TIME Gadgets

5 Best Fitness Trackers for Around $50

The Apple iOS 8 and Google Android L operating systems are making a huge push into fitness tracking this year. Both feature brand new fitness data aggregation apps designed to help you count steps, count calories and more.

Of course, to make the most out of the new features, you’ll need to purchase and import data from an activity tracker.

That may sound expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The latest generation offers a wide range of different features to choose from at incredibly reasonable prices. Each may not offer to track everything, but with some smart shopping, you can easily find one that tracks just the data you care about.

Here are five of our favorite trackers that can get you started down the path to good health, each for around fifty bucks.

Fitbit Zip

fitbit-zip-wireless-activity-tracker-510px
Fitbit

The small, clippable Fitbit Zip keeps tabs on your steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned. It’s a good start, but what makes any Fitbit product stand out are the extra tools offered behind the scenes. Fitbit products easily interface with fitness apps you may already be using (e.g., Myfitnesspal, Loseit) and offer fun award-style badges to celebrate your hard work. There’s even a food plan tool on the Fitbit website that helps you monitor and modify your calorie consumption to kick your overall health into high gear. There’s a lot to like about the Fitbit ecosystem, and the Zip buys you in for a fraction of the cost of a $129 Fitbit Force.

The Fitbit Zip wireless activity tracker is compatible with most Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows Phone devices. It’s available in your choice of five colors: white, black, blue, magenta and lime.

[Amazon]

Fitbug Orb

fitbug-orb-activity-tracker-510px
Fitbug

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to good health. And while there are plenty of fitness trackers out there that will monitor your sleep quality and patterns, few do it as inexpensively as the coming Fitbug Orb. It’s a tiny clippable tracker that counts steps, distance traveled and calories burned. And if you’re willing to wear it to bed, it’ll keep track of how soundly you sleep, too.

The Fitbug Orb Activity Tracker and the accompanying Fitbug app are compatible with most current Apple iOS and Google Android devices. The Orb is currently available in three different colors: hot pink, black and white.

[Amazon]

Misfit Flash

misfit-flash-waterproof-fitness-tracker-white-510px
Misfit

Swimming is an incredible way to stay in shape – it’s a low-impact, full-body workout that burns a ton of calories. The only problem is that most fitness trackers can’t follow you into the pool. But the coming Misfit Flash can – it’s designed not only to count steps, distance and calories burned, but its waterproof design can help you track your time swimming, too. It tracks plenty of other sports, including cycling, tennis and basketball.

The Misfit Flash and accompanying Misfit app are compatible with both Apple iOS and Google Android devices, though you can just tap its face to get a visual approximation of how close you currently are to your daily goals. It’s manufactured in six eye-catching colors, including frost, onyx, fuschia, zest (neon green), wave (blue) and reef (teal). The Flash is slated for release on October 15.

[Amazon]

Striiv Play Wireless Smart Pedometer

striiv-play-wireless-smart-pedometer-510px
Striiv

Having trouble staying motivated? You may find it’s easier to stick to a new fitness regimen if you turn your effort into a game. That’s the idea behind the Striiv Play Wireless Smart Pedometer. It lets you compete against friends to see who takes more steps, climbs more stairs, burns more calories or logs more minutes of activity. There are even iPhone games you can play that are powered by your own activity.

The Striiv Play Wireless Smart Pedometer is compatible with most recent Apple iOS devices (iPhone 4S or later, iPod Touch 5th generation, new iPad and iPad Mini). It’s available in only one finish, with a black polycarbonate face on a nickel-plated clip.

[Amazon]

LifeTrak C200 Core

lifetrak-core-c200-fitness-tracker-510px
LifeTrak

If you’re looking to lose stubborn body fat, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your heart rate to make sure it stays “in the zone.” That’s why I like the simple, wrist-worn LifeTrak C200 Core. It adds pulse tracking in to the basic suite of data collected by other inexpensive fitness monitors. It will even factor your pulse in to calculations of calories burned, allowing it to come up with more accurate estimates than the competition.

The LifeTrak Core C200 is a stand-alone device and does not connect to your smartphone or tablet. You can get it in white or black with a wide range of available strap colors (e.g., pistachio, orange).

[Amazon]

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Gadgets

GoPro Just Announced the Cheap Tiny Camera You’ve Been Waiting For

GoPro Hero
GoPro Hero GoPro

The GoPro Hero is just $129

Many casual photographers have been wanting to dip their toes into the GoPro water for some time, but have found the company’s tiny but high-quality cameras too expensive to make the leap at upwards of $200, with the top models costing as much as $500.

But now they can go ahead and jump in; GoPro just announced the “Hero,” a scaled-back, entry-level model that’s perfect for first-time GoPro-ers who don’t need the top-of-the-line features found in GoPro’s flagship cameras. And the cost? Only $129.

Here’s what the Hero features:

  • 1080p video at 30fps
  • 720p video at 60fps
  • 5MP stills at up to five frames a second
  • QuickCapture and Burst Photo modes
  • Wide-angle lens for getting more in your shots
  • Integrated waterproof housing that keeps your Hero dry to an advertised 131 feet

Those features don’t hold up to GoPro’s absolute newest models, which pack ultra high-def 4K video modes. But if you don’t need crazy-high-def video capabilities, the Hero looks pretty great.

Interestingly, GoPro’s entry-level Hero comes at a pretty terrible time for Polaroid — yes, Polaroid — which just dropped a $99 entry-level GoPro competitor called the Polaroid Cube.

While the Cube is a bit cheaper, GoPro’s been building these tiny cameras for a long time, and they come with the benefit of access to GoPro’s immense ecosystem. With the Hero, GoPro is set to nip Polaroid’s cubed competition in the bud before it ever takes root.

TIME How-To

Mobile Payments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

We use our smartphones in place of maps, health trackers and cameras, so why not use them to replace our credit cards, too? It’s not like Americans don’t already choose their smartphones when it’s time to shop and bank online.

Yet a 2013 survey from financial services company TSYS (PDF) found that just 6% of Americans valued being able to use their card or cash via a smartphone virtual wallet.

Consumers seem comfortable with credit cards, whether they’re signing a receipt, entering a PIN or waving the card at a contactless payment terminal, and they see little perceived extra value in using smartphones to pay in stores, asserts Rajesh Kandaswamy, an analyst at information technology research and advisory firm Gartner. “Consumers need an incentive to move to mobile payments,” he says. And Softcard mobile payment app (formerly Isis) does that, offering a dollar off every purchase you make with an American Express Serve card (up to 50 transactions).

The upcoming launch of Apple Pay will also help. The app will download automatically in October as part of an update to iOS 8 for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and it works with American Express, MasterCard and Visa cards.

“Given that Apple already stores millions of customers’ financial info in iTunes, Apple Pay is likely to be a catalyst for higher adoption of the smartphone wallet because it reduces the efforts of millions to even try mobile payments,” Kandaswamy says.

Apple Pay is also supported by major banks, including Bank of America, Chase and Citi. These big banks are unlikely to spike the cost of processing Apple Pay transactions versus credit card transactions, giving more merchants more incentive to make the service available to their customers.

Why switch to a smartphone wallet

A mobile wallet app offers a better way to manage payment cards, from debit and credit cards to discount vouchers and loyalty vouchers, Kandaswamy says. “A mobile wallet app can also offer better control over finances, in the sense that you have a single place to examine and analyze your purchases,” he says.

Paying with your smartphone can speed up the checkout process. Instead of rifling through your wallet (and possibly realizing you forgot to bring a card at all), simply tap your smartphone on a payment terminal to authorize a transaction and simultaneously apply discounts or loyalty points.

How the money moves

Most current smartphone wallet apps with a tap-to-pay feature require a phone with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip to work. For iPhones, that means the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Most Android phones that run Android 4.0 or newer are NFC-compatible, although some apps require a special, extra-secure SIM for storing financial information. Check with your carrier to see if your Android phone is e-wallet-friendly.

If you use a Windows Phone or BlackBerry device, you’re facing a wait. Microsoft recently announced Wallet for Windows Phone for storing credit cards, loyalty cards, vouchers and tickets, but the app’s tap-to-pay functionality isn’t yet supported by any Windows Phone devices. And although Visa approved the BlackBerry mobile payment framework last year, we have yet to see any official launch of a wallet app.

But the mobile payments game is heating up. Retail giant Wal-Mart has announced that it’s piloting its own mobile payments system, along with several other large brands. Current C, which will work on any smartphone, won’t launch until next year.

The apps to consider

For now, Android and iPhone owners can turn their smartphones into lean, mean paying machines with one of these apps:

apple-iphone-6-apple-pay-510px
Apple

Apple Pay

Apple Pay will be available in October for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as well as for the Apple Watch when it launches next year. Apple Pay holds credit and debit cards, and iTunes users can automatically link the credit card they already have on file. Once you’ve activated Apple Pay, you can use it for secure one-tap purchases in shopping apps as well as services such as Uber and Panera Bread, without having to fill out billing and shipping information.

Tap to pay: Touch the front of your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus to a contactless payment terminal while holding your finger over the TouchID fingerprint sensor. You get a gentle vibration when the transaction is complete.

Security: Instead of storing and sending credit card numbers, Apple Pay allocates a device-specific account number encrypted on a dedicated chip in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. This number is sent with a one-use transaction ID called a token. “The consumer’s credit card is never exposed during the transaction, and merchants are no longer storing giant databases of credit cards, waiting for some hacker to come along and compromise them,” says Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at mobile security company Lookout. “However, whether [this is more secure] depends on how the token itself is protected and if it is securely stored, neither of which are clear at this point.”

Why you want it: It’s fast. Using the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner to tap and pay beats signing a receipt or entering a PIN code. And with the support of every major U.S. bank, the number of shops that accept Apple Pay could skyrocket very quickly.

Where you can use it: Use it at about 220,000 shops over about a dozen retailer chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Bloomingdales and Walgreens.

Which phones support it: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus only.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet holds credit and debit card information as well as loyalty cards and discount coupons. You can transfer money into a prepaid card called the Wallet Balance. If you’re using an NFC-enabled Android 4.4 phone, you can pay for purchases in-store. Tap-to-pay won’t work on iPhones or on Android phones running Android 2.3 or older; however, these can access the Wallet’s other features, such as sending or requesting money, one-click checkout at online retailers and tracking orders made with linked payment cards.

Tap to pay: Open the Google Wallet app on your phone, then enter a PIN before holding it against the terminal.

Security: Google encrypts and stores users’ financial details on its servers, and use of the app is protected by a PIN. If someone should manage to pilfer your phone and guess your PIN, Google claims its fraud protection covers 100% of “verified unauthorized transactions.”

Why you want it: Google Wallet supports dozens of loyalty programs and coupon sites. Adding points and receiving discounts when you purchase something is hassle free, even if you’ve forgotten which vouchers and cards you have.

Where you can use it: Use it at any store where contactless payments are accepted.

Which phones support it: Android 2.3; 4.4 and higher required for tap-to-pay; iOS 6 or newer, but does not support tap-to-pay.

softcard-paying-at-kiosk-510px
Softcard

Softcard

Softcard was created by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, so (you guessed it) you’ll need to be on one of these carriers to use it. You’ll also need an NFC-compatible Android phone. The app supports American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo credit cards plus a handful of loyalty and discount cards. You can set up an American Express Serve account and use it to make payments with any debit card, credit card or U.S. bank account.

Tap to pay: As with Google Wallet, open the app, enter your PIN, then hold your NFC smartphone against the payment terminal.

Security: To use Softcard, you need a secure SIM card that can store your financial information so that only the Softcard app can access it. (You can request one from your carrier, assuming your phone is Softcard-compatible.) For each transaction, a one-use token is created so that your card details are not sent to the merchant. Like Google Wallet, a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: Softcard also scans nearby merchants for offers or discounts available to Softcard users, which you can then use at checkout.

Where you can use it: Use it at dozens of chains including Urban Outfitters, Subway and Walgreens. Check the full list at paywiththis.com.

Which phones support it: Android 4.0 and higher.

LoopPay

LoopPay, a Kickstarter success, works via a smartphone app combined with a Loop device — either a fob ($39, pairable with iPhone or Android phones) or a ChargeCase for iPhone 5/5S ($99). Credit and debit cards, loyalty and rewards cards and your driver’s license can be scanned into the Loop app. Most Android phones running Android 4.2 or newer work with Loop, but some have compatibility issues; check to see if yours works at LoopPay’s compatibility page.

Tap to pay: Hold your fob (or ChargeCase-sheathed iPhone) by the credit card terminal, then swipe your phone screen or press the fob button to pay. If you need to show ID (say, for an alcohol purchase), hit the ID icon on the phone screen and display a scan of any identification you’ve loaded.

Security: All payment information is encrypted and stored in a secure chip inside the Loop fob or ChargeCase, and a PIN protects the use of the app.

Why you want it: LoopPay works at 90% of retailers around the world — far more shops than any of the other apps.

Where you can use it: Use it anywhere there’s a credit card reader.

Which phones support it: iPhone, Android 4.2 and up.

More than an app, not quite a wallet

starbucks-app-balance-screen-320px
Starbucks

Starbucks

This iPhone app combines your loyalty card and prepaid card balance into one handy app for tap-and-pay, keeping track of rewards you’re due and seeing how much more coffee you need to buy before you hit the next reward. Starbucks got this right — the app is used for $6 million in transactions every week.

PayPal

If you’re in a shop that accepts PayPal, log in to the app (iPhone and Android) and check in to your location. You can then take your purchases to the register, tell the cashier you’re paying by PayPal and simply approve the payment on the phone screen. It’s not quite a wallet replacement, but it is handy if you forget your real-world wallet. The app can scan your vicinity for PayPal-friendly merchants.

Keep your information secure

Using a mobile wallet app can be more secure than using a credit card because wallet apps don’t send as much sensitive information (such as your credit card number and expiration date) in the course of a transaction. To maintain security with a mobile payment app on your phone, follow these suggestions from Lookout’s Rogers:

  • Set a password on your phone.
  • Download an app for finding your phone if it’s lost. When your phone becomes your wallet, loss or theft becomes even more inconvenient.
  • Only download mobile payment apps (or, indeed, any apps) from sites you trust. Check the app’s ratings and permissions and read reviews to make sure they’re widely used and respected before you download.
  • Turn off your device’s NFC connection when you’re not using it.
  • Use NFC payment stations with caution; you might end up paying for someone else’s purchases.

Will you be replacing your wallet with an app? If so, which one? Let us know in the comments.

This article was written by Natasha Stokes and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Big Picture

Nobody Can Predict the Success of Apple’s Watch Yet

The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It’s interesting to read all the coverage Apple got for its watch announcement, and the amazing amount of analysis and predictions that came out shortly after the launch event.

Critics went after everything, from style, form and function. Others lauded its design, potential capabilities and eventual usefulness.

Part of this discrepancy in views is due to the fact that while Apple did show us the watch and give us some early details about what it would do, the company didn’t actually give us a lot of details about things like costs, storage, future apps and security features that could help people develop a more informed view of the product.

Since it doesn’t come out until sometime in early 2015, there’s a lot of time for speculation. And even though we have some solid details we can use to try and draw some conclusions about its potential success, I would like to suggest that to actually try to predict the future success of the Apple Watch today would just be folly. We only have the bits and pieces that Apple wanted to share; it’s not enough to really determine how this product will fare when it finally reaches the market next year.

Why Unveil It So Early?

Many people thought it was odd for Apple to introduce a product like the Apple Watch months before it will ever come to market. For one, it gives competitors a lot of time to try and create something similar that can compete with the Apple Watch when it ships. It also gives the media, detractors and a whole host of folks plenty of time to try and guess what Apple’s really doing and whether it’ll actually have any serious impact on Apple’s bottom line. Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, one would think that it would have been smarter for the company to hold off announcing the watch until a day or two before it would actually ship.

For those of us who follow Apple very closely, this move, while unique, was a necessary for a couple of reasons. First, this is a brand new category for Apple and the watch market is very complex. Apple actually needs real feedback from people in the watch, entertainment, fashion and tech worlds in order to help refine the final product.

However, there’s another critical reason that the watch was unveiled months before it’s supposed to come to market, and it’s one of the major reasons why it’s impossible to actually predict its success at this time in Apple’s history.

Much More Than Hardware

The proper way to actually view the new Apple Watch is to see it as a platform that includes more than just hardware. It has to have apps and services designed for the new, smaller-screen form factor. This actually follows Apple’s overall formula for success.

Before the company introduced the iPod, it spent two years working with the music industry in order to have media content available for use on the iPod when it shipped. The same thing happened with the iPhone. Apple had to create a special SDK (software development kit) so the developer community could create apps for the new smartphone. While Apple did have its own apps and some special partner apps at launch, the software community moved rapidly to create apps and services for the new iPhone, which ultimately is why people actually buy an iPhone these days.

This similar approach was used when Apple introduced the iPad. At launch, the company had some of its own apps and a couple from partners — and in this case, it could use iPhone apps, although they had to be upscaled up for the iPad’s larger screen. But the software community soon created native iPad apps, and Apple’s tablet took off. In the end, with all three of these products, it’s all about providing customers with hardware, a rich operating system, apps and services.

Waiting for the Killer App

This will be the same case with the Apple Watch. We need a lot more info about what it can do, how it works and, of course, the ultimate value proposition of what it will deliver those who buy it. But the really important unknown factors lie in the types of apps that can be created for such a small screen, and if any “killer” apps emerge that take it from a “nice to have” device to an “everyone needs one” type of product.

The best example of a killer app came from the birth of the PC era. Apple introduced the Apple II computer in 1977, but at the time, it was viewed only as a hobbyist machine. Then in 1979, a program was created that ran on the Apple II called VisiCalc, which was the first spreadsheet. It literally became the killer app that brought the Apple II out of the hobbyist category and into the world of business computing. A they say, the rest is history.

The second killer apps were the word processors that came out about the same time, followed by a product called Lotus 1-2-3 that included a spreadsheet, graphical charts and a database. This was the first killer app for the IBM PC when it came out in 1983, launching the true PC era we know today.

The importance of apps was driven home to me when the iPhone was first launched. When Apple SVP Phil Schiller first showed it to me, he put his iPhone on the coffee table in front of me and asked me what I saw? I told him I saw a blank piece of glass in a metal case. He said that was exactly what Apple wanted me to see until I turned it on. The magic would come from the apps on the device itself. While the hardware is important, he stressed that it would be the apps that make the iPhone dance and sing.

After the launch of the iPhone, I talked to Steve Jobs and asked him if he was certain he had a hit on his hand with the iPhone. He told me he was pretty sure the iPhone would be important, but went on to say that it would be the apps that third-party vendors create that would ultimately make it successful. He also told me that the exciting thing for him was that Apple had developed an SDK to create apps for the iPhone and that he couldn’t wait to see what software developers created.

This really is the formula for the success of any device like this. A company can create a great piece of hardware, but the magic comes from the software community. Who will create the “killer” app or apps that make the device appealing to everyone?

While we only have part of the story about the Apple Watch from Apple, I suspect that even when it launches, we won’t really be able to judge its ultimate success at first. However, I am betting that Apple gets strong support from the software community, who will create a host of apps that may appeal to people from all walks of life. That will ultimately determine the success or failure of Apples new watch.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Gadgets

Drones Can Now Be Used To Make Movies

The FAA is loosening regulations for select production companies

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government granted six movie and television production companies permission to use drones for filming, an important step toward greater use of the technology by commercial operators, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Thursday.

Dozens of other industries are lined up to follow Hollywood’s lead. Until now, the Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department, had banned commercial drone operations with the exception of two oil companies in Alaska.

The FAA permits come with limitations, including that the unmanned aircraft be used only in a restricted area, that they be flown under 400 feet in altitude and that flights last no more than 30 minutes at a time. Nighttime flights are prohibited, and reality television shows or other unscripted events won’t qualify for the permits.

“Today’s announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial (drone) use while ensuring we maintain our world-class safety record in all forms of flight,” Foxx said. “These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance.”

Tony Carmean, a partner in Aerial MOB of San Diego, predicted drones will fundamentally change moviemaking, providing directors with the ability to get shots they could never get before and making films more dynamic. Small drones with video cameras will be able to fly through a building and in and out of windows, for example, he said. They are also far less expensive than hiring a manned helicopter, he said.

Major movie studios “want their hands on this right away,” but have held off using the technology until the FAA gives the go-ahead, he said.

Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney who represents several drone operators and interest groups that have challenged the FAA’s drone restrictions, said he is concerned that limitations attached to the drone permits may be so onerous that their benefits will be outweighed by the cost and the headache of complying.

“I’m worried that it’s too small a step forward and it’s too narrowly limited,” he said.

Kenneth Quinn, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and a former FAA general counsel, said he expects other industries to oppose some of restrictions imposed on the movie drones, especially requirements that the drone operator have a private pilot’s license and that there be a three-man crew. He said any risk to safety is too small to merit the restrictions.

The FAA is considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities. Congress and industries that want to use or sell the technology have been pressuring the FAA to relax its ban. Companies want to use drones to monitor pipelines, inspect the undersides of oil platforms and bridges, and spray crops. Amazon and Google want to use them to deliver packages. Wedding videographers, real estate agents, journalists and many others are clamoring to use them as well.

The only previous FAA permits for commercial drone operations were granted to ConocoPhillips and BP, two oil companies that have flown unmanned aircraft in unpopulated areas of Alaska and over the Arctic Ocean. Both permits significantly limited how the drones could be used.

But the commercial drone ban is being undermined daily. Many operators see no harm in flying small, lightweight drones, often no bigger than a backpack, despite FAA warnings that they could collide with manned aircraft or injure people on the ground. Even a congressman who is a member of the House committee that oversees the FAA, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., hired a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone.

In 2012, Congress directed the FAA to safely integrate drones of all sizes, from high-flying Global Hawks to small quadrocopters weighing no more than a few pounds, into the national airspace. But the agency has missed several milestones and isn’t expected to meet Congress’ deadline of October 2015 for full integration.

In November, the agency is expected to propose rules commercial operators can follow to fly drones weighing 55 pounds or less. But it could be months or years before the rules are final. Final rules for larger ones are even further off.

The six production companies — Aerial MOB LLC, Astraeus Aerial, HeliVideo Productions LLC, Pictorvision Inc., Vortex Aerial and Snaproll Media LLC — have been working with the Motion Picture Association of America for two years to win FAA approval. A seventh aerial video company that applied with the other companies, Flying-Cam Inc., has been asked by the FAA to supply additional information.

Drones have already been used in in filming some movies overseas, including “Skyfall” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

TIME Paycheck Friday

5 Unique Sleep Gadgets for Under $60

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Cool or Hot Pillow Pad ($32.75)

GelO_Cool_Pillow_Mat
Human Creations

Your blind date was going well until you embarrassed yourself by passing gas more loudly than a tanker truck replenishing the pumps at 7-11. Back home – alone, natch – your face gets red hot every time you replay the unfortunate incident in your head.

The Gel’O Cool Pillow Mat can cool your face down as you’re trying to fall asleep. Just pop it in the fridge or freezer before bedtime, place it on top of your pillow and then lay your shameful head down. During the winter months, you can shove it in the microwave to heat it up instead.

[Human Creations]

White Noise Machine ($54.95)

LectroFan
LectroSound

You live in a studio apartment with paper-thin walls above a rowdy bar and below a 24-hour daycare center full of teething babies with colic. Next door is a 24-hour doggy day care heralded for its innovative use of outdoor-only barking zones. Across the street is a gun range. That’s 24 hours, too.

This highly-rated white noise/fan-sounds machine is small enough to travel with,

but gets loud enough to drown out even the most egregious hoopla. Not that you’d want to take a vacation: Your place sounds nice!

[Amazon]

Blue-Glow Sleep Mask ($39.99)

sleep mask
Sharper Image

You bring your work home with you. It’s not easy collecting soil samples for a living. All the second-guessing! Did I use the correct trowel? Should I be rotating my wrist to the left or to the right? And how many degrees?!

Thoughts like this normally keep you up at night, but this fancy sleep mask can help you relax your mind by bathing your eyeballs in a soft blue light meant to shift your brain from its beta phase to its alpha phase. Even without the blue-glow feature, the wraparound mask blocks out light while leaving room for your eyes to breathe.

[Sharper Image]

NASA Light Bulb ($59.95)

NASA bulb
Hammacher Schlemmer

At first blush, a $60 light bulb sounds expensive. But you know what’s marginally more expensive? Going to space. That’s what you’d otherwise have to do in order to use this thing. So if you think about it, this NASA light bulb pretty much pays for itself after all the trips you won’t take to space.

You’re supposed to use it in a bedside lamp for a half hour before you go to sleep so it can ramp up your melatonin levels. You can optionally use it at your next dinner party to see if you can get your guests to pass out in their soup.

[Hammacher Schlemmer]

Sonic Boom Alarm Clock ($39.10)

sonic boom
Sonic Bomb

“Enough with trying to get me to fall asleep!” you bellow, slamming your hammy fists on your particle-board workspace as anger-spit forms in the corners of your mouth. “I can’t wake up!”

For you, there’s this ridiculously loud alarm clock.

I sleep and wake like a normal person, so this thing sounds awful. A 113-decibel alarm? Pass. A vibration doodad so powerful it can shake your entire bed? No, thank you. Flashing red lights? I’m good, thanks. There’s nothing quite like being terrified first thing in the morning.

[Amazon]

TIME FindTheBest

The Top 10 Smartphones on the Market for Fall 2014

With all the reviews in for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it’s time to take stock of the larger smartphone battlefield. At FindTheBest, we compiled specs, features and ratings for every smartphone on the market to determine the top 10 phones today. Here’s the methodology:

35% Tech Specs

Made up of 18 different specifications for each phone, including max video resolution, camera optics, pixel density, weight, RAM, megapixels, talk time and more.

33% Expert Ratings

Includes reviews from publications that post numerical scores. These include WIRED, PCWorld, PC Magazine, CNET and Laptop Mag.

26% Features

Can the phone charge wirelessly? Does it come with an FM Receiver? Is it water resistant? Can it do NFC payments? The more capabilities, the better.

6% Performance Benchmarks

Lastly, how does the phone perform using a handful of benchmarks, like Geekbench for overall performance and DxOMark for camera quality?

Here’s the list, followed by the biggest takeaways:

Biggest Takeaways

Year-old phones are still winners…as long as they’re flagship models

Over 120 smartphones have been released this year, yet four 2013 handsets remain in our top ten. The reason? The flagship phones from Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and Sony are simply a cut above the rest of the industry. These manufacturers know how much of their bottom lines ride on hit devices, so they pour most of their resources into one or two handsets per year.

For this reason, saving $100 by selecting a year-old phone is no longer a terrible idea. A Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5S is still a solid buy, and it’s certainly better than that budget Motorola at the Verizon store.

For the very best phones, release date matters

Once we get to the best of the best, however, release date does matter. There’s one big reason the iPhones outrank their rivals: Apple’s handsets are newer. Consider that the M8, S5 and G3 were released in March, April and May, respectively. Apple had all summer to pack in the latest tech and to gauge customer reaction to its competitor’s phones. Expect all three manufacturers to retake the lead as soon as they release their next products.

With this in mind, discerning smartphone buyers might consider following this principle: Just buy whatever the latest release is from a top manufacturer. If you’ve already bought into the iOS or Android ecosystem, it’s a different story, of course. But if you’re ready to start fresh, look for whichever top brand released a flagship phone most recently. Right now, that’s the iPhone 6. In a couple of months, that could be the Sony Xperia Z3. Early next year, that’ll likely be the Galaxy S6.

Bigger really is better…sometimes

Glance over our top 10 with screen size in mind, and you’ll find some inconsistencies. For the iPhone, smaller is better, with the 6 edging out the 6 Plus. For the Galaxy? The 5.7-inch Note 3 is still our #1 Samsung device, besting the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5. What’s going on?

The difference comes down to the intangibles, which are best captured in the expert reviews. While experts loved both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, they had a slight preference for the smaller device. To reviewers, the 6 Plus often felt like something new and interesting, but the 6 felt familiar and intuitive—enough to push it ahead of its bigger brother (despite inferior battery life).

For Samsung, things went the other way. The Note 3 was revolutionary, while the Galaxy S5 was evolutionary. Experts loved the stylus-equipped Note 3 for its size, audacity and productivity—a new landmark for big-screen handsets. The S5, while solid, didn’t captivate reviewers the same way.

So in the end, who really knows what the right screen size is? Perhaps smartphone size is more art than science.

Microsoft can’t crack the top ten

Microsoft’s Lumia line continues to miss the top 10 (the same thing happened when we did this exercise last year). It’s the honorable mention that’s increasingly more mention than honor. Experts continue to hit all the usual beats: The Windows interface is clever, but iOS and Android are more mature. The camera takes superb photos, but the app selection is weak.

Microsoft is planning a big rebrand this holiday season (dropping “Nokia” and “Windows Phone”), but unless the company coaxes more developers and customers from Android and iOS, it’ll have trouble sniffing the top 10. And at this rate, it’ll drop out of the top 20 soon (currently, our top two Lumias sit at #19 and #21).

China is knocking on the door

Take a look just outside our top 10, and it’s the Xiaomi Mi 4—not a Lumia phone—that threatens to disrupt the top 10 next year. The red-hot Chinese manufacturer already beats all of its rivals on price, and its specs are right in line with the best handsets on the market. The only remaining question: How long will it take for Xiaomi to come to the US?

Final Recommendations

If you want the best phone right now….

grab the iPhone 6.

If you want a great phone on a budget…

…get the Samsung Galaxy S4 or LG Nexus 5 — a year old, but still excellent.

If you’re willing to wait…

…a few months, get the Sony Xperia Z3.

…until next year, get the Samsung Galaxy S6.

If you want a fully unlocked phone with all the latest technology for ~$450…

…move to China, and get the Xiaomi Mi 4.

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

TIME Gadgets

This Samsung Cable Lets Your Phone Charge Other Gadgets

samsung cable
Samsung

If you’re anything like me, you probably have multiple phone accessories and mobile devices, all of which require charging. It’s easy to remember to keep the phone charged. But when it comes to my Jambox, Bluetooth headphones, activity tracker, smartwatch and tablets, well – sometimes there are only so many outlets and charger cables to go around.

Smartphone giant Samsung introduced a new accessory made to solve exactly that problem. Meet the Samsung Power Sharing Cable. It’s a simple way to recharge your gadgets on the go using just the charge stored in your Samsung phone’s battery.

To use the cable, you’ll first need a compatible Samsung Galaxy device. Currently, the power-sharing cable works with the Samsung Galaxy S 5, Galaxy Tab S 10.5, Galaxy Tab S 8.4, Galaxy Alpha, Galaxy Avant and Galaxy Note 4. There’s no limitation to what you can charge, so long as it has a Micro USB port. Arrows on the cable show you the direction that power flows in.

Using the power-sharing cable will require you to first download Samsung’s Power Sharing app for Android. That’s a good thing, though – the app lets you control exactly how much of your phone’s precious battery life to devote to charging other devices. The app will also let you know how long you’ll need to wait until the power swap is complete. It’s valuable information considering how slowly the transfer happens.

The only real drawback to the Samsung Power Sharing Cable is that the charge stored in your phone is typically more valuable than moving it to an accessory. You may want to look into a portable battery charger instead. We like the myCharge Hub 9000 – it’s a $100 battery with built-in charging cables, making it an exceptionally convenient way to charge all sorts of gadgets away from home.

Samsung’s new Power Sharing Cable (EP-SG900UWESTA) is currently available for purchase at Amazon.com for $19.99.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME How-To

iOS 8 Guide: 10 Cool Tips and Tricks

Whether you just picked up an iPhone 6 or you're looking to squeeze a little life out of an older iPhone, here's a handful of tricks to try once you're using iOS 8.

Say “Hey Siri” for No-Touch Assistance

If your phone is plugged in, you can get Siri to do your bidding just by saying, “Hey Siri.”

You’ll need to enable the feature first by going to Settings > General > Siri and then toggling the Allow “Hey Siri” switch.

Again, your phone has to be plugged in for this to work, but it could be useful when paired with a car charger or while you’re at your desk.

Find Battery-Sucking Apps

Battery being run down too fast? It’s most likely an app or two that are sapping an inordinate amount of juice. You can check which ones are causing the most trouble by going to Settings > General > Usage > Battery Usage.

You’ll see a list of the apps that have used the most battery over the past 24 hours, with the option to check which ones have been the top drainers over a longer period of time as well.

Adjust Brightness in Photos

When you’re taking a photo and you tap the screen to adjust the camera’s focus, you can now also adjust the brightness. Just tap the screen as you’re taking a photo, then swipe up to make the image brighter or down to make the image darker.

Use the Camera Timer

The camera also has a timer function. Tap the little clock icon in the top menu when you’re taking a photo and it’ll let you choose between a three- or ten-second delay before firing off some snaps.

Get Notified of Email Thread Replies

If you want to keep an eye on an important email thread, you can enable notifications to pop up every time someone adds a new email message to the thread. Click on the little flag icon in the lower left corner of an email message, choose Notify Me… and then Notify Me again. Step through the same process to remove yourself from future notifications once you’ve had enough.

Minimize an Email You’re Writing

If you’re in the middle of typing an email message to someone and you realize you need to reference some information from a previous email elsewhere in your inbox, you can swipe down on the message you’re writing to minimize it to the bottom of the screen. Once you’re ready to write some more, tap the message to expand it again.

Track Your Phone’s Final Location Before the Battery Dies

You’ve misplaced your phone — or worse, it’s been stolen — and the battery is surely dead. You can find out its last known location by heading into Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone and then toggling Send Last Location on.

Minimize the QuickType Feature

If you find the keyboard’s new QuickType word-guessing feature more annoying than useful, you can minimize it by swiping down from the top of the QuickType bar. If you find that you miss the feature, swipe back up and it’ll re-assume its perch atop your keyboard.

Quickly Send an Audio Recording, Photo or Video in a Text Message

When chatting back and forth in the Messages app, hold down the microphone icon in the lower-right corner to begin recording an audio message. When it’s ready, tap the arrow above it to send it or tap the X to delete it. To send a photo or video instead, hold down the camera icon in the lower-left corner and tap the top icon to snap a photo or the right-hand icon to record a video. Note that these features require that your recipient has an iPhone as well, although you’ll be able to send photos and videos (but not audio) to non-iPhone owners by tapping the camera icon in the lower-left corner and then following a couple additional steps.

Reply to a Text Message Without Leaving Your Current App

When you receive a text message up at the top of your screen, pull down on it to access a quick-reply box. Type your reply, hit Send and go back to what you were doing — all without leaving your current app.

TIME Gadgets

The iPhone 6 Is Apple’s Easiest-to-Repair Phone to Date

Easy access to the screen and battery is a plus.

How easy is it to perform simple repairs and replacements on the brand new Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus? The good folks at iFixit decided to find out. And they did it the only way they know how – by completely disassembling both phones to see how they’re put together.

Overall, the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus were awarded repairability ratings of 7 out of 10, scores that the folks at iFixit call “respectable.” That’s the highest an Apple phone has ever scored – last year’s iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C both scored 6 out of 10. The iPhone 6 also scored better than its biggest competition: Samsung’s Galaxy S5 earned a sub-par repairability score of just 5 out of 10.

What did iFixit like about the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus? Specifically, the site notes that the display comes out of the phone first, which makes repairing it much easier. That’s no small point, given that screen replacements are among the most common of iPhone repairs. iFixit also says that the battery is “straightforward to access,” another important point given that battery replacements are commonplace, too. The fingerprint sensor cable has been moved to a safer location than in the iPhone 5S, better protecting it from tears when exposed.

On the down side, both iPhone 6 phones use proprietary Penatlobe screws that you’ll need a special tool to remove. There’s adhesive to deal with in the repair process too, though iFixit calls removing it “not difficult,” unlike the mess hiding behind the screen of an iPad Air. Apple also gets dinged for not sharing info on repairing the device with independent shops, though given the results of this teardown, most should be able to easily figure out how to make common repairs on their own.

If you want to learn more, you can read the full teardown description of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus at the iFixit website. You can learn more about the phone itself by reading our iPhone 6 launch coverage. And don’t forget to check out our coverage of the new features waiting in the phone’s new iOS 8 operating system.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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