The Best Laptop Stands to Save Your Neck

Help your back and posture by raising your computer screen up to eye level. 

The 13 Best Weekend Deals on Laptops, Smartwatches, and More

Now is a good time to grab some sweet Switch games, Apple’s Magic Keyboard, or an Apple Watch Series 6 at a discounted price. It's become an involuntary tic to complain about staying home these days. Where I live though, there's nothing new about staying indoors in January. There's always this white stuff covering the ground, and my feet turn blue when I wear sandals. Weird. But here's the thing, staying home can be as exciting as you want it to be. It's up to you. Check out these deals on gaming, gadgets, and other gear to make winter hibernation more bearable. Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to and our print magazine (if you'd like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day. If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Tech Deals Apple Watch Series 6 Photograph: Apple  Apple Watch Series 6 GPS for $339 ($60 off): The Series 6 is Apple's latest smartwatch, and it's our favorite smartwatch for anyone with an iPhone. If this is still too pricey, read our Best Apple Watch guide to see more options. Garmin Fenix 6X Pro for $695 ($55 off): If you want a sports watch that can do anything—seriously, just about anything—the Garmin Fenix 6X Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is the way to go. Apple Magic Keyboard for 11-inch iPad Pro (2nd Generation) for $199 ($100 off): Apple's Magic Keyboard is a great keyboard for the iPad Pro, but it's way too expensive. This deal helps out a little with that. For other keyboard alternatives, read our Best iPad Accessories guide. Google Pixel 4A 5G for $459 ($40 off): If you're hunting for a great Android phone under $500, the Pixel 4A 5G is one of our favorites and should be at the top of your list. We recommend other great cheap phones too. Lenovo Thinkpad L13 Yoga for $974 ($524 off): This 13-inch 2-in-1 Thinkpad features an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 chip, 16 gigabytes of RAM, a 512-gigabyte SSD, and a Thinkpad Pen Pro for sketching and notes. Lenovo Ideapad Flex 5 for $590 ($180 off): If you don't need the power of the Thinkpad above, this Ideapad is a more budget-friendly deal. The processor is an Intel Core i5, and the RAM is down to 12 gigs, but you still get a 512-gigabyte SSD and the 2-in-1 design. Home and Audio Deals Photograph: Adorama Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar for $519 ($181 off): If you need a Telly—and who doesn't, really—this is a great deal on a sweet guitar. Klipsch R-12SW Subwoofer for $190 ($60 off): Nothing will improve your speaker system like adding a subwoofer. It's a big investment, but trust us, you need the bass. Aukey Portable Charger for $16 ($5 off): Clip the coupon on the page and use the discount code 9ZI8R6KG to see the deal at checkout. This 10,000-mAh portable charger can recharge your phone a few times over if you're away from an outlet. It's tiny enough to fit in most pockets or purses. Gaming Deals The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.Photograph: Nintendo PowerA Fusion Wireless Arcade Stick (Switch) for $65 ($65 off): Go old-school with the Japanese arcade-style controller for the Nintendo Switch. You can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or plug in the USB-C cable. Super Mario Odyssey for $40 ($20 off): This is the physical copy of the game. It's critically acclaimed and one of the best Mario games ever. If you haven't tried it yet, it doesn't go on sale often, so pick it up and enjoy hours and hours of hunting for Power Moons. Super Mario Party (Switch) for $40 ($20 off): I think it's safe to say Mario is one of the most enduring video game characters ever. You can never have too many Mario games. This one's fun to play with your entire quarantine bubble. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch) for $40 ($20 off): We're also fans of Breath of the Wild, which is arguably the greatest Legend of Zelda game ever. Like Odyssey, it doesn't dip in price often, so this is a good opportunity to grab it and lose yourself in the wondrous but bleak world of Hyrule. More Great WIRED Stories 📩 Want the latest on tech, science, and more? Sign up for our newsletters! The case for cannibalism, or: How to survive the Donner Party A digital picture frame is my favorite way to keep in touch These are the 17 must-watch TV shows of 2021 If Covid-19 did start with a lab leak, would we ever know? Ash Carter: The US needs a new plan to beat China on AI 🎮 WIRED Games: Get the latest tips, reviews, and more ✨ Optimize your home life with our Gear team’s best picks, from robot vacuums to affordable mattresses to smart speakers

How to Reboot Your Burnt-Out Brain

This week, we round up tips for staying organized, energized, and mostly sane as we all ride out the rest of the pandemic. Look, last year wasn't great. And just because it's 2021 now, that doesn't mean things are magically better. If you feel burned out, stressed, or just plain exhausted, you're not alone. But there's good news on the horizon. Vaccine rollouts may be slow, but they're happening. Not long from now, life should return to some kind of normal, and we'll be able to safely engage with the world again. The only trouble is lasting that long without completely losing it. [embedded content] This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED service editor Alan Henry joins us to talk about the ways we can manage our time and mental energy. Whether it's for focusing at work or just finding ways to relax, we have some suggestions that can help keep you on track. Show Notes Get more great advice for improving your life at home with WIRED’s tips and how-tos. Read our roundup of the best note-taking apps. See our list of ways to relax and unwind during lockdown. Also see our home office gear guide and start working from home like a pro. Recommendations Alan recommends the YouTube series Taskmaster. Lauren recommends the documentary series The Last Dance on Netflix. Mike recommends the show Dark/Web, which is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Alan Henry can be found on Twitter @halophoenix. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys. If you have feedback about the show, or just want to enter to win a $50 gift card, take our brief listener survey here. How to Listen You can always listen to this week's podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here's how: If you're on an iPhone or iPad, open the app called Podcasts, or just tap this link. You can also download an app like Overcast or Pocket Casts, and search for Gadget Lab. If you use Android, you can find us in the Google Podcasts app just by tapping here. We’re on Spotify too. And in case you really need it, here's the RSS feed. Transcript Michael Calore: Lauren. Lauren Goode: Mike. MC: Lauren, how are your new year's resolutions panning out? LG: Honestly, not so bad. It's a really tough time to keep your commitments around anything, but so far we're three weeks in, I'm doing OK. How about you? MC: Well, it sounds like you're doing better than I am. But that's OK because on this week's show, we're going to pass along some advice for sticking to those resolutions. And maybe I can pick up some tips. LG: We could always use the extra help. [Gadget Lab intro theme music] MC: Hi everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore, a senior editor at WIRED and I am joined remotely by my cohost, WIRED senior writer, Lauren Goode. Hello Lauren. LG: Hello, hello. MC: And we're also joined by WIRED service editor, Alan Henry. Alan, welcome back to the show. Alan Henry: Thanks for having me. MC: Well, it's 2021, but chances are that you are in the same boat as you were in 2020, still stuck at your house, still waiting for the current pandemic to slow down as it's devastating communities around the country. At least now there's a glimmer of hope as vaccine rollouts move forward. We've given advice in the show before about how to work, sweat, play, and just exist at home during a lockdown without going insane. But this episode will be more holistic. We're going to be sharing advice and tips about how to maintain your sanity, stay productive and stay healthy while we all stick this out. Maybe you even have some new year's resolutions along these lines that we can help you actualize. Later in the show, we're going to have some recommendations for specific gear that can help you find some peace of mind. But first, let's talk about some practical lifestyle tweaks that can get you there. So, Alan, you have this interesting title of service editor and here at WIRED, that means that you edit all of our coverage that we tag as reader service, which is usually like stories that you help people navigate their lives in the digital era. So you are our expert in this topic. So please tell us, what are some of the ways that you found, that you can pass along, to help people focus? AH: So you're in trouble if I am your expert. But that said, one of the best tips, one of the first tips that I give to anybody when they're trying to get things done is to find the best time of day for you to be productive, find your best working hours. So there are a lot of people who get up early by nature of their job and they're really not a morning person. They're more productive in the afternoon. So they're just kind of muddling along and struggling in the morning. Don't force yourself to do that. Give it a good try, right, to try and get up early and get stuff done. But I work best in the middle of the night when the sun is down, that's when I just power through work. So in the morning I will just work on emails and I'll drink a lot of coffee and I'll just struggle through until the sun starts to wane closer to the horizon. And then suddenly I get a burst of energy and I start getting things done. So if you're one of those kinds of people, definitely try to find a way to make the time of day that's best for you the time that you do the most work. I would also tell people to set little rituals for yourself, little things that get your brain in the Headspace that OK now is the time that I'm going to transition from doing nothing or something else to getting stuff done. I have a book that I am supposed to be writing and it's going, it's not necessarily going well, but it's going, and I like to brew a hot cup of tea before my writing sessions, because there's just something about the steam rising from the cup and it's all pretty and it's floating through the air and everything. It just chills me out and puts me in the head space of, OK, now it's time to write. Now it's time to be creative. Now it's time to float like steam off of the water. It's time to get busy. So those little rituals help out a lot. LG: Alan, before we go onto your next tips, tell us what your book is about. AH: The book is a productivity book. LG: There you go. AH: It is a book about productivity. It's a book of productivity advice for people, for whom traditional productivity advice doesn't always work. So yeah, the story I like to tell is there are a lot of people for whom, I used to work with a guy who would block off every Tuesday as no meeting Tuesdays. And if somebody, including his boss or our boss's boss would try to schedule him for a meeting on Tuesdays, he'd reply and say, "No, no. Tuesdays is my no meeting day. I'm focusing on work." He could get away with that. I don't think I could've gotten away with that, and I think there are a lot of people, they would hear that tip and be like, "I can't do that. My boss would have my head if I did that." If that's you, then hopefully this book will help you. I'm not going to tell you how to get away with a no meeting day, I'm just going to tell you how to work around it so you can still get stuff done. LG: Right, right. That's a great point. A lot of the tips we hear make the assumption that you have ultimate control over your schedule. When in reality, in a lot of workplaces, you don't have as much control over things. You have to sort of go with the flow and respond to your boss's needs. OK. So what are some of your other, I was going to say breaks, what are some of your other tips, Alan? AH: Breaks. Take breaks. It seems counterintuitive, right? I gave a seminar about this at The Times where I used to work and people were like, "What do you mean taking breaks makes you more productive?" And I'm like, listen, if you have ever struggled to work for hours upon hours upon hours straight, you'll understand that at the start, when you really find your flow and you're really into it, you're really productive. But by the end of that work session, you are tired, you're dragging, you're barely progressing. If you had taken a break to recharge earlier, before you feel like you would rather do anything but what you're doing now, you could come back recharged and ready to go back to that high point. So by all means, take breaks, it actually does help you be more productive in the long run. And also, I just tell people take naps. I'm a huge advocate of the work day nap. If I vanished on Slack, you guys probably should assume I'm napping. MC: Nice. AH: But then the thing is I'll go take a nap, I'll just doze off for like an hour or something and then I'll come back and I'll power through and people will be like, "Oh wow, Alan, you're working really late." And that's exactly what I want you to think. But really I just took a nap for two hours and now I'm working late. And that's going to also be in my book by the way. MC: I wish I had that super power and the ability to just fall asleep in the middle of the day. I can't do it. AH: Yeah. It's tough. It is tough. It is tough. MC: So Lauren, I know that you have a pretty good tip that relates to a calendaring and sleep hours. Why don't you tell us about it? LG: OK. So I really I hate to be this person and every so often, you'll see a cacophony of voices on Twitter who are actively fighting against this tip saying you don't need to wake up early to be productive. But my thing is I like to wake up early. Early in the morning has been a great time for me to take care of personal, administrative stuff or talk to people I need to talk to in different time zones or try to get exercise out of the way, or even maybe to journal a little bit or just write down some stuff that I've been thinking about that's not related to being a technology journalist. And I like that because then it's not hanging over my head the rest of the day as I have to focus on other work tasks. I was going to say more onerous work tasks, working for WIRED is not onerous. The caveat to that, to Alan's point, is that just may not work for some people. So for example, if you have small kids, you may have childcare responsibilities in the mornings that make this impossible. But then my advice would be just to carve out that time at night, right? Carve out an hour for yourself to do this. Something that just gets you sort of out of the flow in such a way that when you do have to be in the workflow, you can focus more fully on that. And then another tip I have is just find your note taking app. Everybody needs a good note taking app. I happen to use Apple Notes because it's just on my iPhone and on my Mac, but people tend to have very strong opinions on note apps. In fact, WIRED has done roundups of these before. So we'll link to that in the show notes. But I actually tend to think that the way that you use your note taking app matters more than the actual application that you're using. So I tend to have my to-do list organized into personal administrative work, like shipping things that need to ship, work stuff that needs to be done this week so it's immediate, it's high priority, long-term work projects that I need to address that I have seedlings of ideas for, or I'd like to explore more. Then there's personal stuff, like paying bills and tending to doctor's appointments and remembering people's birthdays and that sort of thing. And then what I do is week by week, I take those categories of things and I move them up or down the pile, depending on what kind of week it is. And then I just sort of adjust it and yeah, just using a note app, it's the best thing in the world. I also do the thing, maybe this is annoying, but when you talk to people now and people say, "What are you watching?" Or "What are you reading these days?" I immediately take out my Notes app and I go, "Oh, let me write that down" because I have a whole separate note that's called things to watch and read, and then I just get great ideas from people. So then when I have a free hour or so I'm not like spending that hour browsing through thumbnails on Netflix instead of actually watching the thing. MC: I do the same thing and that's what drove me to it is like, why do I always spend 45 minutes looking for something to watch? I should just make a list on my phone. LG: Yes. MC: Alan, what's your note taking app, Alan? AH: My note taking app is a Google Keep. MC: Same. Same here. AH: And I actually kind of hesitate to say this because I have a very bad habit of every app that I fall in love with dies. It was a running joke at Lifehacker that every time I wrote about an app that I really, really enjoyed it would die. So anybody remember Astrid, the to-do app? MC: Nope. AH: Yep, exactly, no. Exactly. Got bought by Yahoo and then vanished. Wunderlist. Anybody remember Wunderlist? LG: I remember Wunderlist. AH: Yeah. Yeah. LG: That was acquired, right? AH: It was, also by Microsoft. I never really got into Evernote, but there used to be an Evernote competitor that was Square or something and it died and it took all of my recipes with it. LG: Oh no. We know that Google has a habit of killing things that people love, Google Reader. So Sundar, this is for you, do not kill Google Keep. AH: Please do not kill Google Keep. LG: Yes. MC: I always recommend it to people because it has really good sharing functions. So if you live with a group of people and you want to share a grocery list or a list of things that need to be done around the house, it's really good for that. But also, it's so freeform because you can make a list, you can make a note, you can save recordings, you can save photos, all kinds of stuff in there. AH: Exactly. That's exactly what I use it for. It has our household to-dos, it has our shopping lists. It's perfect for that stuff. LG: Mike, what are your tips? MC: You guys have already covered the big ones. There's one other thing I want to talk about, which is maintaining your productivity after hours. So a lot of us feel like all we do is we wake up and then we work and then we maybe eat and then go to sleep and start working again. I firmly believe that the reason that we feel that way is because we spend so much time on our phones when we're not working. So my big thing that I learned in 2020 was to set timers on the apps where I spend the most amount of time. So every phone and Android phone iOS is going to have good screen time tools and digital wellbeing tools. Everybody put these on their phones a couple of years ago. And you can go into those, you can figure out which apps are the biggest time sucks for you. I guarantee you they're the most embarrassing ones that you're already self-conscious about. So this is good hygiene. Set timers on those and be really strict. If you always spend over an hour on Twitter, set a 15 minute timer, or if you're always scrolling through Instagram, set a 10 minute timer so that you can open it and see it and get a little taste, but then it shuts it down before you waste too much time. I found that to be really helpful because as soon as I did that, I started doing other things with my hands, like reading a Kindle or picking up a book off the bookshelf and spending half an hour flipping through that, or playing with the cat, cooking, doing something that I would not have otherwise done because I just would have been scrolling through Twitter. And now that the election is over and we're moving into a new era politically, it's easier than ever to do this. So this is my recommendation. LG: That's a good one. I have found the screen time limits to be too easy to ignore, frankly. But like any habit, probably just takes a little bit of effort. So when you get the notification that your time limit is up, you should probably just start paying attention to that and pick up, as you put it, use your hands to pick up something else. AH: Your cat will thank you. LG: Yes, very much so. MC: All right. So we're going to take a break right now and when we come back we're going to talk about some specific gear and products that you can get to make your life easier while you're stuck at home. [Break] MC: Welcome back. At this point in the pandemic, chances are you've realized that buying a thing won't necessarily solve all of your problems, but still there's some gadgets and gear that can make it easier to manage things around the house. And since this is a show called Gadget Lab, we would be remiss not to mention them. Alan, excluding alcohol, what is the thing that has helped you get through this dark timeline? AH: Excluding alcohol? That's a tall order. MC: I'm sorry. AH: It's OK. MC: We talk about alcohol so often on the show, I feel like it's like we should get sponsorships from, I don't know, Jack Daniels or something. AH: Fair enough. So I've actually had this for a little bit, but it has meant a world of difference for me. I bought a popcorn maker and not just any popcorn maker, it is The Original Whirley Pop. It is a big old pot. It's like an aluminum pot and it has a top and a handle, and you turn the crank and obviously it's a podcast, so no one can see that the hand motion I'm making. But you turn this crank and it continually agitates the popcorn kernels at the bottom of the pot that's on the stove. You put the pot on the stove, obviously. And in about two or three minutes, you have freshly popped popcorn, just a half cup of popcorn kernels, and a little bit of oil or butter or whatever, and you just keep turning the thing until you can't turn the handle anymore because the bowl is full of popcorn. It's freshly popped, it's ready to salt, it's fantastic. And also, it's not the healthiest, depending on the oil you use. I use peanut oil because peanut oil is delicious. But you could use a normal oil and you don't have to salt it. I do salt it. I put spices and seasonings on it. It's delicious. I make my own homemade popcorn all the time and it's great, and I'm addicted to popcorn. MC: That's awesome. I have the Salbree microwave popcorn maker. AH: Yeah, the one like the plastic one? MC: Yeah. It's like really soft silicone. AH: Yeah. MC: Yeah. AH: I have that too. And you just put the popcorn in it and put it in the microwave and it goes. MC: It literally cannot be easier. I love it. AH: That's that's what I use when I want healthy popcorn, because it's completely air popped. LG: How much do these things cost? AH: The Whirley Pop is a little pricey. I think it's close to $100. The Salbree is like $18, $19 if that. MC: Yeah. It's pretty affordable. Under 20 bucks on AH: Yeah. LG: But homemade popcorn? Priceless. MC: Absolutely. AH: Exactly. MC: Lauren. What's a good pick for our people? LG: All right. Well, I'm going to stick with the kitchen theme. I would say invest in a giant water bottle. One of my friends got me the Stanley Adventure Quencher Travel Tumbler with straw as a Christmas present. It was very nice of her. This is a 40 ounce tumbler. And in fact I have it right here. Once again, our podcast audience cannot see this right now, but I'm holding it up in front of the Zoom. It's massive guys. Look at it. MC: Wow. That's actually really large. LG: Yeah. It's probably like the size of my laptop screen, not the width of it, but yeah, I'm holding it diagonally against the display right now and that's about right. MC: I now realize that the Stanley brand name is like the power tool company. LG: Yes, yes. MC: That's like a construction worker's water bottle. LG: Can you hear this thing? Yeah. This is serious. And what I like about it is that the bottom of it is tapered. The top of it's thicker and then it tapers so that if you do want to travel with it, it should fit in most cup holders, not all though, because it still is rather wide. But I really like this because I just keep it on my desk all day now, and I am drinking lots of water, whether I mean to or not. If you have a smaller cup or glass, you may just get lazy and not refill it as frequently as you should to stay well hydrated. And as long as I'm drinking this, I'm pretty good. So I fill it up in the morning after I've had my coffee, or who am I kidding? I'm still drinking coffee alongside of this. And I'm just sipping it through the straw throughout the day. And I'm a huge fan. So I recommend it. MC: Very nice. Alan, what else is keeping you going these days? AH: Well, I wouldn't be a good games editor if I didn't mention my Nintendo Switch. I got a Nintendo Switch a while ago and I didn't set it up because I'm lazy. But I eventually got around to it and I upgraded the storage and all that good stuff. I have a lovely Animal Crossing island right now. I'm very pleased with it. But it has definitely been the thing. I don't want to say Animal Crossing has been the game that's calmed, soothed my soul because Animal Crossing is very definitely game chores. And I'm never a big fan of game chores, but there is really something lovely about being able to sit on the couch, maybe turn on a movie or watch something on TV and then just pick up my Switch and play something that I can duck in for 20 minutes and play around of and duck back out. And one thing about those of us at WIRED Games, like all of us are big fans of games you can jump in, play a little bit and jump back out because no one has time to sink eight plus hours into a video game anymore. And even if we did, none of us have the attention span for it. So Switch is perfect for that. LG: Right. MC: Absolutely. LG: So when I first joined WIRED, this is almost a few years ago at this point, and I was asking for a Switch, just asking around the office if anybody had to Switch, Mike told me that the previous senior writer, David Pierce still had the Switch, which was on loan and that he needed to send it back. And then the joke was I think he finally did send it back, Mike, right? We had to send him multiple text messages and be like, "You need to return this Switch." But he did and we were like, we should probably disinfect this because this is the kind of gadget that you just sit on the toilet with. AH: Yeah. It's true. Keep your gear clean, microfiber cloths in every room. LG: Right. And this was pre-pandemic, by the way. We were like disinfect the switch. Mike, what gadget or tool do you recommend for people to stay healthy? I always want to say stay productive, but let's move away from productivity as a trend to just healthy and well. MC: Well, this is sort of inspired by some of the stuff we were talking about in the last segment, but I recently got a meditation pillow. It's about 14 inches wide and maybe about six inches tall, and it's filled with buckwheat. You can get them at yoga stores or meditation supply warehouse, I don't know. But basically, it's a small circular pillow that you sit on and you can cross your legs comfortably and straighten your spine and meditate. I don't always use it for meditation, but we were talking earlier about the importance of taking breaks. And for me, this is my favorite way to take a break now, is I walk away from the dedicated area in my home where I work so I can get away from the screen. And I sit down in a different seat and I do something else. Again, maybe I play with the cat. Maybe I open up insight timer on my phone and set a 10 minute meditation timer or something like that. But it's really just a nice way to change my posture and change my mindset. And it's very strange that something so simple would do this for you. But if you want to sit down cross-legged, it's the most comfortable way to sit down cross-legged. So for me, it's been really helpful and I really like it. LG: That sounds awesome. I always admire when you get a glimpse of someone's apartment and you see a meditation pillow in the background, or if you happen to be browsing on Zillow, like a lot of us are these days and you see that there's a meditation pillow in a corner, a little meditation corner with a pillow in it, I'm always like, "Oh, that person's got it together." Who knows if they ever use it, but it just looks like they've got it together. MC: Yeah. Sometimes I sit there and I write too. I'll prop up my laptop on a nearby table and I'll write there just because I can't stand my chair. I made it all the way through 2020 without getting a new chair somehow, and I have this crappy old chair that I've had for years and I really need a new one. So please start flowing me some chair recommendations, everybody. LG: On that note, it's not exactly a chair, but it could go with your chair. I really recommend folks invest in a good indoor outdoor blanket. So L.L.Bean makes a waterproof outdoor blanket for just $59. And it was totally sold out around the holidays, or I shouldn't say sold out, but it's back-ordered for quite a while during the holiday. So I think it was a popular gift. But it's a great waterproof blanket, and it's not super heavy duty. So if you're in really cold climates, you'll want to look for a blanket that has a little bit more heft. But this is just great for taking a break and sitting outside, or if you're in a city environment, hanging out on your rooftop, eating lunch on the grass if you have a little more green space, keeping it in your car so that when you're going out for walks or hike with friends and you decide you just want to sit for a while, you have a blanket. Anything that's basically going to facilitate you getting outdoors and spending a little more time outdoors and away from your computer screen. I feel like I've used this blanket in my car more than anything else this year. MC: I'm a big fan of the Rumpl. LG: What's that? MC: It's R-U-M-P-L. It's a brand of blanket. And it feels like sleeping bag material. So it feels like you're wearing a sleeping bag as a blanket, but it's made to be a blanket and it's reversible and it's washable. They make some with down, they make some with synthetic filling. Pet hair does not stick to it. So it's been awesome. We have a couple of them around the house and we just use them all the time. LG: That's great. MC: All right. Well, thanks everybody for sharing your tips. We're going to take a break right now and we're going to come back with recommendations that have nothing to do with staying sane and staying productive in the pandemic. It's just things that we like that we think you should check out. So we'll be right back. [Break] MC: All right. Here's the end of the show where we tell you about awesome things that you should watch, listen to, read, consume, et cetera. Alan, you are our guest. Why don't you go first? AH: Thank you. So my recommendation is a little show on YouTube called Taskmaster. Our colleague, Kim, recommended it to me. Anybody who's a fan of British comedy might know about it already, but essentially, so that the taskmaster has a panel of comedians. They all bring something that they kind of ante. They throw into the pool that if they lose, they lose the thing. One guy lost a car and the same guy lost his wedding ring. But essentially it's Stupid Human Tricks the TV show, except it's actually kind of tasteful and British. So instead of like, I don't know, something that you'd see on Jackass, the challenges are more like here's a giant foam boulder, you have one hour to get this boulder as far away from here as possible. And whoever has the longest distance wins. And however you do it is fine. So one guy put it in a wheelbarrow and just tried running really far. And then another guy essentially called an Uber and put it in the trunk and said, "Drive for an hour away from here." And another guy tried to tie balloons to it and send it into the sky. It's fantastic, and it's hilarious. And all the shows are on YouTube, like all the full episodes are on YouTube. They're like 45 minutes each. My first night watching, I spent four hours on the couch, just laughing, just laughing. My neighbors must have thought I was crazy. LG: It sounds like the comedy version of a Google job interview. AH: Oh my goodness. And I have been to a Google job interview and it was definitely Stupid Human Tricks, the six hours. MC: Amazing. Lauren what's your recommendation? LG: My recommendation is The Last Dance. I'm a little late to this. The Last Dance was released last year by ESPN and Netflix. It's a 10 part documentary series about Michael Jordan and the 1997, 1998 championship Bulls basketball team. I was talking to Mike about this the other day, and I was like, "Mike, do you like basketball?" And he said, "No." And I said, "But you really need to watch this docuseries." And he said, "Why would I watch this docuseries? I don't like basketball." And I said, "Because it is interesting to watch any documentary about someone who is literally the greatest at the thing they're doing in our lifetimes, and probably works harder at it than a lot of other people too." And that of course is Michael Jordan. He's the goat. And it's really incredible to see. It's not just Michael Jordan either, it's really this entire amazing team, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant and Steve Kerr and Ron Harper. It's just had a pretty deep bench. And of course, the coaching of Phil Jackson, who is one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, although some Knicks fans might disagree. But certainly he had an amazing track record with the Bulls and the Lakers. He's also known as the Zen master in basketball coaching. And I would like Phil Jackson to come on the Gadget Lab one of these times and perhaps lead us through his productivity tips or maybe a meditation or two, I'd be super open to that. But anyway, whether you like basketball or not, you have to check out this documentary series. I grew up playing basketball and watching basketball in the nineties, And I absolutely loved it. It was a great trip down memory lane. There have been some criticisms of it because apparently the footage that's shown wasn't approved, the whole documentary series wasn't approved for release until Michael Jordan approved it. And he doesn't come across as the most likable person all the time. It's still remarkable and worth watching. MC: Nice. LG: Mike, what's your recommendation? MC: My recommendation is the VHS cassettes that show Michael Jordan's career in Major League Baseball, just so we can understand that he's not the greatest at everything. AH: That's fantastic. MC: I'm just kidding. LG: The whole thing in the documentary series where there's like, OK, I'm not going to, you know what? You got to watch it, just watch it. OK continue. MC: I promise you I will think about it. LG: Thank you. MC: I'll put it on my list in Google Keep. How about that? LG: Thanks. MC: So my recommendation is also an old television program. It's been out about a year and you can watch it on Amazon. It's called Dark/Web, and it's Dark/Web is the way that the title is stylized. It's a fiction show and it's about eight episodes, they're all under an hour. Some of them are really short, some of them are 20 minutes. It's a science fiction show, so think like Black Mirror, except with not as good writing or acting. But it has a structural conceit that really elevates it and makes it better than the sum of its parts. Basically, there's a person who has disappeared and they're reaching out to people who used to be in their lives by sending them short stories that she has written. So the person opens the short story, and then you see the short story as an episode of a television program. And then it zooms back out into the world where the person is reading the story and then they try to solve the mystery of where this person disappeared too. So there are a bunch of characters that are spread around the world and they each read a story and you sort of get sucked into it with them. The stories of course are all like, techno-dystopian science fiction. So it's really kind of fun. Like I said, it's not as good as Black Mirror and it can feel sort of derivative of Black Mirror at times. But once you start watching it and you get into the groove of the show, you kind of forget about all that and you just sort of appreciate it for what it is. So I can recommend this to anybody who has Amazon Prime Video, it's called Dark/Web. And it's, as far as I know, just one season and then they're not doing anything else. So it's a pretty short investment and I quite liked it. LG: That sounds great. MC: Have either of you seen this or have either of you gotten into the show at all? AH: I have not seen it, but it sounds like something extremely up my alley, including the fact that it's derivative. LG: Yeah, it sounds like I'll maybe think of adding to one of the categories of my Apple Notes to-do list sometime. MC: Touché, touché. All right. Well that is our show for this week, Alan, thank you for joining us once again. AH: It's an honor just to be here. MC: And thank you all for listening. If you have feedback about the show, you can find all of us on Twitter, just check the show notes. This show is produced by Boone Ashworth. Goodbye. We will be back next week. [Gadget Lab outro theme music] More Great WIRED Stories 📩 Want the latest on tech, science, and more? Sign up for our newsletters! I am not a soldier, but I have been trained to kill Everything we know now about kids and Covid-19 In India, smartphones and cheap data give women a voice In Minecraft’s Dream SMP, all the server’s a stage How to get more plant-based meat onto plates in 2021 🎮 WIRED Games: Get the latest tips, reviews, and more 📱 Torn between the latest phones? Never fear—check out our iPhone buying guide and favorite Android phones

Cheaper Yet Refined, Samsung’s Latest Galaxy Phones Are Great

The price tag might still make you blink, but Samsung’s new flagship has one of the best cameras in a smartphone. It's an iterative year for Samsung's latest flagship smartphones, where the company is simply improving on a year-old design instead of loading up the new devices with breakthrough features. But that's not a bad thing. In fact, with the new Galaxy S21 series—which includes the Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra—what you're mostly getting is refined versions of last year's models for a lower price. The small changes, not all of which are rosy, help make these Android phones some of the best money can buy. Samsung loaned me a Galaxy S21 and a Galaxy S21 Ultra to test. The latter is the stand-out, taking a $200 price cut over its predecessor yet retaining an excellent camera system that just might be the best around at the moment. But even with that price cut, it's still $1,200. Unless your eyes are on the top prize, the $800 S21 (which also took a $200 cut from the $1,000 S20) will satisfy your needs—though it won't wow you. Zoom Chat I want to start with the only reason anyone should splurge for the S21 Ultra: The zoom camera. No, I don't mean the fact that you can zoom in up to 100X on faraway objects; the quality at those zoom levels is poor. It's the 10X optical zoom that really shines. Do you need that level of zoom? No, but it doesn't make me feel restricted by the hardware I'm using, which is something I've felt using phones with 2X or 3X optical zoom. Many phones don't even have optical zoom, forcing you to digitally zoom and crop, stripping away image quality. This has been the norm for quite some time, so it's nice to see Samsung leading the charge for something better. (In the US anyway; there are phones with similar zoom tech, but they're not sold here.) We've reached a point in smartphone camera tech where the quality afforded at 10X is excellent most of the time, and it's something I desperately want to see trickling down into more affordable handsets. The camera array on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Photograph: Samsung I've snapped crisp, up-close photos of the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building in New York City, despite standing on the other side of the Hudson River in Brooklyn. The quality does start to dip when the sun sets (due to its narrower f/4.9 aperture, the Ultra's zoom camera can't absorb as much light as the other cameras), but it does an admirable job when paired with Samsung's Night mode. This mode takes several images in the span of a few seconds and uses software to merge them together for a single final image that's bright and clear. There's actually another 10-megapixel telephoto camera on the S21 Ultra this year. It affords 3X optical zoom that produces great-looking shots if you don't need the higher level of zoom. It's nice to have two options! The remaining cameras are a 12-megapixel ultrawide that's excellent for tight spaces or for shooting sweeping landscapes, and a 108-megapixel main sensor for everyday snaps. I went for a bike ride around Brooklyn testing the S21 Ultra alongside the S21, last year's S20+, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and Google's Pixel 5. My takeaway is that most of the time, the Ultra comes out on top—even with the selfie camera! It might not be the best at handling high-contrast scenes or portraits, and colors can sometimes be off, but it often produces the sharpest images of the lot. That's largely true when using Night mode, though the iPhone and Pixel are far more forgiving of camera shake. If you don't hold the S21 absolutely still while shooting in the dark, you'll probably need to retake the shot. Pair this with the fact that you just can't get the same quality at 10X zoom on competing phones, and it makes the S21 Ultra something truly special. What about the standard S21 then? Only the 12-megapixel ultrawide camera is the same. Its main camera has 12 megapixels, and it only has one 64-megapixel telephoto that can go up to 30X hybrid zoom, but at 10X zoom, images aren't all that sharp. It's not as fun of a system to use. Overall, its results are comparable to Apple and Google's phones, which is to say it's still very good, sometimes edging out the latter. 1 / 24 Photograph: Julian Chokkattu Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, main camera. This photo has a great mix of sharp details (if you zoom all the way in), pleasant colors, and a well-balanced exposure. Nothing is shrouded in darkness. The main 108-megapixel sensor merges pixels so they can absorb more light, resulting in photographs that are 12 megapixels by default. Compare this shot with the following one.  These Galaxy phones retain their titles as some of the best Android phones for capturing video too. Yes, you can use any of the S21 phones to shoot in 8K, but as nothing really supports 8K playback, I often find you're better off shooting in 4K at 60 frames per second or 30 fps with HDR. The footage looks great. If you're running around, you can use the excellent Super Steady mode for smoother video clips (though this only works at 1080p). A new Director's View lets you film with the front and rear cameras at the same time, in case you want to show off your reaction with whatever's happening in front of you. Video quality is still not quite good enough to dethrone the iPhone 12 Pro Max (there's often a lot of grain in the S21 Ultra), but it comes very close. Hits and Misses The Ultra feels more like a camera than anything else, but I swear, it's a phone too! It has much in common with the S21 and S21+ (we go over many of the fine details here), like smooth performance thanks to Samsung's use of the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset. Games like Dead Cells and Genshin Impact suffer zero stutters, and you'll have no trouble juggling multiple apps at lightspeed. The phones' respective Dynamic AMOLED displays are exquisite too. Whites don't look as yellowish as last year's models, an improvement. I watched (and enjoyed) Netflix's Lupin on the S21 Ultra's massive 6.8-inch screen, where it looked excellent with punchy colors, inky blacks, and a very bright screen. But the very same screen can also be a detriment; the Ultra is too big. It's not as uncomfortable to hold as other large-screen phones, but I strongly prefer the 6.2-inch screen size of the S21. It's much more manageable. (The S21+, which I haven't tested, has a 6.7-inch screen.) Everything looks smooth on these screens, thanks to the 120-Hz refresh rate, which lets you see up to 120 frames per second as opposed to the 60 fps standard on traditional smartphone displays. This faster refresh rate helps anything fast-moving, from games to a scrolling Twitter feed, appear smoother and more lifelike. The S21 Ultra is the only phone of the three that can offer the 120-Hz rate at the phone's maximum resolution of 3,200 x 1,440 pixels. The S21 and S21+ only offer 120 Hz at a slightly lower resolution. But that's OK, as I never found the S21's 2,400 x 1,080 resolution lacking. What's not as stellar is battery life. It's not poor, but it's not great either. If you're a heavy user (like if you regularly hit more than five hours of screen-on time every day), there's a good chance you'll need to plug in before bedtime. The S21 Ultra's 5,000-mAh battery dipped to 30 percent by 10 pm with around three and a half hours of screen-on time, and the S21's 4,000-mAh cell hit 23 percent by midnight after four and a half hours of screen-on time. Keep in mind that all of this varies greatly depending on what you're doing. For most people, these phones will easily last a day. Just don't expect them to run for long the next morning. Still, so far so good, right? Here comes the bad news. The S21 phones no longer have a MicroSD card slot to expand your storage. Most people likely won't care, but it's a slap in the face to anyone who relies on these cards to transfer files, photos, and other media between devices. Samsung says it offers cheaper storage upgrades (doubling the base amount of 128 gigabytes costs just $50 more), but MicroSDs let you greatly expand your storage (up to 1 terabyte!) for not much more, so it still sucks to see the omission here. Other stripped out features include Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), which allowed you to use Samsung Pay at any store that takes credit cards, an actual perk over other contactless payment systems that only rely on NFC. But Samsung says standard NFC adoption in retail sales is widespread enough so ... MST gets the ax. Anecdotally, even my local deli takes NFC payments, but the enhanced MST feature is still one of those things that's nice to have. Lastly, when you buy a new Galaxy S21 phone, the power adapter and earbuds are no longer included in the box. This move follows a similar one Apple made last year to curb unnecessary electronic waste. Just like Apple, Samsung justifies the change by saying many customers have compatible chargers lying around already. I'd rather see Samsung ask consumers if they want a charger included (for free) or not. Now, if you genuinely don't have a USB-C adapter, you can fork over an extra $20 to Samsung and get one shipped in its own box alongside the one the phone comes in. Worthwhile Phones If those last few drawbacks aren't of much concern to you, then these remain excellent new phones. Samsung didn't send me an S21+ to test (it's very similar to the S21), but I often find the phone in the middle of the lineup isn't the best value. If you want a larger screen, pay extra for the S21 Ultra so you can take advantage of a much better camera system. Plus, the Ultra now supports Samsung's S Pen stylus (a separate $40 purchase) in case you want to doodle or jot notes with something other than your fingers. These phones look smart too. The S21 might have a plastic back (that just makes it more durable), but I love the various colors and accents you can choose from. Phantom Violet and Phantom Pink are my favorites. The S21 Ultra sadly only comes in some dull tones. But I'd feel guilty if I didn't say this: If you just want a good, dependable phone, you do not need to pay anywhere close to this much money (especially in this economy). Our top pick for Android phones, the Google Pixel 4A, is just $350 and will do the job just fine.

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How to Get Great Tech Support—From Home

If you're in your home office for the long haul,  you can still get the TLC you need for your IT. Here are some options. After finishing a brochure design for my client and hitting Command-S, I noticed something odd. Instead of saving to my iMac, my document saved to the bootable clone on my external backup drive. Curiosity turned to horror as I realized my Macintosh HD icon was gone from my desktop. Heart pounding, I texted Mike, my IT guy: “Need you now, wyd?”  “I’m here,” he responded. I exhaled. Thank God. When I left my corporate advertising job to freelance full-time from my home near Philadelphia, I luxuriated in the freedom of being my own boss, but I quickly discovered that some needs can’t be satisfied solo. There’s nothing like the hands-on expertise of a pro who intimately knows the ins and outs of the technology I use.  I provide creative services and marketing consultation to hospitals, and my tech needs are fairly straightforward. My hardware doesn’t have to be the latest, but it must support current versions of the software I use and provide the RAM and storage I require as a graphic designer. I need both on-site and cloud-based backup systems, scheduled to run automatically. And I want a trusted resource for occasional troubleshooting and advice. I no longer have the safety net of an IT department to turn to. Instead, I have Mike. After my urgent text, he sent me a link to download TeamViewer, software that allowed him remote access to my computer. Once he connected, he entered my backup drive which was mounted on my desktop. I watched breathlessly as he moved through my system and opened folders I rarely touch. His voice in my ear was gentle as he prompted me to enter my password. Moments later, my reverie was broken as Mike confirmed my fears. “You’ve been working from your bootable clone for the last three days,” he said. My hard drive was gone, my 27-inch iMac reduced, effectively, to a monitor. The pandemic changed employment, forcing millions of people to pivot to working from home. According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.8 percent of employed persons surveyed teleworked because of the coronavirus in November, up from 21.2 percent in October. These figures don’t include freelancers or employees already working remotely pre-pandemic.  Even if your setup is limited to a laptop, printer, and cloud backup account, the fact is, computers crash, apps freeze, and files go missing. If you work from home, having go-to tech support is valuable. When you are self-employed like me—it is vital. If I can’t work, I don’t get paid. When my iMac died in July, Mike helped me order a new one, customizing the features to suit my personal needs. Because of the pandemic, Apple shipments were significantly delayed. I kept working in the meantime, thanks to the redundant backup systems he set me up with long before—something I’d never have known to do on my own. Mike has been my IT guy for 20 years—a relationship second in length to my marriage of 30 years, and enthusiastically endorsed by my husband. Though I consider Mike mine, I’ve been willing to share him with my spouse on occasion. We met at my last job. Mike worked for the IT company that served our art and advertising departments. After I left and started my home-based business, I called his company whenever I needed tech support, paying corporate rates for the comfort of his familiar face. Years later, when Mike went freelance, it was a no-brainer to go with him. His new hourly rate was less than half what I was paying previously, and more importantly, I depended on him. He was my guy.  I’d like to think it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship, but I know I am getting the better part of this deal. Mike eventually took a full-time, in-house job and gradually let his other freelance clients go. I asked him why I was lucky enough to remain his one and only. “We’ve always had a good relationship, and you don’t abuse your privileges, so I don’t mind taking care of you. Though when you do need me, it’s usually when something’s on fire,” he said.  If there’s one secret to this long-term relationship, it’s this: I never cry wolf. Two years ago I made the colossal mistake of updating my operating system at 6 pm—an upgrade I had been pushing off for months despite Apple’s daily reminders. By 10 pm I was in a full-blown panic when none of my applications worked, even after reinstalling. From upstairs, my husband could hear me moaning in my office as I gave in finally and texted Mike. That’s another thing I love about my IT guy—he responds to my late night re-booty calls. Mike remoted in. Like two detectives pinning our theories to the wall, we finally nailed down the source of my troubles—an older model Wacom tablet that was incompatible with my new OS. He stayed on the phone with me until 1 am, making sure everything was working before we disconnected. As my Adobe software reloaded, we talked TV and compared our latest streaming favorites. You’d better believe that when I got his invoice I paid it immediately and threw in a gift card as well. If you are self-employed or working from home without an IT department, here are my tips for finding and maintaining a relationship with your own tech support provider. Have a contingency plan. If someone in your household had a medical crisis, you know to call a doctor, dial 911, or drive to the nearest emergency room, right? Don’t wait until you have a tech emergency to formulate a plan. If you’re employed by a company with an IT help desk but are operating remotely, keep the contact information for at least one IT colleague handy. (Hint: not on your computer.) If you are without tech support, do some advance research to line up at least one resource that’s available during business hours. If you are willing to be flexible on timing, you can expand your options to include freelancers who primarily work nights and weekends.  Tap your network. So how do you meet an IT person these days? You can’t buy one a drink at a Genius Bar or swipe an app (ITinder, anyone?). Start with tech support options offered directly by your computer manufacturer or through authorized service providers linked to their site. You could potentially find IT help through online forums or Craigslist, but I prefer the security of a personal recommendation. Ask your network of colleagues, friends, family, and neighbors who they use or if they know anyone who works in IT. As an individual, your needs won’t be as time-consuming as those of a corporate client, so even an IT professional who is employed full-time may be open to freelancing after hours. With Covid-related layoffs, there may be a larger tech support talent pool available now than before the pandemic. Respect boundaries. Because Mike has a day job I won’t call him at work, but I know he is receptive to a text, which I reserve for emergencies. If you have a non-urgent question for your IT person, reach out by email and indicate that in the subject line. When you have an issue that needs to be resolved quickly, remember the three P’s: Be polite. Your inability to get email or reboot your laptop may not be the only crisis your IT person is dealing with at the moment. Be the person whose calls they want to take. Be patient. Give your IT person at least three to four hours to respond before you reach out again. Be professional. Ask how and when your person prefers to be contacted, and respect that. Never invade their social media space with a request for help. Do your homework. Before I ask Mike his opinion on a purchase or to troubleshoot a software issue, I do my own online research. Most software developers offer live chats and can remote in to help solve a problem, even at night. There are also countless forums where you can find solutions. Chances are, if you’ve encountered a problem after installing an update, others have too. Aim to be a low-maintenance client (you’ll save money, too).  Pay well and pay on time. When Mike recommends which brand of backup drive I should order, our interaction may be limited to a handful of texts, but I am well aware he’s done research on his own. I always insist he bill me for his time and expertise, and I immediately pay via Venmo upon receiving an invoice. He charges me $85 an hour, and I will gladly add extra or send a gift card in appreciation when he goes above and beyond. Remember: As an individual, your business is not likely to outrank your IT person’s day job or corporate clients, but if you are someone they enjoy working with, your relationship can gratify you both for years to come.

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How to Bust Your Spotify Feedback Loop and Find New Music

Does the algorithm know you too well? Here’s how to shake up your recommendations for a more varied listening experience. If you’re listening to music right now, chances are you didn’t choose what to put on—you outsourced it to an algorithm. Such is the popularity of recommendation systems that we’ve come to rely on them to serve us what we want without us even having to ask, with music streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer all using personalized systems to suggest playlists or tracks tailored to the user. Generally, these systems are very good. The problem, for some, is that they’re perhaps really too good. They’ve figured out your taste, know exactly what you listen to, and recommend more of the same until you’re stuck in an endless pit of ABBA recordings (just me?). But what if you want to break out of your usual routine and try something new? Can you train or trick the algorithm into suggesting a more diverse range? “That is tricky,” says Peter Knees, assistant professor at TU Wien. “Probably you have to steer it very directly into the direction that you already know you might be interested in.” The problem only gets worse the more you rely on automated recommendations. “When you keep listening to the recommendations that are being made, you end up in that feedback loop, because you provide further evidence that this is the music you want to listen to, because you're listening to it,” Knees says. This provides positive reinforcement to the system, incentivizing it to keep making similar suggestions. To break out of that bubble, you’re going to need to quite explicitly listen to something different. Companies such as Spotify are secretive about how their recommendation systems work (and Spotify declined to comment on the specifics of its algorithm for this article), but Knees says we can assume most are heavily based on collaborative filtering, which makes predictions of what you might like based on the likes of other people who have similar listening habits to you. You may think that your music taste is something very personal, but it’s likely not unique. A collaborative filtering system can build a picture of taste clusters—artists or tracks that appeal to the same group of people. Really, Knees says, this isn’t all that different to what we did before streaming services, when you might ask someone who liked some of the same bands as you for more recommendations. “This is just an algorithmically supported continuation of this idea,” he says. The problem occurs when you want to get away from your usual genre, era, or general taste and find something new. The system is not designed for this, so you’re going to have to put in some effort. “Frankly, the best solution would be to create a new account and really train it on something very dissimilar,” says Markus Schedl, a professor at Johannes Kepler University Linz. Failing that, you need to actively seek out something new. You could seek out a new genre or use a tool outside of your main streaming service to find suggestions of artists or tracks and then search for them. Schedl suggests finding something you don’t listen to as much and starting a “radio” playlist—a feature in Spotify that creates a playlist based on a selected song. (These may, however, also be influenced by your broader listening habits.) Knees suggests waiting for new releases or regularly listening to the most popular tracks. “There's a chance that the next thing that comes up is going to be your thing,” he says. But getting away from the mainstream is harder. You’ll find that even if you actively search for a new genre, you’ll likely be nudged toward more popular artists and tracks. This makes sense—if lots of people like something, it’s more likely you will too—but can make it hard to unearth hidden gems. Knees therefore advises trying to actively dig into the “long tail”—the huge number of artists and tracks that have few listeners but might just be your niche. While you can manually trawl through obscure artists and back catalogs, however, your recommendations will still likely tend toward the mainstream. “Even if you're in the long tail, it kind of pushes you back into the head, into the popular items, when making recommendations, because this is where the system is most stable,” he says. As a general rule, if you want to diversify your listening, you’ll have to put more effort into music discovery rather than allowing the system to do it for you. Instead of just listening to personalized playlists, you could follow playlists curated by individuals. “If you're relying on a platform to do the work for you, then you're basically in the radio mode, as people were before,” Knees says. There is another way that music recommendation systems can work, which could help bust the feedback loop: content-based recommendations. In this approach, recommendations are based on sound rather than other people’s listening habits. The system could quantify aspects of music such as tempo and find similar tracks based on those acoustic qualities. Schedl suggests you could even put a numeric value on things like “danceability” or “instrumentalness.” In this case, you could even adjust the system for diversity, by tuning how similar recommended tracks should be. How much this sort of content-based recommendation approach is used, however, is unknown, and it can be a very risky strategy in terms of user experience. Play too much of the same thing and a user might get bored; but play something too far out of their comfort zone and they might just leave. “You have this trade-off between sticking to really solid, no-risk recommendations by just doing what everybody does and, on the other hand, letting the computer make a recommendation based on the sound properties alone without knowing anything about the cultural aspects of music, which might completely break that expectation,” Knees says. This could be good—it might find the perfect song just for you—or it could completely undermine a user’s trust in the recommendation system. Meanwhile, if 2021 is the year you get back into music discovery, you’ll have to take the initiative to explore outside of your filter bubble. It’s likely, in fact, that you listen to a greater range of music since using streaming platforms than you did before. Perhaps, muses Knees, it was the extra effort required to find an artist or track in the past that made it feel more precious. Put in the work, then, and it might pay off. This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. More Great WIRED Stories 📩 Want the latest on tech, science, and more? Sign up for our newsletters! The unsettling truth about the “Mostly Harmless” hiker What AlphaGo can teach us about how people learn Unlock your cycling fitness goals by fixing up your bike 6 privacy-focused alternatives to apps you use every day Vaccines are here. We have to talk about side effects 🎮 WIRED Games: Get the latest tips, reviews, and more 🏃🏽‍♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team’s picks for the best fitness trackers, running gear (including shoes and socks), and best headphones

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