Our Favorite Custom Photo Card Service

After putting 17 hours into research and testing, we are recommending Simply to Impress for ordering those custom holiday photo cards you’ll be sending to friends and family this season. The service offers good-looking prints and a range of paper stock and trim options, and its site makes selecting and modifying card designs easy. You can even have your greeting cards addressed and mailed to your recipients (at additional cost). With basic per-card prices well within the range of other services we tested and delivery that packs your order inside an elegant gift box, we’re confident that most folks looking to create and send high-quality photo greeting cards with a minimum of fuss will be very happy with our pick. Sending custom holiday cards to friends and family should be fun, or at least hassle-free. Simply to Impress lets you select and modify a card design, choose or dismiss add-on options, and place your order quickly and easily. Our card order arrived within a week and looked great, packaged in a gift box with a personalized note. It doesn’t get much better than that. Simply to Impress hits all our marks for a holiday photo card service: a choice of tasteful designs that are…

The Best Online Photo Printing Service

After more than 40 hours of research and comparison, including a blind test with a panel of photo novices and hobbyists, we recommend Nations Photo Lab as the best online service for ordering hassle-free, high-quality photo prints delivered straight to your home. Nations produces prints with pleasing skin tones on a range of paper types and in a variety of aspect ratios, all at a reasonable price. And it ships everything in professional packaging—ensuring that your prints arrive in great shape. Nations Photo Lab delivers good-looking prints and packs them securely to avoid any shipping damage. It offers a wide range of print sizes, from wallet size to 30 inches wide. The order process is straightforward, giving you the choice of a simple Web interface or a stand-alone desktop app that’s more efficient for placing large orders of multiple prints at different sizes. For a nominal fee, you can have your images color-corrected to more closely match what you see on screen if you’re using a calibrated monitor. Crucially, Nations Photo Lab is also one of the few services we found that offer an attractive gift-packaging option: A sleek box tied with a silk ribbon makes for an attractive gift shipped directly to…

The Best Online Cloud Backup Service

Everyone who uses a computer needs a dependable way to back up its data. After carefully comparing 19 services and testing six, we believe that Backblaze (currently $50 per year per computer) is the best online backup service for most people, as it offers a great combination of useful features, unlimited storage, and excellent performance at an attractive price—the proverbial cost of a latte per month. Backblaze offers fast, reliable backups, as well as the simplest setup process I’ve seen and a number of nice touches. Even if you’re a careful person, the various problems that could imperil your data—malware, software bugs, user error, theft, fire, flood, and so on—make backups a necessity. As broadband speeds slowly but surely improve, online backup services are becoming an increasingly smart addition to your overall backup strategy: Pay five bucks a month (give or take), install an app on your computer that runs in the background, and presto! Your data is safely backed up, and to a location separate from your computer, no less, so if anything should happen to your computer, that event won’t affect the backup, too. You should still have local backups, of course, both because the performance is better—it’s faster to…

The Best External Optical Drives for DVDs and Blu-rays

After researching more than 70 optical drives across four years, testing more than a dozen, and surveying more than 300 readers, we’ve found that the LG GP65NB60 is the best USB DVD drive and the Pioneer BDR-XD05B is the best external Blu-ray drive—if you need an optical drive at all. A Blu-ray drive can also rip, burn, and play DVDs and CDs, so buy one if you think you’ll ever deal with Blu-ray discs. But if not, you should stick with a DVD drive, because they’re much cheaper. The LG GP65NB60 (in black; LG also sells gold, silver, and white versions) is smaller and lighter than other portable DVD drives, and it operates at about the same speed. This sleek black rectangle easily fits inside a bag or drawer, and it draws power from an included Mini-USB cable. Most important, it’s available at major retailers. If you need an external optical drive that can handle Blu-rays as well as DVDs, get the Pioneer BDR-XD05B (or the silver BDR-XD05S, which is identical in function). In our tests, this model was the fastest at burning and ripping DVDs. It’s also the lightest and most compact Blu-ray drive we tested, and it comes with a USB 3.0 Y-cable, which is handy for older computers that can’t…

The Best Portable Hard Drive

After spending 21 hours researching and testing and shuffling thousands of files across eight drives, we found that the best portable hard drive for most people is the 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim. The 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim is one of the lightest, thinnest hard drives we tested, and it was consistently faster than the competition in our multifile music and photo transfer tests. More importantly, it’s reliable. The Slim was our top pick for two and a half years before being bested by the lighter, faster Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim. But the Ultra Slim’s reported failure rate skyrocketed after we picked it, so we no longer recommend it. We’ve switched our pick back to the tried-and-true Slim, which has a low 6.5 percent reported failure rate among nearly 9,000 user reviews. We recommend the 2 TB model because it’s the best value. Seagate includes handy backup software and 200 GB of free OneDrive storage for two years. If you want more storage and don’t mind a larger, heavier drive, we recommend the 4 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable. It costs less per terabyte than the 2 TB Backup Plus Slim, and it was a little faster in some of our tests,…

The Best Password Managers

If you’re not using a password manager, start now. A password manager makes you less vulnerable online by generating strong random passwords, syncing them securely across your browsers and devices so they’re easily accessible everywhere, and filling them in automatically when needed. After 15 hours of research and testing, we believe that LastPass is the best password manager for most people. It has all the essential features plus some handy extras, it works with virtually any browser on any device, and most of its features are free. (A Premium version, which costs only $24 per year, adds advanced security features, a shared folder, and other useful tools.) Once you create a master password for LastPass, you’ve made the only password you’ll need to unlock all your other secure data—usernames and passwords, credit cards, secure notes (including attachments, such as images and PDFs), contact information, software licenses, and so on. LastPass stores all this data safely encrypted in the cloud, letting you access it via browser extensions. (You can also download desktop apps, if you prefer, which give you offline access to your data.) It can create new secure passwords on the fly or capture any manually entered credentials as you submit a form, autofill…

The Best SSDs

Whether you’re replacing an existing solid-state drive (SSD), or upgrading from a traditional hard drive to get better performance, almost every SSD you can buy today is great. But some are still better than others. If you need to buy a SATA SSD right now, we still suggest the 500 GB Samsung 850 Evo, even though it came out more than two years ago. The 850 Evo is not the fastest SATA SSD you can get, but it comes close, and more important, it has one of the best combinations of price, performance, and capacity of any drive you can buy. And it’s available in 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2 SATA form factors, so it’ll work with almost every computer. Unlike most storage brands, Samsung makes its own SSD controllers, firmware, and memory (both DRAM and NAND), which means it gets first dibs on the good stuff and is able to design the entire SSD from the start to work well as a whole. As a result, the company has a reputation for making very reliable drives. And should anything go wrong, the drive carries a five-year warranty. It also includes Samsung’s great Windows-only Magician software for easy drive installation, maintenance, and even faster…

The Best USB 3.0 Flash Drive

After more than 14 hours of new research and testing, we found that the 64 GB SanDisk Extreme CZ80 USB 3.0 Flash Drive is still the best flash drive for most people—while you can get it. With both PCs and Macs, the SanDisk Extreme CZ80 offers the best combination of speed, price, capacity, and usability of any thumb drive we’ve found. The SanDisk Extreme CZ80 is the same flash drive we’ve recommended for years. SanDisk has given it several quiet speed boosts since we first tested it, and the current version, the 64 GB Extreme CZ80, hits the sweet spot for price and capacity. Unfortunately, SanDisk is discontinuing the Extreme CZ80, but we’ll continue to recommend it as long as you can still buy it for a good price. If you can’t find the Extreme CZ80 or it gets too expensive, its successor, the SanDisk Extreme Go USB 3.1 Flash Drive, will suffice. In our testing its read speeds were close to the CZ80’s, and while its write speeds in benchmarks were lower than we expected, in our actual file-copy tests it outperformed drives with better benchmark results, and it was more consistent in maintaining high transfer rates. If you care more about capacity than…

The Best External Desktop Hard Drive

After 20 hours of new research and testing, we found the best external desktop hard drive for most people is Seagate’s 4 TB Backup Plus Desktop Drive. The Backup Plus has a great balance of speed and price and enough space for your future storage needs.The Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive is one of the fastest hard drives we tested, with a read speed of 150.7 megabytes per second and a write speed of 135.3 MB/s. It’s less expensive per terabyte than most of the competition, and the 4 TB model is a better value than the 3 TB version (the only other capacity available). Seagate also includes handy backup software and 200 GB of free OneDrive cloud storage for two years. If you need a larger drive, check out our pick with more storage. If the Seagate is out of stock, Toshiba’s 5 TB Canvio for Desktop is a great second choice. Though not as fast as our top pick in HD Tune tests—the Toshiba’s average read speed was 10.8 MB/s slower—it was faster than the rest of the competition in our multifile music and photo transfer tests. It has more storage space than the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop for roughly the same price per…

The Best Portable SSD

After researching 28 external solid-state drives and testing the four most promising contenders in 2017, we found that the best portable SSD is the 500 GB Samsung T5 Portable SSD. Samsung’s solid-state drives work reliably, and the T5 was consistently speedier than the competition in our benchmark tests. It supports faster USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds, too. The 500 GB Samsung T5 Portable SSD is about as expensive per gigabyte as other external SSDs, and it’s one of the lightest and most compact, so you can easily throw it in your bag (or even your pocket) when you’re on the go. The T5 has one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port and includes cables to connect to new and old devices as well as AES 256-bit hardware encryption to protect your sensitive data. It has the most pleasant software to navigate, with a clean layout that looks less bloated than other portable SSD software, which makes it a breeze to set up encryption or check for updates. Plus the T5 has an indicator light that lets you know when it’s connected and comes with a three-year warranty. If you want more storage and you’re willing to pay for it, we recommend the 1 TB Samsung…