Howdy. The name's Michael Crider, and I hope you've noticed that I've been hanging around here for the last year or so. I'm a web writer and general geek, born in Texas and now living in Colorado Springs. How I came to work for Android Police over the last 12 months (or possibly a bit longer) is a long and boring story.
Here are the bullet points you need to get context on the following exploration of my stuff: my dad was a computer engineer who worked for General Dynamics and Lockheed back in the 80s, and so I've been surrounded by varying bits of technology for essentially my entire life. He built my first PC for me out of spare parts when I was five, a 100Mhz dinosaur that still sufficed to play LAN games of Wing Commander and Red Alert in our dining room. Since leaving college seven years ago, I've been a night shift hotel clerk, a graphic designer, briefly an IT manager, a writer for various technology and pop culture websites, an EMT student, and most interestingly, an engineer and conductor for the Manitou & Pike's Peak Cog Railway.
OK, maybe that's not so much context as confusion.
Suffice it to say that I'm a general enthusiast (if not exactly an expert) for all manner of consumer electronics. While the life of freelance and contract writing doesn't exactly lend itself towards opulence, I've nevertheless managed to accumulate a nice bit of hardware, mostly by choosing carefully what to spend money on and when (or indeed when not) to buy new stuff. If you take nothing else from the entirely too lengthy post that follows, please remember this: just because something's outdated doesn't mean it's not still useful. It's an observation that I think most consumers would be wise to keep in mind.
My "daily driver" is, out of necessity more than desire, the Nexus 6. Since I've spent a lot of time in north Texas, where decent wireless signals are often hard to come by, I've come to rely on Verizon Wireless and my grandfathered unlimited data plan. The N6 is the first Nexus phone in three years to grace Verizon, and there aren't any alternatives with fast updates and unlockable bootloaders on the horizon, so I tracked one down and paid the price.
These days the formerly "chunky" DROID MAXX feels like a toothpick.
That said, I must admit that I don't like the size. My previous phone, which I consider to be the best all-round Android phone I've ever used, was the DROID MAXX Developer Edition. In addition to being from Motorola (which I've been a major fan of ever since springing for a Chinese MotoRokr E6 back in college, which I still have), it's got fantastic software, a solid build, a user-unlockable bootloader, and nearly unbeatable battery life. It's the last point that made me buy it over a Developer Edition of the original Moto X, which I consider to be close to ergonomically perfect, alongside the smaller iPhone 6. Yes, really.
My favorite Android tablet is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. I bought one when it first came out back in 2011, and I don't think any Android slate has come close to matching it for ergonomics or ideal size. Of course, it's long past outdated - if the lack of official updates hasn't done it in, then the pokey Tegra 2 processor has, and falling out of my truck door and shattering on Texas gravel certainly didn't help. If I was in the market for a brand new tablet right now I'd consider both the SHIELD Tablet and the Galaxy Tab S 8.4, warts and all, but I'm quite happy with the LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition that I bought last year.
The LGGP83GPE (as I lovingly refer to it) is very close to my ideal size for a tablet, and since I do most of my Android gaming on my phone, the slightly outdated specs don't bother me. I appreciate the metal build and the Nexus-style software updates, and it makes a good road companion for extended reading and browsing. That said, I must admit that I've been using it less since picking up the N6. Owning a 6-inch phone definitely diminishes the utility of an 8-inch tablet, and since I've never liked larger tablets anyway, I doubt I'll be buying a new one for myself any time soon.
I own a plethora of other Android devices, mostly because by the time I'm ready to sell them they're no longer worth getting rid of. (It also helps that as a technology journalist, I can claim just about any electronic device as a tax deduction.) I keep a Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 2013 around for Android Police-related testing, and the rest sit either beside my computer in a rack or gathering dust on a shelf.
I'm one of those nerds who assembled his own computer. And "assembled" might not be the right term in my case - "erected" seems more appropriate. I've been rolling my own PC since 2008, and probably won't stop until there's some kind of major upheaval in the world of personal computers.
My setup might seem excessive, but keep in mind that I've been building it piece by piece for years, and it's my primary work tool. First, the desk: it's a treadmill. A Lifespan DT-5 and TR-1200, to be exact. I bought it at a significant discount from Woot a year ago, but it still cost me a pretty penny. It was worth it, though. I shifted from a frankly amazing 72-inch oak desk into the much less manageable treadmill desk not because I'm a particularly healthy person (I'm certainly not), but because I have severe back problems. Sitting in place for several hours a day, as my job demands, isn't particularly good for anyone. But for me it's downright painful and potentially dangerous, so I alternate between standing and walking for about 70% of my desk time, and sit on a huge medicine ball (to make up for the extra height needed) for the remainder. I've removed the padded handrests for more desk space.
Aside from the desk, the most visible part of my primary setup is the monitors. I use three, which I've become very accustomed to over the years: a 24-inch, 1920x1200 center monitor (U2410M) flanked by two older 20-inch, 1600x1200 monitors (2007FP), all from Dell. I've found Dell to be the best combination of technical specs, image quality, and price. My quite large Windows workspace allows me to write in the center monitor, look at my source or editing material on the right, and keep an eye on Twitter, a media player, and the Android Police office chat on the left. Extravagant? Perhaps. Functional? I think so. If you're interested, the all-in-one mount is from Ergotron, and since it's survived my less-than-gentle care for many years and many cross-country moves, I'd highly recommend it.
Other stuff on my desk, all of which is chosen with care after much experimentation and which I can thoroughly recommend:
- Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 5000
- Logitech Performance Mouse MX
- Razer Nostromo pad for PC games (to replace my aging and basically identical Belkin N52te, and usually tucked away)
- JBL Spot 2.1 speakers (now years out of production, I think)
- Logitech C310 webcam
- Belkin phone cradle (holding the G Pad because it's not compatible with the N6 - previously connected my DROID MAXX to my router)
- Anker adjustable tablet/phone stand
- Belkin mini surge protector for handy power outlets and an NES30 Bluetooth gamepad velcro'd to the monitor stand
The various toys in the background are custom LEGO sets from Ichiban Toys (which are awesome) and a special Trekkie edition Android figurine.
My printer is literally collecting dust.
My PC itself has been modified and reborn more times than I can count. It's currently a couple of years out of date, at least by the standards of PC gamers and general hardware enthusiasts, but I think I can probably go another two years without any major upgrades. For those interested, I use a Define R4 housing from Fractal Design, an Asus P8Z77-V motherboard, an Intel Core i5 3570K processor, 16GB of DDR3 RAM, a single GTX 660TI graphics card driving all three monitors (with the help of a DisplayPort adapter), a 500GB Samsung SSD for Windows, and a 1TB hard drive for storage. There's also an external 3TB hard drive for backups and for Steam games I can't be bothered to download again. You can see my rack of old phones and tablets, the subwoofer from the JBL speakers, an old Canon printer for the rare times that I need it, and an Xbox 360 controller, because some games really are better without the mouse and keyboard. The wireless headset hanging off the front (with the help of a fancy coat hook) is a Logitech G930.
This ain't Better Home and Gardens.
When I was using a giant oak desk I could manage the cables pretty well, but the open back of the treadmill desk means there's just no way to make it all pretty. Here's a peek at my meager attempts to hide cables behind the monitors; the string of rope lights grants some extra illumination, since there's very little space for desk lamps. I hide a wireless switch, along with a handy USB charging cable, underneath the desk with 3M velcro. If you want a great router recommendation, the newer models from Asus are fantastic - they can use an Android phone's tether as an Internet source, which is great if your local Internet options are awful.
I've always loved IBM's utilitarian laptop designs. My dad used them at Lockheed, and I've been using this ThinkPad T420 (made by Lenovo since IBM sold the rights) for three years. It's survived coverage of Comic-Con for Screen Rant, CES for SlashGear, and Mobile World Congress for Android Police. It's not the fastest car in the lane, but I've kept it ticking nicely with an 8GB RAM upgrade and a Samsung SSD swap. I also replaced the keyboard and palmrest with OEM parts, as the old ones were a little grody. I carry a Logitech M705 mouse for extended work sessions.
Also known as "the piss computer."
I prefer my creaky, ugly ThinkPad over the more svelte new designs thanks to its fantastic keyboard, long battery life with extended cells, and near indestructability thanks to Lenovo's engineering. True story: my dog once decided to pee on my laptop bag while I was away, and my poor T420 sat in a puddle of dog urine for about six hours. When I discovered this, I downloaded the Lenovo service manual, disassembled each and every part, dried and disinfested it as best I could, and left the whole lot out in the sun for a day. When I put everything back together, it worked just fine... even if it did whiff a bit. (In my defense, I was in between jobs at the time, and couldn't afford to buy a new one.) The laptop no longer smells of dog, and I'll probably use it until I can't anymore.
Between working for AP and for Android Community, I've owned a WIMM One (the precursor to Android Wear from a company that Google acquired), a Kickstarter Pebble, and an LG G Watch. And the one that I prefer most is...
None of them. I wear a watch that ticks. It's an American-made Maratac from 2012, with a Japanese mechanical movement and a design based on German pilot watches.
tick tick tick tick
Having tried more smartwatches than most people, I find them to be more trouble than they're worth. If the whole point of smartwatches is to get information to you faster, then I think that smartphone innovations like Motorola's active notifications and LG's tap-to-wake are very nearly as fast, and don't require you to charge and carry another gadget. The Nexus 6 handily features both (sort of), so I feel no need for further electronics on my wrist. I still like watches - I've worn one or another since I was a kid - but the G Watch now sits forlornly on my desk as yet another AP testing device.
My trusty carry-all is a Timbuk2 laptop messenger, which I've had for five years. I carried my previous Timbuk2 through high school and college, until it had a rather disastrous encounter with a package of waste toner when I was working as a graphic designer. It's tough, versatile, waterproof, and it's got enough pockets to hide almost all of my stuff. For my camera and bulkier items, I wrap smaller Neoprene bags around the shoulder strap for easy organization.
Marty really wanted to be in this photo for some reason.
When on an extended work trip, I'll take my relatively ancient Canon T1i with a Tamron 18-270mm zoom lens for photos (which I also use for reviews at home) and an Asus portable USB-powered monitor for the laptop. I've grown so used to multiple monitors that I splurged on the very convenient and portable 15-inch screen for those times when I can't access the full setup above. The Asus monitor case doubles as a stand, but it's terrible, so I bring the Anker desk stand to prop it up. Anker also provides my portable battery pack, a 9000mAh model, and the Belkin power adapter has been a welcome companion in airports and trade show floors all over the country. I always carry a backup phone when traveling. The N5 below is in a Cruzerlite case.
For day-to-day adventures around Colorado Springs, I'm never without a Kershaw folding knife, a pair of beat-up House of Marley earbuds (don't judge, I like the wood and the braided cord), and this handy carabineer that doubles as a keychain and a bottle opener. Bottoms up. For my truck I use an old, cheap Sony stereo just for the Bluetooth, and my phone slides into the awesome Exogear Exomount 2 car dock. Model-specific Android car docks are rare, but I can recommend the Exomount to anyone, for any phone.
Calling this setup a "home theater" is a little generous. It's just me and my dog Marty in my small apartment, and while I'd certainly like something more elaborate, I'm in no particular hurry to buy a huge TV. It suffices for the entertainment that I don't consume either at my PC (web video and computer games) or outside my home.
The TV is a 5-year-old Vizio, 32" and 1080p - a rare combination at the time. Connected to it are a Chromecast (not seen), a dusty Sega Dreamcast for games of Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, and Power Stone 2, a (probably illegal) combination NES-SNES-Genesis for cheap games I find in hobby stores and pawn shops, and an older Roku. For streaming I prefer the Roku since it works with Netflix, Amazon, and Google Play out of the box.
Who needs a Blu-Ray player? Or cable, for that matter? Between Google, Amazon, and Netflix for streaming movies and the few TV shows I watch regularly, and a rabbit-ear HD antenna for football and Jeopardy, I don't feel the need for anything else.
There isn't a lot that I use on Android that's out of the ordinary - I use most of the Google apps, Pandora, Facebook, yadda yadda. Here are some picks from my phone, tablet, and PC that are either particularly useful or have some competitive alternatives:
Left to right: Reader+, this clock widget and the LMT-PIE controls, and Fenix over Nova Launcher.
- Nova Launcher: still my favorite launcher for its speed and flexibility.
- Fenix for Twitter: my current favorite Twitter client. Fast, reliable, good-looking, and with a great scrolling widget.
- SwipePad: a fast and simple way to launch my 18 most-used apps (with the paid MoreSpace extension) from anywhere. This little Flashlight shortcut plus SwipePad is faster than any widget or menu.
- Reader+: the best Google Reader-style Feedly client. Again, gotta have that scrolling widget.
- GMD Auto Hide Soft Keys + LMT-PIE: A one-two punch for root users that replaces the software navigation bar with a set of swipe-activated buttons. Very customizable, and allows you to have more screen space in every app.
- Sleep Timer: A great little tool for softly falling asleep to music. It's been in continuous development for years.
- Jeopardy Scorer: because I really like Jeopardy.
- Adobe Photoshop CS2: What? This thing is from way back in the stone age! That's true, but Adobe gives it away for free. It's still nearly as functional as the outrageously expensive Creative Suites still on sale, and better than just about any free alternative. Also available for Mac.
- NaturalReader 13: a text-to-speech tool that's more fully featured than the one built into Windows or Chrome. I use it for proofreading, and our copy editor can probably tell on the rare occasions when I skip it. The full version is expensive, but worth it for me.
- Irfanview and VLC: an extremely versatile image viewer and media player, respectively. Both free.
- Chrome application shortcuts: On the desktop, open the Chrome menu, scroll down to "More Tools," then select "create application shortcuts." You can use this to pin any tab as a program on your taskbar with a minimal UI. It's a great way to use complex, stand-alone websites. I use it for TweetDeck, Hipchat (Android Police's office chat), Google Play Music, and Pandora. I think they're much better than the similar "Metro" apps in Windows 8.
These Chrome shortcut/apps are great, and surprisingly few people use them.
That's about it. I think I'm definitely among the more nerdy Android Police staffers (if the LEGO Normandy from Mass Effect didn't tip you off), but I don't feel any pressing need to change any of my gadgets or equipment for the time being. I hope you've enjoyed this little tour through my digital life. Any (tasteful) observations or suggestions are welcome in the comments, and I'll probably answer on Twitter as well.