‘Selfie harm’ and the damage done by social media

‘Selfie harm’ and the damage done by social media

With a new project called Selfie Harm, photographer John Rankin Waddell, better known as Rankin, wanted to see the role social media played on self image in young people. He took photos of a group of teens aged 13 to 19, then asked them to spend a few minutes editing the shots using one of the many selfie apps marketed at teens. The result? “People are mimicking their idols, making their eyes bigger, their nose smaller and their skin brighter, and all for social media likes,” he said on Instagram.

The project was created with agency M&C Saatchi and MTArt as part of Visual Diet, which examines how images can affect mental health. Each series shows the original, unretouched faces, right next to the polished and often dramatically changed versions.

The phenomenon has been dubbed as Snapchat dysmorphia, described by experts as a type of virtual body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Apps like Facetune, SelfieCity, RetouchMe and others can be used to do anything from mild retouching to complete digital cosmetic surgery. To avoid any bias, Rankin found teenagers that weren’t actually using the apps, then taught them how.

“What you can do on these apps is way beyond what even a great photoshop operator can do,” he told Bored Panda. “They’re addictive, very impressive and you can have a lot of fun warping, changing and reimagining your appearance. But it’s when people are making an alternative or ‘better’ social media identity that this becomes a mental health problem.”

For my latest series, Selfie Harm 🤳 I photographed teenagers & handed them the image to then edit & filter until they felt the image was ‘social media ready’. People are mimicking their idols, making their eyes bigger, their nose smaller and their skin brighter, and all for social media likes. It’s just another reason why we are living in a world of FOMO, sadness, increased anxiety, and Snapchat dysmorphia. It’s time to acknowledge the damaging effects that social media has on people’s self-image. Thanks to: the incredible individuals that took part in the @Visual.Diet project; Jennifer, Felix, Alessandra, Maisie, Isaac, Seb, Beneditcte, Shereen, Mahalia, Eve, Siena, Tomas, Emma & Georgia. Also, @mimigray_ at @mcsaatchilondon, @marinetanguyart, @gemfletcher, @technicallyron & @justintindall on making this project come to life 🙌 PLEASE NOTE đź“ť The majority of subjects preferred their original image.

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Rankin believes these ideas come not only from social media, but also the ad industry, which presents models as hyper-idealized. Nations like France have even introduced laws forcing the industry to label photoshopped or airbrushed images. The aim is to fight mental health issues and eating disorders, which are the second most common cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds.

Visual Diet wants to show not just the negative consequences of narcissistic social media images, but how meaningful visual content can have a positive impact. It features inspiring work from five artists and a digital poster and website that filters out unhealthy content over time. MTArt’s Marine Tanguy said it found people’s well-being increased significantly when they were surrounded by meaningful, rather than unhealthy visual content.

Tanguy noted that Kim Kardashian has around 50 times more Instagram followers than the Louvre museum. “It’s time to stop consuming daily the visual content of [social media influencers] and move over to a more inspiring visual diet,” she said. As Rankin notes, however, it’s not all bad on Instagram. “Please note: The majority of subjects preferred their original image,” he said.

Steve should have known that civil engineering was not for him when he spent most of his time at university monkeying with his 8086 clone PC. Although he graduated, a lifelong obsession of wanting the Solitaire win animation to go faster had begun. Always seeking a gadget fix, he dabbles in photography, video, 3D animation and is a licensed private pilot. He followed l’amour de sa vie from Vancouver, BC, to France and now lives in Paris.

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Amazon’s HQ2 New York plans didn’t need to end this way

Amazon’s HQ2 New York plans didn’t need to end this way

After the pageantry of searching for a new spot for its headquarters, some had expected Amazon’s decision to move to New York be a done deal. Not so. It took Amazon months to decide to bring one of two new headquarters to Long Island City, and mere moments to end those plans completely.

“It’s over,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in an interview with WNYC on Friday. “And it’s astounding, and it’s disappointing and it’s disrespectful to the people of New York City.”

The news caught many off guard. Amazon clearly didn’t want officials to know ahead of time. According to reports, the company had still been in talks with officials as of Wednesday afternoon, with little sign that an about-face was about to happen. In a conversation with CNN, Bishop Mitchell Taylor — co-chair of New York’s HQ2 Community Advisory Committee — said that nothing seemed out of the ordinary during meetings he had with Amazon liaisons on Thursday morning, just hours before the announcement.

“To get a call out of the blue saying ‘See ya, we’re taking our ball, we’re going home’ — it’s absolutely inappropriate,” the mayor said of how he was informed. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

When you consider the company’s tense relationship with New York’s leaders and activists, it’s perhaps not a surprise that Amazon just wanted to be done with it all. Jodi Seth, Amazon’s head of policy communications, painted a problematic image in an interview with NBC News. Some local officials refused to meet with the company at all, while others cited different reasons that made it hard for the company to win broad support, including Amazon’s anti-union practices and the $3 billion in taxpayer-subsidized incentives. Seth said Amazon had little interest in working in such a contentious environment long-term and has no plans to re-open these talks with New York City or State. But things didn’t have to end this way.

While it’s fair on some level that Amazon felt stymied by this political climate, the company still seems petty at the end of all this. As a tech and retail titan that is nearly impossible to avoid in daily life, the company has come to expect a certain level of fealty from the people and organizations it deals with. It’s used to walking into a room and getting what it wants. In this case, dealing with activists, vocal critics and pressure from key lawmakers meant Amazon wasn’t going to have another typically easy time — the line of thinking appears to be that, as helpful as another campus would be, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Lots of brilliant people work at Amazon, though; is it possible that no one saw the red tape coming?

I have a hard time believing that Amazon couldn’t have handled this better. Could it have managed the conversation better? Could it have been more transparent in its dealings? Could it have tried to work more closely, more functionally with the lawmakers involved? Does this whole thing now feel like a huge waste of time? Yes, to all of the above.

Mayor de Blasio hasn’t shied away from characterizing Amazon as petulant, and it honestly rings true for me too. See, Amazon hasn’t just scrapped its plans to open a headquarters in Queens; it has decided against building a second campus to complement its forthcoming Virginia campus altogether. “We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time,” Amazon’s statement reads. “We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the US and Canada.”

Clearly, the idea of having another HQ2 campus to grow into besides Virginia’s was important to Amazon, but not important enough to work toward in a thoughtful way. The company has been around for over 20 years, but as the dust settles here, its rash actions come off at least a little unseemly.

And now that Amazon is giving up on New York City, residents are left to deal with the aftermath — for better and worse. Despite vocal opposition from some locals and lawmakers, a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last year suggested that on the whole, New York City voters supported the idea of Amazon moving to Long Island City. Some are now acutely aware that without Amazon, Long Island City won’t be getting 25,000 new jobs — not to mention career training programs meant to help locals find work at Amazon and companies like it. Some local businesses, who were banking on an influx of new customers, don’t have that opportunity anymore. And more broadly, some have expressed concern that, by driving Amazon away, New York has sent a terrible signal to the businesses of the world in search of opportunities to grow.

Meanwhile, an impromptu celebration erupted in Queens’ Jackson Heights neighborhood after Amazon made its announcement, with activists rejoicing in their victory. To these New Yorkers, Amazon’s planned move and its secretive NY government deals were bad omens, prompting them to spend weeks decrying the company’s backroom tactics raising awareness of the gentrification Amazon would bring with it.

It’s true that New York’s pitch to bring Amazon to Long Island City happened with little support from the communities that would ultimately host the company. It’s not likely that Amazon would’ve have found a way to please everyone in this camp, but it’s telling that the company barely bothered to try. Instead of substantively engaging with people on the issues that matter to them, Amazon bolted.

At the end of it all, Amazon has somehow pulled off a surprisingly impressive feat. Its dealings drew the ire of activists, and its plan to leave frustrated people hoping for economic opportunity — now, Amazon has managed to become a bad guy to just about everyone involved. If nothing else, let Amazon’s choice to unceremoniously walk away from the table in New York stand as a warning to the cities still clamoring for a slice of HQ2. Here’s looking at you, Newark, Miami, Rochester, Warren and Danbury.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $150 on the Apple MacBook Air (2018)

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $150 on the Apple MacBook Air (2018)

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Aukey Latitude EP-B40 Bluetooth Earbuds

aukey

Street price: $27; deal price: $18 with code WCITQDNR

The Aukey Latitude EP-B40 earbuds are back down to $18 in black with code WCITQDNR, matching the lowest price we’ve seen in recent months. Recommended for casual gym use (or if you’re especially hard on earbuds and like to have a few backup pairs around the house), these comfortable yet inexpensive earbuds feature an 8-hour battery life. This is a solid recurring deal on an already budget-friendly option.

The Aukey Latitude EP-B40 earbuds are the budget pick in our guide to the best wireless workout headphones. Lauren Dragan wrote, “Comfortable for most people, durable, and backed with a two-year warranty, the Aukey Latitude EP-B40 bests everything else in its price range. These earbuds stay in place, they’re easy to use, and they sound decent, whereas other tested wireless workout headphones under $50 were uncomfortable, poorly built, or marred by piercing high-frequency ranges that made turning the volume up past 40 percent literally painful.”

Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46205)

hamilton beach

Street price: $40; deal price: $29

Down to $29, this is an excellent price and a rare drop under $30 for this already affordable coffee maker. While we saw sub-$30 pricing for it a couple times in 2017, such drops were much rarer for this model in 2018 with street prices often settling in the $40s. If you’re looking to get a decent cup of coffee but you’re on a budget, it’s a nice option.

The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup is the top pick in our guide to the best cheap coffee maker. Thais Wilson-Soler wrote, “A great cheap coffee maker should be easy to use and it should make decent coffee, and the Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46205) excels on both fronts. None of the testers in the Wirecutter test kitchen had issues figuring out how to brew a pot or how to program it to brew in the morning using the six-button interface. A removable water reservoir combined with a rotating base made it the easiest to fill as well. Flavorwise, it was bested only by our high-end coffee maker pick, the OXO On 9-Cup, which we brought in as a control (although the OXO beat it by a wide margin according to our tasting panel of expert roasters). To be clear, if you’re freshly grinding specialty coffee beans every morning, the Hamilton Beach isn’t for you. (You’ll get much more out of your expensive coffee if you use a pour-over setup or a high-end coffee maker.) But it’s perfect for people who just want a decent pot of joe in the morning with minimal fuss.”

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder

amazon

Street price: $35; deal price: $30

It’s tax season, which makes it especially nice to see this recommended shredder fall to $30 from $35. Last week, we posted a slightly better deal at $28 but if you missed that price this is still a very viable discount. While we don’t recommend this model for people that do high-volume shredding, if you’re a casual user this is a good chance to save.

The AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder is the top pick in our guide to the best paper shredder. SĂ©amus Bellamy and Makula Dunbar wrote, “If you occasionally use a shredder to safely dispose of bills, tax papers, checkbooks, credit cards, data discs, or other sensitive personal materials, we found that the AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut is your best bet. Most people don’t shred huge amounts of paper on a regular basis; they simply need something that can effectively and securely discard their personal information a few times per month. This AmazonBasics model works with minimal headaches. It’s impossible to jam if you use it as advised, you can push it to take 10 sheets of paper if you really want to, and it usually costs around $35. Given how seldom a shredder sees action, we think most people shouldn’t pay any more than the minimum amount for a reliable, competent device.”

MacBook Air (2018) 8GB RAM 256GB SSD

apple

Street price: $1400; deal price: $1250

The Apple MacBook Air (2018) with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD is down to $1,250 in all three colors. In our guide, we praise this laptop for its well-rounded feature set, making it a good general purpose device for Apple users. We’ve seen better prices on the 128GB SSD version and better values on a version that offered 16GB of RAM, but if these specs offer the right mix of performance and storage for you, it’s a solid price. Also available from B&H.

The MacBook Air is our pick for the best all-around option in our guide to the best MacBooks. Andrew Cunningham wrote, “The best Mac laptop for most people is the 2018 MacBook Air. It’s fast enough for the things that most people use a computer for—browsing, working on documents, and light photo editing—and it has an excellent high-resolution screen, a great trackpad, enough battery life to last most people through an eight-hour workday, and a (relatively) reasonable price. The Air’s main shortcomings are almost all shared by other modern Apple laptops: the low-travel keyboard, a small number of homogenous ports (in this case, two Thunderbolt 3 ports) that may require the use of USB-C hubs or new cables, and a high price relative to Windows laptops with similar performance and features. But the Air’s light weight, solid construction, and industry-leading support still make it a good laptop, especially if you also own an iPhone or other Apple devices.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursday, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go here.

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Apple concedes to Qualcomm to escape German iPhone ban

Apple concedes to Qualcomm to escape German iPhone ban


Chris Velazco/Engadget

It sounds like Apple is done trying to fight an injunction in Germany brought about by its legal battle against Qualcomm. According to Reuters, the tech giant will resume selling the older iPhone models that were banned in the country after a Munich court sided with the chipmaker. Apple isn’t defying the court order, though: it said that going forward, it will only use Qualcomm modems for the iPhone 7 and 8 devices it’s going to sell in the European nation.

See, Apple uses either Qualcomm’s or Intel’s telephony technologies for the disputed iPhones. But in order to be able to bring them back to Germany, the company is leaving Intel’s modems out in the cold and swapping them with Qualcomm parts.

Qualcomm filed the lawsuit that spawned the injunction over a patent violation around envelope tracking, which is a feature that helps phones preserve battery while sending and receiving wireless transmissions. To be clear, Intel’s modems aren’t directly involved in the lawsuit. Qualcomm specifically named Apple supplier and semiconductor-maker Qorvo as the one that infringed on its intellectual property. It just so happened that Qorvo’s chips are only present in iPhone devices with Intel modems.

The German court that sided with Qualcomm ordered the injunction in December 2018, so Apple hasn’t been able to sell iPhone 7 and 8 devices in the country for almost a couple of months. Apple tried to fight the decision, but the chipmaker paid security bonds worth a whopping $1.5 billion to make sure the ban is enforced. The company is completely at Qualcomm’s mercy in this particular case, and it might have decided to back down after an earnings miss due to selling fewer iPhones than expected.

Even though the tech giant is playing Qualcomm’s game in the European country, it’s far from being back on friendly terms with the equipment-maker. It once said that Qualcomm is involved in illegal patent licensing practices to maintain a monopoly on mobile modem chips, and the statement a spokesperson gave Reuters shows that there’s still no love lost between the two:

“Qualcomm is attempting to use injunctions against our products to try to get Apple to succumb to their extortionist demands.”

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The best audio editing software for beginning podcasters

The best audio editing software for beginning podcasters

By Al Griffin

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full audio editing software for beginning podcasters guide here.

After 30 hours spent using and comparing audio editing software, we’ve found Audacity to be the best all-around option for beginners looking to create their own podcasts. The open-source Audacity runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, and it’s free, which eliminates one of the biggest stresses of trying out software. Audacity’s user interface is bare-bones compared with that of its competition, including other free options like Apple’s GarageBand, but it provides all the tools, features, and support you need to quickly and easily create great-sounding audio productions. It offers, by far, the best value of all the audio software we tested.

While recording and editing in Audacity during our tests, we quickly realized that a powerful and feature-packed application lay beneath the software’s stripped-down interface. Controls for setting up external equipment such as a USB microphone or audio interface are located in the main window for easy access. The main window also contains panels with everything you need to edit, monitor, and mix audio tracks. In addition, Audacity comes with a sophisticated suite of audio-processing effects to remove the noise, coughs, clicks, and other unwanted sounds that microphones can capture during recording. And although learning how to best apply those effects takes time, Audacity’s thorough online manual, tutorials, and support forums will speed you through the process. It doesn’t support MIDI or musical-instrument plug-ins, so it isn’t the best choice for solo musicians looking to make finished musical tracks, but it is a complete package for anyone who just wants to experiment with recording audio.

Like Audacity, Reaper packs a wide range of audio editing tools and audio processing effects. Reaper’s interface is more sophisticated, though, and its MIDI-editing features make it a better option for anyone who wants to add their own music to their podcasts, or even for solo musicians/producers looking to make finished tracks at home. Reaper’s wealth of features and customization options put it on the same level of functionality as industry-standard digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Cubase and Pro Tools, but at just $60 for an individual or nonprofit license at this writing, Reaper costs about a fifth as much—it’s a tremendous deal. Compared with those programs, Reaper is highly approachable and easy to learn, with an extensive library of online help and video tutorials to get you up and running.

Once you’ve learned the ropes of basic audio editing and you’re ready to step up your game (that is, take your podcast to a larger audience), we recommend Adobe Audition CC, a powerful platform with an exhaustive range of tools to smooth out and sweeten the sound quality of recorded tracks. Its noise-reduction features in particular are top-notch, and its EQ tools go a step beyond those of the other software we evaluated for this guide. Audition is easy to use, with a clean user interface and a wide range of templates and presets, but it also offers a high level of customization. At $20 per month, or $240 per year, it isn’t cheap, but it is the best podcast recording and editing software in that price range. If sound quality is your main concern, Audition is well worth the investment.

Why you should trust us

I have two decades of experience reviewing AV products, and I’m currently a contributing technical editor at Sound & Vision magazine and a regular contributor to the SoundStage network of websites. I’m also a musician (drummer) who has logged countless hours recording rehearsals and demos for various bands I’ve played in. As a longtime dabbler in electronic music production, I have extensive familiarity with the tools of the trade, including recording interfaces, MIDI controllers, and the other gear used in desktop studio environments.

I consulted a number of professional podcast producers for this guide: Jason Howell of TWiT.tv and Tom Merritt of Daily Tech News Show have been in the podcast biz since 2005, when they worked on CNET’s daily tech news show Buzz Out Loud; Stephen Hackett is a co-founder of the Relay FM podcast network, with 10 years of podcasting experience under his belt; and Dan Benjamin is a longtime podcaster and founder of the 5by5 podcast production company.

Who should buy audio editing software

Amateur storytellers wanting to share narratives with the world through the podcast medium have one thing in common: a need for affordable, easy-to-use audio recording, editing, and mixing software. The “affordable” part isn’t an issue, since you have plenty of free (or nearly so) software options to choose from. Ease of use, on the other hand, can be a challenge, since many apps contain an overwhelming number of features and require you to make a significant time investment to achieve even basic proficiency.

If an application doesn’t provide all the features you need, or has an overly basic or idiosyncratic design that won’t prepare you for a possible eventual upgrade to a more professional software platform, you should skip it. If you’re serious about making podcasts or recording songs, it may be a better idea to invest some money and time in software with features tailored for the type of production you’ll be working on.

What type of features are we talking about? It could be controls that let you export the finished podcast in a format appropriate for distribution on sites like Soundcloud. It could be video support if you’re making videos and need audio editing and mixing features beyond what you typically get with video editing software. It could be access to effects plug-ins that give you the ability to tailor your recordings to sound the way you want, such as giving them a warmer, less “clinical” sound, or automatic level controls to make mixing easier. Audio editing software has a wide range of uses, and even the free options can help you create great-sounding productions. The challenge is finding the software package that offers the right level of complexity for your specific needs.

For this review, we’ve focused on software intended for audio recording and mixing: the process of capturing sound from a microphone or other device plugged into an audio interface, and then processing it digitally. Since podcasters are typically looking to record voices and natural environments to support their storytelling, this is the type of software best suited to that process. This is also the workflow you’d use when recording musicians live, and many of the apps we looked at are well-suited to this type of recording, too.

How we picked

We started out by reading professional reviews of audio editing and digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Audio editing software provides basic features for trimming, processing, and mixing audio files. A DAW is a more advanced package that typically includes features such as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) sequencing to control hardware or virtual instruments; music notation and score editing; and sophisticated audio-effects routing for simultaneous processing of multiple audio tracks.

We also looked at reviews, how-tos, and technical articles from podcasting professionals, pieces that focus on their specific requirements. We took advantage of the Libsyn (a popular podcast-hosting site) blog, which features extensive interviews with the site’s community asking which tools they use to create their podcasts. Finally, we interviewed a handful of podcasting pros with many years of experience about their software preferences and advice for beginners.

Sorting through the data, we determined that several particular features are important to podcast producers and amateur music makers alike:

  • An uncluttered user interface: You should be able to navigate the app easily and intuitively.
  • Support for multiple audio tracks: Music productions typically record individual instruments and vocals to separate audio tracks, which the producers ultimately mix down to a stereo master track. And while this feature isn’t as crucial for podcasts, some producers like to keep each interview subject—whether recorded in the studio, at a remote location, or via phone or Skype—on a separate track. Many podcasts also feature music—in most cases at the production’s beginning and end, but in some cases mixed in throughout.
  • The capability to crossfade edits easily: Ideally, the app lets you use on-screen tools to “draw” fader levels rather than making you click through several layers of menu commands. This feature allows for cutting between separate audio clips with no audible clicks or pops.
  • High-quality EQ and noise-reduction processing: Even a well-recorded track will benefit from equalization to make voices sound more resonant, for example, or to eliminate background hum. Noise reduction can compensate for issues such as noisy recordings made in the field, or conversations recorded over the phone or Skype.
  • Automatic clip leveling and loudness normalization: Podcasts sound more professional if the audio clips have a matched level—meaning different voices have the same loudness—throughout. Some software provides features that automate the adjustment of clip levels during recording, as well as normalize the loudness of the full finished program to a standard level that’s considered perfect for podcasts.
  • Nondestructive editing: One advantage that DAWs have over basic audio editing software is the ability to make nondestructive edits to audio files. This means the original audio file remains intact after you trim its length or add equalization or effects like reverb. The benefit of nondestructive editing is that you can easily go back and undo any changes you’ve made before committing them during the final rendering and mixdown phase. (And the original source files always remain preserved.)
  • Some degree of automation: While many automation features are overkill for amateur podcast production, the ability to easily automate parameters including compression, effects, and EQ level is indispensable for music creation in that it allows you to vary the dynamics of a particular track or group of tracks.

While you can get most, if not all, of the features mentioned above in free software, both the usability and the quality of tools provided for editing and processing tracks are generally better with paid options. More advanced software generally offers templates and presets that are easy to work with, while the free options can require hours of experimentation for you to get the results you want. (Our top pick has some of the same usability drawbacks as other free apps, but those drawbacks are more than offset by the inclusion of tools usually found only in pricier packages.)

Using the above criteria, we narrowed our list from the dozens of software titles we considered to six: Adobe’s Audition CC, Apple’s GarageBand, Audacity, Avid’s Pro Tools First, Cockos’s Reaper, and Steinberg’s Cubase Elements 9. The cost for these packages ranges from free up to $240 (for an annual license), though most are priced under $100, since spending more than that takes you into the territory of professional DAW software.

How we tested

To evaluate the contenders, I downloaded the software—each program offers a full-featured trial version to test out before buying—and installed it on a MacBook Pro running macOS 10.10.5 (Yosemite). We also tested all the programs on a MacBook running macOS 10.12 (Sierra) and a Dell laptop running Windows 10. For recording hardware, I used two Wirecutter picks: a Yeti by Blue USB microphone (specifically, the pro version, which features analog XLR outputs) and a Tascam US-2×2 USB audio interface.

My testing methodology was to first use the software cold—without consulting a manual—in order to determine how intuitive the interface and controls were. After configuring external hardware in the app (aside from minor Windows driver conflicts with the Tascam US-2Ă—2 interface when I used Avid’s Pro Tools First, hardware setup went smoothly with all software), I then recorded vocal introductions and imported captured Skype conversations and music tracks to create my own rough version of a podcast. Next, I read the software’s manual and consulted online tutorials and videos to dig deeper into the available toolset for editing and processing tracks.

On both Mac and Windows, setup for almost all of the software we tested went smoothly. Even Audacity, which claims only “partial support” for macOS 10.12 (Sierra), worked fine during testing. The only serious glitch I encountered was when I launched Avid’s Pro Tools First on Windows 10: An error code kept popping up indicating that the Tascam US-2Ă—2 audio interface wasn’t recognized. Since the US-2Ă—2 is ASIO-compatible (Tascam’s ASIO driver didn’t create conflicts with any other Windows applications), this shouldn’t have been an issue, and ultimately it wasn’t—following the instructions on Avid’s support site, I disabled all playback and recording devices in the Windows Sound panel and then reenabled the US-2Ă—2. Problem solved.

Since effects such as noise reduction, EQ, and loudness normalization are important tools for podcast production, I focused on applying those effects to my recorded tracks. I took into account the ease of use and effectiveness of the processing modes, along with the sophistication of the effect interface and settings. For example, the host-intro tracks that I recorded with the Yeti microphone contained hum generated by the external hard drives on my desk. Also, Skype calls I recorded often had background noise in quiet sections, as well as jarring loudness variations when the caller moved either too close or too far away from their computer’s built-in mic. For each piece of software, I used the available effects to reduce noise during silences and to normalize the levels of the multiple tracks.

The last step was to mix down and export the final production to a format commonly used for podcasts. While some software provides features specifically aimed at podcast production, such as volume leveling and built-in compression options, others required me to download additional software to achieve the same result. For my final assessment, I took into account how easy it was to create my podcast, and also how clean and professional the finished product sounded.

Our pick: Audacity

Audacity is the best audio editing software for amateur podcasters. In addition to satisfying almost all the criteria we set for our ideal audio editing software, Audacity is free, regularly improved and updated by the open-source community, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Compared with other software we evaluated, it has a bare-bones user interface, but the stripped-down UI ultimately makes it easy to navigate once you become familiar with it. A wide range of sophisticated audio processing tools and effects are included, and the program’s features and interface prepare you to use more-advanced audio editing and production software. In other words, Audacity is a great option for beginners, though it does come with a learning curve.

Podcasting software

Some people might find Audacity’s bare-bones interface daunting, but the program is easy to use once you’ve mastered the basics.

After you’ve poked around a bit in the manual to familiarize yourself with the program, Audacity makes it simple to configure hardware, such as a USB microphone or recording interface, attached to your computer. Unlike some other programs, which nest control panels in separate views that you need to select from a menu, Audacity makes all the tools you need to get up and running accessible through the main window. You can easily select the microphone input and audio output, monitor recording levels, and edit tracks—the key things you’ll need when producing podcasts or recording music demos.

Audacity offers an impressive range of sophisticated audio processing tools and effects, including several that podcasters will find indispensable. Silence Finder and Truncate Silence help to highlight and fix gaps between speaking parts in tracks, where background noise levels typically rise. The Noise Reduction feature includes a profile option that lets you teach Audacity to recognize the noise you want to filter out from a specific track. You can apply a limiter to prevent signal levels from exceeding a volume threshold you specify, while the Normalize, Compressor, and Amplify tools help you maintain a balanced level between multiple audio tracks. Audacity provides tools to customize fade-ins and fade-outs, as well as to create crossfades between audio clips and tracks. As with the program’s main interface, the UI for all these effects is bare-bones, but all the controls you need to get the job done are available, and you can preview most effects.

Another advantage of Audacity is its comprehensive manual, which clearly details all aspects of the program and is available for downloading or viewing online. The Audacity Wiki features useful tips and tutorials, and if you still have questions, you’ll likely find answers on the Audacity forum, which has an active community.

Audacity also has many fans in the professional podcast-production world. “I always recommend Audacity because it’s cross-platform and free,” Tom Merritt of Daily Tech News Show told me. “It has some complex features but editing-wise is not difficult to learn.” Jason Howell of TWiT.tv also likes it, though with a few reservations: “Audacity is an excellent audio editor, exports into any audio formats that you’ll need to publish, and also offers a number of basic processing tools to make the sound of the audio even better. Though I will admit that [its] tools can be more difficult to use when compared to those on more advanced DAWs.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Unlike Apple’s GarageBand, which most people can pick up and learn without having to consult a manual, Audacity has a learning curve. If you’ve never used audio or video editing software before, the program’s interface, with its stark mass of boxes, buttons, and grids, can be intimidating. However, Audacity’s manual and online support make it easy to get up and running in a few hours, compared with most other DAW software, which can take weeks or months to master. And the editing skills you learn are transferable to other audio software, as opposed to GarageBand’s idiosyncratic take on timeline editing of audio clips.

Audacity is specifically geared toward audio editing—it’s missing features such as MIDI editing and music notation. This limitation makes it a less flexible option for music production, where you may want to work with MIDI-controlled hardware and virtual instruments alongside recording live tracks with microphones. If that’s your main interest, many other software options cater specifically to the home-studio musician, including our alternate pick, below.

Compared with the tools in the other software we evaluated for this guide, Audacity’s editing tools can be a bit cumbersome, and its audio processing features are generally less sophisticated than what you get with the other programs. And unlike the more complete DAWs we tested, Audacity doesn’t offer nondestructive editing, though it does allow for multiple undos to fix mistakes before saving projects. Make sure to back up your source files before you start working!

Also great: Reaper

If you’re seeking a sophisticated digital audio workstation that’s equally geared toward audio editing and music production, and you’re ready to invest some money, Reaper (available for Windows and Mac) is a great choice. It’s serious, it’s full featured, and it rivals much more expensive software. It’s also a great option for individual podcasters and musicians who want to ramp up their skills to a professional-level platform without spending hundreds of dollars until they need to. (If you aren’t sure it’s for you, Reaper’s maker, Cockos, allows you to try Reaper for free for 60 days. On the other hand, should you end up making in excess of $20,000 yearly from your audio work, you’ll need to purchase a $225 commercial license.)

In contrast to the stark user interface of the free Audacity, Reaper’s interface is slick and professional looking, but also more user friendly. The audio editing tools are more intuitive and easier to use compared with Audacity’s. In Reaper, the ability to zoom in on specific sections using a computer’s trackpad control is especially useful, and the software comes with an extensive library of sophisticated audio effects. On this particular count, Reaper rivals more-expensive options like Cubase. The interface for individual effects is similarly sophisticated, offering presets plus the capability to customize and save your own settings.

Podcasting software

Reaper’s clean, well-organized interface lets you easily manage the program’s sophisticated tools for audio and MIDI editing.

Along with audio editing, Reaper lets you record and edit MIDI tracks, and includes virtual instruments for music production—features that aren’t available in Audacity. And while Reaper’s clean, well-organized interface lets you dive in and quickly start working, the app also has an excellent online manual plus an extensive library of video tutorials. Scanning the videos, I was surprised to find that they detail virtually all aspects of the program, from setting recording levels properly to applying individual effects such as a noise gate.

Perhaps the only downside to Reaper compared with our main pick—besides the price—is that its wealth of features and customization options can overwhelm a novice. Also, the software’s music-creation capabilities may create unneeded clutter for someone purely interested in podcast production.

When you’re ready for prime time: Adobe Audition CC

If you’re serious about podcasting, Adobe Audition CC (available for Windows and Mac) is a more advanced—and more expensive—option specifically designed for professional radio and podcast production. The main benefit Audition offers over the other DAWs we tested comes from its sophisticated and effective built-in suite of noise-reduction tools. It also has powerful and highly customizable compression and EQ settings that go beyond what we found in the other apps we tested; those tools make similar features found in free software like Audacity and GarageBand seem comparatively primitive. If you want to go pro and need the quality to back it up, Audition is the ticket.

Despite its wide range of advanced processing features, Audition is simple to use. It has a comprehensive yet visually uncluttered interface, with most functions accessible through the main editing window. When creating new projects, you can use a template that optimizes the arrangement of tracks and effects for podcast production. The Files window provides a convenient library to store audio assets used in a project, and the Essential Sound panel offers windows with relevant effects and controls for dialogue, music, and sound-effects tracks. Tabs at the top of the Audition UI let you easily switch between Multitrack and Waveform views, with the latter providing both a waveform and a spectral display for fine tweaking of audio files. Finally, Audition has a range of track-level normalization presets that reflect broadcast loudness standards, good for projects you want to make sure are radio ready—a feature unique to Audition.

Podcasting software

Audition CC lets you easily switch between a multitrack timeline and a waveform view with spectral display for detailed editing and audio processing.

The downside to Audition is that all those features come at a cost. Like other software from Adobe, Audition is available only on a subscription basis: $20 per month, or $240 per year. (If you’re a student, that same $20 per month gives you access to the full Adobe CC software suite, including photo/video editing and Web-design applications.) Also, the podcasting pros I interviewed noted that you could get similar quality using free or near-free software options, though they acknowledged that you would have to work hard to customize a program like Audacity to get noise-reduction, compression, and general workflow settings that rival what Audition readily delivers through its wide range of presets.

The competition

Some of the podcast pros I interviewed recommended Apple’s GarageBand for beginners, mostly because it’s easy to use and free with Mac computers. However, GarageBand is available for macOS only, and its audio effects lack the sophistication of those in the other software we tested, including Audacity. When using GarageBand, I had a strong sense that Apple had made things too easy. It does make loop-based music composition very simple, but it’s not the most straightforward platform for audio recording and mixing, with overly simple clip-editing tools. The focus on music composition also means you’ll need to customize the interface for basic audio editing: It’s not friendly to podcast production out of the gate, and it has no relevant presets. Unlike with our main pick, many of the skills you learn working with GarageBand won’t carry over if you upgrade to a more advanced DAW, even to Apple’s own Logic.

Going into this test, the two DAWs I had the most experience with were GarageBand and Cubase. That’s why I was surprised to find how complicated Steinberg Cubase Elements 9 was to use compared with the other programs. Part of that has to do with the powerful nature of the program, which is aimed at music producers. Cubase Elements 9 offers an enormous range of features for its price, but it’s not the best option for novices, especially those mainly interested in creating podcasts.

Avid Pro Tools First is another powerful option, and one that I really liked using due to its uncluttered interface and sophisticated tools for editing and processing audio files. It’s also free—a remarkable thing given that more-advanced versions of Pro Tools are considered the industry standard for music and audio production. But by default Pro Tools First limits you to three projects at any one time, and you need to store them in the cloud, on Avid’s servers. Unless you are willing to pay $5 per month for the expanded plan, you can’t save projects to your computer’s hard drive. And if you decide to upgrade to a paid version of Pro Tools, the cost is a steep jump up from either version of Pro Tools First.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: $150 off Apple’s 11-inch iPad Pro

Wirecutter’s best deals: $150 off Apple’s 11-inch iPad Pro

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (10th generation)

kindle

Street price: $130; deal price: $100

While we’ve seen a few drops already for the newest iteration of this ebook reader, at $100 from a street price of $130 (for the 8GB Wi-Fi version) this is a solid deal and just $10 higher than the very lowest price we’ve seen. This updated model adds waterproofing and Bluetooth so you can stream audiobooks. This sale price will probably be one that we see regularly from now on and we’ll keep an eye out for lower, but for those seeking an ebook reader now, it’s a solid discount.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (10th generation) is the top pick in our guide to the best ebook reader. Nick Guy wrote, “The 2018 Wi-Fi edition of the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is the best e-reader for most people thanks to stellar hardware that makes reading your books a pleasure; a massive ebook catalog that frequently offers better prices than others; and a slew of services unavailable on other readers. You can comfortably navigate your collection, and find and purchase new titles (and download them over Wi-Fi). You can also pay extra for a model with always-connected 3G wireless, a feature that none of the other e-reader makers offer. The Kindle Paperwhite is now waterproof, for reading at the beach or in the bath, and also features Bluetooth for streaming audiobooks.”

iPad Pro (11-inch, 256 GB) – Space Gray

ipad

Street price: $950; deal price: $800

Available for a new low price of $800, this is a significant $150 drop on our preferred configuration of this recently released tablet. This offer is only for the Space Gray color and only in a limited quantity—the sale is slated to end at 5:15 PM ET on 2/8. If you’ve been waiting for a price drop on this high-end tablet, now is a good time to pull the trigger. Also available via Amazon for some buyers with a clipped $100 on-page coupon.

The late 2018 iPad Pro (11-inch, 256 GB) is the new upgrade pick in our guide to the best tablet. Nick Guy wrote, “The 6th-generation iPad is more than enough tablet for most people, but if you need more power, a noticeably larger screen, USB-C input, better cameras, better color accuracy, more than 128 GB of storage, or prefer a nearly edge-to-edge antireflective display with Face ID, the 11-inch iPad Pro gives you all of that in a package that’s slightly taller (7.6 mm) and wider (9 mm) and a tiny bit thinner (1.6 mm).”

Eufy RoboVac 11S Robot Vacuum

eufy

Street price: $220; deal price: $180

In our guide, we praise this recommended robot vacuum for its low profile and slim design, noting that it stands out from the competition by being unobtrusive and rarely needing attention. While we saw a rare deal or two as low as $150 during Cyber Week, we haven’t seen particularly good pricing for the 11S since. Usually $220, it’s down to $180, a good price for the white model, which despite being included in a few sales during the holiday season is discounted somewhat more rarely than the black color.

The Eufy Robovac 11s is the top pick in our guide to the best robot vacuums. Liam McCabe wrote, “The Eufy RoboVac 11S will clean almost every nook of your house, yet you’ll barely notice it. Plenty of robots are good and affordable now, but none of them blend into the background like the 11S does. I’m usually at home while I run my robot vacuums, and trust me, the noise matters. The 11S sounds more like a fan than a vacuum, and it shouldn’t suck your attention or get on your nerves even if you’re in the same room while it’s running. It’s one of the bots that’s least likely to get stuck and quit cleaning mid-session, and it is strong and persistent enough to actually pick up more debris in some situations than bots that cost two or three times as much.”

Anker Nebula Mars II Portable Projector

anker

Street price: $470; deal price: $360 w/ clipped on-page coupon and code NP24EVER

At $360 after you clip the $40 on-page coupon and apply promo code NP24EVER in cart, this matches the lowest price we’ve seen for this projector you can take with you on-the-go. In our guide, we praise it for ease of setup and use, writing that it delivers pretty good image quality considering the size. This is only the second time we’ve seen it below $400, so it’s worth consideration at this price.

The Anker Nebula Mars II is the top pick in our guide to the best portable mini projector. Daniel Varghese and Adrienne Maxwell wrote, “Of all the mini projectors that we tested in 2018, the Anker Nebula Mars II is the easiest to set up and use, and it delivers a fairly bright, accurate image with solid contrast and detail. The Mars II has a clean interface, a well-designed remote, and an optional iOS/Android control app—all of which make navigating between connected sources and built-in streaming video apps like Netflix and Amazon Video simple. Its internal speaker is decent enough that you shouldn’t need to hook up external speakers for a casual movie night, although you can easily connect speakers directly or through Bluetooth. And if you want to use the Mars II unplugged from the wall, its internal battery lasts almost four hours, even if you’re using the built-in Netflix app the entire time.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursday, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go here.

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Putting Solar Panels on Water Is a Great Idea–but Will It Float?

Putting Solar Panels on Water Is a Great Idea–but Will It Float?

Winemaker Greg Allen had a problem. As president of Far Niente Winery in Napa Valley, California, he had done the math on how much land the vineyard could possibly dedicate to solar panels, to offset energy costs. The figure—about two acres—“really hurt,” Allen says. So he compromised: Far Niente completed an array of 2,296 solar panels, 994 of which float on pontoons tethered to the bottom of the winery’s pond. The installation was the world’s first nonexperimental floating solar array.

That was in 2008. Since then floating photovoltaics have proliferated in Asia—yet not so much in the U.S. Japan has more than 60 installations, the most of any country in the world. China, a bourgeoning giant in renewable energy, claims the world’s largest array. That facility, which went online in 2017, floats atop an artificial lake created from a collapsed coal mine near the city of Huainan. The 166,000 panels can produce some 40 megawatts, or enough electricity to power about 15,000 homes. A 2018 World Bank report estimated the global potential for floating solar arrays on artificial water surfaces would exceed 400 gigawatts.

A floating solar array on an irrigation pond in Hyogo prefecture, Japan. Credit: Ciel & Terre International

Although U.S. adoption has been slow, some recent deals may turn the tide. A typical installation consists of solar panels on pontoons tethered to the bottom of a reservoir or retention pond—considered easier to utilize than lakes. Floating or underwater cables carry direct current to an inverter on shore where it is converted to alternating current and sent to the local grid. Engineers must consider multiple factors: systems have to withstand high winds and waves, panels must be resistant to corrosion and anchors have to last for 25 years or more.

But floating installations also offer several advantages over land-based arrays: Most obvious is they do not take up valuable parcels that could be used for agriculture or development. The technology can be easier to install than land-based or roof-mounted systems; once assembled, crews float them into place and anchor them. The arrays can improve the environment as well; blocking sunlight from penetrating the water can reduce evaporation and inhibit algae blooms. (It is not yet clear how the arrays might affect fish, birds or other wildlife.) And because solar cells become less efficient as they heat up, the water’s cooling effect can increase their conversion ability by as much as 20 percent.

Given the benefits, the sluggish pace of adoption in the U.S.—which had just 14 installations at the end of 2018—can be puzzling. Teresa Barnes, who manages the photovoltaic reliability group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), says the availability of open land could be one factor. Yet lack of land has often been a driver at the small number of U.S. sites. That was the case for the Kelseyville County Waterworks District in California, which installed a 720-panel array on its wastewater treatment pond in 2018. Good payback is another incentive; the district anticipates it will recoup installation costs within eight years of operation.

A solar pilot project on a flood control waste pond in Indonesia. Credit: Ciel & Terre International

More installations could arise if it becomes clearer they can be economical, says Charlie Gay, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. (The department is not currently funding any floating solar research projects.) Many of the U.S. installations are recent, so it is too early to know if projected savings are being realized. Far Niente has offset 100 percent of its energy costs in part via a combination of tax breaks and cash rebates.

Robert Spencer, a data scientist and software developer at the NREL, says slow growth in the U.S. may also be due to uncertainties around what the technology can offer. “We’re going to need to have a few high-profile projects that really demonstrate that this can happen at scale and by major players,” he says. Spencer co-authored a study in the December 2018 Environmental Science & Technology that assessed the technology’s potential on 24,419 artificial water bodies in the continental U.S. It found covering just 27 percent of those water bodies with floating solar arrays could produce almost 10 percent of the nation’s current power generation.

Kim Trapani, an engineer at the professional services company Stantec who was not involved in Spencer’s study, is not quite as sanguine. She co-authored a review of floating photovoltaic installations in Progress in Photovoltaics in 2014. She says Spencer’s analysis did not assess output for each location, but assumed an average. “The northern states are going to have less solar radiation than the southern states, and so the energy production would vary significantly,” she notes. “Technically there is a lot of potential to generate electricity from these kinds of floating solar arrays [but] the actual power generation values estimated by this assessment could be argued.”

Large-scale successes in the U.S. may be coming. Cities and regions could emerge as the leaders. In July 2018 the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a proposal for an 11.6-megawatt floating solar pilot plant at the Van Norman Lakes Reservoir, and is currently reviewing feasibility studies. The Tampa Bay Water authority has added a reservoir-based solar power feasibility project to its 2019 capital improvement program, scheduled for approval in June this year, says Maribel Medina, a senior professional engineer for the authority.

The commercial sector is showing more interest as well. Chris Bartle, a business development manager for floating solar at the solar power development firm Ciel & Terre, says his company completely changed its portfolio from land- and roof-mounted solar to floating arrays about nine years ago. He says the firm expects floating photovoltaics to grow considerably in the U.S., particularly in places like California, where land is expensive. “It’s an untapped niche, an untapped surface area of the planet,” he says.

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Waymo may team up with Renault-Nissan on self-driving taxis

Waymo may team up with Renault-Nissan on self-driving taxis


AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Waymo might not be done courting the automotive world after working with the likes of Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover. Nikkei claims the Alphabet-owned company is in the “final phase” of talks to partner with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance on self-driving car services. While there aren’t too many specifics, one project would have Waymo and Nissan work together on autonomous taxis, including a system for booking rides. You’d hear about the union in the spring, Nikkei said.

While there’s nothing official yet, both sides would have a strong incentive to cooperate. For Waymo, this could provide access to markets where FCA and Jaguar don’t have as much of a presence. Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, meanwhile, would avoid the costs of crafting their own driverless car technology and could learn a thing or two from the Waymo One service. This could be particularly helpful in Japan, where driver rules limit ridesharing services like Uber and make taxis that much more important.

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Samsung’s rumored Galaxy Sport watch might ditch the rotating bezel

Samsung’s rumored Galaxy Sport watch might ditch the rotating bezel


91mobiles

Samsung isn’t done refreshing its smartwatches just because the Galaxy Watch is on shelves, although its next update might be contentious. A 91mobiles source claims to have an image of the Galaxy Sport (just a tentative name), and its most telling change is what isn’t there — namely, the rotating bezel you’ve seen on Samsung wristwear for years. It’s not clear how you’d control the watch beyond the touchscreen and the usual buttons, although this doesn’t rule out a tweaked on-screen interface or capacitive touch on the case.

If the rendered image is accurate, you will get a slicker device in return for the change in control scheme. The watch would be sleeker and posher-looking (though still very much a fitness watch), with a brushed-metal finish and a matching silicone strap. It’s likely to have familiar innards, including GPS, a heart rate sensor and NFC for Samsung Pay.

You might not have to wait long to see the Galaxy Sport. The FCC and other regulators have already cleared the device, and Samsung is poised to hold its first Unpacked event of the year on February 20th. There’s a real possibility you can pick up this fitness watch alongside a Galaxy S10 as winter comes to a close.

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The best toaster oven

The best toaster oven

By Michael Sullivan and Brendan Nystedt

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full toaster oven guide here.

After more than 90 hours of research and testing—and making stacks and stacks of toast, mini pizza bagels, and cookies—we think the small Panasonic FlashXpress toaster oven and the large Cuisinart TOB-260N1 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven are the best for most people. We recommend the compact Panasonic toaster oven only for small jobs like making frozen snacks, and the sizable Cuisinart toaster oven for everything, including bigger tasks, like baking a pizza or roasting a whole chicken. Both models consistently produced almost perfectly browned toast and evenly baked cookies. They performed as well as (or better than) toaster ovens costing two or three times as much.

The reasonably priced Panasonic FlashXpress excels at making toast, cookies, and frozen snacks. In our tests, it cooked food evenly and didn’t generate any hot spots that would otherwise cause inconsistent toasting. Impressively, it made toast faster than most of the other models we tried. At around 1 cubic foot in volume, it takes up very little space on a counter, but it’s still large enough to fit four pieces of bread or two slices of leftover pizza. We think the Panasonic is best for people who just want to use a toaster oven for toast or other small jobs, like preparing a handful of frozen snacks. For accomplishing bigger tasks, consider getting our other picks, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven or the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven, which hold nine and six pieces of bread, respectively.

The large Cuisinart TOB-260N1 offers nearly all of the capabilities of a full-size oven. It delivers even heat to up to nine slices of bread and can easily handle a 13-inch frozen pizza or a whole roast chicken (whereas our other pick, the Panasonic FlashXpress, can fit only a handful of frozen snacks). The Cuisinart’s three-year warranty is outstanding, as are its impressive accessories, which include a pizza stone. Like the Panasonic, this toaster oven was one of the fastest at preheating to 350 °F in our tests. Since it’s so large (it measures roughly 20.5 by 13.25 by 11.25 inches), we recommend this model for bigger households that have ample space for a sizeable countertop oven.

The Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, a 1,800-watt convection toaster with the company’s Element IQ technology, is a great medium-size model that’s more compact than our Cuisinart pick but bigger than the Panasonic FlashXpress. We were impressed by its ability to maintain a set temperature better than most of its competition. It doesn’t toast quite as evenly as the Cuisinart, but it bakes cookies and melts cheese well. Compared with the Panasonic, the Breville has a more modern, intuitive interface. However, it is more expensive, lacks an oven light, and doesn’t offer a pizza stone like the Cuisinart.

The inexpensive Hamilton Beach 31401 toasted bread better than any other toaster oven less than $100. This no-frills model lacks many of the features included in our other picks, such as digital controls and preset cooking features, but it heats evenly. Its humble size makes it ideal for kitchens with limited counter space, but its oven cavity is still large enough to fit four slices of bread. The Hamilton Beach runs cooler than other models we tested, so you’ll need to increase the temperature by about 25 degrees when baking or roasting. However, we think this is a forgivable drawback considering its low price.

Why you should trust us

To winnow down our selection of models to test we spoke with Martha Rose Shulman, cookbook author, food writer, and frequent contributor to The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter). We also consulted reviews from America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required), Consumer Reports (subscription required), Serious Eats, and Good Housekeeping. Additionally, we looked at highly rated models on the sites of retailers such as Amazon, Sears, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Michael Sullivan has spent more than 50 hours researching and testing toaster ovens for this guide. As a staff writer at Wirecutter, he has written reviews for all kinds of kitchen equipment and gadgets, including toasters. This guide builds on work by freelance writer Brendan Nystedt.

Who should get this

A toaster oven is a multipurpose appliance that lets you toast bread and bake or reheat food. It’s a nice alternative to firing up your full-size oven, especially in warmer months. It’s also great for small rentals that have tiny kitchens with an oven that doesn’t work well (or is missing altogether). If your kitchen is so active that the oven is full, you can use the toaster oven like Martha Rose Shulman, chef and author of The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking. When she runs out of room, she told us, she turns to the toaster oven to make gratins, lasagne, and sandwiches.

And what about regular old toasters? We have picks for those, too. In our original guide, Wirecutter strategy editor Ganda Suthivarakom likened a toaster oven to a passenger car and your big oven to an SUV: “Both are useful, and both will take you where you need to go, but the little car may be faster, more energy efficient, and more convenient for those shorter, smaller trips you commonly take.”

Toaster ovens can cost anywhere from $25 to $1,000, but we focused our search on those costing between $25 and $550. Wondering how much bang you’ll get for your buck? Here’s what each price level typically offers:

Under $100:

  • Small-to-medium oven cavity (that can hold four pieces of toast or a few frozen snacks)
  • Imprecise temperature regulation (usually)
  • Manual controls and timer
  • Fewer accessories (think one oven rack instead of two)

$100 to $250:

  • Medium to large oven cavity (that can hold up to six or nine pieces of toast)
  • Good temperature regulation (usually)
  • Digital screen/electronic controls and timer
  • Preset cooking functions (such as those for cooking pizza or frozen foods)
  • More accessories (such as multiple racks and baking pans)
  • An oven light

$250 and up:

  • Everything you get from a $100 to $250 toaster
  • Better temperature regulation
  • Extra features (such as air frying modes and dehydrating modes)

How we picked

Toaster oven

Our picks (clockwise from top left): Hamilton Beach 4 Slice Toaster Oven, Panasonic FlashXpress, Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven, and Breville Smart Oven. Photo: Michael Hession

After speaking to our expert and spending years on our own long-term testing, we made a list of the most important qualities to look for when choosing a toaster oven:

Ease of operation: Aside from its performance, a good toaster oven should be intuitive to use with clearly labeled controls and an easy to read display. The most basic features should include adjustable temperature controls (ideally between 150 °F and 450 °F) and adjustable toast-shade settings.

Even heating: Several factors play a role in how evenly food cooks: the distance food is placed from the heating elements, the number of elements used, and the placement of the elements inside the oven.

Toaster oven

Toasting bread in the Breville Smart Oven. Photo: Michael Hession

Some toaster ovens, like our budget pick, the Hamilton Beach 31401, are equipped with only two heating elements. But having fewer heating elements isn’t necessarily an indication of poor toasting performance. If the oven cavity is small, the unit doesn’t require additional elements to regulate heat. That being said, you want to avoid larger toaster ovens with only a couple of elements because they won’t be able to distribute heat evenly. The more heating elements a toaster oven has, the bigger and more expensive it will be.

While most people wouldn’t shop for a toaster oven by examining its heating elements, we focused on three main types during our research. Nichrome heaters (metal wires, like in a slot toaster) and quartz elements (which look like long coils encased in a glass tube) are the most common heating elements you’ll find in toaster ovens. The big advantage quartz has over nichrome is that it heats up considerably faster. The third type is a ceramic element, which is often found in space heaters. It has the ability to heat up quickly and maintain even temperatures. None of the models we tested use ceramic exclusively, but one model, the Panasonic FlashXpress, uses both quartz and ceramic. The type of heating elements used in toaster ovens don’t necessarily correlate to price. For instance, our budget pick costs less than $50 but has the same quartz elements as the Cuisinart, which costs more than $150. And the Wolf countertop oven we tested, which costs about $550, uses nichrome elements, which are typically found in cheaper models.

Reasonable size: We looked at a range of toaster ovens in various sizes. Some people want a small oven for simple tasks like making toast or baking snacks and cookies. Others may prefer a larger unit akin to a countertop oven to cook a 12- or 13-inch pizza or roast a whole chicken. Keep in mind, a large toaster oven can be pretty heavy and is more cumbersome to move around your kitchen, which means it’s more likely live on your counter. Small toaster ovens are much lighter and easier to tuck away in a cupboard. We recommend choosing a toaster oven with a capacity large enough to accomplish your cooking needs, but small enough to fit the confines of your kitchen.

Toaster oven

The Cuisinart TOB-206N1 was the only toaster oven we tested that included a pizza stone. Photo: Michael Hession

Useful accessories and extra features: Most toaster ovens come with the same basic accessories: a crumb tray, an oven rack, and a baking pan. More expensive models typically offer multiple oven racks and additional pans, such as broiling and pizza pans. A crumb tray is absolutely necessary to catch crumbs and grease. But if you already have a quarter baking pan that fits the dimensions of your toaster oven, you may not find some of these other accessories very useful. However, most toaster ovens have unusual dimensions that don’t fit standard baking pans, so it’s nice that they’re included. If you want to purchase extra oven racks or baking bans, most manufacturers sell these separately online.

A reliable timer and an oven light are nice additions but not necessary. Other features, like automatic cooking modes and racks that pull out when you open the door, are also convenient. Some features are less clearly valuable—we saw everything from toaster/toaster-oven crossbreeds to models with rotisseries built in. Ultimately, we focused our search on models that were able to handle baking, toasting, and other standard tasks well.

One feature that manufacturers like to tout is convection, which basically means that a fan will circulate the hot air inside the oven. Convection has a benefit in full-size ovens, where it can reduce cooking times, but it’s not clear how useful it is in small ovens, as Consumer Reports and Serious Eats note. We did our own test to see how break-and-bake Toll House cookies differed when baked using a convection setting versus a standard setting. The convection-baked cookies were crispy on the outside and slightly undercooked in the center, while the conventionally-baked cookies were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. However, the results didn’t leave us feeling one method was superior to the other. We didn’t consider convection a must-have feature when we selected models to test (though nearly all high-end models include it).

We also looked at smart toaster ovens, such as the exorbitantly priced June Oven, which boasts an HD camera that monitors your food as it cooks, carbon fiber heating elements, and two convection fans. (Ultimately we don’t think these high-tech, high-price ovens are worth buying, which we discuss in our guide to the June).

Sufficient warranties: Regardless of price, most toaster ovens offer a standard one-year warranty. One exception is the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 (one of our top picks), which was the only model we tested that came with an impressive three-year warranty.

How we tested

Toaster oven

Our heat-map results from the Breville Smart Oven. Photo: Michael Hession

For our 2018 update, we put 11 toaster ovens through a battery of tests in our New York City test kitchen. First, we filled each toaster with as many slices of basic white bread as we could. For consistency, we set each machine to the medium shade setting and used the toasted results to create a heat map. This showed us any hot spots, and how evenly each oven toasted.

Toaster oven

We made pizza Bagel Bites in each toaster oven to see how evenly they melted cheese. Photo: Michael Hession

We also made break-and-bake Toll House cookies, evaluating the finished cookies for color, consistency, and texture: Were they evenly baked? Or were they underdone or burnt? Additionally, we made pizza Bagel Bites, keeping an eye on how browned the cheese was, whether or not the cheese effectively melted, and how crunchy the bagel got on the underside. To even the playing field, we didn’t use the convection setting on any of the models we tested.

Toaster oven

We made break-and-bake Toll House cookies in the toaster ovens to test for color, consistency, and texture. Photo: Michael Hession

In 2015, we also ran a bonus round of testing on chicken thighs. We wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of each oven’s broil mode, if it had one. The results were disappointing on every single model, so don’t expect much from this feature, even if the oven can roast and bake with no problem.

To test how well the toaster ovens maintained a set temperature, we stuck an air probe thermometer into their cavities and monitored them for 20 minutes. We also tested the unique features on certain models, such as the air fry and dehydrate modes on the Breville Smart Oven Air. Additionally, we took note of any excessively loud beeps and evaluated the usefulness of each model’s accessories.

The best small toaster oven: Panasonic FlashXpress

Toaster oven

Photo: Michael Hession

We recommend the Panasonic FlashXpress for those who want a small model for making toast, preparing a few frozen snacks, or reheating a couple slices of pizza. We were impressed with its strong baking performance, compact size, and reasonable price. It cooked foods to an even, lovely golden brown better than most other models we tried, and its toast shade settings were among the most accurate we tested. For a relatively low price, the FlashXpress stands out from a crowded pack of mediocre, cheap models, offering performance and features we found comparable to toaster ovens that are larger and double the cost.

Bread toasted on the medium setting came out beautifully golden brown without any scorching or charring. Other models we tested, such as the KitchenAid KCO273SS, toasted bread unevenly, with extreme light and dark patches. Most toaster ovens get hotter with every batch of toast you make, which can quickly leave you with charred pieces of toast if you’re not closely watching. The FlashXpress compensates for the increased temperature by automatically reducing the cook time so the results are the same every time. In our tests, the first batch of toast took about 2 minutes, 30 seconds, while the second and third batches took 2 minutes, 4 seconds and 1 minute, 20 seconds, respectively. These were some of the fastest toasting times of all the toaster ovens we tested.

Toaster oven

The Panasonic FlashXpress browned frozen pizza Bagel Bites better than the other small toaster ovens we tested and about as well as ovens costing twice as much. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

The FlashXpress made crispy-yet-melty Bagel Bites that were more consistently browned from one edge of the oven cavity to the other. Some ovens’ results weren’t dark enough; others put out too much heat or had hot spots in the center. Up against bigger, more expensive toaster ovens, the FlashXpress more than held its own.

Toaster oven

The toast shade control on the Panasonic FlashXpress was very accurate, giving us even results on the medium setting. Photo: Michael Hession

The FlashXpress was one of the smallest toaster ovens we tested, so it’s a great option for those with limited counter space (it measures a bit more than one cubic foot at 13.5 by 13.5 by 14.5 inches). It takes up only a little more space than most four-slot pop-up toasters and fits four pieces of bread (compared with up to nine in our other top pick, the Cuisinart TOB-206N1). You can’t cook a casserole or a loaf of bread in this toaster oven, but there’s still plenty of space for items like leftover pizza, frozen waffles, and cookies.

Toaster oven

We liked the spring-loaded auto-eject rack designed into the Panasonic. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

Beyond performance, there are other features that set the Panasonic FlashXpress apart from the competition. Hooks on the door help eject the toaster’s wire rack so you don’t have to reach your hand as far into the oven cavity to retrieve your food. Though this feature was common with some of the larger, more expensive models we tested, the Panasonic FlashXpress was one of the few to include door hooks at a lower price.

We also liked that the Panasonic FlashXpress beeps when the cycle has finished and turns itself off automatically. This model also has an oven light, which is rare for toaster ovens at this price level. According to the manual, preheating isn’t necessary. However, we’d still recommend waiting a couple of minutes for the unit to preheat for best results.

A “newer model” of the FlashXpress (the PAN-NB-G110PW) is listed on Amazon, but it is just a white version of the same toaster oven.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Panasonic FlashXpress

We’d hesitate to describe the Panasonic FlashXpress’s interface design as being elegant, but it presents a straightforward cooking experience with its clearly labeled controls. Unlike the other toaster ovens we recommend that have dial controls, the Panasonic has blister-push buttons for all but the power switch. The buttons are perfectly usable—not as sticky and mushy as others we tested—but a dial would be preferable.

Using a retro red LED display, the Panasonic FlashXpress’s timer looks more like a time bomb from a 1990s action thriller than a modern kitchen appliance. While it’s not hard to read the display dead-on, it can be tricky to discern from off angles. We found that the displays on the pricier Cuisinart and Breville toaster ovens were easier to read.

Additionally, the Panasonic FlashXpress, as a Japanese appliance, is understandably designed around degrees Celsius for temperature input. There’s a converted-to-Fahrenheit selector on the temperature indicator, but the markings are oddly spaced. Want to punch in 400 °F? You can get either 425 °F or 390 °F but nothing between. That said, this idiosyncrasy didn’t negatively impact any of the items we cooked.

Toaster oven

Unlike the dial-centric designs typical of other toaster ovens, the Panasonic FlashXpress has membrane buttons. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

Another quirk of the FlashXpress is that the oven light turns on and off periodically throughout the cooking process, because the rear heating element doubles as the light. We didn’t find this to be particularly annoying, but it’s something to be aware of before you buy.

Toaster oven

The Panasonic FlashXpress is equipped with a bright light, which turns on periodically while the toaster is operating. Photo: Michael Hession

When mapping out the Panasonic’s internal heat distribution, we found a 1-inch margin right behind the door where the toast didn’t brown well. Since you can’t fit full slices of bread in that space anyway, it’s not a huge deal (just remember to push your bread all the way to the back of the oven rack). However, it did affect other foods that were in that zone. While Bagel Bites and cookies placed in the cool area were thoroughly cooked, they weren’t as pleasantly browned. But similar problems were common in many of the ovens we tested.

Toaster oven

The retro LED display on the Panasonic’s timer is not the easiest to read at sharp angles. The timer counts down in 30-second increments, which displays as .5 minute to the right of the larger minute display. Photo: Michael Hession

Also, the Panasonic FlashXpress has a somewhat flimsy stamped-metal crumb tray compared with the sturdier trays of our other picks. After only a few cycles, the Panasonic tray was already warped. However, the warping didn’t make it overly difficult to pull or clean the tray.

Toaster oven

The Panasonic’s stamped-metal crumb tray was warped after only a few cycles. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

Should you encounter any problems with the FlashXpress under its one-year warranty, contact Panasonic.

The best large toaster oven: Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven

Toaster oven

Photo: Michael Hession

The versatile Cuisinart TOB-260N1 is one of the best toaster ovens that we’ve found for bigger jobs, like cooking a 13-inch pizza, roasting a whole chicken, or toasting up to nine slices of bread at once. This model is a different beast entirely than the Panasonic FlashXpress (our pick for the best small toaster oven): It’s almost twice the size, and its much bigger oven cavity can handle a wider variety of cooking tasks. The Cuisinart toasted bread more evenly than the other toaster ovens we tried at this price level. It also has a better warranty, more accessories, and one of the shortest preheating times of all the models we tested.

Toaster oven

The Cuisinart had the best edge-to-edge heating out of all the big toaster ovens we tested in this price level. Photo: Michael Hession

Without a doubt, the Cuisinart distributed heat evenly across its voluminous cavity, toasting nine slices of bread in a single batch to near golden-brown perfection. Corner to corner, no other oven was as consistent (aside from the exorbitantly priced Wolf Gourmet Countertop Oven). Similarly priced large toaster ovens (like ones from Breville and KitchenAid) both concentrated heat in the center of the oven and had a more significant fall-off of heat toward the edges.

The Cuisinart comes with a number of accessories: two racks, a baking pan, a broiling tray, and a ceramic pizza stone. After years of long-term testing, the pizza stone continues to make crisp, golden-brown pizza crust. Most of the other competitors we saw at this price level come with only a single rack and a flimsy metal pizza pan, so the extras with the Cuisinart feel like a step up. The oven cavity is also wide enough to fit a standard quarter-sheet tray. The Cuisinart has four slots for the racks, with metal hooks that pull out the middle rack when the door is opened. It was one of the fastest models to preheat to 350 °F, taking just over 3 minutes.

The Cuisinart has one unusual feature we didn’t see with any other toaster oven: a setting called dual mode. It’s a basic way of programming your own cooking cycle by hooking two existing modes together to play out back-to-back. So, let’s say you’re baking a couple of cinnamon rolls. Using dual mode, you could, for instance, bake them to perfection, and then run a 15-minute warming cycle automatically after they’re done cooking while you wait for your family to get out of bed.

The Cuisinart has a three-year limited warranty, while most competitors include just one-year warranties for the same price. Contact Cuisinart for repairs or a replacement.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven

Toaster oven

The Cuisinart’s controls took some getting used to since the dial control functions as a combined start/stop button and timer. Photo: Brendan Nystedt

The biggest shortcoming on the Cuisinart is the single dial control, which functions as a combined start/stop button and timer. It’s not as intuitive as the two-knob controls on the Breville Smart Oven, but once we familiarized ourselves with it, we appreciated its sleeker, pared-down interface.

Also, we found the middle shade setting for toasting (setting 4) to be a bit too dark. We recommend using setting 3 for making perfect golden-brown toast.

Long-term testing notes: Cuisinart Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven

Writer Michael Sullivan had the gas shut off in his apartment building for nearly four months and used the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 for doing everything from baking cakes and cookies, to roasting whole chickens and quarter-sheet trays of vegetables. After a year and a half of persistent use, it’s still going strong.

Runner-up: Breville Smart Oven

Toaster oven

Photo: Michael Hession

The medium-size Breville Smart Oven has all of the functionality of our larger main pick, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, but has a slightly smaller footprint. This model did well in our tests, toasting bread almost as evenly as the Cuisinart. However, it’s slower to preheat and lacks an internal light. That said, we appreciated the Breville’s intuitive interface, easy-to-read display, and ability to regulate heat well. Since the Breville didn’t surpass the Cuisinart in our tests and costs significantly more, we recommend it only if you prefer its medium size.

The Breville Smart Oven toasted bread evenly from front to back, with paler results from side to side, but it still toasted more evenly than the Breville Smart Oven Pro and the Hamilton Beach 31230. The Breville Smart Oven can fit up to six slices of bread or a 12-inch pizza. (We found that six slices of bread toast best on heat setting 4, while one to four slices toast best on heat setting 6.)

Toaster oven

In our tests, the Breville Smart Oven toasted bread evenly from front to back, with paler results from side to side. Photo: Michael Hession

The Breville Smart Oven comes with several accessories, too: a single rack, a baking pan, a broiler pan, and a non-stick pizza pan. Though we preferred the pizza stone from the Cuisinart over the round metal pan from the Breville Smart Oven, it’s still a nice addition for baking frozen pizza. The oven is also wide enough to fit a standard quarter sheet tray. Additionally, we liked the magnets on the Breville Smart Oven that glide the rack out when opening the door, making it easier to retrieve hot items.

Toaster oven

The crumb tray on the Breville Smart Oven was more durable than the flimsy tray on the Panasonic FlashXpress. Photo: Michael Hession

Of all the toaster ovens we tried, this model has the easiest-to-use controls. In fact, we understood how the controls worked without having to refer to the user manual, which wasn’t the case with the Cuisinart. The legend displayed on the door also conveniently tells you where to place the rack for broiling, toasting, and baking.

Toaster oven

The Breville Smart Oven had among the easiest-to-use controls out of all the toaster ovens we tried. Photo: Michael Hession

One glitch is that the convection mode automatically activates whenever you adjust the function knob. To deactivate this mode, you have to press the convection button each time to turn it off. This is a little annoying, but we don’t consider it a dealbreaker since this model is so easy to use and provides solid results. Also, the Breville doesn’t have an internal light, but we found that the heating elements provide enough illumination for you to see inside to check your food.

Toaster oven

We liked the magnets on the Breville Smart Oven that glide the rack out when opening the door, making it easier to retrieve hot items. Photo: Michael Hession

The Breville is backed by a one-year limited warranty, which isn’t as good as the Cuisinart’s three-year warranty. Contact Breville for repairs or a replacement.

Long-term testing notes: Breville Smart Oven

Wirecutter kitchen writer Lesley Stockton, who has owned the Breville Smart Oven for about two years, said, “I use it almost daily for a wide range of cooking applications like toast, baked potatoes, small fruit tarts, and finishing steaks and chops. It’s a lifesaver in the summertime because my conventional oven turns our apartment into a hot box during the sweltering months. I’ve burned through four toaster ovens over the course of my adult life, and the Breville is by far my favorite.”

Budget pick: Hamilton Beach 4 Slice Toaster Oven

Toaster oven

Photo: Michael Hession

If our other picks have more features than you need, we recommend the inexpensive, no-frills Hamilton Beach 4 Slice Toaster Oven (model 31401). The Hamilton Beach’s two quartz heating elements toasted bread faster and more evenly than any other oven we tested less than $100. It three manual knobs to control the settings. While it lacks most of the features included in high-end models, such as preset cooking functions, a convection setting, and an internal light, it excels at the basics, like making toast, cookies, and frozen snacks. Its small footprint is ideal for kitchens with limited counter space. It has a few quirks that are expected with such a cheap model (such as running several degrees cooler than its set temperature), but on the whole we think they’re negligible.

Toaster oven

We found it difficult to determine the toast shade setting on the timer knob. It took us multiple attempts to find the appropriate medium-shade setting. Photo: Michael Hession

The Hamilton Beach has manual knobs that adjust the temperature (from 150 °F to broil/toast mode), the function (broil, toast, and bake), and the 30-minute timer. The biggest drawback to this model is the toast shade setting on the timer dial. You have to turn the knob past the 10-minute mark and then reverse it to the desired shade setting. However, it’s difficult to determine exactly where the dial should be placed for your preferred toast shade. Eventually, we were able to find the sweet spot on the dial for our desired doneness, but it took multiple attempts. That said, the toast came out remarkably even for a toaster oven of this caliber. Like most toaster ovens, the Hamilton Beach will get hotter after each batch of toast you make in a row. You’ll need to reduce the toast shade setting for each subsequent batch you make to prevent the bread from burning.

This model comes with the most basic accessories, including an oven rack, a baking pan, and a crumb tray. More advanced digital models will alert you once the oven is preheated to a set temperature, but the Hamilton Beach lacks this feature. The instruction manual recommends allowing five minutes for the toaster oven to preheat. That said, a charming, old-school ding does alert you when the timer goes off. We preferred this subtle sound to the ear-shattering beeps on some digital models, like the Wolf Gourmet Countertop Oven.

Toaster oven

Considering it’s such a cheap model, we were impressed by the Hamilton Beach’s ability to toast evenly. Photo: Michael Hession

The Hamilton Beach runs cooler than other models we tested, so you’ll need to increase the temperature by about 25 degrees when baking cookies or snacks. However, we think this is a forgivable drawback considering its low price tag. The indicator light is a helpful feature that allows you to see that the unit is on, but we did notice it’s difficult to detect unless you crouch down to see it. The Hamilton Beach doesn’t have a strong spring mechanism to keep the oven door from falling open like our other picks. Be mindful of this when opening the door to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the hinge.

We’ve read some user reviews regarding food catching fire in the Hamilton Beach. Though we never experienced this in our tests, always be sure to place food at least 1 inch from the heating element. Also, clean the heating elements and the bottom of the unit before operating. An accumulation of crumbs and other food particles can burn and begin to smoke if not cleaned out regularly.

The Hamilton Beach 4 Slice Toaster Oven comes with a one-year warranty. Contact Hamilton Beach for repairs or a replacement.

Care and maintenance

To prep your toaster oven, you’ll need to run several cycles with the machine empty before using it to cook anything you plan to eat. This way, any industrial residues inside the oven (which are applied to prevent corrosion while the machines are shipped and stored) can burn off and don’t have a chance to get into your food. Do this in a ventilated space if possible; depending on the oven, you’ll smell fumes in the first round or two. While you wait, take the time to wash the rack and accessories in warm, soapy water.

Once you’re up and running, we recommend you empty the crumb tray often. To keep grease from dripping on the lower heating element, be sure to use foil and a pan underneath the item you’re cooking. If grease splatters inside the oven, clean the interior according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

It’s common for most toasters to release steam while toasting, so don’t be alarmed. This is a normal occurrence, especially if the bread is particularly moist.

The competition

Under $100

The Black+Decker TO3250XSB 8-Slice Extra-Wide Convection Countertop Toaster Oven hogs a lot of counter space. It toasted unevenly and burned cookies and Bagel Bites in our tests. Also, this model had difficulty maintaining its internal temperature.

The Black+Decker TO1332SBD 4-Slice Toaster Oven was the most inconsistent in our tests, burning some things and undercooking others.

The Black+Decker TO1303SB has low ratings on Amazon. We found that it was cheaply built, gives you little control over the the toast shade, and has a small interior space.

The Cuisinart TOB-40 Custom Classic Toaster Oven Broiler is easy to use, but bread became too dark on its medium setting. Also, this model has no timer, so you’ll have to keep a close watch on your food to prevent it from overcooking.

The Hamilton Beach Easy Reach Oven with Convection, Silver (31126) is popular on Amazon, but we weren’t fans of its lid, which opens up over the top of the oven instead of down. Many people with small kitchens store items like metal bowls or sheet pans on top of their ovens, and the lid prevents that. Also, its medium toast setting produced pale results.

The Krups Deluxe Convection Toaster Oven OK710D51 received high scores from Consumer Reports, but we found it didn’t toast evenly. However, it baked cookies and Bagel Bites well, and maintained a set temperature within 30 degrees. We also appreciated that is comes with multiple oven racks. Ultimately, we felt our picks performed better overall and don’t take up as much space on a counter.

We were underwhelmed by the Proctor Silex 4-Slice Toaster Oven. We dismissed this model because it was plagued by the same inconsistency problems as the Black+Decker TO1303SB model.

The Oster Large Digital Countertop Oven (TSSTTVMNDG) has cheap plastic components. In our tests, its performance was inconsistent and it had hot spots and high running temperatures. Consumer Reports gave it a score of 64 and chose it as its best buy in the category, but said, “The model’s overall toasting performance was only so-so.”

Between $100 and $200

The Breville Mini Smart Oven’s main drawback is that it toasted bread inconsistently. That said, it baked cookies and Bagel Bites well. It was also able to regulate its internal temperature surprisingly well. We liked this model overall, but in the end we dismissed it because it didn’t perform as well as the Panasonic FlashXpress and costs about $30 more.

The KitchenAid 12″ Convection Digital Countertop Oven (model KCO273SS) came with very nice racks and the clearest display of all the toaster ovens we tested, but it didn’t toast quite as evenly as our picks.

The Cuisinart TOB-135 toasted bread unevenly, and its temperature control was less consistent, so we were able to dismiss it.

$200 and up

The June Oven is a smart countertop oven with an internal camera, built-in probe thermometer that estimates when your food will be cooked through, and several preprogrammed cooking functions. The HD camera can recognize certain ingredients, automatically prompting the interface to recommend corresponding cooking programs. Plus, a Wi-Fi connection allows you to use an app to monitor your food with the camera and control the oven from anywhere in your home—or even miles away. For all these features, though, we were disappointed with the June’s performance, especially given its high price. We wish it had additional cooking programs and that the recipes were more enticing and better written. The camera is fun to use, but it doesn’t make cooking easier. And although the June is larger than most toaster ovens, its capacity is still limited compared with that of a full-size oven, especially if you plan to prepare food for four or more people.

The De’Longhi Livenza Digital Convection Oven did not toast evenly in our tests. It also had a difficult time maintaining its internal temperature (which fluctuated between 322 °F and 369 °F when set to 350 °F).

In our tests, the Smart Oven Air’s PID temperature control system impressively regulated the toaster’s internal temperature within just 5 degrees, but it made inconsistently shaded toast. This model also boasts a super convection air-frying mode and a dehydrating mode. Both of these features worked well, but we’re not sure how useful they are for most people. The frozen french fries we made using the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 were nearly indistinguishable from the fries we made in the Smart Oven Air. The dehydrating mode made perfect dried apple rings, but the oven cavity has the capacity to fit only three dehydrating racks (two of which need to be purchased separately). Also, each rack can only hold apple slices from about one and a half apples, which isn’t much. Since it’s so expensive, we’d recommend this model only for people who want to air-fry or dehydrate foods in small batches.

Toaster oven

The Breville Smart Oven Air’s dehydrating mode made perfect dried apple rings. However, it has a much smaller capacity than a dedicated dehydrator would have. Photo: Michael Hession

We appreciated the compact size of the Breville Compact Smart Oven (BOV650XL), but it didn’t do well in many of our tests. Its price is also more than the Panasonic, which we like more overall.

The Smart Oven Plus had low availability at the time of our testing, so we opted not to test it. It’s very similar to the Smart Oven Pro, which we’ve previously dismissed.

The Breville Smart Oven Pro is nearly identical to our runner-up pick, the Breville Smart Oven. While the Pro adds a couple of minor features (a slow cook mode and an internal light), the Bagel Bites we toasted between the door and the front of the oven’s rack were noticeably paler than those in the middle and back of the oven. Consumer Reports (subscription required) found the same thing, giving the Pro a lower score on “full batch” than the Smart Oven.

The exorbitantly priced Wolf Gourmet Countertop Oven produced the most evenly browned toast of any model we tested. Consumer Reports (subscription required) also gave it high marks. That said, it took about 7 minutes to get those unparalleled results. To be fair, it’s a countertop oven, not a toaster oven, so a slower cooking time is to be expected. But the Wolf was also slower to preheat than our picks. It took up a lot of counter space and beeped loudly too. We think it’s best for people who don’t have space for a full-size oven in their home, or for those who have a lot of counter space and need an additional oven.

Toaster oven

The pricey Wolf Gourmet Countertop Oven took a whopping 7 minutes to achieve perfectly browned toast. Photo: Michael Hession

We opted not to test the new Panasonic Countertop Oven and Indoor Grill with Induction Oven (NU-HX100S) because it has received mediocre reviews on Amazon.com. The grill pan seems useful for indoor grilling, but multiple reviewers claimed it was difficult to clean. Other reviews indicate that this model takes an exceptionally long time to preheat and that the oven cavity is small.

The Cuisinart CSO-300 promises to speed up cooking times by at least 40 percent by incorporating steam heat. However, we didn’t test it because it’s more of a steam oven than a toaster oven.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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Alphabet is exploring smart shoes that know when you fall

Alphabet is exploring smart shoes that know when you fall


Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo via Getty Images

Alphabet’s Verily isn’t done finding new places for its health-oriented wearable tech. CNBC sources claim the firm has developed prototype smart shoes that measure movement and weight, and could detect when you’ve fallen — not a novel concept, but still relatively rare. These wouldn’t be fitness shoes, then. Instead, they could track rapid weight gain (a sign of congestive heart failure) or send an alert if you take a tumble to the ground. That last part could be particularly helpful for people who have mobility issues but still want a degree of independence.

Whether or not they become a reality isn’t clear. Verily has reportedly been looking for a co-partner to develop the shoes and has held private meetings to pitch the idea in “recent months.” However, CNBC couldn’t learn whether or not the project was still alive. We’ve asked Verily if it can comment.

It wouldn’t be surprising if development on the shoes went forward — they’d fit Verily’s current strategy of developing relatively unobtrusive technology that can provide vital medical data. It would also be more realistic than an ambitious project like the recently cancelled glucose-monitoring contact lens. There would still be challenges, though. Verily would have to accommodate numerous shoe sizes, and might have to explore additional use cases to help justify development. You could be waiting a while even if the company finds its partner and moves forward.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: KEF M500 headphones are $90 off

Wirecutter’s best deals: KEF M500 headphones are $90 off

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

KEF M500 Headphones – White

kef

Street price: $150; deal price: $60 w/ code EMCTUVE65

Down to $60 from a typical price well over $100, this is a great drop on these wired Hi-Fi headphones—so long as you like the color. At $60 with code EMCTUVE65, this is the best price we’ve seen for them in any condition. While the white/silver finish has trended at a lower street price than the black/silver, this is still an excellent opportunity to maximize the sound quality you’re getting for the money.

The KEF M500 are the top pick in our guide to the best on-ear headphones. Lauren Dragan wrote, “The KEF M500 was our panelists’ overall pick for their favorite-sounding model because of its large soundstage, slight mid/bass boost, and clear, detailed highs. In our tests it had more depth, detail, and clarity than the competition—every kind of music sounds amazing on the M500, from classical pieces to Top 40 hits. This pair also features a stylish and sturdy metal housing that’s built to last, and comfy earpads that you can wear for hours on end. The downside is that the KEF M500 is quite expensive next to most other pairs we tested, but it is also one of the few on-ear headphone models that hold their own against similarly priced over-ear headphones, which helps justify the premium.”

Roku TV Wireless Speakers

roku

Street price: $200; deal price: $150

Usually $200, these speakers, recommended exclusively for Roku TV owners, are available at a discounted price of $150 thru February 3rd. This is a great value if you’re the owner of one of our TCL television picks or even have a different Roku TV model. If the charcoal-colored wireless speakers fit into your decor, they’ll offer better sound than a comparably priced soundbar.

The Roku TV Wireless Speakers are an audio option we cover in a dedicated piece. Chris Heinonen wrote, “Roku’s $200-a-pair wireless bookshelf speakers, the Roku TV Wireless Speakers, are very easy to set up and use, sound good, and can be a good soundbar alternative—if you already have, or intend to buy, a Roku TV, since that’s the only set they’ll work with. They integrate so well with the TV that they functionally operate as one device, and they’ll give you better stereo separation and overall sound quality than a similarly priced soundbar.”

TravelCard Charger

Travelcard

Street price: $29; deal price: $25 w/ code V15

Use code V15 at checkout for a 15-percent discount on this easily pocketable battery pack. The promo code drops the price from $29 to $25—shipping is free. We occasionally see better prices with a 20-percent promo code, but in general, deals on this charger are relatively rare. If you need the smallest possible battery pack, this is a convenient and reliable option that likely won’t see lower prices for some time.

The TravelCard Charger is the pocket sized pick in our guide to the best USB battery packs and power banks. Mark Smirniotis wrote, “If you need the absolute smallest battery to keep your phone going through the end of the day when you can’t get to an outlet, the TravelCard Charger is the most convenient and reliable option. A little longer and wider than a credit card, and roughly three times as thick, the TravelCard stands out from other small batteries because it has two integrated cables: one with a standard USB-A plug to recharge the battery itself, and one with either a Micro-USB or Lightning-connector plug (depending on which TravelCard version you buy) to charge your device. Because you don’t need to carry any cables, there’s nothing extra to forget, and the TravelCard is always ready to go. It’s light and well-made, with cables that fit securely without jamming or falling out—a real problem with some of the cheapest credit-card-size batteries. Since this model’s announcement in 2014, several Wirecutter staffers have been personally using the TravelCard with positive results.”

Echo Show (2nd Gen) 2-Pack

amazon

Street price: $460; deal price: $360

Right now, when you add two Echo Shows to your Amazon cart, a $100 discount reflects at checkout. The Echo Show can be used for video chats with family or as an in-house intercom, among other things, so there’s some utility in picking up two. While we saw some great bundles that included the new Show over the holidays, those sales are long over, so if you’ve been waiting for a Show deal and you need a couple, this is a solid chance to save.

The Echo Show is the Alexa with a screen pick in our guide to Amazon’s line of Echo speakers. Of the newest gen Show, Grant Clauser wrote, “The second-gen Echo Show is completely redesigned with a 10-inch HD display, updated sound with two-way audio and eight microphones, a 5-megapixel camera, and a Zigbee hub. Also notable is “local voice control,” a new feature that allows the Echo Plus and Echo Show to respond to commands even during a web outage.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursday, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go here.

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Now there’s a handheld filter to kill your massive vape clouds

Now there’s a handheld filter to kill your massive vape clouds


Philter

If you made the switch from “analog” tobacco to e-cigarettes, congratulations, you’ve likely done your lungs a solid. The rest of the world? Not so much. Despite growing evidence that the clouds vapors produce are less toxic than tobacco smoke, they still have an antisocial effect and can reduce air quality. That’s fair: No one wants to be blinded walking through someone else’s exhale. And while it doesn’t stink like smoke, not everyone’s into your blueberry cheesecake vibes. Enter Philter and its “Pocket” device — a $15 widget you breathe into to eliminate cigarette or vape clouds.

According to Philter, the Pocket is loaded with some futuristic-sounding tech. There’s a “kinetic energy multiplier” for starters, along with a “phase transition chamber.” All you need to know, though, is that you take a drag on your vape/cigarette as you normally would, exhale through the Pocket and voila, no eye-watering clouds or wretched cigarette smoke. If you’re a considerate nicotine user (and you should be), this might be a handy addition to your everyday carry.

Having an accessory for your vape might seem like a recipe for forgetting it or a burden (double fisting as you walk). To combat this, Philter also makes something called the “Phlip.” The Phlip appears to be a case that fits popular, smaller e-cigarettes (like Juul, or gas station disposables) on one side, and a Pocket on the other. The idea being that you inhale from one end, “flip” it, and exhale into the other. Phlip costs $30 and also includes a Pocket.

Philter Pocket

The first thing to consider is the longevity of the Pocket. Philter claims it’s good for about 200 exhales. This means if you hit your vape around 10 times every time you reach for it, and, say, use it 10 times a day, the Pocket will only last two days. Of course, you likely won’t need it every single time you’re smoking or vaping, only the times when you might annoy other people — so it’ll depend on your usage. Handily, Philter offers a subscription service which will ship three Pockets every three months, for $30 (a saving of $15 over purchasing individually).

The second thing to consider — if you’re using this with tobacco cigarettes — is that this likely doesn’t counteract all the negative effects of secondhand smoke, so it’s not a solution for keeping family members in the clear. Not least because you’ll still have the secondary smoke runoff from the lit cigarette itself. Philter said in a statement: “While our proprietary technology is exceeding initial expectations during internal testing, our products are now undergoing controlled performance evaluation testing with an independent accredited laboratory.” In other words, once those tests are in, we’ll have a better idea.

So, is this a practical way around the social stigma of vaping and smoking? I imagine it might help, even if it does feel a little goofy. Just don’t get any ideas about using this as a way to vape in places you normally cannot.

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The best apps for managing your kid’s phone

The best apps for managing your kid’s phone

By Ellen Lee

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full kids phone management apps guide here.

Parental controls allow adults to set limits on their kid’s app access and overall phone use and serve as “training wheels” to help kids and teens build healthy tech habits. We spent about 30 hours testing seven parental-control options on both iOS and Android devices, using them to manage our kids’ daily screen time, and concluded that Apple Screen Time is best for iOS households, while Google Family Link is best for Android households with kids under 13. Qustodio is the better choice for Android households with children 13 and older.

Apple’s Screen Time is a free set of parental controls built into iOS 12, the iPhone’s latest operating system. It allows parents to manage their child’s iPhone or iPad remotely; set a daily limit on the time they spend on specific apps, on categories of apps, or generally on the phone; and automatically limit access to the phone at bedtime. Setup can be confusing, but no other software gives you as much insight into and control over the use of an iPhone or iPad, in part because Apple has such tight control over its software and hardware.

Google Family Link is a free app that parents can download on their iPhone or Android phone to manage their child’s Android phone. Parents can limit how much time their child spends on the phone, schedule the phone to be inaccessible at bedtime, and block their child’s access to the phone with one tap. Google Family Link, however, is usable only for children under the age of 13. Once kids reach this age, they can sign up for a Google account on their own and opt out of monitoring. Though parents can completely block the use of individual apps, Google Family Link does not allow them to set time limits for individual apps. If you’re looking for that feature or for parental controls for kids 13 and older, you should consider Qustodio.

An annual subscription to Qustodio is the best way for families with kids aged 13 and up with an Android phone to track and manage usage. As with Google Family Link, parents can use Qustodio’s app to set a daily overall screen time limit for their child, and block access to the phone with a single tap. Unlike Google Family Link, Qustodio also allows parents to set time limits on individual apps, block out more than one time period when the phone is off limits (such as bedtime and dinnertime), read text messages, and see their child’s Web searches.

Why you should trust us

To research this guide, I interviewed Megan Moreno, MD, a pediatrician and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s policy statement on kids and media use; Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life; and Christine Elgersma, a senior editor at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that focuses on kids, media, and technology. I also combed through research and reviews of parental-control applications. I surveyed dozens of parents of kids aged 8 to 16 in person and via social media.

As a longtime technology journalist, I have reported on smartphones, parenting apps, and other tech trends for the San Francisco Chronicle, CNBC.com, and other publications. As a parent of a 10-year-old whose friends already own smartwatches and smartphones, the question of whether I should give her a phone—and which one—is a personal one that I am deeply invested in.

Who this is for

This guide is for parents who are thinking about giving a child of elementary school age or older their own smartphone, and for parents who would like to manage the phone their child already has more closely.

When should a child get a cell phone?

By age 8, 16 percent of kids have a cell phone with a service plan, according to a Nielsen report published last year that surveyed nearly 4,700 parents with kids ages 6 to 12. By age 10 to 12, nearly half of kids have a cell phone with a service plan. Asked why, 90 percent of parents said they wanted to get ahold of their child easily; 80 percent said they also wanted to be able to track their child’s location.

Giving kids their own phones can obviously make family communication and coordination easier. But doing so is a difficult choice for many parents. Tweens and teens are spending increasing amounts of time using a screen—as much as 6½ hours a day, according to Common Sense Media—and having a smartphone means that a screen is all the more accessible and tempting. Concerned about the impact that smartphones can have on sleep, mental health, and bullying, groups of parents have pledged to “wait until 8th.” Some families in Silicon Valley particularly are also simply trying to avoid any kind of screen time for their children for as long as they can. Some affluent communities are even pushing back at schools to discourage the use of screens in the classroom.

What’s the right age for a smartphone? The simple answer is that there isn’t one. When you give your child a cell phone depends on your family, your needs, and your child’s readiness. Dr. Megan Moreno, a pediatrician and lead author of the AAP’s policy statement on kids and media use, suggests that parents begin by asking themselves if their child truly needs a phone yet, because going back is difficult. “Handing over a phone is a watershed event for kids,” she said. “Once they have a phone, they won’t ever not have a phone.”

Parental controls can help parents navigate their child’s first experience with owning a smartphone. Parents can use them to set time limits and enforce them automatically, without constant nagging.

Experts recommend keeping in mind three basic guidelines:

Set clear rules. Cell phone users ages 8 to 12 are especially eager to please their parents, said Moreno. “We found that kids really want to interact with parents about rules and what they are supposed to do,” she said. “They are hungry to have that conversation.” Teenagers need concrete rules, too. Determine, for instance, how much time they should be permitted to spend on the phone on weekdays and weekends, particularly on social networking, entertainment, and games. Curb screen time at night when kids need sleep. One recent study of 8- to 11-year-old kids found that those who were active for at least 60 minutes a day, slept nine to 11 hours each night, and spent no more than two hours a day on recreational screen time scored higher in language, planning, and other mental task tests than kids who met none of the three criteria.

Designate screen-free times and/or screen-free zones. Recognizing that not all screen time is equal—students may need to text their friends about a homework assignment, or use an educational app to study—the AAP has moved away from recommending specific restrictions on the amount of time kids spend on screens. Rather, it recommends that parents designate screen-free times, such as during dinner or in the car, and, if possible, screen-free zones, such as in the bedroom. Importantly, parents, as role models, should follow this guideline, too.

Keep the conversation going. Parental controls are not a substitute for talking to your kids about technology—nor are they possible to “set and forget.” But parental controls do provide an entry point to discussing how and why to use a phone. For instance, some parental controls provide reports that break down how your kid is spending time on their phone, which can be a starting point for a conversation.

The New York Times, Wirecutter’s parent company, offers a guide on how and when to limit kids’ tech use, from infants to teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a tool to create a family media plan, including a calculator that determines how much time a child should be allowed to spend on screen time, balancing it against the amount of sleep and active time a child needs. Common Sense Media answers commonly asked questions about screen time, researches how children are using technology, and gives parents tips and advice on healthy technology use.

What kind of parental controls do you need?

The parental-controls market is a large and open-ended one: Some specialize in blocking pornography and other inappropriate content, others claim to monitor social media for cyberbullying. Under pressure from parents and shareholders, as well as a digital-addiction awareness movement among Silicon Valley movers and shakers, both Google and Apple have recently rolled out free parental controls. (Apple, for its part, has said that it began developing Screen Time before the letter from shareholders).

Christine Elgersma, a senior editor at Common Sense Media, recommends that parents start with the least invasive controls. Though parents naturally have the urge to keep their kids safe, they also have to give their kids room to make mistakes and figure things out on their own. “It’s how they learn,” she said. Some experts also warn that heavy surveillance could undermine your relationship with your child. Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life, suggests thinking of parental controls as scaffolding that can help kids develop self-control so that they can eventually manage how they use their phone on their own. “You’re not going to be twiddling with the knobs [on parental controls] when your child is in college,” Kamantez said.

Plus, even if you install the tightest parental controls, kids can circumvent them—for instance, just by borrowing their friend’s phone. Kids are resourceful—just ask this dad, whose 7-year-old figured out a loophole to bypass his iPhone’s app time limit almost instantly.

What about flip phones, smartwatches, and other parental controls?

In lieu of a smartphone, some parents have opted to purchase simpler phones—commonly called feature phones or “dumb phones”—or smartwatches, such as Verizon Wireless’s GizmoWatch, which tracks the child’s location and allows the child to call or text up to 10 designated people. These devices have been recommended by the organization Wait Until 8th as a beginner step to owning a cell phone, and we plan to review them in a future guide. But we expect that as parents upgrade to new phones, they will be inclined to pass down their old ones. Smartphones also have some advantages: Parents can track their child’s location, while kids can use it to take pictures, look up directions, and use study apps.

In addition, some parents have turned to hardware at home to manage their child’s screen time, such as Disney’s Circle, which limits access through your Wi-Fi router. Although Circle does offer a way to keep track of your child’s phone outside your home, it is an extension of Circle’s home product, so we did not to test it for this guide. Our picks for Wi-Fi router and Wi-Fi mesh networking kit both include Circle functionality.

How we picked and tested

Based on our research and interviews with experts, we determined that parental controls need to include three key features:

  • Ability to manage and monitor a child’s device easily: Parents should be able to change settings, receive notifications, and view usage remotely, ideally through a mobile app with an easy-to-use interface.
  • Ability to cap a child’s daily screen time: The best parental controls allow you to set time limits on individual apps, categories of apps, and general device use, and give you the flexibility to instantly block or allow access to an app or the device with one touch (or at the request of the child). Most, however, provide only a subset of these capabilities.
  • Ability to set a schedule that automatically blocks phone use: Parents should be able to assign at least one time period—bedtime, for example—when phone functionality is disabled. The ability to make multiple schedules is a bonus.

Additional features that we feel are useful but did not weigh as heavily:

  • Web and content filtering: All of the apps and parental-control options we considered offer some sort of filtering, some by age and content ratings, and others by categories such as pornography, violence, or other inappropriate and adult content. We did not extensively test how well the filters worked, except to note if they were easily bypassed. The reality is that most filters are far from perfect, as they don’t catch everything and kids can find ways to bypass them.
  • Location tracking: Because other apps on both iOS and Android devices can track the location of another phone, this feature is convenient, but lack of it was not a dealbreaker.
  • Usage data and analysis: Being able to see which apps their kid is using and for how long can be useful for parents, but may be an unnecessary level of detail for some.

Because we see parental controls as a starting point for managing your child’s first smartphone, we did not test or seek out more invasive features such as text message, email, or social media monitoring.

To determine our finalists, we surveyed parents and studied recent reviews and reports on parental controls. We narrowed the list down to:

Apple Screen Time

Google Family Link

Net Nanny

Norton Family

OurPact

Qustodio

unGlue

To test the parental controls, we installed them on an iPhone 6 and/or our 2018 pick for the best budget Android phone, the Nokia 6.1. Because many kids end up with their parent’s older phone after their parent upgrades, or with an inexpensive new phone, we wanted to see if the parental controls could be used on older and cheaper phones. I used an iPhone X as the parent phone.

We spent about 30 hours installing and examining the parental controls one at a time. We set daily caps and bedtime schedules on the phones, and handed them over to our kids to see if they worked. We tested the apps’ ability to block popular apps such as YouTube Kids, as well as less popular kids apps, such as Hatch and Pululu, digital pet apps that can run offline.

We also spent time looking at how the parental controls managed Web searches, text messaging, phone calls, location tracking, and the ability to download or delete apps. Two Wirecutter staffers also tested the picks using an iPhone XS, iPad Air 2, Google Pixel 1, and Samsung Galaxy S9. We did not test on an Android tablet because our preferred budget alternative to the iPad is the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, which has good built-in parental controls.

Our pick for iOS families: Apple Screen Time

Apps for managing children's phones

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Now that Screen Time is part of Apple’s iOS 12, it’s hard to see a reason to pay for additional parental controls for a child’s iOS device. In addition to being free to users of compatible devices, no other software for the iPhone or iPad offers parents the same window into their child’s screen time habits—or is as effective a way for parents to customize how they want to manage it—because it is so tightly integrated with the operating system itself. We found that third-party parental controls we tested for a child’s iPhone or iPad simply did not compare with what Apple’s Screen Time can do.

Apps for managing children's phones

With Apple Screen Time, you can set time limits for usage by app category (left) as well as content or ratings restrictions (right).

As with other parental controls, Screen Time lets parents set a daily limit on the amount of time their child can spend on their iPhone, as well as automatically shut the phone down at bedtime. But unlike third-party iOS apps like OurPact, Qustodio, and unGlue for the iPhone, Screen Time provides parents with a deeper look at how their child is using their device, such as how much time their child spends on social networking or entertainment apps. Compared with third-party apps, Screen Time also gives parents the most flexibility to manage how much time their child spends on certain kinds of apps; for instance, parents can allow their child to read ebooks for as long as they want, block all games, and limit social networking to an hour a day. In comparison, the premium version of OurPact, the next best set of parental controls for the iPhone, allows parents to only block or always allow individual apps; they can set only one schedule that applies to all other apps.

Apps for managing children's phones

Screen Time allows you to set time limits by increments as small as 1 minute (left) as well as by day, and also to schedule what the company calls Downtime, a period when most phone functionality can be disabled (right).

Screen Time is already part of iOS; you can enable it in the iPhone’s settings. Kids will first need their own Apple ID, and you will need to turn on Family Sharing on your phone and your child’s if you want to manage your child’s phone remotely. Once the parent’s and child’s iPhones are linked, the child’s profile will appear as a tab inside the parent’s Screen Time. Inside the child’s profile, parents can manage the child’s daily access to the iPhone, including:

Daily allowance: Under “app limits,” parents can cap how much time—by minute and/or hour increments, up to 24 hours, and by day of the week—their child spends on the iPhone overall or by category of app. Screen Time groups apps into nine categories, including entertainment, games, social networking, education, and productivity. Once their child reaches the limit, the apps are blocked and the child must request additional time from the parent. In addition, parents can limit how much time their child spends on individual apps each day. To do so, click on the daily screen time report, scroll down to “Most used,” tap on “Show apps & websites” if it’s set to “Show categories,” click on the particular app you want to manage, and set an individual time limit.

Apps for managing children's phones

Screen Time displays a stacked bar chart (left) that shows how much time has been spent on specific app categories. You can set time limits on individual apps by selecting the desired one under “Most used.” The selected app (right) shows usage, category, and other information.

Bedtime: Called “Downtime,” parents can set a schedule for the iPhone to be disabled automatically, such as beginning at bedtime and lifting the next morning. All of the phone’s apps—except those set as Always Allow—will darken, requiring parental permission for access. Kids can send a request to their parents, which pops up as a notification on the parent’s phone; parents can grant or deny the request remotely or manually enter the screen time password on their child’s phone to allow additional time. Phone calls can still be made during Downtime, and the clock can also still be accessed.

Reports: Parents can monitor their child’s screen habits daily with a colorful bar chart that breaks down how much time their child spends on each app category and a list of the individual apps that they’re spending the most time using. Parents can also track their own screen habits (Screen Time is automatically included in iOS 12; you can turn it off if you prefer not to track your personal iPhone use). This feature can be a starting point for parents to talk to their kids about how best to use their phone—and when to put it down. The data that Screen Time collects is saved to your phone and your child’s phone and is not shared with Apple.

Inside Screen Time, parents can also manage the content that their child can access. For instance, they can prevent the child from downloading new apps or making in-app purchases, or allow it. They can also block the child from adult websites, as well as set age restrictions for content from music, videos, and books.

The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company) tested Screen Time with a 14-year-old girl for three weeks, and managed to cut her iPhone use by half, from six hours a day during the first week to about three hours a day by the third week. “These early results should be welcome news to people who are growing increasingly concerned about long-term addiction to smartphones,” Brian X. Chen concluded in his review. “There have been other ways to limit use, including apps like Moment, which have many of the same features as Screen Time. But none of them have been embedded into a phone like Apple’s new software.”

Our pick for iOS: Flaws but not dealbreakers

Screen Time has plenty of room to improve. One of the chief complaints from users is the difficulty of setting it up, which isn’t as intuitive as it should be—other parental controls, for instance, simply require you to download an app on the child’s phone and sign into your account. Geoffrey A. Fowler, a columnist for The Washington Post, complained that this was just one of too many decisions that a parent must make with this new feature of iOS 12. On the one hand, it allows parents to customize Screen Time for their child, but at the same time, “Apple treats parents like IT administrators for their kids, saddled with a zillion choices to make and knobs to adjust,” he writes in his review.

Although apps like Qustodio provide guidance during installation, with Screen Time, you have to look up any kind of instruction. I seemingly went about it backward: I created my child’s new Apple ID before I set up Family Sharing, and was confused about how to connect our phones; it is easier if Family Sharing is already turned on in your phone.

Finding certain information—like how specific apps are categorized—involves too many clicks. You must tap on the report of daily screen time use, scroll down to “Most used,” and click on “Show apps & websites” if it’s set to “Show categories.” It’s also not obvious how to set time limits by individual app, but, as described above, parents can do that by looking at individual app usage in the daily screen time report.

Screen Time also doesn’t have an easy “on/off” switch to completely disable a child’s access to their phone. Other parental-control apps, including Google Family Link, OurPact, and Qustodio, have a “lock/unlock” or “block/unblock” button that you can tap to block your child’s access to the phone at any moment. On the iPhone, this requires an extra step for parents, and afterward they’ll have to go back and reset the original Downtime schedule.

A recent test of Apple’s content filters also found that they blocked longtime sex education websites, but allowed racist and questionable websites to appear in Web searches. We assume that Apple will continue to fine-tune its content filters, and acknowledge that filters, in general, can’t catch everything.

Parents should also know that the default setting for the iPhone’s restrictions for iTunes music, movies, and television shows—even though it recognizes that the iPhone belongs to a child—are explicit and NC-17. Parents must go in and manually change the restrictions if they want them to be more age appropriate. (Also note that the filters apply only to the Safari browser and iTunes content. Parents still need to check the content filters on individual apps; for instance, in the Netflix app, parents need to designate that it is for kids only.)

If parents want to track their child’s location, they can’t do so with Screen Time, but they can locate their child with Apple’s Find my Friends app, which they have to set up separately.

Because it is part of iOS 12, Screen Time can run only on iPhone 5s models or newer. If you have an older iPhone, you can still set up some parental controls, such as requiring permission to download a new app, but you won’t be able to track and manage your child’s screen use in the same way. This is a disappointment because many older iPhones can still be used, including iPhones that are more than five years old.

Finally, kids have already found ways to get around some aspects of Screen Time, such as one child sending YouTube links to himself on iMessage, and watching them after his entertainment time limit was up.

Our pick for Android families with kids under 13: Google Family Link

Apps for managing children's phones

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Google Family Link is best for families with children under 13 in Android-dedicated households, or for kids who have an Android phone even if their parents use iPhones (a not-uncommon situation because budget Android phones are plentiful). It’s free and works better than most of the apps we tested, but because Google allows 13-year-olds to have their own accounts and opt out of filtering, Family Link is limited to younger kids. Keep in mind that parents with an iPhone can manage their child’s Android phone, but the reverse (a parent using an Android phone to monitor a child’s iPhone) is not possible. With Google Family Link, parents can limit how much time their child spends on the phone daily and block access to the phone at bedtime. The app also provides weekly and monthly reports on usage.

To use Google Family Link, the app must be downloaded to both the parent’s and child’s phones and then connected using separate email accounts for each. The process is more intuitive than with Apple’s Screen Time and Qustodio, our other picks, and took only a few minutes. In our test, we downloaded the parent’s app on an iPhone X and the child’s app on an Android Nokia 6.1. The Google Family Link client for kids is not available for iOS, and when we tried to install the parent app on our child’s iPhone 6 with the device set as the child’s, it would not let us complete installation.

Apps for managing children's phones

With Google Family Link, you can set limits on daily phone usage and also schedule bedtime to disable access to your kid’s phone at the appointed hour.

With Google Family Link, parents can set a daily limit for screen time. Parents can also see how much time their child spends on individual apps, and block specific apps. After seeing my kids spend close to an hour on YouTube Kids, for instance, I blocked it, which made the app disappear from the phone. (Once I unblocked the app, it reappeared). Unlike with Qustodio, however, parents can’t limit the time spent on an individual app; they can only block the app.

Apps for managing children's phones

Google Family Link lets you see how much time your kid spends on each app and allows you to block apps. You can also lock and unlock access to the phone with one touch.

Like Qustodio, Google Family Link also allows parents to set a bedtime, automatically shutting down access to the smartphone at the appointed hour. The only way to unlock the phone once it shuts down is through a parent access code, retrieved from the parent app, which expires five minutes after it was generated. In addition, Google Family Link can lock and unlock the child’s phone remotely, with one tap. Conveniently, parents can also track the location of their child’s phone within the app.

Inside Google Family Link, parents can also require kids to seek approval for any in-app purchases, purchases in the Google Play store, or downloads of new apps. Note, however, that it blocks only in-app purchases of content such as a virtual sword; blocking does not apply to purchases of actual goods inside shopping apps. The app stopped us from purchasing gold coins in the digital pet game Pululu, but it did not prevent us from making a purchase in the Etsy app. Like all of the parental controls options we tested, Google Family Link blocks mature sites and content, but in this case, the default settings are set to mature and requires a parent to change them manually. (Google also cautions parents that “no filter is perfect, but this should help hide sexually explicit and violent sites.”) Note, again, that the filters apply only to Chrome, Google’s browser, and Google Play. Parents still need to check the content filters on individual apps; for instance, in the Netflix app, parents need to designate that it is for kids only.

By using Google Family Link, parents can choose to block Google from collecting data on their child and their child’s activities (the default setting is to allow data collection). You can review this in the Google Family Link app by tapping on “manage settings,” “more,” and “manage Google activity.” From there, parents can decide if they want Google to track and save their child’s browsing history, their activity on apps, location, YouTube viewing and search history, contacts, calendars, and video and audio activity. Google says that the data it saves is used to improve its services.

Our pick for Android (under 13): Flaws but not dealbreakers

Once your child turns 13, they can opt out of Family Link. The reasoning, Google says, is that kids are allowed to sign up for their own account on Google once they turn 13. (Likewise, 13 is the age when kids are allowed to sign up for Facebook, Instagram, and other sites, per the Child’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.) Google’s approach doesn’t make sense, said the New York Times’s Brian X. Chen in a 2017 review. “I would argue that Google should design a policy with parents’ best interests in mind. It could let the parent decide when the child has demonstrated safe, responsible smartphone use and graduate from all restrictions. That might happen when the child turns 13, 15 or even 17. But the children should not be allowed to strip away settings just because they turn 13.”

In a statement, Google said:

Our approach is to give parents and kids transparency, and encourage a family conversation around this moment. We send emails to parents and teens-to-be beginning a month before the child’s 13th birthday. Those emails inform both the parent and child of some of the changes that will take effect if the child decides to graduate. For example, the parent will no longer be able to use Family Link to manage the child’s account, and features like screen time limits, location sharing to parent, and bedtime settings will no longer work. This is something we continue to get feedback on and will continue to consider the best approach.

Our pick for Android families with kids 13 and up: Qustodio

Apps for managing children's phones

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If your child is 13 or older and uses an Android phone, the paid version of Qustodio is your best bet. The lowest-tier annual subscription ($55 at the time of publication) covers up to five devices (the middle tier offers 10, the highest tier 15). Discounts are frequently offered on its website. Like Google Family Link, Qustodio is an app that parents download on their iPhone or Android phone, as well as on their child’s Android phone. Unlike with Google Family Link, you use the same email account to set up the app on both devices.

Qustodio offers the most features and flexibility among the third-party parental-control apps we tested. The paid version allows you to set multiple schedules, limit overall phone use and specific app use, and block phone and app use. It also gives a much more detailed breakdown of your child’s phone use than Google Family Link and allows you to monitor texts, emails, and Facebook activity. Keep in mind, though, that many experts warn that this level of monitoring is not actually good for kids.

Qustodio also offers a free version, which can be used on one device. With it, parents can set a schedule and determine how much time—by 15-minute increments, and up to 24 hours—their child spends on the phone daily. The free version also includes reports for parents, as well as the Web filter, but little else.

The paid version offers more insight and management tools. Qustodio is one of the few apps we tested that allow parents to set more than one schedule, an advantage over Google Family Link. On a grid, parents can block out the hours they want to shut off access to the phone, such as bedtime, during dinner or while the child is at school.

Apps for managing children's phones

Qustodio allows you to schedule time limits, logs all of your kid’s phone activity to the parent feed, and lets you lock Web navigation or the phone with one tap.

In addition, the paid version of Qustodio allows parents to cap how much time their child spends on individual apps in 15-minute increments—going a step further than simply blocking individual apps, like Google Family Link. As with Google Family Link, parents can also turn off access to the phone with a single tap. The paid version also provides parents with greater access to their kid’s communications than our other picks do: they can view their child’s Web searches, read their text messages, block calls to and from specific phone numbers, and monitor their child’s Facebook activity (a feature that we did not test; it requires the child to authorize Qustodio’s plug-in). The parent’s feed logs any and all activity on the kid’s phone.

Apps for managing children's phones

Qustodio is one of the few apps we tested that allows you to set multiple schedules (left). The parent feed (middle) shows not only blocked apps, but also Web search terms and the phone’s location. The app’s location tracking was not very reliable sometimes, however (right).

Like other parental controls, Qustodio aims to filter adult content, including by categories such as weapons, drugs, and alcohol. We did not test the filters extensively; in a quick search, we did find that we were blocked from purchasing whiskey, getting information on gummy edibles, and logging into dating sites such as Tinder and Scruff. We were, however, able to find gun stores online and nearby. Qustodio lets parents know the keywords of a child’s Web search and if it was blocked. This information—along with the amount of time the child is spending on the phone and on which apps—can be sent to parents in a daily email report or viewed as a news feed in the parent’s app. Qustodio has a lengthy privacy policy on how it collects, uses, and stores your data, acknowledging that it may anonymize personal data for research or statistical purposes.

Apps for managing children's phones

Your child receives notifications when they reach the end of the time limit or when they try to access restricted content.

In a 2018 review of parental controls, Qustodio was PC Magazine’s top pick because it “boasts just about every feature you might want, including web content filtering, robust app blocking, and a detailed activity log” and it “lets parents take precise control over their child’s activity across desktop and mobile devices.” Of note, PC Magazine tested Qustodio’s Web filters and found that they were effective in blocking inappropriate content.

Our pick for Android (13 and older): Flaws but not dealbreakers

One feature that Qustodio lacks is the ability to block the apps that your child can download, which Google Family Link can do through its Google Play Store and Apple through its iTunes Apps Store. Qustodio does alert parents about new apps that their child downloads (which they can then block access to). Parents should also check any apps that have already been downloaded on their child’s smartphone before they start using Qustodio, as the service can block them or limit time on them but can’t manage purchases or any activity done inside a third-party app.

Although Qustodio offers the ability to track the location of the child’s phone as part of its paid version, doing so is neither as reliable nor as straightforward as it is on Google Family Link. On Android phones, parents must program the app to check the location of their child’s phone at regular intervals, the shortest being every five minutes. The most current location is displayed in a line on the app, above the parent news feed. However instead of showing the location on a map, as Google Family Link does, it merely lists the address. The trouble is, Qustodio seems to have a hard time identifying the actual address. Several times, instead of an address, it simply said “location unknown”; I had to click through to a map to pinpoint the approximate location. I also found that though I asked Qustodio to check the child phone’s location every five minutes, it didn’t seem able to do so; not all of the places that the phone visited were recorded by the app.

Finally, Qustodio is a good choice only for kids with Android phones. On the iPhone, the paid version of Qustodio is more limited: Although it can block a particular set of popular kids apps, such as Fortnite and YouTube, it cannot identify all apps on the iPhone. When our kids were playing Hatch, a digital pet game on the iPhone, for example, it could not stop them from playing it when time was up. The only way to stop our child from playing by using parental controls was to block access to the entire phone manually. Qustodio has a list of all of the apps it can monitor on the iPhone: as of this review, there are only about 70. On the iPhone, Qustodio also repeatedly and inaccurately claimed that our child was visiting Amazon; Qustodio notes that its feed reports some third-party advertisements or content. And because of Apple’s restrictions, not all of Qustodio’s features are available for kids on iPhones: Qustodio, for instance, can monitor text messages and phone calls only on Android phones. “If you are an Apple iOS user, do not buy the premium version,” cautioned a reviewer in the iTunes App Store, giving it just one star. “It does not offer any further functionality than the free version… The app itself also yielded very strange and confusing reports. It kept reporting that my kid was using Facebook when the app is not even installed on his device. Deleting this one for good.”

The competition

If your child uses an iPhone, and you use an Android phone, our picks may not work well for you. That’s because of the challenges of developing a parental-control app for the iPhone, which must be approved by Apple before it is offered in the iTunes App Store.

One popular option among parents we surveyed who have this situation is OurPact, which runs on both Android and iOS phones. OurPact offers three tiers: The basic tier is free, but limited in scope. You can apply it to only one child’s device and it has the ability to create only one schedule; parents can essentially only limit their child’s screen time at bedtime and not much more. The Plus tier offers unlimited ability to block access to the phone, but one parent we spoke with said her 13-year-old daughter, on her iPhone 8, bypassed it within weeks. The Premium tier, which we tested on both an Android phone and an iPhone, offers the most flexibility and control for parents.

With the Plus and Premium tiers, parents can create more than one schedule. They can limit access to the smartphone at night, as well as during dinnertime or other times. With the Premier tier, parents can also block or allow specific apps, like with Google Family Link and Qustodio, as well as track the location of their child’s phone.

OurPact has three main drawbacks: Unlike our picks, OurPact (on both iOS and Android devices) offers no data or analytics on a child’s screen habits. Parents cannot see how their child uses their smartphone, such as if their child is spending an inordinate amount of time on gaming.

The companion OurPact app, called OurPact Jr., is also not available on the iPhone, which means that parents whose kid uses an iPhone cannot set a daily allowance of screen time for their child. (Likewise, kids with an iPhone cannot use the OurPact Jr. app to track how much time they’ve spent on their iPhone, as they can with an Android phone).

Finally, setting up the Premium version of OurPact is difficult if your child owns an iOS device. To circumvent Apple’s tight controls on third-party apps, parents must download software on their computer, then connect the iPhone to their computer and install software that will allow the child’s iPhone to be linked with the parent’s smartphone. The process is confusing and clunky. However, the workaround means that, unlike the other third-party parental controls we tested for the iPhone (such as Qustodio), OurPact can accurately monitor individual apps on the child’s iPhone, as well as the location of the child’s iPhone.

Similar to OurPact, unGlue is a subscription-based parental control app that operates on both the iOS and Android platforms. More expensive than OurPact, unGlue stands out in that it allows kids to earn and save screen time in a “piggy bank” by completing chores or walking a certain number of steps, which may work better for some kids than others. unGlue also lumps all apps into “entertainment”; you can’t tell which apps are included under that umbrella or see the individual apps that your child is spending the most time on. On a child’s iPhone, unGlue also isn’t able to track apps that don’t require the Internet, such as Angry Birds.

We dismissed both Norton Family and Net Nanny because they were cumbersome to set up, with limited results. Norton does not offer an iOS app for parents, only a mobile-friendly website. Net Nanny’s iOS parent app isn’t an app at all, but simply a protected Web browser. Because parents are busy and manage so much of their lives (and their children’s lives) from their smartphone, the lack of a parent app was a dealbreaker for us.

With both Norton Family and Net Nanny, the software requires parents to disable the phone’s browser in lieu of their proprietary Web browser. Therefore, you would expect the browser to offer superior content filtering. On the plus side, both Norton Family and Net Nanny blocked access to adult content, as well as potentially dangerous topics for kids such as suicide, something the filters for Apple and Google did not do. On Net Nanny, however, we were able to stumble into a 4chan board with inappropriate content for kids within minutes; and though Net Nanny claims to be able to mask explicit language, none of it was blocked out.

Although both Norton Family and Net Nanny received positive reviews from PC Magazine, they are rated poorly in the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. And though many of the poor reviews come from disgruntled children, one parent complained about Norton: “This app is an absolute joke. Child is txting away at school as I write this; while her phone is supposedly locked. Can not change any settings thru the parent side of things using parent phone- must be done from a computer. Available options leave much to be desired.”

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The best Wi-Fi extender

The best Wi-Fi extender

By Jim Salter

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full Wi-Fi extenders guide here.

After spending more than 50 hours researching Wi-Fi extenders and testing 13, we think the TP-Link AC750 Wi-Fi Range Extender RE200 is the best way to get Wi-Fi signal to part of your house or apartment that your router can’t reach. It’s inexpensive, and it was the only pure Wi-Fi extender that improved speeds in every single test. But if you have multiple trouble spots or if your router is more than a couple of years old, you should consider replacing it with a mesh Wi-Fi kit instead.

The TP-Link RE200 is a dirt-cheap dual-band wireless-ac extender. It improved the Wi-Fi quality in all of our tests, it’s easy to set up, it isn’t too bulky, and at a typical price of $30, it’s a simple fix that costs a lot less than a major hardware upgrade. It was the only Wi-Fi extender we tested that was always better than not using an extender at all.

A powerline Wi-Fi access point can sit much farther away from your router than a simple extender, and—when it works—it doesn’t interfere with your existing Wi-Fi. In our tests, TP-Link’s TL-WPA8630 V2 beat all of the wireless extenders we tested and hung with the more expensive Orbi and Eero mesh kits we recommend. But it’s much more expensive than the RE200, and buying any powerline adapter is a gamble since your house’s wiring probably wasn’t designed to work with it. Older (pre-1980s) and more complex (more than one breaker box) houses tend to be especially problematic. But if you already know your house’s wiring is up to par, or if you’re willing to experiment and find out, the TL-WPA8630 V2 is the kit to try.

Why you should trust us

I’ve spent more than two years immersed in networking testing and analysis for Wirecutter and Ars Technica. I’ve also professionally tested and deployed wired and wireless networking gear in homes and businesses for the better part of 20 years.

For this guide, I supplemented my own observations with reviews from SmallNetBuilder, CNET, and other sites. I also checked Amazon reviews and Reddit threads, and I solicited the opinions of other network professionals. Finally, I spent several hours per extender testing for throughput, latency, features, and general user experience in a large home with a partial basement floor that routers can’t cover well.

Who should (and shouldn’t) buy Wi-Fi extenders

If parts of your home or apartment don’t get a good Wi-Fi signal, a wireless extender can offer a boost. The extender connects to your existing Wi-Fi at a location that does get a good connection and then rebroadcasts its own signal(s), improving the speed and quality of Wi-Fi connections within its range. If you already own a decent router and just want to improve Wi-Fi in one or two extra rooms, an extender might be just the band-aid you’re looking for.

WiFi Range Extender

The catch with Wi-Fi extenders is the placement. The quality of the extender’s network can’t be any better than the quality of its backhaul connection to the router—which means you need the extender to be much closer to the router than you might think. Illustration: Ryan Hines

Despite the name, a Wi-Fi extender can’t extend your network much farther than it already goes. A good extender can improve the speed and lower the latency of your network within its current boundaries, though—and it’s great for bouncing the signal around obstructions like elevator shafts, reinforced walls, or foundation slabs.

Extenders are a cheap(ish) and easy solution to a common problem, but rarely the best one. Before you buy a Wi-Fi extender, consider replacing your router with a newer, faster model—or going with mesh. If you already have a good 802.11ac router, make sure you’ve got it as high up and as close to the center of the home as you can. Plug computers, streaming devices, game consoles, and anything else you can into the router—or a network switch, if you need more ports—via Ethernet to reduce the number of devices competing for a wireless connection.

If you’ve done all that and still have trouble spots, a wireless extender could help. Cost is key, though—good mesh Wi-Fi kits start out at less than $250 and offer more features, greater range, better roaming between access points, and generally higher performance. Upgrading an older router and adding an extender will cost enough that one of our mesh picks would be a much better choice.

One final warning: you shouldn’t even consider extenders that don’t use 802.11ac. Old 802.11n extenders are cheaper, but they will significantly decrease the speed of all devices on your Wi-Fi when the extender is running, and they will provide less than half of the base router’s speed to devices connected by Wi-Fi to the extender itself.

How we picked

WiFi Range Extender

Photo: Michael Hession

We looked for a wide range of extenders in the under-$50, under-$80, and under-$120 price brackets to put through the gauntlet. We did not test any of the more-expensive extenders (up to $300!) because at that point you should definitely just buy a mesh kit. To be considered for the guide, each device needed:

  • 802.11ac support: Older, slower 802.11n devices won’t cut it, even if they’re dual-band.
  • Price: We didn’t consider anything over $120, and we paid special attention to extenders that cost $80 or less. The cost of the extender plus a good router needs to be less than a mesh kit.
  • For powerline kits, Homeplug AV2 support with encryption capability is a must. Without encryption, you can easily end up merging your network with a neighbor’s!
  • Higher AC speed ratings were nice but not mandatory; they frequently don’t translate well into real world performance.

Once we came up with a preliminary list of all the pure Wi-Fi and powerline backhaul extenders offered by major vendors in our three price categories, we narrowed them down by looking at Amazon user reviews and previous professional reviews from sites like CNET or SmallNetBuilder. This left us with a baker’s dozen of devices from TP-Link, D-Link, Netgear, TrendNet, Linksys, and Zyxel.

How we tested

Test environment

To test coverage and performance, we set up each extender connected to a Netgear R7000P (our current Wi-Fi router pick) in a challenging home environment. The two-story, 3,500-square-foot house we used is built into a hillside, and while its top floor opens onto the front yard, its bottom floor opens onto the backyard. What makes this such a tough house to cover is the location of its network closet (where the Internet connection comes in), plus the foundation slab underneath half the top floor. For most of the bottom floor, a straight line to the router in the networking closet goes through the foundation slab—and in some cases, through several feet of packed earth underneath it—greatly degrading or outright killing any direct Wi-Fi signal.

WiFi Range Extender

This illustration shows where the the router, extender, and each test laptop was placed in our test home. Click for a full-resolution version. Illustration: Kim Ku and Ryan Hines

Our router went in the network closet, a coat closet by the front door. This isn’t the best possible place for an Internet connection—that would be the center of the house—but since it isn’t all the way in one corner, it isn’t the worst either. The big problem here is that the router doesn’t have a clean straight-line shot to most of the bottom floor. Since the bottom floor is a half-basement, there’s a foundation slab in the way of a direct signal from the router.

This makes our test home an excellent candidate for a Wi-Fi extender. Extenders aren’t very good at pushing Wi-Fi service far beyond where your router can already reach by itself, but they’re great at relaying around obstructions.

Extender placement

We tested two types of extenders: the traditional type that uses Wi-Fi to connect to both your devices and your router, and powerline extenders. Instead of using Wi-Fi to talk to your router and risking increased congestion, powerline extender kits use one device plugged into a power socket near your router, and an extender plugged where you want to improve your service. The extender and base station communicate over your home’s electrical wiring.

We plugged the Wi-Fi extenders into the power socket under the living room TV, which gave them a nice central location from which to cover the downstairs floor, and a clean line back to the router. Powerline extenders got even better placement. Since they didn’t need a straight line back to the router, I plugged them into an outlet in the bedroom itself, only ten feet from the downstairs test laptop.

Test device placement

Our test devices were four HP Chromebook laptops, each equipped with a Linksys WUSB-6300 Wi-Fi adapter. We used the Linksys USB adapter instead of the Chromebooks’ built-in Intel Wi-Fi because it works better and anybody can buy and install one on just about any device, which gives us a nice, repeatable baseline.

Together, all four laptops simulate a small, busy home network.

  • One sits beside the living room TV and simulates a 4K video streaming session. It tries to download data at up to 30 Mbps, but is happy if it can average 25 Mbps or better, which is what Netflix recommends for 4K.
  • The second sits in the kitchen simulating a Wi-Fi phone call. It moves only 1 Mbps of data in 64-kilobyte chunks, but it starts getting unhappy if any one 64 KB chunk of data takes longer than 150 milliseconds to arrive.
  • The third laptop connects to the extender from the downstairs bedroom, and simulates a Web browsing session. Once every 20 seconds or so, it downloads 16 128-kilobyte files simultaneously to simulate loading a modern Web page; pages should ideally load in less than 750 milliseconds. We refer to this as “browsing latency,” which isn’t the same thing as a ping. Pings only test network latency—how long a tiny signal takes to get through. This higher-level test, with larger data packets, will uncover real-world problems in either latency or throughput.
  • The last laptop sits in a bedroom at long range, and downloads a very large file. We don’t care about latency here, but we want to see an overall throughput of 40 Mbps or better.

We placed the Web browsing laptop on the nightstand in the downstairs bedroom and connected it to the signal from each extender. This location does have usable service from the router, but it’s slow and drops out often enough to be frustrating. The low-quality connection is due both to partial obstruction by the foundation slab and to sheer distance from the router. This makes it a good location to showcase an extender’s ability to deal with both problems.

For completeness, we also tested simple, single-device throughput using only the extender and the laptop in the downstairs bedroom, without other network traffic. We believe these tests are much less important for most people, since they ignore a lot of the challenges faced in a real home network. But they are handy to get a simple, general idea of how fast each device is when it’s all by itself.

Since we’re testing extenders for your existing router, rather than a complete replacement, we measured our results by improvement rather than raw numbers. Before testing any extenders, we ran baseline tests in exactly the same way using only our R7000P base router. Then as we tested each extender, we subtracted the value of our baseline test. This allows us to directly show you how much each device improved—or degraded—our performance from what we started out with.

A note on device firmware

Part of our test process is making sure we upgrade each device to the most current available firmware, since most devices have been updated since they launched, and performance can change dramatically between updates. The RE200 performed horribly with the old firmware that it shipped with, but did great after being upgraded. By contrast, the Linksys RE7000 did very well with its shipping firmware, but tanked after being upgraded.

Don’t be tempted to run older firmware that you think might perform better, though. The old Linksys firmware that performed so well was vulnerable to last year’s serious WPA-KRACK exploit; the newer firmware is not.

Our pick: TP-Link RE200

WiFi Range Extender

Photo: Michael Hession

TP-Link’s RE200 isn’t the fastest Wi-Fi extender on paper, but it boasts two massive advantages over its competitors: it’s dirt cheap, and it never made the Wi-Fi worse in any of our tests. It’s also compact, plugs directly into a power outlet, and offers a 100 Mbps wired Ethernet port for nearby devices. Our powerline networking pick is better, but if your house’s wiring is older or you don’t want to spend $120, the RE200 is the clear winner.

WiFi Range Extender

With only one device connected, we get much faster results through most of these devices than we do when connected directly to our Netgear R7000P base router. *Denotes 5 GHz wireless backhaul as opposed to 2.4 GHz backhaul.

Almost all of the devices we tested could improve simple throughput—the speed of the connection—when all we had running was a single laptop connected to the extender. In this test, the RE200 increased throughput by 40.6 Mbps—a total of 63.6 Mbps, where the test laptop got only 23.0 Mbps when connected directly to the router. This is an impressive improvement, but it’s only middling when compared to the bigger multi-stream extenders, let alone the mesh kits we included here for reference.

WiFi Range Extender

The RE200 is smaller than most plug-in extenders. A normal two or three prong cord will fit in the outlet beneath it, although unusually bulky or oddly-angled three-prong cables probably won’t. Photo: Michael Hession

An extender that can improve throughput for one device at a time doesn’t always work so well in a busy environment with lots of stuff active. During our multi-client testing, we look at how well a Web browser connected through the extender does typically (the median), and how badly it does in its worse moments (the 75th, 90th, 95th and 99th percentile worst results). This lets us determine how frequently and badly will it frustrate you rather than how okay are things when they’re okay.

WiFi Range Extender

The RE200’s wired Ethernet jack can be used to plug in a game console, streaming box, or PC; this will improve performance for devices that need to communicate wirelessly by removing competition from the airwaves. Photo: Michael Hession

Only three extenders (and our reference mesh kits) had a better median Web page load time than the router by itself. The RE200 and the TL-WPA8630P powerline kit were the only extenders that improved every result across every test.

These latency charts show how much each extender improves—or worsens—things compared to a solo Netgear R7000P router. All but the very worst of the extenders could improve the worst case scenario by a lot; the problem is that worst case scenario is only one page load out of every 100 you try, and most of the extenders made things significantly worse the rest of the time. So we capped the percentile results here at 95%—the slowest of every twenty attempts to load a page—to make things easier to read.

WiFi Range Extender

Like most extenders, the RE-200 has an onboard Ethernet port, though it’s only 100 Mbps, instead of Gigabit. Where possible, it’s a good idea to plug devices into the RE-200’s Ethernet port rather than using Wi-Fi—if you’ve got more than one thing to plug in, you can use a cheap network switch to make them all fit.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The RE200 performed atrociously when I first plugged it in, because it shipped with a much older firmware. Upgrading your firmware to the most recent version before using your network devices is crucial, both because of performance improvements and security patches.

The RE200 (like other TP-Link extenders) has a crude Web interface that doesn’t give you much fine-grained control. It’s easy to connect to if you’ve got the manual—which informs you to browse to tplinkextender.net while connected to the extender—but if you forget about that URL and want to reconfigure it a year or two down the road, you’ll have to hope your router offers a “Connected Devices” screen like our R7000P’s, so you can figure out what IP address to find it on.

Once you’re connected, the RE200’s Web interface walks you through the process of attaching it to your base router’s Wi-Fi network. It offers you a chance to connect to the router on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands—but doesn’t warn you that you might not want to connect on both bands.

If you only connect the extender to the router with one band, it’s free to configure the other band to a channel your router isn’t using, to avoid interference. If you connect the extender to the router on both bands, it has no choice but to configure them both to the same channel the router uses. With router and extender using the same bands on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, all your devices must compete directly with one another for airtime, making everything slower and more frustrating. The tough call is which band to connect the RE200 to your router on, and that’s going to depend on your environment and your devices. (If most of the devices connecting to your router are on 5 GHz, you should probably use 2.4 GHz for the RE200’s connection to the router, and vice versa.)

If you already know this stuff, it’s quick and easy to optimally configure your RE200 (and you’re reading this guide, so you’re covered). Minor gripes aside, I liked this little device a lot. It did what it was supposed to do, and it made the network better no matter how hard I poked at it.

The best powerline Wi-Fi extender: TP-Link TL-WPA8630 V2

WiFi Range Extender

If your electrical wiring is less than about 30 years old, you have a large house, or you don’t mind spending significantly more money, consider the TP-Link TL-WPA8630 V2 powerline Wi-Fi extender. This dual-stream, dual-band Wi-Fi access point offered excellent performance in our test house, but at a typical price over $100, it’s significantly more expensive than our main pick. Since the TL-WPA8630 V2 doesn’t rely on your router’s Wi-Fi at all, instead using your house’s existing electrical wiring for its backhaul, it’s a better choice if you’re stuck with crappy ISP-provided routers you can’t upgrade. It also may be able to extend your Wi-Fi network significantly farther than the pure Wi-Fi extenders, since its access point can sit entirely outside your router’s effective Wi-Fi coverage area. Don’t get it if you’re also planning to upgrade your router, though—the combined cost of the R7000P and the TL-WPA8630 V2 is more than enough to justify buying an Orbi RBK50 mesh kit instead, and it’s almost as pricey as the more expensive Eero with two Beacons. Either will serve you better than a router and extender.

Setup is straightforward: Plug the base unit in next to your router, connect the two with an Ethernet cable, and plug the remote unit in where you want the Wi-Fi. Avoid plugging either side into a power strip or UPS; in our testing, throughput could easily be cut in half if either device wasn’t plugged directly into the wall. Once the two are connected, they may very well find each other immediately and start working, but don’t stop there—you need to push the physical Encrypt button on each device to make sure that you don’t accidentally merge your network with a neighbor’s.

Once you’ve plugged in both devices and paired them with the Encrypt button, the computer side of the setup is just as it is for a normal extender: You connect to the remote side’s factory Wi-Fi name with a laptop and then browse to a configuration URL (in this case it’s http://tplinkplc.net). From there, you should immediately upgrade the firmware, and then you can easily change the extender’s network name and password. You can let the extender have its own network name so you can manually choose which to connect to, or you can give it the same name and password as your router’s, so that your devices automatically connect to whichever one has the better signal.

The TL-WPA8630 V2 did not deliver impressive numbers on our simple, single-client tests; even the tiny RE200 improved throughput more with only one device active. In multiple-client testing, which is a more realistic simulation of a busy home network, this powerline extender was a true standout—our test laptop loaded pages faster when connected to the TL-WPA8630 V2 than it did with any of the wireless extenders we tested. Among the powerline kits we tested, only the Extollo LanPlug 2000 and Una were faster, and the TL-WPA8630 V2 is more user-friendly and widely available.

WiFi Range Extender

As with all powerline kits, the speed and reliability of the TL-WPA8630 V2’s connection is greatly determined by the quality and style of your home’s electrical wiring. Our test house was built in the 1980s; if you have a significantly older house or one with multiple breaker boxes, you’ll probably see worse results than we did.

All HomePlug AV2 devices require encryption support. I mistakenly assumed this meant that my powerline devices, each of which came as a kit, would be paired securely with one another out of the box. This was not a good assumption. Upon first connecting each extender, I used the R7000P’s “connected devices” screen to see its IP address. When I browsed to the R7000P’s configuration screen after connecting the first of my three powerline kits, something looked off. As it turned out, that’s because I was on my neighbor’s router, not my own—my powerline kit had found the Netgear PL1010 powerline extender in their house, rather than its own sibling device in mine. I do not recommend introducing yourself to the neighbors with a sheepish “Hi, I live over there and I accidentally hacked your router.” It was a pretty awkward start.

Separating the neighbor’s network from mine required pressing the encryption buttons on each of my devices to force them to pair, and it wasn’t a straightforward process—none of the powerline kits we’ve tested give you any visual cues when they’re paired to their own device rather than to a neighbor’s, and only Zyxel’s Web interface lets you see the other connected powerline devices or manipulate the encryption password directly.

If you use powerline extenders, be very careful to securely pair them with one another.

What to look forward to

There are a lot of interesting Wi-Fi technologies on the horizon. The 802.11ax protocol, which will supersede 802.11ac just as 802.11ac superseded 802.11n, will bundle in lots of new features which should greatly improve networks with lots of active devices. However, just like the current Wave 1 MU-MIMO standard in 802.11ac, most of these technologies only work when all or most of the clients on the network (as well as the router) support them.

In practical terms, this means you’d need a new router and new extenders to take advantage of those technologies once they become available, and that’s probably not going to be practical in terms of cost. It’s already difficult to recommend investing in an extender when purpose-built mesh kits typically give you faster, farther-ranging connections and easier setup. We expect this trend will only continue as mesh becomes more mainstream and less expensive.

The competition

Every other extender we tested actively made things worse when the network was busy, returning Web pages more slowly—and in many cases, a lot more slowly—than they would have with no extender at all.

WiFi Range Extender

Remember, lower results are better—and as you can see above, the TP-Link RE200 slightly improved things across the board. D-Link’s DAP-1720 did at least manage to improve the median result, but it slowed things down at the 75th percentile and above; all the other devices tested slowed things down across the board entirely.

To be fair, we’ve cropped the graph at the 95th percentile to keep it readable; all of the devices shown in this bracket did improve latency at the 99th percentile. That’s only one page load out of every 100, though. You probably don’t want to improve a single page load out of 100 when at least nine out of every twenty are markedly worse.

WiFi Range Extender

Things only get worse at the bottom of the pile. We had to change the scale for our six worst performers; otherwise all but the TrendNet TPL-430AP would have been off the charts completely. When you’ve got a busy network, these kits make everything significantly worse.

These results can change—for the better or the worse—as vendors update their firmware. The firmware TP-Link’s RE-200 shipped with put it at the bottom of these charts, but upgrading it to the current version rocketed it to the top. By contrast, the Linksys RE7000 performed pretty well with the year-old firmware it arrived with, but dropped down here to the bottom of the pile after being upgraded. We do not recommend running older firmware, though—firmware upgrades usually include patches for significant security vulnerabilities.

D-Link DAP-1720

The D-Link DAP-1720 is a relatively fast 3Ă—3 MIMO access point that boasts higher single-device throughput than the RE200, but it didn’t do as well in our real-world multiple client testing. It was the least bad of the extenders we didn’t pick; it did measurably improve the median results, but in other cases it was no better than a direct connection to the router. It also costs twice as much as our main pick.

TP-Link RE450 v1

Our former extender pick, TP-Link’s RE450, has been superseded by the newer RE500, but it’s still available. There are two hardware revisions for this device, the v1 and the v2, and you can’t really be sure which you’ll get when you order one online. The RE450 was faster than our pick in single-client testing, but significantly slower when the whole network was active. It also costs more.

TP-Link RE500

TP-Link’s RE500 was at the very top of the chart for simple single-client throughput, but it significantly decreased the quality of the test laptop’s connection with the whole network active. It’s possible that TP-Link will find some bugs to fix in future firmware revisions, but for right now, avoid the RE500.

TP-Link Archer C7

The Archer C7 has long been a favorite cheap router due to its extreme long range and high single-device throughput. What you might not realize is that you can also configure it to act as a Wi-Fi extender to another router, with TP-Link’s easy-to-follow instructions.

Since the C7 isn’t any more expensive than many extenders, we made sure to include it in our test results. Single-client maximum-speed connections through the C7 improved by 59.7 Mbps. Unfortunately, its multi-client test results weren’t so good—it placed 5th of 13 extenders tested there, but still behind a direct connection to the R7000P router.

Although it disappointed us in multiple client testing, the C7 might be worth a try if you’re looking to extend your coverage much past the point where it ceases entirely. That’s usually a losing proposition with any extender, but the C7’s low cost and extremely long range might at least make it worth a shot.

TrendNet TPL-430AP

Like all three powerline network kits we tested, TrendNet’s TPL-430AP preferred to connect itself to my neighbor’s house instead of mine. It improved single-client maximum throughput by a reasonable 18.6 Mbps but mostly degraded quality during multiple-client testing.

Netgear EX6150-100NAS

The EX6150-100NAS, like other Netgear devices, has a nicer interface than most of its competition. But like most extenders, it improved single-device maximum throughput without improving the quality of our Web browsing experience with the whole network active.

Linksys RE6700

The RE6700 very slightly improved single-client maximum throughput at the expense of significantly degraded quality with the whole network active.

Zyxel Armor X1, WRE6505v2, and PLA5236

We’re not quite sure what’s going on with Zyxel’s extender products right now; the Armor X1, WRE6505v2, and PLA5236 all reduced the tested single-client maximum throughput as well as the quality of service with the whole test network active.

Linksys RE7000

The Linksys RE7000 is good hardware on paper, and the outdated firmware it shipped with performed pretty well. Unfortunately, its current firmware plummeted it to the bottom of the pack in testing. (You should not run this or any other extender on older firmware due to security issues—particularly the WPA-Krack exploit, which the older firmware was vulnerable to.)

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