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This Brand Is Making Affordable Mechanical Watches for Under $500

Lorier is a young boutique watch brand founded by husband-and-wife team Lauren and Lorzeno Ortega and based in New York City. Their catalog currently consists of three models: the Falcon sports watch (also available in a gold PVD version); the Hydra diver; and the the Neptune diver (soon to be restocked on the company’s website). Incredibly, all three models, which feature automatic movements and matching steel bracelets, are priced at just $399, with the gold PVD version of the Falcon coming in at just $449.

Though we typically like to focus on just one watch in a brand’s catalog, Laurier made an intelligent call when designing its timepieces, deciding to have them share a 39mm case. What this effectively means is that the differentiating factors in its watches come down to dial, bezel, and other aesthetic choices, so we thought it might make sense to give you an overview of the entire catalog, in order to better understand the features that differentiate these watches.

The Good: Since we’re talking about a shared case architecture — and one that works quite well — let’s break it down. The case used by all three models is crafted from stainless steel and measures 39mm in diameter. It features an attractive combination of different finishing techniques, including a polished edge on the bevels of the prominent lugs, which are otherwise brushed, along with the rest of the case (the lugs are also drilled, which is a nice touch, making strap changes easy).

At 48mm lug-to-lug by 12mm thick (not including the crystal), the Lorier case is proportioned well within the “Goldilocks” dimensions for a tool watch/diver, in this writer’s opinion. With its screw-down case back and oversized, 7.3mm screw-down crown, the case achieves 200m of water resistance — more than enough for recreational SCUBA diving. What’s more, the case is affixed with a vintage-style, domed plexiglass crystal, giving it that old-school aesthetic. The crystal isn’t domed quite as prominently as the “top hat” or “box”-style crystals found on certain vintage dive watches, but the certainly provides the dial with that “warmth” that so many watch aficionados love. Without crown guards, the case certainly resembles that of one of its vintage inspirations, the Rolex 6538 “Big Crown” Submariner.

Also, all three watches share a handset, with only the base color changing from model to model (the Neptune’s hands are rendered in plain steel, while those of the Hydra and Falcon are manufactured in a gold tone). The hands are a slightly modified alpha type, in which the centers have been filled in with BGW9 Super-LumiNova. The seconds hand terminates in a long, pointed arrow; the minute hand features a gentler conical shape with a rounded back; and the hour hand is a similar shape topped with a prominent, thick arrow. They’re highly visible hands that work well on a dive watch, though are are perhaps a bit heavy handed on a sport model that isn’t necessarily meant for diving (the Falcon, in this case).

The last shared feature between the three models is the bracelet, which features flat links and is reminiscent of a vintage Omega 1039 bracelet that you might find on an old Speedmaster. Seeing a 1039-type bracelet on a Big Crown-looking dive watch admittedly throws a vintage watch fan for a bit of a loop, but the bracelet itself is pretty damn cool. Comfortable, well engineered and different (at least in the sense that it’s not another cheap Oyster ripoff, thank God), it nevertheless differs from the Omega original by including a push-button-release clasp with micro-adjustments.

Is this the best dive watch bracelet and clasp I’ve ever seen? No. There is no dive extension or other facility to extend the bracelet over a wetsuit, and the clasp doesn’t close with the surest, most firm “click” I’ve ever felt in my life, but it’s likely more than adequate for most casual wear. And it looks great, tapering from 20mm down to 16mm and adding a serious vintage vibe to whatever watch accompanies it.

Who It’s For: In looking over the three Lorier models (four, if you count the PVD version of the Falcon separately), I was immediately struck by the price. $400 for a steel dive watch (or tool watch, in the case of the Falcon) with a workhorse automatic movement, solid water resistance, a well designed case and a beautiful matching bracelet? It just seemed to good to be true, that kind of pricing, so I was, quite frankly, prepared to be underwhelmed by the quality of the watches. Pleasantly, I was quickly proven wrong in the assumption that they couldn’t possibly be built all that well, which is clearly a testament to the high quality being delivered by today’s microbrands.

Anyone out there looking for his or her first foray into dive watches and who doesn’t want to drop, say, $8,000 on a Submariner, should certainly check out Lorier. I could also easily see a seasoned collector who’d like a fun, everyday watch to wear to the beach (or everyday, for that matter) but who perhaps doesn’t want to travel with an expensive vintage watch springing for the Neptune or the Hydra. The Falcon, with its “waffle dial” (we’ll get to this later), is an excellent modern replacement for, say, a vintage mid-century Tudor or Rolex, and at $399/$449, there’s little likelihood of finding a comparable contemporary watch for the money.

Watch Out For: There’s not a whole lot of nitpicking to be done here, to be frank, with the exception of aesthetic decisions are largely subjective, anyway. I, personally, would have preferred a different handset on the Falcon, which, to my mind, doesn’t require such a large, “visible” set and would have benefitted from something more elegant. However, I can also appreciate the fact that duplicating case and handsets across the model ranges has allowed Lorier to keep costs down while still delivering a great product.

The Falcon and Hyrda also feature date wheels at 6 o’clock. As far as date wheels are concerned, these are well done, having been rendered with a keystone shape and containing, on the Hydra, a gilt strip surrounding the window (the surround is gilt on the Falcon or black, depending on the dial color).

My two most significant problems with the watches are two issues that will only admittedly affect a subset of wearers. One is that, while I understand the aesthetic and practical inspirations of the oversize crown (practical because it’s easier to grip and turn, especially whilst wearing gloves, and aesthetic because the oversized crown on the 6538 Submariner clearly had some influence on the crown on this model), the fact is that a huge crown like this will dig into some people’s hands and become uncomfortable. For as long as I’ve been wearing watches, I’ve had a permanent “indent” on my left hand from watch crowns, and this is from more moderately sized crowns. I can’t imagine wearing a Lorier model every single day, personally, as this problem would only be exacerbated.

However, there are certainly plenty of people for whom a large or oversized crown won’t be a problem. The one other issue I have with the Hydra and Neptune pertains to the bezel. The knurling on the outer edge of the bezel on these two models doesn’t, in my experience, provide enough grip to make turning the unidirectional bezel all that easy, and because the bezel itself doesn’t protrude very far above the lip of the dial, the problem is exacerbated.

For this reason, these two models wouldn’t be my first choice to use underwater during actual SCUBA diving, though I have to add two points, the first being that I haven’t yet actually gone diving with either watch, and the second being that the great majority of people, even if they’re certified divers, aren’t using mechanical watches to time decompression stops anymore. They’re using dive computers, and, if anything, they’re using mechanical watches as backups.

Alternatives: With the rise of myriad boutique watch brands, consumers have been spoiled for chocie in watches lately, even in the sub-$1k range. The Aquascaphe, from Baltic, runs about $650 (~$737 on a steel bracelet) and, similar to the Lorier Neptune and Hydra, features an automatic movement, 200m of water resistance and vintage-inspired aesthetics. The U1-DZN from Unimatic, for $666, doesn’t ship on a bracelet, but also features an automatic movement, a unidirectional bezel, 300m of water resistance, and ships on two straps for about $666.

NOTE: Check out the Lorier product page for a representation of the true, deep blue color of the Neptune blue dial.

Review: As I said, I was quite surprised with the quality present across Lorier’s model lines considering the pricing, which ranges from $399 to $449. The Ortegas aren’t shy about their design inspiration, which stems from a cross-section of some of the vintage models that they themselves love. Some of these qualities were things that they found the modern watch market lacked in affordable timepieces, and this is largely why the pair decided to design their own watches.

As the watch cases and bracelets are the same throughout the different models, choosing one largely comes down to the dial, bezel, and crystal, which is shallower on the Falcon than it is on the two dive models, but still crafted from acrylic. Beginning with the Falcon, one is struck immediately by the texture on the waffle dial. If you’re familiar with vintage Rolex and Tudor Oyster-based models from the 1950s and 1960s, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the “waffle dial,” a complex, repeating, honeycomb-like pattern that isn’t nearly as popular today, especially amongst more affordable sport watches.

The Falcon is available with green, black or white dial, each of which features “gilt” indices and hands and a date wheel at 6 o’clock. Some might balk at the date wheel, but it’s well integrated and unobtrusive as far as date wheels go. As I mentioned earlier, I would have preferred a slightly thinner handset on a non-dive model such as this, but I think the present handset still works well. The printing atop the waffle dial is smooth and even, and the quality is impressive.

Moving on to the Hydra, there are two dial colors available: black and royal blue. If you’re into the look of vintage “gilt” Rolex, than this is the model for you, especially in black — the “gilt” outer chapter ring and hands really pop against the black dial and red depth rating, effectively conveying that vintage Rolex look. As previously stated, I found the thin bezel with aluminum inset difficult to turn on dry land, so I can only imagine it would be that much more difficult to work underwater. However, the bezel, which is thin and conveys the look of a vintage Bakelite model, does indeed look sharp, and convincingly vintage.

The Neptune, which is currently being re-released in a second batch, is my personal favorite. Available in gilt, black or marine blue, the dial on this watch really captures the look of the late 1980s/early 1990s Tudor 79090 Submariners, with their alternating dot-and-triangle indices. The bezel was slightly easier to grip on this model than on the Hydra, though this could have been simply a quirk of the particular review watch that I received, as the bezels on both models are, to my knowledge, the same. Not normally as big a fan of blue-dial watches as I am of black, I immediately gravitated toward the royal blue Neptune.

Lastly, all three watches utilize the Seiko automatic NH35A movement, which has 24 jewels and is hackable, with a power reserve of 41 hours. There’s not much else to say here — this is a workhorse automatic movement utilized by numerous watches that have come out of the “microbrand” movement. It’s inexpensive, relatively robust, and should provide many years of faithful service. Also, all Lorier watches ship with a genuine leather 2-slot watch roll with microfiber lining and a screwdriver to resize the bracelet. Nylon straps are available separately and currently include a regimental-type single-pass nylon model in black and blue, which measures roughly 26mm. I found this strap adequate and comfortable, though I would myself spring for a NATO if diving with one of these watches.

Verdict: What Lorier has managed to do is undoubtedly impressive — starting a company from scratch with no prior watchmaking experience, designing and manufacturing watches that accurately reflect myriad vintage influences but still function well, and doing all this while winning over serious watch fans — none of this makes for an easy feat. But it’s clear from spending some time with the Lorier catalog (the gold PVD version of the Falcon excluded, which I didn’t review) that these aren’t ripoffs. Sure, they feature design cues that are derivative of myriad vintage watches, but they somehow manage to turn many influences into a cohesive whole without creating watches that seem like cheap copies or knockoffs. The Lorier models are awesome starter watches, or perfect weekend watches, or, for the right person, some of the only watches that you’ll ever need.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Neptune really is a well made and designed micro-diver with tons of character. The large crown, thin aluminum bezel insert, domed plexiglass crystal, and the tapered bracelet all add up to one very cool watch—and it’s available at an amazingly affordable price. At $389, you really can’t go wrong with the Neptune.” — Christoph McNeill, Worn & Wound

• “I’m at a bit of a loss for things to criticize as everything is actually above expectation at the price point, and the aesthetics are both cool and distinctive. Sure, it could have been thinner, but it doesn’t wear thick so you don’t really notice it and the movement options at the price point don’t give the brand much choice. All in all, it’s just a very successful watch if you like the look of it.” — Zach Weiss, Worn & Wound

• “I’m really impressed. In fact, I would go out on a limb to say it might be the best choice for a truly affordable watch maybe aside from a Seiko these days….Really pleasing to wear on a daily basis.” ” — Jason Heaton, The Grey Nato

Key Specs

Case Diameter: 39mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Crystal: Domed acrylic crystal
Movement: Seiko NH35A automatic

Lorier provided these products for review.

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The Best Cheap Bookshelf Speakers That You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s no industry secret that some of the most popular speakers in the world are made or assembled in China. How many Chinese speakers can you find at your local Best Buy? The answer is none. Asia has a rich and distinguished history of creating some of the world’s best-sounding audio components so it should surprise no one that an upstart brand like Micca Electronics is having a very difficult time keeping its products in stock. The RB42 bookshelf speakers ($130), for example, are the real deal. And if you visit Amazon at just the right time, you may get lucky and see that the Micca RB42s are “in stock.”

The Good: To say that the RB42 don’t sound like $130 speakers would be an understatement. After some substantial burn-in, it becomes rather evident that these diminutive 2-way loudspeakers are extremely capable if paired with the right amplifier and set up properly. There is no question that these compete with loudspeaker rivals that are more expensive, but just how far does your budget stretch to get the most out of them.

The construction quality on the RB42 would be impressive if they sold for $400, making one raise an eyebrow considering that they sell for $130. Micca may have cut corners in other places, but the curved 3/4-inch thick MDF cabinet wrapped in a laminate dark wood veneer isn’t one of them. The RB42 are solidly built loudspeakers that look great as well.

If you’re expecting subterranean bass response out of a pair of 4-inch paper coated midrange/woofers, you’re not getting the point of these loudspeakers. The RB42 deliver a tight, solid bass response that will impress anyone; adding a subwoofer would certainly make sense with these loudspeakers but it’s not mandatory.

The silk dome tweeter sounds very smooth with above average top end extension; when driven very hard with less than stellar recordings, the RB42 never exhibited a level of brightness that we would normally associate with entry-level loudspeakers. The midrange resolution is outstanding; the absence of obvious colorations made vocal reproduction one of the best parts of its sonic signature.

Who It’s For: If you’re limited to under $200, the RB42 are clearly one of the best sounding bookshelf loudspeakers on the market. They work well on a desktop, credenza or set-up on a pair of high-quality speaker stands. College students can drive the hell out of them with a suitable amplifier, and they work well in almost every environment.

Watch Out For: Power. The RB42s need a lot of power to sound their best. We drove them with a number of different power amplifiers from Schiit Audio, Anthem, and NAD, would suggest that 80-100 watts is a good starting point. The bass response, in particular, can sound slightly anemic if your amplifier is not up to the task.

The RB42 image superbly well, recreating a rather deep soundstage, but that only became evident when placed on 24-28-inch loudspeaker stands and pulled 2-to-3-feet from the wall. The rear ported loudspeakers certainly benefit from some boundary reinforcement, but placed too close to the wall, the bass started to overload the corners and lost its solidity.

Alternatives: As much as we love the RB42, they do face some stiff competition from the PSB Alpha P3 ($199), Paradigm Monitor SE Atom ($298), and the ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 ($200). The Monitor SE Atom are more than double the price of the RB42, but they justify the difference based on the sense of scale and higher levels of resolution and transparency. The PSB and ELAC have a much harder time in our opinion making that same case; the PSB sound lightweight in the bass department compared to the RB42, and the ELAC can sound somewhat strident when pushed. The silk dome tweeter of the RB42 is more laid back sounding; the overall tonal balance is not as forward sounding which might appeal to listeners over the long haul.

Verdict: The RB42 bookshelf speakers sell out online very quickly and it’s easy to understand why. The construction quality is superb for an entry-level loudspeaker below $150, and there is a lot to like about the bass response, midrange resolution, and long-term listenability of the product. The biggest caveat is the low sensitivity, which required me to use amplification that was 10x the price of the loudspeakers. In a small room or office with 40-50 watts, most people won’t think they are missing out on anything, but having heard the RB42 play with some of the best affordable high-end amplifiers available, we know better. For under $150, the Micca RB42 are remarkably good.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Micca RB42 Reference is mighty impressive, but the Dayton Audio B652 Air and Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers are less expensive and clearer-sounding speakers. The RB42’s superior build quality, richer sound balance and smaller size might tilt the balance for some buyers.” — Steve Guttenberg, CNET

Key Specs
Type: passive bookshelf speaker
Drivers: 0.75″ silk dome tweeter; 4″ coated paper, rubber surround woofer
Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz
Impedance: 4-8 ohms
Sensitivity: 83dB

Micca Electronics provided this product for review.

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Alpinestars Supertech M10 Helmet Review: The Off-Road Rider’s Featherweight Champ

It’s rare for any company to get things right on their first attempt. Entering into unexplored territory with a new product can be tricky; hell, even well-established car companies usually need to give a new model a couple iterations or model years to iron out the kinks.

Which is why I was a bit tentative to slide my gray matter into Alpinestars new Supertech M10 Helmet. It’s not that there’s any reason to doubt Italian motorcycle gear manufacturer’s commitment to safety, of course. But helmets need to be more than safe to be effective. They need to fit well, be comfortable, offer adequate venting and be light enough to not induce fatigue on a ride.

So, how does this company’s first diallance into protective headgear stack up? Does Alpinestars have a hit on their hands with the Supertech M10, or should buyers wait for the next generation?

The Good: Alpinestars clearly set a high safety bar for themselves to clear with the Supertech M10 — and they’ve cleared it on a number of deliverables. This helmet is a marvel of technology. Integrations such as MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) combine with a slip layer between the EPS foam liner and the interior padding to further reduce the rotational forces associated with crashing. The EPS liner itself is comprised of a four-part construction, meaning the most impact prone sections can react with a different density of protection.

Meanwhile, under the chinbar, a clavicle relief cutout has been made to help mitigate collarbone injuries. The moisture-wicking interior is also set up with an ERS (Emergency Release System) at the cheek pads to ensure paramedics can toss off the M10 without adding to potential problems. On top of this, the visor is held on via a trio of quick-release fasteners that surrender their hold at near lyany impact.

Who It’s For: Since its both DOT- and ECE-certified, any street rider looking for a well-ventilated, lightweight summer helmet could happily don the Supertech M10. But riders that are hell-bent on exploring single-tracks and trekking down paths less travelled will see the greatest benefits of Alpinestars’s development work.

Watch Out For: Despite the integrated A-Head Adjustment feature, if you don’t carry an intermediate oval-shaped melon on your shoulders, the SM10 isn’t the bucket for you. Also, some of the vents either don’t have screens (the nostril vents) or the screening is inset from the outer shell (the upper eyeport vents), which makes them a mud magnet. One roost too many and the earth’s goo will be trapped too tight for a wipe on the fly, restricting airflow.

Alternatives: This may be Alpinestars’s first production helmet, but the off-road and motocross space is already pretty packed; alternatives from well-established helmet manufacturers and other do-all brands abound. The Arai VX4 Combat ($665) meets both DOT and Snell ratings and offers their unique Facial Contour System to ensure a snug fit. The ATR-2 from 6D ($695) is a touch heavier than the Supertech M10 but boasts a beefy list of safety integrations that 6D developed during work in the NFL’s Head Health Challenge. Another great choice is the F5 Koroyd from Klim ($649); equipped with MIPS and built using Klim’s patented Koroyd energy-absorbing technology, it too boasts leading-edge safety tech and a lightweight design.

Review: The original plan was to take the Supertech M10 out to an off-road riding school north of Toronto, but Mother Nature had other ideas. At the time of this writing, all nearby trails had yet to be opened due to unseasonable flooding. No matter. Since it was graced with street legality, I went to find out how this MX lid performed around town and during lighter-duty ADV riding.

Right out of the included tote bag, it’s hard not to be impressed with just how light the Supertech M10 is: deceptively so, even for a motocross lid. The interior is soft, plush and supportive; I could feel a bit of a hot-spot at my forehead initially, but after experimenting with the fitment system, was able to find a fit that worked just right.

On the street and in the breeze, the M10 offers an expansive view from the eyeport. I experimented with both goggles and sunglasses during on-road testing, and both fit well enough to keep my peepers protected without stifling airflow. From behind a windshield, buffeting and wind noise is quieter than expected; a few hours of interstate slog would be perfectly tolerable it on. That said, it’s certainly not as quiet a headspace as a full-face cocoon, and the visor will induce lift at speed.

Off-road, the M10 comes into its own. The combination of 16 intake vents and five exhaust ports keep things cool, while its near-imperceptible weight means keeping your noggin on a swivel won’t wear you down. The eyeport is well-sized for proper off-roading goggles, and despite not being adjustable, the visor is well-positioned to cut glare without becoming too much of a sail.

Verdict: It may be Alpinestars’s first entry into the segment and designed primarily for motocross, but the Supertech M10 — the product of more than five years of design and development — has far broader appeal. This is a lid that dual-sport and ADV-riders should have on their radar. But what really has me salivating is the assumption that this won’t be the only helmet Alpinestars creates: With an incredibly strong presence in MotoGP, World Superbike and product lines that fill near every niche of riding, it seems like only be a matter of time before dedicated street and track helmets see the light of day. And given how well the Alpinestars did with the Supertech M10, we should all be in for a treat.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Alpinestars Supertech M10 helmet is DOT- and ECE-approved. It features a multi-density foam liner, composite shell, MIPS rotational impact device, impact release visor system and comes in six different sizes. There is no doubt that the styling, design and construction are cutting edge.” — MOTOCROSS ACTION MAGAZINE

• “We’ve enjoyed the time spent so far in the M10, and we’ll continue wearing it. Testing helmets for a review is one thing, but continually reaching for it every time we ride or race is another – it speaks much more to the helmet’s value not only in terms of comfort and looks, but to the peace of mind that comes with knowing and trusting the protective qualities it provides.” — BRENT JASWINSKI, MOTORCYCLE.COM

• “With any helmet hitting north of the $500 mark, the bar for features is very high. Thankfully the S-M10 exceeds expectations in all areas and confirms that Alpinestars really did overdeliver with their first foray into the dirt helmet world.” — ESSENTIAL MOTO

Alpinestars Supertech M10 Meta Helmet Key Specs

Construction: Three-layer composite
Weight: 2.77 pounds (size medium)
Number of Shell Sizes: Four
SPEC4:
SPEC5:

Alpinestars provided this product for review.

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Review: These Are the Best Running Headphones for Anyone With an iPhone

The Powerbeats Pro ($250) are true wireless earbuds from the Apple-owned Beats that combine the design, sweat-resistance and sound of Beats’s Powerbeats3 Wireless ($200), a workout headphone staple, with the true wirelessness and functionality of Apple’s second-generation AirPods ($159+). They cost $250 and are available in four colors: black, navy, moss (green) and ivory (off-white).

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The Good: The Powerbeats Pro have almost all of the same conveniences of second-generation AirPods; they quickly pair to your iPhone, have “Hey Siri” functionality, and they have good sound and call quality. They also charge via your iPhone’s Lightning cable, leaving you with one less cable to carry. The Powerbeats Pro also offer a couple key upgrades over AirPods. They are sweat resistance (IPX4) so you don’t have to worry about your workout killing them, and their design gives them a more snug fit than old Powerbeats3 Wireless. (Great news if AirPods don’t fit in everybody’s ears.) They offer better battery life, an incredible nine hours for each earbud. And they come more colors than just white.

Who It’s For: Anybody with an iPhone looking for the best running true wireless earbuds that money can buy.

Watch Out For: The charging case of the Powerbeats Pro is huge, frankly. It’s roughly twice the size of the AirPods charging case and almost three times as heavy. There’s basically no way you’re fitting it into your pocket. The odd shape of each of the Powerbeats Pro’s earbuds makes it sometimes difficult getting them back inside the charging case. The experience is nowhere near as snappy as slipping AirPods back into their perfectly-sized charging case. Their odd shape can make it difficult to get them in your ears. They can’t wirelessly charge. They’ve got no sensors or coaching features, and they’re pretty expensive to boot.

Alternatives: The Powerbeats Pro are the essentially the combination of Beats’s Powerbeats3 Wireless ($200) and Apple’s second-generation AirPods ($159+), meaning either is a sensible alternative. If you’re looking for great true wireless earbuds that, unlike AirPods, are also sweat resistant, you can go with the Jabra Elite Active 65t ($190) or the Jaybird Run XT ($150).

Verdict: The Powerbeats Pro are true wireless earbuds that are designed with a very specific type of person in mind. One who has an iPhone and wants earbuds specifically for working out. Yes, they are fairly expensive. And yes, the charging case is almost comically huge. It’d also be nice if there was some sort of coaching feature or built-in sensors to measure metrics like distance, heart rate or V02 max, but most athletes already have a wrist-bound wearable for stuff anyway.

The bottom line is that combination of fantastic battery life, fit and overall sound quality, plus the integration of Apple’s new H1 chip, make the Powerbeats Pro the best true wireless earbuds for running and working out that money can buy, if you’re ok with shelling out.

What Others Are Saying:

• “If you’re an iPhone user, AirPods can be attractive, but the PowerBeats Pro are the better companion for your smartphone. Sweat resistance, actual noise isolation, and a secure fit in your ears make these the true wireless earphones you want in Apple-land. Android users may find other options they like better, as these only support AAC.” — Christian Thomas, Sound Guys

• “The Powerbeats Pro are the best Beats product yet. They raise the bar for what can be expected of fitness and true wireless earphones, both in terms of sound quality and battery endurance. They improve on Apple’s own AirPods in tangible ways, and they shame rivals like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless that can’t seem to be able to figure out the whole wireless connectivity issue.” — Vlad Savov, The Verge

• “We admire the Powerbeats Pro headphones for their build, their fit and their superb features. Thanks to the Apple H1 Bluetooth chip technology, they’re wonderfully easy to set up and use, and they’re virtually glitch-free in their delivery of wireless audio. But their musical performance brings them down. While not chronically bassy and replete with detail, they just don’t have the liveliness to keep us interested even in tracks we know and love..” — Anonymous, What Hi-Fi?

Key Specs
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Sensors: beam-forming mics, optical sensors, accelerometer
Battery: 9 hours listening time (24 hours with case), 3 hours talk time (18 hours with case)
Key Features: sweatproof (IPX4), hands-free “Hey Siri”

Apple provided this product for review.

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These Stunning Noise-Canceling Headphones Sound As Good As They Look

The Master & Dynamic MW65 are the company’s first noise-canceling headphones and sport the company’s trademark industrial design that marries metal with genuine leather. However, other than the new noise-canceling abilities, the MW65 have another secret feature. Because they’re made out of anodized aluminum, the weigh in at just 245 grams and are significantly lighter, and as a result are more comfortable, than any other of M&D’s headphones. Despite this new lightweight design, the company claims that the MW65 deliver the same signature rich and warm sound.

The Master & Dynamic MW65 cost $499 and are available in two colors: gun metal and black leather or silver metal and brown leather.

The Good: The first thing I noticed is how light and comfortable the MW65 headphones are. If you’ve ever worn Master & Dynamic’s other headphones, like the over-ear MW60 or the convertible MW50+, you’ll know that they feel like they’re made of metal, not plastic like many popular and cheaper headphones. It’s good in that they feel solid, and less good in that they’re heavy on your head. Despite having essentially the same industrial design, the MW65 are almost shockingly light, which is exactly what you want in a pair of noise-canceling headphones that you’re going to wear for lengthy periods of time.

The MW65 are also some of the best noise-canceling headphones that you’re going to find. They have 40mm beryllium drivers, same as the company’s most recent MW50+ headphones, and they’ve been specially tuned to have the same right and expansive sound that M&D headphones are known for. They sound positively terrific. These headphones have a very good battery life, and maybe even more importantly, thanks to the USB Type-C port, they charge quickly: a 15-minute charge can get you an incredible 12 additional hours of listening time.

The MW65 are basically idiot proof when it comes to setup, which is a double-edge sword. There’s no app to deal with, but at the cost of any way to adjust the EQ settings. All the buttons on the headphones are very tactile; switching between noise-canceling modes is simple, and an in-ear voice tells you what level of noise-canceling you’re using. There aren’t any on-earcup swipe gestures to accidentally hit. If you want to add a virtual assistant, like Google Assistant, you can but you don’t have to.

Who It’s For: Somebody who is looking high-end noise-canceling headphones with a unique style that’ll stick out in a sea of Bose and Sonys.

Watch Out For: The Master & Dynamic MW65 are considerably more expensive than the best-in-class noise-canceling headphones by Bose and Sony, but its noise-canceling simply isn’t on the same level. The MW65 has two noise-canceling modes, high and low, and while “high” is pretty good at limiting the melodic hum of an airplane, or the clatter of colleagues at the office, there was never really a reason to choose “low.”

Alternatives: If you’re simply looking for the best noise-canceling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM3 are still the ones to beat; the Bose’s being the most comfortable and the Sony’s boasting the best noise-canceling abilities. If you’re shopping in the high-end market, which is where the Master & Dynamic MW65 undoubtedly are, the Bowers & Wilkins PX are also a great option that charge via USB Type-C and deliver an expansive soundstage.

Verdict: The M&D MW65 headphones are some of the best-sounding, most stylish and most comfortable noise-canceling headphones you’ll find in 2019. That said, they probably won’t be for most people simply because they’re expensive and, comparatively, you’ll probably be just as happy with Bose’s or Sony’s flagship noise-canceling headphones. If you like the industrial aesthetic of M&D and you won’t headphones that are unique, and you’re willing to spend a little bit more, the M&D MW65 are excellent.

What Others Are Saying:

• “This is another great product from Master & Dynamic where price is my main gripe. Yes, the MW65 looks great, and yes, it sounds really good. Sure, the materials used here are much better than basic plastic. And even though the noise cancellation doesn’t kill all noise, it does its job well without sacrificing great audio in the process. The MW65 are nearly the perfect headphones. It’s a shame most people won’t pay what it costs to find out.” — Billy Steele, Engadget

• “One thing that didn’t surprise me is the audio quality. It’s excellent, just as you’d expect from the M&D brand given its track record of producing great-sounding headphones. My only note is that MW65s have a “natural” sound profile, meaning they aren’t goosed in the bass frequencies the way that Beats or V-Modas (and so many others) are. Just be aware that if you live for drippy, skull-rattling bass, you’ll want an EQ app on your phone.” — Michael Calore, Wired

Key Specs

Drivers: 40mm beryllium
Materials: leather, anodized aluminum
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Weight: 245 grams
Battery: up to 24 hours; 12 hours on a quick 15 minute charge
Charge: USB Type-C

Master & Dynamic provided this product for review.

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Review: This Bowers & Wilkins Speaker Is the Perfect Upgrade From Sonos

When Bowers & Wilkins announced its Formation line of wireless speakers, it was clear they were designed to be a conversation peice as well as a speaker. But that doesn’t mean they’re form over function. The Formation series consists of a pair of active powered speakers, a soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, an audio box and wireless speaker, and they all can work together in a multiroom system or as standalone devices. Using B&W’s proprietary wireless mesh network technology, called Formation Wireless Technology, the speakers can also stream up to 96/24-bit audio, which B&W claims this is twice the fidelity of many other high-end wireless speakers.

The Wedge ($900) is the small standalone speaker in B&W’s Formation series and it’s arguably the most interesting. It’s unmistakable with its 120-degree wedge-shaped design and woven grille. With the ability to play full-range stereo that can easily fill a room, it’s a cousin to the Sonos Play:5, but for serious audiophiles who also have a little more cash to splash.

The Good: The Wedge is an all-in-one speaker with five drivers that are each individually amplified, and it has no problem filling a room. Just like a Sonos speaker, the Wedge is also super easy to use. It works with Spotify Connect so you can stream music directly from the app, is Roon Ready, supports Bluetooth aptX, so your guests don’t need to be connected to wi-fi to play music, and supports Apple AirPlay 2 so you can group it with any other AirPlay speaker. Ultimately, it’s designed to play in a multi-room setup with B&W’s suit of other Formation speakers, but the flexibility is key, especially if you don’t want to spend any more money. ‘s really designed to play in a multi-room setup with B&W’s suite of other Formation speakers, but it supports Apple AirPlay 2 so you can theoretically group it with any other AirPlay speaker.

And while the design is certainly striking, the sound quality is definitely its standout feature. In my testing, I found myself revisiting older albums by Florence and the Machine, and the clarity of the midrange and vocals on tracks like “Spectrum” and “Breaking Dawn” were impressive. The Wedge has a built-in sub, too, so it’s able to bring the bass.

Who It’s For: You have to want a top tier, high-end wireless speaker with a bold design. Seriously, you better love that design. It’s also anything but cheap, so you have to be someone who is serious about hi-fi as well as speaker design.

Watch Out For: There are three things to watch out for with the B&W’s Formation Wedge, and the first two are obvious. First, it’s expensive. Second, the design won’t be for everybody. It looks sort of like a Fabergé egg, or something out of some 50s sci-fi concept art. Lastly, a detail that’s a bit smaller but still worth knowing, the Wedge cannot be designated as right or left channel speaker like some other wi-fi speakers, such as a Sonos One. That, and there’s no analog way to play music. There’s no 3.5mm jack and the USB-C port located on the bottom of the speaker is for service only.

Alternatives: There are plenty of high-end wireless multiroom alternatives to B&W’s Formation Wedge. The Sonos Play:5 is a more affordable option that sounds good and supports AirPlay 2. The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless ($700) is effectively the older and cheaper version of the Wedge, although it’s not able to sync with other Formation speakers in a multiroom system. If you’re looking for something on the high end, Naim’s Mu-so Qb ($699) and Mu-so 2 ($1,599) are both excellent wireless speakers with a distinct design.

Verdict: The Bowers & Wilkins Formation Wedge is a prime example of a traditional hi-fi speaker seeing the success of Sonos and throwing its hat in the ring. The Wedge is without a doubt a terrific-sounding wireless speaker that’s easy to use and versatile, thanks to AirPlay 2 support as well as built-in Bluetooth. Yes, it’s fairly expensive. Yes, its looks won’t be for everybody. But if you’re in the market for standalone hi-fi speaker that you also want to be a statement piece, for maybe your living room or kitchen, this is definitely a conversation starter that sounds good enough to justify its high price.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Spotify streams sounded impressive. Bat for Lashes’ “Laura” was summoned from the music streaming service and the sound was bigger than you’d expect from a speaker of that size, easily capable of filling the room. In this instance, the Wedge was able to go loud without losing a grip on clarity or detail.” — Kob Monney, Trusted Reviews

• “Bowers & Wilkins has an excellent track record when it comes to producing curiously-shaped, excellent-sounding wireless speakers. So we have high hopes the Wedge can follow in the Zeppelin’s footsteps. The size and price tag will deter some, but if you’re willing to pay to get the best possible wireless sound, we’re pretty sure you’ll want to audition the Formation Wedge.” — Anonymous, What Hi-Fi?

Key Specs

Speaker: wireless music system
Drivers: 1″ double dome tweeter (2x), 3.5″ midrange (2x), 6″ subwoofer
Frequency response: 35Hz to 28kHz
Weight: 14.3 pounds
Connectivity: Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon Ready, Bluetooth aptX HD

Bowers & Wilkins provided this product for review.

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Can a Wool Surfboard Be as Good as a Traditional Board?

Humans use wool for all sorts of products: clothing, insulation, carpeting, blankets, technical garments and on, and on. We can add “surfboard” to that ever-growing list, now that Firewire Surfboards is bringing to market a peculiar idea from New Zealand surfboard shaper Paul Barron that replaces the fiberglass fabric of a board with ovine fiber. The technology is called Woolight, and Firewire is manufacturing a limited initial quantity to test the market acceptance, all of them in the company’s most popular shape, the Rob Machado Seaside.

Woolight’s origins are humble: nearly ten years ago Barron spilled resin on a sweater of his, but instead of the resin dripping off as he expected it to, it settled into the soft material. A cerebral light bulb clicked on, and he got to work. Years later, Barron brought the concept to Firewire, a surf company (owned in part by Kelly Slater) that has a reputation for using non-traditional processes to make surfboards. In its first board design, which debuted in 2006, Firewire removed the wood stringer from the middle of a board’s foam core and placed it instead parabolically around the outer edge of to create a more torsional flex pattern.

The use of wool continues that tradition of innovation, but also hits on another issue that plagues the surf industry: sustainability. “People with ideas around sustainability who can’t commercialize it for any number of reasons approach us all the time asking if we want to bring it to market,” Firewire CEO Mark Price says. “Paul was aware of all the things we’ve done and are doing, and he approached us two and a half, three years ago. We were just excited by it. It’s a natural fiber that grows, so to speak, in a very environmentally-friendly way.”

The types of boards everyday surfers ride have typically been dictated by what professional surfers have under their feet. The surf industry plays heavily on marketing what less than one percent of the surfing population can actually do on a wave, and surfers can be stubborn to adopt something different without seeing it in action. But the one thing that has stayed consistent since the conception of professional surfing in the 1970s is the materials used to make surfboards.

Surfboard construction has remained mostly unchanged since the introduction of fiberglass and polyurethane (PU) after World War II. The 1960s and 70s, a time colloquially referred to as the Shortboard Revolution, saw board designs get shorter than the old 10-foot planks so that they could become much more maneuverable. There have been size and shape developments since then, but that polyurethane foam core and fiberglass-fabric-with-resin construction is still what floats surfers over waves around the globe today.

Surf companies have only recently begun to explore the use of new materials. Carbon fiber, recycled timber, cork and bio-resins are beginning to make their way into more prominent shapes. In many instances though, different materials provide different riding experiences on a wave, and for creatures of habit like surfers, changes may not always produce the desired characteristic in a surfboard. For surfboard manufacturers looking to move away from the toxic resins and the large carbon footprints associated with petroleum-derived polyurethane surfboard blanks, that stubbornness creates a difficult hurdle.

Firewire has always approached surfboard making differently though. The company utilizes sandwich construction on all its boards, including the Woolight board. Sandwich construction starts with an expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam core covered by a high-density aerospace composite deck skin, which enhances durability. This is then wrapped with deck sandwich cloth, which is typically made of epoxy and resin but, in the Woolight’s case, is wool. This is then sealed through exterior lamination with an entropy bio-epoxy resin to create the hard outer shell.

To replace the bread in that sandwich with wool, Firewire went to Barron’s home: New Zealand. The company partnered with a co-op of sheep farms in the country that’s overseen by New Zealand Merino, a company that has helped brands like Allbirds and Smartwool to get the materials they need ethically. Price and the Firewire team visited the farms and found it was vastly different from the traditional sheep farm: “The traditional sheep farming industry is pretty ugly,” Price said, regarding the shearing process. “Most factory farms rely on a system whereby when shearing sheep, if they kill or maim a certain percentage of them, but get it done faster, that’s just the cost of doing business.”

To change that paradigm, New Zealand Merino enacts limits on the number of sheep per hectare and how many animals can be sheared per hour to ensure animal welfare, responsibility and land conservation. New Zealand Merino also audits the farms every six months to make sure farms are consistently meeting its ethical standards.

When Firewire receives the wool, it is minimally processed and quite raw, not woven like a sweater. To apply the wool to the surfboard, Firewire uses proprietary factory processes that include a vacuum-sealing technique for the exterior lamination procedure. The vacuum bagging method allows for the thinnest amount of resin while still offering the highest strength-to-weight ratio possible. Firewire uses bio-epoxy resin in this process, along with the wool and EPS foam. The recipe qualifies the Woolight board for an ECOBOARD Level One rating from Sustainable Surf, which is an independent, third-party “eco-label” for surfboards that have become the standard in the industry.

“Overall, the use of natural materials in surfboards is a good thing,” Sustainable Surf Cofounder Kevin Whilden says. “Especially if it doesn’t affect other qualities such as surfboard performance, look, feel and durability.”

For the past few months, I’ve been surfing one of these Woolight boards at my local beach breaks in New York and New Jersey. Winter has been transforming into spring, and water temperatures have been lifting from the 30s to the 40s and now to the 50s, but the extra millimeters of neoprene hasn’t hindered how the board paddles.

In terms of performance, I haven’t noticed any signs that it’s an abnormal surfboard that functions lesser than a traditional PU one. In fact, it’s an incredibly progressive board that rises to the level of performance I need in in the different conditions that I often encounter in the Northeast. That may be primarily due to the shape of the board itself (the surfing I like to do fits naturally with a progressive fish that has a double vee concave), but the fact that the materials match those levels is a testament to wool’s ability to replace fiberglass in the lamination process.

During my first session with it, I rode the board on a blustery New Jersey day with few surfers around, one of the early waves I caught presented a long, clean wall about shoulder high. After an initial check turn, I wrapped a roundhouse cutback. These moves tend to be a little drawn out, but to my surprise, I was back in the whitewater of the wave much sooner than I anticipated and was able to bounce off it and redirect back down the line of the righthand wave fast enough to keep riding for a couple more moves down the line.

The board proved that it handles well in the barrel and allows for finesse, drive and complete control, returning energy throughout turns and various maneuvers. That a surfboard can come out of a move without losing speed is essential, and in this the Woolight board shined, retaining all speed (and at times generating more out of a move) to continue down the line of a wave.

While paddling, I often looked down at the board and recognized individual wool fibers in its cloudy blue surface. It was a real, physical reminder that Woolight is different, something new. But on a wave, with the board under my feet, the place where performance is more crucial than appearances, I didn’t think about the wool at all. I couldn’t feel any difference; the board offers the typical flex patterns and riding capabilities you’d find in any regular surfboard. So, to answer the question on every skeptical surfer’s mind, does the Woolight board surf any differently from a normal one? No, and ultimately, that’s the point.

The Good: Buoyancy, performance and durability aren’t affected by the replacement of fiberglass with wool. Simply put, the Woolight surfboard rides exactly like a regular fiberglass surfboard. According to the compression testing that Firewire performed in its factory, it found the durability and tensile strength of wool to be comparable to fiberglass too. This is aided by the sandwich construction deck skin, which also helps keep the deck of the surfboard less susceptible to heel marks and divots that tend to happen immediately with fiberglass. After four months of testing, I didn’t notice any heel marks or dings.

Who It’s For: Surfers looking for a sustainable alternative to the toxic boards that are the current industry norm.

Watch Out For: If you’re looking for an eco-friendly surfboard there are alternatives with smaller carbon footprints, but the Level One ECOBOARD rating is still commendable. While using the bio-epoxy resin is a huge plus for the board, the EPS core keeps it from qualifying for the Gold Level. Plus, the wool doesn’t reduce the carbon footprint as much as you’d think because sheep emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

As Sustainable Surf Cofounder Kevin Whilden told us, “Wool actually has about a ten-times higher carbon footprint than fiberglass. Firewire certainly did their homework in sourcing wool from a very sustainable sheep ranching operation, which supports that local community. However, I think it was a bit of a surprise that a natural material like wool has a higher footprint than an inorganic material like fiberglass. That’s a counter-intuitive result, and it speaks to the importance of conducting formal lifecycle analysis when deciding which materials are more sustainable.” On the other hand, fiberglass is not a renewable material, and its application in a board is far more toxic than wool.

On the performance side, lets’ note that Firewire’s Seaside model is the only shape Woolight is currently available in. The Seaside comes with a quad fin setup, unlike most traditional surfboards these days that offer the versatility of five fin boxes to allow for riding the board as a thruster or a quad. As someone who rides lots of twin fin setups, I opted to ride the Seaside Woolight with a twinzer setup (two smaller knub fins in front and two bigger twin fins in the back). While this board might lack a stabilizing center fin, it still offers versatility if you get creative.

Alternatives: One direct alternative to Woolight is Lost Surfboards’s C4 Technology, which uses cork in a similar sandwich construction. Firewire’s own Timbertek, which uses sustainably-grown Paulownia wood deck skins, is also up there, and has a Gold Level ECOBOARD rating. Other companies like Grain Surfboards and Agave Surfboards use wood as the major material in their boards. The ECOBOARD Project offers a comprehensive list of companies that offer sustainably-built surfboards, which you can view here. Almost all sustainably-built boards cost $700 or more.

Verdict: Early signs show that wool might be a direct replacement for fiberglass, with potential to expand far beyond surfboards. Woolight, or something like it, might be used wherever fiberglass is present, like in boats, housing, automobiles and more.

That futuristic and potentially game-changing premise is a lot to wrap your head around, but take all that away, and Firewire’s Seaside Woolight surfboard handily proves that wool, whether it changes manufacturing or not, can produce a surfboard that competes with the best of them. The Woolight board isn’t quite the greenest surfboard you can buy, but it serves as a potent example of how surfboard makers can change their thinking about the materials they work with, without sacrificing anything that surfers want from a board.

Key Specs: Firewire Seaside Woolight Surfboard

Price: $840
Ridden Dimensions: 5’2” x 20” x 2 5/16”
Ridden Volume: 26.5L

Firewire Surfboards provided this product for review.

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Review: Is this the Perfect Outdoor Projector?

If you’re looking for a portable outdoor projector, Anker has a few of your best options. There’s the Nebula Capsule II ($580), which is the size of a soda can (it’s called a “pocket cinema” for a reason), but also the Nebula Mars II ($499), a slightly larger and more affordable portable projector that’s actually capable of throwing a bigger and brighter screen. Both onboard Android operating systems and can access apps like Netflix and Youtube right from the get-go; or you can connect your smartphone, laptop or even gaming console to either of them. Both can be used as portable Bluetooth speakers, too. So if you’re gunning for a gadget that will let you bring the movies into the great outdoors on a cool summer evening, how does the Mars II square up?

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The Good: The Mars II is the better of the two portable projectors if you care about the picture and sound quality, and are less concerned about being able to carry it in your pocket. It’s a great companion for backyard cookouts and sleepovers, as well as campouts, although you’ll probably want to invest in portable or outdoor projection screen. If you’re a cord cutter and have open wall space in your home or apartment, the Mars II could fairly easily be turned into a DIY home cinema.

The Mars II can be used as a standalone device to stream movies and shows from Netflix, YouTube TV or Amazon Prime Video; this means that you don’t need any cables to watch things, but you will need a Wi-Fi connection to stream if the app in question doesn’t allow you to pre-download your content. You can also just use an HDMI cord and hook up your smartphone or tablet directly which will let you stream shows and movies from other apps, like HBO GO or Showtime Anytime, which aren’t available to download on the Mars II. The projector is also ideal for hooking up gaming consoles, like Nintendo Switch, which is what I frequently did. I brought it into the office and played Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with my colleagues, and generally had a blast. And if you’re looking for a work-related excuse to shell out, you could also use this projector for presentations without having to find a room that has a projector already set up.

The Mars II also has built-in autofocus so you don’t really have to worry about the screen ever being blurry. It doubles as a portable Bluetooth speaker, too, so you don’t need to bring a separate device for audio. It has a USB-A port and can work as a portable battery that can charge your other devices. And lastly, the screen it projects can be huge — up to 150-inches — and it’s noticeably brighter than Anker’s smaller projectors. It’s compatible with a 1/4-inch tripod screw mount.

Who It’s For: The Mars II is the portable projector that’s better suited for using “near the home.” Whether that’s in the backyard or projecting a big screen in a playroom, that’s where this thing thrives. It’s great for car camping, too, although you’ll want to invest in a portable projection screen.

Watch Out For: Like pretty much every portable projector you’ll find, the Mars II needs a very dark environment to thrive; if it’s in a bright room or a room with a lot of windows, you’ll have a hard time making out the picture. There’s no auto-adjust dial on the back of the projector, like the Capsule II, so the only way you can adjust the screen size is by physically moving the projector closer or further a way from the screen. There’s no Google Play Store, which seems like a miss, because you can’t download many of the apps from your smartphone directly onto the projector, such as HBO Go or Chrome. And to cap it all off, it uses a proprietary charger.

Alternatives: The Capsule II is the obvious alternative. It’s decently smaller and can be taken more places, but it’s more expensive. It also can’t produce the quite the same picture quality (although it’s not that much different) and its speakers aren’t as loud. But it will give you access to the Google Play Store and it charges via a USB-C port.

Verdict: Anker makes some of the best portable projectors you can buy right now. As for which of its projectors you should buy, that comes down to how you’re planning on using it. The Capsule II is definitely the better travel companion and its upgraded operating system (with more apps) make it more of a standalone device. However, if you want a better and bigger picture, and a device with better battery life, that’s where the Mars II comes in. It’s the better option for backyard movie nights or weekend car camping trips — just know that if you don’t have a place to project the screen, like a garage wall, you’ll want to buy a portable projection screen.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Anker Nebula Mars II projector is a fantastic gadget. While it’s not going to tempt cinephiles, those looking for an easy-to-use, easy-to-transport portable projector need look no further.” — Gerald Lynch, TechRadar

• “Overall, the Mars II is very good as a projector. It’s not as bright as the original model, but I think that’s a perfectly acceptable tradeoff, considering this is $170 less (at the time of writing) than the first Mars was at launch. Auto-focus is a nice bonus, too.” — Corbin Davenport, Android Police

Key Specs
Screen size: 30 to 150 inches
Resolution: 720p
Brightness: 300 lumens
Operating system: Android 7.1
Connectivity: wifi, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery: 12500 mAh; roughly 4 hours of playtime
Ports: HDMI, USB-A, 3.5mm jack

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Anker provided this product for review.

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The Hoka One One Carbon X: a Nike 4% for the Everyman

When Nike launched the Zoom Vaporfly 4%, it was groundbreaking. Thanks to a combo of the shoe’s researched-confirmed efficiency benefits and the broad-reaching publicity it received, everyone wanted a pair. And competitors wanted to respond.

Since Nike’s launch, Hoka and Skechers have both produced carbon-fiber running shoes. Earlier this month, in a staged event to launch Hoka’s second carbon-fiber shoe, Jim Walmsley broke the 50-mile world record (pending verification), running 4:50:08 in the new Carbon X.

So I know you’re wondering, how does Hoka’s Carbon X compare to Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly 4%? I was one of the select few to get a prototype pair weeks ahead of launch, and having now logged over 80 miles in them, here’s my take.

The Good: Typically, when brands introduce new models, it takes a few iterations to work out the kinks. Not so with the Carbon X. It has a remarkably mature feeling, like it’s been on the market for years. Maybe that’s because it isn’t Hoka’s first foray into carbon-fiber-plated shoes. The Carbon Rocket, which launched earlier this year, featured the same carbon-fiber design, laying the groundwork for this more cushioned sibling.

The ride quality is phenomenal — one of the best I’ve experienced. Out of the box, the Carbon X settles into a smooth, rhythmic cadence that’s bouncy and fun. Above the carbon-fiber plate sits a soft compression molded EVA, with a firmer, more responsive Injected R-bound below. This teaming of softer foam above the plate with firmer foam underneath gives the Carbon X a balanced ride.

The stiffness of the carbon-fiber plate helped maintain, and even amplify, Hoka’s classic meta-rocker feeling of propelling you forward with each footstrike. Even as I varied my pacing from dead slow to race effort and altered my footstrike from forefoot to heel, the ride remained consistent. What stood out for me was the seemingly impossible balancing act of a firm versus soft feel in the midsole. I tend to like a softer feeling shoe for easy, recovery runs and a firmer, responsive shoe for faster runs, when pace matters. The Carbon X fits both bills.

Who It’s For: While there may be different use cases, the Carbon X is a fast shoe for everyone. For the first-timer to the competitive recreational runner, it’s an ideal half marathon-to-marathon racing shoe, regardless of footstrike or gait. For elite runners, who may tend towards the Vaporfly 4% or a lower-profile racing flat come race day, the Carbon X makes a fantastic long tempo or up-tempo long run shoe, saving the legs from extended pavement pounding.

Watch Out For: For all the good, the Carbon X does have one weakness; the wide footprint felt stable while moving forward, but the high stack height (32mm/27mm) and flimsy mesh upper contributed to a lack of lateral stability. I often felt a bit tipsy while turning sharp corners at high paces and running on uneven footing. This uneasy feeling was amplified on grass, dirt and gravel, as I found myself quickly darting back to the concrete for more stability. I’d like to see some added midfoot support integrated into the mesh upper to help keep the sides of the foot more secure. However, that may add some weight. Just make sure you’re a little cautious through the turns and when venturing off-road.

Alternatives: The most obvious comparison, due to the carbon-fiber plate, is Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly 4%. However, they couldn’t be more different. The Vaporfly 4% is suited for the front-of-the-pack runner, whereas the Hoka Carbon X is more geared to a broader audience. The two closest alternatives I’ve tested are the New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon ($110) and Skechers GoRun 7 ($130). Both fit the maximum-cushioned race profile, like the Carbon X, but tend to be a little softer in the midsole and less stable. They also retail for $70 to $50 less than the Carbon X, begging the question: Is the $50 price difference noticeable? Yes, for sure. I’d treat the Carbon X as a “special occasion shoe” for race day or those key workouts where you want to nail your pace.

Verdict: Hoka’s got a winner here. I test about 80 running shoes per year, and I can honestly say these are some of the best I’ve ever tested. Most racing-oriented shoes, such as the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%, are more suitable for the competitive to elite runner, leaving the majority of runners racing in their heavy, everyday trainers. Why should elites get all the fancy shoes? Just because your corral is towards the back doesn’t mean you’re not out there trying just as hard as those in the front. From back-of-the-packers to elites, heel to forefoot strikers, the Hoka One One Carbon X delivers a smooth, responsive, cushioned ride. Just be sure to stay on the pavement.

What Others Are Saying:

• “It provides a unique blend of soft, bouncy, very plentiful cushion, stability and carbon powered propulsion. It has proven a very fine longer than half racer for me but its real strength for me is as a heavy mileage, anything but the fastest tempo paces, lightweight trainer. Recovery runs, daily mileage, long runs at most all paces are gobbled up with ease by the X.” — Sam Winebaum, RoadTrailRun

• “To say that a shoe is good for midfoot strikers and not good for heel strikers would be an oversimplification, but after a week of Runner’s World staff testing and comparing notes, that’s about where we’re at. I land on my midfoot and I quite like the Carbon X; the rocker feels like a subtle ramp that helps me load up and push off my forefoot, and the shoe feels natural whether I’m jogging or sprinting.” — Dan Roe, Runner’s World

Key Specs

Weight: 8.7 oz.
Stack Height: 32mm (forefoot); 27mm (heel)
Offset: 5mm
Midsole: Compression Molded EVA (above plate); Injected R-bound (below plate)
Upper: Engineered Mesh

Hoka One One provided this product for review.

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Review: Nike Terra Gobe Hiking Shoes Are as Comfortable on the Streets as They Are in the Woods

Way back in 1989, Nike brought performance athletics prowess to the great outdoors with the launch of ACG (All Conditions Gear). Now for the line’s 30th year, the brand has unveiled fresh designs, including the Nike ACG React Terra Gobe. The brand-new shoe is a blend of runner-approved foam and a durable DWR-coated upper that looks like it belongs in a ’90s ad. Built for the trail, these shoes do double duty in urban areas and densely wooded locales. True to ACG’s original aspirations, they’re the latest example of Nike’s efforts to get the user out of the city.

The shoes dropped at the end of April after Nike put them through 2,000-plus hours of testing. I tried them out myself through sun, wind, rain, sleet and snow on a recent trip to Portland, Mt. Hood and all around the Hood River in Oregon. Here’s how they fared.

Video: Nike React Terra Gobe Review

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The Good: The most exciting feature is the inclusion of Nike React foam in the midsole. It’s the same foam found in the Nike Odyssey React, a sneaker I ran in throughout the winter. The lightweight, bouncy foam keeps your feet comfortable all day long. The beefed-up outsole includes both medial and lateral pads that add enough traction for you to walk on packed snow without slipping. A vibrant yellow (or blue) upper with a simple webbed design is easy to tighten and stretchy, yet lightly supportive. I liked the heel pull tab that made it a snap to slide in and out of the sneakers. Similar to running shoes, these 11.22-ounce hikers should last about 300 miles.

Who It’s For: The bright yellow upper is definitely for the hiker or aspiring outdoorsman who likes to get outside and wants to make a statement. The look is quite a departure from your typical Danner hiking boots in a dark nubuck leather upper. Nike wants to encourage everyone to get outside — especially those living in cities — so the street-style vibe carries you from the concrete jungle to the actual woods. These are not for the user looking to summit Mt. Everest or another super technical trail, but they’ll work for someone who aspires to climb the Grand Tetons — or the stairs at the nearest train stop.

Watch Out For: While the shoes are water-resistant, they’re not waterproof. If you step into a puddle, your socks will get wet. That said, they kept my feet dry during many hours of testing in snow, sleet, rain and mist. Also, right out of the box, these shoes are comfortable, but after wearing them all day long, two days in a row, I felt some rubbing on my right Achilles. My socks were pretty thin, so I’d recommend wearing hiking socks with these types of shoes.

Alternatives: If you want something with stronger ankle support, look for a hiking boot that comes up over your ankle. For hiking shoe aficionados who don’t like the look of this shoe, check out the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Free Hiker Boot ($200), Danner’s Tramline 917 ($200), or Teva’s Arrowood 2 Mid ($105). The Terrex boots have a somewhat similar look to the Nike ACG shoes, should you still crave a bit of sneakerhead appeal.

Verdict: If you’re looking for a pair of sneakers that will double as your hiking boots and work in a pinch as your running shoes, these retro-styled kicks will do the trick. While the colors aren’t for everyone, the top-notch comfort and easy on-and-off style works for urbanites seeking a sneaker that’s worthy of the streets but doesn’t slip on those upstate trails.

Nike provided this product for review.

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The World’s Lightest 17-Inch Laptop Is a Beautiful Contradiction

The LG Gram 17 ($1,700) is caught between worlds. With a 17-inch screen, it has an enormous footprint, but at the same time it’s uncannily thin and weighs less than three pounds. That lightweight design lends itself to portability, but the 17-inch frame, no matter how light, is far from convenient to travel with. Similarly, the LG Gram 17 is packed with premium guts — a beautiful display, Intel’s latest Whiskey Lake processor, 16GB of RAM, a full compliment of various ports — but it’s missing a dedicated GPU, making it all but useless for high-end gaming, which is one of the few good excuses for splurging on a screen so large. So, who exactly is this thing for?

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The Good: The Gram 17 has a lot going for it on paper and on your desk. It’s huge, bright, colorful display has lots of real-estate for spreadsheets at the office, or Netflix on the road. It has a tremendous battery life, up to 15 hours between charges depending on how hard you’re pushing it. It’s 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor has a good amount of horsepower, not that you’ll need a whole ton of it in day-to-day life. Its good variety of ports means you can live life dongle-free, which makes up for some of its bulk if you’re going to take it on a trip. And if you’re looking to game, and external GPU is always an option.

Who It’s For: Anybody looking for ultrabook laptop with a huge screen, great battery life and a lightweight design. Travelers who are more concerned about weight than volume. Folks who wish they could throw two full screens in a suitcase. But the lack of a GPU means it’s probably not a good pick for gamers or video editors who might be enticed by the rest of the package.

Watch Out For: The Gram 17 is exceptionally lightweight, but its metal alloy body (technically it’s a nanocarbon and magnesium mix) feels a little like plastic. That said, it’s pretty durable; LG says its military tested and it’s not going to dent through everyday use or anything. The 17-inch design, which could almost fit into the footprint of some 15-inch laptops thanks to its thin bezels, might not fit into a lot of backpack sleeves. There’s no dedicated GPU and the stock graphics (Intel UHD 620) aren’t great. The speakers aren’t the best either.

Alternatives: There are other lightweight ultrabooks. Many of them by LG. The LG Gram 13 and Gram 15, for example, share a similar featherlight design just with 13-inch and 15-inch displays, respectively. If you’re looking for a 17-inch laptop with a beautiful display, the HP Envy 17 is a pretty safe bet. The Alienware Area-51m is one of the best 17-inch gaming laptops you can buy.

Verdict: The LG Gram 17 has shock value. It’s so darn light yet so darn big that it’s a little distracting. Yes, it’s the lightest 17-inch laptop that you can buy, with a beautiful display and a battery that can keep up with it, but how much is that worth to you? Yes, the lack of a dedicated GPU will scare serious gamers away, but it could make a good travel companion so long as you have a bag with a 17-inch laptop sleeve.

What Others Are Saying:

• “LG’s first couple of Gram laptops impressed with their lightweight designs, but they fell short in other areas, whether it was battery life, performance or build quality. The Gram 17 is a big step forward for the brand, offering a bright and colorful 17-inch display in a design so light you’ll do a double take. ” — Mark Spoonauer, Laptop Mag

• “There’s nothing quite like the LG gram 17. LG took its 13-inch gram and blew it up to a 17-inch laptop, but at less than three pounds, this giant is as light as a feather. The incredible battery life, excellent ports, and standard Core i7 processor make it perfect for productivity, but not great for heavy-lifting due to the lack of a discrete GPU.” — Daniel Rubino, Windows Central

• “If you love the idea of a 17-inch screen, the LG Gram 17 might be a good choice. For most, though, $1,700 is too much to pay for a 17-inch laptop without a dedicated GPU, fast storage, and robust build quality.” — Arif Bacchus, Digital Trends

Key Specs
Processor: 8th Gen Intel Core i7
Display: 17-inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600)
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512GB
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
Ports: USB-A 3.0 (3x), USB-C Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 1.4, microSD card reader, headphone jack
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Weight: 2.95 pounds
OS: Windows 10 Home

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LG provided this product for review.

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Review: This Isn’t Your Average Action Camera

Sony has been spreading its imaging talents across a wide swath of camera products, from its mirrorless rigs to DSLR’s, point-and-shooters to action cameras. The new RX0 II (along with its predecessor, the RXO) is in a class by itself. It’s not an action camera — the appropriately named Action Cam line fills that slot more directly — and it’s not just a ruggedized point-and-shoot, either, since it doesn’t have the zoom capability or the typically larger sensor those cameras have. Instead, it’s simply the smallest and most durable camera for any of those users. It’s like they averaged out the needs of all the photographers in the world and compressed the result into a bulletproof 5-ounce box that fits in the palm of your hand.

The good: This RX0 II ($698) introduces a few key improvements, most notably internal 4K video and a flip-up/down rear screen. The waterproof cube now has image stabilization, and its baseline usability and quality make it a fine companion on most adventures. Finally, it’s crush-proof. Like, really crush-proof. You can place the RX0 II on a golf tee, drive it straight into the face of Half Dome, and get some pretty great footage of the whole affair. (In all seriousness, it’s rated to 440 pound-feet of crush-proofing, a number that likely reflects the glass and screen giving up first.) It’s got nicely granular programmability and lots of features from the larger prosumer cameras.

Who it’s for: The camera is clearly targeted toward vloggers and other types of creators, something Sony mentions explicitly in its media information. But that’s a bit misleading. After all, this is a mass-market — though relatively expensive — product, and the only fully ruggedized camera in Sony’s lineup. So while YouTubers and Instagrammers and folks making content professionally will certainly have their curiosity piqued, it’s for anyone looking to make photos and videos and who want a more compelling or more specifically capable alternative to the GoPros. It’s a top-shelf travel camera and yes, it takes great selfies, given the flip-up screen.

Watch out for: There are a few critical caveats with this camera, of particular note to anyone cross-shopping it against conventional action cameras such as the GoPro line. First, while it can now shoot 4K video directly to the camera — instead requiring tethering to a separate device that can process the stream, as in the original version — it’s not a true action camera. The field of view is tighter, which is a good thing for most shooters, so you won’t have the extreme wide-angle views that make mounting and aiming the camera easier, and the field of view isn’t universally in focus, so it has to focus with each shot. Finally, it’s not set up like an action camera, with simplified menus and quick, idiot-proof activation.

Alternatives: There aren’t many that sync up specifically with this camera’s features and capabilities. That said, in terms of size and general durability, the GoPro lineup or Sony’s own Action Cam models are roughly equivalent.

Review: I brought the RX0 II on several trips and shooting expeditions, and it proved to be a reliable and valuable travel companion, as well as a quick and easy tool for those instantaneous photo-ops — the ones where firing up the smartphone is a bit complicated even when access is integrated into the home screen. With the RX0 you simply turn it on and start firing — two buttons you can access and engage without looking. In automatic mode, the camera produced good images across a variety of conditions and better ones when you dialed in the exposure via the manual settings. The Zeiss lens proved as sharp as it always has been, and the 24mm optics, with its 85-degree field of view, wide enough to be broadly useful without generating the fisheye effect that most action cameras generate. The images don’t have that “GoPro look,” which is a good thing if you’re taking your shooting seriously.

The images don’t have that “GoPro look,” which is a good thing if you’re taking your shooting seriously.

Though Sony bolstered the camera’s video capabilities, it’s still designed and oriented much more as a stills camera that also shoots videos. By that I mean its menu system mimics that of Sony’s DSLR and mirrorless cameras. All shoot great video, but they aren’t engineered solely for that person. As a result, if you’re not already familiar with Sony’s menu conventions and its operational logic, it will take you a little while to figure out, for instance, how to flip back and forth between still and video modes. It’s a multistep process executed via the rear screen, since there are no external buttons. (These are limited to just power and shutter.) So be willing to dig in a bit to the instruction manual. “Intuitive” isn’t exactly Sony’s middle name.

The addition of a flip-up screen is welcome. This isn’t because it makes selfies or vlogging easier when you pivot it straight up to 180 degrees — though it certainly does that — but rather it enables you to much more easily compose images when the camera is down low to the ground or held up above your head. In any camera without this feature, you have no way of confirming the view in these positions, so having a tilting screen essentially triples your possible perspectives while shooting.

Other welcome features further push this already highly compelling package’s appeal, including the high shutter speed of 1/32,000 second. That’s of limited practical use since the lighting demands are quite high, but if you know how to work with such speeds you can grab beautiful freeze-frame images. Additionally, the 16 frames-per-second shooting rate greatly improves your chances of getting a perfect frame while shooting action sequences. Just remember to get close to your subject, since a 24mm lens is wide enough that you might lose the impact of high-speed events. Speaking of getting close, the addition of Sony’s Eye AF autofocus feature is another great boon, as it vastly improves your ability to get excellent portraits of people.

There are other somewhat more esoteric capabilities, including improvements in 4K recording performance and the ability to control up to 5 cameras via Sony’s app. Hardcore users will like its compatibility with Sony’s Camera Control Box system, which allows control of up to 100 wired cameras from a single device, such as when creating creative visual effects like 360-degree rotations around a moving subject. (Should you have $70,000 to invest in such a rig, of course.) Most users, though, will be happy with the camera’s more conventional programmability, as well as its reliably Sony-caliber results.

Verdict: The RX0 II is a fine camera for those who know exactly what they’re getting into — essentially a mini-DSLR with a fixed lens and a rock-hard case. Once you become adept at navigating the settings on the fly, doing so becomes quick and easy. There’s an unmistakable learning curve in this respect, but it’s worth it if you’re looking for high-quality images or video shot from a variety of angles or with yourself in the image, monitored via the tilt-up screen. But if you don’t have a specific need for this particular camera, a GoPro might indeed be a better, and cheaper, alternative — especially given the camera’s recent improvements in usability and versatility.

Key Specs
Sensor: 1-inch 20 MP, cropped down to 15.3 MP
Lens: Zeiss Tessar T* 24mm F4
Video: Up to 4K
Still shooting: Up to 16fps continuous with shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 second.

Sony provided this product for review.

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Skechers Go Run 7 Review: An Everyday Runner That’s Best for Long Runs

When Skechers released their new proprietary Hyper Burst foam, we knew we had to try it. It’s touted as thin enough to offer ground feel while still maintaining a cloud-like cushion. So, Skechers sent us a pair of GoRun 7s, their newest shoe with the foam-based midsole. The GoRun, with its sock-like upper, is built specifically for tempo-style run workouts. We took them out for 30-plus miles on gravel, dirt, road and the track to see how they’d perform.

The Good: From the first mile to the thirtieth, the Skechers GoRun 7 had a cushion that felt plush and light underfoot. I took it everywhere from track practice to easy runs up and down NYC’s West Side Highway to test out its cushioning, traction and knit upper. I liked how it handled track workouts, was extremely light and never bothered my feet at all. Credit Skecher’s new Hyper Burst foam, featured here in the midsole, which sets the shoe apart from its competitors and makes it so lightweight. Hyper Burst is durable yet plush — a hard combination to tackle — and made my training runs for an upcoming half marathon feel easier.

At just 7.8-ounces, the GoRun 7 is in line with a racing shoe like the Hoka One One Rincon (7.5-ounces) or the New Balance 1400 v6 (7.2-ounces), so there’s less weight to move with every step, meaning you have more energy over a longer run. The foam goes all the way from the midsole to the outsole and is bolstered by strategically-placed rubber pillars on the bottom that grip wet and uneven surfaces instead of one long plate, as a way to save weight. Hyper Burst foam first debuted in the Skechers Razor 3 (one of Best New Running Shoes of 2018) and in the GoRun 7, there’s just more of it so you feel more support underfoot, compared to the GoRun Razor 3, which is a shoe built for speed and race days.

Who It’s For: Runners who are looking for some cushion and like bounce, but don’t want any added heft will enjoy this shoe. If you’re logging roughly 30-plus miles a week for an upcoming half marathon and need a sneaker to wear for your tempo or long run days, the GoRun 7 is a plush option at a low price.

Watch Out For: The knit upper felt a bit stretchy and not as locked in as I’d like. I’ve read that the high ankle fabric can cause issues with chafing or rubbing along the Achilles or at the front of my ankle, but I didn’t experience this. It was nearly impossible to get a really secure feel, even after tightening the laces. If you need an upper with enough structure for arch support or pronation, this shoe (and its flexible engineered mesh) isn’t for you.

Alternatives: The past model of the GoRun 7 is the GoRun 6 ($60+), which has a similar knit upper, but with a totally redesigned and more supportive midsole. Other running shoes that are built for long runs include the Fresh Foam Beacon ($120), Hoka One One Mach 2 ($140) and the Nike Epic React 2 ($150). All of the above have a plethora of cushioning underfoot, yet deliver solid ground feel. They’re also all around the same price, so it’s worth trying them on to see which upper you prefer.

Verdict: This is an ideal sneaker if you enjoy logging 5- to 6-mile runs in a neutral yet bouncy shoe, or if you want a lightweight sneaker that will perform on the track just as well as it does on the road. If you’re comfortable with a stretchy knit upper that doesn’t provide a ton of support, this is the shoe for you.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Launched right after the recently unveiled GOrun Razor 3, the GOrun 7 is the next shoe in the Skechers Performance line built with the company’s Hyper Burst foam. This new midsole is EVA-based, but Skechers uses a different molding process. Instead of blowing it into shape with chemicals, the foam is made when CO2 is heated under pressure and becomes a supercritical fluid. There’s a load of science behind it, but the process creates foam with a unique cellular structure that is more durable and springy than the stuff you find in many running shoes. It’s also lighter than standard EVA. When you run in it, the GOrun 7 feels firm yet protective. The outsole has pods on the bottom of the foot—you might remember them from the original GOrun, along with the noticeable midfoot bump. Skechers brought all that back to boost the shoe’s cushioning power and seamless transition. When you land, the pods compress individually as they get loaded with weight, making the shoe feel smooth and soft.” — Jeff Dengate, Runner’s World

• “Skechers’ new midsole material, called “Hyper Burst,” is going to shake up the running shoe universe the same way that thermoplastic polyurethane materials like Adidas’ Boost and Saucony’s Everun impacted the market. Using nitrogen and a dough- like expansion process, the Hyper Burst is lighter than TPU and seemingly compression proof, unlike EVA, so it has incredible energy return without the weight or sacrifice in durability. The GoRun 7 Hyper’s knit upper provides security without overlays for a sock-like hold and breathability, and the midfoot strike-dynamic makes it an ideal shoe for running off the bike.” — Adam Chase, Triathlete

• “It is a tale of two shoes. On one hand you have one of the best midsole/outsole pairings I’ve ever run in, mated to a problematic upper in a variety of ways. Runners with narrow feet have to McGuyver all kinds of ways to keep the shoe on, and runners with wide feet will experience issues up front. And with all that said, it is still a good, if not great, shoe that has tons of promise for the future.” — Jeff Beck, RoadTrailRun

Key Specs
Weight: 7.8oz
Stack Height: 15mm (forefoot), 19mm (heel)
Offset: 4mm
Upper: Engineered mesh

Skechers provided this product for review.

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Review: These Tiny Computer Speakers Do Just About Everything

Audioengine’s A2+ desktop speakers have been a top choice since their release in 2013, and now fans have an updated version: the Audioengine A2+ Wireless ($269). The new speaker system is virtually identical to the original, in both looks and sound quality, but Audioengine added Bluetooth connectivity so you can stream audio straight from your smartphone. The Audioengine A2+ Wireless speaker system is available in three different colors — black, white and red. Here’s everything you need to know.

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The Good: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That was Audioengine’s thinking with the A2+ Wireless. It has the same look, versatility and sound qualities as the A2+, but the added Bluetooth connectivity means it caters to the new age of smartphone streaming. Also, there’s no difficult setup process or app to deal with; you just wire them together, add power and you’re good to go.

There are several really phenomenal things about the A2+ Wireless. The first is connectivity. Aside from streaming to them over Bluetooth, there are many other uses for the speakers. You can them to your laptop or desktop and greatly improve the stereo sound, which is great if you watch a lot of movies or listen to music throughout the day on your computer. The RCA connections allow you to connect them to a turntable. The 3.5mm jack is always an option, too, and you can even add a subwoofer like Audioengine’s S8 ($349).

The A2+ Wireless pushes well above its weight in terms of performance, and even though the speakers are small (at least compared to other Bluetooth speakers), they’re loud. I primarily streamed music from my smartphone and MacBook Air, and the speakers were especially impressive handling midrange and highs. The vocals and instruments on songs like Springsteen’s “Little White Lies” or “Poncho & Lefty” by Townes Van Zandt were tight and strong. (Think about investing in some speaker stands, which I had for testing, as they angle up the sound towards your ears and make the speakers sound noticeably better.)

Who It’s For: These speakers can be a lot of things for a lot of different people. They’re great for small rooms and small apartments, and they can be paired with a turntable, computer or laptop. If you just want to stream to them, they deliver stereo separation in a way that most powered Bluetooth speakers simply cannot.

Watch Out For: The speakers aren’t wireless in the traditional sense. Only one of the speakers is powered, meaning you need to have them wired. The speakers sound terrific for their size, but they aren’t the punchiest; people who prefer heavy bass might be a little disappointed. They’re not portable and you can’t sync them in an existing multiroom system. To get the best sound, you should invest in some speaker stands.

Alternatives: The obvious one is the Fluance Ai60, which cost $300. In that price range, there are many all-in-one powered Bluetooth speakers that you can buy, such as the Bose SoundTouch 20 (Series III) or the Peachtree Audio deepblue3. Audioengine also makes the Audioengine A5+ Wireless, which are essentially a larger and better sounding version of the A2+ Wireless, for those willing to spend a little more.

Verdict: Audioengine’s A2+ Wireless is a fantastic entry-level speaker system for anybody who doesn’t want to spend more than $300. The sound is crisp and accurate. It can connect to a turntable, desktop or laptop; or you can use it as a glorified Bluetooth speaker, just with way better stereo separation. If you need a final selling point on the A2+ Wireless, it’s this: the best bookshelf speakers under $300 just got way easier to use.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Audioengine takes it time in rolling out new products, and wireless versions of its speakers may not appear for years after the wired versions hit the market. Luckily, the $269 A2+ Wireless speakers were well worth the wait. They deliver a rich, bright frequency response, free of dynamics-squashing digital signal processing (DSP), and there’s a subwoofer output for those who want to dial in some deep lows. The design is classic, the quality is top-notch, and the audio is accurate. If you’re seeking a quality stereo sound signature in the age of Bluetooth, you won’t be disappointed with the A2+ Wireless.” — Tim Gideon, PC Magazine

• “The Audioengine A2+ Wireless are made for small rooms, offices, and desktops and are the perfect addition if you’re relaxing with your turntable, gaming, or having a few friends over. Their crisp sound will show detail and complement your favorite music.” — Unknown, Audio Advice

Key Specs
Speaker type: 2.0 powered active speaker system
Drivers: 2.75″ aramid fiber woofers, 3/4″ silk dome tweeters
Power Output: 60-watts peak, 30-watter per channel
Connectivity: 3.5mm stereo mini-jack, RCA, USB, Bluetooth
Frequency Response: 65Hz to 22kHz (±2.0dB)

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Audioengine provided this product for review.

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3 Must-Buy Bourbons, A VR System You’ll Actually Want and Last Minute Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

In this episode of This Week In Gear: Tucker Bowe reveals the all-new Oculus Quest VR gaming system; Oren Hartov recounts a trip to Switzerland to study the history of the iconic Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch collection; and Will Price philosophizes about – and samples – what makes three specific bourbons his “unicorn” bottles. Plus, our writers weigh in with one solid Mother’s Day gift idea each and J.D. DiGiovanni unveils Just Get This, Gear Patrol’s new one-stop shop for top product recommendations in every category.

This episode of This Week In Gear is presented by Flipboard, where quality content from the world’s best publishers and storytellers of every type is discovered.

Featured Products

Oculus Quest VR Gaming System

Oculus Quest is an all-new, all-in-one VR gaming system. It’s the big brother to the Oculus Go, which is best used for watching videos and live events. Set up the Quest with an app, and everything else is self-contained. Quest comes in two storage sizes: 64GB ($399) and 128GB ($499) and is avaialable now for pre-order.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Collection

Designed and engineered in the early 20th Century to protect watches worn by British officers while playing polo, the Reverso Collection dates back to 1931. The body of a Reverso can be flipped 180 degrees. Original Reversos featured a metal caseback on the side opposite the watch face; contemporary versions may feature a second face like the one shown in this episode.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is next Sunday, May 12. That means you have ample time to shop for a great gift. These are the products our individual experts recommend, but if you want a more complete guide check out The 60+ Best Mother’s Day Gifts of 2019 now.

Featured Suggestions:
ARROW 5 Minute Beauty Kit ($16)
Opinel No10 Corkscrew Folding Knife ($35)
Rancourt & Co Lily Camp-moc ($210)
Sonos One Speaker ($199)
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Just Get This: Our Top Product Recommendations, All In One Place

Just Get This is Gear Patrol’s comprehensive list of the most noteworthy products on the market right now. If you’re in the market for a product and want a top-level recommendation, look no further. For quick and convenient access, check out the main website navigation for a link.

Three Bourbon Favorites

Staff Writer Will Price has a philosophy when choosing bourbons: among other criteria, a bottle must be accessible and affordable, but also special. These three bourbons qualify and then some: Elijah Craig Small Batch, Knob Creek Single Barrel and Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Green Label.

Watch Now: This Week In Gear, Episode 4

In last week’s episode: Tanner Bowden reviews the all-new, magnet-construction Leatherman Free; Josh Condon rock-crawls in Jeep’s latest concept trucks; Will Price demonstrates Vermicular’s waterless cooking appliance; and Jack Seemer reveals the ultra low-cal now IPA from Dogfish Head. Also in this episode: Meg Lappe gives a one-minute rundown of the JaxJox KettleBellConnect. Watch Now

Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here. In some instances, brands have provided access to, or loans of, the products included in this episode.

Review: Should You Buy Chris Hemsworth’s New App?

Chris Hemsworth may just be an actor who plays Thor, or he may be Thor himself. Based on his workout regimen and fitness knowledge — and the fact that he supposedly gained 20 pounds of muscle to play the role — we’re going with the latter. And, now you can find his wealth of workout know-how in his new fitness app, Centr, available on iOs, Apple Watch and online.

The app is a meal planner, personal trainer and zen coach all in one, giving users access to holistic plans that are personalized to their goals (lose weight, get fit and toned or build muscle). Each day you get access to a 20- to 40-minute fitness routine, three meal suggestions and a mind-body exercise, like meditation, sleep visualizations and breathing tips. Whether you want a body like Thor or need a kick in your step, the app offers plenty of suggestions to get going.

After hearing about the app’s versatility — think boxing, yoga, meal plans and daily meditations from leading Hollywood trainers and wellness experts — and growing tired of my regular workout, I decided to try the app for two weeks to see if it could shake up my lackluster routine. Verdict: it’s impossible to get bored.

The Good:

Organization and user experience: The app has a simple-to-use interface that made daily check-ins smooth. From the home page, it’s simple to access your workouts, meal plan, zen moments and even substitute, as needed. The ‘Planner’ section pops up automatically with the week’s dates running across the top of the screen, so it’s quick to click from one day to the next to see your weekly fitness, meditation and diet plan. Videos and recipes are gathered in the ‘Explore’ tab so you can easily swap what’s suggested and the ‘Blog’ tab is full of bonus workouts, the latest research on diet and exercise and mental health — all of which should be required reading for anyone looking to get fit.

Workouts: The varied workouts (boxing, kettlebells, pilates, yoga, MMA and functional training) kept me engaged and I liked that they were lunch-break quick — most under 40 minutes. People who like HIIT classes will like these. I found value in the short and hard workouts, plus I could do them in my living room without extra equipment. If you have a gym membership or home gym, it’s possible to up the ante with the right equipment but you can also likely substitute with household items, like a chair or bench for a dip station and you can always jump in place when the workout calls for a jump rope.

The videos felt hard enough that athletes at any stage can learn from this app. Some workouts are self-guided (with still images and access to GIFs) while others have videos of the trainers performing the moves for a full 45-seconds, which we felt was easier to follow along.

Meal plans: The app pulls in recipes from six different chefs for breakfast lunch and dinner, and works with all types of dietary restrictions like vegetarian, vegan, no added sugar, nut-, dairy-, egg- and gluten-free (there are over 50 recipes that fit each category). You can expect everything from chocolate buttermilk waffles to a roasted veggie stack with halloumi and eggs, to mango, tofu and coconut salad and steak with roasted potatoes and herb vinaigrette. Most recipes can be made in under 30 minutes, which is ideal for weeknights. And, thanks to the prep advice and budgeting, shopping is effortless, too: the app knows what your meal plan is a week in advance and will automatically create a grocery list for you. There are even tips on how to use leftovers to maximize your purchases, which we’ve rarely seen in meal-planning software. We liked that most weekly recipes incorporated the same ingredients each day, so there’s nothing wasted at the end of the week.

Mind-body exercises: The daily meditations and sleep work clips are all under 15-minutes, which gave us no excuse not to do them. The expert guides you through a lesson, meditation or sleep visualization exercise, which is helpful when you can’t unwind at the end of the day. The exercises were soothing and interesting, but for someone who isn’t very good at relaxing, I found them hard to sit through.

Who It’s For: Centr is perfect for those who need someone else to take the wheel on a holistic fitness and wellness plan, whether you’re just getting started or already have a regimen. Their encyclopedia of a blog is also a great resource for those who want to learn more about getting fit and living a healthy lifestyle. It’s a breeze to tailor the app to your needs when you first begin: input your activity level, height, weight, goals and preferred type of meal plan (pescetarian, vegetarian, vegan or regular) and it will adjust automatically. Those who crave structure will like this app.

Watch Out For:

Workouts: We didn’t like the self-guided workouts because the moves are broken out into clips instead of one continuous video, and you have to click through to see a visual aid, as opposed to watching the move for the set number of seconds, as in the video workouts. They self-guided workouts are a bit confusing and less engaging, and you might not get a great workout in.

Meal plans: The recipes were a little redundant each week with a meal commonly repeated two or three times in the span of seven days. This could be good for those on a budget or who like eating the same thing, but I grew tired of it quickly. If you don’t crave ‘savoury oats with prosciutto and mushrooms’ twice in a week, you’ll need to sub in from the ‘Explore’ tab. It’s simple to sub a recipe in and even easier to not have to think about the nutrition since each meal is approved by a dietician.

The snacks made me feel misguided: There were brownies, cheesecake, dips and other things listed that didn’t seem snack-like. If it’s too much sugar for your tongue, look for everyday or pre-workout snacks that tend to have more savory flavors in them. Most recipes were around 350 to 500 calories a meal, which might be great for some people looking to lose weight, but not necessarily for someone as active as I am or for the average male. I would’ve liked to see a better snack selection to help people choose wisely. The USDA recommends adults consume between 2000 and 3200 calories each day, depending on your activity level (sedentary, moderately active or active), so seeing calories listed is helpful when tracking.

Alternatives: This app is one of the better training apps I have tested seen because of its surplus of resources and the fact that it’s truly fun — it makes getting into a fitness-and-health routine less of a chore. A few alternatives include Aaptiv ($15/month; iOs and Android), which provides you with a plethora of workouts each week so you’re never bored, but there are no videos, only sound. And while the Nike+ Training App (free on iOS and Android) and Strava (free on iOS and Android) are excellent for fitness, they don’t really get into nutrition and self-care. The Nike+ Training App does let you share workouts on social, which keeps things competitive in a good way. JEFIT (free on iOS and Android) creates a highly-detailed fitness plan for you, rather than just posting workouts and having you figure out what you like, but it doesn’t offer insight into nutrition, either.

Verdict: Centr does a good job of giving you a holistic approach to wellness as opposed to just tracking a run or how many calories you burned. It isn’t free, which is a drawback, but if you’re willing to stick with it after the one-week free trial, I’d say it’s worth the expense. I loved using it each day, found it fit seamlessly into my work day and, ultimately, I feel trimmer, especially in my glutes, legs and stomach. After checking the scale, I lost two pounds over the course of two weeks, which I attribute to trying different workouts and having more variety in my training schedule. When you shock your muscles with a new challenge or include more variety in your workouts, you’re better able to promote weight loss, build strength and see results. The fact that this app has so many styles of workouts made it possible to do so.

I definitely recommend giving this app a shot if you’re looking to begin a fun, versatile and reliable training program that’s easy to implement into your daily life.

What Others Are Saying:

• “This training, nutrition and mindfulness planner is the closest an app can get to a holistic life coach. The meal planning part of the app is as well designed and executed as the training part. You can adjust the servings required in case you’re making enough for leftovers or eating with someone else, and the quantities in the recipe change automatically, which then updates an auto-generated shopping list to help you in the supermarket, a smart time-saving feature.” — Jonathan Shannon, Coach Mag

• “It’s weird to think that no-one had ever thought of making a premium fitness service — a customer experience normally defined by expensive boutique gyms and a myriad of experts telling you different things — and optimised it for the subscription age, but Centr, for just $16 a month, does just that. It’s well worth the investment.” — Brad Nash, GQ Australia

Centr provided this product for review.

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Apple AirPods 2 Review: Subtle Improvements but a Worthy Upgrade

AirPods ($159) are the best-selling true wireless earbuds in the world. Don’t expect that to change now that the second-generation models are here. The new AirPods, which are still just called “AirPods” and have taken the place of the original AirPods in all Apple stores, are more powerful, cost the same and look identical to their predecessors. The only aesthetic difference has to do with the optional Qi-wireless charging case, which has a LED light in its center to indicate battery life.

Aside from the new wireless charging case, all the upgrades with the new AirPods are internal. They are powered by Apple’s H1 chip, which supports Bluetooth 5.0 instead of the older Bluetooth 4.2, and improves the all-around performance of the new AirPods. They have improved microphones, 50 percent more talk time and they can switch faster between other Apple devices. Wearers can also summon Siri with a voice command, as opposed to double-tapping one of the earbuds. As far as sound quality, Apple says nothing has been changed.

Video: Apple Airpods (Generation 2) Review

Watch more of This Week In Gear video reviews.

The Good: Apple didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with its second-generation AirPods. If you liked the fit, feel and sound of the original AirPods, you’ll like these new ones. You can get the new AirPods for the same exact price ($159) as the originals, but Apple now offers more buying options: you can purchase AirPods with a wireless charging case for $200 or, if you already own AirPods (first- or second-generation), you can buy a wireless charging case on its own for $79.

Apple’s AirPods have always been known for being great for phone calls and the new models are even better. Not that you’re likely to notice, however, as the improved microphones are designed to make your voice sound clearer, benefiting the people you’re on the phone with, not the other way around. The hands-free “Hey Siri” support is a nice upgrade for those who don’t want to double-tap their AirPods anymore.

Who It’s For: The new AirPods feel like a lifestyle upgrade as much as anything else. If you use a Qi-wireless charging pad with your iPhone every day, at work or at home, getting AirPods with a wireless charging case feels like a no-brainer. Just like with the previous AirPods, the new models are designed to live inside Apple’s ecosystem; they only make sense to get if you have an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.

Watch Out For: The new AirPods sound a lot like the old ones. If anything, they might be a little louder. But Apple says the new AirPods have the same exact drivers and audio quality as the originals — so that kind of settles the debate.

The wireless charging case works well but it won’t fast charge your AirPods. If you’re looking to get a quick refill, you’re going to want to find the nearest Lightning cable. The new AirPods still have the same issues as before: they’re not sweat-resistant or noise-canceling, and they don’t come in any colors others than white. If the older AirPods don’t fit in your earbuds, these won’t either.

Alternatives: Apple offers a decent amount of buying options for AirPods, which is nice. You can buy the new AirPods with or without a wireless charging case, or you can buy just the wireless charging case and it’ll work with the original AirPods.

As far as true alternatives, Beats and Apple just released the Powerbeats Pro ($250), which are essentially sweat-proof AirPods. The Sennheiser Momentum TW or the Master & Dynamic MW07 are both great options that sound better but cost more.

The Airpods 2 charging case (right) next to the originals.

Verdict: The new AirPods are still the best all-around true wireless earbuds for iPhone users — by a lot. Like the first-generation AirPods, they’re super easy to pair with any iOS devices, and they’re arguably the most compact and travel-friendly of all true wireless earbuds. The improvements — better processor, battery life and connectivity, as well as wireless charging — are all nice features, but in the end, they don’t feel like night-and-day upgrades over the first-generation AirPods. If you already have the AirPods, the new models hardly feel necessary, especially if you can buy the wireless charging case separately. But if you’ve lost or broke your AirPods, or you just never got around to buying the first ones, you’ll be more than content with second-generation AirPods.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like Apple’s new AirPods are just Apple’s old AirPods plus Bluetooth 5 support. There’s nothing wrong with that! The new standards promise a lot of benefits, which you can read about on the Bluetooth website. It’s also nice that Apple is adopting the new standard now, though many other companies—including Jabra and its Elite 65t as well as Samsung and its Galaxy Buds—have done so sooner. The second generation Apple AirPods are undeniably better thanks to this new technology.” — Adam Clark Estes, Gizmodo

• “I can’t recommend that you get the new AirPods simply because Apple says they’re new and better. My experience from the first-generation AirPods to the new pair felt largely unchanged. Since Apple introduced the first generation of AirPods, the rest of the earbuds market has caught up to the concept, and the second-generation AirPods should move the category forward even more. In my opinion, they don’t really do that. And in general, it’s unwise to offer a blanket recommendation for a product that wedges directly into the ear. Earbuds are a subjective thing; what fits well on me (and the AirPods do) may not fit well on you.” — Lauren Goode, Wired

• “So should you buy them? If you have the first-gen AirPods and they are still working great, then no, you’re really not gaining anything here. If you must have wireless charging, you can buy the case separately without having to drop $200 on a full new set. But if your first-gen AirPods aren’t holding a charge anymore because you’ve been using them for years, then buying the new AirPods makes sense, since it’s basically impossible to fix these or replace the batteries in them. You’re getting the same basic experience, with a couple of new conveniences. (The fact that a nearly $200 product has a usage lifetime of less than three years, notwithstanding.)” — Dan Seifert, The Verge

Key Specs>
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Sensors: beam-forming mics, optical sensors, accelerometer
Battery: 5 hours listening time (24 hours with case), 3 hours talk time (18 hours with case)
Key Features: Qi-wireless charging, hands-free “Hey Siri”

Buy Now: $159+

|

Apple provided this product for review.

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We Field-Tested Two Military Watches in the Army and This is What We Found

I’ll be frank: much of the watch-reviewing I get to do happens while I’m sitting at my desk, in a very comfortable office, somewhere in Manhattan. It’s a nice desk. There is coffee. As much coffee as I want…

And yet.

When the opportunity presents itself to actually review a watch in the environment in which it was meant to be worn, I jump on it without thinking twice. Field tests! In an actual field! What could be more appropriate?

Recently, after a few days at the Baselworld Fair, I had the opportunity to test two military field watches (a Marathon Navigator and a Mk II Paradive Gen. 3) during some training with my reserve paratrooper battalion in the IDF. While there was unfortunately no paratrooping to be done, there was plenty of marching in the rain, a healthy amount of live gunfire, and a distinct lack of sleep.

Review

Day 1: At about 11pm on Day 1 of training I found myself standing in the a steady rain, soaked to the core, waiting for a forced march of unknown length to begin. I was glad that I was wearing the Mk. II Paradive, which is water-resistant to 200m and features a screw-down crown and case back. The NATO strap I was wearing it on, a Crown & Buckle Supreme NATO, was thoroughly drenched, but thankfully the watch wasn’t fogging up. The Paradive is a 44.5mm stainless steel diver/field watch modeled after the famed Benrus Type I and II military watches of the 1970s. It features an asymmetric case, sapphire crystal, screw-down crown and case back and multiple bezel options. The version I used was equipped with an aluminum 12-hour bezel and no date.

The second watch I carried was a Navigator from Marathon Watch Co, which I leant to a buddy for testing purposes. Though this model is water-resistant to 6 BAR (roughly 60m), I was admittedly more nervous about it, given its non-threaded crown and snap-on case back. However, after a thoroughly wet night of marching and maneuvers, it proved just as water-resistant as the Paradive, though the Phoenix NATO it was strapped to was definitely waterlogged. Unlike the Paradive, the Navigator features tritium tube illumination on the hands and indices, a Hesalite crystal, a fibershell case and, in my case, a date function. Several different dial and case color options are available.

Day 2: I tried to catch a few winks of sleep after the previous night’s maneuvers, but alas — all my clothing was soaked and I didn’t have spare socks or a uniform top on me, none of which made it easy to catch any Z’s. Plus, sleeping on the floor of a concrete building used for urban warfare simulation is hardly comfortable, especially when said building has no doors or windows to help block out the wind. I found myself checking the Paradive frequently for the time, which advanced ever. so. slowly.

My one gripe with the Paradive is this: the bezel action is much looser than I’d like. I often wear a military-style fleece over my uniform top when it’s in the 50s or 60s outside, and this fleece has built-in lycra-type material that slips over your wrists like a sort of glove for added warmth. If I elect not to slip my thumb through the hole built into this sleeve for said purpose, I can use it as a window through which to view my watch — the only problem being that when I sslide the jacket on and off, this elastic material snags on the watch and is enough to turn the bezel. This would never happen on, say, my Submariner, and I admit that it annoys me. The watch is an utter tank otherwise, and if not for this one gripe, would be all but perfect, to my mind.

The afternoon brings some CQB training (close quarters battle) — for all intents and purposes, urban combat training. The occasional smoke grenade or flashbang goes off, and there is a special operations unit practicing not far from us with what sounds like live fire. For the most part, this part of the day is moderately subdued, and doesn’t involve rolling in thorn bushes or smacking my watch hand into a rock. More of that tomorrow.

Day 3: Finally, some sunshine. It’s still muddy everywhere and my boots are caked in it, making them heavy, but at least it’s moderately warm and bright outside — as it should be in Israel, damnit. I take a look at the Navigator on my buddy’s wrist — he’s a Negev light machine gunner and has to carry around this 17-lb. weapon everywhere he goes, in addition to ammunition. There’s lots of potential for beating the crap out of one’s watch when crawling around with the Negev, and I’m wondering if it’s endured any damage.

I do notice that the Hesalite crystal seems to have gotten a tiny nick in it, but that’s the magic of acrylic — you can buff scratches right out with some Polywatch and a cleaning cloth. There are definitely some tiny nicks in the fibershell case, too, but it’s functioning just fine. After all, with a hi-torque quartz movement and a design specifically meant to function at ultra-high altitudes and during rapid changes in pressure, it’s no surprise that the Navigator deals with some crawling and water without a hitch.

The watch’s 12-hour bezel is bi-directional, and the action just slightly tighter than that of the Paradive. I aligned the 5 o’clock marker on the bezel of both watches with 12 o’clock on the dial, thereby calculating the 7-hour offset with the East Coast of the U.S. for keeping track of time back in NYC.

Overall, though these watches have a very similar design (asymmetric case with 12-hour bezel, analog dial, etc.), the feel on the wrist couldn’t be more different. If you want a tactical timepiece with some heft, the Paradive is the watch for you — there’s no mistaking that this thing is on your wrist, and despite subjecting it to some abuse over a four-day period, the case wasn’t so much as smudged.

The Navigator, on the other hand, is so light that you barely feel it on your wrist. The crystal and case scratch more easily, but the watch also costs $195 (discounted from an MSP of $300, as new models with steel crowns and sapphire crystals are just now debuting) — what more do you want at this price point? The easy-scratching fibershell case and acrylic crystal are worth the lightness on-wrist.

Day 4: In the interest of finishing strong, this day involved more urban combat training (this time with the entire battalion), followed by two exercises in a beautiful, green valley, one of which was “dry” (no live fire), and the second of which was “wet,” and involved lots of booms. Leading up to the CQB training, there was a fun jaunt through the woods — I elected to carry too much gear on me in this instance and found myself smacking into rocks and thorn bushes, as I didn’t have use of both of my hands to steady myself.

As it’s part of our combat doctrine to have sleeves rolled down any time one has a combat vest on (i.e. anytime one would actually be operational), there was always something covering the Paradive’s dial from harm. However, it’s also (theoretically) required to cover one’s watch with a dedicated watch cover. These serve a dual-purpose: a cover protects the watch, of course, but more importantly, it prevents a dial from reflecting and giving away one’s position. Most of the time I kept the Paradive’s dial covered by a small piece of elastic band, so between the watch cover and my sleeve, it was reasonably well protected from damage.

However, just because the watch had a cover over it didn’t mean that I didn’t fall several times in the woods leading up to our urban combat training — at one point I lost my footing and the muzzle of my assault rifle smacked right into the watch, which was thankfully covered and protected (I checked it anyway just to make sure — there’s nothing like banging up a watch that doesn’t belong to you). Phew.

For the final event, an old-fashioned assault on a hill, in two parts (“dry” and “wet”). These “wet” iteration of these exercises are always simultaneously fun and nerve-wracking, as they involve a heavy weapons platoon absolutely lighting up the area just ahead of where you’re about to assault: Mortars, machine guns, sniper rifles…all of these things are involved. The trick is to try not to end up on the receiving end of any of these weapons. The second trick is trying not to end up on the receiving end of any of the small arms carried by the guys next to you — in an ideal scenario, you and your buddies are all shooting in the same direction.

I checked the Marathon Navigator on my buddy’s wrist before the exercise, which he didn’t have covered by a watch cover, and it was still in good shape (despite a few scratches). Toward the end of the “wet” exercise, a commander in the field decided that he had been “injured,” which means that we had to evacuate him to a Hummer by carrying him and all his gear (no stretchers were available). He disappeared for an hour or so while the medics stuck him with needles and fluids, and wasn’t thrilled by the time he came returned. Looking at the Navigator, it didn’t seem to have sustained any more damage during the exercise, despite all of the gunfire, rolling, crawling, and occasional falls that we all took.

The four days of exercises ended with lunch, a box of Cuban cigars and some closing remarks from our company commander. Looking over the Paradive, I was thoroughly surprised that I hadn’t managed to put so much as a discernible nick anywhere on the watch, which I had explained to Bill Yao, founder and owner of Mk II watches, might happen. Admittedly I was almost disappointed in this respect — I feel like I could wear this watch for years of service and there was a solid possibility that it would show no signs of its history.

The Navigator, despite similar aesthetics, is built very differently from the Paradive, with a fibershell case, acrylic crystal and steel snap-on case back with integrated battery hatch. It was noticeably beat up after the week’s exercises — with a small scratch to the acrylic, some nicks to the case, and dirt embedded in small crevices (most visibly on one of the 12-hour bezel’s numbers), but it was nothing that hampered the watch’s utility, and I sort of appreciate the watch more for its new scars.

I would say that both watches performed roughly as I’d hoped, and both are solid choices for different reasons. If it’s a solid, heavy, tough-as-nails military watch that you’re after, I’d go with the Paradive, so long as you don’t mind bezel action that’s a little looser than on, say, a Submariner, and the price tag that goes with a watch of this quality ($895 — which is still quite reasonable, in my opinion).

If you want something you’ll barely notice on wrist and that you can beat the living shit out of, and you don’t mind the fact that it’s quartz or the fact that it’ll show scratches and dings more easily, then the Navigator is the move ($195). The newer Navigator, which has since become available on Marathon’s site, features a steel crown and a sapphire crystal for improved visibility and durability, and sells for $300, so this is also an option to keep in mind.

Ultimately, a dedicated analog military watch is admittedly somewhat superfluous today. A G-Shock will do anything you need it to do (I used one myself during my service), and you can pretty much run one over with a main battle tank and it’ll be fine (I haven’t yet tested this theory, but confidence is high).

However, for we watch fans and those of us who enjoy military history, there’s something undeniably attractive about a modern timepiece that echoes those types of watches that our fathers and grandfathers might have used (my own father used an automatic Timex in the army — go figure). They recall another era, and that feeling of nostalgia is sometimes enough to drive away inclinations toward practicality, for better or for worse.

What Others Are Saying:

• “On the wrist, the Navigator wears very well. Aesthetically, it’s simply very cool. The classic military elements mixed with the vintage feel of the domed crystal, finished off with the modern resin case come together for a unique watch.” — Zach Weiss, Worn & Wound

• “All in all, the Gen. 3 Paradive from MK II’s ready-to-wear series is a winner, and it’s an excellent follow-up to the already successful Hawkinge range. So, if you love the watch and the watch it pays homage to, and if you want something that you can comfortably wear around and even bang up, then the Paradive is certainly worth your attention.” — Ilya Ryvin, Worn & Wound

Key Specs — Navigator

Movement: ETA F04 High-Torque Quartz
Case Material: Fibershell
Case Width: 42mm
Water Resistance: 60m
Notable Functions: Multiple dial options; 12-hour bezel; date or no date

Key Specs — Paradive

Movement: Seiko NE15
Case Material: Stainless steel
Case Width: 44.45mm
Water Resistance: 200m
Notable Functions: Multiple bezel options; date or no-date

Marathon and Mk II provided these products for review.

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Do You Run and Listen to Spotify? This Is the Smartwatch You Should Buy

The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active ($200+) is a smaller, lighter, less expensive and more fitness-focused (hence the “active”) version of the company’s smartwatch from last year, the Galaxy Watch ($300+). It’s designed to work best with any of the latest Samsung and Android smartphones, like the new Galaxy S10, and its ecosystem of apps, but you can still use it with an iPhone — which is what I did. I tested the smartwatch for three weeks to see if it could keep up with my lifestyle.

The Galaxy Watch Active was able to track my workouts, walking minutes and stressed out minutes. Samsung is one of a few smartwatch makers with a partnership with Spotify, so, as a Spotify premium subscriber, I could save running playlists directly on the smartwatch and listen to them without an LTE connection or my smartphone nearby. (Right now, only select Garmin and Samsung support Spotify offline listening.) Between that and the new integration with the Calm app, Samsung is throwing elbows to try and be the leader in health-minded smartwatches. And, for the most part, it’s working.

The Good: The Galaxy Watch Active is a lightweight and minimalist smartwatch that I slipped on my wrist a few weeks ago and it hasn’t come off since. It’s comfortable and sweat-resistant. The rose gold face is chic and simple. This minimalism spreads to the software as well. If you workout, there are 15 preloaded workouts like walking, stretching, cycling, running, plus more specific exercises like arm curls, back extensions, jumping jack, lat pulldowns and more. It has pretty good battery life compared to other smartwatches, including the Apple Watch Series 4. Spotify offline listening is a big reason for anybody, Samsung smartphone owner or not, to get this smartwatch. If you have a smartphone running on Android Pie OS, you’re able to try Calm, a meditation app/experience through the Samsung Health app, and then control those meditation sessions on their smartwatch.

Who It’s For: Anybody with a recent Samsung smartphone will get the most out of the Galaxy Watch Active, and that simply comes down to compatibility and knowhow; if you’re not used to Samsung’s apps and interphase, there’s a learning curve. Runners, walkers and gym-goers who like to workout without their phones will find the Spotify integration helpful. You can save your favorite tunes (up to 4 GB) and this makes logging miles or working out without a phone possible. If you hate charging your watch nightly, this one claims to last for up to 90 hours. Depending on how many activities I logged, I found the battery survived for a day and a half typically, which made it possible for me to plug it in during the day when I’m at work or home.

If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, you can download Spotify playlists onto the Galaxy Watch Active and listen to them offline.

Watch Out For: If you’re in Samsung’s ecosystem, figuring out the interface will be a smooth process. If you’re a lifelong iPhone owner, like me, it will likely take a few days to get used to the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active. The Spotify integration isn’t as seamless as I would have liked; in order to download playlists, you have to connect to Wi-Fi, find your playlists within the Spotify app, then find the ‘Download’ button, and even though that sounds like it’d be straightforward, it just wasn’t. Connecting my AirPods to smartwatch wasn’t an issue, but after using them with the Galaxy Watch Active, I had some trouble getting them repaired to my iPhone. When listening to music during workouts, be sure to start the music and set the volume before you go; the smartwatch doesn’t have a bezel or crown dial, so it was pretty difficult to raise or lower the volume.

Alternatives: Last year’s model, the Galaxy Watch ($300), is still available with many of the same features, albeit 6mm larger, which takes up a bulk of your wrist. The older models from Samsung’s line that are still available and also work with Spotify include the Gear Fit2 Pro ($200) and the Gear Sport ($280). Garmin makes some of the only other watches that allow you to download Spotify music to your tracker — the Vivoactive 3 Music ($280) is heavier and slightly bigger than the Galaxy. Outside of that, Fitbit’s Versa Lite ($160) is this small, with a rectangular face and has many of the same features — steps, calories, sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate, waterproof and four-day battery life, but no music storage. An Apple Watch Series 4 ($399+), is a still the best smartwatch for anybody with an iPhone and lives in Apple’s ecosystem.

Review: I’m someone who brings their smartphone on every run. I tend to stuff it in my leggings or have to take off the case to get it to fit in a pair of shorts. I hate feeling it jostle around, admittedly. The thing is that the Spotify integration (for offline listening) is not available on the Apple Watch, so I have to bring my phone with me. With the Galaxy Watch Active, I didn’t have to do this. It was pretty liberating.

Setting up Spotify was a bit frustrating, admittedly, but once I was able to connect to Wi-Fi and downloaded my running playlist, I easily synced the watch to my AirPods and went out for my normal run. The first time I using Spotify offline on this watch, it was a bit finicky, too — the song kept cutting out for the first five minutes, but the longer I used it, the more seamless the music sounded.

The smartwatch proved to be a pretty reliable fitness tracker, and it was a seamless experience from a GPS standpoint. Whether I was logging three miles, ten miles or a track workout, the one button on and off switch was a breeze to tap. While the option was there never to use my phone, I typically carried it with me to check distance via the Nike Running app. On the few occasions that I forgot to log my runs, the app automatically recognized that I was on a run and recorded it anyway.

The big push around Samsung’s new watch is that it features an in-app connection with Calm, the best selling meditation app. You can select Calm’s watch face and it tells you to breathe, where you press on the watch face, hit start and then follow the nudges to breathe in and out. At the end of the six breaths, the watch will let you know if you’re still stressed and if you should sit still for a few more breaths. Over the three weeks, I pretty much always received the ‘you’re pretty stressed’ message and the option to keep breathing. On occasion, I’d see a graph of my stress (on a colored line that goes from blue to orange) and an arrow that points to where my heart rate was before the exercise and after.

The watch face of Samsung’s mediation app looks very similar to the Breath feature on the Apple Watch.

The last thing to hit on is this smartwatch’s sleep tracking ability, which, unfortunately, is where I had the most difficulty. Unlike any Apple Watch, the Galaxy Watch Active’s extended battery life and sleep tracking features encourage you to wear it to bed. To compare against, I had the Withings Sleep Tracking Mat ($100) that lies flat under my mattress to log sleep. When I looked at my sleep data and compared the data from the two devices, frankly, I was disappointed with what I got from the smartwatch. Of the five nights that I wore the Galaxy Watch Active to bed, I only got data for two nights. When researching this issue, I found that many others had experienced something similar. The solution is to make sure you activate ‘Goodnight mode’ before you go to bed, but this starts tracking your sleep right when you initiate the mode and won’t stop until turn it off. Basically, it’s not as automatic as I would’ve liked.

Verdict: If you’re active and have a Samsung or Android smartphone, this is a terrific little smartwatch. It’s also excellent for any Spotify premium subscriber looking for an active smartwatch. It always you to run or workout completely phone-free, undisturbed from calls, texts and Instagram notifications, and that’s a beautiful thing. While Samsung misses the mark on sleep tracking, and the Calm feature won’t feel game-changing for most, the most clutch feature might be the price. At $200, it’s half what the Apple Watch Series 4 is going for.

What Others Are Saying:

• “It’s competent as a running watch, too. During testing, it automatically detected and tracked my runs (it was hit or miss automatically detecting my bike rides, if that matters to you). You can also start a run manually, and although there are only two buttons, the touch screen works well enough with sweaty hands. It wouldn’t be my pick for intervals, as there’s no “lap” feature and the running-specific data fields can disappear and require some touch screen navigation to retrieve, but the auto-pause feature makes the watch perfectly convenient for regular stop-and-go efforts. ” — Dan Roe, Runner’s World

• “The 40mm aluminum case is light. It doesn’t look small on large wrists, or large on small wrists. It’s also easy to forget this watch is sitting on your wrist, which makes sleeping with it quite comfortable (it can track your sleep). It’s thin and will never really get caught on shirt cuffs. The 20mm straps are interchangeable, and the default silicone strap, which feels quite nice, comes with two sizes in the box.” — Julian Chokkattu, Digital Trends

• “Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active isn’t trying to top the Galaxy Watch, and that’s a good thing, as it probably won’t do so. Not much stands out on the wearable, but it does feature a high-end design, a large display and some new exciting health features. Perhaps the best news, though, is that it comes at a much lower price.” — James Peckham, Techradar

Key Specs
Size: 40mm
OS: Tizen 4.0
Sensors: accelerometer, barometer, gyro sensor, HR sensor, light sensor
Battery: Up to 90 hours
Connectivity: Bluetooth v4.2
Weight: 25g
Compatibility: Android and iOS
Water Resistant: 5ATM and IP68

Samsung provided this product for review.

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Watch Now: An Oven for Pizza Idiots, the 2019 BMW X7 & More

In this episode of This Week In Gear: Eric Yang and Will Price test Breville’s countertop pizza oven, Henry Phillips discusses the $5K Leica Q2 and Nick Caruso raves about the all-new BMW X7. Also in this episode, a Bryan Campbell reviews the Honda Talon side-by-side – in 30 seconds – and AJ Powell explains why the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earbuds are the last thing he bought.

This episode of This Week In Gear is presented by Crown & Caliber: the convenient online marketplace for pre-owned luxury watches. Visit crownandcaliber.com/gearpatrol to get $175 towards any watch purchase until May 31st.

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