The best plug-in smart outlet

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending over 22 hours plugging in and unplugging lights and other small appliances and turning them on and off using various apps (and by barking orders at Siri and Alexa when we could), we found that the Belkin WeMo Mini is the best smart-switch outlet adapter for people who want to add smart control to their existing outlets. It packs most of the same features as our previous pick, the WeMo Insight, into a smaller size, and it’s less expensive. It also plays nicely with both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets and integrates easily with popular smart-home protocols and devices. All you need to do is plug the Belkin WeMo Mini into an existing outlet and install the app to get started with home automation.

Who should get this

If you’re the type of person who is constantly paranoid about if you left the iron on, smart plugs can ease your anxiety. These are small devices that plug into any outlet and allow you to control the connected appliance wirelessly via a smartphone app. Putting even just one smart switch into your home can ensure that you’ll never enter a dark house; add a few and you can control items such as household fans, speakers, slow cookers, air conditioners, and more.

How we picked and tested

Smart switches are an easy way to add remote control to any electronic device.
Photo: Rachel Cericola

We started compiling a list of smart switches by searching for reviews on sites like CNET, Pocket-lint, and MakeUseOf. We then cross-checked our list with customer reviewers from Amazon, and decided not to consider any models with bad reviews.

After that, we started considering criteria and features. First and foremost, a smart switch should be easy to operate and reliable. You should be able to plug it in, download the app, and start controlling the switch in minutes. We also favored apps that provide extras beyond the ability to turn the switch’s power on and off, such as dimming, scheduling, and the ability to group multiple switches.

To test each switch, I downloaded apps to an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. Most of the switches connected to Wi-Fi easily and were simple to operate. I kept all of the plugs confined to the lower level of my house, but operated controls from across the house, out in the driveway, and across the street (up to 150 feet away). To keep things interesting, I plugged a variety of items into our test switches.

Our pick

Belkin’s WeMo Mini Switch turns any outlet into a smart outlet you can control with your iOS or Android device. Photo: Rachel Cericola

Belkin recently slimmed down its smart-plug offering with the WeMo Mini. The company’s newest smart plug is just as reliable as our previous top pick, the WeMo Insight, but is more compact and $ 15 cheaper. It connects to the same WeMo app, which can control several devices remotely, includes options for scheduling and rules, connects with both iOS and Android devices, and can be integrated with other smart-home devices. The WeMo Mini is small enough to fit into either socket in a duplex outlet without blocking the second one.

The switch easily connects to your Wi-Fi without needing a hub. It performed as advertised throughout our testing period, providing on-off control from inside and outside of the house whenever called upon. The WeMo Android and iOS apps are almost identical, offering on-off controls, rules, and timers. Unfortunately, the WeMo Mini does not offer energy-usage information; the only WeMo device with that feature is the Insight Switch.

Like its predecessor, the WeMo Mini stands out because of its compatibility. In addition to integrating with other WeMo devices, the switch also works with the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and IFTTT. However, the WeMo Mini does not support integration with Apple’s HomeKit.

Runner-up

Photo: Rachel Cericola

The iHome iSP8 is a solid runner-up. It performs all of the standard smart-switch features very well, but adds additional smart-home integration and energy monitoring so you can see how much energy your lava lamp is wasting via the companion app. It also comes with a separate remote control for controlling it without a smartphone (from up to 35 feet away). The drawback of these extra features is that they cost more than our top pick. If you don’t need it to work with HomeKit or a smart-home hub, you don’t need to spend the extra money.

The iSP8 has a few additional smart-home perks over our main pick. Besides Alexa and Nest integration, it offers support for SmartThings and Wink smart-home systems, so you can connect it to a hub and make it a part of a larger, whole-house system. It also features Apple HomeKit integration, so you can control the iSP8 or groups of HomeKit-enabled devices using iOS devices and the sound of your voice. It does not work with Google Home.

Budget pick

Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Geeni Energi is a reliable performer and the least expensive Wi-Fi smart plug currently available. It provides all of the standard smart-switch features, allowing users to control devices both in and outside their home. It also includes scheduling and timers and can be controlled via Amazon Alexa devices. Geeni’s Android and iOS apps are identical, offering on-off controls, scheduling, timers, rules, the ability to group devices, and energy-usage information. However, It’s a bit bulkier than our other two picks, which will banish it to the bottom receptacle of your outlet.

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

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The best phones under $250

The iPhone X: $ 999. The Galaxy Note 8: $ 930. Even the more affordable Google Pixel 2 commands a significant investment of $ 650. Today’s flagship phones are expensive enough that spending a significant chunk of your rent on a handset is seemingly the norm. You can opt for an installment plan to pay it off more easily, and for some people it’s worth paying a service provider for two years to own one of the best devices available. But many other people can’t afford, or would prefer not, to spend that much money on something they’ll replace in two years (or less). Fortunately for the budget-conscious, you can find a better selection of phones for $ 250 than you could even a few years ago.

What to expect

Before we get into the best phones at this price, let’s talk expectations. First off, many of the devices we’re discussing come unlocked, so it’s imperative that you check to see if they’ll work on your carrier before you buy one. Many unlocked handsets are only GSM-compatible, so they’ll support only AT&T, T-Mobile and their subsidiaries. Sprint and Verizon customers should be especially careful when making their selections.

At this price, you’re not going to get high-end features like face-recognition cameras, curved screens or high-res, edge-to-edge displays. Most of these phones use older chipsets and often run Android 6 Marshmallow instead of the newer Android 7 Nougat (which itself is no longer the latest OS).

For daily use, you won’t really notice a difference in speed with these phones, but don’t expect much if you’re using these for heavy-duty gaming or intensive multitasking. If that’s going to be a problem, you’re better off getting a flagship phone on an equipment installment plan (EIP) instead.

Flagships on a budget

You can still get a premium phone for cheap if you have the time and patience to monitor deal listings. Some carriers and websites slash prices for older (but still perfectly respectable) phones in anticipation of new launches or when approaching the holiday season. If you can wait till Black Friday, you’ll probably find plenty of deals bringing down the cost of usually expensive phones. In 2016, T-Mobile offered the iPhone 7, the Galaxy S7 and the LG V20 for free to people who traded in eligible smartphones, while Huawei’s Honor 8 dropped that year from $ 400 to $ 300. Right now, you can even find an iPhone SE ($ 399 at launch) for less than $ 250, or the older (but still good) HTC One M8 for $ 160. A Google search for “iPhone SE” returns options as low as $ 150 at Target for an AT&T version in space gray with 16GB of storage.

Affordable by design

If you weren’t fast enough to snag one of those deals, you still have decent options. Bright, crisp screens with full HD (1080p) displays are common at this price, so don’t fall for cheap phones with piddly 720p panels. Sub-$ 250 phones run the gamut when it comes to size, too, so you can pick from a big 5.5-inch screen down to a more compact 4.7-inch option. Many budget handsets also pack fingerprint sensors, long-lasting batteries, and dual cameras for special effects in portrait photography (although these tend to pale in comparison with iPhones and Samsung phones when it comes to quality).

The best budget phones

Motorola Moto G5S Plus

smartphone affordable budget

One of the best offerings is the $ 230 Moto G5S Plus. It’s the successor to the Moto G5 Plus, which was already our favorite budget phone. The new handset features a 5.5-inch 1080p display, dual rear 13-megapixel cameras and a generous 3,000mAh battery, all wrapped in a body that feels more expensive than it actually is. The phone uses an octa-core Snapdragon 625 chip that can go up to 2.0GHz, which is powerful enough for the average person and quite good for the price. It also runs the relatively new Android 7.1 Nougat and works on all four major US carriers. The main downside is the absence of NFC support, so if you like using your phone for contactless payments, this isn’t going to work for you.

Nokia 6

In that case, you can consider the $ 230 Nokia 6, which has NFC and runs the same version of Android as the G5S Plus. It features dual front-facing speakers with a “smart amplifier” and Dolby audio enhancements for louder sound. The Nokia 6 sports a single 16-megapixel camera on its rear, though, and uses a slower Snapdragon 430 processor. Also, it’s unfortunately stuck in the past with its micro-USB charging port. That’s a minor complaint, but when the rest of the world has already moved on to USB-C, it feels like an antiquated feature. Still, the Nokia 6 offers newish components for a reasonable price, and if you don’t mind getting Amazon ads on your lock screen, the Prime exclusive version of the phone is even cheaper, at $ 180.

Alcatel Idol 5s

Also available as a Prime exclusive is the Alcatel Idol 5s ($ 200 with ads; $ 280 without), which has a vibrant 5.2-inch, a 1080p screen and a USB-C port and runs Android 7. Like the Nokia 6, the Idol 5s has only a single 12-megapixel rear camera, but it uses the faster Snapdragon 625 processor (the same chip used in the Moto G5S Plus). Alcatel’s handset has a smaller battery than the Nokia 6 and the G5S Plus, though, so you might need to charge it more often. The Idol 5s looks and feels like a lot of Alcatel’s previous handsets, with a rounded silhouette, chrome edges and a glass rear. Despite a slightly dated design, the Idol line is known for its good quality and affordable prices. Plus, this is one of the few budget phones to support all four major US carriers while packing a well-rounded feature set.

ZTE Blade V8 Pro

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is a compelling option. It sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display and dual 13-megapixel rear cameras that enable Portrait mode for bokeh on your photos, although you won’t get iPhone-quality images here. The Blade V8 Pro isn’t as adept at detecting outlines when applying the blur, but in ideal conditions it pulls off the effect well. I liked the phone’s sturdy build when I tried it out in January, but it’s not as pretty as the other options on this list. The V8 Pro is equipped with the same Snapdragon 625 chip as the Moto G5S Plus and the Idol 5s, but it runs the older Android 6 Marshmallow instead. It does support NFC, though, making it one of the few on this list to do so and a good option for people who don’t want to give up Android Pay.

Runners-up

Huawei Honor 6x

There are several other options in this space, but we’ll cap off this roundup with two quick mentions. Huawei’s Honor 6x is very similar to the ZTE Blade V8 Pro: It has dual cameras, runs Android 6.0 and features a 5.5-inch full HD display. But it doesn’t support NFC and it costs $ 20 more. Also, Huawei’s EMUI Android skin makes the software look cartoonish, despite adding useful fingerprint sensor shortcuts. The main reason to spend more for this phone over the Blade V8 Pro would be the Honor’s more elegant metal body.

ZTE Blade ZMax

Finally, those who want a big screen at this price should consider ZTE’s Blade line of affordable large phones. In particular, the Blade ZMax sports a 6-inch full HD display, dual cameras and a large 4,080mAh battery for $ 129. It’s also impressively slim for such a large phone and was easy to use with one hand during a brief demo. Some caveats: It uses a relatively slower octa-core Snapdragon 435 CPU and is available only via MetroPCS for now, but we expect it to be sold unlocked soon as well.

Final thoughts

With all the improvements trickling down from high-end flagships to today’s budget phones, shopping for a sub-$ 250 device no longer feels like digging through a bargain bin of iPhone rejects. They won’t be the fastest or have the best cameras, but the options in this category are respectable handsets with relatively modern features. If you have a bit more cash to spare, you’ll find even better phones in the sub-$ 500 category that are nearly on par with flagships in terms of performance. We’ll be putting together those recommendations soon, so stay tuned.

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The Wirecutter’s best deals: Harmony Elite and Google Home bundle is now $280

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter‘s independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their continuously updated list of deals here.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot — some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

Street price: $ 103; MSRP: $ 103; Deal price: $ 83

This is a nice deal on our upgrade instant-read thermometer at $ 79. The ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is seeing more regular sales, though they only seem to last a few days each at most. This deal ends at the end of the day on September 15th, so you don’t have too much time to take advantage of this deal. The Mk4 comes with a 2-warranty from ThermoWorks and the discount is available for all colors. $ 4 flat-rate shipping brings the total up to $ 83.

The ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is our serious upgrade pick in our guide for the best instant-read thermometer. Kevin Purdy wrote, “If you’re looking for more precision in your cooking, you should upgrade to the Thermapen Mk4. Like the “classic” Thermapen, the new model hits a close temperature in two seconds, then a precise temperature in about three seconds. It has a long fold-out probe and large display, and it’ll last a very long time with only rare calibrations. The few features added were smart: an automatic backlight, screen rotation, and motion-based sleep and wake-up. It’s also more waterproof than the prior model, and it switched from drawing power from a coin battery (that you never have on hand) to a single AAA battery.”

Harmony Elite + Google Home Bundle

Street price: $ 355; MSRP: $ 479; Deal price: $ 280

If you’re interested in jumping into the world of smart home technology, this bundle is a great way to do so. It features two of our picks, the Harmony Elite universal remote and the Google Home. For those who want control of their AV system, voice command functionality for smart elements around the house and more, this pairing is very worth picking up. The Harmony Elite currently has a street price of nearly $ 250 and the Google Home nearly $ 110, so you’re getting a savings of around $ 75 with this bundle. Shipping is free.

The Logitech Harmony Elite is our theater enthusiasts pick in our guide to the best universal remote conrol. Darryl Wilkinson and Grant Clauser wrote, “If the relative ease of programming, vast control database and smart activities of the Companion just isn’t enough for you, and what you really want is a cool touchscreen to let you tap your home theater into action, and you’d like to integrate even more of your smarthome devices into your system, then you’ll want to investigate the Harmony Elite, the top dog remote in the Logitech lineup.”

The Google Home is recommended in our guide on it. Grant Clauser and Brent Butterworth write, “If you are already invested in the Google ecosystem and want a voice-controlled speaker for listening to music or controlling smart-home devices, the Google Home is an easy recommendation. Despite being new to the game compared with Amazon’s Echo, the Home feels surprisingly polished and complete, both in design and abilities.”

Anker PowerCore+ 26800 PD Battery Pack and Charger

Street price: $ 110; MSRP: $ 120; Deal price: $ 88 w/ code KINJA879

Here’s a good price on our recommended battery pack for USB-C laptops. Usually $ 110, use code KINJA879 to knock the price of this battery pack (which includes a separate accompanying wall charger) down to $ 88. As so far this charger bundle hasn’t seen significant discounts and battery packs capable of effectively powering USB-C laptops are still hard to find, this is a nice deal. Shipping is free.

The Anker PowerCore+ 26800 PD Battery pack and charger bundle is our battery pack pick for USB-C laptops in our guide to the best USB-C battery pack and power banks. Mark Smirnotis wrote, “If you want to charge a USB-C–powered laptop away from a power outlet, the Anker PowerCore+ 26800 PD Battery Pack and Charger Bundle is the best way to do that. This battery pack can provide more power, for longer, than our smaller mobile-device pick, extending the battery life on USB-C laptops such as the most recent MacBook Pro models, and the Dell XPS 13. The Power Delivery (PD) standard delivers twice as much power as standard USB-C outlets—at least 30 W instead of just 15 W—but twice the power comes at around four times the price at this writing, so it’s important to confirm that you need the benefits before you plunk down the cash. Non-PD devices such as smartphones, tablets, and speakers will still charge from this pack, but not any faster than they would from much less expensive standard USB battery packs.”

Apple iPhone 7 Leather Case

Street price: $ 45; MSRP: $ 45; Deal price: $ 30

With preorders for the iPhone 8 starting 9/15 and iPhone X arriving in early November, iPhone 7 accessories are predictably seeing some of the best prices we’ve noted for them. The Apple branded iPhone leather case, usually $ 45, is down to $ 30, a new low. It’s available in all colors except midnight blue ($ 35) at the deal price, but saddle brown is backordered. Shipping is free.

The Apple iPhone 7 Leather Case is our pick for the best leather case in our guide to the best cases for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Nick Guy writes, “If you prefer the look and feel of leather over plastic or silicone, Apple’s iPhone 7 Leather Case is the best option. It isn’t as protective as our overall favorite, but we like it anyway. It offers enough coverage to guard against the majority of scuffs and minor drops, and even though it’s thin and light, it still has an adequate lip protecting the screen. The Leather Case is available in seven classy color options, and while the lighter colors may show dirt and wear sooner than you might like, one person’s “dirt” is another’s patina, the coveted accumulation of wear that makes the case unique. Most important, though, Apple’s Leather Case just looks and feels great.”

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 to The Wirecutter.com.

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The best wireless outdoor home security camera

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending almost three months looking, listening, adjusting angles, and deleting over 10,000 push notifications and emails, we’ve decided that the Netgear Arlo Pro is the best DIY outdoor Wi-Fi home security camera you can get. Like the other eight units we tested, the Arlo Pro lets you keep an eye on your property and provides smartphone alerts whenever there’s motion. However, it’s one of the few options with built-in rechargeable batteries to make it completely wireless, so it’s easy to place and move. It also delivers an excellent image, clear two-way audio, practical smart-home integration, and seven days of free cloud storage.

Who should get this

A Wi-Fi surveillance camera on your front porch, over your garage, or attached to your back deck can provide a peek at what really goes bump in the night, whether that’s someone stealing packages off your steps or raccoons going through garbage cans. It can alert you to dangers and can create a record of events. It should also help you to identify someone—and if it’s a welcome or unwelcome guest—or just let you monitor pets or kids when you’re not out there with them.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Rachel Cericola

During initial research, we compiled a huge list of outdoor security cameras recommended by professional review sites like PCMag, Safewise, and Safety.com, as well as those available on popular online retailers. We then narrowed this list by considering only Wi-Fi–enabled cameras that will alert your smartphone or tablet whenever motion is detected. We also clipped out all devices that required a networked video recorder (NVR) to capture video, focusing only on products that could stand alone.

Once we had a list of about 27 cameras, we went through Amazon and Google to see what kind of feedback was available. We ultimately decided on a test group based on price, features, and availability.

We mounted our test group to a board outside of our New England house, pointed them at the same spot, and exposed them all to the same lighting conditions and weather. The two exceptions were cameras integrated into outdoor lighting fixtures, both of which were installed on the porch by my husband, a licensed electrician. All nine cameras were connected to the same Verizon FiOS network via a Wi-Fi router indoors.

Besides good Wi-Fi, you may also need a nearby outlet. Only three of the cameras we tested offered the option to use battery power. Most others required an AC connection, which means you won’t be able to place them just anywhere.

We downloaded each camera’s app to an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. The cameras spent weeks guarding our front door, alerting us to friends, family members, packages, and the milkman. Once we got a good enough look at those friendly faces, we tilted the entire collection outward to see what sort of results we got facing the house across the street, which is approximately 50 feet away. To learn more about how we picked and tested, please see our full guide.

Our pick

The Arlo Pro can handle snow, rain, and everything else, and runs for months on a battery charge. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Arlo Pro is a reliable outdoor Wi-Fi camera that’s compact and completely wireless, thanks to a removable, rechargeable battery that, based on our testing, should provide at least a couple of months of operation on a charge. It’s also the only device on our list that offers seven days of free cloud storage, and packs in motion- and audio-triggered recordings for whenever you get around to reviewing them.

The Arlo Pro requires a bridge unit, known as the Base Station, which needs to be powered and connected to your router. The Base Station is the brains behind the system, but also includes a piercing 100-plus–decibel siren, which can be triggered manually through the app or automatically by motion and/or audio.

With a 130-degree viewing angle and 720p resolution, the Arlo Pro provided clear video footage during both day and night, and the two-way audio was easy to understand on both ends. The system also features the ability to set rules, which can trigger alerts for motion and audio. You can adjust the level of sensitivity so that you don’t get an alert or record a video clip every time a car drives by. You can also set up alerts based on a schedule or geofencing using your mobile device, but you can’t define custom zones for monitoring. All of those controls are easy to find in the Arlo app, which is available for iOS and Android devices.

If you’re looking to add the Arlo Pro to a smart-home system, the camera currently works with Stringify, Wink, and IFTTT (“If This Then That”). SmartThings certification was approved and will be included in a future app update. The Arlo Pro is also compatible with ADT Canopy for a fee.

Runner-up

The Nest Cam Outdoor records continuously and produces better images than most of the competition, but be prepared to pay extra for features other cameras include for free. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Nest Cam Outdoor is a strong runner-up. It records continuous 1080p video, captures to the cloud 24/7, and can actually distinguish between people and other types of motion. Like the Nest thermostat, the Outdoor Cam is part of the Works With Nest program, which means it can integrate with hundreds of smart-home products. It’s also the only model we tested that has a truly weatherproof cord. However, that cord and the ongoing subscription cost, which runs $ 100 to $ 300 per year for the Nest Aware service, is what kept the Nest Cam Outdoor from taking the top spot.

Like our top pick, the Nest Cam Outdoor doesn’t have an integrated mount. Instead, the separate mount is magnetic, so you can attach and position the camera easily. Although it has a lot of flexibility in movement, it needs to be placed within reach of an outlet, which can be a problem outside the house. That said, the power cord is quite lengthy. The camera has a 10-foot USB cable attached, but you can get another 15 feet from the included adapter/power cable.

The Nest Cam Outdoor’s 1080p images and sound were extremely impressive, both during the day and at night. In fact, this camera delivered some of the clearest, most detailed images during our testing, with a wide 130-degree field of view and an 8x digital zoom.

The Nest app is easy to use and can integrate with other Nest products, such as indoor and outdoor cameras, the Nest thermostat, and the Nest Protect Smoke + CO detector. You can set the camera to turn on and off at set times of day, go into away mode based on your mobile device’s location, and more.

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

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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The best Z-Wave in-wall dimmer

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending more than 25 hours swapping out receptacles, flipping switches, programming timers, and talking to home-automation experts, we’ve determined that the HomeSeer HS-WD100+ is the best Z-Wave in-wall dimmer for smart-home systems. Like the other six units we tested, it features straightforward remote operation, as well as easy dimming and scheduling. It’s the only model we tested that supports multi-tap features, so you can sync a single switch with multiple lights and appliances around your house, and it works with all Z-Wave–certified smart-home hubs.

Who should get this

The advantages of smart lighting are pretty easy to grasp. We’ve all left lights on when we haven’t meant to, or forgotten to do the same when we’d wanted to, leaving us returning home at the end of the day to a completely dark house. Smart lighting lets you schedule it all automatically or control everything remotely.

You can find many smart-lighting devices, including bulbs, switches, and dimmers. Some work alone using Wi-Fi, others connect to a smart-home hub using wireless technologies such as Z-Wave or ZigBee. A Wi-Fi–enabled smart bulb is easy to get up and running, but if you want to automate a lot of lights in the home—and especially if you’ve already invested in other smart-home gear and you’re using a smart-home hub—you’ll want to get a smart switch.

We specifically picked Z-Wave in-wall dimmers, versus regular on-off switches, because they offer dimming, which can add ambiance and save electricity. We went with Z-Wave over ZigBee because there are currently more in-wall dimmer and smart-home hub options for the DIY crowd with this technology.

It’s important to note that swapping out light switches isn’t for everyone—in fact, doing so is dangerous. If you aren’t comfortable with turning off the power and poking around inside the wall, please hire a licensed electrician to do the job.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Rachel Cericola

In order to find out what makes a good Z-Wave in-wall dimmer, we talked to Mitch Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance. He said to look for products that are Z-Wave certified, which ensures they will be compatible with other Z-Wave devices, as well as UL compliant. A good in-wall dimmer should allow you to customize the dimming levels, as well as to create scenes, which enable you to bring up a group of lights at set dimming levels at a single touch of a button. Also, you should look for dimmers that are “all-load” compatible, which means they’ll work with a variety of bulbs, including CFL, LED, incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen.

Next, we compiled a list of available dimmers by searching Google, the Z-Wave Alliance website, and Amazon. To be considered, a device needed to be a dimmer, Z-Wave compatible, and designed for installation inside the wall. It also needed to be Z-Wave certified. We avoided those that were proprietary to one specific platform.

My licensed-electrician husband installed the dimmers to be tested, and we connected each dimmer to hubs from SmartThings and Wink, currently two of the most popular options available. All of the dimmers worked, allowing us to turn lights on and off with the hubs’ apps, to dim the lighting on a scale from 1 to 99 percent, and to set timers that would trigger the applicable light to go on and off (and even dim) at a certain time of day. For each of our tests, we used apps on an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. To learn more about the installation and testing process, please see our full guide.

Our Pick

We especially liked the customizable LED indicator lights on the HomeSeer dimmer. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The HomeSeer HS-WD100+ is a reliable Z-Wave in-wall dimmer that provides remote on-off, dimming, and scheduling, similar to its competition. However, it also adds multi-tap features that allow you to set up certain rules, triggers, and dimming levels, based on how you tap the actual switch. This is a really cool feature that no other Z-Wave in-wall dimmer currently offers, which allows you to assign specific tasks to tapping or holding the on or off position on the rocker: For instance, we had the HomeSeer dimmer installed in our living room, but we set it so that tapping the on position twice would trigger a different Z-Wave dimmer in the dining room to turn on.

Although the HS-WD100+ was designed to work with one of HomeSeer’s controllers, it is Z-Wave certified, so it will work with any Z-Wave–certified hub. In fact, it is Z-Wave Plus certified (the only switch we’ve found with this certification), which promises better compatibility and an easier setup.

This is also the only switch in our test group that supports the Z-Wave scene and central scene classes (the latter only when you use it with the HomeSeer hub). This may not be a big deal if you’re controlling only one light switch; however, if you plan to install Z-Wave switches throughout the house, this feature might be important because the scene modes can make for faster transition times with large setups.

Without a HomeSeer-branded hub, you won’t have instant access to the extra features of the HS-WD100+. If you use a SmartThings Hub, you will need to enable the tap features yourself. For anyone with a fear of code, this may be a turnoff, but adding these functions is as easy as a quick copy-and-paste into a browser tool. Once you do that, you will have access to all of this dimmer’s perks. If you have the Wink Hub, the HS-WD100+ is just another dimmer, which could make our runner-up pick a better choice.

Runner-up

The GE dimmer doesn’t look any different from a conventional dimmer, which might make it appealing to some people. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The GE Z-Wave In-Wall Smart Dimmer (model number 12724) is a great choice for anyone who doesn’t have a need for bells and whistles. It works with all sorts of Z-Wave smart-home hubs to provide remote control and dimming from anywhere, as well as all of the standard Z-Wave in-wall dimmer features, such as scenes and customized scheduling so you can turn the lights on and off at specific times of day. The drawbacks? It doesn’t doesn’t allow upgrades (the company plans to release another model down the line that will).

In our tests, once connected to each smart-home hub, the GE 12724 performed similarly to every other switch on our list. It reacted quickly and reliably, and was smooth and sturdy in operation, delivering a nice “click” when pushed. It’s very plain looking and doesn’t have an LED indicator, though it does include a tiny light at its base that you can customize to go on or off depending on the status of the dimmer switch.

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

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The Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $49 on a Vantrue dashcam

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter‘s independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their continuously updated list of deals here.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot — some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

Apple iPad (5th Generation)

Street price: $ 330; MSRP: $ 330; Deal price: $ 300

A nice drop on the new iPad lowers the price to $ 300 for the 32GB model. This $ 30 off sale is also available for the 128GB size ($ 400 with discount). Silver, Gold, and Space Gray colors are all eligible for the discount in both storage capacities. We’ll continue to track the new iPads for future sales but at present these match the lowest prices we’ve seen for it. Shipping is free.

The 5th gen iPad is our new top pick in our Best Tablet guide. Dan Frakes and Nick Guy write, “The 2017 standard iPad—the 9.7-inch non-Pro model, officially called the “iPad (5th generation)”—is a familiar device. Its body is almost exactly the same as that of the 2014 iPad Air,2 and except for improved processors, its internals mostly match those of the iPad Air 2, the model it replaces (and our previous top pick). Yet the 2017 iPad remains the best tablet on the market for most people because of that familiarity: It shares its predecessor’s unique combination of performance, features, hardware quality, app selection, and accessory ecosystem, and improves on its value.”

Roku Streaming Stick (3600R)

Street price: $ 50; MSRP: $ 50; Deal price: $ 40

While we’ve seen the Roku media streaming stick as low as $ 35, it typically sells for at least $ 10 more. The aforementioned $ 35 pricing tends to be offered during the holiday season only – otherwise, the Roku stick doesn’t dip below $ 40 (with a few rare exceptions), so this is as low as you’re likely to find one if you’re looking to cut the cord or just add a great streaming interface to your setup. Shipping is free.

The Roku Streaming Stick is our pick for the best media streamer. Chris Heinonen writes, “The Roku Streaming Stick is the best media streamer for most people because it offers the largest selection of streaming content, a clean and responsive user interface, and a useful search function.” He continues, “The Streaming Stick offers the same interface, speed, and content as the more expensive Roku 2 and 3. It also has a private listening mode so you can watch your content without disturbing others. You also get an RF remote instead of IR, so it doesn’t need to be in sight to work.”

1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones

Street price: $ 80; MSRP: $ 100; Deal price: $ 69

This is a new low price on our runner-up pick earbuds under $ 100. If you have a Costco membership, they’re available for only $ 65. If you don’t have a membership, don’t fret – the $ 4 surcharge isn’t too much of a burden and doesn’t detract much from the great deal price. We normally see these earbuds stick close to the $ 100 price range with occasional drops down to $ 80, so this is a great deal price to pick them up. Shipping is free.

The 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones are our runner-up pick in our guide to the best earbuds under $ 100. Lauren Dragan writes, “For iPhone or Android users that require a three-button remote, the 1More Triple Driver headphones are a wonderful choice. Via a switch (according to 1More), one model works with iPhones and most Android devices, too. Although our panel wasn’t as in love with the sound of the Triple Driver as we were with the Marshall, everyone agreed that the 1More performed vastly better than the majority of the other headphones we tested this round.”

Vantrue OnDash R2 2K Ultra HD 2.7 Inch LCD Dashboard Camera

Street price: $ 129; MSRP: $ 160; Deal price: $ 80

While there have been other deals on the R2 at $ 90 with a $ 10 gift card, this is only the second time we’ve seen a deal for this Vantrue dash cam at a flat $ 80. It’s available with free standard shipping. This sale lasts until Saturday, May 20th.

The Vantrue R2 is our runner-up pick for the best dash cam. Eric Adams writes, “Its packaging, instructions, and general usability are on a par with the Z3, and its image quality is also top notch. While just as crisp as the Z3, the R2’s images have slightly more contrast. This makes them more attractive, but not quite as useful as they could be in different scenarios, as some areas tend to be too dark, and the night vision is also a hair darker.”

Turning to quality and value, Adams writes, “It also has a slightly wider 170° field of view, which exceeds our preference just a bit. But we’re hair-splitting here: Both the R2 and our top pick, the Z3, are sensational cameras…. If you like its slightly better photographic output or you need a dash cam right away and the Z3 is unavailable, we recommend the R2.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursdays, 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 to The Wirecutter.com.

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The Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $70 on an Apple Watch Series 2

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter‘s independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their continuously updated list of deals here.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot — some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

Garmin Forerunner 230 Running Watch

Street price: $ 190; MSRP: $ 250; Deal price: $ 155 with code AFFEMFIT

This is the lowest price we’ve seen on this GPS running watch at $ 155 after applying coupon code AFFEMFIT. While the street price of the Forerunner 230 has fallen under $ 200 in recent months, this is still a new low by a nice margin and a good opportunity to pick one up if you’re a runner looking to up your game. Black, Yellow, and Purple colors are available at the $ 155 price. Shipping is free.

The Garmin Forerunner is our pick for the best GPS running watch. Jim McDannald writes, “The Garmin Forerunner 230 (FR 230) has everything we were looking for in a great GPS running watch. It takes the accuracy and long battery life of our previous pick, the Forerunner 220 (FR 220), and makes the screen larger and more readable during activities, while retaining a light and small profile that won’t feel weird wearing as an everyday watch. The FR 230 can pass along smartphone notifications and track your steps and other casual activities. The interface and data syncing are easy enough to use if you are new to GPS watches, but the FR 230 also contains deep features and optional app downloads that experienced runners and statistics wonks can dig into. It can track some advanced running metrics we’ve only seen in higher-priced models and can also work with separate cycling monitors for speed and cadence. All of these features rest on top of Garmin’s unparalleled reputation for making reliable GPS watches; adding up to a watch that, while right in the middle of the pricing curve at about $ 250, feels many product cycles ahead of its competitors.”

Fitbit Flex 2 Fitness Tracker

Street price: $ 100; MSRP: $ 100; Deal price: $ 60

Here’s a nice drop on our new budget pick for best fitness tracker, the Fitbit Flex 2. This is the first sale we’ve seen on the Fitbit Flex 2 since making it one of our picks and marks a $ 40 drop from the usual street price. Most of the sales we see on this Fitibit only drop the price $ 20 down to $ 80, so this is a great price to pick it up. Since the only other time we saw this Fitbit at $ 60 was last year during Black Friday sales, it’s unlikely that this deal will stick around for too long. The deal is currently available in black, lavender, magenta, and navy.

The Fitbit Flex 2 is our new budget pick in our guide to the best fitness trackers. Amy Roberts wrote, “If you just want a simple way to monitor and track your daily activity (including workouts), nightly sleep habits, and get reminders to be more active, the Flex 2 is a great choice—especially if all your friends are on Fitbit. Unlike other Fitbits, it’s water resistant to 50 meters so you can track swimming and shower with it. However, there’s no screen—just five status LEDs to track progress towards your daily step count goal. It also doesn’t track heart rate, but Fitbits in general continue to struggle with heart-rate accuracy, so we don’t see this as a major issue; it helps the Flex 2 maintain its slim profile and lower price. The Flex 2 syncs wirelessly to the Fitbit app on a smartphone or the Fitbit website on a computer to keep a record of your activity and link you to other Fitbit users—a real highlight, as research shows that friendly competition can be very motivating.”

Apple Watch Series 2 – 38mm Aluminum

Street price: $ 370; MSRP: $ 370; Deal price: $ 300

This is the first big drop we’ve seen on our upgrade Apple smartwatch pick. We haven’t seen many (or any) really worthwhile sales on the Apple Watch Series 2, so if you’ve been waiting for a decent sale, now is the time. This deal is available in space gray, rose gold, and white, as well as the 42mm size for $ 30 more.

The Apple Watch Series 2 is our upgrade pick in our guide to the best smartwatch for iPhone owners. Dan Frakes wrote, “The Apple Watch Series 2 has three features that make it far more useful than the Series 1 for outdoor or water exercise: onboard, no-phone-required GPS, a waterproof design (up to 50 meters in fresh or salt water) that can handle swimming or surfing, and a brighter screen that’s easier to see outside. Combined with the watchOS 3’s improved Health app, these improvements mean the Series 2 watch can compete with fitness trackers and running watches while also being stylish enough to wear in casual and work settings.”

Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet

Street price: $ 90; MSRP: $ 90; Deal price: $ 65

This comes in $ 5 below the previous sale we featured last month and is one of the best sales we’ve seen on this tablet. Since those sales tend to be pretty short, it’s safe to assume that this one won’t last longer than a few days. Outside of the occasional lightning sale, this is likely the new best price you’ll find on the Fire HD 8.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 is our budget pick in our guide on the best Android tablet. Chris Heinonen wrote, “If you want a cheap tablet for watching videos, reading, or browsing the web, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 tablet is great. It doesn’t have access to the Google Play Store or any of Google’s apps, but it costs less than $ 100 and makes it easy to access Amazon content (especially for Prime members). Amazon’s Fire OS (based on Android) runs very well, and the Fire HD 8 offers better battery life than the Shield K1 or Pixel C. The display is only 1280×800, but that’s fine for a budget media tablet. Amazon’s app store is not as extensive as the Play Store, but it does have free versions of many apps and games that cost money on other Android tablets. The Fire HD 8 also has more extensive parental controls than other tablets, making it a great family device.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursdays, 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 to The Wirecutter.com.

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The Honor 8 Pro is Huawei’s best flagship yet

There’s Huawei, and then there’s Honor. While both are technically the same company, the Honor brand takes some of the best bits of Huawei’s smartphones and packages them up in new devices that don’t take as much of a bite out of your bank account. That’s been the general distinction between the two, anyway, but the line has become blurrier as Honor has begun breaching the mid-range with smartphones like the Honor 8. And now, it’s been all but scrubbed out with the announcement of the £475 (nearly $ 593) Honor 8 Pro today, which is every bit a new Huawei flagship.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Tucked away inside the Honor 8 Pro is Huawei’s best homegrown chip: the Kirin 960 with four 2.4GHz cores and four 1.8GHz cores. With 6GB of RAM and 64 gigs of expandable storage backing that up, it’s a beast by any account. It’s also running the latest version of Huawei’s EMUI (5.1), which is built on top of Android 7.0 Nougat. Among the improvements are a better blue light filter and new camera feature co-developed with GoPro called Highlights, which automatically creates video stories from what’s available in the gallery (much like HTC’s old Zoe highlights feature, then).

Like some other Huawei devices, the Honor 8 Pro uses machine learning to optimize performance, predicting your daily Facebook check so the app loads faster than it would do otherwise. Algorithms also promise to delay the inevitable slowdown of the device as file fragmentation and other forms of wear and tear take their toll. Apparently, you can expect the device to still function at 80 percent efficiency after 500 days of use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This won’t become apparent for some time, of course, but what’s immediately obvious is just how gorgeous the Honor 8 Pro is. Whereas the Honor 8 was clad almost entirely in glass, the Pro is mostly metal (barring the Gorilla Glass 3 covering the display) The navy blue model I’ve been playing around with catches the light in all kinds of visually appealing ways — this will be the only color available at launch, but black, gold and potentially more hues are in the pipeline. It looks and feels like a seriously premium device, and there are soft curves in all right places. With antenna bands running horizontally close to the top and bottom ends of the handset, there’s no denying the Honor 8 Pro gives off strong iPhone vibes.

The only downside to this beautiful body is that it’s a bit on the big side, though it’s still nice and thin at 6.97mm deep. This does mean, however, there’s enough space for a 4,000mAh battery with fast-charging support that’ll apparently keep the thing going for two days of regular use. More importantly, though, there’s room for a vibrant, stunning 5.7-inch Quad HD (2,560 x 1,400) display. To showcase this striking screen, the Honor 8 Pro comes with the Jaunt VR app preinstalled, and the device’s box actually converts into a cardboard VR viewer. It’s not particularly comfortable, but it’s a nice touch to include this accessory as standard, and in a clever way.

I kinda feel like Huawei’s shot itself in the foot with the Honor 8 Pro. All things considered, I don’t know why you’d buy the new Huawei P10 flagship over the Honor 8 Pro, especially as the former has a few inferior specs and is significantly more expensive at £549. The P10 does have the Honor 8 Pro beat in the camera department, though, at least on paper. Still, you’re getting an excellent dual 12-megapixel camera setup (f/2.2 on both) on the new Honor device that takes some delightful shots, as well as an 8MP shooter up front for selfies. In wide aperture mode, you can play around with focal point and background blur, which is always fun, and as one of the two sensors is monochrome, you can snap native black-and-white pictures. Low-light performance is also very impressive as far as my brief experience with Honor 8 Pro has shown.

The Honor 8 Pro is available to pre-order in the UK today from Huawei’s vmall store for the introductory price, including various accessories, of £474. The official launch is set for April 20th, at which point it’ll also hit Amazon. There’s no word on US pricing or availability yet, but I’m fairly sure we’ll hear more about that in due course as Honor continues to push its brand in the region. And what better phone to do that with than the gorgeous Honor 8 Pro?

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The best hair dryer

By Shannon Palus

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best homewares. When readers choose to buy The Sweethome’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After more than 20 hours of research and interviews, more than five hours of putting seven dryers to speed, heat, and time tests, and a holiday season’s worth of hair styling, we worked our way through all the marketing claims to find out that no hair dryer is going to make your hair look better or dry faster than the leading competition. The Xtava Peony tied for second-lightest of all the dryers we tested, has a curved handle and a long cord, and will make your hair look just as good as a dryer that costs 10 times the price. We’ve now used our top two picks for a year, and even after pitting them against a $ 400 luxury dryer, we still like them just as much.

Who should get this

If you have a hair dryer that’s 1,800 or more watts, not too heavy, and in possession of a long-enough cord, and—if you prefer a curly or wavy hairstyle—a diffuser attachment, you can stick with what you have now.

However, if you have a cheaper hair dryer that tires your wrists or is slowing down in its old age and you blow-dry your hair frequently, you might consider switching to our pick before your current one bites the dust. A good hair dryer isn’t just competent at getting the water off your hair: It’s light enough for you to hold above your head for several minutes, the buttons are easy to push without getting in your way, the handle fits easily in your hand, and the plastic’s finish feels nice.

How we picked and tested

An armful of the dryers we considered. Photo: Michael Hession

Most of the buzzwords and specs on hair dryer boxes are useless at best and pseudoscience at worst. No clinical studies say one type of hair dryer is better for your hair than another—at least, none that we, nor the dermatologists that we interviewed, could find. After speaking to experts, I looked for hair dryers that were hot and fast. A few qualities that don’t have anything to do with speed or heat helped us narrow down what to test: multiple heat settings, a cool-shot button, a nozzle that’s compatible with attachments, and an intake filter that’s removable so that you can clean out debris. I also considered cord length, diffuser attachments, and how a dryer felt to hold. See more about hair dryer claims and the features that matter in our full guide.

To test, I looked at the basic stats of seven hair dryers (plus the Dyson Supersonic, a luxury dryer released after the initial round of testing), using a weather meter to test speed and heat, an iPhone app to test volume in decibels, and a postage scale to weigh them.

Next, I timed them drying a swatch of hair wetted with five grams of water with the dryers on their highest setting. With a few dryers eliminated, I put my four favorites to a few more time tests with the hair swatch and took them home for a couple weeks to use daily. I found few differences in drying time, but I did learn that a number of other features, like button placement and size, cord length, and weight are rarely discussed but are very important to the overall experience of using a hair dryer.

Our pick

The Xtava Peony, our top pick. Photo: Michael Hession

This dryer is as inexpensive as a dryer you’d find at a drugstore, but it will dry your hair just as well as a luxury device. It’s lighter than most we tested, smaller, and by far the easiest one to hold, and has a nicely curved handle. The buttons on this one are all located in a logical position. (Sounds like a small thing, but we disqualified one dryer from our favorites for having buttons that would poke your hand.)

Most important, it gets the job done just as quickly as every other dryer we tested: The Xtava Peony took about the same amount of time to blow-dry a hair swatch in testing trials as the rest, and the same amount of time to blow-dry my head of hair during my morning routine, as nearly every other dryer I tested. It made my hair look just as nice as the $ 300 dryer I tested did.

This dryer’s housing is shiny and sleek. Sure, that’s superficial, but the way the housing looks was the only difference that I noticed between the drugstore dryers and the stuff on sale at Sephora. With its sleek design, this one won’t look cheap sitting in a fancy bathroom.

Runner-up

Our runner-up pick, the Rusk CTC Lite. The cool-shot button is the wide blue one near the top of the handle. Photo: Michael Hession

The Rusk CTC Lite is lighter than almost all dryers we looked at. The buttons were all nicely placed—easy to push but hard to push accidentally—and the cord is long enough (8 feet, 7 inches) to reach distant outlets. The housing is nice: It’s glossy, the logo is understated, and the nozzle is on the shorter side. The sound of the air is smooth. It comes with both a concentrator and a diffuser.

At 0.95 pounds, the Rusk CTC Lite is very, very light. Of the seven dryers we tested, it was second lightest by only 0.04 pounds. Like the Xtava, the buttons are easy to reach. Unlike other dryers, the cool-shot button is wide, so holding it down for several seconds won’t be uncomfortable.

The CTC Lite was originally our top pick, until it doubled in price, making it more expensive than the Xtava. We like the sleek black design and lighter weight a little better than the Xtava’s—but because they do the same thing for your hair, we don’t feel the CTC Lite is worth the extra cost for most people.

Budget pick

The Conair Comfort Touch Tourmaline Ceramic dryer, our budget pick. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick is already on the inexpensive side for a dryer, but another one we liked is about the same price and includes a diffuser. If you don’t dry your hair often or our top pick is sold out and you want a dryer that comes with a diffuser and you have an outlet near your mirror, the Conair Comfort Touch dryer will do a good job and doesn’t have any hugely annoying design features. What makes this dryer less desirable than our other picks is the clunky and cheap casing: it has a thicker handle and a shorter cord that make it harder to maneuver.

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

Note from The Sweethome: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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The best bluetooth headsets

By Marianne Schultz and Nick Guy

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

If you’re hopping on and off the phone throughout the day, or if you’re typically talking on the phone while driving (despite the safety concerns), the Plantronics Voyager Edge is the best Bluetooth headset for most people. After putting in 50-plus hours of research and testing more than 15 models over the past three years—including 12 hours of testing and three new models for the latest update—the Voyager Edge continues to lead the pack with its combination of stellar sound quality, long battery life, excellent Bluetooth range, and comfortable fit.

Who needs this

If you don’t do much talking on your mobile phone, but you prefer to talk hands-free, you’re probably fine using the earbuds that came with it. But a good mono (one-ear) Bluetooth headset is a great accessory if you speak on the phone frequently and want the convenience of having your hands free—you don’t want to stay tethered to your handset by a wire, or to have to hold the phone with your shoulder while you talk, which is terrible for your neck and back. A headset is also appealing if you need to be sure that your voice sounds clear to the person on the other end, even when you’re talking in an environment with a lot of wind or other background noise.

If you have a new iPhone 7, which lacks a headphone jack and has only a single Lightning-connector port for headphones or charging, a Bluetooth headset lets you charge your iPhone while you take calls hands-free.

How we picked and tested

Three headsets we tested for the 2016 update to this guide, from left: Jabra Steel, Plantronics Voyager 5200, and Plantronics Voyager Edge. Photo: Marianne Schultz

For our 2016 update, we looked for any newcomers to the market since the previous iteration of this guide. Consulting reviews on sites such as PCMag and ComputerWorld, and user reviews on Amazon, we narrowed the options down to two new models from major manufacturers that seemed worthy of hands-on testing.

You shouldn’t expect exceptionally long battery life, but you at least want your headset to last through a workday. We consider five hours of actual talk time to be the minimum. Some headsets, including our top pick, come with a charging case—a battery-equipped storage case that charges the headset when you put it inside—to extend battery life significantly, but the headset itself should still be able to last a good while alone.

In terms of functional design, you want a headset that charges via Micro-USB rather than with a proprietary cord or charger. You probably already have at least one or two other gadgets that use Micro-USB cables, so it’s nice to be able to use the same cable and charger for everything.

We tested for battery life, comfort, sound quality, and Bluetooth range. We also looked for headsets with excellent controls that allow you to answer calls and adjust the volume easily and intuitively. We gave bonus points to models that allow you to perform some of these functions hands-free, using just your voice. For more on our testing procedures, see our full guide.

Our pick

The Voyager Edge sits comfortably in your ear. Photo: Marianne Schultz

The Plantronics Voyager Edge remains our pick for most people because it’s a solid all-around performer. As in the past two years, it came out on top in our latest batch of audio-quality and comfort tests. In terms of battery life, it came in second out of the three headsets we tested this year, with a talk time of 6 hours; however, its included charging case gives it a total of 16 hours of talk time, the longest of the bunch. The Plantronics Voyager 5200 bested the Edge in Bluetooth range, but the Edge’s range is more than sufficient for most people. The Edge also has simple pairing, easy-to-use controls, and a smartphone companion app that makes it easy to adjust the headset’s settings.

The Voyager Edge supports Bluetooth 4.0, plus NFC pairing with compatible smartphones. We found pairing with an Apple iPhone 7 Plus to be quick and easy, and using the headset is just as simple. In addition to voice control, the Voyager Edge has sensors to determine whether you’re wearing it. The headset has physical buttons for on-off, volume level, call answer, and voice command, each of which are easy to find and press.

Call quality is the most important aspect of any Bluetooth headset, and the Voyager Edge excels here. In our tests of call audio quality, it was edged out slightly by the more-expensive Voyager 5200 in a quiet office environment, but performed better than the 5200 in a busy coffee shop and a windy car—the Edge was a solid, all-around performer, particularly given its compact size. The Voyager Edge is usually around $ 30 cheaper than the Voyager 5200, so the minor differences we heard in audio quality makes the Edge a better overall value.

Runner-up

The Voyager 5200 fits over the ear for a more secure fit, but it’s more of a hassle to put on. Photo: Marianne Schultz

The Voyager 5200 is a beefier headset with more features. It has an additional microphone for noise-cancelling (for a total of four, compared with three on the Voyager Edge), and its Bluetooth range is the most impressive of the bunch. Plantronics says the 5200 can reach 98 feet without audio dropping out; in our tests we noticed dropouts in voice calls at just over 70 feet, but streamed music didn’t get choppy until around 150 feet.

A budget alternative

Photo: Marshall Troy

The Plantronics Explorer 500 is a good choice for people who don’t want to spend a ton and are willing to give up some audio quality. The Explorer 500 is smaller than the Voyager Edge, but its battery lasts about an hour longer. It also has great Bluetooth range: In our tests, audio didn’t drop out until around 54 feet for voice and 95 feet for music. In our quiet-office and coffee-shop tests, however, our listening panel didn’t love the audio the 500 transmitted. One panelist in an earlier test described voice as sounding “blobby” in the office, and in another test the Explorer picked up more background noise than other units did. In the coffee-shop test, it lost some audio whenever plates clinked in the background.

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

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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