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I have a lot of smart things in my home: lights, plugs, thermostats, locks, and, of course, phones. But the smartest of them all might be the Ember Ceramic Mug.
All of those other devices require some level of direction to work. I need to answer the doorbell. I have to turn on the lights. I need to summon the assistant on my Amazon Echo or Google Home. But the Ember Mug just works. Each morning I used it just like I would a normal mug—without talking to it or launching an app.
And it did exactly what it was supposed to do every time: keep my coffee hot. That might sound like an overly simple task for a mug with a sky-high price tag, but it could be the smartest purchase you’ll make all year.
A great ‘dumb’ mug too
Ember has put some serious thought into the design of the Ceramic Mug, and even if it wasn’t equipped with precision temperature control, it would still be an excellent vessel. Despite its name, Ember’s mug is actually made of stainless steel with a ceramic coating, and it has a comfortable handle with a nice bit of heft, so it’s equally comfortable when picked up like a glass or a mug.
Its androgynous nature extends to the rim as well, which feels more like a glass than a mug when you drink from it. I tested the 14-ounce model, and while it’s a touch taller than usual mugs of that size due to the heating coil that occupies a bit of space below the liquid, it strikes a nice balance between too big and too small.
The mug has a decidedly minimal aesthetic, and as such, it’s only available in matte black or white. An understated Ember logo and a small customizable LED round out the design, which will look at home in any kitchen cabinet. You’ll find a power/pairing button on the bottom of the mug, but after you hold it down to pair it with your phone, you probably won’t need to press it again (unless you lose the connection with your phone, which happened to me a couple of times).
The right temperature every time
As a regular mug, the Ember Ceramic Mug might be worth around $30, but it costs $100 more than that. Flip it over and you can see why: Rather than a rubber pad, the bottom of the Ember Ceramic Mug features a pair of circular copper coils for charging. Pop it on the bundled stand and it will begin to charge, and in about 90 minutes, it will be fully charged and ready for your beverage.
Take it off the charger, fill it up, and return it to the stand. You read that right: you can set a specific degree that you want your coffee to remain at, and the Ember Mug will keep it there. You needn’t worry that the mug will overheat: The heating element is weight-sensitive, so it doesn’t kick on unless there’s liquid in the mug to heat up.
As someone who sips rather than gulps their coffee, the Ember Ceramic Mug is life-changing. With other mugs, I need to take a couple trips to the microwave for reheating. The Ember Mug not only keeps my coffee hot, it ensures every sip will be the same temperature as the last. (Until you get to the bottom, that is. The liquid at the bottom of the mug will be a few degrees warmer due to its proximity to the heating element.) You can fine tune your temperature inside the iOS or Google Play app and assign specific temperatures for different drinks, but most mornings I used it without giving a thought.
Speaking of the heater, it’s quite powerful for such a small housing. Ember lets you adjust the Ceramic Mug between 120– and 145 degrees Fahrenheit (50– and 62.5 degrees Celsius), and it can heat up a cup of liquid from room temperature in about an hour. Granted, you won’t want to waste your battery life doing that, but it demonstrates how capable the heater inside the Ember Ceramic Mug is.
Ember Travel Mug review
The Ember Travel Mug looks something like a Contigo vacuum-sealed mug, but don’t let its looks fool you. Like the Ceramic Mug, the Travel Mug will keep your beverage at a steady temperature for around two hours, but it also includes a built-in dial for on-the-go adjustments.
The Travel Mug uses the same charging pad as the Ceramic Mug, but it’s shaped like a rectangle rather than a circle. Charging the mug takes a little more than an hour, so like the Ceramic Mug, you’ll want to remember to pop it on its stand overnight. Unlike the Ceramic Mug, which has a clicky button, the Travel Mug’s power button is touch sensitive and built into the logo. As such, it requires a bit of force and trial and error, since you never know if you’re pressing it properly or not.
At 12 ounces, the Ember Travel Mug is smaller than the travel mugs I’m used to, but I liked its minimal design. It has some weight to it, but it’s nicely balanced and the soft exterior feels fantastic in hand. I wish it was available in more colors, but the black model I tried still looks good. But it isn’t until you twist the bottom to adjust the the digital display that the Ember Travel Mug comes to life. It will show either your chosen name, the temperature, or the remaining battery life using dot-metric LEDs, adding a futuristic elegance unlike any other mug I’ve ever used.
When it works, it’s pretty magical, but I experienced some issues when traveling with it. On several occasions I had to hold down the power button to reset it (the button is hidden beneath the logo, like on the Ceramic Mug), and it regularly refused to pair with my phone. It took several attempts to re-pair it before it would work reliably with my phone or let me adjust it without performing a power cycle.
And while it did keep my coffee hot, so did my $15 Contigo mug. Granted, the Contigo mug didn’t keep liquid at a precise temperature, but it actually kept it warmer longer than the Ember Travel Mug. Without the heater, the Ember mug’s insulation isn’t quite as good as the Cotingo’s, so once the battery ran out, my coffee got colder quicker.
I also preferred Contigo’s locking mechanism, which lets you seal the spout with a snap. Ember’s lid is definitely leak-proof, with a push-to-lock lid that creates a tight seal. But it tended to also create a bit of suction, so it required a bit of force to open and it occasionally splashed hot liquid on my arm when I pressed down to open it.
Should you buy either of the Ember Mugs?
There’s no denying that Ember’s mugs are expensive. Buy both and you’ll be out nearly $300—that’s enough to buy a high-end coffee maker. But if you’re serious about coffee, tea, or even hot chocolate, the Ember Ceramic Mug is absolutely worth the investment. You’ll love it and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
I’m not nearly as sold on the Ember Travel Mug. While it’s undeniably cool and clever, it didn’t really outperform my $15 Contigo mug. Yes, it kept my coffee at a uniform heat until the battery depleted, but the Contigo kept it warm longer, even if each sip wasn’t at my optimal temperature. And for $130 more with much less capacity (12 ounces versus 20 ounces), it just doesn’t seem worth it to me.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.