TIME Gadgets

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

WorkForce+WF_3640_Head+On+w_print+sample_ee5f210a-dd36-4385-be69-662554f6610f-prv
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.

8_color_booth
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.

1onear
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.

4onear
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.

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Smartwatch For Most People

A Pebble Steel smartwatch.
T3 Magazine—Getty Images A Pebble Steel smartwatch.

It's the $200 Pebble Steel

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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A good smartwatch connects to your smartphone, but it actually untethers you from nervously checking that phone. The smartwatch (for now) that best augments your Android or iPhone, and looks good doing it, is the Pebble Steel.

After more than 40 hours of research, wearing and comparing nine smartwatches, and keeping a close eye on battery life and Bluetooth connections, we found the Pebble Steel to be the most adaptable watch for most wrists and lifestyles. Its battery lasts nearly an entire work-week—the longest of any we tested—it has the most useful apps, and it holds up to abuse.

How we decided what to test

We tested smartwatches primarily on how they did their main job: showing notifications from your phone, and controlling a few parts of it. We also put a good deal of weight on the visibility of the screen, the interface of the watch, and the ability to keep running all day.

But looks matter, too, when you wear something every day. The size, heft, and visual appeal of each watch was considered, as well as its bands and clasps. We fastened our smartwatches on many friends’ wrists, male and female. And we considered the external experience with each watch: the connection-managing app that came with every watch, the charging dock and cable, and the third-party apps and tools compatible with each watch. Our full guide has more details on what we did to narrow down the field and test smartwatches.

Our Pick

For the time being, the Pebble steel is the most useful smartwatch for most people with Android or iOS devices, and it arguably looks the best on most wrists, too. Its battery lasted the longest of all those we tested, and it has the most useful apps among the competition. Its always-turned-on screen is black and white, but that Kindle-like quality and automatic backlight make it visible in all situations.

The Pebble lets you choose which apps it will watch and pass along notifications to your watch. When they arrive, you can dismiss them from both watch and phone, avoiding redundancy. On certain messages, you can also fire back a quick pre-written reply (or emoji character). Support for fitness apps like RunKeeper and Misfit, along with basic music controls, is built in to the Pebble. You can find many more apps and tools in Pebble’s appstore, as well as watchfaces ranging from classic Swiss hands to round-cornered Star Trek displays.

The Steel’s magnetic charging cable is small and light, although not as convenient as a dedicated dock. That’s fine, because you won’t need it often. It took more than 82 hours of continuous use to run down a brand-new Pebble Steel completely, putting it far past all competitors. If you turn the watch off at night, that’s more than five 16-hour days. The closest competitor was the LG G Watch R, which went 43 hours on serious battery-saving settings.

Design-wise, the Steel’s namesake metal face attaches to a (non-standard) leather or steel band. It doesn’t look like a fashion watch, but it isn’t a throwback Casio digital, either. At 46mm tall by 34mm wide, the Steel’s body is about the smallest of the current smartwatches; it looked the least cumbersome on the females and smaller-wristed males who tried it on. The body takes bumps and drops well, and is waterproof to 5 atmospheres, covering spills, dish washing, and dips in the pool.

The runner-up (for Android)

If you have an Android phone, and absolutely love it, there are about a half-dozen Android Wear watches to pick from right now. Most look like matte black match boxes or hockey pucks on first glance. Some have bad screens.

The best combination of looks and features is Motorola’s Moto 360. Its round face and higher quality bands set it apart, its magnetic charging dock is convenient, and its wrist-back heart monitor can track your activity levels all day. Google’s Android Wear platform is still a bit raw—its gestures and swipe actions are far from intuitive—and the battery life requires charging every night. But it’s easily the best of what’s around, Android-wise.

What about the Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch, arriving in April 2015, will be available in small and large sizes, three levels of material and finish (“Watch,” “Watch Sport,” and “Watch Edition”), and start at $350. It will, of course, require an iPhone. It will offer a variety of subtle vibrations, its interface is a very new thing from the iPhone, and its battery life is an unanswered question. We will be testing an Apple Watch as soon as it’s available, so watch our full guide for updates.

In closing

In a rather early-stage field, the Pebble Steel stands out as, all-around, solid: looks, battery life, app and phone support, and a dedicated company behind the product. At $200, or sometimes less on sale, the Pebble Steel is the best smartwatch you can buy right now.

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

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Blu-ray Drive You Can Buy Right Now

Blu-ray disk logo.
David Paul Morris—Getty Images Blu-ray disk logo.

The Samsung SE-506CB is thin, light, compact—and quietest

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 $80 Samsung SE-506CB is the best external Blu-ray drive for most people—if you need one at all. It’s the best Blu-ray drive you can get for the least amount of money, and it’s the quietest one we tested. The Samsung is well-liked by Amazon buyers, and it’s conveniently thin, light, and compact.

Who needs this?

If you have a laptop without a disc drive and want to back up music and movies from discs to your computer, or need a disc drive for work, you should pick up one of our recommendations. If you’re trying to backup or transfer files from your computer, you should use a USB hard drive or flash drive instead.

You shouldn’t buy one of these for a desktop computer that has room for an internal drive, because internal drives are generally faster and cheaper than portable ones. You also shouldn’t buy an external drive to use with a tablet.

What makes a good Blu-ray drive?

We surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers to find out what people care most about in an external Blu-ray player. Using this information, we came up with a set of criteria to decide which drive is best for most people.

For starters, it must read and write dual-layer DVDs and Blu-rays. 74% of those surveyed use their external drive only at home, but size and weight are still important. A lighter, more compact drive is easier to store when you’re not using it.

Note that some older laptops don’t provide enough juice to power a Blu-ray drive. It’s not necessary for most people, but for these older machines you’ll need a Y-cable that plugs into two USB ports.

How we picked and tested

We began by scouring Amazon and other retailers for best-selling and top-rated Blu-ray drives, and checked manufacturer websites for models that have been released since our previous guide, published in June of 2013. We eliminated drives that cost more than $120, didn’t read and write DVDs and Blu-rays, or had few or poor user reviews on Amazon. We also cut drives that were heavier or bulkier than the rest, and we didn’t re-test anything that we ruled out in our previous guide.

Then we chose four Blu-ray drives and one DVD-only drive to go head-to-head against our previous pick, the Samsung SE-506BB Blu-ray drive. We tested the Buffalo MediaStation BDXL, the new Samsung SE-506CB Blu-ray drive, the Pioneer BDR-XD05, the Archgon MD-3107S, and the Samsung SE-218CB DVD drive (for people who don’t care about Blu-rays).

Our pick

The $80 Samsung SE-506CB Slim Blu-ray Writer is the best Blu-ray drive for most people. (Some days the black version is less expensive and others the white model is the better buy, so shop wisely.) The other Blu-ray drives we tested cost about $40 more for similar performance.

Our pick was the quietest drive we tested, and it’s conveniently thin and light for storage or portable use. The Samsung was the fastest to rip a Blu-ray to an MKV file. It was a few minutes slower than the competition in our other tests, but all the drives we tested (except the pricier Pioneer) take more than an hour to rip and burn Blu-rays.

The Samsung comes with the CyberLink Media Suite for playing DVDs and Blu-rays. This software works only on Windows, though.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The Samsung’s biggest flaw is that it’s a little bit slower at burning and ripping DVDs and Blu-rays and the other drives we tested. However, it was within five minutes of the competition in almost all our tests, which take over an hour each.

Our pick doesn’t come with a Y-cable, but not everyone needs one—only people with older computers that don’t provide enough power to one USB port. If you need one, you can get a Y-cable or a longer USB cord on Amazon.

A faster (but louder) upgrade

If speed and size are your biggest concerns and you don’t mind paying more and putting up with a noisy drive, we recommend the Pioneer BDR-XD05 Slim Blu-ray Writer. It was the fastest in nearly all of our tests, is the smallest, lightest, and thinnest, and comes with a USB 3.0 Y-cable.

The Pioneer is difficult to find for a good price; the black version costs $130 and comes bundled with CyberLink software, and the white version costs $95 but does not come with any software. The Pioneer’s small size and top-loading clamshell design are particularly convenient for a portable drive.

A DVD-only pick

If you don’t need a drive that can read and write Blu-rays, you should save money and get the $38 Samsung SE-218CB External DVD Writer instead.

Playing DVDs and Blu-rays

Because of movie studios’ piracy concerns, it’s much more of a hassle to play Blu-rays on a computer than on a dedicated Blu-ray player. In order to play Blu-rays legally on a Mac or Windows PC, you’ll need to purchase software that licenses the required codecs.

Wrapping it up

Nearly all of the Blu-ray drives we tested are great options, but the $80 Samsung SE-506CB (black or white) is the best one for most people. It’s inexpensive, fast enough, and the quietest drive we tested. It doesn’t come with a Y-cable, but most people don’t need one anyway. The Samsung also comes bundled with Windows software. It’s the best external Blu-ray burner for people who still need to use an optical drive sometimes.

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

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best TV You Can Buy Right Now

Sony Sony X950B Series

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

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
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images 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.

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
kba—Getty Images/Flickr RF Umbrellas

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

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 Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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

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