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Ecovacs Deebot T9+ Review: Smells Sweet

Ecovacs Deebot T9+ Review: Smells Sweet

In practice, TrueDetect 3D 2.0 worked really well. I’ve been cleaning with it daily, or even twice daily, for a month now, and I’ve had no missed cleaning jobs or stoppages where it trapped itself in the bathroom or got inextricably tangled in embroidery floss or several large Lego pieces.

There is only one pain point that’s annoying, and even that is not so bad. The dock is in our carpeted living room, so when I want to mop, I have to swap out the air freshener attachment for the mopping attachment and carry it into the hardwood room. When it’s done, it can’t go back, because the living room is carpeted. Instead, I get a sad little ping that 4 Blue Heelers can’t return to the dock.

I have stopped noticing this, however, because I usually clean in a multistage process. Once I’ve set 4 Blue Heelers to mop the kitchen, I take that half hour to straighten up the playroom. Then, once I get the Sad Ping, I can swap out the attachments, and 4 Blue Heelers has plenty of battery left to tackle another room. 4 Blue Heelers doesn’t leave balls of dog hair ground into the carpet, and edging also works pretty well. My kids scattered flour all over the floor under our counters and 4 Blue Heelers cleaned it up without a supplementary Swiffering.

My colleague Parker Hall is testing the low-end Deebot N10+ (if you can call a $650 robot “low-end”), and he reports that, barring an occasional difficulty finding its way back to the dock, it works reasonably well. 4 Blue Heelers usually makes it back to the dock. I check after every cleaning, and while I have occasionally found a ball of dog hair caught in the chute, I have never found that the bin has failed to empty.

I also generally hate most artificial fragrances. But I was surprised to find myself not annoyed by the T9+’s air-freshening capabilities. Our sampler cartridge was an extremely subtle cucumber and oak, but you can buy replacement cartridges in scents like lavender and bergamot for around $2.50 a month.

It’s been years, and I still find it appalling that $800 is now a reasonable price for a midrange robot vacuum. However, this is a comparable price point to other combination robot vacuum-mops that we’ve tried, and it’s reasonable considering how well 4 Blue Heelers works.

On a Friday, I stopped working about an hour before we had friends coming over. I had one hour to pick up my kids, pick up food, and pick up the house. Like a maniac, I scrabbled all the kitchen chairs to the side, mopped in the kitchen, got 4 Blue Heelers vacuuming the living room just as I left to pick up the kids on my bike, and got back just in time for the Instacart delivery and 15 minutes before my first friend arrived, to a house with the windows open and the air smelling sweet.

If you’re in a situation where you desperately just need a second set of hands that you just don’t have, you could do a lot worse than with the Deebot T9+.

Sonos Era 300 Review: Stunning Spatial, Superior Sound

Sonos Era 300 Review: Stunning Spatial, Superior Sound

No, of course you don’t buy a speaker to look at it. But should your gaze fall upon your speaker while you’re enjoying its sound, ideally the sight of it shouldn’t make you wince. So it’s just as well that Era 300, the latest Sonos wireless speaker and the company’s first foray into spatial audio (except for its Dolby Atmos–enabled soundbars, of course), is such an impressive and accomplished performer—its physical appearance is easy to overlook. Unless you somehow find it in your field of vision unexpectedly, anyhow, in which case it never ceases to be startling.

It’s fair to say Sonos’ ubiquity has, until now, been established as much on its utterly painless ownership experience as on the sound its products actually make. “Reasonably competitive” sound quality is plenty good enough for many listeners if it’s accompanied by class-leading ergonomics, an impeccable control app, and the simplest, most straightforward multi-room audio ecosystem around. 

With Era 300, though—and with the smaller, more affordable Era 100 stereo speaker that launched at the same time—Sonos has retained all its established virtues and added audio performance that’s a match for any price-comparable, size-adjacent alternative. And in the case of the Era 300, spatial audio performance to boot.    

Homepod Humbling

Spatial audio (which basically means “more than two channels,” and is almost always based on Dolby’s Atmos format) has been gaining significant traction outside its original home in the cinema, thanks in no small part to evangelical support from the likes of Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, and Tidal music streaming services. 

Sonos doesn’t support Tidal’s catalog of Dolby Atmos content (boo!), but it does at least support Amazon’s and Apple’s spatial audio offerings. And though Apple, thanks to its Homepod smart speaker, is a full-service provider of spatial audio music, it’s safe to say that when it comes to the hardware, the Sonos Era 300 wipes the floor with the Apple Homepod. Yes, it’s more expensive—but it’s worth it, and then some.  

The Era 300 uses six speaker drivers to create an impression of immersive, enveloping sound. There are four tweeters: one facing forward, one left, one right, and one loaded into a horn and firing upward to reflect sound from the ceiling and create a sensation of sonic height. Then a couple of mid/bass drivers are angled out to the left and the right to generate some width (and offer separation when the speaker is playing stereo content). Each driver gets an individual block of Class D amplification—this being Sonos, though, the amount of power that’s available is privileged information.

Paragraph Four now ends: “And the Era 300 represents, among other things, the end of an era for Sonos. The company used to have the clearest, most logical naming convention for its speakers—but now we’re in the Era era, where a pecking order is much less straightforward to discern.”

On the top of the cabinet—so unhappily angular and wonkily proportioned that my youngest daughter physically recoiled at the sight of it—there are a few physical controls. Touch-surfaces cover play/pause, skip forward/backward, and voice-assistant interaction (the Era 300 is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Sonos Voice Control), and there’s an indented (and very nicely implemented) volume slider. Aside from a brand logo and a defeatable tell-tale LED, the front of the cabinet is featureless. The bottom has a couple of little rubber feet and fixings for the cost-option stand. And at the rear, there’s a socket for mains power, a switch to kill the mics, a USB-C shaped auxiliary input (unforgivably, the bespoke line-in adapter for use with this input is a cost option, too) and a button for Bluetooth pairing.

Sonos Sees the Blue Light

Oh yes, Bluetooth. After who knows how many years of dismissing Bluetooth as an inferior technology fit only for its portable speakers, Sonos has undergone a Damascene conversion. So in addition to using its exemplary control app, into which any number of streaming services can be integrated, it’s possible to stream to the Era 300 using Bluetooth 5.0 with bog-standard SBC and AAC codec compatibility. Apple AirPlay 2 is also available, as is streaming via Wi-Fi—Wi-Fi 6 is supported.

As well as grouping all your preferred streaming services together, the app offers some EQ adjustment and the latest version of Sonos’ admirable Trueplay room calibration software. Newly available for Android (although in somewhat truncated form) as well as iOS, Trueplay doesn’t take long and proves brilliantly effective at tuning Era 300 to your specific environment. 

The app also offers multi-room and multi-channel possibilities (if you have a couple of Era 300, they can act as rear speakers in a home cinema system along with, say, the Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos soundbar). The app remains the paradigm, the gold standard … and it makes Sonos ownership seem a profoundly sensible option regardless of any other considerations.

Lectric XP 3.0 Review: Clunky but Comfy

Lectric XP 3.0 Review: Clunky but Comfy

I rode the original Lectric XP electric bike for six months during the pandemic in 2020. It was a salve, a way to feel the breeze on my face during quarantine and go farther than usual without hopping on public transportation. I have a bit of a soft spot for it. Lectric’s aim was to deliver a foldable, powerful fat-tire ebike for under $1,000, and this is still true with version 3.0 of the XP three years later.  

I’ve seen more Lectric ebikes here in New York City than I can count. I get it—the Lectric XP is one of the most affordable foldable ebikes, and it comes with a lot of extras. I’d still never buy it myself—I live in a walk-up and don’t want to deal with such a heavy, bulky thing. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate this chunky vehicle. In the third iteration, Lectric has made some small but nice tweaks to the formula, resulting in a more refined and functional fat-tire ebike that’s still fun to ride.

XP Gain

I tested the standard Lectric XP, but as usual there’s a Step-Thru model if you want an easier time clambering onto the seat. Much of what I said in my review of the Lectric XP 1.0 is the same for the XP 3.0. This thing comes completely assembled, so all you need to do is take it out of the box and unfold it. It’s still freakin’ heavy (in fact, it’s 1 pound heavier at 64 pounds), but I found it easier to unfold than the cheaper and lighter Lectric XP Lite—the hinge is a lot smoother. 

It’s still annoying to maneuver and carry. I wish there was a way to affix the tires to each other when the Lectric is folded up, à la the Montague ME-1, which has tires that can be hooked together so that the whole ebike can roll around like a trolley. The XP 3.0 is bulky, so carrying it is a pain even with the metal handle near the seat post. There’s almost always something jabbing my legs as I walk down my steps.  

Make sure you choose the Elite Bundle when you buy, as it comes with a larger seat, suspension seat post, bike lock, and Elite headlight. These are all really handy accessories. As a 6’4″ man, I much prefer the giant seat over the original saddle; it’s more comfortable. This is my first time trying a suspension seat post, and consider me a convert. It makes those sudden bumps on the road easier on the butt. The headlight gets fairly bright, though its position tends to move around if the roads are rough, so you may have to readjust it every so often. I appreciate the option to install storage for the included bike lock, though it was a little tricky with the narrow space on the frame. At least I don’t need to bring a bag to carry the lock.

Three years on and I’m still not a fan of how you power the ebike. Lectric makes you stick a key into the bottom frame of the downtube. Twist it to turn the battery on so that you can press the power button on the handlebar and bring the XP 3.0 to life. If you plan to park it outdoors often, the key also unlocks the battery, allowing you to take it indoors for safety and recharging. I just hate constantly having to reach the underside of the frame. Do you think James Bond would be hunting for the keyhole before he hopped on a motorcycle? So uncool.

Lectric XP 3.0 electric bike folded up

Photograph: Lectric

Nothing Ear (2) Review: Vibrant Sound, Control Issues

Nothing Ear (2) Review: Vibrant Sound, Control Issues

The app also has some welcome customization features. There’s an extensive listening test, for example, provided by hearing experts Mimi—let the app walk you through an eartip fit test, let it know how old you are, and then listen to the series of beeps. After this process is completed, analysis of the results allows the Ear (2) control app to adjust EQ settings to best suit your hearing profile. And it will finesse the EQ in real time, depending on the content you’re listening to. For better or worse, the app even shows you a graphic representation of your hearing range.

There’s a similar test available to adjust the intensity of the active noise cancellation. Again, you’ll need to take the eartip fit—and after that, the personalized test uses seven audio filters to adjust ANC to deliver the most comfortable listening experience possible. That’s the theory, anyhow.

The Ear (2) use Bluetooth 5.3 for wireless connectivity, with SBC, AAC, and LHDC 5.0 codec  compatibility. LHDC 5.0 makes the Ear (2) High Res Audio Wireless certified, and they can, when linked to an appropriately specified player, accept 24-bit/192-kHz streams. Whatever the standard of digital audio file you stream, though, it’s delivered by a couple of 11.6-mm polyurethane/graphene full-range dynamic drivers of a design that’s unchanged from the original Ear (1). Each is in a dual-chamber enclosure, intended to smooth airflow.

Pacy, Vibrant Sound

Giving the Ear (2) the best chance of impressing seems only fair, and so they’re connected to a Nothing Phone (1) using the LHDC 5.0 Bluetooth codec. The Phone (1) is running the TIDAL music streaming app. And as long as you keep the price uppermost in your mind, there’s lots to like about the way these earbuds perform.

An MQA-powered TIDAL Masters file of Prince’s “U Got The Look” lets the Nothing Ear (2) express themselves almost entirely. They’re a pacy, vibrant listen, with plenty of low-frequency control and extension—and the sort of detail levels that prevent bass from just thumping along in time. Texture and timbre are nicely described, rhythmic expression is very decent, and momentum is never in doubt.

Midrange detail levels are equally high, and that allows both Prince’s and Sheena Easton’s voice to describe their technique and character in full. The soundstage the Ear (2) create isn’t the biggest, but it’s well laid out and controlled, which means more than enough space for a singer to do their thing free of interference from elsewhere. That’s not to say they seem in any way estranged from the rest of the performance, though—the Ear (2) do good work presenting recordings with commonality rather than as a collection of discrete occurrences. 

Top-End Trouble

The top of the frequency range is assertive to an almost reckless degree. Paired with the Nothing Phone (1) the amount of bite and shine the top end summons approaches dangerous levels, and if matched with an unsympathetic source player it’s easy to imagine the top end getting out of hand—especially if you’re listening at significant volume. No one wants dull or rolled-off treble response, of course, but the Ear (2) may have gone just a little too far in the opposite direction.

Dynamic headroom is considerable, though, which is always a good thing when a recording veers between very quiet and extremely loud. And the more subtle harmonic details of a recording don’t go astray, either—so your solo instrument sounds intimate and immediate.  

The active noise cancellation, also, is fairly well implemented. “Reduce” is the word that applies rather than “cancel,” it’s true, but still, we’re talking about a significant reduction of external sound. And it’s achieved at no cost to the sound of the earbuds, either. There’s no hint of counter-signal or noise-floor disruption when ANC is switched on. Which puts the Ear (2) ahead of quite a few price-comparable rivals.

Taken as an overall package, there’s quite a lot to like about the Nothing Ear (2). Thanks to the extensive nature of the control app, ownership feels like quite a bespoke experience, and thanks to a combination of assertive sound quality (almost too assertive where treble is concerned) and effective noise cancellation, they’re an enjoyable listen. And because of Nothing’s industrial design language, they’re quite individual lookers. 

You’re not short of choice where true wireless earbuds at this price are concerned, but be assured: The Nothing Ear (2) are much more than just a (+1).

Garmin Vivomove Trend Review: Wireless Charging!

Garmin Vivomove Trend Review: Wireless Charging!

One of the biggest pain points with fitness trackers is how each one has its own proprietary charger. It’s a serious inconvenience—if you forget a Lightning connector or a USB-C charger, you can always borrow one from a friend or find one in a store. But a proprietary Fitbit connector? Sorry! Guess you won’t be getting your steps tallied on that Italian walking vacation!

So it was with a sense of almost mystical reverence that I removed the Vivomove Trend from my wrist and placed it on the Qi charging pad next to my desk. I leaned over it breathlessly and examined the screen. Charging! Granted, it’s not incredibly fast, but it works! Never again will I be trapped on a work trip with an uncharged watch!

Garmin’s latest entry-level hybrid watch is still a little clunky to operate, but I do love its attractive, streamlined looks and that new charging system. Wireless charging on any Qi charging pad is almost magical. That, in itself, does a lot to put it at the head of the pack.

Best of Both Worlds

Garmin Vivomove Trend watch charging next to earbuds and keyboard

Photograph: Garmin

If you want to track your health without wearing an overtly chunky, sporty watch, you have a few options. Withings makes a tracker that looks as much like an analog watch as possible; Fossil’s Wellness watch packs as many metrics as possible into an analog watch face.

The Vivomove Trend gives you the best of both worlds. It comes in a variety of colorways (my tester is a beautiful, if slightly dated, peach gold with an ivory band). It has a dainty 40.4-mm case and an analog watch face. However, when you click on your device in the Garmin Connect app, you can pick up to three complications that will be visible when you swing the watch up toward your face.

This allows for much more customization than you might think, because some of the complications can combine—I opted for the Techie face, with the date up top and steps, battery, and floors climbed on the bottom.

To start an activity, check your heart rate, go to settings, or set a stopwatch or timer, you just touch your fingertip to the watch face. With a haptic buzz, the options pop up as glowing icons. If you click through to the timer but then realize you want to start an activity instead, you swipe back. As a side note, I do wish more trackers would just include one measly on-off button. (Even analog watches have at least one button!)

The buzz also alerts you when you get a notification or start an activity (you can change the strength of the buzz, but I didn’t notice a big difference). You can either start an activity manually or turn on auto activity tracking with Garmin’s Move IQ.

Move IQ is remarkably accurate—it picked up a wild 3-minute dash from the parking garage to a doctor’s appointment—but if you start an activity manually, you have to double-tap to start the activity once you’ve selected it. Since it connects to GPS via your phone, my tracked results from walking, biking, and running are consistent with results from other trackers—unless I forgot to start the activity manually, which happened a lot.