Ember Travel Mug review: This exorbitant smart mug is catnip for coffee geeks

Each logo tap cycles through various readouts. These include current drink temperature, target temperature and whether the Ember is actively heating or passively cooling. You'll also see the current battery level plus the mug's name (personalized or default).

Tap the Ember logo to activate the mug's screen. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

To select your target temperature, you swivel the mug's bottom left or right. It has a range between 120 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The time it takes to cool your drink depends on factors like its initial temperature, volume and ambient conditions outside.

In my experience, 12 ounces of hot coffee (166 F) needed 42 minutes to hit the Ember's default coffee temp (130 F). That's way too long to wait around. I usually finish my morning cup in half the time. Also consider that coffee from the same pot in a glass mug cooled to 107 degrees F in 30 minutes.

Ember Travel Mug app

Use the Ember app to control the mug's temperature and get alerts.

Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

An app for your mug, really

As you might have guessed, the Ember has a companion mobile app (iOS and Android). Through the software you can see the mug's status (it links to your phone via Bluetooth). The app also lets you save personal temp presets or control its heat level. The software also pushes alerts to notify you when the Ember has hit its target temperature.

As apps go, Ember's is cleanly laid out and intuitive. It did encounter the usual problems with flaky Bluetooth connections. For example, many times the app refused to connect to the Ember Travel Mug even though I'd done so before. Still, this is likely due to my Google Pixel XL handset. I've experienced the same issue with this phone and numerous other products, from dryers to Bluetooth headphones. Cycling the Pixel's Bluetooth off and on again usually solved the hiccup.

Avoid this budget buster

Should you buy the $150 Ember Travel Mug? For most people the answer is absolutely not. While the gadget definitely packs some slick technology, unless you're a supreme coffee nerd its benefits are marginal. Even if you're like me and absolutely adore coffee's intense and complex flavor, the Ember's sky-high price is impossible to swallow. Yes, coffee from the Ember held at optimal temperatures was always excellent.

Still, it's an obscenely expensive luxury. I can enjoy the same richness of flavor drinking from an ordinary coffee mug. It just takes patience and a little vigilance. For the same amount of money you could buy both a quality coffee maker and a premium travel mug. Case in point, the $100 Bonavita Metropolitan and the $55 Zojirushi Travel Mug ($26 through Amazon). That's why the Ember only makes sense if you happen to be a true coffee devotee, or you're looking for a gift for someone who is. 

Editors' note, June 6, 2018: We have spent more time evaluating the Ember Travel Mug's performance since this review first published on Jan. 25, 2018. This review has been updated to reflect these experiences.  

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