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Plenty of Amazon devices have gone on sale with discounts in 2021, but Fire TV Stick deals have been few and far between.
The good news is that Amazon remedied that with a few surprise bargains this week.
Our readers have been flocking to buy the Fire TV Stick Lite, which is down to just $21.99 right now, and the wildly popular Fire TV Stick 4K is down to $37.99 instead of $50.
Amazon wrapped up the year in 2020 with some fantastic deals on so many different Amazon devices. Then, the fun continued in 2021 because so many of those incredible sales carried over into the new year. Unfortunately, however, just about all of the hottest deals we’ve seen on Amazon’s various device lineups over the past few weeks have now vanished since Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day are both behind us. All those great bundle deals are gone too, and only a few Amazon devices are on sale left this week.
The good news is that the list of remaining Amazon device deals happens to include two of the most popular Amazon gadgets you can buy. It’s also a bit of a surprise since these particular Amazon gadgets haven’t been discounted very often over the past few months.
The Fire TV lineup is neck and neck with Roku in terms of popularity among our readers. Now, the most affordable product in that lineup is even more affordable thanks to a 27% discount.
Head to Amazon and you’ll find the Fire TV Stick Lite on sale for just $22.99. For those unaware of this latest addition to Amazon’s Fire TV product catalog, the device itself is exactly the same as the regular Fire TV Stick. The only difference is the remote, which is still an Alexa Voice Remote but lacks the extra power and volume buttons to control your TV. If that’s not a deal-breaker for you, definitely take advantage of this bargain!
You can also save even more by upgrading to the king of Amazon’s streaming dongles, the Fire TV Stick 4K. There is perhaps no streaming media player at the $50 price point that comes anywhere close to matching the Fire TV Stick 4K, and it’s on sale right now for just $37.99. And finally, if you want it all you can pick up a $120 Fire TV Cube on sale for $99.99. It’s basically a Fire TV Stick 4K combined with an Echo Dot, and people love it!
Fire TV Stick Lite
Our most affordable Fire TV Stick – Enjoy fast streaming in Full HD. Comes with Alexa Voice Remote Lite.
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Tens of thousands of channels, Alexa skills, and apps – Including Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max. Subscription fees may apply.
Follow @BGRDeals on Twitter to keep up with the latest and greatest deals we find around the web. Prices subject to change without notice and any coupons mentioned above may be available in limited supply.
But if you’re here to find the best toaster oven, the one that you must buy immediately with one click, well… I’m sorry to say I’ve got some disappointing news for you. Toaster ovens are, in my humble opinion, thoroughly overrated.
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Maybe that’s a difficult truth to hear. The problem is that most food you’d want to toast, like bread or bagels, would be better off in a standard toaster, and most food you’d want to bake would turn out better sitting on an oven rack in your traditional oven, where it’ll benefit from a stronger set of heating elements. Either way, you’re compromising from the get-go. And good luck cooking a roast or other complicated and time-intensive foods in a countertop toaster oven, even if they do have the right temperature range.
Still, maybe you don’t have a conventional oven and need a countertop toaster oven — or maybe you just want one, dammit. I get it! Despite my misgivings, there’s still a lot to like about the things. This is a much-beloved kitchen appliance we’re talking about, and my toasty hot take is probably a minority report.
But splurging doesn’t always make sense. Do you really need to add in modern luxuries like bar code scanners, built-in food cameras and smart cooking assistance? Techie toaster ovens from names such as Tovala, June and Brava can cost anywhere from $300 to $995, but most of the extras found in a mini smart oven are above and beyond what an average kitchen needs.
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How to buy a toaster oven that isn’t terrible
More reasonable are “upgrade pick” toaster ovens such as the fun, well-calibrated Panasonic FlashXpress, or a sturdy stalwart like the Breville Smart Oven, both of which we reviewed — and loved — a few years ago. But at $127 and $299 respectively, those models, too, are outside the mainstream in a world where a regular toaster can be had for less than $30.
That’s why I decided to take a look at some of your less-expensive options to see if I could find a good value. I honed in on popular, well-reviewed models that cost between $50 and $100, and I used convection heating — a trick that uses a fan to circulate the hot air to evenly toast and cook — as a baseline, must-have feature.
Then, with six toaster ovens ready to go in our test kitchen, I set out to put them to the test to try to find the best of the lot. Of these six, we came away with a clear favorite, and we’re also including the aforementioned Panasonic and Breville toaster ovens because they remain well worth the splurge.
We’ve tested all of those aforementioned upgrade picks here at CNET Appliances, but the only one any of us has ever bought for ourselves is the FlashXpress. It’s a fun, quirky countertop cooker that uses an infrared heating element for tasks like toasting bread and baking frozen pizza with speedy precision, and it has an easily removable crumb tray. It might not be big enough for everybody (or for baking for everybody), but that also means that it won’t take up any more counter space than it needs on your countertop. Even now, six years after we first reviewed it, it’s still easy to recommend it as the best toaster oven for toasting or baking food, or even a countertop toaster oven upgrade.
The Breville BOV800XL definitely isn’t cheap at around $270, and there’s nothing “smart” about the smart oven in a cloud-connected sense. But the Breville Smart Oven Pro cooks just about everything about as well as you could possibly expect from a countertop convection oven. On top of that, the mini smart oven is sturdy, attractive, and has an easily removable crumb tray, and it’s packed with extra cooking setting modes that you might actually find useful, including convection cooking. This Breville Smart Oven is a great compact toaster oven pick if you don’t have a smart oven, don’t have room for a full size oven or if you need a small toaster oven for cooking food just about every day.
I hate that the door on this convection toaster oven opens down more than 90 degrees. The glass can crash directly against the corner of your countertop if it isn’t pushed all the way back against your backsplash.
Still, if you can forgive that design flaw, then you’ll love the way this convection toaster oven cooks, whether you’re toasting, baking or broiling. Available for about $60 at Costco, this countertop oven was a top finisher in each one of our cooking tests. That sort of reliable, predictable cooking and baking is exactly what you want from your toaster oven.
Editor’s note, Jan. 18, 2021: The Oster TSSTTVCG05 appears to have been discontinued. The two closest alternatives are the Oster TSSTTVDFL2-AF ($60) and the Oster TSSTTVF816 ($70).
Other toaster ovens we tested
Bialetti 35047: This countertop oven model was one of our top value picks of 2019 for its strong features and classy design. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available any longer, at least not at any of the online retailers we track. It isn’t even listed on the Bialetti website anymore.
Black & Decker TO3265XSSD: One of the newest models from the top name in toaster ovens replaces the convection bake setting with a gimmicky, one-temperature-fits-all “Air Fry” mode. It’s fine for the price if you need a wide-bodied design with extra room for toast.
Hamilton Beach 31123D: One of Hamilton Beach’s “Easy Reach” models, the slightly under-powered 31123D makes it a little easier to see inside as you’re cooking or broiling, thanks to a sloping “Easy Reach” door that lifts up to open. Too bad Hamilton Beach stamped a large logo on the glass to obstruct your view.
Nostalgia Retro RTOV220RETRORED: The cheesy, retro-red design makes it look more like a toolbox than a toaster oven, and it felt a bit cheaply made. Still, this eye-catching model performed passably well in our tests.
Toshiba AC25CEW-BS: The digital controls are nice to have in this fancy-looking, black stainless steel option, but it comes with a learning curve thanks to underpowered toasting and overpowered baking and broiling.
You’ve got absolutely no shortage of toaster ovens to choose from. Names like Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, Oster and countless others have been cranking the things out for generations now.
The true bargain-bin picks cost less than $50. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you should expect to get some form of convection heat and cooking, as well as perhaps a wider oven cavity, a few additional cooking preset options, digital controls, a non-stick coating on the bake pan or a nicer-looking design. The Bialetti and Toshiba models I tested come in black stainless steel, matching a modern large appliance trend, and the Toshiba model features a built-in rotisserie rack, too. The Nostalgia model offers a unique, red-bodied build, while lower-cost options from Hamilton Beach and Oster serve as simpler budget picks.
How we tested toaster ovens
Testing toaster ovens requires an awful lot of cooking, so I donned my trusty tan apron and got to work.
Specifically, I set out to cook a wide variety of common toaster oven fodder. With the exception of the toasting tests, where I looked at each toaster oven’s individual settings for light, medium and dark toast, I used standardized temperature and cook times, and followed the recommendations on the box for whatever I was cooking wherever possible.
Bread made up the bulk of my test fodder — after all, of all the foods most of us probably make most often with these things it’s toast.
Most low-end toaster ovens use a built-in kitchen timer to set the broiling, toasting and cooking time. Typically, those timers include a couple of preset options for toasting — medium toast, dark toast and in some cases, a setting for light, barely toasted bread, too.
Fancier models with an LCD display will usually let you dial into a specific doneness level when you’re toasting. You’ll typically get about six or seven settings to choose from with those, each with preprogrammed toasting times. That’s more precise than turning a timer knob, and worth it if you’re a stickler for the perfect shade of golden brown.
For my purposes, I toasted two slices of thin, white sandwich bread in each toaster oven at its version of each of the three common settings: light, medium and dark. After each test, I photographed the results and made sure to let the toaster oven cool back down to room temperature before testing again.
The main thing I was looking for was a nice, even color at medium settings, as well as the ability to easily adjust up or down from there.
The models with digital displays — Bialetti and Toshiba — were the easiest to use, since you dial into your preferred level of doneness on a six- or seven-point scale rather than guesstimating with a timer knob. Four out of 7 was a touch too dark for my tastes with Bialetti, but it’d be easy enough to leave it set at 3 (it was also the only toaster oven that visibly toasted the bread at the lightest toast setting). I also appreciated that it was the only toaster oven of the bunch to feature an “A Little Extra” button for those times when your toast needs another minute.
Meanwhile, the Toshiba’s toast was a little too light at 4 out of 6, and too light at the darkest setting, too.
The other four toaster ovens I tested all use timer knobs with little markers for different settings. I’m not a fan of the approach, especially with a model like the Hamilton Beach 31123D, which puts tiny markers for medium and dark toast directly adjacent to one another on the dial. Though a full 3 minutes of toasting time separates them, you’ll have to stoop down, squint and turn the knob very carefully if you want to hit anything in between the two with any sort of consistency.
The best of the manual control bunch? That’d be the Oster TSSTTVCG05, which consistently delivered satisfying golden brown toast at medium settings in less time than Bialetti, and which also features the best setting for folks who like toast dark, but not charcoal black.
Speaking of the darkest setting, I didn’t begrudge the toaster ovens that burnt the hell out of my bread, because that darkest setting is often needed to toast from frozen. To put that to the test, I toasted several batches of frozen Eggo waffles in each toaster at the darkest setting. Predictably, the ones that had produced black toast at the same setting did the best job, though the Black & Decker toaster oven’s Eggos were a little too well done at the darkest setting, too. That’ll force you to search for a sweet spot between medium and dark on the dedicated doneness dial when you’re toasting frozen food.
Meanwhile, the weakest toasters of the bunch — Hamilton Beach and Toshiba — weren’t able to get the Eggos quite crisp enough. They might have benefited from Bialetti’s “A Little Extra” button.
Pizza and other frozen snacks and foods
I also baked a bunch of frozen pizzas — personal-sized pepperoni pies from DiGiorno, to be specific. The box recommends baking a frozen pizza at 425 F for 17 minutes, so that’s what I did with each toaster oven.
The results were all over place, but not terribly surprising. The Hamilton Beach toaster oven was a little wimpy in the toast tests, and it followed suit here, too, with an underbaked pizza that needed another couple of minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, the toaster oven with the most power — the Bialetti — gave us burnt pizza that cooked a lot faster than you’d expect.
Toshiba burnt the pizza, too. That was more surprising since it had the opposite problem during my toast tests. Like Bialetti, it offers a dedicated pizza setting. With both models, the result was basically identical — burnt pizza when following the box instructions.
The best-cooked pizzas of the bunch came from Oster and Black & Decker, while the bright red, retro-designed Nostalgia toaster oven baked a passable pie, too.
In addition to DiGiorno’s, I made sure to test a number of other frozen snacks and foods, including mozzarella sticks (short bake time), Pizza Bagels (medium baking time) and waffle fries (long baking time). Again, for the most part, I was less concerned with how things tasted than I was with how much each toaster oven matched the recommended temperature and cook times compared with the user’s manual. The results largely lined up with what we saw from the pizza, but if you want to read more details, you can check out my full testing notes here.
My last tests were an office favorite: Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. I baked five cookies at a time in each toaster oven at its convection setting and according to the recommended time and temperature settings.
The Toshiba toaster oven again produced an overcooked result, which fit the pattern — it undercooked during toast tests and overcooked during baking and broiling tests. Bialetti and Black & Decker’s cookies were slightly well done, too. Meanwhile, Nostalgia, Oster and Hamilton Beach produced our taste testers’ top cookies (they passed the eye test with my Twitter followers, too).
Nostalgia’s convection setting gave us the most even bake on cookies — a notable difference from the standard baking tests, where Nostalgia tended to cook faster in the back.
In honesty, though, all of the toaster ovens did pretty well at the convection setting — it’s a feature that really makes a difference with baked goods like cookies. In fact, all of them can bake cookies or anything else just the way you like. The ones that overcook or undercook will just require more of a learning curve.
To that end, the Oster toaster oven emerged as my top pick from a performance standpoint — it aced my toast tests and proved predictable throughout all of my baking and broiling tests, too. That said…
Don’t get burned by bad design
I’ve yet to test a toaster oven that makes foods taste any better than a full-size oven would. They’re simply not designed to perform to that standard — especially not for less than $100.
That’s why I think you should take most toaster oven performance claims with a grain or two of salt. As long as your toaster oven doesn’t overcook or undercook foods too much, and if it has enough power (1,500 watts is a good benchmark for average-sized convection toaster ovens), then you won’t notice much of a difference in the way it cooks foods as compared with other models like it.
You will notice design flaws and clunky user interfaces, though, so if you can, head to the store and get your hands on the models you’re zeroing in on before you buy. Open and close the doors, adjust the racks — look for the little things. For instance, the glass door on the top-performing Oster model opens down more than 90 degrees, which means that the glass can clank directly against the corner of your countertop if you don’t have it pushed up against your backsplash.
None of these countertop toaster ovens is perfect, but some in this price range look better than others, and feel much easier to use. Those are differences worth shopping around for.
You’ll also want to think about what you’ll be using your toaster oven for most often. If you like toast with your coffee each morning, prioritize a toaster oven with a precise preset. If you like to broil things like hamburgers, make sure you get a toaster oven with a high top rack position 2 or 3 inches underneath the heating elements. Many don’t let you set the racks any higher than halfway up, which is too low from the heating elements for a good char.
What about my energy bill?
One argument in favor of countertop toaster ovens is that they use less energy than a full-size traditional oven. That’s true — most full-size electric ovens will draw about 2,400 watts at medium to high heat, while the average toaster oven will draw around 1,500 watts. That means that every time you’re using your toaster oven instead of your full-size oven, you’re cutting your energy consumption by a little over a third.
Your actual savings will vary based on use, and will likely be a lot less than $40. After all, most people who own toaster ovens will continue to use their full-size oven sometimes, if not most of the time, and hardly any of us will stop using our ovens altogether. So let’s split the difference and say that using a toaster oven instead of a full-size oven at least some of the time can knock as much as $20 off of your yearly energy bill, provided you’re baking something just about every day.
That’s still pretty good, but it’s also less than you might expect. Think about it — the average 1,500-watt toaster oven offers about 0.6 cubic feet on the inside, while the average 2,400-watt electric oven offers about 5 cubic feet. The toaster oven is 85 percent smaller, but it’s only using 35 percent less energy. If you’ve got a family to feed, or if you like to make multiple batches of cookies at a time, then you’ll actually get more value from the full-size oven.
Are there smart toaster ovens?
There sure are — well, smart countertop ovens, anyway — but it’s very early, and they’re very expensive. Unless you’re an enthusiastic early adopter of smart kitchen tech with lots of cash to burn, they’re tough to recommend, and I’d stick with a regular oven.
The first to arrive was the June Intelligent Oven, which now sells in a second-gen model for $599. It’s a capable cooking machine that uses built-in cameras to identify what you’re trying to make, and it offers cooking guidance and an abundance of settings to tweak in its companion app. It also isn’t good at making toast.
The Tovala Smart Oven is another second-gen smart oven, and at $299, it’s less expensive than June. It doesn’t feature built-in cameras — instead, this smart oven uses a built-in QR code scanner to identify specific Tovala meal kits, as well as up to 750 frozen foods from retailers like Trader Joe’s. From there, the smart oven automates the entire cooking process. You just put the food in and press start.
The third smart oven worth mentioning comes from Brava, and it’s the most expensive of the three at $995. Among toaster oven upgrades, it’s a bit like Frankenstein’s monster — you get the same infrared heating elements as the Panasonic FlashXpress, the same built-in cameras as June, and the same meals kit approach as Tovala. Like the smart oven itself, those meal kits are awfully expensive, with dinner for two ranging from $28 to $45.
I don’t think any of these smart options are worth buying yet, but connected cooking gadgets are continuing to mature — and with products like the Instant Pot proving that there’s still a healthy appetite for well-featured kitchen tech and kitchen appliances, manufacturers are motivated to innovate.
Heck, even plain old toasters are looking to grab attention. The latest is the Revolution R180, a $300 toaster with a touchscreen on the front. Interestingly, that one uses diamond-shaped heating coils that are faster and more efficient than traditional toaster coils, and it worked as advertised when we tested it out. I wonder if we’ll see similar designs start to pop up in the toaster oven category.
Fresh competition like that might lead to something truly compelling — and, at the very least, it should eventually help to bring prices down to more reasonable levels. When we get to that point, I’ll update this section to include our top pick with its pros and cons.
In a world still struggling with a pandemic for over a year now, face masks have become a crucial item for saving lives. But they also make facial recognition systems redundant, especially those on our daily use gadgets such as smartphones, with the best example being iPhones. Well, it appears that Apple might finally pay heed to the demand of iPhone users and employ an in-screen fingerprint sensor on its smartphones. As per a report from The Wall Street Journal, Apple has been experimenting with an in-display fingerprint sensor and might bring it to its upcoming iPhones without ditching Face ID hardware.
“Apple has been working on in-screen fingerprint technology and has considered including both Touch ID and Face ID on the same device, two former Apple employees told me. While they couldn’t confirm the company’s plans, other reports, including one from Bloomberg, say Apple is testing in-screen fingerprint sensors in its next iPhone,” says the report. Interestingly analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted back in August of 2019 that the 2021 slate of iPhones will offer both Touch ID and Face ID. And earlier this month, a couple of tipsters with a solid track record mentioned that Touch ID will return on the iPhone 13 family.
Apple might offer both Face ID and Touch ID on upcoming iPhones
The latest report also cites a former Apple employee who added that the company has been experimenting with an optical in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is said to be more reliable than the ultra-sensing in-display fingerprint sensor used on Samsung’s Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 series phones developed by Qualcomm. However, iPhones will only get an in-display fingerprint sensor if they match the accuracy and speed standards Apple set with the physical Touch ID sensor that you still find on older iPhones (and a few newer models such as the iPhone SE 2020), iPads, and MacBooks.
In the past few months, there has also been speculation that Apple might use a physical side-mounted fingerprint sensor on its upcoming iPhones, just like the one we saw on the iPad Air that made its debut late last year. However, Face ID will continue to exist on iPhones as it facilitates a host of AR features such as Memojis.
I’ve been writing about consumer technology for over three years now, having worked with names such as NDTV and Beebom in the past. Aside from covering the latest news, I’ve reviewed my fair share of devices ranging from smartphones and laptops to smart home devices. I also have interviewed tech execs and appeared as a host in YouTube videos talking about the latest and greatest gadgets out there.
Billing itself as a “Strava for lower carbon living”, Edinburgh-based website Pawprint, which launched in September 2019 and is set to launch on the App store this month, works in a similar way to Capture, with users encouraged to answer questions about their lifestyle across areas such as home, diet, travel and consumer goods.
Hardware may indeed be hard, but a startup that’s built a platform that might help buck that idea by making hardware a little easier to produce has announced some more funding to continue building out its platform.
Fictiv, which positions itself as the “AWS of hardware” — providing a platform for those needing to produce some hardware, giving them a place to design, price and order those pieces and eventually get them from one place to another — has raised $35 million.
Fictiv will be using the money to continue building out its platform and the supply chain that underpins its business, which the startup describes as a “Digital Manufacturing Ecosystem.”
Dave Evans, the CEO and founder, said that the focus of the company has been and will continue to be not mass-produced items but prototypes and other objects that are specialized and by their nature not aimed at mass markets, such as particular medical devices.
“We are focused on 1,000 to 10,000,” he said in an interview, which he said was a challenging number of produce as these kinds of jobs fall short of seeing bigger economies of scale, but are still too big to be considered small and inexpensive. “This is the range where most products still die.”
The round — a Series D — is coming from a mix of strategic and financial investors. Led by 40 North Ventures, it also includes Honeywell, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Adit Ventures and M20 (Microsoft’s strategic investment arm), as well as past backers Accel, G2VP and Bill Gates.
The funding brings the total raised by Fictiv to $92 million. Its valuation is not being disclosed.
Fictiv last raised money nearly two years ago — a $33 million round in early 2019 — and the interim years have well and truly tested the business concept that he envisioned when first establishing the startup.
Even before the pandemic, “we had no idea what the trade wars between the U.S. and China would do,” he said. Quite abruptly, the supply chain got completely “crunched, with everything shut down” in China over those tariff disputes.
Fictiv’s fix was to shift manufacturing to other parts of Asia such as India, and to the U.S. That, in turn, ended up helping the company when the first wave of COVID-19 hit, initially in China.
Then came the global outbreak, and Fictiv found itself shifting yet again as plants shut down in the countries where it had recently opened.
Then, with trade issues cooled down, Fictiv again reignited relationships and operations in China, where COVID had been contained early, to continue working there.
“I guess we were just in the right places at the right time,” he said.
The startup made its name early on with building prototypes for tech companies neighboring it in the Bay Area, startups build VR and other gadgets, with services that included injection molding, CNC machining, 3D printing and urethane casting, with customers using cloud-based software to design and order parts, which then were routed by Fictiv to the plants best suited to make them.
These days, while that business continues, Fictiv is also working with very large global multinationals on their efforts with smaller-scale manufacturing, products that are either new or unable to be tooled as efficiently in their existing factories.
Work that it does for Honeywell, for example, includes mostly hardware for its aerospace division. Medical devices and robotics are two other big areas for the company currently, it said.
Fictiv is not the only company eyeing up this opportunity. Others that have been building marketplaces that either directly compete with what Fictiv has built, or targets other aspects of the chain such as marketplaces for design, or marketplaces for factories to connect with designers, or materials designers include Geomiq in England, Carbon (which is also backed by 40 North), Fathom in Oakland, Kreatize in Germany, Plethora (backed by the likes of GV and Founders Fund), and Xometry (which also recently raised a significant round).
Evans and his investors are careful not to describe what they do as specifically industrial technology to keep the focus on the bigger opportunities with digital transformation and of course the kinds of applications one might have for the platform that Fictiv has built.
“Industrial tech is a misnomer. I think of this as digital transformation, cloud-based SaaS and AI,” said Marianne Wu, a managing director at 40 North Ventures. “The baggage of industrial tech tells you everything about the opportunity.”
Fictiv’s pitch is that by taking on the supply-chain management of producing hardware for a business, it can produce hardware using its platform in a week, a process that might have previously taken three months to complete, which can mean lower costs and more efficiency.
“And when you speed up development, you see more products getting introduced,” he said.
There is still a lot of work to be done, however. One of the big sticking points in manufacturing has been the carbon footprint that it creates in production, and also in terms of the resulting goods that are produced.
That will likely become even more of an issue, if the Biden administration follows through on its own commitments to reduce emissions and to lean more on companies to follow through for those ends.
Evans is all too aware of that issue and accepts that manufacturing may be one of the hardest to shift.
“Sustainability and manufacturing are not synonymous,” he admits. And while materials and manufacturing will take longer to evolve, for now, he said the focus has been on how to implement better private and public and carbon credits programs. He envisions a better market for carbon credits, he said, with Fictiv doing its part with the launch of its own tool for measuring this.
“Sustainability is ripe for disruption, and we hope to have the first carbon-neutral shipping program, giving customers better choice for more sustainability. It’s on the shoulders of companies like us to drive this.”
A section of Aligarh Muslim University students took out a protest march on Sunday demanding the university to be reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic without delay. The university was closed in March 2020 after the government shut down educational institutions because of the pandemic.
In December 2019, AMU was shut down and students were asked to vacate the hostels after anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests on the campus turned violent. Later, students protested against the university administration for allowing the police to enter the campus.
A female research scholar, requesting anonymity, said their career was suffering. “Many of us could not afford electronic gadgets necessary for online classes. Also, lab and other practical work are not possible online. Research work could not be done with proper access to the university library. As the number of COVID-19 cases has come down considerably, we demand the administration to open the university and hostels as soon as possible or at least give us a timeline,” she said.
Sources said around 1,000 to 1,200 students, mostly males, were staying in hostels without permission. As the women’s hostels were strictly locked, they were forced to stay in PG accommodation.
Some teachers said if the Aligarh Numaish (exhibition), a popular annual event of the city, could be held, why a central university could not be opened in phases. Ali Nadeem Rezavi, professor of History, asked, “If cinema halls, political rallies, Numaish and absolutely anything could be allowed, why this obsession with having the doors of educational institutions closed.”
Talha Mannan, a final year student of post-graduation, said, it seemed the university administration “deliberately” wanted to keep students out of the university.
“Ours is a different case as after the university was shut down in December, it opened only in February for a few days. At least other universities such as the BHU and JNU have come up with a schedule. The University administration can open the faculties and the hostels in a phase-wise manner.”
University spokesperson Shafey Kidwai said the government’s COVID-19 SOPs stipulated that only 50% of students could attend offline classes and that only one student should stay in a hostel room. “It is not possible to conform to these SOPs in a residential university. We have four students in one hostel room. What would we say to the other three,” he asked.
He admitted that the COVID cases had come down considerably in Aligarh and that there was no active case in the corona ward of the university hospital.
Prof. Kidwai said the University Academic Council had met and the administration would soon come out with a plan.
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Her face colored by red neon lights, Anastasiia Kanshina grooved quietly, her phone on the table in front of her, alongside pages of notes and an unopened box holding a wireless speaker. Eight seconds later, she burst into laughter as she realized that the camera in front of her had already started rolling.
“Ah, I can’t see myself [in the camera monitor],” she said in Chinese, before regaining her composure and switching to Russian. “Hello everyone! Welcome to the channel Blooming Show. My name is Nastya, and today our broadcast is in Russian. Today my broadcast is all about a brand that’s already pretty well-known.”
From a studio in Shenyang, a city in northeastern China, Kanshina, a 29-year-old from the Russian city of Irkutsk, is broadcasting to thousands of viewers in Russia and Ukraine. Today, she is selling wireless speakers and chargers manufactured by Anker. But since she started livestreaming in 2019, she has hawked everything from smartphones to baby toys. Her three hour-long shows each week are a reboot of the TV shopping programs that emerged in the 1980s and have since proliferated worldwide, but with live interactions and mobile payments processed through an app made by AliExpress, the international arm of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
“I didn’t expect livestreaming to become my job,” said Kanshina, who arrived in Shenyang in 2013 for a master’s degree in international trade. She stayed in China to work in customer service for Neusoft Cloud Technology, a company that operates multi-language call centers for AliExpress. When Neusoft reached out to its Russian-speaking employees to bootstrap an experiment in livestreaming in 2018, Kanshina was initially reluctant. “But my previous manager said, ‘Her! She wants it! She likes to talk!’” Kanshina told Rest of World. “And I said, ‘OK, I can give it a try.’”
She hosted her first independent show in March 2019 and since then has been regularly broadcasting every week. Her audiences are mostly from Russia, but some viewers tune in from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and other Russian-speaking countries. This past March, she broke a personal record, attracting over 20,000 viewers at once in a live show for Xiaomi, the Chinese phone manufacturer.
In 2019, live shopping shows on mobile screens completely changed the trillion-dollar Chinese e-commerce market, becoming a major marketing channel for everything from small farms to global luxury brands. Leading livestreamers attract millions of viewers nightly. But the domestic market is becoming increasingly saturated. In search of new sources of growth, China’s e-commerce giants and influencer agencies are now trying to export their model overseas, recruiting foreigners like Kanshina to expand into markets in Eastern Europe.
“It’s widely accepted that China has been the proving ground for so many recent innovations in e-commerce,” said Franklin Chu, a private equity investor and retail expert. “So the fact that it’s worked in China … it’s just inevitable that it will be copied in smaller markets.”
“Livestreaming is basically television shopping plus [social networking],” said Chu, who once sat on the board of the Home Shopping Network, a U.S. TV shopping pioneer.
Livestreaming began in earnest in China in 2016. Hundreds of apps were launched, each offering a different genre of content: e-sports, music, quiz shows, and softcore porn.
That year, Alibaba jumped on the trend with Taobao Live, where influencers could sell products through the Taobao e-commerce platform, but it took nearly three years for the trend of mixing livestreaming with selling to break into the mainstream.
The combination of livestreaming’s real-time interactions between viewer and host and the convenience of e-commerce has been wildly successful. As of June 2020, more than 300 million Chinese citizens regularly shopped through livestreams, according to data from the China Internet Network Information Center, a government agency. The Guangzhou-based business consulting company iiMedia Research estimated that the Chinese livestream e-commerce market was worth more than $67 billion in 2019 and that it could have doubled in size in 2020. Taobao Live, now the dominant player in China, brought in $54 billion in sales for Alibaba last year, including nearly $6 billion on Singles Day, a shopping event that falls on November 11 each year.
To expand overseas, Chinese e-commerce companies need streamers who speak local languages. That inspired Neusoft to expand beyond call centers and make more use of its foreign talent. “We saw the successful applications of livestreams in China … and also the business potential of cross-border e-commerce platforms,” said Zhihao Wang, planning director of Neusoft’s Digital Social Media Marketing Center. “We decided to train foreign influencers to prepare for overseas livestreams.”
The northeast region of China, where Neusoft is based, is geographically close to Russia and has a sizable number of Russian-speaking residents, making it easy for Wang to scout potential influencers just by going to local bars.
In September, the company employed seven full-time foreign livestream influencers, after several others went home during the coronavirus pandemic. Each of them earns between $30,000 and $60,000 (200,000 to 400,000 yuan) a year, according to Wang. Neusoft also works as an agent for 300 influencers based outside of China, targeting Russian-, Spanish-, and French-speaking markets.
Dmytro Romashko is the most popular of Neusoft’s contract influencers. Before he began writing product reviews on AliExpress in 2014, the 29-year-old, who lives in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, had no connections to China. He sent professional photos of himself modeling products and proposed writing reviews for the company blog, which later turned into live streaming. He gave up his job as a government lawyer to become a full-time livestreamer, specializing in selling men’s clothing and tech gadgets, and now has more than 250,000 followers on AliExpress.
“I found that a lot of people come to shows to talk about the product and also to have some emotional exchanges from talking live. [It’s] like a party,” said Romashko, who sometimes spends an hour or more just casually chatting with his fans, without actually marketing anything. “So it’s not just a TV shop but also a lifestyle.”
During a three-hour marathon live show in 2019, Romashko’s stream attracted 364,000 viewers — a fraction of the millions that his Chinese counterparts receive regularly. Livestreaming in Eastern Europe may be growing quickly from a low base, but it’s still unclear when, or if, it will really break out to the extent it has in China.
Because it can be difficult to return products to China, and the dominant view is that AliExpress is a platform for low-cost goods, many customers in Russia and Ukraine are unwilling to spend as much as Chinese consumers via livestreaming. In China, users often spend hundreds of dollars; in Russia, it is only around $20, Romashko said. “If the product is expensive, they need to think. They need to come back to me with questions 20 times on my Instagram,” he explained. They usually end up buying a featured item a week or more after watching the show, making it hard to measure the success of one specific livestream.
Influencers in Eastern Europe often stick to lower-price products: no more than $20 for summer clothing, $30 for a jacket, and between $200 and $300 for a mobile phone, said Zhihao Wang of Neusoft.
The pandemic has given e-commerce a boost in Eastern Europe, as more consumers are staying at home. However, it has also had a significant negative economic impact and reduced people’s purchasing power. In Russia, consumption is expected to contract by 4.9% in 2020, according to the World Bank.
On November 11 and 12, Kanshina streamed four shows for AliExpress’ Singles Day promotion, selling smartphones, security cameras, and jackets. The biggest difference she saw this year was that more viewers were actively demanding discounts and giveaways. “While they were waiting for the live show to begin, they would comment, ‘I wish I could get a free phone today!’” said Kanshina, who could reply with only, “I’m sorry. Next time!”
Despite these roadblocks, analysts in Russia expect that it’s only a matter of time before livestreaming becomes mainstream in the country. “In two years, maybe three years, this type of shopping will become [a] must-have for international brands, first of all, and for big Russian brands,” said Fedor Virin, a Moscow-based e-commerce analyst and founding partner of consultancy Data Insight.
Virin expects domestic Russian e-commerce marketplaces like Wildberries and Ozon to soon invest in their own livestreaming services. “The Russian market is a very impulsive shopping market,” he said, adding that e-commerce purchases in Russia are often heavily incentivized by discounts and promotion gimmicks. “That’s why I think we will [be] very addicted to this type of shopping. But it will take time. Not a lot, but it will take time.”
About 80 percent of demand for palladium and rhodium now comes from the automotive sector. At the same time, the effects of the pandemic on mining in South Africa, a major producer of rhodium, has kept supply limited. “This is why you’ve seen this very dramatic rise” in demand and prices, she said.
For automakers, the metals boom has jacked up the cost of producing gasoline vehicles. Max Layton, a London-based commodity analyst at Citi, estimates that soaring metal prices added $18 billion to the global auto industry’s production costs in 2019, gobbling up 15 percent of their total cash flow, and that those costs surged further in 2020.
At current prices, he said, the industry as a whole was set to spend more than $40 billion this year just on metals for catalytic converters. The escalating costs, Mr. Layton said, were “putting pressure on automakers to shift to battery electric vehicles as quickly as possible.”
Some owners are going to extremes to protect their vehicles.
After being hit with three converter thefts in quick succession last year, Jerry Turriff, proprietor of Jerry’s Certified Service and Towing in Milwaukee, has resorted to deflating the tires of some of his customers’ most at-risk vehicles to deter thieves from crawling underneath.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mr. Turriff said. “Now if I have a vehicle I think’s going to be targeted, I take the air out the tires, so they can’t slither underneath.”
He’s spotted the thieves on his security-camera footage — usually alone, entering his property in the dead of night, with “a big duffel bag carrying all his junk,” he said. (Stealing the converters can be treacherous for the thieves, too. Last year, a Kansas City man died after the Prius he was stealing the converter from crushed him to death.)
HGTV’s 2021 dream home is a three-story “grand coastal escape” in Newport, Rhode Island. It combines quiet, seaside charm (classic white window trim, antique-style bed frames, and countless nautical details) with loud, metropolitan aspiration, such as the European-style main bath and the open spiral staircase leading to a massive rooftop deck. But the most seductive part of this palatial home is the kitchen, which features walnut butcher block counters, massive pendant lights made of twine, and wall-to-wall windows with a water view. The striking navy-painted shelving displays, rather than merely stores, kitchen gadgets and dishware. It’s a kitchen that compels you to imagine who you could be, or become, once planted into thespace: a joyful cook with the room and resources to create elaborate meals, a gracious host who truly loves to entertain, or a never-frazzled mother who gazes at the water as she wipes already-clean surfaces and helps darling children seated at the island with their homework.
Meanwhile, the kitchen in our current rental house has textured, black-and-blue laminate countertops, a 1990s white fridge, and thick-doored cupboards that don’t quite close all the way on a humid day—which, in Oklahoma, is rather often. It’s not my favorite kitchen, for both stylistic and functional reasons. But an outdated kitchen stings sharply, sincekitchens are supposed to reflect who we are and desire to be. Searching “kitchen personality quiz” online returns millions of results: classic and traditional, contemporary and modern, bold, quirky, or perhaps a little bit country. Even for folks who rarely cook, a kitchen—particularly an aspirational “trophy kitchen” with high-end, well, everything—has become a must-have status symbol in the last twenty-five years. But it’s not simply the work of HGTV or Nancy Meyers—the notion of selling hyper-specific cookware to men played a part, as did MTV Cribs.
The idea of a trophy kitchen first took off after 1995, reaching a first peak of popularity around 2003, a rise some have credited tothe program. MTV Cribs began airing in 2000,showcasing celebrity mansions, for an audience of fascinated older-millennial teenagers like myself. A special episode of the show in 2007 featured rapper 50 Cent’s mansion and his expansive kitchen, one of six (yes, six) in the home. Jill Notini, spokesperson for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, claimed MTV Cribs contributed to increasing sales of high-end refrigerator brands specifically, saying, “When they showed the kitchens, it was all about the fridge.” As if on cue, 50 Cent began his kitchen tour by opening his refrigerator, revealing nothing but rows of Vitamin Water, for which he was a spokesman. He next opened the double wall oven, showing it full of cardboard boxes, and laughed, “No one’s touched it.”As he moved from room to room, it became clear that the kitchen was a trophy on par with theplatinum records and expensive furniture throughout the home. Showing a wholly unused kitchen, as an ornamental trophy kitchen, was the ultimate display of status—a common trope on the show.
The aspirational norm for American middle- and upper-class kitchens hasn’t always been the lavish, open-concept spaces they are today—at least, on HGTV and Instagram, or in Hollywood movies and architectural magazines. For much of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the kitchen was simply part of one large room with a fireplace for hearth cooking and home heating and a large wooden table, used for food preparation and a slew of other purposes. It was an all-purpose room for cooking, eating, working, and living. It’s not until the later eighteenth century thatthe kitchen became a separate space, designatedspecifically for cooking. In wealthier homes, this cooking room was detached, but later it was integrated into the architecture of the home, though often staffed by enslaved people or servants.
The early-twentieth century ushered in a host of kitchen changes: the decline of servants, the addition of modern conveniences like running water and electricity, and a full menu of new appliances, devices, and decor. By the middle of the century, as the white suburban ideal expanded, the walls around the kitchen increasingly came down. This put the kitchen’s specialized contents on full display to every member of the family—but also to guests. Though sometimes still divided from a living or dining area by a counter or pass-through window, many designs reintegrated the kitchen, and the house-wife, into the home. Ever since, the kitchen has become the nucleus of domestic operations, the room that sells a house (or not), and a high-stakes space for asserting status, for proving that you’re keeping up, and that you’ve made it.
But it was men cooking at home, and branding the act as a masculine endeavor, that further inspired investment in a blowout kitchen. Society still praises a man who regularly cooks to feed a partner or family as something special and laudatory, much like dads who rise to the occasion to “babysit” their own children. For women and mothers, these duties are expected, minimum standards. Despite this frustrating inequity, men’s cooking thus demands, and somehow deserves, bigger and splashier spending. In 2002, near the height of the trophy kitchen’s first cultural peak of popularity, Hugh J. Rushing, the executive vice president of the Cookware Manufacturers Association, said, “Growing male interest in cooking is one of the bright spots in the kitchen retail market. Men tend to have no problem,” he continued, “buying a special pan for paella, if the recipe calls for it, whereas women will make do with a regular skillet or pan.” That’s right, women will make do. Recognizing this, kitchen suppliers have leapt at the opportunity to court more (and male) customers, particularly with specialized equipment and gadgets with “masculine” design details like black matte finishes, not unlike cans of Coke Zero.
The phrase “trophy kitchen” makes me wince, considered in this light, because of how it echoes another phrase bandied about regarding successful men: “trophy wife,” a phrase which slightly predates the real estate term. Google Ngram Viewer, which tracks the appearance of words and phrases within a large corpus of books over time, says it first appeared in the early 1980s and steadily increased in published works until the early 2010s; The Oxford English Dictionary dates it a bit earlier, citing a mention of “Englishmen’s trophy-wives” in Anne Zoltan’s 1973 novel, Annie: The Female Experience. Other sources claim the senior editor of Fortune magazine coined the term in 1989 to name the thin, young, and beautiful, but accomplished and ambitious, second wives of prominent businessmen with cash to burn. Both terms suggest a cultural logic, where successful men both reward themselves for their status and assert it as a way of continuing to maintain it.
In such ways, the trophy status of a trophy kitchen means something different for men than for women, but this dreammaker still speaks to them both. The trophy of the dream home, coupled with the perfect family, is routinely marketed to women, especially through HGTV programming. Kitchens are stars on HGTV, especially on shows like House Hunters, which began airing in 1999. Nearly every episode features homebuyers who consider a trophy kitchen as a minimum standard, rather than aspirational. On the show, even first-time homebuyers consider granite countertops and stainless steel appliances “must-haves” rather than “wish list” items. It’s not uncommon for them to dismiss a home or expect a quick renovation if a kitchen isn’t up-to-date. Even on Tiny HouseHunters, which began airing in 2014, homebuyers often don’t fully downsize the kitchen in their quest for a simpler and more affordable lifestyle. Sometimes they choose regular-sized appliances, rather than a tiny cooktop or mini-fridge. They often maintain trophy kitchen features like significant counter space made from expensive materials.
Others credit film director Nancy Meyers’ “gracious home aesthetic” for fueling trophy kitchen design trends; the bountiful chef’s kitchen in her 2003 movie Something’s Gotta Give is purportedly one of the most requested and most copied kitchens of all time when it comes to kitchen design and remodels. The set kitchen was even featured in the July 2007 issue of Architectural Digest. For years afterward, it was one of the magazine’s most searched articles online. The phrase “trophy kitchen” declined during the Great Recession, as the housing bubble burst, but trophy kitchen’s cultural meaning didn’t wane. After 2010, the trophy kitchen’s trifecta of expensive and expansive countertops, custom cabinetry, and high-end appliances skyrocketed again.
Instagram has further stoked the cultural desire for “architecture porn,” populating feeds with light-colored, airy kitchens. The hashtag #kitchenporn brings up more than 33,000 posts, featuring gargantuan, sun-kissed rooms. There are even game apps dedicated to home renovations and design, so you can play out dream home (and kitchen) fantasies on your mobile device. Design Home came out in November 2016, and by 2019 had been downloaded more than 50 million times. Though winning proves difficult without in-app purchases, the game provides digital reverie, particularly for older millennials for whom trophy kitchens may feel (or be) financially out of reach.
Even if a trophy kitchen isn’t in your budget, you can own a piece of one. KitchenAid makes a full slew of culinary products, but the brand name primarily connotes their stand mixer — that queen of the wedding registry that retails for more than $300. Type “KitchenAid” into Google; the stand mixer pops up first, in colors like almond and avocado creme, copper pearl, and aqua sky. First launched in 1919, the stand mixer evolved into a device so purposefully pretty that it’s meant to be left upon the counter top, to be displayed rather than tucked away in a cupboard. This is particularly true on Instagram where #kitchenaid draws more than 900,000 posts and #kitchenaidmixer another 145,000.
I didn’t grow up in a family with a KitchenAid stand mixer. I recall a small handheld mixer with two humble beaters attached. My mom can mix and make anything with just a fork and some elbow grease. Notably, the KitchenAid stand mixer isn’t marketed as a labor or time-saving device. According to their website, it’s about “creating possibilities” and “unleashing creativity.” Just like a trophy kitchen, this small appliance is meant to “inspire” and “imagine.” If you’re a chef, baker, or food entrepreneur, such promises make professional sense. If you’re a home cook, and particularly a woman, this sales pitch isn’t too different from that of Weight Watchers, or, um, WW: that there is a better woman, wife, and mom within you, if only you let her out. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why the stand mixer so often dominates the registry lists of engaged couples. It’s the mechanical ingredient for the sort of wife you’re supposed to be, the life you’re supposed to want.
Some women love to cook and a KitchenAid stand mixer poses a delight that can be further enhanced with myriad attachments. For others, cooking is a chore; and the kitchen is not a space for dreams, but the site of considerable labor. It’s worth noting that some first-wave feminists campaigned for kitchenless living quarters. Dolores Hayden wrote the history of how these American material feminists sought a domestic revolution to free women from the gendered (and unpaid) burden of daily cooking, and childcare, too. They proposed making such labor collective, led and controlled by women, but performed on the neighborhood level, without the need for a kitchen in every home.
Instead, we’ve seen kitchens only grow in social status and cultural meaning. We don’t know what the future holds for trophy kitchens, but a minor kitchen renovation (costing about $15,000) remains one of the top home updates for the value it returns—and the cultural worth it creates. And this isn’t just about ROI. We haven’t quite shaken the historical view of the kitchen as a key site for producing dutiful housewives, unified families, and daily, private sustenance. Even for those who don’t cook, a kitchen remains necessary, valuable, and even inspiring. But it’s still not clear what the trophy is, or for whom it’s intended.