There are some product purchases you've made where, upon reflection, you think to yourself, "that was a good purchase decision." And then there are some products where you go "how in the world did I live all these years on this planet without ever considering, let alone getting this?" We are going to help you with the latter today. (After all, you don't want to be the one left without a chair when the music stops, right?)
Here are the top "didn't know I needed it" products that have recently gone from seemingly superfluous to an absolute necessity.
For some, pursuing great sound quality is almost a religion. And it used to be that achieving said quality took a lot of devotion with all the proper wiring, positioning and level tweaking. But today, you can attain audio nirvana by simply choosing the right speaker. The folks at Sonos have reinvigorated the home audio market with a range of products optimized for top-quality home theater sound as well as music. The array of modular models makes it so that you can daisy chain Sonos speakers to make for an even better experience. Not only are these speakers fully connected, compatible with every major music streaming service and controllable by app, but our Best of the Best pick, the Sonos One, comes with Alexa built in so you don't need two separate devices. So don't just listen to the sound, become one with it.
We can all agree that wires are soooo '90s, right? Phones, game controllers, internet connection, etc. are now all wireless, so why are we so dead set on keeping our earbuds wired? The truth is, it's a combination of inertia, not wanting to have yet another device to charge and the price of entry. But the tide is turning, and we're here for it. Wireless tech is getting so good, and the convenience alone is worth making the switch. So we had our crack squad of tech reviewers take a look at 30 of the most popular wireless earbud models, and we have some serious recommendations for you. Topping the list is, not surprisingly, Apple Airpods, which have the full complement of features, including noise cancellation, 24-hour battery life, and amazing sound quality for music, calls and more. Wires, who needs 'em?
Automating chores is a time-honored tradition that has spawned so many products that do little more than make simple tasks extra complicated. The Roomba is decidedly not one of those because as easy as vacuuming is, not vacuuming and still having a clean carpet is about 100% easier. The Roomba has been around for a while, but the technology is getting so good and the price point has become much more reasonable, so if you initially scoffed at the idea it might be time to take another look. Features of the Roomba i7+ include clutch technical upgrades, like intelligent floor mapping to ensure the Roomba gets every corner, automatic emptying of the dust bin, and smart home compatibility so you can tell Alexa to send the Roomba to the kids' room without having to lay eyes on the mess yourself. We already feel more relaxed just thinking about it.
Many tech products on the market haven't really done a great deal to improve our physical fitness as a society. But then there's Fitbit, a simple, attractive, wearable technology that encourages you to be healthier at whatever level of commitment you'd like. In its simplest form, the smartwatch tracks your steps and encourages you to hit a minimum threshold, making it surprisingly fun to push yourself to make that daily quota. As you move up the line, the features get more and more interesting, and the Fitbit Versa 3 is our pick to take your fitness game to a new level. We're talking GPS, heart-rate monitoring, waterproof design for use in the rain or while swimming and so much more. And unlike most other smartwatches, the Fitbit can operate without your phone for those days (or minutes) you want to "go off the grid" but still track your workouts. And yes, it will track how many steps it takes you to get to the ice cream shop and back because you probably earned it.
Remember when you thought it was so cool when a character in sci-fi movies punched in a code to open a door? No? Just us? Well, whether or not that's a memory for you, deadbolts that can be opened with a numeric code or an app are now widely available and reasonably priced. With the feature-packed Schlage Z-Wave, you'll be entering your home key-free but with even more security than a standard deadbolt. This model comes with a built-in alarm system and smart-home connectivity to lock or unlock your door remotely and keep track of who is opening the door and when with up to 30 personalized passcodes. Home security was never more convenient or reliable.
Smartphones have come a long way, rendering many other single-task devices obsolete. Cameras, MP3 players, organizers -- your phone can do all of that and more now, so why have a second device dedicated to just one thing? Well, the Garmin Montana Handheld GPS has a strong case. When knowing your position in the world can be a matter of life or death, relying solely on your phone's GPS in those situations is like a photographer bringing a phone camera to a professional photo shoot. Sure, it might work out, but the potential downside isn't worth the risk. Our Best of the Best pick in this category, the Garmin Montana, which boasts a super high sensitivity receiver that works independently of cell towers, allows it to maintain a constant satellite signal even in dense forests and deep canyons where cell service won't reach. As a hiker, you can set waypoints ahead of time to ensure you never lose your path. The touchscreen interface and option to use a rechargeable battery or AA batteries are just icing on the cake.
Can you believe that we've only had constant access to the internet in the last 20 years? What did we do with our time when we couldn't scroll through lists of cute dog photos and silly cat GIFs? These days, even when you're outside your home, there's a good chance there's WiFi within reach, but for the times that there isn't, a mobile hotspot is an excellent solution. These portable devices turn a cell signal into a WiFi connection anywhere the service provider's signal reaches. After considering 51 models, our Best of the Best pick, the Nighthawk M1, stands out with its versatility in providers as well as being one of the only options with ethernet ports for a super stable direct connection that allows lightning fast download speeds while you're on the go.
The built-in camera on your laptop is just fine, this we know. But these days, some of the most important conversations in our lives are happening over online video conferencing services, and sometimes "just fine" doesn't cut it. Job interviews, big presentations and even doctor's appointments deserve a much better quality video experience, and upgrading your webcam is a fairly affordable way to achieve that. The Logitech BRIO tops our list of 30 models. This unit is equipped with a glass lens, a 4K image sensor, auto focus, 5x HD zoom and is compatible with all major video conferencing apps, which is good since it feels like every virtual meeting these days takes place on a different platform.
It's commendable that you've been hanging on to your basic plastic ice trays that take a day and a half to freeze and require you to wrestle the thing to access the paltry 12 inconsistent cubes. But it's time to let technology guide you to a happier, easier, chiller place, with a countertop ice maker. We considered many different models, and Igloo, a household name in cooling, has what it takes. The Igloo ICEB26RR can make up to 26 pounds of crystal clear ice in 24 hours, with the first 9 cubes ready in just 7 minutes. It's also portable and has a 3 quart water reservoir to ensure you'll be spending far more time sipping cold beverages.
Just hear us out on this one. We totally agree that not everything needs to become "smart" and there is such a thing as going too far. But smart pens actually make a ton of sense if you're someone who prefers the tactile feeling of writing something down but spend a lot of time transcribing your written notes when you inevitably need a digital version. LiveScribe wins our Best of the Best Award (topping the list of 35 models considered). The Symphony smart pen transcribes what you write directly to your desktop or an app on your smartphone or tablet. The pen can transcribe 28 languages and boasts a 90-day standby battery life. Not everything needs to be upgraded to a digital version, but this is one device you don't think you need ... until you give one a try and can't believe you've gone this long without it.
The only thing worse than no WiFi is the absolute tease of spotty, unreliable WiFi. Those puppy videos aren't going to stop buffering until you get your signal figured out. Luckily, WiFi extenders are made for exactly this problem. Generally, these devices work by amplifying your existing WiFi signal to cover spots in your home or business that don't get the signal from the modem itself. But we could say it uses magic to make your WiFi better and you wouldn't care as long as it's a working solution for this frustrating problem. The NETGEAR WiFi Mesh Range Extender EX7000 is compatible with all major router brands and includes 5 gigabit ethernet ports for direct connection and supports up to almost 2 GB per second speeds.
Your selfie game might need some work. It's hard to admit, especially for those of us who grew up in a time when there was no such thing as a selfie and self portraits were primarily the work of moody, misunderstood artists. One of the simplest ways to take your on-camera appearances to the next level is by adding a light source. Ring lights are easy-to-use solutions for brightening up your selfies, but they also work great for illuminating your face in dim rooms during important virtual meetings. After considering 56 models, the Neweer gets our Best of the Best honors with its array of handy accessories and remote control for easy adjusting on the fly. It also comes with a carrying case for those travel selfies. The light is dimmable, and it doesn't create much heat, though we're certain that won't be the case for the selfies that result.
We know what you're thinking: "Aren't headlamps for miners and cave explorers?" Yes, yes they are. But it turns out they're also an excellent upgrade to your standard junk drawer flashlight. Even if you only pull out the flashlight when your power goes out at home, a headlamp conveniently illuminates everywhere you're looking while keeping your hands completely free. Our Best of the Best pick from Coast offers multiple brightness settings up to 1,000 lumens and runs on either a rechargeable battery or a standard battery for maximum flexibility in powering the device.
If you've ever tried to take the temperature of a sick, petulant child (or childish spouse), you've probably thought to yourself, "there's gotta be a better way." Thankfully, there is. Gone are the days of holding a thermometer under your tongue for what feels like an eternity while you wait for an accurate reading. The Withings Thermo offers super fast, contact-free, guaranteed accurate results in a fraction of the time and in a much more hygienic manner than a traditional thermometer. It also stores temperature history data for up to eight different users.
Hate to break it to you, but take a look in the top right corner of your screen. Yep, your phone battery is almost dead. We're not psychic, we've just been there many, many times. These days the world runs on rechargeable batteries, which is a great development in terms of powering devices, but it also means that frantically finding a way to recharge has also become somewhat of a norm. Luckily, there's a simple solution. Portable chargers are large batteries that can recharge your important devices, often many times over, without needing a wall outlet. We checked out 33 models and came up with some solid options, and for our money the choice is easy: The mophie powerstation plus XL adds up to 45 hours of battery life to your devices, is compatible with USB-C and has fast-charging capabilities, all for under $50.