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    New Amazon Fire TV Doesn't Support 4K Videos With High Dynamic Range

    When it was introduced, the new Amazon Fire TV seemed pretty impressive—a faster processor, the addition of the Alexa personal assistant, and an ability to support streaming 4K content, a feature missing from the new Apple TV. But checking detailed specifications revealed something interesting: The device won't be able to support high dynamic range, or HDR, content.

    The reason: The new Amazon Fire TV uses the old HDMI 1.4 standard instead of HDMI 2.0a.

    Ironically, the Amazon Prime video streaming service is one of the few that actually offers HDR content, specifically in two of the company's original series: "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle." That means Amazon Fire TV doesn't support Amazon's own HDR videos, much less the HDR content we're likely to get from 4K streaming services such as Netflix, M-Go, and Vudu.

    What's more, while HDMI 1.4 can handle 4K video, it's limited to 24 and 30 frames per second (fps). HDMI 2.0, on the other hand, has enough bandwidth (18Gbps, compared to 10Gbps for HDMI 1.4) to support 60fps video. The lower frame rate is fine for movies, shot at 24fps, but not for TV shows and games that use the faster rate. YouTube recently started offering some 60fps content, for example, including the new 4K videos from NASA.

    We're not sure why Amazon decided to go with the older HDMI 1.4, but we've asked the question, and we'll let you know when we hear back from the company. In the meantime, keep in mind that even though Fire TV doesn't appear to support HDR, it will play 4K videos, so you'll be able to enjoy the extra picture detail in UHD shows and movies.

    If you're in the market for a streaming media player, let us know in the comments section below if HDR will be an important consideration when you make a decision.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Survey Rates SUV and Wagon Performance in Snow

    Our 2015 auto survey asked subscribers to rate their vehicles’ performance in snowy conditions. The results revealed that some AWD and 4WD systems are better than others.

    Sixty-nine to 92 percent of owners thought their 4WD and AWD SUVs and wagons were “very good” at snow performance.

    Below are the 10 best and worst SUVs and wagons for winter driving based on 47,982 subscriber ratings. All respondents had driven their vehicles without changing to winter tires on at least six snowy days during the winter of 2014-2015. The rankings are based on 2012 to 2015 models that have at least two model years’ worth of data.  

    Read our complete report on "Do You Really Need AWD in the Snow?"

     

    Snow traction (best listed first)

    Rank Make & model
    1 Subaru Outback
    2 Subaru XV Crosstrek
    3 Subaru Forester
    4 Audi Q5
    5 Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL
    6 Jeep Wrangler
    7 Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon
    8 Jeep Grand Cherokee
    9 Toyota 4Runner
    10 Ford Expedition
    11 Volvo XC60
    12 Ford Edge
    13 Volkswagen Touareg
    14 Buick Enclave
    15 Lexus RX
    16 Toyota Sequoia
    17 Volvo XC70
    18 Acura MDX
    19 Lincoln MKX
    20 Jeep Cherokee
    21 Dodge Durango
    22 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
    23 Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia
    24 BMW X3
    25 BMW X5
    26 Ford Explorer
    27 BMW X1
    28 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
    29 Honda Pilot
    30 Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain
    31 Toyota Highlander
    32 Toyota Venza
    33 Ford Escape
    34 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
    35 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
    36 Toyota RAV4
    37 Buick Encore
    38 Honda Crosstour
    39 Hyundai Santa Fe
    40 Volkswagen Tiguan
    41 Honda CR-V
    42 Ford Flex
    43 Nissan Murano
    44 Mazda CX-5
    45 Mazda CX-9
    46 Cadillac SRX
    47 Acura RDX
    48 Infiniti JX, QX60
    49 Nissan Pathfinder
    50 Kia Sorento
    51 Hyundai Tucson
    52 Nissan Rogue
    53 Nissan Juke

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Do You Really Need AWD in the Snow?

     Forty-one percent of all weather-related car crashes on U.S. roads are due to conditions involving snow, sleet, ice, and slush. That’s pretty sobering when you consider that those conditions usually exist during just a few months of the year. Accidents caused by winter weather result in 150,000 injuries and 2,000 deaths each year, on average, according to a study by the Federal Highway Administration.

    Little wonder, then, that car manufacturers trumpet all-wheel drive as a safety shield against inclement conditions. Consumers are inundated with that marketing message, and all-wheel drive is perceived as a must-have for many car buyers. It’s a key reason SUVs are now the top-selling segment of the auto market.

    But can all-wheel drive really save you when the weather turns ugly? It provides some benefit, but it may be insufficient to get you through a grueling storm.

    All-wheel drive is about getting your car moving from a dead stop—not about braking or steering­—and you should be aware of its limitations.

    Through weeks of driving in snowy, unplowed conditions at Consumer Reports’ 327-acre test center in Connecticut, we found that all-wheel drive didn’t aid in braking or in certain cornering situations. Our evaluations conclusively showed that using winter tires matters more than having all-wheel drive in many situations, and that the difference on snow and ice can be significant.

    We realize that swapping and storing tires twice per year is a nuisance. And in places where street plowing is thorough, you can probably get by with all-season tires that are in good condition.

    All-wheel drive is far better than two-wheel drive when it comes to driving on slick surfaces where you need serious traction to get going, such as a snowy uphill driveway. But our tests found that all-wheel drive by itself won’t help if you’re heading too fast toward a sudden sharp curve on a snowy night.

    That’s an important point for people who overestimate the capability of their all-wheel-drive vehicle. We’ve all seen them, zipping past us in blizzards with their illusory cloak of invincibility.

    Don’t be one of those guys—unless you want to risk a crash or find yourself stranded far from civilization.

    Our test-track observations lead us to advise that using snow tires provides the best grip and assurance for going, stopping, and cornering no matter what you drive: all-wheel drive, front-drive, or rear-drive. And buying winter tires for a front-drive car will cost far less than the several-thousand-dollar premium you’ll pay for all-wheel drive.

    Enhancements like electronic stability control—standard on every new car since 2012—also help two-wheel-drive vehicles maintain control, at least up to a point.

    What did our tests show?

    We conducted braking tests in an all-wheel-drive 2015 Honda CR-V, the best-selling compact crossover, with its original all-season tires, then with winter tires. The differences in stopping distances were considerable.

    On a different day under different snow conditions, we did braking tests pitting the CR-V against a Toyota Camry, both rolling on new winter tires. The front-drive Camry did just as well as the AWD Honda, both stopping from 60 mph in about 300 feet.

    As for handling, we found that some of the all-wheel-drive vehicles in our fleet struggled to stay on course when equipped with all-season tires—even in the hands of our professional drivers. A couple of the vehicles even plowed straight through corners and off the track.

    If you live in a place that gets frequent snow storms, an all-wheel-drive vehicle with winter tires will be very capable. And some AWD systems function better than others in terms of helping drivers get traction.  

    But most AWD drivers don’t think of adding winter tires. According to our survey of 54,295 subscribers who drove AWD or 4WD vehicles in the snow for more than six days last winter, less than 15 percent equipped their vehicles with winter tires. The rest kept rolling on their all-season tires and took their chances.

    At Consumer Reports, we strongly recommend buying four winter tires for whatever vehicle you drive.

    See our complete tire buying guide and ratings.

    What’s the Difference Among Drive Systems?

    There’s a clear distinction between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, although the terms are mistakenly used interchangeably. Follow this guide to understand how all of the systems work.

    All-Wheel Drive

    All-wheel drive is a lighter-duty system used for cars and car-based SUVs. AWD systems operate continuously, and they automatically vary power delivery to the front and rear wheels when needed. Some systems remain in front- or rear-wheel-drive mode until slip is detected, then power is routed to all four wheels. Other systems send power to all four wheels continuously.


    Good for: 
    Seamless acceleration in slippery conditions. Needs no driver intervention to engage.

    Drawbacks: Can’t improve braking or cornering performance in snow; lacks heavy-towing ability; lacks a low range for slow-crawl situations; fuel economy suffers; and there’s a price premium compared with front-drive cars.

    Four-Wheel Drive

    This refers to the heavy-duty drivetrain components found in pickup trucks and truck-based SUVs. The truck usually sends power to the rear wheels, and the driver engages four-wheel drive with a dashboard knob or button, which sends power in equal proportion to the front and rear axles. Most current SUVs and some pickups have a permanent or “auto” 4WD mode.

     

    Good for: Grunt work like hauling a boat trailer up a launch ramp. Most systems have a low range and locking differentials for extreme terrain.

     

    Drawbacks: Can’t improve braking or cornering performance in snow; driving in locked 4WD mode on clear roads can damage the driveline; and there’s a wider turning circle in 4WD mode.

    Front-Wheel Drive

    Used in most cars, minivans, and wagons, front-wheel-drive systems send engine power to the two front wheels. The drive shaft doesn’t extend to the rear of the car, leaving more room for rear-seat and trunk space. Traction control limits wheel spin in certain inclement conditions.

     

    Good for: Good traction in most driving situations. And it doesn’t carry the price premium of all-wheel drive. It’s also better than rear-wheel drive on slippery roads because there’s more weight on the front wheels, which propel and steer the car.

     

    Drawbacks: If the road is too snowy or icy, the front wheels will slip and you’ll be stuck. Winter tires are recommended for snowy conditions.

    Rear-Wheel Drive

    This system places less demand on the front wheels, freeing them to be used primarily for steering. It’s often used in basic pickups and traditional truck-based SUVs that are designed to handle towing and other chores. Traction control can help improve the performance of those vehicles as well. Rear-wheel drive is also the preferred setup for sports cars and high-performance sedans because of its con­tribution to ideal weight distribution, which aids in handling.
     

    Good for: Handling balance and cornering in dry conditions.

    Drawbacks: If the road is too snowy or icy, the rear wheels will slip and you’ll get stuck. Rear-drive cars tend to spin out in snowy or icy conditions. Winter tires are recommended.

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    All-Wheel-Drive: What Is It Good For?

    Car buyers want all-wheel-drive. We see this all the time as a frequent car-buying "requirement" in questions to our “Talking Cars with Consumer Reports” video podcast, as well as through strong sales. But all-wheel-drive (or four-wheel-drive) isn't a panacea for all wintertime driving hazards.

    Extensive evaluations done last winter at our test track showed that all-wheel-drive can get you going, but being able to turn and stop is another matter entirely.

    Much depends on having the proper tires; good winter tires vastly improve capability and safety in the white stuff. Turns out that all all-wheel-drive systems aren't quite created equal, as well. We compare and contrast how well the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4 fare in deep snow. Finally, we answer reader questions about Subaru manual transmission shifters and compare the Mazda3 and Mazda CX-3

    As with the other Taking Cars, this episode is also available free through the iTunes Store. Subscribe to the video or audio. You'll also find the video on YouTube.

    Share your comments on this show below, and let us know if you need any advice for choosing a car.

    Recent past episodes

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Google Chromecast Gets New Design, Chromecast Audio Lets You Cast Music

    If stick-style streaming media players are, well, too stick-like for your tastes, you may want to consider Google's second-generation Chromecast player. Announced today at the same $35 price as the previous iteration, the new Chromecast not only adopts a circular, disc-like design, it's offered in three colors—black, yellow, and red—though it's unlikely that you'll ever see it once it's installed in a TV's HDMI input. While the updated Chromecast, like the new Apple TV, doesn't support 4K video, it does retain its crown as the lowest-priced streaming media player.

    Perhaps the more interesting introduction, though, is a new audio product called, somewhat uninspiringly, Chromecast Audio. Also priced at $35, the similarly circular device is an add-on that basically turns any speaker (or receiver, TV, or car stereo) with a 3.5mm auxiliary input into a wireless speaker.  

    The new Chromecast gets several improvements compared to the earlier model. For one, its Wi-Fi capability gets better thanks to both dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11AC Wi-Fi and an "adaptive" three-antenna array the company says will improve reception. Chromecast now also has a "Fast Play" feature that uses pre-loading and smart caching of content to speed up the time before content and apps start playing.  

    There's also a new Chromecast app with improved search and content discovery, including a "What's On" section that quickly shows which content can be beamed to your TV from the streaming video apps you've downloaded onto your device. Google has also beefed up its library of content with several new apps, including Showtime and soon, Sling TV.

    As for Chromecast Audio, is basically does for music what the original Chromecast did for video. Once you've attached the Chromecast Audio dongle to a powered speaker, you can beam music to it from Cast-enabled apps—including Google Play, Pandora, and now Spotify—loaded on your phone, tablet, or a computer (via its Chrome browser) connected to your Wi-Fi network. Later this year, Chromecast Audio will receive an update that will allow you to simultaneously sync two or more of the devices together to create a multi-room audio system, Sonos style.

    During a demo at its event, Google showed how game developers can easily render games for both smartphone screens and a larger TV display. Arguing that the smartphone is already a great game-playing device—obviating the need to duplicate that capabiity within the device itself—Google said the built-in accelerometer and gyro in most phones enable them to perform as great game controllers.

    As always, we're looking forward to getting both of the new Chromecast devices into our labs for thorough testing, so keep checking back for our hands-on first-look reviews. Once it's been fully tested, it will be added to our complete streaming media player Ratings, which are available to subscribers.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    More Change Needed for Car Seat Side-Impact Protection

    In recent years, a growing number of car seat manufacturers have made claims about side-impact safety features in their products. Unfortunately, the car seat industry lacks a standard against which those claims can be evaluated. This leaves consumers confused and with little information to go on when deciding which seat to buy.  

    To help address this confusion, in early 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to include a standard test for side-impact protection. Before this rulemaking notice, car seats were regulated only for frontal-crash protection. Consumer Reports strongly supports this much-needed change.

    In early 2015, Consumer Reports’ child passenger safety experts conducted feasibility tests on select infant seats, convertibles, and boosters in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed rules. Those feasibility tests highlight issues with the proposed side-impact tests, particularly relating to the rear-facing-only—or infant—seats.

    Currently, the only dummy approved and available for the side-impact injury measurement is a specialized side-impact dummy. This dummy, known as a Q3s dummy, is the size of an average 3-year-old child, not an infant, so even though its weight is appropriate for most infant seats, it is too tall to properly evaluate infant seats; as you can see in the photo above, the head is well above the side bolsters intended to protect it. Further, it is instrumentation in the dummy’s head that measures the injury potential of each tested seat.  

    Because the dummy’s head extends far above the infant seats' shell, side-impact protection within the shell can’t be captured and accurately measured by the instruments built into its head. As a result, we are unable to properly evaluate the benefits of each infant seat’s features.

    Our tests showed that when the dummy’s head extended beyond the shell portion of the infant seat, the injury data also tended to be lower—despite the greater injury risk. Therefore, based on this data, we concluded that side-impact protection on these seats might be overrated. This is because, while the design would not actually provide improved impact safety, the data would be skewed by allowing for greater head excursion outside of the shell.

    Heavier dummies are often used to evaluate the structural integrity of car seats, rather than injury metrics. In fact, we use heavier dummies in our tests that might exceed the seats’ height but remain within the seats’ weight capacity. But after observing the proposed side-impact test, we foresee that the crash parameters likely won’t cause significant structural failure for infant seats, even if tested with the heavier Q3s dummy.

    Given the dummy size and limited potential for structural failure, we conclude that the proposed side-impact test, using only the Q3s dummy, has little value for assessing side-impact protection in infant seats. For infant seat testing, an alternative, smaller side-impact instrumented dummy should be considered for approval: one that represents real-world usage and more accurately measures potential injuries and-side impact protection features.

    The good news is the standard is still in the proposal stage and modifications can be made prior to it becoming a final governing standard for all child seat performance. As part of that process, we have formally shared our experience with the test and our concerns about it with NHTSA.

    What Do These Proposed Changes Mean?

    • If possible, secure car seats in the middle position of the rear seat, which is likely the farthest from any side-impact intrusion.
    • Despite the lack of standardization, some side-impact technology is still better than none. For example, features such as side air pillows and head wing bolsters provide an extra layer of protection between your child’s head and your vehicle’s door, interior, or window, as well as the intruding hood from the vehicle impacting your car.

    In the future, we will likely see government standards and independent testing to regulate and evaluate side-impact protection. Those changes will make it easier for you to compare the benefits these additional safety features provide.

    Consumer Reports will continue to encourage and evaluate NHTSA’s efforts to regulate side-impact protection in car seats. For now, parents should use side-impact-protection claims as a way of narrowing down their choice of seats but primarily base their purchase decision on more defined criteria, such as the ability to achieve a secure installation and frontal-crash performance. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Prevent a Health Crisis From Becoming a Financial Catastrophe

    What if an accident or illness leaves you unable to manage your financial affairs or tell your doctors how you’d like to be treated? Three documents can inform your spouse, partner, or trusted friend of your preferences in a health crisis and give them the power to act on your behalf.

    Think of a financial power of attorney, health care proxy, and living will as an “Open, sesame!” that gets things done when you can’t do them yourself in a health crisis. Without them, even your nearest and dearest may be shut out of decision-making conversations with doctors or lack the means to pay the mortgage without going through time-consuming and stressful court proceedings. With those documents, they can make sure your finances stay healthy as you recover.

    The good news is that the process is simple and inexpensive. In general, all you need to do is properly complete a fill-in-the-blanks form that’s a few pages long and sign it in front of a notary public. Because some states have their own health care proxy forms, it’s best to Google the name of your state and “health care proxy” to download the proper form. Some banks and brokerage companies also have proprietary forms; in that case, you may need to prepare both your state’s official form and the form provided by your financial institution. Forms can be downloaded for free; Nolo’s award-winning WillMaker Plus software costs $54.99 but also includes all advance directive and estate planning forms.

    There’s one catch, though, and it’s key: You have to sign and officially stamp these documents before a health crisis happens. Once a health crisis occurs, it’s too late. 

    Financial Power of Attorney: Paying the Bills

    The last thing you want in a healthcare crisis is to get better and find that your finances are a mess. A financial power of attorney gives the person you designate—called “your agent”—the legal authority to tap your assets to take care of such important money management tasks as: paying your bills and mortgage, operating your small business; filing your taxes; collecting your Social Security benefits; handling transactions with your bank and brokerage. You can give your agent as much or as little power as you wish.

    A financial power of attorney can be drafted so that it goes into effect as soon as you sign it. Many couples have an active financial power of attorney for each other in case something happens to one of them. If that’s your choice, be sure to specify that you want the power of attorney to be “durable,” otherwise the authority will automatically end if you become incapacitated—exactly when your spouse needs it.

    You can also specify that you want to maintain control over your affairs until a doctor certifies that you have become incapacitated. This “springing” durable power of attorney—so-called because it springs into effect only under certain circumstances—can be reassuring if you prefer to be completely in charge. 

    Health Care Proxy: Acting on Your Wishes

    With the healthcare industry’s emphasis on patient privacy, it is critical to appoint a health care proxy. Also known as a durable power of attorney for health care or, less commonly, a medical power of attorney, this directive appoints a proxy to oversee your medical care and make health care decisions for you if you are too ill or injured to speak for yourself.

    A health care proxy affects your finances by permitting or declining what can be very costly forms of treatment. She can also make choices— such as where you do rehab—that can help you achieve a full recovery.

    “It’s critical to have a health care proxy, even for married couples,” advises Mantell, because the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Privacy Rule prevents medical professionals from sharing information or allowing you to implement a loved one’s wishes without that piece of paper. The proxy also gives someone who’s not your spouse access to the information they need to make medical decisions on your behalf. “It just makes things easier,” Mantell says.

    Living Will: Explaining What You Want

    To make your wishes clear, you need a third legal document: a health care directive, also called an advance directive or “living will.” This is where you articulate how far you want the doctors to go in preserving or prolonging your life. For example, do you want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other extraordinary measures? Do you want to be intubated to assist in breathing or nutrition? Or would you prefer only palliative care to decrease pain and suffering?

    The proxy and the living will depend on each other. “The health care proxy gives you access to information but it doesn’t tell you what your loved one wants to happen. And the health care directive doesn’t do any good unless you have the proxy,” notes Mantell.

    “It’s hard to talk about these topics but do it anyway,” Mantell says. “You can’t figure this stuff out when you’re in the middle of an emergency. That’s too late.” 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Nexus 5X and 6P Smartphones Are Unlocked and Loaded

    Google today revealed two Nexus smartphones, the 5X made by LG and the 6P made by Huawei, which showcase the new Android 6.0 OS “Marshmallow” via some intriguing new hardware. The new phones will have the newest USB Type-C connectors, a highly anticipated cable for computing devices that has no wrong-side up, making for quick connections and the fastest potential throughput (10Gbps) for mobile devices and accessories.

    These smartphones also boast fingerprint sensors on the back that can authorize transactions on Android Pay, Google’s latest NFC-based mobile-payment scheme. Google says this sensor, which it calls Imprint, can recognize fingerprints in just 0.6 seconds. What’s more, Google says, the sensor will get even faster as it becomes familiar with the way you touch it.

    The large, 12.3-megapixel sensors in the new phones are supposed to deliver strong low-light performance. The 5X has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, while the one on the 6P is 8 megapixels. A double tap of the home button launches the camera even when the screen is dark.   

    These phones support Marshmallow’s No Doze, which keeps the phones in standby mode using 30 percent less energy. Part of the way it works is by only maintaining the apps you use most on standby. The rest are shut down until you begin engaging the phone. Both phones, available exclusively on Google’s Play store in late October, will be sold unlocked and support the networks of most U.S. carriers.  The LG-made Nexus 5X, which starts at $379, has 5.2-inch (423ppi) display and a plastic casing. The Huawei-made Nexus 6P, which starts at $499, is 7.3mm thick and has an “aircraft-grade” aluminum case and a 5.7-inch display. Preorders begin today.

    Tasty Marshmallow Features

    Here are some notable features of Marshmallow, which will become available to many late-model Android phones beginning today.

    App drawer. Apps in the app drawer are now stacked vertically, from A to Z, as they have been in the App manager. Instead of flipping across screens to access them, you’ll just have to scroll down one page. Typing the first few letters of the app should take you right to the app you want.

    Frequently accessed apps. Android will not only show apps by how frequently you use them, but will also consider other factors, such as the time of day when you typically access them.

    Google on Tap. Essentially, these are searches you can perform that consider the context of what you’re doing. For instance, if a friend sends you a text message from the Mets game, you can easily find out when the Mets score, their current league standing, or when they’ll play again—without leaving the message. You launch the feature by long-pressing the home button.

    Sophisticated voice commands. Launching apps with your voice isn’t new, but now you’ll be able to get more specific about what you want the app to do. For instance, if you launch the National Public Radio app, the app will ask you which programs you’d like to listen to.        

    We’ll have more on these phones when we get them in our labs.

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    3 Alternative Motion Machines in Action

    It’s not every year, or decade even, that a brand new type of exercise equipment hits the market. The 1960s saw the rise of the treadmill, the 1980s had stair steppers, and elliptical trainers emerged in the 1990s. All three machines have plenty of benefits, but also certain weaknesses—and where there’s weakness, there’s opportunity for manufacturers to create a better product. Enter the “alternative motion machine,” a new type of cardio-pulmonary exercise equipment that supposedly borrows the best concepts from the treadmill, elliptical, and stair stepper for a revolutionary workout experience. Consumer Reports tested three models from NordicTrack, Octane, and Precor to see if the hype is for real.
     
    All three alternative motion machines feature a dynamically variable stride mechanism, which simply means you can control the length of your stride at will, as you would on a treadmill or while running outdoors. But as with an elliptical, your feet are always in contact with the machine, so there’s little to no pounding. In addition to being easier on the joints, this low-impact motion also makes for relatively quiet operation, nice if you live in an apartment or smaller house. As for stair-stepper influence, alternative motion machines allow you to engage in short up-and-down strides for an intense quad-burning workout. And the NordicTrack and Precor models have moving handgrips that allow for upper body conditioning.

    How We Tested

    We used a panel of 18 Consumer Reports employees—nine men and nine women—ranging in age, weight, and fitness levels. The tests were carried out in phases, beginning with an orientation period where panelists became acclimated with the machines. They then used each machine for two separate workouts before filling out an evaluation form with scale-based and open-ended questions.

    We also turned to the magic of motion-blur photography to help illustrate the differences between the three alternative motion machines and provide a visual to demonstrate why panelists felt one simulated running better than another, or why a particular machine felt more like an elliptical. The photograph below shows project leader Peter Anzalone running on a treadmill at a speed of just under 5 mph. A red LED light-strip attached to his shoe illuminates the distinct motion-path typical of a running stride. This teardrop shaped motion-path features a sharp tip at the heel strike, a flattened bottom, and a curved transition at toe-off. The motion-path is centered squarely beneath him. Compare it with the other motion-blur photographs, below.   

    How They Stack Up

    The following reviews are based primarily on panelist evaluations, though we also noted such factors as ease-of-assembly, safety, and warranty. Each alternative motion machine has unique features and attributes, so if you’re considering this equipment, start by figuring out exactly what you hope to achieve from your exercise program. Then use our model reviews, listed alphabetically below, to find the machine that best matches those goals.     

    NordicTrack FreeStride FS7i, $1,999

    Overview: The NordicTrack looks and feels the most like an elliptical trainer. Independent pedals are suspended above pivoting rollers via a belt-suspension system, which creates a unique feeling of “floating through your workout,” according to the manufacturer. The design also lets you quickly transition between various stride lengths and striding motions.
     
    Assessing Stride Variability: Stride-length can extend to a maximum of 38 inches, but there is no stride-height adjustment. For variation, NordicTrack designed a 10-setting automated incline, which alters the plane of the striding path. In long-stride, our panelists said the machine felt like skiing or being on an elliptical. In short-stride, a stepping motion was possible, but not easy to achieve as the machine favored working in an elliptical path as opposed to a true vertical stepping motion.  
     
    Special Features: Touch-screen display and internet-capability. Custom workouts available through iFit technology and Google Maps routes, or you can choose from the menu of 40 on-board programs and 24 resistance settings. Chest-strap heart rate monitor also included. Oversized cushioned pedals offer comfort and traction.

    What Our Panelists Say About Nordic Track

    How it Compares to Actual Running. Panelists felt it was more like an elliptical or cross-country skiing motion than running. Increasing the cadence of the stride resulted in a longer stride rather than a faster running pace.

    What They Liked

    • High-res, touch-screen display.
    • Display information helped gauge progress during workouts and compare performance to previous workouts. Training videos and running track graphic, which shows progress around a simulated track, were favorites.
    • Controls on moving handgrips made it easy to adjust resistance and incline.

    What They Disliked

    • Tendency of pedal assemblies to hit the limiting stops, which are there to keep the assemblies on their rollers when the stride-length limit is exceeded. Panelists found banging against the stops to be jarring, noisy, and distracting.
    • Handgrips lacked a cushioned grip and were angled in a manner that forced the wrist into an awkward position at times.
    • Shortness of the retaining lip on each pedal. One panelist’s foot slipped off the front of the pedal during her first two sessions on the machine.

    Ease-of-Assembly: About 75 minutes total. NordicTrack has simplified the assembly of its cardio equipment over the years by reducing the number of fasteners and pre-assembling some of the components. We hit a major snag with the FreeStrider, however, when inserting the pedal arm axle into the retaining bushing. The fit was so tight that mating the components proved extremely difficult. We think a less experienced consumer might have serious trouble.
     
    The Bottom Line: Of the three alternative motion machines, NordicTrack fared worst among panelists. Though they liked its interactive and informative display, many couldn’t get past the mechanical deficiencies. The motion of the machine was difficult to control, as it tended to favor its own striding length. The “stops” that control pedal travel caused a loud bang as they contacted the roller, so much so that several panelists thought there was a problem with the machine. We think this jarring noise will be a major turnoff for some consumers.

    Octane Fitness Zero Runner ZR7, $3,299

    Overview: This machine has the most unique design compared to traditional cardio exercise equipment. Climbing aboard is like strapping on an AMP Suit from Avatar. Simulated hip and knee joints on the machine mimic your legs’ natural movements, allowing for an unparalleled stride length of 58 inches. There’s no resistance or incline or on-board motors. Basically, you’re the motor. You decide how the workout will go. As such, the Zero Runner’s built-in exercise programs prompt you to start a different machine-based movement, instead of actually controlling the machine.
     
    Assessing Stride Variability: The Zero Runner mimics the infinitely variable path your feet might follow if you were running free form, but it takes some getting used to. Unlike other cardio equipment, there’s no resistance or incline or on-board programs that change the intensity of the workout. Panelists said the Zero Runner’s long-stride felt like running, while its short-stride simulated walking more than stepping or climbing.
     
    Special Features: Octane’s SmartLink app wirelessly connects an iPad device to the Zero Runner to provide data tracking and customized workouts. There’s also an array of built-in programs, including cross-circuit ones that allot time for off-machine exercises; anchors on the machine make it easy to attach resistance bands for strengthening exercises. Includes a chest-strap heart rate monitor.

    What Our Panelists Say About Zero Runner

    How it Compares to Actual Running. Opinion was sharply divided. A select group of panelists thought the movement felt natural, with a nice range of motion throughout the entire gait. But there were those who found it difficult to establish and maintain a consistent running motion and never got comfortable with the movement pattern. And most panelists found it particularly difficult to increase running cadence, which made for a limited stride turnover rate.

    What They Liked

    • For some, the fluid and natural running motion as well as the variable stride.
    • Simple and easy-to-read display.
    • Especially quiet operation.

    What They Disliked

    • Lack of resistance and traditional programs seemed to reduce the variety of workouts, leaving some panelists under-stimulated.  
    • Feeling of instability with the pedals, especially when stepping onto the machine or standing still on them, like during a water break.
    • Difficulty retaining the movement from session to session

    Ease-of-Assembly: Total time of about 50 minutes, with mostly one person working; a second person was needed briefly to lift the partially assembled frame from the box. A lot of thought clearly went into making the process easy and efficient. You can also pay $150 to have the machine assembled in your home.     
     
    Bottom Line: Our panelists were split over the Octane Fitness Zero Runner. If you love to run but worry about the impact of doing so on a treadmill or outdoors, this machine may appeal to you, since of the three tested machines, it felt the most like running. But there’s a pretty steep learning curve, so you need to be up for the commitment. Panelists who were less athletic or lacked coordination found it particularly hard to acclimate. The fact that exercise is largely self-directed was also a challenge for less experienced panelists.

    Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer with Open Stride, $8,895

    Overview: This is a commercial-grade machine that’s available to consumers, hence its steep price tag. Its design features pedal arms pivoting on two-joint, articulating linkages that hang from the frame by a belt. This configuration provides the two dimensional freedom of motion necessary for a variable stride-length. Stride height adjustments are made using one of two large toggle levers; the other toggle controls resistance.
     
    Assessing Stride Variability: Stride-length can extend to a maximum of 36 inches, the least of any of tested model. However, the “Open Stride” feature lets you adjust the height of the stride cycle from 6.8 to 10 inches. Panelists said the long-stride felt more like an elliptical motion, while its short-stride simulated stepping.
     
    Special Features: Six on-board programs that automatically manipulate resistance. The machine itself is self-powered by an internal generator so no power cord is needed, though an optional one is available. The unique Stride Length indicator is an illuminated pendulum that swings back and forth to indicate the front-most and rear-most extent of your stride length. An on-board transceiver will work with a user supplied chest-strap heart rate monitor.

    What Our Panelists Say About the Precor

    How it Compares to Actual Running. Panelists felt its movements compared more to an elliptical. The motion lacked the impact of a heel strike, though they felt it provided a good workout. It was somewhat difficult to increase the cadence to replicate the turnover experienced in running.

    What They Liked

    • Striding required little acclimation and the moving handgrips were well designed and functional.
    • Extremely smooth, stable, and secure operation.
    • An ease-of-use regarding the controls and the display, which was considered familiar, clear and comprehensive.

    What They Disliked

    • The fact that the Precor generates its own power (no plug required) was a nuisance for some, since it means you have to pedal above a minimum level to activate the display, say when making the initial selections for a workout.
    • Motion was not fully satisfying among some of the panelists, but many panelists found nothing to dislike.

    Ease-of-Assembly: We leased the Precor AMT for this project and so it was delivered pre-assembled. Precor charges its customers an additional $350 for delivery and installation.

    Bottom Line: The Precor had the widest appeal, with 50 percent of panelists saying they’d be “extremely excited” to use it again. They appreciated the conventional on-board programs that adjusted resistance. Basically it functions a lot like other cardio equipment, with an added dimension. The familiar display is well organized and easy to read and the operation is smooth and fun. It works well as a stepper and transitions smoothly into various sized elliptical-like striding patterns, which can be extended into long, loping strides. Though the longer stride does not quite resemble running, the variety of movements and the well-integrated moving hand grips kept panelists stimulated.

    Where to Buy an Alternative Motion Machine

    Octane and Precor sell their alternative motion machines through specialized dealers; go to the manufacturers’ websites to find locations in your area. Currently, NordicTrack only sells its machines on its website. That's another knock against NordicTrack, since, as with all cardio equipment, we recommend you try out alternative motion machines in person before making your final purchase. Lastly, bear in mind that alternative motion machines have a large footprint and tall frames, so you may need 8 or even 9 feet of ceiling height.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Financial Elder Abuse Costs $3 Billion a Year. Or Is It $36 Billion?

    Financial elder abuse—broadly defined as the illegal or improper use of the funds, property, or assets of people 60 and older by family, friends, neighbors, and strangers—costs older people and their families billions of dollars. But how many billions? That's subject to debate.

    When Consumer Reports recently reported on elder financial fraud, Lies, Secrets, and Scams: How to Prevent Elder Abuse, we used the number $3 billion. It comes from a study published in 2011 by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, in collaboration with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Geronotology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. We rounded up from that study's estimate of $2.9 billion annually (see page 2 of the download).

    The MetLife study's methodology involved reviewing news articles mentioning elder financial abuse committed by strangers; family, friends, and neighbors; and the business sector, as well as Medicaid and Medicare fraud. 

    We chose that figure because a number of experts we interviewed thought it was a credible figure. But they—and an author of the study—admitted to us when we first reported it a couple of years ago that the figure probably represents the tip of the iceberg. The figure is probably far larger than that.

    Other, Much Higher Estimates

    At the other end of the scale, TrueLink, a company that provides account-monitoring software for elders and their families, has projected that financial elder abuse costs families more than $36 billion a year, 12 times the MetLife estimate. TrueLink arrived at its estimate by surveying family caregivers of older people. TrueLink CEO Kai Stinchcombe says that abuse committed by strangers—the main topic of our article—is more than $29 billion.

    The TrueLink study used a broad definition of financial elder abuse. It included exploitation (about $17 billion), in which fraudsters operate openly, claiming victims' consent; examples are quack weight loss or dietary products, work-from-home schemes, hidden shipping and handling or subscriptions, and misleading financial advice. It also included a loss of $12.76 billion from criminal fraud (anonymous con artists and identity thieves), and $6.67 billion from abuse by caregivers: family members, and others exploiting a trusting relationship.

    These figures were compelling, especially given that TrueLink consulted experts from the respected Financial Fraud Research Center at the Stanford Center on Longevity. When I spoke with Martha Deevy, director of the center's financial security division, however, she noted that she and her colleagues didn't write the survey. "We gave them input regarding how to frame the questions," she said. "We believe the challenge with the TrueLink numbers was the way they extrapolated and generalized across the population and think that should have been questioned in a peer-reviewed journal."

    On the other hand, Deevy noted, the MetLife results may have been too conservative. "I think they leaned on the pieces of evidence they could authentically count," she said. "But people misrepresent how much they lost. A large percentage of victims are not reporting at all."

    A problem with both estimates, Deevy says, is that there's no standardized way to define fraud types. She and her colleagues are working on a taxonomy that she hopes will be used by all professionals who deal in the field, including researchers; law enforcement; consumer protection advocates; and adult protective services workers.

    More on Financial Elder Abuse

    Combine the dilemma of defining financial elder abuse with widely divergent estimates of incidence, and you've got a crime that's difficult to put one's statistical hands around. The Investor Protection Trust says the likelihood that a senior has been financially victimized is 1 in 5. Another recent estimate, published last year in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, puts the figure at 4.7 percent of seniors, about 1 in 20. Any way you look at it, that's a lot of older people who have or will fall victim of financial fraud.

    Another reason for the discrepancy in estimates is the myriad sources of data. There are many different places where seniors and their caregivers can report fraud, including AARP's Fraud Watch Network (877-908-3360); the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans; FTC; Senate Special Committee on Aging, local police, and local Adult Protective Services offices through the National Center on Elder Abuse. No central database on elder fraud has yet compiled and crunched all the numbers.

    And of course, many people don't report the crime at all. The FTC says 1 in 24 financial elder abuse crimes ever get reported, while a study done in New York State in 2011 said it's 1 in 44. (See, there's even a discrepancy there!)

    A Big, Amorphous Number

    When we finally had to pin down a number for our headline, we ended up going with the more-conservative figure from MetLife, rounding up to $3 billion. Though the article focuses on financial exploitation at the hands of strangers, the headline encompasses abuse by all types of con artists, including family members and people the senior knows. When discussing stranger-initiated abuse, we couldn't arrive at a figure that made sense to us. Experts I consulted through a listserve used by professionals in the elder-abuse prevention and treatment community couldn't agree on a figure themselves. However, several professionals I interviewed said they were comfortable with saying it was in the "billions."

    The point of this difficult exercise is that no really one knows how big the problem is. But clearly, it's huge. And until seniors feel comfortable reporting their victimization—and there's a standard way to define it and a central place to report it—we'll never know the total impact. Here's hoping that day comes, so the individuals working to help victims and prevent the crime can get the attention and resources they deserve.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Appliance Delivery Do’s & Don’ts

    When replacing your washer and dryer don't assume that the new machines will fit in the same space as the old pair, especially if it's tight. Washers and dryers are getting bigger and bigger as manufacturers add capacity. Of course, you can still find standard-sized machines so take your tape measure to the store when you shop. Here are five things to know about moving in new machines.

    Check all dimensions. Even washers and dryers that are 27 inches wide can be taller or deeper than your old machines. That’s important if there are cabinets or shelves over the washer or dryer, or if it needs to fit in a closet or behind doors. Many large- and jumbo-capacity machines are 2 to 3 inches wider, which could add an additional 6 inches for the pair.

    Leave room behind machines. When measuring the space you have to work with, allow room behind the dryer for the vent and behind the washer for the water-line connections.

    Measure all doorways. The machines will need to fit through the front (or back) door into the house and any doorways or stairwells on the way to the laundry room.

    Don’t forget the pedestal. Tally the height of the machine plus pedestal, especially if you plan to install your appliances below cabinets or shelves.

    Not all washers and dryers can be stacked. Though most front-loaders we test can be stacked with a dryer, the actual height of the combined units can vary slightly depending on how the dryer attaches to the washer. So check with the salesperson or look online at the models’ specs. With that height in mind, will you be able to reach the dryer controls and inside the drum?

    The best matching washers and dryers

    Find washer and dryer duos in which both machines were top-performers in Consumer Reports' tests of washer and dryer pairs.

    This article also appeared in the November 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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    The People Speak Out on Volkswagen Dieselgate

    Volkswagen was recently caught cheating on emissions tests, involving nearly a half-million diesel cars in the United States and about 11 million vehicles worldwide. The implicated diesel models produce far more harmful emissions than legally permitted. As a result, many owners are taking to the Internet to voice their concerns and frustrations over Volkswagen Dieselgate.

    Scouring the Consumer Reports social channels, including our stories platform and Facebook, we find several key themes repeating:

    Common Social Themes

    • Passion. Many owners are quite enthused about their cars, often citing choosing a VW TDI over a Toyota Prius for the superior driving dynamics and sense of community.
    • Betrayal. Consumers bought the cars for fuel economy and saw appeal in the “clean diesel” marketing.
    • Concern for unknown future costs and risks to current owners.
    • Wonder at how this situation was allowed to occur and what VW executives were thinking.
    • Anxiousness over whether VW will compensate owners and what that reimbursement may be—or whether any settlement will merely fund regulatory fines and pay plaintiff lawyer fees.

    The feedback via our stories platform is quite moving. There are many personal accounts of people buying a Volkswagen TDI for its efficiency, engaging dynamics, and low emissions. Many owners are dedicated environmentalists, with some even being employees of the National Park Services.

    Among the submissions, here are a few highlights from TDI owners:

    “The most important point to my mind is that VW has dumped countless tons of NOx into the atmosphere. This has undoubtedly contributed to negative health impacts around the world.”

    “In short, I feel betrayed. They lied to me, both directly (via ads and claims about the emissions by dealers) and indirectly (via the cheat used to trick the EPA). They've dumped pollutants into the atmosphere that my family, my friends, and I breathe. They've also made me an unwitting and unwilling accomplice in their environmental crime.”

    “I really don't want this fix to make my car sluggish or to get lower fuel mileage since that's the reason I chose it.”

    “I cannot reason in my head why they would do this. Especially because of the loyalty they have with the TDIs. It kind of makes me sick. I am not sure if I will come back to VW after this. It really will depend on how they choose to rectify this scandal. For them to make this right for me, they will need to make a fix that will not affect the performance or fuel mileage of my car.”

    “So when ‘dieselgate’ broke it was disheartening in the same way it would be if you discovered your best friend was committing fraud. I want to forgive, but there are trust issues now. Beyond that, I'm genuinely concerned about the future of my TDI. I'm not concerned about resale value so much as I am about the car's performance after a recall. What will my mpg be?”

    “I can assure you I will never buy one again or ever recommend one.”

    “This is a corporate atrocity like no other. VW worked to commit this crime. Someone needs to go to jail.”

    A contrarian view:
    “I think the EPA should lower its standards to meet the VW engine spec. At least until the rest of the world cleans up its act. I feel betrayed by the EPA.”

    Uh, right.

    Interestingly, through the many impassioned tales of duplicity, owners were peeved at being sold a “clean” car that turned out not to live up to the promise. Yet the ask from consumers was often for a self-serving refund or other financial compensation—rather than an action to offset the environmental impact, such as planting a tree per car, or using any assessed financial damages to fund carbon offsets or to further alternative energy research.

    Share your thoughts on the Volkswagen dieselgate below, or click over to ConsumersUnion.org to share a longer-form story.

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    New TiVo Bolt Seems Like a Binge-Watcher's Dream

    Love watching TV shows without commercials? Then you might be interested in the new TiVo Bolt, an all-in-one DVR with a mode that lets you zip through advertisements with the press of a single button.

    In fact, the new player seems to be all about speed. Not only does it rocket you through commercials—one at a time or an entire block—using SkipMode, it also has an innovative QuickMode, which the company claims wisks you through recorded shows up to 30 percent faster without causing any audio sync issues. Imagine watching a replay of the Academy Awards, for example, in less than three hours—all without missing a word.

    Like other TiVo models, the distinctively angled Bolt box offers multiple sources of content—cable, video on demand, over-the air (via an antenna) broadcasts, and streaming—with universal search capability. It can also record up to four shows at once. And its HDMI 2.0 output makes this the first TiVo to support 4K video content.

    The SkipMode ad feature frees you from repeatedly hitting a 30-second skip button or futilely trying to pull your finger off the fast-forward button precisely at commercial's end. For now, though, it's somewhat limited. It only works with recorded programs from specific providers—TiVo says that includes the top 20 most-watched networks—and (unlike QuickMode) it's not offered at all on sports programs. To see if a show is skip-enabled, look in your My Shows folder, where titles will be listed with skip icons beside them.

    The TiVo Bolt will start appearing in stores October 4th. It's already available online at TiVo, Amazon, and Best Buy. It comes in two flavors: The 500GB hard drive model costs $300 and the 1TB version is priced at $400. Both include one year of TiVo service, which currently costs $150.

    TiVo says it will offer a few updates this fall, including the ability to create a personalized "what to watch" screen based on your hobbies and interests, and a social sharing feature that provides links so your friends can watch the same show as you.

    The TiVo Bolt replaces the basic TiVo Roamio model in the company's lineup, but the other Roamio models will still be offered.

    The pursuit of commercial-free TV is nothing new, of course. More than two decades ago a company called Arista introduced a product called Commercial Brake that let you skip past ads on your VCR, and more recently the AutoHop feature on Dish's Hopper DVR offered auto ad-skipping on some recorded shows. We can't say for sure if this new one is a step forward until we've actually tested the TiVo Bolt.

    In comparison to the Roamio DVRs, however, the Bolt has a faster processor, improved Wi-Fi (it supports 802.11AC), and more memory, so we imagine it will operate more quickly. If you decide to get a TiVo Bolt, let us know what you think of it, and how well the commercial skip feature works.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    New Credit Cards With EMV Chip Aim to Reduce Fraud

    It's the beginning of the end for swipe-and-sign card payments. 

    Over the past year, many credit card issuers have updated their customers' magnetic-stripe-only card with those that have both the stripe and what's known as an EMV chip. (EMV stands for the three companies that came up with the standard: Europay, MasterCard, and Visa.) Now, starting in October, the liability for fraudulent credit card transactions will shift from the credit card issuer to whichever party—the credit card issuer or the merchant—is using the least secure technology.

    For consumers, the rollout will be gradual as merchants begin using new card readers. Instead of swiping your card through a card reader at the cashier (so it can read the data on the card’s magnetic stripe), you’ll insert it until the transaction is complete.

    The card reader will then communicate with the chip inside your card using cryptographic algorithms to authenticate the card. The benefit is that because the data is housed on the chip, it will be much harder for thieves to replicate than it was when it was stored on the magnetic stripe.

    For years, the U.S. had been behind most other nations in card-payment technology. Most other countries have long used chip-and-pin technology, requiring the user to insert the credit card into a reader, and then enter a personal Identification number. (Indeed, it's a process that's long frustrated some Americans when traveling abroad). 

    Meanwhile, American cardholders have still been using a decades-old magnetic-stripe-card technology to make credit and debit purchases. The data stored on these magnetic stripes are unencrypted, easily counterfeited by skimming devices, and have cost credit card issuers—who until now usually bore the cost of the fraudulent transactions—billions of dollars annually.

    The expectation is that the new chip will help reduce fraud. But when there is fraud, it may be the merchant that is liable since many haven't yet upgraded their card-reading machines to read the new EMV chips.

    One thing to realize, though, is that just because your card has an embedded EMV chip doesn't mean its necessarily using true chip-and-pin technology. Many U.S. issued credit cards will instead use what is known as "chip-and signature" technology. So even though you will dip your EMV-ready card into a new card reader, you'll still need to sign for purchases, instead of entering a PIN—a less secure process.

    Unfortunately, even true chip-and-pin transactions can't guard against other types of credit card fraud. According to one industry forecast, online transaction fraud is expected to double over the next three years

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    Production 2016 Tesla Model X Crossover Unveiled

    Tesla Motors has unveiled the much-anticipated Tesla Model X, the crossover iteration of its Model S with notable safety innovations and falcon-wing second-row doors. At an Apple-like California event last night, Founder and CEO Elon Musk also handed out keys to the first Model X owners.

    The Tesla Model X is essentially the Model S hatchback molded into a sleek crossover, carrying with it the latest, most potent electric powertrain and advanced safety features, then adding a few new touches.

    The Model X costs about $5,000 more than comparable Model S versions due to the greater size and body complexity, putting starting prices at about $80,000. Like most new-car roll outs, the Tesla Model X production will initially focus on top-end versions. In this case, Tesla is initially selling versions with a massive 90-kWh battery pack.

    The company eventually has plans to go more mass market with the Model 3 compact sedan—which is targeted for 2018 and should cost close to $35,000—but the pricing on the Model X will definitely keep this vehicle out of reach for most consumers.

    The Model S P85D was the top scorer for performance in our road test, but the reliability of the Model S line is still a big question. We'll have updated data on that front soon.

    Despite the larger heft, tipping the scales at 5,441 lbs., the Tesla Model X promises efficiency close to that of the Model S. The P90 has been given an estimated 257-mile range rating by the EPA, with energy consumption rated at 92 mpg equivalent.

    Like the Model S, the Tesla Model X promises high-level performance—especially for an SUV. The 90D version has a claimed 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds, with the 762-hp P90D version boasting 3.8 seconds. Upgrade to Ludicrous, a mode for maximum acceleration, and that time is reportedly shaved to 3.2 seconds. (Sources for data below are the EPA and Tesla Motors.)

    Tesla Model X 90D Model X P90D Model S P85D Model S 85D Model S 70D
    Range, miles 257 250 253 270 240
    MPGe, combined 92 89 93 100 101
    0-60 mph, sec. 4.8 3.8 3.1 4.2 5.2

    Safety Features

    Musk says that the Model X was designed with an emphasis on safety, declaring an expectation that it will earn five-star ratings in every government test, including front crash, side pole, and rollover. Aiding its safety performance is not only a strong structure, fortified with the large, low-mounted battery pack, but also an inherent benefit of being an electric vehicle—no engine to be pushed back into the passenger compartment.

    The Tesla Model X comes standard with advanced safety features, including high-speed automatic braking and a side-collision-avoidance system that will use the camera, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to monitor traffic all around it. Tesla emphasizes that its over-the-air updates will continue to improve the “autopilot” features, edging the Model X (and Model S) closer to autonomous operation.

    This sort of proactive safety technology is advanced even for the luxury vehicle segment, but these types of innovations have been moving quickly into more mainstream vehicles.     

    Presented as an air quality safety element, Musk showcased the massive HEPA air filter that the Tesla Model X uses to clean the interior air for occupants. Common air filters are about the size of a paperback book; the Tesla filter is scaled more like a car radiator, with about tenfold greater surface area. And it is backed by a secondary air filter. This filter system is configured to not just remove smog, allergens, and bacteria, but it can also scrub ammonia, viruses, hydrocarbons, and sulfur. Musk joked that the Tesla Model X might be just the vehicle for surviving an apocalyptic outbreak—complete with a bio-weapon defense mode.

    Doors That Pay Attention to You

    On the Model S, the retracted handles emerge from the doors with just a light touch to allow entry—although that doesn't always work as planned. The Model X goes a step further by sensing the driver approaching and opening the driver’s door, then closing it once the driver is seated. This  feature looks to avoid any awkward delay experienced with the Model S door handles.

    The most distinguishing feature of the Tesla Model X is its falcon-wing doors that swing upward to expose a giant aperture and allow minivan-like access to the second row.

    Falcon-wing doors open high enough that a tall adult can walk under them without ducking, which is presented as being particularly convenient for assisting children in getting buckled in. The second-row seats motor forward to allow access to the third row.

    Because of how they articulate on two sets of hinges, the falcon-wing doors can open in tight spaces. Tesla demonstrated this ability with a Model X flanked by two vehicles so close together that it would be difficult to walk between them. In a garage, the X senses ceiling height and side obstacles, then moves accordingly to avoid scratching.

    There are some clever uses of space, beyond the “frunk” storage under the hood. For instance, the center console features a smartphone holster that is compatible with all phones, allowing a simple “drop and charge” action. There is room under the second-row seats for storage, with space for a laptop bag or backpack.

    And if you need even more cargo-toting ability, the Model X can tow 5,000 lbs. while transporting seven people. A roof rack would be impossible with these doors but there is an available accessories hitch for bikes, skis, and snowboards that clicks on in seconds and still allows the rear hatch to open.

    Tesla is taking orders for the Model X, with the delivery for new reservations expected in the latter half of 2016. Consumer Reports placed its order three years ago, and we will be begin testing this winter once it joins our fleet. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to Buy Long-Lasting Tires

    Tire buyers prioritize long tread life, as Consumer Reports research continues to show. Likewise, wearing out too soon is also one of the main gripes people have about the tires they already own. Consequently, we invest much time, effort, and money in producing ratings to allow tire shoppers to see how tires hold up over the long haul—regardless what the manufacturer claims. And now, we’ve made the treadwear assessment even more powerful.

    Long tread life adds value and safety by giving you more miles for your dollar and by maintaining resistance to hydroplaning and wet grip. The need for this information is clear. (Read "The Truth About Tire Treadwear.")

    Tire Treadwear Testing

    Since 2005 we have tested over 400 car and truck tire models (excluding winter tires) through our rigorous on-vehicle treadwear test in San Angelo, Texas, on the government’s treadwear course.

    Consumer Reports commissions an outside lab to run this extensive evaluation, driving almost around the clock for over 1,000 miles a day. In between driving shifts, tire tread depth is measured and tires are swapped from vehicle to vehicle. Car and truck tires are run to 16,000 miles and faster-wearing ultra-high performance tires to 12,000 miles. From the measured wear, we can project the expected service life for the tires.

    The testing is expensive and time consuming, but our research shows that when consumers consider changing a brand of tire, it is price, availability, and treadwear warranty that often sway their decision. Our test offers a direct comparison between brands of tires that you won’t find elsewhere.

    Mileage warranties and the government treadwear grades are assigned by the manufacturer, who may choose to be conservative or aggressive to address confidence and marketing concerns. As a result, consumers are not fully empowered to make accurate, direct comparisons from traditional, published information. Further, the treadwear warranties and Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) ratings do not always align with Consumer Reports' comparative tread life test ratings. And that’s where things get interesting…

    To provide you a better sense of how long tires wear, Consumer Reports is introducing a projected mileage in place of the venerable five-point best-to-worst rating system. The projected mileage should be viewed as a comparative tool. Your actual mileage will vary by what, how, and where you drive, along with many other factors, including weather and road texture.  

    Treadwear Findings

    Consumer Reports’ treadwear testing reveals close to half of the 47 all-season and performance all-season tires could be expected to last at least 65,000 miles, and a half dozen could top 85,000 miles or more. Interestingly, long life doesn’t necessarily bring much of a price premium, if any. Michelin was a standout in our latest tests. The three Michelin models we rated all met or exceeded their mileage warranty. But the longest-wearing tire came from Pirelli. We estimate that the Pirelli P4 FOUR SEASONS Plus could last a whopping 100,000 miles.

    Tires That Come Up Short

    Models that our test project will fall short of their treadwear mileage include Continental TrueContact and PureContact (H-, V-speed rating); Sumitomo HTR Enhance L/X (T-, H-, V-speed rating); Kumho Solus TA71 and TA11; Firestone Precision Touring; and Bridgestone Serenity Plus. Those tires carry mileage claims that are 15,000 miles or more optimistic than our test projections. That said, most of these tires should have very good tread life. Biggest outlier: Nokian enTYRE 2.0 with an 80,000-mile warranty. We project it would wear-out in 35,000 miles.

    Official Treadwear Grades Don’t Reveal Much

    The Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQGS) was developed as a consumer information rating program decades ago to describe Treadwear, Traction, and Temperature. Treadwear is based on an index, not mileage. A tire graded 200, should wear twice as long as one graded 100. Some manufacturers low-ball the Treadwear grade to better position a tire in the intended market or just to be conservative, but that leads to problems for consumers trying to gauge how well one tire compares to another. So it’s no surprise that seven tested models had UTQG grades spanning 340 to 700, yet all were predicted to wear-out in 65,000 miles based on our test.

    Bottom Line

    If treadwear is a primary buying factor, refer to our detailed ratings for direct comparisons. But even buying a high-scoring/long mileage tire in Consumer Reports ratings is no guarantee of long tread life without proper maintenance, including monthly pressure checks, wheel alignment, and tire rotation as recommended by the owner's manual.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    8 Products on Deep Discount in October

    Consumer Reports tracks the prices of lots of products all year long, which means we can let you know which month (or, in some cases, months) you can find a deep discount on those items. In October, you'll find deep discounts on bicycles, computers, digital cameras, gas grills, lawn mowers and tractors, patio furniture, summer sporting goods, and winter clothing.

    For the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, also look for deals on indoor furniture, large appliances, and mattresses, says Howard Schaffer, vice-president of merchandising and partner management at Offers.com, a coupon, promo code, and product deal site. "Consider shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, which may match or beat the best deals you can find online to get people into their stores," he says.

    Just keep our usual caveat in mind: Great sales offen occur at the end of a season when inventories are thin, so you may not have a huge selection from which to choose. As a result, it's important to check our buying guides and our Ratings (including our brand reliability data) to make sure you also get a great performing product.

    1. Bicycles

    You'll find a deep discount on bikes in October, because we're approaching the end of the riding season in many places in the country.  

    Shopping tips
    Not sure which kind of bike to buy?
    Narrow your choice to one of the basic types. If you're an avid cyclist, you may prefer a conventional road bike. Looking for a leisurely ride on flat, paved roads? A comfort bike may be more your speed. If you favor rugged trails, a mountain bike might be best.

    Take if for a spin. Before you make a purchase, ride a bike far enough to make sure that the brakes and shifters are easy to use, the fit is comfortable, the gears can go low enough for climbing hills, and the frame and suspension adequately smooth the bumps.

    If you'll be riding with children, we have a guide to bike trailers that will let you take a child on your riding adventures long before she's ready for training wheels.

    And read our bike helmet buying guide to make sure you get the best fit (subscribers can read our bike helmet Ratings).  

    2. Computers

    If you're in the market for a new computer because your old model's performance is sluggish at best, try to beef up its performance first. For example, delete programs you no longer use. If that isn't enough, and if the computer is no more than four years old, add 1GB of memory. Adding memory is an inexpensive and easy way to upgrade your computer.

    If you're running out of hard drive space, burn your music, photos, and videos onto CDs or DVDs, or onto an external drive, and delete them from your hard drive.  

    If that doesn't work and the computer is more than four years old, it's probably time to replace it. Check out our computer buying guide to brush up on the latest features and shopping tips (subscribers can check out our Ratings of laptops and desktops and our Ratings of computer stores). Also watch our laptop buying guide video below.

    Shopping tips
    Pay attention to ergonomics. Especially when you're buying a laptop, try it before you buy it, if you can. The keyboard shouldn't bend under continuous tapping, the touchpad should be large enough so that your finger can cover the span of the screen without repeatedly lifting it, and touchpad buttons should be easy to find and press. Carry the laptop around for a few minutes and make sure it isn't too heavy or too big.

    Think green when you buy. Some computers meet the new Energy Star standard for efficient power use. Energy-use guidelines cover three operating modes—standby, sleep, and running—with systems entering sleep mode within 30 minutes of inactivity. Power supplies also need to operate more efficiently. You probably won't notice much difference in the operation of your computer, but your electricity bill might go down a bit. Look for the Energy Star label on qualified computers.

    3. Digital Cameras

    Whether you're looking for a basic digital camera (simple point-and-shoots with just the features needed for routine shots), or an advanced model (feature-laden cameras that include sophisticated models that let you change lenses), now is a good time to shop. Our buying guide and Ratings of digital cameras give you the details on different models, and infomation on features and brands.

    Shopping tips
    Do your research
    . Buying a digital camera can be confusing. There are hundreds of cameras available at many different types of retail outlets (online and in traditional stores), with prices ranging from $75 to several thousand dollars. Some cameras are small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Others are large and can weigh up to two pounds. Some are easy to use. Others look like you need an engineering degree to operate them.

    Take the next steps. After you consider the type of camera you want and the number of megapixels you need, but before you dive into specific models, be sure to check out our brand profiles, which outline many of the most popular camera product lines and their respective character traits.

    4. Gas Grills

    Sadly, we're approaching the end of the grilling season (even though some of us have been known to clear a path through the snow to do some wintertime outdoor cooking), so you'll find some deep discounts on the stock still in stores.

    Shopping tips
    Think about size.
    Match the grill's cooking area to the number of people you typically feed. Remember, manufacturers might include racks and searing burners when tallying cooking area. Our measurements are based on the main cooking area and how much food it will hold.

    Think about space. Next factor in how much area the grill will take up on your patio or deck. Some of the grills we tested are a whopping six feet wide.

    You'll find more shopping tips in our grills buying guide. (Subscribers can find our recommended models in three different size categories in our gas grill Ratings.)

    5. Lawn Mowers and Tractors

    Even if you don't plan to shop for a mower, you could end up doing so if you own an older model and it breaks. The latest data from the Consumer Reports National Research Center show that push mowers usually aren't worth fixing after four years and self-propelled mowers after five years. Older tractors might be worth repairing, but getting them to and from the shop can add expense.

    Shopping tips
    Consider how you'll use it.
    Most models come ready to mulch, bag, or side-discharge clippings. But mulching or bagging with a riding machine usually requires a kit that costs $50 to $500.

    Check the features and controls before you buy. Most tractors and riders let you speed up or slow down with a convenient pedal instead of a lever. Among self-propelled mowers, Toro models let you vary speed simply by pushing the handlebar, while Hondas let you adjust the ground speed without removing your hands from the handlebar.

    For more tips, read our buying guide; subscribers can also review our Ratings of lawn mowers and tractors.

    6. Patio Furniture

    As the outdoor living season has been coming to an end, patio furniture has been on sale for several weeks now. As a result, inventories in October are likely to be extra thin–but that means you can get a deep discount on what's left. "Patio furniture will likely be marked down anywhere from 50 to 80 percent this month," says Schaffer. Buying the right furniture can help you transform your outdoor space into a place you’ll want to hang out until winter's chill forces you indoors. Some well-made sets are reasonably priced, but you do have to know what to look for in outdoor furniture.

    Shopping tips
    Consider the material.
    For example, choose untreated natural wicker only if it will be protected from the elements. Otherwise go with outdoor plastic wicker. Resin plastic is a good choice for poolside or in salt air, but strong winds can knock lightweight pieces around, so choose sturdy chairs, and ones that are wider, allowing guests to get comfortable.

    Try it out. Before you buy, sit in the chairs and pull them up to the table. Check that the seat height is fine, and your knees don’t touch the table. You’ll want chairs that are roomy with comfortable armrests. Cushions should be well padded, water resistant, and fit well. And be sure the legs of the table don’t get in the way.

    7. Summer Sporting Goods

    The end of warm weather in many places also means the end of peak camping season. Stores like Cabela's and Camping World are looking to move camping inventory and discount prices by as much as 30 to 50 percent, says Schaffer. You can also find huge discounts on summer sporting goods in stores, such as 60 percent off baseball items or 50 percent off golf gear.

    Shopping tips
    Haggle, haggle, haggle.
    In a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of 2,000 American adults about their haggling habits, 89 percent of people who said they haggled received a better price at least once. To increase the odds you can negotiate a better deal, remember that nothing is off limits. You should always be polite. And make sure you know what constitutes a fair price before you start. For more tips on becoming an expert haggler, read our tips on effective bargaining

    Consider consignment. Luxury consignment shops are good places to find first-rate deals on second-hand goods including sports gear any time of year. You might find the deepest discounts, however, on sporting goods at outlets; read our guide to outlet shopping.

    8. Winter Clothing

    A new coat is likely to be one of your bigger clothing purchases if you live in a cold climate, and one of most used items in your closet during the winter. Other winter clothing will also be marked down this month to make way for new winter lines, so the duds on deep discount will be from last year.

    Shopping tips
    Time your purchase.
    Shopping at the right time can save you even more. Kohl's fans, for example, should check out the "Gold Star Clearance" racks, where prices are slashed up to 80 percent on weekend nights. In some stores, shoppers who are 60 years old and older get an extra 15 percent off on Wednesdays.

    At Target, women's clothing is generally marked down on Tuesdays, men's on Wednesdays, and kids' on Mondays. Markdowns at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx usually happen on Wednesday.

    Hit the outlets We've looked over the clothing sold at outlets several times, and we've found most of the goods are good, even if there are some shortcuts taken (like less expensive buttons or fewer stitches per inch) on items made expressly for the outlets to lower the price from regular retail versions. Just look over each piece of clothing carefully to make sure there are no loose threads, tears, or other faults.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Get Ready for Hurricane Joaquin

    In just a matter of days Hurricane Joaquin strengthened from a tropical storm into a hurricane and now residents up and down the Eastern Seaboard are tuning it to see which way the storm turns. While hurricane forecasters consider different scenarios, most agree that Joaquin will produce a lot of rain whether it makes landfall or not. The winds and rain may result in downed trees and power lines or worse. So if you live anywhere near the projected path, now is a good to check the generator you have or consider buying one at your local home improvement store. Consumer Reports found some reliable choices in its latest generator tests. We also have advice on storm preparedness.

    Because installing a stationary generator takes planning and sometimes building permits, your best bet this close to a storm is a portable generator. A small portable generator (3000 to 4000 watts) can power the basics, including a refrigerator, sump pump, several lights, and a television. A mid-sized portable (5000 to 8500 watts) can power those items plus a portable heater, computer, heating system, well pump, and more lights. If you need an even bigger unit, a large portable generator (10,000 watts) can power all those items plus a small electric water heater, central air, and an electric range. Here are the top five picks from our generator tests.

    Best Portable Generators From our Tests

    Don’t Forget the Fuel

    A 7000-watt portable generator will use 12 to 20 gallons of gasoline per day if run continuously for 24 hours. More powerful generators use more fuel.  To be safe, only store gasoline in ANSI-approved containers. To get that fuel you’ll need a dependable car so if you live in a low-lying area that’s prone to flooding, make sure to move your car to higher ground.

    More on Storm Prep

     

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    5 ways a tiny tick can knock you out

    You probably know that Lyme disease is the scourge of the Northeast and upper Midwest. But did you know that most cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are reported in six states that are nowhere near that mountain range?  

    It's important to keep up your guard for tick diseases even now, as ticks can be active as long as temperatures are 40° F or higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Everyone should take precautions, but especially hunters, hikers, and people cleaning up fall leaves.

    One of the best ways to prevent tick bites in the first place is to apply insect repellent. “A lot of people are nervous about using it on their children,” says Christina Nelson, M.D., a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s bacterial diseases branch in the Division of Vector-borne Diseases. “But they’re safe and effective when used appropriately. I use them on my own children and I think they’re important.” Of the repellents Consumer Reports tested, products containing 20 percent picaridin, 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus, and 15 percent deet were top performers.

    Tick diseases are not to be taken lightly. If left untreated, a Lyme disease infection can spread to your joints, heart, and the nervous system. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can become deadly if not treated in the first few days.

    Following are five of the most common tick diseases, where they occur most often, symptoms to watch for, and treatment suggestions from our medical experts.

    Find what really works against bug bites and how to get rid of ticks in your yard.

    Lyme disease

    Spread by: Blacklegged (deer) tick.

    Symptoms: Three to 30 days after a bite, watch out for a red, expanding rash, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

    Where it occurs: The most common of all tick diseases, it causes about 300,000 illnesses every year, mostly in these 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    Treatment: Patients treated with certain antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil.

    Anaplasmosis

    Spread by: Blacklegged (deer) tick and western blacklegged tick.

    Symptoms: One to two weeks after a bite, watch for fever, headache, muscle pain, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, cough, and confusion.

    Where it occurs: The states that account for 90 percent of all reported cases are: Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

    Treatment: Anaplasmosis is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for adults and children of all ages and should be used immediately whenever anaplasmosis is suspected.

    Babesiosis

    Spread by: Blacklegged (deer) tick.

    Symptoms: Watch for fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue. Symptoms can start within a week or so but may take somewhat longer.

    Where it occurs: The states that account for 95 percent of all reported casess are: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.  

    Treatment: Babesiosis usually is treated for at least 7 to 10 days with a combination of two prescription medications. 

    Erlichiosis

    Spread by: Lone-star tick.

    Symptoms: One to two weeks after a tick bite, watch for fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches.

    Where it occurs: Most cases are found in Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    Treatment: Ehrlichiosis is a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for adults and children of all ages and should be used immediately whenever ehrlichiosis is suspected.

    Rocky Mountain spotted fever

    Spread by: American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick.

    Symptoms: Two to 14 days after a tick bite, watch for fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days.

    Where it occurs: Most cases are found in Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

    Treatment: Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious illness which can be rapidly fatal, even among previously healthy individuals, if not treated in the first few days of symptoms. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for adults and children of all ages and should be used immediately whenever this disease is suspected.

    —Sue Byrne (@SueCRHealth)

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    Best Blenders for $100 or Less

    Blenders don’t make a ton of news, but when they do it’s usually a pricey, high-performance model that nabs the headline. “Will the Vitamix Change the Way We Think About Food?” asked Vogue magazine earlier this year. And from Bloomberg News: “Hillary Clinton’s E-mails: Will They Blend?” referencing a popular YouTube series featuring Blendtec founder Tom Dickson. Consumer Reports also talks a lot about high-end blenders, mainly because they tend to perform best in our tests. But what if you can't shell out hundreds of dollars on this small appliance? Our Ratings of nearly 60 blenders includes several models that do the job for $100 or less. Here are three to consider:         

    The Ninja Professional NJ600, $100. The Ninja might have made our recommended list, alongside the $650 Vitamix Professional Series 750 and the $650 Blendtec Designer 725, but for the fact that its pureeing was a shade less uniform (though it's still very good, so you won't have to settle for lumpy leek and potato soup). And when it comes to the more common blender tasks of smoothies and icy drinks, the Ninja was superb, plus it stood up to our tough durability test. Convenience features include easy-to-clean touchpad controls and a removable blade.   

    Black + Decker Fusion Blade Digital BL1820SG-P, $50. This blender is the best bargain in our Ratings—though only if you plan to use it for low-intensity tasks, like blending fresh-fruit smoothies or mixing up milkshakes. The Black + Decker was less effective in our ice crush test and it couldn’t pass our durability test, which involves crushing ice 45 times. Like the Ninja, it features easy-clean touchpad controls and a removable blade. It also has a glass jar, which some consumers prefer because the material is less susceptible to staining than plastic.   

    Waring Pro PBB225, $100. Waring, which introduced the first blender in America back in 1937, is known for its heavy-duty commercial-grade appliances. For example, there's the $350 Waring Xtreme MX1000R blender, a top pick in our Ratings, and at 14 pounds, also the heaviest. Waring's Pro line is aimed at more cost-conscious consumers. Of the handful of blenders from the line that we tested, the Waring Pro PBB225 fared best, producing a very good pina colada and a superb soup puree. Its old-fashioned styling might appeal, though we would have liked to have seen more modern conveniences, including a pulse setting, and easier-to-read measurement markings.

    Spending less doesn't impress. While this trio of budget blenders delivers solid performance, spending less can also yield seriously subpar results. For example, the $40 Hamilton Beach Power Elite Multi-function 58148 was poor at pureeing and crushing ice and only so-so at making smoothies. We were also unimpressed by the Rival 6-speed RV-928, even with its headline-worthy price of $20.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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