TIME Gadgets

Thanksgiving Survival Guide: 8 Gadgets to Keep the Family at Bay

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Thanksgiving dinner Bruce Ayres—Getty Images

Remember to bring a nice pair of headphones

We all know what Thanksgiving is supposed to look like: cute grandkids, fond memories and turkey dinners as polished as a Pinterest board. But let’s be honest: Even if we love grandpa, we’ve heard the same story every year since 2003. We’d rather talk movies than aunt Mildred’s political platform. And maybe it’s time uncle Larry laid off the Merlot.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a Thanksgiving survival guide: eight gadgets for putting up with eight troublesome family members.

The relative: Grandpa

The problem: Tells the same story 13 times in a row

The solution: Headphones

We’ll admit: this is a delicate one. After more than 80 years of hard work, tough luck and thankless children, the least grandpa deserves is a glass of scotch and some listening ears. It’s just that you already know exactly when he thinks the country “took a wrong turn” and precisely “how things were at your age.” So instead of telling your gramps to keep quiet, wait for the right moment and throw on a pair of discrete noise-cancelling headphones.

Our recommendation:

The Audio Technica ATH ANC23BK’s are low-profile, affordable and well-reviewed—the perfect pair to slip in once grandpa rounds the country’s-gone-to-pot bend for the sixth straight time.

The relative: Aunt

The problem: Can’t stop talking about politics

The solution: A lightweight laptop

There’s one aunt in every family who has a knack—even talent—for turning every conversation back to politics. Your body armor? A light, inconspicuous laptop. Each time your aunt raises her finger with another opinion, calmly perform a search to confirm or refute her claims. The key here is de-escalation: you’re simply the keeper of a small fact-checking tool, not a worthy antagonist.

Our recommendation:

With a sleek frame and 12 hours of battery life, the MacBook Air 13-inch is the ideal device—small enough not to threaten your aunt but efficient enough to outlast even the most tireless debater. Problem solved.

The relative: Grandma

The problem: Assumes command of the entire house

The solution: A vacuum cleaner

It’s a familiar story. Grandma arrives, the family members hug, and after two quiet beats, the power shifts, imperceptibly, from hosts to matriarch. Grandma is now in charge. Get caught watching football, and you’ll be summoned to wash the potatoes. Flip on your phone, and you’ll be lectured for ignoring the family. The answer is a luxury vacuum—the sort of device that simultaneously says “I’m working” and “don’t bother me.” Even grandma can’t blame you for checking Twitter while hunting for dust bunnies.

Our recommendation:

More tech marvel than classic vacuum, the Dyson DC40-Origin handles like a dream and maneuvers like butter. After two minutes, you’ll volunteer for full-time vacuum duty. And besides: that carpet in front of the Cowboys-Eagles game isn’t going to vacuum itself.

The relative: Dad

The problem: Just a little too protective of the turkey

The solution: An outdoor grill

If there’s one thing men do well, it’s internalizing stress from work and taking it out on loved ones. For dads, this means demanding complete control over all turkey-related matters, from cook time to temperature to presentation. Our advice? Double-down. Buy dad a BBQ grill so he can have his own private workspace. Instead of grumbling from two feet away while you mash the potatoes, he’ll be standing outside, manning the grill and ignoring suppressed feelings of incompetence. But don’t worry about the weather: dads thrive in the cold.

Our recommendation:

With seven separate burners and gobs of space, dad can prepare the whole meal on a single Napoleon Mirage 7-Burner. If nothing else, it’ll help him forget how cramped he is in his work cubicle.

The relative: Nephew

The problem: Just a little too proud of his new job

The solution: A big tablet built for productivity

You’re 15 minutes into dinner when your nephew finally rolls in, loudly ending a phone call while running his hand through a $300 haircut. He drags a chair up to an empty slot at the table, noisily removes his coat, then tells the family he doesn’t “mean to interrupt.” Five minutes later, he launches into a 30-minute treatise on his new company’s “sales philosophy.”

Our recommendation:

You can’t beat him, so play into his unbridled enthusiasm with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Casually leave the device on the coffee table, preferably open to a PowerPoint presentation or Excel spreadsheet. With any luck, he’ll spot the device and snap into corporate mode, critiquing the slides or reviewing the balance sheet. Meanwhile, the rest of the family can get back to arguing about The Voice.

The relative: Niece

The problem: Obnoxiously smart

The solution: A pre-loaded e-reader

Smart, industrious and impossibly successful, the Ivy League-educated niece is a staple at Thanksgiving. Publicly, everyone applauds her achievements, but privately, you’re just sick of all the one-upping. Your son passed his high school biology class; your niece just got into Harvard Medical School. Your daughter wrote an op-ed for your town’s dying newspaper; your niece is already a syndicated columnist for The New York Times. The best defense? Load up a few academic journals—or better yet, her textbooks—on an e-reader, then see that she finds it shortly after dinner. The overachiever in her will spend the rest of the evening reviewing biochemistry and less time reminding everyone how average they are.

Our recommendation:

The Kindle Voyage is the company’s latest e-reader, and still the class of the market, with better lighting, an improved screen and the best e-ink tech in the business.

The relative: Uncle

The problem: Three bottles deep by 2 p.m.

The solution: Wine chiller

You wouldn’t say your uncle has a problem, but there’s just something about turkey, family and the holidays that brings about an overly festive spirit. Without a proper plan, he’ll be drunk by lunch and asleep by dinner. The answer: buy a wine chiller. With a pane of glass and semblance of order, your uncle’s consumption will slow just enough to keep him in the “silly” zone before he spills over to “slob.”

Our recommendation:

With two temperature zones and a surprisingly affordable price for its features, the Winter WC-212BD is a solid choice for any wine enthusiast. As a backup plan, tell your uncle he can “manage the temperature zones:” he’ll be so excited about dividing Pinot Noir from Pinot Grigio that he might just skip a glass.

The relative: Mom

The problem: Wants five full family photos on the hour, every hour

The solution: A wide-angle camera lens

They might be terrible shots by any objective photographic standard, but it’s just a fact: Moms love staged family photos. Humor her by supplying her with a wide angle camera lens. Instead of the usual 15-minute circus (step closer; okay, turn your shoulders; I still can’t see you), she’ll be able to snap the pic in 10 seconds flat, even if your tipsy uncle is still trudging over from the opposite side of the room.

Our recommendation:

With a minimum focal length of 10mm, the Tamron SP 10-24mm is an extremely wide-angle lens, perfect for family photo efficiency. It’s got plenty of space to fit everyone in the frame, while it’s acceptable to Mom and respectful of personal space: a win-win.

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People Are Naming Their Babies Katniss Thanks to The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 Murray Close—Lionsgate

See the history of franchise-inspired baby naming

The first Hunger Games scorched its way to the top of the box office.

Its $152.5 million opening weekend in North America made it the fifth-highest-grossing debut of all time. The release of the second film—The Hunger Games: Catching Fire—didn’t disappoint either, grossing $161 million in its first weekend, overtaking The Dark Knight Rises as the fourth-best debut as well as securing its spot as the highest-grossing debut starring a female lead in history.

Nor did theater-goers lose their luster for the films after opening weekend. Together, they’ve raked in about $1.5 billion globally. And with the release of MockingjayPart 1 this Thursday and the last installment still to come, the franchise stands to make a lot more.

The movies owe much of their smashing success to Katniss Everdeen, a character all audiences, not just teenage females, have fallen in love with. In fact, crowds over 25 and under 25 were evenly split during Catching Fire’s opening weekend. And while there were more women than men in attendance—59 percent female vs. 41 percent male—crowds were more evenly split by weekend number two, comprised of 51 percent females and 49 percent males. Compare that to an 80 percent female audience for Twilight.

So why does Katniss have so much appeal?

According to Jennifer Lawrence in an interview with NPR, “She’s not a hero…she’s just a girl who’s standing up for what’s right when something is wrong, when it’s hard – and when it’s scary.”

Whatever the attraction is that’s driving voracious appetites at the box office, it’s not only in record-breaking sales where Katniss Everdeen is leaving a mark. She’s also left a mark—a very permanent mark—in the lives of dozens of baby girls across the U.S.

Why? They’ve been given her name. That’s right, 29 girls have been named Katniss since the release of the first Hunger Games in 2012, according to an analysis by research engine FindTheBest. That’s up from a grand total of zero baby girls given the name Katniss every year prior.

It’s not only Katniss who’s inspiring a baby name trend. Strong female characters in popular literature turned film have influenced the names of hundreds of baby girls. Take Harry Potter’s leading lady, Hermione Granger. Her name stayed flat in the single digits from 1932 to 2001, but jumped to 17 occurrences in 2002, the year after the first Harry Potter movie was released. And it didn’t stop there; more than 500 girls have been named Hermione since.

HBO’s Game of Thrones is another big name influencer, with Khaleesi (which means queen) leading the way. Like Katniss, the name Khaleesi was virtually nonexistent before Game of Thrones aired in 2011, but it’s been climbing rapidly ever since.

Even Khaleesi’s real name, Daenerys, saw a spike that hasn’t stopped climbing in popularity since Game of Thrones aired.

And of course, the Twilight saga has influenced names as well. We can’t say for sure if Bella Swan is to credit for the recent uptick in her name—the first Twilight book was published in 2005 and the name has been rising since the 1990s—but we can see the effect other characters have had. Rosalie for example, was a popular name in the 1930s, but didn’t make a comeback until the first Twilight movie was released in 2008.

Even Renesmee, a mashup of the names Renée and Esme—two other female characters in the series—sprung into existence in 2008. Although Renesmee’s character wasn’t in the first Twilight movie, she was in the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, which was published in 2008.

So what’s next on the baby name front? Maybe parents will take a liking to the name Tris, from the latest book series turned 2014 blockbuster film, Divergent. It’s a name that went out of style in the 1970s, but could be due for a comeback.

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These Cities Have the Highest Rents in the Country

Liverpool FC Training At Fenway Park
General view of Fenway Park during a training session at Fenway Park on July 22, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. Andrew Powell—Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Rent in Boston is a real green monster

In addition to the price of a beer at Fenway Park, Bostonians—and esteemed guests of Fenway alike—now have something else to complain about: Boston has the highest rents in the country.

Here at FindTheBest, we’re on a mission to collect, structure, and connect the world’s data. Taking the most recent Five-Year American Community Survey (ACS) data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in late 2013, we set ourselves the task of determining which U.S. cities have the highest rents. Defining a high rent conservatively to be a contract rent (i.e., excluding utilities) of more than $1,500 per month, we identified where rents are more likely to take a big bite out of your paycheck.

These major U.S. cities—all with more than 500,000 residents—have the greatest proportions of high rents in the country. You can tap anywhere on the table to explore a given city in more detail.

The West Coast has been supplanted in at least one regard. Although four of the five richest cities in America—and six of the top ten here—are on the West Coast, Boston has the most expensive rents. Moreover, it’s also the only East Coast city in which more than 30 percent of rents are over $1,500 (48.8 percent).

A list of the top ten cities for highest rents reads like a rap sheet of the usual suspects, with perennially expensive West Coast metropolises San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle interspersed with East Coast behemoths like Washington D.C. and New York City.

In general, cities with greater population densities tend to have higher rents, as seen in the scatter plot below. The precise reality, however, is more complicated.

Among the ten cities where rents are highest (again defined as the percentage of contract rents over $1,500), New York is both the most densely populated city (27,308 people/sq. mi) and the one with the highest proportion of renter-occupied dwellings (68.3 percent). Yet it’s not even in the top five for greatest proportion of rents over $1,500. Boston, on the other hand, has a 66.8 percent rental rate—the second highest on the list—along with the third-highest figure for population density (13,007 people/sq. mile). So cities with higher densities and renter occupancies tend to have higher rents, but it’s not gospel truth.

While Boston may be the most expensive place to rent based on our working definition, there’s a fair bit of nuance to the list. Denver and Baltimore, for example, have a relatively low percentage of rents over $1,500 (8.1 and 6.3 percent, respectively). In the next tier down ($1,001-$1,500), however, these two cities have percentages high enough to launch them into the top ten within that next tier (19.6 and 19.5 percent, respectively).

In fact, by adding the two rental buckets together (“$1,001-$1,500 + “$1,500+”), San Jose has the highest percentage of rents over the $1,000 mark (80.7 percent compared with Boston’s 80.5 percent). And $1,000 or more per month is nothing to scoff at.

With a mean of 12.7 percent and a median of 5.3 percent (the middle point in the data set), the percentages of rents over $1,500 are skewed upward toward Boston, San Jose, and San Francisco (the top three in that category).

Using $1,500 as a proxy for cities with the most expensive rents allows uncapped extremes to factor into the comparison. While considering the next-highest tier of rents ($1,001-$1,500) changes the picture somewhat, one thing is for sure: Boston wins out when it comes to extreme rents. And in Beantown, neither the beer nor the price of admission at a Red Sox game is cheap enough to get over that.

This article was written for TIME by Ryan Chiles of FindTheBest.

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These Are the Poorest Cities in America

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit city skyline viewed from Windsor after the Detroit Red Wings NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Joe Louis Arena on March 31, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Tom Szczerbowski—Getty Images

Detroit tops the list

Poverty—like the creation of wealth—is a fact of city life.

Here at FindTheBest, we recently examined the most current Five-Year American Community Survey (ACS) data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013 to find the wealthiest cities in America. To fill out the picture of many of these cities, we picked apart the same data set and turned our lens on the places with the highest percentages of households making less than $25,000 a year.

Listed in descending order by the percentage of households with annual incomes below $25,000, here are how the 34 American cities with more than 500,000 residents compare. You can explore each city in greater detail by clicking into the table:

As of 2012—the last year considered in the most recent five-year ACS data—the poverty threshold for a four-person household was $23,492. This amount is a weighted average based on the range of income increases each additional related child necessitates (for a household of four, that’s a maximum of three children). This is according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the six major U.S. cities with the highest percentages of poverty, at least one in three households make less than $25,000 per year. In Milwaukee and Philadelphia, the proportion is higher at 37.8 percent and 37.6 percent, respectively, and in Detroit, it approaches one in two (49.2 percent). The average across all 34 cities is 28.6 percent.

What’s remarkable is that San Jose is the only city profiled where less than 20 percent of households have a yearly income below $25,000 (in San Jose, 15.6 percent of households make less than $25,000). San Diego and Seattle come close at 20.2 percent each. Put another way: in 33 of America’s 34 biggest cities, at least one in five households makes less than $25,000 per year.

Taking a step back, Detroit—which is getting ready to emerge from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history—has by far the highest percentage of households earning less than $25,000 per year (49.2 percent).

Moving down the list, cities in the west tend to have fewer households under this $25,000 threshold compared with cities in the midwest and east. Four of the five cities with the lowest percentages of households making under $25,000 per year are on the west coast.

One potential reason for this geographic split could be the role public transportation plays in bringing poorer people to city centers, which is exactly what Edward Glaeser, Matthew Kahn, and Jordan Rappaport argued in 2000 in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. (the paper was later published in The Journal of Urban Economics in January 2008.) In their view, it isn’t the city itself that creates poverty. Rather, increased levels of mobility and opportunity provided by the central city encourage poorer people to congregate there. Cities in the east and midwest tend to have more public transit options, whereas the car is a central part of sprawling cities in the west — a situation that could lead more poorer people to eastern cities than their western counterparts. More favorable city governments also could play a role.

Municipal management aside, once again, it’s also hard to discount the role of education in creating wealth through information spillovers. While Boston’s 30.8 percent clearly complicates this notion, given that it has solid bachelor’s and graduate degree metrics, the observation remains largely the same — cities situated near world-class research institutions or else with larger numbers of bachelor’s or graduate degree holders tend to fare better.

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The Best-and Worst-Case Scenarios for 5 Hot Holiday Products

CHINA-JAPAN-EARNINGS-ELECTRONICS-SONY
A hostess holds a remote of a Playstation 4 at the Sony booth during the China Joy fair in Shanghai on July 31, 2014. Johannes Eisele—AFP/Getty Images

Which companies and products will win the holidays this year?

With high-profile product launches and billions of dollars at stake, the holidays have a habit of separating the winners from the losers, the booms from the busts. With that in mind, let’s explore the best-and worst-case scenarios for five hot holiday products.

For each scenario, we’ll start things out realistically, then get a bit crazier as we go along.

1. iPhone 6

Best-case scenario

Following its record-breaking launch, the iPhone tears through the holidays, setting sales records in over 30 countries. Millions of Android users abandon their 7-inch phablets for the iPhone 6 Plus. As usual, Apple makes untold billions, but it also grabs back five points of smartphone market share on the strength of the gold iPhone 6, which rapidly becomes China’s best-selling phone. Samsung CEO Boo-Keun holds an emergency press conference to assess the damage, then steps outside the room to take a phone call. The next day, a hastily snapped photo confirms Boo-Keun took the call on an iPhone.

Worst-case scenario

Apple’s bet on bigger phones proves disastrous. After riding geeks and early-adopters to a record-breaking launch, iPhone sales plummet in November and December. A raft of user reviews confirm Apple’s worst fears: the iPhone’s secret wasn’t Touch ID, iOS polish or “Apple charm”—it was the 4-inch screen. “I wanted a cellphone, not a computer,” writes disillusioned Amazon shopper Scott M, a North Carolina carpenter with small hands and modest needs. Meanwhile, the 4.3-inch Sony Xperia Z1 Compact becomes the holiday season’s hottest handset. In a cascade of criticism, second-guessing, and a falling stock price, Cook resigns.

2. iPad Air 2

Best-case scenario

After two years of stagnant sales, the iPad Air 2 reinvigorates the tablet industry in one scorching Black Friday weekend. Stubborn first- and second-generation iPad owners finally decide to upgrade their four-year-old devices. A Louisiana woman draws blood after cutting herself on the iPad Air 2’s corner, but Apple successfully parlays the accident into its new holiday marketing campaign, “Thinner than a Pencil, Sharper than a Knife.” Meanwhile, Google’s new Nexus 9 tablet flops.

Worst-case scenario

Sales for the new iPad Air 2 mirror the launch event itself: tepid, restrained, unexciting. Google wins the holiday quarter with its HTC-made Nexus 9, leveraging a $200 price tag and a series of rock-bottom-price promotions. Slaves to saving money, consumers opt for the outdated iPad Mini ($249) instead of the flagship Air 2 ($499), then clog Apple Stores across America after they realize how terribly the device runs iOS 8. One man even buys a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 out of spite. Three days after New Years, a leaked Tim Cook email signs off with “Let’s face it, tablets are a lost cause.”

3. PS4

Best-case scenario

With the Wii U still stumbling and the Xbox One still Xboxing, the PS4 cements its status as Best Console of the Current Generation. Mothers around America ignore a “Nintendo is for families” campaign, opting for PS4-exclusive Little Big Planet 3 instead. Swept up in a tide of Sony holiday success, Activision agrees to make the next three Call of Duty games exclusively for PS4. With the original Halo soundtrack playing on low-volume, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella cries himself to sleep.

Worst-case scenario

Microsoft’s Xbox One price drop (now $349) winds up the most brilliant move of the holiday season, tipping the scales from Sony to Microsoft. Even the lowly Wii U—emboldened by the release of the latest Smash Bros—beats the PS4 in November. Scrambling to salvage the situation, Sony America CEO Michael Lynton pressures star developer Naughty Dog into pushing out Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End before Christmas. The game is an unplayable, unfinished mess, instantaneously defiling the series’ memory and tarnishing a once-great developer brand. Naughty Dog abandons Sony. Meanwhile, Microsoft buys Nintendo.

4. Microsoft Band

Best-case scenario

The Microsoft Band shakes off early bad reviews—“it’s awkward and inaccurate”—to become a modest holiday success. Tech geeks, couch potatoes and retired high school coaches across the nation collectively decide “if there’s one Microsoft product I’ll take a risk on, this is it.” Meanwhile, Fitbit has another scandal. The Moto 360 gets recalled. Everyone remembers the Apple Watch won’t come out for another six months, and even then, the mid-range models might cost thousands. The Microsoft Band goes on to win the holiday season by default.

Worst-case scenario

After launching accidentally at 10 p.m. and generating a slew of confused, frustrated reviews, the Microsoft Band roll-out only gets worse. Customers report the band is waking them up, only to tell them they need to sleep better. Executive Vice President Stephen Elop is caught wearing something from Nike. Even former CEO Steve Ballmer is overheard praising the Apple Watch’s design at Staples Center. By December 1st, paltry Microsoft Band sales dissolve into nothing, and Microsoft abandons the wearable market for good. “At least we still have the Surface Pro 3,” Nadella ad libs on a Sunday talk show. Nine hundred miles away, Apple execs play the clip on repeat while celebrating record-breaking iPad Air 2 sales.

5. The Amazon Fire TV Stick

Best-case scenario

After a bumbling first year, the TV streaming stick finds its perfect manufacturer in Amazon: a company known for cheap prices, convenience and world-class distribution. The sneaky little device sits in Amazon’s top-selling electronics slot for the entire holiday season, quietly winning over tens of thousands of new Prime subscribers in the process. Apple TV users, tired of its clunky user interface and terrible controls, sell their old boxes before snapping up Amazon’s latest stick. Despite terrific sales, the product doesn’t actually make much profit, but the company’s shareholders don’t care (as usual). Amazon stock soars.

Worst-case scenario

After pouring years of deals and development into the Amazon Fire TV service, a series of harsh realities hit. People don’t want to play games on an Amazon Fire TV or Stick; they want to play on a legitimate game console. HBO might have given Amazon the rights to play classic series like The Wire and The Sopranos, but HBO is launching a standalone subscription service anyway, with more current shows and wider availability. Google Chromecast does the same thing as the Fire TV stick, but retails at a lower price, and doesn’t require an Amazon Prime subscription for all its best features. Customers pass on the Fire TV stick. Jeff Bezos calls an emergency shareholder meeting. Skeptical of Bezos’ latest pet project, Amazon’s investors demand the company “wake up and actually turn a profit.” Later that night, Bezos pens an open letter on Amazon’s homepage titled, “Turn a profit? Who do people think we are? Apple?”

 

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Alcohol Is Getting More Expensive Most Quickly in These Cities

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Jeff Allen, a driver for Brewers Distributing Co., delivers Anheuser-Busch beer in Pekin, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bay Area booze is getting pricey

If the price of your pints seems steeper than it did a year ago, you might be on to something.

Depending on where you live, the price of alcoholic beverages was increasing faster than the rate of inflation heading into this fall season. This rate of increase is according to Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) data for all urban consumers released periodically by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This first chart shows how fast alcohol prices increased or decreased when it comes to alcoholic beverages alone:

Note that we are using only eight months of 2014 data in the above chart to compare against the 2013 yearly index average for each area.*

To better understand these numbers at scale, consider for a moment the all-items CPI-U basket, a weighted average of expenditures across all consumer goods and services. It’s the most common measure of inflation in the U.S. Throughout the year, the BLS publishes U.S. city average index values as well as more granular metropolitan index values. You’ll often hear about the inflation rate. Specifically, this number tells us how fast the index value for all the items in the CPI-U index is increasing for a given timeframe. As of August 2014, that number was averaging 1.65%, up from last year’s total average of 1.46%:

In nine of the 25 metro areas considered, the price of alcohol outpaced the ongoing 2014 rate of inflation. Naturally, these were areas in which the price of alcohol was increasing the fastest.

The fact that alcohol prices were increasing the fastest in the San Francisco Bay Area is not necessarily an indication that the Bay Area’s alcohol is the most expensive in the nation. Because a CPI measures how fast prices change in one area over time, it can’t be used to compare prices across cities. Increases or decreases, however, can be compared across geographic areas over time.

If you’re wondering about specific alcoholic beverages, it’s mostly beside the point. For those living in an area where the price of alcohol was increasing faster than inflation, drinks this weekend really might be a little more expensive.

*In FindTheBest’s CPI comparison topic, we use the yearly average of monthly index values. Using the yearly average smoothes out the potential volatility of year-over-year comparisons because it incorporates more data points. So measuring against the 2013 yearly index average for each area, the chart shows the percent change from that 2013 yearly index average to the end of August 2014. The August to-date average covers eight months of BLS data, though indexes for most metro areas are released on an odd/even basis or else a semiannual one.

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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.

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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.

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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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