/ A handful of gadgets we‘d like to have with us on the road this year.Jeff Dunn
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The holiday season is fast approaching, which means it‘s once again time for the world to come together in a spirited embrace of consumerism. Or, perhaps in a more cheerful alternative, it‘s time to again think about what gifts your loved ones might like. Thankfully, your friends at Ars are back with recommendations that won‘t disappoint, since they‘re based on months of testing and toying with the many things that have hit our desks around the Orbiting HQ.
Today, Ars has put together the first in a series of holiday gift guides we‘ll roll out in the coming weeks. For 2018, we‘re covering everything from board games to office gifts to things for the fellow Ars reader (or at least Ars reader type) in your life. But with holiday travel planning already in full swing, we‘re starting with portable gear: gift ideas for things you can easily carry on your person and take on the go if need be. Here‘s hoping something below can serve your loved ones well on their next road trip.
Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through .
/ The OnePlus 6T and its in-display fingerprint reader.Ron AmadeoThere’s no one Android phone that got everything right this year, but the does most of what we want from a modern high-end phone at a significantly lower price than many of its peers. That makes it our at the moment.
The typical refrain with OnePlus phones is that they aren’t quite as high-quality as the $800-1,000 phones from Apple, Samsung, or Google. But they aren’t terribly far off, and that’s good enough when they cost a couple hundred dollars less. With the OnePlus 6T, this still holds true in some ways: its all-glass design is fragile yet doesn’t support wireless charging, it doesn’t have a headphone jack, and its camera, while certainly good, isn’t quite as revealing as the camera on the Google Pixel 3 (particularly in low-light settings).
Starts at: $549 at OnePlus
Elsewhere, though, the 6T sees OnePlus not just matching its competitors but surpassing them in meaningful ways. If we must have notched displays, the 6T’s minimal “teardrop” design seems like the least obtrusive way to go. Its futuristic in-display fingerprint reader is unique (for now) and works well—not as fast as the usual physical scanners but strong enough to justify the screen space it saves. The rest of the hardware is just as fast and powerful as any other premium Android phone.
The phone ships with the latest Android 9 Pie, and OnePlus remains one of the few manufacturers that doesn’t unnecessarily tinker with every part of the OS. The few additions it does add, like an iOS-esque set of gesture controls, actually improve on Google’s stock software. OnePlus is also promising two years of software updates and three years of security patches (albeit on a bi-monthly basis), which should provide some reassurance.
Perhaps most notably, this phone is actually available through a carrier in the US. You’ll , but if you’d prefer to pay off the phone in installments, it’s now easier to do that. The 6T starts at $549: unless you just can’t quit Google or the headphone jack, there’s little reason to pay more for a new Android phone.
Apple iPhone 7
/ The Apple iPhone 7.Jeff DunnGiving buying advice for the latest crop of iPhones is pretty straightforward: buy if you want the best (i.e., OLED) display and money is no object; buy the iPhone XS Max if you want a bigger XS; or buy if you want a new model but think shelling out $1,000 for a phone is ridiculous.
Where things get trickier is if you want the iPhone experience without paying a flagship price. The diminutive iPhone SE used to fill that void, but it now rests in Apple’s graveyard alongside floppy disks, headphone jacks, and keyboards everyone likes. You could get the year-old , which still performs admirably, but that costs $600—unless you truly hate that polarizing notch and the lack of a Home button on newer models, it’s worth finding the extra $150 for the iPhone XR.
Apple iPhone 7
Starts at: $449 at Apple
Instead, the best iPhone deal in 2018 is . It’s two years old and starts at $449 for the 4.7-inch model with 32GB of storage. While it’s not outright cheap, it’s still as affordable as an Apple device gets. There’s no wireless charging, no headphone jack, and it’s an obvious step down from the camera, processor, and battery performance of the iPhone XS—but that still leaves plenty of room for a good phone. Photo quality remains above-average for a sub-$500 phone, there’s the same IP67 water-resistance as the XR, and the chassis continues to look and feel as premium as you’d expect from Apple. The Home button has its conveniences—particularly for Apple Pay—and if you don’t like the notch, it’s not here.
Most importantly, Apple’s newfound commitment to its older phones means the iPhone 7 runs exceptionally well in 2018. The latest update has only made navigating the UI smoother, and it hasn’t had a negative impact on battery life. And the A10 Fusion chip is still fast enough to run virtually any game or app in the App Store without trouble. So while it’s next to impossible to recommend a two-year-old Android phone, the fact that Apple just rolled out iOS 12 to the five-year-old iPhone 5S suggests the iPhone 7 has years of support left.
If you can find a , it’s an even better deal. Just make sure you can live with 32GB of storage and headphone dongles first.
Anker Soundcore Flare
/ Anker‘s SoundCore Flare speaker.Jeff DunnFor listening to music with a group—or just without a pair of headphones strapped to your ears— is as well-rounded as budget Bluetooth speakers get. It’s only about six inches tall, so you can’t expect a huge sound or anything in the way of sub-bass. But Anker includes a “Bass Boost” mode that does sound more dynamic than the default sound signature, even if it doesn’t add much in the way of actual bass depth. Overall, the speaker gets good volume for its size, with relatively clear highs and well-measured low-mids. It’s a pleasing sound for the size.
The audio quality alone makes the Soundcore Flare a good value at $60, but it helps that the hardware itself is IP67 water-resistant—i.e., it can be fully submerged in a meter of water for 30 minutes and still work fine. The bellbottom-like flair at the bottom of the speaker is a little odd, but the fabric coating the cylinder is nice and soft. On top is a set of playback controls that are simple to grasp. The Flare charges over microUSB instead of USB-C, sadly, but there is an aux-in port for those who’d rather connect a device through a cable. Battery life is fine, too, getting around 10-12 hours depending on how loudly you play things.
On the bottom, meanwhile, is a transparent plastic halo that houses a set of colorful LED lights. Keep those on and they’ll pulsate and react to whatever music you play. This isn’t anything more than a fun party trick—and the LED activity is somewhat overactive by default—but with a few setting tweaks in the speaker’s companion app, it’s like having a little Philips Hue bulb attached to your speaker. Add it all up, and the Soundcore Flare is a fun party speaker at an attractive price point.
Anker Soundcore Flare
Price: $59.99 at Amazon