Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

Consumer Reports

older | 1 | .... | 359 | 360 | (Page 361) | 362 | 363 | .... | 384 | newer

    0 0

    The Best Pillow for a Good Night's Sleep

    The purpose of a pillow is pretty simple: Keep your head and neck aligned while you sleep. If only shopping for pillows were as straightforward. Store shelves and catalogs are stuffed with options: Down, memory foam, latex, polyester, buckwheat hulls. Adding to the confusion is the fact that terms used to describe pillows, like soft, medium, and firm, differ from brand to brand. And price isn’t necessarily an indicator of performance. 

    So many people default to the Goldilocks approach, looking for a pillow that feels just right in the store. But a squeeze only tells you so much. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for your neck to relax onto the pillow, according to Susan Gordon, associate professor of physiotherapy at James Cook University in Australia. “You will need a week sleeping on a pillow to work out if it really is the right pillow for you.” Others opt for trial and error: The pillow that I have is too soft/hard/flat so I’ll get a firmer/softer/fuller one next time. Many give up and sleep with multiple pillows, though that can keep your head too high and throw off the natural curve of your neck. 

    Instead, start your search for the best pillow by matching the pillow to your dominant sleep position: side, back, stomach, or combination. That’s the position you settle into and is likely to be your favorite, according to Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., a fellow at the New York University School of Medicine and co-author of “Sleep for Success!” (AuthorHouse, 2010). Many pillows are now labeled this way, though again the terms vary from brand to brand. So use our advice to fine-tune your shopping. Finally, check pillow return policies so you don’t get stuck with a closet full of rejects.

    (Thought about buying the My Pillow. Find out whether My Pillow should become your pillow.)

    What's Your Sleep Position?

    It’s the most common position. A firm or extra firm pillow is the best pillow to maintain the proper alignment or curve of the neck and head at what a study in a 2015 issue of Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found was the most comfortable height—10 centimeters, about four inches off the mattress. A traditional or contoured memory foam or latex pillow can support the head at the proper angle and might not flatten as quickly over time when compared to a polyester or down pillow. 

    Look for a pillow that supports or cradles the head without losing the natural curve of your neck. Start with medium-loft, medium-firm models filled with down alternative, memory foam, or latex foam. Loft is a pillow’s height as it lies flat on the bed.

    Sleeping on your back is often associated with snoring or the more serious sleep apnea, in which a person stops breathing momentarily. Because gravity can cause the tongue to block the airway and create the disruptive buzzing, one solution is to prop up the sleeper using two to three firm pillows or a wedge pillow to elevate the top half of the body, according to Thomas Roth, PhD, founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

    If you roll over to sleep, your face is very close to the mattress. A thin or soft and scrunchable pillow filled with down or feathers, a down alternative, polyester, or thin foam can keep your neck’s natural curve. But a firm, high-loft pillow could leave you with a sore neck. 

    If you’re a multi-position sleeper, the best pillow for you might have softer and firmer sections, or one that’s lower in the center (for back sleeping) and higher on the sides (for side sleeping). Buckwheat hulls and pillows made of multiple materials fit this bill.


    More on Pillows, Mattresses, and Sleep

     


    A Look Inside Your Pillow

    Down is rated by “fillpower,” which measures the amount of space that an ounce of down takes up. The higher the number, the longer it will stay firm, though down generally makes for a soft pillow that flattens easily. Down color, which ranges from white to dark gray, depends on when it's harvested and the age of the bird, and generally doesn't affect quality. The exception: Eiderdown, which is rare, expensive, and grayish-brown.

    Feather pillows are usually firmer and may not trap as much heat, though the feathers can poke through. People gave feather pillows bad marks for comfort and sleep quality in a 2011 study in Physiotherapy Canada. 

    These soft and pliable pillows are filled with polyester microfibers, giving down’s softness without the allergy concerns. Firmness and loft, the pillow’s height as it lies flat on the bed, vary by brand. 

    Memory foam is mostly polyurethane foam that is moldable to the shape of your head and slow to bounce back. It’s supportive and tends to be on the flatter side, though it maintains its height well. 

    To determine firmness, check the weight; firmer pillows are usually heavier. But, since you tend to sink into a memory foam pillow rather than lay on top, it's not the best pillow for hot sleepers who can get uncomfortable. “There’s no way to wick off moisture or have it evaporate, and that gives more of a sensation of heat because there’s no real circulation,” says Michael Bonnet, PhD, professor of Neurology at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. Some contain gel inserts, marketed as having a cooling effect. But when we tested memory foam mattresses with cooling gel inserts, we found that they didn’t make a big difference. 

    Memory foam pillows come in contoured or traditional shapes. The foam can be solid or chopped up in pieces. 

    Soft yet supportive, this natural rubber product is most like memory foam, but without the heat complaints. It’s also anti-microbial and mildew proof. Latex can have a rubbery odor at first and be on the heavy side, although firmness and loft vary. This is not the best pillow for people who are allergic to latex.

    These hypoallergenic fibers come in a range of heights and densities, but tend toward the soft, and they often flatten or develop hollow spots, though they can be fluffed up again. 

    Supportive and firm, buckwheat hulls tend to be heavy and shift when moved, though they retain their loft well. Some users complain that they are noisy; others have voiced allergy concerns. 

    A recent bedding trend is the use of multiple fill components. Think a single pillow containing memory foam or latex, plus shredded foam and a gel insert. Some pillows even have a compartment that can be filled with hot or cold water and is surrounded by polyester fibers. The best pillows for quick re-fluffing are foam or fiber and foam combinations, according to Andrew Dent, vice president of Library & Materials Research at Material ConneXion, a materials database and consulting firm.


    Pillow-Cleaning Pointers

    Unless your pillow is marked “dry clean only” you should wash most pillows about twice a year following care label instructions, according to Pat Slaven, test engineer and textiles expert at Consumer Reports. “Laundering a pillow isn’t difficult, but while it takes a bit of time to get it dry, the pillow will smell nice and be fluffier after laundering,” she says. 

    Down or feather
    Wash with a small amount of mild powder detergent or a product designed to launder down, on warm and delicate. A liquid detergent that is not completely rinsed out will leave sticky residue and this causes clumping. So massage the pillow in the detergent solution if you can, to ensure that the down is wetted out. It’s also crucial to get the pillow completely dry—otherwise you risk mildew. Unless you like the smell of singed feathers, use the no-heat air-dry setting (it will take a while) and dryer/tennis balls to break up clumps. 

    Memory foam, latex
    Neither can be washed, unfortunately, nor should they really be steamed, which is generally a good alternative for items that can't be laundered. The best bet is to spot treat any stains, preferably as they happen, and to use a pillow cover to extend its life. 

    Polyester
    Wash with warm water on the gentle cycle, preferably a few at a time to balance the load. Be sparing with the detergent. Use about one tablespoon of liquid soap. Machine-dry on low-heat setting with dryer balls or clean tennis balls to fluff them back up.

    Buckwheat hulls
    Empty the buckwheat filling onto a large cookie sheet or wide, shallow bowl. Set the buckwheat out in the sun, which will eliminate odors, and wash the shell case using cold water and a mild detergent.


    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.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    The Right Mattress at the Right Price

    When you buy a new mattress, a bad decision can literally keep you up nights. And the industry doesn’t make it easy to sort the good models from the so-so from the downright awful. With their flowery and pseudo-scientific language, manufacturers’ marketing messages are crafted to persuade you that the bridge between you and a great night’s sleep is only a few thousand bucks. For instance, the Serta Fitzpatrick Pillow Top ($1,100, queen size) is claimed to deliver “excellent body-hugging conformability to each sleep partner.” Ads for the Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Flex, $2,600, proclaim that it’s “a bed that transforms your sleep” with a “dynamic support layer that moves with you.”

    And the two Duxianas we tested, starting at $4,800, are claimed to align your spine “through dynamic contouring support.” But in our tests, all of those were just average at best for back support.

    To help you shop wisely for the right mattress, our labs evaluate every mattress in our Ratings­ not only on how it supports the spine but also on how it endures years of use, absorbs vibration, allows easy movement, and more.

    Before you go shopping, arm yourself with our expert reviews and these tips:

    Start in the back of the store. Stores usually keep the priciest models in front. So head to the back, and if you don’t find the right mattress, work your way toward the front of the store, and up in cost.

    Be hip to bait and switch. When you ask for a particular mattress, such as one featured in one of those alluring ads, you’ll often be told it was replaced by another the store just happens to have that’s “exactly the same.” Don’t believe it; the ad was meant to get you into the store. Also, many model names you see at major retailers such as Macy’s, Sears, and Sleepy’s are exclusive to them—so you won’t be able to comparison shop.

    Expect the hard sell. Sales reps can get incentives for pushing certain models. Extras such as mattress protectors may also add to commissions, so you might hear claims that using one is a condition of the warranty. It’s not.


    More on Mattresses and Sleep



    Take your time.
    Comfort is an individual decision. So make sure you lie on the mattress for 10 to 15 minutes, spending time on each side, on your back, and on your stomach if that’s how you sleep. (Consider bringing your own pillow.) In a survey of subscribers, about 80 percent of those who took the time to do that told us they were satisfied with their purchase. But you usually can’t do that in warehouse clubs or with online retailers, so make sure the return policy lets you send it back if it doesn’t satisfy.

    Consider keeping your box spring. If you’re switching from an innerspring to a foam or air bed, you might need a new foundation with no springs. Otherwise, if the box spring you have isn’t sagging or damaged, it should suffice—and save you money. (Though mattresses and box springs are usually sold in pairs, you can opt to buy them singly; box springs alone usually cost $150 to $300.)

    Haggle. Some businesses, such as warehouse clubs, won’t budge on price. But when shopping for the right mattress at specialty chains and other stores, be sure to negotiate. Markups are huge—that’s why retailers can lower prices by 50 percent or more during their frequent sales. So even if there’s no sale, insist on a “sale” price. No deal? Start to walk out. Chances are, you won’t get far before the sales rep gives in.

    Check the terms. Most companies will let you sleep on a mattress for anywhere from two weeks to 120 days before deciding to return or exchange it, but be sure to get the policy in writing. If you do return a mattress, you might pay a 15 to 25 percent restocking fee.

    Our Mattress Testing Over the Years

    We first tested mattresses in 1938. Although our equipment has changed, our goals have not: to see how much support a mattress provides and how well it will hold up over time. And to help you find the right mattress.

    Side show. Today we measure spinal support by hooking up our testers to sensors that send readings to a computer.

    Bounce test. We used to pound this “buttocks simulator” against each mattress 125,000 times. Today we measure dura­bility with a giant 308-pound roller.

    Spring-loaded. We cut open mattresses to see whether what’s inside is what manufacturers claim. We still count springs, as we did in 1958.

    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.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Nikon Introduces the KeyMission 360, Its First 360-Degree Action Cam

    In the future world of photography and filmmaking, it will no longer be sufficient to think just about what's in front of your lens. A growing number of cameras now let you photograph, shoot video or experience the world in virtual reality, or VR. Such products often claim they can immerse you in an environment by capturing a 360-degree vista of a particular setting, which, if done correctly, gives you the illusion of being in a particular space where you can see in front, behind, above and below you.

    There already have been a variety of action cams utilizing this technology, including the Ricoh Theta and the Kodak SP360. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that new developments in this area have been a notable trend this year at CES 2016, one of the world's largest electronics shows. In the past, although the technology has been intriguing, our Consumer Reports lab's initial testing of some 360-degree digital cameras has left us unimpressed by the quality of the video and still images produced. Most notably, their output seemed not to match the caliber of imaging from traditional digital cameras or camcorders.

    However that may soon change. Nikon, a company known for sharp optics and quality imaging, has jumped on the VR bandwagon with its new 360 camera: the Nikon KeyMission 360 action cam. The company introduced the camera this week at CES. KeyMission features an image sensor and lens on opposite sides of the device, which, according to Nikon, will yield “images from each combining to create a single immersive, ultra-high-definition 360-degree video and still image.” It’s expected to hit the market this spring.

    According to the company, the KeyMission 360 is a rugged camera that’s waterproof to a depth of about 100 feet. It’s capable of recording true 360-degree video in 4K UHD, ultra-high-definition, and lets “users share new perspectives and explore imagery like never before.” Indeed, at the press conference, photojournalist Corey Rich, who has been shooting with the product for about a month, commented that using this type of camcorder to shoot stills or video is, in fact, a big change in how he works. He said, that unlike conventional cameras, where he chooses what’s in front of the lens, with a 360-degree camera, there is now no “back of the lens,” he said.

    “There’s not a set of rules to shoot in VR or 360 degrees,” Rich says. “It’s a blank slate for how these cameras are going to be used.” Rich also noted that he really was impressed by the action cam’s electronic image stabilization and microphone.

    There was no price on the model, and technical specs were sparse. Given that the camera is geared toward the consumer market, it could be priced in the $300-$450 range.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator Renews the Heart of the Home

    If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the refrigerator is the heart of the kitchen. What other appliance does the entire family interact with multiple times a day? And back in the years before our kitchen appliances became encased in sheaths of non-magnetic stainless steel, the oft-visited refrigerator served as shared calendar, message center, and art and photo gallery. With its Family Hub refrigerator, just introduced at CES, Samsung aims to reclaim the central role that refrigerators play in the many interactions of household life.
     
    How? A 21.5-inch, full HD LCD resolution touch screen panel embedded in the upper-right door of the company’s signature 4-Door Flex platform. These innovative refrigerators feature French doors on top and two side-by-side compartments below—one a freezer, the other a flex space that can be switched between fridge and freezer as needed.

    Consumer Reports has tested two Samsung Flex refrigerators, the Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, $5,400, our top-rated 4-door, and the Samsung T9000 RF32FMQDBSR, $3,500, which we also recommend.

    A Look Inside

    Not only is this a high-performance food storage appliance, but the touchscreen also serves three functions that Samsung claims are bound to make it a true hub:

    1. It facilitates family connections. A shared calendar syncs with individual smartphones so that everyone knows the schedule. A memo function allows people to write notes to one another to be displayed on the screen. Photos from digital cameras and smartphones can be downloaded and displayed on the screen to create a rotating gallery.
    2. It helps keep track of food. Cameras mounted inside each of the French doors snap a picture of the contents every time the door is closed, which can be accessed on your smartphone. So, when you’re at the store, you can see what you might be out of or running low on. A simple shopping list app lets you write down things as you need them and then access it on your phone. In addition, Samsung has partnered with shopping apps including Instacart and Groceries by Mastercard, which allow you to order items right away.
    3. It’s an entertainment center, too. The tablet comes with Pandora and the refrigerator has built in speakers, so you can easily play music in the kitchen. If you’ve got a Samsung Smart TV, you can mirror what’s on the TV on the tablet screen, which means you don’t have to miss the answer to Final Jeopardy when you’re making dinner.


    Screen Time

    The Samsung Family Hub refrigerator is Wi-Fi connected, so it’s not a static machine. Samsung will be able to push out software upgrades (just like to a smartphone) as they become available. That means the smart part of this fridge can get smarter.
     
    The Samsung Family Hub refrigerator should arrive in stores this May in both full-depth and counter-depth versions. It will be available in a stainless or a black-stainless finish. The price is expected to be around $5,000. That's on the higher end for a non-built-in refrigerator (think Sub-Zero and Thermador), but it's comparable to other luxury French-door refrigerators, including the 4-door LG LPCS34886C, $6,000, and the 5-door KitchenAid KRMF706EBS, $4,000.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Huawei Watch Elegant and Watch Jewel Bring Out the Bling

    The bulky, gizmo-like designs of early smartwatches may have turned off many people who would otherwise appreciate the notifications and other time-saving benefits they provide. But a number of smartwatch makers have been working to refine smartwatch design.

    Apple and Samsung have focused on clean design, but their products resemble sci-fi film props more than traditional timepieces. Huawei is a good example of a company going in the opposite direction, toward an elegant, classic look. Its Watch is thin, round and made from premium-grade steel—like a fine watch you’d be proud to wear.

    Now the Huawei Watch has two more companions with a bit more flair: The Watch Elegant and Watch Jewel.

    These attractive watches have beautiful gold-metal cases festooned with eye-catching decorations along the bezel. The $500 Watch Elegant (above) has a sparkly, thread-like pattern along the edge. The $600 Watch Jewel (below) is encrusted with tiny Swarovski Zirconia, which are tiny enough to pass for diamonds. And when these watches become available in February, they’ll come with a fresh set of watch-faces and bands. Ironically, these “ladies” versions are 2mm wider than the Huawei Watch in our Ratings. According to Huawei, the original model becomes a man's watch by default.

    These watches also have built in microphones and speakers to handle voice calls, Wi-Fi for connecting to your smartphone over greater distances, and they should be able to survive a dunk in 3 feet of water for about 30 minutes. Also, their 1.4-inch screens are a decently sharp 400 x 400 and should be easy to read in low light, if they perform similarly to the Huawei Watch in our Ratings.

    One potential performance blemish: The heart-rate monitor and step counter in the original Huawei Watch we tested are less accurate compared to a fair number of the other smartwatches in our Ratings. However, the Watch is a recommended product, with excellent marks for usability. And that's the thing about even the most elegant model in this category—to really work for users, it first needs to be a watch that's smart.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Oculus Announces Price and Release Date for Rift Virtual Reality Headset

    Oculus Wednesday began accepting pre-orders for the Rift virtual reality headset. It also set a ship date, as well as a price that might startle some VR fans.

    The Rift will begin shipping to over 20 countries starting March 28, with a pretty hefty $599 price tag. If you want to pick one up in person, it will also be available in “limited locations” at select retailers starting in April.

     

    If that seems pricey for a gaming accessory, you wouldn’t be mistaken. For comparison, recall Sony’s last-generation game console, the PlayStation 3, which was released in 2006. The price? $599.

    So what does 600 bucks get you? The Rift VR headset that slips over your head and connects to your PC; the Oculus Sensor, which tracks your movements; and a wired Xbox One controller. The Oculus Remote, not to be confused with the Oculus Touch controllers that are coming out later in the year, will also be included in the package. (Oh, and it all comes in an attractive case.) The remote is designed to give beginners an easy way to navigate the virtual environment.

     

    Here’s the PC setup Oculus recommends for the Rift:

    • NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 graphics card or greater

    • Intel i5-4590 processor or greater

    • 8GB+ PC RAM

    • Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output

    • 3 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0 port

    • Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

    If you want to see how your current setup fares before you upgrade any parts, you can download Oculus’ compatibility tool here to see if your PC has enough power to support the Rift.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Netflix Doubles Down on Original Content in 2016

    Binge-watchers rejoice: Netflix is moving full steam ahead with original shows, movies and specials in 2016.

    At CES 2016, Netflix, already a ubiquitous presence in about half of all U.S. homes, said it would invest in more than 600 hours of original shows and movies, including some with high dynamic range (HDR), this year. HDR is big news at CES because it promises to boost a TV's contrast and colors to produce an extra-vibrant picture.

    Netflix also said it's expanding to 130 countries.

    Given the popularity and critical acclaim shows like "House of Cards," "Daredevil", and "Narcos" and have garnered, the news—delivered during the company’s CES 2016 keynote presentation by CEO Reed Hastings and content chief Ted Sarandos—wasn’t surprising.

    The company said that in 2016, it plans to release 31 new and returning original series—up from 16 in 2015—plus two-dozen original feature films and documentaries, a variety of stand-up comedy specials, and 30 original kids' series

    There are also compelling business reasons for Netflix to ramp up its roster of original programming. One is that exclusive, original content gives people a reason to subscribe to Netflix rather than a competitive subscription service, such as Amazon. But another is that increasingly, Netflix's business is global, and Hollywood studios tend to sell rights regionally. Netflix can distribute its original programming anywhere in the world it operates without complex, and costly, negotiations for each separate territory.

    During their CES presentation, the executives touted what they consider to be Netflix's superiority to traditional pay TV providers, stating Internet-based delivery lets them reach consumers wherever they are, and on a variety of devices beyond the TV screen. That, combined with a potential global audience, allows them take more risks and produce a diverse range of content.

    Neither Netflix executive went into much detail about specific titles, or exactly how much content with HDR would be available beyond the already announced "Marco Polo" series.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Thanks to Sony, Logo Confusion in the TV Aisle

    The electronics industry has always been plagued by too much jargon that is used to describe similar technologies. Try reading the packaging for several TV sets and you might see totally different language.

    Well, the TV industry seemed to make progress toward fixing this at CES 2016 when an industry group called the UHD Alliance announced new standards to help people shop for ultra-high-def, or 4K, televisions. The organization's new Ultra HD Premium logo was supposed to simplify things for consumers: Buy something with that logo and you'd know you were getting top ultra-high-def performance (probably at a premium price).

    That clarity for consumers lasted about 24 hours before Sony threw a wrench into the logo works. The company announced a bunch of interesting new TVs at a CES press conference. But at the same time, it announced its own "4K HDR" logo, which appears to compete with the UHD Alliance logo, and is just bound to confuse people. 

    According to a Sony spokeswoman, the company wanted a 4K HDR logo that could be used across all its 4K products, not just TVs. It's not clear if the UHD Alliance logo might appear on the packaging for some Sony TVs, along with the company's own logos.

    New Set Lineup

    Its messaging aside, Sony has an interesting lineup of televisions. Sony's XBR-series TVs have typically been top performers in Consumer Reports' TV Ratings (available to subscribers)—the 65-inch 65XBR-X930C was one of our Top 5 TVs of 2015 picks—so we were eager to hear about the new model.

    At CES, Sony announced three new series of 4K Ultra HD televisions, the XBR-X930D, XBR-X940D, and the XBR-X850D. All have what Sony describes as full HDR capability, and will bear the 4K HDR logo.

    HDR, or high-dynamic range, televisions can provide a very wide range of brightness, between the darkest and lightest parts of the picture. New HDR standards are prompting many TV companies to make these sets for 2016.

    The XBR-X930D and XBR-X940D sets are similar except for screen sizes and their type of backlight. The X930D line is offered in 55- and 65-inch sizes, and uses a new type of backlight technology Sony says can create grid-style local dimming without using a full-array backlight. Local dimming, which divides portions of the backlight into small zones that can be independently dimmed or brightened, depending on the scene, can help improve contrast and black levels.

    The X940D is a 75-inch model that does use a full-array LED backlight. All the sets get Sony's Triluminos wider-color technology.

    The XBR-X850D-series sets will be offered in 55-, 65-, 75-, and 85-inch screen sizes. They have the Android TV smart TV system with voice search and a new Content Bar interface that lets you access apps and other content more directly. They lack a super-slim design, and they're missing Sony's X-tended Dynamic Range Pro technology that can more precisely control backlight levels to boost contrast and HDR performance.

    Sony said sets in all three series will be available early this year, but it didn't reveal pricing.

    Sony also showed off a new high-intensity backlight called Backlight Master Drive, which it says can boost brightness to four times the level required for Ultra HD Premium certification. That should result in dynamic range that goes way beyond most current sets, though it's not all that apparent that any TV in your home would require that level of brightness. 

    The other news for Sony was that later this year it will launch a new 4K app, called Ultra, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Ultra is a premium service that lets you buy and stream 4K HDR movies and TV shows from your Sony 4K HDR TV.

    You can be sure that we'll be testing several of these new Sony models in our TV labs this year, so we're looking forward to seeing how well they do.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    The Coolest Smartphones You’ve Never Heard of

    It’s a given that smaller, lesser-known smartphone makers have to try harder to distinguish themselves in a market dominated by multbillion-dollar conglomerates. These models from a Kickstarter company called Nextbit and a newly formed, U.S.-focused Japanese company called Freetel definitely caught our eye with their refreshingly rebel-like approach to phone design and service. These Android smartphones may not be for everyone, but then again, that’s not their objective. In any case, they sure are interesting.

    Back to the Retro-Future

    Freetel’s Musashi is a new take on an old form factor: the flip phone. But the Musashi is not your grandfather's Startac. It's a genuine Android smartphone with two 4-inch touch screens.

    The outer display, which has a resolution of 800 x 480, allows you to access all most functions. Flipping the phone open reveals the other display, which the Freetel spokesperson said has a much sharper, qHD resolution.

    But more interesting is what’s below it: A retro-cool, alpha-numeric keyboard (more convenient that a touch screen for dialing new numbers) with call and end-call/power buttons. Above the keyboard is a flip-phone-style joystick for selecting apps and scrolling within web pages and documents. The joystick is flanked by hard buttons for launching email, camera, Web browser, and contacts apps. 

    Freetel hasn’t revealed Musashi's actual dimensions and other specs yet, but when folded closed, it seemed to be about a the size of the latest iPod Touch (about 5 inches by 2.3 inches), but a lot thicker, say about a ½-inch thick. Flipped open, it seemed a tad unwieldy, almost as long as a ruler. No word yet on when it will reach the U.S., but we’ll be there to receive it and check it out.

    A Fly Robin

    The thin, slab-like Robin ($399) smartphone drew our attention at CES 2016 because it looked sort of like a Sony Xperia Z painted an eye-catching mint blue (you can also get it in midnight blue). Its shape is clean and uncluttered, as is the desktop of this Android phone. There's no bloatware. In fact, you won't see many of the more useful apps that typically fill a smartphone screen.

    And that’s the idea behind Robin, a no-nonsense smartphone that keeps things simple by keeping much of what you do on your own personal 100GB piece of it’s cloud-based server.

    Nexbit says Robin “automatically optimizes” the space on your phone by monitoring your app usage and moving the apps and data you don’t use often to the cloud (the generous cloud storage is included with the price of the phone). The phone itself, which has a 5.2-inch 1080 display, comes with 32GB of storage. By default Robin only does this over Wi-Fi when your phone is charging to minimize impact on your data allowance and battery life. That’s a good thing, too, because the battery has only 2680 mAh of capacity. Smartphones with such large displays typically require batteries with at least 3000mAh of storage to function for a full day on a single charge.

    Robin has four tiny blinking lights on the back to let you know when it is communicating with the cloud server. Another LED on the bottom serves as an alert for important notifications. Other notable Robin features include a 13MP camera with autofocus and dual-tone flash; NFC for wireless file transfers and mobile payments; and a fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone's screen without a password. 

    As you may have guessed, spec-wise, Robin is a mid-level smartphone. But that’s all most people really need, given that the additional features you’ll find on most top-shelf models are gesture controls and settings few people use.

    If you want this phone, you had better hurry because Nexbit will stop taking preorders after Jan. 15. The Robin, which is sold unlocked, is available for both GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile) and CDMA (Verizon, Sprint) carriers.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    3 Products That Turn Your Fitness Data Into Training Tips

    Many of us are obsessed with tracking our steps and sleep on our fitness trackers, but once you have all that data, how do you use it? One trend here at CES 2016 is fitness gadgets and equipment that take your data and give you feedback and suggestions based on it, acting like a digital fitness coach.

    Altra IQ Smart Running Shoe

    The Altra IQ smart running shoe, due to hit the market in February, is both connected and smartly designed. Powered by iFit technology, super thin, flexible, undetectable sensors are embedded along the full midsole of both shoes; many other smart shoes have the sensor in just one.

    Using an iFit device or the iFit app on your smartphone you can get instant feedback as you run on many biometrics delivered through headphones or on a screen. For instance, Altra will tell you whether you land on your heels or toes, or if you land harder on one foot than on the other. Then, it offers suggestions for improving your form so you run more efficiently and reduce the risk of injury.

    The company claims that the sensors last for about 600 miles of use. Typically running shoes should be replaced once you’ve put about 500 miles on them, so that’s longer than the life of the shoe itself.

    The shoes are as stylish as anything else on the market, and they appear to be well constructed. They have a foot-shaped toe box and a zero drop heel, which allows your feet to move in a more natural way, improving comfort and helping to prevent injuries.

    Peloton Group Cycling Bike

    Peloton’s group cycling bike is a high-end piece of equipment that gives you a smooth, comfortable ride. The bike comes with a 21-inch HD touchscreen that sits on top of the handlebars and connects wirelessly to the Internet. You can access over 3,000 different group cycling classes and have the option of joining one live or on demand. Choose a class by time, level, instructor, even the type of music (everything from Christmas carols to country). Metrics such as heart rate, cadence, and resistance are measured during each ride and stored so you can capture your progress over time.

    The set up really makes you feel like you’re in the same room with the other cyclists. And if you’ve got friends anywhere in the world who also have the bike, you can take classes together and even video chat with each other.

    Motivated by a little competition? Use the real-time leaderboard feature that lets you see how others in the class are doing. The price is steep at $2,000, plus $40 per month for an unlimited class subscription, but not out of line for a piece of home fitness equipment.

    Levl

    And of course you want to know how much fat you’re burning when you’re doing all that exercise. That’s where Levl comes in. It measures the acetone level in your breath, which indicates whether you’re using fat for fuel. Breathe into the device and insert it into the docking station and it sends the data to your smartphone. Armed with that information, you can make real-time decisions about your diet and workout habits that will help you maximize your fat loss. It’s not on the market yet, but the company expects it to be later this year.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    CleverPet Is a Game Console for Dogs (Yes, for Dogs)

    On paper, it sounded like an absurd idea—a pair of neuroscientists from San Diego launching a game console created for dogs. But, when all was said and done, the guys from CleverPet raced past a field of smart home devices and virtual reality accessories to take first prize in a CES startup competition. The reward? A free booth at this evening’s Showstopper event.

    In many ways, that victory is a sign of how digital our lives have become. The halls here are filled with devices that track our health, adjust the temperature in our bedrooms, log the groceries in our refrigerators, water the lawn and tell us when the front door is unlocked. If you really want to know what the connected home can do, just take a look at all the monitoring devices available for the nursery.

    So why not welcome the family pet to the party? Not with a canine locator or a canine health monitor—those have already been invented—but rather with a digital entertainment device.

    Designed (with help from IDEO co-founder Mike Nuttal) by a pair of animal lovers each with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, the CleverPet hub provides bored canines with mental stimulation. Instead of sleeping the day away, the pooches get to solve puzzles. The speakers on the white-plastic console emit various sounds and tones, and three touchpads light up in colors from the blue-to-yellow spectrum (which dogs can see).

    To earn a kernel of dog food from the console’s spout, your pet must recognize and remember patterns in the lights and sounds. The riddles start simple and get more complex.

    Some dogs take to the games right away. Others need a little coaxing. CleverPet has an app that can walk you through the process. And while teaching your dog to master memory games might sound like a big hurdle, CleverPet co-founder Daniel Knudsen points out that mice and rats have been doing it for a long time—in science labs all over the world. “We’re just bringing the concept to the consumer market,” he says.

    Right now, the plan is to bring the product to market in mid-April. You can preorder it online through January 10 for $269. Knudsen and fellow founder Leo Trottier hope to eventually add other smart products (think balls and other items a dog might retrieve) to turn your home into a virtual playground.

    They also think the device can be used as a training tool.

    Needless to say, Trottier made all of those points with aplomb in his five-minute pitch on the CES LaunchIt stage. It didn’t hurt that he had video of dogs—really cute dogs—playing his games to share with the audience. He also had a pitch-perfect sense of humor. To the delight of the four judges, who were assembled to make sure each product had market potential, he ended his closing statement with this line: “Our users literally have nothing better to do with their time.”

    In the end, though, it wasn’t the video or the joke that won people over. It was the fact that Trottier wasn’t chasing a hot trend like virtual reality or the Internet of Things. He used technology available to almost anyone to solve a unique problem—one that he convincingly argued needs solving. Let’s see if other animal lovers agree with him.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 01/07/16--08:43: Return of the Turntable
  • Return of the Turntable

    If you walked among the many audio vendors here at CES this week, you’d see that most have at least one vinyl turntable. It’s enough to make you feel like you've been transported back in time to the late 1970s or early 1980s—instead of the usual CES effect of being thrust forward in time to some futuristic tech dream world.

    There’s a reason for this explosion of record players: According to a recent Nielsen report on the U.S. music market, Americans are falling in love with vinyl LPs again. “Vinyl stayed strong,” says Neilsen, “as sales of LPs hit a new record in 2015—nearly 12 million units. This marks the 10th straight year of vinyl sales growth.” Earlier this year, the Recording Industry Association of America revealed that vinyl showed a 52 percent increase year-over-year (while the streaming business climbed just 27 percent).

    Those kinds of numbers are driving many manufacturers, from start-ups to established brands like Sony, to bring new turntables to the market. However, the new models are not entirely like the old ones.

    For example, the new Sony PS-HX500 (no price yet, but it’s expected to be available this spring) has audio outputs that let you connect (via a wired connection) to speakers and play your vinyl the way you normally would in back in the good old days. But Sony is also marketing this product as a premium Hi-Res audio product, which means there’s some higher end, new technology involved, as well. The new record player comes with a built-in A/D converter, which Sony says, “supports hi-res digital transfers in either native DSD (up to 5.6 MHz) or WAV files (up to 192 KHz/24-bit resolution).” What this means is that users can digitally convert their music via included software from vinyl by hooking up the turntable to a computer. Once the audio has been captured on the computer, consumers can then play the files on most of Sony's compatible Hi-Res Audio devices...which, of course, cost extra.

    And Sony’s not alone. Panasonic, which owns the Technics brand, has announced that the SL-1200G, a high-end, direct-drive turntable, will come to market this summer. It echoes a classic Technics model long loved by DJs and hardcore music lovers. According to the company, the turntable will consist “of three layers of brass, aluminum die-cast and deadening rubber, which have improved rigidity and realized highly stable rotation.” Like Sony, Panasonic had a prototype of this model in its Technics showroom on the CES show floor, and it was an impressive looking piece of hardware. There’s no price on this model yet, but it’s expected to be expensive. 

    As I mentioned, smaller companies are manufacturing turntables, too. Flexson (see the photo at the top of this article) has introduced two VinylPlay turntables—a higher-end turntable (VP3) and a more affordable version (VP1). Pricing and release date are still pending for both, but they’ll probably be priced around several hundred dollars.What makes these turntables unique is that they’re meant to work with the Sonos wireless speaker system.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    2017 Audi Q7 SUV Proves Slick and Opulent

    Those of us with long commutes can’t wait to get out of the car at the end of the day. Not so with the redesigned 2017 Audi Q7. It is so slick and pampering, that the temptation is there to take the long way home.

    Nearly a decade after the Q7 debuted, Audi has introduced a complete redesign of its luxury three-row SUV, a natural competitor of the Acura MDX, BMW X5, and Volvo XC90. The 2017 Audi Q7 is lower and lighter than the first-generation model. On sale shortly, prices start at $54,800 for the Premium trim and can go beyond $85,000 for a fully loaded Prestige, like the one we rented from Audi. Most buyers will gravitate toward the Premium Plus, which when typically equipped, lands in the mid $60,000 range.

    Over the years we’ve tested two of the previous generation Q7, commending its fit and finish and handling agility. But from the vantage point of the slick new Q7’s throne, the previous model may look and feel clunky and outdated.

    The new Q7 employs Audi’s supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that puts out 333 horsepower and is mated to a super smooth eight-speed automatic. A diesel version was supposed to be offered, but that powertrain is on hold for now, due to the corporation’s diesel emissions dilemma. The forced-induction V6 supplies smooth, refined, and effortless motivation. EPA fuel economy estimates are still pending, but we’ve observed an average of about 21 mpg in mixed driving—good for the segment.  

    One of the striking characteristics of the 2017 Audi Q7 is how quiet it is. The new Q7 instills a sense of shielding its occupants from the outside world, isolating them in a calm, tranquil cabin. Ride comfort is impressive with a plushness and control reminiscent of a Land Rover Range Rover. That said, the particular example we drove is equipped with the optional air suspension, a $4,000 extra, so we’ll have to see how the Q7 rides on its standard suspension.

    Handling is responsive and confidence inspiring, making this three-row SUV feel like a smaller, nimbler car. Switching the drive mode to Dynamic tightens things up, with more heft in the steering, added tautness (with virtually no sacrifice to comfort), and altered shift points, all of which contribute to a more spirited drive.

    Audi is known for gorgeous interiors and if you think the 2017 Audi Q7 is nicer than the flagship Audi A8, you wouldn’t hear an argument from us. Leather, wood, brushed aluminum, and double stitching are all top shelf. The $6,000 luxury package further ups the opulence with massage seats, suede headliner, and soft-closing doors.

    Even without the massage therapy, the seats are super comfy and supportive even for the long haul. Rear seat room is also generous. The procedure of getting into the third seat is not immediately obvious, however. It takes pulling a lever and then lifting a handle at the back of each second row outboard section to clear a path to the way back. Audi should have swallowed some corporate pride and copied the Honda pushbutton trick that’s in the Pilot and Acura MDX.  

    The highlight of the car is no doubt the optional 12.3-inch instrument panel Audi calls a virtual cockpit. Like the Audi TT, it can highlight the functions you’re on (audio, navigation, phone, trip info) and minimize the main gauges. The vivid Google map in front of you has a wow factor. But unlike the TT, the Q7 also has a retractable center screen for displaying the information. The Q7 is also compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We appreciated the crisp sound of the optional Bang & Olufsen stereo.

    As far as active safety, the Q7 packs a system called “pre sense” that scans the road for other cars and pedestrians; it can apply full braking at up to 25 mph and avoid a collision. Above that speed threshold and under 52 mph, the system will slow down the vehicle to mitigate the damage.

    Clearly, Audi has stacked the deck with the new Q7. It is smooth, refined, opulent, and brimming with high-tech. We can't wait to buy our own and put it through our regimented test program. And in the process, get more opportunity to commute in it.  

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Misfit Introduces Bluetooth Headphones for Running and More

    Misfit, the same company that produces the Shine fitness tracker, unveiled a curious product at CES 2016: wireless in-ear headphones that go the extra mile and track your activity too—no wristband required. The Specter made its debut yesterday at CES 2016, the big electronics show. 

    Designed as Bluetooth headphones for running or biking, they go "beyond tracking," says Ryan Geraghty, an industrial designer for Misfit who worked on the Specter. They'll tell you how far you've run and how much you've slept, like a lot of fitness trackers do. But these also come with a built-in filter so that you'll hear that car behind you, for example, even though you've got your motivational tunes cranked as you're pounding the pavement.  

    What It Features

    The Bluetooth headphones use an embedded accelerometer at the end of their cord that you clip to your clothing to keep track of your movements, which you can check by looking at the app on your smart phone.

    Consumer Reports hasn't had a chance yet to test out the audio on these headphones. But the company says Specter has dual drivers for "clean, rich sound."

    Geraghty says that one of his favorite features is the ergonomic in-ear design that "make it more comfortable than wearing regular headphones, especially if you use them when sleeping" and press your ear against them.

    Specter also works with an app on the Misfit Link, another activity monitor the company makes, to allow you to control things remotely, such as turning off the lights at home. Who knew a pair of headphones could come in so handy?

    Misfit says these Bluetooth headphones for running use rechargeable batteries that last for 10 hours. Specter isn't available in stores just yet but will be later this year, the company says.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Withings' New Health, Fitness Devices are Family-Friendly

    With the launch of a smart thermometer, as well as an inexpensive fitness tracker, Withings is showing that this CES is all about parents, or at least the ones who want to track their kids’ habits. 

    The company has had children’s health on the brain for a while; it already has a smart scale for infants, as well as a smart baby monitor. 

    The new Withings Go is an activity tracker priced and seemingly designed for kids. At $69, it's priced so that losing it isn't a disaster, and its colorful accessories should go well with whatever fictional character your child has on his or her shirt.    

    It’s also tiny, and fits in the palm of your hand. It’s a disc that you can pop into various colored clip-on cases or watchbands. The cases comes in red, green, yellow, black, and blue, and can be worn on the wrist, belt, keychain, or pocket.

    Thanks to the e-ink display (think Amazon Kindle), it’s easy for your kids to see their progress when they're outside. That always-on e-ink display is really “always-on.” The device can last for eight months on a single charge, according to Withings. Just replace the CR2032 button cell battery (which you can usually find at any convenience store) and you’ll be good to go again; no more recharging fitness trackers after finishing homework.

    In addition to tracking steps, it’ll automatically detect when the user is swimming, and record that data as well. It syncs with the Withings HealthMate app, as well as Apple Health, among other fitness apps, just like Withings’ other fitness tracking devices.

     

    The addition of the Withings Go adds yet another option to Withings expanding lineup of smart fitness devices. In 2015, Withings created the Withings Activité Pop, a cheaper version of its $400 analog fitness tracker, Withings Activité.

    The Thermo is Withings’ infrared thermometer, recording your temperature with the push of a button. Inside the sleek-looking device are 16 sensors that can record 4000 measurements in 2 seconds, according to the company. It’s got Wi-Fi built in, so data is automatically uploaded to Thermo’s app.

    It makes sense for Withings to expand its product line with the Withings Go, as well as Thermo, considering how the fitness tracker market is poised to explode—by 2018, 111.9 million wearable devices are predicted to ship, according to an eMarketer research study. The competition has a headstart in the low-end market, however; Fitbit has its own tracker, the Zip ($59), and Jawbone has its own, the Jawbone Up move ($49). 

    If kicking off the new year involves buying a fitness tracker, or you want to keep track of your child’s activity without making a fuss if it goes missing, the Withings Go is another option for many, especially if the goal is to do more than count steps.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    New Twist on an Ergonomic Snow Shovel

    With their extra bends in the shaft, ergonomic shovels promise to be easier on your back. But some are mixed blessings. Consumer Reports looked at a newer model, the $90 Bosse Ergonomic Snow/Scoop Shovel, which has no bend but offers a unique design. We were initially intrigued, but our testers weren’t impressed.

    We liked this snow shovel’s D-shaped top handle, which allows easy control, especially with an unbalanced load. Its most prominent feature, though, is a ring-shaped handle in the middle of the shaft that twists and clicks into place (in one of eight distinct positions) to let you select the most comfortable position for your hand and wrist. Yet that very ring, intended to reduce stress, gave our testers trouble. 

    The Best Intentions

    On a typical snow shovel, you can move your hand up or down the shaft as needed to lift snow—and vary how you bend your back. The ring did help our testers’ wrists assume a more natural position. But because the ring prevented our testers from changing their grip on the shaft, they needed to lean in a repetitive way. And since the ring itself adds about two pounds to the shovel’s overall weight, you won’t be able to scoop up as much snow at one time.

    In a query to the manufacturer, Bosse concurred but noted that if you’re concerned about stress and strain on your back, picking up less snow at a time is the better practice. With less snow at a time on the shovel, you shouldn’t need to choke up on the handle, with one hand close to the scoop.

    Our position, however, is that a lighter snow shovel, not a heavier one, lets you lift more snow and less shovel for the same amount of work. We can’t recommend a snow shovel that further slows down the task.

    Last winter, which saw a lot of snow, we tested the Poly Pro Tools Titan and the Nordic Plow Perfect Shovel and they both had their pluses. But if you have to move a lot of snow, consider one of the snow blowers that aced our tests.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    LEDs That Watch Over Your Home

    Ultra-high-def TVs and the future of the networked car cockpit are making news at the Consumer Electronics Show. But so are lightbulbs. After all, LEDs are electronic products with built-in sensors, cameras, or speakers designed to provide home security, safety, or music while casting light. Welcome to the future.

    Lighting is the most important real estate in the home—it’s in every room and everybody uses it—making it a great place for manufacturers to add sensors and other controls. Shax Riegler, who leads the home and appliance content team at Consumer Reports, is at CES and flagged the LEDs, and an interesting retrofit that caught his attention.

    Kuna Toucan, $199
    Kuna makes home security systems that are outdoor lighting fixtures with a smart Wi-Fi camera built-in. For existing outdoor lights there’s Toucan, seen above. This retrofit has all the same features and functions as Kuna’s fixtures and is powered by the same mobile app. A camera detects movement at your door and alerts you via your smartphone, so you can see who’s at the door and talk with visitors or detect intruders. Toucan will be available mid-year at Amazon.

    Stack Downlight BR30 LED Starter Kit, $150
    Built-in sensors enable the LEDs to react to existing light and motion, producing what Stack calls perfect light that’s responsive throughout the day—from a cool light to energize you in the morning to soft warm light for unwinding in the evening—adapting to your patterns and preferences. The starter kit has two bulbs and a hub; additional LEDs are $60. You’ll find them on Stack’s website and on Amazon in March. Learn more about LED light color and its effects in our story, "LED lightbulbs that promise to help you sleep."

    BeON Home Protection System, $199
    Each system comes with three LEDs and smart modules that are meant to deter break-ins by making it seem like you’re home. Screw the LEDs into any sockets and Bluetooth Smart enables them to learn your lighting behaviors via your interaction with the light switch, and then they replicate the pattern when you’re away. Your doorbell can also activate the lights. Available at Amazon, there’s now a BeON Home app for Android users too.

    Sengled LEDs
    Named a CES Best of Innovation in the smart home products category, Sengled Voice is an LED with an integrated microphone/speaker that enables voice control of devices and home security in every room. With a Voice LED in every light socket—just screw it in and connect to Wi-Fi—Sengled claims you gain voice control of devices, voice interaction with the cloud, and improved home security and safety by detecting sounds such as glass breaking. In the case of smoke/CO alarms, you’ll be alerted on your mobile device and all Voice LEDs in the home will make a siren noise. Baby crying? You’ll be notified on your mobile device and can calm your child by talking or playing a lullaby. Teenage ranting? That’s trickier. No news on price yet. Voice will be available mid-year.

    Our engineers are testing the Sengled LEDs with JBL wireless speakers, the $55 Sengled Pulse Solo, and the Sengled Pulse, a set of two downlight LEDs for $146. We’ll report our results soon. For more lightbulb choices, see the results of our tests of dozens of LEDs and CFLs.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Affordable, Electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt Boasts 200-Mile Range

    The all-new 2017 Chevrolet Bolt introduces a fresh, purpose-built platform that tucks its batteries neatly below the flat floor surface. GM boasts that the Bolt will have more than a 200-mile range and cost around $30,000, after government incentives.

    Where most small electrics have delivered less than a 100-mile real-world range, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt stands out with its promise to travel distances more like a Tesla Model S—a large, luxury electric car that costs about three times as much. Using a DC fast charger, the battery can reach 80 percent of capacity in 60 minutes.

    We drove the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt briefly in Las Vegas at CES 2016. (See video above.) Our initial impressions are that the Bolt is responsive with engaging steering, making it relatively fun to drive.

    This is the first GM application of what could be called “one-pedal driving.” The prototype we drove had two efficiency modes. With the first, a pull lever on the left side of the steering wheel (like a paddle shifter and similar to the Volt) operates the regenerative braking and can bring the car to a stop. In the other mode, shift to "L" and the car will engage regenerative braking with pedal off—like the BMW i3—bringing the car to a stop. You can conceivably drive the car all day without using the brake pedal. Instead of wasting energy as heat through the brakes, you can charge the batteries for later use.

    The roomy interior houses a new infotainment system with low-energy Bluetooth that can recognize the driver’s phone before entering the car, accelerating the pairing.

    Most advanced safety features will be standard when the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt can serve as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, with a data plan.

    The navigation factors EV considerations, with routes configured to maximize range and the ability to find local charge stations. Through the MyChevrolet smartphone app, the driver can check charge status, remote start, peruse the owner’s manual, and schedule service.

    Most advanced safety features will be standard when the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt begins production in late 2016.  

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Under Armour-HTC HealthBox Shows Up Late to the Fitness-Tracking Party

    Under Armour just unveiled a device that's long been in the works. Created in partnership with the electronics manufacturer HTC, it might be the start of a new trend: the also-ran fitness tracker.

    HTC announced its own fitness tracker, the HTC Grip, a year ago. That too was a joint effort involving Under Armour. But the ambitious concept (packing GPS and a touch screen) never reached the public due to a series of delays.

    That isn’t to say the HealthBox—a $400 bundle that includes a fitness tracker, heart rate monitor, and smart scale—isn’t novel. It just isn’t that novel.

    The three items come in a distinctive large red box. The Under Armour Band fitness tracker looks sleek, with a black-and-red color scheme and black-and-white OLED screen; the disc-shaped Under Armour Heart Rate is smaller than the ubiquitous Polar heart rate monitor; and the Under Armour Scale has a unique circular design that sets it apart from most smart scales on the market, including Fitbit's and Withings’ top-selling connected models.

    These devices do what you’d expect: the Under Armour Band tracks your steps, sleep, and calories (sorry, no GPS here anymore), the Under Armour Heart Rate tracks your heart rate during workouts or runs, and the Under Armour Scale keeps an eye on your weight and body fat percentage.

    All data gets funneled through Under Armour’s UA Record app, which aggregates fitness data from apps like Endomondo and MyFitnessPal (both owned by Under Armour), among others. Your health data gathered with HealthBox devices can also be imported into Apple’s Health app.

    You can pre-order the HealthBox from Under Armour.

    The products look promising, but companies have been saturating the fitness tracker market, with the biggest differentiating features being how they look and how long the battery lasts. Apparently, there are only so many things you can track on a wrist.

    Fitbit makes fitness trackers along with smart scales that import your weight and body fat data, and other manufacturers like Jawbone, Polar, and Garmin have their own devices that track your movements.

    Withings has its three fitness trackers, smart scale, infrared thermometer, and blood pressure monitor. They're all made to work with Withings Health Mate app, which can send data to Apple Health, just like Under Armour Record.

    We can't predict whether the new HealthBox might push past its competition—after all, Under Armour has a dedicated fan base, and the company was a successful startup in the crowded field of workout clothing. But the release of yet another new set of devices that tracks basic fitness data and stores it in its own app raises the question: Do we need yet another fitness tracker?

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Tech Toys That Teach While You Play

    As you may have noticed, it doesn’t take much effort to convince a kid to play. That’s why toy companies perform such a vital role in educating our children. If you’re interested in giving your offspring a leg up in school, you may want to watch for these fun products introduced at CES 2016. They all use technology to impart valuable skills on the sly.

    Fisher-Price's Code-A-Pillar

    With its great big eyes, friendly smile, and drooping, dog-ear-like antennas, this rolling caterpillar is hard to resist—especially when it begins to light up and chirp.

    But here’s what makes the $49.99 toy extra charming: Each of the six segments between the motorized head and tail is designed to perform a different function. One moves the creature forward, another turns it to the left, a third makes it pause briefly, and so on. By shifting the pieces around, thereby altering the sequencing, your pre-school-age Einstein learns the basics of coding, or computer programming, without even realizing it.

    Look for the Code-A-Pillar in stores this fall.

    Kolibree’s Smart Sonic Toothbrush

    Every parent knows what a chore it is to get a child to brush his or her teeth. No matter how you approach it, it always ends up as two minutes of torture. But the team at Kolibree has come up with a deceptively smart way to relieve your stress. How? By turning the toothbrush into a game controller.

    Weighing a mere 2.5 ounces, the $149 device looks like a regular electric toothbrush, but the motion sensors inside it map each stroke in your child’s mouth, relaying the data via Bluetooth to an app on your phone. If the child is ignoring the molars on the left, you can see it on his or her tooth chart.

    That’s all very useful, but it’s certainly not going to lure your child to the bathroom sink. So bring on the fun. Kolibree has created two games—a pirate treasure hunt and a soon-to-be-released rabbit race—that encourage kids not only to reach every tooth in their mouths, but also angle the brush in the correct way. They don’t realize it, of course. What they see on a laptop or tablet screen is a pirate or rabbit that must be propelled through a series of obstacles. It’s not speed or vigor that makes that happen, but rather proper technique.

    As an added incentive, the Kolibree handle can record data for up to five different brush tips and rank each family member’s performance. Kolibree is currently working on a program that will even allow you to share that info with your dentist.

    So where does the "sonic" from the product name come in? That would be the device’s gentle vibration system, designed to promote plaque removal without harming the gums.

    LEGO's Education WeDo 2.0

    Designed specifically for use in classrooms—grades two through four—Lego’s new Education WeDo 2.0 series cleverly disguises engineering and science lessons as toy blocks.

    The $159 starter kit features many of the Lego bricks children are accustomed to using, but it also includes a small motor, a Bluetooth-enabled Smarthub, and motion and tilt sensors. The projects encourage kids to work in teams to investigate, design and model solutions to various challenges. In one case, they have to demonstrate the metamorphosis from tadpole to frog, identifying the organism’s characteristics at several stages along the way. In another, they demonstrate the principles of pollination. They get to build cool things like rescue helicopters and Mars rovers, too.

    And, once they’ve completed the models, the kids can program them to perform simple functions using a laptop or a tablet and the Bluetooth Smarthub. The goal is not to simply relay information, but rather to strengthen problem-solving skills—and perhaps inspire your child to pursue a career in a STEM-related field.

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

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

older | 1 | .... | 359 | 360 | (Page 361) | 362 | 363 | .... | 384 | newer