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I Never Want to Take Off the Garmin Instinct 2S Solar

I Never Want to Take Off the Garmin Instinct 2S Solar

When I first tested a solar-powered Garmin several years ago, the solar function extended the battery life by a few days. Now, every solar-powered Garmin I’ve tested has lasted more than two weeks. As I was about to leave on a two-week family beach trip for a long overdue vacation, I naturally donned Garmin’s new Instinct 2S Solar.

This latest solar-powered version of Garmin’s popular backcountry Instinct series is smaller and has a sharper display than previous ones. More important, I didn’t have to charge it for 21 days. That was three weeks of multiple GPS-tracked activities per day, including running, swimming, hiking, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and boogie boarding. If you value accurate backcountry tracking and not having to charge a battery, this is the best adventure watch on the market.

Fun in the Sun

Closeup of Garmin Instinct 2S Solar on person's wrist

Photograph: Garmin

The Apple Watch has consistently dominated the smartwatch and fitness tracker market for several years. But there’s one area where it simply cannot compete: battery life. If you’re busy enough to want a smartwatch, you’re busy enough to find it annoying that you have to charge it every day (sometimes more than once).

The Instinct 2S Solar uses a Power Glass face to convert the sun’s energy (as measured in lux) to battery power. If you’re the kind of nerd who likes to check your solar intensity and how much sunlight your watch is exposed to per day, you can scroll down the watch face to find this information from the previous six hours, along with other useful at-a-glance stats like notifications and step count.

It’s kind of fun to see your solar intensity go up and down as you bike, run, or sit in the shade. But all I really needed to know was that with a lot of direct sunlight, the Instinct 2S Solar got quite a bit of power. In my months of testing, I got up to three weeks on a single charge. That’s less than Garmin’s claim of 50 days, but way more than almost every other fitness tracker. I never had to put it in power-save mode, which would’ve extended the battery life by lowering the brightness on the watch face and disconnecting the watch from the paired phone. Three weeks is plenty of time.

It’s especially astonishing because the Instinct 2S Solar is much smaller than previous Garmin Instinct watches I’ve tested. The case is 40 mm, almost 5 mm smaller than the frankly enormous original Instinct; it’s about the same size as my Apple Watch Series 7. It still has a monochrome memory-in-pixel display, but it’s noticeably sharper to me than its predecessor. Even with a 1.2-inch screen, I can read my notifications clearly.

Beat the Heat

Garmin Instinct 2S Solar

Photograph: Garmin

Since it debuted in 2018, the Instinct has been one of Garmin’s top sellers. It now comes in solar- and non-solar-powered versions; different specific editions, including a tactical version with, er, “stealth mode”; and some of the craziest colors in the sports watch market. Different colors are available for different editions, so Garmin now has a “design your own” tool on its website to make sure you get the Instinct you want.

Apollo’s Spendy New Escooter Is a City-Friendly Ride

Apollo’s Spendy New Escooter Is a City-Friendly Ride

Shopping for an electric kick scooter can be frustrating. Pay too little and you sacrifice range and the speed you need to climb steep hills. Pay up and you’ll have a hulking vehicle that’s difficult to lug up a few flights of stairs when you’re done riding. Apollo’s newest escooter doesn’t break the mold—it sits firmly in that latter camp with its fancy features and high price.

The Apollo City 2022 is a very nice scooter. It rarely gave me range anxiety, I had no trouble scooting up slopes, and it’s comfy to ride—it even has turn signals! This is important, considering the $1,499 asking price. But it’s 57 pounds. I visited a colleague last week in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, and had to carry this thing up three flights of stairs because I was paranoid someone would steal it if I left it outside. My back didn’t thank me. If you live in a walk-up, this isn’t the scooter for you. 

But if that’s not an issue, there’s a lot to like about the Apollo City. There are a few questionable choices that make it a bit quirky, but it’s an otherwise nimble and stable ride that’s great for anyone seriously considering an electric kick scooter as their primary means of transportation around a city.  

City Slicker

Apollo City electric scooter
Photograph: Apollo

There are two versions of this scooter: the Apollo City 2022 ($1,499) and the Apollo City Pro 2022 ($1,799). I tested the former, but the latter has a dual 500-watt motor that lets it go faster, with higher torque, plus a beefier battery for better range. It can also handle a higher weight capacity (220 pounds versus 265 on the Pro). The downside? The Pro is even heavier, at 68 pounds.

Most people will be happy with the performance of the standard Apollo City, though. The single 500-watt motor never felt too slow when kicking off at traffic lights, and its top speed of 27 miles per hour is handy when you need that power to go up hills. It rarely felt limiting. That said, just because an average car can hit 120 mph doesn’t mean it should—make sure you’re always riding the legal escooter speed limit for your city. (The Apollo City Pro can hit 32 mph.) 

The scooter itself has a few modes you can cycle through to regulate speed via the LED display, but I recommend using the Bluetooth companion app (not required) to restrict the scooter’s top speed. You can see other ride data here and even tweak the acceleration and the regenerative braking system (which recovers some energy when you brake). 

For the most part, I was able to get by just fine using the unique regenerative brake throttle on the left handlebar instead of the front and rear drum brakes. On city streets, it really doesn’t take much to stop when you’re going 15 mph. That said, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more braking power when utilizing those 25-mph speeds. (I tested it in an empty parking lot deep in Brooklyn in the dead of night.) I stopped, but the braking distance was more than I’d have liked to see. This won’t be an issue most of the time, but it is odd that the pricier Apollo City Pro doesn’t upgrade the drum brakes to more effective hydraulics. 

Valve’s Steam Deck Is a Glitchy but Promising Portable Gaming PC

Valve’s Steam Deck Is a Glitchy but Promising Portable Gaming PC

I’ve been playing PC games since I was a kid—I remember trying SkiFree on my mom’s desktop when I was too sick to go to school. Since then, I’ve amassed a vast library of games on Steam, the platform created by Valve; it’s how most people play games on their computers. (Valve is also the creator of hits like Half-Life and Portal.) I was intrigued when Valve announced the Steam Deck last year, a handheld portable gaming console that lets you play your PC games anywhere. It’s the potential kick I needed to get through my ever expanding Steam backlog. 

Well, I’ve been using the Steam Deck for several weeks, playing AAA and indie games on my couch, in bed, while sitting on an office chair, in my car, at a café, and on a plane. Some of my fears when I first heard about the gadget were validated—it’s bulky, and the layout of the controls isn’t very ergonomic, attributes you don’t really want in a handheld console.

It also feels like Valve could’ve used a few more weeks (months?) to polish the software experience. (The Deck was supposed to launch back in December, so it’s already been delayed once.) This console has been in development for four years, through a pandemic, so it’s not surprising to see last-minute issues to correct. But since I received it, Valve has pushed system updates every single day—meaning I’ve had to retest certain functions over and over again. Valve says it will continue pushing out frequent updates to squash bugs after launch. 

That’s both good and bad. It means the software needs more work, but it also shows how committed Valve is to the Steam Deck. I’m glad to see it, because this thing has a ton of potential.

Bulky Machine

Valve Steam Deck
Photograph: Valve

I received the top-end Steam Deck that retails for $649, which includes a 512-gigabyte solid-state drive. You can pay as little as $399 for the Deck, but you’ll only get a paltry 64 GB of storage. Considering that AAA games are 50 to 70 GB these days, if not more, you’ll probably want to pay up for the 256-GB version ($529) at the very least. 

That said, the MicroSD card slot is hands down my favorite feature. You can hot-swap in MicroSDs once they’re properly formatted to jump in and play a different game, essentially giving the Deck a whole lot more storage. I purchased a 1-terabyte SanDisk Ultra MicroSD card, and it holds all 41 games I wanted to download, including Mass Effect Legendary Edition (110 GB), ARK: Survival Evolved (101 GB), Destiny 2 (74 GB), Cyberpunk 2077 (67 GB), and Death Stranding (64 GB). 

The load speed difference between the internal SSD and the MicroSD is minimal—Death Stranding took about 19 seconds to load up on the SSD and 30 seconds on the MicroSD, though this does fluctuate. So far I haven’t noticed any major differences. I also tried this with 32-GB and 256-GB SanDisk Extreme MicroSD cards, and the results were no different. If you’re worried about Valve’s low storage options, MicroSD cards will have your back.

This Steam Deck is bulky, but not as heavy as I had imagined nor as uncomfortable to hold. It weighs 672 grams; for reference, the Nintendo Switch OLED is 436 grams, and the iPhone 13 is 174 grams. Much of this weight sits on each side of the console, which is curved at the back to fit more comfortably in your hands. It feels weird to hold such a wide handheld (12 inches compared to the 9-inch-long Switch), but you get used to it. Literally. The first time I played for an hour straight, my right hand went numb. I now mix in a few breaks and stretch my hands out regularly and it hasn’t happened since.

My biggest concern was the layout of the buttons, especially since you can’t detach the controllers like you can on the Switch. Unlike most controllers, where the buttons and thumb sticks sit on a diagonal—a design iterated on over decades of testing to reduce strain—the Deck’s D-pad and ABXY buttons sit horizontally next to their respective thumb stick. They’re quite high up to make room for two trackpads on each side of the console. There are also triggers on the console’s shoulders and paddles on the back, which feel great and remind me of the Xbox Elite controller.

Don’t Dump Frying Oil Down the Drain. Turn It Into Jelly

Don’t Dump Frying Oil Down the Drain. Turn It Into Jelly

After speaking with Brown, I kept frying things: salt and pepper shrimp, smothered pork chops, even fish and chips. Slowly, I came up with a better plan for how to get rid of cooking oil in Seattle, and when I’d incorporate FryAway. For large quantities (up to 2 gallons), I’d continue to try to put it in labeled containers so it could be converted to biodiesel—no FryAway used, unless I didn’t have containers. For typical sauté quantities, I’d just wipe the pan out with a paper towel and put it in city compost without FryAway. For shallow-fry quantities, which are too much for paper towels and too little to put in a container, I’ll use FryAway and put the solidified oil in the city compost. Your solution will depend on where you live and what the local disposal options are. If I lived somewhere where the only option was to throw it in the trash, I’d likely use FryAway (or something like it) for anything but quantities I could wipe up with a paper towel.

The other thing I tried to do was cook with the oil more than once, or as Brown might say, more fully capture its value. After all, she said, “if you use it twice you need half as much.”

This made me think back to the years I lived in Barcelona, where, if I may generalize, they don’t do as much out-and-out fried food (like fries) as we do in the United States, but are more prone to cook a pound or two of sliced potatoes and onions in a couple cups of oil over medium heat for a Spanish tortilla. What surprised me was how people would have dinner, then pour the used cooking oil into a container near the stove to be used again and again. If that seems weird, think about the Fryalators at your favorite burger joint; it’s not like they’re changing the oil out after every batch of onion rings.

“We might use oil four or five times,” said my old friend and Barcelona native Carme Gasull, a food writer and screenwriter on a new cooking show called Menu(dos) Torres. “We’ll make fries, croquettes, tortillas …”

“How do you know how long to keep it?” I asked on a video call, and she gestured to her eyes and nose.

“With potatoes, the oil stays pretty clean, but with croquettes, it goes faster,” she says, referring to ingredients like bread crumbs, flour, and cheese in the latter which might flake off, fall to the bottom of the pan, and slowly crud up the oil. “If you use it too long, you can tell.”

The reuse of cooking oil is so ingrained into life in Barcelona that the city provides cooking-oil recycling containers, which can be filled up and swapped out for empty ones at recycling centers.

“Every Wednesday, a truck comes to our neighborhood for a few hours and we can bring stuff like used cooking oil, clothes, and electronics to it for recycling,” she says.

While I’m glad Seattle has different options for disposing of cooking oil, I really liked having FryAway around, particularly for midsize jobs that were too much for a paper-towel wipe up and not enough to stick in a gallon container. However, its usefulness will depend on what you cook and what the disposal options are where you live. We might not all have little trucks that show up in our neighborhood and cart our oil away, but at the very least, FryAway gives us one more reason not to pour oil down the drain. It may even help keep the banana peels off our roofs.

Total War: Warhammer III Is an Epic Final Chapter

Total War: Warhammer III Is an Epic Final Chapter

A horde of grotesque beasts and slavering monsters led by an impossibly huge, flying horned demon wielding a flaming sword threatens to sweep my army away. Arrows, spears, and axes rain down upon impervious scales and gleaming armor. My terrified frontline is already giving ground as this monstrous force drives up the slope. Ammunition is dwindling. When the demon flies overhead, diving to attack from behind, my soldiers waver. They are ready to flee—until my ice queen charges into the melee atop a roaring war bear, unleashing spells that freeze our enemies. She turns the tide. We live to fight another day.

Total War: Warhammer III is the culmination of the finest strategy series ever made, and this is a hill I am willing to die on. This latest entry (available on PC and Xbox Game Pass) hosts the usual struggle for dominance between disparate factions—some familiar, some new—but for the first time, we must rally our troops and lead them into the Chaos Realm to face horrors that will challenge their very sanity.

The scale of this game is incredible, with a campaign map that dwarfs its predecessors, new playable factions with different styles, and a compelling narrative that weaves in your aged Advisor and his Tome of Fates. Veterans will feel right at home with this blend of real-time battle and turn-based strategy, but there is an excellent tutorial to refresh your memory and arm newcomers with the knowledge they need to march into battle.

The Evolution of Total War

Screenshot of Total War WARHAMMER III game featuring characters fighting
Courtesy of Creative Assembly

The Total War series captivated me at inception with Shogun: Total War back in 2000. I have fought for the glory of Rome, unified China, and led Napoleon to victory in Europe. I even watched Time Commanders, a strange TV show where historians (with little to no experience of video games) reenacted famous Roman battles in the game that became Rome: Total War. The chance to rewrite history was tantalizing, but the tactics and military units employed by different nations often came to feel very much the same.

The fantasy world of Warhammer freed Total War from the limitations of historical accuracy and Warhammer II was a game you could play forever. Stirring magic into the mix invigorated the series with elves, goblins, dwarves, undead hordes led by vampires, and abominations from the chaos realm, alongside human factions echoing chivalrous knights or Vikings. Playing as different factions meant adopting new tactics, understanding divergent underlying mechanics to grow civilizations, and satisfying disparate goals to achieve victory.

In Warhammer III, you can choose from seven factions (eight if you preordered). The human options are the familiar Kislev (clearly inspired by medieval Russia) and the Grand Cathay (based on imperial China); then there are the four Chaos Gods (Khorne, Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Slaanesh) and the Daemons of Chaos (allowing you to play as the winged and horned Daemon Prince I mentioned earlier). The first downloadable content (included for anyone who preordered) is the grotesque Ogre Kingdoms, which views all enemies as food for the Great Maw.

As always, you battle for dominance of a campaign map. But while you can win by destroying certain factions and maintaining control of 50 provinces, there is another path to victory.

The Chaos Realm

Screenshot of Total War WARHAMMER III game featuring large demon character in snow
Courtesy of Creative Assembly

The great Bear-God Urson is a prisoner to upstart Daemon Prince Be’lakor, and his periodic death throes open rifts in your world. Your faction leader can take an army through these portals to the bizarre domains of the four Chaos Gods. By completing the trials, you can face off against each of them and claim a Daemon Prince’s soul. Collect all four souls, and you can take on the big bad Be’lakor and seal Urson’s fate.

Each of the chaos realms has its own style. The main challenge is to defeat a series of armies to reach the showdown, but things are spiced up by temptations that may divert you from your path. Competing factions are also racing to claim those souls, so you must wrestle with a series of agonizing decisions.