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    Connected Homes, Drones & Virtual Reality Are Early Standouts at CES 2016

    The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show is barely under way—there's still plenty of news to come on TVs, smartphones, and other high end products—but we did make a few telling discoveries on Day One. Here's what they taught us:

    A Connected Home Can Help With a Sleeping Baby

    CES is getting to be a connected-home show as much an electronics venue. Case in point: The Onelink line from First Alert. The company is a stalwart of the home safety business, making smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and so on for the past 50 years or so.

    In the fall, Onelink introduced smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors ($119) that connect to Wi-Fi in order to alert homeowners in case of danger. Now the company is adding a whole suite of other products. There’s a $249 thermostat; a $99 environmental monitor that can detect temperature and humidity, along with low levels of CO; and something called the Envirocam, which is meant to watch over a sleeping baby. It’s a camera, a thermometer, and a device that’s meant to send an alert if the baby stops breathing—the pricing should be just north of $250 once it’s set.

    All of these devices can be controlled through a mobile phone—as long as it was made by Apple. There are a lot of connected home competitors at CES, and one thing to watch is where they come down on the emerging ecosystem wars. Onelink is in the iOS camp, working with Apple’s HomeKit. Among the other big ecosystems out there are Google’s Weave, the Lowe’s Iris system, and Samsung’s SmartThings. We’ll be watching to see which of these gather the most business partners and, of course, the most consumers.

    Drones Can Do More Than Hover Like Hummingbirds

    Drone-maker Parrot wants to help you live out those Superman fantasies you entertained as a child. Most consumer models hover like hummingbirds. But the new 1.5-pound Disco wing-shaped drone is more of a soaring machine, flying at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, and taking HD video all the way.

    It’s controlled via Parrot’s Wi-Fi Skycontroller, which gives a first-person view from the aircraft and connects to the Disco from up to 1.25 miles away, an impressive distance for a Wi-Fi signal. Don’t know how to fly a plane? Parrot says don’t worry—the Disco has an autopilot feature that helps maintain altitude and keeps the aircraft on course. The Disco launches (yes, that's a pun) later this year; no price has been announced.

    Virtual Reality Is About More Than Headsets

    You’ll find plenty of virtual reality headsets at CES this year, but the accessories could be equally important for the technology’s future. And there are plenty of them coming on the market.

    One of the big questions surrounding the experience has been, How do you move about in a VR world without blindly running into coffee tables? The engineers at 3DRudder have come up with a novel solution. They’ve invented a footpad that lets you roam about while seated safely in a chair. The $175 device is round and roughly the size of a hubcap and it pivots beneath your feet, using gyroscopes and accelerometers to map your movements.

    The unit operates much like a hoverboard. Press down with your toes and you move forward. Press down with your heels and you move backward. But, when you press down with the toes on one foot and the heel on the other? Well, you fly, up, up, and away—literally taking the virtual reality experience to a whole new level.

    There's just something liberating about controlling the movement with your feet. It’s like touring the world with Peter Pan. But, of course, we have yet to see all the things virtual reality can do, so it's hard to say which of the innovative accessories will win out in the end.

    A Washer/Dryer Combo May Actually Work Well

    While companies like Samsung and LG are constantly innovating in the laundry room, there hasn't been much, if any, attention paid to one of the least-loved appliances: the single-machine, washer-dryer combo. Until now.

    Marathon Laundry, founded by a former Apple veteran, has re-engineered this sad workhorse. Because most other machines rely on a condenser dryer, it's like trying to dry clothes on a humid summer day. And many people complain that the results are a never quite fully dry load.

    The Marathon machine has a fully vented dryer, so clothes should quickly emerge "toasty dry," which is actually one of the machine's four settings—Consumer Reports, of course, will withhold judgment until we get a unit in our labs.

    But the Marathon does seem promising. The machine has a touch screen with a super simple interface: 1. Choose the water temp, 2. Select the intensity of the wash cycle, and 3. Set the dryer temp. The machine remembers past cycles so individual household members can do laundry their preferred way. Or you can save a recurring cycle such as the one for the super dirty soccer clothes that come home with the kids every weekend. The machine is Wi-Fi connected and can download software upgrades as needed.

    One downside: While it looks big in the exterior, the machine's 2.7 cubic feet capacity puts it in the compact category (average capacity is about four cubic feet, and some machines these days go up to over five).

    CR can't wait to try it out. The machine is available online for pre-order and should be found at stores starting in June. And at $1,199, it's well-priced for the category.

    Brewing Beer Just Got Easier

    Quirky products that began life on Kickstarter are scattered around CES, and one of the most appealing this year could be the Pico automated home beer-brewing kit, from a company called PicoBrew.

    There are two things to know about it. One, it’s about as easy to use as popping a coffee pod into a Keurig machine. Two, you can order the pods (which are big, like bigger than a breadbox) from an online marketplace that includes Dogfish and Rogue as its contributors. Yes, you can make your own Dogfish at home now.

    The marketplace also sells pods based on recipes from about 80 other microbrewers, and 350 hobbyists. The machine costs $699 on pre-order ($599 if you order during CES), and the pods cost around $20 to $60, yielding about 5 liters of beer. Not super cheap, but this product is not only fun, but also rather practical. It turns your kitchen into a 450-variety beer emporium. And now wedding gift shoppers have a great alternative to the automatic bread-making machine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to Fall Asleep the Natural Way

    The first step you should take to sleep better is to make an appointment with your doctor. She should review all of the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take, a number of which—including blood pressure meds and a variety of antidepressants—can impair sleep.

    Next, she should assess whether you have any medical conditions such as arthritis, heartburn, menopause, and prostate enlargement, all of which are notorious for interrupting sleep. But they’re often overlooked as contributing causes, says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser.

    Your doctor may also want to establish whether you suffer from sleep apnea (periodic pauses in breathing while you sleep, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes) or restless legs syndrome (involuntary urges to move your legs). To do so, she will probably refer you to a sleep specialist who might track your patterns overnight, either at an inpatient sleep clinic or at home with a portable sleep monitor.

    If your doctor rules out medical problems as a cause of your poor sleep, consider cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), a form of behavioral treatment that focuses on changing habits that disrupt sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine now recommends CBT-I over sleep drugs as the treatment of first resort for chronic insomnia.


    More on Sleep



    A 2015 review in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that CBT-I helped people sleep about 26 more minutes per night. Those improvements lasted even after the therapy stopped—and didn’t pose any of the risks that drugs do.

    If you’re already taking sleeping pills, CBT-I has also been shown to help wean you from these drugs, says Lisa Medalie, Psy.D., an insomnia specialist at the University of Chicago. The treatment, which requires roughly two months of weekly sessions, is usually covered by insurance.

    Here’s how it works: You’ll be asked to keep a sleep diary to record when you fall asleep and wake up, how long it takes to fall asleep (and if you wake up, how long it takes to fall back asleep), and how you feel the next day. Then the therapist will suggest strategies to help change your nagging thoughts and bad habits. At each session, you’ll get “homework,” such as stashing your smartphone under your bed at night so that you don’t obsessively check the time or your emails.

    Personalized CBT-I is the most effective way to go, but you can start now by trying out some of the techniques a therapist might recommend.


    Practice Makes Perfect

    Healthy sleep habits should happen all day long, experts say.

    A top goal is to keep your body’s wake-sleep cycle predictable. Sleeping in some days feels good in the short term but creates long-term havoc.

    Get your body into daylight early in the day if you can. That helps set a proper 24-hour clock.

    Regular exercise encourages sleep, possibly because it tires you out and eases stress. Avoid working out within an hour or two of bedtime because that may increase alertness and make it more difficult to fall asleep.

    A cup of coffee at breakfast or midmorning is okay, but if you have chronic trouble sleeping, avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before bed.

    Midday exposure to natural light helps strengthen your body’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.

    Fight the urge for an afternoon snooze even if you didn’t sleep much the night before, for the same reason that you shouldn’t sleep in: When bedtime comes, you’re ready for sleep.

    Big meals close to bedtime are a no-no, especially if you suffer from heartburn, which tends to worsen when you lie down. Alcohol is okay, as long as you will be up for several more hours. A drink before bed might help you conk out, but it can increase the likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night.

    The blue light from laptops and smartphones can slow production of the sleep hormone melatonin. So shut them down 2 hours before you intend to go to sleep. Can’t unplug? At least dim the device and hold it a foot or so from your eyes. Or consider special glasses designed to block out blue light.

    An hour or so before bed, dim the lights in your bedroom and do something relaxing: Read a physical book (not a lit screen), listen to quiet music, meditate, or have a glass of a warm, noncaffeinated drink. (Note that there might not be anything magical about milk, but any soothing drink before bed may help you unwind.)

    Close your curtains, try eyeshades, use earplugs, or turn on a fan or a white-noise machine.

    Watching the minutes tick by can become a self-defeating obsession. So put your alarm clock or smartphone someplace where you can’t easily see or reach it, such as under your bed.

     . . . and can’t get back to sleep within 20 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing. When you start feeling sleepy, head back to bed.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Smartphone Apps Can Sound as Good as a White-Noise Machine

    As covered in "Why Americans Can't Sleep," more than half of people in Consumer Reports' new sleep survey of more than 4,000 U.S. adults who report that they have tried a white-noise machine say the device helps them sleep.

    And sleep experts agree. “They can be helpful for some individuals who live in noisy environments because an abrupt change in sound level can interfere with sleep," says Nathanial Watson, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "And they can be soothing for people who are sensitive to changes in their environment."

    A white-noise machine—which both blocks out distractions and provides soothing sounds—can be pricey, though, and is not especially portable. But you can enjoy the white-noise benefit with a free smartphone app. We tested whether those high-tech versions work as well.


    More on Sleep


     

    What We Tested

    We compared two apps with two white-noise machines that were favorites among our panelists in a previous test—the Brookstone Tranquil Moments Advanced Sleep Sounds, $170, and Marpac Dohm DS, $50. In our tests, neither the myNoise app (available for Apple iOS devices) nor the White Noise Free Sleep Sounds app (Android and iOS devices) precisely matched the sounds produced by the machines, such as ocean tides, soft rain, and purring cats, but they sounded very similar.

    The apps, however, have many more sounds to choose from (some sounds are sold separately) than a typical white-noise machine, and you have the option of recording your own personalized sounds. Plus the apps are as portable as your smartphone is, which makes them a good choice for travelers.

    If you like your white-noise machine sounds to be at high volume, the apps have the advantage because you can connect your smartphone directly to external speakers (wirelessly or wired). The apps offer a sleep timer and an alarm clock, just like many machines do.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Problem With Sleeping Pills

    Sleeplessness is complicated—but that hasn’t stopped millions of Americans from craving a simple, chemical solution.  

    In a recent Consumer Reports survey of more than 4,023 U.S. adults, 37 percent of people who complained of sleep problems at least once per week said they had used an over-the-counter or prescription sleep drug in the previous year.

    And why wouldn’t they? The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drugs to treat sleep problems, which means the agency has determined that their benefits outweigh the risks.

    “But those benefits aren’t as great as many people assume, and the drugs have important harms,” says Lisa Schwartz, M.D., a drug-safety expert at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H., who has worked with Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs on investigating sleeping-pill effectiveness and safety.

    What’s more, our survey found that about half of people who take sleep aids use the drugs in potentially harmful ways—by, for example, taking them more often or longer than recommended, or combining them with other medications or supplements.  


    More on Sleep


    Limited Benefits

    Best Buy Drugs commissioned Schwartz—who in 2013 served on an FDA advisory committee that looked at the new insomnia drug suvorexant (Belsomra)—and her colleague, Steven Woloshin, M.D., to review the evidence the FDA used to approve the drug. 

    They concluded that people who took a 15- or 20-milligram dose of Belsomra every night for three months fell asleep just 6 minutes faster on average than those who took a placebo. And those on Belsomra slept on average only 16 minutes longer than people given a placebo.

    Such small improvements didn’t translate to people feeling more awake the next day, either. Instead, more people who took Belsomra reported that they felt drowsy the next day than those who took a placebo.

    Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, said in a statement, “We believe our clinical data and FDA-approved prescribing information clearly demonstrates the value of Belsomra.”

    A previous Best Buy Drugs analysis of other prescription sleep drugs—so-called Z drugs such as eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien)—found that they, too, provided modest benefits. It found that people fell asleep, generally, between 8 and 20 minutes faster when taking those drugs than when compared with a placebo.

    Older prescription sleep drugs known as benzodiazepines (including Dalmane and Restoril), as well as over-­the-­counter sleep drugs such as Advil PM, Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, and ZzzQuil, generally aren’t any better than newer drugs at helping people fall asleep or stay asleep.  

    The ‘Morning After’ Effect

    Even when taken as directed, sleeping pills pose risks, including next-day drowsiness. 

    “People take sleeping pills hoping that they will function better the next day,” Schwartz says. “But some people actually end up functioning worse—so drowsy, in fact, that driving can be dangerous­—because the effects of the drug can linger.”

    A study published online in June 2015 by the American Journal of Public Health found that people prescribed sleeping pills were around twice as likely to be in car crashes as other people. The researchers estimated that people taking sleep drugs were as likely to have a car crash as those driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

    Several sleeping-pill instructions caution users to take the medications only if they can stay in bed for at least 7 to 8 hours. And to address the dangers of next-day drowsiness, the FDA has cut in half the recommended doses for Ambien and Lunesta. The labels for Ambien CR and Belsomra 20 milligrams, in fact, caution against driving at all the day after taking the pill. Yet our survey found that about a quarter of sleep-aid users drove with less than 7 hours of sleep at least once in the previous year.

    The Risky Business of Rx Sleep Drugs

    The need for slumber drives people to use sleep drugs in potentially dangerous ways, according to a nationally representative survey of 4,023 U.S. adults conducted by Consumer Reports in June 2015. As shown in the graphic below, survey respondents who used over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids told us that at least once in the previous year they:

    The Dark Side

    Sleeping pills can pose other dangers, too, including dizziness, falls, and fractures. “These drugs are known to have a hangover effect that impairs coordination and balance into the next day, especially in older adults,” says Ariel Green, M.D., a geriatrician at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

    Even over-the-counter sleep aids—such as Advil PM, Sominex, and ZzzQuil—pose risks, including daytime drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, and problems urinating.

    Safer Use of Sleeping Pills

    Because of the limited benefits and substantial risks of sleeping pills, Consumer Reports’ medical experts advise that sleep drugs should be used with great caution. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine no longer recommends sleeping drugs as a first-choice treatment for chronic insomnia, opting instead for cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (see “The Best (And Natural) Way to Sleep Better” to read more.)

    In general, sleeping pills should be reserved for short-term insomnia—such as that caused by jet lag, anxiety after the death of a family member, or job loss—says Watson at the AASM. For those limited situations, CR experts recommend following these precautions, which apply to prescription and over-the-counter sleep drugs:

    • Tell your doctor about all of the medications you take, including supplements. Many common drugs, such as certain antibiotics and antidepressants, can interact dangerously with sleep drugs.
    • Take the drugs only if you have time for at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep. Even if you’ve had that much sleep, don’t drive if you feel drowsy.
    • Do not take an extra dose if you wake up in the middle of the night.
    • Never mix sleeping pills with alcohol, recreational drugs, or other sleep drugs or supplements, including over-the-counter nighttime pain relievers and antihistamines, such as Benadryl Allergy, that contain the sedative diphenhydramine.
    • Start with the lowest recommended dose, especially until you know how the drug affects you.
    • Be cautious about frequent use. Taking sleep drugs regularly can breed dependence and raise the risk of adverse effects. 

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 01/05/16--03:00: Why Americans Can't Sleep
  • Why Americans Can't Sleep

    Sleeplessness has a long and tortured history. A 15th-century Italian lawyer named Hippolytus de Marsiliis is said to have first documented sleep deprivation as a way to punish prisoners. (If you’re unconvinced by his cred, note that he is the same fellow credited with confirming the effectiveness of slow-drip water torture.) And he was only making formal what humans had known for centuries: Not getting enough sleep is painful.

    Today, the problem of too little sleep, and the quest for more of it, is as acute as ever: 27 percent of people in a new Consumer Reports survey of 4,023 U.S. adults said they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights, and 68 percent—or an estimated 164 million Americans—struggled with sleep at least once a week. 

    A good night’s sleep can require everything from the practical (a cool, comfortable pillow) to the ethereal (a deep sense of calm and peace of mind). The modern marketplace has exploded with proffered solutions for people who can't sleep, from mattresses to white-noise machines, sleeping pills to sleep coaches.

    Americans spent an estimated $41 billion on sleep aids and remedies in 2015, and that’s expected to grow to $52 billion by 2020, according to Natana Raj, an analyst with BCC Research in Wellesley, Mass. The rub is that certain solutions don’t work as well as claimed—if they work at all.


    More on Sleep



    Sleep drugs are arguably the most significant concern. About one-third of the people we surveyed had tried either a sleep drug (such as Ambien, which requires a prescription, or Sominex, which does not) or a dietary supplement (especially melatonin) at least once in the previous year.

    Forty-one percent of people who use over-the-counter sleep aids reported taking them for a year or longer, and 48 percent use the drugs several times per week. Most concerning: The way people misuse sleep drugs can be dangerous, our survey found.

    Why Sleep Eludes So Many

    Sleep experts today aren’t as prescriptive as they once were about how much shut-eye humans require each night.

    “You need as much sleep as it takes for you to stay awake and alert the next day, without caffeine,” says Nathaniel Watson, M.D., co-director of the University of Washington Sleep Center in Seattle and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which last summer issued new sleep guidelines. It’s also okay if you wake up in the middle of the night, as long as you fall back asleep, Watson says.

    Still, most people don’t function well with less than 7 hours of sleep, Watson says, and regularly getting less than that amount can, over time, harm your health. Continued sleep shortages contribute to depression, heart disease, lowered immunity, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among other ills, he says.

    Why are so many of us sleeping so little? One reason is simple math: Americans are working longer—an average of 44 hours per week, according to an August 2015 Gallup Poll. That’s the longest workweek in the history of Gallup’s annual work survey. And a record 17 percent of U.S. adults now log 60 or more hours per week in the office, leaving less time for sleep.

    Working longer hours, plus having longer commutes, leaves less time for domestic chores—paying bills, doing repairs, dealing with paperwork for taxes or kids’ college—which get stuffed into twilight hours.

    In today’s global economy, working late into the night or first thing in the morning is often a necessity. That kind of shift work—once mainly confined to nurses, emergency room doctors, factory workers, and police officers—can wreak havoc on the body’s sleep-wake cycle.

    And then there are modern habits: Many people are staying up late to entertain themselves on electronic devices—even as research suggests that blue light from those devices may interfere with the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

    What Works—What Doesn't

    The Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs team, which evaluates the safety and effectiveness of medications, reviewed the research on sleep drugs and found them to be limited in their effectiveness and prone to potentially dangerous misuse.

    Our medical experts looked at the research on melatonin as well as the lifestyle changes that improve sleep. We also have Ratings from our labs on dozens of mattresses, as well as advice on how to find a pillow that matches your sleep style.

    Overall, our review of the products, drugs, and services from the sleep industry found a whole lot of marketing spin and misinformation but also some positive news about therapies and products that can do some good in the age-old quest for better sleep.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    What Is a Sleep Coach, and Do You Need One?

    There are coaches for everything these days—life, relationships, business, and now sleep.

    “Sleep coaches” often visit your home, offering suggestions about your bedroom environment (such as using dark curtains) and giving advice on your sleep habits (such as banning electronic devices in the bedroom before bedtime), says Mar Oscategui, founder of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. 

    Though that’s advice many people could follow on their own, hiring a coach might motivate some to be more serious about making changes, Oscategui says. Coaches usually charge from $75 to $150 per hour—and their services aren’t covered by insurance.

    But Shalini Paruthi, M.D., director of the Pediatric Sleep and Research Center at St. Louis University and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says, “There’s little evidence that people who hire these coaches actually sleep better.” A recent review in the Journal of Pediatrics found that less than half of self-proclaimed sleep coaches had prior experience in health care or education. The study also pointed out that the coaches are not required to be licensed or to have any specific certification.

    Paruthi recommends instead consulting with your doctor, who can determine whether you should be referred to a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.


    More on Sleep

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

    Nodding off at the wheel isn’t just frightening—it can be fatal. Consider that at 55 mph you cover the length of a football field in 5 seconds. In fact, about one-fifth of fatal car crashes involve a drowsy driver, according to a 2014 study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in which specially trained investigators analyzed 14,268 car crashes between 2009 and 2013.

    To combat that problem, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently initiated a campaign against drowsy driving, and certain states are pursuing legal options. Arkansas and New Jersey allow police to arrest people driving erratically if they admit they’ve been awake for at least 24 hours.


    More on Sleep



    Entrepreneurs have introduced stay-awake gadgets, including an ear device that sounds off if your head nods forward and smartphone apps that randomly blast an alarm. But such devices may only be providing a false sense of security.

    Certain cars can now detect driving patterns that suggest drowsiness, such as lane drifting. But what do the high-tech cars do if they think you’re getting sleepy? Mercedes CLA-Class cars turn on a coffee-cup icon and sound an alert. And the navigation system in the Volvo XC90 can direct you to a rest area.

    In fact, the best solution is pretty simple, says Nathaniel Watson, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Don’t get behind the wheel if you’re tired, and if you find yourself at the wheel struggling to stay awake, change drivers. If you’re alone, pull over somewhere safe and take a nap or get a cup of coffee; note that it can take between 15 minutes and an hour for the caffeine to take full effect.

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    These materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Sleep Tracker: Gimmick or Great Gadget?

    Certain devices say they can track how much and how well you sleep by measuring your bedtime tossing and turning. That includes fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit Surge, $250, and standalone devices such as the Beddit Sleep Monitor, $140, a thin sensor that you put directly on top of your mattress.

    Both sleep tracker types sync to your smartphone or computer to create charts of how long it took you to fall asleep, how many minutes you were restless, and how long you slept.


    More on Sleep


    Monitoring Your Sleep

    But a sleep tracker that you wear on your wrist, such as the Fitbit, may overestimate sleep duration by as much as an hour, says Nathaniel Watson, M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who helped review new sleep technologies in the December 2015 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. That could be because the devices are attached to your arm, so if you’re awake but motionless, it’ll incorrectly record you as sleeping, he says.

    The Beddit estimates sleep time using overall body movement as well as heart-rate and breathing patterns. Our tester, who used the Beddit and Fitbit Surge at home on different nights, found that even when he remained awake but motionless, the Beddit knew that he was awake; the Fitbit recorded him as sleeping at such times. But the Beddit app sounded its alarm early when it sensed that our tester was in a light sleep stage. (Beddit’s manufacturer claims that its optional “smart alarm” helps you wake up feeling more rested.)

    Even if the devices aren’t completely accurate, they may alert some users to underlying health problems. For example, if they detect breathing disturbances, you may want to check into whether you suffer from sleep apnea, a condition—common in heavy snorers—that increases the risk of heart attack.

    But for most people, the daily logs of time spent sleeping will simply make them more aware of their nighttime habits, Watson says. (Be aware that the apps may share your data with the manufacturer.)

    Note that neither sleep tracker claims to be a medical device (intended for use in the diagnosis of a disease or condition) and as a result neither are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the February 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    3 Blue Blockers Put to the Test

    The full spectrum of visible light is often described using the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The LED screens of TVs, computers, smartphones, and video games produce lots of blue light.

    Exposure to high levels of that light close to bedtime can suppress the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin by the brain’s pineal gland, says Charles Czeisler, M.D., chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. That’s why he and other experts advise that it’s best to avoid staring into computer screens and smart phones 2 or 3 hours before you hit the pillow.


    More on Sleep


    Blocking the Blue Light

    For those who can’t—or won’t—unplug in the evening, several companies offer blue blockers, which are  glasses that filter out the wavelengths in the blue part of the spectrum. A small 2014 study of Swiss teen boys in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that those who wore blue blockers while using a computer in the few hours before bedtime were significantly more sleepy than the boys who wore clear lenses.

    That could be because the glasses “are trying to suppress the intensity of the tremendous amount of blue light emitted from computer screens,” Czeisler says. “The screen you see glowing would actually look like a floodlight” if the human eye were capable of perceiving those wavelengths of blue-enriched light, he says.

    Still, he cautions that for blue blockers to offer substantial benefit, they need to block almost all blue light. In addition, he says more research needs to be done to prove that people who wear blue blockers actually fall asleep faster.

    What We Found

    We tested three pairs of glasses in our labs for their ability to block blue light, measuring light intensity at all wavelengths to find out how much each lens absorbed. Of the three, only one—the Uvex Skyper safety eyewear (orange tinted), $8—cut out almost all blue light.

    The Gunnar Intercept gaming glasses (medium yellow), $53, cut blue light by about half, and the Spektrum Pro Blue Light Blocking Glasses (light yellow), $40, cut it by only about a third.

    Note that none of the blue blockers claim to be medical devices (intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of a disease or condition), and aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 01/05/16--07:40: New Scams to Avoid in 2016
  • New Scams to Avoid in 2016

    There are many ways to make sure that your finances are in good health, as the new year gets underway. One of them—knowing how to spot a scam—is often ignored. The result is that many people are swindled out of their hard-earned savings every year. While 2015 was a year of many familiar scams, 2016 promises new scams as thieves take advantage of election fever, technological trends, and an inadvertent helping hand from the government.

    To help you become more knowledgeable about these new scams, we asked David Dewey, director of research at Pindrop Security, a firm that provides anti-fraud detection technology for call centers and phone users, to tell us about the latest trends in identity theft and phone fraud. Here’s what you need to watch out for in 2016:

    Uncle Sam Impersonators

    2015 was the year of the IRS scam: Scammers impersonating the IRS and intimidating consumers into paying penalties for “back taxes” accounted for nearly a quarter of all scams reported to the Better Business Bureau. Expect worse in 2016.

    Buried in the Congressional budget bill was a provision allowing debt collectors to use robocall technology to pursue anyone owing government debt—think overdue student loans and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgages.

    Until now, consumers were advised—correctly—that the government would never initiate contact by phone, and just this past June the Federal Communications Commission strengthened protections against debt collectors calling a cellphone to dun late-paying loan holders. In 2016, that will no longer be true—and new scams will likely take advantage of this.

    “We expect to see a spike in scammers targeting overdue student loans, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgage debt—things other than just taxes,” warns Dewey.

    • Tip: Don’t trust the number that shows up on your caller ID. “If someone calls to collect money, tell the caller you want to conduct the transaction in person and that you will come to his office,” says Dewey. “That almost always shuts down a scammer. If he's legitimate, he’ll give you an address.”

    Political Scammers

    Amid the onslaught of political phone spam consumers can expect this election year are new scams that Pindrop’s researchers have never seen before.

    The basic scam starts with scammers spoofing a candidate’s phone number so that the call seems to come from campaign headquarters and inviting you to join a virtual “town hall” meeting with the candidate. The meeting sounds legitimate because the scammers have either patched together portions of previous town halls or use a talented voice actor to imitate the candidate. At a certain point, the call is interrupted and you’re asked to press #1 to make a donation. By this time, your emotions are involved and you think, “Yes! I want to support my candidate!” So you give out your credit card number. Not only have you handed over money to an unknown entity, you have opened the door to identity theft. 

    • Tip: Never donate to a political campaign during an unsolicited phone call. “You don’t know whom you’re donating to,” warns Dewey. “There is no way to authenticate the person who’s on the call.”

    Data Breaches

    Last year’s data hacks at extra-marital matchmaker Ashley Madison and toymaker VTech proved that scammers are after more than your credit card number. Instead, they glean personal information to build detailed profiles that can be used for sophisticated forms of identity theft that may not be immediately obvious.

    “The [hacked] information is not directly financially related, but becomes a stepping stone to a financial motivator,” says Dewey.

    For example, scammers could exploit the VTech data breach, which compromised the profiles of 6.4 million kids around the world, to hack identities for years. Because kids have no credit history and their parents generally don’t check their credit reports regularly, the theft might not be noticed until the kids grow up and apply for a credit card or financial aid for college.

    • Tip: This type of data breach could affect you even if your tastes don’t run to toys or hanky-panky. Dewey points out that the healthcare industry is a rich target for new scams, as are popular “sharing economy” sites, such as Uber and AirBnB. Stay tuned—and stay alert.

    Mobile Wallet Pickpockets

    Scammers thwarted by the added protection of chip-embedded credit cards have a promising alternative: mobile wallets. Thieves increasingly tap funds by tapping into the accounts of others through Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, Android Pay, PayPal, and others.

    Dewey put the security of mobile wallets to a little test: First, he secretly copied credit card numbers and expiration dates from a few colleagues at Pindrop. A little Google investigating revealed the answers to “secure” identification questions (such as a colleague's mother's maiden name) needed to activate the colleague's card under Dewey’s mobile wallet account. Within minutes, Dewey had strolled over to Whole Foods and bought lunch for the office—paid for by his unwitting colleague. (The colleague was reimbursed.)

    “It’s amazing how easy it was to add somebody else’s credit card info to my Apple Pay account,” Dewey recalls.

    • Tip: There will be new scams that will find new loopholes and workarounds to take advantage of new technologies. Check your credit card statements carefully for unexpected charges.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The best matching washers and dryers

    Matching washer and dryer pairs are a popular choice although some don't make a great couple. Their coordinating style makes a statement, but you'll question how a terrific washer and a noisy dryer that's tough on clothes ended up together. Enter the matchmaker. Consumer Reports' tests found pairs that are worth a look.

    Now about the prices. The top-rated pairs are expensive. Blame it on rising manufacturing costs, larger capacities, stainless drums, and added cycles and features. Our tests have found that basic cycles can handle most laundry needs. So ask yourself if you want to pay extra for a bedding cycle or one for your jeans. 

    The washer and dryer Buying Guides highlight the advantages of each washer type and features. Use the Ratings selector to narrow choices and the Features & Specs tab to compare features. Our Brand Reliability offers helpful information and so do user reviews. If you have questions email me at kjaneway@consumer.org. 

    Full washing machine Ratings and recommendations.
    Full clothes dryer Ratings and recommendations.

    The Quietest Couples

    Consider machines that scored very good or better in our noise tests if placing near bedrooms. You'll know they're working but they shouldn't disturb you. Note that wash times are based on the normal wash cycle heavy-soil setting. You'll save about 15 minutes using the normal-soil setting.

    Many washers and dryers have a steam setting. We found it slightly improved a washer's stain removal. Steam removed more odors than dryers without steam, but left clothes wrinkled. The dryers highlighted here have moisture sensors, the most important feature. It turns off the machine when laundry is dry—that saves energy and is easier on fabrics. For more details see our Ratings of washing machines and dryers

    Kenmore set

    Kenmore Elite 41072 front-loader and Kenmore Elite 81072 electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is near the top of our Ratings and made our top picks. It has 14 cycles, offers excellent washing, was gentle on fabrics, and has a jumbo capacity—it fit about 25 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet. The dryer excelled at its job and also has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Wash time is 95 minutes. The Accela-Wash option offers comparable performance and saves 15 to 20 minutes. 
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide—2 more than usual—but can be stacked. Gas dryer is Kenmore Elite 91072, $1,100. 

    LG duos

    LG WM8500HVA front-loader and LG DLEX8500V electric dryer 
    Price: $1,450 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is near the top of our Ratings and both machines make the recommended list. They have jumbo capacities, each holding about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet for the washer, 9 for the dryer. The washer was superb at cleaning and gentle on fabrics and has 14 cycles; the dryer aced its job. 
    Consider this: It took 90 minutes to do a normal wash on the heavy soil setting, but the TurboWash option offers comparable wash performance in 15 to 20 minutes less time.
    Need to know: Each machine is 29 inches wide, two more than usual, but can be stacked. Only available in a graphite-steel finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX8501V, $1,550. 

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $830 each 
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but both were impressive at their task and relatively quiet. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer fit 22 pounds of our laundry, was gentle on fabrics, and has 14 cycles. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting is 75 minutes. The TurboWash option offers comparable cleaning and saves 15 to 20 minutes.
    Need to know:  Machines can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $930. 

    Maytag Mates

    Maytag Maxima MHW8100DC front-loader and Maytag Maxima MED8100DC
    Price: 
    $1,400 each
    Here's the deal: This recommended front-loader offers excellent washing and held 22 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet. It was gentle on fabrics and there are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was superb at its task and among the quietest tested. Claimed capacity is 7.3 cubic feet. Both machines are made in America.
    Consider this: The washer took 75 minutes using the normal cycle on heavy-soil setting.
    Need to know: Gas dryer is Maytag Maxima MGD8100DC, $1,500. Appliances can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. The newly tested white Maytag Maxima MHW8150EW front-loader was even slightly better in our tests and costs $1,350. It can also be paired with the Maytag Maxima MED8100 dryer. Matching white dryer is the Maytag Maxima MED8100DW dryer. 

    Maytag Bravos MVWB855DW HE top-loader and Maytag Bravos MEDB855DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,050 each 
    Here's the deal: The washer made our top picks, delivers impressive cleaning, and was among the most water efficient of the HE top-loaders. It fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. There are 11 wash cycles. The dryer was impressive at its job and claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet. These machines are made in America. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time was 80 minutes using heavy-soil setting. This washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics, but that's true for most top-loaders. 
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide; dryer, 29. Gas dryer is the Maytag Bravos MGDB855DW, $1,150. 

    Samsung sets

    Samsung WF56H9110CW front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EW electric dryer
    Price: $1,450 washer, $1,300 dryer
    Here's the deal: These recommended models are top rated, excellent at their job, relatively quiet, and have jumbo capacities. The washer held 28 pounds of our laundry and was among the gentlest on fabrics. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet for the washer and 9.5 for the dryer. There are 15 wash cycles.
    Consider this: Normal wash on heavy-soil setting is 90 minutes. The SuperSpeed option saved about 15 to 20 minutes without affecting cleaning.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide and can be stacked. The matching electric dryer is shown in the ratings as ending in "EG" to indicate the tested model has an onyx finish; "EW" is white and listed here as it matches the tested washer. Gas dryer is shown in ratings as the Samsung DV56H9100GG, $1,400. 

    Samsung WF56H9100AG front-loader and Samsung DV56H9100EG electric dryer
    Price: $1,200 washer, $1,300 dryer
    Here's the deal: Both made our top picks. The washer has one of the largest capacities tested and fit about 28 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. It offers impressive cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 15 wash cycles.The top-rated dryer was superb at drying and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 85 minutes, but the SuperSpeed option cut wash time of full loads by about 15 to 20 minutes without sacrificing performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide and can be stacked. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9100GG, $1,400.

    Samsung WA56H9000AP HE top-loader and Samsung DV56H9000EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,100 each
    Here's the deal: Both are top picks. This washer has a jumbo capacity and can hold about 28 pounds of laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.6 cubic feet. Washing was impressive and there are 15 cycles. Normal wash time on heavy soil setting was 75 minutes. The dryer aced its job and has a jumbo capacity. Claimed capacity is 9.5 cubic feet. 
    Consider this: As with most top-loaders this washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Each machine is 30 inches wide. The waterproof cycle prevented the washer from becoming unbalanced when we washed several waterproof jackets. Gas dryer is Samsung DV56H9000GP, $1,200. 

    Samsung WA52J8700AP HE top-loader and Samsung DV52J8700EP electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive at cleaning and made our top picks. The jumbo capacity fit 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.2 cubic feet. The dryer was excellent at its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time was 75 minutes using the normal wash heavy-soil setting. The SuperSpeed cuts wash time by 15 to 20 minutes and cleaning is still impressive. However, the washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most top-loaders. This washer has Activewash, a water jet and built-in sink with ridges that enable you to hand wash and soak stained items before they go into the machine.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches, the standard width, yet capacity is very large. When shopping reach into washer to see if you can touch the bottom of the tub. The dryer is Energy Star qualified and using the eco-mode can save you some energy but extends dryer time. Gas dryer is Samsung DV52J8700GP, $1,100. 

    Whirlpool pairs

    Whirlpool Duet WFL98HEBU front-loader and Whirlpool Duet WEL98HEBU electric dryer
    Price: $1,500 each
    Here's the deal: Both have a large capacity. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet for the washer and 7.4 for the dryer. The washer offers excellent cleaning and was gentle on fabrics. There are 13 wash cycles. Normal wash time, on heavy soil setting, is 75 minutes. That's faster than most.The dryer was superb at drying and among the quietest tested.
    Consider this: These machines are Wi-Fi enabled, providing remote control via your smart device that lets you monitor your laundry's progress, start/stop the machine, and more.
    Need to know: Made in the U.S.A. Machines have a silver finish and can be stacked. Each is 27 inches wide. Dryer is not available as a gas model.

    Whirlpool Cabrio WTW8500DW HE top-loader and Whirlpool Cabrio WED8500DW electric dryer
    Price: $1,000 each
    Here's the deal: The washer was impressive and made our top picks.The dryer excelled at drying. Both are relatively quiet. This washer fit 26 pounds of our laundry and was one of the gentlest on fabrics. There are 26 wash cycles. That's right, 26. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet for the washer and 8.8 for the dryer. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time on heavy-soil setting was 80 minutes. 
    Need to know: Washer is 28 inches wide; dryer, 29. They're made in the U.S.A. Gas dryer is the Whirlpool Cabrio WGD8500DW, $1,100. 

    CR Tip

    Some HE top-loaders come with a warning not to wash waterproof items, or the manufacturer may suggest using the low-spin or no-spin mode to prevent the load from becoming unbalanced. That can cause the machine to shake too much, even damaging the machine and laundry area. Check the manual before you buy.  

    Impressive Pairs for $1,700 or Less

    All were impressive at cleaning or drying though most did not make our top picks. The dryers have moisture sensors, a must. Keep in mind that most improvements in performance and efficiency are on washers. If you're set on a matching duo pick your washer and then the dryer. For more details see our Ratings of washing machines and clothes dryers.

    Kenmore couples

    Kenmore 28132 HE top-loader and Kenmore 68132 electric dryer
    Price: $800 each
    Here's the deal: The washer is the least expensive and fastest of the top picks. It took 60 minutes using normal wash on a heavy-soil setting. There are eight wash cycles. Cleaning was impressive and the washer fit about 26 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 5.3 cubic feet. This machine is relatively quiet, as is the dryer. The tested dryer was superb at drying. The dryer highlighted here is a similar model and we expect performance to be similar to tested dryer. Claimed capacity is 8.8 cubic feet.
    Consider this: The washer wasn't so gentle on fabrics although that's true for most HE top-loaders we've tested. The dryer is Energy Star-qualified and you will save some energy but extend drying time using the eco-mode.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, standard width, and yet capacity is jumbo. When shopping reach into the bottom of the washer to see if you can grab that last sock. Dryer is 29 inches wide.

    Kenmore 27132 HE top-loader and Kenmore 67132 electric dryer
    Price: $700 washer, $700 dryer
    Here's the deal: Neither made our top picks but the washer came close. It performed similarly to the Kenmore above and also has eight wash cycles and a wash time of 60 minutes (normal wash, heavy-soil setting). But capacity is slightly smaller. Claimed capacity is 4.8 cubic feet. We fit about 23 pounds of laundry. The dryer was impressive at drying. Claimed capacity is 7 cubic feet. Both machines are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Like most top-loaders this one wasn't gentle on fabrics.
    Need to know: Washer is 27 inches wide, dryer is 29. Gas dryer is the Kenmore 77132, $800.  

    LG duos

    LG WM3570HVA front-loader and LG DLEX3570HVA electric dryer
    Price: $800 each 
    Here's the deal: They didn't make our top picks but the washer was excellent at cleaning, gentle on fabrics, and fit about 21 pounds of our laundry. Claimed capacity is 4.3 cubic feet. There are 12 wash cycles. The dryer aced its job; claimed capacity is 7.4 cubic feet. Both machines were relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Wash time on normal wash heavy-soil setting was 95 minutes. The TurboWash option cut wash time of full loads by 15 to 20 minutes and offers comparable wash performance.
    Need to know: Each machine is 27 inches wide and stackable. They have a graphite finish. In the ratings the dryer model name ends with a "W" to indicate that the tested model was white. It costs about $100 less than the graphite finish. Gas dryer is LG DLGX3571W in white or LG DLGX3571HVA in graphite. 

    LG WM4270HWA front-loader and LG DLEX4270W electric dryer
    Price: $830 each 
    Here's the deal: Not on our top-pick lists but worth considering since LG front-loaders are among the more reliable brands and LG dryers are significantly more reliable than other brands, according to our survey of more than 100,000 subscribers. The washer was impressive at cleaning and has 14 cycles. The dryer was impressive at drying. Claimed capacity is 4.5 cubic feet for the washer, 7.4 for the dryer. Both have large capacities and are relatively quiet. 
    Consider this: Normal wash time using the heavy-soil setting was 75 minutes. The TurboWash option cuts 15 to 20 minutes off wash time and cleaning was just as good in our tests.
    Need to know: Stackable. Each machine is 27 inches wide. Gas dryer is the LG DLGX4271W, $930. 

    How We Test Washers and Dryers

    In addition to washing performance Consumer Reports' washing machine tests look at how gentle a washing machine is on fabric as well as its energy and water efficiency. We look at noise and vibration, and note cycle times using the normal wash, heavy-soil setting. As for our capacity scores, models scoring excellent fit 25 or more pounds of laundry; a very good capacity score means the washer fit 20 to 24 pounds, and good, about 15 to 19 pounds. 

    In our clothes dryer tests we run the machines with different sized loads and a variety of fabrics. We measure noise, capacity, and convenience. Models that earned excellent or very good capacity scores in our dryer tests can hold large loads as well.

    —Kimberly Janeway

     

     

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    New LG OLED UHD TVs Are Super Thin and Support Eye-Popping HDR Video

    A quick look at Consumer Reports TV Ratings will show we're fans of LG OLED TV technology—LG OLED sets now top our Ratings in the two largest size categories. Today at CES 2016, the company unveiled four new OLED series, including new flagship G6 models that will be offered in 65- and 77-inch screen sizes. They will be part of a new LG Signature premium series that will cross product categories, including TVs and major appliances.

    LG expects the 65-incher, which will arrive in late February, to be among the first ultra-high-definition TVs to get certified to use the new Ultra HD Premium logo on its packaging. LG isn't announcing any pricing here at the show, but is instead waiting until closer to when the products actually ship to stores.

    Befitting their flagship status, the LG OLED G6 sets are loaded with features, including robust support for high-dynamic-range video, which really pops off the screen because there's an increased difference between the brightest and darkest images the TV can produce. The new TVs will support both the new SMPTE (HDR 10) standard that most of the industry has just rallied around, and the alternative Dolby Vision HDR technology. They will also support wider color gamuts.

    Sets in the G6 and E6 series are super-slim, as well—just 2.57mm, or less than 1/10th of an inch deep—at their thinnest sections, and feature a design LG calls a picture-on-glass-design with very minimal bezels. 

    The main difference between the two series is that while both feature sound bar bases, the G6 is even slimmer at its thickest point as all the TV's components—connections, amplifier, and speakers system—are housed in a forward-facing sound bar-style base. On the E6 they're located in a slightly deeper bump-out on the back of the panel. Also, the G6 sound bar base can swivel flat for wall mounting, so that the speaker array previously on top of the stand now faces outward.  

    Just below these models will be new C6- and B6-series models, offered in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes. The only difference between these two models is that the C6 sets have curved screens, while the B6 models sport flat screens. LG will also be carrying over the 55-inch 55EG9100, a 1080p OLED set, it introduced last year.

    All of LG's 4K OLED TVs include the company's updated webOS 3.0 smart TV platform.

    We're looking forward to checking out these new OLED UHD TVs in our labs as soon as they become available, and find out if they'll continue to top our TV Ratings (available to subscribers). We'll also be checking out LG's new Super UHD LCD-based sets, which it claims are the best LED LCD TVs it has ever made.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to Care for Your New Cookware

    Starting the year with a new set of cookware can mean years of enjoyable cooking, especially if you treat your pots and pans with care. With proper cleaning, cookware should last for years. It’s important, though, to keep the material from which it is made in mind and clean accordingly. Start by reading your owner’s manual. Here are some cookware care tips from the pros at Consumer Reports, adapted from "How to Clean (Practically) Anything."

    Aluminum. Wash as soon as possible after use, and dry thoroughly to avoid pitting. Aluminum dulls easily, so shine up the surfaces with a soapy non-scratch scouring pad.

    Cast iron. Season cast-iron cookware before using it. Brush the sides of a pot, pan, or saucepan with unflavored vegetable oil, then pour in enough oil to cover the bottom. Heat in the oven at low temperature for an hour. Remove, let cool, pour out the oil, and wipe away any residue with a paper towel. After each use, wash with hot water and dishwashing liquid, and dry thoroughly to prevent rusting. If you notice rust spots, scour with steel wool and a little vegetable oil.

    Copper. Instead of scouring, which can destroy the tin lining, wash pots and pans with warm water and dishwashing liquid, and soak in the same solution, if necessary, to remove baked-on food. Clean the exterior of the cookware with a solution of white vinegar and salt, then rinse and polish. Or use a commercial copper cleaner.

    Enamel. Aluminum, cast-iron, or pressed-steel pans and baking dishes covered with enamel can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher. Avoid abrasive cleaners and scrub pads to prevent scratching.

    Nonstick. Check care instructions. Most are not meant to be washed in the dishwasher but are easily cleaned with hot water and dishwashing liquid. Use plastic or nylon scrubbers on burnt-on food.

    Stainless steel.
    Wash stainless steel with detergent and water as soon as possible after use to reduce the chance of staining. Don’t use scouring powder or steel wool, which may scratch surfaces and leave them prone to staining, and don’t leave stainless-steel pans to soak for long periods, because mineral salts in the water may cause them to pit.

    Best Cookware Sets

    When buying cookware, keep in mind that the number of pieces in a set includes the pots, pans, and lids so a 10-piece set may only have five or six pans. One 16-piece set we tested included six spoons and spatulas in the count. Here are the top five cookware sets from our tests (all aluminum):

    If you only need a pan or two, you can buy individual pieces from the same sets from open stock, including our top-rated frying pans.

    Bonus: How to Clean Bakeware

    Be sure to follow the care instructions that come with most bakeware. As a rule of thumb, avoid steel wool and abrasive cleaners. It’s usually best to simply wash bakeware with detergent and a damp sponge. Soak in a solution of water and a little baking soda to loosen stubborn deposits; if they remain, remove them with a plastic-edged scraper, not a knife.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Faraday Unveils FFZero1 Electric Super Car Concept

    Faraday Future stepped out from the shadows at CES 2016 to reveal a striking electric-powered concept car, dubbed the Faraday FFZero1. This concept serves as a showcase for the company’s concept of a flat, scalable platform that could be adapted to numerous vehicle types (luxury sedan, crossover, compact sedan, and pickup truck) and drive configurations (front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive).

    Faraday's stated intent for its approach to vehicle development is to react to changing market demands with short lead times – more like a tech company – as opposed to a traditional automaker that needs years to design each new model.

    General Motors popularized the notion of a shareable "skateboard" platform with the Hy-Wire concept car over a decade ago, although the idea has yet to reach production. Faraday's approach also is akin to Tesla Motors’ modular platform, demonstrated with the Model S and Model X.

    The single-seat concept car features four “Quad Core” motors producing over 1,000 horsepower, with 0-60 mph times promised in less than 3 seconds and a top speed over 200 mph, Faraday said at a press conference.

    As a technology showcase, the FFZero1 demonstrates augmented reality projected ahead on the road and boasts the ability to educate itself about the driver’s needs in real time and make comfort, convenience, and performance adjustments. There is a smartphone integrated into the steering wheel – the idea to provide familiar controls. At a glance, the potential for distraction is clear and will hopefully be addressed with production models.

    One thing to remember is that concept cars rarely have much in common with production models that reach the street, so this stealthy supercar may never see the light of day.

    Very little was known about the company before the announcement, beyond its financial backing by a Chinese billionaire and acquiring talent from across the auto industry and Silicon Valley – leading to speculation about its ownership. Faraday Future currently has about 500 employees, including senior staff from BMW, Google, government, and Tesla Motors. The California-based company shares its name with English scientist Michael Faraday, known for pioneering work in electromagnetism and chemistry in the early 1800s.

    Faraday Future plans to break ground on a dedicated manufacturing facility in north Las Vegas, Nev., and claims it will start building cars in 2017, according to a Bloomberg report. However, if the Tesla factory rollout is any indicator, that projected timing may be a case of high hopes. 

    In addition to developing cars, the company is also working on autonomous driving technology and unique ownership experiences.

    Faraday Future describes the FFZero1 as a preview of their DNA. Its talents and ambitions definitely make Faraday Future a company to watch.

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    Panasonic Will have a 4K OLED TV and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player This Year

    At a CES 2016 press conference that was surprisingly light on details, Panasonic said it would have a 4K OLED TV this year, as well as its first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

    OLED TVs, short for Organic LED, are a newer TV technology that is able to present very deep blacks and accurate colors, with virtually unlimited viewing angles. One reason for the deep blacks is that each OLED pixel produces its own light, where LED LCD sets require a separate backlight.

    No details were released about when either the 65-inch CZ950 OLED TV or the 4K Blu-ray player would be available, or how they'd be priced. Both products had been shown last year at a European trade show. Right now, LG is the only TV brand selling OLED sets in the U.S.

    The company also said that its LCD-based DX900-series UHD TVs will be among the first to be certified as a Premium Ultra HD TV by the UHD Alliance. Earlier today, LG reported that its OLED TVs would also get that designation.

    We'll try and find out more details about these products when we visit the Panasonic exhibit booth this week. And we'll be reporting separately on Panasonic's new Technics audio products, including two turntables, the Grand Class Technics SL-1200G and limited edition Grand Class SL-1200GAE, which are named for the classic SL-1200s loved by DJs. 

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    Fitbit Blaze Can Last for 5 Days on a Single Charge, Maker Claims

    At CES 2016, Fitbit CEO James Park announced the company’s newest fitness tracker, one that could soon provide stiff competition for the comparably pricey Apple Watch.

    At $199, the Fitbit Blaze is a 24/7 fitness tracker with smartwatch functionality. It tracks your runs and steps while showing you that new email and letting you know how late you are for your next meeting. The Fitbit Blaze also offers music control functionality so you can jam while working out. The real kicker? The company claims it can perform for up to five days on a single charge, theoretically trouncing the Apple Watch’s two-day average.

    Unlike the Apple Watch, however, the Blaze doesn't support any third-party apps, making it less smartwatch, more smart fitness tracker.

    As far as style points, it looks futuristic, much like the Apple Watch. The question is: Will people be eager to have something like that on their wrist all day long? But, like Apple once again, Fitbit will let users have lots of say in the look.

    “One of the first things we learned in this industry is that fitness is personal—and if something isn’t your style, you won’t wear it,” said Park. The Blaze’s line of interchangeable bands will come in various colors and materials—black, plum, and blue for rubber bands; black, camel, and mist for leather bands; and stainless steel. It's up to you whether you want something that screams “deadlift!” or not.

    The traditional Fitbit app features are there, letting you challenge your friends through workouts and compare your progress. But Fitstar, a personal trainer app acquired by Fitbit in early 2015, has now been integrated into the Blaze. That means you can view Fitstar's workouts on your wrist and use them to guide you through simple exercises.

    And, if you forget to initiate tracking at your yoga class, the Blaze can automatically recognize the activity and begin logging data. The Blaze features a heart-rate monitor like the athlete-focused Fitbit Surge, but the lack of dedicated GPS is a step back. If you want to track your run’s location data, you’ll need a smartphone.

    The Fitbit will be available for purchase globally in March, but you can pre-order it from Fitbit’s site today, and from retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Brookstone, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Sports Authority, Target, and Verizon starting January 6.

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    Hottest Cars and Automotive Tech From CES 2016

    Consumer Reports is in Las Vegas covering CES 2016, the big consumer electronics show. Our experts are reporting on the latest cars and auto technology, complete with videos.

    Get the latest car news and show coverage by following us on Twitter @CRCars.

    BMW i Vision Future has 3D Air Touch Gesture Control, Touch-Sensitive Surfaces

    BMW rolled out the i Vision Future Interaction concept vehicle to demonstrate its view on the future of the networked vehicle cockpit. Building on the gesture control found in the 2016 BMW 7 Series, which was first shown last year at CES, the i Vision employs high-resolution displays that interact with the driver in a variety of ways.

    Air Touch is a system that uses sensors to recognize hand movements on multiple planes, so that the gestures are similar to using a touch screen without any physical interaction with the screen surface. Information is communicated to the driver through three screens: a head-up display, a three-dimensional instrument cluster, and a 21-inch panoramic display. The Air Touch system works for both the driver and passenger.

    BMW also showed systems designed to compensate for reduced visibility in its highly stylized i8 supercar. The i8 Mirrorless uses three cameras that replace the rearview mirror, covering larger areas in an effort to eliminate blind spots. The images are stitched together on a single display. The i3 Extended Rearview Mirror takes the image from a roof-mounted camera and overlays it on the interior rearview mirror, to extend the field of view. These technologies provide an interesting look at potential future production technology.


    Faraday FFZero1

    Faraday Future stepped out from the shadows to reveal a striking electric-powered concept car, dubbed the FFZero1. This car serves as a showcase for the company’s concept of a flat, scalable platform that could be adapted to numerous vehicle types (luxury sedan, crossover, compact sedan, and pickup truck) and drive configurations (FWD, RWD, and AWD).

    The single-seat concept car features four “Quad Core” motors producing over 1,000 horsepower, with 0-60 mph times promised in less than 3 seconds and a top speed over 200 mph. As technology showcase, the FFZero1 demonstrates augmented reality projected ahead on the road and boasts the ability to educate itself about the driver’s needs in real time and make comfort, convenience, and performance adjustments. Read more here.


    Ford & Smart Homes

    The next step in car connectivity may involve homes. At CES, Ford demonstrated how its cars could link with smart devices like Amazon Echo and Wink. Such a connection could allow consumers to access the car from home to lock/unlock, start/stop the car (think: warm up, cool down), and check trip stats. From the couch, you could use the Amazon Alexa voice service to perform these functions in plain language, mimicking the abilities some automakers are enabling via smartphone apps. Going a step further, the car could be programmed to start at a certain time and to schedule service appointments.

    Conversely, such a cozy car-home relationship could allow drivers to make adjustments to the home through voice commands. Such functions could include verifying the garage door is closed or porch light is on. Through Wink, a smart home platform, the Ford Synch AppLink could control devices, to turn on/off things around the house, such as open a garage door. The trend is clear: The Internet of things will soon network more things. 


    Garmin BabyCam

    Garmin continues to find ways to add value to its portable navigation devices. The company’s latest trick is to pair the camera with a camera to monitor a baby in the second row. With the Garmin Drive 50 USA LM and BabyCam, the driver can choose to interrupt the displayed map to check on little ones. (The key is to not let this become a driver distraction.)

    With the ability to place the camera where you want, the driver can readily monitor a rear-facing infant. Among the benefits of this system, the lack of a view of a their child is one of the reasons some parents cite for moving their child to forward-facing too soon.

    The camera has night vision, enabling a discrete peek after dark. And the system will provide an onscreen alert to remind drivers to check for passengers before exiting the vehicle—a clever safety feature that could help avoid a tragic incident of unknowingly leaving a baby in a hot car.

    The navigator and camera bundle will retail for $350 this month, and the camera is available individually for $200.

    Kia Drive Wise

    Kia announced that it plans to offer partially and fully autonomous vehicles for sale under the “Drive Wise” name. Building upon current technologies used in driver-assistance systems, Kia’s partially autonomous vehicle will arrive by 2020. By 2030, Kia plans to introduce completely autonomous vehicles that will “provide the driver with greater levels of assistance, anticipating and reacting to changing road conditions and potential hazards.”

    The system on display at CES 2016 include Highway Autonomous Driving, which uses radar and camera systems to stay in or switch lanes; Urban Autonomous Driving, which relies on GPS and sensors to navigate through cities; and Emergency Stop System, which will bring a vehicle to a controlled stop if it detects the driver’s eyes stray from the road for too long.

    The Drive Wise technology doesn’t entirely remove the driver from the equation, however. Kia says that the tech is designed to identify hazards as early as possible, giving the driver or the car enough time to take action.

    Drive Wise will usher in new ways for the driver to interact with the vehicle. Shown in the i-Cockpit on display, these features range from changing driver preferences via fingerprint sensors to allowing the driver to change any cabin setting using gestures.


    Toyota Next-Generation Maps

    To support automatic driving, Toyota is looking to improve mapping data by collecting information from cameras and GPS devices in production vehicles. The concern is that mapping for these purposes has depended on special vehicles with three-dimensional laser scanners. While precise, they travel roads infrequently. By essentially crowd-sourcing the data collection, Toyota seeks a cost-effective way to collect more timely information.

    The automaker admits that this method may be less precise, but by combining data, it estimates a margin of error of just 5 centimeters on straight roads. Toyota plans to integrate this ability in automated vehicles around 2020. It will seek to collaborate with mapmakers, and look for opportunities to share the information with other companies and governments.  

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    Seaboard Rise, One Smart Piano Create New Ways to Make Music

    Plenty of products at CES 2016 buzz and beep, but we found two new ones that aspire to help you make music instead of noise.

    The first, a keyboard instrument called the Seaboard Rise, comes from a company called Roli. Unlike most pianos, organs, synthesizers and Midi keyboards, which have hard, rigid keys, this $800 instrument has a soft, sponge-like surface that allows you to not only play it like a traditional keyboard, but also expand the tonal effects and sound qualities of each note by pressing, gliding and lifting your fingers off the keys.

    Like most Midi keyboards, the Roli allows you to access a vast array of sounds, including guitars, strings, drums, and percussion, when you hook it up to a computer or mobile device via a USB connection or Bluetooth. It reportedly has eight hours of battery life per charge.

    Like the $2,000 Roli Seaboard Grand, this smaller keyboard ships with a robust software package called Equator. But you can use other software instruments and digital audio workstations as well.

    If you're an iOS user and you want to get a feel for Roli’s software interface, download the new mobile app, Noise, which lets you control the same five touch dimensions found on the Rise: strike, press, glide, slide, and lift. According to Roli, the app works with most iPhones, but the 3D touch on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus permit you to take more advantage of it—minus the tactile interface found on the Rise, of course.

    The other product that caught our eye is the One Smart Piano, which comes in two versions: a $1,500 full upright piano with 88 keys and hammer action and a portable 61-key model with touch response. Both are available in white and black.

    The cool thing about this instrument is that it can be hooked up to your smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android) after you download the company’s app. And once your mobile device is connected, the app will help you learn how to play the instrument.

    Just like a good teacher, the app-based tutorial uses several methods of instruction to assist students. It lets you play songs by lighting up each and every note you need to strike. It allows you to slow a song way down and gradually increase your speed while you master it. And it features musical games and interactive video lessons. It even displays the sheet music so students can learn how to read music as well.

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    Samsung Launches Brighter SUHD TVs, and a 4K Blu-ray Player

    Samsung is the biggest television maker in the world, and its product introductions always say a lot about what we'll encounter in stores and living rooms in the months to come. Today at CES 2016, the company made public a line of four ultra-high-def TVs that it calls SUHDs, which are extremely thin and beautifully designed, and that highlight two major trends. 

    First, television makers are betting hard on a technology called high-dynamic range, or HDR, which helps images pop by increasing the contrast between the lightest and darkest images the set can produce. All of the SUHDs support that technology, along with televisions from LG, Hisense, and other companies.

    Secondly, the new TVs underscore Samsung's commitment to the Internet of Things, in which users can control products from appliances to doorlocks that are all linked wirelessly. The TVs introduced today can act as central hubs for items in Samsung's SmartThings program, which ties together 200 household products from a wide variety of companies. 

    Last year, one of Samsung's SUHD sets was the highest-rated LED LCD TV in our TV Ratings. This year's SUHD TV line will again use something called quantum-dot technology, which helps televisions produce an extremely wide and nuanced array of colors. The TVs will support a new industry standard for HDR, called SMPTE HDR10. And, finally, the TVs are brighter than last year's models—the company says this helps ensure that highlights in the picture really pop, even if users are watching in a sunny room. (The brightness helped Samsung's entire 2016 SUHD TV lineup achieve something called an Ultra HD Premium certification by the UHD Alliance. Expect to see that certfication promoted in Samsung's marketing.)

    This year, Samsung's flagship sets are in its KS9500 series, which have curved screens and the new bezeless design, in which all you see is the display, with no apparent edge around it. They'll include a new Smart Hub interface that lets you access favorite content as soon as you turn on the TV. Samsung's Tizen smart TV platform will provide access to streaming UHD movies and TV shows from providers such as Amazon, M-GO, and Netflix. At its press event, Samsung said that UHD technologies developed by a company called NeuLion will let users view a selection of streaming 4K sporting events.

    There's also a new remote control that will automatically recognize and control other devices hooked up to the TV, such as a game console, streaming player, or home theater system. That means users should no longer have to switch from one remote to another.  

    The company also announced its first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, the UBD-K8500, which is slated to arrive in March. This promises to be among the first of these players on the market; we'll try to find out pricing during the next day or two. The player will support the HDR and wider colors we've been hearing about. And based on conversations with some of the Hollywood studios here at CES, it appears there could be 100 or so 4K Blu-ray titles available by fall. Among the titles to expect, according to Samsung, are The Lego Movie and Mad Max: Fury Road.

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    Surprising Innovation Revealed in New Chinese Smartphones

    China-based phone makers Huawei and Asus have been doing a pretty good job of introducing relatively affordable models with features and design cues based on premium-priced smartphones from Apple, Samsung and other more-established players. But at CES 2016, the big electronics show, both companies have introduced models with innovations that may signal their ascendance from technology implementers to innovation leaders.

    Huawei Mate 8

    Huawei’s Mate 8 smartphone is a big smartphone, measuring 6.19 inches x 3.17 inches x 0.31 inches. It’s about the same height and width of an iPhone 6 Plus, though a little thicker. But its dazzling 6-inch 1080 x 1920 HD is a full half inch bigger and comes extremely close to the edges of the phone, which gives it an impressively sleek appearance. The rear edges of the phone’s sleek, aluminum unibody case are slightly curved, which makes this whopper relatively comfortable to grip.

    The phone is not slated currently slated for the U.S., but it—or one just like it—should reach our shores before year’s end.

    The Mate 8 comes with a 16-megapixel camera with an optical image stabilizer (OIS). Phones in our tests with OIS tend to take better still pictures under lowlight or unsteady conditions. The selfie camera has 8 megapixels of resolution. But some camera features seem, well, knuckleheaded. You can edit still-pictures and videos by pressing your knuckles against the display: One knuckle for capturing and croping still images; two knuckles for cropping videos. Thankfully, you can still edit media captured with the camera with other conventional smartphone tools and menu options.

    Huawei says the phone’s 4000 mAh battery will keep the Mate 8 working for up to two days between charges. And when the battery does die you can bring it back to 60 percent capacity in about 30 minutes using the included 9-Volt USB charger, which Huwei says is sufficient for a full day’s work.

    The phone has a 2.3 GHz octo-core processor, which Huawei says contributes to the phone’s energy efficiency. Plus, it says it incorporates a six-layer thermal mechanics technology to keep the phone from running hot when its processors are cranking.

    The Mate 8 comes with the radios and other hardware necessary for handling the voice and high-speed LTE data services of various cell providers. It also includes dual SIM-card slots that allow you to add a second phone account. This includes support for cellular data connections for e-mail, Web browsing, and other Internet-dependent functions from two different providers. Alas, to install the secondary SIM card you have to remove the phone's microSD memory card.

    One cool thing about traveling abroad with the Mate 8: It automatically inserts the correct international dialing prefix of your home country.

    The Mate 8 should also sound good wherever you take it, at least as a speakerphone. The phone’s 120-degree microphone has a 3-meter range and employs a proprietary noise-suppression technology to minimize background noise.  

    On the security side, the Mate 8 has a fingerprint scanner that can capture the unique ridges of you fingertip with the highest level of detail (level 3)—at least on an Android phone, according to Huawei. But it’s in the back of the phone, under the camera, which we found isn’t the most convenient place for frequently used controls. You can use the fingerprint scanner to answer the phone, too. Again, not as convenient as the gesture controls on flagship Samsung and LG phones, which can accept a call when you put the phone to your ear.  Huwwei says its built-in internal and external drive encryption is more secure than the third-party schemes available on Android phones.

    Asus ZenFone Zoom

    When it comes to photographing distant objects, optical zoom lenses generally produce better images than digital-zoom schemes, which only magnify what may not have been all that great in the first place. Too bad bulky, telescoping optical zoom lenses have been a poor fit smartphones, which strive to be slim for for portability and comfort.

    Not anymore. Asus’ ZenFone Zoom comes with a 3x optical-zoom by 28-84mm focal length that seems to have solved the problems of telescoping bulk. The lenses do move, but only on the inside of the phone, which is about 0.5 around the camera and about 0.2 inches along the edges. Instead of projecting outward, as most zoom lenses do, the lenses of this Zenfone move vertically, like a periscope, within the phone.

    Overall, the phone is attractive, with slim metallic unibody with a removable rear leather panel for accessing the removable battery, swapping SIM cards, and upgrading storage via the mico SD memory card slot (up to 128 GB).

    Asus claims the Zoom’s laser auto-focus snap a picture with complete clarity in just 0.03 seconds. The phone also has dedicated buttons for still shots, zoom, and video recording that can save time by overriding screen locks. 

    The camera’s image sensor is 13 megapixels, which puts it within the range of other smartphones in our Ratings with high-performing cameras.  Asus claims its Super Resolution mode captures and combines four 13-megapixel photos to create a single image with a resolution equivalent up to 52 megapixels. Our imaging experts will be eager to check out this claim in our labs.

    The ZenFone Zoom has a 5.5-inch touchscreen that offers a more-than-decent resolution of 403 pixels per inch, and its protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 4. The phone’s removable 3000mAh battery can deliver a full day’s work on a single charge, according to Asus, and a completely drained battery can be replenished to 60 percent capacity in about 40 minutes.

    Its powered by an Intel Atom™ Z3590 quad-cores processor and 4GB of RAM—which comes in handy when you’re juggling multiple apps at once.

    The ZenFone Zoom will launch with Android 5.1 (Lollipop). An update to Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) will be available after launch. U.S. preorders for the $399 64GB model start Jan. 15 and will ship in February. There will also be a 128GB version for an undisclosed price.

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