TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Selfie Stick for Your Smartphone

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Looq System, Inc.

Looq DG comes with flexible capabilities and a thoughtful design

Let’s get this out of the way up front: no one truly needs a selfie stick. But if you feel you absolutely must have one, they can be somewhat useful. To find the best selfie stick, we put in 20 hours of research, brought in 22 testing models, and took dozens of selfies in various conditions, including a frozen-over Niagara Falls. In the end, we found Looq System’s Looq DG ($20) to be the best option for most people because it’s the shortest when folded up (about a foot) and the longest when fully extended, which makes it easier to carry and more versatile for composing shots. Additionally, it was one of the few we found that actually had some unique thought put into its design—by comparison, 11 other sticks ended up being identical copies of products that were either more expensive than the models we tested or that had significantly lower user ratings.

The Looq DG has a solid clamp that works on even the largest, heaviest phones around—we tested mostly with an iPhone 6 Plus in a case. While some selfie sticks rely on a Bluetooth connection to communicate with your smartphone, the Looq DG uses a cable that plugs into your smartphone’s headphone jack to replicate the volume-up-button shutter-release feature of both iOS and Android. The great thing about this design is that it doesn’t require a battery or external power source, so there’s nothing to charge and no battery to change like with Bluetooth-based systems. The shutter button itself actuates with a satisfying click that compares favorably to mushier or off-center ones found on some of the generic sticks, such as Minisuit’s Selfie Stick Pro. The build quality is solid; it doesn’t feel like an ultra-premium accessory, but we don’t have any concerns about it breaking during normal use, including when tossed in a backpack for travel.

The difference between wired selfie sticks is really pretty small. If the Looq DG isn’t available, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the sticks from Ipow or Noot as our runners-up; they sell for $14 each. These two are basically identical other than the label on the package. While they are a bit cheaper than the Looq DG, they aren’t quite as portable (they’re just a little longer when folded up) or as versatile for framing shots (they’re a bit shorter when extended). We also had a slight preference for the Looq DG’s button feel.

We’re not huge fans of selfie sticks that use a separate remote—connecting to your phone via Bluetooth—for triggering pictures, because it’s an extra piece to carry around and potentially lose. But these models do offer the versatility to take pictures from farther away than even the stick’s length (if you’re comfortable setting your phone somewhere and walking away from it). Unfortunately it’s difficult to pick the “best” because most are carbon copy versions of the same design. In the end, we chose Gorilla Gear’s Complete Selfie Kit ($25). It’s a unique design that comes in a nice travel box with extras.

Why a selfie stick?

Selfie sticks, which put your smartphone on an extendable pole for taking photos, have been in the news a lot lately—and even in the hands of President Barack Obama. They’ve also been the butt of many jokes. But despite the ubiquitous images of people snapping shots in front of landmarks, a selfie stick isn’t just a silly tourist gimmick. It can be a useful tool that, when used the right way, lets you take better self- (and self-plus-others) portraits. Indeed, among Wirecutter readers, it’s been one of the most-requested guide categories over the past couple months.

The reason why you’d want a selfie stick instead of just using your arm is that the stick can extend to a greater distance. This avoids the “head filling the shot” look, and it gives you more control of how much of the background makes it into your image. There’s also composition to consider: An extended arm will be visible in a selfie, but a properly positioned selfie stick won’t. With a little bit of practice, you can get the kinds of shots that might otherwise require you to hand your phone off to a stranger.

Just be careful, as institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum are starting to ban selfie sticks because of clumsy patrons. (Selfies are still encouraged, but sticks that are accidentally whacking against art are not.)

Why should you trust me?

In addition to having nearly 20 years of reviewing experience between myself (Nick Guy, former accessories editor at iLounge) and my editor (Dan Frakes, former senior editor at Macworld), I put in 20 hours poring through Amazon pages and user reviews, as well as reading all the existing editorial on the subject. The best among these: Quartz’s The starter’s guide to selfie sticks—you know you want one!, which also served as a basic introduction, and Joanna Stern’s excellent Wall Street Journal articleThe Best Selfie Sticks: Look Ridiculous, Shoot Great. We then tested 20 of them in a variety of situations, including in front of a completely frozen-over Niagara Falls.

How we picked & tested

Structurally, selfie sticks are basic accessories, comprised of two to three main parts. First, there’s the pole itself, which usually collapses for ease of packing and travel and extends to let you take pictures of yourself from farther away. At the end of the stick is something to securely hold your phone (or, with most, camera) and position it as needed. Finally, most selfie sticks have some sort of mechanism for triggering your phone’s virtual shutter.

Of course, you’ll find a wide range of quality across even these simple features. For example, while some selfie sticks extend and collapse smoothly and some even lock into place with a twist, others are difficult to extend. Some cradles hold your phone securely and make it easy to position at different angles, while others are flimsy and offer fewer positions.

We first turned to Amazon for our initial research, finding hundreds of selfie sticks, many of which seemed to be identical to one another (more on that below). As mentioned earlier, we used Quartz’s The starter’s guide to selfie sticks—you know you want one! and Joanna Stern’s The Best Selfie Sticks: Look Ridiculous, Shoot Great to start us off, help us narrow down our picks, and find some competitors we wanted to include.

Once we had a list of candidates, we used the following criteria to help winnow our picks:

  • The device must provide a way to trigger photos remotely—in other words, without having to tap the phone’s screen or press a button on the phone itself—whether it be a wired connection or Bluetooth.
  • While third-party apps can enhance a selfie stick’s functionality, they must not be necessary. Similarly, the selfie stick shouldn’t rely on a timed-shutter-release function, or a separate hardware purchase, to trigger the shutter.
  • The selfie stick must be compatible with both iPhones and Android phones, and it must accommodate phones of various sizes, including large-screen handsets.
  • In addition to holding a smartphone, the stick must also provide a standard tripod-mount method for connecting to other devices.

With these criteria in mind, we obtained 20 different samples from a number of companies, spanning every style we could find. We tested each selfie stick with both an iPhone 6 Plus and a Galaxy S5. For the sticks with a wired connection, we connected each stick’s plug to each phone’s headphone jack; for Bluetooth-enabled sticks, we paired each stick with each phone (making sure to delete the Bluetooth pairing when finished to avoid connection issues). We took photos with each phone/stick combination to ensure everything worked properly.

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The WirecutterThe 20 selfie sticks we tested.

After verifying which selfie sticks work with which devices, we measured the extended and collapsed lengths of each (the actual distance from your hand to the phone’s camera lens is a bit shorter, because of your hand overlapping the handle of the stick and the position of the cradle at the end. The actual distance is about 7 inches less than the extended length.)

Because travel is an important consideration, we favored sticks that shrunk down to shorter lengths for easier packing, but we also valued those that were the longest when extended, as a longer stick allows for more distance, and thus wider shots in taking self-photos. And since people generally use selfie sticks on the go, we measured the weight of each; lighter was better.

Finally, we considered the mounting mechanism used by each contender. We tested to see if each could hold various phone sizes up to the iPhone 6 Plus. We also tested the security of each stick’s cradle by shaking the stick around with a smartphone installed; commendably, no phones fell to their doom with any of the sticks. We also tested the ease with which we could adjust the angle of a phone while in each stick’s cradle.

Our pick

The Looq DG is the best selfie stick in the best of the three styles we tested, taking the top spot overall. A wired connection is the Looq DG’s biggest strength, as it eliminates the need for charging or batteries without adding any complexity. And compared to other wired selfie sticks we tested, it extends to a longer length and collapses to a shorter one (about the size of a foot-long, well, stick), and weighs only fractions of an ounce more than the lightest stick of the bunch. Plus, it works with any modern iPhone or Android phone out of the box, even holding large devices such as the iPhone 6 Plus without issue.

Connecting the Looq DG to an iPhone or Android phone is really as easy as it gets. A coiled cable emerges from where the stick’s extendable metal pole meets the plastic phone cradle; the other end of that cable hosts a 3.5mm plug that fits into the handset’s headphone jack. A button on the stick’s handle emulates the volume-up button on a set of headphones with an inline remote, thus triggering the shutter-release feature on your phone’s camera app. (If the camera app isn’t open, pressing the button on the handle of the stick increases the volume.) Taking photos works identically to using a camera app on the phone itself, shooting as instantaneously as if you’d tapped directly on the phone’s screen.

When collapsed, the Looq DG is about an inch shorter than the average of the selfie sticks we tested at 12 inches, and it extends to the greatest length (45.5 inches, compared to the average of just under 41 inches). The pole doesn’t extend and collapse as smoothly as a few other models, but it doesn’t put up an objectionable amount of resistance, and it stays where you put it, regardless of length. And at just over 5 ounces in weight, it’s easy enough to tote. (The range of weights was 4.8 to 5.2 ounces.)

The Looq DG uses an expandable C-clamp as the cradle to hold your smartphone in place. The cradle stretches from 2.2 inches to about 3.5 inches—wide enough to accommodate even an iPhone 6 Plus in a case in landscape orientation. In my testing, the hold was totally secure, thanks to the clamp’s firm tension. If you’d rather use a camera, the cradle unscrews, revealing a tripod mount underneath. Either way, the mount is easily adjustable to whatever angle you may desire, with a plastic knob tightening and loosening the mount as needed.

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The Wirecutter

One things that stands out about the Looq DG is that at least part of it—the handle with shutter-release button—seems to have been designed in-house. Many of the selfie sticks on the market are the exact same product sold under different brand or model names—companies are simply slapping their own label on someone else’s product. In fact, a number of the models we received came in identical boxes, labeled “Monopod,” and many of these even shipped with the same Monopod sticker on the stick itself. While this isn’t uncommon in the tech-accessory industry, it’s more common here than in almost any category we’ve seen. The Looq DG’s handle is slightly different than that of the others, and I liked its shutter button better: The button is centered properly, so there’s no ambiguity about where to press, and unlike with some of the others, it’s not mushy—there’s a definite, audible “click” when you press down.

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The WirecutterThe Looq DG app on an iPhone.

Looq System also has a free Looq DG app in the App Store and Google Play Store. It’s not the most beautifully designed app we’ve seen, but it’s functional. Within the app, you can take pictures using your phone’s front or back camera, or apply filters in real-time (the app lists the filters as “Pretty.”) It also provides a flashlight function using your phone’s flash. But the truth: there’s no reason to use this app over the camera app built into your phone or your favorite third-party app.

In Joanna Stern’s WSJ piece, the Looq DG is one of only a few selfie sticks she mentions by name. She doesn’t say outright that it’s the best, but she does talk about its ease of use (“Attach your iPhone or Android phone, plug in the cord, launch the camera app and you can start snapping away, just by pressing a button on the rubberized grip”). Surprisingly, the Looq DG doesn’t have a single customer review on Amazon, but we’ll be watching to see if any appear.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

While it collapses down to a length shorter than the average of the selfie sticks we tested, we’d love to see Looq System find a way for the Looq DG to collapse to an even smaller size. This would make it even easier to travel with the accessory. The only other issue we could find was brought up by Stern, in regards to the button the handle: “It is very convenient, but pressing the button can cause the stick to shake a bit, resulting in a potentially blurry photo.” Still, we think that a stick with a wired connection, and having to possibly take a few extra shots, is better than choosing a model with a separate remote, which is her proposed alternative.

Runners-up

If our top pick is sold out, or you want to save a few dollars, pick up a wired selfie stick from either Ipow or Noot (we’ll spare you the indecipherable word-soup that is each of their names). For only $14, you get the same general functionality as you would from the Looq DG, though there are some minor differences. Both Ipow and Noot use the same phone cradle, with an expandable vertical back and a horizontal “claw.” A removable orange plastic cap fits over the top of a curled, plastic arm that wraps around the phone’s edge to cushion the device from the hard plastic—a design common to this type of stick.

The two sticks’ handles are also slightly different: While Ipow’s stick has a ribbed-rubber texture, similar to that of the Looq DG, Noot’s is more like a hard foam material, at least on the outside. The Ipow selfie stick extends from 12.5 inches to 43 inches, while the Noot model goes from 13 inches to 40 inches.

Bluetooth selfie sticks

Not all selfie sticks use a wired connection. Some connect to your smartphone using Bluetooth, with these models taking either of two approaches: Some use a remote control that’s entirely separate from the stick (and use a button-style battery for power), while others build the wireless remote (and a rechargeable battery) into the stick handle, much like the controls on a wired model. All pair easily, using a simple procedure.

We tested a number of selfie sticks that include a separate Bluetooth remote. After spending time with these models, we weren’t as enthusiastic as we were about wired sticks. First and foremost, it’s easy to lose the remote, because it’s entirely separate from the stick itself. In addition, we found that almost all of the sticks in this category are the same; in fact, every model we tested uses an identical remote.

This design does have some merits, however. For example, it lowers the likelihood of the stick shaking when you press the shutter button, because you aren’t applying pressure to the stick itself. A separate remote is also useful for shots when the stick isn’t needed—if you want to take pictures from across the room, a separate Bluetooth remote lets you do so.

We couldn’t choose between most of these models based on the remote—as I mentioned, they’re nearly all identical. Each is made of glossy plastic with a power slider on the right side and two buttons on the front. The larger button, toward the top, says “Camera 360” and “iOS” with a camera icon in the middle. Underneath that, a smaller button shows the same camera icon and says “Android.” On the back, most of the remotes say “Remote Shutter” above “Easy to set up/use” and “Made in China.” And the sticks are the same as well.

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The WirecutterHey, at least one of these essentially identical remotes has upside-down buttons!

However, one Bluetooth selfie stick stood out, thanks to a unique Bluetooth remote, a truly nice design, and a few extras. Gorilla Gear’s Complete Selfie Kit ($25) is the way to go if you prefer a Bluetooth-enabled model. Not only is the pole itself well designed, with a padded handle and a twist-to-lock extension feature, but it comes with a separate miniature—and we do mean miniature—tripod, and the whole kit is packed inside a travel box that looks like a plastic pencil holder stuffed with foam. The component that holds the phone is also unique here: Gorilla Gear’s stick uses a rubber strip with clamps at the top and bottom instead of a metal or plastic cradle. The top clamp slides up and down, with markings on the rubber indicating where to lock it into place for various iPhones, Samsung devices, and even the iPad mini. While the setup isn’t as intuitive as we’ve experienced with other selfie sticks, the hold is secure.

The only real downside to the Complete Selfie Kit is its length. It’s actually the shortest of all those we tested, measuring just a bit over 30” when fully extended. If length is more of a concern, go with CamKix’s Extendable Selfie Stick with Bluetooth Remote. But Gorilla Gear’s overall package earns it our recommendation.

Finally, there are the sticks with a Bluetooth remote built right into the handle. (The remote’s battery is also built-in; you recharge it using a Micro-USB port on the handle.) Though you don’t risk losing the remote with this style, it offers the fewest benefits: These sticks lack the simplicity and reliability of the wired models, but they also aren’t well-suited for shots from farther away. The best all-in-one Bluetooth selfie stick, if you for some reason insist on one, is InnoGear’s Selfie Stick with Remote Shutter and Telescopic Tripod. At only $23, it doesn’t cost much more than the next-expensive model of this type, but it offers a lot more value, because it includes a small tripod onto which you can mount the selfie stick for hands-free photos, along with a carrying pouch. The Innogear’s modular design is also unique. Its C-clamp can be placed at the usual position at the end of the extendable pole, but the clamp can also connect directly to the stick’s 6.3-inch-long handle if, say, you don’t need the pole’s full length but you want to take steady shots without having to tap the phone’s screen. And, like the Looq DG, the InnoGear model at least appears to be a unique design—in a field crowded with so many clones, we appreciate that.

Unlike with the other sticks in this category, Innogear’s has four buttons. From top to bottom, there’s the shutter, plus (+), minus (-), and power. The company claims that the two middle buttons let you zoom when the stick is used with “Samsung Smartphone with Andriod 2.3.6 above system [sic],” but on our Galaxy S5 running Android 5.0, the plus button replicated the function of the shutter button, and the minus button did nothing. So while the Innogear Selfie Stick has just as much functionality as the competition, it doesn’t have as much as promised.

If there’s a downside to the Innogear stick (besides the Bluetooth aspect), it’s length. With the stick assembled but fully collapsed, the whole thing is about 16 inches long. At least the pieces can be easily separated, so this actually isn’t as big of a deal as it might otherwise be.

Dwight Silverman, the TechBlog writer for the Houston Chronicle, told us that the Innogear is his favorite selfie stick. In an email, he said “What most impresses me about this is the value. Amazon’s got it for $23, and in terms of features and build quality, it’s a great deal…The button pressure is just right – pressing the camera button doesn’t require a hard press, so you’re not apt to get camera blur from doing so.”

What to look forward to

With selfie sticks gaining notoriety in pop culture, there are bound to be plenty of competitors joining the fray. Based on what we’ve seen so far, plenty of them will be rebadged versions of existing designs, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see some thoughtful new options. We’ll keep an eye out and update this piece with any noteworthy products.

Competition

Many of the selfie sticks with Bluetooth connections in the handle are almost, if not completely, identical to one another. Minisuit’s Selfie Stick Pro ($18), Ipow’s Rechargeable Wireless Bluetooth Selfie Stick with Remote Shutter Function ($18), OPTIKAL’S SelfiePAL ($16) and Mpow’s iSnap Pro ($20) are all the same. Getwow’s Extendable Selfie Stick Monopod with Bluetooth Remote ($16) is the same as the Everyday Selfie Stick ($30), down to the diamond-patterned grips and plastic mirrors. The only other model we tested with a separate Bluetooth remote, after eliminating the clones, was Vivitar’s Extendable Selfie Stick Monopod ($18). We agree with Joanna Stern that “Its foam-like grip is also far more comfortable to hold, and the stick—available in a number of different colors—has a more eye-pleasing design,” but it’s the largest stick we tested, both in terms of collapsed length and diameter.

Vantrue’s Bluetooth Selfie Stick ($25) has a Bluetooth remote built into the handle, and it uses a different design than we saw from most of the rest of our review units. However, it’s relatively short, and it’s heavier than the others we tested. We continue to think this style is the worst of the three types, but the Vantrue is one of the better options for those who may not want to fuss with a separate remote.

We also tried three other selfie sticks from Looq System, but none of them is as good as the Looq DG. The Looq 2 G ($45) has a wired connection, but it didn’t work with either of our test phones, iOS or Android, out of the box—we had to install the free Looq app to snap pictures—so we eliminated it from contention. The Looq S ($25) works only with iPhones, limiting its appeal. We like that it folds down to about 8.5 inches, but the angled cradle allows for fewer angles than our pick. Finally, the Looq Selfie Clicker($13), the most unusual selfie stick of the bunch, uses a white-label monopod pole, as well an odd remote that triggers your phone’s shutter via an audible click when taking photos with—and only with—a special Selfie Clicker app. Or you can use it as…a dog training tool! (Looq’s idea, not ours.)

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The WirecutterA selection of white-label selfie sticks.

The only other unique model with a built-in Bluetooth remote is SmarTech’s Smart iReach. At $50, it’s the most expensive stick we tested. We like how far it compacts (8.5 inches), thanks to a phone cradle that folds over the handle, but its maximum length of 31.5 inches is the shortest of the bunch. We also found it to be difficult to collapse the pole—it would sometimes get stuck in the middle of its extension.

In terms of sticks with a separate Bluetooth remote, we knocked Minisuit’s Selfie Stick with Bluetooth Remote ($15), Selfie on a Stick + Bluetooth Remote Shutter ($30), and UCFIT’s Extendable Selfie Handheld Stick Monopod ($8) out of contention because they use the same generic monopod design as the CamKix model but have higher prices or lower customer ratings on Amazon (or both!). Another model with a Bluetooth remote we disqualified is Noot’s Extendable Self-Portrait Handheld Stick Monopod ($12), because the sample we received doesn’t match the what’s listed on Amazon.

In our first round of testing, we picked CamKix’s Extendable Selfie Stick with Bluetooth Remote ($25) as the best Bluetooth selfie stick, but with trepidation. It’s a white-label OEM stick, but it happens to get the highest Amazon ratings of the identical models we tested. In fact, the CamKix’s Amazon rating is the only thing that elevates this stick over any of the other Bletooth models. Its phone cradle and mounting mechanism are identical to those of the other models with a separate remote (and nearly the same as, though not identical to, that of the Looq DG), and it works with both the iPhone and the Android devices we tested. But we think you should go with the nicer Gorilla Gear option, unless length is your most important, um, measure.

Wrapping it up

For those who want a selfie stick, the best is Looq System’s Looq DG. It provides an easy way to take selfies without the need for batteries or the hassle of recharging. It collapses down to a short length; it extends to a long length; and it’s reasonably priced.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com. This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article above at TheWirecutter.com

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Coffee Maker Baristas Use At Home

Bonavita 1900TS makes fantastic coffee with ease and reliability for a mid-range price tag

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After two months surveying readers, interviewing coffee experts, researching makes, models, and reviews, and testing five finalist machines with a 10-person tasting panel, we recommend the $190 Bonavita 1900TS. It’s the best coffee maker for most people who love good coffee but don’t have the time or patience for pour-over. The 1900TS brewed the most consistently delicious coffee among all of the machines we tested—better than anything I used in my past life as a barista. It does this thanks to smart internal design, like a wider showerhead and a flat-bottomed filter (the normal, wavy kind) and a built-in pre-infusion timer. This coffee machine will brew coffee 90 percent as good as pour-over every single time.

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Bonavita

Why you should trust us

To get to these picks, I talked to coffee experts of various backgrounds from different parts of the industry: Humberto Ricardo, the owner of the renowned Manhattan coffee shop Third Rail Coffee; barista Carlos Morales who just won third place in the Northeast Brewers Cup Championship; and Mark Hellweg who founded and runs the speciality coffee accessory company Clive Coffee, which recently developed and released a high-end coffee machine of their own design. I also chatted with pretty much every barista I encountered at shops to get their perspectives.

I combined what I learned from these experts with reviews from the best sources on the web—including Consumer Reports, Cooks Illustrated, Serious Eats, CNET, and Wired—to narrow the list of contenders down to five top contenders. I then conducted a blind tasting panel of 10 coffee enthusiasts who all voted on which machines produced the best-tasting beverage. In the end, there was one clear winner.

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The Sweethome

Why our pick is the best

The Bonavita 1900TS makes consistently great tasting coffee and was the easiest to use and the fastest to brew out of the six machines we tested. You won’t get many extra features, like timers and a “brew strength” adjuster, but nothing will give you better-tasting coffee with less hassle. And its maintenance and cleaning is the same as any other automatic drip machine on the market—just toss the grounds, give everything a rinse, and occasionally de-scale if you don’t use filtered water.

Using quality, well-ground beans, some of our testers even compared the brew favorably to handmade pour-over coffee. The 1900TS was also the easiest to use among the competition—just one button to push—and it was the fastest to brew a full pot by over a minute. That’s because it has a higher-powered water heater than most, which allows it to achieve the ideal brewing temperature of 195-205˚F faster than other machines.

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The SweethomeThe Bonavita (second from the left) is noticeably more compact than the other machines

Operation couldn’t be simpler. There’s only one button. Press once to make coffee, or press and hold for five seconds to activate the pre-infusion timer. Pre-infusion allows the grounds to fully and evenly wet before brewing fully begins—this leads to more even extraction and more clarity of flavor. The machine shuts itself off after the coffee has been brewed, though you can turn the machine off anytime by pressing the one button. Because it comes with a stainless-steel insulated carafe, there’s no need for a hot plate to keep the pot warm. In our tests, coffee was drinkably hot for a couple hours after brewing, but fell to room temperature after 6 hours.

The runner-up pick

If the 1900TS is unavailable, the older Bonavita 1800-series is the next best way to go. The 1800TH is your best bet, because its glass-lined thermal carafe will keep coffee warm for longer without wasting energy on heating plates. The 1800SS is also a good option, but it uses a steel-lined thermal carafe, which many coffee aficionados claim can color the flavor of the coffee within. It’s a very similar machine to our top pick, but the 1900TS’s improvements result in a more evenly-extracted, clearer-tasting cup that was unanimously preferred by our tasting panelists. Still, the 1800TH beat out every other machine in our test, which is no small accomplishment.

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

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Smart Thermostat You Can Get

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Nest

The Nest Learning Thermostat is still the best smart thermostat

the wirecutter logo

Three years after the Nest Learning Thermostat’s debut, the second-gen Nest continues to offer the best combination of style and substance of any thermostat. Its software and apps are solid and elegant, it learns your routines and the particulars of your house, and it’s easy to change the temperature from your phone or computer so you won’t have to get up from your cozy spot on the couch. It’s (still) the best smart thermostat for most people, though the competition is catching up.

Why a smart thermostat?

If you upgrade to any smart thermostat after years with a basic one, the first and most life-changing difference will be the ability to control it from your phone. No more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation). No coming home to a sweltering apartment—you just fire up the A/C when your airplane touches down.

The fact is, a cheap plastic thermostat with basic time programming—the kind we’ve had for two decades—will do a pretty good job at keeping your house at the right temperature without wasting a lot of money, as long as you put in the effort to program it. But that’s the thing: Most people don’t.

Get a smart thermostat if you’re interested in saving more energy and exerting more control over your home environment. If you like the prospect of turning on your heater when you’re on your way home from work or having your home’s temperature adjust intelligently without having to spend time programming a schedule, these devices will do the job. And if your thermostat is placed in a prominent place in your home, well, these devices just look cooler than those beige plastic rectangles of old.

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Our pick: the Nest Learning Thermostat

The $250 second-generation Nest Learning Thermostat (introduced in 2012) is the leader of this category for a reason. Its learning mode automatically programs the thermostat based on your home and usage, its industrial design is the best, and it works with many other smart-home devices. The Nest offers the best combination of style and substance, and its software and apps are solid and elegant. It’s expensive, but Nest Labs claims the Nest can pay for itself in energy savings in as little as two years.

The Nest is striking, featuring a metallic ring with a black front and a circular LCD screen in the middle. The on-device interface is elegant, with every setting controlled by either a push on the face or a spin of the ring. The display shows red when heating, blue when cooling.

The Nest’s learning mode puts it above its competitors. It keeps track of how you adjust your thermostat over time, and it has an occupancy sensor that can tell when nobody’s around (in theory). The Nest can learn from your patterns and create its own schedule without any work from you.

The excellent Nest app (for iOS or Android) lets you program specific times and temperatures with a few taps. And Nest’s green leaf icon provides motivation to dial the temperature down just a little bit more in order to save energy. Unfortunately, the Nest doesn’t offer any external sensors to measure temperature in other rooms, and if it’s installed in a part of your house that doesn’t get much traffic, the occupancy sensor won’t be very useful.

Finally, Nest is owned by Google and seems to be the centerpiece of Google’s push into the smart-home ecosystem. If you plan on adding more smart devices to your home, the Works with Nest program means the Nest can integrate with a growing number of smart-home devices. Most of the interactions are gimmicky right now, but that won’t always be the case.

The next best thing (for larger homes)

If you have a large home with a single HVAC system, or you want to be able to measure the temperature in rooms other than wherever your thermostat happens to be, consider the $250 ecobee 3. It comes with a wireless remote sensor that monitors both temperature and occupancy, so it adjusts its settings to keep occupied rooms comfortable. It’s not as easy to use as the Nest, and its apps aren’t as stable, but it’s a better choice for people who want to be able to monitor the temperature in multiple rooms.

Wrapping it up

Despite its age, the second-generation Nest is still the best smart thermostat for most people. The hardware is excellent, and the software behind it is elegant and smart. And it works with a growing number of other smart-home devices. Competitors are hot on its heels, but for now the product that created this category is still its leader.

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

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Wi-Fi Hotspot You Can Buy

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The Wirecutter

Verizon's Jetpack MiFi 6620L runs on the fastest technology available

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

Is my smartphone enough?

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

How we picked and tested

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

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

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

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The WirecutterThe AT&T Velocity (left) and the Verizon Jetpack (right) are the only hotspots currently worthy of serious consideration due to the reliability of their networks.

We spent a few months with AT&T’s Velocity and Verizon’s Jetpack 6620L, using loaner devices with a MacBook Air, an iPad mini, two Android phones and one Android tablet around Washington D.C., New York, the Bay Area, Las Vegas and a few spots in between.

Our pick for most people

The Verizon Jetpack 6620L—$50 on a two-year contract, $200 full price—offers long battery life, fast performance, and exceptional coverage.

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The Wirecutter

You’ll need to put the Jetpack on a More Everything plan, with or without a Verizon phone, where pay $20 for the hotspot’s monthly “line access” fee then buy data as needed. A hotspot by itself with 4 GB of data will cost $50 a month. If you already have a phone and 2 GB of data, adding the Jetpack and another 4 GB puts another $50 on your bill; adding the hotspot and 8 GB increases your total by $80.

The Jetpack supports 15 devices over either 2.4 or 5GHz Wi-Fi and allows USB tethering. Devices connected without a hitch and then stayed online.

The 16 hours and 8 minutes of LTE sharing we saw didn’t meet Verizon’s advertised 20-hour battery life but was still great. And the 6620L shares power via a USB port to charge other devices from its 4,000-mAh battery.

One gripe: its soft-touch buttons–there’s no touchscreen–often didn’t register a press. To edit the password and change other, advanced settings, connect to the hotspot and log into a “my.jetpack” site.

Runner up

AT&T’s ZTE Velocity—99 cents on a two-year contract, $149.99 full price—connects 10 devices via 2.4 or 5 GHz Wi-Fi. It can’t do USB tethering, but functions as a network drive if you insert a microSD card.

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The Wirecutter

The Velocity shared an LTE signal for 15 hours and 15 minutes, 5 hours longer than advertised. Devices connected to it reliably, save some hiccups in the noisy environment of CES.

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The WirecutterThe AT&T Velocity’s touchscreen beats the Verizon Jetpack’s buttons.

The Velocity’s 2.4-inch touchscreen was easier than the Jetpack’s buttons. But we couldn’t change advanced settings on its “attwifimanager” page, which demanded a separate password nowhere to be found on the device’s screen.

Standalone service consists of a $50 5 GB DataConnect plan. For more data, you’ll have to put the device on a a Mobile Share plan, with or without an AT&T phone, at $20 for the hotspot’s access fee plus data. If you already have a phone on a 3 GB plan, adding the hotspot and 3 GB of data increases your monthly bill by $50; adding the hotspot and 7 GB of data inflates your costs by $80.

AT&T’s new Rollover Data applies data unused last month to this month but probably won’t let you pick a cheaper rate.

Competition

T-Mobile’s network has improved; its hotspots have not. The ZTE HotSpot 915’s 17:09 observed battery life didn’t compensate for crude soft-touch-button controls and lack of 5 GHz Wi-Fi support.

Sprint’s ZTE Live Pro runs Android apps and projects them on a wall. But its network needs work and its pricing ($300 even on a two-year contract) is out of whack.

In pay-as-you-go, avoid anything using the slower WiMax 4G that Sprint is shutting down. Among LTE prepaid hotspots, the upcoming Karma Go’s non-expiring data ($14 for 1 GB, $59 for 5 GB, and up) might satisfy intermittent needs.

Wrapping it up

If you need a mobile hotspot, the Verizon Jetpack 6620L, crummy interface and all, should get you online and keep you there over more of the U.S. than its competitors.

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

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

TIME Gadgets

These Are the Best In-Ear Headphones Under $40

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Brainwavz The Brainwavz Delta with Mic

Try the Brainwavz Delta with Mic

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If you’re looking for the best in-ear headphones on a budget, get the Brainwavz Delta with Mic. After 32 hours of research on hundreds of in-ear headphones under $40, seriously considering 179, and testing 68 with our panel of audio experts, we found the Brainwavz Deltas are the best for the money. Our panel unanimously voted them the best-sounding of all the ones tested in this category, plus they fit comfortably in most ears, and are a steal at $22. They sound better than the Apple Earpods, so if you’re looking to upgrade or replace those, or want something decent and inexpensive, these are your best bet.

How Did We Choose What To Test?

After doing research on existing professional reviews, I looked to the user reviews on Amazon, Crutchfield, etc. to see what real people had liked and had come out since our last post.

We then brought in a faceoff panel consisting of audio professionals and musicians who were asked to listen and give me their top picks. From there we took into account price and features, and in the end, chose a winner.

You can find more details on our professional panelists and testing methods in the full version of this article.

Our Pick

What made the Brainwavz Delta so fantastic? One panelist summed it up best: “These are the only headphones under $25 that don’t sound like cheap headphones.” The highs are clear with good detail, the bass is well formed (with a slight bump in just the right area to add a lively kick to the beat), and the mids have a richness or lush, non-tinny aspect to the sound and a sense of depth of space that is uncommon in this price range. Translation: every kind of music sounds good on them.

Also, while most headphones around this price make music sound like it’s coming from inside your head, the Brainwavz have a sense of space that makes music sound more like a concert happening in front of you. The Delta also have an optional one-button remote and mic, so you can take calls and pull up Siri.

Another major part of why the Brainwavz work so well is their ability to fit various ear sizes and shapes. That’s not a given with in-ear headphones, and a good fit is vital for good sound quality. Getting a good fit is made easier as the Delta include three sizes of silicone tips plus a pair of Comply foam tips.

They’re not perfect, of course. If you’re accustomed to more expensive headphones, you’ll notice that the Delta have a bit of sizzle in the treble (somewhere around 4 kHz) that can cause crash cymbals or consonants to have a slight biting sound. And the mids, when compared to higher-end models, sound a bit coarse. (By that we mean guitars and piano can sound inauthentic in a way that you know they are coming from a speaker rather than real-life). But to get another sonic level up from the Delta, you’d need to spend at least $75.

A note on build quality: An early batch of Deltas released were prone to breaking. Brainwavz has fixed the issues in the Deltas currently available to buy, and have committed to replacing older models. Read more about this in our full guide.

Runner up (Still Fantastic)

Our runner up was our previous winner, the Panasonic RP-TCM 125 “Ergo Fit”. They have a nice overall balance with airy, mellow highs and present but not dominating bass. They sound just as good listening to acoustic guitar as they do hip hop and rock. They don’t have the detail and depth of the Brainwavz, but for $14, they’re really great. The TCM-125 have a single-button remote and mic and come in a variety of colors, too.

Bass-Lover’s Alternate

Bass lovers should check out the Sol Republic Jax. While these headphones aren’t for everyone (or every kind of music), they are great for rock, pop, and hip-hop. Our resident bass-head adored them, and said that they were his personal favorite overall. The bass is intense, and can verge on the edge of sloppy in music that requires detail (so jazz, classical, and folk lovers will want to skip these) but if you like to rock, these kick ass.

Non-sealed in-ears (“earbuds”)

If you absolutely need non-sealed in-ears (i.e. “earbuds”) for more situational awareness, the best we could find were the Sennheiser MX365. They sound better than the Apple EarPods, but they have scratchy foam pads and don’t sound anywhere near as good as our top picks. However, if non-sealed is something you need, the MX365 are your best bet.

Wrapping it up

Just because you don’t have a huge budget doesn’t mean you have to be satisfied with crappy sound. The Brainwavz Delta are more affordable than a new pair of Apple EarPods, sound better than anything else in this price range (including the EarPods), and can take calls and skip songs with the optional mic. Plus, at under $25, if they go missing, get chewed up by your dog, or get run through the laundry, you won’t cry yourself to sleep at night when you need to replace them.

If you want to step up a bit in sound quality (and it is a big step up), check out our $100 in-ear picks.

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

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

Read next: These Are the Best On-Ear Headphones You Can Buy

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

 

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Budget Gaming Laptop You Can Buy

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Asus Asus ROG GL551JW

Asus ROG GL551JW has the best gaming performance and build quality for a lowest cost

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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There’s no such thing as a perfect budget gaming laptop, and every one we’ve tested so far has at least one serious flaw. But after 40 hours of research and testing, we determined that the $1,100 Asus ROG GL551JW is the budget gaming laptop we’d recommend for most people because it has the best gaming performance and best build quality among the competition, and for the lowest cost.

The GL551 has uncommonly good build quality compared to nearly everything else in this category. Plus, it keeps the most important parts of a gaming laptop at a reasonable temperature—which cannot be said for the competition—and has a comfortable keyboard.

Who’s this for?

Expensive gaming laptops aren’t for everyone. Desktop computers offer better gaming performance per dollar, and ultrabooks are slimmer, lighter, and have much better battery life. Budget gaming laptops are a good fit for students and others who want to play games but have a tight budget and need a portable PC.

How did we pick what to test?

First, we determined the best possible combination of components that fit in our budget. Our ideal budget gaming laptop costs under $1,200 and has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU or higher, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and at least 500GB of storage. We looked at every gaming laptop currently available, tested three finalists ourselves, and concluded that the Asus ROG GL551-JW DS71 is the best for those on a budget. (For more information on our criteria for narrowing down the field, see our full guide.)

Our Pick

The $1,100 Asus ROG GL551JW has amazing specs for its price. That’s the whole point of a budget gaming laptop. On the inside, it has a mid-range Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 2GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. (We originally tested last year’s model, the GL551JM, but the GL551JW is identical aside from its more powerful graphics card and faster CPU.)

With these specs, you won’t be able to play recently-released games on Ultra settings. Games like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Far Cry 4, and Watch Dogs must be bumped down to High or Medium settings to run at a decent framerate on any budget gaming machine.

 

Like every budget gaming laptop we tested, the GL551 gets too warm, with a surface temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. But the underside of the chassis and the WASD keys stay at a reasonable temperature between 92°F and 94°F, which can’t be said for most of the competition. The fan on the left side of the laptop isn’t loud enough to distract from games or movies.

The Asus ROG GL551 has a comfortable, red-backlit keyboard and a decent trackpad. It also has uncommonly good build quality for a budget gaming laptop. Most are plasticky, hollow-feeling, and creaky. The keys on the Asus are deep enough, responsive, and comfortable to type and game on. The Asus is sturdy, and we expect its metal lid and palmrest to hold up better over years of heavy gaming.

The Asus’s battery lasted about 3 and a half hours during ordinary work at 50 percent brightness. It’s not what we consider to be “good” battery life, but it’s what you can expect from any budget gaming laptop at the moment. The Asus ROG GL551 weighs 5.95 pounds— nearly twice as heavy as an ultrabook, but much less than the 17-inch gaming laptop we recommend for people with bigger budgets.

The Asus has a few drawbacks, but they are not deal breakers. Few cheap gaming laptops have great screens, and the Asus GL551’s 17-inch 1920×1080 screen is bad. It has a pinkish tint and there’s little distinction between different intensities of white and black at the far ends of the spectrum, making it potentially difficult to spot enemies lurking in the shadows. The GL551’s speakers are flat, tinny, and quiet, so pick up a decent pair of headphones to get the most out of your gaming experience.

Runner up

If our pick sells out, we recommend the $1,100 Lenovo Y50 with an Intel Core i7-4710HQ processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M with 4GB graphics memory, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB hybrid hard drive. It has a better keyboard and speakers than our pick, but it had the hottest temperatures and the worst screen of the three laptops we tested. The Y50 also has a weaker graphics card and creaks and flexes more under pressure.

Some Lenovo laptops sold in 2014 and early 2015, including the Y50, contained Superfish: potentially dangerous adware that allows fake security certificates. If you buy (or already bought) this laptop, go here to see if you’re affected and here to remove the program and its certificate.

What if you want to upgrade?

If you’re not constrained by funds and want good gaming performance, it’s worth it to get something better. Check out our guide to the overall best gaming laptop.

In closing

The Asus ROG GL551JW-DS71 is the best budget gaming laptop for most people because it has powerful specs for the price, is well made, and is cheaper than the competition. It has a comfortable keyboard, and it keeps its most-used keys and bottom cooler than any other budget machine we tested. It’s not perfect, but no cheap gaming laptop is.

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

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best Tax Filing Software You Can Buy

TurboTax makes filing taxes simpler and more comfortable than other options

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 best tax filing software should do a decent impression of a human accountant, teasing out deductions and keeping your forms organized. After spending more than 30 hours over two years filing fake tax returns for four fictitious households—with the help of a professional tax preparer to test the hard return numbers—we found TurboTax to be the most conversational, fast, and comfortable way to file your return through a browser.

On top of running the hard numbers, we also spent time noting the interfaces of 14 competitors, and the upsell annoyances and year-to-year convenience of our five finalists. Our main pick, TurboTax, wasn’t always the cheapest for complicated returns, but it can also be actually, entirely free for very simple returns. It made entering your financial data simpler and more comfortable than anything else we tested. If, however, you don’t need your taxes explained, so much as a place to punch in the numbers, we have a stripped-down and (likely) cheaper pick for you, too.

How we tested tax software

Our four “fake filers” lived in different states, worked salary and independent jobs, had kids or rental properties or home offices, and ranged from a single guy in an apartment to a married couple with capital gains. We had their life details in a spreadsheet; we noted how TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxACT, FreeTaxUSA, and eSmart Tax differed in asking about their situations, and how they totaled out.

All of these online suites offer some version of a maximum refund guarantee, and, indeed, most produced the same results given the same numbers. We searched to find online tax suites that were known entities, and we focused on web options because they’re more accessible to everyone. So we also considered how fast you could safely move through each form, and how intuitive the interface made going forward and back, or saving and coming back later. We also looked for a known and backed name, because you’re handing over very sensitive data. And we wanted the pricing to be clear, fair, and not involve endless upgrade pitches. Check out our full guide to learn more about our criteria for narrowing down the field and testing.

Our pick

TurboTax makes entering your tax data more simple and comfortable than anything else we tested. The account creation, login, and state-saving processes are smooth and sport lean, modern designs. The questions and categories are organized in a coherent flow, with live chat help available if you’re lost, even for free filers. TurboTax can automatically fill in salary and charitable donation amounts, and handles the new Affordable Care Act requirements ably. TurboTax makes taxes feel less like spreadsheet data entry and more like signing up for a new social app.

A good interface and smooth interview flow matter for more than just style points. While the amounts of each return turned out more or less the same with every tax suite we tested, TurboTax made it easier to avoid potential mistakes and head back to double-check figures and results.

TurboTax could be the cheapest or most costly online tax software for you, depending on your needs. If you make less than $100,000, and have absolutely no itemized deductions, non-salary income, or other complications (meaning attached “schedules”), your taxes could cost nothing under TurboTax’s Absolute Zero offer. Otherwise, state and federal filing under “Deluxe,” “Premier,” or “Home & Business” cost from $72-$117.

The runner-Up: FreeTaxUSA

If you don’t qualify for TurboTax’s Absolute Zero offer, but your taxes are still simple and consistent year to year, consider FreeTaxUSA. It’s a minimal, straightforward set of boxes and some help to get your numbers in and send them out.

FreeTaxUSA is faster than TurboTax, remarkably cheap (free federal, $13 for one state filing, $19 for a slight Deluxe upgrade), and it gets the job done for those who know exactly what they earned and what they owe. It doesn’t have the same smooth flow of TurboTax, and its text-focused screens can cause some motivational drag, but it does move quick and gives you a big-picture view of your income and deductions.

If you’re under 22, FreeTaxUSA is free to use entirely. And FreeTaxUSA’s pricing includes all the schedules and deductions an individual might need: rental or independent contractor income, home ownership and energy credit deductions, and more. As a final sweetener, you can see and download your returns in PDF form, as they would appear on a standard tax form. That’s helpful for getting tax advice from another human, if you’re not sure you’ve got everything right.

The other option: a human accountant

When our tax professional—Mark Francis, EA, of Lapidos, Leung & Francis, Inc. in San Francisco—ran our fake filers through each tax suite in 2014, he ended up with the same exact federal and state refund amounts for each. In 2015, when I ran a moderately complicated individual (home, rental property, investments) through each suite, I ended up with four different amounts. And none of the suites raised major red flags. If something has changed with your life or money in the past year, or you ever feel adrift while clicking through online tax forms, consider finding a local tax professional.

Is TurboTax actively allowing fraudulent tax returns?

The 2015 tax season has been heavy with news about TurboTax “fraud” or “hacks.” Most notably, respected security journalist Brian Krebs detailed the allegations of two former TurboTax officers that TurboTax’s parent company, Intuit, willfully ignores fraud concerns. The FBI and IRS may be investigating; TurboTax, for its part, denies the officers’ claims and has a detailed response on security concerns.

These are (as of early March 2015) unproven allegations and, in some cases, misrepresentations of TurboTax’s part in the problem. TurboTax, with 29 million customers in 2014, is by far the largest target for fraudulent filers, armed with sensitive data obtained through other breaches. In other words, avoiding the use of TurboTax to file your return this season will not protect you from potential fraud, especially if your data is already out there (or you’ve clicked a bad email phishing link). The IRS’s unwieldy and insecure refund processes play a significant role, too.

Does this affect our recommendation of TurboTax? For those who want to file online, no—we still see TurboTax as the best tool for putting your return together and filing it online. And, as noted by Ars Technica, the other major tax suites are no better as securing your account; none of the major four we tested even verified your email address before allowing you to carry on toward filing. Choosing to avoid TurboTax over security concerns will not make you more or less of a potential fraud target.

In closing

If you’ve got all your forms and figures and want to file yourself, TurboTax is the best conversation you can have with an online server about your financial life. For those with more experience, or remarkably simple taxes, FreeTaxUSA is the fastest way to get to done. But leave yourself enough time this year for a back-up option: a human.

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

TIME Gadgets

These Are the Best Touchscreen Winter Gloves

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Glider Gloves Glider Gloves Winter Style

Glider Gloves Winter Style wins the prize

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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Over the past three winters, we’ve tested more than 20 pairs of touchscreen gloves while moving half a ton of stumps, climbing on ice, and just walking and biking around town. For the third year running and despite some stiff competition, the Winter Style Touchscreen Gloves by Glider Gloves have been chosen as the best, offering up the right combination of warmth, dexterity, and grip for about $30 (also available direct). They’re not the absolute warmest gloves you can buy, but they’re warmer than anything that’s better at handling touchscreens, and better at handling touchscreens than anything that’s warmer.

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The Wirecutter

How we decided

Over the past three winters, we’ve spent many hours texting, gaming, and emailing while wearing gloves made of everything from cashmere-lined leather to mechanics work gloves. Few other publications do comparative reviews of touchscreen gloves so much of what we test is dictated by what our readers request or what’s popular on Amazon, but there are a few good reviews out there such as this guide from Inc Magazine and this one from Tech Hive.

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The WirecutterWe tested a lot of gloves and many of them were pretty good, but not as good as our pick.

Our pick

The Glider Gloves Winter was the best all-around touchscreen glove in our testing and quickly became the go-to during the cold days outside. Their fleece-lined, knit construction gives them an exceptionally snug fit compared to other gloves that are either just knit (can be floppy), or just fleece (usually too loose). They also have an extra sticky honeycomb-patterned grip pattern that helps you maintain a secure grip on your slick smartphone—you can even use them one-handed.

Kannon Yamada writing at MakeUseOf was particularly impressed with the grippy finish on the palms and fingers compared with other gloves he’d used in the past: “Functionality is where Glider Gloves comes out far ahead. The hexagonal rubber grip on its palms and fingers allow for more active use. While bicycling, I often reach for a metal sports bottle—the Agloves [another popular glove] did not provide much of a grip… Glider Gloves, on the other hand, make you feel like Spiderman.”

Over at TechHive, Amber Bouman was impressed with the Gliders’ dexterity. She gave them four out of five stars writing: “I was pleased with how few characters I missed, and often I was able to compose messages without a single character mistake—something I wouldn’t have expected given the bulk of the gloves.”

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The WirecutterNote that the tip on the Glove.ly (left) has a bit of a protruding seam in the center, whereas the Glider’s tip (right) is flush with the glove and located off to the right side, where it won’t affect touchscreen performance.

Wrist coverage could be better. On windy days, depending on your jacket, it could leave you a bit exposed. In this respect, it’s more like a gardener’s or mechanic’s glove than a typical winter glove in terms of fit. Their knit design also isn’t that durable. I wouldn’t expect them to last more than a full winter because the conductive threads are fragile and wear out over time. However, hand-washing with mild detergent will restore fading touchscreen performance in many cases.

The (Extra Warm) Runner Up

If our main pick sells out, or if you live in a colder climate and need a warmer glove and are using your touchscreen for only simple tasks, The North Face ThermoBall (about $50 for men’s and women’s versions) is the warmest touchscreen glove that allows for decent dexterity. Unlike previous North Face gloves that used inaccurate sewn-on panels, the Thermoballs feature responsive touchscreen control all the fingers. They also fit a lot tighter than their other offerings due to the added insulation.

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The WirecutterThe ThermoBall’s fingertips (left) fit tight and remain smooth for predictable touchscreen manipulation, while the Denali’s (right) are loose-fitting and get wrinkly when you move your fingers—especially the thumb. Both are size medium.

Thinner for warmer climates

The Glider Gloves Urban were our original pick for best touchscreen glove, and we still stand by the quality. The conductivity is great, and because they are thin, they’re also very precise and accurate if you get a good fit (we recommend sizing down if your fingers are shorter than average).

A leather step up

U|R Powered’s leather gloves offer a great compromise between the classic look of a leather glove and the snug fit that’s required to have an easy touchscreen interaction by combining a sheepskin leather back with a stretchier spandex palm and fingers. They’re available for about $60 in men’s (Aiden) and women’s (Sasha) styles. The advantage of this design is that you get the classy look of leather, but maintain the warmth and tactility of a sportier glove.

However, if you must have all leather and value looks over function, we are once again recommending Glove.ly’s Leather Touch Screen Gloves for $90. They’re all leather with a cashmere lined interior, but the cashmere sheds a lot and not everyone will be able to get a tight fit needed for precise touchscreen manipulation with non-stretchy leather gloves.

In closing

The Glider Gloves Winter offer simply the best mix of the most important features in a touchscreen glove without any major drawbacks. They’re also likely to fit you, unlikely to let your device slip out of your hand, and they don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves or look cheap.

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

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best All-in-One Printer You Can Buy

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Epson Epson WorkForce WF-3620

Epson WorkForce WF-3620 is the winner

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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Personal inkjet printers are a money pit, and you should think twice about buying one. But if you work from home or have kids in school, a color printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine bundled into one desktop package might actually make your life easier. After nearly 100 hours of research and testing with help from a print expert, we determined that the $130 Epson WorkForce WF-3620 is the best you can do right now.

How we decided

If you print less than once per week, don’t buy a color all-in-one. Inkjet models waste ink on cleaning cycles when they sit around too long between uses (and at up to $9,600 per gallon, every squandered drop is painful). Color laser printers don’t waste toner, but the cost of a multifunction machine is awfully steep, and if you only print occasionally, it’ll take years before you see any savings compared to an inkjet.

With that in mind, we looked at 110 all-in-ones, and a mid-range inkjet is as good as it gets for a home or home office. For around $150, you can expect an automatic document feeder, two-sided printing and scanning, Wi-Fi connectivity, and native support for mobile standards like AirPrint and Google Cloud Print. Pay more, and you mostly get features that only matter in offices, like extra paper trays and speedier output. Pay less up front, and you’ll spend a lot more on ink in the long run.

Our pick

The Epson WorkForce WF-3620 ($110) is a jack of all trades, able to handle the typical printing, scanning, copying, and faxing jobs that most people do from their homes and home offices, and works with both Mac and PC. It’s built to handle a few hundred pages of letter-sized copy paper per month, but it’s versatile enough to venture into photo printing, envelopes, and many other stocks, sizes, and use cases.

The paper handling features are faster, smoother, and more versatile than they ought to be for the price, so printing term papers and scanning tax documents is no sweat. Print expert Dean Turpin of shootdigital studios in Manhattan helped us evaluate the print quality, and found that it’s a big step up from previous generations of affordable all-in-one printers, too. Unless you’re a serious graphic designer or photographer, the WF-3620 is as good a printer as you’ll need.

Little flaws (not dealbreakers)

This is still an inkjet printer, so you’ll wince every time you shell out for fresh ink. With the XL cartridges, a black-and-white page costs about 3.2 cents and a color page is 11.4 cents. That’s average for the category, and as long as you print somewhere between 25 and 250 pages per month, it’s worth the cost of ownership.

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The WirecutterThe color-balancing booth where test prints were evaluated.

The runner up

The Epson WorkForce WF-3640 is a sister model to our main pick. The only difference is an extra paper tray, which is useful if you alternate between, say, letter paper and photo paper. It usually costs $20 more than the WF-3620, but sometimes it’s actually cheaper. Follow your wallet on this one.

For heavier workloads

If your small office has a more diverse or higher-volume workload than the Epson is meant to handle, check out the Brother MFC-J6920DW. It’s better at handling non-letter-sized media, like stacks of envelopes, and can print, copy, and scan sheets as large as 11”x17” (ledger size), even in the document feeder.

It costs about $100 more than any of the other all-in-ones we tested, but the ink is so cheap that if you print more than 300 pages per month, it pays for itself in about a year. On the downside, it’s huge, and the print and scan quality aren’t particularly good.

In closing

If you already have a printer that works for you, keep it. But if you’re in the market for a new one, the Epson WorkForce WF-3620 is the best one we’ve found. Any printer is going to make you mad at least some of the time, but this Epson is one of the few that’s worth the frustration.

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

TIME Gadgets

These Are the Best On-Ear Headphones You Can Buy

soundtrue-on-ear-headphones
Bose SoundTrue™ On-Ear Headphones

It's the $180 Bose SoundTrue

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

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The WirecutterTop row (for reference): our over-ear picks the PSB M4U1 and Sony MDR-7506. Second row: AKG Y50, Samsung Level On, KEF M500, Bose SoundTrue. Bottom row: Philips Fidelio M1, Beyerdynamic 350p, Beyerdynamic DT-235, Sony MDR-ZX600, Koss SportaPro.

Why should you trust me?

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

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

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

Who Should Buy This?

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

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

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

How did we choose what to test?

How did we review 53 headphones? We split the finalist headphones into three price ranges: Under $50, $51-$149, and Over $150. We tested each category separately, comparing all the headphones in each group to one another, and choose our top three. We took into account sound, fit, size, and build quality. Then we took the winning headphones from each price group and tested them against each other. It was at this point I told the panelists the prices of their top picks. Then we asked ourselves two questions:

1) If I were spending my own money, which headphones would I buy?

2) If money were no object (if for example, they’re a gift) which headphones would I want to use?

Based on those answers, we came up with overall winners for the category as well as runners up in each price range.

Our pick

The Bose SoundTrue are our top pick because they strike the perfect balance of being extremely comfortable, lightweight, and compact—plus they sound really good. This isn’t something other headphones could claim. Many pinched our ears, squeezed our heads, sounded terrible, or had huge cases. Every one of the panelists gave the Sound Trues top marks for fit and comfort.

The ear pads are soft, like little clouds on your ears. The headband is lightweight, and fit our panel’s varying head sizes and ear shapes well.

The SoundTrue have a boosted upper-bass and mids, and the highs are delicate and lower in the mix, so the overall effect can be mildly muted sound for those accustomed to headphones more even across all frequency ranges, or high-end-heavy headphones. What this means is the rhythm guitar and electric bass in rock songs might sound louder than you might be accustomed to, and female vocals might sound somewhat softer.

Are the SoundTrue the best sounding example of anything we tried? No. That would be the KEF M500 mentioned below as our high-end pick. That said, if the KEF are a 10 sound-wise, the Bose are solid 7 or 8; so the Sound True are far better sounding than average, at almost half the price of the KEFs (and way more portable), which is what ultimately made them the pick.

Flaws But Not Dealbreakers

The SoundTrue aren’t perfect. They have a proprietary cable you can only replace by buying another from Bose. Also, all that lightness comes at the price of headphones that feel more breakable than those made out of all metal. Try to avoid sitting on them too often.

That said, nothing in this range comes anywhere close to the fantastic combination of great sound, portability, and comfort like the Bose SoundTrue. If you take a trip with them, we’re sure you’ll love them.

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The WirecutterLeft to right: KEF M500, Beyerdynamic 350p, Koss SportaPro, UrbanEars Plattan ADV (grey, top), Bose Sound True (black, below), Samsung Level On.

The Runner Up:

Our panel also liked the slightly cheaper $135 Samsung Level On. They’re not as small as the Bose while in their carrying case, nor as light when on your head, but the Level On have a detachable cable with three button remote that works with Samsung phones, a rarity in an Apple-or-nothing world, and they sound pretty great.

High-End Audio Pick:

If you’re less concerned with compactness, and more with sound, the $300 KEF M500 are your best choice. Featuring a much bigger soundstage, clear detailed highs, and a slight mid/bass boost, the KEF were our panel’s overall pick in terms of sound. Every kind of music sounds amazing on the M500: voices are clear and natural with delicate consonants, guitars and piano sound natural and accurate, and the bass lines aren’t muddy, but clear and rich.

They also have an impressively sturdy-feeling build, with stylish metal housing and cushy earpads. However, despite costing the same as our pick for best $300 over-ear headphones, the sound quality isn’t quite as good. Still, they are more portable than similarly priced over-ears—albeit less so than other on-ear headphones (like the Bose) due to a somewhat large hard-sided carrying case.

The Budget Pick/The Headphone Abuser’s pick/An even cheaper budget pick:

In addition to these picks, in the full article, we have a more rugged pick, and some even cheaper options, one as low as $25.

What else did we test?

We tested dozens of headphones, and eliminated dozens more, including models from brands like Shure, Sony, Sennheiser, Philips, Grado, B&W, and others. If you want to read about all the ones we tested, and why they didn’t win, check out the full article, which is more than 12 times as long as this condensed version.

Wrapping It Up

So if you can’t stand in-ears, but you need great sounding headphones that travel light, the Bose SoundTrue are the standouts in a very, very large field. Take them along on your next journey. You (and your ears) will be glad you did.

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

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