The Weber Lumin Electric Grill

Living for the city shouldn’t mean living without a summer staple

Lighting a charcoal or propane grill on an apartment balcony is generally recognized as a safe and socially responsible activity by everyone apart from neighbors, fire departments, property managers, landlords, and co-op boards. The list will probably be missing a few potential objectors—such as the people you live with—when the burned fat, smoke, and carbon monoxide–laden fumes from the barbecue blow back into your apartment.

So, all in all, it’s fair to say that grills are typically for rural dwellers and suburbanites. But it was the neglected urbanite Weber had in mind when they devised this fine portable outdoor electric grill, the Lumin. As their marketing tagline ably, if wonkily, puts it: “Don’t Sacrifice BBQ for Big City Views.” Which we think means you don’t have to give up barbecue because you want to enjoy big city views. Or maybe the opposite. Or both. Or something.

Whatever, the Weber Lumin is a beautifully designed, well-built little grill—it’s 12 inches high, 26 wide, 19 deep, and weighs 36.5 pounds. There’s a still-smaller “Compact” version which comes in at around $60 less.

Although you could safely cook with a Lumin on a balcony table, we recommend buying the $180 stand, the $75 cover, the $100 griddle, and the $80 “versatility expansion kit”—a four-piece set of inserts that allow you to steam fresh vegetables and fish or seafood, warm plates, and add wood chips for smoking (although the latter could get you back into annoying-the-neighbors territory). You’ll need either luck or patience to find these accessories on the pretty chaotic Weber Web site. But be assured they are on there somewhere.

We confess that we haven’t been able to sample food cooked by a Weber Lumin, although from looking closely at one in a store, there’s not a lot that could go wrong. The cooking surface is porcelain-enamel, so it’s likely to be nonstick. There’s a simple 1,560-watt electric element that Weber claims can get the food up to a respectable 600 degrees. And otherwise, in the way of technology, it only has a big, clear temperature gauge and a six-foot power cable. Barbecue connoisseurs online are near unanimous that it works quite nicely.

O.K., the Lumin is, effectively, just an electric grill, much like the one you may have in your kitchen. A barbecue purist might even say electric is a sort of safe-sex version of the real thing. Possibly correct. But, as we all know, food does taste better outside. Even when outside is just a balcony looking over the city.

The Philips VoiceTracer Audio Recorder Pen

The Philips VoiceTracer Audio Recorder Pen, $79.99.

Channel your inner James Bond with this medical-grade writing instrument

At about age 11, your columnist desperately wanted a pair of British-made shoes called Wayfinders: “The great shoes for boys who love adventure.” It was not so much the animal-paw-print soles that enthralled but a compass hidden in the heel. Amid parental pleading that a compass in the heel of a shoe was unhelpful for a boy who was ambivalent about adventure—and useless should one actually come about—the Wayfinders remained un-bought.

The conundrum of gadgets that, although useful in principle, are destined to remain un-deployed is one that continues even in our less naïve age. Just think of the countless Swiss Army knives and Leatherman tools that molder in drawers for decades; the cameras unused for months at a time because of smartphones; and, gosh, the unused apps that sneakily drain your bank account every month thanks to the dreaded subscription you agreed to in a moment of weakness.

Which brings us to a new gadget from the mighty, 132-year-old, Netherlands-based Philips—more correctly, Royal Philips. Historically, they were makers of lighting, radios, and shavers, but today they’re big in medical equipment and … this, a very nice pen containing a well-hidden recording device, a terrific 360-degree microphone, 32 GB of internal memory (enough for up to 129 hours of recording), USB-C charging, a lengthy battery life (Philips doesn’t say how long), six spare ink cartridges, and speech-to-text software.

Oddly, because spying equipment is hardly Philips’s thing, the designers have thought about the deeper needs of the surreptitious conversation recorder. There’s a clear and simple Record switch, but it’s unmarked and lacks a blinking red light to give the game away. The only clue that it’s no ordinary pen is the discreet but visible Philips branding. This could be a blunder: “How curious, Mr.-Bond-circa-1962, that your pen should be made by a leading electronics manufacturer … ”

The boy who ached for those Wayfinder compass shoes is equally excited by the Philips VoiceTracer Audio Recording Pen. Yet, trying to imagine a scenario where it might prove useful in the next 20 to 30 years is not easy. The pen’s use is predicated on there being a meeting with some kind of adversary in which you’re taking written notes but are unable to ask if it’s O.K. to record the conversation on your iPhone, like a normal person. It also requires the importance of the meeting to be such that the usual ethical/legal requirement to inform someone that you are recording them can be disregarded.

So, no, the VoiceTracer pen is not going to be that useful anytime soon. But it is a really nice pen. And those rarely get lost or anything, right?

The Audio-Technica AT2020 USB-XP Microphone

The Audio-Technica AT2020 USB-XP Microphone, $169.

Have main-character syndrome … er, main-podcaster syndrome? Make sure you sound good

The Zoom years kick-started by the coronavirus have undoubtedly left a lasting mark on technology. For one thing, video calling has not really diminished. Another thing is the increasing use of desktop microphones with a distinctly old-school look about them. It’s not just podcasters who are striving to improve the quality of their outgoing audio while looking a little like Ed Murrow filing a radio report during W.W. II. Non-podcasters are using them for Zoom, FaceTime, and even for regular audio-only calls made from an office desk.

Audio-Technica is a venerable but still quite niche Japanese brand we like for both high-end professional equipment and high-quality consumer gear, but at a mid-market price.

We particularly like this new, pro-quality, consumer-priced USB-C-connected microphone, the AT2020 USB-XP. It’s simple to connect and use, with an ergonomically perfect touch-sensitive Mute switch and a clear blue/red L.E.D. indicator of whether the mike is live or muted.

On FaceTime calls where we have switched from the built-in microphone in a MacBook Air to the Audio-Technica device, those at the other end of the call have all noted a marked improvement in clarity, audibility, and overall richness of the audio. The AT2020 mike also has three levels of noise reduction and an optional automatic gain control to keep the volume level steady if you’re prone to raising your voice during calls.

The Logitech MX Master 3S Mouse

The Logitech MX Master 3S Mouse, $99.99.

Become the master of your cursor with the best external mouse on the market

Let us cut to the chase with this new model from the ever dependable Swiss mouse-smith, Logitech: the MX Master 3S is the best your columnist has ever used.

It’s a gentle evolution from several previous iterations, but from every perspective this one is slightly superior. The top covering, a non-slip suede-like plastic, is perfection. The level of slide-i-ness on a desktop is flawless. The accuracy is faultless. The speed scrolling is quicker. Best of all, we find that after a couple of years with its predecessor, the MX Master 3, the click is quieter but somehow more precise and satisfying.

Readers may smirk, but this writer swears that seeing this mouse on his desk each morning—especially in its fetching pale-gray color—improves his keenness to get typing by a discernible, if minor, percentage. We should add that the battery life on the 3S is said to be better, which is welcome, as it was surprisingly limited on the earlier model.

This MX Master 3S is sold on its own, or in a combo pack with a similarly improved keyboard, the MX Keys S, which we will report on when we’ve opened the sample. There’s also a travel version of the mouse that we will try out on our next work trip, but expectations are high.

One last thing regarding Logitech. They love complicating their superb productivity peripherals with software options you won’t use and functions you’re unlikely to want. We recommend ignoring the FOMO you might experience from disregarding all the fancy software options, and simply turn the device on, connect by Bluetooth, and get on with your work.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s Tech Columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer at the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology