- Phones: Moto X and Galaxy S 5
- Tablets: SHIELD Tablet and iPad Mini Retina
- PC: Falcon Northwest Tiki
- Laptop: Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga
- Speakers: Soundfreaq Sound Rise and Ultimate Ears BOOM
- Home Office
- TV: Insignia 39" 1080p LCD
- Streaming: FireTV, Roku, and Chromecast
- Desk: Ikea Linnmon Top with Alex Drawer and Cabinet
- Desk Accessory: Varidesk Pro Plus
- Other Stuff
- Guitar: Fender Blacktop Telecaster
- Amp: EVH 5150 III Combo
- Bike: 2013 Specialized Sirrus
- Screwdriver: Black & Decker LI2000
- Apps, Widgets, and Games
- Comments (115)
I can't believe it's already been a year since the last What We Use, but alas, it has. Basically everything has changed in my device collection since last year, so there's a lot to talk about this go around. Before we get into the stuff you're actually here to see, however, l want to point out that we're going to take a slightly different approach to the What We Use series this time.
Last year, Artem pointed out that he'd like to see a more personalized version of this series. Instead of making the most common devices the focal point of the post, we're going to take a closer look at some of the more obscure things that we commonly use – not just as journalists or techies, but as people in general. The stuff that gets us through our day to day, both at work and away from the screen. You can still expect all the Android goodies, including devices and app/widgets/games, to be along for the ride as well, but there will also be a lot more personal items – some may be of interest, some may not. Either way, I always personally find posts like this to be interesting (I think most people enjoy seeing other people's stuff for some reason), so I hope you guys dig it, too. I definitely had a good time writing it, and doing so really made me realize the stuff that I honestly don't think I could live without.
With that out of the way, this is my favorite stuff.
Hey, we're an Android site. Let's talk about some Android stuff. Oh, and some other stuff that has nothing to do with Android.
Phones: Moto X and Galaxy S 5
I carried the Nexus 5 as my daily driver for several months, but after dealing with too many Bluetooth and GPS issues, I had to give it up. When I did, I switched to the Moto X. I don't love this phone – the camera sucks, battery life isn't that great, and the vibration engine is pure garbage – but it has features that I've really come to appreciate. Touchless Control is brilliant (though less special now that Google Now can be activated everywhere on other Android devices) and Active Notifications are fantastic. I'm really looking forward to Moto's successor to this device, and I hope they fix the things that need it and leave the rest alone.
When I'm not feeling the Moto X, I go for the Galaxy S 5, which has started growing on me more and more as of late. It has a beautiful screen, good camera, and great battery life – basically the opposite of the Moto X. On the downside, it has Touchwiz, which I'm not a huge fan of. Sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad, I guess.
Tablets: SHIELD Tablet and iPad Mini Retina
I'm just going to say it right now: SHIELD Tablet is the best Android tablet of the year. It's fast, sleek, looks great, and has a ton of useful features without being loaded down. I love essentially everything about this tablet. For more SHIELD babble, read my full review.
I also like my iPad Mini, but I really only use it for one thing: making music. If there's one area where Android completely and utterly fails when compared to iOS, it's music creation. I use things like Positive Grid's JamUp and Bias, and have dabbled with AmpKit a little bit. Honestly, JamUp and Bias are both so incredibly powerful I haven't felt the need to deviate away from them for any reason. My primary guitar amp is crazy loud, so my iPad makes the perfect practice amp. Also, it's much easier to take on trips. I love it for that, and that alone.
PS – I don't find iOS to be intuitive in the slightest.
PC: Falcon Northwest Tiki
My Tiki is a beast, and the workhorse that is always ready for some gogogogogo action. It's a massive upgrade from the desktop I was using this time last year, with specs that just go for days:
- Intel Core i7 4770k
- 16GB RAM
- 480GB Crucial M500 SSD
- 2TB Western Digital HD
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
- Windows 7 Home Premium
I haven't yet upgraded my monitors, so I'm still using an old 22" Dell and 19" Acer (the non-matching setup drives me insane), but hopefully I'll be able to do something about that soon. I may actually just go to one larger super high-res display, but I'm not sure yet.
Laptop: Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga
I don't actually use this computer that much (thanks to the Tiki), but it's obviously my go-to when away from home. I'm not going to lie – I'm actually not a huge fan of it. I think the 12.5-inch display is just too small for the 1920x1080 resolution, which makes everything hard to read. Other than that, I like it just fine – it's got a Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, and Windows 8, which is basically everything I could want in a laptop. I just wish the display were about an inch and a half larger. I'm strongly considering making the switch to a Chromebook for my full time laptop and getting rid of this one, but I'm not sure I can commit to that just yet.
Speakers: Soundfreaq Sound Rise and Ultimate Ears BOOM
I've reviewed so many speakers over the last few years, so I've had the luxury of being super picky about which ones I choose as my go-tos for portable audio. I have two here because I use each of them for very different reasons, but absolutely love them both.
The Sound Rise is my bedroom speaker and alarm clock. It wakes me daily to the song of my choosing (or whatever I was last listening to when I forget to set a song) which is generally pleasant (unless I forget to set a song, as stated in the last parenthetical). It's also perfect for when I just want some tunes in the bedroom. I reviewed it here, if you're interested.
Then there's the UE BOOM. I love this speaker, and it just keeps getting better through firmware and app updates. While I'm also a huge fan of what Fugoo is doing, the UE BOOM re-won my heart recently with an app update through brought a 5-band EQ. But really, if you're looking to buy a speaker, you can't go wrong with either of the two.
Since I work from home, my home office is where I spend the majority of my time. If you were to sneak in and look around, here is some of the stuff you'd see.
TV: Insignia 39" 1080p LCD
I needed a cheap TV for testing things like Chromecast, FireTV, SHIELD Portable/Tablet, and the like, and this Insignia from Best Buy fit the bill. I've had it for a while now and have been pretty happy with it for the most part, though my main complaint is that it puts off a lot of heat, which makes my office pretty toasty when testing something that requires the TV to be on for extended hours (like when I reviewed FireTV, for example). It's definitely not the best set on the market, but it does the job I need it for, and I'd readily buy it again if I had to do it over.
Streaming: FireTV, Roku, and Chromecast
I re-used this photo from my FireTV review. Don't tell anyone.
These go hand-in-hand with the above-mentioned TV. While I like all three, I have to say that Roku has become my favorite over the last couple of months. I ended up moving it to the bedroom for late night Netflix, but the FireTV and Chromecast are still in the office, which really makes the most sense since they're both Android related.
Desk: Ikea Linnmon Top with Alex Drawer and Cabinet
Yes, I am ashamed of the exposed cables. Just ignore them and pretend they aren't there. That's what I do.
The evolution of my desk has been an interesting one. It started off with a small white Linnmon top and Lerberg trestle legs (both from Ikea), but as time went on I wanted something with more space and storage. I replaced the top with a larger Linnmon top, and eventually swapped one of the legs for the Alex drawer storage system (one of the best decisions I've ever made). Just last week I decided to switch the other leg for the Alex cabinet, which gives the desk a more complete look, plus adds even more storage. I'm a neat freak, so the more organization I have, the happier I'll be. Total cost for the setup I'm using now was still only about $155, and this is probably the best desk I've ever had.
Desk Accessory: Varidesk Pro Plus
If there's one item in my home office I splurged on, it's my Varidesk Pro Plus. I've been going between sitting and standing desks for the last couple of years, but that required me to have two separate desks and switch computers each time I wanted a different position. When my mother-in-law showed me the sit-stand convertible Varidesk, I knew this was the solution I was looking for. At $350 it's a bit pricey, but after biting the bullet and ordering it, I'm really glad I did. I use Varidesk's software for Windows to remind me to stand every half hour, so I spend exactly half of my day sitting and half standing, which keeps me refreshed and energized. My only complaint about the Varidesk is that it doesn't come in white.
Guitar: Fender Blacktop Telecaster
Anyone who has read any of my device reviews for the last eight months or so has more than likely seen this guitar, because I always take pictures of it for the camera portion of my reviews. Since it has been featured so many times here on AP, I figured I'd give the details.
First off, I have several guitars, but this is my number one. My favorite. Remember the part in Sweeny Todd when Johnny Depp gets his razor back? That's me and my Tele. I love this guitar. It's a 2013 Fender Blacktop Telecaster, which was made in Mexico. The soul of the guitar is [mostly] stock – alder body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard – but its guts have been changed out. I swapped Fender's stock pickups (which weren't bad, just not my style) for an EMG 81x/60x set – black in the bridge, chrome in the neck, for a more traditional Telecaster look – and pulled the tone control out for a momentary killswitch. I also had a forearm cut added to the body and opted to leave the bare wood exposed, a la Jeff Beck's famous yellow Tele (though I'm not really a Beck fan). I keep it tuned to standard C#/Drop B with a set of D'Addario EXL117 (11-56).
My other two electrics serve as auxiliary guitars, each of which I only use for specific things. My ESP LTD F-400FM with an EMG 81 in the bridge and 89R in the neck is my C/A# guitar, and my Schecter Damien Platinum 7-string is used for Drop A stuff, which I basically never play.
Gear nerds feel free to ask any questions about my stuff below.
Amp: EVH 5150 III Combo
The above guitars are all generally played through this beast of an amp (unless it's late and I'm practicing with the iPad), which I've had for about six months or so. Before picking it up I had to decide on whether I wanted to get the combo or 2x12 cabinet with matching 50w head, and ultimately decided the combo would be a better choice thanks to its built-in "power attenuator" (read: master volume) and reverb, neither of which the head have. The biggest benefit of the 5150 III combo is that it still sounds really damn good at low volumes, which is a must when you have a two year old.
Bike: 2013 Specialized Sirrus
About two years ago, I decided I wanted to start cycling. I bought a craptastic flat bar Schwinn road bike to see if I actually enjoyed riding, but I hated looking at/dealing with/being seen on it. So for
my birthday Christmas last year, my wife decided to get me something better, which is the bike you see above. This has been a fantastic bike to learn what cycling is all about on, to get conditioned, and to help decide what kind of rider I want to be. I highly and readily recommend the Sirrus line to anyone looking to get into cycling, who may feel more comfortable on a flat bar style bike, or is just looking for a solid commuter.
The time is coming when I'll upgrade to a more road-centric bike with drop bars, at which point I plan on throwing a rack and fenders on my Sirrus and turning it into a multi-use commuter bike that I'll use around town and when pulling my two year old in his bike trailer. No matter what happens, though, I'll never get rid of this bike. We've already been through a lot together, and I'm just sentimental like that.
Screwdriver: Black & Decker LI2000
This is one of my favorite possessions of all time, and I use it for all sorts of stuff. It was actually a Valentine's Day gift from my wife, who to this day swears it was the lamest gift she's ever given anyone. But you know what? I love it. I not only use it as a screwdriver/light drill, but with the Planet Waves Drill Big Peg Winder attached, it's also the fastest, most convenient thing in the world for changing guitar strings.
I seriously use this thing almost daily. Love it.
Apps, Widgets, and Games
Let's talk about software.
So just to get it out of the way, of course I use Google Apps. Chrome, Gmail, Maps, Now, Books, Newsstand, etc. I'm not going to talk about those, because everyone else uses those too. Outside of the Gapps, however, there are a handful of various things I launch every single day, oftentimes more than once. Here's a look at those.
Reddit Sync Pro – Everyone loves Reddit, right? After trying multiple Reddit apps, I landed on Reddit Sync. It's easily my favorite, and has great support. If you haven't tried it out, give it a shot.
Runtastic Pro – I started using this to track my rides when I was reviewing Orbit, and I just got hooked on it. I still like Runkeeper as well, but there's just something about Runtastic that keeps me coming back. I'm really looking forward to Orbit getting support for Runtastic's dedicated road cycling app.
MyFitnessPal – About a month ago, I decided it was time to lose some weight, and cycling alone wasn't doing it. Counting calories worked for me in the past, but it was several years ago when apps weren't readily available. I also like the fact that MFP integrates with Runtastic, so it automatically knows how many calories I've burned while cycling. That's crazy-helpful. Also, I've already knocked off about 12 pounds in the first month of calorie counting. Go me.
Simple – I can't say enough good things about Simple, both its service and app. It recently hit some snags during the conversion to a new system, but I think the company handled it wonderfully. It had excellent communication throughout the duration, and even offered a free $50 credit to those who suffered extended outages. I highly recommend Simple to anyone looking for a new bank.
System Monitor – What a generic name, right? While that's definitely true, the app is chockfull of useful info including real-time CPU, RAM, I/O, and network usage, as well as a quick look at resource-hungry apps and which CPU frequencies are being used the most. The latter two are incredibly helpful in hunting down any apps that may be chomping away on the battery.
Pocket Casts – I listen to podcasts while riding, and Pocket Casts is my go-to podcatcher. I was a BeyondPod user for a long time, but after checking out Pocket Casts I never went back. It's simple and intuitive, which is exactly what I look for in a podcast client. It looks great, too.
Team Stream from Bleacher Report – If I don't get NBA news as it happens, I freak out a little bit. Team Stream gives me the relevant info on my favorite teams as it happens, so this is a must-install on every device I have.
NBA Game Time – For watching League Pass. It's a must-have for any basketball fan.
Social stuff: Instagram and Facebook are my most used social apps on mobile, with some Twitter, G+ and Pinterest throw in on the side. Oddly enough, I use Twitter more than anything on the computer.
Note: You can find my Twitter and Google+ links in the author bio below. Follow me on Instagram here, if you want to.
I have a feeling that my widget list is pretty similar to last year, just a bit smaller. Either way, here it is.
Beautiful Widgets – I've been using this since the OG Droid days, and I still love it. I check the weather constantly, and this widget is my main way of doing so. Plus, LevelUp still supports is, which is awesome.
Sound Search and Play Music – These go hand-in-hand, and I use them both often.
System Monitor CPU Frequencies – Remember when I said that System Monitor is a handy utility for tracking down battery hogs? Well, this widget helps me spot those issues before they start to cause problems. If my phone has been on the desk all day and "Deep Sleep" isn't the top frequency, I know something is wrong.
Cal – I need my calendar to be handy all the time, and Cal not only does the job, but it looks great doing it. It's super simple and sleek, which is basically how I like everything in my life.
While I don't play games on my phone, I do have a SHIELD Tablet, which gets good use when it comes to gaming. Here are some of my favorite titles.
Trine 2 – This game is beautiful and a lot of fun. It's exclusive to SHIELD Tablet for now, so you'll have to pick one up to play it. It's so good.
Portal – C'mon, it's Portal. I don't think I can ever get tired of this game...though I'm hoping to see a day when Portal 2 is available on Android. The sooner, the better.
Half Life 2 – It's a great, iconic game. I haven't actually finished it and don't play it super often, but I still dig it and love that it's available on Android.
The Cave – This is one of my all-time favorite Android titles. I love, love, love it. I've played it through more times than I can count. I think I could play the Twins' level every day and not get tired of it.
NBA Jam – SHIELD Tablet + console mode + NBA Jam = hours of fun. I loved the original JAM when I was kid, and nothing has changed. One of the best basketball titles of all time.
So there you go – that's all (or at least most) of the stuff that I love. If I mentioned it in this post, there's a good chance I use it every single day, and I don't think I want to imagine a life where that's not an option. If you have any questions, ask away.
As an aside, I'm interested in hearing what you think about this format, as opposed to last year's model where the focus was more tech/mobile oriented.