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These Solar-Powered Headphones Let You Ditch the Charger

These Solar-Powered Headphones Let You Ditch the Charger

‘Infinite’ is a tricky one, isn’t it? Something’s either ‘infinite’ or it isn’t. So when Urbanista describes its Los Angeles wireless noise-canceling over-ear headphones as having “virtually infinite” playtime, that’s basically the same as saying the Los Angeles don’t have infinite playtime.

Although, to be fair to Urbanista, the Los Angeles get a lot closer than most.

At a glance, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the Urbanista Los Angeles. Like the Miami wireless headphones on which they’re closely based, they’re discreetly good looking and nicely finished. And like every Urbanista product, they’re named after one of the planet’s more evocative places.

It’s on the outside of the headband, though, that the Los Angeles suddenly become unique. ‘Unique’, like ‘infinite’, is an absolute but currently, this is a description the Urbanista deserve. Because integrated into the outside of the headband there’s a big strip of a material called ‘Powerfoyle’ that’s supplied by a company called Exeger. It’s a solar cell material and it can derive energy from any type of light, from sunshine to the lightbulbs in your home. It’s always pulling energy, always charging, whether the headphones themselves are switched on or not. And it means the Urbanista Los Angeles will play for an enormous length of time without ever needing to be charged from the mains. Which, as unique selling points go, is pretty impressive.

Urbanista Los Angeles
Photograph: Urbanista

This piece of engineering brilliance aside, it’s mostly Urbanista business as usual. Which means the Los Angeles are a robust pair of headphones, comfortable at every contact point and not (like so many rival designs) about to swamp the smaller-headed listener. Build quality is unarguable, the choice of materials is judicious, the color options (‘midnight’ black or ‘sand’ gold) are pleasant, and there’s a degree of tactility about the Los Angeles that is by no means common in headphones below the £200 mark. 

Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.0, which is adequate but hardly at the cutting edge. Sound is delivered by a couple of the same 40mm full-range dynamic drivers fitted to the (suddenly slightly lo-tech) Urbanista Miami. There’s three-position active noise-cancellation: ‘on’, ‘off’ or ‘ambient sound’, and hair-trigger accelerometers that pause music if you take the Los Angeles off your head (or even shift them slightly on your ears). Happily, the ‘on-ear detection’ can be defeated in the nice new Urbanista control app.

As far as headphones control apps go, it’s one of the better-looking and one of the more restricted in what it can actually do for you. There’s a nice big display that explains whether the battery is being topped up or drained, there’s switching for the three-stage noise cancellation and there’s the ability to define the function of the physical ‘control’ button on the outside of the left earcup. That’s your lot.

Vizio’s M-Series TV Is Affordable and Mantle-Worthy

Vizio’s M-Series TV Is Affordable and Mantle-Worthy

Even as suppliers struggle to keep up with demand, it’s a great time to buy a new TV. The mid-tier market is more competitive than ever. You can get a lot these days for well under $1,000, and prices keep plummeting while our eyes reap the rewards. 

The Vizio M-Series is among the best of a very closely matched bunch. It has quantum dots for brighter colors, local dimming for deeper blacks, a variable refresh rate for gaming, and a current price—at 55 inches—under $700. A TV that ticks all of those boxes is rarely this affordable. If you’re in the market for a new flatscreen, then that’s very good news for your wallet.

The Black Box

When you’re shopping in person, it can be tough to pick between good mid-range TVs because they all tend to look the same. Unfortunately, the M-Series is no different. Like various mid-priced models from TCL, Samsung, and LG, it’s about an inch and a half thick with relatively thin bezels. It comes with a rather generic-looking plastic remote that has a few hot keys for streaming services.

Vizio tv
Photograph: Vizio

You’ll want to wall-mount this one unless you have a big TV stand. It has legs out near the ends, rather than a center pedestal, which means you’ll need a stand that’s about as long as the TV itself. That’s not going to work in every living room. 

All of this is because Vizio’s entire business model is to take top-tier technology and put it into something affordable. That means compromises in aesthetics. So you’re not getting razor-thin looks here, but you do get Vizio’s excellent backlighting technology and iQ processing engine.

The company’s local dimming backlighting tech can turn off or dim based on the content that’s playing. In super dark scenes, some of the 32 zones of the backlighting are able to hit different brightnesses, so you get less gray and something closer to black.

Local dimming isn’t as good as with organic LED, or “OLED” technology, where each pixel is its own backlight, but it definitely still improves contrast quality. Vizio’s expertise with the tech is fully on display with this new M-Series. Watching darker shows like Stranger Things and The Mandolorian, I noticed that everything still manages to look crisp and clean, with just a touch of light bloom (where you get a halo around bright objects on dark backgrounds).

I should note that this model has HDMI 2.1 ports—an earlier 2021 M-Series model came with HDMI 2.0 ports, but that’s been remedied here. This upgraded port supports the eArc standard for easy soundbar setup that immediately integrates with the TV remote. And you should use a soundbar or a set of speakers, because the TV’s audio is pretty tinny, though it does sound better than thinner TVs.

The Coros Pace 2 Is My New Favorite GPS Running Watch

The Coros Pace 2 Is My New Favorite GPS Running Watch

After years of testing GPS running watches from a slew of brands, I had accepted what felt like a hard fact: When it comes to fitness, all of Garmin’s watches are so far ahead of the pack that it would be almost impossible for any other company to catch up. I’ve seen many companies try and fail. If I wanted to track a workout or map a run, I’d probably strap on a Garmin.

However, a year or so ago, one company started making me pause. Coros, a California company that started out making bike helmets, of all things, began sponsoring some athletes with serious star power. The celebrity pro ultrarunner Coree Woltering, who ran the fastest known time on the Ice Age Trail and won hearts on the World’s Toughest Race, wears a Coros. So does Eliud Kipchoge, the world record holder for the marathon.

It’s like watching every Nike-signed athlete suddenly migrate to a completely different shoe. What is Eliud Kipchoge doing? But it wasn’t until I saw Des Linden set a new world record with a Coros watch that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to test the tech. Coros sent me its Pace 2, and—surprise!—it’s now my new favorite running watch too.

Feathery Friend

Let’s start off with the most striking feature. The Pace 2 is light. It weighs 29 grams, which is lighter by a few grams than its closest obvious competitor, the Garmin Forerunner 45. It’s so light that I barely even noticed I was wearing it.

Coros watch
Photograph: Coros

You also have the option to switch out the perforated silicone band for a nylon one to save even more weight, although I prefer the convenience of soaping and rinsing a silicone band to handwashing the sweat out of a nylon one. (And yes, I know it’s disgusting, but if you’re having irritation on your wrist under your fitness tracker, you probably need to wash that strap.)

The Coros watch has two buttons, as compared to Garmin’s five buttons. One of the buttons rotates like a digital crown to scroll through activities, while one other button selects the highlighted option, and the last one navigates back to the previous step. Operation is very simple.

The screen is simple too. Rather than the Garmin’s crisp, clear, light-up memory-in-pixel display that you can tinker with and customize, the Pace 2 has a basic LCD screen. You can choose different faces and select your color scheme, but your choices are limited. Honestly, I prefer it that way. And sports watches don’t have to have the best possible screens. An LCD is usually fine.

An LCD screen is also a low-energy component, which I found especially helpful when I went camping. My family is outdoors a lot, and nothing is more annoying than going on an impromptu trail run to discover that your battery has died. The Garmin Instinct Solar I tested last year could supplement several days’ worth of battery life with solar charging, but it turns out that you don’t need to worry about recharging your battery—by any means—when the battery itself is epically long-lived.

Vizio’s New System Brings Theater Sound to the Living Room

Vizio’s New System Brings Theater Sound to the Living Room

For years, I’ve said that there’s very little reason to spend a ton of money on a TV. Most screens are so good and so cheap that you just don’t need to spend more than $1,000 to have an excellent viewing experience.

Vizio’s latest $500 Dolby Atmos soundbar system does the same with surround sound. The M-Series 5.1.2 does everything I want, from rumbling my seat from John Wick’s gunshots to whizzing engines behind my head during Formula 1 races, but it costs much less than most competitors. 

If you’ve been dreaming of a theater-like experience at home, but you’re nervous about the room it will take up and the vacation fund it will bankrupt, this is an excellent solution. Unless you spend nights and weekends browsing the r/hometheater subreddit or buying 4K Blu-ray discs, this $500 system is probably all you need. 

Atmos Doesn’t Abound

Don’t get me wrong: I love Dolby’s immersive, object-based audio technology as much as the next audio nerd. But finding shows mixed in Atmos or DTS:X is harder than you might think. Except for house-produced shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime, very little content is mixed using the height channels available to stream on most Atmos systems, which extend the listening plane from the horizontal to the vertical for sound effects like rain or wind. 

Instead, most surround sound comes in 5.1 format, which is why a compact Atmos 5.1.2 setup is ideal for the vast majority of us. The main bar has the traditional center, right, and left channels, but Vizio has packed in a couple of up-firing speakers when Atmos content is playing. Because the height channels come from the front, the rear surrounds can be lighter and smaller, which makes them easier to place. I like this hybridized setup a lot. You can hear Atmos content when it’s available, but it’s not the centerpiece of the setup’s design.

Vizio M Series soundbar
Photograph: Vizio

Speaking of centerpieces, there’s a reason I haven’t mentioned aesthetics until now. The bar is a black, cloth-wrapped rectangle that fits perfectly below Vizio’s new 55-inch M-Series model (shocking!), and the rear surrounds are equally nondescript. The only special design element is that that they sit on their sides, hot-dog style, on the rear speaker stands. 

The connected subwoofer is a small cube that you can put anywhere, but which I found most effective placed next to my mail-order couch. It acts as a hub for the rear speakers, which get their signal from the woofer via a pair of proprietary audio cables. The thin black cables won’t be long enough for the biggest living rooms, but they worked fine in my medium-size testing room, and I like that they’re slim enough to fit beneath rugs. You won’t have to spend a ton of time finding an easy way to hide them if you hate cables.

Remote Job

The top of the bar has five raised buttons that let you turn the thing on, change inputs, pair to Bluetooth, and adjust volume. It has two HDMI inputs, though just one eARC port to connect to your TV.

Here is where I’d normally start talking about how to set up the remote or adjust it. But if I’m being honest, I never touched the thing. The eARC connection let me use the TV’s remote to adjust volume and mute the bar, and otherwise I just used the bar’s buttons. I never even unpacked the remote. It’s still sitting, sans batteries, in the box.