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How to Entertain Your Young Children During Quarantine (2020): iPod Touch, Lego, Podcasts

In areas that have been most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, schools and daycares have been closed, and small children have been sent home. Even though our kids’ lives rotate around social gatherings—birthday parties, playgrounds, public libraries, zoos—we have to keep them isolated from other humans, large and …

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Ultimate Ears Hyperboom Review: The Perfect 21st-Century Boombox

Growing up, some of my fondest listening experiences came from a silver Phillips boombox. I have vivid memories of popping in Moby’s Play—and what I honestly recall to be six D-sized batteries—and wandering around with the bald-headed maestro in tow.These days, it’s easy to take …

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Embr Wave Review: The End of Thermostat Wars

I’d forgotten it was cold inside until I picked up an aluminum laptop and it felt like ice. Then I noticed my fingertips and toes were freezing. It was weird, knowing I was cold yet not feeling cold. But that’s how the Wave worked best—when I wasn’t paying attention to it.

I’ve been wearing the Embr Wave for a while now, a watch-like wearable that sends waves of heat into the fleshy underside of my wrist during the dead of a New York winter, and releases pulses of icy coolness when an unusual winter heatwave has me sweating. It was a strange feeling at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly.

We can drive ourselves crazy over a few degrees. (At least I do.) I’m a thermostat control freak. I constantly tweak it during the day; up a degree now, then down a degree later. It’s not a good time when I can’t control the temperature. The discomfort ruins concentration, mood, and productivity. Wearing the Wave has surprisingly helped in those situations—all thanks to a few mind tricks.

Bio Trickery

I’ve previously written about how Dr. Hui Zhang, a research scientist at UC Berkeley, found that, on average, test subjects wearing the Embr Wave reported feeling 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer after three minutes on the warm setting and 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit cooler on the cool setting.

The independent study claimed that women often report feeling cold in the office because, typically, the office thermostat is set for men’s comfort. Women—who tend to be smaller and have a higher surface-area-to-body-volume ratio—lose heat more quickly. On average, women prefer temperatures five degrees warmer than men, according to a 2015 report by the Dutch Maastricht University Medical Center.

The Wave doesn’t actually change your body temperature. You wouldn’t want that anyway, since an adult’s body is programmed to run at a particular baseline of 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, it only changes your perception of how warm or cool you are. The idea is that, in situations where you can’t control the thermostat or you left your sweater at home, the Wave will trick your brain into feeling warmer or cooler.

On the wearable, there’s a light bar you can touch to turn it on, adjust the temperature, and turn it off, but most of the Wave’s finer points of control are found in Embr’s app. There are four preset modes: Quick, Essential, Extended, and Fall Asleep. The former sends quick waves of cooling or heating over five minutes; Essential spaces out the waves a little more over 10 minutes; and Extended lasts for 30 minutes. Fall Asleep releases longer, gentler waves of heating or cooling over 35 minutes and mutes the LED lights on the Wave.

Embr Labs releases new modes through over-the-air software updates. While I was testing it out, they released Fall Asleep mode and the option to make custom modes, choosing the intensity and frequency of the heating and cooling waves as well as the runtime, from five to 60 minutes. Bumping up the runtime to 60 minutes was a great move as I’d been continuously running Extended mode back to back—no longer did I need to stop every half-hour and restart it.

To a Certain Degree

Photograph: Rob Chron/Embr 

For heat, you choose a number on a scale of 1 to 16, with 16 being the hottest. I preferred the hotter end. Go big or go home, right? The Wave limits you by default to 13. If you want to jack it up past 13, you have to go into the app’s settings and give it permission to maybe burn you.

“You are enabling the highest level of heat, with a potential risk of painful heat sensation. If you are okay with that, please select ‘Confirm’ to enable this setting.” Boom. Confirmed. Now I was at 16.

This is mildly unpleasant, was my first thought as I tried to not let it distract me from work. After 20 minutes, it became plain unpleasant and I couldn’t get anything done. I had spent most of those 20 minutes uneasily anticipating the next wave of heat. I learned my lesson: Don’t put it on 16. Bringing it down to 15 was OK, but keeping it between 12 and 14 was perfect. I started to forget that my apartment’s heat was off or that my work’s office was not that warm.

Cooling was simpler. Jacking it up to 11—the highest cooling setting—ambushed me with a nostalgic moment that reminded me of being a little kid, chasing after the ice cream truck with friends on sweltering days, and holding Popsicles against the skin for a little relief before tearing open the wrappers to eat them. Even on 11, there’s no unpleasantness, but I left it somewhere between 8 and 10 most of the time.

Embr says the Wave can run for two or three days with 15 to 50 of these heating or cooling cycles, but I didn’t use it like that. Instead of using it for a half-hour every once in a while, I’d use it for hours at a time. I didn’t want small moments of relief, I wanted ongoing comfort. Fully charged in the morning, I’d get about a work day’s worth of use. Your mileage might vary though since it all depends on the mode and temperature—I mostly used Extended and the more extreme heating and cooling settings.

Thankfully, it only takes about an hour and a half to recharge, so I was never away from feeling relief for too long. It’s a bummer to see it using MicroUSB for charging, as USB-C would have been more convenient.

Indoors Only

If the Wave has an Achilles’ heel, it’s that it gets in the way of typing on a laptop. The module sits at the underside of the wrist, so I have to modify the way I type to keep it from banging on my desk. As soon as I got into a working rhythm enough to stop paying attention, I’d feel the tap of the case against the table or laptop to remind me it was hanging out there on my wrist. When my workload was heavy and my patience light, I took off the Wave so I could work uninterrupted. Embr says you can spin the Wave 180 degrees so it sits on top of your wrist, but it feels less effective. (This isn’t much of an issue if you have a separate, full-size keyboard, especially one with a wrist rest.)

It also doesn’t quite work outdoors. You’re likely getting hit by cold winds, which counteracts the warming sensation on the wrist. On a hot day outside, sure, you get the cooling sensations, but it’s also likely the sun is beating down and undoing some of that relief, too.

Indoors, it did the trick. Go ahead, fool my brain into thinking I’m comfortable. As long as I’m not losing fingers to frostbite or sweating out the last drops of life-saving water, comfort is all I care about. The Wave is ideal for places where someone else controls the thermostat, like the office. If you’re willing to find a way to make typing work with it—or just don’t need to use a laptop at work—and you have $300 to spend, then you’ll be a thermostat fiend no more.

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Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus Review: Close to Perfection

Get an IPA or two in me, and I’m liable to start rambling about how Apple retained the stupid, eartip-less design on the second generation of its industry-dominating AirPods, forcing anyone who wants earbuds that are actually comfortable to shell out an extra $90 for the better-designed AirPods Pro (or Beats Powerbeats Pro).

Yet I’m elated that Samsung stuck with identical looks for the second generation of its Galaxy Buds—now called the Galaxy Buds Plus—because they had such a good design to begin with. The tiny, comfortable in-ears all but disappear during longer listening sessions, with cozy silicone ear fins that keep the featherlight headphones in place no matter what.

Instead of visual changes, the Galaxy Buds Plus come with a major internal overhaul. They now have an industry-leading 11 hours of battery life (more than double the juice offered by AirPods and AirPods Pro), better microphones, and special new audio tuning from Samsung-owned AKG. The old Galaxy Buds are still better than the standard AirPods, but these new Galaxy Buds Plus kick the absolute crap out of them. The best part? Both pairs cost less.

Little Bugs

I love how cheap and comfortable the original Galaxy Buds are, but it’s not as though they are without issues. The 7-hour battery of the original model is awesome when out and about, but I found myself recharging the case—a wireless charging pillbox that only boasted 10 hours of extra battery life—much more than I wanted to.

They also don’t sound particularly awesome. I’d put on some OutKast and enjoy the bass response (and even a relatively pleasurable soundstage), but the music always felt a bit muffled above that. The audio quality is nowhere near what you get from competing devices from Jabra, Sony, Master and Dynamic, and others. Heck, even AirPods sound just as good.

Perhaps worst of all (in the grand scheme of things) is poor call quality. I often call a discerning listener (Hi mom! Yes, I’m testing headphones again) to test this, and she said listening to me through the original Galaxy Buds is like hearing my beautiful, angelic voice (her words) through a thick moving blanket.

Big Fixes

But I came through loud and clear on calls with the Galaxy Buds Plus. Each earbud has three microphones (two external, one that faces your ear) to suss out what you’re saying from the background noise.

Audio quality has also massively improved. The Galaxy Buds Plus come with a new dual-driver setup that spreads musical pleasure out a bit more evenly, with dedicated bass and treble drivers that rumble down low and sparkle up high at the same time. The new drivers and AKG tuning bring the bright edges of Andre 3000’s voice forward in the mix but retain the low end of the sound. There’s still a bit of mud to slog through in the midrange—super guitar-heavy songs from metal bands, for example, can be a bit muddled—but this is a much more pleasurable listening experience over the first generation, and nearly as good as the sound you’d hear on headphones that cost $50 to $100 more.

Alongside the big batteries in each earbud, Samsung has also increased the size of the battery in the wireless charging case … a tiny bit. You’ll get 11 hours from the pill-shaped treasure chest, but the fact that you get 11 from the earbuds themselves means a total of 6 more hours between trips to a wall charger or charging mat. Nice.

One thing I wish Samsung added? Support for AptX or AptX HD codecs, which make Bluetooth audio sound closer to CD quality when possible. It’s not something you’re probably missing with wirefree earbuds playing Spotify, but I still like to see the little AptX icon pop up on my phone to know it’s doing the best it can.

Everyday Buds

What I like most about the Galaxy Buds Plus is how usable they are in my everyday life.

Taking a flight across the country? They’ll easily get you there without a trip to the charging case—and the case even rapidly charges if you’ve forgotten. Strapping on your sneakers for a long weekend run? They’re IPX4 rated, so they can handle rain and sweat, and are easily some of the most stable earbuds I’ve ever tested on runs. Want to quickly pause music to order something at the coffee shop? Go for it—they’ve got an ambient sound mode that lets you hear your surroundings, and you can program it to the touch controls on each earbud.

Sure, they may not be the best sounding or have the most bells and whistles—most notably, they lack the noise-canceling offered by Apple and Sony’s flagship models—but they do everything I want them to do very well. They also do it for nearly $100 less, costing an Apple-biting $150 ($19 less than you’ll pay for standard AirPods 2 with a wireless charging case).

It’s rare that companies mess with a good thing and make it definitively, wholeheartedly, better. The Galaxy Buds Plus are easily some of the best wirefree earbuds you can buy right now, and unlike the AirPods 2, they’re actually worth the upgrade.

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Coway Bidetmega 400 Review: A Glorious Way to Clean Your Derrière

The millennial generation’s discretionary cash isn’t being mashed into avocado toast. It’s being spent on cell phones, smartwatches, wireless headphones, and Netflix subscriptions. Senior reviewer Adrienne So says we pay this much for little things because the big things are broken. If we can’t fix health care, rid ourselves of student loan debt, or compete with skyrocketing housing prices, we may as well treat ourselves to The Witcher on a big ol’ flatscreen.

I think she’s right, in no small part because, over the past two weeks, I’ve discovered a new must-have for fellow techno-nihilists: A $599 electrified toilet attachment called the Bidetmega 400.

Butt tech: The next thing you didn’t know you needed. Coway’s heated seat, heated water, auto-cleaning, blow-drying, and night-light-laden throne is a masterpiece of comfort and cleanliness I now can’t live without. If I’m gonna Uber to the hospital because I can’t afford an ambulance, I might as well do it with a sparkling undercarriage.

Why You Need a Bidet

It’s basic armchair philosophy: If you got pooped on by a bird, would you wipe it off your skin with some two-ply and keep walking? No. You’d use water. The bidet is better, right?

Photograph: Coway

Not necessarily. There’s no indication that the amount of microbial junk in our trunks (about 0.14 grams in the average American wiper, according to fellow WIRED writer and bidet enthusiast Jason Kehe) is an actual health concern. I couldn’t even find peer-reviewed evidence that suggested using bidets is actually cleaner, which is crazy because bidets make me feel so much cleaner.

The real reason to use a bidet, I’ve learned, is how gently they clean your nether regions. Some studies have shown that bidets may be helpful for people with hemorrhoids or other issues where wiping causes physical discomfort (or, in some cases, more damage). Medical professionals also say they are good tools for people with physical disabilities. They’re also popular in several parts of the world, just not the US.

Gentle Giant

The Bidetmega begins its magic as soon as you descend into its ergonomic clutches.

A pressure sensor on the front of the bold, slanted toilet seat automatically tells the bidet to rinse itself clean—trickling a bit of water below you, as though self-aware of the generation of economics that led to this moment. At the same time, the Bidetmega starts heating the seat to one of two temperatures (three if you include leaving the heat off entirely).

My butt now follows the seasons. I prefer the hot setting during the dreary Portland winter but envision myself transitioning to medium heat in springtime and no heat in summer. It’s mega fast, reaching a warm temperature in about a minute.

After you’ve done your business, you press the Rear or Front buttons on the included remote—which is wireless, and thus a hilarious way to surprise a visiting friend or relative.

Photograph: Coway

Push the button (also printed with braille), and the Bidetmega starts one of three preselected cleaning modes: Basic, Soothing Wash, and Active. I prefer Soothing Wash, for obvious reason. Active mode isn’t why anyone buys a $600 bidet, and Basic mode just feels like a waste of the money.

Soothing Wash mode is as magnificent as it sounds. Unlike many cheaper toilet attachments—like my previous model from Amazon, which bows its plastic spritzer wand at the feet of this well-heeled Coway model—the Bidetmega very carefully regulates pressure and temperature of its water stream using something it calls “i-wave technology.” The stream changes in intensity throughout a cleaning, providing a multistage wash at one of three user-selected water temperatures. I, now a connoisseur, prefer medium heat.

Unlike that Amazon-bought predecessor, the Bidetmega never misses, so there’s no weird waddling action; both nozzle positions can be adjusted forward or backward using the remote during the first use, for laserlike precision thereafter.

That’s the best part of the Bidetmega 400: There’s nothing to think about. You press a single button, and for a brief, private moment, you are a God, gloriously beloved by a toilet seat. You’re cleaned, warmed, and—in the end—you press another button, and a warm stream of air blows you dry.

This is a perfect modern machine. There’s no internet connection and no virtual assistant to talk to. Nobody at the NSA is going to snoop through your poop data. The Bidetmega simply takes something that offers you little excitement and makes it a joyous highlight of your day. It’s even got a glowing blue light to guide you in for late-night landings.

Easy In, Easy Out

Think you might want to experience the Bidetmega’s magic? Coway offers a 90-day free trial on its website—which raises the question: What are they doing with used bidets?

Photograph: Coway

In any case, installation didn’t have me fearing I was going to break my toilet or flood my bathroom. It was as simple as changing a toilet seat. Put it on, install a T-connector to your toilet’s water supply, and plug it into an outlet. Job done. The remote even comes with a tape-backed mount, so you can put the controls anywhere you want.

Watch the Throne

The Bidetmega is the Rolls Royce of bathroom accessories, but there are many similar products from well-known brands that offer many of the same features for less. I’ll be testing more soon, but for now the Bidetmega 400 reigns supreme. This is the fanciest device I’ve ever put in my bathroom, and I cherish every moment I spend in its company.

Don’t believe me? Give it a shot. Your parents might have a ritzy house and no student loan debt, but they probably don’t poop like this.

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