved case back, and wears very comfortably on the wrist. No, the size here is because of its unique design. The brushed steel bezel is hearty, while not dive-watch thick. The crown guards arch out imposingly to cup the crown. When you look at it closely, you see the beauty of the design and its excellent execution. When you glance, you just get the sense that it’s big and solid, maybe a little chubby.

Which is, I think, what Heath was talking about when he said it had a field watch feel. Truth is, beyond that pleasant chunkiness, I found its vibe to be the exact opposite. Wearing it on a hike, I was vexed: why did this thing feel so odd and out of place? Then I saw it: with its suede strap, architectural case, utilitarian hands and highly stylized hour markers, it wasn’t the watch of some roughneck explorer. It was the watch of an architect, an engineer, an aesthete.

Verdict

I love the anOrdain Model 2 because it’s different. Enough already with the Submariner homages. Indie brands that boldly do their own thing are rare these days. Does anOrdain pull the Model 2 off perfectly? Not quite. But its grand feu dial selling point shines in person, and its aggressive reach for something different is admirable, and the right fit for the right type of watch lover.

What Others Are Saying:

• “We often associate modern, oversized watches with durability and ruggedness, but anOrdain understands that it’s not size, but design, that makes a watch appropriate for the field. There’s nothing delicate about the Model 2 — you can imagine it simply existing on your wrist unobtrusively until it’s called upon.” — Zach Kazan, Worn & Wound

• “The size is one of its biggest assets, disappearing on your wrist as you go about your day, whether on the hiking trail, beach or office. It’s both outdoorsy and elegant, and I quickly grew to appreciate its small dimensions.” — Erik Slaven, Monochrome

anOrdain 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.

Amazon Claims Its Echo Buds Have Great Noise Cancellation — But Does It Actually Work?

Brand: Amazon
Product: Echo Buds
Release Date: October 30, 2019
Price: $130
From: amazon.com

When Amazon announced the Echo Buds ($130), its first truly wireless earbuds, there was a little bit of confusion. At the initial announcement, Amazon implied it had partnered with Bose to integrated its renown noise-cancelation technology into the Echo Buds. It was later clarified that the Echo Buds had Bose’s “active noise-reduction” technology, evidently distinct from Bose’s “active noise-cancellation” technology, with Bose reps claiming the Echo Buds’ tech was different and less effective that what will be found in the first-party earbuds Bose plans to release in 2020. Still, at $130, which is wildly cheap compared to other noise-canceling wireless earbuds on the market, such as Sony WF-1000XM3 ($228+) and Apple’s AirPods Pro ($249), putting the Echo Buds in a position to really shake up the market if their noise-canceling powers can pull through.

What We Like

The good news is that, in practice, the Echo Buds are impressive. Their noise-canceling ability is on par with the likes of Sony’s and Apple’s new wireless earbuds, which I think has a lot to do with Bose’s technology, but also to do with the way the Echo Buds fit in your ears. Each earbud is rather large, similar to the Jabra Elite Active 65t ($138+) or the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless ($299), and they create a very tight seal against your ear; in this way they’re able to passively and actively reduce noise.

There are more layers than just noise-canceling, too. The Echo Buds have an easy-to-access transparency mode (called passthrough mode), which you can switch to by double-tapping the right or left earbud. They are also pretty interwoven with the Alexa app. Here, you can adjust the EQ of the audio you’re listening to, turn the built-in microphones off (which is good if you don’t ever want to talk to Alexa, and bad if you plan on taking calls with the earbuds), adjust the strength of the transparency mode and, just like with the new AirPods Pro, have the earbuds run a “eartip sizing test.”

Lastly, the Echo Buds are IPX4 water and sweat resistant, just like the AirPods Pro and Powerbeats Pro ($200+), so you can wear them working out or running. In addition to coming with multiple silicone ear tips, the Echo Buds also come with silicone ear wings in case you want that extra layer of snugness for working out. If you attach the ear wings, there’s no issue fitting the Echo Buds back in the charging case.

Watch Out For

There’s no getting around the fact that Echo Buds will never be the sexy choice for wireless earbuds. They look pretty generic and they feel very plastic-y, because that’s exactly what they’re made out of. The fact that they still charge via micro-USB is a pretty big bummer, considering that very few “new” gadgets still require that charging cord. Some people won’t like how large the Echo Buds are, as well as how snug they fit — could cause greater ear fatigue compared to other wireless earbuds.

The Echo Buds are Amazon’s first wireless earbuds.

Other Options

The Echo Buds’ noise-canceling abilities make it a legit alternative to Apple’s AirPods Pro ($249), the Sony WF-1000XM3 ($228+) and the Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus ($299). It’s going to be interesting to see how much better (and more expensive) Bose’s first true wireless earbuds with active noise-cancellation, the Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700, when they arrive in 2020. These other higher-end options do have generally superior sound quality, but you will certainly be paying a premium for it.

Second, its sweat-resistance and secure fit make the Echo Buds an excellent option for anybody looking for true wireless workout headphones. Some of our current favorite workout buds include the Jaybird Vista ($180), the Powerbeats Pro ($200+) and the Jabra Elite Active 65t ($147+).

And lastly, the Echo Buds are affordable enough to fall into the budget category of wireless earbuds. Some alternatives include the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Air 2 ($100) and Soundcore Liberty 2 Wireless Earbuds ($100).

Verdict

The Echo Buds are a no-brainer buy for anybody who doesn’t want to dish out more than $130 on wireless earbuds. They don’t sound quite as great as the AirPods Pro, or most of the high-end alternatives by Sennheiser, Bose, Jabra or Master & Dynamic for that matter, but what they deliver in terms of fit, versatility, and noise-cancellation and transparency modes, more than makes up for it. They are certainly in the conversation for being one of the best wireless earbuds you buy right now. Call me impressed.

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.

How This Weird Little Keyboard Is Making Me Better at Typing

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 $30 off its $170 price tag, and right now, first-time Drop buyers will get an extra $20 off. 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. The deal expires on 11/25/19, so if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, now is a great time.

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.

Is This the Best-Sounding Wireless Speaker Under $500?

Earlier this year, Bowers & Wilkins released its super high-line of wireless multiroom speakers, named “Formation,” and the big thing with them, other than being beautiful and well designed, was that they were able to stream higher quality audio than pretty much all its competitors (namely Sonos, Bose and Apple’s HomePod). They work like most Wi-Fi speakers, as you can still stream music via Spotify Connect or AirPlay, but the speakers actually establish their own proprietary wireless mesh network between themselves and can thus stream up to 96/24-bit audio. Of its Formation speakers, I’ve reviewed the Wedge, a 120-degree wedge-shaped all-in-one speaker that also happened to be the smallest and cheapest Formation speaker you could buy.

Since then, Bowers & Wilkins has added an even smaller and more affordable wireless speaker to its Formation line. The all-new Flex is a cylindrical front-firing speaker with a woven grille. It gets its “flex” name because it’s versatile, able to be designated as a right or left channel alongside another Flex speaker, or two can work as rear-channel speakers with a Formation Bar (B&W’s soundbar) in a home theater system. The B&W Formation Flex costs $450.

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The Good: The Formation Flex is certainly one of the best-sounding “compact” speakers you can buy right now. In the press release announcing the speaker, B&W claimed that the Flex was “the highest quality sound ever found in a standalone wireless speaker of its size,” and to be honest, I can’t really say much to refute that. It has a decoupled double-dome tweeter (that uses the same technology found in the company’s higher-end 600 series speakers) and a 4-inch woven glass fiber cone bass/midrange driver, both of which have their own dedicated amp and DSP. All this ends up meaning that the Flex delivers a rich and accurate audio experience (which is what B&W speakers are known for), one that sounds best when played at medium to high volumes.

B&W has really nailed down the setup process with its Formation line. In regards to the Flex, specifically, the setup process is almost identically to the latest Sonos speaker (the Move); you just download the app, connect the speaker to Wi-Fi and then – bam – you’re finished. There’s no self-tuning process because, like Apple’s HomePod or the Sonos Move, the Flex has a kind-of dynamic equalizing software, meaning the speaker can autotune itself in realtime for the room it’s in.

If you’ve bought into B&W’s ecosystem, meaning you’ve invested in other Formation speakers, you can do some pretty neat things with the Flex. Although I wasn’t able to test this, you’re able to pair Flex speakers together so they play in a stereo tandem, or you can designate two Flex speakers are rear-channel speakers with the B&W’s Formation Bar (soundbar) and have a 5.1 home theater system. You are able to do the same kind of thing with a Sonos system, with two Sonos Ones (or two Sonos One SLs) and any one of Sonos’s soundbars.

Who It’s For: The Formation Flex is for anybody who wants a beautiful wireless speaker that sounds great – and they’re willing to pay a little over the odds to get it. Obviously, if they’re already invested in B&W’s Formation ecosystem, the Flex makes sense because it’ll pair so easily.

Watch Out For: The Flex is optimized to be a standalone speaker or work in a multiroom audio system with other Formation speakers; even though it technically can play in a multiroom system with other speakers (via AirPlay 2) it’s not going to sound the same. There aren’t any analog connections on the speaker. And despite it looking like a 360-degree speaker, the Flex is not – it’s a forward-firing speaker so it’s going to sound best if it’s facing your direction. Lastly, it’s more expensive than most other speakers that are its size.

Alternatives: The Formation Flex is a powered, front-firing all-in-one speaker, and can be best considered as a high-end version of a Sonos One SL ($179). It’s not a smart speaker, like HomePod, although it’s probably most similar to Apple’s speaker in terms of sound quality. If you want to “go bigger” than the Flex, B&W’s Formation Wedge ($900) is essentially a bigger and better sounding version of the Flex. Also, Naim Audio just released the second-generation of its Mu-so Qb speaker ($899) for those who love high-end speakers with spectacular volume dials.

Verdict: The smallest speaker in Bowers & Wilkins’s new Formation lineup, the Flex, still sounds big. The combination of design, sound quality and price (and lack of a built-in voice assistant) means that the Flex is definitely not your run-of-the-mill entry-level speaker – not everybody is going to buy it. But those who do aren’t going to be blown away with the way it sounds (and looks). Just make sure it’s in an area where you can play it loud.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Voices are very clear and the top end is super open and extended. This little guy sounds like a decent home speaker. The bottom end is what is the most impressive though. Most speakers with this kind of footprint have bass, but it is more of the one-note variety where it is hard to hear tonal differences and is bloated in the midbass.” — N/A, Audio Advice

• “So far, we’re very impressed by the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Flex – it’s incredibly powerful, offers fantastic audio fidelity, and it looks just as good as the other products in the Formation range. Even better, unlike its siblings, it’s not prohibitively expensive, either. Sure, it’s pricey, but it’s a great way to gain entry to the Formation lineup without breaking the bank.” — Olivia Tambini, Tech Radar

Key Specs

Speaker: compact speaker
Drivers: 1-inch decoupled double dome tweeter (1x), 4-inch woven glass fibre cone bass/midrange (1x)
Frequency response: 50Hz to 28kHz
Weight: 5 pounds
Connectivity: Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon Ready, Bluetooth aptX HD

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Bowers & Wilkins 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.

Sennheiser’s Noise-Canceling Headphones Are a Beautiful Blend of Old and New

Sennheiser is one of my favorite audio companies. Its Momentum TW are amoung the best-sounding true wireless earbuds we’ve ever tested. Its 13-speaker beast of a soundbar, the Ambeo Soundbar, sounds simply incredible. And its previous noise-canceling headphones, the Momentum Wireless 2 (also called the HD1 Wireless), were simple-yet-fantastic. Obviously, there’s a catch with all of these products and that’s price. Sennheiser makes high-end audio products and they are accordingly expensive.

That’s a trend that holds true with its latest noise-canceling headphones, the Momentum Wireless 3. Of course, $400 isn’t unheard of when it comes to noise-canceling headphones; Bose and Bowers & Wilkins both released noise-canceling headphones in 2019 that cost $400, while Master & Dynamic’s own MW65 cost $500. The thing with Sennheiser’s new noise-canceling headphones is that they carry the company’s premium sound quality, but maybe more importantly, they don’t look like any other noise-canceling headphones on the market. It also should be noted that they’re decidedly better than Momentum Wireless 2 in almost every way.

The Good: Sennheiser’s second-generation noise-canceling headphones, the Momentum Wireless 2, were decidedly simple. They didn’t have any advanced features and won’t let you adjust the noise-canceling at all (it was always on, whether you liked it or not) – and the new Momentum Wireless 3 are definitely not that. They have optical sensors to automatically play and pause music when you place and remove the headphones on your head. There’s now a companion app that lets you adjust EQ and levels of noise-cancellation, as well as select a virtual assistant. There’s a transparency mode. They charge via USB-C (thank goodness). And then even have a Tile integration to help you find the headphones should you misplace them.

But that doesn’t mean Sennheiser has completely abandoned old-school touches that are still terrific for their simplicity. The headphones still have physical buttons to adjust volume, answer calls and adjust the noise-cancellation. As somebody who dislikes the ambiguity and lack of feedback that comes part and parcel with the swipe gestures you find on the Sony WH-1000M3 or Bose’s Headphones 700, I really appreciate this restraint. And yet the Momentum Wireless 3 still have the new features that I like too, like how they start playing every time I put them on, pause when I take them off and shut off completely when I fold them up. It’s equal parts intuitive and pleasant.

If you’ve ever used Sennheiser’s previous noise-canceling headphones, maybe the biggest upgrade with the new models is comfort. Sennheiser decked the Momentum Wireless 3 with huge, plush leather earcups. Not only does the extra padding make the earbuds a heck of a lot more comfortable – I had no issues wearing them for long stretches during work – but its density also lends itself to passive noise isolating; not as much outside noise gets in, thus these headphones sound better. But as a downside, this extra padding really makes these headphones look big on your head.

As far as sound quality, you can expect the Momentum Wireless 3 to sound as good if not better than most other new noise-canceling headphones. The sound is warm and accurate, but you’re also not getting that incredible soundstage that Bowers & Wilkins headphones are known for. You might like that. You might not. The noise-canceling abilities of these headphones is also pretty top-tier as well, and you can adjust the power of the noise-cancellation within the companion app (there are three different settings).

Who It’s For: Anybody who retro-industrial design of the Momentum Wireless 3 and wants some really great noise-canceling headphones. Of course, as they’re a little bit more expensive, you should be cool with dropping $400 on headphones, too.

Watch Out For: Aside from being on the expensive side, there are just a few things that could affect your purchasing decision. First, there’s no dedicated power button which is a bit strange. If you want to turn the headphones off, you have to fold them up. It’s also not super intuitive to adjust the levels of noise cancellation; you have to switch between the three settings within the app, but there’s no way of immediately adjusting on the actual headphones. Lastly, the claimed 16-hour battery life is on the low end compared to other wireless noise-canceling headphones.

Alternatives: Every audio company these days seems to be throwing its hat in the ring in regards to noise-canceling headphones. That said, these are premium noise-canceling headphones whose main competition is between three other companies: Sony, Bose and Bowers & Wilkins. Sony’s WH-1000XM3 are probably the best all-around choice if you want the best-sounding headphones with the most modern features. Bose’s new Headphones 700 ($400) remain the pick of the bunch for phone calls and overall noise-canceling abilities; while the QuietComfort 35 IIs remain a great and slightly cheaper alternative. And Bowers & Wilkins’s newest headphones, the PX7 ($400), are another premium option.

Verdict: There’s really not too much negative to say about the Sennheiser’s new-and-improved noise-canceling headphones. The Momentum Wireless 3 sound, look and feel great. What these headphones do best, however, is they blend all the new-age features that people want (and weren’t available on Sennheiser’s previous headphones) with the old things that people will want (like buttons!). If you like the industrial design and you’re comfortable forking over $400 on headphones, these headphones are fantastic.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Noise cancellation is really good. It outperforms the Master & Dynamic MW65 when it comes to filtering out midrange and treble frequencies. However, the low-end attenuation isn’t great compared to top competitors like Sony, Bose, and AKG. If you spend a lot of time on rickety trains, you’ll likely prefer the performance of the previously mentioned brands. If you go with Sony or AKG, you’ll save a significant amount of cash, too.” — Lily Katz, Sound Guys

• “The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 are a great and much-needed update to Sennheiser’s high-end wireless headphones. I really like their retro-inspired design, and they’re comfortable to wear. It’s also nice to see Sennheiser experiment with some newer features, even if it doesn’t stick the landing on all of them. Tile support is a nice addition, for example, but I would have really liked to have seen a traditional on / off button in addition to being able to turn them off by collapsing them. If you’ve been holding off on buying the current Sennheiser Momentums because of their slightly dated specs, then the new headphones are a great update.” — Jon Porter, The Verge

• “The weird thing to me, still, is that it took me a few days to love the new Momentum Wireless. If you’re upgrading from the old generation, there’s a little bit of a learning curve, as the new Sennheiser’s are smarter. You will immediately love the sound quality, though. If you’re looking for serious noise-canceling headphones, the new Momentums might impress you less than the latest Sony or Bose headphones. If you’re on a bit of a budget, you can save $100 or so by getting the Jabra Elite 85h, which offer a lot of the same features as the new Sennheisers. But if you just want the best all-around wireless headphones, look no further than the Momentum Wireless. They’re simply majestic.” — Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

Key Specs

Drivers: N/A
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Charging Port:: USB-C
Battery Life: 16 hours
Key features: Sennheiser Smart Control app, Transparency mode, Tile integration

Sennheiser provided this product for review.

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Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Is This the Perfect Entry-Level Smartwatch?

Last fall, Fitbit released the Fitbit Versa – and I loved it. It was a simple-to-use smartwatch that was slim and bespoke, relatively affordable, an excellent fitness tracker and it had a battery life that lasted nearly a week. It was a great entry-level smartwatch for basically anybody, but especially casual smartwatch wearers, and it worked equally well with both iPhone and Android.

The next generation of that smartwatch, the Versa 2, doesn’t mess too much with last year’s success. It has the same relative look and feel of the original Versa, but Fitbit updated in nearly every way. It has an even simpler design, a better processor, a new OLED display (a welcome improvement over the Versa’s LCD display), and improved sleep tracking. The most “touted” new feature is the addition of Alexa integration, so you can tell the smartwatch to do things like set alarms and control your other compatible smart home devices. Lastly is price: the Versa 2 comes exactly the same as last year’s Versa.

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The Good: The Versa 2 is a better entry-level smartwatch than last year’s Versa, which is something you’d both expect and welcome. The two most important upgrades are that the Versa two now has an always-on display (if you select it) and superior sleep tracking feature, called Sleep Score, which gives you a nice little rating out of 100 – the higher the number, the better your sleep. If you’re fine wearing a smartwatch to bed and you want to track your sleep, the Versa 2 is exactly what you want.

As was true with the Versa, a huge selling point of the Versa 2 is its battery life. If you elect to not have an always-on display (it’s off by default) the Versa 2 can last around five days on a single charge; if you have the always-on display, it lasts around three days. Either way, this battery life which is huge, especially when you consider an Apple Watch lasts roughly 18 hours and is not designed to wear while you’re sleeping.

There are two other big reasons to buy a Versa 2. First, it’s solid and intuitive fitness-tracking abilities. It has an always-on heart-rate monitor and can accurately track things like steps and calories. It also, like the Apple Watch, has automatic workout detection, so if you forget to start a walk, run, bike ride or pool workout, the smartwatch won’t skip a beat. And secondly, the Versa 2 is very slim and lightweight, and it’s one of the most comfortable smartwatches that I’ve ever worn.

Who It’s For: The Versa 2 is an entry-level smartwatch designed for anybody who wants a good fitness tracker with some smartwatch-y features (like see call and text notifications, and control music). If you’re somebody who wants to keep track of your sleeping, the Versa 2 is particularly good. It works equally well for iPhone and Android users.

Watch Out For: The new Alexa integration might come as a welcome addition for some, but it really shouldn’t be the main reason to buy this smartwatch. The fact is that most people don’t really need (or want) to talk to Alexa when they’re outside the house. Also, talking to Alexa on the Versa 2 isn’t like talking to Siri on the Apple Watch. For instance, you can’t tell Alexa to send text messages, open certain apps or even play/pause music; all it can do is answer specific queries (“Alexa, what’s the weather?”), set timers and alarms, and control some of your connected smart home gadgets. The other thing is that there’s no speaker, so you won’t be able to hear Alexa and all its answers will just appear on the screen – it’s far from a seamless experience.

As was true with the Versa, the Versa 2 lacks a dedicated GPS, meaning if you want reliable workout data you’ll have to have your smartphone nearby. This is a big bummer for runners. There’s also no LTE model available for the Versa 2.

There’s a new Spotify app that’s available on the Versa 2, which isn’t available on the Versa, but it’s not super helpful. Like with the Apple Watch, the Spotify app on the Versa 2 doesn’t let you download anything (playlists, albums, songs, podcasts) for offline listening. If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, only a select few Garmin and Samsung smartwatches do this.

Also, the Versa 2 still comes with a proprietary charger. The annoying thing is that it looks and feels just like the proprietary charger that came with the original Versa, which I didn’t like to begin with, but it’s actually not the same and won’t work with previous Versa smartwatches. I still have and use my Versa, and mixed up the chargers on several occasions, which was obviously frustrating.

Alternatives: Fitbit has a right to feel frustrated after the latest Apple hardware announcements. That’s because, in addition to announcing new high-end Apple Watches, Apple also dramatically reduced the price of its two-year-old smartwatch – you can now buy an Apple Watch Series 3 for $200, which is the exact price of the Fitbit Versa 2. Basically, if you have an iPhone and you want an entry-level smartwatch that works well with it, the Series 3 is probably a better bet.

Verdict: The Versa 2 is a better version of last year’s Versa, which was the best entry-level smartwatch for most people, Android or iPhone owner, who just wanted an easy-to-use smartwatch to track fitness. A year later, the Versa 2’s main problem is that there’s more competition, especially within its $200 price range. The Versa 2’s best qualities are its 5-day battery life, its great fitness and sleep tracking, and it’s super-slim design. If you those things are important to you, then the Versa 2 remains one of the best – if not the best – entry-level smartwatches you can buy. However, the reality is that the Versa 2 will feel more like a glorified fitness tracker than an actual smartwatch, especially if you have an iPhone or Samsung smartphone.

What Others Are Saying:

• “If you’re not wedded to Fitbit’s platform, the Versa 2 is a harder sell when you compare it with other $200 smartwatches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3, which both have GPS, onboard music storage and contactless payments. One feature that could set the Versa 2 apart is Fitbit’s new subscription service, but it will take a lot to convince me to spend $80 more per year. Still, the Versa 2 is a very good fitness-focused smartwatch that offers plenty of insights into your overall health, subscription or not.” — Mike Prospero, Tom’s Guide

• “Overall, the Versa 2’s fitness tracking features are the best and most comprehensive you’ll find on any smartwatch, even though it doesn’t have a dedicated GPS radio and relies on your phone for GPS tracking.” — Dan Seifert, The Verge

• “If not for its connectivity problems, the Versa 2 would be an excellent smartwatch. It offers accurate, comprehensive fitness features and a nice design for a reasonable price. It’s also one of the longest-lasting smartwatches around, while the Alexa integration makes it more useful than its predecessor. I just wish Fitbit would get its Bluetooth act together already, and give me a better OS.” — Cherlynn Low, Engadget

Key Specs

Display: 300 x 300 pixel touchscreen AMOLED
Water resistance: swimproof; up to 50 meters
Sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, vibration motor, NFC
Battery life: 5 days; ~3 days with always-on display

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Fitbit provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Is This Still the Perfect Entry-Level Smartwatch?

Last fall, Fitbit released the Fitbit Versa – and I loved it. It was a simple-to-use smartwatch that was slim and bespoke, relatively affordable, an excellent fitness tracker and it had a battery life that lasted nearly a week. It was a great entry-level smartwatch for basically anybody, but especially casual smartwatch wearers, and it worked equally well with both iPhone and Android.

The next generation of that smartwatch, the Versa 2, doesn’t mess too much with last year’s success. It has the same relative look and feel of the original Versa, but Fitbit updated in nearly every way. It has an even simpler design, a better processor, a new OLED display (a welcome improvement over the Versa’s LCD display), and improved sleep tracking. The most “touted” new feature is the addition of Alexa integration, so you can tell the smartwatch to do things like set alarms and control your other compatible smart home devices. Lastly is price: the Versa 2 comes exactly the same as last year’s Versa.

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The Good: The Versa 2 is a better entry-level smartwatch than last year’s Versa, which is something you’d both expect and welcome. The two most important upgrades are that the Versa two now has an always-on display (if you select it) and superior sleep tracking feature, called Sleep Score, which gives you a nice little rating out of 100 – the higher the number, the better your sleep. If you’re fine wearing a smartwatch to bed and you want to track your sleep, the Versa 2 is exactly what you want.

As was true with the Versa, a huge selling point of the Versa 2 is its battery life. If you elect to not have an always-on display (it’s off by default) the Versa 2 can last between five and six days on a single charge; if you have the always-on display, it lasts around three days. Either way, this battery life which is huge, especially when you consider an Apple Watch lasts roughly 18 hours and is not designed to wear while you’re sleeping.

There are two other big reasons to buy a Versa 2. First, it’s solid and intuitive fitness-tracking abilities. It has an always-on heart-rate monitor and can accurately track things like steps and calories. It also, like the Apple Watch, has automatic workout detection, so if you forget to start a walk, run, bike ride or pool workout, the smartwatch won’t skip a beat. And secondly, the Versa 2 is very slim and lightweight, and it’s one of the most comfortable smartwatches that I’ve ever worn.

Who It’s For: The Versa 2 is an entry-level smartwatch designed for anybody who wants a good fitness tracker with some smartwatch-y features (like see call and text notifications, and control music). If you’re somebody who wants to keep track of your sleeping, the Versa 2 is particularly good. It works equally well for iPhone and Android users.

Watch Out For: The new Alexa integration might come as a welcome addition for some, but it really shouldn’t be the main reason to buy this smartwatch. The fact is that most people don’t really need (or want) to talk to Alexa when they’re outside the house. Also, talking to Alexa on the Versa 2 isn’t like talking to Siri on the Apple Watch. For instance, you can’t tell Alexa to send text messages, open certain apps or even play/pause music; all it can do is answer specific queries (“Alexa, what’s the weather?”), set timers and alarms, and control some of your connected smart home gadgets. The other thing is that there’s no speaker, so you won’t be able to hear Alexa and all its answers will just appear on the screen – it’s far from a seamless experience.

As was true with the Versa, the Versa 2 lacks a dedicated GPS, meaning if you want reliable workout data you’ll have to have your smartphone nearby. This is a big bummer for runners. There’s also no LTE model available for the Versa 2.

There’s a new Spotify app that’s available on the Versa 2, which isn’t available on the Versa, but it’s not super helpful. Like with the Apple Watch, the Spotify app on the Versa 2 doesn’t let you download anything (playlists, albums, songs, podcasts) for offline listening. If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, only a select few Garmin and Samsung smartwatches do this.

Also, the Versa 2 still comes with a proprietary charger. The annoying thing is that it looks and feels just like the proprietary charger that came with the original Versa, which I didn’t like to begin with, but it’s actually not the same and won’t work with previous Versa smartwatches. I still have and use my Versa, and mixed up the chargers on several occasions, which was obviously frustrating.

Alternatives: Fitbit has a right to feel frustrated after the latest Apple hardware announcements. That’s because, in addition to announcing new high-end Apple Watches, Apple also dramatically reduced the price of its two-year-old smartwatch – you can now buy an Apple Watch Series 3 for $200, which is the exact price of the Fitbit Versa 2. Basically, if you have an iPhone and you want an entry-level smartwatch that works well with it, the Series 3 is probably a better bet.

Verdict: The Versa 2 is a better version of last year’s Versa, which was the best entry-level smartwatch for most people, Android or iPhone owner, who just wanted an easy-to-use smartwatch to track fitness. A year later, the Versa 2’s main problem is that there’s more competition, especially within its $200 price range. The Versa 2’s best qualities are its 6-day battery life, its great fitness and sleep tracking, and it’s super-slim design. If you those things are important to you, then the Versa 2 remains one of the best – if not the best – entry-level smartwatches you can buy. However, the reality is that the Versa 2 will feel more like a glorified fitness tracker than an actual smartwatch, especially if you have an iPhone or Samsung smartphone.

What Others Are Saying:

• “If you’re not wedded to Fitbit’s platform, the Versa 2 is a harder sell when you compare it with other $200 smartwatches, such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active and the Apple Watch Series 3, which both have GPS, onboard music storage and contactless payments. One feature that could set the Versa 2 apart is Fitbit’s new subscription service, but it will take a lot to convince me to spend $80 more per year. Still, the Versa 2 is a very good fitness-focused smartwatch that offers plenty of insights into your overall health, subscription or not.” — Mike Prospero, Tom’s Guide

• “Overall, the Versa 2’s fitness tracking features are the best and most comprehensive you’ll find on any smartwatch, even though it doesn’t have a dedicated GPS radio and relies on your phone for GPS tracking.” — Dan Seifert, The Verge

• “If not for its connectivity problems, the Versa 2 would be an excellent smartwatch. It offers accurate, comprehensive fitness features and a nice design for a reasonable price. It’s also one of the longest-lasting smartwatches around, while the Alexa integration makes it more useful than its predecessor. I just wish Fitbit would get its Bluetooth act together already, and give me a better OS.” — Cherlynn Low, Engadget

Key Specs

Display: 300 x 300 pixel touchscreen AMOLED
Water resistance: swimproof; up to 50 meters
Sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, optical heart rate monitor, altimeter, ambient light sensor, vibration motor, NFC
Battery life: up to 6 days; ~3 days with always-on display

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Fitbit provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story
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 North Face Claims Its New Outerwear Is Revolutionary, but Does It Work?

A version of this article originally appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “The Review: The North Face FutureLight.” Subscribe today

In 2017, after summiting 14,000 feet to the peak of Colorado’s Mt. Sneffels, Andres Marin turned to Scott Mellin, holding a sweat-soaked layer he’d just peeled off his back, and asked something to the effect of, “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to do this all the time?”

Any mountaineer, rock climber, backcountry snowboarder, resort skier, hiker, runner or bike commuter can describe the unpleasant clamminess that percolates inside a waterproof shell under hard exertion. But Marin, a professional climber for The North Face, and Mellin, the company’s Global General Manager of Mountain Sports, were in a position to do something about it.

Less than two years later, The North Face is releasing its first collection featuring FutureLight, a new and potentially revolutionary waterproof fabric technology that the company has been teasing for the better part of 2019.

The dream of FutureLight is simple, which is not to say easy: waterproof technical apparel that’s so breathable the wearer remains dry inside and out, even during serious effort. Every outdoor brand from Patagonia to Arc’teryx has been trying to solve this riddle for years; the breathable-waterproof conundrum has remained the Gordian Knot of the outdoors industry.

To make a fabric that lets sweat escape while still keeping rain or snow out, materials companies have long relied on substances like polyurethane and polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. Gore-Tex, for example, makes its Pro membrane from a sheet of PTFE stretched to just .01 millimeters thick, with roughly nine billion pores per square inch. That’s small enough to prevent a water droplet from sieving through but plentiful enough to let body vapor out — up to a point.

FutureLight features a polyurethane manufactured through nanospinning, a process already used in technology and medical fields. The polymer starts as a liquid solution that gets drawn through over 200,000 nanosized nozzles to create indescribably thin threads that are then layered into a mesh-like pattern of crisscrossed fibers and intervening gaps.

Roughly 4,300 feet later I reached Ski Hayden Peak’s 13,316-foot summit, damp but not drenched, and very comfortable.

The North Face claims an ability to “tune” the membrane to create more or fewer of these gaps, increasing or decreasing a fabric’s breathability. This allows the company to craft FutureLight-equipped garments for wildly different activities, from urban running to off-piste skiing. I got a chance to test the stuff last winter, in Aspen, on peaks not far from where Marin and Mellin had their epiphany.

I’m attuned enough to know I run hot, so I typically start a climb wearing little more than a long-sleeved base layer, even when temperatures are in the teens: I’d rather start chilly than strip layers mid-ascent as I begin to sweat. But, for the sake of testing the new fabric, I donned both a base layer and a light fleece under The North Face’s A-Cad Jacket and bib, two products admittedly designed more for downhill than uphill use.

Previous experience insisted I was overdressed, but roughly 4,300 feet later I reached Ski Hayden Peak’s 13,316-foot summit, damp but not drenched, and very comfortable. I didn’t have to start the climb cold, and I also didn’t have to futz with layers in the summit wind. All I had to do was zip up my armpit vents.

FutureLight recently debuted in jackets and pants designed for skiing, snowboarding, alpine climbing and other cold-weather, high-elevation activities; next spring it will weave its way into new windbreakers, rain jackets and footwear. Recently, I stumbled into the perfect urban test for the forthcoming Arque Active Trail FutureLight Pullover rain jacket: a New York City downpour on the way home from work.

Aboveground, rain fell in sheets while below, the subway became a sauna. Wearing a rain jacket on a steamy subway car usually means a sweat-soaked shirt, but when I arrived home after the half-mile walk from the station, the only dry bit of fabric on my body was my shirt.

After more than half a year of sporting FutureLight for climbing, skiing and trekking around town, the largest dilemma I can identify is the need to rethink my layering entirely. Because the A-Cad jacket is so breathable, I have to wear more than usual to stay warm inside of it. Other early testers have suggested these new materials are more wind-permeable, which makes sense, though I didn’t experience that myself.

Some also point out that, despite TNF’s marketing push, nanospun membranes are not new. The technology was introduced most notably in Polartec’s Power Shield Pro and NeoShell fabrics, which debuted in 2009 and 2010, respectively, though with far less fanfare. The North Face concedes the membrane construction is similar to past products but notes points of differentiation in the process — notably, the brand developed its own machines to produce the material in a factory that makes electronic insulating elements outside of Seoul, South Korea.

But the unquestionable difference will be scale: the sheer variety of products that will come equipped with FutureLight from a brand of The North Face’s stature (the company’s annual revenue tops $2 billion) immediately raises the material’s profile — and application — across the board. By the end of 2020, every waterproof garment the brand produces will feature the stuff. That means, whether consumers are buying products for FutureLight or just the TNF logo, that FutureLight is destined to find its way onto city streets and backcountry trails across the globe. Not bad for a product born out of a sweaty conversation between two friends on top of a mountain.

Review: The Weirdest Headphones You’ll Ever Own

You’ve never worn headphones like these before. That’s because the Human Headphones are “the world’s first true wireless over-ear headphones,” or at least that’s how the company behind them, Human Inc, is advertising them. You can think of them over-ear headphones, just without the headphone, or something similar to AirPods, but instead of being in-ear headphones, they clip on and fit over your ears. Aside from the obvious visual differences, these Human Headphones are a bit more versatile than almost every other pair of headphones. They work with Google Translate and help the wearer translate up to 11 different languages. And when you magnetically clip the two earcups together, you can transform them into a portable Bluetooth speaker. Pretty neat.

The Good: The two things that really stand out with the Human Headphones are 1) the audio quality and 2) the fresh design of the product. They sound better than pretty much any pair of true wireless earbuds – the sound is fuller, more immersive and with considerably punchier bass. Then again, this improvement is sound quality should probably be expected; over-ear headphones naturally have better passive noise-isolation, so there’s less ambient interference, and because there are two speaker drivers in each earbud, the Human Headphones are going to sound way more dynamic.

The design of the Human Humans impresses straight out of the box. From the smooth and ear-shaped design, to the way the two ear cups magnetically snap together, to the innovative way they actually hold onto your ears without ever hurting or being uncomfortable, the Human Headphones are just a delight – to hold, to look at and to wear. Clearing a ton of time was spent making sure these things were designed as immaculately as possible and it shows.

The design of the app is also pristine. I’ve tested a lot of headphones, many of which come with companion apps that, well, you want to get out of them almost immediately after opening. That’s not the case with the Human app. It’s wonderfully sharp and clean, with instructive how-to videos and other helpful insights to help you get the most out of the headphones. They also share similar swipe gestures as many popular over-ear headphones; you can adjust the volumes, switch tracks and go into an ambient sound mode, just by touching the earpads.

The translate feature works pretty well from what I can tell. To access it, you need to open the Human app, select the quick translate feature and it can help you say any simple sentence or question in up to 11 languages, or interpret something in another language back to English. Having only a very basic understanding of Spanish, I had it the Human app translate some very basic sentences from English to Spanish, and vice versa, and it did a pretty quick-and-OK job.

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Who It’s For: It’s tough to say who the Human Headphones are exactly for. Technically, they’d be a good option or anybody that’s willing to try a completely new type of headphones and won’t mind getting some strange stares and answering questions like “What are those?” On that note, these should be used wireless headphones first and foremost; the speaker and translate modes feel like nice add-ons that you will probably rarely use.

Watch Out For: It’s not necessarily fair, but the fact that the Human Headphones are so different than everything else out there, whoever is wearing them is going to elicit some stares. When wearing as over-ear headphones there’s some pretty significant audio bleed-through; if you’re listening to music or anything at any volume over 50-percent, there’s a pretty good chance that the people around you will be able to hear exactly what you’re listening to. The app can be glitchy at times; on several occasions, I was forced to restart the app because it wouldn’t allow me to switch back to headphone mode after using the headphones as a Bluetooth speaker. Speaker of using it as Bluetooth speaker, it’s not very good and sounds marginally better than your smartphone’s speaker on full blast.

Alternatives: Since the Human Headphones are a completely new kind of audio product, there really isn’t anything to compare them against. Of course, if you’re just looking for wireless headphones, there are seemingly infinite alternatives in the over-ear and in-ear variety.

Verdict: The worst thing I can say about the Human headphones is that they look strange, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A few years ago when AirPods were just coming out, people thought they looked strange, too, and now they’re everywhere. The bottom line is that the Human Headphones better most every true wireless earbuds on the market, and they fit pretty great (for most people), too. If you can get around the fact that these headphones look a little bit different, then you might be able to justify the $259 price tag that they are going for.

What Others Are Saying:

• “If you’ve been wanting to try a new headphone and hate the thought of going back to the same brands, you definitely should give these headphones a try. I’m not sure if the $399 cost is justified since I personally look for noise-canceling and comfort when it comes to investment in headphones. However, I can see the perks of having a device that is so easily controlled with the tip of your finger.” — Roy Kim, Medium

• “Human Headphones are as crazy as they are cool. If you prefer the quality of over-the-ear headphones, these might be worth checking out.” — Michael Strange, The Gadgeteer

Key Specs

Type: 3 in 1 true wireless design
Frequency Range: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Bluetooth: 4.2
Battery life: Up to 9 hours

Human Inc provided this product for review.

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The Sonos Move Does It All, For Better and For Worse

The Sonos Move ($399) represents a bunch of “firsts” for Sonos. It’s the company’s first Bluetooth speaker, its first portable speaker and, thus, its first speaker to have a built-in battery (which Sonos had to build from scratch). Unlike all other Sonos speakers before it, the Move is designed to be listened to in, around and outside the home. And if you’re wondering, yes, the Move is weatherproof and drop-resistant, making it Sonos’s first truly rugged speaker, too.

Of course, the Move is still a Sonos speaker and it’s designed to work as such. It can connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network and, via the Sonos app, be grouped with other Sonos speakers in a multi-room system. It’s also a smart speaker, just like the Sonos One, so you can speak to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant and request a song, adjust the volume or ask about the weather.

There are a couple of big questions surrounding the Move. In terms of sound quality, how does it compare to other Sonos speakers? And how should the Move be used? Is it more of a traditional Sonos speaker that, instead of being tethered to the wall, can be carried from room to room? Or is it more a portable Bluetooth speaker, designed to be listened to outside?

The biggest question, at least for me, has to do with the “Sonos experience.” The audio company is so beloved because its speakers sound great and work with almost every music streaming service, but, most importantly, they’re easy enough for anybody to use. So the fact that the Move can be constantly be moved around, switched between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modes – does that negatively impact that Sonos experience?

The Good: The Sonos Move has that “Sonos sound” – it sounds warm, lively and punchy, both inside and outside, just as you’d expect from a Sonos speaker. Sonos specially designed it with a downward-firing tweeter and forward-firing woofer, and the result is that the Move has more of a 360-dree sound than any other speaker. (Fun fact: even though the Play:1 and Sonos One speakers have a dotted grill the wraps sound most of the speaker, both are still forward-firing and not omnidirectional speakers.) In terms of sound quality and power, the Sonos Move sounds more closely to the Sonos One ($199) rather than the larger and more expensive Play:5 ($499); but it’s definitely in-between the two.

The other neat thing about the Move is that Sonos rejiggered TruePlay technology so that it works with the Move. TruePlay is the in-app feature that helps tune each Sonos speaker so that it sounds best for the room it’s in; it’s a typically a one-time process that requires you to wave your smartphone around while the speaker makes some strange noises. Sonos knew this would be a pain in the ass with the Move, to have listeners set up TruePlay every time they moved the speaker, so they developed Automatic TruePlay.

Instead of going through the app and waving your phone around (typical TruePlay behavior), the Move uses its built-in microphones and automatically tunes itself ever time you move it. It’s convenient and you can hear the difference. For example, when you move the Move from an open space to a closed-in space, like a media cabinet, you can hear the speaker lower its bass and crank up its mids and treble. All this happens in the space of a few seconds and, again, it requires nothing out of the listener (the microphones have to be on, though). Pretty cool.

When it’s not on its charging dock, or charging via USB-C, the Move has a ten-hour battery life – which is decent. That said, it has a pretty neat trick to save battery life. Anytime the speaker is not powered and it’s not playing music, meaning it could be in either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth modes, the Move will automatically turn off after a few minutes. According to Sonos, the Move can stay in this “Suspend mode” for up to five days before needing a visit back to the charger.

The biggest thing, at least for me, is that the Move doesn’t really complicate or change the Sonos experience. Because it’s the first Sonos speaker that has automatic TruePlay, it arguably makes the Move even easier to set up than other speakers. If there’s one caveat to this “Sonos experience,” it’s that the Move will automatically connect back to your home’s Wi-Fi when switching back from Bluetooth mode, but it won’t regroup with your other Sonos speakers. Basically, you’ll have to visit the Sonos app if you want to regroup your speakers after using the Move as a Bluetooth speaker. Not the end of the world, but something to watch out for.

Who It’s For: The Sonos Move won’t be for everybody. In fact, it’s a speaker with a hint of irony about it. Sonos designed it so that it could work for anybody in any situation – whether that’s indoors or outdoors, in your home or far from it – but it’s actually a speaker that’s optimal for a select few people. It’d be a great addition to somebody’s household who just wants a great-sounding speaker in every room of their house, but only wants to buy one speaker. If the person has a Sonos system and has an outdoor space (backyard or patio) that’s covered by Wi-Fi, then the Move would be a great way to extend your home’s sound outdoors. Finally, if the person is just a die-hard Sonos enthusiast, they really can’t go wrong with the Move.

Watch Out For: The Sonos Move loses many of its best features when being used as a Bluetooth speaker. It can’t function as a smart speaker, so you can’t access Alexa or Google Assistant. Its automatic TruePlay doesn’t work, so it won’t sound as good as it possibly could. It’s can’t operate as a stereo pair with another Sonos Move (both speakers have to be connected to Wi-Fi for stereo pairing).

It’s also the first Sonos speaker that you’ll have to worry about replacing its battery (because it’s the only one to have a battery). Sonos claims that its battery should last roughly three years or 900 charges, but this will be an extra cost down the road; Sonos will sell the replaceable batteries, but they have yet to announce pricing. It’s worth noting that even if the Move’s battery does die, as long as it’s connected to power it will still function as a typical Sonos speaker.

At $399, the Sonos Move definitely feels expensive for what it is. It’s also not a small speaker and even though Sonos claims that it’s a great portable Bluetooth speaker (which I feel it definitely is), I have a hard time picturing many people lugging this 6-pound speaker to the beach.

Alternatives: As far as getting an entry-level Sonos speaker, you could buy two One ($199/ea) or two One SL ($179/ea) speakers, each of which has almost the same audio quality as the Move. If you don’t care about the versatility of the Move, just the audio quality, the Play:5 is a little bit more expensive and definitely is the superior-sounding speaker.

If you’re not committed to the Sonos ecosystem, there are plenty of alternatives. For instance, the UE Blast ($100) and UE Megablast ($170+), both of which are smart Wi-Fi speakers that work with Alexa and they are two of the best portable Bluetooth speakers, too.

It’s worth point out that Bose, arguably Sonos’s biggest speaker rival, recently released the Bose Portable Home Speaker ($349), which is a very similar speaker to the Sonos Move. The Bose Portable Home Speaker works with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and can be grouped with Bose’s other multi-room speaker.

Verdict: The Sonos Move is a completely different kind of Sonos speaker, yet it still manages to feel…like a Sonos speaker. It sounds great, truly, and in some respects, it’s actually easier to set up and get playing than any other new Sonos speaker. That said, it feels a little expensive for what it is and unless you’re really going to take advantage of its versatility – take it from room to room, take it outdoors, and use it as true Bluetooth speaker – Sonos makes several other more affordable speakers that you’ll probably enjoy just as much.

What Others Are Saying:

• “For a lot of serious Sonos fans, the Move will be a no-brainer. Folks have been wondering for years when Sonos will make the jump to Bluetooth and make its famously exceptional multi-room wireless speaker systems more versatile. A lot of those people have invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into their Sonos systems, and the idea of adding one more—one that has Bluetooth, that can go anywhere—is exciting. The Move sounds like a Sonos speaker. It works with all the other Sonos speakers. Sure, a Sonos diehard will love this thing. The average consumer just looking for a portable speaker, however, might not be so enthusiastic.” — Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

• “The Move also cannot connect to multiple phones or devices at a time either, so you only get to have one DJ at your party. Oh, and though Sonos is known for its ability to group multiple speakers into ad-hoc zones, this isn’t possible on Bluetooth. And that’s despite many competing speakers, like that Megaboom we keep mentioning, having the ability to daisy-chain together. For now, it’s clear that Sonos still sees Bluetooth as an add-on, not a core focus. Sonos could add more Bluetooth features in the future via app updates (something it does frequently), but the company’s heart still lies with Wi-Fi..” — Jeffrey Van Camp, Wired

• “The biggest question that most people seem to have about the Move is about whether it’s worth the nearly $400 price tag. Frankly, it’s a tough price to swallow for what largely amounts to a $200 Sonos One with a battery bolted to the bottom of it. It’s also a lot more money than the typical Bluetooth speaker costs. But the Move also does things that no other Sonos speaker nor any other Bluetooth speaker can do, and it does it all without compromising on sound quality, volume, or features.” — Chris Welch, The Verge

Key Specs

Drivers: One downward-firing tweeter, one mid-woofer; two Class-D digital amplifiers
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
Battery: up to 10 hours
Water Resistance: IP56 rating
Weight: 6.6 pounds

Sonos provided this product for review.

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Sonos Move Review: The Perfect Do-It-All Home Speaker

The Sonos Move ($399) represents a bunch of “firsts” for Sonos. It’s the company’s first Bluetooth speaker, its first portable speaker and, thus, its first speaker to have a built-in battery (which Sonos had to build from scratch). Unlike all other Sonos speakers before it, the Move is designed to be listened to in, around and outside the home. And if you’re wondering, yes, the Move is weatherproof and drop-resistant, making it Sonos’s first truly rugged speaker, too.

Of course, the Move is still a Sonos speaker and it’s designed to work as such. It can connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network and, via the Sonos app, be grouped with other Sonos speakers in a multi-room system. It’s also a smart speaker, just like the Sonos One, so you can speak to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant and request a song, adjust the volume or ask about the weather.

There are a couple of big questions surrounding the Move. In terms of sound quality, how does it compare to other Sonos speakers? And how should the Move be used? Is it more of a traditional Sonos speaker that, instead of being tethered to the wall, can be carried from room to room? Or is it more a portable Bluetooth speaker, designed to be listened to outside?

The biggest question, at least for me, has to do with the “Sonos experience.” The audio company is so beloved because its speakers sound great and work with almost every music streaming service, but, most importantly, they’re easy enough for anybody to use. So the fact that the Move can be constantly be moved around, switched between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modes – does that negatively impact that Sonos experience?

The Good: The Sonos Move has that “Sonos sound” – it sounds warm, lively and punchy, both inside and outside, just as you’d expect from a Sonos speaker. Sonos specially designed it with a downward-firing tweeter and forward-firing woofer, and the result is that the Move has more of a 360-dree sound than any other speaker. (Fun fact: even though the Play:1 and Sonos One speakers have a dotted grill the wraps sound most of the speaker, both are still forward-firing and not omnidirectional speakers.) In terms of sound quality and power, the Sonos Move sounds more closely to the Sonos One ($199) rather than the larger and more expensive Play:5 ($499); but it’s definitely in-between the two.

The other neat thing about the Move is that Sonos rejiggered TruePlay technology so that it works with the Move. TruePlay is the in-app feature that helps tune each Sonos speaker so that it sounds best for the room it’s in; it’s a typically a one-time process that requires you to wave your smartphone around while the speaker makes some strange noises. Sonos knew this would be a pain in the ass with the Move, to have listeners set up TruePlay every time they moved the speaker, so they developed Automatic TruePlay.

Instead of going through the app and waving your phone around (typical TruePlay behavior), the Move uses its built-in microphones and automatically tunes itself ever time you move it. It’s convenient and you can hear the difference. For example, when you move the Move from an open space to a closed-in space, like a media cabinet, you can hear the speaker lower its bass and crank up its mids and treble. All this happens in the space of a few seconds and, again, it requires nothing out of the listener (the microphones have to be on, though). Pretty cool.

When it’s not on its charging dock, or charging via USB-C, the Move has a ten-hour battery life – which is decent. That said, it has a pretty neat trick to save battery life. Anytime the speaker is not powered and it’s not playing music, meaning it could be in either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth modes, the Move will automatically turn off after a few minutes. According to Sonos, the Move can stay in this “Suspend mode” for up to five days before needing a visit back to the charger.

The biggest thing, at least for me, is that the Move doesn’t really complicate or change the Sonos experience. Because it’s the first Sonos speaker that has automatic TruePlay, it arguably makes the Move even easier to set up than other speakers. If there’s one caveat to this “Sonos experience,” it’s that the Move will automatically connect back to your home’s Wi-Fi when switching back from Bluetooth mode, but it won’t regroup with your other Sonos speakers. Basically, you’ll have to visit the Sonos app if you want to regroup your speakers after using the Move as a Bluetooth speaker. Not the end of the world, but something to watch out for.

Who It’s For: The Sonos Move won’t be for everybody. In fact, it’s a speaker with a hint of irony about it. Sonos designed it so that it could work for anybody in any situation – whether that’s indoors or outdoors, in your home or far from it – but it’s actually a speaker that’s optimal for a select few people. It’d be a great addition to somebody’s household who just wants a great-sounding speaker in every room of their house, but only wants to buy one speaker. If the person has a Sonos system and has an outdoor space (backyard or patio) that’s covered by Wi-Fi, then the Move would be a great way to extend your home’s sound outdoors. Finally, if the person is just a die-hard Sonos enthusiast, they really can’t go wrong with the Move.

Watch Out For: The Sonos Move loses many of its best features when being used as a Bluetooth speaker. It can’t function as a smart speaker, so you can’t access Alexa or Google Assistant. Its automatic TruePlay doesn’t work, so it won’t sound as good as it possibly could. It’s can’t operate as a stereo pair with another Sonos Move (both speakers have to be connected to Wi-Fi for stereo pairing).

It’s also the first Sonos speaker that you’ll have to worry about replacing its battery (because it’s the only one to have a battery). Sonos claims that its battery should last roughly three years or 900 charges, but this will be an extra cost down the road; Sonos will sell the replaceable batteries, but they have yet to announce pricing. It’s worth noting that even if the Move’s battery does die, as long as it’s connected to power it will still function as a typical Sonos speaker.

At $399, the Sonos Move definitely feels expensive for what it is. It’s also not a small speaker and even though Sonos claims that it’s a great portable Bluetooth speaker (which I feel it definitely is), I have a hard time picturing many people lugging this 6-pound speaker to the beach.

Alternatives: As far as getting an entry-level Sonos speaker, you could buy two One ($199/ea) or two One SL ($179/ea) speakers, each of which has almost the same audio quality as the Move. If you don’t care about the versatility of the Move, just the audio quality, the Play:5 is a little bit more expensive and definitely is the superior-sounding speaker.

If you’re not committed to the Sonos ecosystem, there are plenty of alternatives. For instance, the UE Blast ($100) and UE Megablast ($170+), both of which are smart Wi-Fi speakers that work with Alexa and they are two of the best portable Bluetooth speakers, too.

It’s worth point out that Bose, arguably Sonos’s biggest speaker rival, recently released the Bose Portable Home Speaker ($349), which is a very similar speaker to the Sonos Move. The Bose Portable Home Speaker works with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and can be grouped with Bose’s other multi-room speaker.

Verdict: The Sonos Move is a completely different kind of Sonos speaker, yet it still manages to feel…like a Sonos speaker. It sounds great, truly, and in some respects, it’s actually easier to set up and get playing than any other new Sonos speaker. That said, it feels a little expensive for what it is and unless you’re really going to take advantage of its versatility – take it from room to room, take it outdoors, and use it as true Bluetooth speaker – Sonos makes several other more affordable speakers that you’ll probably enjoy just as much.

What Others Are Saying:

• “For a lot of serious Sonos fans, the Move will be a no-brainer. Folks have been wondering for years when Sonos will make the jump to Bluetooth and make its famously exceptional multi-room wireless speaker systems more versatile. A lot of those people have invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into their Sonos systems, and the idea of adding one more—one that has Bluetooth, that can go anywhere—is exciting. The Move sounds like a Sonos speaker. It works with all the other Sonos speakers. Sure, a Sonos diehard will love this thing. The average consumer just looking for a portable speaker, however, might not be so enthusiastic.” — Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

• “The Move also cannot connect to multiple phones or devices at a time either, so you only get to have one DJ at your party. Oh, and though Sonos is known for its ability to group multiple speakers into ad-hoc zones, this isn’t possible on Bluetooth. And that’s despite many competing speakers, like that Megaboom we keep mentioning, having the ability to daisy-chain together. For now, it’s clear that Sonos still sees Bluetooth as an add-on, not a core focus. Sonos could add more Bluetooth features in the future via app updates (something it does frequently), but the company’s heart still lies with Wi-Fi..” — Jeffrey Van Camp, Wired

• “The biggest question that most people seem to have about the Move is about whether it’s worth the nearly $400 price tag. Frankly, it’s a tough price to swallow for what largely amounts to a $200 Sonos One with a battery bolted to the bottom of it. It’s also a lot more money than the typical Bluetooth speaker costs. But the Move also does things that no other Sonos speaker nor any other Bluetooth speaker can do, and it does it all without compromising on sound quality, volume, or features.” — Chris Welch, The Verge

Key Specs

Drivers: One downward-firing tweeter, one mid-woofer; two Class-D digital amplifiers
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
Battery: up to 10 hours
Water Resistance: IP56 rating
Weight: 6.6 pounds

Sonos provided this product for review.

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This Absurd Backup Battery Can Charge Every Gadget You Own and Then Some

Portable power is a quickly evolving category, and Ecoflow’s Delta 1300 demonstrates just how far it’s come. Lithium-ion batteries are not just for your phone; this compact and powerful battery bank is a lightweight gas-free, emissions-free generator that’s powerful enough to run woodshop tools, office electronics, a portable refrigerator or medical device, and light enough to carry between locations. As an emergency back-up generator, it will keep you charged and comfortable in a power outage, but it has so much functionality it won’t gather dust while you’re waiting for the next blackout. In addition to charging phone, drone, and laptop, and to running circular saws, air compressors, and lights, Delta can charge an electric car enough to eke out another five to seven miles until you can get to a proper charger.

The Good: The Delta 1300 has 6 AC outlets, 2 USB-C PD ports, 4 USB outlets, and it’s rechargeable from a wall socket, carport, or solar panel. This unit plugs into the wall with the same cord you’d use to plug in a computer. There’s no specialized, device-specific power brick required, so you don’t have to worry about misplacing your charger. The Delta can juice 13 devices simultaneously, which means you’ll be popular at festivals and trade shows with one of these in your tent, van or booth. A large LCD screen tells you how much battery the lithium-ion bank has left, both by percentage and hours. The readout is based on the Delta’s activity at any specific time. For example, it’ll likely read 99 hours when you plug in your dead cell phone. If it’s charging a large Dometic fridge/freezer, the readout will more likely be 20-32 hours. It’s super portable at around 30 lbs and the size of a toaster oven with oversized handles that are easy to grab

Who It’s For: If you’ve ever considered a gas-powered generator as an emergency backup, you’re a candidate for Delta. If you want to run power tools away from a wall plug or without the hassle of ultra-long extension cords you need one of these. If you live off-grid, whether you’re stationary or mobile, Delta can power your lights, tools, electronics and appliances. In an emergency not only will it power a fan or heater, lights, and microwave, it can power a medical device like a CPAP. It can also give people who require electrical medical devices some freedom to roam.

Watch Out For: It’ll take you some time actually using the Delta before you’ll be able to get a good handle on how long it will actually last in various scenarios. Most electrical devices pull power at a variable rate, so the number of remaining hours of power displayed on Delta’s screen may change without notice if your gadgets suddenly get a bit hungrier. I plugged a Dometic fridge/freezer into the Delta, and the screen told me I had 38 hours of run time. Four hours later, the screen told me I had 20 hours of run time. The change makes sense. When the fridge needed cooling, its energy consumption was greater. The Delta records its own power output continuously and as it does, the unit adjusts its battery life readout. When the fridge reached temperature, then the remaining battery time on Delta’s screen went back up. That said, the battery life estimates shared by EcoFlow seem to be extremely accurate and not inflated.

Alternatives: There are other battery-powered generators out there, as well as gas-powered generators. Most gas generators are more expensive, as are other powerful battery generators. Gas generators are loud, smelly and you can’t run them safely inside because of their carbon monoxide emissions. They need annual maintenance. Delta requires no annual maintenance. The battery maintains its charge for a year untouched, and the only noise is a quiet hum. The only emission from Delta is a little bit of heat.

There are other battery power banks on the market, like the Goal Zero Yeti 1400. That unit takes 12 times longer to charge plugged into a wall, it weighs 50 percent more, and it’s slower to charge with a solar panel. EcofFow’s claimed power capabilities for the Delta 1300 are considerably greater than those claimed by Goal Zero for the Yeti 1400. The Yeti 1400 is twice the price and claims a lifecycle of 500 charges, versus EcoFlow Delta’s claimed life of 800 charges.

Review:

To use Delta, you press the power button and then press a second on/off switch for AC or DC power. The LCD screen, in addition to telling you hours and battery percentage remaining, indicates high and low temperature, whether the fan is working, input, output with an overload warning.

We ran every tool we had and charged every device: circular saws, table saws, shop vacs, computers, phones, fridges and more. We were only able to fully drain the battery during the course of normal use when we plugged in a full freezer trying to cool its contents from 14°F to 0°F. The battery lasted at least 20 hours; we woke up to it needing a recharge.

Delta goes from zero percent charge to 80 percent charge in an hour, and can fully charge with just two hours plugged into the wall. EcoFlow says Delta charges in four hours via a solar panel. In order achieve such short charge times, EcoFlow also developed a charging technology, bi-directional X-stream Charge, that allows alternating current AC from a wall outlet to be directly inputted into Delta’s inverter, increasing its charging power at the same time. “By passing through the inverter directly, we can increase charging speed to more than ten times of the traditional AC to DC adapter cable,” said EcoFlow found Eli Harris. The proprietary charging technology also integrates all direct current power supplies below DC 60V, from an adapter, solar or car DC output, into one input port. The result is that users don’t need to consider whether they recharge Delta with a wall plug or solar panel. The system automatically recognizes the power source.

In addition to a new charing technology, the company built an entire proprietary internal integrated architecture from the ground up to maximize Delta’s power storage efficiency. EcoFlow designed and developed every component inside Delta, which includes more than 100 battery cells. Harris said one of the company’s biggest challenge was effectively monitoring and managing the operation of the whole system in real-time. EcoFlow’s battery management system was key. Harris and his team built it so the main controller collects the temperature and power status of each battery cell in real-time and then adjusts the charging current and the voltage to ensure the safest, fastest charging rate. When the unit is in idle, the battery management system monitors and adjusts the unit’s power status to ensure lower power consumption and extended standby power storage, which is how the company achieved a shelf-life of a year plus.

Delta is designed to take a beating. The unit we tested was pre-production, so did not have the correct casing. But we know from testing EcoFlow’s River battery bank that they know how to make their power banks durable without a heavy, bulky full-steel casing. Harris says that Delta’s housing was inspired by Tesla, and that final production will use a combination of aerospace-grade aluminum and high-strength steel to give Delta maximum strength and structural rigidity. It will be combined with impact-absorbing plastic, protective rigid metal plates, and four aluminum pillar reinforcements so that Delta is worthy of withstanding the hazards of a job site, garage project or bouncing around in the back of an off-road vehicle.

Verdict: Harris says he created EcoFlow to build this generator, and while we expect the company to blow this battery’s capacity out of the water with future versions, this one is undoubtedly worth owning for anyone who needs a reliable source of power or backup power. The Delta raised over $1M in the first 48 hours on Kickstarter, and it’s currently nearing $1.5M. Delta 1300 is an awesome solution for home or home office, van life and for powering tools away from a wired source of electricity. None of the claims made on EcoFlow’s Delta Kickstarter page are exaggerated. We were impressed with Delta’s power, versatility, quick charge time and compact size. Support Delta before the campaign closes on October 19—and as thanks for your trust in the company’s technology, you get peace of mind via a lifetime battery warranty.

Key Specs

Weight: 30 lbs
Ports: 6 AC outlets, 2 USB-C PD, 4 USB
Shelf Life: 12 months
AC Output: 1600w (surge 3100w)
Charge Time: 1.7 hours
Type: Lithium-Ion
Price: $699

EcoFlow provided this product for review.

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

Ecoflow Delta 1300 Review: A Battery So Beefy It Can Change a Car

Portable power is a quickly evolving category, and Ecoflow’s Delta 1300 demonstrates just how far it’s come. Lithium-ion batteries are not just for your phone; this compact and powerful battery bank is a lightweight gas-free, emissions-free generator that’s powerful enough to run woodshop tools, office electronics, a portable refrigerator or medical device, and light enough to carry between locations. As an emergency back-up generator, it will keep you charged and comfortable in a power outage, but it has so much functionality it won’t gather dust while you’re waiting for the next blackout. In addition to charging phone, drone, and laptop, and to running circular saws, air compressors, and lights, Delta can charge an electric car enough to eke out another five to seven miles until you can get to a proper charger.

The Good: The Delta 1300 has 6 AC outlets, 2 USB-C PD ports, 4 USB outlets, and it’s rechargeable from a wall socket, carport, or solar panel. This unit plugs into the wall with the same cord you’d use to plug in a computer. There’s no specialized, device-specific power brick required, so you don’t have to worry about misplacing your charger. The Delta can juice 13 devices simultaneously, which means you’ll be popular at festivals and trade shows with one of these in your tent, van or booth. A large LCD screen tells you how much battery the lithium-ion bank has left, both by percentage and hours. The readout is based on the Delta’s activity at any specific time. For example, it’ll likely read 99 hours when you plug in your dead cell phone. If it’s charging a large Dometic fridge/freezer, the readout will more likely be 20-32 hours. It’s super portable at around 30 lbs and the size of a toaster oven with oversized handles that are easy to grab

Who It’s For: If you’ve ever considered a gas-powered generator as an emergency backup, you’re a candidate for Delta. If you want to run power tools away from a wall plug or without the hassle of ultra-long extension cords you need one of these. If you live off-grid, whether you’re stationary or mobile, Delta can power your lights, tools, electronics and appliances. In an emergency not only will it power a fan or heater, lights, and microwave, it can power a medical device like a CPAP. It can also give people who require electrical medical devices some freedom to roam.

Watch Out For: It’ll take you some time actually using the Delta before you’ll be able to get a good handle on how long it will actually last in various scenarios. Most electrical devices pull power at a variable rate, so the number of remaining hours of power displayed on Delta’s screen may change without notice if your gadgets suddenly get a bit hungrier. I plugged a Dometic fridge/freezer into the Delta, and the screen told me I had 38 hours of run time. Four hours later, the screen told me I had 20 hours of run time. The change makes sense. When the fridge needed cooling, its energy consumption was greater. The Delta records its own power output continuously and as it does, the unit adjusts its battery life readout. When the fridge reached temperature, then the remaining battery time on Delta’s screen went back up. That said, the battery life estimates shared by EcoFlow seem to be extremely accurate and not inflated.

Alternatives: There are other battery-powered generators out there, as well as gas-powered generators. Most gas generators are more expensive, as are other powerful battery generators. Gas generators are loud, smelly and you can’t run them safely inside because of their carbon monoxide emissions. They need annual maintenance. Delta requires no annual maintenance. The battery maintains its charge for a year untouched, and the only noise is a quiet hum. The only emission from Delta is a little bit of heat.

There are other battery power banks on the market, like the Goal Zero Yeti 1400. That unit takes 12 times longer to charge plugged into a wall, it weighs 50 percent more, and it’s slower to charge with a solar panel. EcofFow’s claimed power capabilities for the Delta 1300 are considerably greater than those claimed by Goal Zero for the Yeti 1400. The Yeti 1400 is twice the price and claims a lifecycle of 500 charges, versus EcoFlow Delta’s claimed life of 800 charges.

Review:

To use Delta, you press the power button and then press a second on/off switch for AC or DC power. The LCD screen, in addition to telling you hours and battery percentage remaining, indicates high and low temperature, whether the fan is working, input, output with an overload warning.

We ran every tool we had and charged every device: circular saws, table saws, shop vacs, computers, phones, fridges and more. We were only able to fully drain the battery during the course of normal use when we plugged in a full freezer trying to cool its contents from 14°F to 0°F. The battery lasted at least 20 hours; we woke up to it needing a recharge.

Delta goes from zero percent charge to 80 percent charge in an hour, and can fully charge with just two hours plugged into the wall. EcoFlow says Delta charges in four hours via a solar panel. In order achieve such short charge times, EcoFlow also developed a charging technology, bi-directional X-stream Charge, that allows alternating current AC from a wall outlet to be directly inputted into Delta’s inverter, increasing its charging power at the same time. “By passing through the inverter directly, we can increase charging speed to more than ten times of the traditional AC to DC adapter cable,” said EcoFlow found Eli Harris. The proprietary charging technology also integrates all direct current power supplies below DC 60V, from an adapter, solar or car DC output, into one input port. The result is that users don’t need to consider whether they recharge Delta with a wall plug or solar panel. The system automatically recognizes the power source.

In addition to a new charing technology, the company built an entire proprietary internal integrated architecture from the ground up to maximize Delta’s power storage efficiency. EcoFlow designed and developed every component inside Delta, which includes more than 100 battery cells. Harris said one of the company’s biggest challenge was effectively monitoring and managing the operation of the whole system in real-time. EcoFlow’s battery management system was key. Harris and his team built it so the main controller collects the temperature and power status of each battery cell in real-time and then adjusts the charging current and the voltage to ensure the safest, fastest charging rate. When the unit is in idle, the battery management system monitors and adjusts the unit’s power status to ensure lower power consumption and extended standby power storage, which is how the company achieved a shelf-life of a year plus.

Delta is designed to take a beating. The unit we tested was pre-production, so did not have the correct casing. But we know from testing EcoFlow’s River battery bank that they know how to make their power banks durable without a heavy, bulky full-steel casing. Harris says that Delta’s housing was inspired by Tesla, and that final production will use a combination of aerospace-grade aluminum and high-strength steel to give Delta maximum strength and structural rigidity. It will be combined with impact-absorbing plastic, protective rigid metal plates, and four aluminum pillar reinforcements so that Delta is worthy of withstanding the hazards of a job site, garage project or bouncing around in the back of an off-road vehicle.

Verdict: Harris says he created EcoFlow to build this generator, and while we expect the company to blow this battery’s capacity out of the water with future versions, this one is undoubtedly worth owning for anyone who needs a reliable source of power or backup power. The Delta raised over $1M in the first 48 hours on Kickstarter, and it’s currently nearing $1.5M. Delta 1300 is an awesome solution for home or home office, van life and for powering tools away from a wired source of electricity. None of the claims made on EcoFlow’s Delta Kickstarter page are exaggerated. We were impressed with Delta’s power, versatility, quick charge time and compact size. Support Delta before the campaign closes on October 19—and as thanks for your trust in the company’s technology, you get peace of mind via a lifetime battery warranty.

Key Specs

Weight: 30 lbs
Ports: 6 AC outlets, 2 USB-C PD, 4 USB
Shelf Life: 12 months
AC Output: 1600w (surge 3100w)
Charge Time: 1.7 hours
Type: Lithium-Ion
Price: $699

EcoFlow provided this product for review.

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

Review: The Series 5 Is the Best Smartwatch Apple Has Ever Made

The Apple Watch has been the best smartwatch for anybody with an iPhone for years, but it feels like the fifth-generation model, the Apple Watch Series 5 ($399+), has the most to live up to. That’s because its predecessor, the Series 4, set the bar so darn high. It was the first Apple Watch to look different, with a larger edge-to-edge display and a thinner, lighter body; plus Apple gave it a bunch of innovative features (like fall detection and an electrical heart sensor) and basically upgraded it in every way.

Now that the Series 5 is here, you’ll notice that it looks strikingly similar to the Series 4. It’s the same size and thinness; it has the same rotating crown dial with a little red circle; and it has many of the same sensors and health tracking features. But the differences are there. The Series 5 is the first Apple Watch to have an always-on display. It’s the first Apple Watch to have a built-in compass. And it’s the first Apple Watch to come in four different finishes, including aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic and all-new titanium.

The Apple Watch Series 5 is available in GPS-only and cellular models, and starts at $399.

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The photographed Apple Watch Series 5 has the all-new titanium case. It’s a 44mm model and goes for $849.

The Good: The always-on Retina display is the standout feature of the Series 5. Even for people who have worn an Apple Watch for years, like myself, it’s going to feel like a big deal because it actually changes the way you interact with the Apple Watch. With the always-on display, there’s no need to rotate your wrist to see check the time or see that your workout is still tracking – it’s just there. It also will probably prevent many social faux pas that were caused by previous Apple Watch models; seeing other person check the time or look at their watch can be distracting, after all.

It’s true that the always-on Retina display is always-on, but it’s not always bright. The watch face still lights up when you raise your wrist, just like it did with the Series 4, but it then transitions to an idle dark mode when you lower your wrist back down; what’s happening is that the display’s refresh rate gets lowered to one screen refresh per second (or 1Hz), which allows the Series 5 to use very little battery life and give the appearance of always being on. This allows the Series 5 to get the same full-day battery life as its predecessor. Apple updated all its old Apple Watch faces so they work with the Series 5’s always-on display – pretty cool – plus they added quite a few new ones, too.

The Series 5 is the first Apple Watch to have a built-in compass. There’s a dedicated compass app on the Series 4, but other Apple Watch apps, like Apple Maps, take advantage of it.

As mentioned before, Apple is offering the Series 5 in more options than ever. The aluminum version of the Series 5 is the most affordable and is the only one that can be purchased without cellular. The stainless steel version is heavier and more durable, so it feels more premium, but it starts at $699. The brand-new titanium version is significantly lighter than the stainless steel version, and it’s also more scratch-resistant, corrosion-resistant and hypoallergenic. And then there’s the ceramic version, which a high-end material that’s usually reserved for luxury watches. If you purchase any Series 5 through Apple Watch Studio (meaning online), you can pair it with almost any watch band you want (there are some restrictions).

The Series 5 is the first Apple Watch to have a built-in compass. There’s a dedicated compass app that you can access, which I rarely used, but the real benefit of the compass is how it works with other Apple Watch apps, such as Apple Maps. For example, when you’re using Apple Maps you can now see which direction just by looking at your Series 5. You’ll see the “field-of-view cone” rotate with direction you’re looking, which makes Apple Maps on the Series 5 feel way trustworthy. (Previously, you’d have to take out your iPhone to get the same sense of direction.) For those who are easily disoriented when navigating from A to B, like me, or have difficulty grasping your bearings when getting off the subway – like me – this new Apple Watch feature will save you a headache and a five-minute walk in the wrong direction.

The best part of the Series 5, and maybe you’ll roll your eyes, is that it feels like an Apple Watch – familiar – and it has all the best features of the Series 4. You can still pair it with your AirPods and listen to music sans iPhone. It still has the heart rate sensors and built-in ECG. It still has fall detection and Emergency SOS. It still has a GPS and it can track your runs. It’s waterproof enough so you can wear it swimming. It still tracks your steps and other metrics so you can complete your activity rings. And, of course, it works super well with iMessage.

The last thing to note is that all Series 5 models have 32GB of internal memory, which is actually twice as much as the 16GB on the Series 4. This might not be a huge deal for people who don’t plan on downloading music or a bunch of extra apps on the Series 5, but if you do, or if your current Apple Watch is already nearing its max storage, it might make sense to upgrade to the Series 5.

Who It’s For: Any iPhone owner who wants Apple’s best-ever smartwatch. Or if they desperately want an Apple Watch with an always-on display. Or if they want one of the Series 5’s higher-end finishes (and they’re willing to pay for it). The last big reason to get the Series 5 is if they’re going to take advantage of the Series 5’s built-in compass.

Watch Out For: No matter which Apple Watch Series 5 you buy, aside from the obvious difference between cellular and GPS-only models, they’re all going to have the same functionality. That means that the $1,300 ceramic model and the $399 aluminum model are built with the same internals and will keep track of the same metrics. There’s little downside to getting the cheaper models, other than how their aluminum finish looks and feels. (Although the stainless steel and titanium models are slightly more durable.)

One thing that I’ve been hoping for awhile is that the Apple Watch will start playing better with Spotify. Yes, there’s a Spotify app for the Apple Watch. And yes, if you have an LTE model you can stream music, but I wish the Spotify app would allow you to download albums and playlists for offline listening, similar to what several Garmin and Samsung smartwatches can do. As with previous Apple Watch models, the Series 5 is really only designed to download and store playlists from Apple Music.

Alternatives: The Apple Watch Series 4 is the most obvious alternative, but Apple did something a little bit sneaky this year – they stopped selling it. You can still purchase the Series 4 for third-party sellers like Amazon or Best Buy, for a slightly discounted rate. The Series 4 looks and feels (especially the aluminum models) very similar to the Series 5, and it’s a great option for Apple Watch wearers who don’t need always-on display.

If you don’t want to pay that much for a Series 5 (or Series 4), Apple is still selling the Series 3 but it lowered the starting price to just $199 – it’s undoubtedly the best entry-level smartwatch for people with an iPhone. The trade-offs are pretty clear, however, as the Series 3 doesn’t have the large nice display, the slim design or the many fancy sensors that enable a lot of the Apple Watch’s newer features. The Series 3 does have a built-in GPS and it’ll still accurately track your runs.

Verdict: The Apple Watch Series 5 is undoubtedly the best smartwatch that Apple has ever made, and it comes with the feature – an always-on display – that most people having been asking for. That said, with a few spec bumps and a few new capabilities, the Series 5 is admittedly an iterative upgrade over last year’s Series 4. If you’re not swayed by the premium materials, like the new titanium case, it really comes down to Series 5’s always-on display and how much you want it.

Key Specs

Case sizes: 40mm or 44mm
Case options: Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium and ceramic
Display: Always-On Retina display
Processor: 64-bit dual-core S5 processor
Storage: 32GB
Sensors: electrical and optical heart rate sensors, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass
Water resistance: 50 meters
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0

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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.

This Is the Best Smartwatch for iPhone Owners

The Apple Watch has been the best smartwatch for anybody with an iPhone for years, but it feels like the fifth-generation model, the Apple Watch Series 5 ($399+), has the most to live up to. That’s because its predecessor, the Series 4, set the bar so darn high. It was the first Apple Watch to look different, with a larger edge-to-edge display and a thinner, lighter body; plus Apple gave it a bunch of innovative features (like fall detection and an electrical heart sensor) and basically upgraded it in every way.

Now that the Series 5 is here, you’ll notice that it looks strikingly similar to the Series 4. It’s the same size and thinness; it has the same rotating crown dial with a little red circle; and it has many of the same sensors and health tracking features. But the differences are there. The Series 5 is the first Apple Watch to have an always-on display. It’s the first Apple Watch to have a built-in compass. And it’s the first Apple Watch to come in four different finishes, including aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic and all-new titanium.

The Apple Watch Series 5 is available in GPS-only and cellular models, and starts at $399.

|

The photographed Apple Watch Series 5 has the all-new titanium case. It’s a 44mm model and goes for $849.

The Good: The always-on Retina display is the standout feature of the Series 5. Even for people who have worn an Apple Watch for years, like myself, it’s going to feel like a big deal because it actually changes the way you interact with the Apple Watch. With the always-on display, there’s no need to rotate your wrist to see check the time or see that your workout is still tracking – it’s just there. It also will probably prevent many social faux pas that were caused by previous Apple Watch models; seeing other person check the time or look at their watch can be distracting, after all.

It’s true that the always-on Retina display is always-on, but it’s not always bright. The watch face still lights up when you raise your wrist, just like it did with the Series 4, but it then transitions to an idle dark mode when you lower your wrist back down; what’s happening is that the display’s refresh rate gets lowered to one screen refresh per second (or 1Hz), which allows the Series 5 to use very little battery life and give the appearance of always being on. This allows the Series 5 to get the same full-day battery life as its predecessor. Apple updated all its old Apple Watch faces so they work with the Series 5’s always-on display – pretty cool – plus they added quite a few new ones, too.

The Series 5 is the first Apple Watch to have a built-in compass. There’s a dedicated compass app on the Series 4, but other Apple Watch apps, like Apple Maps, take advantage of it.

As mentioned before, Apple is offering the Series 5 in more options than ever. The aluminum version of the Series 5 is the most affordable and is the only one that can be purchased without cellular. The stainless steel version is heavier and more durable, so it feels more premium, but it starts at $699. The brand-new titanium version is significantly lighter than the stainless steel version, and it’s also more scratch-resistant, corrosion-resistant and hypoallergenic. And then there’s the ceramic version, which a high-end material that’s usually reserved for luxury watches. If you purchase any Series 5 through Apple Watch Studio (meaning online or in an Apple Store), you can pair it with almost any watch band you want (there are some restrictions).

The Series 5 is the first Apple Watch to have a built-in compass. There’s a dedicated compass app that you can access, which I rarely used, but the real benefit of the compass is how it works with other Apple Watch apps, such as Apple Maps. For example, when you’re using Apple Maps you can now see which direction just by looking at your Series 5. You’ll see the “field-of-view cone” rotate with direction you’re looking, which makes Apple Maps on the Series 5 feel way trustworthy. (Previously, you’d have to take out your iPhone to get the same sense of direction.) For those who are easily disoriented when navigating from A to B, like me, or have difficulty grasping your bearings when getting off the subway – like me – this new Apple Watch feature will save you a headache and a five-minute walk in the wrong direction.

The best part of the Series 5, and maybe you’ll roll your eyes, is that it feels like an Apple Watch – familiar – and it has all the best features of the Series 4. You can still pair it with your AirPods and listen to music sans iPhone. It still has the heart rate sensors and built-in ECG. It still has fall detection and Emergency SOS. It still has a GPS and it can track your runs. It’s waterproof enough so you can wear it swimming. It still tracks your steps and other metrics so you can complete your activity rings. And, of course, it works super well with iMessage.

The last thing to note is that all Series 5 models have 32GB of internal memory, which is actually twice as much as the 16GB on the Series 4. This might not be a huge deal for people who don’t plan on downloading music or a bunch of extra apps on the Series 5, but if you do, or if your current Apple Watch is already nearing its max storage, it might make sense to upgrade to the Series 5.

Who It’s For: Any iPhone owner who wants Apple’s best-ever smartwatch. Or if they desperately want an Apple Watch with an always-on display. Or if they want one of the Series 5’s higher-end finishes (and they’re willing to pay for it). The last big reason to get the Series 5 is if they’re going to take advantage of the Series 5’s built-in compass.

Watch Out For: No matter which Apple Watch Series 5 you buy, aside from the obvious difference between cellular and GPS-only models, they’re all going to have the same functionality. That means that the $1,300 ceramic model and the $399 aluminum model are built with the same internals and will keep track of the same metrics. There’s little downside to getting the cheaper models, other than how their aluminum finish looks and feels. (Although the stainless steel and titanium models are slightly more durable.)

One thing that I’ve been hoping for awhile is that the Apple Watch will start playing better with Spotify. Yes, there’s a Spotify app for the Apple Watch. And yes, if you have an LTE model you can stream music, but I wish the Spotify app would allow you to download albums and playlists for offline listening, similar to what several Garmin and Samsung smartwatches can do. As with previous Apple Watch models, the Series 5 is really only designed to download and store playlists from Apple Music.

Alternatives: The Apple Watch Series 4 is the most obvious alternative, but Apple did something a little bit sneaky this year – they stopped selling it. You can still purchase the Series 4 for third-party sellers like Amazon or Best Buy, for a slightly discounted rate. The Series 4 looks and feels (especially the aluminum models) very similar to the Series 5, and it’s a great option for Apple Watch wearers who don’t need always-on display.

If you don’t want to pay that much for a Series 5 (or Series 4), Apple is still selling the Series 3 but it lowered the starting price to just $199 – it’s undoubtedly the best entry-level smartwatch for people with an iPhone. The trade-offs are pretty clear, however, as the Series 3 doesn’t have the large nice display, the slim design or the many fancy sensors that enable a lot of the Apple Watch’s newer features. The Series 3 does have a built-in GPS and it’ll still accurately track your runs.

Verdict: The Apple Watch Series 5 is undoubtedly the best smartwatch that Apple has ever made, and it comes with the feature – an always-on display – that most people having been asking for. That said, with a few spec bumps and a few new capabilities, the Series 5 is admittedly an iterative upgrade over last year’s Series 4. If you’re not swayed by the premium materials, like the new titanium case, it really comes down to Series 5’s always-on display and how much you want it.

Key Specs

Case sizes: 40mm or 44mm
Case options: Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium and ceramic
Display: Always-On Retina display
Processor: 64-bit dual-core S5 processor
Storage: 32GB
Sensors: electrical and optical heart rate sensors, gyroscope, accelerometer, compass
Water resistance: 50 meters
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0

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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.

2019 Airstream Bambi Review: The Stylish, Easy Way into Camping Trailer Life

By this point, the only way you don’t know what an Airstream is if you’re a vampire who’s been asleep in a cave for the last century. The aluminum-sided travel trailers have been rolling along America’s roads since the ’30s, their iconic design capturing eyes with the same ease they reflect sunlight. They’ve been featured in countless films and TV shows, and transformed into homes, AirBnBs and works of art.

For 2019, the eight-decade-old company has added a new model to its lineup: the diminutive, adorably-named Bambi. Ask Airstream where the name “Bambi” came from, and they’ll say founder Wally Byam named it after a type of agile deer he saw while overlanding across Africa in the ‘60s. (Dollars to donuts he actually named it after a certain Disney movie, but that’s neither here nor there.) It’s been a common nickname for the company’s small, single-axle trailers for more than half a century — but now, the name has finally been given the honor of formally becoming part of the team, signifying the two-wheeled rigs that are the most affordable way to hop aboard one of the company’s classic aluminum trailers.

The Good: It may be compact, but the Bambi crams more usable space and features into its limited length than most studio apartments. My Bambi 19CB tester was the second-smallest variant, yet in spite of being a mere 18 feet 11 inches long — shorter than a Rolls-Royce Phantom — it had space for a two-burner gas stove, a stainless steel sink, a refrigerator and freezer, an LED television (with integrated antenna), a built-in stereo, a memory foam mattress (sized somewhere between a twin and a double), even a shower and a flushing toilet.

Even with all that gear inside, the interior has a fair amount of space to spread out. During an impromptu Brooklyn tailgate party, I managed to fit seven or eight adults (and one large dog) inside comfortably, with room to spare for snacks and a soft Yeti cooler backpack. A family with kids might find it cramped, but it’s more than spacious enough to serve as a good base of operations for a single adult or a couple.

Who It’s For: First-time Airstreamers looking to dip their toe into the world of trailering adventure; empty-nesters who want to roam freely in retirement but don’t want to wrangle giant trailers and full-size pickup trucks.

Watch Out For: Backing up. As the model that seems most likely to be adopted by trailering novices, you might think the Bambi would pack some sort of technological magic to help maneuver it in reverse more easily.

Nooooooooooooooooope.

Spinning my trailer 180 degrees required a good 30 minutes of Austin Powers-style shuffling back and forth, and that was with the help of the kind owner of the Hipcamp camp site we were staying at — a man whose own history included training people how to drive heavy equipment in the army. A backup camera is standard, though it wasn’t hooked up on mine; regardless, it wouldn’t have done much beyond tell me where I would have gone were I able to keep the thing moving in a straight line for more than three seconds. The first company to sort out some sort of idiot-proof trailer-reversing technology — brake-based torque vectoring? Computer-controlled active steering? SpaceX-inspired compressed air thrusters? — deserves to make a mint.

Alternatives: Safari Condo Alto R-Series ($29,500+); Homegrown Trailers Woodland ($39,495+); Forest River Alpha Wolf ($25,995+); Airstream Nest ($45,900)

Review: Full disclosure: In spite of more than a decade of driving and writing about automobiles, I can count the number of times I’ve towed a trailer on one hand. Actually, I can count the number of times I’ve towed that weren’t under the well-supervised confines of a media junket on one finger; that sole instance involved towing a U-Haul U-Box through a couple dozen miles of country roads, then winding up stuck at a closed bridge on a one-lane road because I couldn’t reverse to a turnaround spot.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I hitched the Bambi up to the Ford Ranger XLT I’d borrowed as a tow vehicle for a weekend of criss-crossing New Jersey and the lower boroughs of New York City. Yet the Bambi-and-Ranger duo proved blissfully easy to handle, even when winding them through the tight streets of Brooklyn or on the open highways of the Dirty Jerz. The tidy proportions meant turns never proved a problem (at least, when going forwards); the trailer’s brakes were reassuringly dependable and solid, always snapping on in sync with the Ford’s discs; and the Ranger’s EcoBoost engine made easy work of the trailer’s weight, hauling it up to mile-per-minute velocity without issue. Going much beyond that felt a mite worrisome, however; by 70 mph, every imperfection in the road seemed to be magnified into a shimmy in the Bambi that prompted unwanted visions of tank-slapper flips or pileup-causing detachments.

Still, Airstream life isn’t about speed; it’s about taking things slow and easy, leaving troubles and stresses behind in favor of the freedom of the open road. (There’s a reason the Indiana-based company offers a Tommy Bahama trim level on some models.)

Once the driving and parking (and reversing, and re-parking) was done and I’d settled truck and trailer in the tree-lined camping spot within spitting distance of the Delaware River, the Bambi came into its own. The starboard-side awning’s coverage area is on the smaller side, but it’s enough to keep the sun off one or two chairs — or to give you a place to dry before coming aboard in a squall. The nice weather meant I parked my butt in a nearby camping chair instead, but it was nice to know it was there if needed.

My hosts provided fresh water and a power hookup, but I wound up needing neither; the on-board battery never came close to losing all its power, thanks to the solar panel mounted atop the roof. (Pre-wiring for a solar panel is standard, but the panel itself is an option; considering how well it worked, I’d suggest making it the first box you check.) Running the air conditioner built into the roof would probably guzzle the electrons faster than the solar panel could replenish them, but I never needed it, in spite of summertime temps; between the shady interior, the twin roof-mounted ventilation fans and the plentiful screened-in windows (and the screen door), the Bambi’s interior stayed breezy and cool all day long, in country and city alike.

The toilet situation, should you be curious, is best described as “acceptable.” The 19CB variant’s loo occupies an odd middle ground amongst Airstream lavatories; while smaller trailers and touring coaches place the toilet in the shower and larger ones have a miniature bathroom with an actual door, the 19-footer uses an odd W-folding wall that’s designed to offer some semblance of privacy for the tight corner. In practice, it’s less than ideal; let’s just say you should ask anyone else in the trailer to vacate the premises before using the restroom. Functionally, however, it works just fine.

Admittedly, I didn’t have a chance to use the shower — folding my frame inside that tiny space seemed like a violation of the Geneva Convention — so I can’t vouch for the efficacy of its handheld nozzle. (Exhibitionists might have better luck with the outdoor “shower,” a similar handheld nozzle with hot and cold knobs tucked away in one of the exterior ports.) That said, I never had any issues with the flow or temperature of the water blasting from either the kitchen or bathroom sink — which, like the keyholes in a nuclear missile silo, are exactly far apart enough that one person can’t use them both simultaneously — so I have no reason to assume the shower would be anything less than effective.

Another reason to assume the best from the hot water supply: the two-burner gas stove proved as adept as any found in a modern house, if a mite smaller. Same could be said for the kitchen table, which has room for four provided everyone’s comfortable rubbing flanks and knees; same goes for the fridge and freezer combo, too. (The latter can reportedly be quite the power suck; should you rather save the electrons, a good Yeti cooler and a couple bags of ice will likely be every bit as effective for 24-48 hours.)

Indeed, all told, the Bambi does an exceedingly good impression of a tiny, efficient apartment — good enough to tempt this New Yorker away from his hard-won one-bedroom. The night before I had to return the trailer, after my friends had left, I wound up laying in bed watching football on the television, eating a s’more made over the gas stove’s burner. The TV reception was better than in my apartment; the memory foam mattress was comfy than my couch; the sounds of the park beside me more relaxing than the rumble of cable trucks making their way home to their garage near my place. In that moment, it wasn’t hard to see the appeal in tossing that Great American Dream of Homeownership out in favor of living out my days in an elegant rolling apartment.

Verdict: By striking a perfect balance between size, style and comfort, the Airstream Bambi delivers the right combination of features to endear it to anyone who’s long harbored dreams of rolling across the land with a shiny trailer behind them, following the whims of the road. Sure, you can snag a new travel trailer for far less money — but doing so would mean swapping those timeless looks for the blocky looks and garish pseudo-airbrushed designs of most travel trailers and RVs, which are utterly lacking in both elegance and Instagram-ability. (Let’s not pretend the latter is unimportant.)

Indeed, the Bambi pulled off something I never would have expected: It made me into a camping trailer person. I spend my time stuck in traffic fantasizing about car camping trips out West; now I fantasize about doing it with an Airstream.

2019 Airstream Bambi 19CB: Key Specs

Length: 18 feet, 11 inches
Weight: 3,650 pounds
Windows: 11
Refrigerator Size: 4.3 cubic feet
Sleeping Capacity: Up to four people, but two of them better be tiny

Airstream provided this product for review.

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iPhone 11 Review: The Affordable iPhone Is a Little Too Good

Watch Out For: There’s no getting around the fact that the iPhone 11 is basically the same phone as the iPhone XR, but with new rear and front camera systems, the A13 Bionic chip and some bumped up specs. The two iPhones have the same curves, dimensions, display and notch – it’s all very familiar. That’s good if you like the iPhone XR, but less good if you’re trying to justify the decision to upgrade from one to the other.

Alternatives: Let’s start with the assumption that you’re dead-set on an iPhone: If you’re willing to pay a little more, the iPhone 11 Pros have a better camera system, nicer display and few other upgraded features. They also are available in smaller or larger sizes. Last year’s iPhone XR is still a great phone and Apple lowered the starting price to $599 (previously $749). A little surprisingly, Apple isn’t selling new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but it is selling the two-year-old iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, starting at $499 and $549 respectively.

The above two photos are shot using the iPhone’s 1) wide and 2)ultra-wide lenses.

If you’re not dead-set on an iPhone, the scope of alternatives is too wide to consider fully here, but definitely includes Samsung’s latest offerings in the form of the S10 and the Note10, as well as Google’s Pixel 4, which is due to be announced in October, so it’s wise to sit tight for now.

Verdict: The iPhone 11 is the new iPhone that most people should buy. It has so many of the same features as the significantly more expensive iPhone 11 Pros, that it doesn’t feel like “the cheap iPhone.” Its dual-camera system with an ultra-wide lens and the ability to shoot 4K video at 60fps, also means that the iPhone 11 feels like a big upgrade over the older iPhone XR and iPhone 8. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also the most affordable new iPhone to be released in years.

(Need extra incentive? If you purchase an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV – new or older models – you’ll get a free one-year subscription to Apple’s new streaming service, Apple TV+, when it launches on November 1.)

Key Specs

Display: Liquid Retina HD
Processor: A13 Bionic
Rear Camera System: Dual 12-megapixal cameras; ultra wide (ƒ/2.4 aperture) and wide (ƒ/1.8)
Front Camera System:: 12-megapixal TrueDepth camera (ƒ/2.2)
Water-resistance: IP68 rating
Materials: Glass and aluminum design
Key features: Night Mode, 4K video at 60fps recording, slow motion selfies
Colors: Purple, yellow, green, black, white, (Product) red

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.

iPhone 11 Pro Review: Hands Down, The Best iPhone Ever

The most compelling and conspicuous feature of the iPhone 11 Pro is its triple-camera system, and after using it for the better part of the week, it’s definitely the best and most versatile set of cameras that Apple has ever put in any iPhone. The ultra-wide lens will feel like a pretty significant upgrade for anybody who has an older iPhone, but as the iPhone 11 has it too, it really comes down to the telephoto lens and how if you’ll take full advantage of it. This extra lens enables the two Pro models to take two different kinds of Portrait Mode photos, one that is really zoomed-in (which is similar to what the iPhone XS could do) and one that is more zoomed-out (which is exactly the same Portrait mode as the iPhone 11) for those who want to grab for background in the photo. If you find yourself taking a lot of photos of people and pets, rather than landscapes, this extra telephoto lens feels like a real selling point.

The nice thing about all three lenses is that they all take the same quality photo. Each is a 12-megapixel camera that has its own high-quality sensor, so you can expect a pretty decent photo nobody which lens you’re using (this is not the case for most other smartphones with a multi-camera system). Each of the three lenses is capable of shooting 4K video at 60fps, which is a nice feature for vloggers and videographers to have. It’s worth noting that despite the extra lenses, like the iPhone 11, the Pro’s Night Mode only really works while using the wide lens (you can technically use Night Mode with the ultra-wide lens, but it’s really just a blown-up shot taken by the wide lens.

Night Mode on the new iPhone 11 Pro is pretty incredible.

Aside from the size and triple-camera system, the third big selling point of the iPhone 11 Pro is its hardware. Its OLED display is significantly better than the LCD display of the iPhone 11, but it’s also better than the Super Retina display of last year’s iPhone XS; the new “Super Retina XDR” display is brighter (1,200 nits versus the iPhone XS’s 600 nits) with double the contrast ratio. It’s easy to get lost in the tech jargon, but the bottom line is this: iPhone 11 Pro’s display is the best and brightest display ever in a smartphone. So if you’re somebody who plays a lot of mobile games or streams lots of shows on your iPhone, that’s a good reason to upgrade to the Pro.

Battery life is the last big reason to upgrade to the Pro if you have an older iPhone. To date, the iPhone XR has been the gold standard of long-lasting iPhones, getting almost two days of juice, and the iPhone 11 Pros are almost at that level. Apple claims that both iPhone 11 Pros get four and five hours better than their predecessors, the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, and it’s actually pretty noticeable. The secret to the improved battery life is, yes, the A13 Bionic chip helps with energy efficiency, but Apple also put a slightly larger battery in its newer phones. This is a pretty significant thing, as it also means that the new iPhones are ever-so-slightly heavier and thicker – Apple is sacrificing design for usability, which is actually a breath of fresh air.

There are a quick few things to add to round out the “good” features. Apple says the Face ID is 30-percent faster on the new iPhones and even better at recognizing your face when resting flat on a table; however, in the week I’ve had the phones I’ve actually had a difficult time telling the difference – it’s still fast. Apple also improved AirDrop on the new iPhones, allowing you to point your iPhone at other new iPhones and AirDrop files to whomever you’re pointing at (although the iPhones must have Apple’s new U1 chip and iOS 13). And, finally, Apple is including an 18-watt USB-C wall adapter and a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box, which makes the iPhone 11 Pro feel a little bit more “Pro.”