CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or office chairs — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
This year, we tested hundreds of home products — from office furniture to vacuums — to find the best of the best.
Not only does the 4th Gen Echo have a unique cylindrical design, but it houses terrific sound and a myriad of Alexa smarts — all of which makes it our top pick for a smart speaker. The spherical shape allows for stronger sound to be pushed out and its sound quality is unmatched at its price point. Better yet, it has plenty of connectivity to power your smart home and make setting up other devices effortlessly.
As our runner-up pick for a smart speaker, the HomePod Mini gets a lot right — but its Achilles heel is that it only works for those in the Apple ecosystem. You actually can’t set it up without an iPhone. But if you live in the Apple ecosystem, it produces excellent sound with surprisingly strong quality as well. Siri is smarter than ever, and this tiny smart speaker can power your smart home.
If you want bold, clear audio and an assistant-agnostic smart speaker, the Sonos One is your best bet. You get your pick of Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant for easy control and answers to queries, but the real star is the audio quality, which. beat out every other smart speaker we tested.
If you’re on a tighter budget, the best value for under $35 is found in the Echo Dot. It features a circular design that really mimics the full-size Echo, but lacks some of the audio prowess. It still gives you easy access to Alexa — which lets you get an answer for really nearly anything — and offers pretty good sound quality for the size.
• Read more from our testing of smart speakers here.
If you’re seeking a smart display, your best bet is the Echo Show 8. It’s the best smart display we tested and hits a home run with a versatile, easy-to-read 8-inch screen baked into a design that fits in anywhere. It can do everything you’d expect from a smart display, like play videos, display recipes and provide a visual with all of Alexa’s responses.
Best smart display for a nightstand: Google Nest Hub ($59.99, originally $99.99; bhphotovideo.com) If you want a smart display for your nightstand, we’d recommend one that makes the most of the space and doesn’t feature a camera. That’s the $99 Nest Hub, which can also work as a full-featured alarm clock with the ability to track your sleep. It also gets plenty loud to wake you up.
• Read more from our testing of smart displays here.
The Wyze Plug is a nearly perfect smart plug — it’s small enough so that it doesn’t block multiple outlets when plugged in and is quick to respond to any command. Those can be sent from the Wyze app or with a smart assistant (Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant). It’s also very affordable.
While the Wyze Plug doesn’t support Apple HomeKit, the Wemo Smart Plug does and it’s our pick for working within Apple’s ecosystem. It’s very compact, and setup is as easy as scanning a code with your iPhone. Better yet, it can work simultaneously with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.
• Read more from our testing of smart plugs here.
While the Google Nest Learning Thermostat isn’t the most affordable, it’s the best thermostat we’ve tested. It studies your habits and controls the temperature in your home automatically. Those smarts are paired with some of the best controls we’ve ever used as well.
If you’re on a tighter budget, the Google Nest Thermostat offers some great functionality. It has the same simple, straightforward interface as the flagship model, and offers control from afar in the Google Home app.
• Read more from our testing of smart thermostats here.
The Ring Alarm Pro wasn’t just the most seamless to set up and customize out of all the security systems we’ve tested; it also offers features that no other system can match. Yes, the Alarm Pro — through sensors — will monitor your home and offer you an easy way to expand the system as needed, but it also can keep your internet running when the electricity goes off.
• Read more from our testing of home security systems here.
The Wyze Bulb Color marries affordability and functionality like no other bulb we tested, boasting instantaneous and straightforward controls. Better yet, those can be managed through the Wyze app or smart assistants. You can set the bulb to thousands of color options and different light temperatures when casting white light.
• Read more from our testing of smart bulbs here.
The Chamberlain myQ makes controlling your garage door — from nearly anywhere — an effortless experience that’s done in a snap.
Genie’s been a mainstay in the garage door industry, and it shows with the Aladdin Connect. This smart controller includes all the tools you need in the box and a single unit can control up to three garage doors.
The iSmartGate Pro isn’t cheap, but it’s easy to set up and stretches the compatibility list to a broad range of smart home ecosystems.
• Read more from our testing of smart garage door controllers here.
Ring’s Video Doorbell 2 Pro uses radar to give you highly accurate motion alerts, has stellar-looking video with a wide, tall field of view and crisp audio and can even show you on a map the route someone took as they made their way to your door.
The Arlo Essential Wired Video Doorbell has a sleek design and is easy to set up, plus it gives you clear video, a multitude of settings to fine-tune the video quality and an affordable price.
The wireless Nest Doorbell can be installed anywhere thanks to an integrated battery, gives you intelligent alerts without making you sign up for a subscription and produces clear, crisp video so you can stay informed about your visitors and deliveries.
• Read more from our testing of video doorbells here.
Have you ever wished you could sleep on the clouds? Well, the Brooklinen Down Comforter is the closest thing to that. From the moment we took it out of the packaging, we had a hunch that this would be a favorite. And we were right.
The comforter comes in three different weight options: lightweight, all-season and ultra warm. We tested the all-season comforter, and despite it being the middle of winter with temperatures dropping indoors and out, we found it to perfectly balance snuggly warmth with breathability. Though on the heavier end of the spectrum (it boasts a 700 fill power and baffle box design), we never found the comforter to trap too much heat or cause nighttime sweating. The comforter, with its 100% cotton sateen shell, was one of the softest we tested — and the one we kept coming back to cuddle into most nights.
When it comes to warmth and coziness, the Legends Hotel Alberta Down Comforter from The Company Store is unrivaled.
Full disclosure: This comforter is for truly frosty climates or especially cold sleepers. Though available in three different weights — light, medium and extra, all of which sport a baffle box construction — we tested and recommend the extra warmth option (which has a 650 fill power). While our main tester, who tends to sleep hot, found this lofty comforter slightly too heavy to sleep with throughout the night, a cold-sleeping family member absolutely loved the warmth the Legends Hotel Alberta Down Comforter provided.
The Buffy Cloud Comforter was like no other comforter we tested. This down-alternative comforter was by far the best alternative version we tested — and the only one we’d recommend, as the other down alternatives we tested lacked in both quality of construction and comfort.
Although this was a new type of material for us — as we typically sleep with a down comforter in our nontesting days — we thought the fabric was very soft and lightweight but still heavy enough to keep us warm throughout the night. The comforter was also very quiet, emitting no crinkling sounds when shifting sleeping positions.
• Read more from our testing of comforters here.
Luxurious without feeling overly thick or too weighty, this delectably comfortable flannel sheet comes in at a mid-to-high-end price point, starting at $197 for a queen set (which includes two pillowcases, a fitted sheet and a flat sheet). These flannels come in lots of varieties of color and size, and instill confidence you’re getting a quality product that’ll last for years to come.
Very close to our overall favorite because it is both supremely cozy and the most lightweight of all the sets we tested is West Elm’s organic flannel sheet, which usually starts at $180 for a queen set. These sheets didn’t come out on top because they’re available in only two colors and cannot be ordered a la carte like Garnet Hill’s sheets.
If you’re sleeping in really cold weather and you want to feel positively bundled, L.L.Bean makes a weighty flannel sheet for you — at a competitive price point for the level of craftsmanship therein at $119 for a queen set.
Also delivering an excellent and very warm night of sleep, Pinzon by Amazon turns out a substantial flannel sheet at just $72.76 for a queen set. That’s half the price of some of the other higher-end brands, but you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing quality.
• Read more from our testing of flannel sheets here.
Making the bed with these sheets was effortless. We’ve struggled with tight-fitting cotton sheets before, wondering why bed-making must be truly laborious. The Parachute linens were roomy but not baggy. They fit the bed comfortably, like a lovingly worn-in linen button-down. On the summer night we first tested these, the sheets were soft but also firm. If this sounds uncomfortable, it was the opposite: cool, light and luxurious. Our first mental note was that we felt like we were sleeping on a cloud.
These are a sturdier, thicker option than some of the ones we tested, and thus feel like they’ll transition well into colder weather. Without an air conditioner unit blasting directly onto us in the heat of summer, these sheets almost felt heavy — so they wouldn’t be our first recommendation for hot sleepers. In a more temperature-controlled room, though, they felt so cozy we didn’t want to leave the bed.
After even the first washing, these beauties softened significantly, rendering them even more snuggly.
These sheets are the definition of soft. So comfortable. So enveloping. So melty. (They’re crafted from 100% French and Belgian linen, made in Portugal, and Oeko-Tex-certified for chemical safety.) We sort of dissolved into them in a very pleasing way. They felt like they had been washed and rewashed dozens of times, already achieving that texture, and from a sleeping experience alone, they were our favorite.
Best affordable linen sheets: Simple&Opulence 100% Washed Linen Sheet Set (starting at $114; amazon.com) For less than $150, this is a very satisfying set of linens. While the sheets were slightly less luxurious-feeling and special than some of the other sets with special details or touches, these rank as high-quality, durable bedding more than worth their weight.
• Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.
Hands down, the Casper Sateen Duvet Cover was the best duvet cover we tested. From the moment we took it out of the bag, we knew this one would be a winner. Between the zipper closure at the bottom to the hidden holes on the corners to more easily attach the cover to the duvet, the design of this duvet cover blew the others we tested out of the water — all for a middle-of-the-road price tag.
For the colder months, or for those looking to outfit their cozy cabin, the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Comforter Cover will give you the utmost softest feel while adding some warmth, as it was made from the thickest material we tested. And at less than $100 for a king-size cover, its quality and comfort surpass the price.
Best luxury duvet cover: Boll & Branch Signature Eyelet Duvet Cover Set (starting at $358; bollandbranch.com) Want something a little less plain Jane when it comes to design? If so, the Boll & Branch Signature Eyelet Duvet Cover is the perfect middle ground: It’s elegant but adds some design elements with borders. A full overlay also covers the bottom buttons, completing the design border. The quality is superb, with all stitching, ties and buttons fully secure. Note that this duvet cover isn’t cheap — in fact, it’s the most expensive of all we tested — but it’s one of the few luxury brands that also includes shams, making it easy to ensure that your bedding will match.
If you love walking into a hotel room and getting comfy on those sleek-looking beds, you’ll love the Mellanni Microfiber Duvet Cover. With hidden button covers and matching shams and pillows, this comfortable duvet cover will lend an elegant vibe to your bedroom — at just around $30 in total for a five-piece set, an absolute steal in our book.
• Read more from our testing of duvet covers here.
Fishers Finery — made from the finest silk available — felt luxuriously silky, fit our pillows perfectly, offered beautiful nights of sleep and were easy to wash and dry both by hand and in the machine.
The MYK Silk Natural Silk Pillowcase, featuring lovely silk on one side and white cotton on the other, offered a good fit and restful sleep for about half the price of the Fishers Finery option — though it’s notably less luxurious-feeling.
We couldn’t get enough sleeps on the Lunya Washable Silk Pillowcase. Also silk on one side, cotton on the other, Lunya’s silk surface case was the most lavish to the touch, and design details made it feel significantly elevated.
• Read more from our testing of silk pillowcases here.
The primary reason the Kohler Forte topped our list is because of the immersive shower experience it provides. Delivering a powerful rainfall spray, comprised of big, full droplets of water, the shower head’s main “full coverage” setting is all-encompassing and perfect for daily use. The intense pressure makes washing shampoo and conditioner out of your hair a quick process, and it’s super helpful when rinsing off soaped-up little ones who are much shorter and farther away from the head.
The importance of water conservation in the United States and world beyond is clear, and if it’s a top-of-mind concern for you, then let us introduce you to the High Sierra Classic Plus. The lowest of the low-flow heads on our list, the Classic Plus boasts a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute, making it both WaterSense-certified and California Energy Commission-approved. As mentioned above, there is certainly a high-efficiency shower head stigma, with some believing these heads would deliver nothing but an ineffectual trickle of water. The Classic Plus dispels the notion, however, by producing a bursting stream of high-pressure water, easily rinsing off soap and dirt.
Best dual shower head: Moen Attract Dual Shower Head and Handheld Shower Head ($79, originally $89.98; homedepot.com) One look at the Moen Attract and it’s easy to see that the shower head would be right at home in a fancy hotel. Simultaneously tasteful and luxurious-looking, the Attract’s oversize “rain shower” head (measuring 6.75 by 3.75 inches) topped our list not only because of its lustrous aesthetics but also because it delivers a doozy of a shower.
• Read more from our testing of shower heads here.
Out of the attachments we tested, the Tushy Classic 3.0 had the most comfortable stream by far, and its adjustable nozzle made it much easier than others to get a thorough clean. While it’s a bare-bones bidet, you still get a solid range of pressure and directional adjustability so you can find what feels right for you. With attachments in general, we found ourselves using lower pressures, as their streams felt more aggressive than their electric counterparts.
The Alpha JX bidet seat was the best overall bidet seat we tested, featuring the most desirable technologies at the lowest price. However, while the Alpha JX ended up on top, the race between it and our runner-up, the Toto Washlet C2, was incredibly close. Both have plenty of features you expect in a bidet at this price range, including a heated seat, dryer, full control of the stream’s pressure and direction, plus warm water. However, the Alpha JX has an unlimited warm water supply compared to the Toto’s limited one, which is what ended up pushing the Alpha into our winning spot.
If you don’t need endless warm water and want the best deal on the most comfortable wash and dry experience on the market, the Toto Washlet C2 is the bidet seat for you. While it has a limited warm water supply due to its tank, it delivers a luxurious wash and dry cycle and even has extra features like a deodorizer and a pre-mist that sprays your toilet bowl when you sit down.
If you want the best of the best in a bidet seat, you’re going to love the Toto Washlet K300. This electric bidet seat features the same top-notch spray and dryer of the Toto C2 and C5, but instead of heating water with a tank, the K300 utilizes a coil heating system like the Alpha JX for instantaneous, infinite warm water.
The Toto Washlet K300 has the most features out of all the bidets we tested and, along with the Toto C2 and C5, the most effective and comfortable spray and dryer. If you have the money to spend, we can’t recommend the K300 enough.
• Read more from our testing of bidets here.
Traditional, super-thick and super-fluffy, Frontgate’s Resort Cotton Towels encase their user in a high-weight terry luxury that feels like you’re lounging in a bathrobe waiting for room service.
Best luxury bath towel: Boll & Branch Plush Bath Towel ($48; bollandbranch.com) Boll & Branch’s chic Plush Bath Towels are heavy-duty in absorbency yet magically lightweight and feel great to dry off with. They’re also produced cleanly and sustainably by this eco-forward company.
Target’s Threshold Performance Bath Towels cost a literal fraction of the price of most other towels in our pool and felt relatively good against the skin and effectively absorbent.
• Read more from our testing of bath towels here.
The Steelcase Series 1 stood out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market, beating out chairs double the price — making it the best bang for the buck.
The Alera Elusion Series Multifunction Chair emerged as our best budget pick, standing up to (and in some cases far surpassing) office chairs that retail for more than five times its price point, particularly in the comfort and adjustability categories.
• Read more from our testing of office chairs here.
Standing desks Best overall standing desk: Branch Adjustable Standing Desk ($699; branchfurniture.com) The Branch Adjustable Standing Desk is a near-perfect desk that can handle multiple monitors, dual laptops and a plethora of knickknacks. It’s also incredibly sturdy, with one of the best builds we’ve encountered.
Best custom standing desk: Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk (starting at $599.99; upliftdesk.com) The Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk offers the widest breadth of customization out of any standing desk we’ve encountered, from size to finish to keypads — in addition to being a high-quality desk.
Best budget electric standing desk: SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Standing Desk (starting at $209.97; amazon.com) The SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Standing Desk is a surprisingly functional, sturdy desk at an incredibly affordable price, comparatively. It was a breeze to assemble, comes with a cable management tray and features a digital keypad with memory presets.
• Read more from our testing of standing desks here.
Stand mixers Best stand mixer overall: KitchenAid 5-Quart Artisan Stand Mixer ($349.95, originally $429.95; williams-sonoma.com) The KitchenAid 5-Quart Artisan Stand Mixer delivered the best performance of the mixers we tested. With more than 20 available colors and a classic profile, you’ll want to keep this tilt-head mixer on display in your kitchen.
Best stand mixer for large batches: KitchenAid Pro 600 6-Quart Stand Mixer ($429.95, originally $529.95; williams-sonoma.com) If you prefer a bowl-lift mixer because it feels sturdier, the KitchenAid Pro 600 is a solid upgrade option from the Artisan series. It has a bigger stainless steel bowl and a more powerful motor that can handle bigger batches and recipes.
Best affordable stand mixer: Cuisinart SM-50 ($249.95; amazon.com) The Cuisinart SM-50 outperformed all of the cheaper mixers we tested, so if you’re looking to upgrade your baking or cooking tools withou
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