TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Samsung Galaxy S5 Case You Can Buy

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

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

The Best Samsung Galaxy S5 Cases

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

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

How we picked

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

Our pick

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

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

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

Other great cases

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

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

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

In closing

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

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

TIME Reviews

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

TP-Link TL-WDR3600 TP-Link

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

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

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

Our Pick

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

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

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

 

Other Options

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

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

In closing

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

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

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Home Soda Maker You Can Buy

SodaStream

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

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

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

How We Decided

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

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

Who should buy this?

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

Why we like this above all else

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

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

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

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

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

An even more environmentally friendly option

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

In Closing

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

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

TIME Gadgets

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

PSB M4U 1 PSB Speakers

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

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

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

How We Decided

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

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

Our Pick

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

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

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

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

Another Great Choice

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

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

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

A More Portable Option

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

Great Looks, Great Sound

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

The Step-Down Pick

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

Wrapping It Up

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

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

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Drone You Can Buy Right Now

Preview Of The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show
A DJI Innovations Phantom remote-controlled drone hovers above attendees during the CES Unveiled press event prior to the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best is the best drone 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

Dozens of pre-assembled consumer drones are now available between at prices between $200 and $9,000, and we looked into virtually all of them. After 35 hours of research and dozens of flights, we had to agree with the opinions of most experts and everyday users: For aerial photography, videography, and generally having fun, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best drone for most people from first-time flyers to experienced novices.

No other drone under $3,000 comes with the 2 Vision+’s three-axis gimbal, top-notch camera and live-view that you need to take great photos and videos. Building something similar costs hundreds of dollars more and can be a pain in the neck.

Our Pick

Roughly $1,200 is a lot to pay for a drone, but the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is ready to start shooting photos when it arrives. You just spin on the propellers, charge and plug in the battery, download an iOS or Android app for your phone, and you’re ready to lift off and start shooting. Other models require hours at a soldering bench before they’re as capable as the 2 Vision+.

“We’ve been told that drones are going to change the world,” says Norman Chan of Tested, “but this is the first product I’ve used that really makes me believe it.”

In the air, the 2 Vision+ is a very capable imaging machine. Its 1080p/30 720p/60 camera is better than the in-house cameras from companies like Walkera and Blade, and roughly as good as a GoPro Hero3+ action camera. (The 2 Vision+ takes more detailed stills, while the GoPro Hero3+ is clearly better at 1080p video quality.) “The videos and stills are amazing,” said Erick Royer, executive editor of MultiRotor Pilot magazine.

The gimbal, which holds the camera steady even as the aircraft wiggles, is an undisputed standout. It stabilizes the camera in three planes—tipping, rolling, and twisting. Virtually all other drone gimbals stabilize cameras in only two dimensions, leading to shakier images.

Perhaps best of all, the free DJI Vision+ app, combined with the radio controller’s Wi-Fi extender, displays the camera’s view of what the drone is shooting on your Apple or Android smartphone from as far as 2,000 feet away. It also allows you to frame shots by pressing a button that tilts the camera up and down, and it displays useful stats like how much battery life remains.

“The most important thing, of course, if you are flying to shoot, is to see what your composition is,” says filmmaker Philip Bloom. This is key, but it’s sadly rare. To get those features from something like a Phantom 2 and separate GoPro, you have to buy pricey aftermarket video feed transmission systems, pull out the wire strippers, watch or read some tutorials, and plug in that soldering gun or order parts from Britain—a major hassle, in other words.

The 2 Vision+ has other class-leading features, including a battery life of 25 minutes, compared to the usual 10 minutes, and a top-notch autopilot that holds the drone rock steady when you take your thumbs off the controller. If the drone loses connection with the radio transmitter, then it automatically returns to the launch pad—a great safety setting that many drones now use.

The big surprise is the 2 Vision+’s price. $1,160 seems like a lot of money, but is actually a good deal. In order to get similar capabilities from a cheaper drone, such as the 3DR IRIS or plain Phantom 2, you have to futz with the inside wiring of the thing and spend over $1,500 on a drone and aftermarket parts.

Small flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The main drawback of the 2 Vision+ is that the camera is permanently attached to the drone. If cameras get dramatically better in the next couple years, owners of the 2 Vision+ will still be stuck with the 2 Vision+ camera. But that’s a minor worry — the camera is already excellent. What limits the quality of 2 Vision+ videos and stills these days is not the engineering of the camera, but the quality of the pilot—how smoothly he or she flies, or how creatively he or she approaches the subject.

For nervous or over-eager flyers

We gave Phantoms to seven people who’d never flown any kind of radio controlled drone or plane before, from a 13-year-old boy to a 73-year-old retiree. Five of them got the hang of it immediately and had no problems flying. Two of them—excitable guys in their 30s—crashed into trees within five minutes.

The 2 Vision+ is very easy to fly, but because of those experiences we recommend that people consider buying an inexpensive drone, too. If you’re unfamiliar with how to fly drones or don’t trust yourself to fly calmly at first or just need to fine tune your skills (and who doesn’t), then definitely think about getting a cheapo trainer drone before putting your $1,160 investment aloft.

We recommend the highly touted $90 Blade Nano QX. It’s essentially a palm-sized quadcopter without the camera and fancy features like GPS-assisted position hold. It flies much like the 2 Vision+. Push the left stick of the radio controller up and the drone ascends. Push the right stick right and the drone glides right. So skills honed on it transfer to the 2 Vision+. And if you crash the Blade, replacement parts cost just a couple bucks, instead of as much as a couple hundred, and take just 10 minutes to install, instead of an hour or more.

In Closing

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best drone for the vast majority of people. It has many standout features like a 25-minute battery life and is a relative bargain, but these are mere perks. The big deal is that it arrives ready to make super images—colorful, detailed, well-framed, jiggle-free aerial pictures and video. So pilots of the 2 Vision+ can focus on the fun stuff.

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

Read next: Meet Nixie, the Selfie Drone You Wear on Your Wrist

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best iPad Stylus You Can Buy

Pogo Stylus Ten One

The TenOne Pogo Stylus focuses on getting the little things right

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 best iPad stylus for people who want to sketch or take handwritten notes is the redesigned Ten One Pogo Stylus. It handles and writes more like an actual pen than any other stylus currently available. It also has an aluminum shaft with a removable clip on one side and a replaceable tip on the other. It produced the best line response of the 18 styli we evaluated and, unlike the competition, never forced us to apply more pressure than was comfortable. After going hands on with all the competitors, illustrator Dan Bransfield reached for the Pogo over models from more established companies like Wacom. And Bransfield would know a good stylus from a bad one—he’s worked for LucasArts, Electronic Arts and Rumble Entertainment.

How We Decided

We started by researching what would best fit the needs of a casual note taker and sketcher. If the idea is to replicate the experience of pen on paper, well, then the best stylus is the one that feels most like a decent pen on good quality paper. That means you want something with enough weight and glide to move freely, but with enough friction to be predictable.

Our testing included tracking the stylus through a maze, tracing the alphabet in various sizes, sketching a variety of items, and navigating through a tablet. After assessing all of them, we started all over again, testing the pens in a different order to reduce any chance that becoming acclimated to a stylus might have skewed the results.

Bransfield then spent time with each stylus, sketching random still lifes with each pen to get a feel for how it performed while being used to draw. He took notes on each stylus based on performance and comfort.

Our Pick

Some companies go overboard to create a more “touch-specific” feel, whereas the Pogo Stylus is just a well-executed riff on a normal pen. The 6mm nib is thin enough to stay out of your way, and perfectly replicates the feel of a fingertip, which makes it an exceptionally consistent performer when paired with an iPad screen. The little touches, like a removable pocket clip and replaceable tips (two for $9) that attach via magnets, reflect the thought put into designing the Pogo.

The Pogo’s metal design, heft, and balance make the pen immediately comfortable for writing and drawing. It’s a simple cylinder that doesn’t rely on design flourishes or ergonomic attributes, and we’re OK with that. During our testing, the more ergonomic styli like the Paper Pencil weren’t significantly more comfortable, and their accuracy wasn’t necessarily greater. And cheaper models, like the Wacom Bamboo Alpha and AmazonBasics, felt a bit too light and thin in comparison.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

While the Pogo’s shaft and clip are plenty sturdy, the part that surrounds the removable tip can get dented if you’re not careful since it’s only a thin piece of metal. This can then dig into and shorten the lifespan of your nibs if you’re not careful.

Runner-up

The Wacom Bamboo Stylus Alpha is a solid runner-up to our top pick. At $15, it’s $5 cheaper than the Pogo, but the Pogo is definitely $5 better. The Alpha is a bit thinner and lighter (it weighs 10 grams to the Pogo’s 18), which makes it feel less like a premium pen and more like a Bic or Paper Mate. That said, its nib response is about as good as the Pogo’s—it just doesn’t feel as good in your hand as the Pogo.

Bluetooth?

A Bluetooth stylus costs anywhere from two to 10 times as much as our top pick and offers just a few additional features. Pressure sensitivity may appeal to artists, but apps do a decent job of simulating that. Palm-rejection allows you to rest your palm on the screen while writing, but yet again, there are popular apps like GoodNotes that can do this without Bluetooth.

After testing several of the most promising models, the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus is the active stylus we would get. It performs basically just like the non-Bluetooth equipped Pogo, but with the aforementioned Bluetooth features. Unfortunately it’s since been replaced by a newer version with a thinner tip that doesn’t draw accurately. That most likely will not be our recommendation, but we plan on pitting it against other new options to see if we can find a better one.

In Closing

The TenOne Pogo Stylus is the best iPad stylus because it focuses on getting the little things right. It just feels and performs like a good pen should. That’s why it’s the best stylus for most people.

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

TIME Smartphones

This Is the Best iPhone 6 Case So Far

Incipio NGP Case Incipio

The NGP from Incipio is the best bet to protect your shiny new iPhone 6

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

After surveying almost 1,000 Wirecutter readers and testing 60 iPhone 6 cases over a period of about 30 hours (so far), our current pick for the best all-around case is the NGP from Incipio. The NGP has protected several generations of iPhones (and many other devices) and has a reputation for providing solid protection and a good fit. It’s slim enough to not detract from the iPhone 6’s svelte dimensions, while still offering comprehensive protection for the handset’s body, including its buttons. Openings along the bottom allow for compatibility with a wide range of accessories.

How we decided

Truth is, there are plenty of good iPhone cases out there. A bad case is actually a pretty rare thing. But in looking for a few cases that work for most people, we sought out a case that can adequately protect your phone without adding too much bulk or unnecessary embellishments while doing so. Apple sets forth very specific guidelines for case developers. The main thesis: “A well-designed case will securely house an Apple device while not interfering with the device’s operation.” It goes into much deeper specifics.

A respectable degree of shock absorption is important, as is a tight fit. The case should cover as much of the iPhone’s body as possible, including a raised lip around the glass display to keep it from laying flat on a surface. The best cases offer button protection with great tactility, mimicking or in some instances even enhancing what you’d feel with a bare iPhone. Based on these criteria, plastic shells are automatically out of the picture.

Our pick

Incipio’s $20 NGP is the best iPhone 6 case for most people because it offers full body protection from drops and scuffs while adding minimal bulk. Including the protective lip around the screen, the case adds a little more than 2mm to the total depth of the handset, which is about half the extra thickness of our previous pick, the CandyShell. While those with butterfingers may benefit from the extra protection of the CandyShell’s dual-layer design, the NGP’s slimmer but still shock-absorbent design offers the best compromise between protection and aesthetics.

The NGP is made out of a single piece of flexible polymer material that the company calls Flex2O. This sounds fancy, but it’s really just a variant of standard thermoplastic polyurethane, which you may know as TPU. But there are a lot of TPU cases that can be had for half as much as the NGP, so why pay extra? It comes down to the little things, like fit, button feel and quality control.

As with all good cases, port openings are properly aligned, and the button protection doesn’t dampen the clicking sensation. Buttons depress readily without requiring noticeably more pressure. This is important because even a little unpleasantness adds up to a lot of annoyance when repeated dozens of times daily.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

There are only two small issues with the NGP case. The first is the height of the lip. At 0.6mm tall, it falls below the 1mm threshold Apple recommends in its case developer guide. We feel it’s large enough to still adequately protect the screen.

The other issue is a trifle. There’s a black ring around the camera opening, which is meant to help prevent color issues when the flash is used. On our review unit, the paint is slightly uneven. It’s not so bad that it’ll have an effect on pictures, but perfectionists may notice the uneven paint job.

Other great cases

If you’re the type of person who’s always cashing in on AppleCare, we suggest something with more protection, like Speck’s CandyShell ($35), our previous top pick. The two layers of material — plastic on the outside, rubber on the inside — offer more protection than cases that are just one or the other. It’s 10.9mm thick, which puts it on the chunky side, but it doesn’t feel as thick as it is. It’s also one of the only cases we tested that meets military drop test standards. There’s a wide range of colors available, and variants add rubbery grips (CandyShell Grip), credit card holders (CandyShell Card), or graphic prints (CandyShell Inked).

If you’re trying to replace your wallet, we recommend CM4’s Q Card Case ($40). Without any cards in it, this case is only about a millimeter thicker than the standard CandyShell. The body is sturdy rubber, and it fits securely while protruding to form a 0.8mm lip. On the back, there’s a faux leather pocket that can hold up to three cards, plus some cash. With Apple Pay activated, carrying so few cards is becoming even more viable for most people, making this case more practical than it would’ve been in the past.

In closing

There are a lot of good choices when it comes to the early batch of iPhone 6 cases, but the best pick is the NGP. Very protective without sacrificing aesthetics, it’s going to be the case to beat going forward. We’ll continue to test it over the long term and see how it fares as newer cases are released.

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

Read next: 50 Best iPhone Apps, 2014 Edition

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Home Bluetooth Speaker You Can Buy

Marshall Stanmore Marshall

This amp-style Marshall speaker drowns out its competition

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

If I were buying a Bluetooth speaker for home use, I’d get the $400 Marshall Stanmore. It sounds more refined than most competitors, has convenient bass and treble controls, and plays loud as hell without distortion—3 to 5 decibels louder than anything else we tested. I base this recommendation on a series of blind listening tests as well as professional and amateur reviews.

I also have a recommendations for speakers if you dislike the styling of the Marshall, or want to save a little money or spend more and get a speaker with Apple’s Airplay wireless music technology.

Who Should Buy This Bluetooth Speaker

Anyone looking for an easy-to-use audio system that delivers good sound quality (that doesn’t need to be portable) will find a home Bluetooth speaker a great choice.

Bluetooth is the easiest wireless audio technology to deal with. You don’t need to install an app: If you’ve been using, say, the TuneIn Radio and Pandora apps on your tablet to listen through headphones, a Bluetooth speaker lets you use those apps the same way you did before. Any Bluetooth source (tablet, phone, computer) works with any Bluetooth speaker.

Bluetooth does degrade sound quality compared to Wi-Fi-based systems like AirPlay and Sonos, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear a significant difference. Be warned, though: if you’re a serious audiophile, this kind of speaker is unlikely to please you, because none can match the sound quality of even a halfway-decent conventional stereo system.

How we decided on the Marshall Stanmore

First off, in choosing models to test, we passed on anything with an internal rechargeable battery (which we would consider portable, regardless of the size.) We concentrated on speakers around $400, which past experience has told us is the least you can reasonably expect to spend for a wireless speaker that produces decent bass and fills a room with sound. If you spend more than $400, you’ll likely get AirPlay capability and even better sound.

A good home Bluetooth speaker should have bass, midrange, and treble in natural and roughly equal proportions. The sound should be full and satisfying, and the midrange should sound smooth, without making voices sound unnaturally edgy or constricted, and the treble should let you clearly hear high-frequency sounds like the breath of a flautist. We also looked for physical controls like volume adjustment.

We used outside reviews to narrow down our final list, which included the Wren V5BT, JBL Authentics L8, Fluance Fi30, and the Marshall. I then set up a blind test pitting these speakers against each other, including myself, Wirecutter headphone editor Lauren Dragan, and frequent Wirecutter listening panelist and musician John Higgins.

Our Pick

The Marshall Stanmore is a solid speaker with no caveats (seriously). It sounds good with all kinds of music — rock, hip-hop, pop, jazz, classical, whatever — and it has plenty of bass and plays louder than any other all-in-one wireless speaker I’ve tested: 105 decibels at 1 meter. That’s 3 to 5 dB louder than most of the best wireless speakers. In other words, the Stanmore is loud enough to drown out conversation and get people dancing.

It has top-mounted bass and treble controls, and more inputs than its competitors: a 3.5 mm and stereo RCA analog and a Toslink optical digital input. You can connect it to an Apple TV and an actual TV and still have one input plus Bluetooth to work with.

Small flaws (but not dealbreakers)

Although there are two 0.75-inch tweeters, most of the Stanmore’s sound comes from a single 5.25-inch woofer, and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of simulated surround or crosstalk cancellation that would make the sound more spacious.

An almost as great Bluetooth speaker (that looks sleeker)

Some people may not like the retro guitar-amp styling of the Marshall Stanmore. If that’s you, the Wren V5BT is a great alternative for $100 less. It combines good overall sound quality (although not as good as the Marshall) and an elegant Danish modern-influenced design.

If you can spend more (and want AirPlay)

If you want better sound quality and/or multiroom audio capability, we recommend the $600 JBL Authentics L8, which is one of our picks for Best AirPlay Speaker. The L8 sounds great for an all-in-one wireless speaker without the distortion problems that plague most of its peers. It also has clearer mids and highs than the Marshall and a somewhat more enveloping sound. The L8 also offers AirPlay and DLNA wireless, so it can be used in multi-room systems. But keep in mind, that this is a lot to pay for a bluetooth home speaker.

The best Bluetooth speaker for $150

The Fluance Fi30 is a step down in sound quality from the Marshall, but it’s still pretty good for just $150. It has a very basic set of features — a power button, a Bluetooth mating button, and a 3.5 mm analog audio input — but it looks at least as nice as anything we tested.

In closing

After considering the opinions of our listening panelists, the statements of other reviewers, and the verdict of consumer reviews, we think you’re mostly likely to have a good experience with the Marshall Stanmore.

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

TIME Smartphones

This Is the Best Wireless Carrier for You

2012 International Consumer Electronics Show
The Verizon Communications Inc. logo is seen at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Big Red beats out the competition

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

If you’re in the United States and looking for a carrier with good coverage, fast bandwidth and—this may surprise you—affordable single-line plans, you should consider Verizon Wireless. We found it has the widest coverage map, the fastest network and the lowest costs for individuals. But it’s not the only answer for everyone: Some situations call for other carriers, and we discuss that below.

How We Decided

We reached that conclusion after a good 70 hours poring over the large and small print of wireless plans, checking coverage maps and calculating the cost of smartphone service: 500MB of data per month, 2GB and 4GB. We did the math for all those scenarios with expensive and affordable phones, ran the numbers for two and four phones on the same plan and recalculated again for those who want to use their own device not purchased through the carrier.

Finally, we inspected prior research and testing from a host of reputable sources and publications and consulted experts from around the industry.

Why Verizon is best for most people on an individual plan

Our endorsement rides on some assumptions: wireless coverage where you need it trumps all else; the lowest total cost of owning your smartphone or device, based on your typical usage; and that a lack of tethering or a wide choice of Android phones aren’t necessarily deal-breakers. (Though we have other recommendations if they are deal-breakers.)

Verizon has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for the medium solo-usage scenario—analysts estimate this ranges between 1.2GB and less than 1.5GB a month. Its “Single Line Smartphone” plans limit the two-year total cost of a new iPhone with 2GB of data a month to $1,640, versus $1,680 at Sprint (that’s an iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus exclusive lease deal, while non-Apple high-end phones cost $2,090), $1,730 at T-Mobile, and $2,120 at AT&T.

Those numbers, except for T-Mobile’s, assume a standard two-year contract in which higher monthly rates recoup a lower initial phone price. That deal traditionally entails getting gouged on international roaming (hi, AT&T!), but Verizon’s numerous “world phones” with internationally compatible devices all come unlocked, allowing you to pop in cheap prepaid SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards while overseas.

Back in the U.S., Verizon’s deployment of “XLTE” LTE service sped it ahead of AT&T in PCMag.com’s latest tests, with LTE downloads across the country averaging 19.6 megabits per second. RootMetrics’s tests over the first half of 2014 also favored Verizon in overall performance and speed.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

Reading this on a laptop away from home? Verizon’s Single Line plans exclude “tethering,” or sharing a smartphone’s bandwidth over Wi-Fi. Adding tethering with a “More Everything” plan balloons two-year costs to $2,360 in a 2GB/month iPhone scenario, above comparable costs at T-Mobile ($1,730) and AT&T ($2,120).

Want an Android phone? Subsidized or not, Verizon’s Android phones come loaded with apps you can’t remove, and then you must wait for Verizon to deliver system updates. And as with Sprint, its use of CDMA wireless technology instead of the more open GSM standard relied on by AT&T and T-Mobile obstructs customers from buying a new phone from somebody besides the carrier, like a manufacturer or Google.

The best selection of Android phones

For the widest choice in Android phones, look to T-Mobile. By pricing service separate from hardware, it frees you to buy hardware directly, with less unwanted software and faster updates. Even its subsidized, locked phones come with free international low-speed data and cheap overseas calling and texting—and if you need faster service, its roaming rates still mop the floor with the competition. And its Wi-Fi-calling-capable phones can get free in-flight texting and voicemail reception on planes with Gogo Wi-Fi.

What if I want a wider selection, but need coverage in a less populated area?

T-Mobile’s coverage often fades in rural areas. If that’s an issue, and you also want unlocked phones or devices that aren’t available through Verizon, consider AT&T: It provides coverage that our sources saw as about as good as Verizon’s and offers a wider selection of phones. But while you can buy a compatible phone from another place, AT&T’s pricing favors getting a subsidized-phone contract—and then accepting its control-freak locking policy that prevents using other carriers on your phone until your contract concludes.

Both AT&T and T-Mo support simultaneous voice and data on any phone (though some Android phones at Sprint and Verizon provide that with an extra antenna).

Why we don’t recommend Sprint

Sorry, but Sprint’s LTE coverage still suffers from earlier detours with the failed 4G standard “WiMax” and its acquisition of Nextel. Most of its plans don’t include tethering, you have to wait 90 days into a contract to get a world phone’s SIM card unlocked. If you’re set on a new iPhone, you may want to consider its “iPhone for Life” option: Unlimited data for $70 a month with an iPhone 6 or $75 for an iPhone 6 Plus, with a replacement every two years. But bear in mind that other smartphones don’t allow this deal and that Sprint’s subsidized-phone deals quickly change from its cheapest to its priciest option as your data appetite increases.

No clear winner among family plans

Sprint and T-Mobile offer the best deals for most multiple-line plans, but the coverage for each can be a deal-breaker. And mastering how discounts for extra data can intersect with those for buying an unsubsidized phone can be a brain-breaker.

  • In a 500MB-per-line scenario, AT&T’s unsubsidized deal is the cheapest way to get two lines, while T-Mobile is your lowest-cost option for four lines.
  • With 2GB of data per line, Sprint unsubsidized is the cheapest route to two lines (although Apple users will do better by pairing two “iPhone for Life” leases), T-Mobile for four.
  • At 4GB per line, Sprint’s unsubsidized options take the lead all around—but if you need two but not four iPhones, get two “iPhone for Life” leases, while for two other high-end devices, take its handset subsidy.

If you can’t deal with either Sprint or T-Mobile’s coverage, Verizon’s multiple-line pricing isn’t bad but requires a spreadsheet to grasp (as in, it’s cheaper to share 10GB of data among four unsubsidized phones than to buy less data). If you wanted shopping for wireless service to feel more like confronting the tax code, this is the corner of the market for you.

In Closing

Verizon is not the “best carrier” for every single person–your location, your travel habits, and your taste in phones can make it a poor choice. But for most people needing only one line, it’s the safest recommendation we can make, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s the cheapest either.

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

TIME

The Is the Best Wi-Fi Router You Can Buy

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This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

By David Murphy

If your laptop, smartphone, or tablet uses the latest wireless-AC networking technology and you’re shopping for a new router, you should get the Netgear R6250. The benefits of wireless-ac are great: super-fast performance that can be stronger at longer distances than wireless-n routers. More than 100 hours of combined testing and research led us to the $150 R6250, which boasts the best combination of speed, price, and features of any router in its price range, and unlike more expensive and newer routers, has technology your most modern gear can actually take advantage of.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 7.06.50 PM

How we decided on the R6250

Our pick supports two data streams for wireless-n and three for wireless-ac. Our research indicates that two-stream wireless-N and -AC technology are the most common connection types for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, while three-stream wireless-ac is what you’ll find on new top-of-the-line laptops like the latest MacBook Pro.

How did we pick this price point? Basically, a $200 router can be faster than our main pick, but only if your devices can take advantage of it—most things we own today can’t. On the other hand, paying less than $100 for a wireless-ac router means sacrificing speed and/or range, and you might also lose a number of useful features, like media streaming, parental controls, and remote access.

Our router finalists for speed and features, based on a lot of research and interviewing with the best wireless gear testers, were the Netgear R6250 ($150), Asus RT-AC56U ($112), Asus RT-AC66U ($170), and TP-Link Archer C7 ($99). We tested them by running performance benchmarks at four different testing stations inside a 2,700 square-foot, one-story house.

Our pick

In our tests, Netgear’s R6250 delivered great performance for its price. Its features are comprehensive, it’s reliable, and it looks good. It’s easy to set up, with both a basic mode and an advanced mode to give networking gurus extra control. Wireless networking expert Tim Higgins, of SmallNetBuilder, also puts the R6250 ahead of its peers.

The Runner Up

If for some reason the R6250 is unavailable, or too expensive, we recommend the Asus RT-AC56U. It’s as good as the R6250 in terms of speed and range and was a strong runner up. But we, and some people who bought it, encountered occasional stability issues when connecting to its 2.4GHz wireless band. Asus hasn’t updated the router since we tested it, and some Amazon reviewers are still seeing performance issues on the latest firmware. Caveat emptor.

If you have a $100 limit

If you prefer to spend less than $100, get the $94 TP-Link Archer C7. It has excellent speed and range, but its interface is harder to use. Some features, like parental controls and USB file sharing, are implemented poorly. Others, like Quality of Service settings, are missing entirely. The C7 also ignores wireless coexistence rules, so it may interfere with your neighbors’ Wi-Fi. The Netgear R6250 is better for most people because its interface is more comprehensive and intuitive. There’s more you can do, and it’s easier to do it.

Even better, but not worth it for most

There are many routers around $200 with more features and faster performance, but they’re not worth it for most people. The Netgear Nighthawk R7000 ($192) is among the most popular. It has features our main pick doesn’t, like support for Time Machine, VPN and iTunes, and advanced Quality of Service (QoS) settings. It supports a new technology called TurboQAM that can give your wireless devices more bandwidth, but to use TurboQAM right now, you’d need a $100 Wi-Fi adapter that only works in desktop PCs, so it’s not yet worth paying extra for. The R7000’s three-stream wireless-ac speeds are significantly faster than the R6250’s, so if you have lots of three-stream devices, like a room full of new MacBook Pros, the R7000 is a good upgrade. But most people don’t, so there’s little reason to spend this much money on a router.

In closing

We think the $150 R6250 is the best all-around wireless-ac router for most people, but you’re going to want to make sure it’s the best router for your home or apartment setup.

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

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