6 essential tools for Mac users working from home

COVID-19 pushed millions into working from home for an extended period, and not everyone was ready. Mac users can boost their capabilities with these accessories.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, few suspected millions would still be working from home in the fall or that the coronavirus would accelerate a mammoth work-from-home paradigm shift, but that’s just what’s happened. 

If you are using a Mac computer in your WFH odyssey, make the most of your Mac-centered home office by considering these helpful peripherals to make your remote access and Zoom meetings more productive.





The Brydge Stone Pro.

Image: Brydge

The Brydge Stone Pro is the docking station Apple should offer all Mac laptop users. The device, a puzzling omission from Apple retail Stores and Apple’s online shop, permits connecting a number of peripherals to a Mac via a single Thunderbolt 3/USB-C cable. The device’s elegant design is a natural match to a Mac laptop’s finish and, thanks to its angled design, serves as a convenient stand for propping up a Mac laptop on your desk, perfect for remote employees. The Stone Pro also enables connecting up to two external displays, while featuring 11 ports and its own power, so

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An outdoor smart plug that could be better

Smart home gadgets aren’t just for inside your home. There are smart grills, smart landscape lighting setups and even smart outdoor TVs. If you’re not keen on spending big bucks on fancy new smart things for your porch or patio, you can still bring some of that Wi-Fi magic into your space with an outdoor smart plug.  

Like

  • Works with Alexa and Google Assistant
  • Waterproof and weather-resistant
  • Compact design

Don’t Like

  • Only one outlet
  • Not HomeKit-compatible
  • Setup isn’t always easy

The Braumm Outdoor Smart Plug works with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa for voice commands and integration with your favorite smart home platform. At $40 (but often on sale for less), it’s a midprice option for Google Assistant- and Alexa-powered homes. However, setup woes and an underwhelming app suggest it’s not the best plug on the market. 

Design

Outdoor smart plugs are a great way to connect holiday lights, decorations, bug zappers, electric lamps, speakers and pretty much any plug-in outdoor gadget you enjoy. By design, they are utilitarian and made to withstand the elements. That usually means design aesthetics aren’t high on the priority list. I take no issue with that. Let’s be honest, I just want

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TCL 6-Series 2020 Roku TV review: Improved picture, incredible value

The new TCL 6-Series Roku TV has big shoes to fill. For two years running it’s been my favorite TV for everyday buyers, with excellent image quality, class-leading smarts and an affordable price. The 2020 version adds a new backlight system powered by mini-LED, improved gaming features and a 75-inch size, yet keeps the cost affordable. The result is the best picture quality for the money I’ve tested this year.

Like

  • Excellent overall image quality
  • Superior brightness for the price
  • Great game mode performance
  • Roku smart TV is simple, capable

Don’t Like

  • Some issues with low-light dimming
  • No Peacock, HBO Max or Apple AirPlay

Those mini-LEDs maximize brightness, leading to better images in bright rooms and with HDR. Local dimming, meanwhile, manages to keep black levels dark and overall contrast superb — although it’s not perfect. And gamers will appreciate the new THX Certified game mode, which serves up fast response time with minimal lag and excellent image quality.


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Compared to the 2019 6-Series, which is still an excellent TV if you can find one in stock, the 2020 version is better

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Second stimulus check: Dates the IRS might send a new direct payment and who could get it first

How soon could your second stimulus check come? We lay out some possible dates from when the bill is passed to when your money could actually arrive.


James Martin/CNET

There’s still hope that a second stimulus check of $1,200 (maximum) per adult could arrive before the end of the year. It would be authorized either through negotiation on another stimulus bill after more than a month of debate, or through a new executive action. The good news is we can predict some timelines when the IRS might start sending more stimulus money. The less good news is that even if a new check gets the go-ahead, you might not receive it as soon as everyone else, even if you qualify for more money (see details in the chart below).

Roughly 9 million Americans still haven’t received the first direct payment that began in mid-April, for example, and the same goes for parents awaiting their $500 share for each dependent, who have until Sep. 30 to make a claim.

Factors such as when the federal government decides to authorize more stimulus money and which priority group you will be in will determine when you could get paid. We

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Surfshark VPN review: Competitive pricing and lots of surprise features from this newbie


Surfshark

Hitting the market in 2018, relative virtual private network newbie Surfshark is moving fast to establish itself as a competitive VPN option against its older and more readily recognized peers. At lower costs, the up-and-comer VPN boasts impressive speeds despite having a smaller server fleet than NordVPN or ExpressVPN. It also has more configurable privacy add-ons than reputable services such as IPVanish

Like

  • Doorbuster pricing
  • Multihop VPN
  • Competitive speeds

Don’t Like

  • Still a newcomer
  • Privacy policy could use more detail
  • Fewer servers than larger VPNs

I recommend Surfshark for its rich suite of security-focused features, its privacy-inclined jurisdiction and its competitive speeds. 

Read more: How we review VPNs at CNET

Speed

  • Average speed loss: 27% 
  • Number of servers: 1,700+  
  • Number of server locations: 63 countries 
  • Optional static IP addresses available 

I ran my speed tests over the course of three days with dynamic IP addresses, in two locations, using both wireless and ethernet connections — one location offered slower broadband speeds, and the other offered higher speeds via fiber-optic internet. Internet speeds in the US vary widely by state and provider. And with any speed test, results are going to rely on your local infrastructure, with

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