Amazon teams up with Citizen for a classier looking Echo wall clock

Watch company Citizen is expanding its (less well known) line of wall clocks today with two new models that add support for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, in what are effectively nicer looking versions of Amazon’s existing Echo Wall Clock.

Like the Echo Wall Clock, the Citizen clocks is part of the “Works with Alexa” program. That means that they don’t actually feature Alexa hardware like a microphone or speaker. Rather, they’re meant to augment an existing Alexa-powered smart speaker by serving as a display for timers you’ve set using Alexa using a ring of lights around the dial.

The Citizen Smart Clock comes in two designs —one with a metal frame clock that will cost $79.99, and one with a wooden frame for $89.99. That’s a lot more than Amazon’s $29.99 version, but the $80-$90 price tag is roughly on par with Citizen’s other wall clocks. Unlike Citizen’s wristwatches — which are known for their solar-powered Eco Drive movements that never need batteries replaced — the Citizen Smart Clocks are are powered by four C-type batteries.

The Citizen-branded clock might not be the only branching out Amazon is doing with the Echo Wall Clock, either — FCC filings indicate that Amazon is also working on a Mickey Mouse-styled clock, too.

The metal clock is available to buy on Amazon now, while the wooden clock is sold through Wayfair, Overstock, Hayneedle, and other “select retailers.”

Pi-rate radio: how to make your own FM station for less than $35

FM radio stations are basically just two things: a transmitter to create the signal, and an antenna to broadcast it, which means that building your own pirate radio station is actually really, really easy.

Those FM transmitters you used to use to get music from your iPod on to your car stereo? Full-fledged radio transmitters, just ones with severely limited outputs to avoid violating any FCC laws. If you’re handy with a soldering iron, those simple car transmitters can actually be hacked to get a much better range by adding a bigger antenna and removing internal resistors.

Alternatively, you can get everything you need to build a decent long-range system on Amazon for a couple hundred bucks (although you’ll want to check local FCC rules for when it actually comes to broadcasting things).

But the easiest (and cheapest) option is a Raspberry Pi. The same principles apply: use the tiny computer to create and broadcast the signal, and attach an antenna to give it the broadcast range.

1. Set up your Raspberry Pi

You’ll need to get Raspbian, the Linux-based operating system for the Raspberry Pi.

2. Install the FM radio software

Once your Pi is up and running, you’ll need software. Specifically, PiFM, created by Oliver Mattos and Oskar Weigl.

Alternatively, if you’d like something even simpler to use, Make Magazine’s Sam Freeman and Wynter Woods built a modified version of the PiFM code back in 2014, which you can find at the Make website. Simply flash that to a microSD card, add music, and just plug the Pi into a power source and it’ll automatically start broadcasting on your frequency of choice.

3. Choose some music

Get your tracks set and copy them over to the Raspberry Pi. If you’re using the base PiFM software, you’ll need 16-bit .wav files. Make Magazine’s code supports broader file support, though.

4. Add an antenna

Plug a strip of wire into the GPIO4 pin on your Raspberry Pi (the fourth pin down on the left side on most Pi hardware). You’ll want something at least eight inches long, although closer to 25 inches is recommended for better range. Depending on your setup and surrounding environment, the Pi can broadcast between about a foot to roughly 300 feet away.

5. Broadcast

Run the PiFM code. You’ll do that by running a command like “sudo ./pifm awesomejams.wav 100.0”, where that “100.0” is the frequency in MHz on which you’re broadcasting.

6. Tune your radio and enjoy

Get your FM radio of choice, tune to your broadcast station, and enjoy!

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Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) review: you get what you pay for

Is there still a market for a cheap tablet? For years, Amazon has argued that the answer is yes, with its consistent lineup of low-powered — and low priced — Fire tablets. The latest of these is the newly updated Fire HD 10, which looks to make the case that there’s room in the market for a larger tablet that isn’t an iPad. But does the $149 Fire HD 10 do enough to justify saving the money compared to Apple’s increasingly cheap entry-level iPads?

To answer that, let’s look at what’s actually new here. It’s been two years since Amazon last updated the Fire HD 10 tablet, but looking at the 2017 and 2019 models side by side, you’d be forgiven for getting them confused. With the exception of a new USB-C port (the first, and so far only, product Amazon has upgraded to the modern universal charging standard) and a few new colors, there are few external differences.

Internally, Amazon has made a few upgrades, though. The processor has been bumped to a new 2.0GHz octa-core processor (over the quad-core processor on the old model) that Amazon says is 30 percent faster. Battery life has been improved, with the company claiming up to 20 percent more screen time. The 2019 model supports up to 512GB of expandable microSD storage (up from 200GB). And there’s “enhanced” Wi-Fi — in reality, a second antenna that allows the tablet to maintain a better signal regardless of whether you’re holding it in portrait or landscape mode.

None of these are bad upgrades, although there’s also nothing particularly groundbreaking (unless you, like me, are obsessive about what chargers your devices use.) If you own the 2017 Fire HD 10, there’s little reason to upgrade here.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

As for the experience of using a Fire HD 10 in 2019, it’s largely the same as it was back in 2017. The screen is still a nice big 10.1-inch 1080p display that looks far better than you’d expect for a $149 tablet. Given that 4K content is still somewhat rare on most streaming services, it works nicely for most TV and movie watching.

The actual hardware feels as cheap as before, with a toy-like plastic back that reminds you constantly that you’re holding an $149 tablet. This does have the added benefit of making the Fire HD 10 lightweight, to the point that I didn’t even notice the added bulk in my bag.

The bigger issue is that the Fire HD 10 just feels slow. It may very well be 30 percent faster than the 2017 model, but it turns out that a 30 percent increase on a budget tablet processor still leaves you with a slow processor at the end of the day. It’s generally fine when you’re actually in an app — scrolling and navigating to find something to watch is smooth. But it’s slow to open apps. It’s slow to switch between them. Swapping between the main parental profile and a restricted child’s one is especially slow. It’s something to be expected, given the budget hardware here, but don’t expect to use the Fire HD 10 to play the latest and greatest games or as a laptop replacement.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

As with all the other Fire tablets, the 2019 HD 10 still runs Android, albeit Amazon’s forked, Fire OS version. That means Google services — Google Play Store, YouTube, Chrome, Gmail, and more — aren’t installed by default. You can get them back if you’re willing to jump through some hoops, but a Google tablet this isn’t. The rest of the basic apps are there: Hulu and Netflix and HBO and Disney+ and all the other major streaming apps are present and accounted for, but the overall selection is far more limited than Apple or Google’s app stores. (Editor’s note: One particular annoyance for me is the lack of the LastPass app, which means logging in to any of the streaming services I use requires me to juggle my phone and the tablet at the same time. -Dan)

The more Amazon services you use and subscribe to, though, the better the Fire HD 10 is. Are you a Prime member? There’s more video content to watch. Pay for HBO or Starz through Prime Video Channels? They’ll show up too. Subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited book subscription? More books. Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited subscription? Tons of child-approved content and parental controls to manage it.

Compared to an iPad, the experience isn’t even close. Apple’s entry-level tablet is dramatically faster, features a far better selection of apps, and doesn’t feel like a toy. The one big advantage Amazon has is still its best-in-class parental control and multi-user support. Unlike an iPad, the Fire HD 10 lets you add other accounts for children to use, complete with content restrictions and time limits. Add in Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited service, which grants access to a library of games, apps, movies, TV shows, and books — all whitelisted to be age appropriate and without in-app purchases — and it’s even more compelling as a family device.

For what you’re paying, and the almost total lack of meaningful competition at the price point, it’s easy to call the Fire HD 10 the best $150 tablet around. But in a world where Apple’s entry-level iPad is better and cheaper than ever before, the question starts to become: at what price point will Apple’s tablet cost before it’s no longer worth dealing with the Fire HD 10’s limitations? And with the relatively lackluster upgrades in the 2019 Fire HD 10, combined with early Black Friday sales dropping the 10.2-inch iPad down to $250 already, it’s possible we might already be there.

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Asus ZenBook Pro Duo review: two-screen dream

There are a lot of things I can tell you about the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, but you likely don’t care about any of them. You — like nearly anyone else who looks at the ZenBook Pro Duo — are likely here for one thing: the absolutely wild-looking second screen that gives the laptop its name.

It’s not the first two-screen laptop by any means: companies (including Asus) have been trying to figure out a way to graft a second display onto our computers for years. But Asus’ implementation here is different in that it’s shockingly useful.

Before I talk about what it’s like to use the ZenBook Pro Duo’s dual screens, let me first dive into what they are. I tested the top-tier model, a $2,999 machine with the crème de la crème specs to match: Intel’s best Core i9-9980HK laptop processor, 32GB of 2,666MHz DDR4 RAM, an Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU, and a gorgeous 4K OLED panel for the main display.

The design is similar to Asus’ original ROG Zephyrus gaming laptop: there’s a front-loaded keyboard and an effectively useless trackpad, and a massive expanse above it. But instead of wasting that space on a fancy ROG logo, Asus has filled it with a second 14-inch, 32:9 aspect, IPS “ScreenPad Plus” display.

There have been a lot of comparisons drawn between the ScreenPad Plus and Apple’s controversial Touch Bar since both are secondary laptop displays nestled above the keyboard. While you can use the ScreenPad Plus as an oversized control bar, that’s not the real purpose of it. It’s more akin to Asus’ first, touchpad-replacing ScreenPad hardware where the goal is to offer a full-fledged secondary laptop screen — only this time, it’s not just a cute gimmick.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical when I first started using the ZenBook Pro Duo. Compared to the vibrant main display, the thinner ScreenPad panel looks painfully small and dull-colored, and it was impossible to imagine getting any real work done with it. But as I used it more, I discovered that getting “real” work done isn’t the point. The point is to offload all the other distractions onto it, like Slack, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Spotify, or Gmail, leaving the entire expanse of that 15.6-inch OLED panel for unfettered productivity.

When everything works right, moving things down to the ScreenPad Plus is as simple as dragging a window down to an external display (with the difference, of course, being that the display isn’t really “external” here). Asus also has some custom software that will offer a drag-and-drop hot spot when you’re moving a window around to automatically send it to the lower display. Lastly, there are physical hardware buttons that allow for quickly swapping the entire contents of the upper and lower screens or to disable the ScreenPad Plus entirely.

My usual setup when working with the ZenBook Pro Duo was to have my top display fully engaged with whatever task I was doing (like, say, writing this review), with Slack, Twitter, and iTunes windows open on the ScreenPad. That way, they’re out of the way enough that I could focus, but they’re right there for quick glances to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important.

It’s great for entertainment, too: I could put a full-screen Netflix or YouTube video up on the main panel, while still being able to browse social media, chat with friends, and even look up the name of that actor I couldn’t remember without messing up the stream.

Due to the awkward aspect ratio of the ScreenPad Plus, using it for multiple apps at a time is practically essential. Having three windows open tended to be my preferred solution, with two at an absolute minimum. Put a single window down there and maximize it, and it looks sort of ridiculous, no matter what content it is. The downside is that if you are splitting your display into three, you’ll also need to shrink the font down to get any usable amounts of text.

It’s not perfect by any means. I ran into issues where the ScreenPad would just plain not turn on when waking the laptop, and the software that Asus uses to manage apps and windows isn’t quite there yet. I had frequent issues where windows would lose their set widths or fail to snap to their locations or Asus’ launch just refused to close.

I’m also not sold on the ergonomics of the ScreenPad. Even with the extra few degrees that the screen hinge (which lifts the entire back of the base of the laptop off a desk) provides, it’s just plain difficult to read the frustratingly flat display, especially if your office has a lot of overhead lighting. I often found myself craning my neck and upper body over the laptop just to read a Slack message, which probably isn’t the best thing for my posture.

I’m not sure what a good solution is here: raise the angle even higher, and the keyboard becomes impossible to use, even with an included palm rest. Maybe something like Intel’s wild dual-hinge Honeycomb Glacier concept is the answer. But so far, no company has made a production laptop like that yet. Still, it’s an intriguing way to use a laptop, one that I hope other companies will continue to explore going forward.

Of course, the ZenBook Pro Duo isn’t just a pair of fancy screens; it’s also a high-end laptop. Unfortunately, take away the gimmick of the second display, and the rest of the computer isn’t that impressive.

From a raw power perspective, the ZenBook Pro Duo should have processing room to spare for all but the most intensive of power users and gamers. The i9 chipset and 32GB of RAM were more than enough for any day-to-day tasks, and outside of professional-level CAD rendering or video editing, it’s unlikely you’ll have too many issues.

But that power comes at a big cost — specifically, battery life and general portability. The ZenBook Pro Duo made it just over two and a half hours unplugged under the brunt of my normal, Chrome- and Twitter-heavy workload at full brightness. (Trust me, it’s practically a crime to not push this 4K display all the way up.) Users with more demanding workloads, like video or photo editing, will likely find that time cut even shorter.

Despite the “laptop” name, the raised-up design, overall size, and front-loaded keyboard make the ZenBook Pro Duo plain uncomfortable to use on your lap for anything beyond a few minutes. And the 6.4-pound weight means that you won’t be rushing to sling it into a bag, either. It’s very much a computer in the “portable desktop” category rather than a truly mobile device.

I haven’t disguised for my dislike of front-mounted keyboards, and the ZenBook Pro Duo continues that trend. Like its brethren, it’s painful to type on without using the bundled palm rest, and the minuscule trackpad (while thankfully using Windows Precision drivers) is best replaced as soon as possible by a real mouse.

The port selection is also surprisingly anemic for such a big (and expensive) machine: just two USB-A ports, a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, an HDMI port, and combined headphone / mic port. There are no SD card slots to speak of, which seems like an odd oversight on a computer this expensive that’s so focused on creative work. And given the sheer size of the ZenBook Pro Duo, it feels like Asus could have found space for more I/O options.

Then again, maybe Asus couldn’t fit any more ports, given how much space on the sides of the laptop is taken up by vents for the massive amount of heat it pushes out. Asus is using all its tricks here: tons of venting, a special turbo mode for pushing the fans to the maximum, and even a design that lifts up the base of the laptop by using the bottom of the display to prop it up to let more airflow in.

But for all that, the ZenBook Pro Duo still runs hot. Between the top-tier processor, beefy graphics card, and, of course, the sheer amount of pixels it has to push between the two constantly running displays, there’s always a lot going on. A word of advice: keep cold cans out of the line of fire, lest you discover that your refreshing seltzer has turned uncomfortably hot.

While it’s not designed primarily as a gaming machine, the ZenBook Pro Duo does check most of the boxes with its beefy processor and plentiful amounts of RAM. The biggest bottlenecks here are the RTX 2060 GPU and the 4K display. While you technically can game at 4K on the ZenBook Pro Duo, frame rates take a big hit unless you’re willing to turn graphics down to medium. 1080p gaming fares better, but if gaming is your focus, you’ll be better off investing in a full-fledged gaming PC with a more powerful GPU and more gaming-appropriate high refresh rate display.

The bigger issue with gaming has more to do with how Windows handles full-screen games by default, which has the unfortunate side effect of neutralizing the ScreenPad Plus. I went into this thinking that gaming could be the killer app for the second display — imagine being able to put up a YouTube guide for a level while you play, keep your friends’ Discord open and accessible, or even the ultimate all-in-one portable streaming machine.

Unfortunately, most PC games aren’t designed to work like that. You can run them full-screen and keep things running in the background on the second display, but if you click or tap on them, the game will minimize away. Presumably, this is a solvable issue (I managed to cheat my way around by running games in “windowed” mode at a full-screen size), and as mentioned before, streaming video does this perfectly already. It’s just another place where Asus’ software feels like it’s not quite there yet.

The best e-reader to buy right now

E-readers are a niche sort of technology, the antithesis of the “jack of all trades, master of none” philosophy that governs most tablets, phones, and other gadgets. These are intentionally limited devices, built around one central use: to read books.

Today’s best e-readers come pretty close to matching (and even beating) the print book experience. They offer screens with crisp, clean text, batteries that last for weeks, and benefits that print books can never match, like integrated backlights, waterproofing, and a nearly infinite library in your pocket.

And with the latest wave of e-readers pushing the technology farther than ever, there’s never been a better time to give one a shot. Even if we’re still working on replicating the perfect new book smell.

Update July 26th 2019, 8:30AM ET: Updated guide to add recent 2019 Kindle models.

The best e-reader: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018)

Amazon has long dominated the e-reader game with the Kindle Paperwhite, which marries the high resolution display and built-in light of Amazon’s top-of-the-line readers with the lightweight, pocketable design of the company’s base model Kindle. Even before the latest update, Amazon said that the Paperwhite was its best selling model, and for good reason — it’s a nearly perfect mix of functionality and price point for an e-reader.

The 2018 Paperwhite — the first major update in years — advances things even further, adding waterproofing, support for listening to Audible audiobooks over Bluetooth, and an improved design with a flush display. The screen is a 6-inch 300ppi E Ink panel that’s crisp even for tiny font sizes, the integrated light lets you read in the dark, and the hardware is still small and thin enough to slide into the back pocket of my jeans.

The Paperwhite has all of the full power of Amazon’s years of refinements of Kindles behind it — the user interface is simple, but easy to manage, the fonts and formatting of books are great, and buying more things to read is almost dangerously easy to do right on the device. Amazon also has its services to sweeten the pot — Prime members get access to free content through the Prime Reading Program, users can sign up for an optional Kindle Unlimited subscription to further their a la carte options, and Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads means that the largest literature-related social media network is built right into the device. And of course, the biggest and cheapest ebook library around.

Amazon sells the Paperwhite for $129.99 at full price, but you should never spend that much on it, considering that Amazon frequently runs sales (the lowest price yet has been $90). Be aware, however, that the usual Amazon annoyances still apply. Adding cellular data will add $70 to the price, bumping up internal storage from 8GB to 32GB will add $30, and removing the ads from the home and lockscreen will cost another $20.

There are also a few annoyances that come with the hardware, like the lack of USB-C charging or faster 802.11n Wi-Fi. But sadly those apply to almost the entire e-reader marketplace, so it’ll be tough to avoid those issues until manufacturers start to step up a bit.

Ultimately, though, in terms of getting the most -reader bang for your buck, nothing else comes close to the Paperwhite.

The step up: Amazon Kindle Oasis (2019)

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Amazon’s Kindle Oasis was already the absolute best e-reader if price isn’t a factor, and the updated third-generation version makes it even better, adding a color-temperature adjustable screen. It’s a small change, but it makes it both easier to read in the dark as well as just plain nicer to use, due to the tinted color helping the screen look more like actual paper than before.

Everything else about the 2019 Oasis is otherwise unchanged, for better or for worse. The design is still outstanding, with an asymmetrical style that’s weighted perfectly to rest in one hand. And it still has an anodized aluminum case and physical page-turn buttons that are far nicer than the cheaper Kindles’ touchscreen-only UX and plastic shells. It’s also IPX8 waterproof and supports Audible audiobooks over Bluetooth.

Head to head with the Paperwhite, the Oasis has a few specific improvements: a larger screen, a front light with 12 LEDs (over the Paperwhite’s five) for more even lighting, and an adaptive light sensor that can automatically adjust the brightness for you (although not the color temperature, which would have been a nice addition).

But the Oasis still has its hefty price tag to contend with: nearly twice as much as the Paperwhite (or close to three times as much if you can find a Paperwhite on sale, which it frequently is), which makes it hard to recommend over the Paperwhite, even with the new screen. But if you want the best digital reading experience at any cost, nothing else beats the Oasis.

Other options

Amazon may be the 1,000-pound elephant in the room when it comes to ebooks, but it does have one major competitor: Kobo, the Canadian-based subsidiary of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, which has its own full lineup of Kindle competitors as well.

Kobo’s readers do have some great features that Amazon’s don’t: native support for Pocket articles, the ability to browse and borrow books from the popular Overdrive library system directly on the device (Amazon requires a computer to do it), and the simple fact that it doesn’t involve buying into another Amazon service, which certainly appeals to some people.

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The best wireless charger to buy right now

Wireless charging pads aren’t a new invention, but with more and more phone manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon, they’re an increasingly convenient way to top off your phone without hunting for a cable. Plus, they’re universal: whether you’ve got an iPhone, Pixel, Galaxy, or nearly any wirelessly charging accessory, they all work with the same pads.

Sure, your phone will work just fine with the wired charger it comes with, but a wireless charger makes charging your phone as simple as putting it down on a surface — perfect for a desk or nightstand. It’s a small change, but one that makes keeping your phone juiced up an unconscious part of your life.

We went through and tested over a dozen wireless Qi charging pads, ranging from well-known charging companies like Anker and Mophie to relative newcomers, like RavPower. Even Samsung makes its own branded wireless chargers. The good news is that pretty much any Qi charger, new or old, cheap or expensive, will more or less do the job when it comes to charging your phone. But not all chargers are made equal, and things like form factor, materials, size, and of course, how fast it can actually charge your phone are all things to consider, especially for a product that’s looking to take up permanent residence on your desk or nightstand.

This article will be continually updated as new devices are released — so be sure to check back if you’re not buying a wireless charger right now.

The Best Wireless Chargers: RavPower Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad

RavPower is one of the more popular charging accessory companies around, competing with the likes of Anker on products like battery packs, wall chargers, and cables. The company proved to be adept at making wireless chargers and RavPower’s Fast Charge Wireless Charging Pad and the RavPower 2 Coils Wireless Charging Stand are still the best chargers out there you can buy.

In terms of performance, both RavPower chargers output up to 10W of power — enough for regular speed charging (typically 5W), Samsung’s 9W quick-charging, and Apple’s own 7.5W iteration. And while quick charging doesn’t offer quite as significant of an advantage as it does with wired charging, it’ll still cut down on your charging time, assuming your device supports it. And given the universal nature of wireless charging tech, making sure you’re future-proofed is just common sense.

We’ve included both RavPower models here since the designs differ depending on what your specific needs for a charger are — but whether you want a standing option or a flat pad, these are your best bets.

The RavPower Fast Charge is a flat pad, which makes it more versatile since you can charge both phones and accessories like smartwatches or wireless headphones (including Apple’s recently released AirPod case). And in terms of hardware, it’s still one of the nicest chargers in terms of design, with a solid metal case that won’t slide around your desk or nightstand, while also just looking like a more premium product than some of the cheaper, plastic-y options out there. It does only feature a single coil, though, so you’ll want to make sure you place your device precisely when charging.

The RavPower 2 Coils Wireless Charging Stand is a little cheaper-looking with a plastic-y design, but it’s perfect for use by a desk — especially if you’ve got a phone with a face unlock system (particularly Apple’s iPhones, which won’t show notifications until they’re unlocked). But it’s still stable enough to support heavier phones, and the two-coil design makes it practically impossible to mess up placement.

Both charge equally fast, though, and are still among the fastest chargers around for both Apple and Android devices. Both models also include a 24W power brick, which generally tends to cost an additional $15 on its own. Given that’s something you’ll need to pick up anyway if you’re planning on taking advantage of the fastest charging speeds, the fact that it’s included is a definite plus — and even then, the RavPower chargers are still among the most affordable options.

So, you really wanted an AirPower:

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

But what if you’re the platonic Apple owner, and you really, truly had your heart set on an AirPower? Well, reputable multidevice wireless chargers are still rare, and throw an Apple Watch in the mix (with its proprietary, Apple-exclusive charging standard) and things get complicated.

But if you must be able to charge two devices (call it an iPhone and an AirPods case) and an Apple Watch, your best bet is the Hard Cider Labs SliceCharge Pro. It’s not an AirPower, but it looks a whole lot like Apple’s charger, and with six charging coils designed to wirelessly charge up to two devices without regard for orientation or placement, it’s as close as you can get right now.

The Apple Watch part of the equation is a literal Apple Watch USB charger that props up next to the wireless charging pad, but the design makes it easy to charge your watch regardless of what kind of band you have on it. The whole thing also charges off a single USB-C cable (with an included 30W brick to power it), which is a much better solution than the proprietary cables on other options.

There are issues: in our tests, the SliceCharge Pro didn’t output enough power to fast charge Android devices, but if the Apple Watch charger prominently built into the device didn’t tip you off, this is more designed for Apple users anyway (iPhones, with their slower 7.5W speed did just fine).

It’s also not the cheapest option around — buying two regular wireless chargers and just using the Apple Watch cable that came with your device is definitely more cost effective — but if you want the “one device to charge them all” dream that Apple promised, this is your best bet.

There is one catch, though, which is that the SliceCharge Pro is still not yet widely available — the company is finishing a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and will be opening sales to the general public in June.

So, if you need to buy something today, the other best option is Nomad’s Base Station Apple Watch Edition. It’s very pricey (albeit with a nice aluminum and leather design), uses a proprietary barrel plug, has just three coils, and was generally far trickier to get devices placed correctly (it also maxes out at 7.5W for charging, so it’s not great for Android users).

Other options

The advantage to Qi wireless chargers is that ultimately, they all pretty much do the same thing at roughly the same speed, so assuming you’ve got something that’s specced to support the level of fast charging your device uses and a wall plug that can power it, it’s hard to go wrong.

With things like aesthetics, form factor, and personal preference playing a big part in this, there are plenty of good options whether you decide to pay more, pay less, or just get something in a different style than our primary picks.

Update May 17th, 9:30AM ET: Overhauled guide to revise top selection, add new AirPower alternative section, and add multiple new chargers to the guide.

The next generation of wall chargers is getting smaller and better

The tech world is probably sitting on the edge of a charger revolution, and most of us just haven’t realized it yet. No, I’m not talking about USB-C (sadly); I’m talking about GaN (gallium nitride) chargers, a material that’s started to replace silicon in chargers. I’ve had the chance to try out two of the first GaN chargers — RavPower’s 45W slimline design model and Anker’s PowerPort Atom PD 1 — and it’s not just marketing hype: the new chargers really do make a huge leap forward for shrinking down power bricks in a way that’s really exciting to see.

In both cases, simply holding the charger in your hand is enough to make you skeptical. The 30W Anker just flat out seems too small to drive anything bigger than a phone, and the 45W RavPower option, while a bit larger, also pales in comparison to a similarly specced silicon-based charger.

From left to right: Apple’s 5W iPhone charger (for scale), Anker’s 30W PowerPort Atom PD 1, and RavPower’s 45W GaN charger

But both work as promised, outputting the charge they say on their respective labels without getting unnecessarily hot or exploding, which is basically all you can really ask of a charger. It’s not magic: as my colleague Angela Chen explains, GaN is much more efficient, meaning that chargers that use it can be much smaller and waste less energy than ones based on silicon. The biggest obstacle is simply that companies are used to working with silicon, whereas GaN is relatively new; in an ideal world, we’ll probably start to see more products taking advantage of the tech in the near future.

It’s not perfect yet: Anker’s 30W Atom PD 1 struggles to power something as large as a 13-inch MacBook Pro — you can charge it while the computer is sleeping, but while actively running, it’ll still struggle to really keep pace with the power drain (although it’ll work in a pinch). And for anything smaller, like a phone, iPad, Nintendo Switch, headphones, or anything else with USB-C, it’s practically a no-brainer for the $29.99 price.

RavPower’s 45W plug is even more impressive — it can actually drive basically any USB-C device, barring the most power-hungry laptops (like Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro). And while I’d wish for that kind of wattage in something a little smaller, we’re still in the extremely early days for GaN chargers, and odds are that we’ll start to see more varied designs soon.

Personally, I’m not quite sure that the design of either of the GaN chargers so far is entirely to my liking: the RavPower charger, while slimmer, is wider than I’d like and won’t do much good on a power strip. The Atom PD 1 is even smaller, but lacks folding prongs, which makes it a bit awkward to throw in a bag. That said, compared to things like the free, terrible 5W charger that came with your phone or even more powerful plugs like Apple’s iPad chargers or the Nintendo Switch’s chunky brick, the GaN chargers clearly win out.

There’s also a lot to look forward to: if today’s silicon USB-C chargers are any indication, better GaN chargers could bring things like more ports, higher wattages, and different form factors. Anker has already announced a few, with a 60W, two USB-C port PowerPort Atom PD 2 charger and a 100W four port (two USB-C and two USB Type-A) PowerPort Atom PD 4 charger planned for later this year.

But in either case, unless the form factors or wattages on offer are really an issue for you, it’d be hard to recommend buying a USB-C charger that isn’t GaN-based right now. They’re thinner, lighter, and in most cases, cheaper than comparable USB-C chargers — what’s not to like? And if products like Anker’s and RavPower’s first GaN offerings are any indication, we’ve likely just scratched the surface of what the future of chargers will look like.

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8BitDo’s wireless adapter is the best way to use a GameCube controller with a Switch

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who play Super Smash Bros. games as a competitive sport and those who enjoy them as party games meant to be played with friends. If you’re the first type, then you definitely care about things like lag and frame rates, and this post will read as blasphemy to you. But if you’re the second, and you’re looking for a way to make using a 17-year-old controller a little more enjoyable while playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on your Switch in 2018, you probably want 8BitDo’s GBros. adapter.

What is it?

Announced last month ahead of the launch of Ultimate, the GBros. is a pretty simple adapter that features a GameCube controller input on one end and a Wii controller plug on the other (for use with the wired NES Classic, SNES Classic, and Wii Classic controllers). Plug in your retro controller, turn it on, and you can connect it to a Switch (or a Windows PC) so you can use your favorite wired controllers wirelessly with Nintendo’s newest console.

The good

I used the GBros. over the weekend to play Smash Bros. on my Switch, and it’s great. Setup is simple: switch it to whatever controller mode you’d like to use (S for Switch, X for Windows), press and hold the yellow pairing button to turn it on, and connect it just like you would any other wireless controller. Once connected, it’ll work just like a native Switch controller, minus the two extra triggers. (Cleverly, 8BitDo uses the green Star button and red Heart button on the GBros. to replace the Home and Screenshot buttons that would otherwise be missing from a GameCube controller.)

Once you’re set up, the GBros. just works. Again, I’m sure Smash pros will have complaints about wireless latency on a frame or millisecond level. But for my casual enjoyment, it was a welcome solution to stringing a GameCube controller cord across my living room again, like Nintendo’s official USB adapter would require. Additionally, the GBros. has the added bonus of working with a Switch in handheld and tabletop modes, unlike the USB adapter, which only works with the TV dock. This means I can prop up my Switch on a nightstand and use my trusty GameCube controller from the comfort of my bed.

And while using the GBros. to make a GameCube controller wireless in my living room is mostly a convenience (given my setup), for users with larger spaces who don’t have easy access to their TVs, it’ll be even more useful.

The bad

Unfortunately, the GBros. needs disposable batteries to work. According to 8BitDo, the GBros. should get up to 30 hours of play time off of a pair of AA batteries, which I haven’t quite been able to put to the test yet. But in a world of wireless, rechargeable controllers, digging up a pair of AAs feels a bit outdated.

The other issue is the price: at $19.99, a single GBros. costs as much as Nintendo’s wired adapter, which supports up to four controllers at once. That means you’ll be fine if you want to pick up one or two, but if you’re looking to build a full party game setup, it’ll get pricey pretty fast — especially considering that you’ll still need to buy GameCube controllers on top of that (if you don’t already own them).

Also, as one odd quirk — due to how the Switch handles controller inputs, the L and R buttons on the GameCube controller function as Switch L and R buttons, when you’ll actually want them mapped to the ZR and ZL triggers, but that’s nothing a quick trip to the controller settings menu built into Smash Bros won’t fix.

Should you buy it?

If you’re looking to play Smash Bros. mostly for single-player content or if you have a larger living room (and aren’t concerned with wireless performance), then definitely give it a try.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to play with larger groups of friends and you either already have or intend to get a pile of GameCube controllers to go with it, then you’re probably better off with Nintendo’s wired dock. Just make sure that no one accidentally trips over the cords during the match.

The best email app for iOS and Android

There is no such thing as a good email app, technically speaking. Even the best one in the world is still, well, an email app, and that means it delivers you the endless stream of notifications, newsletters, spam mailings, deals, sales, invitations, requests, and obligations that take up your time and sap away productivity.

Of course, you still need an email app — but if you’re going to have to deal with email, it had better be fast. Whether on iOS or Android, a good email app has to make loading emails, refreshing your inbox, replying, archiving, deleting, unsubscribing, and more as quick and as seamless as possible.

Unfortunately, it’s also a rough time in the email app world — email apps are disappearing seemingly by the day, with apps like Newton, Astro, and even Google’s own Inbox all closing down in the past few weeks or the near future. Simply put, it’s hard to make a good email app, and even harder to keep a good email app going.

But it’s not all bad, and there are still some great options out there that will help you get your email done and get you back to doing things you’d prefer with lightning speed.

The best email app for iOS: Outlook

Ironic as it may seem, the best email app for the iPhone is Microsoft’s Outlook. Boasting a clean design without too many frills, Outlook will help you get through your emails as fast as possible and get back to living life.

All the key features of modern email are here: swiping gestures to let you easily archive, delete, or snooze emails out of your inbox. A filtered “Focused” inbox that automatically tries to sort the important email you actually want to read from the endless spam that likely shows up. Support for iOS’s notification actions that let you reply, mark as read, delete, or archive emails as they come in. And it works with almost any email service, including iCloud, Yahoo, Gmail, Exchange, IMAP, and Outlook (of course).

Outlook also has a few quality of life features that just make it nicer to use for casual email, an ever-present response bar at the bottom (without needing to tap to open a new menu) that makes jotting off a quick response a snap. The deeply integrated calendar is also a nice touch, especially when it comes to adding things to your schedule that you just got an email about without having to juggle around between apps.

There are a few quibbles — search in particular on Outlook isn’t the fastest around, especially compared to Google’s Gmail app, and if you’re looking for more advanced options like muting specific threads, they’re not here.

But there’s one other big advantage to Outlook over other apps like Spark or Edison. And that’s the fact that it’s Outlook, a name that’s practically synonymous with “email app.” In a world where third-party apps get snapped up or vanish like smoke at the drop of a hat, and even Google’s Inbox can’t be trusted to stick around, Outlook offers a level of security that other apps don’t.

For power users: Spark

Spark isn’t quite as polished-looking or as easy to use as Outlook, but if you’re an email power user, it offers a lot that Outlook doesn’t — provided you’re willing to dig through the menus and lists to get to it.

The app itself is fast, fluid, and loads emails quickly. Like all the best modern email apps, there are customizable swipe gestures (Spark lets you add separate actions for both long and short swipes). There’s further choice in a pop-up widget wheel, a side menu, and what options the toolbar in the email viewer offer. And it checks all the major email provider boxes — Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, and Outlook.

Spark also has the single best notification options for any email app on iOS, period. There’s support for choosing what kind of preview you get when an email comes in, whether notifications are grouped by thread, and what quick actions you can take (although delete and archive are the obvious choices). There’s also a smart notification option that automatically mutes strangers and automated emails.

And that’s not even getting into Spark’s optional Smart Inbox, which works a lot like Google’s soon-to-be-defunct Inbox, sorting emails by category and trying to highlight which ones are the most important. (It’s easily togglable with an omnipresent switch on the top right.)

It’s a lot to take in, but if you need the extra brawn or don’t mind the less than elegant presentation, Spark’s a great choice, too.

The best email app for Android: Gmail

Google hasn’t really updated the Gmail app on Android (or iOS) for a long time — the base app still looks a whole lot like the one that Google shipped years ago in 2015. In fact, it’s actually gotten a little worse in some ways, like the addition of ads (ugh).

But if you’re an Android user, you likely have already recognized the kind of home-field advantage that Google has on its own platform, and Gmail is no exception. No other email app offers the same power, feature set, and speed as Gmail offers. And don’t let the Gmail branding fool you — Gmail also supports Outlook, Yahoo, Exchange, and manually configured IMAP accounts, too.

Gmail has smart filtering options, smart replies, an automatically flagged priority inbox — sure, there are email apps that replicate some or all of these features, but they’re all copying off Google’s playbook, and it all still works best here. Google Calendar or Google Docs support? Gmail supports those best, too.

Gmail also supports all the things that Google is doing with notifications, too, like notification channels, icon badges, pop-up previews.

Plus, if you’re on Android, Gmail is literally the default option. It comes installed on nearly every Android phone in the world, and it’ll always be the first to support any new features or integrations that Android offers in the weeks or years to come. And like Outlook, email itself would have to cease to exist before Google stops supporting the main Gmail app.

At the end of the day, it may not be the nicest-looking option around, but it’s hard to beat Google at its own game here.

For a better design: Outlook

Much like iOS, Outlook on Android is also an excellent option. It’s fast, it’s easy to set up and use, and doesn’t bog you down with too many options.

Most of what’s great about the iOS version is still great here: the app looks great (especially compared to Gmail’s somewhat creaky design), it’s fast, and makes getting through your email quick and easy. And the three tabs on the bottom devoted to inbox, search, and calendar are just as useful here, making it easy to flip between an older email you’ve just dug up, your next meeting, and incoming mail.

Compared to Gmail, there’s just less here, though — which is good if all you need is a simple email app, but more serious email users will probably want to stick with Gmail.

Other options

Ultimately, though, email apps come down to preference, and there’s constantly new options popping up. And the best part is that most of them are free, meaning it won’t cost you anything to download a new one and try it out for yourself to see if its for you.

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The best USB-C hub for your new laptop

Despite all of its promise for a better future, the reality of living with USB Type-C is kind of a nightmare. Sure, one day maybe we’ll get to the place where every cable, every gadget, and every screen uses the next generation connector specification but we’re nowhere near that today.

Which means if you’ve got a USB-C laptop like Apple’s MacBook Pros or Dell’s latest XPS 13, and you want to get your old ports back — things like regular USB, HDMI, Ethernet, headphone jacks, DisplayPort, MicroSD, and SD card slots — you’re going to need a USB-C hub.

To be clear, we’re only looking at a very specific subset of USB-C hubs here — for the sake of this comparison, they’ve got to provide the option to continue to charge your laptop through a pass-through power port, and they can’t need their own separate power supply. That means that all those super powerful $300 Thunderbolt 3 hubs are out.

The best USB-C hub is one that gives you access to all the ports you need, and is small and light enough to easily keep in your bag at all times. It shouldn’t be too expensive, and it should work reliably without getting too hot.

We’ll continue to update this article as new hubs come out — USB-C is still a relatively new market, and companies are still constantly tinkering with form factors, port selection, and design to hit the perfect balance — so be sure to check back if you’re not buying a new laptop today. Or, more optimistically, that one day you won’t need this guide at all, because everyone will have finally switched over to using USB-C (although that still seems a long way from now.)

The best USB-C hub: The Satechi Aluminum Multi-Port Adapter V2

For now, you’ll still need a USB-C hub, and the best one out there is the Satechi Aluminum Multi-Port Adapter V2, which manages to check almost every single box on the list.

First and most importantly, Satechi’s hub just flat out offers the best port selection: three USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI, and both MicroSD and SD card slots, along with a USB-C port for passing through power. (There’s also a slightly pricier version that throws in a Mini DisplayPort should you need one, but it rearranges the other ports to be a little more inconvenient to get to.)

The Satechi hub itself is a single compact aluminum wedge that’s doesn’t take up too much space in your bag or on your desk. And despite the metal construction, it didn’t get any hotter than my normal laptop charger did during testing.

The port layout is also one of the better thought out designs, with a single built-in USB-C cable that plugs into a computer on one end, and a USB-C input for power and Ethernet jack on the other. One side features the SD card slots, while the other has the three USB-C jacks and the HDMI port. Everything is spaced far enough apart to still easily plug things in, which is an issue with other plugs.

The Satechi isn’t perfect — it’s only specced at 49W for pass-through charging, so it may not charge your laptop quite as fast as just using the charger on its own, and it only supports 4K HDMI output at 30Hz, not at 60Hz. Plus, the higher-than-average price might be a bit of a tough selling point, especially if you’ve just spent over $1,000 on a new laptop.

But for a well-designed portable hub with the port selection that it offers, nothing else came close at the price point.

A cheaper alternative: the HooToo USB-C hub

If you’re looking to save a little money, the next best hub is the HooToo USB-C hub. There are definitely some sacrifices that you’re going to make here, particularly Ethernet — but you’ll still get the three USB 3.0 jacks, a full-sized SD card slot, and HDMI for video out. It also actually charged faster than our main pick, offering 55W of power pass-through.

That said, unlike our main pick, there’s no Ethernet or MicroSD card slot, which might be a deal-breaker for some. But at almost half the price of the Satechi hub, it’s a great budget option, assuming you can get along without Ethernet.

You’re also getting what you pay for with the HooToo hub, which feels cheap compared to the Satechi hub, despite also being made out of aluminum. And there’s no getting around the tacky, glowing HooToo logo on the top of the hub that lights up every time you plug it in, but that’s nothing that some electrical tape can’t fix, if it really bothers you.

Other options

There are plenty of other USB-C hubs available, with different port configurations, form factors, and price points. They’ll all probably get the job done in a pinch, but for one reason or another, they didn’t beat our top picks.

Given that they’re accessory hubs, at the end of the day, almost anything should work. There are still a few things that you’ll want to look out for, including support for the USB-C PD (Power Delivery) standard, which will make sure that your devices charge right. But ultimately, go with whatever ports and style best suits your setup.

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