Check out our innovative home and kitchen tools to make cooking and beverages more enjoyable

Style Switcher

Predefined Colors

Which Sonos Speakers Should You Buy?

Here at WIRED, we like Sonos speakers. We really do. Throughout the past eight years, we’ve reviewed all of the company's wirelessly connectable speakers, from its small Play:1 to its Beam soundbar, and we've recommended every one of them. But it’s not cheap to turn your home into a Sonos-powered shrine to sound. Like Apple products, Sonos speakers sell at a premium, starting at $100 for a basic bookshelf speaker. But which ones should you buy? Read on for my recommendations.

Updated August 2019: We've added in the new Sonos/Ikea Symfonisk speakers, which were added to our picks, and updated with info about Google Assistant support, which finally arrived after several delays.

When you buy something using the retail links in our buying guides, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

1. Best Sonos Speaker

Sonos One

sonos

The Sonos One (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is just about the smallest Sonos speaker, but it still packs enough oomph to fill most rooms and its hands-free Alexa and Google Assistant integration is a lot of fun. Sonos took the time to make Alexa sound great, and thanks to its voice commands, the Sonos One has become my go-to speaker. Alexa and Google voice commands work like normal (though you must choose between them). It can play music, tell you the weather, find a recipe, and answer simple questions, like any other smart speaker. It also works with Siri via AirPlay 2.

I'll recommend other Sonos speakers in this guide, but you also can’t go wrong just buying two to four Sonos Ones to fill your house up. You get a small discount on orders of two or more. They’re much more affordable and their small size means you can hide them in any room.

Buy the Sonos One for $199 at Amazon and Sonos.com

Play:1 is a Good Alternative: The Play:1 is $150 at Amazon and Sonos.com. It sounds about as good as the Sonos One, but doesn't have touch controls or microphones for Alexa. If you already own a One, it's a good way to add more satellite speakers to your home.

2. Best Speakers to Fill Out a Room

Sonos and Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speaker

Ikea

With the Symfonisk bookshelf speaker, the entry price for a Sonos speaker has dropped by $50. If you want to network a few speakers together for a larger room, or connected rooms, it's the cheapest way to do it. Sonos collaborated with Ikea on this one, which is why it's more affordable and slightly less pristine than the others in this guide. It's been a while since a Sonos speaker had physical buttons, for one. Looks aside, it sounds almost as good as a Sonos One. You can mount it right to your wall or stand it upright on a bookshelf or table.

It doesn't directly take audio commands because it has no mic, so you'll need a Sonos One, Google speaker, or Alexa speaker that you can yell at if you want to control it with your voice. Other than that, it does everything you'd want a Sonos to do. The Sonos Symfonisk table lamp costs $180 and also sounds great; if you like its style, go for it. Read our dual review to see what they both look like.

Buy the Sonos/Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speaker for $100 at Ikea

3. Best Party Speaker

Sonos Play:5

sonos

If you really like to party, I recommend adding a Sonos Play:5 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) to your setup. It has enough kick to dial a party up to 11, or just really annoy your neighbors. I placed mine in the largest room of my apartment and it was honestly more power than I needed. Sonos boasts that this model has six Class-D digital amplifiers: three tweeters, three mid-woofers, and a phased speaker array. In practical terms, it will fill a very large room or basement with ease.

Out of the four standard Sonos speakers I tested, this one delivered the largest range of sound, with enough thump to satisfy fans of any genre. It's worth noting that it does not have microphones, so it cannot be used hands-free with Alexa or Google Assistant.

Buy the Play:5 for $499 at Amazon or Sonos.com

4. Best Sonos Soundbar

Sonos Beam

Sonos

The Beam (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is one of three soundbars that Sonos offers. It doesn't sound quite as expansive as the older, larger Playbar, but it is more precise in the upper range and sounds fantastic overall. Its smaller size and extra features are worth the size tradeoff. It's $300 cheaper, too.

Unlike the Playbar, it can connect to your TV via HDMI ARC, letting you turn your tube on and off with your own voice. It has Alexa, Google Assistant, and Airplay 2 built-in. Even if you don't particularly need a voice assistant today, you may change your tune in a few years. If you own a Fire TV Stick (our TV streaming device guide), it's also possible to use basic Alexa commands on the Beam to watch any TV show or movie, though no voice assistant works well enough to replace a remote control yet.

Buy the Sonos Beam for $399 at Amazon or Sonos.com

Save Up for the Subwoofer: Sonos hasn't yet released a more affordable Sub to match the cheaper Beam. The standard Sub is superb, but it will cost you $699 on Sonos or Amazon. Don't bother buying surround speakers until you own a Sub. It will make a more profound difference.

5. Best for Big Home Theaters

Sonos Playbar

SOnos

A soundbar can make all the difference in a home theater, and costs a lot less than a full surround sound setup. The Sonos Beam is great for apartments, but if you really want a powerful soundbar, the Sonos Playbar (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is still the best. With more mid-woofers, it delivers deep bass and has more balance and depth than the Beam or Playbase. It's also built to hang on a wall, but at just over 3-inches tall and 5-inches thick, it can sit in front of most TVs without hassle.

If you plan to spend the extra money to buy the Playbar, try to save up $699 more to get a Sonos Sub. It's the second best investment you can make to improve your home theater experience.

Buy the Playbar for $699 at Amazon or Sonos.com

Playbase is Good for Pedestal TVs: The Playbase (Playbase sounds a little sharper than the Playbar on high treble sounds, like cymbals, but it's still one of the best soundbars you can buy. It's made to sit under your TV and costs $699 at Amazon or Sonos.com.

6. Best Sonos Surround Sound Setup

Sonos Beam, Sub, and 2 Play:1s

Sonos

To enable surround sound with one of its soundbars, Sonos requires two rear speakers, one for the left and one for the right. You can use any two speakers, as long as they're identical. I’ve used two Play:5 speakers, but it’s overkill. Two Sonos One speakers are a better match, but if you are getting a Beam, it has mics in it, so save $100 and get two Play:1 speakers. They sound just as good. You can save another $100 if you buy two Sonos/Ikea Symfonisk speakers, which also sound outstanding.

This is one of the easiest wireless surround sound systems to set up. Simply place the speakers you choose to the left and right of your couch, then open up the Sonos app, add a surround speaker, and follow the instructions while the software does the rest. They don’t add as much benefit as you get from a Beam and Sub combo, but if you watch a lot of movies and want to hear things like TIE Fighters flying over your head in Star Wars, you’ll like the extra surround.

Sonos sells Sanus Speaker Stands for $100 and Wall Mounts for $60. I have not tested these, but do not see any major red flags. More accessories are listed below.

Buy the Beam Sub 3.1 bundle for $1,098 at Amazon (or Sonos.com) and 2 Symfonisk speakers for $200 at Ikea

Not Near an Ikea? Try These Bundles: this Beam 5.1 Surround bundle costs $1,299 at Amazon (Sonos.com) and comes with a Sub and two Play:1s. I recommend it highly. If your room is large, this Playbar 5.1 Surround bundle for $1,678 at Amazon (Sonos.com) sounds phenomenal.

Sonos Accessories

Sonos

Sonos released a few new accessories in 2019. The company has worked with Sanus on stands before, but it now sells a shelf and stands for its smaller speakers. You can also buy them bundled with the Play:1 or Sonos One.

What’s WIRED about Sonos speakers

After flooding my home with every Sonos model you can buy (and filling all remaining space with the boxes of said speakers), I’ve come to value their audio fidelity and ability to seamlessly network together. Here are my favorite aspects of Sonos:

  • Simple Setup: It’s incredibly easy to set up these speakers. The Sonos app guides you through the process of starting a new system, or adding speakers to an existing system. There isn’t another speaker system that lets you string together multiple speakers as easily, or connect them up to stream in different rooms of your home while keeping the audio perfectly in sync.

  • Easy Streaming: The Sonos app supports almost every streaming service in existence, and many apps, like Spotify, let you stream to Sonos speakers within them. The Sonos ecosystem can also handle home theater applications, and can support a full surround sound setup.

All Major Voice Assistants: Unlike most "smart" speakers, Sonos speakers will connect to any one of the big three voice assistants: Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple Airplay 2. You do have to choose one assistant at a time, but they're fully functional, with the exception of some phone calling functionality through Alexa.

  • They Sound Amazing: Sonos speakers are all high quality and deliver consistent, appealing sound. It’s easy to argue that Sonos hardware is too expensive, but it's difficult to fault the way they sound. Not every Sonos speaker is the same, but they have an elegant synergy and sound that no other speaker system seems to have. If you have a few speakers in a room, it’s hard to tell where the sound is coming from. The crystal clear music engulfs you.

  • Spotify Voice Controls: Spotify can now be accessed using Alexa or Google Assistant voice control on the Sonos One and Sonos Beam. If you have one of these speakers, you can set Spotify as your default music service. Then, when you ask Alexa or Google to play something, it plays it directly from Spotify. (Of course, you can set any available music service as your default: Amazon, YouTube Music, and so on.)

What’s TIRED about Sonos speakers

As amazing as Sonos speakers sound, and as seamlessly as they connect together, they still have some limitations, both in application and technology. We don’t think these are dealbreakers (yet), but you might.

  • Aging Connectivity: The tweeters and woofers inside Sonos speakers still sound amazing, but the way they connect to your network (or TV) is dated. Sonos speakers only have 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g, which means that they cannot connect on the sometimes faster/cleaner 5 GHz frequency commonly used today (though some of them do use 5 GHz to communicate with each other). I have yet to notice loss in fidelity or have dropouts on a Sonos, but the lack of support for today's Wi-Fi standards, including N/AC, may eventually haunt these speakers. If you do have issues, the best solution is to connect one of your Sonos speakers directly via ethernet. It will share its faster connection with the others. Sonos’ soundbars (except the Beam) also rely on optical cables, lacking modern ports like HDMI, and newer standards like Dolby Atmos. They do still sound amazing, though.

  • No Batteries or Bluetooth: None of the speakers have battery power or Bluetooth, so you cannot use them outside of your home. You can unplug and move them from room to room, but it's not exactly encouraged—the app has you tune their sound to each space and give them names like "Kitchen."

  • You Must Use the Sonos App (mostly): Sonos has done an admirable job updating its speakers with new features through its app, but the app is still the only way to listen to some sources of music. Sonos is slowly freeing services from its app, allowing you to directly broadcast to any speaker within the normal Spotify, Tidal, Audible, and Pandora apps, for instance. For others, you’re still stuck using the Sonos app, which functions fine, but isn’t ideal.


More Great Sonos Stories from WIRED

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/best-sonos-speakers-buying-guide/

Read More

Our Favorite Google and Nest Devices Are on Sale Right Now

Note: Amazon Prime Day is over, though some of these deals remain (as of midnight, July 18). Our Post-Prime Day deals guide and Deals from Amazon Rivals will live on until July 18-20. As always, we hope we helped you sift through the sales madness and find great products. Check the WIRED Gear section for the latest news and reviews.

The discount fest that is Amazon Prime Day is chugging along until Tuesday, July 16, ends on the West Coast, and a lot of people will probably pick up a discounted Amazon Device, like the retailer's Echo speakers, equipped with its Alexa Voice Assistant.

Google isn't thrilled with that. It would rather you purchase one of its Google Assistant devices instead. To sway you, Google is hosting its own mini Prime Day.

We here at WIRED wish you the best, no matter which smart home ecosystem you choose. (And honestly, you're fine if you choose none at all!) But from a usability standpoint, we prefer Google Assistant to Alexa. Google answers common questions more capably, and its setup process is simpler and friendlier for any third-party devices you may want to add to your smart home. Many Google devices are on sale, but these are our favorites.

Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

WIRED's Prime Day Coverage

Google's Early Prime Day Deals

The Google Home Max is big and loud.

Google

We're primarily linking to Walmart, but these deals are also available from Google's own store and Best Buy. The Pixel phone deals are on Amazon.

The Nest Secure Alarm System is also $100 off, though we have not tested it enough to give a recommendation.

Check our Amazon Prime Day Page for more coverage and deals.


Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/google-and-nest-devices-on-sale-july-2019/

Read More

20 Last-Minute Mother’s Day Gifts on Sale Now

Last week, we introduced you to some of our favorite Mother's Day picks for new moms. Now it's Saturday, which means that if you're still sitting on your hands, you might be out of luck. Still, your mother is probably a great one, and many of our deals are continuing throughout the weekend. We added a few more deals that we love that might surprise and delight your mom (on Monday). We also tried to include ones with fast shipping.

Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Much like subscribing to WIRED, these contributions help fund the journalism we put out every day. Read more about how this works.

The New Kindle Paperwhite is $40 Off

Amazon

In my gift guide for new mothers, I said that approximately 100 percent of us own a Kindle. It's light, convenient, and makes it easy to sneak in a few pages in a dim room before going to bed. This is an incredible deal on the new, waterproof Paperwhite that has twice the storage of the old one, a front that's flush with the bezel, and is compatible with Bluetooth headphones to read books on Audible. Once you've bought one for Mom, buy one for yourself. We wrote a separate post on this and other Amazon Deals this weekend. Check it out to learn more.

The new Kindle Paperwhite costs $90 ($40 off)

Last-Minute Home Gifts for Mom

Eufy

Gifts for the Active Mom

Garmin

Gifts for the Techie Mom

Nixplay

Mother's Day Retail Sale Pages

If you haven't found what you want yet, here are a few links straight to retailer pages that may help.


Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/last-minute-mothers-day-gift-ideas-deals/

Read More

One of Our Favorite Google Speakers Is Half Off Right Now

Some weeks, there are so many tall-skinny cylinders sitting around my apartment you might think I spend my time as a wizard in The Cones of Dunshire. Sadly, you'd be wrong. The job of a WIRED Gear reviewer does not include making civilizations to collect cones. It does involve testing a ton of can-shaped portable speakers. The JBL Link 20 is one my favorites, and it's half off through April 27.

Usually speakers come in, and I test them, and then they leave my cluttered life. But the JBL Link 20 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) has been so reliable and useful that I've kept it around for nearly a year and a half. It's a Google Home speaker that lets you speak to a voice assistant hands-free, like all of the best smart speakers these days. This one has Google Assistant. Unlike many smart speakers, it's also waterproof (it floats!), can connect via Bluetooth, and has a battery that holds a 10-hour charge.

The JBL Link 20 costs $100 ($100 off) at Best Buy

B&H Audio, JBL's store, and Walmart also have it. Jet lists it for $105, and Target has it for $150.

JBL's Link 10, Link 300, and Link 500 speakers are also on sale. The smaller model has weaker battery life and the larger two don't have batteries at all, but all three are also Google speakers I recommend.

When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

Is the Link 20 for You?

Here's what I like and dislike about the Link 20.

WIRED: The Link 20 merges the convenience and portability of the best Bluetooth speakers and the new generation of smart speakers for the home. It has an extra light to show its Wi-Fi signal strength and a light-up indicator for battery life. Muting, volume, and pausing are easy, as is activating Bluetooth. It can also charge while standing up, which isn't always true for bottle-shaped speakers.

Since it's a Google Home speaker, setup is also easy. Just download the Google Home app, click to set up a new device, and you're pretty much done. Google Assistant is currently more capable than Amazon's Alexa assistant when it comes to networking speakers and answering questions.

TIRED: The only issue I've had with the Link 20 is that it has such a strong microphone, it sometimes overpowers my other Google speakers. Sometimes, even if I'm talking to a speaker in the kitchen, the Link 20 will try to answer. Closing my bedroom door fixes this problem.

If you've ever heard a JBL speaker, your ears will feel at home. JBL's are not as clear as the absolute best speakers, like those from UE or Sonos, but they do the job well. The Link 20 can play Lizzo's new album with the best of 'em, and I can't say I've cared about much else for the past couple of weeks.


Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/jbl-link-20-speaker-deal/

Read More

Walmart to expand in-store tech, including Pickup Towers for online orders and robots

Walmart is doubling down on its technology innovations in its brick-and-mortar stores in an effort to better compete with Amazon. The retailer today announced the expanded rollout of several technologies — ranging from in-store Pickup Towers to help customers quickly grab their online orders to floor-scrubbing robots. These jobs were, in many cases, previously handled by people instead of machines.

The retailer says it will add to its U.S. stores 1,500 new autonomous floor cleaners, 300 more shelf scanners, 1,200 more FAST Unloaders and 900 new Pickup Towers.

The “Auto-C” floor cleaner is programmed to clean and polish the store’s floor after the area is first prepped by associates. Publicly introduced last fall, the floor cleaner uses assisted autonomy technology to clean the floors instead of having an associate ride a scrubbing machine — a process that today eats up two hours of an employee’s time per day.

Built in partnership with Brain Corp., Walmart said in December it planned to deploy 360 floor-cleaning robots by the end of January 2019. It’s now bumping that rollout to include 1,500 more this year, bringing the total deployment to 1,860.

The Auto-S shelf scanners, meanwhile, have been in testing since 2017, when Walmart rolled out 50 robots to U.S. stores. It’s now adding 300 more to production to reach a total of 350.

These robots are produced by California-based Bossa Nova Robotics, and roll around aisles to scan prices and check inventory. The robots sit in a charging station until given a task by an employee — like checking inventory levels to see what needs restocking, identifying and finding misplaced items or locating incorrect prices or labeling.

In the backroom, Walmart has been testing FAST Unloaders that are capable of unloading a truck of merchandise along a conveyor belt in a fraction of the time it could be done by hand. The machines automatically scan and sort the items based on priority and department to speed up the process and direct items appropriately.

Unloading, the company noted earlier in testing, was also a heavily disliked job — and one it had trouble keeping staffed. Last summer, Walmart said it had 30 unloaders rolled out in the U.S. and was on pace to add 10 more a week.

Now, 1,200 more are being added to stores, bringing the total to 1,700.

The Pickup Towers have also been around since 2017, when they arrived in 200 stores. A sort of vending machine for online orders, the idea is that customers could save on orders by skipping last-mile deliveries, as shipping to a store costs Walmart less. Customers then benefit by getting a better price by not paying for shipping, and could get their items faster.

In April 2018, Walmart rolled out 500 more towers to U.S. stores. It’s now adding 900 more, which will see 1,700 total towers in use across its stores.

The company claims all this tech will free up its employees’ time from focusing on the “more mundane and repetitive tasks” so they can instead serve customers face-to-face.

Of course, that’s what they all say when turning over people’s jobs to robots and automation — whether that’s fancy coffee-making robotic kiosks, burger-flipping robots or restaurants staffed by a concierge but no kitchen help besides machines.

Walmart, however, claims to still have plenty of work for its staff — like picking groceries for its booming online grocery business, for example. Grocery shopping, generally, accounts for more than half its annual sales, and more of that business is shifting online.

The company also said that many of the jobs it automated were those it struggled to find, hire and retain associates to do, and by taking out the routine work, retention has improved.

“What we’re seeing so far suggests investments in store technology are shaping how we think about turnover and hours. The technology is automating pieces of work or tasks, rather than entire jobs,” a Walmart spokesperson said. “As that’s happening, we have been able to use many of the hours being saved in other areas of the store — focused more on service and selling for customers,” they continued.

“We have now added over 40,000 jobs for the online grocery picking role in stores over the last year and a half. These jobs didn’t exist a short time ago. The result so far: we’ve seen our U.S. store associate turnover reduced year-over-year,” the spokesperson added.

The tech announced today will roll out to U.S. stores “soon,” Walmart says, but didn’t provide exact dates.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/09/walmart-to-expand-in-store-tech-including-pickup-towers-for-online-orders-and-robots/

Read More

Amazon Live is the retailers latest effort to take on QVC with live-streamed video

Amazon is taking on QVC with the launch of Amazon Live, which features live-streamed video shows from Amazon talent as well as those from brands that broadcast their own live streams through a new app, Amazon Live Creator. On the live shows, hosts talk about and demonstrate products available for sale on Amazon, much like they do on QVC. Beneath that sits a carousel where shoppers can browse product details and make purchases.

More than one video streams on Amazon Live at the same time, so shoppers can tune to the one that most interests them.

For example, Amazon Live is currently streaming a Valentine’s Day Gift Shop show, a cooking-focused show (In the Kitchen with @EdenEats) and Back to Business Live, which is showing off products aimed at daycare centers and schools.

You can tap on the different videos to change streams, scroll down to watch recordings of those videos that were recently live or view which live shows are coming up next.

On the web, the live-streaming site is available at Amazon.com/Live, but it’s not listed yet in Amazon’s main navigation menus so it remains hard to find. On mobile, there’s now a section labeled “Amazon Live” that’s appearing on both the iOS and Android app’s main navigation menu as of a recent app update.

We’ve confirmed the page Amazon.com/Live is newly added, though this is not the first time Amazon has offered live streams.

The retailer has dabbled in live streaming in the past, with mixed results.

Two years ago, it pulled the plug on its short-lived effort, Style Code Live, which also offered a QVC-like home shopping experience. The live show featured hosts with TV and broadcast backgrounds, and brought in experts to talk about beauty and style tips.

But Style Code Live focused only on fashion and beauty.

Amazon Live, on the other hand, covers all sorts of products, ranging from smart home to games to toys to kitchen items to home goods to electronics to kitchen items and much more. It’s also positioned differently. Instead of being a single live video show featuring only Amazon talent and guests, live streaming is something Amazon is opening up to brands that want to reach a wider audience and get their products discovered.

Above: Amazon Live hosts – according to LinkedIn, they are not Amazon employees

You may have seen some of these live-streamed videos from brands in the past.

On Prime Day 2017 and again in 2018, Amazon aired live video streams promoting some of the Prime Day deals. These videos were produced by the brands, very much like some you’ll now find on Amazon Live.

The company has also aired live-streamed content on its Today’s Deals page, and has allowed brands to stream to their product pages, their Store and on Amazon.com/Live before today.

Amazon now aims to make it easier for brands to participate on Amazon Live, too.

On a website detailing Amazon Live, Amazon touts how live-streaming video can drive sales, allow a brand to interact with their customers in real time — including through chat during the live stream — and reach more shoppers. One early tester, card game maker “Watch Ya’ Mouth,” is quoted saying that live streaming had helped to increase daily visits to its product detail page by 5x and “significantly grew our sales.”

The informational site also points brands to Amazon’s new app for live streaming, Amazon Live Creator.

Available only on iOS, the app allows a brand to stream its video content directly to Amazon.com on desktop, mobile and within the Amazon mobile app. The app supports streaming directly from the smartphone itself or through an encoder using a professional camera.

It also includes built-in analytics so brands can determine how well their stream performed, including things like how much of their budget they’ve spent on “boosting” (a way to pay to reach more shoppers), total views, unmuted views and other metrics.

According to data from Sensor Tower, Amazon Live Creator was released yesterday, on February 7, 2019, and is currently unranked on the App Store. It has no reviews, but has a five-star rating.

Currently, the live-streaming feature is open to U.S. Professional Sellers registered in the Amazon Brand Registry, Amazon’s website says, and live streaming from China and Hong Kong is not supported.

Amazon has been interested in live streaming for some time. The company patented its idea around live video shopping last year and was spotted hiring for its Amazon Live efforts before that.

However, Amazon had claimed at the time that its live-stream shopping experiences were “not new.”

That’s true, given that live streams that would sometimes appear around big sales, like Prime Day, for instance. But Amazon has promoted its live video directly to online shoppers since Style Code Live.

This week’s launch of the Amazon Live app for brands and Amazon’s move to create a dedicated link to the Amazon Live streams on its mobile app indicates that live video is becoming a much bigger effort for the retailer, despite its attempt to shoo this away as “old news.”

This increased focus on live video also comes at a time when Instagram is being rumored to be working on a standalone shopping app, and is heavily pushing its creator-focused IGTV product into users’ home feeds. QVC itself just announced its new identity, plans to venture deeper into e-commerce, and shoppable video app. And, of course, YouTube has capitalized on how both live and pre-recorded video demos from brands and influencers can help to sell products like makeup, electronics, toys and more.

Amazon formallydeclined to comment.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/08/amazon-live-is-the-retailers-latest-effort-to-take-on-qvc-with-live-streamed-video/

Read More

Review: Uuni Pro

After several weeks of testing the Uuni Pro, I’ve learned to recognize a certain look in my husband’s eyes. Every evening, he walks into the kitchen as I begin dinner prep. As I start to reach toward the dials on the stove, he shouts, “Are you using the oven?”

Before I can respond, he sprints out to our backyard patio and fires up the Uuni Pro oven with propane. It takes around twenty minutes to heat up, about the same time as our conventional gas kitchen oven.

Whether I'm cutting up broccoli or salting chicken thighs, he snatches about a third of it and sticks it in the Uuni Pro for a few minutes, or even a just an instant. Whatever comes out looks infinitely more elegant, nestled in one of Ooni's cast-iron pans and dusted with char.

If you use propane, the Uuni Pro is so quick and easy that I can hardly begrudge him the effort. My toddler might, though. A few nights ago, she asked, curiously, “Why is all my food black now?”

Tough nuggets, kid. You live in a house with a pizza oven now.

A Little Pizza My Heart

Homemade pizza is irresistible, but making it is a deceptively simple process. Many home pizza cooks crank their ovens to the standard 450 degrees, but aspiring pizzaiolos know that that’s just not hot enough. You need higher temperatures to bake that perfect crisp, yet tender crust, with toppings that are still fresh and moist and speckled with just the right amount of char.

You can find plenty of pizza oven hacks online, from buying pizza stones, using your grill, or lining your oven with tiles. My husband and I tinkered with the idea of building our own brick backyard pizza oven, but were put off by the space requirements, the effort, and the expense.

Clearly, we were only one family of many who longed for an affordable, easy to assemble, and effective backyard pizza oven. When Ooni launched their Kickstarter in 2012, it quickly blew past their funding goal.

They're currently in the process of transitioning their company name from Uuni to the more easily-readable Ooni. In the meantime, however, their ovens are still known as the Uuni 3, which is sized to make 12-inch pizzas, and the Uuni Pro, which can make 16-inch ones. They also sell a series of oven-compatible accessories and cookware.

Ooni

When you unbox the Uuni Pro, it seems entirely nonsensical that such a thin, light, oven could produce as much concentrated heat as a squat, heavy brick oven. Ooni keeps the material thin by insulating the stainless steel with ceramic fiber.

The Uuni Pro is great-looking, a sleek and gleaming metal spaceship with a long, decagonal chimney and squat legs. I found it easy to assemble. Most pieces just click into place, although you will need to use the included Allen wrench to screw in a couple pieces.

It has a footprint of about 19.29 by 29.13 inches, and you'll also need space for a propane tank. It comes with a wood and charcoal burner, and you can purchase an optional gas or pellet burner.

If you're considering the Uuni Pro, I recommend shelling out for the gas burner bundle. Ooni informs me that the majority of their customers prefer using charcoal, but having a gas burner made the oven so much quicker and more versatile. I would also consider the cover to be a necessary accessory. The Uuni Pro is a large object to stow away. If you live in an area with a lot of rain or snow, it would be a good idea to protect it from the elements.

It's advertised as being easily transportable, since the legs fold down and the tall chimney easily clicks out of place. However, if you’re planning on bringing it to a friend’s backyard party, please be warned that it does weigh 57 pounds in total, and has four loose tiles of cordierite stone in the bottom.

It's A Matter of Crust

While the Ooni Pro is easy to assemble, there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to cooking with it.

Part of the appeal of a conventional oven is that you can set a temperature, put your food in it, and walk away (most of the time). But the Uuni Pro takes a lot more attention. Testing with an IR thermometer showed that the temperature varied in different parts of the oven by as much as a hundred degrees.

When I tried to cook larger items at lower temperatures, like chicken thighs or rice casseroles, I needed to monitor my dishes constantly for doneness and to prevent the outside from scorching. After a few days, it didn't seem to be worth the trouble.

And while the surface of the cordierite pizza stones does get to 800 degrees within the advertised 20 minutes, I do recommend that you let the oven preheat for at least an hour. For the first ten pizzas that we made (what we won’t do in the name of testing!), the pizzas stuck relentlessly to the stones. There was also a ten-minute heat recovery time between pizzas, whether we were using charcoal or propane.

To address the sticking, I tried flouring the pizza peel, or sprinkling cornmeal on the stones before sliding the pizza on. Everything just sparked and went up in flames, coating all my pizzas in bitter charcoal dust. I resigned myself to misshapen pizzas until we finally called in a professional—a friend who owns a pizza food truck explained that the pizza was sticking because the stones weren’t hot all the way through.

An hour's preheating meant that the pizzas started sliding easily off the stones. Preheating also helped counteract the heat loss, with both propane and charcoal. Once I gave it an hour to build a good charcoal base, making the wood-fired pizzas got much quicker and tastier. You can only take so many shortcuts.

If you’re concerned with heat loss while slow-cooking, you can also switch out the open pizza door for a closed door with a thermometer. I didn’t end up doing this, since I preferred using my conventional oven for longer-cooking items. If I wanted to check the temperature while flash-firing a pan of green beans, I used Ooni’s handheld infrared thermometer.

You don’t technically need Ooni’s proprietary cast-iron cookware, but you may want to consider it. My 10-inch and 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillets fit fine, but the door is only 5.9 inches tall. My Le Creuset Dutch ovens don't fit, so Ooni makes their own casserole pan.

Finally, my local pizza expert said that if you’re worried about dough sticking to the bottom, you might want to buy a wooden pizza peel. As there is an approximately a 100 percent sure that I will light a wooden peel on fire, I personally will not.

Gimme Pizza

Ooni's main goal was to make a backyard pizza oven affordable, which is why the baseline price doesn't include items like a cover. $600 isn't exactly a drop in the bucket, but for its size, you get quite the bang for your buck. If you really want to save some dough (ha!), the Uuni 3 has most of the Uuni Pro's functionality at a lower price, just with a smaller door. Since I ended up cooking most of my larger items in my conventional oven, the Uuni 3 might be the way to go.

Still, my family and I have been having a ton of fun with the Uuni Pro. A perfect pizza takes a handful of simple elements—dough, tomato sauce, and cheese—and turns it into something sublime. But a huge part of its allure is the process of making it yourself.

I don't know anyone who has been anywhere near an outdoor oven and resisted the urge to just start poking random things in there. Just like lighting sparklers or sitting around your backyard fire pit, an outdoor pizza oven like the Uuni Pro lets your inner pyro come out to play…and you get to eat afterwards, too. We've had pizza almost every night for a week. I'll check with my doctor, but so far, I don't see any reason to stop.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/review/review-uuni-pro/

Read More

Marriott Wants to Be the Amazon of Travel

As part of Marriott’s announcement on Monday that it would hybridize the Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs this August, the company also relaunched its Moments marketplace, which sells everything from zip-line excursions to sumo wrestling tutorials and cooking classes with master chefs.

For the first time, loyal guests can both earn and redeem points by shopping for these experiences—110,000 of them in all, across 1,000 global destinations. But anyone, regardless of their participation in Marriott Rewards, will also be able to buy a sunset cruise off Marriott’s shelf with good, old-fashioned dollars.

Marriott’s new Moments portal.
Source: Marriott

“The opportunity for us is to expand the travel experience for our members,” David Flueck, Marriott’s senior vice president of loyalty tells Bloomberg. “They’ve come to rely on Marriott for incredible brands and hotels; now we can deliver more to them.”

The pivot, he says, is about growing from a hotel brand to a lifestyle brand—something that Airbnb has already done with its own Experiences platform.

“Every brand in the travel space has to be more full-service,” explains Deanna Ting, hospitality editor at the travel industry website Skift. “It’s not a question of should they do this. For Marriott to compete, they have to do this.”

Here’s what it means for you.

Scale, Not Exclusivity

Marriott hosted a private concert with Keith Urban as part of its announcement this week—an example of the bookable experiences it will now sell on Moments.
Source: Marriott

Marriott’s overhaul of Moments—a platform that previously existed on a much smaller scale—is a direct result of the company’s spring 2017 acquisition of Place Pass, a meta-search site for local experiences.

But of the 100,000 plus experiences it now offers, only 8,000 are exclusive to Marriott and of the company’s own design.

Some of those include VIP access or front-row box seats at venues around the world, which Flueck says will be available “at every show.” Another subset are what Flueck describes as “once in a lifetime” experiences: a cooking class with Daniel Boulud in his private test kitchen, for instance, or surf lessons with legendary wave-chaser Laird Hamilton. Only a few dozen of these opportunities are available globally at any given time on an auction-only basis, selling for anywhere from 7,500 to 352,500 points; they cannotbe purchased with dollars.

A helicopter tour of Chicago.
Photographer: kokouu/iStockphoto

From a business standpoint, Marriott hopes that the “once in a lifetime” experiences will drive people to plan purpose-built trips, while such “local experiences” as the walking tours will cater to travelers planning a vacation or already on the ground.

It’s scale, not exclusivity, that sets Marriott apart. According to Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, it gives Marriott “a positioning advantage that exceeds any other company I could conceive of as a challenger.” Partnerships with Hertz and StubHub expand the scope of Moments further—travelers can use it for everything from their rental cars to private dinners and opera tickets. They can earn points on each of those purchases, whether they use a co-branded credit card or not.

Still, Hanson expressed skepticism that Moments would change consumers’ behavior. “It doesn’t have enough urgency to it,” he says. “I’m not sure this will drive people to make reservations that they otherwise wouldn’t have made.”

Limited Personalization

The Colosseum in Rome, one of the iconic sights that travelers can explore on guided tours booked through Marriott.
Photographer: Marco Rubino /EyeEm

Skift’s Ting says the program will be most successful if Marriott can make it adaptable, such as targeted marketing—a critical concern when the same platform is meant to serve guests of both budget brands like Courtyard by Marriott and such luxury ones as St. Regis. “I would hope they’re not going to steer a top-tier elite member to duck tours,” she jokes.

Harnessing consumer data for personalized service, as Starwood Preferred Guest has always done adeptly, will help. Artificial intelligence could, too. If deployed elegantly, Marriott may algorithmically know where you want to take your next trip—and what you want to do there—before you do. 

“That’s the nice thing about our members,” says Marriott’s Fleuck. “We have 110 million of them, but we have gotten to know them very well over time.” He adds that “being able to deliver the right experience to the right members at the right time” is “absolutely the direction that we’re going in.”

For now, personalization is limited, which means that it’s still cumbersome to sort through Moments’ 110,000 offerings. The company has started to group activities by types within each destination—family fun, great for couples, good eat, and nightlife—but luxury travelers looking for a fully private experience, for instance, may have to sort through clutter before finding what they want.

The End of the Concierge?

Will Moments eclipse the concierge?
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe

The biggest short-term impact of Moments may be how you, as a traveler, think about concierges and, to a lesser extent, travel agents.

If trustworthiness of concierge recommendations was already an issue, thanks to kickbacks, this will only intensify; Marriott is encouraging its staff to prioritize Moments in their recommendations, despite the fact that the company hasn’t actively vetted or quality controlled the experiences it purchased in the Points Pass acquisition. According to Fleuck, the company will look at user reviews to determine which experiences get cut from the roster.

“The luxury hospitality sector seems to be in an identity crisis right now, because so many traditional markers of luxury are not as essential anymore, including the concierge,” Ting explains. Hanson agrees. “Does the average 27-year-old want to go to a concierge—the person they think of as a white-haired gent in a tuxedo behind a desk—to find out where to go to dinner that night?” he asks, drawing attention to the fact that concierges today are more reservation-makers than recommenders.

Why bother the concierge when all these activities are right at your fingertips?
Source: Marriott

Marriott’s Fleuck sees it less as the end of concierges than an opportunity to redefine the role.

“The expectation is that we can bring our concierges’ immense and extraordinary local knowledge into the Moments platform,” he says. “It’ll take time to get there with 6,500 properties around the world, but we’d like them to really become our partners in this program.”

Travel agents will also have to prove their added value, or risk losing the customer to a seamless, online shopping experience—especially if loyal members believe they can get better value and earn points by booking their entire vacation through Marriott. And with Marriott-owned cruising on the horizon, the potential to book multiple types of vacations, and even port excursions, on one website may well become a reality. (Fleuck did not say that the company would be able to offer a best-price guarantee of activities as it does with direct hotel bookings.)

“It will be an education process,” says Ting about shifting consumer habits. “But gradually, travelers will start to think differently about how they book and plan their trips.”

Adds Hanson, “It redefines the relationship of the traveler with the hotel brand in a way that has never been done before.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-17/marriott-wants-to-be-the-amazon-of-travel

Read More

Alibaba Leads $300 Million Funding for India’s Top Online Grocer

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd led a $300 million investment into India’s biggest online grocer Bigbasket, signaling that the region’s segment is firing up.

Hari Menon, Bigbasket’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said the investment values the company at $950 million — just $50 million under the $1 billion valuation that would have earned it tech unicorn status.

“We wanted a strategic investor and saw Alibaba as the best fit,” Menon said in an interview.

He said existing investors Abraaj Group and Bessemer Venture Partners participated in the latest round.

India’s retail market is worth over $900 billion and grocery shopping accounts for about $600 billion of that, Menon said. Bigbasket’s rivals include India’s leading online retailer Flipkart Online Services Pvt, as well as the SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Grofers.

The company will deploy the funds into building farmer networks, warehouses and delivery infrastructure with a goal to penetrate deeper into the more than two dozen cities it currently operates in, Menon said.

The Bangalore-based startup, founded in December 2011 by Menon and four other entrepreneurs, sells everything from fresh leafy greens to kitchen mops, spice mixes and savory Indian tea-time snacks.

Bigbasket has attracted interest from a wide swath of companies and held initial investment discussions with global retailers Amazon.com Inc. and rival Walmart Inc. before the Chinese e-commerce giant arrived on the scene.

Grocery is a challenging e-commerce segment worldwide and Bigbasket, owned by Innovative Retail Concepts Pvt, operates in a country where expansion is hampered by rudimentary logistics and a shortage of refrigerated trucks and warehouses.

Growth will require capital expenditures, and Amazon got local government approval last year to invest $500 million into food retailing. Several high-profile grocery startups — such as PepperTap and LocalBanya — have collapsed in the past couple of years in India.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-01/alibaba-leads-300-million-funding-for-india-s-top-online-grocer

    Read More