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Friday, November 22, 2013

Best 2013 gadgets, rated by The Wirecutter and The Sweethome

Best turkey fryer

Bayou Classic aluminum

turkey fryer stockpot

(plus the Bayou Classic single

burner patio stove

This affordable, quick-heating stockpot kit and the accompanying propane burner have everything you need to get the job done except the oil, safety gear and the propane tank. The stockpot can be used for clam bakes and crawfish boils long after turkey season is over. The separate burner is solidly built, powerful (enough) and stable. You'll need that stability when you're handling four gallons of bubbling peanut oil. We tested it against a popularly recommended Masterbuilt electric fryer.

To test with a real turkey, we heated the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, then lowered the turkey in, at which point the temperature on the oil dropped to about 320 degrees. It took only about 10 minutes for the temperature to reach the ideal cooking temperature of 350 degrees. The result was gorgeous. The turkey skin was crisp, and the meat was moist, flavorful and fragrant - reminiscent of the best fried chicken. Outer pieces like the wings stayed crisp, even after a long rest. For comparison, the electric model we tested never fully recovered in temperature and resulted in similarly moist but oily turkey.

To read more about the best turkey fryer, check The Sweethome's guide.

Pro: Heats up quickly and makes crispy skinned, moist turkey that electric models can't match

Con: Fire hazard

Best for: Fryin'! (But careful, safe fryin'.)

Price: $95

Best exercise headphones

Sennheiser OCX 685i Sports

The Sennheiser OCX 685i stays securely in your ears while you're moving around. It is sweat- and water-resistant, and lets in enough ambient noise to keep you aware of your surroundings. The headphones sounded the best out of the 10 pairs that we tested, which included offerings from such premium brands as Bose and Klipsch that cost more than twice as much. They also have an inline microphone and a remote compatible with your iPhone or iPod for changing songs while you're working out. The only drawback is that they're not super comfortable for extended periods, but that's less of an issue while working out compared with sitting at a desk or in airplane seat for hours on end.

The only competitor that came close was the Sennheiser PMX 685i, which sound exactly the same but use a neck band instead of individual ear loops to secure the drivers. This can get in the way when you're on your back doing crunches or using the bench press, so we prefer the OCX because it works in any position.

To read more about the best exercise headphones, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Durable, great sound, sweat-proof, they stay on

Con: Uncomfortable after extended wear

Best for: Being on your grind, indoors or out

Price: $80

Best $500 TV

Samsung PN51F4500

Almost no one tests cheap TVs, so we used $20,000 of equipment to look at every 50-incher under $500 that was worth looking at. The Samsung PN51F4500 was the clear winner in nearly every subjective and objective test. The contrast ratio is almost 50 percent greater than the next runner-up, the already quite good Panasonic TC-P50X60, the colors appear lifelike, and there's a lot of "depth" to the image, which makes the picture appear more natural and immersive. LG is the only other company that still makes plasmas, but they have a mediocre track record so we ignored them.

The reason we didn't consider LCD TVs in this price range is that plasma televisions offer better overall picture quality than LCDs for the money. They have higher contrast ratios, are viewable from any angle, don't suffer from motion blur and are cheaper per inch.

To read more about the best $500 TV, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: A great-looking TV that happens to be cheap

Con: Slight lag compared with far more expensive models

Best for: You don't want anything huge, you don't want to spend a lot of money, but you need a new TV. This is your new TV.

Price: $500

Best laptop

13-inch MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is balanced. It lacks any big flaws, has great performance, unparalleled 12-hour battery life, the latest chips and ports and, most important, an unbeatable keyboard and track pad- something that other companies are still struggling to produce. And that amazing solid aluminum unibody. The Air is best for most people, nearly every reviewer agrees. Nilay Patel at the Verge summed it up nicely: "If you're a normal person shopping for a laptop, you should buy a MacBook Air. It does all the things you want a laptop to do, it does them well, and now it does them for 12 hours at a clip."

The MacBook air's advantages aren't limited to hardware. Mac OS X Mavericks is easy to use and very stable. There's also Apple's service. Putting aside what you might feel after waiting and waiting at the Genius Bar, it's better to wait an hour and have your computer back the same day, than to wait several weeks for your computer to go to and from a warranty center on the other side of the country. Overall, we think the Mac experience is much less likely to frustrate you than other alternatives.

To read more about the best laptop, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Battery life of 12 hours, unbeatable keyboard, track pad, build quality

Con: A bit expensive

Best for: A new laptop

Price: From $1,099

Best pen

Uni-ball Jetstream

The vast majority of people don't particularly care what they write with, but given that the difference between an awesome pen and a mediocre one is just a couple bucks, perhaps they should.

To find the best pen, we interviewed four veteran pen bloggers with a combined 17 years of experience writing about pens, with more than 1,200 reviews among them. They all agreed that the Jetstream is the best mainstream pen you can get. Not only does it write incredibly smoothly, the ink dries quickly, which is good for left-handers because it won't smudge under their hands. This is thanks to Uni-ball's special pigment-based ink, which is designed to sink into the paper and has the added bonus of making it much more difficult to wash away, preventing check fraud.

We suggest grabbing a pack of the 0.7 mm ones, as they're suited to most handwriting, and then sizing up or down if you want something bolder or more fine. Our panel of pen reviewers all agreed: This is the pen for just about anybody.

To read more about the best pen, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Affordable, smooth, dries fast, won't bleed, best flow of ink

Con: On the ever-so-slightly

more expensive side

Best for: People who write with a pen or who sign checks

Price: $10.49 (for a pack of three)

Best portable Bluetooth speaker

Logitech UE Mini Boom

Forget the Jambox, this is our favorite portable speaker because it's so, well, portable - and it doesn't compromise on sound, either. It's about the size of a can of food and weighs only about half a pound, which makes it small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Yet the sound it produces has enough volume and clarity to fill a room without distortion. For comparison, the much more expensive Jambox and Jambox Mini were barely louder than the built-in speakers on a MacBook Air (though they sound much fuller). The UE also works as a speakerphone, clear enough to use in a boardroom. The battery charges conveniently via micro USB and lasts for about nine hours of playback, just shy of Logitech's claimed 10 hours, but far better than many of its competitors, which mostly topped out at six hours.

Among the speakers we tested, a few sounded a bit better, like the JBL Charge and some were prettier, like the Jambox, but when it comes to a portable speaker that's a great value and that doesn't compromise on performance, the Mini Boom can't be touched. To read more about the best portable Bluetooth speaker, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Inexpensive, really portable, sounds great,

rechargeable battery with nine-plus hour s of life

Con: Gets loud but not the best audio quality

Best for: Anywhere, impromptu dance parties

Price: $100

Best over-ear noise-canceling headphones

Bose QuietComfort 15

We've tested the QuietComfort 15 for two years running and for two years it has been our top choice for over-ear noise canceling headphones because this model cuts more low-frequency noise than any other over-ear headphones you can buy. Geoffrey Morrison of Sound& Vision magazine said in his review that "if you're buying noise-canceling headphones specifically for the noise canceling, the Bose QC15s are the absolute choice." At lower frequencies, the QC15s reduced noise by up to 26 decibels more than competing headphones. That's a ton. When it comes to noise canceling, they really are that much better than other headphones. The Bose QC20s are the only ones that top it, but they are in-ear headphones, which can become bothersome to wear for extended periods.

They also sound pretty good. Although some models in this price range sound better, such as the PSB M4U 2, they don't come close to matching the QC15s noise-canceling prowess.

To read more about the best over-ear noise-canceling headphones, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Nothing cancels noise more effectively

Con: The sound quality isn't tops

Best for: Quiet times in noisy places

Price: $300

Best $1,000 projector

BenQ W1070

The BenQ has a decent contrast ratio, is bright, has accurate color and color temperature, 1080p resolution, does ­3-D and renders motion very smoothly. It punches way above its weight class. The contrast ratio is also better than most projectors in its price range. It even does better than some more expensive projectors, such as the $2,600 ViewSonic Pro9000. Beyond contrast ratio, it's bright. Our reviewer measured 44 footlamberts on a 102-inch, 1.0-gain screen, which is brighter than many more-expensive projectors. For example, the otherwise excellent $3,500 JVC DLA-X35 was capable of only 30 footlamberts on the same screen. If contrast ratio is how good the image looks, the brightness is how large an image you can create and how bright it is. They're the two most important attributes, and the BenQ is excellent at both. It also produces highly accurate colors, which makes the images more lifelike.

The BenQ is also one of the few projectors in this price range that has lens shift, meaning you can adjust the lens to point up and down slightly, allowing for a wider range of installation options. It's not a lot, but the lens shift does help the W1070 fit into rooms other projectors can't.

To read more about the best $1,000 projector, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Very bright, good contrast,

accurate color, lens shift

Con: The contrast could be higher for

better daytime viewing

Best for: Movies, video games,

anything - this is a serious projector

Price: $1,000

Best home kettle

Cuisinart CPK-17

Most people just put a kettle on to boil then pour nearly boiling water over a tea bag, but different varieties of tea are meant to be brewed at different temperatures. The general rule is that the more delicate the leaf, the cooler the water - green tea should be steeped markedly lower than black, which should be steeped in a roiling boil.

We recommend the Cuisinart CPK-17 because it is fast to heat, has accurate and adjustable temperature settings, and is easy to use. While it might not be a leader in every category, it ranked highly in all of them, lacks any appreciable drawbacks and is a solid value at $100. It took a slightly better-than-average amount of time to heat water, was the most accurate of the kettles and is simple to operate. You add water, hit the temperature you want and wait for the beep when it's done. The kettle then kicks into an automated "keep warm" cycle, where it will maintain temperature for up to 30 minutes, in case you can't quite make it to the kitchen in time.

To read more about the best home kettle, check The Sweethome's guide.

Pro: Fast, accurate, easy to use

Con: Minor bugs in the "keep warm" function

Best for: Tea fanatics

Price: $100

Best chip clips

The Gripstic

After trying literally every option we could get our hands on (about two dozen total), we decided our favorite clip is the Gripstic; it costs $17 for a pack of three. It doesn't look like a normal bag clip, but it's easy to use and store, and it's sturdy and wide enough to create a tight seal that prevents food from going stale. It's wide enough to close most bags, creates an incredibly tight seal, and is not much larger than a drinking straw.

To use the Gripstic, you fold a bag in half and insert the yellow guiding plastic bit into the fold. Reviewers note it's more effective to pull, not push, the clip on. It's a little tricky at first but easy to get a hang of - and it's easier (and cheaper) to use than SealStix, a similar bag clip.

A few other small annoyances: The reviewer spent a long time trying to slide the Gripstic onto a bag of Xochitl tortilla chips (which come in a thick, recyclable paper bag) before giving up. The Gripstic can't handle extremely thick materials well and struggles to keep a good grip on the super-thin plastic of a bread bag. For everything in between, you're golden.

To read more about the best chip clips, check The Sweethome's guide .

Pro: Wide enough to close most bags, incredibly tight seal, small

Con: It looks kinda weird, not completely intuitive to use

Best for: Obsessive-compulsives

Price: $17

Best LED light bulb

Cree 9.5W

Cree's 60-watt-equivalent bulb produces a light pattern strikingly similar to an incandescent bulb. It dims flawlessly and costs just $13, and Cree backs the bulb with an unparalleled 10-year warranty. That's a great deal given that if the bulb is on for three hours per day and energy costs 11 cents per kilowatt hour, the potential savings over the bulb's 23-year lifetime could reach nearly $140.

A good light should work in a track light or fan fixture without shortening its life; it should be dimmable - meaning no flickering, even at the lowest settings; it should be silent (less common than you might think); it should have at least a five-year guarantee; and it should cost less than $15. Last year's best bulb - the Philips L Prize - met all these criteria yet costs more than $25 and has a shorter warranty. Cree was easily dimmable with no visible flickering effects across all ranges of light output when using a variety of dimmer switches. This is uncanny for an LED bulb of this price. It was also noiseless, even with the tester's ear only 12 inches away.

To read more about the best LED light bulb, check The Sweethome's guide.

Pro: Inexpensive, looks incandescent, dims

Con: A (very) little bit of noise, incomplete color spectrum

Best for: That efficient, environmentally responsible person

Price: $13

Best bike lock

Kryptonite Series 2 package

We interviewed real bike thieves and had them test the top contenders to figure out what the best bike lock was. What we found was at the end of the day, proper locking technique (i.e., through the frame and the wheels) is just as important as the lock itself because no lock will stand up to an angle grinder for more than a couple of minutes.

When it comes to looking tough and making your bike look harder to steal, the Kryptonite Series 2 and cable-lock package are your best bet. The Series 2 is strong enough to make opportunistic thieves look elsewhere, and it's easy to carry because it's fairly light and comes with a stable, easy-to-mount carrying bracket that fits on virtually all bikes.

To read more about the best bike lock, check The Sweethome's guide.

Pro: It's the hardest lock to crack

Con: It's still breakable, so use it right

Best for: Not losing your bike (or front tire or seat)

Price: $43

Best rice cookers

Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity deluxe rice cooker/steamer

After testing multiple rice cookers with friends and a panel of Japanese chefs, we recommend the $50 Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity deluxe rice cooker/steamer for people who cook rice once in a while. But, if you enjoy brown rice, cook rice multiple times a week or like less-common rice-cooking methods like sticky rice or porridge, it's worth investing in a high-end rice cooker - namely the $150 Zojirushi NS-TSC10.

The Hamilton Beach rice cooker might not have fancy features, but it held its own in our taste test against more expensive units. The laypeople rated it first overall for white rice taste, beating all the other rice cookers and the stove-top option. They called the rice "light and refreshing," "fluffy and smooth" and praised its texture; one commented on the "elegant grain separation." Among the pros, it came in second for firmness, third for clumping and fluffiness and was overall the best of the affordable rice cookers. One San Francisco chef rated it as better than his restaurant's own rice cooker in a blind taste test!

To read more about the best rice cooker, check The Sweethome's guide.

Pro: Nothing fancy but makes enough to feed a small army

Con: See above

Best for: Someone who cannot be bothered with a stove top

Price: $50

Best multitool

Leatherman New Wave

After hours of research, backed up by several years of experience on various construction sites and tool writing gigs, it's clear that the New Wave has everything a multitool needs in a compact arrangement without any superfluous parts. It's useful in the woods, around the house and on job sites. The functions are of high enough quality that you won't miss the individual tools that they stand in for.

One reason the original Wave rose to such popularity after its 1998 debut - and likely a major reason Leatherman claims it's the company's most popular model to date - is the way the knife blades can be accessed without opening the whole tool.

The New Wave isn't the company's latest and greatest, but that's actually a good thing; the latest and greatest costs $100 or more, but this can do almost everything just as well at roughly half the price.

To read more about the best multitool, check The Wirecutter's guide.

Pro: Solid construction;

durable, quality blades

Con: Might not have everything, but it sure has a lot

Best for: The handyman (or handywoman) in your life

Price: $99

In partnership with The Wirecutter and The Sweethome

The Wirecutter and The Sweethome are leader boards of the best gadgets and home goods, all chosen over dozens of hours of research, interviews and testing.

Related content:

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Video games for adults: Stacking up the season's hot titles

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Tablets: Get it or skip it?

Smartphones buying guide: There's more than just the iPhone

The Washington Post's complete holiday guide for 2013

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