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 | .... | 363 | 364 | (Page 365) | 366 | 367 | .... | 384 | newer

    0 0

    Senators Introduce Bills to Make College More Affordable and Help Americans Struggling With Education Debt

    Consumers Union Calls On Congress to Take Action to Address America’s College Affordability and Education Debt Crisis

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, praised a group of Senators today for introducing a package of bills that will help make college more affordable and assist those struggling to pay off their education debt.  The bills aim to ensure Pell grants cover more of the cost of higher education, enable Americans to refinance their loans at lower rates, and create a path for more students to afford community college without going into debt.

    “We have a college affordability and education debt crisis that is crippling families across the country and holding back a generation of Americans,” said Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for Consumers Union.  “It’s time for lawmakers to take bold action to help those who are going deep in debt to pay for the education they need to reach their potential and provide for themselves and their families.  These bills enact a number of important reforms that will help bring down the cost of going to college and provide a vital lifeline to those drowning in education debt.”

    The Reducing Education Debt Act introduced by lawmakers today includes a proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren that would help Americans lower their education debt by refinancing their federal and private student loans.   It incorporates a plan by Senator Mazie Hirono that indexes Pell grants to the rate of inflation so that they will help pay for more of the cost of college.  And finally, it features a proposal by Senator Tammy Baldwin that provides federal matching funds of $3 for every dollar invested by states to help students waive tuition and fees for community college.

    Media Contacts:
    Michael McCauley, Consumers Union, 415.431.6747 ext 7606 or mmccauley@consumer.org
    David Butler, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or dbutler@consumer.org
    Kara Kelber, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or kkelber@consumer.org

    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

    Safety Agency Want Retailers to Stop Selling Hoverboards

    In a written statement issued yesterday, Elliott F. Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, urged retailers to stop selling self-balancing scooters—also known as hoverboards—until questions regarding product safety can be addressed. He also encouraged companies to follow Amazon’s lead in offering full refunds to customers concerned about fires and injuries linked to the product.

    “As encouraged as I am by Amazon's actions,” Kaye wrote, “I expect other retailers and manufacturers of hoverboards to take action and offer a full refund now to their customers as well.”

    Mounting Safety Concerns

    Before concluding his statement, the chairman shared details on the commission’s ongoing investigation into the design of hoverboards, which are produced by numerous manufacturers and have been tied to at least 39 fires in 19 states. “CPSC staff is focusing on the components of the lithium-ion battery packs as well as their interaction with the circuit boards inside the units,” he explained. In consultation with test laboratories, battery experts and others, the commission hopes to identify safe design practices that can be used to prevent overheating and combustion.

    Due to reported spikes in emergency room visits, the CPSC is expanding its investigation to determine if hoverboard designs also present hidden risks to riders. “I am concerned, for example, that the current designs of these products might not take fully into consideration the different weights of different users, potentially leading to the units speeding up or lurching in a manner that a user would not have reason to anticipate,” Kaye wrote.

    In our own tests with three models (a $400 Swagway X1, a $600 MonoRover R2, and an $830 Chic Smart S1), Consumer Reports determined that hoverboards, which change speed and direction based on pressure applied to footpads on either side of the board, may in fact be too responsive to shifts in weight distribution.

    Safety Advice from the CPSC

    While the commission's investigation continues, Kaye advises hoverboard owners to take the following precautions:

    • Keep a fire extinguisher handy when charging or riding the product.
    • Be sure to charge the unit in an open area, safely removed from combustible materials.
    • Always wear protective gear, including a skateboard helmet and elbow, knee, and wrist guards, when riding the product.
    • Do not ride a hoverboard on or near a road.

    Once the CPSC's hoverboard investigation is complete, we'll provide a full report on the findings. In the meantime, visit our website for product safety updates.

    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 Rates Going Up for Long-Term Subscribers

    If you're a longer-term $8-a-month Netflix subscriber who's felt smugly superior to newbies paying $10 a month for the same service, that's about to end. 

    Last year, the company upped new-subscriber prices by $1 to $10 a month for an unlimited high-def plan, but it left rates unchanged for long-standing customers. In a letter to investors this week, which we first saw on the TV Predictions website, Netflix said it will raise rates for those who had been grandfathered in at the lower price. The price hike will come in the second or third quarter of this year, the company wrote, euphemistically saying it was "releasing" these grandfathered customers from their lower-priced plans.

    Subscribers can continue paying $8 a month for standard-def streams or pony up $10 a month for HD shows and movies. Premium subscribers paying $12 a month get 4K UHD videos (when they become available), plus the ability to stream up to four devices simultaneously rather than just two.

    Netflix believes the price increase will have little effect on customer retention. "Given these members have been with us at least [two] years, we expect only slightly elevated churn (subscriber defections)," the company stated in the letter.

    A recent report by bandwidth-management company Sandvine said that Netflix accounts for 37 percent of all prime-time Internet traffic.

    More Original Shows, New Streaming Tech

    At a meeting with Netflix during CES 2016, the company said it intended to launch more than 600 hours of original programming this year, up from about 450 hours last year. The company 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.

    We also learned that in December Netflix started using a new encoding technology, called "complexity-based encoding." What that means for you is that you'll get better-looking videos even if you don't have super-fast Internet service.

    In the past, the quality of the video you'd get from Netflix depended on the speed of your Internet connection. That's why sometimes the quality of the video will change while you're watching a show. Now, Netflix has switched to content-based encoding, with the idea that some programs, such as a visually complex action movies, need higher bitrates, while other types of shows, such as an animated kids' program, require less data.

    By encoding videos based on the type of content rather than on the available bandwidth, Netflix can deliver better-quality streams at lower bitrates, resulting in bandwidth savings. 

    Netflix expects to complete the title-by-title re-encoding for its entire catalog by the end of 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

    Is the Keurig Kold Drinkmaker Cool Enough for Your Counter?

    When GE introduced a refrigerator with a Keurig K-cup coffee maker in the door, it seemed like a smart way to save counterspace. But in a bit of counter programming, Keurig hopes to reclaim that space—and then some—with the new Keurig Kold which makes, you guessed it, cold drinks. Consumer Reports just wrapped up our tests of the Keurig Kold and we’re currently testing the GE Cafe CFE28USHSS refrigerator (the one with the built-in coffee maker). Let’s just say the results run hot and cold.

    If you want to make space for a Keurig Kold, keep in mind that it’s 12 inches wide, 19.2 inches deep, and stands 17.5 inches tall when open. To guarantee a stream of chilled beverages it has to be plugged in at all times so pushing it aside isn’t an option. If you do, you’ll have to wait at least two hours for it to chill down again. The Kold differs from other soda makers in that it doesn’t use CO2 cartridges. Instead it uses proprietary “Karbonator” beads that, in the simplest terms, trap CO2 and then release it into the drink when the beads get wet. The Kold also makes non-carbonated drinks.

    After tasting glasses of soda, seltzer, iced tea, flavored water, and sports drinks, our sensory panelists agreed that the Keurig Kold makes pretty good cold drinks. But are they better than the canned or bottled beverages you grab from the refrigerator? Coca-Cola is a part owner of Keurig so we compared a can of Coca-Cola with a Kold Coca-Cola made from a K-cup. And tasters found it had a “fuller mouth feel and more cola syrup flavor,” and was just as fizzy if not fizzier.

    Then we tasted Keurig’s own line of Kold K-cup drinks with such names as Seraphine Persian Lime seltzer, Flyte Lemon-Lime Launch sports drink, Tierney’s Iced Tea, and Waterful Flavored Water. They were all judged okay but perhaps not worth the time and expense.

    Kold Considerations

    We found a Keurig Kold selling for $333 on Amazon. A box of four Coca-Cola Kold K-cups costs an additional $4.99 and a sampler pack of 20 K-cups costs $20.99. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot more than a can of Coke. And each Kold beverage is only 8 ounces, while a can of soda is typically 12 ounces. We also found other drawbacks that may cause you to think twice before sacrificing valuable countertop real estate, including:

    Slow going. Each drink takes between 75 and 90 seconds to make, which adds up if you’re having a party. After you make six, you’ll have to refill the machine with water. And they aren’t that cold: 45 degrees F was as cold as our drinks got.

    Soda K-cups are difficult to recycle. While the K-cups for non-carbonated drinks are easy to recycle, those for the carbonated drinks are not. That’s because they contain Karbonator beads, which have to go in the trash, and a separate compartment for the syrup. In theory, you can recycle the outer container but that entails dumping out the beads and opening the syrup compartment, which is no easy feat.

    Expensive to run. In addition to the cost of the machine and the ongoing cost of replacement K-cups, the Keurig Kold uses almost as much energy to run, 250 kilowatt hours a year, as a full-sized top-freezer refrigerator. So it’s up to you whether you want to give the Kold a warm welcome or the cold shoulder.

    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

    A Fitness Tracker Can Be Good Exercise Motivation

    Q. Will a fitness tracker help me get more exercise?

    A. Maybe. Snapping a trendy tracker on your wrist that monitors your steps taken and calories burned may help with exercise motivation because it reminds you to be more physically active. There’s not a lot of research yet, but in a recent study of 51 older, fairly sedentary women, those who were given trackers reported exercising for an additional 38 minutes per week.

    But a 2014 survey found that one in three people who buy fitness trackers stops using them after six months. And it’s unclear whether all trackers are equally accurate. So before you shell out $50 to $250 for one, consider downloading a fitness-tracking app to see whether it boosts your activity level. Research conducted last year suggests that apps may be as accurate as wearable trackers.

    Two apps you might want to try are LoseIt! and MapMyFitness, which won the Surgeon General's Healthy App Challenge in the physical fitness/activity category a few years ago. They were chosen based in part on usability and whether they made a health-promoting activity fun. And they're free.

    The Best Fitness Tracker for You

    If you want to take the next step and commit to a fitness tracker, choose carefully. Consumer Reports' tests of 17 top-selling models found that a higher price tag did not always mean a better product. We looked at their accuracy, ease of use, comfort, and features. The fitness trackers we tested included simple clip-on sensors and ambitious, wrist-bound plastic or rubber gadgets.

    Virtually every model uses an accelerometer to measure your steps and other up-down, side-to-side, and front-to-back movements. The types of activities monitored vary by tracker, but can include number of steps taken, calories consumed, hours of sleep, heart rate, skin temperature, and perspiration levels.

    At the high end, we’ve found some great performers that combine accuracy and robust features. For instance, the watchlike Fitbit Surge ($250) packs GPS, smartphone notifications, and a heart rate monitor into a package that is very comfortable to wear.

    Among the lower-priced simpler fitness trackers we tested are several that deliver the most critical fitness data and offer other useful features for exercise motivation. For instance, the Microsoft Band ($150) not only tracks your steps and heart rate but also lets you get email and text notifications right from your wrist.

    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

    What If My Mobile Check Deposit Doesn't Clear?

    Q. What should I do if I deposit a check using my smartphone, and it doesn't get properly credited to my balance?

    A. Most mobile apps provided by banks now offer a very useful feature: You can deposit a check simply by taking a photo of it (the front and the back) and submitting it through the app. While bank apps make it quicker than ever to deposit a check, the funds won't be credited to your account immediately. Most banks make the funds from "remote deposit capture," as banks refer to this transaction, available in one to two days, according to a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts study of 100 banks and prepaid card issuers.

    If you are using mobile check deposit to deposit a check to a prepaid card, which you may be using as a substitute for a checking account, the funds can be available immediately–for an added fee, according to Pew. But even here, there can be delays. The American Express Bluebird prepaid card, for instance, won't credit a mobile check deposit to your account until six business days after you make the deposit.

    If your mobile check deposit never makes it to your account, one reason could be a glitch with your phone. When you took the picture of your check, it's possible that the phone didn't capture the photo because of insufficient memory problems.

    Another reason could be that you reached the monthly mobile check deposit limit set by your financial institution. Banks, credit unions, and prepaid cards set limits on the total amount you can deposit by mobile app to help prevent against fraud. The limits can be as low as $1,500 per month.

    If you find that a deposit did not go through, don't try to re-deposit the check by smartphone unless you've received a message specifically indicating that the transaction was not accepted. Be sure to hold onto your check until you're certain the funds have been credited to your account. You can also call the customer service number of your bank or credit union to find out what went wrong and follow instructions about how to rectify the problem.

    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

    How Single-Serve Coffee Makers Compare in Taste Tests

    Fans of single-serve coffee makers that take soft pods or hard-shell capsules like Keurig’s K-cups tend to value fast brewing, fuss-free operation, and a variety of flavors and beverages. Unfortunately, the trade-off is often taste. For readers who want it both ways—decent taste in a hurry—Consumer Reports has just completed expert taste tests on 20 single-serve coffee makers—and added the results to our full coffee maker Ratings. Two single-serve coffee makers made our list of top picks.

    Coffee makers that brew ground coffee in traditional ways, such as drip machines, can coax the most flavor out of quality beans. For our taste tests of the single-serve machines, we use the Colombia coffee made for that brand or the closest varietal available. But like the single-serve coffee makers we’ve tested in the past, the current batch performed no better than so-so for taste.

    If you drink your coffee with a lot of milk and sugar, you might not notice. But for true coffee lovers, the taste can be disappointing. That's because the pods come with pre-ground coffee, which begins to lose its flavor as soon as the beans are ground.  

    Two New Pod Picks

    One model that was just added to our recommendations, the $100 Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 49988, is especially noteworthy because single-serve coffeemakers of this brand haven’t made our list in past tests. This model, however, was fairly quick at delivering both a first serving and subsequent cups. We also found it especially consistent at maintaining both size and temperature across multiple servings, though other recommended models were more convenient overall.

    This model will also brew loose coffee into travel mugs, but in those separate tests the Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 49988 failed to impress at either brew performance or convenience.

    Another newly recommended model, the $150 DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Esperta, was less surprising in its performance. It fell short in comparison to long mainstays in the top ranks of our Ratings such as the $130 DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio EDG455T but is nevertheless worth considering if you’re satisfied with the selection of Nescafé Dolce Gusto drinks. They’re down to just 18 flavors from the former 25.

    One also-ran came close. The KitchenAid Nespresso by KitchenAid KES0504 drew attention during initial tests both from its solid construction and candy-apple red finish, along with its whopping $450 price. But its range of serving sizes, more narrow than from most other machines we’ve tested, helped pull its overall score down just enough to keep this coffee maker off our recommended list.

    If you’re looking for a single-serve coffee maker, you can’t go wrong by viewing our coffee maker Ratings of 43 models—out of a total of almost 140 machines in all. Be sure to check out our coffee maker buying guide if you haven’t bought a coffee maker in a few years.

    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

    2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS Proves a Dynamic Delight

    With a profile that harkens back to the original 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, the all-new sixth-generation car looks immediately familiar, marking a slight styling evolution over the outgoing model. Despite advances in powertrain and platform, several shortcomings carry forward.

    We purchased a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS to test this reborn muscle car. Sticker price started at $41,300 and rose to $47,020 as we piled on options, such as magnetic ride control, power sunroof, dual-mode exhaust, and Chevrolet MyLink audio system. Appearance extras further padded the price, such as the Garnet Red Tintcoat paint, black Chevrolet emblems, and 20-inch black wheels. But those cosmetics add both class and attitude.

    At a glance, the new Camaro may appear to be the result of a cosmetic makeover, but it is now based on the Alpha rear-drive platform that underpins the Cadillac ATS and its dimensions are a bit smaller. This mechanical pedigree gets the coupe off to a good start. Reduced weight, revised suspension, and the adjustable shocks create a ride unlike any muscle car buyer’s expectations. The Camaro feels much more like a fine European sport sedan than anything a shopper may be trading in.  

    Likewise, the Camaro vanquishes the notion that muscle cars are designed purely for running in a straight line. Here is a car that loves twisties, rewarding the driver with a planted body and quick turn-in response. The steering has decent feedback, depending on the driving mode, ranging from mild Touring to heavier Track modes. The ride skews firm and connected, masking bumps well.

    Three engines are offered, including a turbocharged 275-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 335-hp, 3.6-liter V6. The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS packs a Corvette-sourced 6.2-liter V8 with 455 horsepower and 455 lb.-ft. of torque. As the horsepower wars wage on over the decades, today’s Camaro V8 bests the base eight-cylinder offerings from its crosstown rivals, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang.

    The power is put to great effect with the six-speed manual in our test car. The shifts are swift, aided by short throws. Clutch is relatively low effort, making driving in traffic easier than with some other high-horsepower cars. Active rev matching, controlled via steering wheel paddles, can help transform a casual driver into a pro, while enhancing the soundtrack in the process.

    Copious power is readily available, even without chasing the right cog for the situation. Tip into the throttle, and the Camaro pulls fiercely from nearly any gear. Downshift, and it becomes a veritable road rocket—as one would expect from the most powerful Camaro SS in Chevrolet history. Around town, the Camaro has a muted rumble from the exhaust that turns to a roar under hard acceleration. 

    Dynamically, the Camaro is a real delight. However, the packaging still suffers from overt flaws that may turn away some buyers. Visibility remains atrocious, making it hard to see stoplights, to view cars at its flanks, and to spot obstacles when backing up. Plus, the narrow side glass makes the car feel as if the roof has been crushed. Fortunately, it includes a rear backup camera, along with parking assist and rear cross-traffic alert—all systems you need with this coupe.

    The driver’s space is decidedly intimate for a sizeable car. The bolstered sport seats are comfortable, but we were dismayed that there was no lumbar adjustment in a car of this heady price. Further, the driver’s right leg is crammed against the transmission tunnel. And head room is non-existent, having us wish we bought a model without the moonroof. Wearing a helmet is out of the question. In fact, there’s barely room for a comb over for some drivers. The rear seat remains vestigial, with limited people-toting ability. (If you want a muscle car with passenger space, look to the Chevrolet SS or Dodge Challenger.)

    But the cabin is relatively quiet and refined, looking far less toy-like than the previous model. The Chevy MyLink infotainment system is graphically pleasing and intuitive to use. However, its screen tilts down slightly, presumably to better shield it from sun reflections. As a result, it looks like it is melting awkwardly forward. The interior door handle is also positioned at a strange angle, making operation uncomfortable. Temperature adjustments are hidden in the vent bezels, and the dash vents are positioned unusually low.

    Trunk space remains tight, with an unusual opening size that would limit the Camaro’s functionality for warehouse store runs.

    Based on the break-in miles thus far, the Camaro's acceleration, ride, and handling all shine bright. But the packaging limitations may turn off some buyers and warrant consideration from all would-be owners.

    We look forward to completing the testing, when the weather warms up. 

    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

    Why Your Cable TV Bill Is Going Up

    You can add "cable TV rate increases" to the old axiom that nothing is certain except for death and taxes, as pay TV companies are again jacking up prices for programming and equipment in 2016.  

    It looks like the average pay TV customers will be paying $3 of $4 more each month, according to a recent report by media analysts at Evercore ISI Group. But the cable TV and satellite companies blame the higher programming costs they have to pay for the hikes.

    "It’s safe to say that the rising cost of TV content is the main driver of FiOS TV price," a FiOS spokesman wrote to us in an email.

    Time Warner also said that rapidly rising costs of programming— "especially local broadcast channels and cable sports networks"—are to blame, along with the company's "continued investment in the performance and reliability of our networks and equipment."  

    In fact, Time Warner tells us, the per-customer cost of local broadcast channels has skyrocketed 85 percent since 2013.

    The analysts at Evercore seem to support the contention that rising programming costs are taking their toll. The group says that while pay TV bills will rise 3 to 4 percent on average in 2016, programming costs have climbed between 8 and 10 percent annually over the past four years.

    That's probably not of too much comfort for those who find themselves digging a little bit deeper into their pockets to pay their cable TV bill. Here's a quick breakout of how much of an increase you can expect from your local provider. Just remember that how much more you'll be paying depends on what market you're in.

    Price Hike Roundup

    AT&T: The company, which now owns DirecTV, is implementing increases of between $2 and $4 per month for all its video packages, starting the end of this month.

    Cablevision: The company, which will be merging with Altice, has said the average customer will be paying almost $3 more this year. The hikes include paying $1 more each month for set-top box rental charges and DVR fees.

    Charter: We haven't seen rate increases for 2016 yet from Charter, though its possible the company is waiting for its merger with Time Warner Cable (see below) to be completed before disappointing its subscribers with hikes.

    Comcast:  Comcast has publicly said its rates for an average consumer will rise almost 4 percent in 2016. The company is hiking its broadcast TV fee, which covers the cost of retransmitting your local broadcast channels, from $3 to $5 per month, a pretty sizeable 66 percent jump. Most of the company's double-play packages will cost $3 to $4 more each month.

    DirecTV: The nation's largest satellite service, now owned by AT&T, is bumping prices anywhere from $2 to $8 per month, with its pricier, more inclusive programming packages getting the biggest bumps. There's also a slight 50-cent bump in its "TV fee," which covers technology costs, though the fee now amounts to $6.50 each month.

    Dish: Dish Network just implemented increases in the range of between $2 and $8 per month, depending on the package. Dish is lowering the cost of some of its premium packages (including HBO, now $15 instead of $19 per month), something we're seeing some cable TV companies do as well.

    Time Warner Cable: Currently in the midst of a merger with Charter, TWC prices went up last week. Broadcast TV fees are rising by $1 to $3.75 per month, and there are $4 and $2 increases for its Starter TV and Standard TV packages, respectively. TWC also upped the cost of sports programming fees —by $2.25—and there are slightly higher equipment and service fees.

    Verizon: We reached out to the company but it didn't have increase information to share with us. But some reports say that it looks like prices are rising about $2 per month across the various programming tiers.

    The latest round of pay TV service price hikes comes as new alternatives emerge that have more of us considering cutting the cord.

    “Affordability is a main driver for those without cable or satellite, as is the ability to view the content they want to watch somewhere else,” the Pew Search Center said in a survey released last month. The survey found that about 71 percent of those who have cut the cord said they ditched pay TV service in part because the cost was too high. About 64 percent said they dropped it because they can access the content they want using an over-air antenna or through a streaming service.

    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

    If You're Cutting Out Sugar, Read Those Food Labels

    You might think that cutting out sugar would be a breeze. After all, it's no secret that foods such as soda and doughnuts are packed with added sweeteners. But would you think that the frozen stir-fry dinner you had last night would have the same amount of sugars as 16 gummi bears? Or that whole-wheat bread can have almost a teaspoon of sugars per slice? These days, food companies toss added sugars into almost three-quarters of all packaged products, including nutritious-sounding items such as instant oatmeal and peanut butter and ­even foods that aren’t supposed to be sweet, like tomato sauce and crackers. 

    The trouble with sneaky sugars may go beyond excess calories. When 43 obese children ate the same amount of calories but decreased their added sugars intake from 28 percent of their daily calories to 10 percent for 9 days, their weight stayed steady but their cholesterol, triglyceride, blood pressure, and fasting blood sugar and insulin levels dropped, according to a study in the journal Obesity. The study needs to be replicated with a larger test group and with older people, but there’s no apparent reason that adults would respond differently, says Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a member of the Institute of Medicine panel that made dietary guidelines recommendations to the federal government for sugars and carbohydrates. 

    Previous research has linked an overload of added sugar with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. For example, a recent study found that people who got 17 to 21 percent of their calories from added sugars had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who kept their intake of sugars to 8 percent.

    Natural vs. Added Sugars

    But how do foods that naturally contain sugars, such as fruit, milk, and “sweeter” veggies like sweet potatoes or beets, affect our health? “The sugars found in dairy and fruit come in smaller doses and are packaged with fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, which means they don’t affect your blood sugar as drastically,” Johnson says. But added sugars are what some experts refer to as “empty calories” because they lack nutrients. 

    Become a Sugar Sleuth

    Cutting out sugar, then, seems simple enough: Avoid those foods that have lots of sugars added to them. But it’s not easy. The current version of the Nutrition Facts label lumps added and naturally occurring sugars together under “total sugars.”

    As a result, “Consumers have no way of knowing how much added sugars are in a food,” Johnson says. “For other nutrients, the Nutrition Facts label lists the percentage of the daily intake a serving of a food supplies, but that’s not the case for sugars.”

    The FDA is also recommending that no more than 10 percent of our daily calories come from added sugar. That’s 45 grams, or about 11 teaspoons for someone on an 1,800-calorie diet. (A teaspoon is equal to about 4 grams.) About 70 percent of adults get that and more every day. The American Heart Association suggests an even lower limit: 24 grams for women (about 6 teaspoons) and 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons) for men. Until food labels change, use these tips for cutting out sugar:

    • Consider the food. If a product doesn’t contain fruit, milk, sweet veggies, or yogurt, and more than 3 grams is listed in the total sugars column, you can assume that most of the sugars are added.
    • Know the code words for sugar. Ingredients on the list that end in “ose”—fructose, maltose, sucrose—are added sugars (the main exception is the artificial sweetener sucralose). But food labels have a variety of terms for sugars (see Sugar's Many Names, below). And don’t be fooled—healthier-sounding sugars such as brown rice syrup or honey aren’t any better for you than other types.
    • Scan the entire ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of weight; the higher up a substance is, the more of it the food contains. But many manufacturers use more than one type of sugar in a product. They are allowed to list them separately, which may give the impression that a food has less sugars than it really does.
    • Compare nutrition labels. Find the “plain” version of foods such as yogurt or oatmeal and compare the Nutrition Facts label against the same brand’s sweetened versions. “The difference in the amount of sugars between the two products is added sugars,” Johnson says. Here’s another sweet tip: Buy plain or regular versions and add fresh fruit for sweetness instead of buying foods that are presweetened.

    Sugar's Many Names

    Dozens of types of sugars can be found on ingredients lists. Here, some of the more common types to look for.

    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
  • 01/21/16--13:38: Ending Robocalls
  • Ending Robocalls

    A year ago thousands of you told us how fed up you were with endless robocalls that peddle scams and interrupt important family time. And we took action -- launching our End Robocalls national campaign in February 2015 to put a stop to these calls.

    Now that a half-million consumers have joined with us in demanding the phone companies solve this problem, we reached a critical point in our campaign – a meeting in late January with US Telecom, the industry trade group, to get you solutions.

    “We couldn’t have reached this point without the participation of so many consumers who wanted action on robocalls,” says Tim Marvin, campaign director of EndRobocalls.org. “It took a half-million consumer voices to get the phone companies attention. Now that we’ve got it, we’re going to get solutions.”

    The meeting with US Telecom caps a massive consumer grassroots movement to fix a problem so many had given up on. The Do Not Call list wasn’t working. Phone scammers would close up and reopen shop before the cops could find them. And the industry claimed it couldn’t legally block robocalls and that their hands were tied.

    But we believed the major phone companies could dramatically reduce robocalls by offering customers the latest technology to stop these calls. We launched a national petition demanding that the phone companies offer these tools free to consumers, and backed that up by staging actions, releasing research, and working with our allies -- garnering lots of media coverage along the way.

    With the help of 50,000 consumer actions, the Federal Communications Commission agreed with us in mid-2015 that the phone companies could indeed block robocalls. The FCC chairman even said that phone companies can and should offer advanced call-blocking tools to consumers.

    After the FCC’s decision was released, almost every state Attorney General called on the phone companies to offer these tools to consumers. And eight Senators asked the phone companies and the FCC to work together to put these tools into the hands of consumers.

    More than a hundred consumers backed that up by participating in a ground-breaking test of robocall-blocking tools for Consumer Reports magazine. And consumer Linda Blase, one of thousands who shared her robocall story, testified before the Senate Aging Committee on how robocalls interfered with her work and quality of life.  

    The campaign was tested when a sneaky robocall provision was slipped into the federal budget bill in October at the last minute. The provision allows debt collectors to robocall consumers to collect debt to the federal government, such as education or tax debt. But the law could even lead relatives of those in debt to be robocalled – even though they don’t owe any money.

    We took action, channeling more than 80,000 consumer messages into Senate offices with demands to support the HANG UP Act, which, if passed, would delete the new provision. And efforts are paying off, as four Senators recently co-sponsored the bill since its introduction in November, and 41 lawmakers have called on the FCC to strictly limit these debt collection robocalls.

    To cap off the year, the End Robocalls campaign delivered those 500,000 consumer signatures to both Verizon and CenturyLink, increasing the pressure on the major telecom companies to come to the negotiating table and beginning providing customers robocall-blocking tools.

    Add your voice, and help us keep up the pressure, by visiting EndRobocalls.org to take action or share your robocall story.

    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

    Get Ready for Winter Storm Jonas

    Compared to last winter, this season has been a breeze on the East Coast, but that’s about to change with an approaching storm that could dump as much as two-feet of snow as it moves out of the Southeast and up the coast this weekend. At Consumer Reports, we started getting ready months ago with our tests of snow blowers, generators, and other emergency gear. Here’s what our experts have to say about getting ready for the winter storm.

    Check Your Snow Blower Now

    If you made the mistake of leaving gas in your snow blower since last winter, chances are it may not start. Before trying, siphon out as much gas as you can before adding fresh fuel to which you’ve added a stabilizer. If you neglected to change your spark plug, do that too and stock up on shear pins in case yours breaks in the middle of clearing. Here are some more tips from our experts including the snow blower mistakes homeowners make most and other maintenance tips.

    Match Your Snow Blower to Your Driveway

    If the forecast for Winter Storm Jonas has you mulling a snow blower, don’t buy more machine than you need or have room to store. If you have a small driveway and typically get less than 9 inches of light snow, you can manage with a single-stage snow blower like the Toro Power Clear 721E, $570, or the Craftsman 88782, $600. For larger driveways and heavier snow, consider a two-stage machine that's 24 to 30 inches wide such as the top-rated Cub Cadet 3X 30HD 31AH57SZ710, $1,650, or the CR Best Buy Troy-Bilt Vortex 2890 31AH55Q, $1,300. For other tips read, "The Right Snow Blower for Your Driveway" and the "Best Snow Blowers for Quick Clearing."

    Take Some Tips From the Plow Pros

    No one knows more about snow business than the department heads of the country's snowiest cities. To find out how to do the right stuff with the white stuff, Consumer Reports spoke to four northerners plus a director from Dallas, which gets more ice than snow. One of their chief complaints is that residents throw snow back into the freshly plowed street causing the plow to make another pass. They also ask drivers to heed local warnings and stay off the roads when directed to. Learn how plow pros get rid of snow.

    How Much Generator Do You Need?

    The best of the nearly four dozen generators in Consumer Reports' tests supply power for everything from the bare necessities to your whole house. Some generators deliver more juice than others. Some, including pricey inverter models, provide power that’s cleaner and won’t make appliances run hotter and sensitive electronics run less reliably. Stationary generators are the most convenient because they switch on when the power goes off but there’s no time to install one before the storm. Consider one of two portable CR Best Buys on our list, the Generac RS7000E, $900, or the Troy-Bilt XP7000 30477, $900. For more information read "Is It Time to Finally Buy a Generator?"

    Best Emergency Gear of the Year

    If the winter storm turns out to be a triple whammy and you need a snow blower, a generator, and a chain saw, take a look at the emergency gear that made our 2015 winner’s circle. The inverter-style, gasoline-powered Honda EU7000is, $4,000, topped our generator Ratings and it’s hard to beat the Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230, for a fine, all-around performing chain saw. For more great choices, consult the best emergency gear of 2015.

    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

    Taking the Pulse of Fitbit's Contested Heart Rate Monitors

    On January 5, while Fitbit was promoting its latest fitness tracking watch at CES in Las Vegas, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company on behalf of users of the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge. The claim: That the devices misread heart rates by “a very significant margin, particularly during exercise.”

    At Consumer Reports, we were surprised because we had tested both of the devices, and found the heart rate readings to be quite accurate. We decided to retest these models to confirm that we should continue to recommend them. And to learn more about their performance, we added some elements to our standard fitness-tracker test protocol. The result: Both the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge passed our tests handily, accurately recording heart rates at everything from a leisurely walk up to a fast run. (The details are outlined down below under “How We Tested.”)

    This should be a reassuring finding for many Fitbit customers. Lots of fitness trackers can indicate how far you walk and how many steps you take. But only a few are designed to measure heart rate, and you pay a premium for them. The Charge HR sells for about $150, while the Surge goes for around $250, compared to just $100 for simpler models in the Fitbit lineup.

    What the Lawsuit Says

    The lawsuit says that users have found inaccuracies in the Fitbit devices after measuring their pulse manually or with other equipment. And the lawsuit also cites independent testing. “We went and had a board-certified cardiologist put some folks through different levels of exercise and test the different models,” Jonathan Selbin, the lead partner for the plaintiffs, says. “And, sure enough, particularly at high intensity levels, they are wildly inaccurate.” The lawsuit claims that readings were off by an average of 24.34 beats per minute (bpm), and a whopping 75 bpm in extreme cases. 

    Fitbit says it stands behind its heart rate monitoring technology, which the company calls PurePulse. However, the company wouldn’t say how it conducts its own testing. “For proprietary reasons and because we operate in an extremely competitive environment, we do not disclose our specific validation study methodologies and results,” a spokesperson told us. 

    On Fitbit’s PurePulse page, the company seems to leave itself some wiggle room: “Like all heart-rate monitoring technologies, accuracy is affected by physiology, location of device, and different movements.” And how you wear the device may also matter. Fitbit uses optical heart rate monitoring, or photoplethysmography. Unlike an ECG (electrocardiogram) that reads electrical activity, an optical heart rate monitor detects the pulse by shining a light through the skin to see blood flow. Fitbit suggests that users wear its products snugged up a couple of inches above the wrist to get the most accurate results. However, in the real world of gadgets, not everyone reads instructions. 

    How We Tested

    To retest these devices, we recruited a male and female volunteer and put them on a treadmill. As a reference, we used the Polar H7, a chest-strap monitor with proven accuracy. The two subjects each used the Fitbit Charge HR and Fitbit Surge.

    When we tested these devices previously, subjects wore them at the wrist. This time around, we had the testers wear two copies of the same model of fitness tracker, one placed on the wrist, and the second one a few inches higher.

    We also expanded the range of heart rates. In our previous testing, we had captured our data when the subjects were at rest, and when they were undergoing moderate exercise. But the problems cited in the lawsuit had allegedly cropped up during harder workouts. For our new test, we recorded our subjects’ heart rates at four levels of intensity: at rest, a walking pace (110 bpm), a jogging pace (130 bpm), and a running pace (150 bpm). All tests were conducted twice. A total of 64 heart rate measurements were recorded.

    The new testing confirmed our earlier results: Both the Charge HR and Surge were very accurate when compared to the reference Polar H7 ECG monitor. During nearly every trial, the variance between the chest strap and the Fitbit devices amounted to no more than three heartbeats per minute.

    However, there was one exception: When our female tester wore the Fitbit Charge HR on her wrist and got up to higher intensity levels, the margin of error crept upwards. During one run, when the chest strap read 150 bpm, the Fitbit Charge HR read 144 bpm. During the second run, the device read only 139 bpm. That problem went away when she wore the Charge HR on her forearm. (And the Fitbit Surge was accurate no matter how it was worn.) 

    We’ll continue to recommend these two products, but we’ll also be watching the case closely. For more coverage of fitness trackers, see our ratings.

    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

    Modern Toilet Gets a High-Tech Makeover

    The high-tech modern toilet is enjoying a star turn at the moment, even making a commode cameo in the hit series "Transparent." In one episode, the Sarah Pfefferman character, played by Amy Landecker, discovers the purifying pleasure of a bidet while visiting her mother’s condo. “It has pulsate, oscillate, high, medium, low . . . ” she says.

    Several bathroom fixture manufacturers now offer integrated bidets, and they're looking for additional ways to differentiate their high-tech toilets at the 2016 Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas.

    Toto is the brand most associated with bidets in the U.S. market. Its Washlet is a remote-controlled wand that extends from beneath the seat to provide a warm flow of cleansing water. Toto's newest offering is the Neorest 750h intelligent toilet, $9,000 (shown above). In addition to the Washlet, it features auto open/close and auto flush, a heated seat, and in-bowl catalytic deodorizer. There's even a ultraviolet light in the seat lid that is activated when the lid is closed, designed to zap bacteria.

    Not to be outdone, Kohler is launching its Veil intelligent toilet, $4,275, which also has the integrated bidet and automatic opening/closing lid and flushing to minimize touch points. Its self-cleaning function uses UV light as well as electrolyzed water to sanitize the bidet wand surfaces. And the LED lighting illuminates the bowl to serve as a night light.

    Not ready to shell out thousands for a new high-tech toilet? We also happened upon a glow-in-the-dark toilet seat at the home show from Night Glow Seats that sells for a mere $50. Available in green and blue, the seat can glow for up to 8 hours, depending on how long it was exposed to another recharging light source, whether sunlight or an artificial bulb.

    Of course, if you just want an ordinary toilet instead of a tricked-out modern toilet, there are dozens to choose from in Consumer Reports' toilet tests, including some water-saving bargains that you can find as close as your local Lowe's or Home Depot.

    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

    Forget Smartphones Without Headphone Jacks. How About Port-Free Smartphones?

    The tech world has been buzzing recently about the speculation that Apple will eliminate the 3.5mm headphone jack from its next iPhone. And while that might seem like a crazy idea to you, it's not all that far-fetched for Apple—or any phone maker—with its eyes on the future. In fact, within a few years, smartphones might lose all of their jacks and ports, and for good reason.

    Those openings on these high-tech devices create problems. Not only do they interrupt the sleek lines of a tapered design, but—more important—they also provide means of entry for water and dirt that attack and destroy the circuitry.

    For years, phone makers such as Samsung, Sony, Huawei, and Motorola have been striving to make their products more impermeable, using protective flaps, inner gaskets, and even liquid-repelling nanocoatings from companies such as P2i. If you ask me, why put holes in the phones in the first place?

    Take a look around. The technology for port-free smartphones era already exists:

    Bluetooth headphones. These models don't need a cable to link to your phone, and there's a growing selection of affordable, high-quality options. For instance, the JBL Harman J46BT, among the best-sounding portable Bluetooth models in our Ratings, cost lest than $60. The earpieces have angled sound nozzles designed to help assure a more comfortable fit, and the earphones come with small and large stabilizing sports cushions. True, having another Bluetooth accessory to charge could be a hassle. But at least you won’t have to worry about your favorite song being interrupted by a snagged headphone cable.

    Wireless charging. A growing number of smartphones, including the Microsoft Lumia 950 and the Nexus 5X, embrace the USB Type-C connector, which offers a multitude of advantages over the old-school microUSB. For instance, besides having an ultra-fast data transfer rate of up to 10 gigabits per second, the Type-C has a plug that can be inserted into the phone no matter which way you hold it; there is no "wrong-side up."

    That’s nice, but fidgeting with cables, even USB Type-C, is nowhere near as easy as plopping your phone down on a wireless pad when it needs a recharge. More phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Motorola Droid Turbo2, support both Qi (pronounced "chee") and Powermat wireless charging pads out of the box—a convenience many mixed-smartphone families will appreciate.

    Wireless streaming and backup. Face it. Plugging your smartphone into your computer for backup and carrying your entire movie and music library around went out with the iPod click wheel—or even the iPod itself. Today you’ve got tons of free music-streaming options from Pandora, Spotify; iTunes Music, Google Music, and Amazon, offer free and subscription-based options for about $8 to $10 a month. You can still access your collection from these services’ cloud-based servers, though it could cost you $25 a year if your collection is fairly large. Remember to use Wi-Fi as often as possible to conserve data usage.

    Speakerless phones. What about ports and jacks for the speakers? No need. The Sharp Aquos Crystal and several phones from Kyocera transmit sounds directly to your eardrum via vibrating displays. This intriguing technology, which Sharp calls Direct Wave Receiver and Kyocera calls Smart Sonic Receiver, uses your anatomy (skin, muscle, bone) as a conductor to transport the vibrations to your eardrum, where they are interpreted as sound. Of course, the screens’ vibrations also travel as conventional sound waves inside your ear canal. This tech is still relatively uncommon, but our tests confirmed it works quite well.

    See what I mean? When you add all that up, you can pretty much plug every port and jack and protect your phone from surprise attack by wind, rain, or that jumbo-sized soft drink your clumsy friend just drenched you with.

    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
  • 01/22/16--10:12: Best TVs for the Super Bowl
  • Best TVs for the Super Bowl

    LG 65EF9500

    The 65-inch LG 65EF9500 OLED TV topped our list in 2015, barely edging out the Samsung UN65JS9500. As one of the best TVs for the Super Bowl, it delivers excellent high-definition picture quality, with benchmark-setting black levels, and excellent UHD performance. (The Super Bowl isn't being broadcast in 4K this year.) And like all OLED TVs, this one has a virtually unlimited viewing angle. Right now the set is actually more expensive than it was in December, but we're hoping it comes back down to $5,000. We also recommend the 55-inch version, which costs about $3,000. The 65-inch model has a flat screen. If you prefer a curved one, consider the EG9600 sets, which are the same price and scored almost exactly the same.

    Samsung UN65JS9500

    Samsung UN65JS9500

    Who ever thought an LED LCD-based TV could go head-to-head with an OLED? The Samsung UN65JS9500, a pricier 65-inch flagship LED LCD UHD TV in Samsung's SUHD lineup, more than stands up to the competition, with excellent high-definition picture quality, excellent UHD performance, and excellent sound, too. Like other SUHD TVs, it uses quantum dots for extended colors, sports a curved screen, a full-array LED backlight with local dimming. And like the LG OLED above, it can display the high dynamic range (HDR) content that will be coming out later this year.

    Sony Bravia XBR-65X930C

    Based on its looks, we would have been supremely bummed if the sound from the 65-inch Sony Bravia XBR-65X930C UHD TV was disappointing, but, thankfully, that's not the case. The oversized speakers flanking the panel have a decidedly love-it-or-leave it flare, but they deliver the best out-of-the-box sound we heard from a TV this year. (If you need more sonic oomph, you can even add an external subwoofer.) Throw in excellent high-definition picture quality and excellent UHD performance, and this TV definitely belongs on list of the best TVs for the Super Bowl.

    LG 55EG9100

    If you're willing to exchange 4K resolution for a slightly smaller, less expensive 1080p OLED TV, then the LG 55EG9100 might be just the ticket. Proving that resolution is only one of the key elements needed for a great picture, this TV rated among the best we tested. It's got excellent high-definition picture quality, a virtually unlimited viewing angle, and, maybe best of all, a price under $2,000. Like all OLED TVs we've tested, it also has benchmark-setting black levels.

    LG 65UF9500

    Yes, there were a few TVs with higher overall scores than this 65-inch LG 65UF9500 LED LCD-based UHD, but here's why we picked it: Not only does it have excellent high-def picture quality and UHD performance, but it also has a wider-than-average viewing angle for an LCD set. Added bonus: Unlike most models we tested, it has very good sound. If 3D is your thing, you might want a different model, as that was this TV's weak spot. But, hey, the game isn't being broadcast in 3D.

    Samsung UN65JS9000

    Samsung UN65JS9000

    The 65-inch Samsung UN65JS9000 UHD LCD TV gives you almost every benefit we cited above about the flagship UN65JS9500 UHD model, but for about $1,000 less. What do you give up? Mainly the full-array LED backlight—the set has an edge LED backlight with local dimming instead—and the excellent sound. You'll have to make do with very good. The TV also has slightly different—and, we presume, slightly less impressive—high dynamic range technology. (For the record, we didn't test that.) Still, this is among the best TVs for the Super Bowl and is close to the top of our Ratings.

    Samsung UN65JS850D

    Warehouse-club shoppers might recognize the 65-inch Samsung UN65JS850D LED LCD UHD TV, which is very similar to the more common UN65JS8500, also to be considered based on our Ratings. As you'd expect from a top pick, this set delivers excellent high-definition picture quality, plus excellent UHD performance, but it also has very good sound. If you aren't so enamored with curved-screens, the sets in the JS850D- and JS8500-series sets all have a flat screen, and we've seen them selling for around $2,500 lately.

    LG 55EC9300

    If you love OLED TV picture quality, but you're less smitten with its cost, consider the 55-inch LG 55EC9300. Yes, it's an older model, introduced in 2014, and it has 1080p rather than 4K UHD resolution, but for as little as $1,500, you'll get excellent HD picture quality and an unlimited viewing angle, so your guests won't feel like they've been consigned to Super Bowl Siberia.

    Samsung UN55JU7500

    The curved-screen 55-inch Samsung UN55JU7500 Ultra HD LCD TV serves up excellent high-definition picture quality, plus excellent UHD performance. It's the top-of-the-line model in the series just below Samsung's top-tier SUHD TV sets. That means it has fewer features, but also a lower price.

    Sony Bravia XBR-65X900B

    Another oldie but goodie, the 65-inch Sony XBR-65X900B Ultra HD TV sports the company's wedge-shaped cabinet design and a prominent speaker array on each side of the screen. It was originally launched back in 2014, but like an amusing party guest, you won't mind that it has lingered a bit. It's now selling at an all-time low price: about $2,200 vs. $3,800 not long ago. The TV boasts excellent high-definition picture quality and a great sound, but its viewing angle is a bit narrower than most of the sets above. If you want it, you may have to shop around: It's only at a few retailers right now.

    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

    What You Need to Know About Certified Used Cars

    Dealers tout them, and seemingly savvy buyers look for the label, but do certified used cars really offer an advantage? Is the 100-point inspection that earns a car certified status all that thorough? Or are buyers merely plunking down extra cash for an expensive limited warranty?

    By definition, a certified used car is one that a manufacturer or dealer has vetted to a set of standards and deemed to be in better operating condition than its peers on the road. In reality, that’s not always the case.

    Certified used cars tend to cost thousands of dollars more than a typical used car—much of that upcharge is due to an included warranty or service contract. Consumer Reports has historically advised against paying extra for separate warranty coverage, often known as an extended warranty—one of the program’s main selling points.

    Actuarial data shows that you might be better served saving the cash you’re putting into the premium price of a certified preowned (CPO) and using it for a rainy day repair on a traditional used car.

    But if your CPO car has a major repair covered within its warranty period, you’ll be thankful you have that warranty. And the dealer’s inspection of a car for certification might sniff out items that could become big problems later. The inspection also should ensure that any outstanding recalls have been addressed.

    Although certified used cars usually come with an extended warranty, dealers will often push buyers toward an extended service contract that covers routine maintenance. Those costs can get expensive as mileage hits major service milestones at 60,000 miles and beyond.  

    Be wary. There are various degrees of certification. A used car may be advertised as certified, but it may not have the backing of an official automaker certification program. Some dealers certify cars themselves or sell third-party certifications. This type of CPO program brings certain risks. For instance, you could be stuck in a paperwork snarl when it comes time to make a warranty claim, especially if you seek work at another facility. You need to be aware of the differences, and you should ask the dealer to provide official documentation so that you know what kind of warranty you are buying. Also, not all certifications may be transferable from a previous owner to the next owner.

    We recommend that you have any used vehicle—certified or not—inspected by a trusted independent mechanic, preferably one experienced in auto-body work. Expect to pay about $100. Not all dealers will let you drive a car off the lot without a chaperone salesman, but a trustworthy dealer should understand your interest in getting an unbiased opinion.

    Most important, just because a car is certified does not necessarily mean it is trouble-free. Consumers have taken legal action claiming that certified inspections were not properly performed, or that certified used cars had serious defects, some of which affected vehicle safety. Don’t assume that certification means the vehicle hasn’t been wrecked, flooded, or suffered other serious damage—or even that it has been properly inspected.

    Bottom line. We think it’s fine to buy a noncertified car and bank any savings. Choose a reliable model and a vehicle that receives your mechanic’s approval. If you choose a CPO, be sure to read the fine print on any warranty that is offered to determine whether the vehicle has been certified by a manufacturer, dealer, or third party.

    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

    Virtual Reality Can Eliminate Remodeling Mistakes Before They Happen

    Virtual reality has been making waves in the gaming and entertainment industries, where it brings users right into the action. Now the technology is starting to affect home building and design, as we discovered at 2016 Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas. It’s still early days, but if you’re building a new home or remodeling the one you have, see if the pros you’re working with have started leveraging the rich potential of virtual reality.

    When it comes to home improvement, Lowe’s is the biggest name in virtual reality. Its Holoroom, which we experienced at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, lets you redesign your home without spending a dime. Smaller companies are getting into the action, each with a unique value proposition to consumers. 

    The Canadian company Cadsoft has a product called Personal Architect Software that sells for $100. It lets you create the floor plan, then drop in whatever elements you like, including appliances, fixtures, and even paint colors. Another VR company is 2020, whose software you’ll recognize if you’ve ever used Ikea’s virtual planner. The next generation of the technology, called Ideal Spaces, will allow you to pull in products from other retailers. It will even keep a running tab of the costs so you can stick to your budget.              

    Both applications use a VR headset that lets you walk through your new space to see exactly how it will look in real life. Any elements you don’t like you can fix before the real work has even begun. That could go a long way towards reducing the remorse that affects buyers and remodelers alike.              

    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

    How Much It Costs Consumer Reports to Test Mattresses

    When Consumer Reports recommends that you spend at least 15 minutes in the store trying any mattress you're considering buying, we’re not taking your time lightly. Typically, consumers keep a mattress for eight years or longer and they don’t come cheap. That's why we pay plenty for the mattress testing we do before publishing the results of our tough mattress tests and recommending models that are worthy of your consideration. So, how much is that?

    Since we buy everything we test, we paid the going rate for all 48 mattresses in our current mattress Ratings. In fact, we often spend more than you do because you can take the time to haggle and wait for sales while we work on a tight schedule. That adds up to about $1,450 per mattress, averaging in the eight tested models that cost $2,500 or more.

    Then comes everything else. Factor in shipping and salaries (for shopping, testing, reporting, and shooting photos and video), and the total comes to $5,335 per mattress. That’s more than triple what we spend per mattress—though it’s still not as much as the most expensive mattress we tested, the $7,595 Duxiana Dux 515 innerspring.

    Mattresses Have a High Turnover Rate

    Manufacturers sometimes discontinue mattresses—or rename them to pass them off as another product—sooner than we anticipate based on our market research. Once a mattress can no longer be found in stores or online, we remove it from our mattress Ratings. That means we have to act quickly to replenish our supply for testing so that the number of mattresses in our Ratings bounces up, not down.

    In the meantime, our subscribers have a growing number of innerspring, memory foam, and adjustable air mattresses to choose from, and we'll be adding 15 new models in the coming weeks.

    Top-performing, reasonably priced mattresses from our current Ratings include the $500 Denver Mattress Doctor's Choice innerspring; the $800 Novaform 14-inch Serafina Pearl Gel, a memory-foam mattress sold at Costco; and the adjustable-air Sleep Number c2, $800. If you haven’t shopped for a mattress in a decade, check our updated mattress buying guide.

    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

    Smart Home Devices That Are Simple to Use

    We're seeing more smart home automation hubs, such as the Iris Smart Home Management System and the AT&T Digital Life system, that create a totally connected home. You control everything with your smartphone, including heating and cooling equipment and lighting and security.

    But if you're not ready to go all in for that all-in-one digital experience, start small with one of the many single-purpose smart products that run off your home's existing Wi-Fi. Some are a little short on practicality—a Wi-Fi-enabled slow cooker, for example.  But others have the potential to truly make life easier—and maybe even save your home and your loved ones from disaster or tragedy.

    The video above features four smart home devices we saw at the 2016 Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas. You’ll see a smoke alarm that promises maximum protection, sensors that deliver early leak detection, a front-door peephole that lets you see who’s there from your smartphone, and one of the industry’s first smartphone-controlled room air conditioners.

    These smart home products cost a bit more than their nonconnected counterparts. But they’re worth a look if you want to dip a toe in smart home technology.

    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 | .... | 363 | 364 | (Page 365) | 366 | 367 | .... | 384 | newer