When I’m testing a webcam, I often play with the lighting in the room, both ambient and artificial. I do my best to throw off the autofocus and white balance to see how the webcam adjusts and responds. I move farther back in my chair and wobble around like a bowling pin. I got more oohs and ahhs from my colleagues as they marveled at how smoothly the Link refocused on my face. I’ve tested a lot of webcams that have jarring autofocus, but not the Link. It’s capable of focusing with my face as close as 4 inches (10 centimeters) to the lens, which is closer than I’d ever need to get to a webcam.
The Link can zoom up to four times, but it’s a digital zoom. That means zooming in will create a picture that’s more pixelated the more it closes in on a subject. However, this is a 4K webcam, so by supporting such a high resolution, you can zoom in a fair bit and still retain a sharp image. At the top end, the Link supports 4K resolution at 24, 25, and 30 frames per second. For less bandwidth or for a faster frame rate, which makes the video look smoother, you can downscale to 1080p at 50 or 60 frames per second, among other choices.
Twenty-four frames per second might sound redundant when 25 is also an option, but it’s the gold standard for movie productions, so capturing at this frame rate is desirable for anyone recording themselves on camera to upload later to YouTube or for a cinematic project. There’s support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) too, which helps keep the bright lights in your frame in check without underexposing or overexposing the image. It’s optional, but only works in 1080p or 720p at 24, 25, or 30 frames per second.
Most webcams come with pretty awful microphones, but the dual noise-canceling microphones on the Insta360 Link make me sound pretty decent (according to my colleagues). That said, I still prefer a standalone USB microphone like the Blue Snowball Ice.
There’s no physical privacy shutter, but the Link deters hackers and weirdos from peeking through your webcam uninvited by automatically spinning its gimbaled head downward, away from you. This happens 10 seconds after the webcam is no longer in use by a conferencing app. When you start a video meeting, the Link perks back up and awakens to begin streaming again (it supports the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and more).
The Sign Off
The problem? Three hundred bucks is a lot of money for a webcam. It has competition too. There’s the Obsbot Tiny 4K, another PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) webcam that has many of the same tricks (albeit with less polish) for a little less. The sublime Logitech Brio 4K Webcam is frequently under $150 and delivers almost-as-good image quality sans all the motion.
The question is whether you need automatic tracking and gesture control. If the answer is no, then even the slightly superior video quality of the Link isn’t enough to justify spending almost twice as much as a webcam like the Brio, which is already an expensive webcam. You can get a great, simple webcam for just $50.
If you’re recording video often, though, or if you give virtual presentations regularly—or you just want to film your dance practices—then the Link is a fantastic choice. It nails the basics (great video quality) with a suite of polished extras, like automatic tracking, gestures, and what I refer to as the privacy droop. It’s not a bargain, but it is the best.
Chromebooks come in a bewildering array of configurations. Sometimes even trying to decide which options to get on a single model can be overwhelming. As a product tester, I use a spreadsheet to keep it all straight. But you shouldn’t have to do that, so here are some broad specs to keep in mind.
Processor: Chromebooks use half a dozen different processors, most of which you’ve probably never heard of. There’s a reason for that: These processors are slow, and they don’t show up in Windows laptops. After trying out plenty of Intel Celeron–based machines, my recommendation is to go with something more powerful if you can afford it. The next step up from the Celeron is the Core m3, which is the best choice for most people. If you want a more powerful, future-proof machine, get an i3 or i5 chip.
We’re starting to see more ARM-based Chromebooks, like the Lenovo Duet above. I haven’t had any issues using ARM Chromebooks, but they aren’t quite as speedy as the Intel Core chips. There are some newer Chromebooks using AMD’s latest Ryzen chips, and I’ve had good experiences with them.
RAM: Get 8-GB of memory if you can afford it, especially if you plan to run any Android applications. When I’ve experienced severe slowdowns and glitches, it’s almost always on a Chromebook with only 4-GB of RAM.
Screen: Get an IPS LCD display. There are still a few low-end models out there with crappier TN LCD displays, and you should avoid those. Your pixel resolution depends on the size of the screen. I have used (and recommend) some 11-inch Chromebooks that have 720p displays. Because those screens are squeezed into a small form factor, I find them acceptably sharp, but a 1080p screen will be much nicer.
Ports: Most things you do on a Chromebook are cloud-based, so you don’t really need to worry too much about ports. You might want a computer that charges through a USB-C port if you’d like to be able to run your Chromebook off a portable battery/charger, but USB-C charging is available mostly in mid- and higher-priced models. It also helps to have a MicroSD slot for expanded storage if you need to download a lot of files during a typical day, but that option is also not widely available.
As TP-Link’s budget mesh offering, the extras are barebones. There are no additional security features, and the parental controls are limited, but they include basics like filters and time limits. QoS only covers device prioritization, and as a Wi-Fi 5 system there’s no support for WPA3 security. But you can split the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands and create guest networks. Finally, the Deco app is a little slow and basic but deliberately simple. Anyone who likes to tinker or check up on the speed their ISP delivers will be disappointed.
If you can stretch your budget to the frequently discounted Deco X20, I think you should, as you will get Wi-Fi 6, beefed-up security, and slightly better performance. For busy homes with several folks online at the same time or connections above 500 Mbps, you should go for something more powerful. But if money is tight, this is your best option.
Google Nest Wifi Pro (3-Pack)
Best for Simplicity
Mesh systems don’t come much simpler than this one. You don’t even need to install an app to use Google’s Nest Wifi Pro (7/10, WIRED recommends) because you can add it via Google Home. These shiny pill-shaped routers come in packs of one, two, or three. There are four colors, and they are small enough to sit unobtrusively on a shelf. Each router sports two 1-gigabit ports.
Setup is super simple, as you scan QR codes and follow feedback on positioning for a strong signal. The backhaul employs the 6-GHz band, and you must keep your router and nodes relatively close together because it has limited range. Each router is supposed to cover up to 2,200 square feet and can connect up to 100 devices. Coverage and performance were solid and consistent, and testing was refreshingly free from glitches and buffering. But the Nest Wifi Pro came mid-table in raw speed at short, mid, and long range.
The Wi-Fi section in the Google Home app is barebones. Scant options include guest network support, parental controls (Safe Search, scheduled downtime, adult website blocking), and prioritization for specific devices. But this is chiefly a mesh system for folks who don’t want to have to configure anything. Nest Wifi Pro also has built-in Thread and Bluetooth LE, and will support Matter very soon, so, like the Eero, it’s a good choice for folks with smart home devices.
Disappointingly, it is not backward compatible with older Nest routers, and the Nest Wifi Pro does not have any special security software. With gigabit ports, this system is no good for anyone with a faster internet connection. But for folks pulling down 1 Gbps or less, this is a reliable, straightforward mesh system that you can set and forget.
Netgear Orbi AX4200 RBK753 (3-Pack)
Best for Large Homes
The enormous Netgear Orbi range has a strong reputation, but the company’s many similar models make it tricky to choose the right one for you. The AX4200 RBK753 (I swear they’re just mashing the keyboard at this point) mesh system I tested falls somewhere in the middle of the range and proved suitable for a large home. Setup was surprisingly tricky, taking more than an hour and several restarts to complete, as the app kept sticking on a loading screen. The router and nodes are large, but I like the curved design. I also appreciate the LED light turning off when things were working and displaying different colors to flag issues; every router should work this way. There are three gigabit Ethernet ports on the main router and two on each node.
Once up and running, the coverage, speeds, and stability proved to be worth the wait, and each node was able to deliver similar speeds as the main router. Speeds were a hair behind the Asus XT8, with some limitations at longer distances for individual units. But with two nodes, this system offers expansive coverage. The simple mobile app allows you to pause the internet entirely or by device or profile, see what devices are connected, check speed, analyze Wi-Fi (see the connection strength as you move around), set up a guest network, and a few more things. It’s very good at recognizing devices, which makes dividing them into profiles easier. You must access the web interface for advanced features.
it’s easy to overlook the Mac Mini: Apple’s small, squarish PC isn’t particularly exciting. It’s not ultra-powerful like the Mac Studio, modular like the Mac Pro, or colorful like the 24-inch iMac. You can’t quite tote it around and work anywhere like you can with a MacBook. But it’s Apple’s most utilitarian machine, and that’s more evident with the 2023 refresh.
The new Mac Mini is similar to its predecessor from 2020 except it now employs Apple’s next-gen M2 and M2 Pro processors. That alone breathes new life into this compact system, as it’s a low-cost plug-and-play solution that’s still powerful enough for the likes of content creators. The base price is more affordable than ever, starting at $599, and the Mac Mini is the cheapest way to access the M2 Pro processor at $1,299. The only other M2 Pro-powered Macs are the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which start at $1,999 and $2,499, respectively. The closest desktop alternative is the base Mac Studio with an M1 Max chip for $1,999. But most people don’t need that much power.
It doesn’t have to be showy. Whichever processor you get, the Mini is a smart and hassle-free way to get all the power most people need without emptying your wallet—and you actually have a say on what kind of peripherals to get.
Build Your Own Adventure
The Mac Mini still follows the BYODKM rule. The initialism, originally used by Steve Jobs when he announced the first Mac Mini in 2005, stands for “bring your own display, keyboard, and mouse,” because you get only the machine and a power cord in the box. You’ll definitely want to add a pair of speakers for when you’re not using headphones, because the built-in speakers aren’t pleasant.
This BYO design is great news if you already have those peripherals. Plug everything in and you’re good to go. Even if you’re starting from scratch and building your workspace, it doesn’t need to be too expensive. There are tons of cheap and excellent keyboards, mice, and monitors you can snag that won’t balloon the cost. The machine itself is tiny and unobtrusive, so it’s easy to plan accessories around its footprint. And at 2.6 pounds it’s lightweight and portable, which makes it great for hybrid workers splitting time between the home and the office.
If you prefer tons of screens around your workspace, then you may be disappointed to learn that the base Mac Mini still only supports two external displays, just like the M1-powered model. That’s enough for most people, but if you upgrade to the M2 Pro you can connect up to three displays to bask in all that blue light.
The Dell XPS 15 is a great laptop for those who want to do a bit of everything. Gaming is likely not your priority if you’re buying this machine, but you still want it to be capable—and it is. Admittedly, being able to do everything comes at a high price, so you’ll be paying a premium for an XPS 15.
This professional-looking device can reach 30 fps on its UHD display at low settings for more aesthetically minded titles, like Borderlands 3 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. To max out this 60-Hz panel, you’ll have to dip down to a QHD resolution. For frame-hungry players, Apex Legends will hit 60 fps on very high graphics options. This is all via our test model configuration of a Core i7-12700H, RTX 3050Ti, and 16-GB RAM.
There’s also a great keyboard—plenty of travel and a satisfying click—and a large trackpad. The big 16:10 3.5K OLED display is glorious, with deep blacks and popping color. Port selection isn’t half bad—with 3x Thunderbolt 4, a headphone jack, and SD card reader. The speakers are an interesting proposition with immense detail—even at high volumes—and a broad soundstage. However, the bass is good but not as booming and impactful as rival MacBook Pro devices.
Specs to look for: Intel Core i7-12700H processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, 16-GB RAM, 1-TB SSD, 15.6-inch 3.5K OLED display with a 60-Hz refresh rate