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    The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot You Can Buy

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If you regularly travel with devices needing Wi-Fi, get Verizon's Jetpack MiFi 6620L. Its battery life is among the best we’ve seen in hotspots, it runs on the largest and fastest U.S. LTE network, and its pricing is competitive.

    Is my smartphone enough?

    Just about every smartphone can act as a hotspot, sharing its connection over Wi-Fi with tablets or laptop. But if you work on the road a lot, a hotspot offers a more reliable data connection than your phone and will run for much longer on a charge than a phone in tethering mode. Think two full days of work versus five hours.

    How we picked and tested

    We started with networks. Our best-wireless-carrier research and outside reports like PCMag’s “Fastest Mobile Networks” and RootMetrics’ testing all pointed to Verizon.

    AT&T, however, isn’t far behind and in parts of the U.S. beats Verizon. It also ended an advertising scheme to track subscribers’ unencrypted Internet use, while Verizon took until January to announce an opt-out.

    The LTE networks of T-Mobile and Sprint, even after recent progress, can’t match the big two’s rural coverage--important in a device used often on the road. (For more on this, check out our guide to the best wireless carriers.)

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (for Most People)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After spending a total of 200 hours researching and testing over 20 Wi-Fi routers, plus analyzing reader comments and feedback, the $100 TP-Link Archer C7 (v2) is the router we recommend for most people right now. This dual-band, three-stream wireless-ac router usually costs between $80 and $100—the same price as many older, slower routers. But unlike those slower routers, the C7 supports the fastest connections of every major device you can buy today.

    We compared the Archer C7 against 21 different routers over a 10-month testing period. On most of our tests, the Archer C7 was the fastest—outperforming routers that cost twice as much. You won't find a better-performing router than the Archer C7 for less, and you'll have to spend a lot more money to get a better one.

    How we picked

    Wireless-ac, or IEEE 802.11ac, is the latest mainstream Wi-Fi version, and your new router should have wireless-ac. It's the new standard in many laptops, smartphones, and tablets from 2013 and later, including many of our recommendations at the Wirecutter. New MacBooks and high-end Windows laptops have wireless-ac, and so do almost all flagship smartphones from the past year: the iPhone 6, HTC One, Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S5, and more. Unless you go very cheap, your next gadget with Wi-Fi will probably have wireless-ac.

    Our Wi-Fi router pick is dual-band, which means it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals—giving you a way to escape 2.4GHz wireless interference from your neighbors' Wi-Fi networks and giving you access to the much faster speeds of 5GHz wireless-ac. The vast majority of laptops, phones and tablets support one or two streams, but high-end laptops like the MacBook Pro support three. A three-stream wireless-ac router ensures that you're going to get the fastest connection on any device you own—or plan to buy in the near future.

    Any router you buy should be dual-band: a 2.4GHz band for wireless-n and earlier, and a 5GHz band for wireless-n and -ac (5GHz faster, but it can have worse range than 2.4GHz and not every device supports it).

    The Best Portable Document Scanner

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If you’re looking to buy a scanner that lets you digitize all of your personal and business documents without taking up much desk space—and that is light enough to take on the road—the $255 Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i is the way to go. The S1300i offers the best combination of speed and accuracy when creating searchable PDF files. Plus, it comes with the most comprehensive and user-friendly scanning software of any of its competitors, allowing you to easily convert documents, receipts, and business cards into formats that can be read by word processing, financial, and contact management software.

    We came to this conclusion after more than 70 hours of research and hands-on testing, including analyzing scanned texts for accuracy over a variety of typefaces and font sizes. For more information on how we chose what to test, check out our full guide.

    In Brief: Pebble Time Smartwatch on Kickstarter

    Pebble, the most successful smartwatch so far, yesterday launched its second-generation product: Pebble Time. It's a much bigger advancement over the original Pebble than the Steel--Time uses a color e-paper display, is 20% thinner, has an integrated microphone, and utilizes a new timeline system for notifications. The new timeline software will make its way to previous Pebble models, too. Battery life is expected to be a full week, and the watch will retail for $200 ($180 on Kickstarter now, tax-free). The new watch debuted on Kickstarter, where funding after one day is already closing in on the $10.3 million campaign of the original Pebble. Timing for this pre-order is smart for Pebble, as the campaign will end just as Apple readies the launch of its Apple Watch. Even though Pebble won't be shipping Time until May, it'll have secured backers' dollars before April. Pebble Time works for both iOS and Android, though it won't have feature parity between the two platforms.

    Norman 3
    Tested In-Depth: LG Ultra-Widescreen 21:9 Monitor

    Will reviews a new ultra widescreen computer monitor from LG--the first we've tested that's both a 21:9 display and also curved. We discuss what you can do with that extra screen real estate, software that helps manage your desktop, and what movies and games look like at that aspect ratio.

    The Best Smartwatch (For Now)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    A good smartwatch connects to your smartphone, but it actually untethers you from nervously checking that phone. The smartwatch (for now) that best augments your Android or iPhone, and looks good doing it, is the Pebble Steel.

    After more than 40 hours of research, wearing and comparing nine smartwatches, and keeping a close eye on battery life and Bluetooth connections, we found the Pebble Steel to be the most adaptable watch for most wrists and lifestyles. Its battery lasts nearly an entire work-week—the longest of any we tested—it has the most useful apps, and it holds up to abuse.

    How we decided what to test

    We tested smartwatches primarily on how they did their main job: showing notifications from your phone, and controlling a few parts of it. We also put a good deal of weight on the visibility of the screen, the interface of the watch, and the ability to keep running all day.

    But looks matter, too, when you wear something every day. The size, heft, and visual appeal of each watch was considered, as well as its bands and clasps. We fastened our smartwatches on many friends' wrists, male and female. And we considered the external experience with each watch: the connection-managing app that came with every watch, the charging dock and cable, and the third-party apps and tools compatible with each watch. Our full guide has more details on what we did to narrow down the field and test smartwatches.

    In Brief: Tactus’ Shapeshifting Keys for Your Tablet

    Touchscreen keyboards on our smartphones and tablets are totally serviceable, but there are still people who prefer the tactile response of physical keys. For example, if you have long nails, it's still easier to type on a Blackberry than it is on a small touchscreen. One technology that may give users the best of both worlds is transforming screens, which spring pronounced keys on command for typing, but can lay flush when not in use. Tactus Technology has the first consumer product using this kind of technology, in an iPad mini case called Phorm. As Wired explains, Phorm's pop-up keys are like small bubbles embedded in a thin transparent panel (akin to a screen protector). Switching it on pumps microfluids into those bubbles, propping them up for tactile typing. The whole process is hydraulic--it doesn't require batteries because the switch to activate these buttons is basically a pump on the back of the iPad case. And while Tactus' products will initially be tablet and smartphone cases, they're also experimenting with making their own tablets with integrated transforming screens for more than just key typing.

    Norman
    Show and Tell: Seek Thermal Imaging Camera

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm tests out a thermal imaging camera accessory for his Android phone. The Seek Thermal camera connects to a smartphone over microUSB to gauge the temperature of anything in its sights--like Predator vision! The image resolution is a little low, but we've been using it for laptops, tablet, and phone testing.

    Tested: Soloshot 2 Robot Cameraman Review

    It is often said that the number one rule of photography is “Get the shot.” Sure, I understand the point that being at the right place with a camera in hand is more important than any technical or artistic aspect of the resulting photo. But whoever came up with that mantra never watched a cellphone video of an RC plane in flight, which often ends up looking like a housefly buzzing around a baby blue wall. Getting the shot isn't just about being at the right place, at the right time. Sometimes you need certain equipment and techniques to make the effort worthwhile.

    I do not claim to be an expert RC photographer by any stretch. But I have shot enough photos and videos of tiny aircraft to know that capturing consistently good media of RC aircraft is a two man job:

    1. A pilot who understands the lighting and positioning needs of the photographer, and has the willingness/ability to fly the model accordingly (usually low, slow, and with precision)

    2. A photographer who understands the performance limitations of the subject model and is also comfortable tracking a small object moving in three dimensions while composing flattering shots.

    I’ve often had a difficult time finding people with the skills and disposition to fill either role. Factor in weather constraints and dynamic personal schedules and it’s a wonder that any of my RC photo shoots ever panned out. So when I saw an advertisement for the SOLOSHOT 2, I immediately recognized an opportunity to fill the photographer role with a robot. I’ve now been using SOLOSHOT 2 for about two months. Although it has not completely replaced my need for a warm-blooded cameraman, it has certainly lessened my dependence.

    What is a "Robot Cameraman?"

    SOLOSHOT 2 (SS2) is essentially a two-part system that starts at $400. On the camera end is a motorized two-axis gimbal called the “base” that pans and tilts the attached camera so that it is always pointed at the desired subject--wherever it moves. On the subject end is a device called the “tag”. The radio signals emitted by the tag are the key to keeping the subject under the camera’s unflinching eye.

    SS2 was created by surfers as a way to automatically film themselves. Like me, they often lacked someone who was able or willing to man the camera while they were out enjoying their hobby. Although the SS2 developers recognized the potential value of the system for other sports, filming RC aircraft was not on their radar. When I contacted SOLOSHOT, they told me that they were very surprised by the amount of interest they were receiving from RC flyers.

    SOLOSHOT 2 HAS TWO PRIMARY COMPONENTS: THE BASE WITH A 2-AXIS GIMBAL FOR THE CAMERA, AND THE TAG THAT STAYS WITH YOUR SUBJECT.

    Knowing full well that I intended to use the SS2 in ways that it was never intended, SOLOHOT provided a “Camera Bundle” for me to review and experiment with. The bundle includes the base and tag previously mentioned as well as a tripod, a Camera Controller, and a Sony CX240 video camera. The Camera Controller provides an interface between the camera itself and the SS2. This opens up additional features such as automatic zooming as the subject get further away and also the ability to start/stop recording remotely via the tag.

    Hands-on with Sony's $1100 Walkman NW-ZX2

    Sony recently unveiled a new Walkman music player, which plays what they call "high resolution" audio. The noisy booth at CES probably wasn't the best place to demo this $1100 player, but we try it out and ask a Sony rep just why they think audiophiles should buy in to Sony's new music playback ecosystem. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    The Best Umbrella You Can Buy Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After more than 35 hours of research, followed by testing of every noteworthy umbrella currently available. we found that the EuroSCHIRM Light Trek is the best umbrella for most people. It was among the widest and deepest umbrellas when open, and among the smallest when closed. That means it provides better rain protection without sacrificing portability. Combine that with superb build quality and strong, lightweight materials–like fiberglass and anodized aluminum–and you have one truly excellent umbrella that will survive the elements and the test of time.

    How we decided

    There’s definitely a tradeoff between protection and portability, but the best umbrella is the one you have with you. Big enough to keep your upper body dry and small enough to tuck away when you go indoors. We wanted something that could easily be slipped into a coat pocket, bag, or purse, but we ignored really tiny umbrellas.

    Our recommendation defies the cliché of inverted umbrellas piled into trash cans on city streets. According to lifelong umbrella maker, Gilbert Center, these days fiberglass is the most durable material out there. “It doesn’t break and it doesn’t rust.” Combine that with a shaft made of tempered steel, instead of the more typical aluminum, and you’ve got a good umbrella that isn’t going to break when you need it most. Still, in the case that yours fails, it should have a decent warranty.

    The Best External Blu-Ray Drive

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    The $80 Samsung SE-506CB is the best external Blu-ray drive for most people—if you need one at all. It’s the best Blu-ray drive you can get for the least amount of money, and it’s the quietest one we tested. The Samsung is well-liked by Amazon buyers, and it’s conveniently thin, light, and compact.

    Who needs this?

    If you have a laptop without a disc drive and want to back up music and movies from discs to your computer, or need a disc drive for work, you should pick up one of our recommendations. If you're trying to backup or transfer files from your computer, you should use a USB hard drive or flash drive instead.

    You shouldn’t buy one of these for a desktop computer that has room for an internal drive, because internal drives are generally faster and cheaper than portable ones. You also shouldn’t buy an external drive to use with a tablet.

    What makes a good Blu-ray drive?

    We surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers to find out what people care most about in an external Blu-ray player. Using this information, we came up with a set of criteria to decide which drive is best for most people.

    For starters, it must read and write dual-layer DVDs and Blu-rays. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed use their external drive only at home, but size and weight are still important. A lighter, more compact drive is easier to store when you’re not using it.

    Some older laptops don’t provide enough juice to power the Blu-ray drive. It’s not necessary for most people, but for these older machines you’ll need a Y-cable that plugs into two USB ports.

    Tested: Amazon Echo Speaker and Digital Assistant

    We've been testing the Amazon Echo, a home Bluetooth speaker that also connects to Amazon's new digital assistant. Using voice commands, we can ask it to perform some basic tasks, like checking the news or playing streaming music. We answer the most common questions people have about the Echo, and let you know whether it's worth the investment.

    The Best On-Ear Headphones At Any Price

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    The $180 Bose SoundTrue offer the best combination of sound quality, portability, and comfort, of any on-ear headphone. If you don’t like in-ear headphones, or need something more portable than bulky over-ear headphones, the SoundTrue are the ones to get.

    Why should you trust me?

    We came to this conclusion after dozens of hours of research and, with three other audio professionals, testing 53 different pairs back to back. The SoundTrue were the clear winner among our panel.

    When it comes to on-ear headphones, we focused on three necessary features: size, comfort, and sound quality. The Bose SoundTrue excel at all three. Incredibly light and compact, they have pillowy soft ear pads that are like wearing nothing at all on your head. Not only are they comfortable, but they fold up and fit into one of the smallest cases in all of our testing, so they’re truly portable.

    None of the competition even came close to the SoundTrue’s compact build, and light, hands-down most-comfy fit.

    Who Should Buy This?

    On-ear headphones should only be seriously considered by people who want something more portable than over-ear headphones, yet can’t seem to find a comfortable fit with in-ear headphones. For everyone else, chances are you can get a better deal for the same or better sound quality out of a pair of over-ear or in-ear headphones depending on your priorities.

    Check out our $150 Over-Ears article for similar priced headphones to our top pick here, or $300 Over-Ears article for something even higher quality. I’d say our $200 in-ear pick sounds just as good as the Bose, but are even more compact.

    Also worth mentioning is these headphones aren’t sweat proof, so if you’re looking for something for the gym or running, check out our Best Workout Headphones article.

    CES 2015: DJI Inspire 1 Mount Handheld Gimbal Camera

    Quadcopter maker DJI loaned us a prototype of their upcoming Inspire 1 Mount--an accessory for the gimbaled camera that comes with their latest quad. We take the mount and camera to roam the floor at CES, testing the stability and video quality of this camera setup. The results were pretty good! (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    CES 2015: Hands-On with Tobii Eye Tracking

    At CES 2015, we test out Tobii's new eye tracking system, which is being released as a PC gaming peripheral by SteelSeries. This IR sensor sits below your monitor to track what you're looking at with centimeter accuracy, and can be implemented in games built with Unity or Unreal. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    Testing: Dell P2715Q 4K Monitor

    The first generation of 4K monitors available for desktop use weren't great because they were TN displays that ran at 30Hz. Recently, Dell released a 4K monitor using an IPS panel, running at 60Hz. We review that display to see how it runs in Windows 8.1, test its image quality, and see if gaming is practical at 3840x2160.

    The Best Lightning Cable

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    Even though most Lightning cables look the same on the outside, their insides can vary dramatically. This affects everything from long-term durability to charging speed. After measuring the charging speed of 44 cables and then sending the top 11 to our electrical engineer for teardown analysis, the $12 Monoprice 3-ft. MFi Certified Lightning to USB Charge/Sync Cable (available in black and white) is the one we'd buy.

    Monoprice’s latest cable stands out from its competitors because it’s very, very similar to Apple’s own Lightning cable, which costs $7 more at full price, and it’s sturdier than previous editions of the same cable. Plus, Monoprice’s lifetime warranty guarantees that if something goes wrong with the cable, they’ll swap it out.

    How we tested

    After combing through thousands of cables, we tested 44 cables’ charge rates by plugging them into a USB power monitor, which was connected to a 12-watt adapter. We wanted to confirm that both iPads and iPhones charged at full speed from each cable. Next, we tested to see if the Lightning plug would fit in Lifeproof’s Frē, a cas with notoriously small port openings. After we narrowed things down, the top cables were shipped off to our electrical engineering consultant Sam Gordon. He tore the cables down, evaluating the internal structures for components such as braided wires and electromagnetic shielding.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Earphone Upgrade

    On the tenth day of Tested Christmas, Will recommends a way to improve the comfort of your existing earphones. By using fitted foam tips by Comply you can get your earphone closer to your ear canal and block out external noise. They're a great stocking stuffer!