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What we're buying: Our new home and garden essentials

Andrew Tarantola
·Senior Editor
·7-min read

2020 has been a year of life lived in suspension and in suspense. As the COVID-19 pandemic held America in thrall amid the rising tides of civil and economic unrest, just getting through the day became a victory, cause for celebration -- even as the days began to bleed together and the months flew by at their seeming glacial pace. Though our lives have turned inwards, Engadget’s editors have been utilizing the added indoor time to pursue their hobbies, learn new skills, and even reconnect with nature. Here are their stories and the gadgets that have helped them not just survive but thrive throughout quarantine.

Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones

Sony WH-1000XM3
Sony WH-1000XM3

I live next door to some exceptionally noisy neighbors. Like, noisy to the point that they make me miss the relative peace and quiet of living directly under the arrival flightpath for John Wayne Airport back in college. But I have found their auditory Kryptonite in the form of Sony’s wireless, noise-cancelling WH-1000XM3 headphones. These things are terrific. I slide them on and all external noises are cancelled into a dull, distant hum. They pair with my phone and stereo via Bluetooth, which enables me to take calls without taking them off. I can also start, stop and skip music tracks -- even instantly mute the playback -- simply by swiping and tapping gesture controls on the outside of the right earcup. The battery lasts a workday between charges as well. Yes, the updated XM4s came out earlier this year, but my XM3s continue to serve me well. — Andrew Tarantola, Senior Editor

Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Unlimited subscription

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

With the COVID pandemic effectively ensconcing me within my apartment this year, I found myself with a surplus of free time. So, rather than spend my evenings doom-scrolling on Twitter (since that’s my day job), I invested in a Kindle Paperwhite to supplement my existing phone-based Kindle Unlimited subscription (which I’d used to use during my now-canceled commutes).

The Paperwhite is great, not perfect -- I’m not much of a fan of the UI or the general book browsing experience. But compared to my 5-inch Pixel 2 screen, actually reading books on the Paperwhite is a delight. Its matte display has helped drastically reduce the amount of screen strain my eyes have endured since March. Granted, downloading books off of Amazon’s servers is no trip to my local library branch, but until this COVID mess clears up, the Paperwhite is a solid stand-in. — A. T.

A Pot for Pot kit

a pot for pot
a pot for pot

When I first looked into “growing my own,” everything seemed to involve space-age looking tents with industrial ventilation or lighting. I needed something more... accessible. Enter A Pot for Pot -- a grow kit that treats nature's medicine like any other pot plant. Frankly, I was skeptical that it'd work, but I was on lockdown and needed something to do. Fast forward a month, and I had a small, but flourishing plant.

The "pot for pot" system comes with everything you need for your grow, bar the seed (though there's a discount coupon for some included). The instructions are so simple that even succulent-killer me has had success. The kits come in different sizes depending on your space or needs, and it even includes some clip-on lenses for your phone so you can bore your friends with macro photos of it as it starts to yield its wares. I'm a long way from harvesting anything, (that should be a late Christmas present) but already planning my second grow with glee. — James Trew, Managing Editor

Bakeware

cookie scoops
cookie scoops

The pandemic didn’t spark my love of baking -- I’ve had it for quite some time. But having very little to do and basically nowhere to go during quarantine led me to bake (and on occasion, eat) my feelings. But to understand how I approach making cookies, cupcakes, bundt cakes and many more sweet treats, you first have to understand my kitchen: it’s very, very small. Like most NYC-area apartments, the kitchen can barely be classified as a room. Instead, it’s more like a rectangular section of a much larger room in which only two people can comfortably stand at one time.

Limited space means limited room for supplies. When I started baking more often, I immediately upgraded a few key items: I purchased OXO’s stainless steel set of measuring cups and a set of three different-sized cookie scoops. The measuring cups are far and away better than the plastic hand-me-downs that I had before -- they don’t tip over, they have comfortable, grippy silicone pads on their magnetic handles and those magnets mean the set sticks together in my overstuffed drawers.

The cookie scoopers really changed the game, though. Uniformity is an under-appreciated trait in a good batch of cookies, and now I can achieve it every time (and I no longer have to choose between a diminutive morsel or a gigantic disk when I reach into the cookie jar). Not only have the scoops come in handy with cookies, but they also make more uniform cupcakes and a more perfectly-shaped meatball.

Now, because I have limited counter space, I always shied away from elaborate cookie recipes that require rolling out dough. But I gave it a go a few times recently because I had nothing to lose and I wanted to up my sugar-cookie game. An adjustable rolling pin has been essential to this process because it truly does help you flatten your dough out to precisely the right width. The one I bought also came with a baking mat that’s become indispensable for measuring dough circumference. I’m pleased to say that my sugar cookies are now much tastier and they have made my official Holiday Cookie roster (along with a new gingerbread recipe that I’ve been waiting months to bake in earnest).

Throughout my baking escapades, the Echo Show has been helpful in guiding and entertaining me. Sometimes I watch Prime Video shows while I’m prepping and other times I’ll use the screen to follow along with recipes (some written, some videos). I’ve also found the Paprika app indispensable for saving, categorizing and referencing the recipes I’ve tried as well as those I want to give a go. — Valentina Palladino, Commerce Editor

Breville Smart Oven Air

Breville
Breville

While I liked the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid that I purchased earlier this year, its small capacity eventually frustrated me enough that I went looking for an alternative. At the same time, I knew that I wanted a machine that could function as a toaster oven as well. After some research, I decided to get the Breville Smart Oven Air, a countertop convection oven that also has air-frying capabilities. It’s been almost five months now since I bought it, and I absolutely love it. Not only does it do an excellent job at air frying fries and wings, it also heats up way faster than my regular oven, letting me finish my baking and roasting that much quicker. Plus, it doesn’t heat up my entire house, which is great during the warmer months. — Nicole Lee, Senior Editor

Aerogarden

Aerogarden
Aerogarden

I’ve always had fantasies of growing my own little herb garden in the kitchen, but I often had mixed results. Sometimes I’d forget when to water them, and other times I would water them too much. The Aerogarden, however, takes care of all of that for me. Its hydroponic system is entirely automated, and it even lights up every so often to remind me to feed it or add more water. In just a matter of weeks, I’ve grown my own little thriving herb garden. Now I’m wondering if I should get another one to try my hand at growing my own little salad bar too. — N.L.