The 5 best noise-cancelling headphones in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Great noise-cancelling headphones don’t just block noise – they also sound good and are comfortable.
  • Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are our top pick thanks to their excellent performance and features.
  • For more headphone recommendations, read our roundup of the best headphone deals.

Headphones with active noise cancellation are a little different from normal headphones that physically block out noise with padding. Instead, they have a microphone that picks up noise around you, and the headphones play a sound opposite to that noise to block it out. It’s a pretty neat concept that has given rise to tons of noise-cancelling headphones that are great for travel or simply getting a bit of peace and quiet.

There are a number of things to keep in mind when buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. For starters, you’ll want to consider whether you want over-ear, on-ear, or in-ear headphones. You’ll also want to decide on a budget. After all, adding noise cancellation to a pair of headphones also generally adds to the price tag. We’d also suggest you consider whether you want a wireless or wired pair, but the trend in noise-cancelling headphones is almost entirely based on wireless Bluetooth technology.

There’s also the fact that not all noise cancellation is created equal. With that in mind, we’ve researched and tested several noise-cancelling headphones in order to pick the very best models.

Here are the best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy:

The best noise-cancelling headphones overall

sony wh1000xm4

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones offer the best balance of sound quality, noise cancellation, and comfort for the money.

Pros: Comfortable, long battery life, excellent noise cancellation, great audio quality, incredibly effective sound customization

Cons: Default sound is muffled and lacks highs and clarity, app is utilitarian and not super intuitive

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are meant to be a high-quality pair of headphones for “most people” to enjoy their music rather than audiophiles. With that in mind, they handily produce clear and detailed sound. Out of the box, the XM4s favor powerful sound with strong bass at the cost of brightness. However, the sound can be customized via the app, and the XM4s are highly adaptable to your tastes. 

Sony touts an impressive 30 hours of battery life and five hours of listening time from a quick 10-minute charge. Battery life in real life is great — it never feels as if I constantly need to charge the XM4. Comfort isn’t an issue, either, but that’s still a crown that’s held by the Bose 700, albeit by a thin margin.

Noise-cancelling performance is among the best you can find. The XM4s easily quiet home and office environments with mild background noises, and they make travel and commuting significantly more tolerable. They’re especially effective at cancelling out lower frequencies, and they do a better job than most headphones of this type with higher frequencies. 

The XM4s have a few advantages over the other biggest name in the noise-cancelling headphones space — the Bose 700. For one, the XM4s can fold up for better portability. Additionally, the XM4s have longer battery life, and Sony doesn’t use an uncommon cable for wired mode like Bose does. The XM4s are also cheaper at full price, and can often be found with additional deals. 

The best noise-cancelling headphones for calls

Bose 700 headphones in use

The Bose 700 headphones offer impressive phone call quality and upgraded noise cancellation. 

Pros: Unrivalled noise cancellation for phone and video calls, solid audio performance, simple setup, comfortable fit, customizable sound

Cons: Expensive, can’t fold up for more compact storage, uncommon 2.5mm jack for wired mode

For years, the Bose QC 35 II headphones have been widely regarded as one of the best pairs of noise-cancelling headphones you can buy, and while they’re still strong performers, Bose has an even better model on the market. The Bose 700 headphones carry over much of what made their predecessor great, while offering an updated design and improved noise cancellation.

When it comes to noise cancellation, the headphones have 11 levels to choose from. At the max level, the effect is among the best the industry has to offer. During commutes in NYC, the Bose 700s effectively block out all of the subway’s unwanted clatter. The upgraded tech even improves call quality, allowing the headphones to isolate your voice when you speak while blocking unwanted ambient noise. The Bose 700 outperform any other wireless noise-cancelling headphones we’ve tried in this area. 

The Bose 700s offer pleasing performance when listening to music. Bass is a bit subdued and the extreme highs can sound just a little harsh, but for a pair of Bluetooth headphones, the Bose 700s do a great job right out of the box. Bose also offers a customizable EQ option in the Bose Music app that lets you tweak the sound to your desired taste. 

The Bose 700 do have a few weaknesses here and there. The headphones can’t fold up for more compact storage. Additionally, the included cable for wired mode uses the uncommon 2.5mm plug. If you lose the included cable, replacements are more expensive than cables with 3.5mm plugs on both ends.

The best on-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Beats Solo Pro headphones

The Beats Solo Pro headphones look great, have a comfortable fit, and they offer excellent noise cancellation.

Pros: Nice design, more balanced sound compared to previous models, H1 chip for Siri support and easy connectivity with Apple devices

Cons: No USB-C connector

Beats has long built great on-ear headphones in the Solo line, and the Beats Solo Pro are no exception to that rule. They’re well-designed, look stylish, and they offer excellent noise cancellation to help cut down on outside noise.

The Solo Pro headphones provide a slightly different design than previous generations, and it’s a good look. They offer nice rounded lines and a strong build, so with the carry case, they should be more than capable of lasting at least a few years. They work intelligently too — the headphones turn on automatically when you unfold them, and they feature Apple’s H1 chip to work with Siri and connect to all your Apple devices.

The Beats Solo Pro headphones sound pretty great as well. While Beats headphones of years ago largely catered to bass fans, the Solo Pro headphones offer a more refined sound with balanced mids and a decent amount of clarity in the higher frequencies.

The headphones aren’t perfect. Notably, they’re a bit pricey, and they have a Lightning connector instead of a USB-C connector. Still, they’ve gotten great reviews — Tom’s Guide gave them 4.5/5, while MacWorld gave them a still impressive 4/5.

The best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones

Bose Original Photo

The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are among the best true wireless earbuds you can buy with near-unrivalled noise cancellation and a comfortable fit.

Pros: Comfortable fit, amazing noise cancellation, great sound, discreet design, long battery life, case supports wireless charging

Cons: Sound isn’t as good as the cheaper WF-1000XM3, bulky charging case, expensive, poor phone call performance in noisy environments

If noise-cancelling is your priority, then the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds should be at the top of your true wireless earbuds shopping list. 

The QC earbuds come with the reliably excellent sound quality that Bose is known for, but they don’t quite carry the full richness and clarity you’d find on the company’s larger headphones. Still, you get a good balance of bass, mids, and highs. 

As for noise cancellation, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are hard to beat in the wireless earbud world. The QC Earbuds did extremely well in our noise-cancelling test under a noisy highway overpass with a drone that measured 75 decibels. They almost removed the sound entirely, but they’re still susceptible to letting in some higher frequencies. 

The fit is incredibly lightweight and soft, as the rubber tips lay in your ear canal’s opening rather than fitting inside your ear like an earplug. Be warned, however, that they’re not especially secure and not the best for sporty activities. 

Battery life for the QC Earbuds is rated at six hours for the buds themselves. Including two full charges with the case, you can get a total of 18 hours. That’s not the best battery life we’ve seen, but it’s not bad, either. Fifteen minutes of charging in the case adds two hours of listening time. I have no reason to think that Bose is off with its statement.

The best-sounding noise-cancelling headphones

Sennheiser Momentum 3 headphones

The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones are well-designed and have noise cancellation – plus they’re some of the best-sounding wireless headphones around.  

Pros: Great design, high-end sound quality, comfortable fit

Cons: Expensive, noise cancellation isn’t on par with Bose and Sony

The original Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones were some of the best on the market, and now Sennheiser is back with another follow-up. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones offer a stunning design with premium materials, and they sound fantastic.

The Momentum 3 Wireless feature leather over the headband and plenty of padding in the ear cups. They’re black-and-silver, which helps make them look nice and professional, and they’re easy to use thanks to the on-ear controls.

Perhaps the best thing about these headphones is how awesome they sound. The headphones offer plenty of bass, a well-tuned mid range, and a ton of clarity and detail in the high end. These are consistently rated as some of the best-sounding wireless headphones, period. The fact that they also have noise cancellation makes them even better. Battery life is rated for about 17 hours, and the headphones use Bluetooth 5.0.

So what are the downsides? Well, namely the headphones are pretty expensive. On top of that, while the noise cancellation tech is good, Sony and Bose headphones are better in that department.

Check out our other headphone buying guides

Vmoda

The best over-ear headphones


The best true wireless earbuds


The best cheap headphones

How to shop for headphones

Apple Airpods

Headphones come in all shapes and sizes with different types designed to fit different needs. A big pair of over-ear headphones, for example, can provide high-end audio quality for listening at home, but they’re not great for exercise.

Below, we’ve explained some common headphone styles, detailing the key advantages and disadvantages of each type. Wired and wireless options are available for all of the headphone styles we’ve listed.

Over-ear headphones: This kind of headphone has large ear cups that are meant to cover your ears to create a seal around them. Over-ear headphones are known for offering better sound performance and noise cancellation than other headphone styles. On the downside, they’re bigger and less suited for on-the-go listening. 

On-ear headphones:  This type of headphone also features ear cups, but instead of covering your ear with a seal, they simply rest on top of your ears. Though they can still provide good audio, this design makes them less ideal for isolating noise. However, on-ear models can be more compact than over-ear headphones.

Earbuds:  These are compact headphones with individual left and right buds that can either rest just outside your ear canal or be inserted inside. In-ear buds can feature different size tips to better fit different ear shapes, enabling them to create a tight in-ear seal for better sound and isolation. Some earbuds have a wire to connect the left and right buds together, while true wireless models are completely free of cables. 

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The best iPhone accessories in 2021, from cases to Lightning cables and wireless headphones

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The best iPhone accessories either keep your device safe and clean, or make it more useful.
  • For example, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones bring a major upgrade to the listening experience.
  • And Speck’s iPhone cases add solid protection and style to your phone.

Whether you’re taking photos of pets, fielding texts from friends, or making calls for work, an iPhone is likely your 24/7 companion.

In many cases, accessories can protect and enhance the iPhone experience. There are hundreds of different add-ons, from cases to keep your phone safe to wireless chargers that make powering up your device more convenient.

There are a few things to consider before buying accessories for your iPhone. For starters, you’ll want to make sure that the accessories are compatible with your particular iPhone model. For example, if you’re buying a phone case, you’ll need a case that fits your specific device. The same is true for screen protectors and charging cables.

For example, if you’re buying a phone case – like for your new purple iPhone 12 – you’ll need a case that fits your specific device. The same is true for screen protectors and charging cables. If you’re considering buying a wireless charger, you’ll need an iPhone 8 or later. But only the iPhone 12 series is compatible with the company’s new MagSafe connection.

Here are our top picks for the best iPhone accessories:

The best iPhone wireless charging

Moshi charging pad

The Moshi Otto Q is one of best-designed wireless chargers out there, plus it supports fast wireless charging and ensures your device won’t slip with its silicone ring.

Pros: Nice design, fast-charging support, non-slip features

Cons: Doesn’t come with an adapter

Wireless charging has been around for years, but Apple finally adopted the tech in the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Using a wireless charger, you can simply plop your device down on a charging mat, and it will — almost magically — start charging. There are a range of wireless charging mats out there, and the best all-round wireless charging mats is the Moshi Otto Q wireless charger.

There are a few things that make this such a great charger. It doesn’t necessarily have the most features out there, but it’s beautifully-designed and should easily blend into the rest of your home, thanks largely to the fabric covering. Generally, it just looks friendly — and should look great on any table, nightstand, or kitchen counter. The charger even has a silicone ring on the top of it to ensure that your phone stays firmly on the charger without slipping off.

The charger supports other helpful features, too. For example, with the right adapter, like a Quick Charge adapter, the pad supports up to 7.5-watt fast-charging on an iPhone. Safe to say, from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone 12, the Moshi Otto Q should easily charge your device.

So, what are the downsides? Well, the main one is that it doesn’t come with an adapter, so you’ll have to buy that separately. If you plan on using the wireless charger at night, you’ll also have to deal with the relatively bright LED indicator light. 

Still, despite those issues, the vast majority of reviewers love the Moshi Otto Q wireless charger. For example, MacWorld hailed the charger as one of its top picks, thanks to the great design, USB-C connector, and fast charging support.

The best iPhone case

Speck

Speck’s cases are well-designed, available in a range of colors and designs, and ultra durable — ensuring that your phone survives the majority of drops that it might go through.

Pros: Classy designs, lots of colors and styles, very protective

Cons: None

If you want a solid, reliable iPhone case that will keep your iPhone safe and sound no matter what model you have, then it’s worth checking out Speck’s lineup of phone cases. Speck offers a range of case models for all different iPhone devices, with a huge range of different colors, thicknesses, and more.

There are a few reasons why it’s worth considering Speck cases. Perhaps one of the biggest advantages to Speck cases over other options is the fact that they have excellent grip, ensuring that you’re less likely to drop your phone. 

Even if you do drop your phone, it’ll likely survive unscathed. Speck claims its Presidio Grip case is built to survive 10-foot drops — which is much higher than most drops that are at around waist height. In our testing, Speck’s Presido 2 Perfect Clear with Grips, Presidio 2 Armor Cloud, and Presido 2 Pro handled a 5-foot drop onto a marble floor with ease, showing no signs of damage. 

The Speck Presidio Perfect Clear With Grips case is a good choice for those looking to show off the iPhone’s new colors. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini now come in purple, along with the previously released white, black, blue, green, and (Product) Red.  Whether you want something grippy and clear or smooth and colorful, Speck has a full range of options.

The price listed below for Speck’s rugged and well-designed cases  is around what you can expect for cases made for Apple’s newest iPhone models like the iPhone 12. Cases for older models are typically cheaper.

The best iPhone wireless headphones

Sony wh-1000xm4

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones are one of the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy. 

Pro: First-rate noise canceling, improved call quality, great battery life, amazing sound quality

Cons: Expensive, out-of-the-box sound needs to be tweaked using the app

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is one of the best pairs of noise-canceling headphones on the market today. They retain all the features of the highly rated previous model, while cutting the amount of ambient noise that leaks in during phone calls. These rival, and in some ways even surpass, the Bose 700, and are priced hundreds of dollars less than Apple’s newly released Airpods Max. 

Sony nails all of the aspects that make for a great pair of headphones with the WH-1000XM4: great sound quality that you can customize to your liking, a seamless wireless experience, and excellent noise cancellation. 

The XM4’s are made from plastic, which perhaps doesn’t offer the most luxurious finish, but are light and extremely comfortable. The plush leatherette ear cups offer an adjustable fit with a grip that is firm, but not headache-inducing. They have a rich sound and wide soundstage, which is made even better by the accompanying app. You can customize the equalizer however you see fit in Sony’s app, which my colleague Antonio Villas-Boas found particularly helpful during his review since he was unimpressed with the sound right out of the box. 

The noise cancellation is also excellent and on par with the Bose 700. The MX4 did a great job of reducing background noise and making it possible to sink entirely into the music. 

Sony has made big improvements in reducing ambient noise during phone calls in the MX4. In our review, my colleague wrote that he was able to have a conversation sitting near a powerful generator without the person on the other end of the call realizing it. This is a big jump from the MX3, whose call quality was considerably lacking. 

Sony claims that the MX4 comes with 30 hours of battery life, and five hours of listening time with a 10-minute charge. They come in both a black and silver model and are currently on sale for $278.

The best iPhone fast-charging accessories

Apple charger and cord

If you want fast charging on your iPhone, it’s worth buying Apple’s first-party accessories, thanks to their nice design and reliability.

Pros: Well-designed, work well with Apple products

Cons: Expensive

Along with wireless charging, newer iPhones also support fast charging — meaning you can plug your iPhone into its charger, and get hours of juice in only 30 minutes or so. Recent iPhone models can fast-charge at up to 18W, and Apple says that using fast charging you could get up to 50% of the battery back in 30 minutes. Any iPhone model that’s an iPhone 8 or newer supports fast-charging.

The best way to take advantage of fast charging on your iPhone is by using Apple’s own fast charging accessories — including the Apple 18W USB-C power adapter, and the Apple USB-C to Lightning charging cable. Together, these accessories will run you back around $42 in total.

There are plenty of reasons to buy Apple’s first-party fast-charging accessories. For starters, with these accessories, you know that you’re getting accessories that can truly supply enough power for the phone to use. On top of that, Apple’s accessories are well-designed, and should blend right into any home.

Critics love Apple’s own accessories, too. Digital Trends recommended the Apple USB-C to Lightning cable and 18W power adapter in its guide on iPhone fast-charging, arguing that the accessories were more advanced than what you’ll get with most iPhones.

Note, if you have the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max, you already have the 18W charger accessories. Apple iPhone 12 users, sadly, would do well to pick this up if they don’t already own one.

Apple USB-C to Lightning cable

Apple 18W power adapter

The best iPhone dock

Twelve South Hi Rise Deluxe 2

The Twelve South HiRise 2 Deluxe is a simple, yet effective, stand that holds your iPhone upright while it charges so that your speakers – and home button, if you have one – aren’t blocked.

Pros: Simple design, affordable, comes in a few colors, doesn’t block your speakers 

Cons: You may need to remove your case

The Twelve South HiRise 2 Deluxe charging dock is a simple, no-frills iPhone accessory that offers a solid perch for your iPhone without blocking access to the bottom of your phone. This means that you can easily swipe up, use the home button – or if your phone is old enough – plug your headphones into the jack. 

The speakers are also unencumbered, so TikTok and YouTube videos will sound great while you’re charging. Additionally, the dock is sturdy and well weighted so it won’t tip over. 

You can keep almost any case on your iPhone and still use the dock to charge. Even bulky cases like Mophie’s Juice Pack Plus work with it. Twelve South says it updated the clip heights to 0 millimeters, 3 millimeters, and 6 millimeters so that you can plug the Lightning (or Micro USB cable, if you’re using a battery case) into even the most deeply recessed ports.

The dock is priced at $19.99 and is available in black, silver, and white. A Lightning cable is included in the box.

The best iPhone screen protector

MaxBoost screen protector

The MaxBoost Tempered Glass screen protector is easy to install and extremely strong — plus its thin design ensures your device is still responsive to touch.

Pros: Strong, easy to install, relatively thin, inexpensive

Cons: None at this price

Are you prone to iPhone drops? Screen protectors are a smart way to ensure that your phone’s screen never cracks — and the best out there is the MaxBoost Premium Tempered Glass screen protector. The protector is available in a range of sizes and for a range of models — so no matter what iPhone model you have, you should find something for your needs.

One of the best things about the MaxBoost screen protector is that it’s relatively thin — meaning that your device will still be super responsive to your touch, and if you have an iPhone with 3D Touch, you’ll still be able to use that feature. On top of that, the screen protector is designed to avoid fingerprints, and it’s easy to install.

The protector is cheaper than many other models out there — and as a result, there really aren’t any downsides to this protector, especially at this price. The Wirecutter even hailed the product as its favorite screen protector, thanks to its strength and ease-of-installation.

The best iPhone battery pack

Gifts for coworkers Eleject

Elecjet PowerPie can charge all your devices, is affordable, and comes with both USB-A and USB-C ports.

Pros: High capacity, affordable, versatile, supports fast charging

Cons: Cannot fast charge Huawei or OnePlus phones

The Elecjet PowerPie is a useful companion to any device that needs a charge on the go. Its 20,000 mAh capacity is enough to charge an iPhone many times over, and it can also comfortably power up tablets and even a laptop in a pinch. 

Our reviewer Simon Hill found this to be one of the best he’s tested, making it the current top pick in our guide to the best portable chargers and power banks.

The USB-C port supports 45W of charging, while the USB-A port charges at 18W. This combination means that you can fast charge your devices that support it.

Unless, of course, you are also looking to fast charge a Huawei or OnePlus phone in addition to your iPhone. The PowerPie does not support the fast charging protocols for those phones. However, it does offer fast charge support for Samsung phones, so if someone in your household with a Galaxy or Note should get a fast charge too.

This black, rectangular battery pack is utilitarian in design. It has a power button that lights up four LED lights which indicate how much juice is left in the tank. It may not be pretty to look at, but the case is finished in soft-touch plastic that feels good to hold.

With its ability to hold a charge for a long time without heating up and its affordable price, it’s definitely worth considering for those looking to keep their devices powered up on-the-go.

The best iPhone cleaning kit

11 Whoosh Cleaning Set

The Whoosh! Screen Cleaning Kit is easy to use and comes with a range of accessories for keeping your device clean — including three microfiber cloths. 

Pros: Inexpensive, comes with everything you’ll need, kills most bacteria

Cons: Mainly focused on screens

If you’re looking to keep your phone nice and clean, then the Whoosh! Screen Cleaner Kit is the way to go. This kit comes with everything you’ll need to ensure that your device is dirt-free, including three premium cloths and two bottles.

While the kit is built mostly for cleaning screens, you can use it to clean other parts of your device too — as long as you’re careful not to spray the substance into your device’s ports. And, it works with a range of devices, too — Whoosh! says you can use it with iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and more.

So, just how clean will your device get? According to the company, the kit will make your screen a hefty 99.99% cleaner, getting rid of the vast majority of dust and dirt. The product is alcohol and ammonia-free, too — so it’s relatively safe to use. 

There really aren’t any downsides to this product, except maybe that it’s mainly focused on cleaning screens and not other parts of the phone. Others love it, too: Android Central included it in its list of best phone cleaning kits. 

iXpand flash drive

The SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive comes in a range of storage options, plus it works with a dedicated app to allow you to easily transfer files.

Pros: App works well, range of storage options, relatively easy to use

Cons: Don’t expect it to add native storage to your iPhone

One of the biggest frustrations for iPhone users is the fact that they don’t come with MicroSD card slots — meaning that you can’t expand on the storage available in them. If you really want to expand on your phone’s storage, however, there are other options, like the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive for iPhone.

The flash drive comes with storage capacities of 32, 64, 128, or 256GB of storage — meaning that no matter how much you need to add to your device, there should be something for your needs. The drive is pretty well-designed too — though it’s not really built to keep plugged in at all times.

The drive works in conjunction with a dedicated app, which you can use to back up files from your phone. In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily expect it to work like the built-in storage in your iPhone. Still, the app is pretty well-designed, and allows you to transfer a range of different files to the drive. 

So, what are the problems with the drive? Well, perhaps the main one is that, as mentioned, it doesn’t truly expand on your device’s storage as you might expect it to. Apart from that, for the price, the device works pretty much exactly as it should — as Lifewire noted in its 4-star rating of the device. 

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The best tablets in 2021 for every size and budget, from the powerful iPad Pro to Amazon’s kid-friendly Fire tablet

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Apple’s 10.2-inch iPad is the best tablet for most people.
  • But the cheaper Amazon Fire HD is worth considering for those mostly interested in watching video.
  • Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7 is a great choice for Android users, as it comes with the excellent S Pen.

There aren’t nearly as many tablet options as there are smartphones, but there’s a tablet for pretty much anyone.

You’ll hear it from us, and you’ll hear it from most tech authorities – the most highly recommended tablet for most people is almost always going to be Apple’s standard iPad. At its $329.00 full retail price, it’s affordable enough while offering the best set of features and apps. And if there’s ever a deal on Apple’s standard iPad, it’s pretty much a no-brainer for anyone in the market for a tablet.

Still, there are other worthwhile options, especially when it comes to lower price ranges that might be more suitable for certain users, like kids, or using a tablet exclusively as a video streaming device where power and features don’t really matter.

And there’s the opposite end of the spectrum: powerful tablets that are better suited for professional users who can justify paying a premium for better performance. For example, the newly announced iPad Pros offer the same M1 processor found in Apple’s newest MacBooks, but most people probably don’t need laptop-grade performance in their tablet.

Here are the best tablets

The best tablet for most people

ipad 2019 10.2 cyber monday deal

The 10.2-inch iPad is a great tablet for the vast majority of tablet users, and it supports the Apple Pencil.

Pros: Incredible price for an iPad, slick aluminum design, Touch ID for security and Apple Pay, great screen, supports the Apple Pencil 

Cons: Light on entry-level storage, no expandable storage

Apple’s standard 10.2-inch iPad offers the best balance of price, performance, and features out of any other tablet we’ve tried. 

Starting at $330, the 10.2-inch iPad is a great inexpensive option as a general purpose tablet for running normal apps, streaming videos, playing games, and browsing the web. It runs on the same A12 processor that spun the wheels in the 2018 iPhone XS series, but it’s still a very capable processor.

The 10.2-inch iPad is also perfectly suitable as a lightweight productivity tablet. It can be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard or keyboard case to type up documents, messages, and emails without any issue. For more intense productivity where you think a mouse would be beneficial, your best bet will be a tablet with mouse support, like Apple’s iPad Air or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7

If taking notes or drawing is a criteria, the 10.2-inch iPad supports the first generation of the Apple Pencil, which is fine for general use. If note-taking or drawing is a primary driver for getting a tablet, however, we’d recommend again looking at the iPad Air that supports the second generation Apple Pencil for a more precise and responsive feel, or Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 that includes the excellent S Pen. 

And finally, Apple’s iPads are generally the best tablets to buy in general largely because of the wider availability of apps that are specifically designed for iPads. On top of that, as with any Apple product, Apple’s physical stores are good resources for repairs, and users have a clear idea of where to bring their iPad if something goes wrong.

The best budget tablet

Amazon Fire HD 10

The latest Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) is super affordable, but it still delivers a good set of features that you’ll enjoy using for watching videos and running simple apps.

Pros: Low price point, performs basic functions of a tablet well, offers expandable storage with a memory card slot, good for kids, works especially well for those with Amazon Prime accounts

Cons: Not a high performer, slow at charging, restricted to Amazon’s app store, no access to Google Play Store

Based on our own experience with previous generations of Amazon’s Fire HD 10, as well as reviews of the current model from PCMag and Tom’s Guide, Amazon’s Fire HD 10 is an ideal and inexpensive tablet for simple video streaming and browsing the web. It has a 10-inch screen with 1080p resolution and a decent processor for running basic apps.

Amazon’s tablets are also excellent options for kids due to their extensive parental controls,  and features and apps for kids. The Fire HD 10 is a good option, but the smaller and cheaper Fire HD 8 or Fire HD 7 may better suit smaller children. 

Note that Amazon’s tablets are restricted to Amazon’s own app store and don’t support Google’s Play Store, which means app selection will be more limited than a typical Android tablet or iPad. Most popular streaming apps can be found in Amazon’s app store, except for YouTube’s dedicated app. There’s a workaround where you can watch YouTube videos from the web browser, however. 

You can check the app selection in Amazon’s own app store before buying to make sure it has the apps you’ll want to run here.

The best high-end Android tablet

Samsung Tab S7

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7 is as stylish as it is powerful, you can use it as a laptop in a pinch, and it comes with the superb S Pen stylus.

Pros: Gorgeous screen, fast processor, S-Pen stylus is included, and powerful speakers

Cons: Expensive compared to most Android tablets

Samsung has been making excellent Android tablets for years, and its recently launched Galaxy Tab S7 continues that tradition. It’s a high-end Android tablet that can compete with Apple’s iPad Pro on nearly every level.

The Tab S7 is a stylish, well-made tablet with a metal frame and back. The keyboard case is sturdy and it turns your tablet into a quasi-laptop. Although this tablet doubles as a laptop, it is a tablet first and foremost.

Samsung sure knows how to make astonishingly beautiful screens. The Tab S7 has a gorgeous 10.5-inch Super AMOLED screen. I watched lots of Netflix and Prime Video on the tablet, and I was really impressed by the clarity, color reproduction, and intensity of the brilliant screen. The tablet’s 128GB of storage gives you ample space for downloads, and it’s expandable with a microSD card.

Every Tab S7 comes with Samsung’s S-Pen stylus, which is great for drawing and feels like a real pen. I love to draw on tablets, and I was impressed by the lack of lag on the Tab S7. Palm rejection works well, and it’s a great tablet for drawing or note-taking.

It is an expensive price to pay — especially for an Android tablet, but if you want the best iPad Pro alternative, this is it.

The best tablet for professionals

iPad Pro Keyboard 4

Apple’s iPad Pro comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes with specs that are so high-end they surpass some laptops.

Pros: Gorgeous screens, new design with smaller bezels, excellent specs, high-end performance, Pencil is superb for drawing, two screen sizes, now comes with mouse support

Cons: Very expensive, accessories are extra

Apple recently announced updated iPad Pros that are the first to include its M1 processor. This is the same chip that runs Apple’s newest MacBook computers, bringing big gains in power and battery life. 

Additionally, the new iPad Pros come equipped with a Thunderbolt connector for more accessory compatibility, optional 5G connectivity, and up to 2TB of storage. The 12.9-inch model also features a Liquid Retina XDR display powered by mini-LED technology for enhanced brightness and clarity.  The iPad Pro is available for preorder on April 30, with shipping expected in mid-May. 

We look forward to reviewing the 2021 iPad Pro. But in the meantime, we still like that the 2020 iPad Pro has slim bezels, a stunning sharp screen in two sizes, and a powerful processor.

You can get it in 11- and 12.9-inch screen sizes to suit your preferences. The 12.9-inch screen is great for digital artists who need room to roam, while the 11-inch model offers a little more portability. 

Regardless of the model, the 2020 iPad Pro is a powerhouse. The A12Z Bionic processor is so high-powered it can surpass some laptops. Apple’s entry-level model comes with 128GB of storage, but you can get up to 1TB if you want to spend a whole lot of money. Apple no longer sells the 2020 iPad Pro, but you can still find it through retailers like Amazon.

We recommend picking up the new Apple Pencil if you like to take notes or draw. It may cost $129, but the new version charges wirelessly and magnetically attaches to your iPad for easy storage.

Apple’s Keyboard will also cost you a pretty penny, so we recommend going for a third-party case and keyboard. — Malarie Gokey

The best tablet for kids

fire 7 kids

If you feel a little nervous handing your mobile devices to your kids, the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet comes with a tough case to keep it safe.

Pros: Great price for a tablet designed for kids, includes a tough exterior case that will protect the tablet if the child drops it, includes a two-year replacement warranty for any damage that occurs

Cons: Doesn’t contain powerful components, tablet runs slower than most models

The Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition provides a tough case that will protect the tablet, even if the child drops the tablet (as long as it’s not dropped in a toilet). Laptop Mag says parents can feel comfortable allowing their children to use the Fire 7 because of the two-year accidental-damage warranty it comes with.

Although the sound quality of the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet is below average, Wired says the small size of this tablet with a 7-inch screen works great for young children.

There’s a lot of children’s content on the Amazon tablet, along with several features for setting up parental controls, which is great. You will have to download the content through apps before accessing the content, but the tablet’s simple interface works great for kids to operate on their own.

This admittedly isn’t the most powerful tablet, as it features below-average processor speed and less-than HD resolution on the screen. But, kids aren’t likely to complain, or even notice. 

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is a slightly bigger option with better performance, and it’s barely more expensive at $140. Still the Fire 7 Kids Edition is more portable and its performance is just fine for kids while costing $40 less.

The best small tablet

iPad Mini 2019

The iPad Mini is essentially a smaller replica of the standard 10.2-inch iPad. Just watch out for its higher price tag. 

Pros: Compact, good performance, sharp screen, works with the Apple Pencil

Cons: Dated design, expensive for what it is

The 2019 iPad Mini is Apple’s small tablet that’s powered by the capable A12 Bionic chip, and it supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, which makes the Mini a great tablet for note taking or drawing.

The Mini‘s 7.9-inch Retina display has a sharp 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution, too, so you can really enjoy watching videos, reading, and creating on the screen.

You can choose between 64GB or 256GB of storage and three color options: Silver, Space Gray, or Gold). If you want to keep the price down, you can get the Wi-Fi-only version, but there is also a Mini with both cellular and Wi-Fi connections.

Our main gripe with the iPad Mini is that it’s a smaller version of the $330 10.2-inch iPad with nearly the same specs, and yet it costs $70 more. That higher price casts a shadow over the iPad Mini, as it’s hard to justify paying extra for something smaller, especially if it’s a year old already. Still, it’s the best small tablet there is.

How to pick the right tablet for you

iPAd

Operating systems for tablets

As with smartphones and laptops, you can choose among a few different types of operating systems with tablets. Picking the right OS will enhance your enjoyment of the tablet you select.

  • Apple’s iOS: For many people, the name iPad is synonymous with tablets. Although the iPad wasn’t the first tablet on the market, it’s credited with making tablets popular and invigorating the tablet market in 2010. The iPad runs Apple’s iOS operating system, which also powers the iPhone. iOS has a great interface and works equally well on a smartphone or tablet screen. There are tons of special apps made for the iPad, which makes it an excellent investment. However, because only Apple-branded iPads can run iOS, you’ll pay more for them versus tablets with other operating systems. 
  • Google’s Android: You also may be familiar with the Android operating system, managed by Google. Android powers many different kinds of smartphones. It’s also very user-friendly and offers tons of apps. There are numerous Android tablets to choose from, and they range in price from under $10 to around $600 and up. 
  • Amazon’s Fire OS: Fire OS is a special ecosystem, rather than an operating system, as it runs on top of Android. Basically, it brings Amazon’s services to the forefront of the OS and you download apps from Amazon’s app store. Amazon also has special software for kids on its kid-friendly tablets. These Fire tablets are much more affordable than any other kind of tablet.
  • Microsoft’s Windows: Microsoft has tweaked the Windows operating system to make it far more user-friendly than older versions of Windows, meaning it works equally well with a traditional desktop computer or a touchscreen tablet. When running Windows on a tablet, you’ll have access to a lot of traditional software, but you’ll find a significant lack of apps compared to Apple or Android. However, since these tablets run Windows, they can be used as full laptops.

What to look for in a tablet

Tablets have a lot of different strengths, depending on the one you choose. Think about what you want to do with the tablet, and you’ll be able to find one that’ll perfectly meet your needs.

  • Battery Life: Completing a really long car trip in successful silence may depend on whether your tablet has a long battery life. Battery life typically can range anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, depending on the tablet model and screen size. Seven hours is about average.
  • Connectivity: Different tablets allow you to make a connection to the Internet in a few different ways. Most will offer Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to connect to your home or work network. Others also include the ability to connect to a cellular network, much like a smartphone, and access the Internet through the cell network. However, you must have a cellular account with a monthly fee to use it.
  • Fast Processor: Look at the CPU and GPU chips included in your tablet. Newer, more powerful chips will give you faster performance levels. Some Windows tablets even have laptop-level processors inside, so you can use them as portable PCs. However, you will pay more for more power.
  • Keyboard: Most tablets are able to connect to a physical keyboard for typing, making it easier to input data into the tablet versus using the digital keyboard on the screen. Some tablets are 2-in-1 devices, meaning the keyboard/screen configuration looks more like a laptop because the two are connected. You then can fold up the keyboard to make it work like a tablet.
  • RAM: RAM is the amount of memory used to operate software and apps. This is different from the type of memory used for data storage. The more RAM you have available on the tablet, the better it will perform, but the more you’ll have to pay.
  • Screen Resolution: Tablets that can display more pixels will have a sharper image that looks great. If you want to watch movies on the tablets, having a resolution of at least full HD quality (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) will be very desirable.
  • Screen Size: The size of the tablet’s screen marks the most important feature for most people. Larger screens work better for things like watching movies, drawing, or playing games. Of course, screen size plays a direct role in the size of the tablet, too. So if you want a smaller tablet, you’ll want a smaller screen.
  • Storage: Tablets have an interior solid state drive (or SSD) for storing apps, movies, games, and more. You may be able to add more storage through a Micro SD memory card, although not all tablets have a memory card slot. Some tablets rely on cloud storage for extra storage. You may want extra storage for movies, books, and games.
  • Stylus: Some people love having a stylus for working with the tablet, especially if they’re drawing by freehand. Not every tablet can make use of a stylus, and some stylus pens don’t work as well as others. So if you need one, do your homework to find a tablet that can take full advantage of the features of the stylus.

Check out our guide to the best iPads you can buy

ipad air and ipad mini 2019

The best iPads you can buy

Apple is the uncontested king of tablets. The word iPad is synonymous with the word tablet. Chances are if you own a tablet at all, you have an iPad.

We’ve tested nearly every iPad that has been released over the past three years, and these are the absolute best iPads you can buy. You can also check out the best iPad cases for every type of person and read why we love the Apple Pencil.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 4 best budget laptops in 2021 for working, learning, and gaming

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The Pixelbook Go is our top pick because of its smooth performance, quality keyboard, and sharp webcam.
  • The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 is a solid choice for those who want a reliable budget 2-in-1 laptop.
  • The laptops listed are ideal for basic productivity, though we’ve included a gaming option as well.
  • Check out the best laptop deals for more savings.

It used to be that if you wanted a laptop with power and features, you needed to spend $1,000 or more.

While top-of-the-line models still fall in that price bracket, budget laptops in the $300 to $700 range are more than capable of everyday tasks. That’s all thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.

There are a few important factors you need to consider before making a purchase, such as operating system preferences, size, and above all else: what you intend to use it for.

We consider a “budget” laptop to cost about $650 or less, but we aim to recommend models that are even cheaper when possible. Gaming laptops are an exception because they typically cost more than general-purpose laptops.

Here are the best cheap laptops of 2021:

The best budget laptop overall

Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go‘s ease of use, excellent keyboard, and long battery life make it a top choice for those who prioritize simplicity in a laptop. 

Pros: Excellent keyboard, long battery life, 1080p webcam, decent screen

Cons: Upgrade options are expensive, no biometric login

Google’s Pixelbook Go is one of the priciest options on this list, but there’s a good reason why. It nearly matches premium laptops that are almost double its price in a few ways, particularly when it comes to keyboard quality, general ease-of-use, and battery life.  

Google’s “Hush” keyboard is part of what makes the Pixelbook Go stand out, offering a comfortable yet unobtrusive typing experience that even rivals that of Lenovo’s laptops, as our full review mentions. It even has a 1080p webcam, a rare find even on laptops that cost over $1,000. That’s especially important now that we’re spending more time video conferencing and socializing virtually.

The base model comes with an Intel Core m3 processor (CPU), 8GB of memory (RAM), and a Full HD (1080p) touch screen. You’ll also get two USB-C ports, and Google says it should last for 12 hours on a single charge.

Like other Google laptops that have come before it, the Pixelbook Go is a Chromebook — meaning it’s designed for those who primarily use their laptops for web browsing, note taking, and other light tasks like streaming YouTube or Netflix. It runs on Google’s Chrome OS, a lightweight interface optimized for security and speed that’s designed to work best with an Internet connection. You can, however, access Google Play Store apps and save documents, spreadsheets, emails, and other data for offline use. 

Sadly, the Pixelbook Go doesn’t have the same 2-in-1 design as its pricier Pixelbook predecessor, so it doesn’t double as a tablet. It also doesn’t have any biometric login options like a fingerprint scanner, which is now fairly common on most laptops. But it’s perfect for anyone in need of a fast, lightweight laptop for basic productivity and entertainment.

The best budget Chromebook

Samsung Chromebook 4+ showcase

The 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+ crams an insane amount of value into its below $300 list price, with hardware and features found in laptops twice its price and within a good-looking package.

Pros: Decent display, long battery life, lots of ports

Cons: Small local storage, low amount of RAM, no top-firing speakers

Anyone looking to get the absolute most value possible out of a Chromebook that might look a bit more premium in ways than even our top pick, we suggest the 15-inch Samsung Chromebook 4+. There’s no question that this Chromebook makes for a close second to our former top pick,  Acer Chromebook 15, as the best budget laptop period.

Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ is a sharp, slight 15-inch laptop that’s wrapped in a platinum-colored plastic frame featuring a 15.6-inch, 1080p screen, with power from an Intel Celeron CPU supported by 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. That’s expanded upon by two USB-C ports, one USB 3.0 port, and a microSD card reader — as well as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 — for wireless connections.

This all comes driven by a battery that can reportedly last up to 10 hours and 30 minutes per outing. Finally, we love the addition of Google Assistant for voice-based search queries and other assistive tasks. While lacking biometric security and more local storage, this laptop leaves nothing else off the table. 

The best budget gaming laptop

Dell G3 laptop

The Dell G3 15 is an affordable gaming laptop with the latest Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics.

Pros: Compact design, specs on par with more expensive models

Cons: Shallow keyboard and touchpad, dim screen

If you enjoy gaming, but don’t want to shell out $1,000 for a gaming PC, the Dell G3 15 might be a decent option for you. The laptop has multiple configurations, but the base model is around $700, and it comes with Nvidia discrete graphics. 

A few factors make the G3 15 a solid option for gamers. The base model comes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650GPU, a 10th-generation  Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. Those are solid specs that should be able to smoothly run most games you want to play, though you’ll want something more powerful if you’re trying to run more demanding tasks like VR. 

You can also upgrade to a version that has 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX  1660 GPU and 512GB of storage for about $970.

At 5.2 pounds, the G3 15 is lighter and more compact than most budget gaming laptops. 

In terms of ports, you have a power jack, an HDMI 2.0 port, an RJ-45 port, one USB 3.1 port, two  USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. That will allow you to plug in a TV, as well as most peripherals you might want to use. 

However, for a computer of this price, you’ll be missing out on some features of higher-end gaming rigs. For example, reviewers found the display to be a bit dim, and the colors to be washed out. The keyboard and touchpad are also a bit shallow, something that might be important if you’ll be spending a lot of time gaming.

The best budget 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo IdeaPad 5

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 offers solid specifications and a flexible design that allows it to double as a laptop and a tablet at a price that’s hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 mark.

Pros: Great value, good performance, durable and attractive design

Cons: Fans can get noisy, dim and lackluster display

The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 is a solid choice for anyone in need of an affordable, general purpose laptop.

It has a 360-degree flexible hinge so that you can use it as a laptop or tablet, and it comes with extra features less common on laptops in this price range. These include a physical webcam shutter for privacy and a fingerprint reader for logging in. 

For $554.99, you’re getting specifications that are definitely sufficient for handling tasks such as web browsing, watching Netflix, checking email, and taking notes with ease. I’ve been testing a configuration that comes with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, and I’m impressed with its comfortable keyboard, smooth trackpad, and long battery life. 

The IdeaPad Flex 5 comes in several different configurations that vary in availability, but elements like the reliable keyboard and trackpad should be consistent no matter which model you choose. 

That’s especially notable because the keyboard and trackpad are two areas where the gap in price between premium and mid-tier laptops can be very obvious. Lower-end models can sometimes have keyboards and touchpads that feel cheap, shallow, or finicky, but this is no problem with Lenovo’s budget 2-in-1. 

However, don’t push the IdeaPad Flex 5 too hard: the fans can get a little noisy if you have too many web browser tabs open.

What is a Chromebook?


Budget laptops we look forward to testing

Dell Inspiron 14 and 15: Dell’s new Inspiron laptops, launching on May 4, are taking a page from the company’s well-received XPS 13 laptop line. The new Inspiron models have an updated design with a nearly border less screen, making them look more modern and providing additional screen space in a compact design. They also come with improved webcams with noise reduction for clearer conference calls. Both the 14-inch and 15-inch models start at $550 and come with an 11th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB in the base models

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2: Samsung’s original Galaxy Chromebook from last year’s CES had an attention-grabbing design that’s uncommon for a Chromebook, but its high price and short battery life limited its appeal. Now, Samsung has addressed those criticisms with the Galaxy Chromebook 2, a revamped version of its Google-powered laptop that comes at a cheaper starting price of $549.99 compared to the previous model’s $999.99 price tag. With a premium design, 13.3-inch QLED touch screen, and hopefully longer battery life, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 seems like it could be a promising option for those on a budget.

Acer Chromebook Spin 514: Powered by the latest AMD’s latest mobile processors and offering 10 hours of battery life according to Acer’s claims, the new Acer Chromebook Spin 14 has potential to become one of our top picks for a budget laptop in 2021. It features a 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen and aluminum build that could make it a compelling choice as a general-purpose laptop. It’s launching in March 2021 starting at $479.99.

Asus Chromebook Flip CX5: With a roomy 15.6-inch screen, Intel’s latest 11th generation processors, and Harmon Kardon speakers, the Asus Chromebook Flip CX5 seems like a promising option for those who want a laptop for light work and entertainment. It will be configurable up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which is a lot for a Chromebook, and should last for 12 hours on a single charge. Asus announced the Chromebook Flip CX5 at CES 2021 in January and has not revealed pricing. But a product page on Google’s Chromebook Store suggests that the version with an Intel Core i3, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage could cost $549.

How to buy a budget laptop

There are a variety of factors you should consider when purchasing a laptop, particularly how much you want to spend and what types of tasks you intend to use it for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision. 

Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You’re probably most familiar with Windows, as it’s by far the most-used operating system, but there’s also Apple’s macOS, which is found on the company’s Mac computers (we didn’t include any Macs because they didn’t meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there’s Google’s Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google’s web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).

Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop’s components perform; for example, Google’s Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.

The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.

Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That’s handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.

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The best Google Assistant-enabled products

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Hundreds of smart home devices are compatible with Google’s voice assistant, Google Assistant.
  • You can control these devices with voice commands or automated routines in the Google Home app.
  • Look for the “Works with Google Assistant” logo to find devices certified by Google.

A voice-controlled smart home lets you turn on lights, adjust the thermostat, and more with a few simple commands. Google Assistant has consistently led the smart-home field in terms of voice recognition, depth of features, and regular updates. It’s a natural choice for Android phone owners and anyone who uses a lot of Google services.

Some smart-home devices have Google Assistant built-in. Others require a separate device, like a phone or a smart speaker. The Google Home app offers deeper control, with the option to set up routines that can be automated or triggered by specific phrases.

This guide to the best Google Assistant-enabled devices is based on extensive testing, supported by in-depth research of reputable reviews covering trusted brands. All come highly recommended and work seamlessly with Google Assistant.

Here are the best Google Home devices you can buy:

The best Google Assistant-compatible smart display

The Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) can measure your sleep quality.

Compact and clever, the Google Nest Hub is a great control center for any Google Assistant-led smart home.

The affordable Google Nest Hub is a versatile smart display that fits neatly into any home. It has a 7-inch touchscreen and a speaker that’s powerful enough to fill most rooms. It can display your calendar or a weather report, stream movies or TV shows, and play music or podcasts. If you use Google Photos, it doubles as a digital photo frame. It also works well as a simple control hub for smart-home devices, offering touch controls and live camera feeds. 

The second-generation Nest Hub has ultrasound technology built-in so that it can sense your presence and respond to gesture controls. This means you can wave to stop a morning alarm or to skip a music track, for example. If you use it as a bedside display, then it can sense and analyze your movement and breathing during the night, though our reviewer found it can’t replace a wearable sleep tracker. 

With Google Assistant built in, you can ask the Nest Hub to provide recipes, read the latest news, or give you a breakdown of your day. There are three far-field microphones to pick up any voice commands or questions you have for Google Assistant. There’s a mic-off switch for when you want privacy. Any linked smart-home devices added via the Google Home app can be controlled on the touchscreen or with voice commands.

The Google Nest Hub doesn’t have a camera, which is good from a privacy point of view, but means you can’t use it for video calls. The screen also has a relatively low resolution of 1,024 x 600 pixels, so it’s not the best device for watching movies. 

Read our full second-generation Nest Hub review.

The best Google Assistant-compatible smart speaker

Nest Audio

Featuring a new design and improved audio quality, the Google Nest Audio has a highly responsive Google Assistant inside.

While Google’s smart speakers have always been smart, you could argue that the design and audio quality have lagged behind the best smart speakers. That changed with the Nest Audio, which is 75 percent louder than the original Google Home speaker and offers much deeper bass. There’s also a new rounded rectangular shape with a choice of cloth finishes that blend in nicely with any décor. 

Google Assistant is ready and waiting for your music or podcast selections. You can also set timers, check your calendar, or issue smart-home commands to any devices linked to your Google Home app. The Nest Audio packs three far-field microphones to ensure Google Assistant always picks up your voice, and there’s a switch on the back that allows you to turn the microphone off when you want privacy.

If sound quality is your top priority, something like the Sonos One may be a better pick, but it is far more expensive. The Nest Audio also lacks a few extras that Amazon’s latest Echo offers, such as a 3.5mm port or smart-hub connectivity. Ultimately, the Nest Audio is a solid smart speaker offering good sound, and there’s nothing better for Google Assistant access. 

Read our full Google Nest Audio review.

The best Google Assistant-compatible streaming stick

Chromecast with remote 2

With app support and a remote that supports voice controls, the Chromecast streaming stick serves up 4K and HDR content.

The Google Chromecast fits into an HDMI port on your TV and allows you to stream all sorts of content in up to 4K resolution. It also supports other high-dynamic-range formats, including HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. You can install apps for streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video. It’s also ideal for YouTube TV subscribers and offers easy access to your Google Play library. 

A compact remote control makes navigation easy and features a dedicated Google Assistant button to help you find content. You can search by genre, actor, mood, and more. You can also ask Google Assistant questions, get the latest weather, or bring up a live feed of any security cameras you have added in the Google Home app.

While it does support a wide selection of streaming services, 4K HDR support is currently missing from a few of them and there’s no Apple TV app. We also ran into a few minor glitches in our testing, but this is Google’s best Chromecast yet and your best bet if you want a streaming stick with Google Assistant built in.

Read our Google Chromecast with Google TV review.

The best Google Assistant-compatible light bulbs

Philips hue

The reliable Philips Hue range has some of the smartest lighting around and works seamlessly with Google Assistant.

There are plenty of good reasons that the Philips Hue range tops our smart-lighting guides. Its bulbs, strips, and fixtures support all kinds of colors, adjustable color temperature, and easy dimming via the Philips Hue app. There’s a wide choice of scenes, which serve as shortcuts to the mood you want to achieve, whether you’re relaxing in front of the TV or throwing a party. 

Using Google Assistant voice commands, you can turn lights on or off; select specific scenes; and change the brightness, color, or color temperature. If you set up a routine in the Home app, then you can say “Hey, Google, Good Morning” and have specific Hue lights turn on. You can also have lights turn on or off automatically based on who is at home.

The Bluetooth and hub-connected Philips Hue lights work with Google Assistant, but the Bluetooth bulbs are often slower to respond and support fewer voice commands. The main drawback to Philips Hue lighting is the relatively high price. We recommend the Philips Hue Starter Kits, which come with two or three bulbs and the Hue Bridge.

Read our Philips Hue Smart Lights review.

The best Google Assistant-compatible thermostat

Nest

The Nest Learning Thermostat learns over time to keep the temperature just the way you like it.

The big selling point of the third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat is its ability to learn about your behaviors and routines. It can balance your temperature preferences with the need to save energy wherever possible. The app is excellent and very easy to use. There’s support for geofencing, so it knows when you’re at home or away, and it works with a wide variety of HVAC systems. 

You can issue voice commands through Google Assistant on your phone, smart speaker, or smart display to check on and change the temperature or to switch the heating off. You can simply ask to make it warmer or cooler, or you can get specific with a request to raise or lower by 2 degrees, for example, or set the temperature to 72 degrees.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is quite pricey, and you’ll want to check compatibility with your HVAC system. The more basic Google Nest Thermostat is cheaper, but it doesn’t have this model’s learning capability.

Read more about the Nest Learning Thermostat.

The best Google Assistant-compatible security camera

Best security camera for smart homes Nest Cam IQ

Google’s Nest Cam IQ captures high-quality video day or night, tracks motion, and can recognize faces.

The Nest Cam IQ comes in outdoor and indoor models, both in a minimal design that’s easy to install. The cameras support two-way audio, activity zones, intelligent alerts, motion tracking, and facial recognition. HDR enhances the video quality, there’s a 4K-image sensor for zooming in on people’s faces, and there’s infrared for when night falls. 

You can bring up live feeds on a smart display or on a TV with a Chromecast using Google Assistant voice commands. You can also set up routines in the Google Home app to automate your cameras and have them turn on automatically when you leave home. While both Nest Cam IQ models work with Google Assistant, only the indoor version has Google Assistant built in. 

The Nest Cam IQ is expensive and requires a Nest Aware subscription, which starts at $5 per month for 30 days of cloud storage. It’s also worth noting that Google is set to revamp its security camera lineup this year, replacing the Nest Cam IQ with something new. For now, though, this is the best security camera with Google Assistant. 

Read our guide to the best home security cameras.

The best Google Assistant-compatible smart plug

best smart plug tp link kasa

TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Plug can make any device smarter and allows remote control through Google Assistant voice commands.

You can make older devices smarter by plugging them into a smart outlet or plug. The Kasa Smart Plug supports automation, remote control, and voice control. The compact design ensures that it doesn’t block adjacent outlets. The Kasa app is very easy to use. This is also one of the most affordable smart plugs on the market, so you can put them all over your home for a low price.

By naming individual Kasa plugs (for example, “hall lamp” or “living room fan”) and adding them to the Google Home app, you can use voice commands through Google Assistant to turn devices on or off. You can also schedule them to turn on and off automatically in the app. Google Assistant routines also automate them. You might set the hall lamp to turn off when you say, “Hey Google, Goodnight,” for example.

These basic smart plugs have the features most people want, and they work reliably with Google Assistant. The only caveat is that you need a good Wi-Fi connection, and they only work on the 2.4GHz band. They also lack built-in surge protection. 

Read our guide to the best smart plugs and outlets.

The best Google Assistant-compatible light switch

best alexa enabled light switch belkin wemo dimmer

Remote control, dim, and schedule almost any kind of light with the Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer.

You can add voice controls to your existing lights with the Belkin WeMo range of switches. A direct Wi-Fi connection means there’s no need for a hub. The app allows you to schedule lights, set timers, and dim your lights. You can also change the brightness with your finger by running it along the channel in the middle of the switch. You can always find the switch in the dark thanks to the backlight, and there’s a clever night mode that dims the light appropriately, so you aren’t blinded if you get up in the night.

Add the WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer Switch in the Google Home app, and you can use Google Assistant voice commands to turn the switch on or off or to dim or brighten your lights. According to Belkin the switch automatically adjusts the dimming range to suit your bulbs. Use routines in the Home app to automate the switch, so a voice command like “Hey, Google, Goodnight” turns the lights off. 

While it’s fairly straightforward, the Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer does have to be wired in. It only works with one-way connection switches and requires a neutral wire. Belkin also has a WeMo Smart 3-Way Light Switch which works with Google Assistant, but it doesn’t support dimming.

The best Google Assistant-compatible smart lock

best alexa enabled smart lock august

Easy to install and offering Google Assistant support, the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock allows you to set up secure keyless access.

The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock works with some existing deadbolts. You simply replace the interior portion, which means you can still use your keys outside. Installation is quick and easy, but you need a reliable Wi-Fi connection on the 2.4 GHz band. With the app, you can lock and unlock your door from anywhere, track people coming and going, and receive alerts when the door is left open. There’s also geofencing support for automatic locking and unlocking when you leave and return. 

The support for Google Assistant means you can lock or unlock the door with voice commands. You can also ask if the door is closed and locked. If you add a routine in the Google Home app, you could have a particular Google Assistant voice command lock your door. 

This fourth-generation device features a more compact design than previous versions, and August continues to release new features, such as optional biometric verification using the fingerprint or face unlock on your smartphone. However, This is a relatively expensive smart lock, and the battery life isn’t the greatest. Both Tom’s Guide and PC Mag gave it 4.5 out of 5.

Read our guide to the best smart locks.

The best Google Assistant-compatible robot vacuum

best alexa enabled robot vacuum irobot roomba s9+

The iRobot Roomba S9+ is a clever robot vacuum that performs well on carpet and hard floors, supports lots of Google Assistant voice commands, and can even empty itself.

The iRobot Roomba S9+ is our pick for the best robot vacuum for hard floors and performed impressively in testing. The Roomba S9+ rarely gets trapped and has good path-finding skills. It has a large dustbin built into the charging cradle, so it can empty itself when it returns to charge. You won’t have to empty the bin often, which is great because emptying the dust is an unpleasant necessity after every clean with most robot vacuums.

Add your iRobot account to the Google Home app for a wide array of potential voice commands through Google Assistant. You can ask the Roomba S9+ to start, stop, pause, resume, return to home base, clean by room, and more. 

The high price is an obvious downside, and this is quite a loud robot vacuum when cleaning. We also found the corner cleaning performance a bit lacking. There are some additional ongoing expenses, too; you must replace filters every couple of months, the side brush every three months, and the dirt disposal bag every month or so. You may also consider the slightly cheaper Roomba i7+ which supports the same Google Assistant voice commands.

Read our full iRobot Roomba S9+ review.

Here are a few tips and things to keep in mind when you go shopping for new Google Assistant-enabled devices. 

Works with the Google Assistant: The first thing to look for when buying a smart-home device is the “Works with the Google Assistant” logo. This is Google’s official certification program, and the presence of this logo on the box means you can add it via the Google Home app and control it with voice commands through Google Assistant.

Google Assistant built in: While a device may work with Google Assistant, you may not be able to talk to it directly. Devices like smart speakers and displays have Google Assistant inside, with microphones to pick up your voice commands. The majority of products that work with Google Assistant need a phone, smart speaker, smart display, or another device capable of hearing your voice commands.

Google Home app: To gain voice control of a device through Google Assistant, you will need to link your account via the Google Home app. The procedure is pretty straightforward, and Google Home can often automatically detect devices on your home network. You will usually need login details, and you will have to agree to share access and some data with Google. 

Internet connectivity: Smart-home devices require a strong internet connection for Google Assistant to work well. Think about where in your home the device will live and whether it can get a good wired or Wi-Fi connection in that spot. 

What else we considered

Here are a few options that may still work well for your smart-home setup.

Google Nest Hub Max: This smart display offers everything that the smaller Nest Hub does but adds a bigger and better screen, louder audio, and a camera for video calls. Read our Google Nest Hub Max review for more information.

Roku Ultra: This versatile streaming device supports just about every service you can think of, works reliably, and has Bluetooth connectivity. You can pair it with Google Assistant to control it with voice commands. Read our Roku Ultra review for more information.

Sonos One: For such a small speaker, the Sonos One offers a fantastically rich sound and can get very loud when you need it to. It also has Google Assistant built in for questions, commands, calls, and more.

Wyze Bulb: Wyze offers a basic white smart bulb that’s very affordable and works well with Google Assistant. You can ask Google Assistant to turn bulbs on or off, tweak the brightness, and change the color temperature.

Google Nest Thermostat: This affordable smart thermostat offers remote control of your HVAC system, geofencing, and support for Google Assistant.

Wyze Cam v3: Perhaps the most affordable camera on the market the Wyze Cam v3 offers full-color 1080p footage and has an IP65 rating, two-way audio, and night vision. You can also turn it on or off and access a live feed with a Google Assistant command. Read our Wyze Cam v3 review for more information.

Wyze Smart Home Plug: You can remotely control this compact smart plug, and it supports scheduling and automation. You can also turn it on or off by asking Google Assistant. 

C by GE Smart Dimmer Switch: This versatile smart light switch brings remote control to your regular lights, and you can tweak the brightness from the app or via a Google Assistant voice command. The functionality is good, but the design isn’t as attractive as our top pick.

Schlage Encode Smart Wi-Fi Deadbolt: You can remotely lock and unlock this smart lock with the app. It has a number pad for setting up to 100 access codes. Google Assistant voice commands enable you to lock or unlock your door and check its status.

Roborock S6: This was the best-performing robot vacuum in our testing and it’s a lot cheaper than the Roomba S9+. But the Google Assistant integration is very basic, simply allowing you to start or stop cleaning with voice commands. Read our Roborock S6 review for more information.

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The 5 best music streaming services you can subscribe to in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Music streaming services give you access to millions of songs for a monthly subscription fee.
  • Spotify is the best service for most people thanks to its big selection, features, and free plan.

Music listening has come a long way over the past few decades. Gone are the days when you had to buy CDs, vinyl records, or cassette tapes. You don’t even have to buy digital downloads anymore. These days, you can simply sign up to a music streaming service and have on-demand access to all the music you’ll ever need on a device that sits in your pocket.

Of course, there are quite a few music streaming services out there, and they’re all a little different. Because of that, it can be hard to find the service that’s perfect for your needs.

When deciding which music service to get, it’s worth considering a few things. For starters, you’ll want to make sure that there’s an app for your chosen streaming platform on every device you use for music listening. You’ll also want to consider things like streaming audio quality and support for extra features, like digital assistants, music videos, lyrics, playlist sharing, and more.

Still figuring out which music streaming service is for you? We’ve done the research and testing so you don’t have to.

Here are the best music streaming services:

The best music service overall

Spotify

Spotify has a ton of music and audio content, along with a free streaming option and support for a range of devices.

Pros: Huge library of songs, podcasts, app support on many devices, free option, collaborative playlists, group listening

Cons: No live content, no lossless audio option yet (coming soon)

Looking for a music streaming service that has a huge range of songs and is compatible with all your devices? Spotify is the way to go. Spotify has apps for all major platforms — including iOS, Android, and your preferred web browser. There’s a free, ad-based plan that you can use for as long as you like, but ad-free streaming requires a monthly subscription.

One of the perks of Spotify is its focus on discovery and playlist curation. This includes the service’s playlist “enhance” button that lets you add similar songs to existing playlists. The app lets you filter songs by mood and genre, too. Spotify is also planning to add a “recently played” list to show songs you’ve heard over the past three months.

The service also has podcasts and video content, plus it streams music in up to a 320Kbps, which should be good enough for the majority of listeners. If that quality isn’t to your liking, however, Spotify does plan to introduce a CD-quality option, called Spotify HiFi, later this year. 

New subscribers to the Spotify Premium, Duo, or Family plans can receive a one-month free trial period. 

The best music service for Apple devices

Apple Music

Apple Music works beautifully on Apple devices, plus there’s an app for it across a range of platforms, including Android.

Pros: Large selection, live radio, excellent integration with Apple devices, curated playlists, three-month trial, discounted bundle with other Apple services

Cons: No free version, no lossless audio option

If you use an iPhone and other Apple products, then it’s worth considering Apple Music. Apple Music integrates perfectly with Apple’s hardware and software, plus it’s well-designed and works with your existing library of iTunes music.

One of the best things about Apple Music is that it integrates with Siri and the Apple Watch seamlessly, plus it can be played on a HomePod without issue. In other words, if you have other Apple devices, then Apple Music is probably the most convenient service to go for.

Apple Music has a nice selection of content, too. Apart from on-demand songs, the service offers the Apple Music 1 radio station and some exclusive music.

Though Apple Music was initially missing a web browser option, Apple now allows subscribers to use the service through internet browsers on computers and laptops without having to install a separate app. 

If you want to tap into what your friends are listening to, Apple Music also offers curated playlists for that, as well as other playlists for new music, personal favorites, and more.

New members can receive a free three-month trial. That’s two months longer than the trial period that Spotify Premium offers. Unlike Spotify, however, Apple Music does not offer a free version with ads. 

The best music service for audiophiles

Tidal

Tidal HiFi is available on a range of platforms, plus it offers much better audio quality than the majority of other music streaming services out there.

Pros: Excellent audio quality with lossless playback, available on a range of platforms, exclusive content, includes music videos

Cons: No free version, missing some features, HiFi plan is expensive

Tidal is a little different from other music streaming services in that it’s targeted toward those who want a higher resolution audio experience — and as such, it provides excellent sound quality. 

While Tidal offers a Premium plan that uses the same 320Kbps bitrate that Spotify uses, Tidal also has a HiFi plan that steps things up to a whopping 1,411Kbps in the lossless FLAC format. This means that you get to listen to music in full CD-quality exactly as it was meant to be heard. The HiFi plan also includes Tidal Masters, a feature with songs at a bitrate between 2304 and 9216Kbps.  

Tidal is also known for streaming some notable exclusive content. Albums like Jay-Z’s “4:44” and Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” were first launched on Tidal. There are also music videos and other behind-the-scenes content, too.

When it comes to other lossless music options, Tidal has some competition from Amazon’s Music HD plan. This service offers similar audio quality for a lower price of $15 a month. Unlike Tidal, however, Amazon Music HD doesn’t include videos. Music HD is also available on fewer devices and it lacks the exclusive releases that Tidal features.

The best music service for Amazon Prime members

Amazon Music

Amazon Music Unlimited integrates perfectly with Alexa and offers discounts for Prime subscribers or Echo owners.

Pros: Discounts for Amazon Prime members, large selection, Alexa integration

Cons: No content other than music

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you might want to save a few bucks and go for Amazon’s music subscription service, Amazon Music Unlimited.

Prime subscribers already get access to Prime Music with their membership, but if you want a more comprehensive music selection, then it’s worth stepping things up to Music Unlimited, which offers a bigger library of songs.

Music Unlimited is available on a range of platforms, including iOS, Android, and the web. The service is tightly integrated with Amazon’s Alexa, so if you have an Echo or other Alexa product, it’ll work perfectly.

New members usually receive a free 30-day trial, but for a limited time, Amazon is offering a three-month trial. After the trial, your subscription will automatically continue for the regular monthly price unless you decide to cancel.

When it comes to audio quality, Music Unlimited streams at 256Kbps. Music Unlimited doesn’t offer any non-music content, but apart from that, it’s a solid service for those plugged into the Amazon ecosystem.

For those who want lossless audio, Amazon also offers a Music HD plan with support for high resolution playback. 

The best music service for Android users

YouTube Music

YouTube Music has a decent library of songs, plus it integrates very well with Google’s other apps and services, including Google Assistant. 

Pros: Interesting playlists, good integration with Google services, free version available

Cons: Doesn’t integrate with Alexa, no lossless audio option

YouTube Music is the way to go if you’re really plugged into Google’s ecosystem of products. In other words, if you have an Android phone and want your music streaming service to integrate well with Google Assistant, then YouTube Music is a convenient option.

It’s also available on iOS and on the web, so you should be able to access the service wherever you are. The platform even offers location-based playlists and the ability to search for songs based on lyrics.

YouTube Music isn’t perfect, but Google has been working on making it better. The app doesn’t really integrate with other voice assistants like Alexa, so if you have an Echo you’ll be stuck with playing music through the Bluetooth connection on your phone. With that said, the service does now support Siri. 

Like Spotify, YouTube Music offers a free, ad-supported version. New subscribers also get a one-month trial to test out the ad-free Premium plan. 

If you’re interested in bundling ad-free YouTube Music and YouTube video streaming, you can package the two services together under a YouTube Premium plan for $12 a month. YouTube Premium also includes exclusive video content. Since this option is only $2 more than Music Premium is on its own, it’s a better value for music fans who also like to watch YouTube videos.

What is HiFi music?

iFi Audio DAC lifestyle

Most music streaming services offer base plans that feature songs presented with “lossy” compression. This means that some of the original audio recording’s quality is being sacrificed to make the file smaller and easier to stream. In other words, standard streaming audio isn’t equal to the quality you’d hear on an actual CD.

Though this loss in quality is hard to notice for the average listener, most audiophiles demand “lossless” music that preserves the full range of the original track. This is where “HiFi” music streaming comes in.

Different platforms brand their lossless audio plans under different names, including HiFi, HD Music, and Hi-Res Music. Though there are some differences between them, they all generally refer to streaming audio tracks that are presented in at least CD-quality. 

Tidal and Amazon Music HD are some of the most popular services with lossless audio options, making them a better fit for listeners who want the very best quality. Spotify will also add a CD-quality plan later this year. 

On the downside, lossless audio streaming requires more bandwidth so you’ll need a fast internet connection and big data plan. To take full advantage of the audio quality benefits you’ll also need a nice pair of headphones and a dedicated digital-to-analog converter, or a high-end set of speakers.

You can learn more about lossless audio formats in our guide to HD audio.

Check out our related buying guides

Apple Airpods

If you’re signing up for a music streaming service, chances are you’ll need a reliable media player or smartphone to access the app, along with a nice pair of speakers or headphones to actually listen to your favorite tracks on.

With that in mind, we’ve highlighted some of our other buying guides for streaming players, mobile devices, headphones, and speakers that are sure to come in handy for anyone who wants to stream music.  

The best streaming sticks and boxes


The best smartphones


The best cheap headphones


The best noise-cancelling headphones


 The best true wireless earbuds


The best speakers


The best Bluetooth speakers


The best digital-to-analog converters

 

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The 5 best Bluetooth speakers of 2021 for listening to music outside and around the house

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.
  • The Sonos Move is our top pick thanks to great sound, reliable voice control, and solid battery life.
  • For more speaker recommendations, check out our roundup of the best speaker deals.

A great listening experience for all your favorite music services shouldn’t be limited by pesky wires. While the days of carrying around a boom box on your shoulder are by and large over, you can still get quality wireless music in the form of a Bluetooth speaker.

Thanks to Bluetooth support, these speakers are able to play music from other Bluetooth-enabled sources, like a smartphone or laptop, without any cables. Whether you’re getting a speaker for use around the house or a day at the park, there’s almost certainly a Bluetooth speaker for you. But there are a number of things to consider before you buy, including size, battery, durability and, of course, sound quality.

With all of those factors in mind, we’ve selected the best Bluetooth speakers you can buy for a variety of needs. Since most people purchase Bluetooth speakers for their portability, all of our picks feature built-in batteries for listening on the go.

Here are the best Bluetooth speakers:

The best Bluetooth speaker overall

Sonos Move

The Sonos Move looks good, sounds great, and offers multi-room audio as well as voice control with Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Pros: Attractive design, integrates with other Sonos speakers, excellent audio quality, Alexa and Google Assistant with Wi-Fi

Cons: A little expensive, a bit heavy

Sonos has long been a leader in the wireless speaker market, and the company now has a Bluetooth-enabled model called the Move. With an excellent design, awesome sound quality, and support for two digital assistants, the Move is one of the most fully featured Bluetooth speakers you can buy.

The speaker offers a ton of bass, coupled with crisp clarity and detail in the high end. That makes it excellent for listening to music. The Move can even be calibrated using Trueplay tuning technology to suit different environments and locations.

The speaker has a charging station where you can keep it most of the time, but it’s designed to be portable too, so you can take it outside or move it around the house. It’s a bit heavy compared to most portable speakers, but it’s nice to have the option. It’s rated for around 11 hours of battery life, so it should easily get you through a day of listening.

Like other Sonos speakers, the Sonos Move is also smart. You can choose to use either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, plus it integrates perfectly with Sonos’ other speakers, allowing for multi-room audio. 

But what about the downsides? The speaker is a little pricey, and you won’t get access to all of its smart features unless you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

The best Bluetooth speaker for portability

Bose

The Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II is easy-to-use, offers 17 hours of battery, features a convenient handle for travel, and it sounds good, too.

Pros: Good sound, versatile design for portable use outdoors and around the house, long battery life

Cons: A bit pricey, lacks Wi-Fi support

There are a number of things that make the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II such an ideal portable option, from its great sound to its nice design.

The design is reminiscent of smart speakers, so it’ll look right at home in any tech-savvy person’s house. On top of that, it offers extremely easy-to-use controls, with six buttons located on the top for things like volume and Bluetooth control. Bose also added a handle to make it easy to bring the speaker with you outside or around the house.

We tested the previous-generation model and were impressed by its great sound quality and how easy it is to move from room to room. It delivers ample volume and deep bass without distorting. 

This newer version is nearly identical to the one we tested, but features an upgrade from IPX4 water resistance to an IP55 rating. It also supports an extra hour of battery life for up to 17 hours of play time — the longest of any speaker on our guide. 

The speaker even has some smart features, including Bluetooth pairing with voice prompts, the ability to take calls, and access to Siri or Google Assistant from your phone. That said, the speaker doesn’t have Wi-Fi so it doesn’t support a built-in digital assistant.

The best waterproof Bluetooth speaker

Ultimate Ears Boom 3

The UE Boom 3 is well designed and sounds pretty good, but it’s also water resistant, making it great for use by the pool or at the beach.

Pros: Good sound quality, nice design, waterproof, can float

Cons: High frequencies aren’t as detailed as other speakers

Looking for something that you can take to the beach or use by the pool without fear of it breaking due to water damage? The UE Boom 3 is the way to go. 

The speaker may not sound as robust as the Sonos Move, but it still sounds good, especially considering how small it is. The UE Boom 3 offers decent bass response, along with a well-tuned mid-range, and a solid amount of clarity in the high frequencies. One of the best things about it is that it can also get super loud, which is great for use outside.

It’s relatively small and portable, and it’s available in a range of different colors. On the side, you get buttons for controlling volume, while on the top there are controls for things like Bluetooth pairing and power. 

The UE Boom 3 is built for use near water. The speaker is not only waterproof, but it’s also designed to float, so you won’t have to worry about losing it at the bottom of the pool. The Boom 3 is capable of being submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes, so it shouldn’t break due to water damage.

The best cheap Bluetooth speaker

Anker bluetooth speaker

The Anker Soundcore Flare Mini may be super-affordable, but it still looks and sounds solid for the price.

Pros: Inexpensive, water-resistant, solid battery life

Cons: Sound quality is only decent

Looking for an inexpensive speaker that still looks and sounds pretty good? The Anker Soundcore Flare Mini may well be the way to go. This speaker may carry a budget price, but it still sounds decent and won’t break the bank.

The speaker is designed to look a lot better than other speakers in its price range. It’s a cylindrical design with a fabric covering around the side and controls on the top. Those controls include power, volume, and Bluetooth pairing. There are even LED lights on the bottom, and you can control those lights through five different lighting modes.

The design of the speaker plays into how it sounds too. The speaker can deliver 360-degree audio, so no matter where you are around it, it should sound pretty good. It definitely won’t sound as powerful as some of the more expensive speakers on our list, but it can still get pretty loud and offers a decent amount of bass.

You’ll get 12 hours of battery life out of the speaker, which isn’t bad at all, and it’s water-resistant with an IPX7 rating. 

Considering the price range, perhaps the only real downside to the speaker is that it can’t really match more expensive offerings in the audio department.

The best small Bluetooth speaker

bo beplay p2

The B&O Beoplay P2 doesn’t just sound good and feature a slick design, it’s ultra-compact, too.

Pros: Great sound, very portable, intuitive touch-controls, compact size

Cons: A little pricey for its size, could use more high-end clarity

The B&O Beoplay P2 is the perfect fit for buyers who want an ultra-compact speaker that can easily fit in a backpack or purse.

Now, generally speaking, smaller Bluetooth speakers can be a little hit and miss, but the BeoPlay P2 is a hit. That’s largely thanks to its sleek and stylish design, coupled with hidden and intuitive controls.

For example, you can double tap the speaker grill to play and pause your music, or you can program the speaker through the accompanying app to activate your digital assistant of choice, whether it be Google Assistant or Siri. That happens through your phone because the speaker doesn’t have those assistants built-in.

So how does the speaker sound? You can’t expect studio-quality sound, but it’s not bad. The speaker features mono audio and an impressive bass response for a device its size. The high-end isn’t as responsive, but it’s still not bad. 

What else we considered

JBL Flip 4

Here are other speakers we considered for our guide, and why they didn’t make our top picks.

Other Bluetooth speakers we recommend:

JBL Flip 4: The JBL Flip 4 speaker was recently one of our picks, and it’s still a fantastic Bluetooth speaker for the money. With that said, the less expensive Soundcore Flare Mini includes similar features for a more affordable price, making that model a better overall budget pick. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, the JBL Flip 4 features a bit more power and better sound quality.

What you should look for in a Bluetooth speaker

bose portable home speaker lifestyle

When shopping for a Bluetooth speaker, there are some key factors you should keep in mind. For instance, a compact model might not be a good fit for someone who wants the best audio quality, while a heavy speaker won’t be ideal for someone who wants to take their audio on the go.

Below, we’ve broken down some main features and design elements you should look into when selecting the best Bluetooth speaker for your needs.

  • Size matters: Generally speaking, larger speakers will be louder, so they tend to be a better fit for parties and gatherings. Larger speakers also tend to have more refined audio quality with better clarity and bass. Of course, size also affects portability. If you’re looking for something you can slip in your bag and carry around easily, then a smaller speaker will be a better choice.
  • Battery life: You’ll obviously want longer battery life if you’re looking for a speaker that can last all day, but sometimes a speaker with shorter battery life will do the job — especially if you plan on being able to charge it often or even while in use. Though all of our picks include batteries, some Bluetooth speakers don’t have charging at all. If you only plan to use your speaker in one room, this isn’t a problem, but if you want portability, a speaker with a battery is a must.
  • Durability and water resistance: Durability is another important factor if you plan on carrying the speaker around a lot. Not only will your speaker last longer if it’s more durable, but it might be a little more versatile, too. For example, you probably won’t want to take a non-waterproof speaker to the pool or the beach.
  • Sound quality: Some may not care too much about how a Bluetooth speaker sounds, but others will want to ensure that they’re getting the best audio performance they can for their money. A single Bluetooth speaker is never going to offer the same quality as a true stereo speaker pair, but high-end Bluetooth speakers from brands like Sonos and Bose offer impressive performance. Again, larger models tend to have better sound, so if audio quality is a priority, you’ll likely want to avoid ultra-compact speakers. 

Check out our other speaker buying guides

Sonos Beam

The best speakers


The best smart speakers


The best soundbars

 

Read the original article on Business Insider

The 5 best over-ear headphones in 2021 for audiophiles, wireless users, and budget shoppers

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Over-ear headphones tend to offer better sound performance than earbuds.
  • The perfect pair of over-ear headphones blend impressive audio quality with a comfortable design.
  • That’s why we think the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro are the best over-ear headphones you can buy.

Over-ear headphones are the ultimate in comfort and sound quality, but they aren’t always very portable like wireless earbuds.

If you decide that over-ear headphones are the right choice for you, then there are a few key things you should look for before you buy any old pair. For starters, you’ll want to think about whether you want a wired or wireless pair. Wired headphones generally sound better, though the difference might not be noticeable for most people, while wireless headphones are more convenient, because you cut the cord out of the equation.

You’ll also want to consider the type of driver inside the headphones. This won’t matter for most people, but audiophiles who want a ton of clarity and detail might want to consider a pair of planar magnetic or electrostatic headphones for the best performance.

Perhaps the most important thing to think about when looking for a new pair of headphones is budget. Audiophiles will be the first to tell you that it’s easy to spend thousands on a great pair of headphones, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a quality model for much less. With all this in mind, we’ve rounded up the best over-ear headphones for a variety of price points.

Here are the best over-ear headphones you can buy:

The best over-ear headphones overall

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO

The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO headphones may not be cheap, but the sound quality of these cans makes them absolutely worth the price.

Pros: Amazing sound quality, extremely comfortable

Cons: Expensive, bulky, not wireless, open-back design lets in outside sound

If you’re simply looking for the best over-ear headphones out there and don’t care too much about anything else, then the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO headphones are the way to go. These headphones may be a little pricey, but they’re built with the recording studio in mind, and they’re made specifically to deliver a powerful yet natural sound.

There are a few reasons these headphones sound so good. For starters, unlike most headphones these days, the DT 1990 PRO feature an open-back design. That means outside noise can get in, and your music can be easily heard by those around you, but it also helps create a much more natural sound with a wide soundstage. Open-back headphones are perfect for those who plan on listening to music at home by themselves.

On top of the open-back design, the headphones feature plenty of padding, replaceable and removable cables, and more. The sound-quality on these headphones, however, is where they really shine. They’re slightly bass-forward with plenty of midrange support and a ton of detail in the high-end. With more detail, instruments sound defined and separate, which makes for an awesome listening experience.

So what’s the downside? Well, the main one is price. They’re also a little bulky, though considering they’re really built for home use, that may not be an issue.

The best wireless over-ear headphones

sennhesier momentum 3

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 headphones are the complete package, offering excellent sound quality, a comfortable fit, and wireless support.

Pros: Excellent design, wireless, great sound quality, comfortable, noise cancellation

Cons: Expensive, noise cancellation isn’t on par with models from Sony and Bose

Sennheiser is known for building some of the best headphones on the market, and the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 headphones are no exception to that rule. The headphones are beautifully designed, super comfortable, sound great, and even offer noise cancellation.

There are a ton of reasons to love these headphones, but the biggest reason is how great they sound. The headphones may not be the most accurate sounding headphones in the world, but they offer a fun listening experience.

For example, while there’s a little extra bass, it’s not too over-the-top. The mids are well-tuned, and the highs offer plenty of detail and clarity. They may not be as detailed as a pair of high-end wired headphones, but when it comes to wireless headphones in this price range, these are the best for audio performance. 

The headphones offer some great smart features too. They have noise cancellation, and while it’s not quite as good as Bose’s or Sony’s, it’s still effective. They even have Tile tracking built into them, so you shouldn’t ever lose them.

The best noise-cancelling over-ear headphones

Sony wh-1000xm4

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are our go-to pair of headphones when we look for a balance of sound quality and noise-cancelling performance. 

Pros: Impressive sound quality, customizable sound, excellent noise cancellation, comfortable, long battery life, wireless

Cons: Expensive at full price

We picked the Sony WH-1000XM4 over the Bose 700 in this category because, while both headphones have similar noise-cancelling performance, the XM4s have a few advantages when it comes to portability. Most notably, the XM4s can fold up to make them easier to transport and they have longer battery life.

Don’t expect studio-grade accuracy here — the XM4s are meant to be a high-quality pair of headphones for “most people” to enjoy their music rather than audiophiles. With that in mind, they have a great range for bass, mids, and highs, and they handily produce clear and detailed sound. They’re also highly adaptable to your tastes thanks to adjustable settings via the app. 

Noise-cancelling performance is among the best you can find. The XM4s easily cancel unwanted noises in home and office settings, and they’re perfect for travel and commuting. 

With great quality and noise cancellation, however, comes a pretty high price tag for Bluetooth headphones. That said, the XM4s often get price cuts that bring them down closer to the $300 mark, and sometimes even lower. If you’re looking for a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones that won’t disappoint with audio quality, go for the Sony WH-1000XM4.

The best mid-range over-ear headphones

beyerdynamic

The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO headphones may not be the prettiest around, but their sound quality is unrivaled in this price range.

Pros: Excellent sound quality, good value for money

Cons: Bulky, no removable cable, no wireless support

Beyerdynamic may claim the top spot on our list with the expensive Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO headphones, but it turns out the company makes some pretty great budget headphones, too. Case in point: The Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO headphones. This model features an affordable price and offers excellent value for the money.

While these headphones may not be wireless or have noise cancellation, they do offer fantastic sound quality. The DT 770 PRO boast plenty of bass without going too far over the top, a well-tuned midrange, and a good amount of clarity and detail in the high-end.

Of course, the headphones aren’t perfect. They’re largely suited for home listening rather than anything else, and they’re a bit bulky because of that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s still something to keep in mind. The headphones also don’t have a removable cable, which is a little frustrating for some.

Still, despite those issues, most reviewers love the headphones. PCMag gave them 4.5/5 stars, while CNET gave them 8/10.

The best affordable over-ear headphones

Audi Technica headphones

The Audio-Technica ATH-M20x are an ideal choice for buyers who want a budget-friendly pair of over-ear headphones that still sound great.

Pros: Comfortable, 40mm drivers with excellent sound for the price

Cons: Bass response is lacking, no wireless support

Though they are a step down from our other picks, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x over-ear headphones perform remarkably well for their price.

The entry-level pair of studio headphones use an over-ear design with 40mm drivers. Bass isn’t particularly impactful, but the headphones offer impressive audio performance for their class, with pleasing high- and mid-range sound quality. Again, these aren’t audiophile level, but they get the job done very well for everyday listening.

Comfort and build are also strong thanks to the cushioned headband and padded ear cups. While the headphones don’t feature wireless connectivity or active noise cancellation, the cups actually provide solid noise isolation so outside sounds won’t bother you as much while listening.

As a brand, Audio-Technica is known for higher end headphone models, like the M50x and M70x, but for such a budget-friendly price, the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x provide a very nice value.

Check out our other headphone buying guides

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The 5 best portable monitors in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Portable monitors can be useful for people who love working on their laptops, but just want a little more screen space without sacrificing portability. They come in many sizes, though most are available in dimensions that match popular laptops screens.

For those who are entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem, your iPad can also serve as a portable monitor thanks to Apple’s Sidecar feature. But you’ll want to make sure your iPad and Mac are compatible with the feature before deciding if this is the right option for your setup.

If you’re looking for a portable monitor with more features, Windows compatibility, or that comes in a larger size than an iPad, our team has researched and tested dozens of options.

Here are the best portable monitors you can buy:

The best portable monitor overall

Asus Portable monitor

Versatility, a sleek design, and an affordable price with great features make the Asus ZenScreen MB16AC our top pick.

Pros: Support for USB-C and USB-A connections, vibrant color reproduction, super slim body, nice feature set

Cons: Brightness at only 220 cd/㎡, non-touchscreen panel

Asus touts the Asus ZenScreen MB16AC as a super slim and light portable monitor, which it is. It’s almost half the thinness and weight of the new MacBook Pro 13-inch at 8 millimeters and 0.78 kilograms, making it a glorious companion when you’re traveling or working on-the-go. But, it’s also so much more than that.

This portable monitor claims to be the world’s first portable monitor with a hybrid-signal solution, meaning that not only does it have native USB-C support, but it also offers USB-A connectivity support via the DisplayLink driver. So, whether you’re entirely dependent on USB-C or you find yourself needing to use a USB-A connection every now and then, this offers that versatility you need.

Its vibrant 15.6-inch IPS screen with a 1080p (1,920 x 1,080-pixel) resolution also allows automatic screen orientation with the DisplayWidget software. That means you can switch from landscape mode for productivity to portrait mode for presentations and reading. 

Besides the automatic screen orientation, it also has its own foldable smart case to protect the screen from scratches and dust, a smart pen hole so you won’t lose another stylus pen, and the Asus blue light filter so it’s easy on the eyes. And, it comes with its own ZenScreen pen.

The best budget portable monitor

Auzai monitor

At less than $200, the Auzai Portable Monitor offers a helpful set of features and impressive picture quality.

Pros: Wide port selection, cheap price, built-in speakers, gaming console compatibility, super thin and light

Cons: Not a lot of bells and whistles, stand solution isn’t great, speakers are subpar

The Auzai Portable Monitor costs less than $200 without compromising on quality and features, making it well-deserving of its best budget portable monitor title. 

Among its features are compatibility with PlayStation and Xbox game consoles — which should apply to the previous and current generation models — its own built-in speakers, and a settings menu so you can adjust brightness, contrast and  audio based on your personal preferences. It may only have a 60Hz refresh rate, but that’s certainly enough for casual gaming.

This 15.6-inch 1080p IPS portable monitor is also incredibly sleek, beating the Asus ZenScreen MB16AC at 3.56 millimeters thin and 0.62 kilograms. The sound quality isn’t the best, understandably due to its thinness, but the picture quality is excellent with deep contrast, vibrant colors, and decent brightness at 250 cd/m².

It’s certainly a great portable viewing solution for gaming and entertainment. And, thanks to the case and screen protector that come with it, you know it’ll stay safe in your bag while you’re on-the-go.

The best portable monitor for 4K HDR

Eviciv monitor

The Eviciv 4K Portable Monitor comes at a solid price for a 4K portable monitor and has many features to offer.

Pros: Really affordable for everything it offers, excellent 4K picture quality, 178-degree viewing angle, great feature set, nice port selection

Cons: There are cheaper alternatives if you don’t need 4K resolution

While 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) is all the rage in computer monitors these days, portable 4K monitors are rare. There’s a good reason why: These monitors are small enough that having 1080p resolution is actually much better, especially for productivity. 

However, if 4K is necessary for your workflow,the 15.6-inch Eviciv 4K Portable Monitor is the most cost-effective option.

It offers 300cd/m² brightness, 16.7 million display colors, and 100% sRGB colour gamut, giving photographers and video editors vibrant images with accurate colors.

The monitor also has a 178-degree viewing angle, HDR support, AMD FreeSync for gamers, portrait and landscape modes for presentations, and built-in speakers for entertainment. It also includes a nice selection of connections, including one HDMI and 2 USB-C ports that offer both power and signal support. 

And, if those features aren’t enough, it also comes with a nifty magnetic stand cover. Not bad for a portable monitor that’s less than $350? We’d say it’s a bargain.

The best portable monitor for gaming

Asus Rog Monitor

For esports and fast-paced gaming, you cannot go wrong with the Asus ROG Strix XG17AHPE, as long as you can put up with its massive size.

Pros: Incredibly fast refresh rate, not too expensive, up to three hours of battery life, nice port selection

Cons: Big, heavier than most portable monitors

The Asus ROG Strix XG17AHPE is the most advanced portable monitor you’ll find, especially if you’re all about fast-paced gaming and esports. 

With its 240Hz refresh rate and 3-millisecond response time, it delivers the smoothest picture quality you’ll find in a portable display. That’s on top of its adaptive-sync technology, which enables tear-free gaming for a more immersive experience, and a 17.3-inch IPS panel for more space.

Even better, this screen offers up to three hours of battery life when gaming at 240Hz. It also offers a wide 178-degree viewing angle that’s ideal for esports players gaming in front of an audience. 

It also includes other perks like 100% sRGB color gamut for a rich and vibrant display quality, quick charging capabilities, built-in stereo speakers, and a decent selection of ports that include USB-C, micro HDMI and a 3.5mm audio jack. And of course, it comes with Asus’ ROG Smart Cover for protection.

It’s somehow even cheaper than the MSI Optix MAG161V, though not by much. Just know that this is a 17-inch display weighing 1.06 kilograms, which makes it too bulky for light travel.

The best touchscreen portable monitor

Asus MOnitor 2

Windows and Android users will love the immersive touchscreen experience on the Asus Zenscreen MB16AMT.

Pros: Touchscreen capability is impeccable, decent battery life, nice feature set, fairly lightweight, great picture quality

Cons: Single port, a bit pricey, touchscreen support for macOS limited

Touchscreen support is pretty much standard on today’s laptops, even those that aren’t meant to be laptop-tablet hybrids. So it was only a matter of time before touchscreens became available on portable monitors as well. 

The best one we’ve seen so far is the Asus Zenscreen MB16AMT, which comes with gesture-based, multi-touch controls that are simply fantastic.

Smooth, accurate, and responsive, especially on Windows and Android, this 15.6-inch IPS touchscreen portable monitor is the one to get, especially if you’re using it for design.

The monitor also has a 7,800mAh battery that can last for up to four hours, and it’s fairly lightweight as well at 0.91 kilograms. We would have liked it to be a little brighter, but at 250 cd/㎡, it’s luminous enough. Plus, the vibrant picture quality and superb contrast should make up for that.

Other notable features worth mentioning include its hybrid signal solution, so you can use both USB-C and USB Type A connections, a smart cover and smart pen hole, a wide 178° viewing angle, and automatic screen orientation.

How to choose a portable monitor

Portable monitors come in a variety of sizes, prices, and connectivity types, so there’s something out there for everyone. Still, there are a few key factors to consider.

  • Size: Just like laptops, portable monitors are typically available in 13.3-, 15.6-, and 17.3- inch sizes. Consider what it is you’ll be using it for before you decide. Larger displays offer a better viewing experience so they’re best for games and entertainment. However, they also tend to be heavier. If portability and traveling light are your main concerns, then a smaller screen might be a better choice.
  • Resolution: The resolution of a portable monitor determines how sharp and detailed the image will look. Portable monitors are available in 4K, Full HD 1080p, and lower resolutions – though 1080p is the standard. 
  • Connectivity: A USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection is the best available. It’s more powerful, has faster transfer speeds, and is becoming the standard on many laptops. However, some portable displays also include common video connections like HDMI, allowing you to easily connect them to game consoles and media players. Others still have USB ports, some of which can also be used to power the monitor directly from a connected device.
  • Refresh rate and response time: If you’re buying a portable monitor for gaming, you should be mindful of the display’s refresh rate and response time. Refresh rates higher than 60Hz can provide a smoother experience when gaming at higher frame rates. Some portable gaming monitors come with 240Hz refresh rates, which is pretty impressive considering it outpaces frame rates in most PC games.
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The 4 best Apple MacBook laptops in 2021 for work, general use, and students

  • Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Air is the best choice for most people.
  • But for those who need a bigger screen and better speakers, we recommend the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
  • Check out our guide to the best laptops for more buying advice.

Whether you’re a Mac or Windows fan, buying a new computer is an important decision. At the very least, a good laptop should offer the right level of performance, long battery life, and a comfortable keyboard and trackpad at a reasonable price.

For Apple users, the M1-powered MacBook Air is the best at fulfilling this criteria. Apple’s new chip enables battery life that may very well be the longest we’ve ever seen in a laptop, as well as impressively fast performance.

Of course, the MacBook Air isn’t right for everyone, which is why we also recommend the 16-inch MacBook Pro for those who need more screen space, storage, and higher-quality speakers. There are also a few reasons why Apple’s Intel-powered MacBook Pro might be a better choice, especially if your workflow involves specialized software that might not be optimized for Apple’s new chip yet.

But if you’re not in a rush, it might be worth waiting before you buy. Apple is expected to release new versions of the MacBook Pro this year, followed by a refreshed MacBook Air, according to Bloomberg. The new laptops are said to come with the next iteration of Apple’s M1 processor, improved designs, and a new version of the MagSafe charging system it used to include on its laptops.

Here are the best MacBooks you can buy:

The best MacBook overall

Apple MacBook Air 2020

The latest MacBook Air released in late 2020 gains Apple’s new M1 processor, which brings impressively fast performance and long battery life, for under $1,000, making it the best Apple laptop overall.

Pros: Fast performance, super-long battery life, much-improved camera

Cons: iPhone apps don’t add much to the experience

The MacBook Air has consistently been the go-to MacBook for most people and a solid entry-level computer. But the introduction of Apple’s M1 chip makes it even more powerful than its predecessor for the same price, solidifying its choice as our top pick.

The M1-powered MacBook Air‘s battery life alone makes it a worthwhile choice. During my testing, I was able to get more than 12 hours of use out of the MacBook Air, far longer than the roughly seven hours of usage I experienced on the Intel-powered model from early 2020. 

The M1 chip’s eight-core processor also brings notable performance gains, making tasks like photo editing and exporting large files a breeze. During my tests, it was faster than the previous Intel-powered MacBook Pro at just about everything. It also uses Apple’s image signal processor for its webcam, meaning you can expect much clearer video quality on your next Zoom call. 

Otherwise, it comes with the same sleek wedge-shaped design that’s been present on the MacBook Air line for years, as well as Apple’s much-improved Magic Keyboard. In terms of storage and memory, the MacBook Air goes up to 2TB of capacity and 16GB of RAM. It comes with two USB-C ports on all configurations. 

Laptops like the MacBook Air that are powered by Apple’s own chip can also run iPhone apps, since this chip is based on the same basic architecture as the one in the company’s smartphones. While that’s a nice perk, it’s really the performance and battery life that make Apple’s M1 stand out.

The best high-performance MacBook

macbook20161

The 16-inch MacBook Pro‘s powerful performance, larger screen, and high-quality speakers make it a great choice for creative professionals. 

Pros: Larger display, great keyboard, lots of configuration options, excellent speakers

Cons: Hefty upgrade prices, only four I/O ports for the size

The end of 2019 brought us the first entirely new MacBook Pro since 2016: a 16-inch version that replaces the long-standing 15.4-inch model. It was also the first laptop to get Apple’s superior new Magic Keyboard.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro has plenty to offer when it comes to performance and configuration options. Although it doesn’t run on Apple’s new M1 chip, Apple’s biggest laptop does come with up to an eight-core Intel processor, up to 64GB of memory, up to 8TB of storage, and up to 11 hours of battery life.

Those are the highest configuration options for memory and storage across Apple’s laptop lineup. Compared to the other laptops Apple sells, the 16-inch Pro also has the most selection when it comes to graphics, with the option to configure it with a variety of AMD Radeon Pro GPUs. 

But it’s not just the broader configuration options and larger size that makes this the best choice for pros. The 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a three-microphone array and is the only Apple laptop with a six-speaker audio system, making it a better choice for media professionals that may need high-quality audio playback. The speakers can also come in handy if you’re on a lot of Zoom calls throughout the day and need a system that’s a bit louder and clearer. 

All told, the 16-inch MacBook Pro‘s bigger size, variety of configuration options, and high quality speakers are ideal for those shopping for something that isn’t quite as large and powerful as a desktop, but is closer to the desktop experience than any of Apple’s other laptops.

The best middle of the road MacBook

macbook13inch

For anyone that needs as much power as Apple is willing to cram within a 13-inch laptop, the MacBook Pro with M1 is worth a look. 

The MacBook Air is powerful enough for everyday tasks. But the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 is better-suited for those who need more power in a laptop that’s not as big as the 16-inch. It shares many similarities with the MacBook Air; they both come in nearly identical configuration options, include the same number of ports, and have very similar screens. 

But since the MacBook Pro has a fan-powered cooling system unlike the Air, it’s probably better at maintaining high performance for longer periods of time. So if you frequently run heavy workloads that involve crunching a lot of data, for example, the Pro is probably a better bet. Another added benefit: it has slightly longer battery life than the M1-powered Air.

Those are the biggest differences between the M1-powered Pro and Air, but the former’s processor also has an extra core in its GPU at the base level compared to the Air. Its screen is also slightly brighter, and the Pro’s speakers support high dynamic range unlike the Air’s.

Like the Air, the Pro has two USB-C ports, a 720 camera that uses Apple’s image signal processor, Touch ID, and the Magic Keyboard.  

The 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro falls into a strange place in Apple’s lineup. It doesn’t have the perks that make the 16-inch Pro stand out, like a six-speaker audio system and flexible configuration options. But it also doesn’t have much that distinguishes it from the Air to justify the $300 starting price difference. 

Still, that’s exactly what makes it the right choice for buyers who find themselves in the middle. It’s a great option for those who want a bit more than what the Air has to offer along with the benefits of Apple’s M1 chip.

The best college MacBook

13 inch macbook pro 2020 magic keyboard

The best MacBook for college packs powerful performance into a compact, 13-inch laptop, but expands the connectivity options to four USB-C ports instead of two.

Pros: More storage and RAM, two extra USB-C ports for connectivity, great keyboard

Cons: Shorter battery life than M1 MacBook Pro and Air

Apple’s Intel-powered versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro fill in the gaps when it comes to storage, memory, and connectivity compared to the M1 model. 

Unlike the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1, the Intel version offers up to 32GB of memory, up to 4TB of storage, and four USB-C ports. The M1 model, by comparison, tops out at 16GB of memory, 2TB of storage, and two USB-C ports. It’s great for those who need more connectivity and storage than the M1-powered MacBook Pro allows for, but don’t want a laptop that’s as large and expensive as the 16-inch model. 

That extra ports alone could make this model worth it for college students, who may need to charge their laptop, plug in their iPhone, and connect a hard drive containing large video projects for class all at the same time. Plus, the Intel-powered MacBook Pro may be a safer option if you rely on specific software for classwork since Apple’s M1 architecture is still new and app makers are still updating their programs for it.

The Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in models that run on a Core i5 or Core i7 chip, which should be more than capable of managing hefty workloads. It has the same Retina display as Apple’s M1 laptops, and also has Apple’s Magic Keyboard. Like its M1-powered sibling, the Intel-based 13-inch Pro also has speakers with high dynamic range.

Although the Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro offers the right balance of performance, portability, and flexible choices that make it ideal for the college experience, there are reasons students should consider Apple’s M1 laptops, too. 

The M1 MacBook Air may be a better fit if you need a laptop for little more than writing papers and prioritize long battery life and portability over additional configuration options.

How to buy a MacBook

MacBook Pro and Air

These are the top factors to consider when purchasing a new MacBook.

Performance 

To decide which MacBook is right for you, it’s important to understand what you intend to use it for. If you need a powerful machine for processing images, editing video, or handling complex data, the MacBook Pro is a better choice. 

Apple’s MacBook Pro models, particularly the 13-inch Intel-powered one with four ports and the 16-inch MacBook Pro, are upgradeable to 32GB of memory, while the less expensive M1 MacBook Pro, Intel-powered MacBook Pro with two ports, and M1-powered MacBook Air only come with up to 16GB of memory.

Even if you don’t need that much memory, a MacBook Pro model is still the best pick if performance is your top priority. For example, although the M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are very similar, the MacBook Pro has a slight edge when it comes to performance since it has a fan-powered cooling system and an extra graphics core in its processor at the base level.


Battery life

If battery life matters the most, go for the M1 MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. Apple’s custom chip brings unprecedented battery life to its laptops, with the MacBook Air lasting for up to 18 hours according to Apple’s estimates, and the MacBook Pro lasting for 20 hours. Apple’s Intel-powered laptops, by comparison, are only estimated to get between 10-12 hours of battery life.


Storage

Storage is also critical when it comes to picking out a new laptop. If you need the most space you can possibly get in a MacBook, you’ll want to consider Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is configurable up to 8TB. The 13-inch Intel-powered MacBook Pro with four ports is a close second, since you can order it with up to 4TB of storage.

Apple’s other current laptops, including the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, are only configurable up to 2TB of storage.


Size

Looking for a larger-sized laptop for getting work done? The 16-inch MacBook Pro is your best bet. It’s the only Apple laptop that comes in a size bigger than 13 inches, making it the right pick if you want a laptop that’s more ideal for a desktop-like setup rather than portability. 

If you want the most compact Apple laptop, check out the MacBook Air. Like most of Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops, the Air has a 13-inch screen. But it’s slightly lighter at 2.8 pounds, while the MacBook Pros weigh 3 pounds or more.

Check out our guide to the best USB-C hubs you’ll need for your Mac

hootoo USB-C hub

The best USB-C hubs you can buy


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