TIME FindTheBest

16 Retailers Apple Must Land for Apple Pay to Succeed

The mobile payment battleground is currently in chaos, with customer loyalty programs, retailer apps and Apple Pay each marshaling troops, attacking supply lines and forming shaky—sometimes short-sighted—alliances.

Just weeks after launch, consumers seem to like the Apple Pay experience best, with its one-tap simplicity and strong privacy features. Unfortunately, three hurdles stand in Apple Pay’s way.

Technology

Apple Pay requires NFC (near-field communication) to work, and some retailers don’t have the technology built in. This is the least of Apple’s worries, however, as stricter credit fraud laws will compel most big stores to add NFC by October 2015.

Customer Loyalty Programs

Apple Pay keeps payments anonymous—so anonymous that retailers will lose some valuable information about shoppers: what they’re buying, what they’re returning, what they might be interested in next. It’s why customers who are paranoid about privacy love Apple Pay, but data-driven retail marketers can’t stand it. Even Apple-friendly brands like Starbucks have been hesitant to fully implement Apple Pay for this very reason. The Starbucks iOS app lets the coffee shop understand individual customers and offer them relevant promotions. A full-fledged Apple Pay solution would cut out the flow of customer data.

CurrentC

The biggest Apple Pay antagonist, CurrentC is a mobile payment system supported by dozens of America’s biggest retailers (including three of biggest: Walmart, ExxonMobil and CVS). CurrentC is nirvana for retailers. The app connects directly to shoppers’ bank accounts, cutting out those 2-3% per transaction fees from the likes of VISA and Mastercard. It can also offer promotions and customer loyalty rewards, a crucial part of most big retailers’ customer retention strategies.

Unfortunately, CurrentC is also clunky to use. For a given purchase, customers must take out their phones, unlock them, open the CurrentC app, open their cameras, then point their phones at one of those blocky QR codes, which validates the transaction. You can debate whether swiping a credit card or using Apple Pay is faster, but as it stands, CurrentC is easily the slowest, most awkward method.

If CurrentC maker MCX can overhaul the app’s user experience, the payment system has a great chance to be successful. After all, it’s already got a lot of big players backing it. But if it remains in its current state, it’s hard to imagine consumers getting on board.

So what would it take for consumers’ most popular method—Apple Pay—to truly become the payment system of the future? At FindTheBest, we took a close look at America’s top 100 retailers by sales volume to see who’s out, who’s in, and who Apple has a shot of winning over.

Today, we’re focusing on the big brands: the majors and generals, not the captains and lieutenants. With apologies to smaller companies like Petco and Panera Bread, here were the brands we picked from (sales estimates from FindTheBest’s Companies topic):

We’ll start by reviewing Apple’s key partners and biggest opponents, then count down the fence-sitters. Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list—just the biggest brands.

The Apple Core

  • Chevron
  • Walgreens
  • McDonald’s
  • Macy’s
  • Staples
  • Disney
  • Whole Foods
  • Toys R Us

Apple has at least some representation among four critical industries: gas, drug stores, fast food and clothing. The weak point here is grocery stores. Whole Foods is a decent start, but Kroger, Safeway and Publix are all either ambivalent or anti-Apple Pay, which could spell big trouble for the service.

The Lost Causes

  • Walmart
  • CVS
  • Best Buy
  • Rite Aid

The biggest CurrentC advocates of all, these companies have actively disabled Apple Pay. Having bet heavily on MCX’s mobile payment solution, they’ll likely make big sales sacrifices before caving to the iPhone and Touch ID.

From here, however, we move into the “remotely possible” categories. We’ll start with least likely.

The Longshots

  1. ExxonMobil
  2. Lowe’s
  3. Sears
  4. Publix
  5. Kohl’s
  6. The Gap Inc.

All six of these players are CurrentC supporters, but they’ve been less vocal in their distaste for Apple Pay. Unfortunately, several are likely tied up in CurrentC exclusivity contracts, which would mean that they can’t legally implement Apple Pay as long as they want to support the CurrentC app. Still, if Apple Pay were to really take off, you might expect a few of these to betray the CurrentC faithful and start accepting payments through Apple.

The Potentials

  1. Costco
  2. Kroger
  3. Home Depot
  4. Safeway
  5. JC Penney
  6. Nordstrom

None of these businesses have been particularly receptive toward Apple Pay, but they’re not aligned with CurrentC either, which means that either faction could win them over. Both Home Depot and Nordstrom seem like natural fits. The former would love to build back customer trust after its recent, infamous credit card breach—and security is one of Apple Pay’s best features. Meanwhile, the latter matches Apple’s customer base well: an upper-middle class, “affordable luxury” brand.

The Fickle Friends

  1. Starbucks
  2. Target

Both retailers have half-heartedly embraced Apple Pay, with mobile apps that will integrate with the new Touch ID-authenticated feature. But neither features the simple, one-tap-to-pay experience, which will likely be critical for Apple Pay adoption. Starbucks would still need to add the NFC technology across its 20,000 stores, and a true Apple Pay solution might cannibalize its popular (and successful) iOS app. Apple may need to prove it can win over friends before it starts flipping enemies.

The Nice-to-Haves

  1. Pizza Hut
  2. Taco Bell

They’re not as big as the above retailers, but they could each help sell Apple Pay through brand association. Taken together, these companies could win Apple more users in a crucial young demographic, the sort of customers that could create a long-term foundation for the new mobile payment service.

- – -

Apple has the technology and user experience nailed. Now it’s time to win over these 16 brands. If the company chips away at the CurrentC stronghold, even one retailer at a time, it’ll be in a much better position to win not only the current battle, but the larger mobile payment war.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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TIME Money

These Are the Wealthiest Cities in America

Golden Gate Bridge by Joseph Baermann Strauss
The Golden Gate Bridge by Joseph Baermann Strauss, with the bay and the city of San Francisco in the background, California, United States of America. DEA / M. SANTINI—De Agostini/Getty Images

The city proper has seen its fair share of change over the years.

One facet of that change has been the creation of wealth. Here at FindTheBest, we analyzed the most current Five-Year American Community Survey (ACS) data released by the Census Bureau in late 2013 to determine which cities in America contain higher proportions of wealthy households. Defining a wealthy household as one with an income of more than $150,000, we lined up U.S. cities with more than 500,000 people in them to see how America’s biggest cities compare.

Here are the 34 cities in the U.S. with a population greater than 500,000, listed in descending order by the percentage of households with incomes exceeding $150,000. We’ll take a look at some of the wealthiest big cities in America and discuss one important commonality among those cities. You can click into the table below to learn more about each city:

At first glance, you can see that the West Coast is well represented near the start of the list, with four cities out of five right at the top. Of these five cities, at least 14 percent of households in each qualify as wealthy (San Francisco and San Jose push the upper bound by breaking 20 percent). What’s also interesting about these two is that they are distinct cities, but geographically, they are adjoined as part of the San Francisco Bay Area. That two of the wealthiest cities by household income are also geographic neighbors is striking, but it’s not surprising.

In 2012, urban economist Edward Glaeser made the case for the genius of cities in his fascinating book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Glaeser devotes ample time in his book to the notion that one of a city’s greatest assets is its ability to enable innovation-driving spillovers. Education, as it turns out, is an important force behind generating the knowledge for such cross-pollination. Glaeser makes his point this way: “This agricultural community [Silicon Valley to be] became a world capital of high technology because Senator Leland Stanford, a railroad magnate, decided to build a university on his eight-thousand-acre horse farm.”

While a slight oversimplification that Glaeser duly unpacks, the point remains the same: education and wealth strongly correlate with one another. Common among the ten wealthiest cities by household income is the presence of at least one major world-class research university. The fact that these cities also have proportionally higher levels of graduate-degree holders living in them only strengthens this observation.

We also can explore a larger sample size to frame this in broader terms, say, by plotting the percentage of a city’s residents with at least a bachelor’s degree against the percentage of households with more than $150,000 in income. Again, there is a strong correlation between educational attainment and higher incomes:

Where the education-to-wealth comparison suffers slightly is in explaining why a city like Seattle—where 56.6 percent of the adult population holds a bachelor’s degree and 23 percent holds a graduate degree—doesn’t have a higher percentage of so-called wealthy households (15.2 percent). To be sure, San Francisco and San Jose rank highly in the scatter plot. But Seattle clearly reports a broader college-level educational base.

It’s often tempting to look at compelling data-driven evidence and deduce a singular conclusion. But we can’t. The best we can do is note correlations, holding constant what we have not accounted for. Do wealth and education always align? While we see a noticeable correlation for America’s most populated cities, data never prove anything. Indeed, it could be that wealth begets education and not the other way around (recall, for example, that Senator Stanford was a rich man). Moreover, education doesn’t necessarily capture the role of a city’s cost of living. The bang of $150,000 fluctuates by city.

Even so, it would be difficult to present data on the wealthiest cities in America without also discussing the strong correlation between wealth and education. And much like the persistent change that imbues the history of the American city, it’s also worth mentioning that wealth can be defined in more ways than one.

More from FindTheBest

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TIME FindTheBest

5 Reasons People Aren’t Buying Tablets Anymore

Tablet ipad
Getty Images

First, some perspective: the tablet industry is still huge. Gartner predicts that over 250 million tablets will ship worldwide by the end of 2014, an impressive figure for any consumer electronics device not named “smartphone.”

But there’s reason for tablet makers to be worried. Sales are “crashing” at Best Buy and iPad sales are down year-over-year, a disappointing reversal after three years of explosive growth.

Whether it’s a sign of doom or just a “speed bump,” something, on some level, is wrong. Let’s break down five possible explanations:

1. Nobody knows what tablets are for

Is the tablet a leisure device? A personal assistant? A workstation? It’s difficult to say. For marketers, the latest craze is productivity. The Surface 3 can replace your laptop. The iPad is for climatologists and marine biologists. The Samsung Galaxy Pro is for taking business notes and organizing files. But does anyone actually want all this stuff in a tablet?

Probably not. Nearly all of the best-selling tablets on Amazon are small-screen, budget options, with productivity features ratcheted down…or even stripped out. And the proudly efficient Surface is still a billion-dollar bust. Despite all the ads, spreadsheets and styluses, tablet owners still seem to prefer browsing Pinterest to building PowerPoints.

Put it all together, and first-time tablet buyers are simply going to be confused. They probably don’t care much about efficiency, but every manufacturer is spending millions convincing them to get a tablet for expense reports and file management. What a mess.

2. Phablets, not tablets, are the sweet spot

The first iPad (2010) fit neatly between contemporary devices: it was more roomy than phones, but not as clunky as laptops—the perfect product for reading books or surfing the web after work. What’s more, phones above 4.5-inches were virtually non-existent, making a tablet’s 7- to 10-inch screen a big selling point.

Jump ahead to 2014, and the average phone is faster, smarter and most importantly, bigger. Over 80% of 2014’s new phones have screens over 4.5 inches, and the flagship models tend to be the biggest of all. The tablet’s biggest differentiator has faded, while the phablet has grabbed more market share and garnered increasingly glowing reviews. It’s just not worth snapping up a new Nexus tablet when your LG G3 is almost as big and twice as convenient.

3. Old models are good enough

When it comes to upgrading your tablet, what’s the better analogy: the smartphone or the TV? Three years ago, the phone was the obvious answer. After all, tablets looked and operated a lot like the smaller device, sharing the same apps, layouts and operating systems. Surely customers would upgrade their tablets once every two years or so, just like their Galaxies, iPhones and Nokias.

Given the benefit of time, however, the picture has become more clear. Consumers drop their phones regularly; tablets sit safely on the bedside table. Smartphone batteries go through hundreds of recharge cycles per year; tablet batteries go through only dozens. Users fill their phones with photos, apps and bloatware; tablet owners add only the occasional movie or game. At the 24-month mark, smartphone are chipped, cracked, bursting with data and barely able to hold a charge. Meanwhile, tablets often look like they just came out of the box. Like a TV, there’s no real incentive to get a new model until something truly special comes along.

 

As a result, the refresh cycle for a tablet is much closer to that of a television than a smartphone: four or more years for most customers. If you’re not a tech geek or millionaire, you’re not buying a tablet every other year…which means declining sales for tablet makers.

4. The apps aren’t good enough

The tablet’s saving grace was supposed to be the apps: games, photo editors and productivity suites designed for tablets—and only for tablets—from the ground up. Even if the phone would become the dominant device, customers wouldn’t be able to resist the perks of having bigger, tablet-exclusive applications.

Unfortunately, almost all the best apps are already available on phones, and in some cases, only on phones. Developers have discovered that the only way to compete with such low prices (say, $0.99 or $1.99) is to produce at a mass volume, and the only device capable of selling in mass volume is the smartphone. A few noble development teams have continued to support advanced tablet versions out of principle, but increasingly, it’s a bad business decision. So we end up with blurry, up-scaled interfaces or basic layouts optimized for phones and hastily ported to tablets. It’s a lost opportunity.

5. Lack of competition for Apple

Every year, the smartphone industry only seems to get more competitive, with Apple holding onto the high-end, Samsung clinging to the middle and upstarts like Xiaomi snapping up customers in the budget market. Even if you’re willing to say that Google is winning by market share, or Apple by profits, you have to admit that it’s still a fierce battle, with dozens of flagship phones contending for the crown.

With tablets, however, Apple is still winning handily, shipping 75% more devices than its closest competitor (Samsung) and hogging all the profits. The iPad remains king, despite an ongoing assault of giant Galaxy Pros and Microsoft Surface ads. In order for the industry to avoid stagnation, Apple’s rivals need to make the iPad maker less comfortable. Judging from the iPad Mini 3 non-update, however, they’ve got a ways to go. They’d better hurry, though: the tablet market just might depend upon it.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

Read next: Apple’s New iPads Are Great, But Not Essential

TIME Gadgets

The 4 Best Tablets Not Named ‘iPad’

With the iPad hogging headlines, it’s easy to forget about the rest of the market, filled with Notes and Tabs, Kindles and Surfaces. And that’s a shame. The iPad might be simple and elegant, but Apple’s rivals specialize in power, price and productivity — sometimes offering twice the features at half the cost.

With that in mind, we pored through hundreds of reviews to see what both experts and everyday users value most in a tablet.

In the end, four themes emerged: battery, price, hardware and productivity. For each category, we picked the best tablet you can buy that isn’t made by Apple. Time to think different.

Battery Life

In tablet reviews, customers mention battery life more often than any other feature. A bit of lag, for example, is a minor nuisance, but a dead device is a travesty.

Unfortunately, tablets aren’t smartphones, even if that’s what consumers have come to expect. You can get through a full day with a 5-inch phone, but a 7- to 12-inch tablet with (literally) millions of pixels? You’ll be lucky to make it through lunch. And yet, one device emerges from the pack of top-rated tablets: the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.

At 13 hours (of constant use), Samsung’s Note Pro bests Amazon, Google and Sony, whose flagship tablets can muster just 12 hours each. Yes, that 13-hour figure might be a little inflated (these are manufacturer-reported numbers, after all), but getting anywhere close to half a day of battery out of a 12.2-inch, 247-PPI screen is just nuts. Even Apple hasn’t pulled that off.

Note that the Note Pro leads in both battery life and total pixels in this plot of popular tablets — a rare combination:

Our Pick: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Runner-up: The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Price

Many consumers are intrigued by tablets, but they can’t stomach the $500-$900 price tag. Meanwhile, the truly budget options are usually three years old, featuring out-of-date technology that manufacturers can’t wait to unload on uninformed consumers.

So at FindTheBest, we looked for a tablet that was modern (no more than 1.5 years old), well regarded by the experts (at least 4 out of 5 stars, on average), and most of all, cheap.

Here, it comes down to the 2nd generation Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7. While Amazon’s device wins on specs alone, our overall recommendation is the Nexus 7, which received slightly higher review scores across the board. It’s a photo finish, but ASUS, not Amazon, wins this round. With Google’s recent Nexus 9 announcement, expect the Nexus 7’s price to drop even lower.

Our Pick: The Nexus 7 (2nd Gen)

Runner-up: The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

Hardware Design

It’s tempting to assume that Apple has a monopoly on hardware design. Sure, you can beat an iOS device on performance and features, but no one can touch Apple when it comes to how the product looks, right?

Wrong. Your alternative is Sony. With a classy, sleek design that’s thinner than the iPad Air, the Sony Xperia Z2 is a feat of material engineering. At 439 grams, it’s also the lightest flagship 10-inch device on the market (depending on the final stats of the new iPad: this post went live before Apple’s October 16 announcement).

In the below chart, you can see how the Xperia Z2 compares to other popular ~10-inch tablets. (The size of the dot reflects the slight variances in screen size.)

Our Pick: The Sony Xperia Z2

Runner-up: The Sony Xperia Z

Productivity

In the world of tablets, productivity is a two-horse race. First, you’ve got the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, complete with a giant screen and built-in stylus. Second, there’s the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, a performance beast with internals that look more like a laptop than a tablet.

For casual consumers, the Note Pro is the right choice, if only for the well-rounded Android ecosystem of Google services and app selection. But for the working professional, it’s hard to deny the Surface Pro 3’s real-world performance. For an apples-to-apples comparison, just look at Geekbench scores. Geekbench performs benchmark testing for a wide variety of products across multiple device categories in order to compare real-world performance. Note below how the Surface Pro 3 performs compared to three other popular tablets:

For reference, consider that the most recent MacBook Air clocks in at 4,678 (multi-core) and 2,469 (single-core).That’s better than almost any tablet, but it’s still below the Surface Pro 3’s scorching results. Microsoft isn’t messing around here.

Yes, Windows 8 still has its foibles, and the Surface Pro 3’s various menus and gestures come with a sizable learning curve. But if you want pure performance and productivity, the latest Surface should be your pick.

Our Pick: The Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Runner-up: The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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3 Reasons Apple Needs to Make a Bigger iPad (and 3 Reasons It Doesn’t)

Compared to the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch speculation, the buzz surrounding Apple’s October 16 event has been as subdued as Tim Cook’s southern drawl. Yes, we’ll probably see new iPads, and rumor has it, they’ll be a bit thinner. They’ll likely have TouchID built in. And there’s a good chance they’ll have faster, A8 processors. In other words, set your iPhone 6’s alarm to wake you up once this sleepy, predictable announcement is over. You probably won’t miss anything.

Unless, of course, Apple announces a bigger iPad.

Here, the rumors are anything but mundane. Could we see a hybrid tablet-laptop like the Microsoft Surface? Would we we get a big, bright 4K display? And would a big iPad get a massive performance upgrade, more like a MacBook Pro than an iPad Mini?

With the rumors swirling, we set out to determine the pros and cons of such a launch. Is it the right move for Apple?

Here are three reasons for Apple to release a bigger iPad, and a corresponding counterpoint for each.

#1: People like big devices. Just look at the iPhone 6 Plus…

Apple may have waited seven years to do it, but in 2014, a big-screen iPhone was an obvious choice. At FindTheBest, we charted the mix of small- (under 4.5”), medium- (between 4.5” and 5.2”), and large-screen (over 5.2”) phones released each year since 2010:

At this rate, phones over 5.2” will make up half the market by 2015. It was time for Apple to jump in. Consider also that bigger phones tend to have better specs and higher scores from the experts. In the chart below, we plotted our Smart Ratings (which combine specs, features, benchmarks and expert review scores) against screen size:

As the screen size gets bigger, the phone gets better. This isn’t just a coincidence. Larger phones have more room under the hood for bigger, better components. So why not apply the same logic and make a bigger iPad?

…but the tablet market is a lot different than the smartphone market.

Plot the same data for tablets, however, and things quickly get muddy. Here’s the mix of tablets released each year since 2010 (small: under 9”, medium: 9” to 11”, large: over 11”):

While large tablets have seen a small resurgence in 2014, there’s no clear trend. Will giant tablets stay a niche item or mount a big comeback? It’s too early to say. Small tablets have certainly gotten more popular since 2010, but outside of that, the market remains murky.

And are bigger tablets better, by the numbers? Not really:

Add it all up, and a large tablet is simply a bigger risk than a giant phone. There’s no obvious market precedent, and the best tablets come in all sizes — not just big ones.

#2: You can charge a premium for big tablets…

If there’s one thing Apple loves more than promotional U2 events and aluminum unibodies, it’s profit margins. At FindTheBest, we looked at the average price, by size category, for over 1,600 phones and 750 tablets. We found one surprising standout:

Average base-model MSRP (no contract) for phones and tablets:

Small phones: $343
Medium phones: $368
Large phones: $397

Small tablets: $304
Medium tablets: $533
Large tablets: $899

Tablets over 11” tend to cost nearly three times as much as their mini-tablet counterparts, and more than any smartphone, even out of contract. Granted, a bigger, faster tablet will be more expensive to make, but Apple probably wouldn’t mind adding another option at the high-end. As Android and Amazon race to the bottom with sub-$200 tablets, Apple would be more than happy to win the $899 to $1,299 range. In tech, no one does luxury better (or more readily) than Apple.

…but there just aren’t that many big tablets, and they don’t seem to be selling particularly well.

Of the 750+ tablets we used to calculate the above averages, only 25 were over 11 inches, so we’re already working with a small sample size. And then look at sales. It’s tough to get an accurate breakdown from manufacturers, but consider that (as of this writing) you have to page through 50 different tablets on Amazon’s best seller list before you get to your first 12” tablet (the Microsoft Surface 3). iPads, small Amazon Kindles and 7-inch Android tablets are selling well. Big tablets are not.

So while that $899 base price point might look attractive at a glance, it’s based on a handful of niche products with (likely) mediocre sales.

#3: It’s the obvious (and only) place for Apple to go next…

In 2010, Apple made mobile devices in just two sizes (not counting iPods): a 3.5-inch iPhone and a 9.7-inch iPad. Jump ahead to 2014, however, and Apple has quietly created a run of six distinct size options, with a tidy increase of about 15%-20% in screen size per model.

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As long as these things keep selling, why not try the next size up?

…but how do we know the tablet isn’t just a fad?

Tablet sales are still growing, but they’re decelerating, according to research firm IDC. “The market is still being impacted by the rise of large-screen smartphones and longer than anticipated ownership cycles,” says IDC’s Research Director Jean Philippe Bouchard. IDC has been forced to revise its previous tablet growth estimates, while Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly told Re/code that tablet sales are “crashing” at the company’s brick-and-mortar stores.

Some commenters suggest that a deluxe, jumbo-sized iPad might be the solution to this problem—a tablet that can actually compete with PCs, task for task.

But what if the tablet’s slowing growth is just the beginning? What if the world is satisfied with a 6-inch smartphone, rather than a 12-inch tablet? And finally, what if Apple suspects all of this already, and that’s why its newest device isn’t a 12-inch tablet, but a 42-mm wristwatch? Only time will tell.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Money

Lending Club Besting P2P Borrowing Peers Ahead of IPO

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Couple signing contract Rob Daly—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

With an initial goal of $500 million, Lending Club intends to go public in 2014. Here’s how the three major U.S. peer-to-peer lenders compare.

Corrected Monday, Oct. 13

Call it a shot across the bow of the traditional banking system.

Having formally announced its intention in August to go public, major U.S.-based peer-to-peer (P2P) lender Lending Club is looking to take its growth to a new level.

The point of P2P—or marketplace lending—is to deliver better rates for both investor and borrower by realizing efficiencies through technology.

Let’s say you have $100 you’d like to invest in three projects you’ve found on a P2P marketplace. These can be anything—a new fence, perhaps, or money to pay down debt. The projects have varying degrees of risk because of the borrower’s relative risk of default. Say you bundle your three investments in a medium-risk portfolio and invest. Depending on the lending platform and holding all else constant, you could be looking at getting roughly an $8 return on your investment each year for three to five years. Longer term means less liquidity, but allowing for risk, that sure beats the going interest rate for a traditional savings account these days. The borrower walks away happy having acquired needed capital at a comparatively better interest rate. And the lending platform takes a cut for facilitating, or originating, the loan.

It’s a reaction against how traditional banking has met demand for smaller lines of credit like personal and small business loans: largely with more easily underwritten, higher-interest credit cards.

Lending Club’s announcement—widely reported in August—comes at a time when the demand potential for securing smaller personal loans is soaring.

In July, outstanding consumer credit in the U.S. inched up to a seasonally adjusted $3.24 trillion, which included roughly $880 million in revolving credit, a perennial refinancing option for consumers according to Lending Club’s S-1 filing. In the second quarter of 2014 alone, Lending Club facilitated more than $1 billion in loans, or roughly one-fifth of its $5.04 billion worth of loans to date.

Digging into the data on P2P lenders to look at the industry as a whole and to try to gain a deeper understanding of each specific lender, we focused on the three principal U.S. players—Lending Club, Prosper and Peerform—to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each company.

Looking at How the Major U.S. P2P Players Compare

Here’s how the major U.S. P2P lenders compare (Peerform did not provide comparable data):

While Lending Club is the clear leader in terms of total loans funded ($5.04 billion), there are nuances to each of the three major U.S. lenders. It’s important to evaluate all three—Lending Club, Prosper, and Peerform—from the perspectives of both a borrower and a lender to understand how these P2P lenders stack up.

Peerform

Founded by Mikael Rapaport in 2010, New York-based Peerform is the relative newcomer in the group. Its average interest rate of 15.85 percent falls right between the average interest rates of Lending Club (14.4 percent) and Prosper (17 percent), while its reported return of 9.88 percent actually puts it above both major competitors in that category.

Lender states include all states except for Alabama, while borrower states number 23 in total. Peerform has an annual percentage rate (APR) range that tops out at around 28 percent. Keep in mind that the actual cost of borrowing is better represented by the APR, which considers fees and charges in addition to the interest rate.

While Lending Club and Prosper are fairly open to participation (a minimum investment amount of $25 and a minimum age of 18 with certain credit requirements), Peerform sets its minimum investment amount at $50,000 and stipulates that only accredited investors over the age of 18 may invest.

As it turns out, later this month the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may further restrict its definition of who qualifies as an accredited investor. Although Prosper and Lending Club don’t share Peerform’s accredited investor requirement, each of the three is regulated by the SEC.

Even though Peerform offers many of the same types of loans as its two major competitors, its loans only range from $1,000 to $15,000 (Lending Club’s range, by comparison, goes up to $35,000). And although its average origination fee is par for the course, its minimum credit score of 600 is by far the lowest among the three.

While we were unable to determine Peerform’s default rate (and subsequently the net yield at each loan grade), we did find that the effective yield (the average interest rate minus the service charge not accounting for late fees, recoveries, or charge-offs) for Peerform is the lowest of the three at each loan grade.

Based on the effective yield alone, Peerform is the least profitable of the three major U.S. P2P lenders.

We should also mention that it’s the most limited in terms of features and lender accounts, with a clear focus on individual investment accounts (Prosper has a similar focus, though it also offers a range of retirement accounts).

Average Interest Rate: 15.85%
APR Range: 7.1%-28.1%
Loan Terms: Not provided
Default Rate: Not provided
Reported Return: 9.88%
Conclusion: Its focus on accredited investors leaves it a step removed from the peer aspect of peer-to-peer lending. When it comes to how it fares against both Prosper and Lending Club, we’re left with a somewhat-incomplete picture.

Prosper

San Francisco-based P2P lender Prosper was founded in 2005 by Chris Larsen and has facilitated roughly $1.61 billion in total loans to date. Lending Club, by comparison, has facilitated roughly three times as many loans ($5.04 billion).

Its average interest rate of 17 percent and reported return of 9 percent puts it above Lending Club in both categories, making it an even costlier choice for borrowers and an even more profitable choice for lenders, holding all else constant.

With that said, Prosper reports a slightly higher default rate of 7.29 percent. Using numbers we calculated based on lender information available, Prosper is the most profitable of all three. After accounting for its higher default rate, however, Lending Club actually delivers an average net yield that bests Prosper’s by 0.08%.

You can see in the visual that Prosper’s riskier loan grades (A being relatively lower-risk, lower-reward loans, and so on) have default rates that actually exceed their net yields.

Along with an average interest rate that is well above its two major U.S. competitors (17 percent), Prosper also has the largest APR range (6.7 to 35.4 percent). It posts a 3 percent origination fee, which is actually 0.05 percent lower than Lending Club’s, while its average loan of $7,840 is just over half of what Lending Club averages ($14,056).

Yields for Prosper’s example low-, medium- and high-risk portfolios are an average of 0.5 percent above representative risk portfolios with Lending Club. From just the standpoint of maximizing yield at each of the three risk classes, Prosper is the better choice for investors.

Although Prosper focuses on many of the same loan types that Lending Club does, it only requires a minimum credit score of 640, slightly below Lending Club’s requirement of 660, and it doesn’t offer nearly as many account types to its users.

With Prosper, lenders can lend in 31 states and borrowers can borrow everywhere except in North Dakota, Iowa, and Maine.

Average Interest Rate: 17%
APR Range: 6.7%-35.4%
Loan Terms: 36 or 60 months
Default Rate: 7.29%
Reported Return: 9%
Conclusion: Prosper outperforms Lending Club in certain areas (e.g., borrowing and lending coverage, higher yields on average than Lending Club using example portfolios with varying amounts of risk). But its higher default rate is something to consider.

Lending Club

Founded by Renaud Laplanche in San Francisco in 2006, Lending Club is an established platform with an average interest rate of 14.4 percent, 4.1 percent higher than the average interest rate across all competing platforms (10.3 percent).

Lending Club claims a reported return of 8.30 percent and a 6.04 percent default rate. That’s a lower reported return than Prosper’s (9 percent), but it’s also a lower default rate (1.25 percent lower to be exact).

Lending Club’s APR ranges from 6.8 percent to 28.7 percent. Its higher-than-average origination fee of 3.05 percent means it can be a costlier option for borrowers.

Yet, Lending Club maintains the most extensive offering of account and loan types. For lenders, it operates in 26 states, and services are available to borrowers in every state except Alabama. Borrowers must have a minimum credit score of 660, three years of credit history, and a satisfactory debt-to-income ratio.

Across Lending Club’s primary loan grades, net yields are higher than default rates:

Although Prosper delivers yields that are on average 0.5 percent higher than Lending Club’s using example low-, medium- and high-risk portfolios, risk-seekers investing with Prosper might hesitate to give more weight to loan grades beyond C in their portfolios (recall that in our calculations, Prosper’s default rates exceed its net yields for its riskier loan grades).

While it may not be available in as many states as Prosper is, Lending Club comes out ahead when you consider that it offers its customers an unparalleled level of account and platform flexibility. It also has the highest credit score requirement and the lowest average interest rate of the three biggest U.S. P2P lenders.

It may be true that Lending Club faces various financing challenges—an over-reliance on credit score and the inability to securitize loans—that traditional banks can better mitigate. With a fairly tight margin last year and growing marketing and expansion costs that have erased its profits, it may also be called on to defend its valuation, currently privately estimated at $3.8 billion.

Even so, with more than $5 billion loaned and roughly $494 million in interest paid out to investors, it has provided borrowers and investors alike a comparatively consistent product for the exchange of capital.

In a space in which consistency is valued, Lending Club still has the upper hand on its two major competitors. For capital market investors who are interested, it’s the P2P lending service to keep an eye on.

Average Interest Rate: 14.4%
APR Range: 6.8%-28.7%
Loan Terms: 36 or 60 months
Default Rate: 6.04%
Reported Return: 8.3%
Conclusion: Lending club secures its leading place with the consistency and flexibility of its platform. With more account and loan types than either Peerform or Prosper, it has facilitated the highest amount in loans according to currently available information. While its reported return is lower than Prosper’s, so too is its default rate.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the founder of Prosper. It was Chris Larsen. The original version of this story also uncorrected stated the number of states in which lenders can invest with Prospect. It is 31. The original version of this story also did not indicate the date range of data that was reviewed to each lender.

In building its peer-to-peer lending topic, FindTheBest relied on historical data in the form of seasoned returns (“seasoned” meaning multiple years). For Prosper, we used seasoned returns as of June 30, 2014 for loans originated from July 2009 to August 2013 available here on Prosper’s website. For Lending Club, we evaluated seasoned information for 2007 to 2014, which can be found here on Lending Club’s website. As originally stated in the article, Peerform did not provide comparable data.

FindTheBest believes using historical data for comparison purposes is a more accurate reflection of a lender’s performance for financial products that are inherently longer term. As with any investment decision, prospective investors and borrowers are encouraged to conduct their own research and to take into account that historical data are neither an indication of the current state of the market nor a predictor of future performance.

FindTheBest is a research website that’s collected all the data on Lending Club and Prosper and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join FindTheBest to get all the information about peer-to-peer lending, personal finance and thousands of other topics.

TIME FindTheBest

3 Categories Where the iPhone 6 Falls Short

Last week, we crowned the iPhone 6 the best smartphone on the market…at least for now. With a mix of strong expert reviews, solid benchmark scores and a host of new features, Apple’s latest handset just nudged its way past the LG G3, HTC One (M8) and Galaxy S5 to claim smartphone supremacy.

But the iPhone’s success comes more from the sum of its parts than from any individual category. The phone doesn’t have the best display. It’s not as light as some competitors. And it certainly doesn’t have the best battery life.

So if you care most about a beautiful screen or a full charge, you can do a lot better than the latest iPhone. We looked at three key categories to see how the iPhone 6 stacks up to its closest competitors stat by stat, feature by feature. Let’s take a look, starting with the iPhone’s biggest weakness.

Battery Life

Battery life has always been tricky to measure objectively, particularly in smartphones. The most popular metric is talk time, but these figures are often fudged by the manufacturers, who can manipulate testing conditions to produce the numbers they want for marketing materials.

And even when you consider third-party reviews—which often feature practical battery comparisons based on day-to-day use—they still rely on the reviewer’s hometown cell towers and personal use habits.

A better metric for a fair comparison is battery capacity. Measured in milliamp hours (mAh), it’s the amount of electric charge the device can deliver—or in consumer terms, it defines how much “juice” there is to go around.

There’s just one problem with this measurement: It doesn’t account for screen size. A smartphone’s screen is a giant power hog: the bigger the screen, the more battery capacity it’ll need to get through the day. This means that a 5.5-inch phablet will die a lot faster than a 4-inch iPhone, even if they have an identical battery capacity.

With this in mind, we’ve plotted screen size against battery capacity to account for differences in smartphone screen size. In the plot below, handsets above the blue line will tend to have worse batteries than average, while phones below the blue line will tend to have better batteries than average.

Predictably, the iPhone 6 sits above the line in the worse battery zone: that 1,810 mAh of capacity simply isn’t enough for its 4.7-inch screen. Despite incremental improvements over the 5s, the iPhone 6 still holds less juice than a glass of Sunny D.

The comparison in the chart isn’t perfect. Specifically, a phone’s pixel density will affect battery life as well, where a more crisp display will drain battery faster. Still, using the above plot, we can see that the DROID MAXX, HTC Butterfly S and several Sony phones—not the iPhone 6—have the industry’s best screen size to battery capacity ratio.

Display

In 2010, Apple set the new standard for display sharpness with the “Retina” iPhone 4. For its time, 326 pixels per inch (PPI) was one small step for screen sharpness and one giant leap for blood-shot eyes.

Four years later, Apple hasn’t budged. The iPhone 6’s display is no crisper than its 4-year-old predecessor, while Samsung, HTC and LG have jumped ahead, pushing their PPIs into the 400s and 500s. You might argue that the human eye can’t discern anything over 300 PPI anyway, but take one look at the LG G3 and you might just change your mind. Apple apologists have also pointed to battery life—more pixels means faster battery drain—but it’s a tough argument to buy when phones like the HTC One (M8) both looks sharper and runs longer than the iPhone on a single charge.

The chart below lists the sharpest screens in 2014. Note that the iPhone 6 is on the far right, at #33 overall for the year.

To its credit, the iPhone 6 Plus fares a bit better than its smaller brother in both display sharpness and battery life—it’s tied for the 23rd sharpest display in 2014. Regardless, if you want a world-class display, grab an LG G3 or a Galaxy Note 4 instead.

Weight

So even if the iPhone 6 remains a stubborn 326 PPI and blows through battery life, it’s at least the thinnest, lightest device for its size, right? Not quite. At 129 grams, the iPhone 6 is quite light, but it’s only the 9th lightest 2014 phone (in the 4.6- to 5-inch range), trailing handsets like the LG G2 Mini, LG Optimus L90 and Huawei Ascend P7.

For a fair weight comparison of all 2014 phones, however, we’d want to factor in screen size, just like we did with battery life—in other words, ounces of weight per inch of screen real estate. Using this measurement, the iPhone 6 is only the 22nd lightest phone in 2014, at 27 ounces per inch (the BLU Life Play S leads all 2014 phones, at 23 ounces per inch).

And even if you look at only the best-reviewed phones of the year (i.e. the ones you’d really consider buying), the iPhone 6 is heavier, by the inch, than five other handsets, including the Huawei Ascend P7, LG Optimus L90, LG Lucid 3, Sony Xperia T3 and LG’s latest flagship, the G3. The iPhone 6 may be light, but for now, LG’s top devices are lighter.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

The Top 10 Smartphones on the Market for Fall 2014

With all the reviews in for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it’s time to take stock of the larger smartphone battlefield. At FindTheBest, we compiled specs, features and ratings for every smartphone on the market to determine the top 10 phones today. Here’s the methodology:

35% Tech Specs

Made up of 18 different specifications for each phone, including max video resolution, camera optics, pixel density, weight, RAM, megapixels, talk time and more.

33% Expert Ratings

Includes reviews from publications that post numerical scores. These include WIRED, PCWorld, PC Magazine, CNET and Laptop Mag.

26% Features

Can the phone charge wirelessly? Does it come with an FM Receiver? Is it water resistant? Can it do NFC payments? The more capabilities, the better.

6% Performance Benchmarks

Lastly, how does the phone perform using a handful of benchmarks, like Geekbench for overall performance and DxOMark for camera quality?

Here’s the list, followed by the biggest takeaways:

Biggest Takeaways

Year-old phones are still winners…as long as they’re flagship models

Over 120 smartphones have been released this year, yet four 2013 handsets remain in our top ten. The reason? The flagship phones from Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony are simply a cut above the rest of the industry. These manufacturers know how much of their bottom lines ride on hit devices, so they pour most of their resources into one or two handsets per year.

For this reason, saving $100 by selecting a year-old phone is no longer a terrible idea. A Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5S is still a solid buy, and it’s certainly better than that budget Motorola at the Verizon store.

For the very best phones, release date matters

Once we get to the best of the best, however, release date does matter. There’s one big reason the iPhones outrank their rivals: Apple’s handsets are newer. Consider that the M8, S5 and G3 were released in March, April and May, respectively. Apple had all summer to pack in the latest tech and to gauge customer reaction to its competitor’s phones. Expect all three manufacturers to retake the lead as soon as they release their next products.

With this in mind, discerning smartphone buyers might consider following this principle: Just buy whatever the latest release is from a top manufacturer. If you’ve already bought into the iOS or Android ecosystem, it’s a different story, of course. But if you’re ready to start fresh, look for whichever top brand released a flagship phone most recently. Right now, that’s the iPhone 6. In a couple of months, that could be the Sony Xperia Z3. Early next year, that’ll likely be the Galaxy S6.

Bigger really is better…sometimes

Glance over our top 10 with screen size in mind, and you’ll find some inconsistencies. For the iPhone, smaller is better, with the 6 edging out the 6 Plus. For the Galaxy? The 5.7-inch Note 3 is still our #1 Samsung device, besting the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5. What’s going on?

The difference comes down to the intangibles, which are best captured in the expert reviews. While experts loved both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, they had a slight preference for the smaller device. To reviewers, the 6 Plus often felt like something new and interesting, but the 6 felt familiar and intuitive—enough to push it ahead of its bigger brother (despite inferior battery life).

For Samsung, things went the other way. The Note 3 was revolutionary, while the Galaxy S5 was evolutionary. Experts loved the stylus-equipped Note 3 for its size, audacity and productivity—a new landmark for big-screen handsets. The S5, while solid, didn’t captivate reviewers the same way.

So in the end, who really knows what the right screen size is? Perhaps smartphone size is more art than science.

Microsoft can’t crack the top ten

Microsoft’s Lumia line continues to miss the top 10 (the same thing happened when we did this exercise last year). It’s the honorable mention that’s increasingly more mention than honor. Experts continue to hit all the usual beats: The Windows interface is clever, but iOS and Android are more mature. The camera takes superb photos, but the app selection is weak.

Microsoft is planning a big rebrand this holiday season (dropping “Nokia” and “Windows Phone”), but unless the company coaxes more developers and customers from Android and iOS, it’ll have trouble sniffing the top 10. And at this rate, it’ll drop out of the top 20 soon (currently, our top two Lumias sit at #19 and #21).

China is knocking on the door

Take a look just outside our top 10, and it’s the Xiaomi Mi 4—not a Lumia phone—that threatens to disrupt the top 10 next year. The red-hot Chinese manufacturer already beats all of its rivals on price, and its specs are right in line with the best handsets on the market. The only remaining question: How long will it take for Xiaomi to come to the US?

Final Recommendations

If you want the best phone right now….

grab the iPhone 6.

If you want a great phone on a budget…

…get the Samsung Galaxy S4 or LG Nexus 5 — a year old, but still excellent.

If you’re willing to wait…

…a few months, get the Sony Xperia Z3.

…until next year, get the Samsung Galaxy S6.

If you want a fully unlocked phone with all the latest technology for ~$450…

…move to China, and get the Xiaomi Mi 4.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

How Much Will the Apple Watch Really Cost?

We only know one thing for sure about the Apple Watch’s price: It starts at $349. Everything else is speculation.

Even so, a bit of research can lead to some educated guesses. I went ahead and parsed Apple’s (few) words on the subject, read through a dozen theories, then did a little analysis of my own. I’ll run through the most popular opinions, comment on each, then predict how much each band and size will cost.

How many price points?

Apple gave us a hint about pricing by curating three collections: Sport, Watch and Edition. The Sport Collection is comprised only of aluminum cases, the Watch Collection only of stainless steel cases and the Edition Collection only of gold cases. So we’re probably looking at three standard price points, which will fluctuate based on your choice of band, and possibly, size (38 mm vs. 42 mm).

It’s almost certain, then, that the 38 mm Apple Watch Sport is the $349 model. Swap out for a larger display and different band, however, and you’re probably looking at a higher price point. But before we get too bogged down in bands and sizes, let’s focus on the big picture: What will be the default price point for each of the three collections?

Price points for each collection: Sport, Watch, Edition

#1: The iPod/iPhone/iPad Pricing Theory

  • $349 for Sport
  • $449 for Watch
  • $549 for Edition

A pricing structure like this would fall right in line with past Apple pricing schemes. For the iPod, iPad and iPhone, Apple has historically charged $100 more for additional storage. Then there’s size differences. The iPad Air starts $100 above the latest iPad Mini, while the iPhone 6 Plus will cost $100 more than the iPhone 6. Taken all together, a simple $100 premium for each collection seems obvious. It’s just the way Apple does things.

It seems obvious, that is, until you consider that the Edition Collection is made out of 18-karat gold. There’s simply no way Apple is selling that much precious metal for less than $600. At the very least, the Edition Collection will have to be priced higher.

#2: The precious metal premium (conservative)

  • $349 for Sport
  • $749 for Watch
  • $1,499 for Edition

The prevailing wisdom now seems to be that the gold watches (Edition) will cost well over $1,000, while the stainless steel watches (Watch) will fall somewhere in the middle. At a glance, these price points seem pretty high, especially considering that today’s average smartwatch is only $219:

But look at these prices from the perspective of a traditional watch enthusiast, and $1,499 for a gold watch isn’t so bad. Under this theory, the Apple Watch’s success will come down to whether customers consider the product a competitor to Pebble ($249) or Rolex ($20k). Naturally, Apple hopes it’ll be the latter.

#3: The precious metal premium (liberal)

  • $349 for Sport
  • $999 for Watch
  • $4,999+ for Edition

First speculated by Apple commentator John Gruber, some now believe Apple’s watches will cost much, much more than most people first thought. (Gruber’s gold watch prediction was actually even higher, at $10k).

The first ominous sign here is Apple’s own words. The company never referred to Apple Watch as a “smartwatch,” and in an earlier interview, Jony Ive himself named Switzerland — not Silicon Valley — as Apple Watch’s primary region of competition. Whether or not you agree with this frame of mind, Apple’s pride (hubris?) on this point is likely to drive their price point up.

But once again, the bigger factor is the 18-karat gold. Rolex’s all-gold watches (including the band) tend to start around $12k, and even those with standard leather bands tend to start at $3k.

I remain skeptical that Apple could sell a consumer tech product at a price point this high, but if the company can convince the world this is a piece of fashion — and not just a glorified iPod Nano — maybe a few of Apple’s wealthiest patrons will cave.

The size of the case

I’m expecting the 38 mm and 42 mm versions to have different price points, as Apple has always attached bigger price tags to bigger products (the 11- vs. 13-inch MacBook Air, the iPhone 6 vs. 6 Plus, for example). For the Sport and Watch Collections, I expect Apple to charge its usual $100 premium on the 42 mm model. But for the Edition line? Even a small increase in gold could mean a significant price jump. For now, let’s call it $300 more for the 42 mm.

But what about the bands?

The first question about bands, I suppose, is whether they will even be included in the retail price of the watch. My best guess is that each watch will come with a base price that includes the Sport Band, but that subbing in an alternative band will increase your final bill, a little like adding RAM when purchasing a MacBook Pro.

Apple also made a big deal about changing out bands for different occasions, proudly showing off the easy-release functionality. For these reasons, it seems likely that each band will also be sold as an individually priced accessory.

So what will those prices be? I looked back over Apple’s past product offerings to see if I could find a similar accessory. I needed something that came in multiple materials, that could be attached and removed, and that could serve as a close companion to a core Apple product. The best analogy I could find? The iPad’s Smart Cover and Case.

The most affordable Smart Cover is made of polyurethane, and costs $39. It comes in six colors, most of them bright or pastel. In other words, it’s the Sport Band equivalent for the iPad. Meanwhile, the leather Smart Case is a luxury accessory, coming in at $79. Buying a leather cover for your iPad would be like buying a Milanese Loop band for your Apple Watch. A quick calculation reveals that the $39 price point is 13% the cost of the cheapest iPad (the $300 non-Retina iPad Mini), while that $79 accessory is 26% the cost.

It’s for these reasons that I predict the cheapest band (the Sport Band) will be about 15% the cost of the watch, while the most expensive bands will be about 30% the cost of the watch. However, I think Apple will price the five non-sport bands relative to its Watch Collection, not its Sport Collection. Case in point: only the Sport Band is present on Apple’s Sport Collection page, while every band is present on Apple’s Watch Collection page.

So here’s what I’ve got:

  • Sport Band – $49*
  • Classic Buckle – $99
  • Leather Loop – $149
  • Modern Buckle – $149
  • Milanese Loop – $199
  • Link Bracelet – $249**

*~15% of $349, the official Sport Collection price

**~30% of $749, the price estimate for the Watch Collection from Theory #2

How did I decide on this order? First, I assumed that the more metal involved, the pricier the band. Take a good look at the Modern Buckle and you’ll see how much more metal it contains than the Classic Buckle. That will likely add up to a $50 price difference for stainless steel, and possibly a lot more for a gold version.

But my best explanation is simpler than all that: This is the order that Apple lists the bands on its main Watch Collection page. It’s a subtle hint about which ones Apple is most proud of. Read down the list yourself, and I imagine you’ll agree.

Finally, what about the Edition bands, (presumably) with gold clasps and hooks instead of aluminum or steel? I used the same logic (15% for the cheapest, 30% for the most expensive, based on the pricing prediction from Theory #2):

  • Sport band: $249
  • Classic Buckle: $349
  • Modern Buckle: $449

The gold premium strikes again. Note that Apple doesn’t list any Edition Collection models with either the Milanese Loop or Link Bracelet. My guess is they don’t exist: They’d likely be so expensive to make, Apple would have to triple the MSRP based on the metal alone.

So unless you’re happy with an aluminum sports model, start saving. The Apple Watch could very well be the priciest Apple product since the MacBook Pro.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

13 Apple Watch Design Combinations (and What Each Says About You)

You weren’t going to buy an Apple Watch: you were just curious. You were perfectly happy with your iPhone, iPad, iMac, and Macbook Pro, thank you very much. And then, somewhere between “space black stainless steel” and “milanese loop,” everything changed.

So you’re going to buy the new Apple Watch, even if it means missing your best friend’s sister’s wedding and eating only canned tuna for four months. Don’t worry; no one will judge you for making an adult financial decision.

They will, however, judge you for the design you choose, so study up. We’ve reviewed all the options: six metals, six bands and 11 face designs. Here are 13 potential design combinations…and what each will say about you.

A quick look at the Apple Watch and its competitors. Battery life is rumored at one day.

1. The Bare-Bones Basic

Metal: Stainless Steel

Band: Link Bracelet

Face: Utility

What it says: I have no idea what I want out of life.

2. The Hipster

Metal: Silver Aluminum (recyclable)

Band: Classic buckle (bringing it back)

Face: Solar (all-natural)

What it says: I’m anti-establishment, but I just spent $349 on a watch from a multi-billion-dollar company.

3. The Extra-Terrestrial

Metal: Space Black Stainless Steel

Band: Jet Black Sport Band

Face: Astronomy

What it says: I can name every Star Trek character in under 20 seconds.

4. The Waste of Money

Metal: 18-karat rose gold

Band: Mahogany modern buckle

Face: Solar

What it says: I live paycheck to paycheck, but at least I look rich.

5. The James Bond

Metal: Space Black Stainless Steel

Brand: Link Bracelet

Face: Simple

What it says: I watched Skyfall six times in theaters.

6. The Normal Watch

Metal: Stainless Steel

Band: Classic Buckle

Face: Simple

What it says: I just paid 10 times the money for a timepiece that looks like a $35 grocery store Timex.

7. The Mickey Mouse

Metal: Silver Aluminum

Band: Bright Yellow/Green Sport Band

Face: Mickey Mouse

What it says: I’m eight years old.

8. The Risk-Taker

Metal: Space Black Stainless Steel

Band: Milanese Loop

Face: Modular

What it says: Every time I eat out, I order the weirdest, most unpronounceable menu item. I shop for products the same way.

9. The Failed Interior Designer

Metal: 18-Karat Yellow Gold

Band: Blue Leather Loop

Face: Color (orange)

What it says: Don’t hire me.

10. The Apple Fanboy/Fangirl

Metal: Silver Aluminum

Band: White Modern Buckle

Face: Photo (of Steve Jobs)

What it says: I have three more of these watches at home.

11. The Non-Watch Wearer

Metal: Stainless Steel

Band: None (took it off and threw it away; face stored in pocket)

Face: Utility

What it says: I should have just bought an iPod Nano.

12. The Well-Intentioned Couch Potato

Metal: Space Gray Aluminum

Band: Bright Blue Sport Band

Face: Chronograph

What it says: I bought this watch, worked out twice, and now I just send animated emojis to my friends.

13. The Fitness Guru

Metal: none

Band: none

Face: none

(AKA: just wear the same old Casio stopwatch)

What it says: I’m actually in shape and don’t need an Apple Watch to pretend I’m fit.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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