Don't get caught empty-handed when the taps run dry and the power goes out after a hurricane.
Here are some gadgets to help you be prepared for the storm and its aftermath.
Monitoring the storm
Take to the airwaves to stay updated on the approaching storm and its projected path with Eton American Red Cross FRX3 radio. This radio has AM/FM and NOAA Weather radio bands, and can be powered with a hand crank. It also has a built-in solar panel, an LED flashlight, a cellphone charger, an internal rechargeable battery and a glow-in-the-dark locator. $60. shopetoncorp.com...
Perhaps it's telling that Mitsubishi's all-electric acronym, the city car known as the i-MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle), was trucked to us from Miami. The bulbous little car has a range of 62 miles when fully charged. So, how is it in the city? We had it for only a couple of days, but we got the general idea.
Appearance: Pick your description: a bug, an eggplant or a jelly bean. Lyra thought it looked like an anime character with its long, upswept headlights and parking- and fog-light dimples. Contributing to the cuteness factor: small, 15-inch alloy wheels. Despite its diminutive size, the i-MiEV is a four-door hatchback....
When it comes to its identity, Acura continues to be a work in progress. Is it an aspirational luxury brand or merely a Japanese version of Buick: a step up on the ladder but not the top rung? Now along comes the RLX, the new flagship sedan for Honda's luxury division, which does improve on its predecessor, the RL.
Appearance: First to catch your eyes are the sparkling Jewel Eye LED headlights, which Acura says are brighter than halogen or HID lights. Beyond that, the RLX looks like a rather ordinary, slightly stretched midsize sedan. The front fender bulges contribute to this elongated look. The grille is a more subdued version of Acura's shield. Chrome trim and 19-inch alloy wheels add a sporty touch. ...
Every step counts when you're trying to get fit. Even if you're not actively exercising. With the Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Tracker, you can log them all. This tiny device helps track your efforts to get back in shape. It counts your steps, measures the distance you traveled and how many calories you burned as you exercise or go about your regular day.
The case comes in a choice of five colors: lime, blue, white, magenta and charcoal. I recommend getting a bright-colored one, so it's easy to find if you misplace it (or if you drop it on your car with dark interior). But if you're going to wear it externally, a black one might draw less attention.
The Zip has a tiny LCD screen which you can tap to cycle through readings for steps, distance traveled, calories burned, and time. Oh, and a cute smiley icon is your cheering partner, and sticks its tongue out at you if you've been too stationary. (This reminded me of that Tamagotchi game from the '80s.) But, frankly, I didn't use that screen very often. Instead, I relied more on readings on the smartphone app (more later).
Wireless setup is easy. Go to fitbit.com/start to download the software to your computer (Mac or PC). You'll then be asked to tap the Zip to wake it up. Sync it to the computer with a numeric code that's shown. Create a log-in for the online tool, and start keeping track of your activities. Type in your measurements and weight, and the site will give you your stats. The Fitbit syncs automatically with the computer with a USB wireless dongle that's provided. (You just need to be within 20 feet.)
The online tool is powerful. From the main dashboard, you can see your activity and weight-loss charts. My favorite is the meal plan journal where you can set your goal and difficulty level. Based on current weight and goal, the tool comes up with calorie allowances. Just log in what you eat and drink, and the tool will keep track of how much you have left. The website has a searchable index of foods by brand or restaurants, which you can add to your Favorites list. You can also add your own food to the list. (Getting started with this list may be cumbersome, but as you get more foods on your list, keeping a meal journal gets easier.)
The Fitbit Zip can also be fully synced to your iPhone or iPad with a free iOS app from the Apple iTunes Store, which makes it so much easier when you're on the go. The interface is easy to use, where you can not only keep track of your activities, but also set goals for that day. Keep a log of your what you did, and see it in graph form (best in landscape mode).
The Android has limitations. Full sync is possible only with Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Note 2 at this point. (The phone must have accessible Bluetooth 4.0.) Check the website for compatible devices.
Note: This app will be running in the background so your phone's battery may go down quicker than before.
Now, all you have to do it to remember to wear it during the day. Just clip it on your clothes or undergarment with the silicone case that has a fairly strong clip. But a warning: Although the Fitbit is moisture resistant, it's not waterproof. So don't drop it in water, or accidentally wash it with the laundry. And if you wear it on a belt or hook it to the outside of a pocket, it might get hooked on a strap of a bag and get pulled off. So be careful.
$60. Free mobile app, online software and account. But there's also a premium membership for $50 a year that includes support from a nutritionist, a more in-depth analysis of your data, a personal fitness trainer, and ranking among your peers.
The Zip uses a 3-volt lithium battery – provided (along with a battery lid opener) – which Fitbit says lasts for four to six months....
Volkswagen redesigned the Beetle for 2012, attempting to broaden the Bug's appeal by toughening up its cute look. (Translation: Appeal to the male buyer.) For 2013, VW has rolled out three limited editions: '50s, '60s and '70s. We drove the '60s trim. While it didn't conjure memories of Flower Power, it did impress us with its performance.
Appearance: The redesign left the distinctive Beetle style, but flattened out some of its roundness with a flatter roof line and wider stance. The front still has the signature round headlights and wide fenders. Lyra loved our '60s edition's Denim Blue color, but it seems more baby blue than any pair of jeans we've ever worn. Peter: "I'm not sure what's '60s about this color. Haven't VW designers ever seen Woodstock?" The one bright color on our tester was the red brake calipers that peek out from the 18-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels. There's also a rear spoiler that announces this Beetle means business. When the cloth top is up, the silhouette is almost identical to its hardtop counterpart. With the top down, the Beetle retains its sleek look. The top goes down in less than 10 seconds — even when you're moving at speeds of up to 31 mph. The cloth top folds compactly and doesn't hinder visibility. VW provides a cover that gives the folded-down top a neater look, but it doesn't strike us as being worth the trouble — and it is trouble, says Lyra. Just leave the cover at home to reclaim some trunk space (7.1 cubic feet)....
First, let's make clear what Sony's SmartWatch is NOT.
It's not a standalone watch-style smartphone. This little gizmo is more like a digital watch and a second screen that sits on your wrist for your Android phone (not compatible with iPhones.) Wirelessly paired via Bluetooth 3.0, the SmartWatch keeps some basic functions at your fingertips without having to dig out your phone from your pocket or purse. It can act as a remote for your phone's music player, and also show messages, emails, and calendar reminders, among other functions. If paired with Sony Xperia phones, it can also take calls with this device, but not with other brands. Make sure you check your phone's compatibility before you splurge on this device.
Note this limitation: You'll have to keep the phone within about 10 yards of you to maintain connection. So if you go out jogging, the SmartWatch is great to glance at incoming notifications, but you'll still have to carry your smartphone with you. But if you have, say, an armband holding your phone, a glance down at the watch is much easier than working your big phone during your exercises. Vibrations alert you to new messages, which you can scroll to read. If you're in a loud area, or you have to turn off your phone ringer, you can still be aware of incoming messages or calls on the SmartWatch....
Mitsubishi's Outlander Sport is neither an Outlander, like its bigger SUV sibling of the same name, nor sporty. But the Outlander Sport, which has been updated for 2013, is a compact SUV that can be had for slightly less than $20,000 in its base trim. In a refreshing change, we didn't get a manufacturer's fully loaded model.
Appearance: The look is athletic. Mitsubishi has made tweaks to the body including the front fascia, the rear LED taillights and the lower-body panels, which are now painted black. The Outlander Sport still carries the angry-looking scowl that looks much better on Mitsubishi's sporty Lancer. That chrome-trimmed grille, with a body-color bumper running through it, is the most striking feature of the SUV. The look definitely provokes a love-it or hate-it response....
This is the golden age of the midsize sedan. The family car is the most competitive class in the auto industry, and consumers reap the benefits of this one-upmanship. The latest proof of this is the stylish all-new Mazda6.
Appearance: We love the new look, which presents itself as aerodynamic, with sensuous curves and, finally, an elegant front grille. Grilles have long been a design conundrum for Mazda (think "grin" or "smile") but this design is striking, accented by chrome trim integrated into the flanking headlights. Peter thinks you can really see the Japanese aesthetic at work here. The front fenders flare for a more aggressive look — one that is becoming a familiar design element for all manufacturers. Those fender creases flow nicely into the doors — Mazda calls this "soul of motion" — and a slight crease runs all the way to the rear of the car. The rear of the 6 also is nicely detailed with chrome trim, a deck-lid spoiler and elongated taillights. The twisted spokes of the 19-inch wheels really set off the Soul Red paint (an upgrade), which has deep hues that look stunning in the sun. Want a nondescript family hauler? This is not your car....
Wearing headphones can be a challenge when you're exercising. So many don't stay on your ears because of all the jostling, especially when you start perspiring.
With fitness buffs in mind, Motorola came out with the SF200 headphones. Designed with over-the-ear loop that hooks around the back of the ears, the headset is designed to stay in place. The loop is skinny enough to be able to wear even with glasses or sunglasses on. In fact, I think it stays on better that way, and didn't hurt like some other headsets with bulky loops.
I had my husband test it out when he went to the gym. He says the ear pieces stayed on during all the exercising, and never fell out or slipped. He was able to hear his music on the iPod even though the treadmills were located under the gym's speakers blaring out some "workout" music. But the SF200 doesn't completely block out outside noise, which is ideal if you're jogging along the road.
For me, the arc of the loop was too high, and didn't fit my ears well. The earpieces fit better with sunglasses on, however.
The headset comes with four sizes of silicone ear cushions for you to find a good fit. It's water resistant with mesh and silicone seals. The speakers are encased to keep moisture out. (Interestingly, the instruction manual, under the Use and Care section, says to keep the headset away from "Liquid of any kind: Don't expose your product to water, rain, extreme humidity, sweat or other moisture." Hmm.)
With the small built-in control and microphone, you can answer calls, control the volume or skip through music on your player.
Lastly, I appreciated that the cords were bright red, and not black like so many other accessories. Black tends to disappear in a sea of other black gadgets or car upholstery.
Motorola SF200, $49.99...
Otterbox phone cases have been known for its toughness. Many users swear by the brand for protecting their smartphones from, well, life.
But if you're truly rough on your phone, Otterbox came out with a new line called Armor, which the manufacturer calls "the toughest case ever built."
As the name suggests, these cases can stand a lot of abuse. It can protect the phone from a drop of 10 feet onto concrete or 2 tons of crushing force. The case is sealed tight so no dirt or dust gets into the case (assuming you clean the phone really well before encasing it). You can also submerge it up to 6.6 feet for 30 minutes without damaging the phone. Sounds like a perfect case when you take your phone to the beach.
The exterior of the case is made of high strength-reinforced plastic with plastic pieces with rubber seals to protect plug-in areas.The interior has soft silicone lining to cushion the phone. Two zinc alloy clasps clamp the case firmly closed. These buckles, which won't rust or corrode, were a bit difficult to open. I had to dig in my nail to release the contraption. If you want to save your nails, you might need a small screwdriver to pop them loose, as they're pretty firm. The plastic screen protection is attached to the case so openings for the earpiece and cameras are enclosed. The speaker areas are covered with impermeable mesh that lets through sound, but nothing else.
The home button, volume, ringer on/off toggle and power buttons are all molded into the case. As expected, all of the buttons require a harder press to translate to the phone. But overall, that was not an inconvenience. The ringer on/off toggle switch, however, required a lot of "encouragement" to get it to respond. The screen protector didn't affect the phone's responses to touch: smooth and flawless.
All these features sound great, but they come with a price. To keep the sleek, well-designed iPhone in pristine condition, you'll have to add bulk. Lots of it. The case weighs 4.23 ounces, and is 5.14 inches in height by 2.94 inches in width and 0.82 inches in depth. That's a lot of case. It's more than two times thicker than an iPhone, which is .37 inches deep. The also aren't any choices of colors either: Dark gray with lime green interior and exterior pieces....
Forget what you know about diesels. Forget the arguments about whether Porsche should be making SUVs. The Cayenne Diesel, especially if you can ante up for the pricey options, will change any preconceived notions.
Appearance: The midsize Cayenne looks like what you'd expect a Porsche SUV to look like up front: raised fenders, creased hood, sleek tri-oval headlights. This look sweeps back to a fairly standard crossover design. There are now larger and bolder taillights, an improvement that goes better with the wide rear end and dual exhaust. Our optioned-out tester had a sporty look with black 21-inch wheels (a $6,505 option including arch extensions) and black trim around windows and wheel wells, which was a nice contrast to the Classic Silver Metallic color ($790)....
Sometimes, we get as excited over a modestly priced car as we do over the latest exotic. We're serious. An economy car has to provide more bang for the buck in areas that matter to busy families. So we appreciate when a car delivers. Kia's all-new 2014 Forte sedan does this surprisingly well. It should hit dealerships any day now.
Appearance: Overall, this new Forte is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. If you say it resembles the Honda Civic, we won't correct you. We think so too — especially in profile. And while Kia probably doesn't like to hear it, we submit that such suggestions are high praise. (Peter is a Civic owner). This new Forte looks more aggressive; it has Kia's distinctive black-mesh "tiger-nose" grille and is framed in chrome. The design is tied into aggressively upswept headlights that feature LED "eyebrows." The lower black-mesh air intake is flanked by foglights. The body side panels are tastefully creased, recalling its Hyundai cousins' "fluidic" design. Complementing this handsome package are sculpted 17-inch alloy wheels....
The Subaru Forester was introduced in the 1990s as a crossover wagon, and it became popular with buyers in snowy climates who valued practicality and safety with the automaker's standard four-wheel-drive. For 2014, Subaru has redesigned the Forester, which has resulted in a vehicle that's incrementally larger and looks more like an SUV.
Appearance: Peter can't help but feel that the Forester has lost some of its quirky "Subaru-ness" by shedding the station-wagon design. Our turbo model featured an aggressive-looking front fascia with mesh grille and chrome trim. (The look is much better than that of the plainer nonturbo Foresters.) Maybe because of the rake of its windshield, this fourth-generation Forester doesn't look as tall as its predecessor. We both liked our tester's Marine Blue Pearl paint, which was complemented by upswept headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels....
Hyundai introduced its Genesis coupe in 2010 as a traditional rear-wheel-drive performance car for the budget-minded. Since then, the carmaker has refined its design philosophy and given the 2013 Coupe styling and horsepower updates — for both 4-cylinder and V-6 models — to keep pace with the rest of the Hyundai line.
Appearance: The Genesis keeps its muscular look and "fluidic sculpture" styling, but gone is the small grille that looked like a leftover from the Hyundai parts bin. In its place is a much larger hexagonal blackout grille similar to Hyundai's Veloster. The hood gains character with airstream creases and faux air scoops, and the taillights are now upswept and of the LED variety. Lyra finds the new grille too gaping and unflattering; Peter likes the bolder look. We both liked our R-Spec's 19-inch alloy gunmetal wheels and the dual chrome-tipped exhaust. When last we drove a Genesis Coupe, it came in shade-your-eyes-neon Lime Rock Green. Now it appears that Hyundai has toned down its choices to more mainstream colors. ...
Talk about an offer we couldn't refuse: Would we like to drive Aston Martin's all-new Vanquish and a DB9 Volante? The only thing quicker than our answer may be the Vanquish itself. Both British-built models are high-performance grand tourers or GTs. For most of us, they are dream cars. So in that spirit, here are our impressions.
Price as tested: $309,605 plus delivery fee...