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A New Way To Get To Space

World View Experience says it will take passengers to the stratosphere by 2023. Illustration by World View Experience

When Alan Eustace lifted off into space from the New Mexico desert this past October, it was with a quiet whoosh, and a slight jostle of his harness. The 57-year-old computer scientist from Google—outfitted in a 260-pound pressurized space suit—dangled solo from a polyethylene balloon as thin as a dry-cleaning bag. As the balloon rose steadily into the air, the small bubble of helium inside began to expand, and with each mile the balloon changed shape. At first it undulated skyward, limp and oblong, like a jellyfish. Then it grew into a soft, bulbous teardrop. Finally, as Eustace neared his destination, 25 miles above the planet’s surface, it became perfectly firm and rounded, a shimmering object the size of a football stadium. Above him spanned the blackness of space. Beneath him lay what has long drawn humans to these heights: the soul-altering view of the curvature of Earth.

To most, Eustace’s flight seemed the antithesis of space travel, which since the dawn of the space age has been synonymous with the fiery roar of a rocket. The first private companies racing to take paying customers to the edge of space—Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, and Blue Origin—promise the kind of thrill ride experienced by astronauts. But there’s an alternate space race taking shape, one whose selling point is slow and serene. A handful of startups are rushing to pioneer tourist trips to the stratosphere beneath enormous balloons. “Balloons are a beautiful mechanism for taking off,” Eustace says. “You’re perfectly balanced; it’s perfectly quiet; there’s no vibration as you’re going up.” Once at altitude, passengers will drift with the winds as they peer from the comfort of a pressurized capsule. After a few hours, they will glide back to Earth beneath a wing-shaped parafoil.

“It’s going to be the ultimate Facebook status update: the entire family in space.”

For one company, Eustace’s­ StratEx mission was proof of principle—a “one-man version” of stratospheric balloon tourism, says Taber MacCallum. He and his partner, Jane Poynter, headed Paragon Space Development Corporation, which managed Eustace’s flight plan and built his life-support system. The couple then started World View Experience, a Tucson, Arizona, operation that intends to be the first to take customers to 100,000 feet, or 19 miles, for $75,000 a head. They project the maiden flight will take place by 2023.

Zero2Infinity in Barcelona and Chinese startup Space Vision also anticipate flying passengers in the next few years. They are selling tickets for about $125,000 and $80,000, respectively. The fees are steep, but not when compared with $250,000 for a seat on Virgin­ Galactic’s suborbital spaceplane, or the $50 million broker Space Adventures charges for a weeklong jaunt to the International Space Station.

Altogether, balloons could offer a more inclusive form of space tourism. “It’s a very slow, gentle ride up and a slow, gentle ride back, and you get to be up there for hours,” MacCallum says. Without the gravitational forces of takeoff and landing, the flight comes with minimal health restrictions. Motion sickness is unlikely to be an issue. Couples might get married in near-space, or celebrate a grandparent’s birthday. World View is already taking $7,500 deposits to secure seats on future flights. “We’ve had families sign up and buy the whole capsule,” MacCallum says. “You can take your parents and children. It’s going to be the ultimate Facebook status update: the entire family in space.”

A helium-filled balloon will carry Zero2Infinity’s tourist pod to 22 miles above Earth. Illustration by Abaco Digital/Ignacio Ferrando/Zero2Infinity

In 2002, two years before Scaled Composites claimed the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight, Zero2Infinity’s founder, José Mariano López-Urdiales, wrote a paper for grad school entitled “The Role of Balloons in the Future Development of Space Tourism.” In it, he calculated stratospheric ballooning could be a $10 billion-a-year industry. Much of the technology required to send tourists to such altitudes—the balloons, the helium fuel, the pressurized capsules—had been well proved, López-Urdiales noted. It’s also relatively affordable and easy to procure.

Whereas Virgin Galactic plans to soar to nearly 330,000 feet—just past the 62-mile mark widely considered the threshold of space—balloons will top out at just over 100,000 feet. The difference is not as significant as it might seem. “At that altitude, you’ve got 99 percent of the atmosphere underneath you,” says former space-shuttle commander Mark Kelly, now the director of flight operations for World View. “You’re essentially in a vacuum. You’re in the blackness of space.” He agrees with López-Alegria that balloons pose less risk. “If you can take the complexity out of getting people to that vantage point,” he says, “at least theoretically you can do it a lot safer.”

Physicist Auguste Piccard prepares to make his second balloon trip to the stratosphere in 1932. SSPL/Getty Images

Like Kittinger and Baumgartner before him, Eustace floated briefly in the stratosphere, taking in a view he calls “marvelous.” As he remembers now, “It’s beautiful watching how the light diffuses through the different levels of the atmosphere.” And then Eustace released his balloon and fell back to Earth protected by only his space suit. His body reached 822 miles per hour, exceeding the speed of sound, before the atmosphere thickened and a parachute deployed to slow his descent. To succeed at ushering in ­a new form of balloon-based tourism, companies will have to figure out a way to get customers not only up, but also down.

A balloon ride to the stratosphere will be a three-part act: the launch, the pleasant cruise at altitude, and the trip back to Earth. The first part should be straightforward. For its commercial flights, World View plans to use a balloon that’s more than 400 feet in diameter—the same size as the one that carried Eustace. (Though it will be towing a 9,000-pound tourist capsule, the balloon doesn’t need to ascend as high.) Because of the StratEx mission, World View’s team has practice launching it.

Passengers in World View’s capsule (here, a mock-up) will have Internet access for uploading photos. Courtesy of World View Experience

Zero2Infinity has been launching unmanned balloons as a test for two different business ventures: stratospheric tourism and a commercial satellite delivery system. It’s also designed a doughnut-shaped craft that it plans to adapt for both applications. The version that will carry tourists, called a Bloon, will be big enough to hold two pilots and four passengers. The company has so far built a prototype half that size and used it to send a small humanoid robot to near-space. (“In the old days it would have been a dog or a monkey,” López-Urdiales says.) Equipped with cameras and sensors, the robot helped the engineers at Zero2­Infinity understand the passenger experience. When the robot looked through the windows, which ring the outside wall, reflections marred the view. As a result, the window’s position will likely change, López-Urdiales says.

World View envisions an oblong capsule with viewing ports on each side. About the size of a small Winnebago, it will have seats for six passengers, a pilot, and a crew member. Passengers will need to be buckled in for liftoff and landing, but most of the ride will be a casual sail, like a skiff gliding across the surface of a lake in a light breeze. Although winds at 100,000 feet can reach 130 miles per hour, the high speed won’t be perceptible. That’s because Earth, which provides the only reference point, will appear to barely move. The capsule will have a bar and a bathroom, MacCallum says, and the crew will double as bartenders and tour guides.

Both MacCallum and López-­Urdiales agree that balloon tourism should provide a shirtsleeve environment throughout the flight. “The goal is to have no training, no space suits,” MacCallum says. “This will be very similar to a commercial-airline flight, where you’re given a briefing and off you go.” But outside the pressurized capsule, the environ­ment is lethal. Exposure would mean near-instant death. For that reason, the companies will have to decide how to balance comfort with safety in the event of an emergency.

The capsule will have a bar and a bathroom, MacCallum says, and the crew will double as bartenders and tour guides.

“At the very least the pilot should be wearing a space suit,” says Art Thompson, whose aerospace company, Sage Cheshire, built the pressurized capsule that carried Baumgartner to the stratosphere. “If you have an issue with the craft, you want the pilot to be able to be in control.” The smartest strategy,­ Thompson says, might be to convince tourists to wear suits too. Of course, space suits require training, and looking like an astronaut might not have as much appeal as being able to easily sip a cocktail or hold your kid’s hand at 100,000 feet. At this point, the companies just seem to be banking on their ability to get the capsule down if a problem is detected—no awkward garments or free-fall skills required.

The third phase of the journey, the return, will be the most difficult. So World View is now heavily focused on refining the parafoils that will deliver the capsules to Earth. “We want to have enough cross-range to be able to fly to an airstrip and gently land in a predetermined place,” MacCallum says. “Doing that from 100,000 feet has never been done.” Because the air at that altitude is so thin, many doubted it was possible. But the company has now flown unmanned parafoils from 100,000 feet three times, each with a payload of about 100 pounds. This summer they plan to step it up by a factor of 10, testing the GPS-guided system with a 1,000-pound payload over the southwestern United States. “Assuming all that goes well, by the end of this year we’ll be at full-scale flight with a 9,000-pound capsule and commensurately large parafoil,” MacCallum says.

One focus of Zero2Infinity’s upcoming flights, also scheduled for this year, will be to test the high-speed telemetry link that will beam live video down from the capsule. Another arm of the company focuses on developing huge parafoils that could act as rescue systems for traditional aircraft. While they would be much larger than the ones eventually used for tourist capsules, having two applications for the technology accelerates the development while reducing the risk and cost, López-Urdiales says.

During tourist trips, the parafoils will be guided at least partially by pilots, and so both companies will need to conduct manned test flights. Some of those test pilots will likely be former NASA astronauts. Kelly says that people who have flown the space shuttle, like him, won’t be starting from scratch. The shuttle was also a glider that made an unpowered descent. Similar to a parafoil and a capsule, it encountered a lot of drag for the amount of lift it could create. To train, Kelly will spend time this summer jumping out of airplanes and learning to fly a small parafoil. Though he’s in charge of assembling a team of World View pilots, he expects that he’ll complete at least some of the early manned test flights himself, as well as serve as pilot on the first commercial trip to the stratosphere.

The simplicity of World View’s vision—at least compared with rocket flight—is what attracted Kelly to the project, he says. Potential tourists will likewise be drawn for the same reason, in hopes of experiencing the same payoff. Before he went to space for the first time, Kelly was sure the most remarkable thing would be floating in zero gravity. “That wasn’t the case,” he says now. “The biggest takeaway is looking at the planet with your own eyes—a round ball just floating there in the cosmos.”

The Ride of Your Life Stratospheric Balloon

Stratospheric Balloon

Cost: $75,000

You board the capsule a couple of hours before dawn. The monstrous polyethelyne balloon that will lift you into the stratosphere towers in the air above. You choose a seat, but it doesn’t really matter—they all swivel for a 360-degree view. After a five-minute briefing from the pilot, a former astronaut, the craft begins to rise. 

The ascent is slow and steady, averaging about 11 mph. You barely feel it. As the helium inside the balloon expands, the shape transforms from a long, thin teardrop into a taut, rounded object. After an hour and a half, the balloon reaches 100,000 feet. You’re free to walk around, use the restroom, or have a cocktail.

The craft drifts at this altitude. Its movement is gentle; the pilots refer to it as “sailing.” They point out constellations and planets. Soon, the sunrise begins, illuminating the winding scar of the Grand Canyon 19 miles below. Your pilot describes his own first experience with the so-called overview effect, the emotional shift in perspective that comes with gazing down at Earth. You pull out your phone and snap a picture, a selfie from the stratosphere.

After two hours, the pilot vents helium from the balloon to begin a descent. He then sets the balloon free, leaving the capsule hanging from a 100-foot-wide parasail. It begins a directed glide. The wind pushed the balloon several hundred miles, and the parafoil will make up most of that distance on the return. The pilot’s attention is focused on flying—this is the part of the trip he has trained for. The sensation is similar to being in a small, perfectly silent airplane. The swooping descent takes less than an hour, delivering you to an airfield four to five hours after you lifted off.

Rocket-Powered Plane

Rocket-Powered Plane

Carrier: XCOR Aerospace Cost: $100,000

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Popular Science, under the title “Wish You Were Here.”

Controversy Of Sperm Competition In Humans

Sperm rivalry is a natural phenomenon that occurs when a female has many sexual partners during her reproductive phase, resulting in competition for fertilization of her eggs between the sperm of different males. This competition may cause male reproductive methods to evolve to maximize their odds of fathering kids. This research investigates whether sperm competition has been an adaptive problem for humans.

The Controversy of Sperm Competition

Whether sperm competition has been an adaptive problem for humans is still debated among evolutionary biologists. Some argue that the evidence for adaptations to sperm competition in humans is limited and that other factors, such as mate choice and sexual selection, may be more important in shaping human reproductive strategies. Others argue that sperm competition has played a significant role in human evolution and led to the evolution of a wide range of adaptations in males and females.

One potential evidence for the importance of sperm competition in human evolution is that humans have relatively large testicles compared to other primates. Larger testicles are thought to be an adaptation to sperm competition because they allow males to produce more sperm and increase their chances of fertilizing an egg in the event of sperm competition. Additionally, the shape of human sperm may be adapted for swimming in environments with high levels of competition.

Evidence of Sperm Competition

There is evidence of sperm competition in various animal species, including primates, which suggests that it may also be present in humans. In primates, sperm competition has been documented through observations of multiple males mating with a female during her fertile period and post-copulatory assessments of sperm competition, such as the presence of sperm from multiple males in the female reproductive tract. Human sperm competition has also been demonstrated in investigations.

Men who participate in regular sexual activity, for example, have more significant sperm counts and more motile sperm, which may be an adaptation to boost their chances of fertilizing an egg in the event of sperm competition. Furthermore, research has revealed that the human penis is longer than that of other primates, which may be an adaptation to remove the sperm of rival males during intercourse.

Human sperm morphology studies provide additional evidence for sperm competition in humans. The form of human sperm is distinctive among primates and may be an adaptation to swimming in competitive situations. Human sperm, in particular, has a long tail and a streamlined head, allowing it to swim more quickly and efficiently. This morphology may give the sperm an edge in circumstances where sperm rivalry is widespread, as it helps the sperm to reach the egg more rapidly and precisely.

Sperm Quality as Strategy of Sperm Competition

Research has shown that the quality of a male’s sperm can significantly impact his reproductive success in sperm competition. For example, studies have found that males with higher-quality sperm are more likely to fertilize an egg when there is competition between their sperm and those of another male. The level of sexual activity of a male can alter the quality of his sperm.

Males who participate in frequent sexual activity have higher-quality sperm, more motility, and a reduced prevalence of abnormalities, according to studies. This could be because frequent sexual activity increases testosterone synthesis, which encourages the generation of high-quality sperm.

Another factor affecting the quality of a male’s sperm is his overall health and fitness. Males in good physical condition and who maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle tend to produce higher-quality sperm than those less healthy. This may be because healthy males have better access to the nutrients and resources needed to produce high-quality sperm.

Impact of Mate-Guarding Behaviours

Mate-guarding activities are a variety of behaviors that people participate in to keep their partners from participating in sexual activity with other people. Mate-guarding actions can have both beneficial and harmful consequences. Conversely, mate-guarding can reduce the risk of sperm competition and increase the possibility of successful fertilization. Individuals can lower the likelihood of their partners becoming pregnant by another male by restricting their partners from participating in sexual intercourse with other people.

Mate-guarding actions also serve as an indicator of mate quality. Individuals exhibiting high levels of mate-guarding behaviors may signal to possible rivals that they are strongly invested in their spouse and are willing to devote resources to safeguarding their mate from potential rivals. This may assist in dissuading possible rivals while increasing the individual’s perceived value as a mate.

However, the negative impact of mate-guarding behaviors can be significant. Constant surveillance, control, and aggression can harm the partner’s physical and emotional well-being. In extreme cases, mate-guarding behaviors can lead to physical and psychological abuse, creating a harmful and potentially dangerous situation for the partner.

Female Mate Choices Conclusion

Sperm competition has been an adaptive problem for humans, as evidenced by physical adaptations like larger testes, behavioral strategies like increased ejaculation during intercourse, cryptic ovulation, and chemical compounds in semen that influence female reproductive behavior.

Meet Joe Engle, A Pilot Who Flew A Rocket Plane Into Space

On June 29, 1965, U.S. Air Force pilot Joe Engle qualified as an astronaut, though he wouldn’t join NASA’s astronaut corps for another nine months. That Tuesday morning, Engle flew the X-15 rocket plane to a peak altitude of 280,600 feet or 53.1 miles, 3.1 miles beyond the threshold of where air ends and space begins. Last weekend he was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and I got to sit down and chat with him about flying that tiny, awesome rocket plane.

The X-15 in flight.

A Little About the X-15

Conceived in the early 1950s when airplanes were barely breaking Mach 2 or twice the speed of sound, the X-15 was a research aircraft designed to gather data on instability at speed up to Mach 7 and altitudes up to 50 miles. The first production aircraft rolled out of North American Aviation’s hangar in Los Angeles on October 15, 1958, and it looked every bit at space-aged as its high speed and high altitude flight profile suggested.

The X-15 really looks more like a missile than an aircraft. And really, it is sort of a missile with room for a pilot. It was even air launched from under the wing of a B-52 bomber like a missile. Fifty feet long, 13 feet high, and a wingspan measuring just 22 feet across, the bulk of the X-15’s fuselage was dedicated to anhydrous ammonia and liquid oxygen tanks and the plumbing needed to force both liquids into the powerful rear mounted XLR-99 rocket engine (though earlier flights used smaller, ethyl alcohol fueled XLR-11 engines).

Only the slight bump behind the nose with a narrow window indicated that a pilot was meant to sit inside.

But there’s one other piece of the X-15 that makes it a fascinating vehicle. Because it was designed to fly where the atmosphere is too thin for traditional flight controls — ailerons, elevators, and rudders — to bite into, the X-15 also had reaction controls. After burning his rocket engine on a steep climb to reach peak altitudes, small hydrogen peroxide jets gave the pilot a way to control his orientation in the nearly atmosphere-less environment.

Riding a Thoroughbred Horse

Typical X-15 flight profiles.

Learning to fly the X-15 was an incremental process, Engle said. The parts of the flight that used traditional flight controls called for classic piloting skill, using reaction controls in the upper atmosphere took some getting used to, and learning to fly a flight profile that combined traditional controls with reaction controls was a challenge. On one short flight, he had to use both control systems seamlessly. Simulators helped by replicating the flight down to jets that produced equivalent thrust in a hangar at Edwards Air Force Base as the X-15’s would 50 miles above the Earth. And the simulators were constantly updated with the latest flight data meaning it was an increasingly realistic representation of what the real thing would feel like.

And the flights were incremental, too. Engle’s first flight, like every X-15 pilot’s first flight, was a checkout flight. He only went Mach 4 and reached a peak altitude of just 77,800 feet. Rather than records, the goal for this flight was for Engle to familiarize himself with the little aircraft and make the all-important unpowered landing on the dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Engle went up in an X-15 nestled under the wing of a B-52 thirty-two times but only launched from the mothership 16 times. And not once was he rattled. Most of the aborted take offs were for innocuous things like communications or instrument problems.

And finding himself arcing over a flight path more than 250,000 feet in the air didn’t rattle Engle’s nerves either.

Altitude flights treated X-15 pilots to a view of the curvature of the Earth and a brief period of weightlessness before gravity pulled the airplane back down to begin the high-speed descent. And while the view might have been breathtaking, Engle said it was more than anything an important flight instrument. The X-15 didn’t have an inertial guidance system. It used mechanical gyros that tended to drift with acceleration, so being able to look out the window and visually orient himself was more data and less scenery. There was too much to do on these short flights to really stop and take it all in.

But the view did, however briefly, highlight the reality of the task at hand. As Engle described it, to fly the X-15 meant bringing your A-game to work. Alone on top of the world, his life was quite literally in his own hands; no one but he could pilot that airplane seamlessly from atmosphere-less space to the lakebed. In that moment, he said, you had to be convinced that you’ve got the best hands in the world.

Taking In the View

Me and Joe Engle.

Engle left the Air Force and joined NASA in March of 1966 as one of the Group 5 astronauts, and he was the first man to join the space program with astronaut wings. He trained to fly on Apollo 17 but was bumped from the crew when the last three lunar missions were cancelled. Suddenly, Apollo 17 was the last chance for a scientist to walk on the Moon and geologist Jack Schmitt was added to the crew. But Engle did make it into space. After returning to Edwards to fly approach and landing tests with the space shuttle Enterprise, he served as the commander of STS-2. On that flight, he told me, he finally had a chance to stop and take in the view of the Earth curving below him, a far better view than the brief glimpse at the top of an X-15 flight. On that mission, he manually flew the shuttle from Mach 25 to landing. From about Mach 6 on, he said, the shuttle handled more or less the same as the X-15, only it felt a lot bigger.

The X-15, Engle told me, was an exciting airplane to fly, akin to riding a high spirited thoroughbred horse. And it remains his favorite and most professionally rewarding of the 185 different types of planes he’s flown over the course of his career. And, I should point out, he couldn’t be nicer to sit down and talk to.

Sources: My conversation with Joe Engle; NASA; NASA; “At the Edge of Space” by Milt Thompson.

A Guide To Making Work From Home Easier

The pros and cons of working from home

You will save time and money!

Flexible work hours can be a pro and a con Social interactions reduce (but that’s not a good thing)

Casual conversations over coffee in the break room and other day-to-day office interactions go away when you work from home. You can focus on your work instead and get things done without unnecessary distractions and interruptions.

However, everyday face-to-face interactions are a great way to collaborate, bounce ideas off of colleagues, or simply take a break from the stress. If you suddenly have to work from home, this is something you’ll miss dearly. You must go out of your way to set up “meetings” when at home, and it isn’t nearly the same.

The technology can take some getting used to

Zoom. Skype. Google Meet. Microsoft Teams. These are just a handful of the apps everyone has become intensely familiar with over the past six months. Installing these apps isn’t the only thing you need to do, however.

You have to set up and make sure that the webcam and mic are working, practically before every call. You will likely need good lighting and to make sure that there isn’t any distracting background noise. There’s just a whole lot to do now that you might never have had to think about before.

Does home insurance cover work from home?

Home insurance is property insurance covering any damages to assets inside the home. The right home insurance plan can cover everything, from your furniture to your electronic gadgets.

With more and more people working from home and likely using office devices, what your home insurance covers is a little murky. Overall, most people that are working from home now will fall under one of three categories.

Working from home because of the pandemic

If your company is making you work from home because of the pandemic, things are a little more clear cut for you. Any company property you use, such as an office laptop, should be covered under their corporate insurance plan in case of any loss or damage. I would recommend checking with someone in your workplace first, just to be sure.

Working from home as an independent contractor/freelancer

Remote work as an independent contractor or freelancer has its fair share of complications. Paying taxes is difficult, but so is figuring out homeowners’ insurance. A standard home insurance policy might not provide enough cover if you work from home. You might not be allowed to claim a personal laptop that you also use for work.

Ultimately, it all comes down to your insurance provider. It’s essential to have a conversation and dive into the finer details of what is and isn’t covered by your home insurance policy. If you’ve recently made the switch to remote work but plan to do so long-term, it’s a good idea to let the insurance company know.

Running your own business from your home

Tips and tricks to make work from home easier

Working from home is still a very new idea for many. It can also quickly become challenging to manage, once the initial sheen wears off. Here are a few things you can do to make the whole experience just a little better.

Get the right equipment: It’s vital to have the right equipment and setup. You might need to upgrade your internet plan to get a faster connection speed, or in case you deal with data caps. We’ll be taking a more detailed look at all the gear you might need to take your work from home experience to the next level.

Set up a home office: Having a separate workspace will help you get into the right mindset. It will also provide a place to leave and return to when you take a break, just to simulate how it would be in your office. You don’t need a separate room, of course. Even a desk tucked into a corner of your living room will do the trick. Don’t forget to check out our guide on how to set up a home office!

Decide on a fixed work schedule: Many consider the flexible hours a huge positive when working from home. However, time management can quickly get away from you, and you might find yourself struggling to meet deadlines and finish projects. You don’t have to be strict about it, but following a regular schedule makes approaching work a lot easier. It also gives you time to mentally “switch off” and be done with a workday.

Avoid distractions: There are distractions galore when working from home. The TV remote is within reach, you’d much rather spend time with family, and scrolling through Twitter and Instagram is probably more fun than work. A manager or colleagues aren’t around to look over your shoulder and make sure that you aren’t distracted either. There’s a lot you can do to stay focused when you’re working from home and get into a flow state.

Know when to disconnect: The ability to end your workday when working from home is as crucial as figuring out when to start. It will be tempting to power through to get all your work done. Not only will these long hours impact the quality of your work, but it could potentially affect your wellbeing. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance becomes even more critical when you’re working from home long-term.

Getting the right gear

The sudden shift to work from home left quite a few people floundering for gear. The chair you’ll be sitting on all day needs to be as comfortable as possible. A good mic makes it much easier for everyone to hear you. A high-end webcam is useful for conference calls. A great pair of headphones ensures that you don’t miss anything during a call, and can help drown out any background noise at home. I can go on and on. Instead, let’s take a look at some of our top recommendations for work from home gear.

Picking the right laptop for the job

David Imel / Android Authority

Not everyone has or needs a high-end laptop for personal use. It doesn’t take much to browse the web and social media or watch the occasional movie or TV show online. However, if you need to run specialized software for work, you might need to upgrade your laptop. Some companies might provide a work laptop, but if you need to get a new one yourself, these are some of the best options to consider.

A solid mid-ranger: Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft’s fantastic line of 2-in-1’s gets better with every iteration. The latest in the lineup, the Surface Pro 7, is worth considering if you have a little more money to spend. It starts at around $800 for the version that comes with an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of memory. You can upgrade the RAM and processor, with the highest-end model setting you back around $1500. Keep in mind that the Microsoft cover will cost extra, and it is quite expensive. Instead, you could consider one of the excellent keyboards we recommend below.

The best high-end laptop: MacBook Pro 13-inch

The MacBook Pro remains a crowd favorite for those in the market for a high-end laptop. Apple’s excellent craftsmanship shines through once again, and the 2023 edition also comes with the new Magic Keyboard and Touchbar. It comes with a 10th Gen Intel i5 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of storage. Four Thunderbolt 3 ports take care of all your connectivity needs. It’s up there in the price department, but there’s a reason why the MacBook Pro is so popular.

Unsurprisingly, the 13-inch MacBook Pro isn’t the most expensive option Apple has to offer. If you have more money to spend, you can get a larger screen, an i9 processor, and 32GB of RAM with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It isn’t our main recommendation because it’s likely overkill for most users. If you’re a power user, though, there are not many others worth considering.

Are you looking for even more options? Check out our roundup of the best laptops you can buy!

Consider a desktop instead

You might not want to do “work stuff” on a personal laptop, especially if you’re used to having a private workstation in the office. Since you’ll probably look into creating a separate office space in your home, a desktop is an excellent way to set this area apart. The feeling of “going to” and “leaving” work when you step away from your desk helps too.

Desktop vs laptop: Which should you get to work from home?

A budget-friendly desktop to consider: Dell Inspiron Desktop 3880


The Dell Inspiron Desktop 3880 starts at around $450. It’s an excellent affordable option to consider. If you aren’t happy with the 10th gen i3 processor, even the high-end i7 iteration is relatively inexpensive at $800. Depending on the model, it comes with up to 12GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. There’s no shortage of connectivity, with 8 USB-A ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, and more.

An excellent all-in-one: HP 27 Pavilion


The HP 27 comes with the specs and features of a far-more expensive laptop and falls in the mid-range category. You get the 10th Gen i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, 1TB of HDD storage, and a 27-inch Full HD display. There also are USB-A and USB-C ports, an SD card reader, and an ethernet port to cover all of your connectivity needs. It’s a sleek and beautifully-designed device that will look fantastic on any desk.

For Apple fans: new iMac (2023) 27-inch


Any macOS or iOS user will swear that there’s only one answer to the right desktop question — the iMac. The 2023 refresh is a major upgrade. It comes with a 27-inch 5K Retina Display, a 10th Gen i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of storage. Connectivity includes four USB-A ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and an ethernet port. It also has one of the best built-in webcams you’ll find on a desktop. Unsurprisingly, the iMac is quite expensive but is completely worth it.

Are you a power user who has $5,000 to spare? You might want to look into the iMac Pro instead.

You need a good desk

Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority

Staying sedentary for a long time is bad for your health. From poor posture and a stiff back to potential cardiovascular issues down the road, sitting all day is something we should all avoid. When you’re in an office, you probably get up for meetings, coffee breaks, or to simply chat with co-workers. A large part of that interaction goes away when you work from home. You’ll have to continually remind yourself to take a break and stay active, but no one wants to break their workflow either.

Standing desks vs converter desks

The entire flat top section of a standing desk comes up and goes down with you. The more expensive options have motors and do this automatically. You can save some money by opting for a manual version, but that might be inconvenient and take too long.

On the other hand, a converter desk, or riser, is ideal for anyone that doesn’t have room for a large desk, or already has a work desk or table. These are usually easier to assemble, offer more flexibility, and aren’t as expensive.

Our recommendations

Fully Jarvis bamboo standing desk


The Fully Jarvis bamboo standing desk is a beautiful sit/stand desk that is also eco-friendly. You can customize the size, choosing from a range that starts at 30 x 24 inches and goes all the way up to 78 x 30 inches. A simple up-down toggle and programmable presets makes switching between sitting and standing quick and easy. Further options include the ability to add wire management grommets, and Fully also offers grommets with plug points and USB ports. The Fully Jarvis bamboo standing desk starts at $559.

VariDesk Basic 30


A very well-known brand in the standing desk category, Varidesk offers an excellent range of standing desks and risers. VariDesk has a slew of high-end standing desk converters available. For most users, however, the Basic 30 will more than get the job done. It comes with a two-tier design that lets you adjust the height according to your needs, with 11 adjustable settings. It’s big, spacious, and has a 25lb weight limit. It’s also priced at just around $200.

Looking for even more options? Here are some excellent standing desks worth checking out!

Pick a good monitor

Anybody who spends all day in front of a computer screen knows the value of a good monitor. If you’re moving to a home office setup, your laptop screen may not cut it. Luckily, there are a lot of great monitors you can choose from, and most are relatively affordable as well.

Best budget-pick: LG 32QN600-B


This 32-inch LG monitor is a great budget-friendly pick. It may not be the best for gaming with a 5ms response time, but the 2K display with HDR10 capability should be perfect for getting work done or streaming your favorite shows. You can also mount it on your wall with the VESA mount and attach peripherals with two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort option. If you were hoping for a higher resolution, LG has got you covered.

The best cheap 4K monitor: Dell U2720Q

The Dell U2720Q is a great monitor for productivity. The 27-inch IPS display comes with a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution, accurate color reproduction, a 60Hz refresh rate, and a 5ms response time. You get only one HDMI and DisplayPort, but a USB-C port provides a solution with up 90W power delivery to keep your laptop or device charged while transferring data and video. It’s beautifully designed too, with a small, compact base and a near-borderless frame.

The best high-end monitor: BenQ PD2720U


The BenQ PD2720U is one of the best monitors you can get. The 27-inch IPS LCD screen comes with a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution and a 60Hz refresh rate. Its color accuracy is its most significant selling point. It comes with professional CAD/CAM, Darkroom, and Animation display modes. It also supports HDR10 content.

It’s also not lacking in connectivity. It comes with two HDMI ports, a DisplayPort, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (upstream and downstream) to provide a single-cable solution for charging and data transfers. The stand lets you tilt and swivel the monitor and find the optimal angle. It’s an expensive monitor, though, but it is well worth it. If you’re looking for even more screen real estate, you can also get the 32-inch model for an additional $100.

Getting the right headphones for the job

Adam Molina / Android Authority

A good pair of headphones or earbuds is a must-have if you work from home and mainly if you attend a lot of conference calls. Using your laptop audio or other external speakers isn’t a good idea since there’s usually some kind of feedback and echo. Headphones also ensure that anything discussed on the call stays private from roommates or family.

Have noisy kids, loud roommates, or dealing with construction right outside your window? You might want to splurge on noise-canceling headphones to keep you focused on work.

The best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4

Adam Molina / Android Authority

The Sony WH-1000XM3 already were a fantastic pair of noise-canceling headphones, and their successor is even better. The WH-1000XM4 comes with additional features to provide an exceptional audio experience. It also offers outstanding call quality, which is more important in the work from home context. A 30-hour battery life and fast charging capabilities round out a reliable package. It’s expensive, but you get what you pay for.

An affordable alternative: AKG N60NC

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. The AKG N60NC is a quarter of the price of the Sony but it offers really good audio and call quality. It also comes with 30-hour battery life, while its foldable design makes it a good travel companion. If active noise-canceling is a requirement, this is one of the best relatively inexpensive options you can get.

A good keyboard makes all the difference

Adam Sinicki / Android Authority

Sleek and ultra-thin laptops are great for portability and they certainly look good. However, their form factor doesn’t lend to a great typing experience in most cases. If your job involves typing away on a keyboard for hours on end, you might want to get one that makes it easier.

The best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860

The Logitech Ergo K860 is a Bluetooth keyboard ideal for those that want full, but portable, functionality. Its unique curved design allows you to type naturally and puts less strain on your wrists. The Ergo in the name is reflected in more ergonomic design features, including the wrist support pad that makes typing that bit more comfortable. You can plug the keyboard into your laptop or PC, or use it wirelessly via Bluetooth from up to 10 meters away.

The best full-size keyboard: Microsoft Surface Keyboard

The Microsoft Surface Keyboard is meant to be used mainly with Microsoft’s lineup of Surface tablets and PCs, but won’t look out of place on any desk. It’s a full-size keyboard with a dedicated number pad on the side. The nice-looking soft gray finish falls in line with Surface aesthetics. You also get optimized key feedback for a smooth typing experience.

The best mechanical keyboard: Das Keyboard 4 Professional

The Das Keyboard 4 Professional offers attention to detail that you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Key inscriptions are laser etched, and the aluminum top can withstand plenty of wear and tear. The keys are made to last over 50 million presses. The media buttons are convenient, and the large volume knob is very nice to have. The typing experience is top-notch, with a lot of travel and superior tactile feedback. It’s not cheap, but it’s definitely among the best mechanical keyboards you can get.

A better mouse is worth buying

The best computer mouse can make a significant difference in comfort, performance, and precision. There are a lot of options available, and we’ve included two different types below. Of course, you should also check out our complete roundups via the links below.

Logitech MX Vertical


Logitech is one of the best PC accessory makers around, so it’s no surprise that they have multiple devices featured on this list. Another great device is the Logitech MX Vertical. According to Logitech, the MX Vertical offers up to a 10-percent reduction in muscle strain due to the mouse’s tilt angle of 57 degrees. Apart from the solid ergonomics, the MX Vertical also offers several distinct features. The mouse provides up to four months of battery life and can be recharged through the USB-C port.

External storage devices are useful

You might run out of storage on your laptop or PC if you suddenly have to use it to save all your work files as well. You could upgrade the internal storage if it’s customizable, but an easier alternative for most would be an external hard drive. It’s a useful way to backup your data, and it’ll let you store work and personal files separately. You can also just take it with you once you can go back to the office.

Samsung T5

Unlike mechanical hard drives, the Samsung T5 is an external solid-state drive (SSD). That means there are no moving parts to worry about. The Samsung T5 is incredibly slim and compact, easily fitting in a shirt pocket. Thanks to its use of Samsung’s V-NAND flash memory and USB-C, the T5 provides incredible transfer speeds of up to 540Mbps. It’s expensive but worth every penny.

SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD

The SanDisk Extreme Portable External SSD offers super-fast read and write speeds of up to 550 and 500Mbps, respectively. Apart from being speedy, what makes this external drive stand out is that it’s rugged. The portable SSD features an IP55 rating for protection against water and dust. It can also withstand drops from up to two meters onto a concrete floor.

You’ll find plenty of other options in our complete roundup of the best external hard-drives!

A webcam is essential!

You probably have a webcam built into your laptop. But, unless it’s the feature you took particular interest in, it’s safe to say that it won’t be the best quality. Dedicated webcams can significantly improve image quality over what laptops offer. They are your only option if you own a desktop computer too. With everybody on Zoom now, a good webcam is a must.

Razer Kiyo

The Razer Kiyo might be intended for gamers, but it’s great for video calls too. The unit comes with a circular light that makes exposure more even. The definition is crisp and smooth at 1080p@30fps. It also doesn’t cost much more than the best affordable webcams you can get either.

See also: The best webcams you can buy

Make yourself heard with a good microphone

Your audio setup can make or break the experience of a work call. Not hearing someone because of a lousy laptop mic is far too familiar. But everyone will listen to what you have to say if you have a good microphone. It’s also exactly what you need to kickstart that quarantine podcast you’ve been planning. Here are some of the best microphones you can get.

The best in the game: Blue Yeti X

Chris Thomas / Android Authority

Blue makes some of the best microphones in the business, and the Yeti X is another excellent addition to the series. The Yeti X has a MicroUSB output, as well as a 3.5mm headphone monitoring output. A gain knob with LED lights shows if you are peaking or close to peaking. You can also select your recording pattern. The Yeti X also records 24-bit audio at 48kHz, so you’re afforded some wiggle room for edits in post-production. It’s expensive, but you get the best.

Frequently asked questions

A List Of Major Apps That Support Apple’s Shareplay Feature

Check out this list of iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac apps updated with support for SharePlay, a feature that facilitates shared app and media experiences on FaceTime.

These major apps support Apple’s SharePlay feature

SharePlay is supported in Apple’s major apps including Music, TV and Fitness+.

The company has already highlighted several major third-party apps that now support SharePlay, including NBA, TikTok, Twitch, Paramount+ and Showtime. And now, we’ve put together the definitive list of all the popular apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV from both Apple and third-party developers. These apps either already feature support for SharePlay or its developers are working on implementing SharePlay in a future update.

Audio streaming Video streaming Health and fitness Games Other

SharePlay facilitates media sharing via FaceTime, but it can also power shared app experiences in creative ways. This includes Apple, which has leveraged SharePlay to implement synchronized group workouts and meditations on its Fitness+ service.

Creative uses for SharePlay

On TikTok, for instance, the For You feed becomes For Us when using SharePlay. The name change not only reflects the user has switched from a solitary experience to a group SharedPlay experience but also actually fills the feed with video recommendations that apply to everyone on the call. In a way, it’s a synced page between all of the devices participating in a SharePlay session that also mixes everyone’s interests.

Spotify is also working on implementing support for the SharePlay features. With it, Spotify fans will be able to organize listening parties via FaceTime as long as they’re subscribers. Read: How to use SharePlay to share music and videos on FaceTime calls

With SharePlay in Night Sky, you can stargaze remotely with your friends on iPhone and iPad in real-time. With the quizz-making app Kahoot!, you can take quizzes with others over FaceTime. Another example is Piano with Friends, which has great use for SharePlay — you can remotely draw on a single canvas with friends on a FaceTime call.

And the Crouton app lets you cook with friends via SharePlay in step-by-step mode.

How can developers add support for SharePlay?

SharePlay comes with a typical Apple touch, as per the Apple Newsroom announcement:

SharePlay sessions offer shared playback controls, so anyone on the FaceTime call can play, pause or jump ahead while enjoying synced media. With dynamic volume controls, audio from the streaming content will automatically lower when a FaceTime participant is speaking, making it easy to continue the conversation with friends despite a loud scene or climactic chorus.


When users prefer to have uninterrupted sound, they can simply tap on the Messages button in the FaceTime controls to jump to a shared thread and keep the conversation going. Each participant in the SharePlay session streams directly from the relevant app on their own device, delivering high-fidelity audio and video. Apple TV supports SharePlay so users can watch shared shows or movies on the big screen while using their personal device to continue connecting with friends over FaceTime.

Apple provides developers with the tools and resources to implement SharePlay in their apps, should they wish to do so, through the Apple Developer website.

SharePlay is currently available on the following devices:

iPhone and iPod touch with iOS 15.1 and later

iPad with iPadOS 15.1 and later

Apple TV with tvOS 15.1 and later.

SharePlay for Mac is launching later in 2023 via an update to macOS Monterey.

If you have an Apple TV, you can watch shared media on the big screen while using FaceTime on your iPhone or iPad. With screen sharing support, you and your friends can browse the web together, look at photos or check out something in a favorite app.

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