- 1 Hardware
- 2 Software
- 3 Music
- 4 Conclusion
When I was in my 20s, I was all about tinkering with things. I strived to always be at maximum geekiness. I built my own computers, it was Windows and Linux all the way, it was all about how much I could squeeze out of my tech. Then I got older. I'm 36 now, and as time has gone on, I've moved away from all that. These days, I prefer my tech to just work and actually allow me to get stuff done. I don't really care about the inner workings of things as much as I used to, or how much geek cred a particular piece of tech gives me.
With that said I still love tech as much as I ever have. In order to win me over, though, it has to work out of the box without me having to spend two days Googling stuff to figure out how to get things functioning the way I want them to. So, without further ado, here's a list of the tech that makes my world go round in 2016.
Phone: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
I used to be all about Nexus and stock Android, then one day I realized that there was more to a good Android experience than that. Whether you love Samsung or hate it, one thing is indisputable. The company puts out the highest-end Android devices that most people will ever feel compelled to pay for.
When making a list of best Android phones, assuming a phenomenal screen and great camera matter to you, the Galaxy S7 line should be at the top of your list and 2-10 should be blank. Samsung's Android devices offer a great user experience coupled with great hardware. You can argue all you want about "muh updates" and "muh stock Android" but the overwhelming majority of users couldn't care less what version of Android appears in the "About Phone" screen, and you can count me among them. Further, I'll argue all day long that the modern iteration of TouchWiz offers a superior user experience than "stock Android."
In the end, when I take the phone out of the box, I want a device that looks great and feels awesome in the hand. I want to be staring at a gorgeous screen, gorgeous photos, and at a device that's easy to use and lets me be productive without me having to spend too much time tweaking it.
Tablet: Nexus 9 LTE
Though I just spent all this time talking about how stock Android doesn't matter to me as much as it used to, I'm still a tech degenerate at heart. Come on! I write for a tech site, right? Of course I have to have at least one stock Android device around just to play with new developer betas if nothing else. Though it's getting to the back half of middle-aged now, the Nexus 9 is still Google's flagship Android tablet and it is still a very respectable piece of hardware. Marshmallow (and the Android N betas for that matter) run great on it, the screen is very nice to look at, and it should serve most people's needs perfectly fine both now, and in the years to come. With that in mind, I'd have no problem recommending this to anyone as a "buy," even today, knowing full well that they might use it for another 3 years.
Laptop: 15" MacBook Pro With Retina Display (Mid-2015)
For the longest time, I had effectively replaced my laptop with tablets, but as time went on, I started to realize that I needed a laptop again. A few months back, I finally decided to bite the bullet and get one. I ended up landing on a Mac because, frankly, I kinda despise Windows 8 and 10 and have a whole host of reasons why I think Microsoft is taking its OS in the wrong direction. As for Linux, well...no. Linux is way too high maintenance and most people I know who use the OS on their laptops tend to spend more time tweaking and updating their computers than they do actually using them. With that said, I ran into the same interesting predicament that lots of people find themselves in when shopping for Mac products - the price.
After taking a step back, though, I realized that while yes, Macs seem overpriced, they really aren't. It's easy to get caught up in this when you walk into a Best Buy and see all the $500 and $600 Windows laptops, then turn the corner and see a $2,000 MacBook Pro. With that in mind, a little research will show you that comparing those low end models to a MacBook Pro is like comparing apples to trucks. First, Apple doesn't make a low-end laptop to compete at that mid-three-figure price point. Secondly, if you priced out a similar Windows-based laptop with the same internals, screen, all-metal chassis, and comparable software that you find on MacBook Pro, your cost will be right in line with what you pay for a Mac.
The bottom line is, I like Macs because they're quality machines that last, and OS X just works. I fully expect to be able to use this laptop for 6 or 7 years before needing to replace it, as many of my friends have. The OS has a great user experience, there's lots of great software, and the computer itself is super light and portable. I chose to go with the $1,999 model instead of the pricier $2,499 variant with discreet AMD Radeon graphics because I don't use my Mac for gaming, video editing, or any other kind of graphics-intensive content. Honestly, I could have probably got away with a cheaper product line like the 12" MacBook or the 13" Air, but I wanted a 15" screen, thus making the MacBook Pro my only option. I'm a software developer, so the extra screen real estate matters to me.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of gray area with Evernote. People seem to either love it or hate it. From my standpoint, I love Evernote and have never found anything better. I use the software to keep track of almost everything going on in my head - ideas, sketches, meeting notes at work, you name it. Though the company seemed to lose its way for a while, building and releasing products that ventured too far from its core business, Evernote has recently seen the error of its ways and appears to be back to focusing on its key strength, namely, notes.
Let's face it. In 2016, a username and password aren't enough if you care about security. A password vault is almost a necessity these days, and thankfully we have a bunch to choose from. While LastPass might be the most popular password manager these days, the one thing that never sat right with me is the fact that it was cloud-based by design. I much prefer password managers where the vault is stored locally, and that's where 1Password really won me over.
In addition to a great user interface, there's the ability to tag logins to group them together, and to store everything from passwords to credit card numbers, identities, and software licenses in the vault, which is kept only on your local machine. Of course, you do have the option to sync it to other devices via a Wi-Fi server, iCloud (if you use Apple products) or Dropbox as well. The key here is that it uses your own cloud services that you have access to, rather than trusting all of your most sensitive online information to a cloud server that you really have no control over. 1Password costs $50 for a permanent license (and upgrades are usually offered at a discount, or occasionally free), and in my opinion, it's worth every penny. You can use it on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, plus there are browser extensions to assist with website logins, etc.
When it comes to to-do lists, I've always felt like I needed one, but could never actually make myself use them long-term. Well, that was until I learned about Todoist. So far, it's been the first reminder app that I don't have to force myself to use. I actually like using it. It's got a beautiful design, and it's very functional. Some people might balk at its $30 yearly cost, but it's been worth every penny to me, never mind the fact that developers need to get paid somehow. I'd personally rather pay the cost than stare at ads. You do get a lot for your money, too.
The app has got plenty of great features, not the least of which is plain speech dates and recurring reminders right in the title of your to-do. For instance, I can put in a new item in my to-do list and call it "Take out the recycling every second Tuesday beginning August 7." Todoist knows exactly what needs to happen there without me having to click around a million places to set it up. I also really love how easy it is to assign your to-dos to projects, and even create parent and child items within those projects. Additionally, the priority flags are useful, as is being able to see today's to-dos as well as tomorrow's and the next 7 days worth of items all at a glance. Todoist has native apps for just about any platform you fancy, and your $30 yearly subscription covers all of them.
I'm a music buff of the worst kind. I don't really play, but I love to listen. I own a good 500 CDs and at least that much vinyl. I subscribe to streaming services, of course, but they're just a way for me to try before I buy. I still purchase a lot of music in both digital and physical formats. I'm a firm believer that even in 2016, every home should have a dedicated music system. My system hasn't been updated in quite a while (probably 10 years), but it still works and sounds great. I mainly haven't updated the components because life always seem to have other ways to suck money out of my bank account these days, and with the stereo system still sounding great, it just hasn't been much of a priority.
Receiver: Yamaha RX-V757
This receiver is about 10 years old now and came out just before HDMI became a thing, thus it doesn't offer that feature. With that said, this is a fantastic A/V rig with plenty of outputs including component and optical, support for up to a 7.1 speaker configuration, lots of inputs, etc. I do not use this for anything video-related. The receiver exists purely to power a stereo system.
When I first bought this, the thing that really drew me to it is that it was one of the few A/V receivers at the time that had a true phono input that was pre-amplified. In 2005/2006, most of the budget turntables that you could buy already had pre-amps built in and thus, couldn't be hooked up to a traditional phono input. Because of that, a lot of receivers of that era just got rid of them altogether. For me, I was running with a more traditional turntable that did not have its own pre-amp and thus, I needed a real phono input.
Optical Disc Player: Oppo DV-980H
I bought this circa 2008 because it was an affordable player that looked and sounded great. I use it for playing CDs, SACDs, and DVD-Audio discs. Eight years later, she's still going strong. I had planned to upgrade this to something that will also play BluRay audio discs, but honestly, that format was dead the minute it showed up to the marketplace, thus eliminating any need I had to upgrade this Oppo player until it dies.
Turntable: Gemini XL-100
Yeah, this entry-level DJ turntable has been around for years. It's not flashy, but it gets the job done. See, when it comes to turntables, the actual platter and tonearm aren't where you gain your sound. That happens in the cartridge. So, I saved money on the actual turntable and instead invested the remainder of my budget into a good-quality Shure cartridge and I get fantastic sound out of new and old records alike. Why did I go with a DJ turntable? Mainly because the cartridges are far less of a pain to change since the head shell comes right off. Over the years I've had to change the belt once and I've gone through two or three cartridges, but the turntable itself is still running strong.
Speakers: Bose AcoustiMass 6.1 System With Subwoofer
Yeah I know, Bose is the high end of low end. I get it. These still sound great, and the subwoofer does a very nice job filling the room with just enough bass to make you want to groove while not sending your heart into palpitations. Whenever you want to upgrade your stereo, speakers should always be where you start, and thus, once I'm ready for some audio upgrades, that's probably where I'm going to begin. I'll gladly take any suggestions for good floor speakers.
That's really all there is to my list. I'm missing a leisure section, but that's sort-of on purpose. In my spare time, I try to disconnect from tech as much as I can. This helps ensure I don't get burned out. A lot of my leisure time is spent driving to far-off places and doing photography of old signage and abandoned, decrepit buildings using nothing more than my phone. I love my mobile devices, computers, and music (obviously), but I've never felt the need to let tech permeate every facet of my life.
This is the first time I've ever participated in this series, but it certainly won't be the last. Hopefully this post will influence some of you to check out the stuff I've listed here.