TIME Gadgets

5 Unique Car Gadgets for Under $50

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Coffee Cup Power Inverter ($34.99)


This doohickey looks like a cup of coffee and fits in your — you guessed it — cup holder.

Do not fill it with coffee or you will surely die. I can’t say “surely” for sure but I need to cover my bases somehow, so if we assume that you pouring liquid into a power inverter will result in death, then maybe you’ll think twice about doing so.

Anyhoo. You plug this coffee cup into your car’s cigarette lighter, plop it into your cup holder and enjoy the benefits of two AC plugs and a USB port, perfect for that cross-country high-speed getaway from Johnny Law road trip to see your half-sister in Arkansas.


Blind Spot-Eliminating Rearview Mirror ($49.95)


Your driving instructor (should have) taught you to physically turn your head to check your blind spot before changing lanes.

But your driving instructor isn’t here, and the last time I looked out my window, this was America. Don’t tell me what to do, Derek. It’s been 20 years, and I still remember that my driving instructor’s name was Derek.

This monument to American laziness lets you survey both sides of your car without moving your head a single millimeter more than you have to. It clips to your existing mirror, overpowers it with its massive girth and immediately starts dictating how things are going to work around here.


Portable Breathalyzer ($49.99)


Getting busted for drinking and driving is the worst. Take it from me: a guy who’s seen several episodes of Cops but who’s never been pulled over for drunk driving.

I reviewed the smartphone-connected version of this gadget a while back, but this portable version is cheaper and simpler to use. You’ll get 150 tests out of it before you need to replace the batteries, too. That’s a lot of booze.

Keep it in your car and fire it up to make sure it’s safe to drive home after book club. We all know that none of you talked about the book, and the only reading going on was to figure out whether you were drinking Chillable Red or Sunset Blush.


Cup Holder Speakerphone ($44.95)

Hammacher Schlemmer

This is the second cup holder-based gadget on this list, and I won’t apologize for it. Know why? You have multiple cup holders.

This speakerphone will allow you to make hands-free calls from your 1990 Tercel just like all your fancy-pants friends with their pinkies in the air driving around in their modern-day superchariots with built-in Bluetooth systems.

The product description says that this product is “ideal for use in a car or beach chair,” but if you’re sitting on the beach yelling into a speakerphone tucked into your chair’s cupholder, it might be time to make a pros and cons list about how life’s been going lately.

[Hammacher Schlemmer]

Smartphone-Connected Radar Detector ($29.99)


You would never, ever, ever drive above the speed limit, but wouldn’t it be nice to know where members of the highway patrol are hiding so you can pull over and give them some fresh coffee and pie?

Pair this inexpensive Cobra radar detector to your iPhone or Android handset to be notified of nearby bogies — it detects 14 bands and six laser types — but don’t call them bogies in person, just to be on the safe side. I’m not sure if that’s an endearing term or not. Probably not? I don’t have a ton of experience with the law (see the above entry about me not getting pulled over for drunk driving).


TIME Computers

Acer Chromebook 13 Impresses with Long Battery, Spacious Screen

Acer’s Chromebook 13 is arguably the best Chromebook for the money right now.

For $300, you get a 13-inch high-resolution screen — it’s 1080p in a sea of Chromebooks with 720p screens — and battery life that can hit 10 hours before needing to be recharged. Those are the two biggest selling points.

Battery life is real-deal here. I’ve been using the Chromebook 13 off and on as a secondary machine for the past week and have recharged it twice. I even took it with me on a four-day weekend and left the charger at home. The feeling was equal parts exhilarating and anxious, like riding an edible roller coaster made largely of ice cream sandwiches. If you’re doing basic stuff, you’ll probably be able to squeeze 10 hours out of this thing. If you’re hammering on it, expect about eight. Acer promises up to 11 hours, so hitting anywhere in the 8-10 range is pretty good.

The 1920×1080 screen is uncommon in a $300 machine and it’s a big selling point on its own, but don’t expect to be blown away. Viewing angles leave a bit to be desired and the matte panel — though pretty good outdoors — makes everything look somewhat lifeless. I kept wanting the screen to be great, but that burning desire kept getting quietly and fairly snuffed out by the $300 price tag.

What you’re getting from the screen, basically, is more space on the dance floor. Here’s a 72op Chromebook (on the left) up against the Chromebook 13’s 1080p screen:

Doug Aamoth / TIME

The trackpad and keyboard are both hits in their own right, too. The trackpad especially: it’s buttery-smooth for two-finger scrolling, rivaling the gold-standard MacBook trackpads. The island keyboard is plenty spacious, with the keys having Goldilocks-like travel: not too shallow, not too deep. Each keypress elicits a satisfying thump.

Under the hood, Acer’s installed a mobile-ish Nvidia Tegra chip, the first of its kind in this type of machine. The promise is great horsepower with minimal tradeoff to the battery. Battery life is a definite win here, though I’d say horsepower merely falls into the “good enough” to “pretty good” range depending what you’re trying to do. Chromebooks are appealing as secondary computers for people who use computers a lot or as basic computers for people who need something for browsing the web. If you’re looking for either of those things with this machine, you won’t be disappointed; if you want to use this as your primary computer and you’re going to load up a bunch of browser tabs, you might want to consider dropping an extra $80 for the next model up — which features double the RAM and double the storage — or spend a bit more for a mid-range PC.

And like any $300 computer, build quality isn’t going to be anything spectacular. The Chromebook 13 is Acer’s most solidly-built and best-looking Chromebook yet, though it’s still ensconced in white, smudge-magnet plastic and there’s a meaningful bezel surrounding the screen. The machine travels light, though, at 3.3 pounds and shares a similar length-and-width profile as a 13-inch MacBook Air, with a thickness of 0.7 inches:

Doug Aamoth / TIME

Various quibbles aside, Acer’s Chromebook 13 has it where it counts: long battery, high-resolution screen, great trackpad, great keyboard and a very manageable travel size. The processor holds it back ever so slightly, but the day-long battery life should easily counterbalance that for most people.

Couple quick notes before we wrap up:

  • Toshiba’s got an impressive 13-incher launching in early October. For $30 more, you get an Intel processor, double the RAM and a 1080p IPS screen that ought to look better than the Acer’s matte display. Battery life for the Toshiba will be shorter though, with the company promising up to nine hours — which will likely mean around 7-8 hours in the real world. And Acer’s known to cut prices pretty aggressively when needed. The Chromebook 13 is still a safe buy right now, but if you’re looking for a little more horsepower, a better screen and are willing to give up a few hours of battery, it might be worth it to wait to compare the two once they’re both on the market.
  • There’s a $280 version of this Acer Chromebook that features a 720p screen and up to 13 hours of battery life. I’d argue that the extra $20 for the 1080p screen is absolutely worth it, but if you’re looking to squeeze every last minute out of your laptop battery, the $280 model is worth a look.
  • There’s a $300 version with 4GB of RAM (the regular version has 2GB) available at select retailers. That should be a no-brainer if you frequent one of the establishments listed at the bottom of the product page.
TIME Gadgets

Samsung Rolls Out Giant Note 4 Phone, but New Note Edge Will Turn Heads

Note 4
Samsung Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 sports a high-resolution 5.7-inch screen and a UV sensor

Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge has a curved side-screen for quick access to info and apps

Samsung has announced the Galaxy Note 4, the latest in its line of 5.7-inch phones.

Its design doesn’t deviate terribly from the Note 3’s, though the giant screen has gotten a significant bump in resolution (quad-HD/2560×1440) to make for a sharper pixel density. The plasticky frame from the Note 3 is gone, too, replaced with aluminum. There’s a heart-rate sensor present on the backside of the phone, joined by a built-in UV sensor to measure sun-exposure levels — a first for phones.

If you liked previous offerings of the Note line — and plenty of people do — you’ll almost certainly like this one. Samsung didn’t mess with anything too much, instead opting for various refinements over radical changes.

The bigger news here, however, is the Galaxy Note Edge. It’s got a slightly smaller screen than the Note 4 — 5.6-inches compared to 5.7 inches — but the right-hand side of the phone’s screen curves around its edge, offering quick access to various apps, at-a-glance updates and top-mounted shutter buttons when using the phone as a camera.

note edge
Samsung‘s Note Edge smartphone features a curved side-screen

It’s certainly enough to differentiate the phone from other smartphones — and the smartphone market is crowded — though whether it’ll be enough to win over consumers remains to be seen. Neither phone has a price yet, though both will start rolling out in October. The Note line is typically priced at $300 with a two-year contract — higher than most smartphones — and it’s expected that the Note Edge could cost even more than the Note 4 due to its screen technology.

Both phones will be available from all four major U.S. carriers though, again, no firm pricing or release dates have been announced. They’ll be available in time for the holiday shopping season, however.



TIME Gadgets

30 Incredible Vintage Tech Commercials

Apropos of nothing, here's a collection of old-timey tech. We've come a long way, no?

AT&T’s “You Will” ads from the early ’90s were eerily prescient. Widescreen monitors? Check. Touchscreens? Check. Dash-mounted GPS? Check. Using a tablet to send a fax from the beach? Eh, close enough.

Selling point for the Motorola StarTAC? “It can vibrate instead of ring!” The tagline: “What you never thought possible.”

The late, great Phil Hartman sells the Philips CD-i in a series of truly bizarre ad spots. Here’s another one and one more after that if the following video somehow left you jonesing for additional weirdness. The CD-i, for what it’s worth, was an interesting flop (to put it lightly): there’s a nice writeup here.

Here’s an early commercial for the deluxe Nintendo Entertainment System set, which packed a robot — a robot! — called R.O.B., the zapper light gun, two controllers and a couple of games. Pay attention to the last five seconds of the commercial to see all the loot you’d get with that $200 kit.

Here’s Steve Ballmer in his early days, selling the bejesus out of Windows 1.0. He now owns the Clippers. Learn to sell like this and you could own a basketball team someday, kids. This “commercial” never aired on TV. It’s an internal Microsoft video, but it’s too good to leave off this list.

This old Atari commercial has it all. Kareem Abdul Jabbar is priceless! Just look at that little kid gloat while our old buddy Kareem sulks.

Here we have Bill Cosby shilling for Texas Instruments. I can’t help but wonder if this computer is the one, though. That wasn’t made clear. Wait — I just rewatched it. Yes, it’s the one. Sorry.

This mid-’80s Compaq ad starring John Cleese is actually pretty funny, though I’d be surprised if the general public understood the 386 joke or, even more obscure, the bus joke. If you’re feeling ambitious, read this Wikipedia entry and then rewatch the commercial. I snort-laughed a puff of air out of my nose at the bus joke; you may find yourself doing the same after reading about computer buses. You might not, though, so plan accordingly.

William Shatner of Star Wars fame sells the Commodore VIC-20. “He’s from Star Trek.” I don’t think so. *Coffee cup shatters against the wall mere inches above my head.* Star Trek it is. Fun fact: The VIC-20 sold like relative hotcakes back in the early ’80s, widely believed to be the first computer to clear the million-unit sales mark.

This stretches the whole “vintage” thing, but the below Ameritrade commercial contains three of the greatest quips in the history of tech commercials: “Let’s light this candle…”, “Easy as falling in love…” and “That’s synonymous with free…”

This AOL ad is from back when you could meet kayaking buddies online within a week and repeatedly have courteous, civil discussions with them.

I’m almost positive we had this giant VCR with the comically large, colorful buttons. Didn’t everyone? Note that the remote control had a cord on it. I remember my dad having to lie on the floor to record stuff so he could be close enough to the VCR to use the remote.

Ah, the old video disc. These were actually analog and functioned sort of like records. Watch at the 10-second mark in the below video. Wild, no? These RCA jobbers got steamrolled by VHS, Betamax and the LaserDisc formats of the early ’80s.

Somehow or another we actually ended up with a 3DO, the insanely expensive flop of a console. In many ways it was far superior to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis it mocks in the following commercial. Except for one: fun. Oh, and it loaded really slowly. Also, there weren’t very many games available for it. So three ways, at least.

You think people using their phones in restaurants are obnoxious? Get a load of this jerk from the early ’90s. Zero eye contact with the waiter. Here’s another doozy of an ad, too.

Even back in the mid-’80s, Apple was running us-against-them ad spots. Here’s the Apple IIc firing shots across the bow of an IBM PCjr.

This old-timey ad for the Sony Walkman is in Japanese, but you know what? Doesn’t matter. Primates enjoy music just like humans do.

The Simpsons sell Intel’s Pentium II processor which, by the way, looks absolutely enormous compared to modern-day processors. Had to finesse that L2 cache, though.

Hit me on my beeper, kids. This ad is so old that they have to spend a chunk of it explaining how a pager works. Man, Jason really jacked up his bike, too.

Ah, the svelte and ultraportable IBM 5100 weighed in at a mere 50 pounds. It was introduced in the mid-’70s; the below commercial was apparently from 1977.

I had an Etch A Sketch Animator and I followed the instructions to make the baseball animation in the below video. If memory serves, it took roughly a year and a half and I had to drop out of elementary school for a bit to get it done. But I finished it!

Try to figure out what this commercial is about before the 50-second mark. I won’t spoil it here. I do, however, work from home on occasion and can confirm that the big city is exactly as it’s portrayed. They left out some late-running trains but other than that, it’s spot on.

Oh my. Remember the U-Force? No? You didn’t miss much. It was — to put it diplomatically — not good. You waved your hands over it, which in turn broke infrared beams, which in turn translated into controller directions. Except the last part of that sequence didn’t work well. At all.

Comedian David Cross sells AOL back in the mid-’90s. He apparently hasn’t aged a bit. Well done, Mr. Cross.

Here we have Sega referring to the Nintendo 64 as “Pretendo” before shooting it skeet-style, saying it wasn’t worth waiting for. The general public would disagree, as the N64 proved to be pretty popular.

I bought this motion-based Sidewinder Freestyle Pro controller back in the late ’90s, and the Motocross Madness game that came with it was a hoot. Playing other games with it? Not a hoot. But you could turn off the motion-sensing hoopla and use the thing as a standard controller.

To be fair, the jump from 56k to broadband was pretty incredible. Going from 28.8k to 56k was nice, too, but broadband was life-changing for a lot of people.

Believe it or not, things like “interest groups” sold Internet service back in the ’90s. You’d join Prodigy to talk with other people who liked fly fishing and cross stitching.

Thanks to Radio Shack’s Color Computer 3 (born of the TRS-80 line), Eliot and Jeff can spend some time alone, together. Notice that Eliot does his homework first, while Jeff just goes straight for the games. And do check out this deep, deep dive into the TRS-80’s history if you’re interested in learning more.

Here’s IBM showing off voice recognition waaaaay back in the mid-’80s. We’re getting there — slowly but surely.

MONEY Smart Shopping

4 Great Laptops Under $1,000

Whatever your computing needs, there’s an affordable machine that’s right for you.

  • Lenovo Flex 2 15

    Scott M. Lacey

    Price: $530 | Size: 15.6″ | Battery life: 6 hrs. | Weight: 5.1 lbs.

    The highlights: Real computing power at a rock-bottom price.
    The details: For the typical laptop user, the Lenovo is a serious bargain. The machine comes loaded with Windows 8.1, an Intel processor, quality speakers, and a backlit keyboard—everything you need to work, browse the web, and watch video. You can also pivot the touchscreen backward and use it as a stand-up tablet.
    Best for: All-around use

  • HP Chromebook 14

    Scott M. Lacey

    Price: $300 |Size: 14″ | Battery life: 9½ hrs. | Weight: 4 lbs.

    The highlights: Boots up instantly, automatically backs up your data, and never gets viruses.
    The details: This laptop runs Google’s Chrome operating system, which consists mostly of a web browser and apps. You’ll need a web connection to get the most out of the HP, but you can edit spreadsheets and other docs when you’re offline. Plus, if the machine crashes, log on to your Google account, and your stuff will be there.
    Best for: Light use

  • Apple Macbook Air

    Scott M. lacey

    Price: $999 |Size: 13″ | Battery life: 12 hrs. | Weight: 3 lbs.

    The highlights: A lightweight machine with impressive battery life, this Mac is easy to tote around all day long.
    The details: This super-portable laptop combines an efficient processor with a wedgelike body that measures just 0.11 inches at its thinnest point. The machine comes loaded with a variety of Mac apps, such as iPhoto and iMovie, but perhaps its best attribute is the battery. Apple promises up to 12 hours of web surfing.
    Best for: Travel

  • Asus Q502LA

    Scott M. Lacey

    Price: $800 |Size: 15.6″ | Battery life: 6 hrs. | Weight: 4.9 lbs.

    The highlights: Torn between a laptop and a tablet? The Asus is a bit of both.
    The details: This Windows laptop is powerful enough to use as a work machine. It even includes software that allows you to dictate aloud to the computer when you need a typing break. Yet the Asus is also great for fun stuff. Flip the super-high-resolution touch screen around, fold it flat, and voilà!—a tablet.
    Best for: Watching movies, playing games.

TIME Gadgets

New $50 TiVo Box Targets Cord Cutters and Aereo Refugees

TiVo TiVo's new Roamio OTA box costs $50 and pulls in free over-the-air broadcasts

The convenience of TiVo without the high monthly cost of a cable subscription

TiVo’s new Roamio OTA box will be available September 14 for $50. It’s being sold exclusively at Best Buy.

Like other TiVo boxes, this one sports an easy-to-use programming guide, you can set it to automatically record your favorite shows whenever they air and it hooks into online services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube. You’ll also need to pony up $15 per month to access program listings, which are refreshed via a connection from the box to your home network.

The difference here is that the Roamio OTA only works with an over-the-air antenna, pulling in your free local broadcast stations. Aside from the $15-per-month TiVo fee, there’s no need to subscribe to Comcast or FiOS, in other words. You can record up to four shows at once, and the hard drive can store up to 75 hours of high-definition video footage.

Obviously, the sticking point for most people is going to be the monthly charge. But f you’re big on being able to record broadcast shows — complete with all the multi-show recording and commercial-skipping goodness that entails — you’re looking at shelling out less than $200 per year for the privilege of doing so.

Roamio OTA comes at an opportune time, with online TV service Aereo being run out of town by the entertainment industry. I recently rounded up a few ways to roll your own Aereo-like service, but most options were cumbersome and expensive. This new TiVo box could be the ticket, though.

[Fast Company]

TIME Gadgets

5 Unique Kitchen Gadgets for Under $100

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Paper Towel Holder with 4 USB Ports ($50)


This is the Towlhub, an ordinary-looking paper towel holder with a missing vowel. Look closer, and you’ll notice four USB ports you can use to charge your gadgets. Be careful! Gadgets and water generally don’t mix, so watch those wet hands when you’re reaching for a paper towel.

An extra $40 gets you a version that packs two Bluetooth speakers. Oh, and the topper for both versions doubles as a wine stopper. As far as kitchen-based convergence devices go, this one’s got a lot of the bases covered.


Two-in-One Tablet Mount/Stand ($29)

tablet holder
CTA Digital

Tablet holders are everywhere, but this $29 jobber from CTA Digital is unique in that it sports an under-cabinet mount configuration that easily transforms into a counter-top stand configuration in a flash.

The neck rotates and pivots up, down, left and right, and is made of aluminum. The clamp doohickey adjusts from 6 to 8.5 inches in width, which should accommodate most 7- to 10-inch tablet models (7- to 10-inch tablets are measured diagonally, remember).


Kickball Ice Cream Maker ($35)

ice cream kickball
Hammacher Schlemmer

You ever try to make your own ice cream? Too much stirring. It’s all stirring. Stir, stir, stir, until now I don’t even want ice cream anymore.

You can take the stirring part out of the equation with this $35 kickball that you fill with ice cream ingredients. Once everything’s packed in, lace up your cleats, head out to the yard and kick the ball around. After about 20 minutes of family fun, you’ll have a pint of ice cream to stuff into your gullet. Best of all, you won’t feel guilty — a fair to middling amount of exercise went into making desert, no?

[Hammacher Schlemmer]

Selfie Toaster ($75)

Selfie Toaster
Vermont Novelty Toaster

You could make boring old toast in a boring old toaster or you could make toast with your face on it. Why would you choose the first option?

Sure, this toaster on its own probably isn’t worth $75. But remember the part about your face getting burnt into every piece of toast consumed in your house for as long as the toaster lasts. That’s the gift that keeps on giving — wholeheartedly at first, with the euphoria gradually diminishing with each subsequent conversion from bread to hot, face-burned bread.

[Burnt Impressions]

Touch-Free Faucet Kit ($48)


This thing isn’t much to look at — unless you’re into lumpy, bulky faucet accessories — but for less than $50, it’ll let your ordinary faucet work like one of those fancy, expensive, touch-free faucets you always see on those home renovation shows.

A sensor on the kit detects when your hands are present, letting water flow out until you remove them. There’s also a manual override feature that’ll let you run water for up to three minutes, at which point it’ll shift back to automatic mode. The kit uses four AAA batteries and attaches to most standard faucet heads that sport removable aerators.


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