TIME

The Best Cities for Young Tech Professionals

It’s a familiar story. You’ve just accepted a flashy tech job across the country. The benefits are superb. The pay is incredible. They’ve promised three coolers full of Diet Coke and an employee incentive plan chalk full of stock options.

The only problem? The surrounding city is terrible. Somewhere between “flexible hours” and “free snacks,” you forgot that the closest decent bar is 15 miles out of town.

At FindTheBest, we gathered data for thousands of cities so you can scope the landscape before you sign the contract. And since we’re talking tech, we’re keeping things data-driven. We counted up the number of venues per 10,000 people for a handful of key businesses. Which cities have the most restaurants, cafés and bars? What about gyms and yoga studios? Where can you have a bit of fun on Saturday night (vice), and atone for your sins on Sunday morning (religious centers)? For today’s purposes, we’ll focus on just eight of the biggest tech-friendly cities in the nation.

The Candidates

San Francisco – the reigning champ

New York – Silicon Alley

Los Angeles – Silicon Beach

Denver – the rising star

Boston – blue collar meets Bitcoin

Austin – down south but not out

Seattle – because they’re more than just coffee

Restaurants

Winner: San Francisco (53.4 per 10k)

Runner-up: Seattle (50.6 per 10k)

What better place to blow your engineer’s salary than one of San Francisco’s 4,000+ restaurants? With 97% more eateries per capita than the United States as a whole, you’re bound to find something you like, even if lunch tends to cost nearly as much as a refurbished iPad.

Last place: Los Angeles (30.2 per 10k)

Bars

Winner: San Francisco (10.3 per 10k)

Runner-up: Seattle (9.47 per 10k)

After spending all day pitching your crowd-sourced, mobile-first, local deals coupon app to investors, you’ll want a decent bar to forget all those blank looks and awkward silences. Once again, San Francisco and Seattle emerge on top, with plenty of clubs, lounges, and dives to serve you over and over (and over) again. Three beers in, maybe you’ll even come up with an idea for a better app.

Last place: Los Angeles (2.95 per 10k)

Fitness Centers

Winner: Seattle (5.91 per 10k)

Runner-up: Denver (4.51 per 10k)

Who says the tech industry is out of shape? Thousands of beer-bellied, Cheeto-consuming web developers, that’s who.

Still, the rise of the fitness tracker means more geeks at the gym, and for the trim tech professional, Seattle beats its rivals handily, offering over twice as many fitness centers per capita than the country as a whole.

Last place: New York (2.04 per 10k)

Cafés

Winner: San Francisco (18 per 10k)

Runner-up: Seattle (17.9 per 10k)

We can talk all day about “office synergy” and “inter-departmental collaboration,” but sometimes the best tech breakthroughs happen outside the office—with the smell of Ethiopian coffee, the sound of temperature-controlled roasters, and the company of impatient baristas with names like Sebastian, Bianca and Antonio.

San Francisco roasts its rivals here, while sporting three times the cafés per capita compared to the rest of the nation.

Last place: Austin (7.94 per 10k)

Yoga

Winner: Seattle (2.39 per 10k)

Runner-up: Denver (1.58 per 10k)

Nothing says “tech” like ballooning valuations, insane CEOs and midday trips to a yoga studio. With nearly seven times as many yogis as the the average city, Seattle is your best choice for incense-fueled exercise.

New York comes in last, although you could argue that a daily subway commute in Manhattan provides many of the same sweaty, meditative, semi-spiritual benefits.

Last place: New York (0.4 per 10k)

Alternative Medicine

Winner: Seattle (3.79 per 10k)

Runner-up: San Francisco (3.25 per 10k)

The best tech CEOs think for themselves, disrupting years of tradition and shattering decades of traditional business wisdom. So why limit yourself to the tired old practices of modern hospitals and scientific health research?

Both Seattle and San Francisco offer over three times as many alternative medicine businesses than the average American city, including acupuncture, herbal wellness and restorative massage. But for Boston? Sorry: you’re stuck with proven medical procedures and the world-renowned surgeons at Massachusetts General. So much for thinking differently.

Last place: Boston (0.62 per 10k)

Vice

Winner: San Francisco (6.15 per 10k)

Runner-up: Denver (5.85 per 10k)

Starting a new tech venture is always a gamble, but nothing beats the thrill of throwing two paychecks on a single spin of the roulette wheel. Per capita, San Francisco offers more casinos, liquor stores and adult entertainment establishments than any other city on this list—and over double the average across the nation. Meanwhile, Denver sneaks in as the runner-up.

Last place: New York (2.97 per 10k)

Religious Organizations

Winner: Denver (17.4 per 10k)

Runner-up: New York (14.5 per 10k)

Tech employees taking advantage of Denver’s dirty nightlife will be happy to hear they have (literally) over 1,000 options for cleansing themselves of the previous evening’s adventures. And then there’s New York’s squeaky clean performance—last in vice but the silver medalist in religion. Who would have guessed?

But neither city should be too proud of its godly edge over rivals. Denver might beat all seven others on this list, but it still fall shorts of the national average.

Last place: Los Angeles (13.5 per 10k)

- – - -

Overall

With four victories out of eight tries, San Francisco—already the big favorite going in—wins easily. Sneaky Seattle grabs 2nd place, dominating the fitness and yoga categories while earning a string of second-place finishes. And last place? LA narrowly loses to its East Coast rival, NYC. Each had three dead last finishes, but in the end, the synagogues, churches, and mosques of New York were—appropriately enough—able to save the city from LA’s ignominious fate.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

The Most Common Misconceptions About 8 Big Tech Companies

The Internet has an established narrative for every big tech company. There are the innovators and the copycats, the rising stars and the dying veterans, the money-makers and the time-wasters.

While there’s probably a little truth in all of these labels, each company’s story is built around a common misconception. So here’s my take on what we tend to get wrong about eight of the biggest tech titans.

1. Apple

Misconception: Apple is all about innovation, but they’ve lost their edge since Steve Jobs died.

 

Reality: Everyone loves to argue about the second half of this statement, but the big misconception lies in the first part. In reality, Apple has always been more about execution and refinement than wild innovation. Even their big hits—the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad—were just better executions of existing technology. With each product, the company has simply refined the design and user interface over many years, with minimal changes to size, shape, and concept. You can debate whether Apple’s execution has dropped off, but the “innovation” angle is a distraction. And even if you do insist on measuring success only by “number of new product categories,” consider that Steve Jobs waited six years after the iPod to launch the iPhone (from 2001 to 2007).

2. Google

Misconception: Google is churning out successful, innovative products faster than anyone.

Reality: Google certainly announces more ideas than anyone, but only a select few become profitable, ongoing businesses. To this day, Google has one extremely successful business (search), and three or four fairly successful ones (Chrome, Android, YouTube). Just about everything else—from Glass to Google Plus to those self-driving cars—are conceptual frameworks, prototypes, or half-baked businesses that have failed to catch on. (See this list of hundreds of Google products, in various stages of development, along with over 50 that have been discontinued.) Google should be applauded for its innovative spirit, but ultimately credited only for the ideas that actually become hit products.

3. Microsoft

Misconception: Microsoft is just a big copycat, with zero original ideas.

Reality: Microsoft has developed all sorts of creative products, from a tablet OS way before tablets were popular (10 years before the iPad) to a smart motion sensor (the Kinect) to the Microsoft Surface (by all accounts, an intriguing product with an original design). The problem? Execution. Microsoft routinely botches first attempts and product launches, losing out on early adopters and winning leftover customers only once markets have matured. Windows 8 is the latest example: a fresh, original operating system plagued with bizarre gestures, persistent bugs and a confusing tablet-desktop interface. With big new ideas but mediocre implementation, Microsoft truly is the anti-Apple, just not for the reasons most people believe.

4. Amazon

Misconception: Amazon makes billions in profit.

 

Reality: CEO Jeff Bezos reinvests almost every cent Amazon makes, whether the company is entering a new market, developing the next generation of Kindles or cutting prices to win even more customers. Traditionally, reinvesting all profits is a temporary strategy for a growth company, but for Amazon it’s business as usual. For now, Wall Street seems happy to play along.

5. Facebook

Misconception: Facebook is super creepy, and that News Feed manipulation scandal is just the latest example.

Reality: Facebook is a lot like every other big tech company, tweaking algorithms daily to increase engagement, boost user satisfaction and ultimately, grow revenue. In early 2012, they altered the News Feeds of one small group of users (~350k) to feature stories with more negatively-connoted words, and altered a second group of feeds (another 350k) to feature stories with more positively-connoted words. The study lasted one week, and Facebook was able to gather useful information from less than a million people that could ultimately help improve the News Feed experience for over a billion people.

Of course, the Internet howled with offense the second they heard about the study. How dare Facebook control what we see?

The problem with this reaction? The News Feed is already more manipulated than a World Cup match. It’s never been a pure, chronological account of your friends’ posts, like Twitter or Instagram, but rather a whole mess of status updates, photos, relationship changes and miscellaneous commentary that Facebook must interpret and prioritize for its users. Every day when you log into Facebook, you should assume that the company has pulled seven levers and flipped nine switches in an attempt to increase your engagement (and of course, make more money).

So that January 2012 experiment wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary. Okay: It was a little creepy to test people’s emotions without telling them. But for the most part? We shouldn’t be surprised.

6. Yahoo

Misconception: Yahoo has been a dying brand since Google ate its lunch in the early 2000s.

Reality: Yahoo remains the fourth most popular site on the web, and no one—not even Buzzfeed—does the same combination of click-friendly stories, content breadth and sheer volume of editorial traffic. Recently, Marissa Mayer has rejuvenated the business, attracting new talent and winning over new users. Sure, the company doesn’t control the Internet like Google does, but fourth place online is nothing to sneeze (or tweet sarcastically) at.

7. Wikipedia

Misconception: Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, though that makes vandalism rampant throughout the site.

Reality: Today, Wikipedia isn’t an unruly mob of vandals, but rather a tight-knit group of insiders, whose careful control has turned away well-meaning editors and benign contributors. In 2013, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota published an extensive study on Wikipedia, ultimately suggesting that the site should change its motto from “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” to “the encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes him or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semi-automated rejection and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit.”

It’s hard to blame Wikipedia for overcorrecting in an effort to stamp out vandalism and shameless promotion. It is still, after all, one of the web’s most reliable resources for quick facts and general-topic summaries. But as online information and social networks continue to explode across the web, Wikipedia’s conservative, insiders-only mindset may end up leading to its demise.

8. Twitter

Misconception: A lot of celebrities tweet some pretty dumb things, especially given how many followers they have.

Reality: Okay, that one’s true.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

4 Reasons Nobody Cares About Smartwatches

If you watched Google present Android Wear last week, you’d think the smartwatch was the hottest product on the market. What could be better than an intelligent timepiece that can take calls and understand voice commands?

It turns out nobody cares. At FindTheBest, we compared traffic and user engagement for dozens of product categories, from smartphones and laptops to printers and processors. The results? FindTheBest users are three times more likely to research fitness trackers than smartwatches, and over 40 times more likely to research smartphones. Even the godawful Bluetooth headset is more popular.

So we asked ourselves: why isn’t the smartwatch as popular as its wrist-based cousin, the fitness tracker? Why hasn’t the mainstream market bought in? Here are four reasons:

1. Smartwatches are too thick

According to WatchStation, the average case thickness for a standard wristwatch is between 8-12 mm, while anything in the 6-8 mm range is considered “thin.” Unfortunately, most smartwatches clock in north of 10 mm, making them seem more like clunky gadgets than sleek, sophisticated timepieces of the future. For a tech geek, this might seem like a petty complaint, but for the mass market, design and comfort beat specs and features any day (see Jobs, Steve).

 

Yes, the recent Sony SmartWatch 2 (9 mm), Samsung Gear Live (8.9 mm), and LG G Watch (9.9 mm) are thinner than most of their rivals—a promising trend for the industry. But you can’t disrupt a market when your product is about the same as existing options—you need something noticeably and undeniably better. Shave off another 3-5 mm and then we’ll talk.

2. Smartwatches are too expensive

For classic wristwatches, prices are either dirt cheap (ex: a $10 grocery store Casio) or criminally expensive (ex: a $20k Rolex). The problem? People tend to think about watches as one of these two things, and rarely anything in between. Smartwatch manufacturers have attempted to create a new price category altogether, where most models range from $100 to $250. It seems reasonable enough on paper, but regrettably, wealthy consumers don’t want Twitter updates and digital displays (smartwatches) as much as they want Swiss craftsmanship and family heirlooms (Rolexes). Meanwhile, average Joes won’t want to spend much more than they did on last year’s Casio.

 

Obviously, $10 is unreasonable for a smartwatch, but what about $50 to $99? If manufacturers can price these things more like Apple TVs and less like iPods, we might see a bump in mainstream adoption.

3. Smartwatches haven’t solved the battery life conundrum

Like prices for standard wristwatches, battery life on smartwatches is polarized. A few select models—like the Citizen Eco-Drive Proximity and ConnecteDevice Cookoo—can run for months without a single charge. Pretty much everything else will be lucky to survive a week. It gets even worse for the prettiest displays (like the LG G’s LCD screen or the Galaxy Gear’s AMOLED display), where you’ll need to plug in every night—in other words, a charging ritual no better than a smartphone’s.

The problem is that the more “smart” a watch is, the worse battery life it tends to have. Even with their months of battery life, the Citizen Eco-Drive and Cookoo are hardly smartwatches—they’re mostly analog timepieces with a couple of neat notification features. The 7-day-battery Pebble Steel is a little better, but it can’t compete feature-for-feature with the 1.5-day-battery Galaxy Gear.

 

 

In the end, smartwatch manufacturers need to rethink battery life entirely. They need to ask themselves how they can bake in all the same features without requiring customers to plug in night-after-night. If you’re not convinced this is a problem, consider that the best idea the industry has had yet is to “flick your wrist to turn on the backlight.” I mean seriously.

4. Smartwatches don’t have a compelling reason to exist

Quick: what is a smartwatch’s primary benefit, in just a few words? Voice-based texting? Safer driving? Taking calls without getting your phone out of your pocket or purse? Seeing a Facebook notification three seconds faster?

The smartwatch’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t solve any tangible problem. The first personal computers revolutionized productivity. The first MP3 players allowed people to store thousands of songs in one place. Smartphones let consumers take the Internet with them in their pocket. Even fitness trackers let people seamlessly track their exercise goals. Until the smartwatch proves it can do one thing really well—that it can solve one simple, common, necessary problem—the device will be nothing more than a hobby for geeks and an excuse for Samsung to make creepy ads. Time is ticking.

TIME FindTheBest

12 World Cup Teams and Their Tech Company Equivalents

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In national soccer, as in the world of tech, everybody has a distinct reputation. There are the powerhouses (Brazil, Argentina; Apple, Amazon), the up-and-comers (Colombia; Uber), and of course, the eternally doomed (England; Blockbuster).

At FindTheBest, we looked at company balance sheets, World Cup histories, team rosters, and chief executives to find the tech company equivalents for 12 national soccer teams. Here’s what we found:

1. Brazil = Apple

They’ve each had more tangible success than just about anyone, with Brazil’s five World Cup titles and Apple’s series of blockbuster products (the original Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad). Unfortunately, expectations are now so high that a single slip-up (ex: Croatia’s first goal, Apple Maps) causes the entire world to lose its mind. Year after year, analysts predict the two will shatter records for goals and iPhone sales, respectively, then pile on mercilessly when they fail to meet such lofty expectations.

2. Argentina = Amazon

They’ve been serious contenders ever since 2006, consistently among the top five or six teams/tech companies in the world. While their rivals tend to have up and down years, these two ooze reliability, bringing talent, refined strategy, and strong execution year after year. Most of all, however, each depends upon the brilliance of one man (Lionel Messi, Jeff Bezos) to keep things from falling apart.

3. U.S.A. = Beats by Dre

Flashy and just a little cocky, each has had a recent bout of success, drawing unexpected attention from older, wiser rivals. Experts insist the good fortune is more sizzle than steak, but fans of the respective teams are just pleased to be doing this well. Meanwhile, better, more technically-sound rivals (Spain, England; Shure, Grado) curse their luck, producing a product 10 times better but with quarterly results 10 times worse.

4. England = Microsoft

They’ve each had one enduring success (England’s 1966 World Cup, Microsoft Windows), and a series of promising, but ultimately disappointing years. You wouldn’t say they’re finished, but then again, you certainly wouldn’t bet on either of them. They recently appointed new leaders (Satya Nadella, Roy Hodgson), ushering in a flood of new enthusiasm, and inevitably, a following tide of despondency. At times, it’s gotten so bad that even fans of their most bitter rivals (France, Apple) have quietly wished to see a little more fight.

5. Spain = Groupon

In 2010, they were the most promising enterprises in the world, each reeling off headlines and wins faster than you can say “tiki-taka.” A series of copycat rivals then replicated their success (Japan’s national women’s team, LivingSocial), further convincing the world that soccer strategy/online deals had changed forever. It wasn’t until a few years later when Spain’s and Groupon’s unstable high-wire acts came crashing down, proving that slow, steady, and consistent (ex: Germany, Amazon) still tends to beat quick and frenetic over time.

6. Colombia = Uber

Young, hip, and just plain smart, each has surprised the world with clever strategy and impressive results, week after week. They’re the darlings of their respective industries, and a favorite value bet for sports gamblers and tech investors. As with any success story, there’s been a little backlash—or at least tempering of expectations—but regardless of what happens, each seems poised for a decade of success.

7. Germany = Intel

Next to all the handsome stars, exciting play styles, and Cinderella performances, Germany and Intel are easy to forget, consistent but boring, efficient but not much to look at. They’ve been astonishingly successful over the years, with teams consistently in the quarters, semis, and finals/chips in MacBooks, ThinkPads, and Inspirons. They’re one big tournament win/acquisition away from grabbing back headlines, but for now, they’ll have to accept brief mentions on newspapers’ back pages and product boxes’ fine print.

8. The Netherlands = IBM

Solid, successful, and respected by their industries, the Netherdlands and IBM are nonetheless tainted by shady dealings, whether it’s fouls (as of June 25th, the Netherlands has committed the most fouls per game in the 2014 World Cup) or patent lawsuits (IBM helped cripple new legislation that would have made it easier to dismiss low-quality software patents).

9. Mexico = T-Mobile

They’ve got the most charismatic leaders in the business (Miguel Herrera, John Legere). Each man is likely insane, but that’s also part of their charm. Both organizations are lovable and easy to root for, but if you’re honest, you’re not convinced either has enough money or resources to truly break through. At one point, you even thought about jumping ship to root for them over their richer, more popular rival (USA, Verizon), but you ultimately stuck to your guns, worried about what sort of reception your public change of allegiance would produce.

10. France = Yahoo

They were both world class in 1998, dominating all rivals and seemingly set for decades of dominance. Regrettably, each encountered turbulence over the next decade, losing to craftier, more agile opponents, and eventually becoming the brunt of many industry/league jokes. Fed up with mediocrity, they hired new leaders in 2012 (Didier Deschamps, Marissa Mayer), each with a résumé of accomplishments as long as a soccer pitch. Some argue that the glory days are officially past, but a string of recent successes seems to say otherwise.

11. Portugal = Snapchat

After being irrelevant (or nonexistent) for years, each grabbed international attention under the leadership of a tall, attractive, frat boy (Cristiano Ronaldo, Evan Spiegel). Fan loyalty and company fortune alike seem to hang on the ups and downs of these men, whether it’s a leaked series of offensive emails or an absurd haircut that may or may not have been a tribute to a child who underwent brain surgery. At times, commentators have proposed that the respective groups would be better off under a more stable, low-drama leader, but most agree that the benefit of occasional brilliance outweighs the constant stream of TMZ stories.

12. Greece = Zynga

Over the last several years, both watched their once-promising operations fall apart overnight, calamities only made worse by toxic economic environments back home. They’ve each been on the brink of elimination, only to be rescued by a bit of suspicious maneuvering (the stoppage time penalty against Ivory Coast, the Zynga equity “giveback”). Supporters and investors remain on edge, waiting for stronger, more permanent signs of improvement.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

5 Ways to Cut Cable but Keep All Your Shows

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Trying to cut cable is like trying to quit smoking. You’ve been meaning to do it for years. You know exactly how much money you could save. You’re even getting disapproving looks from that 23-year-old neighbor…you know, the one who thinks it’s a disgusting habit that belongs in a previous century. But you still can’t deny how relaxing it is after a long, stressful day at work.

It’s time to get your cable nicotine patch. At FindTheBest, we’ve assembled five Quitting Cable Packages designed to wean you off the tube and into a happier, more affordable lifestyle.

Note: We’ll assume, conservatively, that basic cable costs about $60 per month (including fees), or $720 per year.

The Ultimate Couch Potato

Cost for all three: $291 per year

You save: $429 per year

So you still want to watch all the latest content, but you can’t stand the thought of staring at one more cable bill. Consider The Ultimate Couch Potato package, a pricey-but-comprehensive lineup that will fill nearly all of your movie, TV, and B-quality documentary needs.

The package starts with Netflix and Hulu Plus, an affordable tandem with the complementary strengths of selection (Netflix) and new releases (Hulu). Add in Amazon’s growing Instant Video content library, and you’ll be able to watch almost any popular show, as long as it’s not a brand new series on HBO. (Amazon Prime does give you access to older HBO shows, like The Wire and The Sopranos.)

Common objection: Amazon and Netflix seem to offer a lot of the same content: Is it really worth paying for both?

Answer: As a cable subscriber, you’re paying for 85 separate channels, 70 of which are garbage. If you’re paying for garbage 70 times over, you might as well pay for great content twice over.

The Cheapskate

Cost for all six: $0 per year

You Save: $720 per year

Let’s flip this around. Suppose you don’t care what you watch, as long as the TV stays on and the bills go away. Consider this Cheapskate collection of free (and legal!) services.

The headliner here is Hulu. A basic Hulu account gets you temporary access to a hodgepodge of popular TV series—like The Daily Show and The Bachelorette—as well as a whole mess of shows no one’s ever heard of. Grab a beer, flip open your laptop, and enjoy free access to the latest episode of Paranormal Home Inspectors.

Meanwhile, you might try clicking your way over to SnagFilms, Crackle, or PopcornFlix. They might sound like viruses waiting to happen, but in fact, they’re all legitimate online streaming sites with a handful of bizarre, low-budget films filled with bad acting and unintentional comedy.

Common objection: After watching 20 minutes of Hulu, I’ve seen the same Xbox commercial 17 times in a row. This is obnoxious.

Answer: You’re right. We’ve got nothing.

The Sports Fan

Cost: Ranges from about $35 to $175 per year, per sport

You Save: Anywhere from $680 (one sport) to about $205 (if you buy all of the above)

It’s the trump card in any cable company’s argument: sports. You’ll wait 24 hours to watch the latest episode of Mad Men. With sports, even a five-minute delay is unacceptable.

Fortunately, services like MLB.TV Premium, NHL Game Center LIVE, and NBA League Pass have begun to solve this problem. Provided you have a strong Internet signal and a streaming device (like a Roku or Apple TV), you can watch live games on your TV at about a third the cost of cable.

Unfortunately, restrictions and limitations abound. Most services will “black out” local teams so that customers won’t cancel their cable subscription, while the playoffs often require an additional fee. And then there’s the NFL. Sure, you can pay to stream preseason games or rewatch yesterday’s match, but to get live, regular-season action, you’re stuck with DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket or the local cable offerings.

Common objection: I’d watch more basketball/baseball, but they only ever show [terrible local team X] on cable.

Answer: Great! You’re the perfect sort of person (and perhaps the only sort of person) that will benefit from an online NBA/MLB service. You’ll get access to all those good teams you never get to see, and who cares if [terrible local team X] is blacked out. Cut the cord today!

The Modern Moviephile

Cost: About $50 for 12 movies per year, $150 for 36 movies per year

You Save: $570 – $670 per year

You’ve tried Netflix, but you’re tired of waiting a full year just to see Brad Pitt’s gorgeous hair mop from World War Z. The answer: online rentals. Each of the above services offer cheap rates (usually, $3-$5) for popular films mere months after their release. It’s just like those $19 in-room movies at the hotel, only not exorbitantly expensive. Meanwhile, SundanceNow offers a similar service for a whole catalog of indie films.

Common objection: Isn’t this a lot more expensive than Netflix or Hulu?

Answer: It depends on how much you watch. If you’re selective enough to pick a dozen movies per year, there’s no better option for watching recent releases in seconds.

The Time Traveler

Cost: $96 per year for Redbox, varies for Blockbuster (per rental)

You Save: $624 per year if you just get Redbox Instant

Maybe you’re nostalgic for the early 2000s—the days of video rentals and iPods, boxy TVs and DVD players, Blockbuster Videos and grocery store Redbox machines.

As it turns out, these brands are soldiering on (yes, even Blockbuster) in the form of online streaming services. If you’re the sort that likes to go down with the ship, or the type that dreams of reliving the Alamo, consider signing on for one of these last-gasp services. Who knows? Subscription rates might drop through the floor as these old vets cling to life.

Common objection: Blockbuster? Wasn’t this the company that put my favorite video shop out of the business, then promptly raised prices?

Answer: You’re right: Stick with Netflix.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

5 Totally Excessive Father’s Day Gifts

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Let’s face it. You haven’t even thought about Father’s Day, and your old man knows it. Sure, you might grab a bad card, a couple of razors, and a travel-sized bottle of Jack Daniel’s for the guy this Saturday evening, but you won’t be fooling anyone, least of all him. And this for the man that raised you, disciplined you, and put up with all your garbage for 18 years. For shame.

At FindTheBest, we’re fed up with bad Father’s Day gifts. Instead of the same old junk, we’ve picked five extreme items—based on the raw data—that will blow Dad away (sometimes literally) this Sunday.

Gift #1: Nokia Lumia 1020

Key Feature: 41-megapixel camera

5.9x as many megapixels as the average phone

 

You could argue that the iPhone 5s, Galaxy S5, and HTC One M8 are better phones. You could make the case that more apps trump more pixels. You might even point to independent camera review sites, like DxOMark, that say the Nokia Lumia 1020 does not, in fact, boast the best phone camera on the market—a title that currently belongs to the Sony Xperia Z2.

But you can’t argue with 41 megapixels.

Tell Dad that he’s worth every pixel with the Nokia Lumia 1020. (Just make sure to take the family photo with your Z2.)

Gift #2: Panasonic DMC-FZ70

Key Feature: 60x optical zoom

7.2x more than the average digital camera

 

Perhaps Dad’s a birdwatcher, national park visitor, or elementary school play attender. Grab him the Panasonic DMC-FZ70, a digital camera that can zoom literally 60x closer to the subject without digital enhancement. Even your DSLR-owning friends might (pretend to) be jealous.

Better yet, it’s less than $300 at most online retailers: less than $5 per level of zoom.*

*not a real photography stat

Gift #3: Intel i7-4960X processor

Key Feature: 23,352 Geekbench 64-bit score

2.8x better than the average processor

 

So Dad’s a gamer, but he’s still plowing away on that Dell desktop from 2007. Grab him a new rig with an Intel i7-4960X, a processor that nabbed a sterling 23,352 on its last Geekbench 64-bit test, nearly 3x better than the average processor. Then cry silently as he wastes all the new power on a week-long Minesweeper marathon.

Gift #4: DeWalt DCD775B 1/2” Hammer Drill

Key Feature: 8,500 RPM max speed

5.1x the max speed of the average drill

 

Some dads don’t just want to drill a hole through a wall: they want to drill through walls with authority, slamming their way through paint, plaster, and electrical wiring. Get your pop the DCD775B 1/2” Hammer Drill, built to spin up to 8,500 times per minute, 5x faster than average and probably 10x faster than necessary. But your dad doesn’t do necessary, so why should you?

Gift #5: ResMed S9 Escape CPAP machine

Key Feature: 24 dB noise level

3 decibels quieter than the average CPAP machine

 

So what if Dad is a little less extreme and a little more…sensitive? And older? And a really, really loud snorer?

Get him the super-quiet ResMed S9 Escape CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, designed to help clear his nasal passageways as he lumbers his way through naps. While he does his best impression of former NBA star Rip Hamilton, you’ll be getting Mom the quiet home she always dreamed of. You might even save the marriage.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

18 Streaming TV Boxes Ranked from Worst to First

Quick: which type of device is currently dominating Amazon’s Best Sellers list, holding the top two overall spots (as of this writing)?

A) Smartphones

B) Tablets

C) Headphones

D) Laptops

E) Streaming Media Players

Answer: E. And it’s not close. Between the Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku 3, and Apple TV, streaming media players are lighting up online retail. As customers continue to cut cable, the streaming box (or stick) is the hottest new device, a product that is somehow both affordable (usually, sub-$100) and magical (can beam just about any media from one screen to the next).

But which streaming device should you pick? Clearly, a lot comes down to content. If you’re a Yupp TV fanatic, you’ll pick the Sony NSZ-GS8, ASUS Cube, or VIZIO Co-Star LT. Decision made. Suppose, however, you’d simply like a nice blend of Netflix and Hulu, plus the ability to use your friend’s roommate’s password to access HBO Go? Good luck choosing: You’ve still got a dozen different boxes, sticks, and hockey-puck-shaped streamers that meet your needs.

Since we have no way of know whether you’re a Mad Men junkie or Game of Thrones fan—and since all the top boxes seem to be getting all the same services anyway—let’s put the actual content aside.

Instead, we set out to rank the 18 most recent streaming media players based on specs, features, usability and expert reviews. We considered every major streamer released or updated since January 2013, looking at the following factors:

- Specs and features: This primarily includes output resolutions and audio support, but also factors in wireless connectivity and features (like voice control, screencasting, and DVR functionality).

- Expert reviews: What do the likes of PC Mag, CNET, TechHive, TechRadar, LAPTOP Mag, Home Theater Review, and Wired think? We aggregated review scores to get the best big picture perspective.

Here’s what we found:

The Rejects

18. Sony NSZ-GS8

17. TiVo Roamio

16. ASUS Cube

Like a rejected TV script, these media players simply don’t have the mass appeal or originality to become a true success. With limited inter-device streaming (the NSZ-GS8), clunky user experience (the ASUS Cube), and lackluster file-format support (the TiVo Roamio), they’re all stuck in pre-production. You can feel bad for them, but let them die their natural death. It’s better this way.

The Cancellations

15. Roku LT (2013)

14. TiVo Roamio Pro

13. TiVo Roamio Plus

Give these players credit for trying: Each brings something unique to the market. The Roku LT offers a low-priced, lower-resolution alternative to its cousins (the more popular Rokus 1, 2, and 3), while the TiVo Roamio Pro and Plus provide a strong feature set and all the familiar benefits of pause-and-rewind TV. Unfortunately, each ends up feeling a little like a lesser version of a more popular show, like Last Resort was to Lost or like Low Winter Sun was to every detective show ever made.

The One and Dones

12. Philips HMP2000

11. Samsung Smart Media Player

10. VIZIO Co-Star LT

Each of these players gets a lot right, with reasonably simple set-up, moderate feature sets, and decent compatibility. Still, clicking the Co-Stars’ retro-style remote or navigating the Smart Media Player’s menus has a subtle, dated feel—the kind of feeling you get when watching Seinfeld, licking an envelope or signing a check. These players had their day, but the world is moving on. Oh well. We’ll always have that one season.

Renewed for a Season

9. Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2

8. PLAiR 2

Unique, intriguing, and capable, both the Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2 and PLAiR 2 offer something special. The MX2 features full Android-based web browsing, something none of the top-selling players allow. Meanwhile, the PLAiR 2 is among the cheapest streamers you can buy (as low as $25), a good Chromecast alternative for Google haters and capitalization ignorers across America. Still, neither device is as polished or as reliable as any of the products below. Keep these options in mind, but don’t be surprised if they fade off in another year, like a once-renewed, forever-forgotten sitcom.

Network TV

7. Roku 1

6. Roku 2

Solid, predictable, and popular, the Roku 1 and 2 are a great choice for anyone who can’t afford the more full-featured Roku 3. Each offers top output resolutions, compatibility across dozens of file formats, and low prices to match (approximately $45 for the Roku 1 and $65 for the Roku 2). Like CSI and Law & Order, expect the two entry-level Rokus to stick around for several more years.

Cable TV

5. Google Chromecast

4. Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI Version)

Compared to the bulky shells of their competitors, Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick feel like the future: lighter, more efficient, and best of all, under $50. Experts say Roku’s Streaming Stick is roughly comparable to the Roku 2 in features and capabilities, while Google’s Chromecast oozes the company’s commitment to simplicity and user-friendliness. If you’re always using a tablet, laptop, or phone anyway, consider saving the extra cash and grabbing one of these.

Emmy Winners

3. Apple TV

2. Amazon Fire TV

It’s one thing to make a popular TV show. It’s quite another to bring home the hardware year after year. Whenever they present their new streaming media players, Apple and Amazon don’t walk on stage: they swagger. Where their competitors make simple streaming gadgets, the two tech giants create whole entertainment ecosystems, complete with industry-leading features and seamless operation. Even if you can’t stand one (or both) of these companies, it’s hard to argue that their offerings are simply bigger and better than most. If you already own three Apple products, or if you’re a long-time Amazon Prime subscriber, look no further than the company’s corresponding streamer.

The All-Time Classic

1. Roku 3

Sometimes focus is more important than money and talent. The Roku 3 is the best product of the bunch, with the snappiest operation, top-tier video and audio support, and extra features that make each part of the experience just a little better (for example: the headphone jack on the remote allows for convenient, private listening). Better yet, a Roku 3 won’t lock you into the Apple or Amazon ecosystem. Yes, you can guarantee some success if you hire all the best actors and spend the most money. But Roku understands that the best shows aren’t always about star power and special effects, but rather about tight execution and smart, ensemble casting. For the best overall streaming experience, get the Roku 3.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 3 Updates That Matter and 3 That Don’t

SurfacePro3Primary_Web
Microsoft

According to Microsoft, The Surface Pro 3 is “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” Alright: let’s play along. Assuming the Surface 3’s closest competitor is a MacBook Air—and not an iPad—which of the updates matter, and which don’t?

3 Updates that Matter…

1. Display

The Surface 3’s display is both conventional and rebellious. Sensibly, Microsoft has abandoned its 16:9 aspect ratio for a more standard 3:2. While widescreen videos will no longer fill the whole space, this update will likely improve user experience for other applications, where users have come to expect portrait-friendly apps and more vertical space while in landscape mode.

Meanwhile, the increase in screen real estate (from 10.6 to 12 inches) is a defiant move. Given the success of 7- and 10-inch tablets, Microsoft is doubling-down on its “laptop-replacement” positioning, while keeping its distance from the iPad Mini (7.85 inches) and Kindle Fire HDX (8.9).

Finally, the Surface 3’s 216 PPI pixel density is far crisper than most entry-level laptops, including the MacBook Air. It’s nice to see that Microsoft has maintained its tablet-like screen sharpness even as it tries to conquer the laptop space. With all this in mind, the Surface 3’s screen is just flat-out better than the Air’s, and this will matter for undecided shoppers.

2. Weight and Thickness

During the announcement, Microsoft’s Panos Panay placed the Surface 3 (800 grams) on a scale next to the MacBook Air (1.3k grams). It was gimmicky (and maybe even a little unfair), but it proved a larger point: the Surface 3 is officially a light device, particularly as a laptop replacement.

The new Surface is also much thinner, dropping from over half an inch to 0.3 inches: right in line with the latest iPads. The comparison gets a bit murkier if you throw in the attachable keyboard (adding roughly 200 grams), but if nothing else, the Surface has shed its “bulky” reputation. That’s a big step in the right direction that should matter for consumers.

3. Hardware Design (Stylus and Kick-Stand)

It’s easy to poke fun at the stylus (didn’t everyone stop using these in 2005?) and complain about the kick-stand (it still doesn’t work in my lap), but with the Surface 3, Microsoft has forced the skeptics to take another look. The improved stylus has a premium build-quality and handy new features (ex: click the top to bring up a note taking app), while the kickstand can now be set at various levels. Six-foot-five customers around the globe can now prop up their Surfaces to an ideal viewing angle without lowering their chairs or raising their desks.

Regardless of your sentiments toward styli and kickstands, these are tangible (and well-executed!) features that will give potential MacBook Air customers a couple of reasons to think twice.

…and 3 that Don’t

1. Battery Life

With the Surface 3, Microsoft claims customers can squeeze out 9 hours of battery life, a small but respectable improvement over past models. The problem? The 13-inch MacBook Air holds an insurmountable lead, at 12 hours. Microsoft probably hopes that 9 hours will be “good enough,” but regardless, the masses will likely ignore the Surface’s improved battery life.

2. Technical Specifications

The Surface’s tech specs should matter, but won’t. For its Surface Pro line, Microsoft has championed performance, a tablet with the powerful internals of a laptop. Unfortunately, the two lower-end Surface 3s (price-wise, the most comparable to the MacBook Air) just aren’t that much more powerful than an entry-level laptop. Even if Microsoft can point to a few superior performance metrics in a spreadsheet, there’s not enough here to noticeably improve the user experience of the device.

3. Productivity (Apps and Ecosystem)

In positioning the Surface 3 as a laptop replacement, Microsoft has undercut its original argument: productivity. Back in early 2013, the Surface Pro was a productivity show horse next to the Office-less iPad, complete with keyboard attachments and powerful Office integration. Now? The Surface 3 is no more productive than its self-proclaimed rival, the MacBook Air, which can run all the same productivity apps (and more). Heck, even the iPad has Office now.

Yes, the Surface 3 has solid battery life, good tech specs, and top productivity features compared to other tablets. But Microsoft has picked a fight with laptops, and now, that’s all that matters.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME FindTheBest

9 Possible Endgames for the Apple-Beats Situation

As we wait for the final outcome of the Beats-Apple situation, we might as well prepare ourselves for the best, the worst, and everything in between. Here are 9 potential endgames for the supposedly looming Apple-Beats acquisition, ordered roughly from “likely” to “totally implausible.”

1. Apple buys Beats, releases brand new streaming music service

Midway through Apple’s WWDC keynote, Tim Cook announces what many quietly expected: an all-new Apple-branded music streaming service, courtesy of newly-acquired Beats by Dre. Named “Dring” (a hybrid of “Dre” and failed Apple music network, “Ping,”), the streaming service comes complete with 25 million songs, pleasantly-rounded corners, and brushed aluminum menus. In honor of the late Mr. Jobs, Cook plays Bob Dylan’s “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” as the first tune to ever stream through the service. The next day, somebody on Twitter jokes that “beyond here lies nothin’” is also an apt description for Apple’s product roadmap.

2. Apple buys Beats, refreshes headphones line

The streaming music service rumors prove unfounded: it was about hardware all along. Apple signs the Beats deal, then rolls out a whole new line of headphone and speaker accessories, each more colorful and more expensive than the last. Beats’ celebrity army of NBA stars, R&B artists and pop sensations appear in a new series of Apple ads, with the tagline, “Hear what you’ve been missing.” Even Justin Bieber gets a spot. Meanwhile, Apple stores around the globe become three times as noisy, as Apple’s new Beats-made headphones leak noise faster than Edward Snowden can leak NSA secrets.

3. Apple doesn’t buy Beats, everyone feels stupid

As articles (like this one) continue to trickle out over the coming weeks, the tech world becomes desperate for action. Why haven’t we heard more? Why didn’t Apple say anything at WWDC? A dozen conspiracy theories emerge, from “Apple and Beats never met” to “Apple actually bought Beats in 2009.” The Internet loses its collective mind until summer 2015, when Dr. Dre’s former PR manager releases a book, Think Different: The Real Story Behind the Apple-Beats Negotiations.

4. Apple buys Beats, realizes headphones have become a commodity market

The deal is signed. Cook, Jony Ive, Peter Oppenheimer, Craig Federighi, and Dr. Dre pour champagne while listening to Dre’s “The Next Episode” at Apple headquarters. Mid-clink, a freckle-faced, 19-year-old intern bursts through the door. “Mr. Cook!” she gasps, “We just got that report on the headphone market—the one you said was critical to the deal.” Laughing nervously, Cook sets down his champagne glass and eyes the report’s title, gingerly: Study—headphones now a commodity. Brand power rapidly losing its effect on fickle consumer market, which will now buy anything, as long as it’s cheap. “Well, sh–,” he says.

5. Amazon swoops in, buys Beats

In a surprise Monday morning headline, the world learns that Amazon—not Apple—has officially purchased Beats. “This isn’t about our upcoming streaming music service,” says CEO Jeff Bezos, in a next-morning Washington Post interview, “This is about Amazon Prime.” Beats customers begin noticing subtle changes in their orders, as packing peanuts are replaced by Amazon Prime coupons, and “Try Prime!” stickers are placed on every pair of Beats Solo HDs. One customer swears she hears “free two-day shipping on any order” every time she plugs in her primeBeats earphones, but gets laughed out of court by Amazon’s lawyers.

6. Apple buys Beats, kills Beats

Weeks after Apple announces the formal deal, a funny thing happens: Beats products disappear. eBay stock sells out. Even Amazon can’t seem to find them. Furious, a drunken mob surrounds Jony Ive at a Cupertino bar, demanding answers. “Okay!” he says, “All our research says people only care about two things: bright colors and overpriced brands. That’s our thing, not Beats’. That’s why people buy Apple. Beats had to go. They just had to, okay?”

7. Apple walks away from Beats deal, buys Skullcandy instead

In a hastily assembled press conference, Cook agrees to take five minutes of questions on the just-announced Skullcandy acquisition. “What happened to Beats?” a reporter asks. “Forget about Dre,” Cook responds. “But why Skullcandy?” another asks. “I mean, seriously,” Cook says, “these are headphone manufacturers. They all do the same thing.”

8. Dr. Dre becomes new “Voice of Siri”

Apple finally addresses the artificially-intelligent elephant in the room: No one really likes Siri. In an open apology letter to all Apple customers, Cook explains that all those Siri statistics—“85% use Siri at least once per month”—are “inflated,” and “probably half of those” are people who “accidentally hold down the home button a little too long.” Cook goes on to describe the $3 billion acquisition as “mostly about voice talent. We thought, ‘Who does everyone love? What voice has achieved such an iconic level of success that customers wouldn’t mind even if it repeatedly misunderstood them, called the wrong contacts, or drove them to the wrong restaurant four times out of five?’ The answer? Dr. Dre.”

9. Apple buys Beats, Dr. Dre becomes Apple CEO

In a somber press event, Cook announces that the completed Beats deal will coincide with his resignation. “Honestly, I’m just sick of it,” Cook explains, saying he’s actually happy to see “someone, anyone” taking over “the most thankless job” in the tech industry. “You sell 43 million iPhones in one quarter, post $45.6 billion in revenue, and all anyone wants to talk about is how great Jeff Bezos is. I mean, seriously.”

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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