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Ember's pricey new smart mugs still cost way too much

Ember's improved line of smart mugs come with even bigger price tags.

Ember's line of new smart mugs, like the Ember Travel Mug second-gen shown here, run longer but cost more.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Ember, the company that gave us the temperature self-regulating smart mug, is at it again. The outfit has just revamped its existing lineup of mugs for 2019. Ember's new line, which includes a $179 Travel Mug and a $129 regular old Mug, boasts some welcome improvements, including better battery life, slimmed-down footprints, and larger sizes to accommodate more of your hot coffee and tea.

Even with those enhancements, it's tough to make the case for these things. In fact, it has become harder. Ember's previous smart mugs were far from inexpensive (ranging between $79 and $149). And the latest models now cost even more. Despite the up-charge, they don't provide drastically better performance or features. Yes, it's true that coffee geeks like myself find Ember mugs hard to resist, but I would steer clear of these new models. There's not enough new here to justify their higher prices.

Ember's new smart mugs

Still curious about the new Ember lineup? Here's a quick rundown. At the top of the line is the $179 second-gen Ember Travel Mug. It's rated to offer 50 percent more run-time than its predecessor. According to Ember, that comes to 3 hours, compared with just 2 hours that the first-generation model supposedly supplied. In my experience it was closer 1 hour. Ember says it's 15 percent lighter too, and it sports a smaller charging coaster.

This version still holds the same amount of liquid (12 ounces), though Ember has tweaked the mug's controls. Instead of using the physical temperature dial (on the bottom of the first-gen mug), you adjust the second-gen Travel Mug's temperature through its touch-sensitive display. To activate this display, tap the Ember logo located on the mug's front face.

If you prefer a bigger cup, the second-gen Ember Mug comes in a 14-ounce capacity ($129). A smaller 10-ounce model is available for $99. Both products simulate the feel and heft of traditional ceramic mugs, and come in shades of white and black. If you're willing to shell out $30 more, Ember has a 10-ounce version with a shiny copper finish.

What the Ember Mug looks like in a copper finish.

Chris Monroe/CNET

All the second-gen mugs, like current Ember devices, link to phones via Bluetooth and the Ember app. Together, you can monitor and control the mugs' contents via a wireless connection.

Personal time with a new Ember

I've been using Ember's second-gen Travel Mug for just a few days. My experience so far has been positive, but not outrageously so. Yes, the battery life is a bit longer. Anecdotally, the Ember actively held coffee at my chosen temperature (132 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 2 hours before needing a charge. That's shorter than the claimed battery life of 3 hours. The mug can also bring room temperature coffee up to drinkable warmth in 30 minutes.

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Now you control the Travel Mug's temperature via touch controls on its front.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The display's LEDs that shine through the mug's front surface are noticeably brighter too, but I'm not entirely convinced about the touch temperature controls. They do offer fewer moving parts than the older mug's rotating dial. Perhaps that will translate into greater reliability. Regardless, using a physical dial is easier to operate. It takes less steps, and it provides tactile feedback.

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Too much money, still not enough

I admit, I enjoy drinking hot drinks at my ideal temperature. Paying Ember prices to do it though is no value. For most people, a smart, temperature-adjusting mug just isn't worth it. That's the case no matter the charge. Ordinary mugs cost next to nothing ($21 for a set of 4). And when was the last time a dumb coffee mug annoyingly suggested that you update its firmware? No one wants to deal with that. 

Even among of a select group of coffee fanatics like myself, paying for the original $150 Ember Travel Mug was a foolhardy endeavor. Asking people to cough up $30 more for a refreshed gadget that runs just a bit longer? It's harder to imagine a more first-world problem. .