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    Best Gift Baskets for the Holidays

    Gift baskets have earned a reputation as a holiday present you give when you’ve run out of ideas. And that’s unfortunate because gift baskets can be a pleasure to receive, even if not every last item hits the spot.

    Not that ordering one will be a snap. Many vendors offer dozens of baskets, boxes, and towers. What do people really want in gift baskets? And which assortments offer the best quality? We wanted to know, so we did what any reasonable organization with its own in-house survey department and expert sensory testers would do. We asked, then we tested.

    Specifically, we recently conducted a nationally rep­re­sen­ta­tive survey of 1,024 adults to ask what they would most like to find in a gift basket. The winner by a long shot was fresh fruit, followed by a trio of vices: chocolate, cheese, and wine. (See the breakdown in "Fruits of Our Labor," below.)

    We shopped 20 of the top gift-basket companies to find ­offerings that most closely match the variety of treats that our survey respondents said they were most eager to ­receive. We then picked four gift baskets and ordered two samples of each (because contents—and price—can vary or be customized).

    Then our testers had an early holiday feast with the gift baskets—Golden State Fruit Grand Abundance Wine and Fruit Gift Basket, Harry & David Deluxe Favorites, GiftTree The Premium Selection, and Wine Country Eastpoint Cellars Wine and Fruit Collection.

    Here’s what we found:

    Looking to save money and time this holiday season? Check our hoiday gift guide.

    Comparing the Gift Baskets

     

    Golden State   Fruit Grand Abundance Wine and Fruit Gift Basket

     

    Harry & David
    Deluxe Favorites

     

    GiftTree
    The Premium Selection

     

    Wine Country
    Eastpoint Cellars Wine and Fruit Collection

     

    Cost

    $140 to $145

     

    $127 to $130

     

    $148

    $128

     

    Fruit

    3 to 4 pears, 2 to 3 oranges

    8 pears

    1 to 3 plums, grapes, 2 to 3 peaches, 4 bananas (one basket), 2 to 3 pears, 3 to 4 apples, pineapple (one basket)

    3 apples, 3 pears, 5 oranges

    Chocolate

    5 squares of chocolate, 4 chocolate-covered salted caramels (one basket

    6 truffles, 2 ounces of milk-chocolate mini-mints, 6 ounces of chocolate-covered cherries 

    1 ounce of almond bark, 2 ounces of caramel crisp

     

    1 ounce of chocolate caramels

    Cheese

    8 ounces of sharp Italian

    4 ounces of cheddar

     

    8 ounces of cheddar

     

    6 garlic-and-herb cheese wedges

     

    Wine

    1 bottle (chosen from 4 white and red)

     

    1 bottle (chosen from 15 white and red)

    2 bottles (red and/or white)

    2 bottles (1 red, 1 white)

    Other

    Other 4 triangles of baklava (one basket), crackers, salted ­cashews or rosemary almonds

    5 ounces of raspberry galettes, 10 ounces of Moose Munch, 10 ounces of pepper-onion relish

     

    4 ounces of crackers, 4 caramels, 5 ounces of biscotti, 3 ounces of wafer cookies

    1.5 ounces of fruit and nuts, 1 ounce of hard candy, 3 ounces of brownie cookies, 1 ounce of shortbread, 3 ounces of wafers

    Results

    Some of the pears were overripe, but the oranges were tender, juicy, and sweet. The chocolate, crackers, and nuts were flavorful, and the caramels were buttery. You can select one of four wines; we tried the 2013 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and a 2012 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were Very Good, although the cab might have improved a bit with age.

    The pears ripened to a quality that Harry & David is known for. Truffles and mini-mints were decent; cherries tasted more cherry than chocolate. The Moose Munch and cookies were good, the relish delightfully spicy, and the cheese sharp and flavorful. One basket had a tasty but unbalanced 2012 Harry & David Vineyards Merlot, the other a 2013 Harry & David Vineyards Chardonnay, which was short on fruit.

    Except for the bananas and grapes, the fruit was just okay. Baskets vary depending on location. One included items (such as Pepperidge Farm cookies) easily found in grocery stores. The almond bark and cheese were delicious. One basket had a Very Good 2013 Dreaming Tree Chardonnay Central Coast. The other wines—2014 Cloud Break Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Poggio San Pietro Toscana Rosso, 2012 Primal Roots Red Blend—were Good.

    The fruit quality varied; oranges were best. The caramels had little flavor, and the cheese tasted processed and slightly sour. Some cookies and crackers were stale. One basket had Very Good wines—a 2013 Eastpoint California Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2013 Eastpoint Central Coast Chardonnay. The other had the same wines, but the cab was from a less-impressive vintage.

    Wine Rating

    Very Good

    Good

    Good to Very Good

    Good to Very Good

    Food Rating

    Very Good

    Very Good

    Good

    Good

    Fruits of Our Labor

    Our national survey gave us a detailed picture of the country’s gift-basket favorites. To show what that looks like with real food, treats, and wine, we went shopping. With $100, we went to Wegmans (a Consumer Reports top-rated supermarket) in Woodbridge, N.J., plus a few specialty shops, and ended up with a great big grocery bag of goodies. America, here’s your gift basket! (A basket and shipping will cost extra.)

    This article also appeared in the December 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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  • 11/13/15--05:59: Best new car deals
  • Best new car deals

    A great price isn't necessarily a good deal if the vehicle doesn't measure up, so we help you choose a good car at a good price with monthly list of best new car deals. The featured vehicle highlighted below has an attractive incentive that can save you extra money, and it is recommended by Consumer Reports, as are all models detailed below.

    Other trims on the vehicles listed may also present good deals. Although incentives all eventually expire, they are often renewed. Research ratings, reliability, owner satisfaction, and the latest dealer pricing on our car model pages

    See our full list of this month's best new car deals below. 

    Click here to receive an RSS feed with the latest car news and deals.

    2016 Chevrolet Impala

    One of our top-rated sedans, the Impala is roomy, comfortable, quiet, and enjoyable to drive. It even rides like a luxury sedan, feeling cushy and controlled. Engine choices include a punchy 3.6-liter V6 and an adequate 2.5-liter four-cylinder, both paired with a six-speed automatic. The V6 accelerates and brakes capably, with secure and responsive handling. The full-featured cabin stays very quiet, with a sumptuous backseat and a huge trunk. Controls are intuitive and easy to use, but rear visibility is restricted. Advanced electronic safety features are readily available.  

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ $36,365 $35,121 11/30/2015 5%+

    Get dealer pricing information on more than 1,100 models.

    Small cars

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Chevrolet Sonic Sedan LT $18,420 $18,069 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Chevrolet Volt LT $33,995 $33,332 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Elantra SE $19,085 $18,655 11/30/2015 10%+
    2016 Kia Forte LX $18,525 $17,986 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Kia Soul + $20,015 $19,202 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Toyota Corolla LE Plus $19,900 $19,153 11/30/2015 5%+

    Sedans

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP (+)
    2016 BMW 328d xDrive $42,845 $40,595 11/30/2015 10%+
    2016 BMW 328i $39,345 $37,375 11/30/2015 10%+
    2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6L AWD Luxury $56,280 $54,069 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ $36,415 $35,171 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Chevrolet Malibu Limited 1LT $24,710 $24,114 11/30/2015 10%+
    2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE $25,045 $23,947 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium $31,815 $30,084 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Honda Accord Sedan LX CVT $23,725 $21,996 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Azera Limited $40,195 $37,882 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Equus Signature $62,450 $59,029 11/30/2015 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Sonata 2.4L SE $22,585 $21,920 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Toyota Camry XLE $27,145 $25,632 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE $30,975 $29,533 11/30/2015 5%+

    SUVs

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 BMW X3 xDrive28i $41,945 $39,770 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Buick Enclave Leather AWD $46,585 $45,215 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Chevrolet Traverse AWD 1LT $36,900 $35,820 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 GMC Acadia AWD SLT1 $43,945 $42,654 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T $33,895 $32,501 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD $34,595 $33,193 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Nissan Rogue AWD SV $26,925 $25,780 11/30/2015 5%+
    2016 Volvo XC60 AWD T6 $43,645 $41,586 1/4/2016 5%+

     

    Minivans

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Honda Odyssey EX-L $36,805 $34,051 1/4/2016 10%+

    Sports Cars

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 BMW M235i $45,145 $42,715 11/30/2015 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Veloster $19,935 $19,440 11/30/2015 15%+

    Wagons

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL $28,045 $26,805 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Toyota Prius v Three $28,895 $27,876 11/30/2015 5%+
    Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service

    When buying a car, in addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of 10,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information and a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

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

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    Holiday Countdown: 6 Things to Do Now to Get Your Home Ready

    Getting ready for the holidays may seem like an overwhelming job but it doesn’t have to be. The experts at Consumer Reports have broken down a typical holiday to-do list into little jobs to tackle over the next few weeks. If you start right now, you won’t be scrambling to get stuff done at the last minute. As part of your holiday countdown, here are six things you can do in the coming weeks to ease your way into the season.

    Light up entrances

    Double check that doors and pathways are amply lighted, especially if you usually use the side or back entrance. For porches and posts, we recommend the Cree 9.5-Watt (60W) A19 Warm White Dimmable LED, $8.50. It warms up fast, works in enclosed fixtures, and works with timers, photo cells and motion sensors. For security lights, consider the Great Value 90W PAR38 LED Soft White Non Dimmable, $22, sold at Walmart, which was a winner in our lightbulb tests. Or you can pay more for the TCP 17W PAR38 Flood LED, $40, if you prefer a bulb that that works with a timer,  photo cell, and is motion sensitive.

    Inspect your appliances

    It might take a few weeks to repair a major kitchen appliance or get a new one, so now’s the time to make sure yours aren’t about to conk out. A cold oven could be the result of an iffy circuit board or igniter switch, and inoperable burners or elements could be caused by a bad receptacle. If your range is beyond repair, check the results of our range tests. You’ll find some top-performers at good prices including our top-rated electric smoothtop, the LG LRE3083SW, $800. For gas, consider the affordable Kenmore 74132, $700.

    Get money- and time-saving tips in our 2015 holiday guide.

    Consider buying a freezer

    A separate freezer can store frozen cookie dough, stock, and other make-ahead stuff, saving time during the holiday crunch. And throughout the year, it can lighten your food budget by providing storage for bargain bulk purchases. Upright freezers take up less floor space, and many self-defrost, so you won’t need to thaw out the unit. Our freezer testers’ pick: the Frigidaire FFFH21F4QW, $830. Chest freezers typically cost less, offer more usable space than uprights, and are less likely to cause freezer burn. We like the Frigidaire FFFU17M1QW, $700.

    Sharpen your knives

    Sharp blades make all of the chopping, slicing, and carving to come faster and safer. You can use the honing steel that came with your knife set or go for a professional sharpening, which can cost $5 or less per blade. Need some new knives? Two top knife sets from our tests are the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Professional “S,” $315, and Ginsu Chikara, $75. The knives in these sets are available as individual pieces, so you can buy only what you need.

    Fireproof your home

    If you burn wood fires in your fireplace, an annual checkup is a must. The nonprofit Chimney Safety Institute of America can steer you to a certified sweep, who will probably charge $150 to $300. Also remember to extinguish candles when leaving a room or before going to bed at night.

    Arm the alarms

    Your home should have a smoke alarm on each level and in all bedrooms and hallways. In our smoke alarm tests, dual-sensor models quickly detected fast, flaming fires as well as smoky, smoldering ones. We recommend the dual-sensor First Alert 3120B and Kidde PI2010, both $30. You should also keep a full-floor fire extinguisher on each level of your home, plus a supplemental one in the kitchen.

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

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    What to Know When Buying a French-Door Refrigerator

    Sleek design, easy access to fresh-food items, abundant innovations, and more have helped make French-door bottom-freezers the most popular refrigerator configuration. But if you’re making the switch from a top-freezer or side-by-side refrigerator, be aware that French-door refrigerators have a few drawbacks. They’re not deal breakers, but knowing them before you buy could help ward off buyer's remorse. 

    Less vertical storage
    Storing upright bottles of soda or magnums of white wine is no problem for most top-freezers or side-by-sides. But it could be hard to do in a French-door refrigerator, since the fresh-food shelves tend to be closely stacked, reducing the amount of vertical storage. Many French-door refrigerators, including the LG LFXS32766S, $3,600, come with split shelves, whereby one section slides out of the way, allowing for the storage of taller items on the shelf below.

    Even with that feature, you might have trouble storing a large pot, Dutch oven, and other oversized items in a French-door refrigerator. The upside is that you get more horizontal space for catering trays, pizza boxes, and other wide items.  

    Higher price
    The price tag on French-door models might surprise you, especially if you haven't bought a new refrigerator in a while. Most of the three-door models on our list of recommended refrigerators cost $2,000 to $3,000, while many top four-door models start around $3,000; some cost north of $5,000.

    A handful of French-door refrigerators sell for less than $2,000, including the $1,500 LG LFC24770ST and the $1,800 GE GNE29GSHSS. But if you want to spend less than $1,000, you’ll have to go for a conventional bottom-freezer, such as the $950 Kenmore 69313, or a top-freezer, including the highest-scoring model in that category, the $950 LG LTCS20220S

    External dispensers can be repair-prone
    Many French-door refrigerators come with a through-the-door ice and water dispenser. But icemakers are a common failure point on refrigerators, so models with an ice dispenser tend to be more repair-prone than those without it. Check our refrigerator reliability data (available to subscribers) to find an icemaker-equipped refrigerator from a brand with a lower repair rate.

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

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    Vizio Sued for Smart TV Data Sharing

    With more devices now connected to the Internet, security and privacy issues are on the rise. But the latest news—that someone was able to hack a Vizio smart TV and gain access to a user's home network—again raises the issue of how safe smart TVs and other Internet-connected devices really are. And now a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Vizio alleging that its use of data from smart TVs violates both federal and California state law. 

    Earlier this year, Consumer Reports and others reported that TVs with embedded microphones and cameras—including those from LG, Samsung, and Vizio—were collecting and sharing user data on a fairly massive scale. Our conclusion at that time was that the automatic content recognition technology built into these smart TVs, which send out the data to third-party companies, meant that millions of smart TV owners could have inadvertently left an extensive data trail chronicling months, if not years, of their TV-watching history on the servers of companies they’ve never heard of. (If you do have a smart TV, we also published an article that tells you how to turn off the snooping features on your smart TV.)

    The new lawsuit alleges that the data Vizio collects and shares on its customers' television viewing habits is insufficiently protected, allowing marketers to identify the customers by name. According to the complaint, this violates the Video Privacy Protection Act, a law dating to the 1980s that restricted video-rental companies from sharing information on what its customers were watching. The law has been applied in a number of cases in the digital era. The suit also alleges that consumers were misled about how their data would be used, in violation of several California statutes.

    The lawsuit was already being prepared when Vizio came under intense scrutiny this week after researchers at security firm Avast discovered that the TVs themselves were vulnerable to hackers. 

    The Internet Of Things

    Ars Technica has a fairly detailed explanation of the security issues uncovered by the Avast security team. The flaw allows what is called a "man-in-the-middle" attack—basically, a form of digital eavesdropping in which an attacker secretly intercepts and relays messages between two parties, in this case the smart TV and the third-party recipient of the data. Avast said that hackers could potentially gain access to the user's home network.

    We've reached out to Vizio for its comment, but haven't yet heard back. We'll update this post when we get a response.

    But the issues of security and privacy aren't confined to smart TVs. As more devices become connected to the Internet and each other—a concept generally referred to as the Internet of Things—we expect to see more of these issues arise. Earlier this week another security firm, Kaspersky Lab, tested several common connected devices, including Google's Chromecast streaming media stick, and discovered that flaws in that device could leave a home vulnerable to attackers. (The full story is available on the securelist.com website.)

    If you're concerned about your privacy in an increasingly connected world, check out our article and video, Privacy Tips for the Internet of Things. There's also a broader discussion of what you need to need to know about the connected devices in your home in another article, In the Privacy of Your Own Home.

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

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    Baking Equipment That Hits the Sweet Spot—or Not

    With holiday feasts featured in food magazines, newspaper supplements, and on your favorite food channels, you know it's time to dust off your old recipes or find new ones to try. No matter what you decide to cook this season, you’ll want baking equipment that puts your best food forward. As Consumer Reports found in its tests of baking supplies, some newfangled tools aren’t always an improvement over your tried-and-true bakeware. And some classic cookware is still worth considering.

     

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our Countdown to Black Friday calendar for got top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

    3 Baking Pans That Fell Short

    A brownie pan that makes individual portions, a silicone pan insert that promises to release the grease, and ceramic cookie sheets that claim even browning. Before you replace your old pans with these new ones, see the results of Consumer Reports’ tests.

    Slow-baking ceramic cookie sheets

    We tested two ceramic cookie sheets, from the Pampered Chef, $34, and Hartstone Pottery, $40. They browned cookies about as evenly as air-bake cookie sheets and more evenly than coated sheets, and cookies didn't stick. But in addition to costing more, they're heavy, break when dropped, and baked a bit slower than metal baking sheets. The ceramic sheets also retain heat, making it difficult to quickly cook successive batches.

    No point to the Pyramid Pan

    The infomercial for the Pyramid Pan claims that the silicone insert will prevent “dining disasters” because food rests on the points of the pyramids instead of the pan’s surface. That supposedly allows air to circulate under the food and fats to drip away, leaving food crisp, juicy, and evenly baked. In our tests we cooked a variety of foods including puff pastry appetizers on baking sheets with and without the Pyramid Pan liner. It was nonstick but because the food didn’t make contact with the pan, the tops of the appetizers were golden brown and the bottoms pale and undercooked. Save the $19.95 plus shipping and use nonstick cooking spray instead.

    The not-so-perfect brownie pan

    The Perfect Brownie Pan Set promises to be "the nonstick way to bake, slice, and serve perfect brownies." Using an insert that resembles an ice-cube tray, the pan bakes each brownie separately. Because the bottom of the pan is not attached to the sides. the instructions say you can line the pan with foil or support it with a baking sheet to prevent leaking. A set cost $20 plus $8 shipping and handling. We baked fudge brownies four ways: in an unlined, Perfect Brownie pan; in the pan lined with foil; in the pan on a baking sheet; and in a regular 9x13-inch pan. Our trained taste testers found that brownies baked in a regular pan had better texture and flavor than the Perfect Brownies, which were all underdone to varying degrees, though we baked them 2 to 9 minutes longer.

    Top-Performing Holiday Helpers

    Although the classic KitchenAid stand mixer was overtaken in our tests by another brand, we still highly recommend it. Here are the mixers and ranges that were best for baking in Consumer Reports tests and a handy new item to help spread holiday cheer.

    Stand mixers to stand by

    The Breville BEM800XL, $300, was excellent at whipping cream, mixing large batches of cookie dough, and kneading bread dough. It beat out favorites from KitchenAid and other brands thanks to a bevy of convenience features, including a leaf beater with a flexible edge that scrapes the bowl as it turns and a timer that lets you set your desired mixing time. We also recommend the more familiar KitchenAid Classic, $200, the KitchenAid Professional, $550, the KitchenAid Artisan, $300, and the Hamilton Beach Eclectics, $180. All four were excellent at mixing cookie dough.

    Handy hand mixers

    The KitchenAid KHM926, $100, combines very good mixing power with very good whipping time. Unlike a lot of lesser mixers, it's strong enough to fold chips into stiff cookie dough. It’s also one of the quieter hand mixers we tested, which you’ll appreciate if you’re cooking at odd hours when others may be sleeping. We also recommend the KitchenAid Architect KHM7210, $80, which is even quieter, and a $40 Cuisinart Power Advantage HM-50 that gets excellent mixing scores.

    Best ranges for baking

    Surprisingly, not all ranges get excellent marks for baking in our range tests. Two electric smoothtop ranges, the Kenmore 95052, $1,100, and the GE Cafe CS980STSS, $2,800, were excellent at turning out evenly baked cakes and cookies and had large oven capacities. If you prefer gas, the Samsung NX58F5700WS, $1,600, and the GE PGS920SEFSS, $2,800 had very good baking performance and impressive capacity. For more choices, including pro-style ranges, see our full range Ratings and recommendations.

    A decorative, disposable dish

    Chinet Bakeware nonstick paper pans are “the first disposable baking dishes that let you take your food from oven to table to freezer to microwave,” the product’s website says. The pans, along with plastic lids, come in square, rectangular, and oval shapes, in various sizes. We paid $4.95 per pack, consisting of two or three pans. Our food experts cooked casseroles and brownies in Chinet and in similar-size metal and aluminum-foil pans. Chinet panned out. It’s disposable yet tough and was more rigid than disposable aluminum pans. And you won’t need pot holders when you pick up the heated dish. That said, because the paper bakeware is flexible, the lids may pop off; and the paper seems to extend baking time. Brownies in a metal pan were done in 40 minutes; those in Chinet required 55.

    More holiday gift ideas and tips

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our Countdown to Black Friday calendar for got top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

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

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    2016 Nissan Titan Rocks a Diesel Engine and Upscale Amenities

    It seems that Nissan is stuck in the slow lane when it comes to pickup trucks. Debuting back in 2003, we hardly even remember the Titans. And the compact Frontier truck has seemingly been around since the days of Davey Crockett.

    But for 2016, Nissan is finally introducing a redesigned truck with the all-new Titan, with a twist. The 2016 Nissan Titan will be offered in both half-ton size and XD, for “extra duty.” This new nomenclature describes a Titan engineered to slot between popular half-ton trucks and their commercial-grade, heavy-duty three-quarter ton variants.

    Nissan says there are buyers who need to tow heavy trailers, but don’t want an expensive heavy-duty truck that’s an absolute brute to drive. Properly equipped, the 2016 Nissan Titan can tow more than 12,000 pounds. Like other trucks, there’s a lots of helpful towing gear available, like a built-in brake controller and huge towing mirrors. But what’s innovative here is an integrated goose-neck hitch, standard on XDs, plus the availability of blind-spot monitoring. 

    Behind the Wheel

    We sampled a top-of-the-line XD Platinum Reserve, powered by a Cummins-sourced 5.0-liter V8 turbodiesel. It puts out a strong 310 hp and an absolute crushing 555 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. With figures like those, it is no wonder the engine pulls with confidence. You really only notice the diesel clatter when stopped, although the turbo whoosh is a frequent traveling companion. The Titan will also be offered with gas-powered V8 and V6 engines.

    There’s no confusing this 2016 Nissan Titan with a light and agile sports car, especially with its very slow steering response.

    The ride is firm but considerably more civilized than the typical heavy-duty truck. It’s certainly not as comfortable-riding as a Ram 1500, but it’s not far off of a Ford F-150.

    The Titan also doesn’t mess around when it comes to tough off-roading, easily climbing our daunting rock hill.

    But there’s a softer side, too. The top-shelf Platinum Reserve we drove is very upscale inside, with acres of soft-touch material and finely tailored seats.

    In typical luxury fashion, the front seats are heated and cooled. You also get heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel.

    The controls are quite spread out, but most everything is reachable.

    One interior feature in the 2016 Nissan Titan that’s sure to raise some controversy is the somewhat ungainly shifter mounted on the steering column. This looks old-school, but removing the shifter from the center console frees up more space.

    Indeed, there’s lots of open and covered storage, several cup holders, easily accessible USB and auxiliary ports, and multiple 12-volt outlets. The spacious rear seat can be had with a clever storage system so you can keep valuables out of sight.

    The available rear camera gives a 360-degree view, which you’ll need when backing up this rig.

    The bed has lots of tie-down cleats on tracks to secure cargo. It also offers a power supply and well-placed lights so you can see what you’re doing in the dark. Finally, the tailgate is nicely damped and doesn’t come slamming down when you open it. All bed details are well done.

    Prices for the 2016 Nissan Titan will likely start around $40,000 for the gas-powered V8 XD. The extra-duty model will go on sale in late 2015, with the regular Titan available later.

    Whether or not Nissan can convince truck diehards to part ways with the domestic rivals remains an open question. Certainly Toyota has spent a mint in building a high-tech assembly plant in San Antonio, Texas, in an attempt to makes its Tundra as “American” as possible. However, sales of the Tundra have never been spectacular. (The Titan is also domestically produced, being built in Mississippi.) Despite the solid towing and hauling capabilities of the Titan, Toyota’s dilemma might be keeping Nissan executives up at night.

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

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    5 Family Cars for Holiday Road Trips and Shopping

    The holidays are stressful enough without trying to cram one too many shopping bags into the back of your car—or driving a behemoth that doesn’t leave room to open the doors in crowded parking lots. For power shopping and family road trips, having the right vehicle can make all the difference.

    To ease your holiday stress, we present five family cars with plenty of space, easy access, and pleasant rides for that long trip over the river and through the woods. To ensure these are all truly good cars, we selected these models from those that meet our stringent criteria to be Consumer Reports recommended.

    To earn our recommendation, vehicles must perform well in our testing; have average or better reliability; and perform adequately, if included in crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    Add to that, we consider these roomy cars to be especially family friendly. The vehicles are listed in ascending order of price. 

    Subaru Forester

    Price as tested: $24,145
    Base MSRP price range: $22,395 - $33,795
    It may look like the box that the store clerk wrapped your aunt’s sweater in, but that square, upright back end leaves plenty of room to stack packages. And the tall windows make it one of the easiest new cars in years to see out of as you’re trying to navigate parking lots full of gleeful munchkins. Plus, all Subaru Forester trim lines have a standard backup camera.

    Better yet, the Forester is available with Subaru’s suite of advanced safety systems, called EyeSight, which will automatically apply the brakes if you’re about to run into another vehicle.

    The Forester gets among the best fuel economy for an SUV at 26 mpg overall. That kind of savings will even leave you with enough money to pad the holiday budget. The good mileage comes with a trade-off, though. The continuously variable transmission optimizes engine speed for the best fuel economy, but it also makes the engine wail every time you accelerate hard. Still, there is plenty of power, even from the base 170-hp four-cylinder.

    The interior continues the practical, function-over-form theme. Everything is simple, purposeful, and easy to reach, although the cabin is far from plush. Tall, square doors make it easy to get in and out when somebody parks too close. Controls are very simple, and the infotainment and connectivity systems have finally been updated with an easy-to-use touch screen.

    For about $27,000, you can get a nicely equipped 2016 Forester 2.5i Premium with handy features such as a power driver’s seat and giant sunroof. For about $3,000 more, you get heated leather seats, automatic climate control, and a power tailgate in the 2.5i Limited.

    Read our complete Subaru Forester road test.

    Subaru Outback

    Price as tested: $29,090
    Base MSRP price range: $24,995 - $33,395
    Don’t think of the Subaru Outback as a wagon. Think of it as one of the world’s handiest, most affordable, and thriftiest midsized SUVs.

    Styled like a rugged hiking boot, the Outback exudes adventure. Its backseat is roomier than any small SUVs, and it has as much room overall as any midsized five-passenger model. And although the cargo space may not hold as much furniture as some true SUVs', it can still pack an impressive amount of luggage. Plus, you don’t even have to spend a fortune to get a power tailgate.

    With a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission, the Outback gets 24 mpg overall.

    Like its less-expensive little brother the Forester, the Outback will get you to the trailhead with a minimum of fuss or risk. It offers Subaru’s optional EyeSight system, which incorporates: forward-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and active cruise control.

    The Outback also has a full-featured modern stereo and navigation system, with all models now coming with standard Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free phone connectivity.

    Our well-equipped 2.5i Premium four-cylinder test car cost a tad over than $29,000. And even the fully loaded six-cylinder 3.6R Limited with EyeSight came in cheaper than most six-cylinder SUVs, at $36,485.

    Read our complete Subaru Outback road test.

    Honda Odyssey

    Price as tested: $38,425
    Base MSRP price range: $29,275 - $44,750
    Not only do minivans have lots more room than popular three-row SUVs, most also use less gas. Minivans as a whole are uniquely well suited to transporting people and things.

    In fact, with its six-occupant capacity in the rear seats, and the ability to mount three child restraints side-by-side in the second row, the Honda Odyssey is about the most young-child-friendly vehicle we've tested. And the spacious door openings and cavernous interior make it a cinch to secure children in car seats. Power sliding doors and a power tailgate, along with a lower floor, ease access for anyone to climb in and out of this rig.

    Out on the road, this living room on wheels offers all the comforts of home: DVD player, abundant input and charge connections, triple-zone air conditioning, and on the top trim, an available vacuum cleaner to pick up spilled Cheerios along the way.

    Behind the wheel, the Odyssey feels rather lively, especially compared to typical three-row SUVs. It’s 248-hp, 3.5-liter V6 is delivers plenty of thrust without any fuss, while returning 21 mpg overall.

    Even if you don’t have kids, the interior flexibility afforded by minivans makes it easy to accommodate dinner guests or fit a new kayak or a pair of bikes. Even such awkward cargo just slides right inside. Try that in a small or midsized SUV.

    Read our complete Honda Odyssey road test.

    Kia Sorento

    Price as tested: $38,505
    Base MSRP price range: $24,900 - $43,100
    The Kia Sorento might be the car that’s just right: it’s larger than small crossovers such as the Honda CR-V, but it’s smaller and easier to manage than a Honda Pilot. And what may even appeal to mom the most is that it’s not a minivan. Splitting segments like this allows the Sorento to be city friendly while offering accommodations, storage, and features akin to larger vehicles. For some shoppers, this Goldilocks package lands in the sweet spot.

    The Sorento delivers a comfortable ride, quiet cabin, and reassuring handling—not to mention the peace of mind that comes with driving an SUV deemed a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    While you can choose a Sorento with four-cylinder engines (turbocharged or plain), we think the best powertrain is the V6. With the EX trim, you get nicely trimmed leather seating surfaces, heated power front seats, and automatic climate control. The third row is roomy for younger kids, or folds down to handle a greater haul from a Black Friday sale. And when you're hauling kids and their stuff, those precious extra inches of length and cargo capacity make a huge difference.

    The Sorento's pleasant driving experience and family-friendly functionality have placed it among our highest-scoring midsized SUVs. You might find, in fact, that’s it’s just what you need to get through the holiday rush.

    Read our complete Kia Sorento road test.

    Toyota Highlander

    Price as tested: $39,455
    Base MSRP price range: $29,415 - $49,990
    A roomy, well-mannered SUV primed for traveling to see family and friends is the highly rated Toyota Highlander.

    Drivers will find plenty of space behind the steering wheel. The wide front seats are comfortable, well padded, and provide good support. At first glance, the cabin looks well finished, but a closer look reveals some evidence of cost cutting. Available in different seating configuration, this three-row SUV can take up to seven kids to their favorite sledding hill.

    While not particularly sporty, the Highlander corners soundly, with minimal body lean and prompt turn-in response. A trade-off for improved handling with this generation is ride comfort that's somewhat less plush than in the previous model. The ride excels on the highway, making it well suited to those holiday sojourns.

    For long trips, the fuel economy is a plus. We got 20 mpg overall with the V6 version. And a Hybrid model is available that gets 25 mpg—on par with some midsized sedans. A four-cylinder engine is available only with front-wheel drive. We’d lean toward the 3.5-liter V6 as money well spent since it delivers strong performance and class-competitive fuel economy.

    Overall, the Highlander delivers a well-wrapped package for a family that is on the go year-round.

    Read our complete Toyota Highlander road test.

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

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    Talking Cars on the Pros and Cons of Tesla Autopilot

    The latest episode of the “Talking Cars with Consumer Reports” podcast hits the road again, but this time we have some help with the driving. Our Tesla Model S P85D is equipped with Autopilot, a suite of sensors and programming that can steer the car to keep it within its lane, as well as controlling acceleration and braking.

    We’ve put hundreds of assisted miles on our test car. In fact, Autopilot is one of the reasons we paid $127,820 for this Tesla.

    Steps toward self-driving, like adaptive cruise control and self-steering, aren't uncommon. But Tesla's Autopilot takes the technology to another level, and we wanted to be in a position to put it through its paces.

    It allows for prolonged driver assistance, adding a feeling of relaxed security on long road trips, and it helps take some the drudgery out of stop-and-go traffic. Still, this is not a true self-driving car, and the system is far from perfect. Most importantly, the driver still needs to pay attention and hold on to the steering wheel. (Read “Latest Tesla Model S Software Update Includes Autopilot and a Taste of Autonomous Driving.”)

    Autopilot is a beta-level system, and data from customer cars is transmitted back to the mothership to make the system better for all.

    Indeed, one of the most surprising things about Autopilot is that Tesla owners are willingly taking part in the research and development of a highly advanced system that takes over steering, the most essential function of the car. (Those owners even paid extra - $2,500 at time of purchase - for the privilege.) Compare this approach to that of other automakers who struggle to educate the general public about advanced and relatively-proven safety features like forward-collision-warning and automatic braking.

    The Consumer Reports team discusses Tesla Autopilot and advanced safety in this latest episode of “Talking Cars.” 

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    How to Boost Holiday Safety With Home Automation

    A few days ago I accidentally left my space heater on when I left for work, and then rushed home once I remembered. It seemed smart to be cautious: Many space heaters have new safety features built in, but they still cause one third of house fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.    

    If I installed a few smart devices at home, I'd never have to worry about this sort of thing again. These gadgets include connected outlets that let you turn off your iron or television from anywhere, sensors that tell you if there’s a gas or water leak, and smart hubs that let you control them all from anywhere. Many of these gadgets require almost zero handyman skills and are completely portable. 

    This is a great time of year to be thinking of home automation. As the holidays approach, people start plugging in more devices, from Christmas lights to electric blankets.

    Like my space heater, these should generally be turned off before you leave home, but it's also the season when harried families rush off to visit relatives in distant cities. That leaves lots of opportunities for appliances to remain on and unattended longer than they should. And it makes home automation gear a worthy investment for yourself, or a smart gift for both homeowners and renters.

    One thing to remember: Like other connected devices, all of these home automation products send data across the Internet. Here's where you can learn more about the potential privacy and security concerns.

    Belkin: Quick and Cheap

    Belkin’s WeMo Insight Switch ($59.99) is a smart outlet that gives any normal power outlet an Internet connection. To use the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, you need to download the iOS or Android app, plug in the smart outlet, and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. From there you can set schedules and timers for your Insight Switch (or multiple compatible devices). For example, you can use the Belkin app to tell your Insight Switch to turn your space heater on every weekday at sunset, and off at 6 a.m.

    If you forget whether you shut off a device, you can check on your connected appliances from anywhere your smartphone has an internet connection, making it more useful than similar outlets that you can only control if you’re home.

    Compatible devices, such as Belkin’s wireless cameras, can trigger other connected devices (for instance, the Insight Switch) to turn on or off when someone arrives home, or when motion is detected in a room. Belkin’s WeMo products are best for people who want to monitor one or two devices, or who just want the lights off at the same time every night.

    Insteon: iOS-Oriented Hub

    If you want to keep an eye on more of your home than the Belkin system will allow, you’re going to have to venture into smart hub territory. And Insteon is a particularly good place to start if you’re an Apple fan.

    The Insteon Hub ($79.99) can manage multiple connected sensors from your Windows Phone, iOS, or Android device. To get started, plug the Hub into your router and download the corresponding smartphone app, which lets you set up rules that affect multiple appliances or lights simultaneously. One rule could dim all lights, turn off the television, and lock the front door. You can keep track of all your connected devices by room as well, letting you control every device in the living room without messing with the lights in the kitchen.

    In addition to smart outlets that work much like Belkin’s WeMo Insight Switch, you can pair other sensors to the Insteon Hub to beef up security and safety. Insteon-compatible smoke detectors, motion sensors, water leak sensors, and door-opening sensors can pair to the Hub.

    You can program the Insteon Hub to alert you if motion is detected or a door is opened while you’re away. Water leak sensors can be placed under sinks or near water tanks so you can avoid being surprised by a flooded kitchen or basement, and you can use the smoke detector sensor to unlock all doors and turn on all lights in case of an emergency.

    Insteon also sells the Insteon Hub Pro ($149.99), which only works with iOS devices. It doesn’t support a few of Insteon’s old sensors, but it is compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, letting you control your smart outlets or other HomeKit-enabled devices with Siri.

    When you’re ready to pack up and go to your next home, you can just pick up the Insteon sensors, unplug the smart outlets, and set up shop somewhere new.

    Samsung SmartThings: Versatile Choice

    If you don’t care about telling Siri to turn down the lights, or you have devices that aren’t supported by Insteon, consider Samsung’s SmartThings series of connected devices. Samsung’s SmartThings is similar to the Insteon Hub. Plug the required hub ($99) into your router, download the Windows Phone, iOS, or Android app, and pair your devices. There’s a smart outlet ($54.99) that lets you control appliances anywhere, a water leak sensor ($39.99), and even a temperature and humidity sensor for any temperature-sensitive areas (like the kitchen).

    It’s compatible with a substantially larger variety of products, including sirens, smoke detectors, Philips Hue bulbs, and Sonos speakers. In case of a fire, you can tell your lights to flash red, siren to blare, and speakers to turn off. SmartThings’ multitude of plug-and-play sensors makes it easy to set up or take down anywhere.

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

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    Why You Should Buy an Organic Turkey

    Still deciding whether to buy an organic turkey or a conventionally raised turkey for Thanksgiving this year? Here's one more reason to consider going organic: Turkeys labeled organic are raised without antibiotics, and the overuse of those drugs in raising farm animals is causing big problems in humans.

    About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in industrially produced livestock. Producers administer the drugs to promote growth and prevent animals from getting sick on crowded factory farms. (Read parts 1 and 2 of our series: "The Rise of Superbugs" and "How Your Hospital Can Make You Sick." Plus, check our special report "How Safe is Your Ground Beef?" and antibiotic resistance guide.)

    But the widespread use of antibiotics in farmed animals breeds drug-resistant bacteria that can spread from farms to humans through contaminated food, airborne dust blowing off farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces.

    Experts Are Concerned About Antibiotics in Meat

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made reducing inappropriate antibiotic use a top priority. Doctors are worried, too. Ninety percent of physicians in a recent Consumer Reports poll said they are troubled by the meat industry's use of antibiotics on healthy animals and its effect on human health.

    Concern over drug resistance led several public health groups, including Health Care Without Harm and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, to urge doctors and pharmacists to sign a pledge to purchase a Thanksgiving turkey "raised without the routine use of antibiotics."

    Hospitals are getting in on the action, too. Some 300 hospitals around the country, including the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center and Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont, have taken steps to to stop feeding meat raised with antibiotics to their patients and staff.

    How to Find an Organic Turkey

    If you want to avoid a turkey raised with antibiotics, you need to read labels carefully. Here's what to look for:

    • USDA Organic/No Antibiotics. This is one of the best guarantees a bird didn't receive antibiotics. (Note that under current rules poultry that is labeled USDA Organic may have been given antibiotic injections before it hatched and until its second day of life.)
    • USDA Process Verified. When this label is accompanied by claims like "No Antibiotics Administered" and variations you can buy with confidence.
    • Animal Welfare Approved. Poultry with this label has been raised under healthy conditions that don't include administration of antibiotics. (Birds may only be given antibiotics if they are sick or injured. Non-therapeutic use of antibiotics isn't allowed.)

    Three labels to be leery of: "antibiotic free," "no antibiotic residues," and "no antibiotic growth promotants." Those are all unapproved claims. 

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

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    Ninja Blenders Recalled Due to Laceration Risk

    Ninja blenders feature a unique "stacked blade" assembly consisting of multiple sharp blades mounted at different heights inside the container—or "Total Crushing Technology" as the company calls it. Many Ninja blenders do perform very well overall in Consumer Reports' blender tests. The drawback is that the knife-like assembly isn't anchored in any way to the container, raising the risk of laceration. That's led to the announcement from Ninja that, in accordance with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is recalling a dozen blender models, following 53 reports of injury.

    This recall is different from most in that Ninja isn’t actually telling consumers to stop using their blenders, nor is it issuing a stop sale with retailers. Instead, it's giving customers a revised safety warning.

    Specifically, Ninja owners are being told to “empty the blender’s pitcher through the locked lid’s pour spout, or by removing both the lid and the stacked blade assembly from the pitcher before pouring.”

    Every Ninja blender we’ve tested features the same stacked-blade assembly, including the Ninja Professional NJ600 blender not listed in the recall. A company representative told to us that manuals for all models will eventually be updated with the same safety warning.

    Ninja is the only manufacturer we know of that uses a blade assembly that isn't locked into the container during use. Its blades are also sharper than many other blenders, especially those with a blunt blade assembly that's designed to pulverize food by spinning at high speeds, rather than slicing through it.

    That being said, all blenders can cause injury. Indeed, blender injuries result in thousands of emergency-room visits each year. Many of these injuries occur during washing.

    With Ninja blenders, it’s best to use a dishwashing utensil to avoid direct hand contact with the blades; do the same with blenders with removable blade assemblies. When the blade assembly can't be removed, we advise adding soapy water to the container and running the blender until the container and blades are clean, instead of washing by hand.

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    Why We Like the New Olloclip Smartphone Lens Kit

    There’s a certain thrill in shooting objects up close with a macro lens. One snap and suddenly a coin, a chess piece, a drop of rain, or a caterpillar seems larger than life.

    Traditionally, macro photography required a SLR camera and a specialized lens that could cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars up into the thousands. But recently, smartphone add-on macro lenses have come on the market, and they are affordable enough to serve as a holiday gift or spontaneous splurge.

    Now, a new option from Olloclip provides multiple magnifications that let smartphone owners push further into macro shooting.

    The company is one of several that arm photographers with a range of easy-to-use lenses that clip onto their smartphone cameras. (Competitors include Photojojo and Moment.) Olloclip has already offered macro photography in two magnifications in its 4-in-1 lens kit, which also includes wide-angle and fisheye options.

    But now the company has expanded its arsenal to include a $70 Macro Pro Lens kit that triples down on this kind of photography. The package provides three magnifications: 7x, 14x, and a truly powerful 21x. 

    Tips for Macro Photography

    When you use macro lenses, you get a very shallow depth of field. That means only a thin section of the photo will be in focus. But you can use this to create some dramatic effects. For instance, if you’re shooting someone’s face with a macro lens, you’ll want to make sure the most important features—like, say, the eyes—are in focus. You may need to experiment to see what works best with different shots.

    In the days of 35mm-film cameras, a 1x magnification (or 1:1 ratio) meant the resulting image would be the same size as the real-life object. If you shot a dime, it would look just like a dime. As you moved up to 2x or 3x magnification, you doubled or tripled the size of the object. Suddenly, the word LIBERTY really begins to stand out.

    Instead of a standard 35mm frame of film, though, camera phones capture images on sensors of varying sizes. So one phone may produce different images than another, even with the same Olloclip lens. But regardless of the phone you use, you’ll end up with a dramatic effect.

    Of course, the big benefit of shooting digital is that you can fire off hundreds of photos at a time. Take your time and experiment a lot. Just be sure to back up your smartphone photos—preferably after deleting the ones you don't like.

    Shooting with a macro lens outside can be a challenge, particularly if you’re shooting flowers on a windy day. The slightest hand movement or breeze can alter the focus. So you'll want to keep your phone stable, ideally on a tripod. Sometimes it's better to bring your subjects indoors. In a pinch, though, you can try to block the wind with a large sheet of cardboard.

    Overall, I found the Olloclip kit to work very well. The Macro Pro Lens features an updated design that lines up with the phone’s front- and rear-facing cameras so you can quickly shift from one to the other. The kit also comes with a light diffuser that fits around the lenses and illuminates your subject, which is another nice extra.

    The Olloclip is compatible with most iOS phones and tablets. It's also compatible with some Samsung Galaxy S phones.

    For more tips like these, check out our pieces on how to take great photos with a smartphone and smartphone camera apps.

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

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    Walmart, Best Buy Add Black Friday TV Deals

    Black Friday sales are now well under way, and retailers have now been able to review what types of deals their competitors are offering. As a result, we're seeing a new flurry of deals from several of the major chains.

    Walmart TV Deals

    Walmart has already announced pre-Black Friday deals, and others that kick off Thanksgiving evening. Here are some additional TV deals announced by the the company.

    • A 50-inch Vizio UHD smart TV for $698. We think it's the Vizio M50-C1, since you can buy this set now for this price.  
    • A 50-inch Hisense UHD TV for $548. This is likely the Hisense 50H7GB1, also the same price now. The 50H7GB2 is on Amazon, also for $548.
    • A 60-inch Vizio 1080p smart TV for $728. We think it's an E601i-series set. It could be the E601i-A3, although Walmart has the Vizio E601i-C3 model now for $748. Target has this set for $750.
    • And a 48-inch Samsung 1080p TV for $398. We're not sure about this set; Samsung has a lot of derivative models this year.

    Sound bars
    Walmart will also have an unnamed Samsung sound bar speaker for $78. We think it's the HW-JM25/ZA, which is selling at that price now. There's also a Sony 2.1 system with a wired subwoofer for $98. We don't know the model, but Walmart is selling a Sony HT-CT80 for $138 now.

    Best Buy TV Deals

    Not surprisingly given that it's an electronics store, Best Buy's Black Friday TV additions overwhelmingly outnumber Walmart's. (Here's our initial breakdown of Best Buy's Black Friday deals.) No model numbers were given and links to the ad scans, generously provided by our friends at FatWallet.com, aren't yet working, so we're not sure of the specific models being offered. But we've given our best educateded guesses.

    Here's a list of the extra Best Buy Black Friday TV deals, listed by escalating price:

    • A 24-inch Samsung 720p TV, $130. It could be the Samsung UN24H4000AF, which sells for about $150 normally.
    • A 32-inch Westinghouse 720p TV, $130. It could be the Westinghouse WD32HB1120-C, which Best Buy typically sells for $150.
    • A 40-inch Samsung 1080p TV, $280. This is well below Walmart's price on an unnamed set, though we expect the TVs will not be the exact same model. Our guess is that it's the UN40H5003AFXZA, a basic model normally sold at Best Buy for $330.
    • A 48-inch Insignia 1080p TV, $280. Since Insignia is a Best Buy house brand, we think it's the Insignia NS-48D420NA16 set that usually sells for about $330.
    • A 40-inch Samsung 1080p smart TV, $370. It could be the Samsung UN40H5203AF, a basic smart TV that's selling for $367 now.
    • A 50-inch Samsung 1080p smart TV, $550. If it's the Samsung UN50J6200AFXZA, then it costs $100 more now.
    • A 55-inch Samsung 1080p smart TV, $580. It might be the Samsung UN55H6203AFXZA, from last year, but we can't find it available online.
    • A 55-inch LG UHD smart TV, $700. If it's the LG 55UF6800, there's about a $200 savings.
    • A 50-inch Samsung UHD smart TV, $800. Our guess is that it's the Samsung UN50JS7000FXZA, which you can get now for the same price.
    • A 65-inch LG UHD smart TV for $1,000. We're not sure of the model.
    • A 55-inch Sony UHD smart TV for $1,200. There are less expensive Sony UHD TVs now, so we think it's the Sony XBR-55X850C, which sells for $1,300.
    • A 65-inch Sony UHD smart TV for $1,800. For the same reason, we think it's the Sony XBR-65X850C, which sells for $2,000 usually.
    • A 75-inch Sony UHD smart TV for $3,000. We think it's the Sony XBR-75X850C, which usually sells for $500 more.
    • A 65-inch LG 65EF9500 OLED UHD TV for $5,000. This is the regular price for this TV.

    Sound bars
    Best Buy will also have a Vizio 3-channel (no separate subwoofer) sound bar speaker for $100, a JBL 2.1-channel sound bar with wireless subwoofer for $250, and a Sony 2.1-channel sound bar with wireless subwoofer for $350.

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    Consumers Union Report Details Steps Phone Companies Could Take To Dramatically Reduce Robocalls

    Over Half a Million Americans Sign Petition Urging Phone Companies to Take Action; 
    CR Poll: Consumers Frustrated, Many Would Switch Carriers for Effective Solutions 

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA ― A new report by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, identifies a number of existing technologies that phone companies could use to block unwanted robocalls from reaching their customers.  Robocalls are a top consumer complaint but the phone companies have failed to offer effective tools to stop them, according to the consumer group. 

    “The phone companies could be doing so much more to stop robocalls from harassing their customers,” said Maureen Mahoney, Policy Analyst with Consumers Union.  “But so far they’ve just been passing the buck and making excuses.  It’s time for the phone companies to start listening to their customers and offer real solutions to stop robocalls.”

    The report, “Dialing Back:  How the Phone Companies Can End Robocalls,” is being released as part of Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign.  Launched earlier this year, the campaign has mobilized hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country to demand that the nation’s top phone companies offer their customers free call-blocking tools to stop unwanted robocalls.  So far, over 550,000 people have signed Consumers Union’s petition urging AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to take action.   

    The report is being released along with a new Consumer Reports National Research Center survey which found that more than three-quarters of consumers who received a robocall in the past 30 days agree (25%) or strongly agree (54%) that robocalls are a problem.  One-third of consumers (32%) who typically get at least one robocall a week, reported that they would be highly likely to switch to a new phone company if it offered free tools and services for blocking robocalls.    

    Robocalls are unsolicited pre-recorded or live phone calls made with an auto-dialer.  Consumers Union interviewed a number of leading telecommunications experts to find out what more phone companies could do to block unwanted calls.   The consumer group found that phone companies could pursue a number of advanced filtering technologies that would provide customers substantial protection from unwanted robocalls:

    • Phone companies could easily offer a filtering service to consumers with modern phone lines. For example, third-party companies have already developed smartphone apps that block unwanted calls.  The phone companies should offer this kind of technology directly to their customers for free.

    • Nomorobo, a free robocall-blocking service, is currently available to many consumers with Internet-based service, or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). The phone companies should offer Nomorobo or a similar free service directly to their customers.

    • The Primus Telemarketing Guard effectively blocks robocalls and has been available at no extra cost to traditional landline and VoIP users in Canada for years. But phone companies in the U.S. are not offering a similar service to their customers.  According to Primus Canada, its Telemarketing Guard could work for traditional landline, VoIP, and wireless customers in the U.S.

    • Filters that can block calls at the “gateway” between networks have also been proposed and could potentially work for traditional landline, VoIP, and wireless customers.

    • Companies have the technology to reduce call “spoofing” – the practice of disguising the origin of robocalls on Caller ID. This would improve telephone security and call filtering techniques.

    Americans have registered more than 217 million phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list, yet robocalls are rampant.  Last year, the FTC received 3 million complaints from the public about unwanted calls, many from scammers or companies that flagrantly violate the law.  Telephone scammers target the elderly and other vulnerable consumers, resulting in an estimated $350 million in financial losses annually.   

    “Robocalls are more than just a nuisance,” said Mahoney.  “They can cost consumers real money when they are used to commit fraud.  It’s clear that the technology exists to dramatically reduce these unwanted calls.  Now it’s up to the phone companies to show they are serious about solving this problem by offering free call-blocking tools to their customers.”

    The Consumer Reports robocall survey was fielded by GfK from September 11-13, 2015 to 1,022 adult U.S. residents.  To qualify for the survey, panel members must have been age 18 or older.  To sample the population, GfK sampled households from its KnowledgePanel, a probability-based web panel designed to be representative of the United States (state samples were targeted using Profile data).  The margin of error for this survey is +/- 3 percentage points for the full sample.

    __________

    Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.  Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. 

    Media Contacts:
    Michael McCauley, 415.902.9537 (cell) or 415-431-6747, ext. 7606 (office) or mmccauley@consumer.org
    James McQueen, 914.378.2839, jmcqueen@consumer.org

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    The Quickest Way to Find Replacement Parts for Small Appliances

    They might be small, but when it comes to all their moving parts, many countertop appliances are anything but simple. Consumer Reports has tested food processors and juicers with more than 20 separate components, many of them tiny enough to easily go missing, whether lost during a move or accidentally tossed into the trash. Other parts are prone to breakage—think glass coffee carafes and the blade assembly on a blender. In those cases, the loss of the part could render the machine unusable.

    That got us thinking: How easy is it to get replacement parts for small appliances? The question takes on added urgency during the holiday season, when you want to have all your small appliances in working order to help with the flurry of cooking, baking, pureeing, blending, and more. With that in mind, we decided to run a nonscientific experiment to learn more about the replacement-part process. 

    The setup was simple. We selected food processors that have been on the market for at least six months from five major brands: Breville, Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, KitchenAid, and Oster. On the same day, we contacted each company to order a replacement for each model’s “pusher,” that little cylindrical widget you use to push food down into the processor. In each case, we tried to order the part two ways—by phone and online.

    As the chart below shows, there was a good deal of variation, enough for us to draw several basic conclusions. Despite the small sample size, we think the findings could save you time and money (and maybe your famous holiday soufflé or homemade eggnog) the next time a vital small appliance part is lost. 

    Model and Price   Duration of Call Total Cost Days to Delivery
    Breville Sous Chef BFP660SIL
    $300
    Phone 9 min. 
    (including 2 min. on hold)
    $4.68 7
    Online 1 min. N/A N/A
    Cuisinart FP-12BCN
    $200
    Phone 27 min. 
    (including 12 min. on hold)
    $16.45 4
    Online 3 min. $17.33 4
    Hamilton Beach 70725A
    $60
    Phone 15 min. 
    (including 10 min. on hold)
    $10.79 7
    Online 4 min. $19.78 4
    KitchenAid KFP1466CU
    $350
    Phone 11 min.
    (including 3 min. on hold)
    $0.00 10
    Online 8 min. $12.37 7
    Oster FPSTFP1355
    $50
    Phone 11 min. 
    (including 5 min. on hold)
    N/A N/A
    Online 5 min. N/A N/A

    Lessons Learned

    Ordering by phone can save money, if not time. The 73 minutes we spent calling the five customer service centers (including 32 minutes on hold) was no one’s idea of a good time. But on average, we saved about $7 compared with the online approach. Consider KitchenAid. The Tennessee-based representative who took our call was not only pleasant, but also she waived the cost of the pusher and the shipping fee. Though ordering online took 3 fewer minutes, it cost us $12.37 (with none of the pleasantries!). In the case of Breville, the pusher wasn’t even available on its website, whereas by phone, the Australian manufacturer won top prize for quickest service call and the cost was reasonable.

    Give it at least a week. All of the replacement parts arrived within 10 days of ordering. Cuisinart was the fastest overall, with both parts arriving in four days. But manufacturers tell us that there could be some seasonality at play here (the holidays are particularly tough on food processors and stand mixers, while summer sees a surge in demand for blender parts). So you might want to leave a little more time during those periods. In a pinch, you can also opt for faster delivery, though the costs get excessive in a hurry. For example, next-day delivery of our $5 Hamilton Beach pusher would have been $57.34, up from $19.78 for standard ground delivery.

    It’s worth noting that a handful of larger small appliance parts are sold at stores. For example, Bed, Bath, & Beyond sells certain thermal carafes for Cuisinart coffeemakers, while Target carries some KitchenAid stand mixer bowls. Start by doing a quick Google search of the brand and model number, which should be stamped clearly on the main body of the appliance.

    Failure could be an option. Our 11-minute call to Oster was all for naught when the representative failed to locate our replacement part in the system. She suggested we check back in 4 to 6 weeks. She also recommended we try the website www.ereplacement.com, which bills itself as a sustainable provider of aftermarket replacement parts that might otherwise end up in the landfill. The site trades more in electronics and large appliances, including items like laptop batteries and dishwasher control boards. Good to know about, but not for our Oster pusher.

    Of course, the best advice of all is to keep your small appliances organized and in good working order. Storing them in a dedicated cabinet or drawer will help prevent parts from wandering away. In terms of care and maintenance, be sure to check the owners’ manual. You might find that some parts are dishwasher safe, while others could come out of the machine warped and damaged—perhaps just when you need it most.

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

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    Driving the Stylish, High-Tech 2016 Audi TT

    We’ve just bought a sleek, discrete new 2016 Audi TT. Before delving into its many fine qualities, let's get one thing out of the way: Since its inception in 1998, the TT has always put style before sportiness. While some bystanders mention it in the same breath as a Porsche Boxster or Mercedes-Benz SLK, you won’t see many TTs on a track day at your favorite motorsports park. In reality, the TT is a Bauhaus embodiment of rounded simplicity.

    As before, the 2016 Audi TT comes as either a coupe or a convertible/roadster. We tested the previous two generations as roadsters, but this time around opted for the coupe, which is how most TTs will be sold. With both configurations, power comes from Audi’s workhorse 220 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and an automated manual transmission that Audi calls S-Tronic. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard. Pricing starts at $42,900. With typical options, our TT rang in at $50,600.

    The 2016 Audi TT feels nimble and entertaining, but not because it’s thrillingly powerful or easy to slide sideways. That’s not surprising since another member of the family, the Volkswagen GTI, is also great fun to drive without being a real fire breather on a race track. The little Audi dives into corners with enthusiasm and confidence, staying low and level. The electric steering is linear and communicates some semblance of feedback. 

    Power delivery from the turbo four-cylinder engine is smooth and lag-free but don’t expect to be overwhelmed. (For more verve, you’ll have to wait for the 292-hp TTS.) With the transmission in Sport mode, the car faithfully impersonates a manual transmission, with timely downshifts before corners and rev matching that would put a smile even on non-enthusiast drivers’ faces. While the automated dual-clutch transmission is one the best of its kind, some vibration is noticeable at crawling speeds such as stop-and-go traffic.

    This sportster brims with neat little details and whiz-bang tech that keeps the surprise-and-delight factor high. Slip, or rather drop down, behind the wheel and the first thing you notice is the near absence of center-dash controls: no display screen, climate knobs, or even an audio head unit. Power up, though, and a colorful instrument cluster comes to life with virtual gauges for the speedometer and tachometer. Between them you’ll recognize Audi’s comprehensive trip computer. If you start playing with Audi’s MMI knob on the center console, or arrows on the steering wheel, you’ll see that audio, phone, navigation functions, and even the rear camera image also show up in the instrument cluster. You can minimize the main gauges and let another task take center stage.

    One steering-wheel button, labeled “View,” gives you the option of toggling between a large screen and small gauges, or vice versa. Upcoming redesigns of the Audi A4 and Q7 will employ a similar setup to that on the 2016 Audi TT.  

    While this makes for a novel arrangement, anyone familiar with recent Audi’s infotainment system will get used to it quickly. Even if you tend to delegate some tasks to a co-pilot, your helper can still execute them, even if it’s a bit weird for a passenger to gaze hard at your instrument cluster. Sort of like when someone leans in to clandestinely check out how fast you’re going.

    Unlike with many small coupes and hot hatches, the 2016 Audi TT doesn’t beat you up at every opportunity on less-than-perfect roads. The ride is firm but not punishing, and even with its 19-inch wheels, the suspension shows decent absorption and isolation. Noise is also kept commendably at bay.

    Inside, there is a constant Easter-egg hunt. The temperature display and temperature dial for the climate control are integrated into one of the dash vents, the seat heater controls also float inside the turbine-shaped vents, and the whole presentation is neat and uncluttered.

    The front seats are extremely supportive and bear an attractive diamond-shape pattern. The notional rear seat is best used as a briefcase-holder, but it could accommodate a couple right-sized kids in a pinch. Opting for the roadster means sacrificing both the rear seat and the coupe’s handy hatchback,

    Ultimately, the 2016 Audi TT occupies an unusual spot in the marketplace. It is a stylish and attractive coupe that trades ultimate power and handling agility for technology and luxury. There is no escaping that for the same price you could get a BMW M235i, which packs 100 more horsepower and can almost keep pace with a Porsche 911. But then again, the BMW is certainly no design statement.

    For not even half the TT’s price, driving enthusiasts could grab a Scion FR-S or its Subaru BRZ twin. Those coupes are more challenging and also more rewarding for a thrill-hungry enthusiast, but they exact a pretty steep price in comfort, quietness, and refinement. Some Audi loyalists might conclude that the A5 coupe delivers a similar driving experience but with more room and practicality; they certainly have a point.

    We’ll have to reserve judgment until we finish our instrumented testing.  

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

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    10 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

    This time of year it's nearly impossible to avoid parties bulging with buffets of tasty food and drink. But all that indulging can have a downside: holiday weight gain.

    The average person gains 1.7 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to a 2009 study. Considering the average adult adds on 2.2 pounds annually, that means more than 75 percent of people's yearly weight gain occurs during the holidays. What's more, other research shows the extra weight put on now isn't lost during the following year.

    But there are ways to avoid this trap. Try these simple strategies and you can still eat, drink, and be merry without ending up looking as plump as Santa Claus:

    1. Be Realistic

    In one holiday weight gain study, 15 percent of participants indicated they were trying to shed pounds between Thanksgiving and the new year. But they ended up gaining the same amount of weight as others who were not trying to slim down. A better plan is to aim put off weigh-loss efforts until after Jan. 1.

    2. Hydrate

    While rushing around shopping and preparing for guests it's easy to forget to drink plenty of water. Try to get in at least eight glasses a day. Your body easily confuses being hungry and being thirsty, so drinking water regularly will keep you from eating when what you really need is to drink.

    3. Limit Your Alcohol Intake

    Alcohol calories add up fast. A 12-ounce beer has 140 calories and a 5-ounce glass of wine has 100. Plus, having too many drinks lowers your inhibitions, so when you imbibe you’re likely to eat more. So stick to just a drink or two, or be the designated driver, and avoid alcohol altogether.

    4. Choose Your Glass Wisely

    A 2013 study found people pour 12 percent more wine into wider glasses than into more narrow glasses. (A standard 5-ounce pour might look like a puny amount in a large wine glass.) And sometimes they overpour white wines, such as chardonnay and pinot grigio, because the lack of contrast between the wine and the glass makes it harder to see when to stop.

    5. Eat Slowly

    Some research shows that slow eaters tend to eat less food. Try this: Swallow each mouthful before taking the next bite and chat with a table mate in between forkfuls.

    6. Beware the Buffet

    A bountiful buffet can be a challenge for many. "Think of a buffet as a menu in physical form," says Karen Collins, R.D., nutrition adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. "You wouldn't order one of everything." Scan the choices before you pick up a plate. Or take smaller portions of a variety of dishes.

    7. Outsmart the Food Pushers

    Pressure from hosts to eat beyond your fill is a common challenge at the holiday table. One way to keep from overstuffing yourself? Ask for seconds. Seriously! Just take small portions, says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of the book “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life." It’s an easy way to flatter your host without expanding your waistline. Wansink has found that hosts recall who asked for second helpings but that they don’t notice the serving size.

    8. Be Selective, Not Rigid

    Don't declare all party food off-limits. It's a strategy that's bound to backfire: if you decide to deprive yourself of all treats, you may end up overindulging out of frustration and rebellion. Instead, be honest with yourself about what foods you're really looking forward to and enjoy those in moderate amounts; at the same time cut back on high-fat and calorie-bomb snacks and fillers you really can live without.

    9. Don't Starve Yourself Before Holiday Events

    Fasting beforehand may seem like a smart way to "save up" for the calories you'll consume, but showing up to a party ravenous is only likely to cause you to eat too much as soon as you walk in the door. Instead, take the edge off your hunger before you leave home by eating small, low-calorie meals. A snack, such as a slice of cheese or a yogurt, on the way to the party can help keep you in control as well.

    10. Stay Active

    Exercise is probably the first thing to fall off your to-do list during the holidays, but it's your best ally in the battle against holiday weight gain—as well as holiday stress and depression. Don't worry if you can't maintain your regular workout routine due to travel or other commitments. Simply challenge yourself to add some physical activity to your day. After a big meal, keep the conversation going while taking a stroll. Or excuse yourself for a solo walk (think of it as a perfect excuse to take a break from annoying relatives!).

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

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    Best Small Appliances for the Big Holiday Dinner

    With a roast filling the oven and side dishes on every available burner, a holiday host can quickly run out of space to cook a meal and all the trimmings. But with some creative use of small countertop appliances, you can coordinate your dinner so that everything's ready at the same time. Many of today's microwaves and toaster ovens have improved cooking capabilities and warming trays have given way to induction burners that can be used to cook as well as serve. Here are some holiday hints and helpers from the experts at Consumer Reports. 

    Microwaves

    The most basic microwave can be used to reheat casseroles and side dishes made in advance. But a microwave with a convection mode is far more versatile and can be used to brown and crisp food. In our tests, at least one of our microwaves with a convection function, the GE Profile PVM1790SR[SS], $600, baked biscuits adequately in a preheated oven.

    One of the midsized countertop models, the LG LCSP1110[ST], $230, features a pizza oven in a drawerlike oven beneath the microwave cavity, although it can't be used at the same time as the microwave. Still it has preset buttons not only for pizza but other baked goods. It scored very good overall as a microwave and baked biscuits to satisfaction.

    At least two of the microwaves in our tests feature a grill—the Sharp Steamwave AX-1100S, $500, and the over-the-range Maytag MMV6186W[S], $680—that capably grilled a steak. The Sharp Steamwave also has a steamer option. We steamed fish nicely, but fresh broccoli took longer than expected. Still, it's an option when the cooktop is otherwise employed.

    Toaster ovens

    A large toaster oven can serve as a second oven. Use one to bake muffins or bread and to warm up pie for dessert. Several of the toaster ovens in our tests have convection heating, which manufacturers claim is faster and cooks more evenly. At least one model, the Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P, $110, also has speedy infrared heating.

    The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 31230, $100, a midpriced toaster oven, provides very good overall performance, especially when it comes to broiling. The interior is large enough to accommodate a 4-pound chicken, though in our tests the built-in thermometer wasn't as accurate as the Set & Forget label might lead you to believe.

    192586-hotplates-waring-proict100.jpgInduction burners

    Countertop induction burners are, basically, high-tech hotplates. They provide extra cooking space in kitchens that need it. They plug into standard 120V 15-amp outlets so are limited by their electrical supply to provide less heat than what is provided by induction cooktops or ranges, which use 240V 50-amp supply circuits. Still, the burners use magnetic coils to heat more quickly and efficiently than conventional electric hot plates by sending most of the heat to the pan rather than to the cooking surface, but work only with magnetic cookware.

    The induction burners in our past tests were all ceramic glass, don't get as hot as standard radiant cooktop burners, were easy to clean and easier to keep clean (since they don't as readily burn spilled food). For typical cooking tasks, they offer plenty of power, above and beyond what a standard hot plate can offer. 

    Food processors

    If you are mashing potatoes or squash, move the cooked veggies from the pot to a food processor. Pulse it to get it to the right consistency but don't over mix it. Then place the food in a serving dish for reheating later. You can also purée winter squash soup. Four of the six the recommended food processors in our tests were very good at puréeing, including three Cuisinarts and a Breville. Our top-rated machine is the Breville BFP800XL/A, $400, which was superb at slicing, shredding, and grating. And for all its power and performance, it’s surprisingly quiet.  

    coffeemaker_Krups_Silver_Art_Collection_KT600.jpgCoffeemakers

    To save time after dinner, make coffee ahead of time and store it in a thermos. All the better if you already have a thermal carafe. In our tests, none of the recommended models comes with a thermal carafe—though the recommended Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT, $40, has one you can purchase separately. Several other models in our coffeemaker tests come with that feature, including the Panasonic NC-ZF1, $200.

    If time isn't an issue, use a single-serve coffeemaker to make everyone an individual cup of coffee. All three of the top models in our pod coffeemaker tests are from DeLonghi Nescafé and range in price from $130 to $150. For Starbucks lovers, there's the Starbucks Verismo 600, $150.

    Don't blow it

    Before plugging in your high wattage helpers, make sure they are running on separate circuits or at least not at the same time. You don't want to trip a breaker switch just as your guests are gathering around the table. 

    Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

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

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    Small Appliances at Black Friday Prices All Year Long

    You don’t have to wait until Black Friday to get a top-rated small appliance at a good price. Some of the best performers in Consumer Reports' tests cost $110 or much less including a hand mixer and a coffeemaker for $40 each. Of course, if you want to spend more, we also test small appliances with big price tags. Here are five good buys and five splurges that were impressive in Consumer Reports' small appliance tests.

    Hand mixers

    A good buy. Cuisinart Power Advantage HM-50, $40
    Cuisinart’s 5-speed hand mixer had no trouble powering through stiff cookie dough in our hand mixer tests and it was very quick at whipping. We also like the well-priced mixer’s wire beaters, which are easier to clean than the traditional center-post variety. But this mixer is louder than other hand mixer top picks.
    Splurge:
    KitchenAid KHM926, $100
    The $100 KitchenAid costs more than many other hand mixers, but it performed very well in our tests, combining very good mixing and whipping time. It also scored points for versatility, thanks to its dough hooks, whisk attachment, and liquid blender rod, which is designed to blend soups, smoothies, and more. On the downside, this mixer is noisier than other recommended models.

    Coffeemakers

    CR Best Buy: Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT, $40
    This 12-cup Mr. Coffee is among the best all-around drip coffeemakers in our tests. It brewed at industry-recommended guidelines of 195° F or more, maintained for five or six minutes. Setup, operation, and cleanup were fairly easy, and we found its carafe easy to use. (A thermal carafe is available separately.) And among attractions for the bargain price are a water filter, special cleaning cycle, and two-hour auto-shutoff.
    Splurge: Cuisinart Crystal SCC-1000 Limited Edition Perfec Temp, $200
    This Cuisinart drip coffeemaker is gussied up with Swarovski elements for a jeweled look, but it was a gem in our coffeemaker Ratings as well. First, it's the only model that can brew a full 14 cups. And while it's expensive, it had top-notch brew performance matched by a carafe we found easy to hold and pour from. It's also programmable, with both a small-batch setting and brew-strength control.

    Blenders

    A good buy. Black + Decker Fusion Blade Digital BL1820SG-P, $50
    This 6-cup blender performed very well overall, was a champ at making icy drinks and very good at purees. It's not the quietest we've tested and fell short of our top blender picks but costs hundreds less so is worth a look.
    Splurge. Blendtec Designer 725, $650
    Part of the trend of high-end, high-priced blenders, the Blendtec Designer 725 was superb in our icy drinks tests, which means it’s a good choice for smoothie lovers. It also aced our puree and durability tests although, like the Ninja, it was only so-so for noise.

    Toaster ovens

    A good buy: Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P, $110
    Devotees of the original version of this Panasonic toaster oven were happy to see this relaunched version. It looks fairly basic from the outside, but its quartz and ceramic heating elements cook more efficiently than conventional coil-heated ovens and don’t require any time for preheating.
    Splurge: Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL, $250
    This Breville toaster oven is one of the higher-priced models in our toaster oven Ratings, but its top performance and sleek, sturdy design might justify the cost. It was very good at baking and broiling, and it can accommodate a 4-pound chicken. It was excellent at toasting full batches and successive batches and very good at toasting just one slice.

    Steam irons

    CR Best Buy: Rowenta Effective Comfort DW2070, $50
    The least expensive Rowenta steam iron we tested was also the best. In our steam iron tests, it was excellent overall and delivered superb ironing and lots of steam. The steam surge button provides a burst of steam when trying to remove stubborn wrinkles and the vertical steam feature lets you remove wrinkles from hanging garments and drapes. The sole plate is stainless steel and the ready light indicates the iron is hot enough to use. There's a self-clean feature and auto-shutoff.
    Splurge: Rowenta Steamforce DW9280, $140
    This top-rated steam iron was excellent overall and provides lots of steam. It has a stainless steel soleplate. Features include steam surge, which offers a burst of steam to help remove stubborn wrinkles, vertical steam for drapes and hanging garments, and auto-shutoff, a safety feature that powers the iron down when left stationary for a short time. A ready light indicates the iron is up to temperature.  

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

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

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