Tablets & celebrity headphones

December 15, 2011

One big trend: celebrity-endorsed headphones.

Beats by Dr. Dre has celebrities such as Gwen Stefani and Kanye West touting its headphones. Lady Gaga even designs for the brand.

Consumer Reports tested Dr. Dre headphones, along with traditional big names including Bose, Sony, and Panasonic.

They included studio-style headphones, which are good for listening to music at home, and portable models, which are better on the go. Also tested: noise-canceling and noise- isolating earphones, which block outside noise to varying degrees.

Consumer Reports' audio experts, who've tested hundreds of headphones, say you can't buy by brand. It turns out that some Monster's Beats by Dr. Dre have done well in the tests. But one model, the "Solo," which costs around $180, was one of the lowest- rated headphones tested.

Consumer Reports finds that you don't have to pay for pricier celebrity headphones to get very good audio quality. The studio-style Sony PIIQ headphones are a Best Buy, at just $35.

If you're looking for a portable set, the Sennheiser CX215 headphones are also a Best Buy, at $40. A plus: they reduce outside noise.

If you're interested in wireless headphones, Consumer Reports did find a very good set, but they're expensive. They're the studio-style Sennheiser model RS180, for $330.


Stuck on what to give that special someone this year? Consider a tablet. Almost one in five people are planning on giving an iPad, according to a Consumer Reports' holiday survey. But two new tablets from Amazon and Barnes and Noble are giving the iPad serious competition.

Barnes and Noble is known for its e-book readers, but the latest offering, the Nook Tablet, is its first foray into the world of tablet computers. And Amazon, which also has a successful line of e-book readers, announced its first tablet with much fanfare. It's called Kindle Fire.

The iPad is still the tablet to beat, dominating sales with more than two thirds of the market. Consumer Reports tested the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet along with more than 20 others.

The Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet are much lower priced than the iPad but they're also more limited in what they can do. And the screens are about 3 inches smaller. Consumer Reports tests show both tablets do have very good screen quality and they make it easy to get to a web browser, e-mail and other content.

So what are the differences? The $250 Nook Tablet offers access to the Barnes and Noble store. It also has 16 gigs of capacity and a memory card slot. The $200 Kindle Fire only has 8 gigs of storage, but you can upload your content to the Amazon cloud for streaming to the device, so storage is less of an issue. And a real plus is the Fire gives you access to all your Amazon content.

Up until now, lower-priced tablet computers have been pretty unimpressive in Consumer Reports tests. These are the first models to give the iPad some serious competition. But the iPad is still the best option for those looking for the full tablet experience. It's pricey, starting at $500, but the big screen is great for movies and games. It also has a camera. And the 32-gig iPad 2 with WiFi and 3G is Consumer Reports top-rated tablet.

When it comes to content for the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet, both have a proprietary app store. While these stores have fewer apps than you'll find on iTunes or in the Android market, there are still several thousand apps available in both, including a wide variety of magazines and newspapers as well as popular games such as Angry Birds.

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