All posts in “Reviews”

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.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

Review: 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.

|

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)

|

Audioengine provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

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.

|

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.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

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.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

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.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

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.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

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.

Featured Products

Breville the Smart Oven® Pizzaiolo

“This thing is fuckin’ awesome at what it does. It works for the pizza idiot to the pizza savant.”

|

Leica Q2

“All the improvements feel iterative, deliberate and genuinely helpful to the end user. The Q was my general price-no-object recommendation for a great camera for basically everyone. The Q2 takes that place no problem.”

|

2019 BMW X7

The X7 very well may be everything great about BMW, fully realized.

|

Honda Talon SxS

“Add an exciting application of DCT technology and it’s fair to say that while the Talon 1000R and 1000X aren’t necessarily game changers, they’ve sure as hell raised the bar.”

|

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless Earbuds

“I believe the Momentum earbuds could replace each headphone in my current rotation — including my Bowers & Wilkins P5 on-ear headphones.”

|

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

2020 Range Rover Evoque Review: Chic, Compact, and Capable

Land Rover’s Evoque — a compact SUV that’s branded as part of the Range Rover lineup — has become a breakout hit for the company. The wee scrapper offers bite-sized luxury and sharp styling along with a surprising range of off-road skills, allowing you to scramble along trails and slopes with enough grace to avoid dinging your reputation (or the brand’s). This is the model’s second generation, and the engineers pushed the car to the limit in order to stuff in more capability and technology.

The Good: The new Evoque takes its predecessor’s already-crisp design and fine-tunes its lines and proportions for a more modern effect. The miracle of the car’s look, however, is that while it’s still very much a city car, it nevertheless manages to not look ridiculous off-road. Also, there’s enough cool new tech here to make it a significant jump from the first generation, including optional “transparent hood technology” that lets you see the terrain in front of you as if the hood and engine weren’t present at all. It’s slick, useful—and endlessly entertaining.

Who It’s For: Like the Range Rover Velar above it, the Evoque is very much an urbane, high-design product—on the SUV spectrum; think day-tripper rather than expedition-leader, or night-on-the-town rather than overnight in Yosemite. But its compact dimensions also make it spry and nimble—and thus plenty of fun for those who enjoy driving, on-road or off. It’s ideal for city folk who still like to get out of town.

Watch Out For: You’d better be all-in on the Evoque’s looks, because the baby Range does sacrifice some functionality and practicality in pursuit of design purity. For instance, there’s limited trunk space, thanks to the almost-non-existent rear overhang (the space behind the rear axle). There’s precious little room around the gearshift for things like keys, smartphones, and the detritus of daily driving. And while the car comes with a massive glass moonroof, it’s all but invisible to front-seat occupants, since its front edge sits just over the front headrests. When you do notice it, you’re reminded that you’re missing out unless you’re in the back seat—which is overwhelmingly going to be occupied by children, if at all.

Alternatives: The Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class and GLC Coupe, the BMW X3 and X4, and the Audi Q5, amongst the Germans; the Cadillac XT4 and Lincoln Nautilus, among the Americans; and the Jaguar E-Pace, across the showroom.

Review: There’s something both startling and amusing about watching city cars tackle off-road terrain—like gawking at socialites who accidentally wander into the infield at the Indy 500. Most are immediately uncomfortable, fish out of water; others, however, pull it off, joining games of cornhole with an open can of Natty Ice in their manicured hand. That’s the Evoque: It’s classy, but it’s also game. Its angled lines, minimalist detailing, and tapering side windows give it an unmistakably clean-and-trim architectural vibe; on the flip side, its expert all-wheel-drive system, top-notch engineering, and assorted off-roading algorithms seem to generate a magnetic pull toward rocky creek beds and 45-degree inclines.

The same can probably be said of the other luxury SUVs in Land Rover’s luxury line, including the Velar and the just-call-it-the-Range Rover, but the Evoque is by far the most…well, delicate-looking of the three. You feel the urge to protect it while driving, only to have that urge dispensed with via every conquered challenge. On my evaluation route through southern Greece, the Evoque navigated said creek beds and raced up and down steep inclines, its enhanced gradient-release control tech now allowing for unlimited automatic hill-holding (instead of for just a few seconds at a time, as in old models), always restarting smoothly even as gravity press your body hard against the seat—or leaves it straining it against the seatbelt.

The redesigned model adds multiple new features for off-road agility, including the Terrain Response system that acts like all-terrain cruise control, allowing you to just steer while it manages the engine, transmission, and suspension settings. It also has the ClearSight Ground View system, which displays the terrain directly in front of—and even a little beneath—the vehicle on the central infotainment screen, allowing you to better monitor your progress over and around off-road obstacles. It does the “beneath” part by tweaking images taken in front of the car to how they would look from beneath it; you can see translucent images of the bumpers and wheels on the augmented-reality vision, and adjust your driving accordingly. It’s part of a 360-degree camera system that helps boost situational awareness at the wheel.

More problematically, the Evoque offers an optional digital rear-view mirror, which uses a high-mounted camera to project a wide-angle view from the back of the car on the rearview mirror itself, unhampered by rear-seat occupants or cargo. It works, but it’s best used on an as-needed basis rather than by default—it’s not better than a conventional mirror, at least in terms of resolution and clarity. (You can easily flick a switch to toggle between virtual and real views.)  That said, it’s well-suited to the Evoque’s unique geometry: The minuscule rear window is difficult to see through, while the digital rearview mirror offers, by comparison, a vast view.

Speaking of unique geometry, you do have to be a little patient with the Evoque at first. When I first climbed in, for instance, I found it hard to get comfortable. This, I realized, is because I’m a tall(ish) six-footer; with the seat adjusted back far enough to be comfortable, my shoulders were behind the B-pillar, making it impossible to rest my elbow on the window sill. That seems petty, but it’s a reflection of the design’s dominance over some basic nuances of comfort, just as the aforementioned moonroof is essentially nonexistent for front-seat passengers. I was eventually able to find a position that gave me a bit of elbow room, but it was never quite ideal.

Overall, though, the Evoque is overwhelmingly a comfortable place to be, with highly supportive seats for a small car and excellent visibility ahead and to the sides. Throw in high-quality interior materials and an easy-to-use touchscreen-based infotainment system—as minimalist as the exterior, with its near-total absence of physical buttons—and you have a very sophisticated, enjoyable product overall. It’s also surprisingly peppy; the 246-horsepower four-cylinder engine in the P250 I tested proved willing during spirited driving, and the taut suspension kept things in check as I tossed it into the turns on remote Greek roads.

A 296-hp variant, dubbed P300, will also be available, with presumably even more pep. That powertrain will also include an optional 48-volt electrical system—a first for Land Rover—giving the P300 engines mild-hybrid capability at low speeds, allowing the engine to shut off while braking in order to recoup power and re-apply said power while accelerating.

That’s just one potential payoff of a 48-volt system; this model won’t quite tap the system’s full potential, which the engineers readily acknowledge. It will, however, future-proof the car for next-generation electronics that require lots of power, particularly in the form of computing-intensive self-driving capability.With those rolling out at seemingly breakneck speeds, new features could come sooner or later—even before the next full redesign. If so, the Evoque will be ready for it. If not, the Evoque will ready for everything else.

Verdict: If you love the look, you’ll love the car—quirks be damned. If you’re on the fence about it and just want a compact luxury crossover, consider equivalent models from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes, which all tend to be a bit more grounded in their designs. That said, none look quite as fantastic as the Evoque, and none have off-roading DNA woven into their genes the way the Evoque does. It’s a great (and surprising) little wonder that melds style and all-terrain capability better than pretty much anything on the road, short of perhaps its upmarket sibling, the Velar. Sure, it’s prim and proper—but it proves its mettle well enough to make sure it can travel far beyond any driveway in the Hamptons.

What Others Are Saying:

• “As a Land Rover, the Evoque can’t just be at home in the city, and indeed the Evoque is arguably the most off-road-capable vehicle in its class. Its 8.3 inches of ground clearance and steep approach and departure angles are buttressed by familiar off-road technologies including All-Terrain Progress Control, Hill Descent control, and a newly enhanced Gradient Release Control.” — Joe Lorio, Autoblog

• “f you’re the sort of person who wants to drag your family out of the safety and security of your civilization, thinking it would be refreshing to get away from it all for a bit, only to realize you’re going to put everyone through something they weren’t really prepared for, the Evoque can manage such excursions and still actually look good doing it.” — Justin Westbrook, Jalopnik

• “The latest Evoque takes all the great parts of the old version and makes it better with a slicker design and upgraded tech. Sadly some of it will never be used to its fullest potential (like the rest of the SUV), but it’s good to know it’s there if you ever need it.” — Roberto Baldwin, Engadget

2020 Range Rover Evoque P250 Specs

Engine: 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Power: 246 horsepower, 269 lb-ft of torque
Curb weight: 3,935 pounds
Ground clearance: 8.3 inches
Wading depth: 23.6 inches

Land Rover hosted us and provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

First Look: How The North Face Will Change Everything You Wear Outside

Ahh, Aspen. A little place that might be the ideal humble mountain town if it wasn’t for glitzy movie star sightings (we spotted Gwyneth Paltrow on our trip), the lore of Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 campaign for sheriff, and a tiny on-mountain restaurant called Cloud Nine that sells more Veuve Clicquot than any other establishment in the country during its short four-month season. I recently traveled to the mountain enclave, not for the glam, but to test The North Face’s new fabric, Futurelight, which the company will debut in its 2019/2020 winter outerwear.

Colorado is significant in the Futurelight story; roughly 100 miles southwest of Aspen’s Main Street (as the raven flies) is the summit of Mt. Sneffels, a photogenic pyramid of 14,158 feet. That’s where Andres Marin, a professional climber on The North Face’s team, turned to Scott Mellin, the company’s Global General Manager of Mountain Sports, and said something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to change our layers constantly?”

Any number of climbers, mountaineers, skiers, snowboarders and hikers have thought the same thought. But, unlike the rest of us who shrug it off, Marin and Mellin found themselves in a position to do something about it. Roughly two years later, they, and all of the engineers, designers, professional athletes and the rest at The North Face, have a solution: a new fabric technology called Futurelight.

Since its initial announcement in January, not much has been revealed beyond the bottom line: Futurelight is entirely waterproof and wildly breathable, meaning athletes won’t overheat wearing it. The instinct is to compare it to Gore-Tex, which is the household name in the waterproof/breathable space (although other brands exist, too, like Dermizax and Polartec). Unlike existing technologies though, Futurelight is created using a process called nanospinning, a technique already used in tech and medical fields that arranges and layers nano-sized fibers in a complex network with plenty of gaps for air but not water. Laminated to fabric, this membrane exhibits all of the waterproof properties you need and expect in the mountains but, according to The North Face, provides magnitudes more breathability.

The recent Aspen junket was the first interaction that anyone not associated with The North Face has had with Futurelight. It began as many of these events do: food, libations and a presentation. Mellin, who’s shaping up to be a spokesperson for Futurelight, analogized the outdoor industry to a group playing with Mr. Potato Head dolls — every brand gets the same set of materials with which to make different products. It’s true to an extent — the same synthetic insulation inside Patagonia’s popular Nano Puff jacket is also inside L.L.Bean’s and others; hundreds of items use Gore-Tex’s waterproof membranes — but companies big enough to house research and development teams to make proprietary fabrics, like The North Face, do exist. What sets Futurelight apart is its ability to customize the fabric’s breathability based on its end-use — ski jackets will have a different airflow than, say, tents.

I spent the following two days wearing the new material in the mountains surrounding Aspen’s various ski resorts. On the first day, our group, which included David Lama and Christina Lustenberger, professional athletes on The North Face’s team, and was led by Scott Eden, a guide for Aspen Expeditions, took advantage of the lifts at Snowmass to gain elevation quickly. Then we dipped off the backside of the Cirque on skis, making our first turns into West Willow Basin down a pitch called Vertigo. Our first hike for more side country terrain came afterward; roughly 1,000 feet up to the 13,100 summit of Mt. Baldy. It wasn’t a lengthy or overly rigorous ascent, but enough, especially with temperatures in the mid-forties, to get a sense of Futurelight’s breathability.

The following day was more ambitious: starting from a pull-off not far from town, we meandered through the trees up a creek and then zippered up a buttress until we made the ridge, and then traversed it to the summit of Ski Hayden Peak at 13,316 feet. We ascended roughly 4,300 feet total over many miles of walking.

The temperatures were again in the mid-forties but even had they been less this was not a journey that I would typically make wearing a shell jacket. One thing I know about myself is that I run hot (Vermonter, here), and I’d rather start a ski tour cold, in nothing but a baselayer and a light fleece, wait for my body to warm up as it works, and finish cold in a summit breeze than sweat the entire way up. I’ve attempted shorter climbs in colder conditions wearing a shell — one of my favorites is Trew’s Powfunk Jacket, which uses a Dermizax NX membrane with a 40,000-millimeter breathability rating (Gore-Tex Pro is rated at 25,000 millimeters) — and I always end up sweating.

I did sweat wearing my Futurelight-equipped jacket, but not nearly as much as I would’ve expected to in a jacket of similar weight — I was wholly impressed by the material. While some of my teammates wore ascent-oriented jackets from the Summit Series, I donned the A-Cad Jacket and bib, which The North Face designed primarily for downhill, in-bounds skiing with heavier fabric (the Futurelight Summit L5 LT Jacket weighs 23 ounces, the Futurelight A-Cad weighs 33). Typically, I would never consider wearing a jacket this heavy for a climb, and with the weather as it was that day, any outer layer was unnecessary until the final wind-exposed ridge. But gear testing obligations prevailed, and I remained wrapped in 100 percent recycled polyester. While my back dampened some through the exertion, I remained comfortable throughout. In any similar jacket, I would’ve been inappropriately dressed for our goal and likely would’ve expended more energy and arrived at the top drenched and dehydrated. The stuff worked.

The next morning, I woke up in the 5 AM darkness of my hotel room to do my usual routine of stretches and body weight exercises. But, each rep cranked up a pain dial inside my skull until I was forced to quit, left immobilized by a throbbing altitude headache. I was ready to call it a trip.

Forty-five minutes later, when I explained my state to Eden and Lama, they advised that I eat, drink and reassess our plan with the group. “Sometimes headaches are part of climbing,” Lama said to me over coffee and toast. Of course, a pro athlete would respond this way (and my headache did subside). But what he meant was that alpine climbing, on skis or foot, is an exercise in suffering. Like running a marathon or riding 100 miles on a bicycle, to set out on these ventures is to sideline physical ease to accomplish a clearly defined goal. Some discomfort is unavoidable (like sore legs, or my throbbing cranium), but some isn’t. We can be warm in sub-zero temperatures and stay dry in the wettest environments. That’s why we have all of the specialized clothing and equipment to facilitate these maniacal activities; that’s why The North Face made Futurelight.

The Good: Compared to similar jackets that we’ve tested in like conditions, Futurelight is significantly more breathable. What’s more, it achieves that invisibly; the jackets and pants that currently feature the technology still look like regular jackets. They feel better too: the material has the feel of softshell and doesn’t make any of the swishy or potato-chip-bag sounds that ultra-technical fabrics typically do.

Who It’s For: Skiers, snowboarders and alpine climbers at first — The North Face is baking Futurelight into these outerwear categories for Fall 2019. The following spring, everyone from runners to hikers will find it in items like wind and rain jackets, and by Fall 2020 anything The North Face makes that’s waterproof will be Futurelight. (This could mean big sustainability ups for The North Face. Mellins say, “Futurelight fabric innovations allow us to create the most sustainable three-layer jacket we’ve ever produced.”)

Watch Out For: You’ll have to get used to wearing a lighter jacket than you typically might —  Futurelight’s technical performance is so great that you get the same level of protection as comparable jackets with less material. This is not a bad thing, but takes a mental adjustment. Some of the other early testers I spoke to noted that it felt more air permeable in the wind (it didn’t for me); you may need to rethink your regular layering system.

Note: The North Face has yet to release scientific studies that demonstrate Futurelight’s performance in a lab, but it plans to do so before the September 2 release date. The study will be conducted by a third-party institution called Underwriters Laboratories.

Alternatives: The most similar technology to Futurelight is Polartec’s NeoShell, a softshell that favors breathability while keeping waterproof. You can find it in Backcountry’s recent Touring Collection.

Verdict: It’d be easy to sum up Futurelight by saying that it’s just like your typical waterproof/breathable shell, but better! In a way, that’s true, except “better” isn’t the right word. Because while Futurelight’s performance in ski jackets and bibs is undebatable, its implications could go far beyond helping regulate body moisture. Because a company as big as The North Face is behind it, Futurelight will contend with the main players that have defined the space for years and, as a result, could propel others to compete and thrust us onto a new level of technical outerwear performance, industry-wide.

What Others Are Saying:

• “FUTURELIGHT fabric delivered a very breathable shell that works well for backcountry skiing. (I tested the men’s Summit L5 LT jacket.) It’s comfortable, blocks wind and precipitation, and allows moisture to escape as well as anything on the market. But it falls just short of “holy grail” status, as the jacket does trap some moisture when you redline and sweat.” — Stephen Regenold, Gear Junkie

Key Specs: The North Face Futurelight A-Cad Jacket

Price: $599
Material: 100% recycled polyseter with brushed tricot backer and DWR finish
Weight: 32.8 ounces

The North Face provided us with products for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

Watch This Week In Gear, Episode One: We Review the All-New Porsche 911, Apple Airpods & More

Welcome to the premiere episode of Gear Patrol’s first video series: This Week In Gear, the ultimate news show for gear enthusiasts.

As the definitive executive briefing on what’s new in product culture, every week we’ll be talking shop about the latest and best gear, from outdoor & fitness, automotive and tech to home, style, grooming and watches. Hosted by Editor-in-Chief Eric Yang, every episode will feature insights from Gear Patrol staff experts as well as field tests, interviews, buying advice and beyond.

In this episode of This Week In Gear: Nick Caruso gives a rundown of the all-new 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S; Tanner Bowden introduces The James Brand Ellis multitool; Jacob Sotak explains just how hugely advanced the Orvis H3 fly rod is; and Tucker Bowe describes what’s new in Apple’s second-generation AirPods. Also in this episode, a lightning-round Q&A with Staff Writer Meg Lappe.

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.

Featured Products

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S

Porsche’s all-new 911 is, as expected, a tremendous performer.

|

The James Brand ‘The Ellis’

The brand’s first multi-tool is a gorgeous shot across the Swiss Army Knife’s bow.

|

Orvis Helios 3D 8-Weight 9′ Fly Rod

“Without a doubt, the most scientifically accurate rod ever produced.”

|

Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case

The second-generation earbuds feature incremental tweaks, which means they’re still great.

|

Advertisement

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

Review: Should You Buy the New and Improved AirPods?

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.

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.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

This Modular Backpack Does Everything, but Is That a Good Thing?

What makes a good everyday backpack? It depends on the day. It also depends on the person. The items that we carry are wholly dependent on our varying definitions of what’s essential. So Black Ember made the highest-grade clean slate it could: the WPRT. Made with 800-denier micro-hex fabric, the roll-top backpack is sufficiently weather-proof and durable for anyone’s daily A to B.

The backpack comes in two formats: Minimal and Modular. The distinction is slightly misleading — both versions allow for plenty of customization with a line of accessory straps and pouches that attach to panels made of Hypalon designed initially for military rafts. The Modular goes to a greater extent here with magnetic hardware that locks add-ons in place. In either case, the bag is a premium-level base upon which wearers are free to build whatever carry system they need.

The Good: In both its modular and minimal form, the WPRT has the capacity for as much as you’ll need to carry on any given day. It’s slightly boxy but a damn good-looking backpack nonetheless, thanks in no small part to Black Ember’s meticulous choice of high-end materials and (nearly) seamless construction. In everyday bags, looks are important.

Those high-end materials lead to function too — the WPRT is weather-proof — and the construction enables a modular system through which wearers can alter how the bag works and adapt it to personal habits. Carrying a lot (or a little) is made comfortable by a free-floating, cushioned back panel.

Furthermore, the primary problem with the roll-top format, quick access, is sidestepped by a convenient side zipper that provides another point of entry to the main compartment. There’s a separate laptop sleeve too, a feature that should be present on any bag that files itself into the everyday category.

Who It’s For: Town and city dwellers who approach their everyday routine like doomsday preppers: be ready for anything.

Watch Out For: At 30 liters, the WPRT is definitely on the larger side for an everyday backpack. Its rigid-ish shape keeps its shape clean, but also keeps it from scrunching down much, even when it isn’t full. Kit it out with some of the modular add-on pouches, and this thing becomes a bit of a behemoth — that’s suitable for those who travel heavy, overkill for those who just need a laptop, extra layer and a few small essentials.

Alternatives: Black Ember’s WPRT is undoubtedly unique; your best bet at an alternative won’t hit all its notes (weatherproof, roll-top construction, modularity) but can come close. Arc’teryx’s Granville ($229) is an any-conditions city bag, and Millican’s 25-liter Smith ($195) is one of our favorite roll-tops. For another modular pack, check out Mission Workshop’s Arkiv System bags ($220+).

Review: I can’t begin to talk about the WPRT without addressing the obvious: the backpack, with its bonded micro-hex and aircraft aluminum hardware, is sleek enough for product placement in an 007 film. Its lack of seams and minimal stitching renders an all-black form that’s distinctly geometric but lacks hard edges, a Rorschach inkblot that’s both anomalous and familiar.

Appearances can’t serve alone though. Many will repeatedly disagree with me on this, clutching their trendy rucksacks all the while, but a backpack’s looks should be matched at least equally by its shoulder straps, back panel, buckles, zippers and an ability to do what packs are supposed to do; namely, carry stuff.

Black Ember knows this. That’s why its line is so limited, and why there isn’t a cheap bag in the mix. That’s also why the team that created the WPRT, which includes former experience at The North Face and Nike, attended to details large – they formed the most substantial part of the bag with one laser-cut piece of fabric – and small, almost to the point of overlooking.

For instance, the primary buckle isn’t a toothy plastic clip but an aluminum and magnetic lever that’s almost satisfyingly addictive in its engagement and release. The webbing that adjusts the tightness of the shoulder straps doesn’t dangle in the breeze but is clipped neatly to itself. The roll-top doesn’t so much as roll as fold perfectly into place.

The WPRT also carries a lot, even when it isn’t decked out with extra pouches. And this is my one criticism for Black Ember: I never filled it up, and as a consequence, I was never compelled to really think about how I might take advantage of the add-on mods. Empty, the WPRT’s technical fabric doesn’t collapse in on itself, so it remains boxy and bulky (and a space-eater in crowded subway cars).

That said, when I did fill it as much as I need to, it handled the weight expertly. Everything about the backpack’s size and shape should make it uncomfortable, but it isn’t. It’s precisely the opposite, due to a plush back panel and an ingenious system of rigging it to the bag so that it floats freely of the main load and conforms to the back, protecting it from all the misshapen objects that it might swallow.

As it turns out, the WPRT’s good looks and brawn are matched in its depth and comfort. But maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it – the backpack, like a daub of ink sandwiched between a sheet of folded paper, will varyingly reveal its many potential uses in unique ways to all who decide to carry it.

Verdict: With waterproof fabric and high-grade aluminum hardware put together in a complicated yet handsome construction, Black Ember’s WPRT is as thoughtfully functional as an everyday backpack gets. Its potential uses are multiplied through a system of modular add-on pouches, but wearers might find them excessive as the bag is already large, perhaps too much so. But, the WPRT does succeed in offering to urbanites an everyday accessory capable of adapting to the many demands of a contemporary life that calls for preparedness in any possible circumstance.

Key Specs

Volume: 30 liters
Waterproof: yes, but not submersible
Material: 800-denier 3-layer micro-hex fabric
Hardware: anodized aluminum
Number of Pockets: 3

Black Ember provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

The GMC Sierra AT4 Is a Surprisingly Agile Grunt of a Truck

The AT4 is GMC’s premium off-road trim of the Sierra 1500 full-sized pickup. It distinguishes itself with unique styling details, off-road shocks and tires, a locking rear differential, and a factory-installed two-inch suspension lift.

The Good: Robust engine. Quality transmission. Useful, intuitive tech.

Who It’s For: The affluent GM-inclined truck buyer who wants to hit a (very) wide open trail or appear like he or she is a person who may do so.

Watch Out For: Sheer enormity. Poor fuel economy. Usability with two-inch lift.

Alternatives: Other off-road oriented premium full-sized trucks in this general price range include:

2019 Ford Raptor ($52,855, base)

2019 Ram 1500 Rebel ($44,940, base)

2019 Chevrolet Silverado LT 1500 Trail Boss ($49,795, base)

Review: Driving a full-sized pickup in its natural environs on a product launch is one thing. Having a full-sized pickup invade your everyday life for a week is quite another. Even in large car-friendly Detroit, the GMC Sierra AT4 felt like a vehicle smuggled out from Brobdingnag. It’s a mammoth truck meant for bigger people, wider roads, more generous parking spaces, and larger turning radii.

The AT4 is the Sierra’s premium off-road trim. It’s GMC’s answer to Ford’s F-150 Raptor. The big changes are similar to the Silverado Trail Boss. It has a two-inch factory lift, Rancho shocks, and aggressive off-road tires. It has more than 10 inches of ground clearance. A low-speed terrain cam offers a fine view of the obstacles you can’t see or feel organically.

When there’s room, the AT4 does offer is an engaging drive. The 6.2-liter V8, producing 420hp and 460lb-ft of torque, is formidable. It’s paired with a spot-on 10-speed automatic transmission. The AT4 handles nimbly. The steering, for a truck, is precise. Its propensity to pick up speed quickly during a highway overtake can be alarming. I would opt for the upgraded Catback exhaust. A 6.2-liter V8 seems pointless if it’s going to sound civilized.

GM uses tech in its trucks well. Features are useful. Interfaces are intuitive. Camera angles and seat buzzers navigate you out of tight spots, which happen almost every time you park. The Multi-Pro tailgate gets too much hype since it’s one of the few distinguishing features between the full-sized flagship trucks. But, it’s well thought out. The dashboard offered every type of wired port I can think of as well as wireless charging.

I had a mixed reaction to the styling. GMC’s obsession with bold vertical stance is not my cup of Earl Grey, though I may be in the minority there. The body color grille and blacked out chrome offered some appreciated understatement compared to the blinged out Denali. The interior was clean and spacious. But, it also felt dated and too reminiscent of the Silverado for what amounts to a $60,000-plus luxury car. When you see what Mercedes did for half the price with the A-Class, GM could have offered more.

While the off-road tires do not affect the driving dynamics noticeably, the two-inch lift does impact the truck’s usability. The floor is two inches higher. I’m 5’11” and would have had to entire via flying leap without the step. The car seat for my 30-pound toddler was two inches higher. The workbench on the tailgate was two inches higher and too high for me. The roof is two inches higher, which (very) nearly caused me to scrape the roof in a low parking garage.

As you would expect, a full-sized truck with a 6.2L V8 won’t be resolving the climate crisis. EPA numbers for my tester were 15/19/17mpg. Per that estimate, the AT4 will quaff an extra $1250 per year of fuel over the average new car. I only averaged 13.3 mpg going about my business in cold-ish weather. It’s not an efficient way to get around town.

The AT4 is large, quick, and capable. More of a surprisingly agile offensive lineman than rookie year Shaq. It’s not as excessive and purpose-built of an off-roader as the Raptor. But, the AT4 is more than a mere styling gambit, even if that is its role in the Sierra lineup.

Verdict: The athletic and versatile AT4 trim won’t disappoint Sierra buyers. This truck is potent on the tarmac and capable when you leave it. The AT4 is missing the Raptor’s immoderate pizzazz, however, and feels far too gigantic to be an off-road toy. Dedicated off-roaders may want to move down a class, drop some weight, save about $20,000, and buy a Tacoma, Gladiator, or Colorado ZR2.

What Others Are Saying:

“What was noticeable, however, was that other motorists could tell this truck was special: More than once I spotted other Sierra or Chevy Silverado owners craning their necks and doing a double-take at the AT4.” – Jake Holmes, Roadshow

“Let’s say it right now: no vehicle stretching six metres from stem to stern, and on a wheelbase pushing four metres, can claim ultimate go-anywhere talent. In some off-road scenarios, a full-size pickup is Just. Too. Big.” – Jeremy Sinke, The Globe and Mail

“On the road, the AT4’s extra height doesn’t negate the new Sierra’s surprisingly lithe feel. Maybe “lithe” is too strong a term, but comparatively speaking for a full-size truck, it changes direction with poise and doesn’t overwhelm. A rather small steering wheel helps in this regard, as does the improved rack it’s connected to for 2019. ” – James Riswick, Autoblog

2019 GMC Sierra 1500 Crew Cab 4WD AT4 Key Specs

Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8; 10-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 420 hp
Torque: 460lb-ft
0-60: 5.8 seconds (Motor Trend)
Curb Weight: 5,400 lbs
Fuel Economy: 15/19/17 mpg combined

GMC hosted us and provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

The Ever Popular Adidas Ultraboost 19 Gets an Upgrade

Adidas updated its best-selling running shoe, the Ultraboost, with the 19th version, which first launched back in early December. It quickly sold out and then re-released in late February in a handful of new colors. The sneaker has a cult-like following — so much so that the brand brought back the original colorway (from 2015) also in late December, which quickly sold out, too. But how does number 19 compare to its previous iterations? I’ve been running in the Ultraboost 19 since late December. It’s a shoe for neutral runners or people who just want a sneaker they can wear all day long. While I enjoyed running in the original Ultraboost, the 19 earned its spot in my rotation of shoes for my upcoming race season thanks to its ability to work for both long runs and speed runs.

The Good: The Adidas team rebuilt the Ultraboost 19 from the ground up with just 17 individual new parts — typically it takes more than 30 to make one running shoe. There’s the updated Boost foam (which is apparently 20 percent bouncier and more energy-returning than the original), a visible 3D heel frame (the bright red pentagon that’s visible on the heel) that’s flexible yet supportive, and a torsion spring (the connector between your forefoot and heel that lets them each move independently without too much flexing and straining) underfoot to help with snappier turnover. The Primeknit upper gets a stretch upgrade that’s Goldilocks-approved — not too soft and not too firm. You’ll find the same Continental rubber outsole that’s grippy over snow and ice, both on the road and on the track. Despite all the changes, the shoe is the same price as the original. The original Ultraboost didn’t have as much Boost foam, so each footfall wasn’t as soft as it is in the Ultraboost 19. The original also had a more structured upper with not as much stretch and less breathability.

Who It’s For: The Adidas Ultraboost is for committed fans who want the latest upgrade as well as neutral runners who enjoy having enough room for splay their toes. During training, I logged upwards of 30 miles in the shoe, and it felt light and bouncy from the first mile to the last. It’s also great for casual runners and people who want to wear a good-looking sneaker all day long.

Watch Out For: I’m a neutral runner, meaning I don’t need too much support to keep my feet from over or under pronating, but on one of my long runs, my left arch started to nag me while wearing this shoe. I cranked down on the laces, which pulled the mesh-like saddle tighter and got me through the end. However, if you need a lot of arch support, this is not the shoe for you. If you hate the colorway (laser red looks too similar to pink, in my opinion), wait for darker colors this spring.

The shoe is also 10.9 ounces (for a size 9) which is middle of the road for neutral runners but will be too heavy for someone who is used to training in shoes typically built for track days. For reference, in Best New Sneakers in 2018, we picked shoes in these optimal ranges: 6.4 to 7.2 ounces for speed days, 7.5 to 10.8 ounces for easy runs and 8 to 12 ounces for long runs. Also, at $180, these shoes aren’t cheap.

Alternatives: In comparison to the Ultraboost 19, the previous iteration has a thicker upper, which provides more support for someone who needs stability to keep their feet from rolling in or out. If you like feeling like your feet are locked in, then the previous version is best for you (and it helps that it goes on sale frequently), and the Solarboost, (which we’re also fans of) has a much thicker ready-to-race-looking upper ($160). During testing, I alternated with the Nike Odyssey Shield ($130), to keep my feet feeling fresh, prevent injuries and to keep them dry in wet weather, and found the Nikes to be softer, but as peppy in bounce. While the Ultraboost 19 are similar in weight to the New Balance 1080s at 10.4 ounces ($150), the foam and lightweight-feel reminded me more of the New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon ($120). If the Ultraboosts are too expensive or you don’t like how the upper feels, the Beacon is a similar maverick that works for both long, steady runs and for speedwork.

Review: From the first time I pulled them on to my final eight-mile wrap-up run, I had no issues with hot spots and blisters. The white upper dirtied throughout testing, but nothing that wasn’t to be expected. Visually, the shoes look different from the original Ultraboost shoe: The full Primeknit upper (Adidas’s proprietary stretchy material that holds your feet in place) has red and black threads woven in to serve as a visual and physical representation of where there’s a bit more give in the shoe. Right under your toes, the red fibers provide much-needed stretch, while your toes are surrounded with black threads locking them in place. The mesh-like saddle is white but translucent enough that you can make out the Primeknit fabric just below it. Similar to the Uncaged version of Ultraboost, the saddle is barely attached, meaning there’s a lot of flex and movement around the arch of your foot. With just four eyelets, it can be tricky to tighten the laces to find a truly locked-in feeling around your midfoot.

With the original Ultraboosts, testers recommend that buyers go half a size up, and the same still remains true here. I typically run in a 7.5 and found the 8 didn’t cause my feet to slide around, plus allowed for plenty of space if my feet swelled during a run.

When comparing with the original Ultraboosts, the midsole has 20 percent more Boost foam without adding a ton of weight. Boost caught on with runners due to its energy-returning properties, which affects how your feet (and calves and body) feel after running. With each step, energy transfers from your feet into the ground. While we wear sneakers to dampen the force of the impact, you don’t want to feel dead after running a mile because there was no support (read: foam) underfoot to rebound some of that energy back into your body. For me, I found that even during long runs, the shoes felt springy and helped propel me forward.

Verdict: These shoes worked for everything from easy five-mile jogs to longer training runs to 4 x 1200 followed by a 4 x 400-meter track workout. Overall, these shoes are insanely comfortable, breathable and supportive. While these likely aren’t the shoes I’m going to pull on before I hit the starting line at the upcoming United Half Marathon since I want to have a speedy run and need something lighter for 13.1 miles, I will keep these in my arsenal for easy days and long runs.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Easy runs were a treat; every step was met with soft cushioning and smooth strides. I picked up the pace on a speed day that went like this: 2-mile warm up, 6x 5 min @ 6:58 pace with 4 min recovery between intervals, and finally a 2-mile cool down for a total of 10 miles. I was able to hold the pace without feeling the extra weight of the shoe. Finally, this morning I took these beauties out for 15 miles and finished with my tired legs feeling not too beat up. I would typically never do speed work in a shoe that I consider a daily trainer. ” — Thomas Neuberger, Believe in the Run

• “This shoe has multiple personality disorder. At 11.6 ounces [for size 10.5] it’s not a lightweight uptempo shoe, but that’s where it feels best. I wore the shoe on multiple long runs, multiple easy runs, and one session of hill repeats, and they felt the best when I was running up a hill at 90% effort. It doesn’t make sense, but the bouncy nature of the shoe lends itself to pushing pace. Many of my easy runs ended with strides, and again the shoe felt smoothest at a faster pace. That isn’t to say it isn’t smooth during slow miles, it very much is, but it just feels better faster.” — Jeff Beck, Road Trail Run

Key Specs

Weight: 10.9 oz
Drop: 10 mm
Upper: Primeknit 360

Adidas provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

Honda Super Cub Review: The World’s Most Popular Bike Is Back

Nearly 50 years after disappearing from the U.S. market, the world’s best-selling motorcycle – or at least a thoroughly modern version of it – is returning to America: Honda’s legendary Super Cub. In the years since its 1959 launch, the Super Cub has sold over 100 million units worldwide – a staggering sum. The Super Cub’s efficiency, functionality and worldwide appeal is well documented. What’s less so is the key role it played in Honda’s fortunes in the late ’50s and early ’60s, becoming an almost immediate best-seller and providing much-needed cash flow while post-war Americans got comfy with Honda’s name and larger-displacement motorcycles – which they eventually did, and in droves. The question, then, is this: Can the Super Cub reignite the two-wheeled passions of both boomers and millennials, and help lift Honda and the overall motorcycle market out of the new-bike-sales doldrums?

The Good: Like the original C100 of 1959, the new-generation Super Cub is functional and friendly. There’s keyless ignition (just keep the fob in your pocket) and electric start to get you going, a ‘clutchless’ four-speed to keep you there (just bang away at the lever) and a handy LCD gear indicator to let you know what gear you’re in. It’s whisper-quiet, fuel mileage is superb (you’ll get over 100 mpg), the step-through chassis design means it’s easy to jump on and off, and there’s a disc brake up front with ABS (along with a drum-type rear) to slow you down. It’s light and maneuverable at rest and while moving, the seat height is manageable for all but the most inseam-challenged, the drive-chain is enclosed for longer maintenance intervals, safety and quiet operation and there’s that Honda reliability you just can’t beat. Finally, it looks good, looks right, with just the right amounts of retro style and badging.

Who It’s For: In the very late ’50s and early ’60s, when the Super Cub was first introduced to American buyers, and especially after Honda’s ‘You Meet The Nicest People on a Honda’ ad campaign began to penetrate the country’s consciousness (counterbalancing motorcycling’s then-prevalent leather-jacketed thug image), the Super Cub was for – and chosen by – everyone. Older folks, families on camping trips, college students, commuters, kids looking for fun, and so on. That target audience hasn’t changed, really, as Honda understands it needs to sell to baby boomers and a younger demographic if the new-gen Super Cub is going to be a success for Honda and from an overall market-expansion standpoint.

Watch Out For: Bothersome bits are few and minor. Most importantly, though it may be obvious, it must be said that the Super Cub is not legal for freeway riding. The riding position is a tad cramped for taller folks, with a solo seat that’s a bit too close to the handlebar. This makes six-footers (and above) want to scooch back on the softly-padded solo saddle, which has a raised portion at the back, and the seat’s foam/pan edge can begin to bite one’s buns after 30 or 40 minutes. A two-place seat would alleviate that by allowing taller riders to move back a bit, but it’s not yet available. Also, suspension is a bit softly sprung for larger humans, though wheel control remains decent even on rougher pavement thanks to just enough damping. There’s no sidestand (centerstand only) and storage is limited to a tiny side compartment, though a storage rack is offered as an accessory. Finally, the shift pedal is a little cumbersome to use; lower toe and heel touch points would be helpful here. Otherwise, overall functionality is quite good.

Alternatives: With retro styling being all the rage these days you’d expect there to be tons of retro-styled scooters available… and there are, from Honda (Metropolitan) to Yamaha (Vino) to Vespa (too many to count) and even from a handful of new Chinese companies. And while there’s nothing quite like the Super Cub – at least not yet – there are turn-key alternatives in Honda’s own catalog, including the sporty Grom and similarly retro Monkey – a take on the legendary Z50 Mini Trail that turned so many kids on to motorcycles in the ’60s and ’70s. There’s also the Honda Passport, an early-’80s version of the Super Cub, occasionally available on the used market.

Review: To introduce its 2019 Super Cub C125, American Honda returned – literally – to where it all began: 4077 Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, just a few miles west of downtown. The 100 x 20-foot storefront that housed American Honda when it first established itself in the U.S. in 1959 – with eight employees, two from Japan and six Americans – is an acupuncture and herbology shop now. But thanks to some clever vinyl sheeting and an appropriate prop parked out front, the place looked reasonably close to the way it did back in those very early days when American Honda was basically an unknown Asian quantity straining to hawk a small handful of unique-looking and -named motorcycles – one of which was the first-generation Super Cub – at established bike shops, sporting goods outlets and hardware stores.

Standing there, squinting and purposely blurring my eyesight – and hearing the faint sounds of a 1959-spec time machine whirring all around me – was eerie and cool at once, a flashback sort of moment that fit the situation and subject matter perfectly. Here I am, I thought, three years before I was even alive, watching American motorcycle history being made…

Much like the building and the backdrop, Honda’s new-generation Super Cub is a cool and functional combination of retro and modern – all of which became obvious when I walked up to the unit with my name on it in ‘American Honda’s’ parking lot. The Cub looks period retro, no doubt, with the familiar step-through shape, leg fairings, valanced wheel fenders and molded, nacelle headlight. It’s quite small, too, and feels seriously light (Honda claims 240 pounds fully fueled) when you roll it off the center stand.

Of course, modernity slapped me upside the head as I was handed the Cub’s ‘smart key,’ an electronic fob like the one for your late-model car, which you need to keep on your person while riding. Lighting the Cub takes a slight push on the plastic switch directly in front of you, turning it (as you would a real key) and then pressing the electric-start button on the right bar. The familiar bup-bup-bup of a horizontal OHC Honda single greets your ears and immediately settles into a perfectly syncopated fuel-injected cadence. No choke lever or throttle finagling is necessary, which beginners and veterans alike will appreciate.

Shifting is easy and hassle-free thanks to the Cub’s centrifugal clutch-assisted (no clutch lever) transmission, which allows you to shift gears while standing still or moving by simply pressing the heel-and-toe shift lever. The pattern is four-up, with neutral at the very bottom. Ironically, this bit of ultra-functional technology isn’t new (though it’s been refined over the years), as it appeared on the original C100 Super Cub way back in the late ’50s – and made, as company founder Soichiro Honda used to say, “noodle delivery boys very happy,” as they could ride one-handed and never even have to think about grabbing a clutch lever.

Out on LA’s surface streets, as the C125 isn’t legal for freeway riding and isn’t fast enough for that sort of use, anyway, the Super Cub is just powerful enough to keep up with cars and trucks in 35-to-45 mph, stop light-to-stop sign America. Acceleration from the 124.9cc OHC four-stroke single (basically the same engine powering Honda’s Grom) isn’t overly brisk, but it gets the job done smoothly and quietly. In terms of handling and stability the Super Cub acquits itself well, going where you point it without any undo steering or chassis histrionics, while braking performance from the disc-type and ABS-equipped front binder and drum-type rear is well above average and easily modulated – another plus for newbies.

Verdict: Despite my ergonomic- and suspension-related nitpicks, I can’t see the Super Cub being anything less than a genuine hit for Honda and with buyers – young or old, rookie or veteran. It’s one of those rare motorcycles that spans the demographic landscape, appealing to boomers in a way that reminds them of their motorcycling youth (or the motorcycling youth they wanted), and also to a younger generation turned on by the idea of two-wheeled transport and the aesthetic of an era they can only read about and imagine. As a grizzled, old-school motorcyclist, someone with 45-plus years of riding, racing and motojournalism under his belt, I’m part of that more-seasoned target demo. And I can tell you the $3599 Super Cub – which costs the same as Honda’s best-selling Grom – very definitely worked for me, both aesthetically and functionally. Especially while standing in front of that worn storefront at 4077 Pico Blvd.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Riding the Super Cub, it’s hard not to get caught up in the nostalgia of it all and place yourself back in a simpler time. It’s so easy to ride, you find yourself paying more attention to the world around you, enjoying the sights and sounds. If you live in a big city, it could be a good alternative to a car or motorcycle to run your errands or commute to work.” – Troy Siahaan, Motorcycle.com

• ““This little scooter is packed with appealing design, functional engineering, and earnest intent– the same qualities that made the original model so appealing in 1958. The Super Cub appeals on a basic level because of that intrinsic mechanical honesty.” – Basem Wasef, Autoblog

• “The Honda Super Cub is cute, comfortable, and peppy enough to get me around town. The seat height is approachable for shorter riders, and shifting is easy enough once you get the hang of it.” – Julia Lapalme, Revzilla

Honda Super Cub Key Specs

Engine type: 124.9cc air-cooled four-stroke single-cylinder
Fuel Mileage/capacity: 100 mpg (approx.), 1.0 gallon
Weight: 240 pounds with a full tank of fuel

Honda hosted us and provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

Review: Does the New Leica Q2 Nail the Sophomore Album?

Late last night, Leica announced the Q2 ($4,995) to wild American applause and approving German nods. The company’s greatest modern success story finally has a sequel. To tell the truth though, about three weeks earlier in the meeting where Leica gave me a loaner unit, which was sitting on a conference room table for five minutes before I realized that it was, in fact, the new Q2. I promise that’s a good thing.

What made the original Q so good was that it wasn’t minimal for minimalism’s sake and it wasn’t as feature-packed as alternatives from Sony or Fujifilm. It was just this goldilocks of a camera that was intuitive enough to make you want to pick up and shoot and produced images that were so good that they made you want to keep going. It justified (or at least made a really good attempt at justifying) a price north of $4,000. Plus, on the other side, it made many of the longtime M rangefinder users that I know think slightly differently about what a Leica has to be in order to satisfy those who talk endlessly about the “Leica look.” Can a “real Leica” have autofocus? An electronic viewfinder? (Gasp) A fixed lens?!

At the core of what made the Q great was not only the fact that it asked these questions that are paradigm shifting for a company that has been famous for making (nearly) the same product for 50 years, it’s that it went a really long way towards answering them.

Does the Q2 ask new ones? Does it re-re-define what a Leica could be? Or does it prove that there’s a reason Leica’s really only famous for the M instead of the million other cameras it’s made? I had a couple of weeks with the camera to find out.

Leica Q2 Review Back

Just about all of the physical changes between Q and the Q2 are visible in this photo. The far-right control dial is borrowed from the CL, the new power switch is borrowed from the M10, the diopter-control has been moved to a less bump-able place, the menu buttons have been simplified and squared-off, and there’s a cute little “2” engraved on the hot shoe now.

The Good: As it turns out, Leica nailed the sophomore album by basically releasing a remastered version of the first. The original Q was great — with some notable faults — and the Q2 Leica does it’s best to address them.

On the UI/UX side menus and button interfaces are cleared up, gone is the stupid power switch that always sent you into continuous shooting mode, the WiFi connection is infinitely better (largely thanks to Bluetooth LE). The IP52 splash- and dust-sealing is a welcome addition.

Then there’s the actual shooting experience. There’s a massive new 47-megapixel sensor that helps things like the Q’s signature “rangefinder digital crop” feature work much better (and include a 75mm equivalent crop that still leaves you with a 7-megapixel image). The 28mm f/1.7 stabilized lens is as great as it ever was, not stumbling at all when presented with nearly twice the resolution. Rounding out the operation is the new Maestro processor which manages to push those crazy big files around just as fast as before.

Generally, the great part about the Q2 is it doesn’t mess with the special sauce that made the original Q so great. The manual/automatic mix, the EVF, the lens, the size, the speed, the portability — it’s all still there, and it’s fully up to date.

Who It’s For: Honestly, basically everyone who wants a Leica and is thinking logically. Don’t get me wrong, the M10 is an astounding camera and the associated lenses are beautiful, but the list of drawbacks for general everyday shooting feels like it’s getting longer. [Full disclosure: because I refuse to think logically, the day Leica told me a Q2 was coming, I bought a silver M10 and a 35mm Summicron.]

Have kids? Get a Q2.
Like autofocus? Q2.
Lightweight? Q2.
Want wide open shots to actually work? Q2.
Want higher res than any Leica camera currently in existence? Q2.
Want to take travel photography that is mindless and fast enough to not make you “the camera guy?” Q2.

Want a slightly abstruse lesson on the history of photography and to use one of the most iconic and refined pieces of design on earth? Buy the M10.

Leica Q2 Review Macro

The good news? Just about everything that made the Q so charming is retained in the Q2, including the insanely pleasing way that you switch the camera into macro mode by rotating a dial on the lens.

Watch Out For: Oh come on, you knew this was coming. It’s $5,000. You could buy three Fujifilm X100Fs to throw at Youtube commenters who say the Q2 is too expensive and still come out ahead.

Aside from that, there’s not too much off with the Q2. Leica hasn’t fully embraced the idea of Instagram ready photography and in-camera JPEG settings reflect that so you’re going to have to ship that massive DNG file over to your phone and play with it a bit before it really starts to sing.

Did they really need to shoot the moon with a 47-megapixel sensor? Probably not, I think 30 would’ve been just fine but my hunch is that you’ve seen something very similar that 47 in the new Panasonic S1R you’re gonna see it in the SL2 and M11 whenever those decide to drop. I guess big is the new normal.

The only other notable foibles are that you really have to nail focus for the digital crop to feel like a useful feature and I think that in redesigning the ergonomics slightly, they made the lens a bit uglier and less elegant on the Q2 compared to the original.

Leica Q2 Review Bottom

A couple fun changes on the bottom: the Q2 now uses the same battery (and battery loading system) as the SL and theres a small indicator that the camera is now IP52 splash and dust sealed.

Alternatives: Despite my jokes about X100 throwing, there actually isn’t an apples-to-apples alternative to the Q2 – and I think that’s what makes it so special. Sony does technically still sell the RX1R II but the interface isn’t particularly pleasant to use and it just feels like a souped-up point and shoot. The Fujifilm X100F is a fantastic camera that will get you the most similar shooting experience, but you drop the full-frame sensor and a bunch of resolution (if we’re being kind to the Fuji, it’s also nearly 80-percent cheaper than the Q2). The M10 is a quasi-alternative but see the abbreviated list above for why the comparison doesn’t really hold water. Perhaps the best alternative? The original Q. Because all these updates are more evolution than revolution, the Q still totally holds water — even 5 years later — and hopefully prices fall enough that it can get into the hands of more users.

Verdict: In this case, and in my time using the Q2, no news is good news. I liked the original Q so much that I didn’t really see what Leica was going to improve with the second act. Really though, they listened to critiques from Q users and addressed as many as they could. All the improvements feel iterative, deliberate and genuinely helpful to the end user. The Q was my general price-no-object recommendation for a great camera for basically everyone. The Q2 take that place no problem.

Leica hosted us and provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

Review: The New Leica Q2 is Really The Only Leica You Should Want

Late last night, Leica announced the Q2 ($4,995) to wild American applause and approving German nods. The company’s greatest modern success story finally has a sequel. To tell the truth though, about three weeks earlier in the meeting where Leica gave me a loaner unit, the new camera was sitting on a conference room table for five minutes before I realized that it was, in fact, the Q2. I promise that’s a good thing.

What made the original Q so good was that it wasn’t minimal for minimalism’s sake and it wasn’t as feature-packed as alternatives from Sony or Fujifilm. It was just this goldilocks of a camera that was intuitive enough to make you want to pick up and shoot and produced images that were so good that they made you want to keep going. It justified (or at least made a really good attempt at justifying) a price north of $4,000. Plus, on the other side, it made many of the longtime M rangefinder users that I know think slightly differently about what a Leica has to be in order to satisfy those who talk endlessly about the “Leica look.” Can a “real Leica” have autofocus? An electronic viewfinder? (Gasp) A fixed lens?!

At the core of what made the Q great was not only the fact that it asked these questions that are paradigm shifting for a company that has been famous for making (nearly) the same product for 50 years, it’s that it went a really long way towards answering them.

Does the Q2 ask new ones? Does it re-re-define what a Leica can be? Or does it prove that there’s a reason Leica’s really only famous for the M instead of the million other cameras it’s made? I had a couple of weeks with the camera to find out.

Leica Q2 Review Back

Just about all of the physical changes between Q and the Q2 are visible in this photo. The far-right control dial is borrowed from the CL, the new power switch is borrowed from the M10, the diopter-control has been moved to a less bump-able place, the menu buttons have been simplified and squared-off, and there’s a cute little “2” engraved on the hot shoe now.

The Good: As it turns out, Leica nailed the sophomore album by basically releasing a remastered version of the first. The original Q was great — with some notable faults — and with the Q2 Leica does it’s best to address them.

On the UI/UX side menus and button interfaces are cleared up, gone is the stupid power switch that always sent you into continuous shooting mode, the WiFi connection is infinitely better (largely thanks to Bluetooth LE). The IP52 splash- and dust-sealing is a welcome addition.

Then there’s the actual shooting experience. There’s a massive new 47-megapixel sensor that helps things like the Q’s signature “rangefinder digital crop” feature work much better (and include a 75mm equivalent crop that still leaves you with a 7-megapixel image). The 28mm f/1.7 stabilized lens is as great as it ever was, not stumbling at all when presented with nearly twice the resolution. Rounding out the operation is the new Maestro processor which manages to push those crazy big files around just as fast as before.

Generally, the great part about the Q2 is it doesn’t mess with the special sauce that made the original Q so great. The manual/automatic mix, the EVF, the lens, the size, the speed, the portability — it’s all still there, and it’s fully up to date.

Who It’s For: Honestly, basically everyone who wants a Leica and is thinking logically. Don’t get me wrong, the M10 is an astounding camera and the associated lenses are beautiful, but the list of drawbacks for general everyday shooting feels like it’s getting longer. [Full disclosure: because I refuse to think logically, the day Leica told me a Q2 was coming, I bought a silver M10 and a 35mm Summicron.]

Have kids? Get a Q2.
Like autofocus? Q2.
Lightweight? Q2.
Want wide open shots to actually work? Q2.
Want higher res than any Leica camera currently in existence? Q2.
Want to take travel photography that is mindless and fast enough to not make you “the camera guy?” Q2.

Want a slightly abstruse lesson on the history of photography and to use one of the most iconic and refined pieces of design on earth? Buy the M10.

Leica Q2 Review Macro

The good news? Just about everything that made the Q so charming is retained in the Q2, including the insanely pleasing way that you switch the camera into macro mode by rotating a dial on the lens.

Watch Out For: Oh come on, you knew this was coming. It’s $5,000. You could buy three Fujifilm X100Fs to throw at Youtube commenters who say the Q2 is too expensive and still come out ahead.

Aside from that, there’s not too much off with the Q2. Leica hasn’t fully embraced the idea of Instagram ready photography and in-camera JPEG settings reflect that so you’re going to have to ship that massive DNG file over to your phone and play with it a bit before it really starts to sing.

Did they really need to shoot the moon with a 47-megapixel sensor? Probably not, I think 30 would’ve been just fine but my hunch is that you’ve seen something very similar to that 47 in the new Panasonic S1R and you’re probably gonna see it in the SL2 and M11 whenever those decide to drop. I guess big is the new normal.

The only other notable foibles are that you really have to nail focus for the digital crop to feel like a useful feature and I think that in redesigning the ergonomics slightly, they made the lens a bit uglier and less elegant on the Q2 compared to the original.

Leica Q2 Review Bottom

A couple fun changes on the bottom: the Q2 now uses the same battery (and battery loading system) as the SL and theres a small indicator that the camera is now IP52 splash and dust sealed.

Alternatives: Despite my jokes about X100 throwing, there actually isn’t an apples-to-apples alternative to the Q2 – and I think that’s what makes it so special. Sony does technically still sell the RX1R II but the interface isn’t particularly pleasant to use and it just feels like a souped-up point and shoot. The Fujifilm X100F is a fantastic camera that will get you the most similar shooting experience, but you drop the full-frame sensor and a bunch of resolution (if we’re being kind to the Fuji, it’s also nearly 80-percent cheaper than the Q2). The M10 is a quasi-alternative but see the abbreviated list above for why the comparison doesn’t really hold water. Perhaps the best alternative? The original Q. Because all these updates are more evolution than revolution, the Q still totally holds water — even 5 years later — and hopefully prices fall enough that it can get into the hands of more users.

Verdict: In this case, and in my time using the Q2, no news is good news. I liked the original Q so much that I didn’t really see what Leica was going to improve with the second act. Really though, they listened to critiques from Q users and addressed as many as they could. All the improvements feel iterative, deliberate and genuinely helpful to the end user. The Q was my general price-no-object recommendation for a great camera for basically everyone. The Q2 take that place no problem.

Leica hosted us and provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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

Want a Excellent Soundbar for Under $100? It’s Possible

As televisions continue to get thinner and thinner, they put a greater emphasis on picture quality over anything else. As such, sacrifices will naturally be made – and usually sound quality is the first to go. Manufacturers know that most people willing to spend around $1,000 on a nice television are probably also willing to pay for a decent soundbar (also, “sound bar”), too. That’s probably why most television manufacturers also make their own home theater equipment. Vizio, Samsung, LG and Sony are all prime examples – it’s a business model that works. And it could add a couple hundred bucks (or more) to your television setup.

Even though Anker doesn’t make televisions, it just got into the soundbar business with the Soundcore Infini ($100). If you aren’t familiar with Anker’s recent activity, the company has its hand in more than just portable power. It still makes power banks and charging cables, but Anker also makes smart security cameras, smart vacuums, other tech accessories – all priced so that they’re really affordable – and it has a whole division dedicated to audio. In fact, its true wireless earbuds, the Zolo Liberty, and noise-canceling headphones, the Soundcore Space NC, are some of the best audio products in their price range.

Their Soundcore Infini has some pretty high expectations, too. It’s a 2.1 channel soundbar that costs $100, which is really cheap compared to everything else – but how does it sound?

The Good: The obvious is price, but the audio quality that you’re getting for under $100 is also quite impressive. The bass is punchy. And the midrange and treble are quite clear when played at medium volumes, which is what I suspect most people to listen to this soundbar set to. Setting it up to your TV is simple, and built-in Bluetooth is convenient. The soundbar can be mounted or left on a media console. It looks inconspicuous.

Who They’re For: It’s a solid entry-level soundbar for small rooms and for people living in apartments. It’s the ideal size for those with a television that’s between 42- and 55-inches.

Watch Out For: No HDMI ARC, so you’ll need to use the soundbar’s separate remote to control volume. There are no audio out ports so, for instance, you can’t hook it up to a receiver and integrate into a larger surround sound system (you can’t connect to wired speakers or an external subwoofer). It doesn’t support the latest surround sound technologies, such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. When played at high volumes, the separation of the midrange and highs can get a bit murky. Also, at high volumes, the dialogue in movies can get a little overpowered.

Alternatives: In this price range you really don’t have too many options. If you’re looking for a little extra quality, the Vizio SB3621 ($180) is a 2.1-channel that’s really well-reviewed and comes with a wireless subwoofer. The Polk Command Bar ($250) is also a great, but pricer option and it comes with Alexa built-in. And if you’re willing to spend a little more, and you want to integrate with your home’s Sonos system, the Sonos Beam ($399) is a good option, too.

Review: In many ways I feel like I’m the perfect person for the Soundcore Infini soundbar. True, I have a nice setup in my room – Vizio 4K M-Series, Yamaha receiver and Q Acoustics bookshelf speakers – but my roommate and I share a common room with an entertainment system that’s bare bones. We have a 50-inch Sharp television from several years ago and that’s fit. The sound on the television is terrible, but then again, we live in a cramped New York City apartment and don’t need it to be that good. Still, better would be nice.

For the past few weeks we’ve been testing Anker’s newest soundbar out and it did exactly what I hoped – it improved the audio on our TV. Not only was it louder, but the pass was punchy and it just made watching football games and the baseball playoffs that much more enjoyable. The nicest thing, for me, was that the soundbar had built-in Bluetooth so I could listen to podcasts and music in the morning out loud. Again, this wasn’t anything revolutionary as most new soundbars can stream Bluetooth audio. And I have a number of smart small speakers in my apartment that could do exactly the same thing, but not sound quite as good.

Obviously, a $100 soundbar is only going to get you so far. I wouldn’t get the Soundcore Infini soundbar if you have any plans of a home theater system – it’s a one-stop shop and doesn’t integrate with a multi-channel system. There’s no support for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, so you’re not going to get really immersive sound. And there’s no HDMI ARC option. The downside with this is you can’t control the volume with any other remotes, aside from the one that comes with Soundcore Infini, meaning you’re going to be juggling your tv remote, cable remote and soundbar remote to control your system – it can feel like a lot.

If I was to be super critical of the sound quality, I thought that Soundcore Infini sounded best at low and medium volumes, which is how I would imagine most people would listen to it. When I started playing it loudly, the bass – which is very powerful and impressive considering there are two woofers built into this relatively small soundbar – tended to overpower everything else, especially dialogue in movies. The soundbar handled highs surprisingly well, too, but for some reason, I thought vocals and instruments sounded noticeably better when streaming music (via Bluetooth) rather than when watching sports or movies on the TV.

Verdict: I think it’s important to temper expectations with the Soundcore Infini. It’s a decent soundbar, but a very good soundbar considering its price – and for those who simply want to improve the sound quality of their television, it’s perfect. It also adds a pretty good-sounding Bluetooth speaker centrally in the home. That said, don’t expect a state-of-the-art soundbar that will blow you away with features and immersive sound.

What Others Are Saying:

• “We actually like the performance of this. At first, we had to remind ourselves that the price tag is only $99, so it wasn’t going to compete with some of the more expensive solutions we have come across. Keeping this in mind as we put it through its tests, it started to grow on us. The final opinion really comes down to the user, and what your ears are looking for in a speaker. Some people like a lot of bass, some like a lot of volume, a focus on highs, full range and so on. This speaker focuses on sheer volume and crisp highs.” – Jeffrey B, Poc Network

• “This sense of accuracy further extends to the midrange. Unlike most other speakers in the sub-$100 price range, the mids remain clear and concise without any undue compression or distortion. The fact that Anker can offer this level of midrange fidelity in a speaker that retails for just $99 is staggering, to say the least.” – Carroll Moore, Major HiFi

• “You might think such a tiny collection of drivers would have trouble reproducing convincing cinema sound — and you’d be right. But it’s not a lack of punch or power that keeps the Infini from outclassing the sound performance of competing bars (or even upper crest TVs). It does a poor job of keeping things balanced, forcing you to choose between muffled or tinny sound.” – Ryan Waniata , Digital Trends

Key Specs

Soundbar: integrated 2.1 channel
Drivers: 2 x 3-inch subwoofers, 2 x 1.5-inch tweeters, 2 x bass ports
Output: 100-watt
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, digital optical input, digital coax input, aux, USB-A

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story

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

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country Review: Setting the AWD Bar

The 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country, a variant of the excellent V60 wagon, boasts 8.3 inches of ground clearance courtesy of a three-inch lift. Tasteful body cladding has been added to let you know that the Cross Country is ready for rugged activities. Apart from those changes, the V60 Cross Country is visually identical to the V60. For most people in the market for a do-it-all vehicle, looks take a backseat to function. So how does the V60 Cross Country stack up, not just against its own family, but all comers in the marketplace? It should come as no surprise that Volvo’s winning streak rolls on.

The Good: Design language that started with the XC90 in 2014 hasn’t lost any of its luster with the new wagon. Little additional flourishes give the V60 Cross Country an aggressive stance. If it has a bad angle, I couldn’t find it. The cars I drove were all fitted with a set of attractive 19” wheels wearing the badass Michelin X-Ice North winter tire in studded form, the ideal setup for the V60 Cross Country. As is the case with any other new Volvo, praise is due for the cabin’s tasteful, flowing and detail-oriented Scandinavian design. I doubt you’d find more supportive and well-proportioned seats in any vehicle under six figures. Even above that mark, seats this good are still few and far between.

Read Now: The Best All-Wheel-Drive Cars on the Road

Who It’s For: Those with an active lifestyle who appreciate a seriously comfortable car interior.

Watch Out For: There’s no question that the V60 Cross Country is plenty quick, but you won’t find yourself longing to hustle it along winding roads just for the heck of it. As is the case with other members of the current Volvo family it is a pleasure to be in the driver’s seat, just as long as you keep in mind that “sportiness” is not intended to be the main attraction here.

Alternatives: Direct based-on-a-wagon competition is limited to the Audi Allroad. The Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Alltrack and Buick TourX don’t deliver nearly the same level of refinement as the V60 Cross Country, however, they are certainly viable alternatives for those in the market for a lifted long-roof who wish to spend less.

Review: I’ve always been of the mind that most inclement weather – especially extreme cold – can be easily tolerated if you have the right gear. You’ve got to be tactical in your choice of layers to optimize both comfort and functionality. Gear must be windproof and breathable, warm and light, stylish and functional. Truly great gear checks all the boxes. As I prepared to travel to Northwest Sweden in late January, I wasn’t packing anything but my most trusted stuff. However, I would soon find that the most essential item was waiting for me on site.

Luleå, Sweden, is but a mere 80 miles from the Arctic Circle. Fresh snow clung to the pines surrounding a small airport loading zone lined with Volvo XC40s waiting to whisk us off to the first part of our wintery experience featuring the Volvo V60 Cross Country.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, I found the V60 Cross Country to be an invaluable weapon in facing wintery conditions, both physically and mentally. Volvo’s class-leading and comprehensive suite of standard safety features removes any trace of stress one might deal with when driving through unfamiliar territory that’s known to be populated with large four-legged animals. The three-stage heated steering wheel and heated seats were equally comforting as I repeatedly found myself hopping out of the car to take photos of the surreal scenery before the low winter sun faded out completely.

Once the last of the purple and pink had gone from the sky, I was able to admire the exceptional swath of light put out by the LED headlights. If you’ve ever worn a really great headlamp while hiking in the dark you’ll understand what a difference crisp light makes while blazing a trail. That’s what driving the V60 CC along a snowy dirt road a night reminded me of. Out of respect for the car and my passenger, I decided to forego any attempts at doing my best Gunnar Andersson rally-driving impression, at least until the following day out on the ice track that Volvo had laid out for us.

Volvo’s “Off-Road” mode changes engine, gearbox and all-wheel-drive settings in favor of gaining more grip. It will surely make weekend warriors feel like they can conquer any speedbumps the REI parking lot can throw at them. I was genuinely impressed by how adept the hill descent control was at keeping the car in line when going down a steep ice-covered hill, especially in that it made no obnoxious audible noises like many other systems in far more purpose-built off-roaders do.

With Volvo’s blessing, I selected “Dynamic” mode, first with traction control on and then with it set to “Sport”. After a couple of laps under computer control, in which the car straightened itself out when ice slid it sideways, it was time to make the V60 CC dance without intervention from the nannies. The combination of a well-balanced chassis, an excellent all-wheel-drive system courtesy of BorgWarner and those top-tier Michelin winter tires makes for one hell of an enjoyable experience on ice and snow.

Verdict: After years of languishing under uninspired ownership, Volvo has not only been restored to its former glory, but the company is building vehicles that set the bar for their respective segments. The V60 Cross Country is a prime example: it is equally impressive in both form and function. These days a Volvo is not only a pragmatic choice but also a universally attractive one. Each time I’ve been behind the wheel of a new Volvo, whether for a couple of hours or over a week, I’ve had people tell me what a great looking car it is inside and out. That type of universal love for a vehicle is increasingly rare in our era of highly opinionated takes, especially for something that’s not a traditional status symbol or fetishized object.

What Others Are Saying:

• “With 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque on offer, the T5 setup feels just-right in the V60 Cross Country. In fact, I prefer this engine to the more complex T6 and T8 setups in Volvo’s other cars. The added power of the V60’s T6 engine is nice, but with a turbocharger and a supercharger offering assistance, there are often weird bursts of power in weird places throughout the engine’s rev range. Instead, the turbo-only T5 offers predictable punch, achieving maximum torque from 1,800 rpm.” — Steven Ewing, Roadshow

• “Pop the V60 Cross Country into its trim-specific “Off-Road” mode to recalibrate the engine, gearbox, and all-wheel-drive system in pursuit of more grip. The suspension is now spongier and more comfort-oriented, and with the addition of standard hill-descent control means the V60 Cross Country can tackle steep descents like a boss.” — Jeff Perez, Motor1

2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country Specs

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 250
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Weight: 4,130 pounds
0-60: 6.8 seconds

Volvo hosted us and provided this product for review.

Read More Gear Patrol Reviews

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