Commerce

The best vlogging cameras for 2024

If you’re a content creator or YouTuber, camera companies increasingly want your business. Last year was no exception, with several new vlogging-specific models released by Canon, Sony, DJI and others. That means there are now over a dozen on sale, alongside regular mirrorless cameras that also do the job well.

Models specifically designed for vlogging include Sony’s new ZV-E1 full-frame mirrorless that launched last year, DJI’s Osmo Pocket 3 or Canon’s compact PowerShot V10. Others, like the new Panasonic G9 II and last year’s Canon EOS R6 II are hybrid mirrorless cameras that offer vlogging as part of a larger toolset.

All of them have certain things in common, like flip-around screens, face- and/or eye-detect autofocus and stabilization. Prices, features and quality can vary widely, though. To that end, we’ve updated our guide with all the latest vlogging cameras designed for novice to professional creators, in all price ranges. Engadget has tested all of these to give you the best possible recommendations.

Factors to consider before buying a vlogging camera

Vlogging cameras are designed for filmmakers who often work alone and either use a tripod, gimbal, vehicle mount or just their hands to hold a camera. It must be good for filming yourself as well as other “B-roll” footage that helps tell your story. The biggest requirement is a flip-around screen so you can see yourself while filming. Those can rotate up, down or to the side, but flipping out to the side is preferable so a tripod or microphone won’t block it.

Continuous autofocus (AF) for video with face and eye detection is also a must. It becomes your camera “assistant,” keeping things in focus while you concentrate on your content. Most cameras can do that nowadays, but some (notably Canon and Sony) do it better than others.

If you move around or walk a lot, you should look for a camera with built-in optical stabilization. Electronic stabilization is another option as long as you’re aware of its limitations. You’ll also need a camera with a fast sensor that limits rolling shutter, which can create a distracting jello “wobble” with quick camera movements.

How to buy a vlogging camera in 2020
Steve Dent/Engadget

4K recording is another key feature. All cameras nowadays can shoot 4K up to at least 24 fps, but if possible, it’s better to have 4K at 60 or even 120 fps. If you shoot sports or other things involving fast movement, look for a model with at least 1080p at 120 fps for slow-motion recording.

Video quality is another important consideration, especially for skin tones. Good light sensitivity helps for night shooting, concerts and so on, and a log profile helps improve dynamic range in very bright or dark shooting conditions. If you want the best possible image quality and can afford it, get a camera that can record 4K with 10-bits (billions) of colors. That will give you more options when it’s time to edit the footage.

Don’t neglect audio either — if the quality is bad, your audience will disengage. Look for a camera with a microphone port so you can plug in a shotgun or lapel mic for interviews, or at least one with a good-quality built-in microphone. It’s also nice to have a headphone port to monitor sound so you can avoid nasty surprises after you’ve finished shooting.

You’ll also want good battery life and, if possible, dual memory card slots for a backup. Finally, don’t forget about your camera’s size and weight. If you’re constantly carrying one while shooting, especially at the end of a gimbal or gorillapod, it might actually be the most important factor. That’s why tiny GoPro cameras are so popular for sports, despite offering lower image quality and fewer pro features.

The best action and portable cameras

If you’re just starting out in vlogging or need a small, rugged camera, an action cam might be your best bet. In general, they’re easy to use as you don’t have to worry about things like exposure or focus. Recent models also offer good electronic stabilization and sharp, colorful video at up to 4K and 60 fps. The downsides are a lack of control; image quality that’s not on par with larger cameras; and no zooming or option to change lenses.

The best compact vlogging cameras

Compact cameras are a step up from smartphones or action cameras, with larger sensors and much better image quality. At the same time, they’re not quite as versatile as mirrorless or DSLR cameras (and not necessarily cheaper) and they lack advanced options like 10-bit video. For folks who want the best possible quality without needing to think too much about their camera, however, they’re the best option.

The best mirrorless/DSLR vlogging cameras

This is the class that has changed the most over the past couple of years, particularly in the more affordable price categories. Interchangeable lens cameras give you the most options for vlogging, offering larger sensors than compact cameras with better low-light sensitivity and shallower depth of field to isolate you or your subject. They also offer better control of your image with manual controls, log recording, 10-bit video and more. The drawbacks are extra weight compared to action or compact cameras, more complexity and higher prices.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-vlogging-camera-151603452.html?src=rss

The best vlogging cameras for 2024 Read More »

The 16 best monitors for 2024

If you’ve gotten easily overwhelmed when looking at computer monitors to buy, you’re not alone. The sheer number of options available today is vast, plus monitors continue to evolve rapidly, with new technology like OLED Flex, QD-OLED and built-in smart platforms just in the last year alone. That’s on top of big improvements in things like color accuracy, image quality, size and resolution as well. There’s a lot to think about when choosing the right computer monitor for you, and Engadget is here to help. We’ve researched the latest monitors for all kinds of use cases, whether you’re a business user, a content creator, a multitasker or into competitive gaming. We’ve outlined out top picks for the best monitors below, along with buying advice which should help you decide which is best for you.

Factors to consider

Panel type

The cheapest monitors are still TN (twisted nematic), which are strictly for gamers or office use. VA (vertical alignment) monitors are also relatively cheap, while offering good brightness and a high contrast ratio. However, content creators will find that IPS (in-plane switching) LCD displays deliver better color accuracy, picture quality and viewing angles.

If maximum brightness is important, a quantum dot LCD display is the way to go — those are typically found in larger displays. OLED monitors are now available and offer the best blacks and color reproduction, but they lack the brightness of LED or quantum dot displays. Plus, they cost a lot. The latest type of OLED monitor, called QD-OLED from Samsung, just came out in 2022. The most notable advantage is that it can get a lot brighter, with monitors shown at CES 2022 hitting up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness.

MiniLEDs are now widely used in high-end displays. They’re similar to quantum dot tech, but as the name suggests, it uses smaller LED diodes that are just 0.2mm in diameter. As such, manufacturers can pack in up to three times more LEDs with more local dimming zones, delivering deeper blacks and better contrast.

Screen size, resolution and display format

In this day and age, screen size rules. Where 24-inch displays used to be more or less standard (and can still be useful for basic computing), 27-, 32-, 34- and even 42-inch displays have become popular for entertainment, content creation and even gaming these days.

Nearly every monitor used to be 16:9, but it’s now possible to find 16:10 and other more exotic display shapes. On the gaming and entertainment side, we’re also seeing curved and ultrawide monitors with aspect ratios like 21:9. If you do decide to buy an ultrawide display, however, keep in mind that a 30-inch 21:9 model is the same height as a 24-inch monitor, so you might end up with a smaller display than you expected. As a rule of thumb, add 25 percent to the size of a 21:9 monitor to get the vertical height you’d expect from a model with a 16:9 aspect ratio.

A 4K monitor is nearly a must for content creators, and some folks are even going for 5K or all the way up to 8K. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need a pretty powerful computer to drive all those sharp pixels. And 4K resolution should be paired with a screen size of 27 inches and up, or you won’t notice much difference between 1440p. At the same time, I wouldn’t get a model larger than 27 inches unless it’s 4K, as you’ll start to see pixelation if you’re working up close to the display.

One new category to consider is portable monitors designed to be carried and used with laptops. Those typically come in 1080p resolutions and sizes from 13-15 inches. They usually have a lightweight kickstand-type support that folds up to keep things compact.

Samsung Smart Monitor M5
Samsung

HDR

HDR is the buzzy monitor feature to have these days, as it adds vibrancy to entertainment and gaming – but be careful before jumping in. Some monitors that claim HDR on the marketing materials don’t even conform to a base standard. To be sure that a display at least meets minimum HDR specs, you’ll want to choose one with a DisplayHDR rating with each tier representing maximum brightness in nits.

However, the lowest DisplayHDR 400 and 500 tiers may disappoint you with a lack of brightness, washed out blacks and mediocre color reproduction. If you can afford it, the best monitor to choose is a model with DisplayHDR 600, 1000 or True Black 400, True Black 500 and True Black 600. The True Black settings are designed primarily for OLED models, with maximum black levels at .0005 nits.

Where televisions typically offer HDR10 and Dolby Vision or HDR10+, most PC monitors only support the HDR10 standard, other than a few (very expensive) models. That doesn’t matter much for content creation or gaming, but HDR streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other services won’t look quite as punchy. In addition, most models supporting HDR600 (and up) are gaming monitors, rather than content creation monitors – with a few exceptions. 

Refresh rate

Refresh rate is a key feature, particularly on gaming monitors. A bare minimum nowadays is 60Hz, and 80Hz and higher refresh rates are much easier on the eyes. However, most 4K displays top out at 60Hz with some rare exceptions and the HDMI 2.0 spec only supports 4K at 60Hz, so you’d need at least DisplayPort 1.4 (4K at 120Hz) or HDMI 2.1. The latter is now available on a number of monitors, particularly gaming displays. However, it’s only supported on the latest NVIDIA RTX 3000- and 4000-series, AMD RX 6000-series GPUs.

Inputs

There are essentially three types of modern display inputs: Thunderbolt, DisplayPort and HDMI. Most monitors built for PCs come with the latter two, while a select few (typically built for Macs) will use Thunderbolt. To add to the confusion, USB-C ports may be Thunderbolt 3 and by extension, DisplayPort compatible, so you may need a USB-C to Thunderbolt or DisplayPort cable adapter depending on your display.

Color bit depth

Serious content creators should consider a more costly 10-bit monitor that can display billions of colors. If budget is an issue, you can go for an 8-bit panel that can fake billions of colors via dithering (often spec’d as “8-bit + FRC”). For entertainment or business purposes, a regular 8-bit monitor that can display millions of colors will be fine.

Color gamut

The other aspect of color is the gamut. That expresses the range of colors that can be reproduced and not just the number of colors. Most good monitors these days can cover the sRGB and Rec.709 gamuts (designed for photos and video respectively). For more demanding work, though, you’ll want one that can reproduce more demanding modern gamuts like AdobeRGB, DCI-P3 and Rec.2020 gamuts, which encompass a wider range of colors. The latter two are often used for film projection and HDR, respectively.

Console gaming

Both the Xbox Series X and Sony’s PS5 can handle 4K 120Hz HDR gaming, so if you’re into resolution over pure speed, you’ll want a monitor that can keep up and provide the best gaming experience possible. 4K resolution, HDR and at least 120Hz is the minimum starting point, but fortunately there are 27-inch displays with those specs starting at well under $1,000.

Pricing and parts shortages

Though the pandemic has eased, monitor supply is still a bit tighter than pre-pandemic levels due to supply and demand issues. To that end, you may have trouble finding monitors at Amazon, B&H or elsewhere for the suggested retail price point. For our guide below, we’re basing our picks on the MSRP, as long as the street price doesn’t exceed that by more than $25.

Best monitors under $200

Best monitors under $400

Best monitors under $500

Best monitors under $1,000

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/how-to-buy-a-monitor-143000069.html?src=rss

The 16 best monitors for 2024 Read More »

The best fitness trackers for 2024

The fitness tracker isn’t dead, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the people keeping these little devices alive. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch have all but taken over the mainstream wearable space, but the humble fitness tracker remains an option for anyone that's really focused on one thing: accurate workout and daily activity monitoring. Despite the overwhelming popularity of smartwatches, there are still a number of solid fitness bands out there to choose from. We've tested a bunch of the most popular fitness trackers available today to name our top picks.

What do fitness trackers do best?

The answer seems simple: Fitness trackers are best at monitoring exercise, be it a 10-minute walk around the block or that half marathon you’ve been diligently training for. Obviously, smartwatches can help you reach your fitness goals too, but there are some areas where fitness bands have proven to be the best buy: focus, design, battery life and price.

When I say “focus,” I’m alluding to the fact that fitness trackers are made to track activity well; anything else is extra. They often don’t have the bells and whistles that smartwatches do, which could distract from their health tracking abilities. They also tend to have fewer sensors and internal components, which keeps them smaller and lighter. Fitness trackers are also a better option for those who just want a less conspicuous device on their wrists all day.

Battery life tends to be better on fitness trackers, too. While most smartwatches last one to two days on a single charge, fitness bands offer between five and seven days of battery life — and that’s with all-day and all-night use even with sleep tracking features enabled

When it comes to price point, there’s no competition. Most worthwhile smartwatches start at $175 to $200, but you can get a solid fitness tracker starting at $70. Yes, more expensive bands exist (and we recommend a few here), but you’ll find more options under $150 in the fitness tracker space than in the smartwatch space.

When to get a smartwatch instead

If you need a bit more from your wearable, a smartwatch may be the best buy for you. There are things like on-watch apps, alerts and even more robust fitness features that smartwatches have and the best fitness trackers don’t. You can use one to control smart home appliances, set timers and reminders, check weather reports and more. Some smartwatches let you choose which apps you want to receive alerts from, and the options go beyond just call and text notifications.

But the extra fitness features are arguably the most important thing to think about when deciding between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch. The latter devices tend to be larger, giving them more space for things like GPS, barometers, onboard music storage and more. While you can find built-in GPS on select fitness trackers, it’s not common.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-fitness-trackers-133053484.html?src=rss

The best fitness trackers for 2024 Read More »

The best wireless earbuds for 2024

There have never been more good options out there for true wireless earbuds. While Apple’s AirPods likely helped make the category a mainstay, other brands like Sony, Bose and Sennheiser have put a lot of work into developing small, comfortable earbuds that pack a lot of features like active noise cancelation (ANC), custom EQ and solid battery life. But that means wading through the sea of options available now is daunting, especially considering new earbuds are popping up all the time. We’ve tested and reviewed dozens of true wireless earbuds at this point and we hope this guide of our top recommendations can help you find the best wireless earbuds for your needs.

What to look for

When it comes to shopping for earbuds, the first thing to consider is design or wear style. Do you prefer a semi-open fit like AirPods or do you want something that completely closes off your ears? If you’re shopping for earbuds with active noise cancellation, you'll want the latter, but a case can be made for the former if you want to wear them all day or frequent places where you need to be tuned in to the ambient sounds. The overall shape of earbuds can determine whether you get a comfortable fit, so can the size and weight, so you’ll want to consider all that before deciding. And remember: audio companies aren’t perfect, so despite lots of research, the earbud shape they decided on may not fit you well. Don’t be afraid to return ill-fitting earbuds for something that’s more comfortable.

As wireless earbuds have become the norm, they’re now more reliable for basic things like consistent Bluetooth connectivity. Companies are still in a race to pack as much as they can into increasingly smaller designs. This typically means a longer list of features on the more premium sets of earbuds with basic functionality on the cheapest models. Carefully consider what you can’t live without when selecting your next earbuds, and make sure key items like automatic pausing and multipoint connectivity are on the spec sheet. You’ll also want to investigate the volume controls as you’ll often have to sacrifice access to something else to make that adjustment via on-board taps or swipes.

When it comes to battery life, the average set of earbuds lasts about five hours on a single charge. You can find sets that last longer, but this is likely enough to get you through a work day if you’re docking the buds during lunch or the occasional meeting. You’ll want to check on how many extra charges are available via the case and if it supports wireless charging.

Companies will also make lofty claims about call quality on wireless earbuds. Despite lots of promises, the reality is most earbuds still leave you sounding like you’re on speakerphone. There are some sets that deliver, but don’t get your hopes up unless reviews confirm the claims.

Sound can be subjective, so we recommend trying before you buy if at all possible. We understand this isn’t easy at a time when we’re doing most of our shopping online. But trying on a set of earbuds and listening to them for a few minutes can save you from an expensive case of buyer's remorse. If a store doesn’t allow a quick demo, most retailers have return policies that will let you take earbuds back you don’t like. Of course, you have to be willing to temporarily part with funds in order to do this.

We also recommend paying attention to things like Spatial Audio, Dolby Atmos, 360 Reality Audio and other immersive formats. Not all earbuds support them, so you’ll want to make sure a perspective pair does if that sort of thing excites you.

How we test wireless earbuds

The primary way we test earbuds is to wear them as much as possible. We prefer to do this over a one- to two-week period, but sometimes embargoes don’t allow it. During this time, we listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the earbuds to take both voice and video calls. Since battery life for earbuds is typically less than a full day, we drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent).

To judge audio quality, we listen to a range of genres, noting any differences in the sound profile across the styles. We also test at both low and high volumes to check for consistency in the tuning. To assess call quality, we’ll record audio samples with the earbuds’ microphones as well as have third parties call us.

When it comes to features, we do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as we work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the earbuds we’re testing are an updated version of a previous model, we’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older buds. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of earbuds that we review.

Best wireless earbuds overall: Sony WF-1000XM5

With the WF-1000XM5, Sony improves its already formidable mix of good sound, effective ANC and handy features. These earbuds are undoubtedly the company’s best and most comfortable design of its 1000X models so far, which was one of the few remaining riddles Sony needed to solve. Sony still manages to pack in more features than anyone else too, including trademark ones like adaptive sound and Speak-to-Chat. Add in upgraded drivers, new chips and significant improvements to sound quality and these are Sony’s best earbuds yet. But all of the advancements come at a cost: these are also Sony’s most expensive set of wireless earbuds in the 1000X lineup.

Read our full review of the Sony WF-1000XM5

Runner up: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3

The Momentum True Wireless 3 are the best sound quality earbuds on our list and offer an overall top notch listening experience. You won’t get the truckload of features that Sony offers, but Sennheiser does the basics well at a lower price than the previous Momentum earbuds. A new Adaptive Noise Cancellation setup continuously monitors ambient sounds to suppress them in real time. Inside, the company’s True Response transducer is paired with 7mm dynamic drivers for top-notch audio.

Best earbuds for noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Since the company introduced the first model, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds have consistently been the best option in terms of noise-canceling ability. It’s not surprising that its most-recent version, the QC Ultra Earbuds, only improved in ANC performance. However, the bigger story here is that Bose finally has the audio chops to compete with the best earbuds thanks to its new Immersive Audio tech. The feature brings spatial audio to all by not requiring specially-made content to use it. Rather than employ music and movies where the sound is coming from all directions, QC Ultra Earbuds put you in the middle of the acoustic “sweet spot” by relying heavily on virtualization. A dedicated gesture for volume controls, better-than-advertised battery life and customization settings round out the spec sheet.

Read our full review of Bose QuietComfort Ultra earbuds

Best budget wireless earbuds: Anker Soundcore Space A40

The Anker Soundcore Space A40 offer the kind of features you’d expect from wireless earbuds that cost twice as much: ANC, multi-device pairing, wireless charging, IPX4 water resistance, a transparency mode, eight to ten hours of battery life and LDAC support. When we tested them, we found their warm sound to be pleasing right out of the box, but Anker’s companion app makes it easy to customize the EQ curve if needed. And while their ANC isn’t quite as strong as our top picks, it’s still effective for a noisy office or long flight. For $80 or so, this is a superb value. – Jeff Dunn, Senior Commerce Writer

Best wireless earbuds for iOS: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro are a huge improvement over the previous models. These buds have improved sound quality and active noise cancellation, while maintaining all of the conveniences that make AirPods the best earbud option for iPhone, iOS and Mac. When we reviewed them, we found the most impressive feature to be transparency mode, which is more natural sounding than any other earbuds by a mile. You can leave these in during a conversation and it’s like you’re not even wearing them. Of course, fast pairing, hands-free Siri, spatial audio, good battery life, and now, a USB-C charging case that can also power up wirelessly will also come in handy.

Read our Full Review of Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

Best wireless earbuds for Android: Google Pixel Buds Pro

Google has hit its stride when it comes to true wireless earbuds. Every new model the company introduces is an improvement after its first attempt failed to impress. With the Pixel Buds Pro, Google offers deep, punchy bass, solid ANC performance, reliable touch controls and wireless charging, all in an IPX4-rated package. Plus, there are added convenience features for Android and Pixel devices including Google Translate Conversation Mode.

Read our Full Review of Google Pixel Buds Pro

Best wireless earbuds for working out: Beats Fit Pro

Most of the best AirPods features in a set of workout earbuds? That’s the Beats Fit Pro. Thanks to Apple’s H1 chip, these buds offer one-touch quick pairing, hands-free Siri and Find My tools. They’ll also allow you to use Audio Sharing with an Apple device and another set of AirPods or Beats wireless headphones for tandem listening or viewing. Balanced and punchy bass will keep the energy up during workouts while good noise cancellation, an IPX4 rating and comfy silicone ear tips make these a solid option outside of the gym too. And there’s plenty of support for Android devices, so these aren’t just a good buy for iOS users either.

Read our Full Review of Beats Fit Pro Wireless Earbuds

Honorable mention: Sony LinkBuds S

One of the biggest surprises this year wasn’t Sony’s unique open-wear LinkBuds, it was the more mainstream follow-up. With the LinkBuds S, the company debuted a more “traditional” design akin to its premium WF-1000XM4, only this model is much smaller and lighter which leads to a much more comfy fit. These tiny wireless earbuds muster some punch when it comes to sound quality too and support for high-res listening (LDAC and DSEE Extreme) are both onboard. Capable ANC lends a hand with environmental noise and transparency mode can keep you tuned in when needed. What’s more, handy Speak-to-Chat is here and Adaptive Sound Control can automatically change settings based on activity or location. That’s a lot of premium features at a mid-range price.

FAQs

Is sound quality better on headphones or earbuds?

Comparing sound quality on earbuds and headphones is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. There are a lot of variables to consider and the differences in components make a direct comparison difficult. Personally, I prefer the audio quality from over-ear headphones, but I can tell you the sound from earbuds like Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 is also outstanding.

Which wireless earbuds have the longest battery life?

With new models coming out all the time, tracking the hours of battery life for each this can be difficult to keep tabs on. The longest-lasting earbuds we’ve reviewed are Audio-Technica’s ATH-CKS5TW. The company states they last 15 hours, but the app was still showing 40 percent at that mark during our tests. The only downside is these earbuds debuted in 2019 and both technology and features have improved since. In terms of current models, Master & Dynamic’s MW08 offers 12 hours of use on a charge with ANC off (10 with ANC on) and JBL has multiple options with 10-hour batteries.

What wireless earbuds are waterproof?

There are plenty of options these days when it comes to increased water resistance. To determine the level of protection, you’ll want to look for an IP (ingress protection) rating. The first number indicates intrusion protection from things like dust. The second number is the level of moisture protection and you’ll want to make sure that figure is 7 or higher. At this water-resistance rating, earbuds can withstand full immersion for up to 30 minutes in depths up to one meter (3.28 feet). If either of the IP numbers is an X, that means it doesn’t have any special protection. For example, a pair of wireless earbuds that are IPX7 wouldn’t be built to avoid dust intrusion, but they would be ok if you dropped them in shallow water.

Which earbuds stay in ears the best?

A secure fit can vary wildly from person to person. All of our ears are different, so audio companies are designing their products to fit the most people they can with a single shape. This is why AirPods will easily fall out for some but stay put for others. Design touches like wing tips or fins typically come on fitness models and those elements can help keep things in place. You’ll likely just have to try earbuds on, and if they don’t fit well return them.

What wireless earbuds work with PS5?

PlayStation 5 doesn’t support Bluetooth audio without an adapter or dongle. Even Sony’s own gaming headsets come with a transmitter that connects to the console. There are universal options that allow you to use any headphones, headset or earbuds with a PS5. Once you have one, plug it into a USB port on the console and pair your earbuds with it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-wireless-earbuds-120058222.html?src=rss

The best wireless earbuds for 2024 Read More »

The best password managers for 2024

Password managers securely store all of the credentials you need on a regular basis. From streaming service logins to banking information and everything in between, these managers keep track of unique, strong online passwords. Your login credentials are not secure if they're all written down on a sticky note near your computer, and if you lose that physical record, you'll have a hard time logging into your most used accounts.

Password managers, with their various apps and plugins, not only keep your information secure but also remove the guesswork around remembering credentials and make it easier to log in from almost anywhere. But while having something is better than nothing, not every password manager stacks up the same. We tested out nine of the best password managers available now to help you choose the right one for your needs.

How do password managers work?

Think of password managers like virtual safe deposit boxes. They hold your valuables, in this case usually online credentials, in a section of the vault only accessible to you by security key or a master password. Most of these services have autofill features that make it convenient to log in to any site without needing to remember every password you have, and they keep your credit card information close for impulse purchases.

But given that passwords are one of the top ways to keep your online identity secure, the real value of password managers is staying safe online. “It's just not possible without a password manager to have unique, long and hard-to-guess passwords,” Florian Schaub, an associate professor of information and of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, said.

Common guidance states that secure passwords should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. This is the exact opposite of using one password everywhere, with minor variations depending on a site’s requirements. Think of how many online accounts and sites you have credentials for — it’s an impossible task to remember it all without somewhere to store passwords safely (no, a sticky note on your desk won’t cut it). Password managers are more readily accessible and offer the benefit of filling in those long passwords for you.

Are password managers safe?

It seems counterintuitive to store all your sensitive information in one place. One hack could mean you lose it all to an attacker and struggle for months or even years to rebuild your online presence, not to mention you may have to cancel credit cards and other accounts. But most experts in the field agree that password managers are a generally secure and safe way to keep track of your personal data, and the benefits of strong, complex passwords outweigh the possible risks.

The mechanics of keeping those passwords safe differs slightly from provider to provider. Generally, you have a lengthy, complex “master password” that safeguards the rest of your information. In some cases, you might also get a “security key” to enter when you log in to new devices. This is a random string of letters, numbers and symbols that the company will send you at sign up. Only you know this key, and because it’s stored locally on your device or printed out on paper, it’s harder for hackers to find.

These multiple layers of security make it difficult for an attacker to get into your vault even if your password manager provider experiences a breach. But the company should also follow a few security basics. A “zero-knowledge” policy means that the company keeps none of your data on file, so in the event of an attack, there’s nothing for hackers to find. Regular health reports like pentests and security audits are essential for keeping companies up to par on best practices, and other efforts like bug bounty programs or hosting on an open source website encourage constant vigilance for security flaws. Most password managers now also offer some level of encryption falling under the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES 256-bit is the strongest, because there are the most number of possible combinations, but AES 128-bit or 192-bit are still good.

Who are password managers for?

Given their universal benefit, pretty much everyone could use a password manager. They’re not just for the tech-savvy people or businesses anymore because so much sensitive information ends up online behind passwords, from our bank accounts to our Netflix watch history.

That’s the other perk of password managers: safe password sharing. Families, friends or roommates can use them to safely access joint accounts. Texting a password to someone isn’t secure, and you can help your family break the habit by starting to use one yourself, Lisa Plaggemier, executive director at National Cyber Security Alliance, said. Streaming is the obvious use case, but consider the shared bills, file storage and other sites you share access with the people around you as well.

Are password managers worth it?

You likely already use a password manager, even if you wouldn’t think to call it that. Most phones and web browsers include a log of saved credentials on the device, like the “passwords” keychain in the settings of an iPhone. That means you’ve probably seen the benefits of not having to memorize a large number of passwords or even type them out already.

While that’s a great way in, the downfall of these built-in options are that they tend to be device specific. If you rely on an Apple password manager, for example, that works if you’re totally in the Apple ecosystem — but you become limited once you get an Android tablet, Lujo Bauer, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of computer science, at Carnegie Mellon University, said. If you use different devices for work and personal use and want a secure option for sharing passwords with others, or just don’t want to be tied to one brand forever, a third-party password manager is usually worth it.

How we tested

We tested password managers by downloading the apps for each of the nine contenders on iPhone, Android, Safari, Chrome and Firefox. That helped us better understand what platforms each manager was available on, and see how support differs across operating systems and browsers.

As we got set up with each, we took note of ease of use and how they iterated on the basic features of autofill and password generators. Nearly all password managers have these features, but some place limits on how much you can store while others give more control over creating easy-to-type yet complex passwords. From there, we looked at extra features like data-breach monitoring to understand which managers offered the most for your money.

Finally, we reviewed publicly available information about security specs for each. This includes LastPass, which more experts are shying away from recommending after the recent breach. For the sake of this review, we’ve decided not to recommend LastPass at this time as fallout from the breach still comes to light (The company disclosed a second incident earlier this year where an unauthorized attack accessed the company’s cloud storage, including sensitive data. Since then, hackers have stolen more than $4.4 million in cryptocurrency using private keys and other information stored in LastPass vaults.)

These are the password managers we tested:

Best password manager: 1Password

Many security experts trust 1Password with their private information and, after testing it out, it’s clear why. The service includes industry standard encryption, a “secret key” that only you know on top of your master password, a zero-knowledge policy that means it keeps no data, and other security features like frequent audits, two-factor authentication and a bug bounty program. That said, 1Password did fall victim to a recent cybersecurity incident that’s worth noting. 1Password detected suspicious activity on its Okta instance, but an investigation “concluded that no 1Password user data was accessed.” 1Password now also supports passkeys, which are credentials stored in your most used devices that are protected by biometric authentication (like fingerprints or facial recognition) or PINs.

1Password has a pretty intuitive user interface across its mobile and desktop apps. A tutorial at download helps you import passwords from other managers onto 1Password so that you don’t feel like you’re starting over from scratch. It also clearly rates the strength of each password and has an “open and fill” option in the vault so that you can get into your desired site even more quickly. We also liked the user-friendly option to scan a set up code to easily connect your account to your mobile devices without too much tedious typing.

At $3 per month, the individual subscription comes with unlimited passwords, items and one gigabyte of document storage for your vault. It also lets you share passwords, credit card information and other saved credentials. If you upgrade to the family plan for $5 each month, you’ll get to invite up to five people (plus more for $1 each per month) to be a part of the vault.

Best free password manager: Bitwarden

Bitwarden’s free plan includes unlimited passwords on an unlimited number of devices, which is more than we’ve seen from some of its competitors. There are drawbacks like you can only share vault items with one other user, but we think that’s a fair tradeoff.

Bitwarden is based on open-source code, meaning anyone on GitHub can audit it, which is a good measure of security. On a personal level, it includes security audits of your information, like a data breach report, that can keep you in the know about when your passwords have been leaked and when it's time to change them. Plus, it’s widely available across the platforms we tested, including Windows and iOS, with a level of customization, options to access your password vault and more. It also recently added passkeys to its vault and two-factor authentication options as a secure way to sign in.

Bitwarden may be the best free password manager, but it does have a paid version and we do think it’s worth it. At $10 annually for individuals or $40 for families, you unlock encrypted file storage, emergency access, unlimited sharing and more additional features. But the free version comes with the basics that can get anyone set up on password management easily.

Best password manager for cross-platform availability: NordPass

Across password managers we tested, cross-platform availability was relatively similar. Most are widely available across web browsers and different operating systems, including our other top picks on this list. But we wanted to give a nod to NordPass here because of how easy the service makes it to access your vault from any platform while keeping your data safe. NordPass even lets you use biometric data to sign in now, like your fingerprints or face, making it even easier to get into accounts across devices.

NordPass has a free option with unlimited passwords and syncs across devices. A $2-per-month premium plan keeps you logged in when switching devices, comes with security notifications and allows for item sharing. A family subscription comes with six premium accounts and only costs $4 per month. This makes it an excellent budget option as well. Besides the pairing code to connect accounts, NordPass is a pretty standard password manager. Scanning a code gets me from my laptop to mobile device to work computer super easily. If you’re constantly switching devices and those extra few seconds save your sanity, it’s worth considering.

Best password manager for shared access: Dashlane

Dashlane has four subscription options: A free user gets access to a single device with unlimited passwords; an advanced user pays $3 per month to get upgraded to unlimited devices and dark web monitoring; for $5 per month, a premium user also gets VPN access and an $7.49-per-month family plan includes access for up to 10 subscribers.

It met all the criteria we looked for, but with a clear emphasis on sharing credentials. Dashlane highlights “secure sharing” starting at its free level, which is a functionality that some competitors keep behind a paywall. Other free features, however, recently took a hit. Dashlane limited the number of passwords users of the free version could store. Access for up to 10 members in a family plan is one of the bigger plans we’ve seen as well. While we were testing it, password sharing seemed front of mind with a tab dedicated to it in Dashlane’s browser extension. Arguably the biggest caveat here, though, is lack of Linux support.

FAQs

Why use a password manager?

Using a password manager can enhance your online security. They store all of your complex passwords and autofill them as needed, so that you can have unique, strong passwords across the web without remembering each of them yourself. In many cases, unique passwords are your first defense against attack, and a reliable manager makes it easier to keep track of them all.

How secure are password managers?

Password managers are a secure way to store your credentials. Experts in the field generally agree that the benefits of accessibility when storing complex passwords outweigh the possibility of attack, like what happened with LastPass. But with any service, it can vary from provider to provider. You should look out for zero-knowledge policies, regular security audits, pentests, bug bounty programs and encryption when choosing the right secure password manager for you.

What if I forget my master password?

Forgetting a master password won’t necessarily lock you out for good, but the recovery process varies from provider to provider. Some services give you a “security key” at sign up to enter when you log into new devices. It can also be used to securely recover your account because it’s a random string of keys stored locally that only you have access to. Other services, however, have no way to recover your vault. So creating a master password that you won’t forget is important.

How can I make a good master password?

A good master password should be unique, with the longest number of characters allowed and uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Experts often recommended thinking of it like a “passphrase” instead of a “password” to make it easier to remember. For example, you can take a sentence like “My name is Bob Smith” and change it to “Myn@m3isB0b5m!th” to turn it into a secure master password that you won’t forget.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-password-manager-134639599.html?src=rss

The best password managers for 2024 Read More »

The best Chromebooks you can buy in 2023

The Chromebook market has grown so much over the past few years that choosing the best Chromebook for you can be hard. The combination of years worth of software updates and manufacturers making laptops with more power, better build quality and long battery life means there are a ton of good Chrome OS machines that work well as everyday drivers. But there are a few things you should keep in mind when shopping for a Chromebook, and some of them are unique to this swath of Chrome OS-toting laptops. We've reviewed a number of Chromebooks over the years and we hope this guide can help you pick the best one for you, plus give you insight into our current top picks.

What is Chrome OS, and why would I use it over Windows?

That’s probably the number one question about Chromebooks. There are plenty of inexpensive Windows laptops on the market, so why bother with Chrome's operating system? Glad you asked. For me, the simple and clean nature of Chrome OS is a big selling point. Chrome OS is based on Google’s Chrome browser, which means most of the programs you can run are web based. There’s no bloatware or unwanted apps to uninstall like you often get on Windows laptops, it boots up in seconds, and you can completely reset to factory settings almost as quickly.

Of course, the simplicity is also a major drawback for some users. Not being able to install native software can be a dealbreaker if you’re a video editor or software developer. But there are also plenty of people who do the majority of their work in a web browser. But Google and its software partners are getting better every year at supporting more advanced features. For example, Google added video editing tools to the Google Photos app on Chromebooks – it won’t replace Adobe Premiere, but it should be handy for a lot of people.

Google has also added support for Android apps on Chromebooks, which greatly expands the amount of software available. The quality varies widely, but it means you can do more with a Chromebook beyond just web-based apps. For example, you can install the Netflix app and save videos for offline watching. Other Android apps like Microsoft Office and Adobe Lightroom are surprisingly capable, as well. Between Android apps and a general improvement in web apps, Chromebooks are more than just a browser.

What do Chromebooks do well?

Three Chromebook laptops stacked on top of each other, fanning out a bit, on top of a desk protector on a wooden table.
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Put simply, web browsing and really anything web based. Browsing, streaming music and video and using various social media sites are among the most common daily tasks people do on Chromebooks. As you might expect, they also work well with Google services like Photos, Docs, Gmail, Drive, Keep and so on. Yes, any computer that can run Chrome can do that too, but the lightweight nature of Google Chrome OS makes it a responsive and stable platform.

As I mentioned before, Chrome OS can run Android apps, so if you’re an Android user you’ll find some nice ties between the platforms. You can get most of the same apps that are on your phone on a Chromebook and keep info in sync between them. You can also use some Android phones as a security key for your Chromebook or instantly tether your laptop to use mobile data.

Google continues to tout security as a major differentiator for Chromebooks, and I think it’s definitely a factor worth considering. The first line of defense is auto-updates. Chrome OS updates download quickly in the background and a fast reboot is all it takes to install the latest version. Google says that each webpage and app on a Chromebook runs in its own sandbox, as well, so any security threats are contained to that individual app. Finally, Chrome OS has a self-check called Verified Boot that runs every time a device starts up. Beyond all this, the simple fact that you generally can’t install traditional apps on a Chromebook means there are a lot fewer ways for bad actors to access the system.

As for when to avoid them, the answer is simple: If you rely heavily on a specific native application for Windows or a Mac, chances are you won’t find the exact same option on a Chromebook. That’s most true in fields like photo and video editing, but it can also be the case in law or finance. Plenty of businesses run on Google’s G suite software, but more still have specific requirements that a Chromebook might not match. If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll also miss out on the way the iPhone easily integrates with an iPad or Mac. For me, the big downside is not being able to access iMessage on a Chromebook.

Finally, gaming Chromebooks are not ubiquitous, although they’re becoming a slightly more reasonable option with the rise of cloud gaming. In late 2022, Google and some hardware partners announced a push to make Chromebooks with cloud gaming in mind. From a hardware perspective, that means laptops with bigger screens that have higher refresh rates as well as optimizing those laptops to work with services like NVIDIA GeForce Now, Xbox Game Pass and Amazon Luna. You’ll obviously need an internet connection to use these services, but the good news is that playing modern games on a Chromebook isn’t impossible. You can install Android games from the Google Play Store, but that’s not what most people are thinking of when they want to game on a laptop.

There’s another potential change on the horizon, as Valve and Google are working to bring the massive Steam catalog to Chromebooks. Right now, Steam is only available as an early alpha on a handful of devices with higher specs, but it works a lot better than I expected. Of course, you’re still not going to run the most demanding games on basic laptops, but the Steam catalog is so vast that there are plenty of titles that worked on the Chromebook I tested it with. Hopefully, Steam will be supported on more devices soon, but the list is somewhat limited at the moment.

What are the most important specs for a Chromebook?

Acer Chromebook Spin 713
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Chrome OS is lightweight and usually runs well on fairly modest hardware, so the most important thing to look for might not be processor power or storage space. That said, I’d still recommend you get a Chromebook with a relatively recent Intel processor, ideally a 10th-gen or newer Intel i3. Most non-Intel Chromebooks I’ve tried haven’t had terribly strong performance, but that’s starting to change – as we evaluate more of these Chromebooks, we’ll recommend ones that have enough power to be good everyday computers.

As for RAM, 8GB should be the target, unless you’re looking for a budget model and know that your needs are fairly modest. Storage space is another place where you don’t need to spend too much; 64GB should be fine for almost anyone. If you plan on storing a lot of files locally or loading up your Chromebook with Linux or Android apps, get 128GB. But for what it’s worth, I’ve never felt like I might run out of storage when using Chrome OS.

Things like the keyboard and display quality are arguably more important than sheer specs. The good news is that you can find less expensive Chromebooks that still have pretty good screens and keyboards that you won’t mind typing on all day. Many cheap Chromebooks still come with tiny, low-resolution displays, but at this point there’s no reason to settle for anything less than 1080p. (If you’re looking for an extremely portable, 11-inch Chromebook, though, you’ll probably end up with a lesser screen.) Obviously, keyboard quality is a bit more subjective, but there are plenty of affordable options that offer strong typing experiences.

Google has an Auto Update policy for Chromebooks, and while that’s not a spec, per se, it’s worth checking before you buy. Basically, Chromebooks get regular software updates automatically for about six years from their release date (though that can vary from device to device). This support page lists the Auto Update expiration date for virtually every Chromebook ever, but a good rule of thumb is to buy the newest machine you can to maximize your support.

How much should I spend?

Chromebooks started out notoriously cheap, with list prices often coming in under $300. But as they’ve gone more mainstream, they’ve transitioned from being essentially modern netbooks to the kind of laptop you’ll want to use all day. As such, prices have increased a bit over the last few years. At this point, you should expect to spend at least $400 if you want a solid daily driver. There are still many budget options out there that may be suitable as secondary devices, but Chromebooks that can be an all-day, every-day laptop will cost a bit more.

There are also plenty of premium Chromebooks that approach or even exceed $1,000, but I don’t recommend spending that much. Generally, that’ll get you a better design with more premium materials, as well as more powerful internals and extra storage space. Of course, you also sometimes pay for the brand name. But, the specs I outlined earlier are usually enough. That said, if money is no object, there are a few really fabulous options out there.

See Also:

Best affordable Chromebook: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i

Lenovo has been making some of the best affordable Chromebooks you can buy for several years now, and the IdeaPad Flex 5i is an affordable laptop that provides just about everything you could want in a basic Chromebook. The 13.3-inch, 1080p touchscreen is extremely bright and fairly sharp; I wish it had a taller aspect ratio than 16:9, but it’s pretty common in Chromebooks. This Lenovo Chromebook runs on a 11th-generation Intel Core i3 processor and includes 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. While the processor is starting to show its age, it should still be sufficient for most tasks. Eight hours of battery life is pretty good for a laptop in this price range, and the backlit keyboard is excellent for such an affordable device. The key caps feel a little small under my fingers, but that’s the only real complaint I have.

Other things in the Flex 5i’s favor include that it has both USB-C and USB-A ports, a microSD card slot and a security lock. At three pounds and 0.66 inches thick, it’s not the lightest or slimmest option out there, but it’s totally reasonable considering the price. Finally, the Flex 5i will receive software and security updates until June of 2029, so you can buy this computer and have it covered for years to come.

Ultimately, the Ideapad Flex 5i hits the sweet spot for a lot of Chromebook buyers out there, providing a level of quality and performance that’s pretty rare to find at this price point. That said, given this laptop has been out for over a year now, we’re keeping an eye out for a replacement from Lenovo, as well as comparable options other manufacturers release.

The Lenovo Flex 5i is no longer available directly from Lenovo, but you can commonly find it on Amazon for about $400 (as of this writing, it is selling for $368). That’s an outstanding value.

Best premium Chromebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 714

Acer’s Chromebook Spin 714 has long been one of the best premium Chromebook options out there, and this year’s update is no exception. It’s a modest tweak to the 2022 model, but given how good that computer is I have no issues recommending the latest edition. We haven’t tested it yet, but Acer will have a review model for us soon.

The Spin 714 features a 14-inch, 1900x1200 touchscreen. That works out to a taller 16:10 aspect ratio than you’ll get from the 1080p panels on most Chromebooks. I’m a big fan of taller laptop screens, and while this isn’t as luxurious as the few 3:2 ratio Chromebooks on the market, it’s still a comfortable and high quality screen.

One noteworthy new feature is the 2K webcam included in the Spin 714. In a world where we’re all doing more video calls than we’d like, having a camera that doesn’t reduce you to a blurry spot is definitely appreciated.

As for the rest of the hardware, the 13th-generation Intel Core i5 processor should be more than enough power for most tasks, and the keyboard and trackpad on the 2022 model are solid, if not the best. The same can be said for battery life: I got about seven hours using the Spin 714 in my normal daily routine. That’s not exceptional, but it’s in line with what I’ve seen on other i5-powered Chromebooks. Rounding out the hardware is 8GB of RAM and a generous 256GB of storage space. The latest Spin 714 model isn’t listed on Google’s support page, but last year’s model is supported until June 2030; the latest model’s window should run through June of 2031.

Another bonus is that its hardware meets Google’s recommended specs to run Steam, so gamers might want to give it a shot and see what games they can install.

Just as the name suggests, the Spin 714 has a 360-degree hinge which lets you use the laptop in tablet mode. I’m not a fan of this convertible design – I don’t know who wants to use a 3-plus pound tablet, but Acer did include a built-in stylus for handwriting notes or drawing in apps like the built-in Chrome Canvas.

The latest Spin 714 costs $700 – not an unreasonable price for a computer with these specs and built quality. For most people, the Lenovo model will be enough. But, if you’re a serious multitasker, want a better display and keyboard, or just want a computer that’ll last as long as possible, the Acer Spin 714 is easy to recommend. We’ll update this guide once we receive our test model from Acer so we can give updated impressions, particularly on battery life.

Best Chromebook with a large screen: Acer Chromebook 516 GE

Acer introduced the Chromebook 516 GE in the fall of 2022 as part of Google’s push to make devices suitable for cloud gaming, but you don’t need to be a gamer to appreciate this laptop. For $650, you’ll get a 16-inch display with a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution and a 120hz refresh rate. NVIDIA’s GeForce now gaming service supports up to 4K visuals at 120hz on its Ultimate tier so you’ll get to see those benefits. This laptop also supports Steam, yet another reason gamers might be interested in trying it. But even non-gamers should enjoy the 516 GE’s crisp and clear screen and refined hardware.

It also includes Intel’s 12th-gen Core i7 1240P processor, 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. Given the laptop’s size, it’s good that Acer didn’t skimp on ports here: there’s an HDMI port, USB-C, USB-A, ethernet and a headphone jack. The keyboard has gamer-friendly LED lights that you can customize, but more importantly it’s just a solid and comfortable keyboard, whether you’re playing games or just typing up reports. The trackpad is large and responsive, as well.

The 516 GE only weighs 3.75 pounds too – pretty light for a laptop with a 16-inch screen. Between the powerful hardware, solid design, good trackpad and keyboard and great screen, anyone who wants a bigger Chromebook will likely be happy with this model. As for support, Google says the 516 GE will continue receiving updates until June of 2030.

Honorable mention: HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook

If you just want the nicest Chromebook you can buy, with top-shelf specs and design, the $999 HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook might meet your needs. For starters, the screen is an absolute stand out. It’s a 14-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 touchscreen that maxes out at an extremely bright 1,200 nits.

The keyboard and trackpad, meanwhile, are probably the best I’ve tested lately. The keyboard has an extremely satisfying clickiness when you’re typing. It’s no mechanical keyboard, but it felt reassuringly solid and there was no real adjustment period needed when I started banging away on this laptop. The large trackpad is excellent, with great responsiveness and a solid click. There’s also a fingerprint reader so you can unlock the laptop without a password, another premium feature that I wish I saw in more Chromebooks.

From a specs perspective, the Dragonfly Pro includes a 12th-gen Core i5 i5-1235U processor – not the absolute latest, but plenty of power nonetheless. That’s matched with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and I definitely noticed the extra RAM makes a difference in responsiveness across the board.

Other niceties include an 8-megapixel webcam, a shooter that exceeds what you’ll find on most laptops, whether they’re in this price range or not. HP did this without resorting to a huge bezel, either – the top bezel is thicker than the ones on the side, but not so much that the laptop feels unbalanced. And the Bang & Olufsen quad speaker setup is shockingly good. With volume set to about 33 percent, the laptop was plenty loud to fill my office, and it was also fairly well balanced, with prominent bass, surprising stereo separation and clear highs. These are definitely some of the best laptop speakers I’ve ever heard.

That said, there is a major caveat here. The HP Dragonfly Pro’s battery life is poor — under 5 hours poor, which is very disappointing for a $999 laptop. It’s bad enough that I went back and forth on recommending this device. People who don’t travel a lot and do most of their work at their desk might not care, but in that case, why bother getting one of the thinnest and lightest Chromebooks out there?

The other downside is that you don’t get a variety of ports here – just four USB-C, and no headphone jack. That’s not a total dealbreaker, as I don’t often find myself plugging much into my Chromebooks, but again it’s definitely worth knowing.

This laptop is otherwise a total delight to use, as it is extremely well built, powerful and features a great keyboard and screen. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to everyone with these battery issues, but if you want one of the nicest Chromebooks you can buy and don’t spend a ton of time away from a charger (and have plenty of disposable income), you’ll probably enjoy the Dragonfly Pro.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-chromebooks-160054646.html?src=rss

The best Chromebooks you can buy in 2023 Read More »

wpChatIcon