TIME Gadgets

These Are the Best In-Ear Headphones Under $40

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Brainwavz The Brainwavz Delta with Mic

Try the Brainwavz Delta with Mic

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

How Did We Choose What To Test?

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

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

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

Our Pick

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

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

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

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

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

Runner up (Still Fantastic)

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

Bass-Lover’s Alternate

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

Non-sealed in-ears (“earbuds”)

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

Wrapping it up

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

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

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

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

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

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TIME Crowdfunding

The Most Successful Kickstarter Campaigns of All Time

Pebble Pebble Time

From smartwatches to exploding kittens

Crowdfunding the next great business, product or project is often a thankless endeavor. There have been over 200,000 Kickstarter campaigns to date; over 100,000 failed to reach their funding goal. Another 20,000 were canceled or suspended, regardless of whether they were able to raise money. Many projects barely reach their funding goals, only to fail later anyway, when the creators realized the money simply wouldn’t go far enough.

On the flip side, a select few projects have gone on to raise tens of millions of dollars, blowing away early funding goals and turning modest ideas into worldwide phenomenons—in some cases, literally overnight.

So with Exploding Kittens (a card game) recently blowing by OUYA (a micro video game console) in the overall Kickstarter rankings, it’s time to take stock of the all-time record holders. Using our database of Kickstarter campaign data, we ranked the 15 most insanely successful projects to date. In each case, we’ll break down the total backers, the percent funded and a brief history of how things played out. Without further ado…

Double Fine Adventure

Campaign ended: March 13th, 2012

What it is: A point-and-click adventure video game, paired with a documentary that catalogues the development process.

How it turned out: The game was released in January 2014 under the title Broken Age, receiving generally positive critical reviews. The documentary series continues to this day, as the developers work on the game’s second installment.

The Dash – Wireless Smart in Ear Headphones

Campaign ended: March 31st, 2014

What it is: Smart, wireless earphones that track fitness and play music, all without wires.

How it turned out: Though the product has faced a series of delays, it’s scheduled for release later this summer.

The Micro: The First Truly Consumer 3D Printer

Campaign ended: May 7th, 2014

What it is: A 3D printer at a price point friendly to consumers (~$500)

How it turned out: Some models have shipped to early backers, while later backers and the general public are still waiting.

Reaper Miniatures Bones: An Evolution of Gaming Miniatures

Campaign ended: August 25th, 2012

What it is: A line of affordable, intricately designed gaming miniatures, ready to paint out of the box.

How it turned out: The first Bones campaign was so successful that Reaper ran a second campaign just one year later, which again raised over $3 million.

Mighty No. 9

Campaign ended: October 1st, 2013

What it is: A 2D, side-scrolling video game, considered the spiritual successor to the classic Mega Man series.

How it turned out: The project reached its funding goal in just two days. The final version of the game is expected within the next month or two.

Project Eternity

Campaign ended: October 16th, 2012

What it is: A party-based role-playing game with an isometric (pseudo-3D) perspective.

How it turned out: The game was released under the name Pillars of Eternity on March 26, 2015, and received nearly universal acclaim.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

Campaign ended: April 5th, 2013

What it is: A fantasy role-playing game and spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment, a popular role-playing game from 1999.

How it turned out: Originally scheduled for a December 2014 release, Tides of Numenera is now set for late 2015.

Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere!

Campaign ended: July 2nd, 2014

What it is: A campaign to bring classic Reading Rainbow materials to more classrooms and modern platforms, like web and mobile.

How it turned out: The campaign was a success overnight, raising $1 million in just 24 hours. Celebrity Seth MacFarlane also chipped in a full million on his own.

The Veronica Mars Movie Project

Campaign ended: April 12th, 2013

What it is: A Veronica Mars movie developed after the TV series was canceled.

How it turned out: Starring Kristen Bell, the film debuted to mixed reviews and became a box office flop.

Pono Music – Where Your Soul Rediscovers Music

Campaign ended: April 15, 2014

What it is: A music playing device that delivers uncompressed audio, such that it will sound much more like real life and less like a recording.

How it turned out: The PonoPlayer launched in early 2015 to mixed reviews, where technology writers questioned just how much better the PonoPlayer actually sounded, compared to standard MP3s.

OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console

Campaign ended: August 8th, 2012

What it is: A little cube that lets you control Android-based games with a gamepad and play them on your TV.

How it turned out: The OUYA launched in mid 2013 to mediocre reviews and low sales. Today, most gamers consider the product a flop.

Exploding Kittens

Campaign ended: February 19th, 2015

What it is: An irreverent, social card game designed by Matthew Inman (creator of the popular cartoon and comic site, The Oatmeal).

How it turned out: The cards will ship to backers over the course of the summer, but there are no plans yet for a wide, retail release to the general public.

Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android

Campaign ended: May 18th, 2012

What it is: One of the first smartwatches to ever hit the market, designed by a small, independent developer.

How it turned out: Pebble went on to sell over a million smartwatches by 2015, an impressive figure given how young the market is.

COOLEST COOLER: 21st Century Cooler that’s Actually Cooler

Campaign ended: August 29th, 2014

What it is: A multi-purpose cooler that can charge your phone, blend cocktails, play music, and much more.

How it turned out: Creator Ryan Grepper originally promised to ship the cooler by February 2015, but due to manufacturing constraints, the release date has been pushed back to sometime in the summer.

Pebble Time – Awesome Smartwatch, No Compromises

Campaign ended: March 27th, 2015

What it is: Pebble’s third edition of its popular smartwatch, complete with a new color e-paper design and timeline interface.

How it turned out: The watch will be shipped to Kickstarter backers in May, but the company will face its biggest test yet as it goes up against the Apple Watch.

TIME legal

This Could Be Google’s Plan Make Sure You Don’t Accidentally Read Spoilers Online

The tech giant might have a spoiler blocker in the works

There’s good news for Netflix lovers.

The frustration of accidentally reading spoilers posted on social media may soon be a thing of the past, according to an “anti-spoiler” patent awarded to Google on Tuesday. The patent suggests that the system would track your TV or movie viewing progress—what episode of Orange Is the New Black you’re on, for example—and filter out information on what you haven’t yet watched.

The patent doesn’t outline what kinds of sites—Facebook, Twitter, Google News—the system would filter for spoilers. But Google’s idea arrives as customers are increasingly ditching cable subscriptions for on-demand streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu Plus. In addition, the Netflix model of putting an entire season online at once has annoyed some viewers by promoting spoilers (the company is also unabashedly pro-spoiler, with a viral campaign page called “Living with Spoilers”).

But don’t start celebrating just yet. Large companies like Google aren’t required to turn a patented technology into reality, and even if they do, it can take several years. Still, at the pace online streaming content is growing, there’s no better time for Google’s spoiler blocker.

Read next: How to Watch All the TV You Want Without Paying a Cable Bill

 

 

TIME Television

These Are the TVs Netflix Wants You to Buy

Netflix Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings
Bloomberg—Getty Images The Netflix Inc. website and logo are displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.

Netflix has announced the first of the Web-connected TV sets that qualify for its new “Netflix Recommended” program, which the company unveiled in January.

Many if not most of the hassles involved in trying to watch TV over the Internet have to do with network problems, something that neither TV manufacturers nor streamers like Netflix or Amazon can do much about. But Netflix has for years been working with makers of TVs and TV-connected devices to make streaming video more consistently easy to use.

The criteria for getting on the list are generally limited to the streaming experience. Most consumers presumably will weigh all the other usual factors: picture and sound quality, price, size, the remote layout, the installed interface, etc.

But as Internet video becomes ever-more popular, ease-of-streaming becomes ever-more important. Netflix judged the TVs on how quickly they launch the Netflix app, the loading time of streams, and how quickly users can get to both the Netflix app and its streams. Two of the requirements: whether the Netflix app is displayed prominently enough, and whether the remote has a dedicated Netflix button.

All very self-serving for Netflix, certainly, but also very handy for people who use the service a lot. The giant Netflix logo that will be affixed to the TVs on store displays will attract just those people.

Netflix announced the program last January during an LG media event, and several LG sets using the WebOS 2.0 platform are on the list.

Others use the Roku interface, which puts apps, including Netflix, at the center of the TV-viewing experience, right on the home screen. Those sets are from TCL, Insignia, and Hisense.

Also included are Sony’s coming Bravia sets, which will run on the Android TV platform, and offer similarly easy access to apps, and a remote button dedicated to Netflix—press it, and the TV turns on and Netflix instantly appears.

More than half of the sets aren’t available for purchase yet, but will be in the coming weeks and months. Netflix said it would continue adding sets to the list as it approves them. Expect entries from Sharp Electronics and Vizio, since Netflix mentioned both companies during its January announcement.

 

TIME Rwanda

Inside the Tech Revolution That Could Be Rwanda’s Future

Rwanda hopes a technological revolution will help transform it into a middle-income country

Correction appended: April 10, 2015.

Twenty-one years ago Tuesday, a genocide began in Rwanda that would claim as many as 1 million lives over the next 100 days. Today, the small East African nation has progressed remarkably from a history plagued with corruption, ethnic divisions and underdevelopment.

Under President Paul Kagame, who some credit for helping end the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has taken a number of steps to turn itself around. Provincial boundaries were redrawn, infrastructure was strengthened, a transitional justice system convicted the worst Génocidaires — even a new flag was unveiled to promote national unity and reconciliation. While some accuse Kagame of using his country’s history as a means of controlling its modern politics, there’s no doubting his country’s economic success.

But as Rwanda heals its past, the nation is also forging ahead — aggressively. A government initiative is underway to expand technology and connectivity, with the goal of transforming the agrarian economy into a highly digitized, middle-income country by 2020. With its population projected to reach 16 million by 2020, from 8 million in 2000, the country is looking beyond state funds and international aid to develop its economy: “While both of these must contribute, the backbone of the process should be a middle class of Rwandan entrepreneurs,” according the plan, called Vision 2020.

Vision 2020 is bold, but it’s working. And many outside Africa — and inside — are marveling at how an economy long-dominated by subsistence farming is becoming a high-tech hub — and one of the 20 fastest-growing countries in the world.

The Rwandan five hundred francs bill features students on laptops, representing the one laptop a child movement.
Cassandra GiraldoThe Rwandan five hundred francs bill features students on laptops, representing the one laptop a child movement.

“It’s apparent if you walk around [the capital city, Kigali]. They have currency with kids on their laptops. Everyone has a cell phone, and these cell phone companies have their advertisements painted all over the country, even if you drive into the rural parks,” says New York-based photographer Cassandra Giraldo, who took the images in this story during her February trip to Rwanda under the International Women’s Media Foundation’s African Great Lakes Reporting Fellowship. “It’s a very different narrative that we don’t see coming out of East Africa or Africa as a continent.”

The rapid adoption of mobile technology in particular has been vital in paving the way for a new generation of Rwandan entrepreneurs. In the early 2000s, Rwanda’s government kicked off Vision 2020 by linking the country to an international network of undersea cables and global wireless networks. The use of mobile phones has skyrocketed in Rwanda since then, so much that Nsengimana even launched the country’s first high-speed 4G LTE network last November:

One such entrepreneur working to drive Rwandan progress is social entrepreneur Aphrodice Mutagana. Mutagana, 30, is the founder of FOYO, a mobile pharmaceutical directory that provides education to Africans relating to medicine, including dosage information, drug-food interactions and side effects. Mutagana’s interest in healthcare has also led him to launch the Incike Initiative, a mobile crowdfunding app that raises funds for elderly survivors of the genocide, some of whom are the only remaining members of their families.

Last year, Mutagana raised 1.7 million Rwandan francs ($2,500), an amount he hopes to top in this year’s campaign, which launched this week and is timed to coincide with the national commemoration of the genocide from April to July. “We decided to dream big,” Mutagana says. “Technology is affecting everything, and now you can contribute in ways you didn’t have 20 years ago.”

Aphrodice Mutangana, 30, working at the kLab co-working space in Kigali.
Cassandra GiraldoAphrodice Mutangana, 30, working at the kLab co-working space in Kigali.

Like many Rwandan entrepreneurs, Mutagana frequently works at kLab, an open space for IT entrepreneurs to collaborate. kLab, which stands for “knowledge lab,” is designed to help students, new graduates and other innovators to turn their ideas into viable business models under experienced mentors and tech workshops. Other co-working spaces, like “The Office“, have given other entrepreneurs the tools to launch their ideas, including Clarisse Iribagiza, 26, CEO of software development company HeHe Labs.

With HeHe Labs, which was started in 2010 after development in an MIT-run startup incubator, Igibagiza offers a Code Club fellowship to recently graduated high school students, who serve as leaders and mentors in schools around Kigali. Her interest in inspiring Rwanda’s youth has also led her to actively encourage young girls to consider careers in technology, including having partnered with Nike to design the mobile software Girl Hub, which allows girls to use their mobile phones to provide feedback to weekly radio shows. “We want to create homegrown solutions and to focus on the now,” says Iribagiza.

Cassandra GiraldoHeHe Ltd. coding fellows Honoré Yves, 18, left and Yannick Kabayiza, 18, right at after school program at S.O.S. Kagugu Tecnhical High School.

As entrepreneurships emerge in Rwanda, the push for greater technological growth has also enticed multinational businesses, investors and institutions to establish a foothold in the country. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, opened a Rwandan campus in 2012 to attract students interested in the country’s efforts to boost its tech sector. Smaller companies like laptop and smartphone maker Gira ICT have partnered with manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, HP and Lenovo to offer customers a monthly payment system to boost affordability. Meanwhile, Rwandan partnerships with Microsoft and Intel have launched a number of educational initiatives in Rwandan schools to ensure a new generation is equipped with the skills to continue the technology initiative.

Still, some companies and investors treat Rwanda with caution. A high cost of credit has led to businesses paying upwards of 20% of interest on their loans to banks, despite the ease with which many entrepreneurs describe launching their companies. Additionally, some see Rwanda’s steady GDP growth — about 8% last year — as being possible only due to the country’s historic poverty. In fact, Rwanda is still classified as low-income country with a ways to go until it reaches a middle-class designation, according to the World Bank.

But in a small landlocked country lacking in natural resources, technology is one of the few domestic resources that Rwanda may be able to mobilize in order to decrease its high dependency on foreign aid. Even more visible changes may lay ahead with the last stage of Vision 2020, which uses the new infrastructure and technology to improve education, communities and the private sector.

“Not only are they reducing the cost of making technology accessible, they’re also creating jobs,” says IDC Sub-Saharan Africa analyst Mark Walker, who is based in South Africa. “Rwanda is neither mineral-rich nor oil-rich, and to that end, technology is a great enabler.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified who was responsible for launching the Vision 2020 program. It was initiated by the Rwandan government.

Inventing Rwanda
Cassandra GiraldoThe land of a thousand hills. Rwanda is attempting to turn an agrarian society into a knowledge-based economy and instilling a sense of national identity and unity in Rwandans.
TIME Innovation

This New Battery Could Charge Your Phone in 60 Seconds

Tops of batteries, close-up
Getty Images

But researchers will have to figure out how to double the voltage to match the performance of lithium batteries

Stanford University researchers have developed an ultra-fast charging aluminum battery that they’ve hailed as a cheaper, safer alternative to the current batch of lithium batteries that power most mobile devices.

Researchers at Stanford University say they achieved “unprecedented charging times” with the aluminum prototype, which they said had the potential to recharge a smartphone in as little as 60 seconds. The battery used more pliable material that could bend into different shapes and withstand up to 7,500 recharge cycles, a more than seven-fold increase over lithium batteries.

But the researchers cautioned that the technology was still in its infancy, and for all of its advantages the current battery still emitted only half the voltage of a typical lithium battery.

“Otherwise, our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life,” said Stanford chemist Hongjie Dai in a public announcement of his research, which was published in the April 6 issue of Nature. “I see this as a new battery in its early days,” he added. “It’s quite exciting.”

TIME Startups

Here’s the Major Downside of So Many $1-Billion ‘Unicorn’ Startups

Uber
Getty Images

Billion-dollar startups aren't rare. They're practically a dime a dozen these day—and that's not an entirely good thing

We live in a magical age of unicorns, those pre-IPO tech startups valued at $1 billion or more. And unlike the dot-com bubble, most of these startups are for real. They are companies whose services–like Uber, Spotify or Pinterest–we use every day. You could even say we consumers are the ones that are helping these unicorns to fly.

There is only one problem: Most of us consumers, as individual investors, are being shut out of the party.

These days, you hear a lot of people in the tech-investing world talk about how this is not 1999. The red ink has been washed away by the black at the strongest startups. A confluence of new technologies–the cloud, social networks, smartphones–are creating the mega-brands of the future. As one CEO memorably put it, “It’s the biggest wave of innovation in the history of the world.”

This is more or less true, but another big difference between today’s tech market and the tech market of 1999 is often overlooked: During the dot-com bubble–when most of the IPOs were pipe dreams waiting to crash–individual investors were able to buy their shares freely. Today, by contrast, most of the investments in the hottest tech startups are happening behind the velvet ropes of private financing.

US securities laws set up last century ensured that only accredited investors—currently, people earning at least $200,000 a year or with a net worth of more than $1 million—could buy stocks in private offerings. Those laws were intended to protect smaller investments from the risks of traditional private investments, and they worked for a long time. But recent changes, such as the JOBS Act, allowed private companies to more easily avoid IPOs if they so desired. And most of them have so desired.

The result is that tech companies that would have been open to ownership by everyday people in earlier decades are now open only to the elite. Hedge funds and other institutional investors jockey for access to occasional venture rounds rather than the daily battle of public markets. Corporate insiders have greater control in setting valuations, while executives escape the scrutiny of quarterly disclosures.

And so, unsurprisingly, the tech IPO has become as rare as, well, a unicorn. According to Renaissance Capital, 35% of the companies that went public in 2011 were technology startups. By last year, only 20% of the 273 IPOs were in the tech industry, and most were in the enterprise space rather than the brand names consumers knew. In the first quarter of 2015, only four tech companies went public. And none of them were exactly unicorns.

Three of those four tech IPOs have a history of losses–cloud-storage company Box, online-ad platform MaxPoint Interactive, and domain registrar GoDaddy. Only Inovalon, which runs cloud services for health-care companies, went public with a profit. In the wake of the recession, it was all but impossible for companies to go public with a history of losses but that changed starting last year, when according to Renaissance, 64% of large tech IPOs debuted with net losses, the highest ratio since 2000.

The companies that are choosing to go public aren’t the cream of the crop. Box may have a bright future, but like GoDaddy it went public at the behest of its investors and did so only after months of delays. Box also priced its IPO below its last private round, following late 2014 IPOs like New Relic and Hortonworks that took so-called “haircuts.”

Which brings up another reason for other companies to avoid IPOs–why do it when you can get better valuations in illiquid private markets? True, liquidation preferences and other private perks justify some of that premium, but private valuations are often more art than science.

The pace of tech IPOs are likely to pick up, but few of the candidates in the current pipeline are the highly coveted unicorns. Next week, Chinese e-commerce platform Wowo is expected to raise $45 million. Craft marketplace Etsy is also hoping to raise $250 million in the coming weeks. And mobile software Good Technology aims to list soon as well. All three have steady histories of net losses.

When it comes to the companies with the brightest futures, they are conspicuously absent from the pipeline. Long before the term “unicorn” became popular, CB Insights compiled a list of hot startups expected to go public in 2014. A year later, their list of hot startups expected to go public in 2015 looked suspiciously similar. And now that we’re into the second quarter, there’s little sign that many of them are planning to go public.

Ride-sharing giant Uber, lodging disruptor Airbnb, online-storage pioneer Dropbox, social-ephemeralist Snapchat, social-pin star Pinterest, music-streaming king Spotify, mobile-payments upstart Square–all have been sought after and well funded in private rounds. All have intimate connections to consumers, and would be broke without them. All couldn’t care less, it seems, when it comes to sharing their success with those consumers.

Maybe that’s why they’re called unicorns. Not because billion-dollar startups are rare–they’re practically a dime a dozen these days–but because, for most investors, they might as well be myths frolicking on the far end some of some rainbow.

Read next: Why This Apple Watch Rival Is Very Important

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TIME the big picture

Why This Apple Watch Rival Is Very Important

Pebble Pebble Time

The Pebble Time offers an important alternative

The day the Pebble smartwatch went up on Kickstarter a couple of years back, I pitched in enough money that I got the device when it was finally made. The good news was the early version worked mostly as advertised. But Pebble’s early software was basic, hard to learn and unstable. Still, Pebble quickly addressed those issues, and to date the company has sold 1.1 million smartwatches — the startup was second only to Samsung in terms of smartwatch sales over the recent holiday quarter.

Not long after the first Pebble smartwatch came out, however, devices powered by Google’s Android Wear operating system hit the scene. I decided to retire my Pebble in favor of an Android smartwatch, but I kept my eye on Pebble, hoping it would continue to improve on its design. Indeed, like all good technology companies, Pebble’s team has kept making the company’s watches smarter and better. The company recently headed back to Kickstarter to raise a record $20 million for a brand new smartwatch sporting a completely new operating system with a cleaner user interface and streamlined app installation process.

That new watch, the Pebble Time, especially intrigues me. In designing it, Pebble execs looked hard at how people were using their devices and noticed a key trend — people used it in what Pebble now calls “timelines.” Built around this metaphor, the new Pebble Time will have 3 buttons connected to people’s timelines. One button is for the past and gives you things like a sleep score, calories burned, steps walked, and so on. The second button is for the present, like controlling music or checking texts. And the third button is for future items, such as a list of flight reservations coming up or dinner reservations. Pebble has also introduced smart straps that add functionality to its watches — for example, a strap with built-in GPS could add location services to the Pebble. I really like this approach, which should help Pebble stay competitive against the upcoming Apple Watch and the various Android Wear devices out there.

The new Pebble Time will be important for the smartwatch market for two reasons. First, the Android Wear operating system isn’t well designed, and most Android Wear devices have a long way to go in the style department. If you’ve got an Android device, you won’t be able to use the Apple Watch — but Pebble’s offerings give you an important alternative.

At $199 retail, the Pebble Time also offers a cheaper option for iPhone owners not ready to invest $349 or more in the Apple Watch. Those who have been using the Apple Watch tell me that it’s very intuitive and extremely powerful — but it may be more than some people need. The Pebble Time may appeal to plenty of iPhone owners who may never want or need what the Apple Watch provides (The Pebble connects with both iPhone and Android devices).

The good news for people in the market for a smartwatch is that most of them will soon have at least two platform options — Apple Watch and Pebble for iPhone owners, Android Wear and Pebble for Android users. While Apple and Android may get the lion’s share of the smartwatch market, the new Pebble Time offers a solid alternative and increases consumer choice.

 

TIME Smartphones

The 13 Best Free Smartphones You Can Buy

Motorola Mobility Portfolio Launch Event
Daniel Boczarski—2014 Getty Images Motorola announced the new Moto X and G, Moto Hint and Moto 360 by opening its headquarters for media to meet the engineers and designers committed to offering people more choice, control and accessibility in their personal technology.

$0 down can actually go a long way

Walk into any AT&T or Verizon store, and you’ll see a shelf full of $0 phones, complete with cheap knock-offs, devices that can’t connect to the Internet, and old handsets from 2012. Make no mistake: when it comes to free phones, you usually get what you pay for.

Here and there, however, you can find a great phone for $0 down. Some companies will offer discounts on devices in a less popular size, while others will drop prices significantly a year after release. Even some of the best flagship models from top brands—like Apple, Samsung, HTC and LG—will eventually drop their prices to $0, as long as you know where and when to look.

With this in mind, we set out to find the best free phones on the market today. Each of the devices on this list will cost you $0 from at least one carrier, as long as you’re starting a new contract.

How did we pick and rank the list? We started with a list of phones that can be purchased for $0 with a new contract. We then looked at specs, features and expert reviews to calculate a Smart Rating for each device. Finally, we ranked our list by the overall ratings, using release date to break ties (the newer the device, the better).

We’ll start with number 13 and work our way to the best free phone of all.

LG Enact

Smart Rating: 79/100
Release: August 2013

For customers who miss physical keyboards, the LG Enact hides a full QWERTY set-up right underneath its full 4-inch display. It’s the sort of design you’d have to pay half a grand for in 2007. Today? You can snap one up for $0 with a contract.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

Smart Rating: 84/100
Release: May 2013

Samsung fans hoping to save should give a hard look at the $0 Galaxy S4 Mini, a phone with signature Samsung quality, but costing hundreds of dollars less than the newest models.

Motorola Moto G

Smart Rating: 84/100
Release: November 2013

Praised for its pure Android experience (no needless frills or odd augmentations), the 2013 Moto G remains a smart, sensible buy for people who live on Google services like Gmail, YouTube and Maps.

BlackBerry Z10

Smart Rating: 88/100
Release: January 2013

The Z10 was BlackBerry’s best attempt to produce a modern-style smartphone—complete with the familiar grid of app icons and no physical keyboard. To this day, it’s still a great option for BlackBerry fans who like the way iOS looks but don’t care for Apple’s ecosystem. And best yet, it doesn’t cost a penny.

Motorola DROID Mini

Smart Rating: 89/100
Release: August 2013

Generally speaking, bigger phones tend to have larger—and thus longer lasting—batteries. Take the iPhone 6 versus the 6 Plus: the 5.5-inch Plus boasts over 70% more battery than its smaller cousin. The $0 DROID Mini defies this trend—a 4.3-inch phone with a whopping 28 hours of battery. It’s a rare combination at an unbeatable price.

LG Lucid 3

Smart Rating: 89/100
Release: April 2014

The LG Lucid 3 was made specifically for the tasteful budget phone shopper—someone who wants smooth operation and clean hardware design for next to no cost. The device is also a nice, compact alternative to LG’s parade of big-screen, 5.2- to 6-inch phones.

Motorola DROID MAXX

Smart Rating: 90/100
Release: August 2013

The Motorola DROID MAXX still offers one of the best batteries on the market, capable of going two full days on a single charge. Sure, the performance doesn’t match the latest flagship phones, but if you simply need something reliable, cheap and long-lasting, this is your handset.

iPhone 5C

Smart Rating: 90/100
Release: September 2013

Apple’s pricing structure is steady and predictable: the newest models start at $200, the year-old model at $100, the two-year-old model at $0. This time around, however, the free model (the iPhone 5C) is noticeably different than its more expensive cousins. The newer models feature bigger screens and metal bodies; the 5C sports a plastic shell and compact screen. For some customers, the 5C will be exactly what they want anyway—and they won’t be able to beat the $0 price tag.

LG G Flex

Smart Rating: 90
Release: January 2014

The LG G Flex has a novel, curved display—the sort of unique hardware design you’d normally have to pay extra to enjoy. By now, however, enough time has passed—and a new model has surfaced—to make the original G Flex free with a 2-year contract. The curved display isn’t for everyone, but if you’re intrigued, you can try it for free.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Smart Rating: 90/100
Release: September 2014

Samsung’s small-screen Galaxy Alpha has a premium feel and solid performance. It’s the ideal phone for Samsung fans who never joined the big-screen revolution. With the impending Galaxy S6 launch, Samsung has slashed the price on the Alpha, making this an excellent time to buy.

Amazon Fire Phone

Smart Rating: 93/100
Release: July 2014

Yes, the Amazon Fire Phone flopped hard. Sure, the 3D effects were nothing more than a gimmick, and the internals weren’t anything special. A year later, however, the Amazon Fire Phone might actually be underrated. For the Prime subscriber and Amazon shopping addict, there’s still no better phone for optimizing your retail experience. And you can get the whole experience for $0 on day one—a happy consequence of all the bad press.

LG G2

Smart Rating: 94/100
Release: September 2013

You might worry that the LG G2 is a little too old to warrant a purchase, as it was first released in fall 2013. Consider, however, that the LG G2’s performance was at least six months ahead of its time, and that the phone served as the prequel to our Editors’ Choice for Best Smartphone of 2014 (the LG G3). A $0 price tag? On that device? Crazy.

And it’s the best Android phone on this list.

HTC One (M8) for Windows

Smart Rating: 95/100
Release: August 2014

Normally, you have to sacrifice quality to get a free phone, but the HTC One M8 for Windows is both free and one of the best handsets on the market. Why? It all stems from popularity. Most people are on either iOS or Android, so HTC sells the Windows version at a discount. What’s more, HTC still isn’t as popular as Apple or Samsung, so the company is willing to cut costs to compete. Add it up, and the HTC One M8 is the best free phone you can get. If you haven’t tried Windows on a phone before, this is the perfect place to start.

TIME apps

How to Make Typing On Your iPhone Way Easier

Swype and Swiftkey are helpful keyboard apps

Even though the iPhone was designed with convenience in mind, there can still be something counterintuitive about its default keyboard. Occasionally, autocorrect errors or errant typing will result in sending “I love moo” in a text when we didn’t really mean to confess our appreciation for anything bovine.

While iOS 8 packs a pretty good predictive text function that allows you to select from oft-used words via a bar over the keyboard, there are some great third party apps that can help facilitate texting and typing away on your iPhone.

One of the most popular third-party keyboards is Swype, which costs $0.99 in the App Store and can dramatically increase your texting speed and accuracy by letting you drag your finger from one letter to the next.

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To use Swype after you’ve downloaded it, you must enable it as an alternate keyboard by entering Settings, going to General, then heading to Keyboard. Select “Add New Keyboard,” and you’ll be presented from a list, one of which is Swype. With that done, next time you’re typing something on your iPhone, hold down the globe icon on the bottom-left of your keyboard and select Swype.

Another extremely popular third party keyboard app is Swiftkey, which can be downloaded in the App Store for free and enabled the same way as Swype. Swiftkey has two great functions: First, as you type, it offers an incredibly accurate predictive text algorithm, allowing you to choose from several words to complete your missives. Swiftkey also offers typing-by-swiping much like Swype does.

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