Over the past three years, I’ve tested, bought, returned—and somehow not broken—more products than you can possibly imagine. Some days it’s the coolest job in the world; other days I feel like I’m drowning in boxes. But even with all of these sweet gadgets, gizmos, and doodads filling up my sad New York City apartment, there have been a few standouts that I use daily. These items have improved my life, from the way that I cook and make coffee to the way that I listen to music.
Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM3
Not to call everything ‘smart,’ but these headphones are smaaaart. Amazon
Choosing a favorite pair of headphones from 2019 was difficult, but in the end, Sony’s noise-canceling WH-1000xM3 headphones took the prize. Not only are they lightweight and incredibly comfortable, they also have advanced, customizable noise-cancellation features to better suit your listening experience. When you’re setting up the headphones, you can choose to turn on options like “Adaptive Sound Control,” which listens to your environment and automatically adjusts to ambient noise. It also lets you tweak the settings in the app depending on if you’re sitting, walking, running, or riding a bus.
What’s more, you can manually change EQ settings in the app or use presets for boosted bass tones or enhanced speech. Instead of using physical buttons, the right ear cup features swipe gestures to adjust volume or switch tracks. The headphones hold a 30-hour charge and connect via Bluetooth 4.2.
The Automatic Power Off setting is particularly helpful in letting you choose how long your headphones will stay on when you aren’t playing music. Plus, the impressive quick charge gives you up to five hours of listening time in just 10 minutes. The headphones come with a case, USB-C charging cable, and 3.5mm aux cable.
Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro True Wireless Earbuds
They actually stay in your ears. Amazon
For a lighter, more compact alternative to the Sony over-the-ear headphones, you’ll find me turning to the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro earbuds. They’re a major upgrade for the brand: One distinct feature is they’re able to reproduce a full mix—which is hard to do in smaller buds—to capture a lovely blend of warm bass tones and crystal-clear highs. While the sound in the Liberty Pro has always been impressive, especially when you consider the price, the new model cranks the quality up a few notches. In terms of battery life, the earbuds can run for eight hours, with three extra full charges from the carrying case. The case charges via USB-C or with compatible wireless Qi charging devices.
If you’re on the run, the Liberty Pro 2 let’s you take calls and meetings easily. Four built-in microphones make phone conversations crisp, and their new HearID helps customize the sound to your ears through a quick listening test in the companion app. It’s also easy to operated with one piece in if you don’t want both ears to be occupied.
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Espresso Grinder
Total control. Amazon
Goodbye messy grinds on the counter. The Baratza Virtuoso+ has a sleek design, tighter-fitting grind chamber, and a digital screen in the front. Detailed and easy-to-understand instructions make setting up the device a breeze. On the back of the manual, they even provide their optimal settings for brewing methods with espresso machines like Chemex and AeroPress. Instead of using a wind-up timer like on the older model, the digital face allows you to adjust the clock in .1-second increments. This can be super helpful for fine-tuning your grind for espresso machines. If you want to manually grind, simply press the button below the digital screen three times and then hold down the button to grind. The grind chamber is built efficiently so fewer beans slip through, and is also made of a clearer plastic so you can see the results better. Lastly, it comes with a brush so you can keep the machine running smoothly on the reg.
Bonavita’s Interurban 1-liter kettle is now available in more colors than before, including matte black, matte white, and a gloss graphite. The 1000-watt kettle features preset temperature options, but also offers manual controls for adjusting the temperature in one-degree increments. The “Hold” button lets you maintain the temperature for an hour between 140° and 208°F. If you don’t need surgical precision, the new model adds a simple boil button. The gooseneck spout still provides a controlled pour, which is integral for some coffee brewing methods like pour-overs. It’s got a stainless steel heating base and is constructed with BPA-free plastic.
I don’t do the whole resolutions nonsense at New Year’s, but cooking more meals at home has always been a life goal. The Brava can cook food in 10 ways, including bake, sear, air fry, dehydrate, and broil. It uses what the creators refer to as Pure Light Cooking, which is a combination of visible and infrared light that can go from zero to 500 degrees Fahrenheit in a fraction of a second. And unlike conventional ovens, the exterior of the machine remains cool to the touch.
The smart oven comes equipped with three bulbs on top and three on the bottom, splitting the oven into three cooking zones. Included accessories—egg tray, flat tray, and glass tray—are also divided and labeled into three sections, so you’ll always know where to put the ingredients. This arrangement lends itself to typical meals that include a protein, a vegetable, and a starch and helps with timing. You don’t need to worry about alarms set for cook times going off in the middle of your marathon binge. What’s more, given that the heat hits food from the top and bottom simultaneously, you don’t have to flip or stir the ingredients. The oven also doesn’t need to preheat, which is a huge time saver.
Pure Light Cooking also makes it possible for the Brava to switch between cooking functions easily and without any more effort on the user’s part. Various light frequencies can pierce food at different depths, so you can cook the inside of the steak and automatically switch to a high-intensity sear to finish it off. Unlike a convection or conduction oven, Brava’s lights can be easily focused and adjusted.
The smart oven lets you use a five-inch touchscreen to choose recipes and customize settings. You can find the included 500 smart cook recipes developed by Brava chefs in the built-in computer or on a complementary smartphone app. Each of these smart cook recipes spells out pro tips on how to prepare the meals. Every Tuesday, seven to 10 new recipes show up, and both old recipes and new ones are updated. Two cameras inside the oven let you track your food, either on the app or the touchscreen, allowing for total control over the automated cook process.
Ring Fit Adventure – Nintendo Switch
Have a blast during your daily workout. Amazon
I love video games. The trouble is limiting myself to a couple of minutes a day so that I have time for other essentials I enjoy like writing music, cooking, and exercising. Luckily, this year, Nintendo solved one of those dilemmas by combining two activities in one with the Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch. It won’t replace your gym, but it’s a fun way to get quick workouts at home.
At first I was skeptical about how much of a workout I’d actually be able to get from a video game. Just Dance has always been an option, but it’s not my scene. The Ring Fit Adventure, however, folds the fitness portion into a story mode, mini-games, or straightforward workouts. You’re able to choose how you workout based on the type of activity you want to do (the mini-games are my favorite).
The Ring Fit Adventure works with one Joy-Con Nintendo Switch controller strapped to your leg to monitor steps and movement. Another is attached to a Ring-Con resistance ring that you hold. For example, in story mode, you’re expected to run, do specific exercises like squats or abdominal twists and presses, and squeeze the ring to shoot at obstacles or enemies. When you reach the end of a level, you encounter the bosses and must battle them by performing additional workouts. There are over 100 levels and more than 20 worlds to beat. As you rise among the levels, you gain points and are able to unlock extra gear. You can also get a heart rate estimate using the Joy-Con’s built-in IR Motion Sensor.
Wilson Clash tennis racket
A better racket. Amazon
The Wilson Clash 100 racket is literally a game changer. Typical tennis rackets—like that antique wooden racket your dad uses, even though it belongs on the the wall with all the other charming bric-a-brac at Applebee’s—make you choose between power and control. Wilson’s Clash 100 racket, however, optimizes balance between control and speed. Their FreeFlex technology is based off a carbon-mapping system that lets the frame bend so the ball stays in contact with the strings for longer. That translates to more control. The StableSmart frame structure, meanwhile, makes the racket more firm and predictable during shots so you can place the ball more accurately and reliably during a volley. The Wilson Clash 100 is great for pros as well as beginners.
Coyuchi Duvet Cover and Pajamas
There are certain products or brands that charge into your life and completely change how you think or act. This is how I feel with Coyuchi bedding and clothes. I bought my first sheet set on a whim without knowing anything about them, but after closer consideration, it’s clear they’re all about quality and creating products that are environmentally friendly. With each purchase, the company donates 1 percent of the total to combat climate change, and they only use sustainable and organic materials. Coyuchi products are also GOTS-approved—Global Organic Textile Standard—meaning they use organic materials, use no chemicals used in the processing, and ensure safe conditions for their employees.
I’m a hot sleeper who spent years of my life younger life convinced that higher thread counts meant better sleep. People always told me to check out linen sheets, but I found them to be too expensive. Coyuchi’s are no exception, but one day, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase an entire sheet set, including a duvet cover. From the first night, I no longer got bothered by heat in my sleep.
Fast forward to 2019, when I got the chance to check out Coyuchi’s Cloud Brushed Organic Flannel Duvet Cover. The duvet is made of 100 percent cotton and hits the global certification standards. There are four patterns: Alpine White, Undyed, Pale Gray Heather, and a Mid Plaid Heather. The flannel is heavier for the winter, but is still fairly breathable and extremely soft.
Another nice element of Coyuchi’s products is that they match well together, even if you choose to mix and match. Prices range from $58 to $318 depending on the size of your bed and color choice. If this is too much money to drop at one time, Coyuchi offers a subscription plan to help cut down on cost as well as waste. Choose a monthly or yearly plan, pay a monthly fee to enjoy everything from towels to sheets, and exchange, buy, or renew the items. You’ll save up to 15 percent if you choose this subscription model. Your recycled linens—if renewable—will be washed and repackaged as a renewed item. Items that can’t be reused will be repurposed into something new.
Along with the duvet cover, I also tested out the company’s pajamas. Sweatpants are often too hot in the summer and shorts don’t quite cut it when the weather is too cold. Coyuchi’s crinkled pajama pants are what dreams are made of. They’re supple, help regulate temperature for year-round use, and are also made of 100 percent organic cotton. They’ve got pockets and the drawstring makes sure they won’t fall down while you’re lounging blissfully around your house.
Supreme suction. Amazon
Dyson’s vacuum cleaners are known for their elegant and compact design, maneuverability, and ease of use. But it’s not a stretch to say that they make cleaning fun, or at least as fun as sucking up your own hair can be. Dyson has seriously cranked the suction power in this V11 model: Its digital motor rotates at up to 125,000 rpm. The 6.68-pound cordless stick vacuum also comes with a wall-mounting charging and docking station and features a .75-liter dustbin that’s seamless to empty into the garbage. The LCD screen on top displays crucial information like the remaining battery life, when you need to change a filter, and what mode you’re in—eco, auto, or boost.
Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster
Guitar 2.0. Amazon
Guitars—especially acoustic models—haven’t changed much in the last 50-100 years. Most guitarists don’t have many complaints about the familiar form factors. I’ve tested out new guitar tech in the past, but none fit my definition of new-concept until I tried Fender’s new Acoustasonic Telecaster. It’s not cheap, but the axe blew me away when I saw it and then again when I got to play it. It’s a hybrid acoustic-electric that combines innovation with the feel of a guitar that’s classic and immediately comfortable in your hands.
The 22-fret, open-body mahogany guitar looks like a traditional Telecaster—it has a similar shape and depth—but is much lighter to hoist. It weighs in at just 4.5 pounds, so it’s easier to carry around when performing on the road.
Unplugged, the guitar relies on Fender’s Stringed Instrument Resonance System—or SIRS for short—to control the flow of air into the body and help achieve a warm and full tone. This is a fancy way of describing the specific patent-pending design of the hollow-body guitar.
When plugged in, however, the guitar can mimic ten guitar body styles and various types of wood using Fender’s new “Acoustic Engine,” which combines analog and new technologies. The processing power of the Acoustic Engine is combined with the guitar’s three-pickup systems. Pickups are transducers that translate the vibration of the string into an electrical signal, which can then be played through an amp. The combined effort of these pickups and Acoustic Engine helps enhance the guitar’s natural tone, modify the resonance, and then produce multiple voices. For those familiar with guitar parts, the lineup includes a trio of transducers—a Fishman Under-Saddle transducer, a Fishman AcoustaSonic Transducer, and Fender’s new AcoustaSonic Noiseless magnetic pickup that helps reduce the hum of the instrument when plugged in.
In electric mode, you can change the guitar tone and volume by using a five-position voice-selector switch and two knobs—one for volume and blending. Each position on the switch features a pair of tones. Using the blending knob, you can choose how much of each tone you want to come out of the amplifier to tweak the overall sound.
All the pickups are powered by a built-in 20-hour battery that recharges via USB. This is the first guitar I’ve heard of that includes a rechargeable battery to power picks instead of using a 9-volt battery. If you’ve got a long enough charging cord, you can keep it plugged in on stage while you play. The guitar currently comes in five colors: Natural, Black, Sonic Gray, Surf Green, and Sunburst.
Blueair Blue Pure 211+
Cleaner air. Amazon
The Blueair Blue Pure 211+ air purifier is as breezy to use as it is, well, breezy. The 60-watt, low-energy-use machine is operated by a single touch-activated button. It has three speed settings and a three-step filtration process that purifies the air you’re breathing five times per hour.
The washable exterior not only adds a pop of color to your space, it also acts as a pre-filter that catches larger particles, extending the life of the main filter. After passing through that first layer, air travels through Blueair’s dual mechanical and electrostatic filtration system, which charges polluting particles so it sticks better to the filter. The air then flows through an activated carbon filter, which removes odors and smoke.
This particular model is designed for rooms up to 540 square feet. Expect to replace the filter every six months; a light will alert you when it’s time.
U-Turn Audio’s Orbit Basic belt drive turntable
Solid turntable. Amazon
The U-Turn Audio’s Orbit Basic belt drive turntable is a great vinyl-listening option with an affordable price tag. The minimal design makes the record player seamlessly fit into any room. Beyond the appearance and impressive sound quality, there are options on U-Turn Audio’s website to upgrade components—with the exception of the tonearm—so you can tweak it to fit your preferences. Some upgrades include five choices of cartridges and the choice of either a medium density fiberboard or acrylic platter, which can improve speed consistency resulting in cleaner sounds.
The first thing to note about the Orbit Basic is that it doesn’t come with a preamp unless you spring for the optional upgrade. This will make your setup slightly easier as you’ll be able to plug your turntable directly into speakers or an existing stereo system. I asked for U-Turn Audio’s Pluto external preamp (see above) to test the device separately against other preamps and as a way to test other turntables without built-in speakers. The Orbit Basic also comes with a black MDF platter, black felt mat, and a pre-calibrated and pre-installed Audio-Technica cartridge to hold the needle and produces the sound.
The turntable comes further equipped with a pivoting precision gimbal tonearm that helps it avoid distortion when it encounters any warps in a record. It uses a built-in, non-adjustable anti-skate feature to prevent the tonearm from moving inward unexpectedly by placing an outward force to the tonearm. This keeps the needle in the center of the record’s groove and helps minimize additional distortion and reduce wear on both the needle and record.
The turntable can switch speeds between 33 to 45 revolutions per minute. To shift speeds, you must manually switch the external rubber belt, which can take some practice. Most of the time, you’ll probably be leaving it on the setting for a full-length 45 album.
The 11.5-pound Orbit basic has a motor mounted on the back of the 16.75 x 12.5 x 4.25-inches base—or plinth. The base comes in black, green, blue, red, white, or limited-edition purple. The turntable also comes with a detachable, hinged dust cover and has three rubber feet that decrease external vibrations and prevent the record from skipping.
Call of Duty
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Fight Camp Home Boxing Gym
If you’ve ever wanted to get better at boxing and end up with the physique of Canelo Alvarez, you’ll want to know about Fight Camp, an at-home boxing gym with built-in coaching. It’s similar to other home workout set-ups Peloton or Mirror, where you pay for the equipment upfront and then subscribe for monthly access to unlimited classes.
It’s pricey and usually costs about $2,000 for the equipment alone, but you can pay it off in installments, making it similar to a gym membership fee. There’s a year-long warranty and a 30-day return policy if you decide you don’t like the service. If that’s too steep, but you’re still interested, they offer another option. If you’ve already got a solid set of gear, their Fight Camp connect package includes just their punching trackers and wraps.
Those punching trackers are what makes Fight Camp extra special. The ones inside your wrist wraps help monitor the speed of your punches and how many punches you throw per lesson, allowing you to hit your full workout goals. Those results are recorded, so you can monitor your progress and see how you compare to other Fight Camp users.
You can use an iPad or television to screen your lessons, depending on where you have room to set up the freestanding punching bag and floor mats. To keep the bag stable, you must fill the base with water or sand. While testing, they provided me with sand since I’m on the sixth floor of an apartment building and a potential leak would have caused issues (no sand seeped out).
The full set of equipment comes with the mentioned bag and mats, as well as punching trackers, wrist wraps, and a set of gloves.
PowerCore III Sense 10K
Anker’s PowerCore III Sense 10k power bank brings personality to your portable charger. Instead of lugging around the same boring black or white brick, this new iteration adds four color choices: Sun-Kissed Coral, Steel Blue, Venetian Red, and Summer Sage. It’s slim but still has the commonly used USB-C and USB-A ports. The bank gives you a full charge in under five hours, which equates to a full charge on the iPad Pro or two on a smartphone. Overall, it weighs less than a pound.
Old Stone Oven Round Pizza Stone
My pizza looked better than this! Amazon
This Old Stone Oven round pizza stone is what got me further hooked on home cooking. The 16-inch stone is safe up to 2,000-degrees—I cooked at 550-degrees—and has a non-stick surface and raised bottom, which makes it easier to pick up out of the oven. From my experience, you’ll get crispier pizza more consistently from this thing, but less control over what type you want to make. For instance, deep dish is a no-go with the stone. Its smooth surface also makes it a breeze to clean, cutting down on half of the kitchen angst.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Luigi returns for another frighteningly good time. Amazon
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is goofy in all the best ways. Navigate through the Last Resort Hotel with its spooky creatures, hidden rooms, and secret treasures to find Mario and his pals. Along the way, Luigi relies on his K9 ghost sidekick, Poulterpup, and wacky tech provided by his mentor and guide, Professor E. Gadd. Using tools like a flashlight and his Poltergust G-00—a vacuum cleaner/backpack—the beloved, taller brother must break objects, solve puzzles, and stun ghosts to find hidden items and money. It maintains fun of the original, but adds interesting new mechanics including Luigi’s new goo clone, named Gooigi.