TIME Reviews

This Is the Best TV You Can Buy Right Now

Sony X950B Series Sony

The Sony X900B series has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market

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

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If you’re looking for a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

Who should get this TV?

Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV.

If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV.

If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

Our pick

The Sony X900B starts at about $2,800 for the 55” version. It has an incredibly dark black level compared to the rest of the competition, creating a powerfully contrasty image. It’s less like you’re watching a TV, and more just a movie floating in your room. The colors are lifelike and accurate. While there are many great TVs on the market this year, in review after review, the X900B edges out the others (often by just not doing anything wrong).

It also has great sound quality thanks to a rather large, built-in speaker array. Think of it as having a halfway-decent soundbar built into the TV. Those without an existing setup will appreciate the fact that it actually sounds good, but if you already have a sound system, it’s just an unnecessary added expense that takes up extra space.

David Katzmaier, from CNET, gave the X900B 3.5/5 stars, including a score of 9/10 for performance (though only 5/10 for value). In his review, he says “the Sony XBR-X900B series provides the best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far, competing well against the better plasmas.”

Who else likes it? Robert Heron reviewed the X900B for HDGuru.com, concluding, “as a product that delivers an audio and visual experience with 4K, HD, and streaming sources, I cannot think of another LCD television that has impressed my ears and eyes more than the Sony XBR-X900B series.”

The X900B comes in 55- ($2,800), 65- ($3,800), and massive 79-inch models ($8,000).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Those ears, man. Those ears. Each side of the X900B’s screen features big speakers. They’re incorporated well, but make the TV much bigger than it needs to be, and are rather useless for anyone adding a soundbar or surround sound system (which we always recommend). You’re not paying extra for the speakers (at least not any meaningful amount), so it’s really just the aesthetics that are the issue.

The X900B is also on the expensive side. With the demise of plasma, the sweet, sweet low-priced, high-performing television is gone. LCDs that were close to plasma’s picture quality were always much more expensive. They needed features like local dimming and high refresh rates to compete with plasma’s inherent strengths. So the next step down, into what we’ll call the “mid-range” of LCDs on the market (say, $1,000-$1,500 for a 60-inch), is a big step down in price, and a fairly sizeable step in picture quality.

A Budget Pick

If the X900B is out of your price range, check out the Vizio M-series ($1,150 for a 60-inch). It’s not perfect, but there’s no single standout for the “best” mid-range LCD. The M-series offers very good picture quality, a little better than its competitors, and is a great price for its size.

There are two main issues with the M-series. The first is its motion resolution, which means objects that move onscreen, like a car driving from the left of the screen to the right, will blur more than a stationary background. And Consumer Reports says the motion blur reduction feature “also activates the smooth-motion effect that gives movies a “video-like appearance.”

That “smooth-motion effect” is also called the Soap Opera Effect (SOE), which many (including me) can’t stand. It makes everything look like an ultra-smooth soap opera. This is often the tradeoff with LCDs: poor motion resolution, or SOE. Some higher-end TVs have additional settings that reduce motion blur but don’t cause SOE, but the M-series doesn’t have those. Sports and gaming won’t look weird with SOE enabled, but movies and TV shows will. If you’re bothered by motion blurring, and you hate SOE, but don’t want a plasma (which don’t have this issue), consider the Samsung H6350.

The other issue with the M-series is that it’s only a little better-looking than Vizio’s less expensive E-series. CNET thinks “[the] picture is not significantly better than less-expensive E-Series.” They rate the two the same, Consumer Reports gives one extra tick to the M-series. So if you want to save a little money, the E-series is about 30% cheaper for only slightly worse picture quality. The consensus is the M-series does look a little better, though.

If money is no object…

OLED technology has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for many, many years. OLED’s biggest improvement over plasma and LCD is an even better contrast ratio, which is the most important part of a TV’s picture quality. The contrast ratio on OLED is effectively infinite. The image is better—it’s more lifelike and “window-to-another-world” than you’ve ever seen on any TV technology.

At an MSRP of $3,500, this year’s OLED, the LG 55EC9300, is significantly cheaper than last year’s, which was $15,000 when first available (that model is now on clearance at $3,200).

CNET’s David Katzmaier is effusive in his praise of the new TV, saying in his review that it has “the best picture quality” of any TV he’s reviewed, with “perfect” black levels, and “exceedingly bright whites.”

Our take on 4K TV Ultra High Definition TVs

Yes, our pick is a 4K TV, but we didn’t pick it for that reason—it’s a beautiful TV, that just happens to also be 4K. Resolution, in itself, isn’t a reason to upgrade your TV; it’s just one aspect of picture quality. The best 4K TVs do look good, but that’s because they also have all the best technologies their manufacturers can put in them (local dimming, etc). Cheap 4K TVs only have resolution going for them, so you’re getting a mediocre TV. Or to put it another way, you’re getting a Kia with Pirelli P-Zeros on it. It’s still a Kia. Wouldn’t you rather a Porsche for a little more money?

Further, the claims about an increase in picture quality due to the increase in resolution are somewhat dubious as well. Your eye can’t resolve the increased resolution in anything but very large screen sizes. Wirecutter contributor Chris Heinonen has an excellent 4K calculator to determine if you’ll get any benefit going with a higher-than-HD resolution display. Basically, if you’re sitting where most people are (9 or 10 feet from your TV), then you’ll need way more than 70-inch TVs before you even start to see a difference.

For a 50-to-60-inch TV, 4K is just going to be a waste of money, unless you’re sitting really, really close. If you want to dive into the science behind it, check out my articles over at CNET.

Wrapping it up

If you’re looking for the best TV, I recommend the Sony X900B in 55-, 65-, and 79-inch sizes. It has the best picture available right now. Too expensive? Check out Vizio’s M-series.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME electronics

This Is the Best $500 Television You Can Buy

A Vizio E-Series flat panel television.
A Vizio E-Series flat panel television. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission—ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's the Vizio E500i-B1

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

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If I were looking for a good, inexpensive, 50-inch TV, I’d get the Vizio E500i-B1. It has above-average picture quality—better than many more expensive models—with impressively dark blacks (a rarity in this price range of LCD), bright whites, decent motion resolution, and reasonably accurate colors. It also consistently gets top marks from the best TV reviewers on the web.

If the Vizio is sold out, or otherwise unavailable, the Panasonic 50AS530U offers almost as good picture quality but costs a bit more money ($600 as of this writing). Its contrast ratio isn’t quite as good as the Vizio, but the motion resolution is decent.

Who should get this TV?

If your TV is dying, has died, or you’re looking for something larger, this TV offers pretty good performance for a low price.

In terms of picture quality, this TV is generally better than most LCDs in this price range. Upgrading to more expensive models will result in better motion resolution, better contrast ratios, and more accurate colors. (In other words, these qualities makes a more lifelike, realistic picture.)

Keep in mind, though, that for around $500, when it comes to a 50-inch TV, there is no clear winner in terms of picture quality. All have strengths and weaknesses. And stepping down slightly in size doesn’t get you enough of an increase in picture quality to offset the loss in size. So even a great-looking 40-inch TV doesn’t look enough better than the Vizio to make up for how much smaller it is.

If the best picture quality possible is your goal, check out our Best TV guide.

How we picked

$500 can get you pretty great picture quality. According to our research, spending a bit more for this size doesn’t yield much (if any) improvement in picture quality.

I also eliminated most smaller screen sizes in the same price range: 48 inches was okay, 47 was pushing it, and 46 would have to be pretty amazing to make up for its smaller size.

Off-brand TVs aren’t going to offer better picture quality than one of the major brands. Unlike many categories we cover at the Wirecutter, good TVs don’t just “happen.” There isn’t going to be a surprise no-name brand that looks better than the big names. Not this year, anyway. Maybe someday.

After making this shortlist, I queried the opinions of TV reviewers I trust. The E-series was consistently among the most positively reviewed, but only by a small amount. To be honest, the TVs in this range are “good,” but none are “great.” That’s just the nature of this part of the market.

Our Pick

The Vizio E-series wins out for having impressively dark black levels (again, a rarity in this price range of LCD), but still having a bright image. The motion resolution is OK, as is the color accuracy. Neither of the last two are standouts, but neither are “bad.” Overall the image is “very good,” which, when you consider the price, is excellent.

Input lag, important to gamers, is excellent: under 30 ms. Average for TVs is around 55 ms.

Though it seems an odd aspect to praise, no reviewer seemed to dislike the E-series. For an inexpensive LCD, that’s actually pretty impressive.

CNET liked the E-series the best, giving it a 4/5 stars and an 8/10 for performance. They concluded, “With picture quality that outdoes that of numerous more-expensive TVs, Vizio’s E series likely represents the best value of 2014.”

Digital Trends liked the E-series, as did Sound & Vision and Rtings.com.

Consumer Reports liked the E-series the least of the major review sites (paywall), giving the 50-inch a 57/100. Their highest rating in this size is 69/100, our runner up. They felt it had “Very Good” image quality overall, praising the detail and black levels, but found the color accuracy and viewing angle to be below average (more on the latter in the Flaws section.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Like all LCDs, the E-series has some picture quality drawbacks, most notably, motion blur and off-axis viewing. Motion blur is when the image blurs when something on screen moves (or the entire image movies, like a camera pan). The E-series uses a method to reduce motion blur called black frame insertion. CNET said this reduced blur “slightly,” but they “ended up turning off MBR because it tended to introduce flicker in some areas, particularly white fields.”

To get better motion resolution and otherwise decent picture quality, you’ll have to spend a lot more.

The other issue is off-axis viewing. The color saturation and overall picture quality decreases the further away you are from dead center. If you have a big couch, or tend to have people (you like) that sit off to the sides of a TV, consider the similarly priced 49-inch Vizio M-series. This TV doesn’t look as good straight on, but will look better than the E-series off to the side.

Lastly: sound. No TV in this range has good sound quality. In fact, with very few exceptions, no TV has good sound quality. We highly recommend checking out an inexpensive soundbar, which will sound radically better than any TV. OK, almost any TV.

Reported issues

There are reports on the E-series TVs shutting down randomly. It’s hard (if not impossible) to judge how many units are truly affected by this issue. We go into depth about this in the full guide but the short version is, from what we can tell from Amazon reviews, approximately 4 percent of people have this problem. According to Consumer Reports, LCD TVs in general have a 3-5 percent problem rate, so this is in that range.

The Vizio’s satisfaction ratio is a bit lower than the top competition, which isn’t ideal, but all are fairly close. 76 percent (4 and 5 stars) are happy with their E-series. No TV is perfect.

If you run into these issues, Amazon has a 30-day return policy. Costco gives 90 days to members. Best Buy’s policy is 15 days. Vizio’s warranty is 1 year on parts and labor.

For now the E-series remains the pick, but if these potential issues concern you, check out our runner-up pick.

Runner-up

The Panasonic 50AS530U was liked by some reviewers more than Vizio’s E-series and by other reviewers less so. The difference was so close that it wasn’t quite enough to offset the $50 (9%) difference in price. The contrast ratio isn’t quite as good; the color accuracy is similar, as is the motion resolution. The off-axis performance is a little better.

Competition

For a full list of the TVs we considered, but didn’t pick, check out the full article.

Is now the best time to buy?

A bevy of new TVs were announced at the yearly Consumer Electronics Show in early January. It’s too soon to tell which might be our pick for 2015, but we know they’re coming. We expect to start seeing reviews and tests of the new models this summer. Will the new models be better than the Vizio? We honestly don’t know. Most new models are better than the ones they replace, but not always. For now, the E-series is a great TV.

Wrapping it up

The Vizio E500i-B1 is a great $500(ish) 50-inch TV. It has above-average picture quality, with dark black levels and a bright image. Its color accuracy and motion resolution are only okay, but that’s not too different from other TVs in this price range. In short, it’s a decent, inexpensive 50-inch TV.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME Smartphones

This Is the Best Android Phone For Most People

Samsung Galaxy S5
Several attendees are at the Mobile World Congress that was held in Barcelona between 24 and February 27, Samsung introduces its latest model Galaxy S5 in Barcelona, Spain on February 27, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

It's the Samsung Galaxy S5

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

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After testing every major Android smartphone this year, we think the Samsung Galaxy S5 makes the most sense for most people. But there are at least half a dozen great Android smartphones, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s hard to choose just one for everyone. Here are the standouts.

Should I upgrade from my existing phone?

If you rely on your smartphone throughout the day, and your old one isn’t serving you well anymore, get a new one—it’s worth the cost if you use it constantly. But if you’re happy with your old phone, hang onto it, especially if you’re still within the carrier contract that subsidizes its cost.

When you do get a phone, get the newest and best phone you can afford, especially if you’re signing a two-year contract. The better the phone you get today, the more likely it is to be usable until your contract expires. This is why we recommend top-tier Android phones, rather than the “free” phones your carrier offers.

Samsung Galaxy S5 (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon)

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a balanced phone with many strengths. It has a beautiful 5.1-inch 1080p screen, great battery life, a good camera, a removable battery, and a microSD slot. It’s even water-resistant—it can survive being submerged in three feet of water for half an hour. It’s a very practical choice that’s available on every major carrier, and it’s easy to find accessories for it.

On the downside, the Galaxy S5’s plasticky build might be a turnoff (unless you keep your phone in a case); its user interface is bloated, confusing, and cluttered with apps of dubious value from both Samsung and your carrier; it has a finicky fingerprint sensor that’s not as good as the iPhone’s; and its gimmicky heart-rate monitor is rarely accurate.

The Galaxy S5 isn’t perfect, and it isn’t as well-built as Apple’s iPhone. But it does everything pretty well, and it won’t die if you drop it in the toilet, so it’s a solid choice for most people.

Motorola Moto X 2014 (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, US Cellular)

In many ways, the second-generation Moto X is one of the best Android phones ever made. It’s well-built, it has very similar specs to the Galaxy S5, and you can order it with wood, plastic, or even leather backplates. It feels great in the hand, and the few software bits that Motorola adds to stock Android are actually useful, such as always-on voice-command recognition and on-screen passive notifications. It’s much more pleasant to use than the Galaxy S5—and it costs $100 less. The Galaxy S5 is usually $200 with a two-year contract or $600 without; the Moto X starts at $100 for a two-year contract and $500 without.

Unfortunately, the Moto X’s battery life and camera aren’t as good as those of the Galaxy S5; it isn’t as water-resistant; and it lacks the S5’s removable battery and microSD slot. Still, it’s still one of the best phones you can buy—unless you’re on Sprint.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular)

If you know you want a big phone—either for getting work done more efficiently, or just to have a big screen—get the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It’s half an inch taller than the Galaxy S5 or Moto X, and a quarter of an inch wider, so you should forget about using it one-handed. But the upsides are a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 screen, plenty of power, fantastic battery life, great cameras, and a stylus. Its software lets you use apps side-by-side so you can take advantage of the huge screen. The Note 4 is sturdier and feels more solid than last year’s model, the Note 3.

The Note 4 is expensive and huge, and like the Galaxy S5 it suffers from Samsung’s bloatware. But it’s the best big Android phone for getting work done, because its software takes advantage of its huge screen, unlike with most big phones.

Moto G (Unlocked, GSM)

The Moto G is the cheapest decent Android phone you can get. We recommend the Universal 4G LTE model from last year. It has a slower processor, less RAM, and a lower-resolution screen than today’s more-expensive phones, but it’s far better than any other phone at its price. (This year’s model has the same processor, but a larger 5.2-inch screen and a microSD slot. However, it lacks LTE, so we prefer last year’s version.) The Moto G also runs stock Android 5.0 Lollipop—it’s very rare for cheap Android phones to have up-to-date software, and it’s one of the things that sets the Moto G apart.

The Rest

There are many other great phones out there, such as the HTC One M8, LG G3, Sony Xperia Z3, and Google Nexus 5 and 6, but each has at least one or two major weaknesses. You can read more about those phones in our full guide on The Wirecutter.

In closing

Most people will be well-served by either the Galaxy S5 or Moto X, depending on your priorities. The Galaxy Note 4 is our choice for a big phone, and the Moto G is the best cheap phone.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Umbrella You Can Buy

Umbrellas
Umbrellas kba—Getty Images/Flickr RF

The EuroSCHIRM Light Trek is the best umbrella for most people

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

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

How we decided

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

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

How we tested

First, we examined the components of each model closely and performed some quick ease-of-use tests. We compared the materials and the design, and we opened and closed each umbrella 20 times, searching for changes in performance over that sample size.

Then we simulated rain in a two-headed shower. Finally, we secured each umbrella to a strong post and blasted it with a leaf blower, using a Craftsman 215 mph electric at a distance of eight feet. We blasted each umbrella first on a low setting from directly in front and then from below. Then we repeated the same process on high. After that, we walked to within three feet of each test subject and blasted it from all angles.

We also attempted to invert each umbrella by hand to determine how easy it would be to do and if doing so would cause damage to the ribs and joints.

Our pick

The EuroSCHIRM Light Trek has the deepest canopy (8.75″) while maintaining one of the smallest sizes when folded up (11″). It also has a reliable fiberglass build with few moving parts. It quite simply provided the best coverage in a smaller, better-constructed package than any other umbrella we looked at. It cruised through all our tests and has few flaws. Shower testing revealed that the depth of the canopy is really important for protecting against angled rain, and the EuroSCHIRM had the deepest canopy of any of the umbrellas we tested. It’s also Teflon-coated, tightly-woven polyester which beads well and makes it easy to shake out.

Its simple design (fewer parts and locations subject to breaking) and use of burly materials like fiberglass mean it probably won’t break on you. But just in case it does, EuroSCHIRM offers a fairly comprehensive two-year warranty that will cover any and all issues with the frame of the umbrella.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The mesh bag is, obviously, not waterproof, and it also lacks a wrist strap. Warranties are time-consuming and a hassle, but not out of the ordinary. But we don’t think you’re going to need to send it in.

The runner up

The $99 Davek Solo is a solid-albeit-expensive competitor. The frame is constructed with nine ribs compared to the usual six or eight, which makes it a bit stronger than most. It has a deep, wide canopy. The one place where it really stands out is its unconditional lifetime warranty; it even offers some protection against loss. The Davek Solo is the most attractive umbrella that we tested. The handle in particular was nice to hold and looks great, and overall the umbrella fits in well in a dressy situation.

The step down

The Lewis N. Clark is a great backup when you’re strapped for cash. It will keep you dry, but probably not for very long. It performs decently well for an under-$20 umbrella. We had low expectations given its low price, but it actually performed surprisingly well, beating or matching the performance of some umbrellas costing twice as much. Our testing results are backed up by the fact that it’s Amazon’s best-selling umbrella, with loads of positive reviews. Those who live in an environment that only exposes them to occasional squalls (or those who just don’t do much in the rain and rarely feel the need for an umbrella) might find it worth it to risk being left wet once in a while.

Wrapping it up

Without knowing what you’re looking for, it’s easy to assume all umbrellas are about the same. To do so relegates you to an endless cycle of disposable umbrellas and soggy frustration. The EuroSCHIRM Light Trek distinguished itself as a solid performer in every category we tested, balancing size, compactness and durability. It is the best umbrella out there.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME Tablets

This Is the Best Tablet You Can Buy Right Now

Apple Unveils New iPad Models
An attendee inspects new iPad Air 2 during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It's Apple's iPad Air 2. Here's why.

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

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The new iPad Air 2 is the best overall tablet for most people. Apple’s new iPads are always better than last year’s, and the things that have made all the iPads strong tablets — like unbeatable app choices — are still present in this generation of the tablet. But with the latest update, the iPad Air 2 is thinner, lighter, and faster than the previous version, plus it gained fingerprint identification features, making it an even better user experience. And right now, the iPad (and iOS ecosystem) still offer the best overall customer experience when compared against Android.

Who Should Buy This?

If you bought the 2013 Air and are a heavy user and content-creator, the faster processor and expanded RAM of the iPad Air 2 will help with performance. If you bought the Air and use it for email, web browsing, and lighter tasks, you can hold off. If you have the original iPad Mini, then the Air 2 will be barely larger, but much faster with better Wi-Fi and Apple’s fingerprint authentication feature, TouchID.


Why we like this above all else

The 2014 update has hardware that makes it faster, thinner, and more versatile than last year’s model or the new iPad mini 3. The iPad Air now has fingerprint authentication, and is thin and light enough to hold one-handed as you would a paperback. It has the best selection of tablet-dedicated apps thanks to iOS. If you’re not particularly into Android or tinkering with your setup, there isn’t a better choice.

Why the iPad Air 2 over the updated iPad mini 3? The iPad Air 2 has a higher-quality camera that can do panoramas and burst mode, and it has the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard which allows for faster file transfers and improved range. The iPad mini 3 did not receive the faster processor that was added to the iPad Air 2. For $100 more, you get a lot more features, faster overall performance, and a larger, nicer screen with the Air 2.

But what about other, non-Apple tablets? For service and support, it’s difficult to beat Apple today. Their Apple Stores and Genius Bars are equipped to handle almost all tablet repairs on the same day. Our own experiences with the Genius Bar have seen my iPhone screen and a MacBook Air battery replaced within 30 minutes. Other companies might have as long a warranty, but they cannot do the instant turnaround that Apple can.

Most importantly, though, is Apple’s iOS ecosystem. Though the Android (Google Play) ecosystem is catching up, Apple continues to offer the largest selection of high-quality, dedicated tablet apps. While the selection of tablet-designed apps is constantly growing, that ecosystem and extremely clean user experience is still behind what iOS offers to its users.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The iPad Air 2 is more expensive than its closest competition. The closest non-iPad competition is probably the $400 16GB Nexus 9. The iPad Air 2 starts at $500 for the Wi-Fi 16GB version, but 16GB is barely enough for most people and makes installing updates harder down the road, so you should probably get the the 64GB version at $600. Siri is still not as good as some Android voice control systems, and Google Now (which gives you an overview of your day and things you care about) is great if you use Android. But these are just nits to pick.

In Closing

The iPad Air 2 is the best tablet because choosing it means you’re not compromising on anything. The hardware is fast, thin, and light, it has a great, upgraded camera with useful video capabilities, TouchID, and the best tablet software ecosystem on the market today.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best E-Book Reader You Can Buy

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Amazon

It's the $120 Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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

The $120 Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is our favorite e-book reader because it has a backlight for reading in the dark and Amazon’s amazing book selection, which is unsurpassed by the competition.

How we decided

There are other good e-readers out there, like the Kobo and the Nook GlowLight. They all share similar specs, but comparing hardware misses the bigger picture.

We prefer Amazon because it has the biggest and best selection of e-books and the best prices. Its also a company you can bank on to keep the updates coming while you port your ever-growing library of books to better and better hardware through the ages. If you look at it like that, you’re not really buying an e-book reader. You’re buying a cheap window to see into a vast library that you will keep for the rest of your life.

Our pick

The Paperwhite has not changed drastically in the last two years, but that’s okay, because Amazon has had a good thing going for a while. If you have the 2013 edition, you can easily stick with that model and not feel like you’re missing out on too much. If you have a Kindle older than that, you might want to upgrade.

The current Paperwhite model’s battery can run for up to eight weeks at a time, even with the screen light running. In summer 2014, Amazon doubled the Paperwhite’s internal storage from 2GB to 4GB, making room for more than 1,000 e-books. It has a bright front-lit screen, a black on white e-ink display that’s crisp and makes text very easy to read even outdoors, and a processor that makes page turning smooth.

The Paperwhite supports illustrated children’s e-books and has some baked-in parental controls. Amazon Prime members can access the Lending Library, and any Kindle owner can sign up for Kindle Unlimited, a $10-per-month subscription that provides access to 600,000 e-books and audiobooks.

The Kindle Paperwhite is priced squarely in the middle of all Amazon’s e-readers, starting at $120 for the Wi-Fi only version with ads. The ad-free version is $140, while the 3G-enabled Paperwhite is $189 with ads and $209 without them. (The ads don’t pop up during reading, but for $20 more, I’d opt out.) We prefer the Paperwhite over the basic $80 Amazon Kindle because it can store more books and runs for longer on a single charge.

The Upgrade

The Kindle Voyage is an even better e-reader than the Paperwhite, with a 300 DPI e-Ink screen, a backlight that adjusts brightness automatically, and a touchscreen with a body you can squeeze to turn pages. But at $200, it doesn’t offer enough over the Paperwhite to justify spending an additional $80 for most people. The pixel density of the Voyage is double that of the Paperwhite, but text on the Paperwhite is already easy to read and the difference won’t be noticeable to most people. The adaptive backlight is nice, but the standard backlight on the Paperwhite is fine. The Voyage’s squeeze action to change pages is better, but most people will probably be fine with the controls on the Paperwhite.

It might be worth upgrading to the Voyage if you read a lot of graphic novels or comics, because the higher resolution display of the Voyage does make those easier to read.

In closing

Amazon’s e-book selection and certainty of upgrades makes it the best investment for an e-book collection. If you really love reading books and can afford to spend $200, then the Voyage is a wonderful e-reader. But at $120, the Paperwhite is a very solid e-reader, and a great choice for most people.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Samsung Galaxy S5 Case You Can Buy

ENDING OF MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS IN BARCELONA
Several attendees are at the Mobile World Congress that was held in Barcelona between 24 and February 27, Samsung introduces its latest model Galaxy S5 in Barcelona, Spain on February 27, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The Spigen Slim Armor is the best everyday Samsung Galaxy S5 case

The Best Samsung Galaxy S5 Cases

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

After evaluating 43 distinct cases over a period of 30 hours, we think the Spigen Slim Armor is the best everyday Samsung Galaxy S5 case for most people. The dual-layer plastic and rubber case adds less bulk than most cases made with the same materials, and the attention to detail is obvious. It costs under $20, comes in an array of colors, and even maintains the Galaxy S5’s signature “Band-Aid” look.

How we picked

A good case has to offer cutouts for the headphone port, IR blaster, microphones, speaker, charging port, and the rear camera/heart rate sensor array. It should also cover the volume and power buttons without reducing the clicky sensation when you press them. Most importantly, it needs to provide at least some protection from drops and impacts. This means it needs to cover the back, sides, and corners of the case, and prevent the screen from rubbing against a surface when the phone is face-down. It doesn’t have to have military-grade protection (though we have a recommendation for that!), and because the S5 is already water-resistant, the case doesn’t need to be.

Our pick

We think the Spigen Slim Armor has the best balance of protection, size, and looks for most Galaxy S5 owners. The TPU and polycarbonate plastic case offers full body protection from drops and scuffs while adding minimal bulk, a combination that bumped it to the top of all those we looked at.

The Slim Armor adds less than 3.5mm to the Galaxy’s total thickness. Its height and width are right in the middle among the cases that made it to our final consideration. Spigen’s case also creates a lip that’ll help keep the glass from hitting the ground if the phone is dropped and elevating it when the handset is placed face down on a desk or table. The plastic back is smooth and easily slides in and out of a pocket. It also has some thoughtful design touches, like separate cutouts for the camera and heart rate sensor and individual speaker grates.

We’re not the only ones who like this Slim Armor. On Amazon, the listing that includes the case along with a few variants has 2,092 ratings with an average star rating of 4.5.

Other great cases

Another great protective pick for the Galaxy S5 is the NGP from Incipio, which sells for $12. The NGP is a tiny bit thinner than the Slim Armor. It doesn’t have a plastic shell, just TPU, so it’s not as rigid as Spigen’s, but it still securely grips the phone without letting go unless you want it to.

If you need more protection, we suggest Speck’s CandyShell, which sells for $23 and up. It meets MIL-STD-810G drop test standards, so it’s the one to get if you drop your phone a lot. It’s better-looking than most other hardcore cases (like Otterbox) and comes in five different colors. Speck told us that, in their own tests, the case “was dropped onto a hard, unrelenting surface from 4 feet 26 times and . . . retained full functionality, with no damage to the screen or buttons.” (It’s important to note the case has only been tested against the standards of military uses, not actually evaluated by the military.)

Spigen’s Tough Armor ($18+) is a slightly thicker and wider version of the Slim Armor, with a little more protection. The outer layer is flat with a metallic finish instead of a dimpled back. It offers the same high level of coverage around the camera and heart rate sensor as well as the speaker. It’s larger than the CandyShell, so you’ll feel the extra bulk in your hand and pocket. It’s also more angular where the CandyShell is smooth and curved.

In closing

While personal preference plays a big role in choosing a case, the Slim Armor is the most well-balanced option for most people in their day-to-day lives. It offers an impressive level of protection and has a look that should appeal to a majority of people.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best Cheap Wi-Fi Router You Can Buy

TP-Link TL-WDR3600 TP-Link

The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 is your best low-budget option.

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

If I wanted the cheapest good Wi-Fi router I could get, I would buy the TP-Link TL-WDR3600. It’s a wireless-N router that costs $60 but outperforms some routers that cost twice as much. It took more than 150 hours of research and testing to find our pick. Of the 29 routers we looked at and the seven we tested, the TL-WDR3600 had the best performance for the lowest price.

Our Pick

The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 is a dual-band, two-stream router that’s faster, more consistent, and has better range than other routers near its price range. Unlike many cheap routers, it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and it has Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB 2.0 ports for sharing printers and storage with your network. It’s a great upgrade from your ISP-provided router, and it supports a connection type that’s six times as fast as wireless-g (the previous standard found in routers from 2007 or earlier).

Since the TL-WDR3600 is a wireless-N router, wireless-AC devices won’t be as fast as they could be on a wireless-AC router. We don’t think that’s a dealbreaker yet. Wireless-AC only started showing up in high-end laptops, smartphones, and tablets in 2013. Wireless-N devices are still much more common. Wireless-AC devices work just fine with a wireless-N router, though. In our tests, the TL-WDR3600 even outperformed some more expensive wireless-AC routers at long range.

The TL-WDR3600 is easy to set up, but beyond that its user interface is complex and unintuitive. This is a common problem with TP-Link routers, but we think this router’s performance and low price make it worth the hassle. At this price, performance is more important than an interface with which you’ll rarely have to deal. And if you can manage the interface, you’ll find features common in more expensive routers, like parental controls, guest networks, and a DLNA server for streaming media.

 

Other Options

If the TL-WDR3600 is not available, consider the Edimax BR-6478AC ($70). It’s a dual-band, dual-stream wireless-AC router with an interface that’s much easier to use than the TP-Link’s (which solves our two biggest complaints about our main pick). Unfortunately, its range isn’t quite as good as the TP-Link’s. If you have wireless-AC devices and spend a lot of time on high-bandwidth tasks — like backing up your entire laptop to a network drive — you’ll want the Edimax’s speed. If you just surf the Web a lot, you’ll want the TP-Link’s extra range—wireless-AC speeds don’t really matter unless you have a very fast Internet connection to begin with.

If you can afford to spend $100 on a router, get the TP-Link Archer C7, our favorite router. It has the same complex, unintuitive interface as the TL-WDR3600, but it supports three-stream wireless-AC devices and its speed and range are incredible. It’s more than twice as fast as the TL-WDR3600 and the Edimax on most of our tests, and it’s even faster than some $200 routers. Just make sure you’re getting the v2 version.

In closing

For the devices you’re most likely to own, TP-Link’s inexpensive TL-WDR3600 delivers great performance at the longest distances. It’s the best cheap router for most people. If you have lots of wireless-AC devices but are still on a budget, check out Edimax’s $70 BR-6478AC. Neither router is as good as our favorite router, the $100 TP-Link Archer C7 v2, but you’ll pay more for the extra performance.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Home Soda Maker You Can Buy

SodaStream

The Sodastream Jet is the best home soda maker on the market.

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a list of the best gear for your home. Read the full article at TheSweethome.com

If you drink a lot of seltzer and are tired of wasting plastic bottles or aluminum cans, you should get the Sodastream Jet. It’s simple to use, makes delicious seltzer, has a CO2 tank that lasts for about 40-60 liters, and is one of the most eco-friendly options available for soda water fiends.

How We Decided

We spent more than 30 hours researching dozens of home soda makers, and settled on these characteristics as essential for the best home soda maker: the canister (and cap) should be dishwasher-safe and able to hold enough water for a few drinks (0.75 – 1.2 Liters), the machine should be uncomplicated to use, and it should be easy to get the carbonated water out of the soda maker once you’re ready to drink.

Using this criteria, we selected six models to test ourselves, hosted a blind tasting test, and even built our own machine to ultimately decide that the Sodastream Jet is the best option.

Who should buy this?

If you like seltzer water but are tired of the expense and environmental cost of the bottled or canned varieties — not to mention the annoyance of lugging cases home from the grocery store — stepping up to a Sodastream may be right for you. Its CO2 tank will last for more than 30 refills, depending on how heavily carbonated you like your water, and will significantly cut down your seltzer bill.

Why we like this above all else

The Jet is simple enough for a child to use and makes delicious, bubbly seltzer that topped our taste tests. Its CO2 tank is long-lasting, so you shouldn’t have to head to a store for refills too often, and the Jet is one of the most eco-friendly options we found. Compared to the other models we tested, we found the Jet by far the easiest to use: Just fill up the provided bottle, screw into the machine, and pump once, twice, or three times, depending on the level of carbonation you prefer. It does require some prep, though, most notably making sure your water is very, very cold. If you can remember to refill your Sodastream bottle and keep it in the fridge between uses, you’ll have much more success with the machine.

Our testers found the soda neutral-tasting, and while it wasn’t quite as fizzy as the store-bought sample to which we compared it, it still tasted effervescent and bubbly. There was one other model that beat the Jet in terms of taste — the Mastrad Purefizz — but numerous complaints about that company’s customer service (not to mention the machine’s habit of rusting), means we can’t recommend it.

The Jet comes with a 60-liter CO2 tank, which we found filled about 40 liters consistently, although this will depend on how carbonated you prefer your seltzer. It offers the ability to use both 60L and 130L CO2 cartridges, so if you like, you can spend less time going to and from the store for a refill, especially if you’re a frequent seltzer drinker. One of the Jet’s biggest pluses is that the tank will be refilled and reused after you swap it at the store.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

Unfortunately, in order to swap out the CO2 cartridges, you have to take them back to big box stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond for a refill. There are a few ways to do it yourself with your own CO2 tanks, but if you want to stay within the warranty’s rules, you’re stuck with Sodastream’s $15 proprietary CO2 refills. That’s costly, and can add up over time. Still, it’s cheaper than bottled water.

An even more environmentally friendly option

If you’re really serious about reducing your carbon footprint, you can build a soda maker yourself. Using some instructions, we built our own soda machine using parts bought on Amazon and a CO2 canister rented from a welding shop. Unfortunately, we had trouble getting usable soda from the machine, and it took a lot of fiddling with the psi level to get things right. If you’re willing to take the time to tinker (and are really, really serious about reducing your environmental impact) it can be a fun experiment. But this won’t be a realistic option for a lot of people.

In Closing

If you’re a regular soda drinker who wants something simple, safe, and delicious, the Sodastream Jet is the best choice right now. It creates bubbly soda easily, is far cheaper than buying seltzer at the grocery store, and is environmentally friendly.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Sweethome.com

TIME Gadgets

These Are the Best Over-Ear Headphones You Can Buy For $300 or Less

PSB M4U 1 PSB Speakers

The PSB M4U 1's are the best headphones you can buy in their price range

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

If I was looking to buy over-ear headphones for $300 or less, I’d get the PSB M4U 1, our recommendation for the second year running. After researching dozens of new headphones and testing 17, the PSBs remain the best for most people because they sound just as great playing acoustic concert guitar as they do thumping hip-hop.

How We Decided

We spent 20 hours researching new headphones released since last fall. Anything on the new list that had good reviews or was too new to have any reviews yet, we brought in to be tested by our panel of four experts with decades of audio reviewing experience.

The idea behind our panel is this: listen to all of these headphones back-to-back to get a sense of sound, build quality, comfort, and features as compared to each other. (To our knowledge this is the first time any publication has directly compared some of these products in the same test session.) Because these are headphones of a higher price range, we tested them using an iPhone, Android phone, and iPod, in addition to the Sony PHA-2 Hi-Res DAC and the Dared HPA-55L headphone amp to see if there were varying results in sound quality.

Our Pick

The panel agreed: The PSBs simply have a fantastic overall sound. Clean treble sits lightly on clear mids, complemented by full, rich lows that don’t boom or thud—they bring a sense of depth to the sound that creates the feeling of space, rather than a flat wall of sound. In other words, consonants in words are clear without sounding harsh and strings have a full, rich sound rather than a tinny one. And when the bass drops in your favorite party anthem, the PSBs won’t rattle, sound sloppy, or lose the detail in the other instruments.

In addition to sound and comfort, these headphones have a universal single-button remote and mic on a detachable (and therefore replaceable) cable. They come in black, red, and gray.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

We’d love an iPhone three-button remote option, but when headphones sound this good, we’re willing to put up with the single-button universal remote. And although the shiny plastic overlay on the PSBs has held up for us so far, we would like a design that feels as though it could take a bit more abuse. Overall, those are minor quibbles.

Another Great Choice

The Mo-Fi by Blue are the microphone company’s first-ever headphone offering. What sets them apart is that they include a built-in, rechargeable headphone amp. Four of our reviewers slightly preferred the sound of the Blue Mo-Fi over the PSB M4U 1. They’re more neutral-sounding when compared to the PSBs, with a little less sibilance to the consonants in words and a little less intensity in the bass (unless you select the On+ bass-boost mode). Between the two, it really becomes a matter of preference rather than quality.

So why aren’t they our pick? At more than 1 lb., they’re a little heavy. All that solid build material, internal amp, and rechargeable battery create a headphone that weighs more than an iPad Mini.

For folks who wear headphones all day long, this could become a literal pain in the neck. We’d rather have someone decide to try the $350 Blue and say we were crazy for questioning the weight than have someone buy the Blue and be miserable because they couldn’t wear them all day.

A More Portable Option

The $240 Sennheiser Momentums are a good choice if you like smaller ear cups, must have an iPhone-specific remote (with volume control), or prefer more intensity in the bass. While they have a cool, compact styling, the ear cups may be a bit small for folks with larger outer ears.

Great Looks, Great Sound

If you want something with a tad more visual panache, we’d recommend the $400 Master & Dynamic MH40. They look stunning and have the sound quality to match, albeit with the slightest boost in the treble and bass. Like the Momentums, they have replaceable cables—one of which has a three-button iPhone control. However, they’re $100 more than our main pick.

The Step-Down Pick

The $220 Beyerdynamic Custom One Pros are a versatile option, with sliders on the back of the ear cups that customize the amount of bass you hear. Panels on the ear cups can be changed to suit your style preference, and they feature removable cables and a removable boom mic for folks who want to use the Custom One Pro as a gaming headset. The downside to this modular design is a slight loss in the fidelity of sound in the heavier bass settings.

Wrapping It Up

In a category flush with amazing headphones, the PSB M4U 1 are the winners for the second year running because they’re comfortable, they sound phenomenal, and every single one of our panelists liked them. We think you will too. Happy listening!

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com.

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