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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.

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 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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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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

|

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.”

Galaxy Note10+ Review: Big, Beautiful, Best in Class

For years, the Samsung Galaxy Note has been catering to faithful fans of the stylus and, this year, there are two options on the table, a first for the line. While smaller (“smaller”) Galaxy Note 10 is the chief successor to the Galaxy Note line, with a 6.3-inch screen and form factor that’s similar to its forebear, the Note10+ is attempting to carve out a larger, more premium niche with its gargantuan 6.8-inch screen, beefier batter, surplus of RAM, and staring price of $1099. The result? A beautiful phone with hardly any serious flaws other than that it may just be far more phone than you need.

The Good: The Galaxy Note10+ is a beautifully made device. Samsung’s build quality has been top notch for ages and the Note10+ is no exception with its satisfying heft and screen that curves over the edges. It comes in a variety of colors but the “Aura Glow” version I tested is notably eye catching. Like the underside of a CD, it changes color as it catches the light and while it struck me as over the top at first, the effect really grew on me.

Like any good, big phone, the Note10+ has a big, 4,300mAh battery that lasts ridiculously long. Even a Saturday of strenuous use streaming Formula 1 and then reading far too much Twitter for hours on ends was not enough to take its battery much lower than 30 percent by the end of the day.

The Note10+ sports a terrific camera system, very similar to the one currently offered on Samsung’s line of S10 models, which means it takes fantastic photos, as any phone at this price point should, but doesn’t quite offer any surprises.

The S Pen, now updated with an accelerometer and gyroscope, now has increased utility outside of just writing on the screen. Waving the pen through the air like a wand will allow you to do some a few potentially useful tricks like change camera settings on a phone that you might not be holding.

Who It’s For: The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is, at its core, for one type of person very specifically: the kind who absolutely loves a stylus. With its powerhouse performance, fantastic build quality, great camera, and stellar battery life, it’s a suitable and satisfying computing companion for anyone, but if you aren’t dying for the stylus, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Plus slightly smaller but otherwise comparable in almost every way, with the added bonus of a bigger battery and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Watch Out For: While the S Pen’s new wand-like air commands are novel and theoretically useful, I didn’t find a lot of value to them in practice. They also support a limited suite of apps, perhaps most noticeably the camera, where it could come in handy for long-range selfie set up. Maybe. And though Samsung has provided the software tools for other apps to make themselves compatible, it seems hard to imagine this becoming much more than a gimmick.

At 6.8-inches, the Note10+ is _a lot_ of phone. I’m a man with relatively large hands and still had trouble negotiating its heft one-handed on the train even with the aid of a PopSocket. Of course that is part of the 10+’s appeal, but it’s something to be aware of, especially considering the smaller, 6.3-inch Note10 also exists and will be, for most normal people, indisitinguishable in terms of performance despite its slightly less overkill supply of RAM.

Alternatives: If the stylus isn’t your main concern, there are many. Chiefly the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus which is slightly smaller, slightly cheaper, but otherwise extremely similar. Google’s Pixel line, with its cleaner version of Android, also provides a possible substitute, with the Pixel 4 due for announcement in the next month or two.

But if the stylus is your bag, a Note is pretty much your only choice. The smaller Note 10 is a great way to get almost the same phone but with a smaller screen (and slightly less RAM, less battery power) for $100 cheaper if the Plus’ gargantuan size isn’t a must for you. If you’re not sold on the latest and greatest, the Note 9 is also an option. It only has a two-camera cluster, and sports a fingerprint reader on its back instead of under the screen, but is still a more than capable device you might be able to find at something of a discount.

Verdict: The Note10+ is a real powerhouse of a phone and if it has a primary flaw it is only that it may be more phone than you need or want to pay for. But if its price or size doesn’t make you wince at the prospect, it won’t let you down.

Key Specs
Size: 6.8-inch
Display: Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
Rear Camera: 16MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 12MP dual-pixel wide (f/1.5, f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.4)
Front Camera: 10-MP dual-pixel (f/2.2)
Durability: IP68
Capacity: 256GB, 512GB internal, up to 1TB with MicroSD

Samsung provided this product for review.

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The JBL Link Is an Imperfect Peek Into the Future of Soundbars

It isn’t enough for a soundbar just to be a soundbar anymore, at least that’s what seems to be the trend in the entry-level soundbar market. Two such examples are the new Roku Smart Soundbar ($180) and the Anker Nebula Soundbar ($230); both have built-in smart operating systems, Roku OS in the Roku soundbar and Fire TV in the Anker soundbar, so they can each turn an older “dumb” TV into a smart TV that can access popular apps like Netflix and Hulu. It’s essentially like having a streaming stick fused into a soundbar. Two birds, one stone.

Another such example of this new breed of soundbars is the JBL Link Bar ($400). It’s a 100-watt soundbar with an Android TV operating system built into it, but the Link Bar further separates itself by having Google Assistant baked right into it as well. This makes the Link Bar a 3-in-1 device – a soundbar, an Android TV streamer and a smart speaker – and thus totally unique. The question is: how do all these three features work together and does it actually make the experience easier or better?

The Good: As a soundbar, the JBL Link Bar can work in two different situations. First, if you have a dumb TV, you hook it up the soundbar – via optical or HDMI ARC – and turn it into a smart TV that runs Android TV. Second, the Link Bar can be hooked it up to any smart TV and turn it into an Android TV. If you already have Chromecast TV, some capabilities of the Link Bar will be redundant, but because there are mics built into the soundbar itself, you will get some unique capabilities like using voice commands to change between apps, HMDI inputs or even turn the TV on or off without having to touch a remote.

There are some definite advantages to adding Android TV, whether you had a smart or dumb TV. It enables the soundbar to be used as a central hub for controlling your smart home devices with Google Assistant, and it also adds built-in Chromecast, so you can easily stream music to it whenever you want and use it as a stand alone speaker. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber or you use iTunes (both of which aren’t supported by Chromecast), the Link Bar also has built-in Bluetooth so anybody can stream music to it.

The Link Bar acts sort of like an AV receiver, as it has three HDMI passthrough inputs so you can connect a number of different devices; I was able to connect my cable box, Xbox One and Apple TV straight to the soundbar and use “Hey Google” commands to switch between inputs.

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Who It’s For: Two different kinds of households. First, the JBL Link Bar would make a great soundbar for a household that doesn’t have smart devices or isn’t committed to a smart ecosystem, and wants to upgrade their older non-smart TV to a smart one. Second, it’s a solid soundbar for families who are well-versed using “Hey Google” commands and just want their TV to sound better; they shouldn’t want a soundbar that can be upgraded into a big home theater system.

Watch Out For: The biggest issue with the Link Bar is actually with one of its defining features – it doesn’t actually work as a great Google Home smart speaker. The “Hey Google” commands are noticeably delayed and can be a bit finicky when trying to control your TV (turning the volume up and down worked fine, but switching between HDMI inputs was very much hit or miss). If you have any other Google Home speaker nearby, which I did (a Google Home speaker and a Lenovo Smart Clock), the microphones on those devices will pick up “Hey Google” before the Link Bar and thus hamper your commands.

On the sound quality side, it’s a very good entry-level soundbar, but it’s no high-end home theater soundbar – it doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround sound technologies. It also isn’t very upgradable. You can add the JBL SW10 wireless subwoofer for an extra $300, but there’s no opportunity to add surrounds or rear-channel speakers. If you already have an AV receiver, the Link Bar won’t work with it.

Unlike the Sonos Beam, which can sync the TV’s audio with the rest of the Sonos speakers in your house, the JBL Link Bar doesn’t support multi-room audio. This means that if you have any kind of Google Home, you won’t be able to group it with the Link Bar, whether if you’re watching TV or just trying to play music though the house in a Chromecast group – the Link Bar doesn’t play well with others. It doesn’t support AirPlay 2, either.

Alternatives: There are a few different routes you could go, but you should know that none of them live up to the promise of the JBL Link Bar. For example, the aforementioned Roku Smart Soundbar ($180) and the Anker Nebula Soundbar ($230) both are cheaper options that have a built-in operating systems, capable of turning an older TV into a smart one; but their sound quality is supposedly inferior and they can’t work as a smart speaker on their own. The Sonos Beam, on the other-hand, is the same exact price as the JBL Link Bar and is much much better at multi-room audio; it also works as a smart speaker with either Alexa or Google Assistant. The big tradeoff is it lacks a TV operating system.

Verdict: The JBL Link Bar nails the sound and Android TV parts, but leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to actually being a smart speaker that can fully control your TV. If it got little more responsive, this thing would be a hit. Right now, it still will be a good soundbar that a lot of people will like, but it’s not quite the futuristic soundbar we were hoping for. Still, we’re getting close and, in that way, the Link Bar is exciting.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Judged on sound quality alone I would choose the Link bar over the Sonos Beam. But the Link Bar is all about smarts, and that’s what ultimately lets the product down. Maybe it’s worth waiting six months to see if some of the lag and nonresponsiveness can be smoothed out. Until then, more polished products like the Beam and the Polk Command Bar are better buys right now.” – Ty Pendlebury, CNET

• “As a soundbar, this product is good if a bit overpriced. As a Google Assistant speaker, I’d definitely look elsewhere. As an Android TV, it’s a solid option with no major flaws. Combining all of those together, I’d say the JBL Link Bar is a good choice at $399 if you want to cover all of these needs with one device. Until the Google Assistant portion is fixed, however, you might be better off getting an Nvidia Shield, a Google Home Mini, and a cheaper 2.1 soundbar for the time being. If future updates fix that problem, I could see the Link Bar being a great buy.” – Ben Schoon, 9to5 Google

Key Specs

Drivers: 0.8-inch tweeter (2x), racetrack drivers (4x)
Smart OS: Android TV (with Google Assistant built-in)
Streaming: Wi-Fi, Chromecast, Bluetooth
Ports: 3 HDMI inputs, 1 HDMI Arc output

These Professional Dive Watches Are Completely Underrated

Back in the 1960s, Aquadive built dive watches, and only dive watches. These purpose-driven timepieces were standard fare among SCUBA divers who would see them in magazine ads, in local dive shops, or on the wrists of their fellow divers. Aquadive made a wide assortment of models, from snorkeling watches to enormous electronic models with oil-filled depth gauges for professional divers. But Aquadive, like so many other watch brands, didn’t survive the ascendency of electronic quartz watches. They went kaput in the 1980s.

In 2011, avid dive watch collector Rick Marei brought Aquadive back to life, first with watches built into new-old-stock cases he acquired along with the company. Those are all gone now, so today Aquadive produces its cases in Germany, and it sources its movements and performs assembly in Switzerland. The newly designed Aquadive Bathyscaphe is the brand’s current flagship model, and this new watch is loosely based on that large watch with the depth gauge, the legendary Aquadive Model 50.

The Aquadive Bathyscaphe measures 43mm across, but for fit you’ll want to know that it’s only 49mm from lug to lug, making this seemingly large watch wear quite comfortably even on small wrists. It’s 15mm tall, which is not small, but the height is mostly due to the tall bezel — which turns out to be an important feature. Expect a large and heavy diver, but one that will fit lots of folks comfortably.

With 1,000 meters of water resistance (3,330’), the Bathyscaphe is not fooling around. Sure, you don’t need all that capability as a casual SCUBA diver, but remember that extreme depths will test the seals of any watch. This one is going to hold steady.

Today’s dive watches are so often marketed as fashion statements that it’s become relatively rare for a company to design one as a straight-up, thoroughbred diving tool. The Aquadive Bathyscaphe is just such a rarity. It doesn’t look entirely out of place with a casual, rugged outfit (let’s say a work shirt, jeans, and boots), but the Bathyscaphe really begs to be worn in and around the water. Better yet, it loves to go deep, and it looks entirely at home snaking around the jagged edges of a sunken freighter, tunneling through a coral cave, or coming face-to-face with a shark.

Diving off the Dutch island Bonaire for a week, and again off of Grand Cayman for a few days (both in the Western Caribbean), the Bathyscaphe proved to be a most trusty companion underwater and above. I’ve scratched a couple sapphire watch crystals and banged up my share of bezels, and I’ve only done that while SCUBA diving. The abuse arises when hoisting heavy aluminum tanks into the back of pickup trucks, reaching an arm through a buoyancy compensation device (BCD) and straight into some hard bit of boat rigging, or lifting myself onto a concrete slab with 16 lbs. of lead weights around my waist as ocean waves blithely toss me to and fro. Some watches might look like badass divers, but they ultimately succumb to damage in real diving conditions. Meanwhile the Aquadive Bathyscaphe takes a serious beating unscathed.

The reason the Bathyscaphe is so rugged goes back to Aquadive’s history of designing exclusively purpose-built dive watches. Consider whether you’d prefer a Cadillac SUV or a Land Rover Defender for actual off-road driving. Right — you chose the Rover because that company had been perfecting tough, capable off-road vehicles when Cadillac was still building land yachts. You can’t fast-forward that evolution; it’s just too much hard-earned RnD -— year in, year out — for anyone to imitate.

And that’s exactly why you’d choose an Aquadive for diving. Its design is an accumulation of small improvements that add up to a seriously capable dive watch, and not some fashion statement. Though, ironically, the Aquadive’s bonafides as a tool make it an even cooler fashion statement for some of us. When you get bored with bitching and moaning about date window placement or an extra millimeter here and there, it’s refreshing to find a dive watch that reminds us that these are tools, not toys. Strap it on, stop fussing, and go do stuff.

What specifically makes the Aquadive Bathyscaphe so capable? First of all, it’s the case and bezel. The wide-flanged cushion case (not entirely unlike a Doxa SUB) creates a protective wall around the watch. Similarly, the tall beefy bezel and it’s ultra-hard ceramic insert protect the flat sapphire crystal. The mounting holes for the spring bars are deeply inset into the stout lugs, and the spring bars themselves are fat and inspire confidence. The provided Isofrane strap is a rubber affair that’s become an industry standard for reliability and comfort, either on your skin or over a wetsuit. Add in the 1,000 meters of water resistance, the unrivaled Super-LumiNova lume, and the proven ETA 2836-2 automatic movement, and we’re talking about a watch that’ll just waltz through daily abuses.

Underwater, the legibility of the Aquadive Bathyscaphe is unparalleled. Super-LumiNova is standard stuff, but I wonder if there’s a secret sauce here? It’s really, really bright. Swimming under the shadow of a wreck at 95 feet, the dial lit up like Times Square. And the amount of lume on the bezel makes it really easy to read exact timings at depth. Again, it’s all about performance.

Another important feature for diving performance is bezel action. When your hands are numb with cold, or bound up in neoprene, you’re going to want a bezel that’s easy to grip and turn, but not so easy that it’ll get moved around without your consent. I was suspicious of this one because the bezel slopes up toward the crystal, which has proven a slippery proposition on other watches. But the bezel on the Aquadive Bathyscaphe is tall, and the coin edge is super sharp, so it proves to be easy to grip and turn. Further, that sloping bezel is a safety measure of sorts, because a bezel that overhangs the case can latch onto rocks, or coral, or any of the countless obstacles we encounter when diving.

There’s no need to overthink the Aquadive Bathyscaphe. It’s a dedicated thoroughbred dive tool with a professional lineage that assures its legacy as such. For those who have come to love tool watches as tools, the Bathyscaphe will scratch that itch. For desk divers who just want a cool fashion accessory, perhaps the Bathyscaphe will have you reconsider fussy fashion concerns in favor of a serious tool with serious cred.

Numerous versions of the Aquadive are available beginning at $1,990 direct.

Surfline Has Given Every Surfer a Reason to Wear an Apple Watch

There is something inherently captivating about seeing photos and video footage of yourself surfing. No matter how old we get, all surfers want to bank away those fleeting moments when everything aligned to tap back into them again and again. After all, surfing is about continually finding that feeling — of speed, of freedom, of adrenaline and total presence.

But not everyone has a friend who is willing to sit on the beach and shoot photos or video. Nor does it make sense for everyday, non-professional surfers to hire someone to do so. Thankfully, Surfline — which got its start as a number you could call for surf reports — has created a way for Premium members to access its vast network of hundreds of surf cameras to score video footage of every wave they catch.

Part fitness tool, part video footage compiler, Surfline Sessions is an extension of the Surfline Premium membership app. It pairs with an Apple Watch Series 2 or newer to track a surfer in front of one of Surfline’s wave cameras, logs footage of each wave and trims them down by the time the surfer is out of the water. It also tracks fitness data like calories burned, number of waves caught, feet traveled on each wave, top speed and more.

The biggest beneficiaries? Everyday surfers. “Pros see themselves on video all the time, so their marginal benefit is modest,” notes Surfline President Ross Garret. “But when you’re average or beginning, it’s massive. Preserving little bits of that experience — in whatever form — is magical, and to do so effortlessly is going to be a huge benefit to surfers everywhere.”

The Good: Up to this point, the only way to watch your sessions via Surfline’s cameras was through the Cam Rewind feature. But as Surfline Executive Vice President Dave Gilovich concedes: “It’s not the easiest product to use. Really tough to find your rides, kind of a pain to edit them into clips once you do, no way to easily share them with friends and you have to figure out where to store them. Surfline Sessions solves those problems.”

Surfline Sessions is certainly an upgrade on that experience. Combined with the fitness tracking data it provides, it’s a fairly handy tool for the modern surfer who wants more out of their sessions.

Who It’s For: Those who surf regularly at breaks that have Surfline cameras pointed at them. While Surfline currently has over 500 cameras worldwide, if you favor spots without them, you won’t have much use for this app. You also need an Apple Watch and a Premium Surfline subscription ($95/year). If you can check off those three boxes, you should definitely give Sessions a try; it’s free for Premium subscribers, after all.

Watch Out For: Make sure that whatever camera you are surfing in front of is working before you start your session. If a camera is down your footage most likely won’t be logged. I found this out first-hand after my first go, not checking the camera ahead of time only to finish my session and come away empty-handed.

Note that certain surf cameras work better than others for Sessions. Those that are more zoomed out will obviously not be as good as those based closer to the break.

Also, while wearing the streamlined Apple Watch while surfing is anything but clunky, you’ll want to upgrade the band to feel confident it’ll stay on through the gnarliest wipeout. I used Urban Armor Gear’s Active Watch Strap ($60).

Alternatives: One of the most common ways to get footage of yourself surfing is with a GoPro ($300). But that has obvious limitations in that it’s POV footage and the surfer has to do all the filming, which is not the easiest task while surfing. The SoloShot3 is probably the most direct alternative. It comes in a package with a camera, tripod and GPS tracker to essentially do the same thing as Sessions but with your own equipment — though it’ll cost you at least $599.

Review: The first time I used the Sessions app I learned the hard way that you should confirm the camera you’re surfing in front of is actually working. I had a really fun session at 90th Street in Rockaway Beach, New York, and was pretty excited about seeing the footage. Upon syncing my session with my phone, I found there was no video footage of any waves. Pulling up the camera I saw that it was in fact down, meaning my session was not recorded.

While I have largely given up caring about “getting shots” of myself surfing, the prospect of technology magically capturing good ones is still enticing. So I was definitely bummed out after that mishap. The morning of the next session I embarked on in Long Beach, I made sure that the Pacific Boulevard camera I’d be surfing in front of was in fact working properly.

This session was a pleasant summer surprise after a mostly flat season (typical on the East Coast). I got in the water, open the app, tapped “start session” and went wave hunting. After getting out of the water and “ending” my session on the Watch, I was happy to find my clips were already synced into the app on my phone. I dug through them and relived the glory on the LIRR train into NYC.

The footage is downloadable and shareable via plenty of platforms, and while you can zoom in, it’s not quite the high-quality video you would get from a filmer set up on the beach. That said, it was pretty satisfying seeing the waves played back and recalling each one with a smile. I also find the number of waves I caught, the top speed on each of those waves and the distance traveled on them to be really interesting data. Sure, there are product out there doing that already, but they don’t pair that ability with video footage of each of wave.

Verdict: If you’re already a Surfline Premium member, have a local break that has a Surfline camera and own an Apple Watch, it’s sort of a no brainer. But for literally anyone who wants to track their sessions and log video footage for posterity, this is by far the easiest way to do so.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Surfers aren’t hurting for ways to shoot videos of themselves. Thanks to waterproof GoPros and other action cameras there’s been an explosion of footage from the waves. But getting a wide shot that you can easily share with friends without mounting equipment on a surfboard is a nice feature. Plus, you no longer have to convince your non-surfing friends that they should shoot videos of you from the beach instead of relaxing.”” — Roberto Baldwin, Engadget

Surfline provided a Premium membership, an Apple Watch and an Urban Armor Gear strap for this review.

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Review: These Wireless Earbuds Are AirPod Alternatives for Audiophiles

Klipsch is best known for its incredible line of Heritage loudspeakers and high-end home theater systems; the American audio company holds a special place in the hearts of many hi-fi enthusiasts. More recently, the company has dipped its expertise into more mass-market products, like portable Bluetooth speakers, headphones and earbuds. Enter the Klipsch T5 True Wireless ($199), the company’s first true wireless earbuds and a bonafide AirPod competitor. If you’re wondering: yes, they wanted the charging case to look like a Zippo.

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The Good: First, the sound quality. Klipsch has been able to transition from the world of high-end (and high-priced) loudspeakers to accessible earbuds with relative ease. The T5 True Wireless really excel in the high and midrange frequencies – they’re clear and while – while the bass still hits you as most other true wireless earbuds. The sound quality on par with the likes of Sennheiser Momentum TW, Master & Dynamic MW07 or the most-recent Sony WF-1000X, but at just $199, the Klipsch T5 True Wireless are significantly cheaper.

Second, the design of the charging case and the fit of the earbuds is each unique. The charging case is meant to look and, to some extent, feel like a Zippo, and it pulls this off pretty well. The one caveat is it’s considerably heavier than a Zippo, but this extra weight makes the charging case feel premium in the hand. In terms of the actual earbuds, Klipsch has sort of trademarked the oval shape earbud design – the tips of the T5 True Wireless are flattener than those on most other earbuds; the idea being that they’ll fit deeper and more securely in your ear.

Who It’s For: The T5 True Wireless are for most people that want true wireless earbuds, just so long as they don’t work out in them. They’re a little more expensive than Apple AirPods or the Jabra Elite 65t, but they also sound noticeably better. If you like great sound quality and/or the Klipsch brand, these are pretty great true wireless earbuds to buy.

Watch Out For: The “deeper” fit of the earbuds won’t be for everybody and the elongated body of each earbud causes them to stick further out when in your ears. Even though they’re water-resistant, these aren’t sport-focused earbuds and I probably wouldn’t exercise with them. The on-button controls work well – except when controlling the volume. The Klipsch Connect app, which will allow you to tweak the EQ settings of the T5 True Wireless, isn’t available at launch (though it’s expected this fall). Lastly, the Zippo design of the case might not be your cup of tea.

Alternatives: In terms of audio quality, two direct alternatives of the T5 True Wireless are the Sennheiser Momentum TW ($299) and the Master & Dynamic MW07 ($299). Both are excellent headphones but they’re also significantly more expensive. If you want noise-canceling as well as excellent sound quality, the Sony WF-1000X are also are an outstanding option.

Verdict: There’s really little to complain about with the Klipsch T5 True Wireless. If you can get over the arguably tacky design of the charging case, and you know that the earbuds fit well in your ears (the fit is unique compared to most other true wireless earbuds), these are one of the best sounding true wireless earbuds that we’ve tested. The fact that they’re $100 less expensive than most other “audiophile-grade” wireless earbuds, makes them even more attractive.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Ultimately, this is a very good first stab at true wireless for Klipsch. These headphones are a little expensive at $200 and not everybody is going to love the fit, but they’re certainly worth checking out if you’re considering a set a premium set of true wireless headphones.” — David Carnoy, CNET

• “The Klipsch T5 True Wireless feature the signature Klipsch sound, which is warm, detailed, and never harsh. That’s not to say the Klipsch are neutral, though – they’re simply closer to neutral than the Sennheiser Momentum when it comes to bass. Mids are where the Klipsch shine, allowing vocals to really shine as acoustic music, which favors mids, are lush and detailed. The detail extends to the highs as well, allowing the headphones to sing in the higher registers without ever being harsh. .” — Lewis Leong, TechRadar

• “Klipsch has one key advantage over the competition: price. Most “flagship” true wireless earbuds cost around $300, except for Sony’s stellar WF-1000XM3 ($230). You might get better sound from the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless or the Master & Dynamic MW07, but you’ll have to pay $100 more for them. I also still like Jabra’s Elite 65t as a solid all-around option, especially for $170. Audio quality is slightly better on the Klipsch, but Jabra has a better overall experience — including comfort and controls. However, if you don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, you’ll be much happier with the WF-1000XM3.” — Billy Steele, Engadget

Key Specs

Driver: 5.0 mm dynamic moving coil micro speaker
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 19kHz
Water-resistant: IPX4
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Battery: 8 hours per earbud; up to 24 additional hours with the charging case

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Klipsch provided this product for review.

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