Everyone wants their home tidy, organized and safe, but it’s not always easy to keep it that way. Fortunately, there are gadgets that can help make all of it a little easier. We often review smart speakers, robotic vacuums and more here at Engadget, and for the holiday season we’ve compiled a list of favorites that will make excellent gifts for you or your loved ones. Plus, they don’t need to be super tech savvy to use these either – most of our suggestions are simple enough for those new to the smart home world.
Instant Vortex Plus
Air fryers might seem like just glorified convection ovens, but in our tests, we found that they do produce astoundingly crisp foods, with results that are either better or comparable to convection toaster ovens. The Instant Vortex Plus is easily our favorite, thanks to its clear viewing window so your giftee can see the food while it’s cooking, plus there’s an odor-removing filter that helps reduce cooking smells. It’s roomy enough to fit four large chicken thighs and it heats up much faster than a conventional oven. Best of all, clean-up is near effortless – the rack is dishwasher-safe and the non-stick drawer basket can be washed with soap and water.
If your loved one frequently complains about stolen packages or simply wants a way to see who’s at the front door without opening it, consider gifting them a video doorbell. Our favorite is the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell, which is compatible with Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple Homekit. They’ll be able to get a 180-degree view of their visitor from head to toe, plus it alerts your phone with a video call whenever someone rings the bell. It comes with a three-month trial to Arlo’s Smart subscription service right out of the box, which also includes motion detection that differentiates between a person, package, vehicle or animal.
Google’s Nest Hub smart display is a great device to have around the home — especially if your gift recipient already uses the Google Assistant. It works as a digital photo frame and they can use it to watch YouTube and Netflix. It can also make calls via Google Duo and offers recipe videos along with step-by-step cooking instructions. If the user so chooses, they can track their sleeping patterns if they place the device next to their bed. Additionally, if they already have a Nest Doorbell camera, they can easily use the display to see who’s at the front door.
For those who prefer Alexa over the Google Assistant, the Echo Show 8 is a great alternative to the Nest Hub. It also works as a digital photo frame and its 8-inch display is a good size for streaming shows from Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu while prepping dinner. It can also be used to keep up with the news, check the weather and control smart home devices. Since Amazon has a partnership with Allrecipes and Food Network Kitchen, users can find assorted recipes and instructional videos as well.
Blink’s indoor camera offers the gift of peace of mind in a compact and affordable package. Your loved one will appreciate the fact that Blink is wireless and battery-powered; since they don’t have to place it near an electrical outlet, it can sit almost anywhere. They also won’t have to worry about recharging the camera since it can last up to two years on its two included AA batteries. Aside from just letting them monitor their home, it also features customizable motion alerts so they’ll only get alerted when they want to. There’s also two-way audio so they can hear and speak to the person (or pet) on the other end.
Maybe you have someone in your life who could use a little help cleaning up after themselves. For that, we recommend getting them one of our favorite robot vacuum cleaners, the iRobot Roomba 694. It can suck up dirt and debris from both hardwood and carpeted floors, with an edge-sweeping brush taking care of dusty corners. The companion app lets them control it remotely, or they can set up a cleaning schedule so the little robot can do its thing at a set time. It even automatically docks and recharges itself if it’s low on battery.
Smart locks are a great way to add security and convenience to any home. We recommend August’s WiFi smart lock because it’s easy to use, and since it fits over an existing deadbolt, it’s great for homeowners and renters alike. It lets your loved ones unlock the door completely hands-free, which is handy if they have their arms full of groceries. They can set it so that it automatically locks once the door is closed, or after a set period of time. If someone’s at the door but they’re at the office or in the backyard, they can easily let them in with a single finger tap. They can also grant access for specific friends or family members, which means they might never need to put the key under the doormat ever again.
Air purifiers are great gifts for anyone who has allergies, lives in a polluted area or just wants to breathe easier at home. And if you want to give someone a smarter air purifier, consider the Mila Air. It ships with one of seven pre-configured HEPA filters that can filter out particles and allergens like pollen and dust. It also has a ton of customization options: There’s a “Housekeeping Service” mode that goes full blast when no one’s in the room, a “Sleep Mode” that turns the lights off and reduces the fan speeds at night, plus a “White Noise” option that mimics soothing sounds like waterfalls. The Mila also has a bevy of sensors that can tell you if there’s carbon monoxide in the air, or if the humidity is too high.
With a smart plug, any appliance can be part of a connected home for not a lot of money. TP-Link’s Kasa smart plug is a particularly good one because it is both affordable and incredibly compact (and if you’re really short on space, there’s a mini version that’s even smaller). Together with its companion app, they can schedule a timer to turn on and off anything from Christmas lights to a coffee maker. It’s also compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, which lets them add voice control to any outlet.
With most of us having so many gadgets and smart home devices, perhaps the best thing you can give your loved one is the gift of better WiFi to keep things running smoothly. Amazon’s Eero routers will deliver just that. The latest models support WiFi 6, the latest and fastest WiFi standard, and will support 75-plus devices simultaneously. It also covers up to 1,500 square feet with WiFi speeds up to 900 Mbps, so it’s unlikely they’ll ever have to deal with dead spots or buffering again. The Eero 6 also comes with a built-in Zigbee smart home hub that lets them connect compatible devices without having to purchase a separate device.
Add some color to your loved one’s life with the Philips LED smart bulb starter kit, which comes with four multi-color bulbs plus a Hue Hub that connects them all together. The bulbs can fill the room with millions of different colors so they can choose from warm moody lighting for a cozy atmosphere or rainbows for parties. In the companion app, they can create timers and routines so that their lights gradually turn on in the morning or off in the evening. And it’s scalable: They can eventually have up to 50 lights connected to one Hue Hub, giving them the freedom to outfit their whole home with smart lights if they wish.
The holidays are a good time to upgrade an audio setup, whether it's for yourself or for someone on your shopping list. We’ve compiled a group of the best audio gear that ranges from noise-canceling headphones to true wireless earbuds and speakers. There are also a range of prices for each product type, so you don’t necessarily have to break the bank unless you’re really looking to splurge this year.
If you’re shopping for the complete package in a new set of headphones, there’s one clear best choice. No other company packs in as many features as Sony does on the WH-1000XM5, and they’re combined with a stellar sound and effective ANC. With this model, Sony redesigned its flagship headphones, making them way more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The company also made noticeable improvements to the active noise cancellation, adding a separate V1 chip in addition to the QN1 that was inside the M4. The 1000XM5 still has all of the features that typically make Sony’s premium headphones so good. 30-hour battery life, a combo of touch controls and physical buttons, Speak-to-Chat automatic pausing when you talk, and the ability to change noise modes based on your activity or location. — Billy Steele, Senior News Editor
If sound quality is the primary factor in your next set of headphones, Bowers & Wilkins pair impressive audio quality with solid ANC performance. The Px7 S2 are my favorite headphones I’ve reviewed this year in terms of sound. There’s also a more refined design that doesn’t look overly plasticky and the headphones fit comfortably even after hours of use. Call quality, ambient sound and automatic pausing need some refining, but they get the job done. At the end of the day, the design, sound quality and noise cancellation make the Px7 S2 a strong pick in the current field. Plus, they’ll last way beyond the stated 30 hours of battery life. — B.S.
When picking the best-sounding headphones from 2022, it’s difficult to choose between the Px7 S2 and the Momentum 4. However, Bowers & Wilkins gets the edge in terms of design, but they’re evenly matched on sound quality and the rest of the competition isn’t close. Sennheiser does have an impressive 60-hour battery life in its favor and improved ANC performance. Those two items alone might be enough for you to overlook the very generic design for the music lover on your list this year. — B.S.
Audio-Technica’s affordable wireless headphones have consistently offered solid performance that would make a great gift, even with the lack of noise cancellation. The company’s latest are the M20xBT, a Bluetooth version of the A-T’s popular M20x wired cans. A comfy fit and up to 60 hours of battery life will cost you just $79. Connect to multiple devices at once with Bluetooth multipoint connectivity and reliably control tunes with physical buttons. The design isn’t as refined as the company’s pricer models like the M50xBT2, but you get the bulk of what makes Audio-Technica’s cheaper options so good. — B.S.
Sony’s first set of LinkBuds were a unique open-wear concept, but they weren't for everyone. To expand the lineup with more universal appeal, the company debuted the LinkBuds S back in the spring. These earbuds may be tiny but they still offer active noise cancellation and the smaller size means they’re more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. That’s the entire point of the LinkBuds S as Sony built them to be worn all the time, although you can expect up to six hours of use with ANC enabled. Transparency mode makes this possible and features like Speak-to-Chat and Adaptive Sound Control highlight the list of additional features. — B.S.
If you're shopping for a set of workout earbuds this year, the best option is the Beats Fit Pro. These offer a lot of handy features from AirPods thanks to Apple's H1 chip. The overall size is smaller than a lot of earbuds, which leads to a comfy fit. Plus, the added wing helps keep them in place during physical activity. Punchy bass brings energy to cardio sessions but the low-end tone remains balanced, rather than overpowering, and six-hour battery life should be enough to get you through the bulk of the day. — B.S.
Thanks to JLab, you can give a decent set of true wireless earbuds as a stocking stuffer. For $20, the Go Air Pop covers most of the basics. Eight-hour battery life, on-board controls, EQ presets, IPX4 moisture protection and the ability to use just one earbud at a time are all on the features list. The Go Air Pop is smaller than its predecessor, the Go Air, and this model comes with a case that completely closes. What’s more, the company kept the integrated USB on the charging case, so you don’t have to worry about looking for a cable when you’re out of power. — B.S.
If you’re shopping for a Bluetooth speaker this year, the UE Wonderboom 3 is an affordable, tiny option that still packs a punch. It’s adventure-proof thanks to an IP67 rating, audio quality is bright and an outdoor mode boosts treble and bass so sound can be heard over a greater distance. You can also easily pair two Wonderboom 3 units for stereo sound, which won’t cost you a fortune thanks to the low price. And with up to 14 hours of battery life, you should be able to keep the tunes going for a while. — B.S.
If someone on your list asked for a Bluetooth speaker but has a more refined audio taste, perhaps the Marshall Tufton will fit the bill. It’s pricey, but the investment gets you up to 20 hours of battery life and the option of a wired connection via 3.5mm aux jack. As is the case with all of the Marshall wares, the Tufton carries the look of the iconic guitar amps and this model has an audio quality that’s equal parts dynamic, warm and almost analog in its performance. On-board treble and bass knobs are also there to assist with any adjustments. — B.S.
While portable Bluetooth speakers are great on-the-go, there are benefits to the set-it and forget-it options like Marshall’s Acton III wired model. It’s ideal for someone’s bedroom, living room or kitchen and offers 60-watts of power for just $280. Marshall’s classic amp-styled exterior looks great too, with its fabric grille and soft-touch exterior made up of 70-percent recycled materials. On top, you’ll find backlit physical controls so you can adjust settings in the dark and won’t always need a phone to control playback.
The Acton III delivers a rich and dynamic sound across a wider soundstage than previous models, with a bass response that’s also hefty for its size. On top of the sound quality, you get app support with EQ controls, OTA updates and a placement compensation feature to adjust for the acoustics in your space.
The overall build quality and sound makes it a gift anyone can appreciate, even as a stationary companion to a small portable speaker. There are two larger options as well, if you know someone who likes it loud. Either way, you’ll be a shoe-in for the party that will inevitably follow. – Jon Turi, Homepage Editor
If you’re unsure of what to give the music lover in your life this holiday season, why not allow them to give high-resolution streaming a shot. Several services offer the option of higher quality audio, but unfortunately not many of them allow you to gift a subscription. Instead, you’ll simply need to purchase a gift card that your recipient can apply to a high-res plan. Gift cards are available for Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal and others, although you may just need to buy a generic gift card for the company in cases like Amazon and Apple. I’d also suggest giving an App Store or Google Play gift card for someone to apply to a Nugs.net plan to unlock a vault of high-resolution live performances from Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, Pearl Jam, Dead & Company and more. — B.S.
Board games are great gifts for anyone who wants to spend time with friends and family and disconnect from technology. They’re interactive, fun, and you get to tell everyone to put away their phones for a while. But instead of pulling out the same old classics like Monopoly and Scrabble, we recommend giving some new titles a try. Here, we’ve compiled a list of games that you might not have heard of, but will still make excellent gifts this holiday season. From games with swashbuckling pirates to those with haunted mansions, we’re sure at least one of these will be a hit with friends and family.
Trekking Through History
Whether your gift recipient is a serious history buff or a more casual one, they’ll find something to like in Trekking Through History. In this game, players go on a three-day tour of human history in a time machine, visiting historical settings and trying to witness momentous events before the clock runs out. There, they’ll check off items on their itinerary to earn points and, importantly, Time Crystals that they can use to bend the space-time continuum on future turns. As a bonus, they’ll score additional points if they visit these historical events in chronological order. With colorful illustrations and easy-to-understand instructions, this game is perfect for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Fans of horror stories will adore Betrayal at House on the Hill, where three to six players explore a haunted mansion, uncovering its secrets and hidden rooms. At first they’ll work together, but midway through the game, someone will reveal themselves as a – gasp! – traitor! The turncoat will join the dark side while the rest of the team has to figure out how to beat their former ally. The third edition of the game comes with 50 different haunting scenarios, which is more than enough to keep your loved ones entertained for several fun and spooky evenings.
In Clank! Catacombs, you and your loved ones take on the role of treasure hunters exploring the catacombs of the skeletal dragon Umbrok Vessna. As you plumb the dungeon’s depths, you’ll uncover portals, shrines, ghosts, prisoners pleading you to free them, and, of course, treasure. You can grab the first prize you see and try to make it out alive, or you can go deeper for even more riches, but risk the wrath of the dreaded dragon.
Remember that movie (and book) We Bought A Zoo? Whether you do or not, here’s a game that helps your loved ones live out that fantasy. In Ark Nova, up to four players will compete against each other to plan and design the most successful zoo. They’ll have to build enclosures, acquire animal attractions from around the world, and support conservation projects to ensure the survival of animal habitats. With over 125 unique animal cards, your loved ones will almost never play the same game twice.
Marvel fans are sure to enjoy Marvel Dice Throne, a game where each player gets to be one of eight famous characters (Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Loki, Thor, Doctor Strange and Miles Morales’ Spider-Man). They then compete in a 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 2v2v2 or free-for-all battle where they play cards and roll dice in order to thwart the other players. In addition to attack moves, players can also activate unique abilities and upgrade their characters over time. Gameplay is relatively quick – just 20 to 40 minutes.
If your giftee likes gardening, Planted is the ideal game for them. In it, two to four players compete against each other to grow the best collection of houseplants. Not only will they need to acquire the right plants, but they’ll also need to feed and nurture them with the right combination of light, water and plant food. The game comes with 42 varieties of popular and exotic houseplants, each with their own requirements to grow. The plant parent that ends up scoring the most points wins. Planted was designed from the ground up to be beginner friendly and easy to learn, so even those who are new to board games will pick this up fairly quickly.
Jedi Knights and the Rebel Alliance are the heroes in Star Wars, but sometimes it’s fun to play the bad guy. In Star Wars: Villainous, each player takes control of one of five Star Wars villains: Darth Vader, Asajj Ventress, Kylo Ren, Moff Gideon, or General Grievous. Their goal is to see who can accomplish their evil plans first. Each villain has their own unique goal; for example, Darth Vader wins if he defeats Luke Skywalker, while Gideon must capture Baby Yoda. This game is perfect for the Star Wars fan in your life, especially if they’re intrigued by the dark side.
Sail the open seas as swashbuckling pirates in Forgotten Waters, a story-filled board game that’s essentially a choose-your-own-adventure tale but a lot more fun. Three to seven players get to be pirates sailing together on a ship, each with their own goals and attributes. Your loved one will have a variety of missions to choose from, be it discovering a sunken treasure or hunting a legendary sea monster. The game comes with five scenarios already, but there’s a DLC you can get online that adds a new scenario and over 100 new events, which bodes well for the game’s replayability.
The Chameleon is a party game for three to eight players where one person is given the role of the Chameleon, while the rest tries to figure out who they are. A Secret Word is then revealed to everyone, except the Chameleon, who must play along so that they don’t get discovered. Each player will have to say a word relating to the Secret Word, while the Chameleon has to make an educated guess based on the available clues. This bluffing-deduction game only takes 15 minutes per round, which makes it ideal for parties or family gatherings.
Named after the Moorish decorative tiles of the Alhambra palace in Spain, Azul is a game where players compete against each other to create beautiful tiled mosaics. Two to four players take turns drafting colored tiles to their player boards with the goal of scoring as many points as possible while also preventing their opponents from doing the same. Extra points will be given to those who create particular patterns or collect sets of the same color. Easy to learn but tough to master, Azul is a great gift for those who are new to gaming or just anyone who enjoys strategic puzzles.
Perhaps you have a loved one who wouldn’t mind playing tabletop games, but isn’t into nerdy themes like fighting monsters or defeating zombies? Or maybe he or she is simply a fan of nature? Then Wingspan could very well be the gateway board game for them. This game has been on our list in the past, but we still recommend it as it’s a long-time favorite. In it, players are bird enthusiasts looking to discover and attract the best birds to their wildlife preserve. It comes with a super helpful quick start guide to help new players start playing without having to go through the whole rulebook (which, itself is pretty easy to understand).
The game is one of the most gorgeous we’ve seen, with beautiful pastel-colored egg miniatures, a dice tower that looks like a bird house, and thoughtfully arranged components; it even comes with a bird-decorated card holder. Plus, the game can be educational, as players learn a thing or two in the process about bird species, from the burrowing owl to the scissor-tailed flycatcher.
It’s easy to assume that the best gadget gifts are the most expensive things. But there are plenty of options out there for the techie in your life that don’t require you to empty your wallet. If you’re struggling to come up with the right present for an early adopter or a tech obsessive, we’ve gathered some of our favorite things that are both small and affordable. The best part: Everything comes in at $50 or less.
Chromecast with Google TV
If you’re at a loss when it comes to a good, cheap gift for the techie in your life, you can’t go wrong with a Chromecast. Google has two models available now: the $50 4K Chromecast with Google TV and the new, $30 model that supports FHD streaming. Like previous Chromecasts, these let you stream movies and TV shows from major services like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu andHBO Max, among many others.
The Google TV interface has always been pretty easy to navigate, but it’s simpler than ever thanks to the remote that comes included with both Chromecasts. It has an Assistant button, giving you quick access to voice commands, plus a circular D-pad, shortcut buttons for YouTube and Netflix, and support for HDMI-CEC and IR, allowing you to control your entire TV with it. And, unlike larger set-top boxes or smart TVs that your recipient may already have, the Chromecast is portable, so they can take it with them to make binge-watching their favorite shows easier when they’re not at home.
The best gifts for the Nintendo Switch lover in your life are those that let them play games anywhere and everywhere more easily. 8BitDo’s Lite 2 controller does exactly that by giving them a more convenient controller to use with their Switch, or an extra option or two to play with friends while on the go. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, but that doesn’t mean it compromises on ergonomics. The Lite 2 has joysticks and shaped trigger buttons, things that are often left off of ultra-compact and super affordable controllers. Plus, it supports customizable turbo functionality. It also pairs wirelessly with the Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite, and it works with Android devices and Raspberry Pi, too. Lastly, it powers up via USB-C, so chances are your giftee already has a charging cable ready to use with their new controller.
Every new phone claims to have better battery life than the one that came before it, and that may be true in some cases, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be enough juice for everyone every day. If you know someone who constantly uses their phone until it reaches one percent, Anker’s 511 Power Bank would make a great gift for them. It’s a 5,000 mAh portable battery and a power adapter in one, so they can use it in two ways: to fast-charge their phone when they’re near a wall outlet or recharge the device when they’re out and about. It has a built-in plug for wall usage, but it folds down into the device when you’re not using it, keeping the whole thing pretty compact. We like that it’s basically a little bit bigger than a tube of lipstick, and all your giftee needs on hand to use it is a USB-C cable.
Most of us have someone in our lives who misplaces everything — their keys, wallet, purse or backpack, the list goes on. If that person happens to also own an iPhone, AirTags make great gifts and you can buy one for only $30. (You could even throw in an AirTag case for them and still spend less than $50.) These quarter-sized Bluetooth trackers pair almost immediately with iOS devices and can then be tracked using the Find My app.
You can use them to keep track of nearly anything, but they work best on items that take clips or keyrings or things like backpacks that have small pockets. In addition to showing their location, the Find My app also lets you force the AirTag to play a loud chime so you can more easily find it in your home. And if you’re close enough to the missing item, Apple’s Precision Finding feature can literally guide you to it using the tech in your iPhone’s U1 chip.
It never hurts to have an extra bag with you whenever you go out. Whether you’re going to pick up groceries and know you’ll need one, or you’re heading out with friends and unexpectedly pick up a few things, a lightweight tote bag is crucial. There are thousands of options out there, but we like Peak Design’s Packable tote because it doesn’t have the typical reusable bag design and it remains fairly affordable at only $20.
The bag is made of 100-percent recycled ripstop nylon, which is resilient and as well as water resistant, and it has a zip closure, which is something most other reusable bags don’t have. It’ll keep your items more secure thanks to that, and it’s easier to carry in different ways thanks to its single shoulder/hand strap that sports microfiber padding for extra comfort. We also like that it has an interior pocket that can hold a phone, wallet or keys, and it takes up a surprisingly little amount of space when it’s packed into itself.
There are dozens of mice out there, and if you’re buying gifts on a budget, it can be easy to get distracted by the ultra-cheap options from unfamiliar brands on sites like Amazon. But Logitech, a leader in this space, has some budget-friendly options as well and we like the Signature M650 mouse for most people. Not only is it lightweight and made of recycled materials, but you have a number of ergonomic options to choose from. It comes in regular and large sizes, plus you can pick from right- or left-hand orientation, which really just changes the placement of the device’s customizable side buttons. It has Logitech’s SmartWheel scrolling technology, which provides more precision when you need to scroll line by line, and it connects to computers via Bluetooth or a Logi Bolt receiver. But the best part might be its two-year battery life; your giftee will only have to replace the mouse’s two AA batteries once in a blue moon.
If someone you love recently got their hands on a PS5, it’s probably the only thing they care about at the moment. Gifting them the PS5 Media Remote can take their experience using their new console to the next level. It essentially gives them a better way to control the device when they want to use it as an entertainment portal. The compact remote has dedicated media controls that let them easily play/pause, fast forward and otherwise navigate, along with quick-launch buttons for services like Netflix and YouTube. Those service-specific buttons even work when the console is powered off, too. Plus, if they have a compatible TV, they’ll be able to use the Media Remote to turn it on and off and adjust the volume.
Whether your loved one just picked up a new iPhone 14 or is still running on an older model, an extra charger will be of use to them. Anker’s latest bundle that includes its new Nano 3 30W charger and bio-base USB-C to Lightning cable will give them everything they need to power up their phone, tablet, earbuds and even their MacBook Air. The 30W output allows this tiny adapter to charge a variety of devices, plus it’s foldable so it’ll disappear into their bag. We also like that it uses GaN technology to keep it compact, but also for better heat management.
As for the cable, it’s one of Anker’s newest and it’s made out of plant-based materials rather than petroleum-based plastic like many others. While this may not seem like the most exciting gift, it’ll definitely be one of the most useful your loved one receives. Charging accessories are often things we buy at the last minute, like right before you board a plane as you remember you forgot your cable or adapter at home. A gift like this one might prevent them from feeling that panic in the future.
If someone you love just moved into their own place, a Blink Mini would make a thoughtful housewarming gift. The compact camera plugs into a regular wall outlet and monitors activity inside the home, detecting motion and sound and delivering alerts to their phones via the Blink mobile app. It records in 1080p and supports two-way talk as well, so they can soothe their overly-excited pets even when they’re not home. We also like that the Blink Mini works with Alexa devices, so if they have an Echo Show 5 or similar device at home, they can use it to see the Blink Mini’s video feed without even opening the mobile app.
Maybe you have a tech lover in your life or someone who just wishes their home could be a bit smarter – if so, TP-Link’s Kasa smart plugs would make a great gift for them. Building up a smart home ecosystem from scratch can be intimidating, but starting off with smart plugs like these is a convenient and mostly stress-free way of doing it. These blocks plug into standard wall outlets and then turn whatever they plug into them into app-controllable gadgets. That means they can set a schedule for their coffee maker to turn on at the precise time each morning so it’s ready to go for them when they need to make a new pot. They could also use Away Mode to automatically turn on and off lights when they’re on vacation to make it seem like they’re actually home. Those are just a few things these smart plugs let you do with otherwise “dumb” items around your home, so your giftee can go as deep with it as they want.
It’s important to keep your dozens of accounts safe with two-factor authentication whenever possible, and Yubico’s Yubikey NFC 5 is a good way to do so. It’s a physical key that you can use to authenticate when you’re trying to log in to accounts like Dropbox, Lastpass, Gmail and others. It uses the USB-A port on your device or NFC to validate your login attempt, and it’s small enough to fit on a keychain and come with you wherever you go. This model specifically works with USB-A connections, but if you’re willing to spend slightly more than $50, you can get the USB-C version that has all the same features.
There are few things worse for a gamer than their controller running out of battery in the middle of a session. Whether they have a backup ready to go or not, it’s a stumble that can totally throw them off their game – especially if they have to fumble around for another option while also looking for the charger for the dead peripheral. Panasonic’s Eneloop rechargeable batteries can be a big help for them in times like this by providing an easily accessible power swap for Xbox controllers and the like that run on AA or AAA cells. These also come with a quick charger that has level indicators for each battery, plus it’s capable of fully powering up four AA batteries in only three hours.
Maybe someone you love just got a new phone and can’t stop talking about it, showing it off, and coming very close to dropping it on a regular basis. You can help them protect it by gifting them a case that not only provides extra cushion against falls and scratches, but also expresses their personality a bit. There are hundreds of phone case brands out there, but a few that we constantly turn to are Incipio, Case-Mate, Speck, Spigen and Smartish. Speck and Spigen are great for no-frills kind of people; most of their phone cases are slick, protective and come in a variety of attractive colors. Incipio is similar, but they also have their excellent Organicore line of compostable cases that make thoughtful gifts for the eco-conscious. Case-Mate and Smartish are great options for those who would like something more fun. Think: psychedelic flowers, outer space prints, glitter explosions and other similar designs.
It didn’t take long for the Apple Watch to become perhaps the most ubiquitous wearable. Even more so than the iPhone, the Apple Watch is a device you can truly make your own with the right accessories. It is, after all, a watch, and like traditional timepieces it’s meant to reflect your personal style. While the most obvious way to customize your Apple Watch is with funky bands, there are cases, stands, wireless chargers and other accessories you can buy that can inject a bit of you into all aspects of Apple Watch ownership. We tested out a bunch of Apple Watch accessories to see which are worth your money.
While plenty of us use cases to protect our smartphones from drops and scrapes, you may not think to use a protective case for your smartwatch. After all, a device that’s literally strapped to your body isn’t as prone to accidental drops as a device that moves in and out of your pocket all day. Chalk it up to me being clumsy, but I’ve knocked my Apple Watch on more door frames than I’d like to admit. For less than $25, a case is a good option if you don’t want to take any chances with that $279-plus smartwatch on your wrist.
“Cases” are basically bumpers that surround the edges of the Apple Watch, and some of them even cover the screen. I personally prefer a bumper-style case because, if I’m going to cover the display, it’ll be with a dedicated screen protector. Spigen’s line of Apple Watch cases are solid and they come in two different levels of bulk. The Rugged Armor series has a shock-absorbent layer and raised bezels, making it especially well suited for those who prioritize protection over fashion. Spigen’s Thin Fit series is more my speed: It sits flush against the Watch’s display, but still gives you an extra layer of protection. You can even choose a color that matches your Watch to help it blend in. Two added perks of Spigen’s cases are that they snap on quickly and easily, and they’re quite affordable at around $14 a piece.
If you don’t want the extra bulk that comes with a case, a screen protector will give you at least a bit more of a safeguard than sporting a naked Watch. Zagg’s InvisibleShield line is a reliable one that provides shatter protection, clarity and enhanced touch-sensitivity. When installed properly (Zagg gives you clear instructions and all the tools you need to do so), you’ll probably forget you have a screen protector on your Watch. This accessory blends in almost seamlessly with the Watch’s hardware, and if you do accidentally ding the screen, the protector should take all of the damage.
The latest Apple Watches don’t come with power adapters, so you’ll have to dig one out of your drawer or get a new one to charge it up. Choosing the latter is probably best since Series 7 owners will get a new, USB-C-toting cable, so you’ll need an appropriate adapter to get all of that fast-charging goodness. Anker’s 20W Nano Pro is a good pick because it’s compact and has a few safety features built in. Inside is a dynamic temperature sensor that helps prevent overheating, plus a power tuner chip that helps adjust output based on your device. That second feature is likely more important than the first if you’re primarily using this tiny brick with your Apple Watch, but both will be handy if you ever need to use it with your iPhone. What’s more, the Nano Pro can fast charge iPhone 13s, providing a 50-percent top-up in only 25 minutes, and you can get one that matches the color of your handset if you wish.
Apple makes one of the more elegant solutions to charging your iPhone and Apple Watch while traveling. The $129 MagSafe Duo has spaces to wirelessly charge both devices and folds up into a neat square when not in use. The Apple Watch pad flips upward as well, allowing you to use the gadget in Nighttime mode while it’s charging. While this wireless charger does come with a USB-C to Lightning cable to provide power to the system, it does not come with an AC adapter so you will have to remember to pack your own.
Apple Watch chargers are a bit different than Lightning cables in the sense that you probably have only one of the former and many of the latter. Those who travel or commute often should consider getting a second Apple Watch charger, that way you’re not stuck if you forget to pack your one and only before a long weekend trip. Belkin’s Boost Charge Pro portable fast charger is a great option, particularly for those who have a Series 7. The square pad uses Apple’s new fast wireless-charging module, so it’ll be able to power up the Series 7 from 0 to 80 percent in roughly 45 minutes.
You can simply sit your timepiece on the module to charge, but it also flips up so you can use the Watch in Nightstand mode while it’s powering up on your bedside table. To support different Watch sizes and protective cases, the pad also has a dial on its underside that lets you adjust the height of the charging module. Plus, the attached USB-C cable that tucks away on the bottom of the pad is four feet long, giving you a bit more placement flexibility than other chargers.
The main drawback is its $60 list price, but those strapped for cash should consider Anker’s version, which is very similar to Belkins and only $43. It won’t fast-charge the Series 7, but it will power up the device just like it would a Series 6 or earlier. I also prefer how the attached USB-C cable coils up into the base on this one – it’s a bit neater than Belkin’s solution.
You’ll likely have your Apple Watch strapped to your wrist while traveling, but it’s a good idea to have a pouch or case that can hold the gadget along with any accessories you need when you’re not wearing it. Bellroy’s Compact Tech Kit is an attractive option not only because of its minimalist design, but the multiple loops and pockets on the inside. It can easily hold your Apple Watch charging cable, an AC adapter and a few extra bands, and you’ll still have space for things like AirPods, a Lightning cable for your iPhone and even a larger power adapter for your laptop. If you don’t mind something a bit more utilitarian, Bagsmart’s small travel organizer is a good option that also costs just $22.
If you want to use the Apple Watch’s handy Nightstand mode while it’s charging, I’ve found that Watch holders can make the experience much better. My Watch often topples over or rolls about when I simply trust it to sit on its side next to my bed, but that’s easily fixed with a stand. Elago’s stands may be simple, but they have a lot of personality, coming in colorful dome shapes and in the forms of retro tech. The biggest problem with them, particularly the dome stands, is that they can be prone to sliding around on your desk or nightstand if there’s any tension on your charging cable. But they hold the Apple Watch well and, at under $15, they’re affordable ways to inject more personality into your accessory game.
We previously recommended Spigen’s $12 S350 charging stand as another basic option, but we’d now opt to upgrade to the PowerArc ArcField wireless charger. Coming in at $50, this one looks almost identical to the S350 stand but it comes with an Apple Watch charging module built in, plus an attached, 6.6-foot USB-C cable. It also comes with a few rubber pads of different heights, allowing you to adjust the stand to the right height based on your Watch’s size and if you have a case protecting it. While it costs more than a standard silicone charging stand for your Apple Watch, it’s worth it for the additional charging power – plus if it does become your main home charger, that frees up the charging cable that came with the Apple Watch to be your on-the-go option.
You probably made your way to this guide because you are an Apple Watch owner and want to deck it out. But if you haven’t made the purchase yet, consider using the Apple Watch Studio to customize the timepiece's watch band to your liking. Doing so will let you choose the precise band style and color you want, and there are definitely a few that are worth getting directly from Apple. Both the Sport Band and the Sport Loop are good basic strap options for everyday and exercise use, but you can find alternatives for much less elsewhere.
Apple’s Solo Loop is a good one if you just want to slip your Watch on in the morning without worrying about notches or buckles — just make sure you get the right size when you order. I’m also partial to the Nike Sport Band because its carefully placed holes make it breathable and extra comfortable for working out. But if you want that one, you’ll have to buy the Apple Watch Nike edition, which is just a regular Watch with the Nike+ Run Club app preinstalled.
But if you or your loved one already have an Apple Watch, it’s easy to find additional bands, from leather to stainless steel, across the web. When it comes to basic silicone straps, you can find packs of three to six bands for less than $20 but the quality may be questionable. Look for brands with many high ratings on Amazon if you insist on getting the best bang for your buck. You can also use FakeSpot’s Amazon integration to get an idea for how trustworthy a product’s reviews are.
A few reputable brands that make Apple Watch bands are Spigen, Elago and Casetify. Spigen’s Silicone Fit band feels the most similar to Apple’s Sport Band. The strap material is soft, comfortable and it’s a hair thinner than Apple’s watch strap. The biggest difference is that you’ll pay around $10 for one of Spigen’s bands as opposed to $50 for one of Apple’s.
Elago’s Sport Bands are made of fluoro-rubber material, so they’re a bit thicker and more substantial than Apple’s standard silicone watch band. They also have traditional buckle closures, giving them a style that better transitions from workouts to workplaces. They are a good option if you like the simplicity of Apple’s own bands but don’t want to shell out $50 for one.
Casetify occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, offering printed and customizable Apple Watch straps that truly stand out. They come in metal, leather, silicone and recycled plastic and you can get as specific as you want. There are plenty of solid colors to choose from as well as dozens of floral and animal prints. Casetify also has trendy collaborations with Disney, Netflix’s Squid Game and other pop-culture heavyweights, and even bands you can personalize with your recipient’s name or initials. While Casetify’s straps are on the expensive side, ranging from $40 to $72, it’s a price worth paying if you absolutely must have a band that fits your style to a tee.
Computer monitors keep evolving rapidly, with new technology like OLED Flex, QD-OLED and built-in smart platforms just in the last year alone. That’s on top of big improvements in things like color accuracy, size and resolution.
The choice is nice but overwhelming, as there are a lot of products in this market and a lot of features. Buyers now have to consider things like HDR, brightness, color accuracy, type of display technology, input lag and more. And then there are the usual considerations like size, adjustability, inputs and so on.
To help you with all that, we’ve researched the latest models for all kinds of markets, whether you’re a gamer, business user or content creator. Read on to find out which model is the best for you and, especially, your budget.
The cheapest monitors are still TN (twisted nematic), which are strictly for gaming or office use. VA (vertical alignment) monitors are also relatively cheap, while offering good brightness and high contrast ratios. However, content creators will probably want an IPS (in-plane switching) LCD display that delivers better color accuracy, image quality and viewing angles.
If maximum brightness is important, a quantum dot LCD display is the way to go — those are typically found in larger displays. OLED monitors are now available and offer the best blacks and color reproduction, but they lack the brightness of LED or quantum dot displays. Plus, they cost a lot. The latest type of OLED monitor, called QD-OLED from Samsung, just came out this year. The most notable advantage is that it can get a lot brighter, with monitors shown at CES 2022 hitting up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness.
MiniLEDs are now widely used in high-end displays. They’re similar to quantum dot tech, but as the name suggests, it uses smaller LED diodes that are just 0.2mm in diameter. As such, manufacturers can pack in up to three times more LEDs with more local dimming zones, delivering deeper blacks and better contrast.
Screen size, resolution and display format
In this day and age, screen size rules. Where 24-inch displays used to be more or less standard (and can still be useful for basic computing), 27-, 32-, 34- and even 42-inch displays have become popular for entertainment, content creation and even gaming these days.
Nearly every monitor used to be 16:9, but it’s now possible to find 16:10 and other more exotic display shapes. On the gaming and entertainment side, we’re also seeing very wide and curved monitors with aspect ratios like 21:9. If you do decide to buy an ultrawide display, however, keep in mind that a 30-inch 21:9 model is the same height as a 24-inch monitor, so you might end up with a smaller display than you expected. As a rule of thumb, add 25 percent to the size of a 21:9 monitor to get the vertical height you’d expect from a 16:9 model.
4K is nearly a must for content creators, and some folks are even going for 5K or all the way up to 8K. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need a pretty powerful computer to drive all those pixels. And 4K should be paired with a screen size of 27 inches and up, or you won’t notice much difference between 1440p. At the same time, I wouldn’t get a model larger than 27 inches unless it’s 4K, as you’ll start to see pixelation if you’re working up close to the display.
One new category to consider is portable monitors designed to be carried and used with laptops. Those typically come in 1080p resolutions and sizes from 13-15 inches. They usually have a lightweight kickstand-type support that folds up to keep things compact.
HDR is the buzzy monitor feature to have these days, as it adds vibrancy to entertainment and gaming – but be careful before jumping in. Some monitors that claim HDR on the marketing materials don’t even conform to a base standard. To be sure that a display at least meets minimum HDR specs, you’ll want to choose one with a DisplayHDR rating with each tier representing maximum brightness in nits.
However, the lowest DisplayHDR 400 and 500 tiers may disappoint you with a lack of brightness, washed out blacks and mediocre color reproduction. If you can afford it, choose a model with DisplayHDR 600, 1000 or True Black 400, True Black 500 and True Black 600. The True Black settings are designed primarily for OLED models, with maximum black levels at .0005 nits.
Where televisions typically offer HDR10 and Dolby Vision or HDR10+, most PC monitors only support the HDR10 standard, other than a few (very expensive) models. That doesn’t matter much for content creation or gaming, but HDR streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other services won’t look quite as punchy. In addition, most models supporting HDR600 (and up) are gaming, rather than content creation monitors – with a few exceptions.
Refresh rate is a key feature, particularly on gaming monitors. A bare minimum nowadays is 60Hz, and 80Hz refresh rates and up are much easier on the eyes. However, most 4K displays top out at 60Hz with some rare exceptions and the HDMI 2.0 spec only supports 4K at 60Hz, so you’d need at least DisplayPort 1.4 (4K at 120Hz) or HDMI 2.1. The latter is now available on a number of monitors, particularly gaming displays. However, it’s only supported on the latest NVIDIA RTX 3000- and 4000-series, AMD RX 6000-series GPUs.
There are essentially three types of modern display inputs: Thunderbolt, DisplayPort and HDMI. Most monitors built for PCs come with the latter two, while a select few (typically built for Macs) will use Thunderbolt. To add to the confusion, USB-C ports may be Thunderbolt 3 and by extension, DisplayPort compatible, so you may need a USB-C to Thunderbolt or DisplayPort cable adapter depending on your display.
Color bit depth
Serious content content creators should consider a more costly 10-bit monitor that can display billions of colors. If budget is an issue, you can go for an 8-bit panel that can fake billions of colors via dithering (often spec’d as “8-bit + FRC”). For entertainment or business purposes, a regular 8-bit monitor that can display millions of colors will be fine.
The other aspect of color is the gamut. That expresses the range of colors that can be reproduced and not just the number of colors. Most good monitors these days can cover the sRGB and Rec.709 gamuts (designed for photos and video respectively). For more demanding work, though, you’ll want one that can reproduce more demanding modern gamuts like AdobeRGB, DCI-P3 and Rec.2020 gamuts, which encompass a wider range of colors. The latter two are often used for film projection and HDR, respectively.
Both the Xbox Series X and Sony’s PS5 can handle 4K 120Hz HDR gaming, so if you’re into resolution over pure speed, you’ll want a monitor that can keep up. 4K resolution, HDR and at least 120Hz is the minimum starting point, but fortunately there are 27-inch displays with those specs starting at well under $1,000.
Pricing and parts shortages
Though the pandemic has eased, monitor supply is still a bit tighter than pre-pandemic levels due to supply and demand issues. To that end, you may have trouble finding monitors at Amazon, B&H or elsewhere for the suggested retail price. For our guide below, we’re basing our picks on the MSRP, as long as the street price doesn’t exceed that by more than $25.
Best monitors under $200
The monitor with the best balance of size, refresh rate and color accuracy is Samsung’s $160 27-inch 1080p T35F. It’s good for business or light gaming and content work, thanks to the IPS panel and 75Hz refresh rate. Plus, it’s fairly attractive and modern looking. There are some things you don’t get at that price, of course – it can only tilt and has an HDMI 1.4 connection.
If you’re fine with a smaller display and are more into gaming, another solid option is LG’s 24-inch 24GL600F. It offers a high 144Hz refresh rate with AMD FreeSync support, a 1ms response time and low input lag. You also get HDMI and DisplayPort inputs, but like the T35F, there’s no height adjustment.
The $33028-inch HP U28 4K HDR monitor is a great all around choice, especially for content creators. The 60Hz IPS panel and factory calibration delivers excellent color accuracy and it’s a nice size for creative or business work. It comes with DisplayPort, HDMI and three USB 3.0 ports, along with a USB-C port with 65W of charging for a laptop or tablet. And it’s easy to set just right, thanks to height, swivel and pivot adjustment.
If gaming is more your thing, the $300 Gigabyte G27QC is a top pick. The 27-inch, 1440p curved panel has an ideal size and resolution for gaming, and it has a quick 165Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time. You can connect via HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 connections and get HDR support – albeit, without DisplayHDR certification.
The $400 BenQ 27-inch 2K QHD HDR model is ideal for creative work, particularly photo editing and graphic design. While resolution is limited to 1440p, it covers 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut with a “Delta E” accuracy value of less than 3 for consistent color performance. You also get height, pivot and swivel adjustment (a full 90 degrees), with HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.4 and USB-C daisy chaining and 65W power delivery.
The 32-inch LG 32UN650-W is a great 4K monitor for entertainment, creative chores and gaming. The 31.5-inch, 60Hz IPS panel covers an excellent 95 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut with 10-bit color, but also supports AMD FreeSync for gaming. It also supports HDR, albeit with just 350 nits of maximum brightness. It has HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 ports, tilt and height adjustments and even built-in speakers.
Sometimes speed rules over size and resolution, and the $500 24.5-inch 1080p ASUS ROG Swift PG256QN is fast. It maxes out at a 360Hz refresh rate (with NVIDIA G-Sync support) and 1ms GtG response time. At the same time, you get 1.07 billion colors with HDR support (up to 400 nits brightness) so you can see your enemies quickly and clearly. Other niceties include a fully adjustable stand, ASUS’s GamePlus Hotkey Enhancements and a large heatsink.
Gigabyte’s M28U 28-inch 144Hz 4K gaming monitor sure does a lot. It has an IPS panel with a 2ms (MPRT) response time, 94 percent DCI-P3 coverage, DisplayHDR 400 certification, 2 HDMI 2.1 ports and FreeSync Premium Pro support. It comes in a little bit more expensive than $500, but we've often seen it on sale for $480.
In this price range you can have resolution, color accuracy or brightness, but not all three. The one with the best balance is ViewSonic’s $1,000 ColorPro VP2786 27-inch 4K HDR Monitor. The true 10-bit IPS panel covers 98 percent of the DCI-P3 color palette with an excellent Delta <2 accuracy figure, and is certified for soft-proofing by the demanding Fogra print industry. At the same time, it offers HDR10 support, albeit with a limited 350 nits of output. It even includes a “ColorPro” wheel control compatible with Adobe or Capture One apps.
The best 4K gaming monitor under $1,000 is Dell’s G3223Q 4K 32-inch HDR 144Hz monitor because of the speed, brightness and compatibility. It has an IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, 1ms GtG response time, 95 percent DCI-P3 coverage and DisplayHDR 600 certification. Plus, it comes with a pair of HDMI 2.1 ports and is both FreeSync and G-Sync compatible.
Dell’s P3223QE 4K USB-C Hub monitor is productivity-oriented, thanks to the wired Ethernet connectivity and USB-C ports that offer up to 90W of power delivery for laptops. It’s a 4K IPS panel with a 178-degree viewing angle and 350 nits of brightness and support for a billion colors (8-bit + FRC). It offers height, pivot, swivel and tilt adjustment, a VESA mounting interface and DisplayPort/HDMI inputs.
In general, monitor compatibility issues with MacBooks and Macs are a thing of the past, though you can still experience issues with things like refresh rates, particularly on M1 Macs. If you’d prefer to stay within the Apple family, the most cost-effective option is still the $1,600 27-inch Apple Studio Display. It supports 5K resolution (5,120 x 2,880) with up to 600 nits of brightness, so it can handle creative chores with ease. It even includes a 12-megapixel UltraWide camera that keeps you in frame via Center Stage, along with a three-mic array.
The best third-party option is LG’s $700 UltraFine 4 display, also sold on Apple’s Store. With a 24-inch 4K panel, you not only get very high resolution but also 500 nits of brightness (albeit, without HDR capability). It’s color-accurate out of the box, making it great for video- and photo-editing work on a Mac or MacBook. Finally, it supports Thunderbolt 3 with daisy chaining and power delivery, all of which is very useful for Mac users who may want multiple displays.
Ultrawide 21:9 monitors are a great option for some types of content creation, games (particularly driving and flight sims) and productivity work. The best model this year is LG’s 34GP950G-B, a 34-inch 3,440 x 1,440 curved monitor. The curved IPS panel supports HDR10 with 400 nits of brightness and maximum (via overclocking) 180Hz refresh rate. It’s also G-Sync and FreeSync compatible (the latter over DisplayPort only).
For the best balance of performance and price, LePow’s 15.6-inch, 1080p $200 C2S is a solid option. It offers decent brightness (220 nits), solid contrast and a very respectable 96.1-percent sRGB gamut coverage. You get a generous selection of ports (one mini-DisplayPort, one mini-HDMI port and two USB-C ports, along with a headphone jack. The metal stand is solid and practical, and it even has built-in speakers of decent quality.
ASUS still holds the prize for best luxury monitor, but it discontinued the previous mini-LED $4,000 ProArt PA32UCX monitor and replaced it with the $5,000 PA32UCG-K display. It uses the same mini-LED tech, but ups the ante with 1,600 nits of brightness via 1,152 backlight zones, an HDMI 2.1 port, 4K 120Hz resolution, 10-bit, 98 percent DCI-P3 coverage and an impressive 85 percent Rec.2020 coverage. Oh, and it’s one of the few monitors out there that supports Dolby Vision, along with HDR10 and HLG.
You’re probably doing it wrong if you’re using a $5K monitor for gaming. However, it does support AMD FreeSync (good for gaming creation) and has a 5-millisecond response time, very respectable for a display essentially designed for professional colorists. And to that end, color accuracy is calibrated to Delta E < 1 and it’s a true 10-bit panel delivering billions of colors. To verify that, it even comes with an X-rite i1 Display Pro color calibrator, normally sold separately for around $500.
On top of this model, ASUS now makes several slightly less bright and less expensive variants, namely the $4,180 PA32UCX-PK, (plus -P, and -K variants with slightly different features), offering 1,200 nits of brightness and a 60Hz (not 120Hz) refresh rate. Specs are nearly identical otherwise.
If you’re a regular Engadget reader, you probably don’t think of cheap Windows laptops when you think of daily drivers. But it would be a big mistake to ignore these devices — if not for yourself, for others you may know. There’s a reason why companies like Acer, ASUS, Dell and the like make Windows devices under $500 — lots of people have strict budgets to adhere to and others just don’t need the power that comes with a flagship laptop.
Affordable Windows notebooks are great options for people that only use a computer to check email, shop online or post on Facebook. (Hello, mom and dad?) They’re also good for kids who have no business putting their sticky little hands on a $2,000 gaming rig. And, depending on what you need them for, these devices can be decent daily drivers, too.
Now, you may be inclined to recommend a Chromebook or a tablet to all of the people listed above. Those instincts aren’t wrong, but Chromebooks and tablets aren’t for everyone. Tablets will only work for the most mobile-competent users like kids who have been grabbing smartphones out of their parents’ hands since they’ve been dexterous enough to do so. Tablets can also be just as expensive as some of the cheapest Windows laptops, and that’s without a mouse or keyboard.
Chromebooks are a good alternative for those that basically live in a browser. However, there are some who just don’t want to give up the “traditional desktop.” And Chrome OS is more limited than Windows when it comes to the programs you can install and run.
What Windows laptops do well
So what can you realistically accomplish on a cheap Windows laptop? Quite a bit, especially if you’re doing one thing (or a limited number of things) at a time. They’re great for web browsing, checking email, video streaming and more — but, yes, all of those things can be done on Chromebooks as well. Windows laptops have a big advantage, though, in Microsoft Office. While yes, there is a browser based version, the native, desktop apps are considered a must have for many and will run smoothly on even the most bare-bones budget laptop. The only caveat is that you may run into some slowdown on low-powered devices if you’re working with large data sets in Excel or a lot of photos and graphics in Powerpoint.
When it comes to specs, a bright spot for Windows laptops is storage. Even the most affordable devices tend to have at least 128GB SSDs. That will come in handy if you prefer to keep your most important files saved locally on your laptop. In contrast, cheaper Chromebooks often have less storage because they’re built on the assumption that you’ll save all of your documents in the cloud. Not only is that less convenient when you need to work offline, but it also limits the size of programs and files that you can download. So, not great for hoarding Netflix shows before a long trip or using a Chromebook as a gaming laptop.
Windows also has thousands of apps that you can download from its app store. Chromebooks have some Chrome apps, numerous browser extensions and the ability to download Android apps, but quality control is… inconsistent. Android apps, in particular, often haven’t been optimized for Chrome OS, which makes for a wonky user experience. Windows may not have as many apps as Android, but at least the experience is fairly standard across the board.
Windows also gives you the ability to download and use programs from other sources, like direct from the developer. You can run things like Adobe Creative Suite, certain VPNs and programs like GIMP, Audacity and ClipMate on a Windows device, which just isn’t possible on Chrome OS. Chromebooks limit you to the apps and programs in The Play Store and the Chrome Extensions store, reducing any others to unusable, space-sucking icons in your Downloads folder.
What to look for in a cheap Windows laptop
While you can do a lot even when spending little on a Windows laptop, you must set your expectations accordingly. The biggest downside when purchasing a budget laptop (of any kind, really) is limited power. Many Windows laptops under $500 run on Intel Celeron or Pentium processors, but you can find some with Core i3/i5 and AMD Ryzen 3/5 CPUs at the higher end of the price spectrum.
Specs to look for in a sub-$500 Windows laptop
Intel Core i or AMD Ryzen 3 processors
8GB of RAM
An SSD with at least 128GB of space
Mostly metal designs
We recommend getting the most powerful CPU you can afford because it will dictate how fast the computer will feel overall. RAM is also important because, the more you have, the easier it will be for the laptop to manage things like a dozen browser tabs while you edit a Word document and stream music in the background. However, with sub-$500 laptops, you’re better off getting the best CPU you can afford rather than a laptop with a ton of RAM because the CPU will have enough power to handle most tasks that cheap laptops are designed for (If you’re editing RAW images or 4K video, you’ll want to invest in more RAM… and a laptop well above $500).
When it comes to storage, consider how much you want to save locally. If you primarily work in Google Docs or save most things in the cloud, you may not need a machine with a ton of onboard storage. Just remember that your digital space will also be taken up by apps, so it may be worth getting a little extra storage than you think you need if you know you’ll be downloading big programs. A final side note: SSDs are ubiquitous at this point, not to mention faster and more efficient than HDDs, so we recommend getting a laptop with that type of storage.
You also don’t have to settle for an entirely plastic notebook either. There are options in the sub-$500 price range that are made, at least in part, with metals like aluminum. Those will not only be more attractive but also more durable. As for screens, there’s a healthy mix of HD and FHD options in this price range and we recommend springing for a notebook with a 1080p display if you can. Touchscreens aren’t as common in the under-$500 space as standard panels, but you’ll only really miss one if you get a 2-in-1 laptop.
A final note before we get to our picks: The best cheap laptop models change all the time. Unlike more expensive, flagship machines, these notebooks can be updated a couple times each year. That can make it hard to track down a specific model at Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart or any given retailer. We’ve listed some of our current favorite models below, but if you can’t find any of them available near you, just keep in mind our list of specs to look for in a cheap laptop – they’ll guide you to the best machines available at the moment.
Acer Aspire 5
Acer’s Aspire 5 series has been a reliable pick for quite some time now. Most recently, we tested out the A514-54-395V, which has a 14-inch 1080p display and runs on an 11th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Performance was similar to the previous Aspire 5 model that we tested, but you will find some design differences on the A514-54-395V. Namely, it’s a 14-inch machine, not a 15-inch one, and it doesn’t have a full number pad on the right side of the keyboard. It still has an aluminum top cover, which gives it a more premium feel, but Acer removed the backlight on the keyboard on this one, which is a bummer. Thankfully, though, the keyboard is just as comfortable to use as the one on the previous model.
In addition to new WiFi 6 support, the latest Acer Aspire 5 has an additional, crucial USB-C port. This was lacking on the previous model we tested, so we’re happy to see it included on this version. And it accompanies the ports that were already present: three USB-A connections, one HDMI socket, a headphone jack, a lock slot and a drop-jaw Ethernet port. As promised, Acer increased the average battery life on this model to 10 hours. On the previous model, we were clocking in roughly six hours of battery life, so this is a much-needed improvement.
Lenovo’s Flex 5 14 is a good alternative if you want a more portable laptop with a battery life that will keep you going all day long. It runs on an AMD Ryzen 3 4300 processor, with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and it’s accompanied by a 14-inch 1080p IPS display and an array of ports that includes one USB-C connection. If you care about future-proofing, that USB-C port will be critical. You may not have a lot of USB-C accessories right now, but that will most certainly change in the coming years.
The typing experience is also top-notch: while it doesn’t have a number pad, its keys have that rounded-bottom shape that’s similar to keys on Lenovo’s ThinkPad machines. They make a satisfying clicking sound while you’re typing, but they’re not loud enough to bother those around you.
And despite being a budget machine, the Lenovo Flex 5 14 isn’t flimsy. The palm rests don’t creak under pressure and it’s easy to carry this laptop one-handed around a room. I also appreciate its convertible design, which gives you more flexibility. And like most Lenovo machines, the Flex 5 14 has a webcam that you can cover with a physical shutter.
The Flex 5 14 also has the upper-hand over the Aspire 5 when it comes to battery life: The former lasted about 16.5 hours in our testing, whereas Acer’s machine lasted roughly 10 hours. That makes the Lenovo option the clear winner if you’re looking for a laptop that can last all day and then some.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Microsoft's new Surface Laptop Go 2 here, even though it starts at $600. It’s certainly a decent option to consider if you’re really into the Surface Go line. Undoubtedly, the Laptop Go 2 has one of the best designs you’ll find on any cheap Windows notebook, with a minimalist aesthetic, thin bezels surrounding its display and a relatively like 2.5-pound weight. It’s 12.4-inch PixelSense touchscreen has 1,536 x 1,024 resolution, and it’s still pretty crisp despite not being an FHD panel. You’re also getting a 720p webcam, a fairly comfortable keyboard (albeit with no backlight) and a port array that includes one USB-A connection, one USB-C socket, a headphone jack and a power slot.
In addition to the attractive design, another reason why you may want to spring for the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 is that even the base model runs on an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 processor. We found it to provide snappy performance, and you’ll probably notice a difference if you’re coming from a machine with a Core i3 processor or something even less powerful. We were also impressed by the Laptop Go 2’s battery life – it lasted nearly 15 hours in our testing, and since Microsoft improved the interior thermal system, you shouldn’t hear excessive fan noise when you’re using it.
There are two big downsides to the Laptop Go 2: the higher starting price and the base model’s 4GB of RAM. You’ll pay $600 for a machine with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and while those specs aren’t terrible, we usually recommend spring for a machine with at least 8GB of RAM. It’ll make multitasking much easier and more efficient, thereby improving your experience using the notebook in the long run. You’ll have to spend $700 to get that amount of memory in the Laptop Go 2, which is still cheaper than flagship notebooks, but not as affordable when compared with the other laptop computers we picked.
For a few years now, gaming laptops have been some of the most intriguing PCs around. They’ve gotten thinner and lighter, naturally — but they’ve also become vastly more powerful and efficient, making them suitable for both work and play. They’ve adopted some bold innovations, like rotating hinges and near desktop-like customizability. Gaming laptops are where PC makers can get adventurous.
If you’re a professional in the market for a beefy new computer, and you like to play a few rounds of Apex Legends on occasion, it may make more sense to go for a gaming notebook instead of a MacBook Pro-like workstation. You’ll still get plenty of power for video encoding and 3D rendering, plus you may end up paying less.
Your laptop buying journey starts and ends with the amount of money you're willing to spend. No surprise there. The good news: There are plenty of options for gamers of every budget. In particular, we're seeing some great choices under $1,000, like Dell's G15 lineup. PCs in this price range will definitely feel a bit flimsier than pricier models, and they'll likely skimp on RAM, storage and overall power. But they should be able to handle most games in 1080p at 60 frames per second, which is the bare minimum you'd want from any system.
Stepping up to mid-range options beyond $1,000 is where things get interesting. At that point, you'll start finding PCs like the ASUS Zephyrus ROG G14, one of our favorite gaming notebooks. In general, you can look forward to far better build quality than budget laptops (metal cases!), improved graphics power and enough RAM and storage space to handle the most demanding games. These are the notebooks we'd recommend for most people, as they'll keep you gaming and working for years before you need to worry about an upgrade.
If you're willing to spend around $1,800 or more, you can start considering more premium options like Razer's Blade. Expect impeccably polished cases, the fastest hardware on the market, and ridiculously thin designs. The sky's the limit here: Alienware's uber customizable Area 51m is an enormous beast that can cost up to $4,700. Few people need a machine that pricey, but if you're a gamer with extra cash to burn, it may be worth taking a close look at some of these pricier systems.
What kind of CPU and GPU do you want?
The answer to this question used to be relatively simple: Just get an Intel chip with an NVIDIA GPU. But over the last few years, AMD came out swinging with its Ryzen notebook processors, which are better suited for juggling multiple tasks at once (like streaming to Twitch while blasting fools in Fortnite). Intel responded with its impressive 12th-gen chips, but it’s nice to have decent AMD alternatives available, especially since they’re often cheaper than comparable Intel models.
When it comes to video cards, though, AMD is still catching up. Its Radeon RX 6000M GPU has been a fantastic performer in notebooks like ASUS’s ROG Strix G15, but it still lags behind NVIDIA when it comes to newer features like ray tracing. But at least a Radeon-powered notebook ht can approach the general gaming performance of NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 and 3080 GPU.
If you want to future-proof your purchase, or you’re just eager to see how much better ray tracing can make your games look, you’re probably better off with an NVIDIA video card. They’re in far more systems, and it’s clear that NVIDIA has better optimized ray tracing technology. RTX GPUs also feature the company’s DLSS technology, which uses AI to upscale games to higher resolutions. That’ll let you play a game like Destiny 2 in 4K with faster frame rates. That’s useful if you’re trying to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor.
NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 is a decent entry point, but we think you’d be better off with at least an RTX 3060 for solid 1080p and 1440p performance. The RTX 3070, meanwhile, is the best balance of price and performance. It’ll be able to run many games in 4K with the help of DLSS, and it can even tackle demanding titles like Control. NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 and 3080 Ti are the king of the hill; you’ll pay a premium for any machine that includes them.
It’s worth noting that NVIDIA’s mobile GPUs aren’t directly comparable to its more powerful desktop hardware. PC makers can also tweak voltages to make it perform better in a thinner case. Basically, don’t be surprised if you see notebooks that perform very differently, even if they’re all equipped with the same GPU.
What kind of screen do you want?
Screen size is a good place to start when judging gaming notebooks. In general, 15-inch laptops will be the best balance of immersion and portability, while larger 17-inch models are heftier, but naturally give you more screen real estate. There are some 13-inch gaming notebooks, like the Razer Blade Stealth, but paradoxically you'll often end up paying more for those than slightly larger 15-inch options. We’re also seeing plenty of 14-inch options, like the Zephyrus G14 and Blade 14, which are generally beefier than 13-inch laptops while still being relatively portable.
But these days, there is plenty to consider beyond screen size. For one: refresh rates. Most monitors refresh their screens vertically 60 times per second, or at 60Hz. That's a standard in use since black and white NTSC TVs. But over the past few years, displays have evolved considerably. Now, 120Hz 1080p screens are the bare minimum you'd want in any gaming notebook — and there are faster 144Hz, 240Hz and even 360Hz panels. All of this is in the service of one thing: making everything on your display look as smooth as possible.
For games, higher refresh rates also help eliminate screen tearing and other artifacts that could get in the way of your frag fest. And for everything else, it just leads to a better viewing experience. Even scrolling a web page on a 120Hz or faster monitor is starkly different from a 60Hz screen. Instead of seeing a jittery wall of text and pictures, everything moves seamlessly, as if you're unwinding a glossy paper magazine. Going beyond 120Hz makes gameplay look even more responsive, which to some players gives them a slight advantage.
Not to make things more complicated, but you should also keep an eye out for NVIDIA's G-SYNC and AMD's FreeSync. They're both adaptive sync technologies that can match your screen's refresh rate with the framerate of your game. That also helps to reduce screen tearing and make gameplay smoother. Consider them nice bonuses on top of a high refresh rate monitor; they're not necessary, but they can still offer a slight visual improvement.
One more thing: Most of these suggestions are related to LCD screens, not OLEDs. While OLED makes a phenomenal choice for TVs, it's a bit more complicated when it comes to gaming laptops. They're mostly limited to 60Hz, though some models offer 90Hz. Still, you won’t see the smoothness of a 120Hz or 144Hz screen. OLEDs also typically come as 4K or 3.5K panels – you'll need a ton of GPU power to run games natively at that resolution. They look incredible, with the best black levels and contrast on the market, but we think most gamers would be better off with an LCD.
A few other takeaways:
Get at least 16GB of RAM. And if you're planning to do a ton of multitasking while streaming, 32GB is worth considering.
Storage is still a huge concern. These days, I'd recommend aiming for a 1TB M.2 SSD, which should be enough space to juggle a few large titles like Destiny 2. Some laptops also have room for standard SATA drives, which are far cheaper than M.2's and can hold more data.
Normally we'd recommend getting your hands on a system before you buy, but that's tough as we're in the midst of a pandemic. I'd recommend snagging your preferred system from a retailer with a simple return policy, like Amazon or Best Buy. If you don't like it, you can always ship it back easily.
If you can't tell by now, we really like the Zephyrus G14. It's shockingly compact, at just 3.5 pounds, and features AMD's new Ryzen chips paired together with its Radeon 6000M graphics (we’d recommend the Ryzen 9 model with an RX 6700M for $1,400). While its 14-inch screen is a bit smaller than our other recommendations, it looks great and features a fast 144Hz refresh rate. We also like its retro-future design (some configurations have tiny LEDs on its rear panel for extra flair). While the G14 has jumped in price since it debuted, it’s still one of the best gaming notebooks around, especially since ASUS has finally added a built-in webcam.
We've been fans of Dell's G5 line ever since it first appeared a few years ago. Now dubbed the G15, it starts at under $1,000 and features all of the latest hardware, like Intel's 12th-generation CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series cards. (You can also find AMD's Ryzen chips in some models.) It's a bit heavy, weighing over five pounds, but it's a solid notebook otherwise. And you can even bring it into mid-range gaming territory if you spec up to the RTX 3060.
Razer continues to do a stellar job of delivering bleeding-edge hardware in a sleek package that would make Mac users jealous. The Blade 15 has just about everything you'd want, including NVIDIA's fastest mobile GPU, the RTX 3080 Ti, as well as Intel's 12th-gen CPUs and speedy quad-HD screens. Our recommendation? Consider the model with a Quad HD 165Hz screen and an RTX 3070 GPU for $2,050. You can easily save some cash by going for a cheaper notebook, but they won't feel nearly as polished as the Blade.
While we've seen some wilder concepts from Acer, like its 360-degree hinge-equipped Triton 900, the Triton 500 is a more affordable bread and butter option. This year, it’s bumped up to a 16-inch display, giving you more of an immersive gaming experience. It’s relatively thin, weighs just over five pounds, and it can be equipped with Intel's 11th-gen CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series GPUs. Acer's build quality is as sturdy as ever, and it has most of the standard features you’d need in a gaming notebook.
Take everything we loved about the Razer Blade 15, scale it up to a larger 17-inch screen, and you’re pretty much in gamer paradise. If you can live with its six-pound weight, the Blade 17 will deliver the most desktop-like gaming experience you can find in a notebook. It’s relatively slim, and it’s perfect for binging Netflix in bed. The Blade 17 is also a smart choice if you’re editing media, as its larger screen space makes it perfect for diving into larger timelines. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes you just have to go big or go home, right?
You know if you actually need a dual-screen laptop: Maybe a single 17-inch screen isn’t enough, or you want a mobile setup that’s closer to a multi-monitor desktop. If that’s the case, the Zephyrus Duo 16 is made for you. It’s powerful, and its extra 14-inch screen can easily let you multitask while gaming dutifully working. It also has all of the latest hardware you’d want, like AMD’s new Ryzen chips and NVIDIA’s RTX 3000 GPUs. Sure, it’s nowhere near portable, but a true multitasker won’t mind.
Just a few years ago, the case for smartwatches wasn’t clear. Today, the wearable world is filled with various high-quality options, and a few key players have muscled their way to the front of the pack. Chances are, if you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably already decided that it’s time to upgrade from a standard timepiece to a smartwatch. Maybe you want to reach for your phone less throughout the day, or maybe you want to stay connected in a more discrete way. The list of reasons why you may want a smartwatch is long, as is the list of factors you’ll want to consider before deciding which to buy.
Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while Wear OS devices play nice with both iOS and Android. Smartwatches made by Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and others are also compatible with Android and iOS, but you’ll need to install a companion app.
The smartwatch OS will also dictate the type and number of on-watch apps you’ll have access to. Many of these aren’t useful, though, making this factor a fairy minor one in the grand scheme of things.
The best smartwatches generally cost between $300 and $400. Compared to budget smartwatches, which cost between $100 and $250, these pricier devices have advanced fitness, music and communications features. They also often include perks like onboard GPS, music storage and NFC, which budget devices generally don’t.
Some companies make specialized fitness watches: Those can easily run north of $500, and we’d only recommend them to serious athletes. Luxury smartwatches from brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot can also reach sky-high prices, but we wouldn’t endorse any of them. These devices can cost more than $1,000, and you’re usually paying for little more than a brand name and some needlessly exotic selection of build materials.
Battery life remains one of our biggest complaints about smartwatches, but there’s hope as of late. You can expect two full days from Apple Watches and most Wear OS devices. Watches using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor support extended battery modes that promise up to five days on a charge — if you’re willing to shut off most features aside from, you know, displaying the time. Snapdragon’s next-gen Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors were announced in 2020, but only a handful of devices – some of which aren’t even available yet – are using them so far. Other models can last five to seven days, but they usually have fewer features and lower-quality displays. Meanwhile, some fitness watches can last weeks on a single charge.
A few smartwatches now support faster charging, too. For example, Apple promises the Series 7 can go from zero to 80 percent power in only 45 minutes, and get to full charge in 75 minutes. The OnePlus Watch is even speedier, powering up from zero to 43 percent in just 10 minutes. (Mind you that turned out to be one of the only good things about that device.)
Any smartwatch worth considering delivers call, text and app alerts to your wrist. Call and text alerts are self explanatory, but if those mean a lot to you, consider a watch with LTE. They’re more expensive than their WiFi-only counterparts, but data connectivity allows the smartwatch to take and receive calls, and do the same with text messages, without your phone nearby. As far as app alerts go, getting them delivered to your wrist will let you glance down and see if you absolutely need to check your phone right now.
Activity tracking is a big reason why people turn to smartwatches. An all-purpose timepiece should log your steps, calories and workouts, and most of today’s wearables have a heart rate monitor as well.
Many smartwatches also have onboard GPS, which is useful for tracking distance for runs and bike rides. Swimmers will want something water resistant, and thankfully most all-purpose devices now can withstand at least a dunk in the pool. Some smartwatches from companies like Garmin are more fitness focused than others and tend to offer more advanced features like heart-rate-variance tracking, recovery time estimation, onboard maps and more.
Health tracking on smartwatches has also seen advances over the years. Both Apple and Fitbit devices can estimate blood oxygen levels and measure ECGs. But the more affordable the smartwatch, the less likely it is that it has these kinds of health tracking features; if collecting that type of data is important to you, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.
Your watch can not only track your morning runs but also play music while you’re exercising. Many smartwatches let you save your music locally, so you can connect wireless earbuds and listen to tunes without bringing your phone. Those that don’t have onboard storage for music usually have on-watch music controls, so you can control playback without whipping out your phone. And if your watch has LTE, local saving isn’t required — you’ll be able to stream music directly from the watch to your paired earbuds.
Most flagship smartwatches today have some sort of always-on display, be it a default feature or a setting you can enable. It allows you to glance down at your watch to check the time and any other information you’ve set it to show on its watchface without lifting your wrist. This will no doubt affect your device’s battery life, but thankfully most always-on modes dim the display’s brightness so it’s not running at its peak unnecessarily. Cheaper devices won’t have this feature; instead, their screens will automatically turn off to conserve battery and you’ll have to intentionally check your watch to turn on the display again.
Many smartwatches have NFC, letting you pay for things without your wallet. After saving your credit or debit card information, you can hold your smartwatch up to an NFC reader to pay for a cup of coffee on your way home from a run. Keep in mind that different watches use different payment systems: Apple Watches use Apple Pay, Wear OS devices use Google Pay, Samsung devices use Samsung Pay and so forth.
Apple Pay is one of the most popular NFC payment systems, with support for multiple banks and credit cards in 72 different countries, while Samsung and Google Pay work in fewer regions. It’s also important to note that both NFC payment support varies by device as well for both Samsung and Google’s systems.
Best overall: Apple Watch
The Apple Watch has evolved into the most robust smartwatch since its debut in 2015. It’s the no-brainer pick for iPhone users, and we wouldn’t judge you for switching to an iPhone just to be able to use an Apple Watch. The latest model, Apple Watch Series 8, has solid fitness-tracking features that will satisfy the needs of beginners and serious athletes alike. It also detects if you’ve been in a car crash, can carry out ECG tests and measures blood oxygen levels. Plus, it offers NFC, onboard music storage and many useful apps as well as a variety of ways to respond to messages.
There aren't a ton of differences between the Series 8 and the Series 7 that came before it. The design is largely unchanged, and while the Series 8 runs on a newer S8 SiP, it didn't feel dramatically faster in our testing. It lasted a little bit longer, and we were impressed by Apple's new low-power mode, which kept the watch going for an additional two hours after already being down to 20 percent battery life.
There are two other options now at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The new Apple Watch Ultra is probably overkill for most people, but it has a ton of extra features like extra waterproofing to track diving, an even more accurate GPS and the biggest battery of any Apple Watch to date. Apple designed it for the most outdoorsy among us, but for your average person, it likely has more features than they'd ever need.
The $250 Apple Watch SE, on the other hand, is less feature-rich than the Series 8, but it will probably suffice for most people. We actually regard the Watch SE as the best option for first-time smartwatch buyers, or people on stricter budgets. You’ll get all the core Apple Watch features as well as things like fall and crash detection, noise monitoring and emergency SOS, but you’ll have to do without more advanced hardware perks like an always-on display, a blood oxygen sensor, an ECG monitor and a skin temperature sensor.
Dropping $400 on a smartwatch isn’t feasible for everyone, which is why we recommend the Fitbit Versa 2 as the best sub-$200 option. It’s our favorite budget watch because it offers a bunch of features at a great price. You get all of these essentials: Fitbit’s solid exercise-tracking abilities (including auto-workout detection), sleep tracking, water resistance, connected GPS, blood oxygen tracking and a six-day battery life. It also supports Fitbit Pay using NFC and it has built-in Amazon Alexa for voice commands. While the Versa 2 typically costs $150, we’ve seen it for as low as $100.
Samsung may not have brought many upgrades to the latest version of its popular Galaxy Watch, but that doesn't mean the Watch 5 isn't still the best smartwatch for Android users. Improvements like a more durable screen and refined curvature don't sound exciting, but they make the Watch 5 more resilient and reliable. Plus, the Galaxy Watch offers the most comprehensive health and fitness tracking on Wear OS, and the company added a sleep coaching feature this year that is meant to help guide you towards better rest.
If you don't mind oversized watches, consider the Watch 5 Pro. It's more expensive at $450, but comes with a larger 45mm titanium case, a more durable screen and a larger battery. Though Samsung markets it as an outdoor-oriented device, you're better off thinking of it as a big timepiece that lasts longer than the standard model. It has all the same features as the 40mm and 44mm versions, except it supports the GPX route format for workouts so you can get turn-by-turn directions while you hike and bike.
All three watches are also water-resistant so they can track swims or survive a sudden storm, and last more than a day (without the Always On Display enabled). They also run Wear OS 3.5, which is so similar to Samsung's previous Tizen OS that longtime wearers won't need to worry about adjusting to a new system. Ultimately, the Galaxy Watch 5 series is a capable, well-rounded set of smartwatches that will serve most Android users well.
Yes, there are still companies out there trying to make “fashionable” smartwatches. Back when wearables were novel and generally ugly, brands like Fossil, Michael Kors and Skagen found their niche in stylish smartwatches that took cues from analog timepieces. You also have the option to pick up a “hybrid” smartwatch from companies like Withings and Garmin – these devices look like standard wrist watches but incorporate some limited functionality like activity tracking and heart rate monitoring. They remain good options if you prefer that look, but thankfully, wearables made by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit and others have gotten much more attractive over the past few years.
Ultimately, the only thing you can’t change after you buy a smartwatch is its case design. If you’re not into the Apple Watch’s squared-off corners, all of Samsung’s smartwatches have round cases that look a little more like a traditional watch. Most wearables are offered in a choice of colors and you can pay extra for premium materials like stainless steel. Once you decide on a case, your band options are endless – there are dozens of first- and third-party watch straps available for most major smartwatches, allowing you to change up your look whenever you please.
Accessories will be key whether you’re turning your new Apple iPad into a laptop replacement or just trying to protect it against daily-life hazards. It’s tempting to turn to Apple’s own accessories — and in some cases, you should — but there’s a slew of alternatives that work just as well and are often more affordable. We tested out a bunch of cases, keyboards, styli and other miscellany to see which iPad accessories are worth buying and that will help you get the most out of your iPad, from the iPad Air to the iPad Mini or a different iPad model.
Otterbox is an expert when it comes to protection, as seen with their phone cases, but its Symmetry Series 360 series shows that it has design chops, too. Symmetry cases look similar to the Apple’s Smart Cover, but the clear, scratch-resistant back is sturdy without adding a lot of weight to the iPad. Plus, the edge protection is substantial, so you won’t have to worry about damage from the inevitable, accidental bumps your tablet takes. I also like the extra flap Otterbox added that keeps the iPad screen cover closed and holds the second-generation Apple Pencil to the side of the iPad Pros. Symmetry Series 360 cases are available for most iPad models, and while they’re more expensive than some no-name iPad case you might find on Amazon, they’re worth it if you want a great balance of protection and style.
Speaking of cheaper cases that fill up Amazon’s search result pages, some that are actually worthwhile are from Moko and ProCase. If you like the look and feel of Apple’s Smart Cover, but don’t want to drop $50-plus on one, both of these brands have dupes that give you that style at a fraction of the cost of the first-party option.
Of the plethora of iPad stands I’ve used, Twelve South’s HoverBar Duo is the one that has come closest to perfect. The “duo” in the name refers to the fact that the gadget can either prop your iPad up using an arm attached to a weighted base, or the same arm just attached to a desk or table using its included clamp. It comes fully assembled on the weighted base, but it’s pretty easy to switch to the clamp thanks to the included instructions and basic tools in the box. If you spring for the latest model, it’ll be even easier thanks to a new quick-switch tab that lets you swap between the weighted base and the clamp attachment with any extra tools.
It wasn’t hard to secure my 11-inch iPad Pro in the vice-grip that is the HoverBar Duo’s tablet clip, although it did take some force to move the arm into the right position. That’s probably for the best because it showed how strong the arm is; it stayed in place without buckling, sliding down or otherwise breaking a sweat. I mostly used the HoverBar Duo with the clamp attachment, which allowed me to use my iPad as a secondary screen while working. The included clamp should fit most desks and tables too, as it can accommodate surface thickness from 0.4 inch to 1.4 inches.
If you’re willing to sacrifice flexibility for something more elegant, Elago’s P2 stand for iPad may be a good fit. It’s made of a single piece of aluminum with a ledge for your iPad and a few well-placed cutouts that you can snake a charging cable through. The ledge is also wide enough to accommodate most iPad cases. It may not be foldable or adjustable, but its minimalist design will make it an attractive addition to your desk.
One of the best Bluetooth keyboards I’ve used recently is the Logitech MX Keys Mini. It’s not designed specifically for the iPad, but it works quite well with it. It combines a lot of the ergonomics and the general look and feel of the MX lineup into a compact and portable keyboard. The Keys Mini has a slim profile that’s slightly raised due to its top bar, plus comfortable backlit keys that are a dream to type on. The backlight is one of my favorite features because it automatically comes on when it senses your hands getting close to the keyboard. That way it only stays illuminated when you’re typing, conserving battery life in the long run. Logitech estimates the Keys Mini will last up to 10 days, depending on backlight use, or up to five months without any backlight use.
Logitech’s $100 MX Keys Mini may be on the expensive side, but it’s one that could be both your iPad keyboard and your main desk typing device. It can connect to up to three devices at the same time, allowing you to swap between them quickly with just a press of a key, and it has a few other handy keys too like one that brings up the emoji picker and another that mutes your microphone (quite useful on Zoom calls). But if you want something even more affordable, or even thinner, we still like the Logitech Keys to Go, which we’ve recommended in the past and you can usually find for between $50 and $70.
If you really want to indulge, Apple’s own Magic Keyboard is the way to go. The $300 case magnetically attaches to the latest iPad Pros and keeps them “floating” above the keyboard and trackpad. We praised the Magic Keyboard for its typing comfort and precise trackpad, but dinged it for its limited range of motion. It’s easily the fanciest keyboard available for the iPad and it’s one to consider if money is no object — or if you want the most stylish iPad keyboard money can buy.
This likely won’t come as a surprise, but the Apple Pencil is the best stylus you can get for the iPad. Both the first- and second-generation Pencils are designed to work specifically with iPads and it shows in their smooth writing performance. The second-gen stylus has a double-tap feature that you can customize to a certain degree, and pressure-sensitivity allows you to add as much or as little detail as you want to digital artwork. I highly recommend shelling out $100 or $130 for the Apple Pencil if you’re an artist — you won’t be disappointed.
There are other options that are more affordable than the Apple Pencil, though, like Logitech’s $70 Crayon. It’s just as good in terms of latency and accuracy — drawing in Procreate was a lag-free experience and my strokes always ended up exactly where I wanted them to be – and it’s even more grippy by default thanks to its oval-shaped design. But as someone who primarily uses an Apple Pencil for digital art, I missed pressure sensitivity when using the Crayon.
Aside from that, the other biggest annoyance is that you have to use a Lightning or USB-C cable to charge it. (Even the newest model for the iPad Pros doesn’t magnetically attach to the tablet for charging.) While I wouldn’t suggest the Crayon for serious artists, I would recommend it for anyone who’s on a strict budget, especially digital journal-keepers, committed note-takers and the like.
If you’re a heavy user of the Apple Pencil or some other stylus, you should consider getting a screen protector for your iPad. They pull double-duty: Not only do they act as a first line of defense if your iPad goes careening onto the concrete, but they can also enhance the digital drawing and writing experience. Using a stylus on an iPad is strange at first because gliding the stylus nib over a glass surface feels nothing like “normal” writing. Matte screen protectors can get closer to replicating the pen-on-paper experience, and they also prevent the stylus nib from wearing down so quickly. Paperlike is the most popular in this space, but Bersem’s screen protectors are a great value at $11 for a pack of two. Not only does the matte finish help when you’re drawing or taking digital notes, but it also reduces screen glare and doesn’t interfere with FaceID on the newest iPads.
If you plan on pushing your iPad Pro to its limits as a daily driver, you’ll probably need more than the tablet’s single USB-C port. Apple has provided little guidance to which USB-C hubs and adapters work best with the iPad Pros — there’s no MFi certification for accessories like this yet. Some hubs specifically advertise that they work with the newest iPad Pros, and if you want to be extra safe, I recommend buying one of those that comes from a reputable brand.
Satechi’s $100 Aluminum Stand and Hub is a favorite for its foldable design and how it packs ports and charging capabilities into a compact accessory. The holder itself rotates outward, revealing a hidden, attached USB-C cable and a rubber bumper that keeps the stand in place in your desk. On the back edge are a 4K HDMI socket, one USB-A port, a headphone jack, both SD and microSD card slots and a 60W USB-C connection for charging.
I liked the versatility of Satechi’s hub. I could easily use it when I needed to prop my iPad up to watch a YouTube video, and by just plugging in the attached cable, I could switch to using my iPad as more of a work device with all of the necessary connectors in place. It’s also surprisingly light at 10 ounces. Combine that with its foldable design and you have a full-featured hub that can easily be stuffed in a bag.
Not everyone needs, or wants, to spend $100 on a dock for their iPad. (If you’re using it as a laptop replacement, it’s worth the investment.) If you’d rather spend less, or just want something a bit more lightweight, Anker’s 7-in-1 USB-C hub is a good choice. It has most ports that you could ever want, with the only exception being an Ethernet jack. The slim dongle houses two USB-A ports, two USB-C connections, SD and microSD card slots and a 4K/30Hz HDMI port. We also like that it provides up to 85W of pass-through charging, which means you can power up your iPad while using Anker’s hub as the main connector between the tablet and its charging cable. Anker makes a couple of versions of this hub, including one that does have that coveted Ethernet port, but it’s hard to beat $35 for the standard 7-in-1 model.
It can be hard to anticipate how much storage you’ll need in your iPad. Maybe you picked up the base model, but over time the device has turned into your main gadget, holding most of your important documents, photos, apps and more. If you have one of the latest iPad models with USB-C, you can use that port to connect the device to an external drive, offloading files and freeing up onboard space on your device. We like Samsung’s T7 series of portable SSDs for their slick designs, fast speeds and various modes of protection. The T7, the T7 Touch and the T7 Shield all support read/write speeds of up to 1,050/1,000 MB/s, and their palm-sized designs make them easy to toss in a bag before you leave for the day. All three also support AES 256-bit hardware encryption and optional password protection, but you’ll get the added bonus of a fingerprint reader on the T7 Touch. As for the T7 Shield, it’s the newest in the lineup and has a more durable design with a rubberized exterior and an IP65 rating for water and dust resistance.
Apple and other tech companies are increasingly leaving wall adapters out of their devices’ boxes, so it’s worth picking up a couple that can handle charging a couple of pieces of tech as quickly as possible. Anker’s 45W Nano II GaN adapter is a good one because it can fast-charge iPhones and iPads, plus the gallium nitride technology built into it helps prevent overheating. In just a half hour of charging, I got about a 33 percent boost in battery life on my 11-inch iPad Pro when using this accessory. Gallium nitride is also a big reason why the 45W adapter is smaller than a lot of competing adapters available now, including Apple’s. We also like its foldable design, which will allow it to fit better in cramped spaces and in travel bags.
It’s smart to have a portable battery with you when you’re using your iPad on the go – regardless of if it’s your daily driver or you’re only using it for a few select tasks. Anker’s PowerCore 26,800 has a high enough capacity to charge up most tablets almost two times over, making it very unlikely that you’ll totally run out of power before you get to your next destination. While it won’t charge laptops, it will work for most mobile devices, and it has three USB-A ports so you can power up to three devices simultaneously. And since the brick itself weighs just over one pound, it won’t weigh down your bag all day long, either.