- 1 Computers: How I get stuff done and have some fun
- 2 Phones: They keep piling up
- 3 Tablet: Underused, but still loved
- 4 Watches: Samsung Gear S3 Classic and LG Watch Urbane
- 5 Other devices: The stuff that clutters up my house, desk, and bag
- 6 Camera: Nikon D3300
- 7 Apps
- 8 Games: My hobby, my obsession
- 9 Conclusion
So here we are already elbows-deep into 2017. Let me start off by saying that I love this job — I work with and I have met some great and intelligent people. By some miracle, I have earned the "right" to write up one of these posts. Now is your chance to see into the other side of your screen to get a glimpse of how I bring you such profound content.
If you're new around here and don't quite have a firm grasp on who I am, be sure to check out my introduction post that I did way back when I started. I go into how I started with technology (hint: Tron), what I do for fun, and my history with Android. Even though some things have changed since then, it's mostly still relevant and correct.
Back to the topic at hand, I will be going through everything that I can possibly think of, some of it really cool and some more mundane. Without further ado, let's get started.
Computers: How I get stuff done and have some fun
As the hub where I write, do homework, and play games, having a computer is obviously very integral to not only this job, but my lifestyle. I have been building and tinkering with computers most of my life. I switch between two main machines: my desktop and my laptop. I have a tertiary 2-in-1 that I use when I feel like it, but I mostly forget about it.
Desktop powerhouse: Custom build
I spent several hours on that cable routing; check out how it looked not too long ago.
I am extremely proud of my main machine. I built it about six years ago, upgrading things as I want/need to. About seven months after the initial build, I migrated everything over to a new case where it all lives to this day. This beast powers me through work, school, and heavy gaming and never skips a beat (unless the motherboard dies).
Frankly, I do not typically game on a console. I have a PS4, but I much prefer the objective strength of PC gaming and everything it offers. The underlying horsepower also makes lighter tasks like work-related things a breeze, so I get to kill two birds with one stone.
These are my current specs:
- Case: Fractal Design Define XL R2
- Motherboard: Asus Sabertooth 990FX R2.0 (dead, upgrading to this)
- CPU: AMD FX-8350 (dead, upgrading to this)
- RAM: G. Skill Ripjaws X 32GB (4 x 8GB)
- GPU: Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti Founder's Edition
- PSU: Corsair AX850 850W
- Cooling: Corsair H100i
- SSD: Adata XPG SX900 256GB, 64GB
- HDD: Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB
- Monitors: Asus VN247H-P 23.6" 1080p, Acer 21" LCD 1680 x 1050
- Mouse: Logitech G700s
- Keyboard: Corsair Vengeance K70 (Cherry MX Red switches)
- Controller: Steam Controller, Dualshock 4
- Operating systems: Windows 10 Pro, Linux Mint 18.1
- Microphone: Blue Snowball
- Webcam: Logitech C920
- Headphones: Blue Lola
- Streamer: Steam Link. Nvidia Shield TV (2015)
Fellow nerds will notice that I very recently upgraded my graphics card. Previously, I was running an HIS Radeon HD 7950 IceQ which now serves as a wonderful coaster for my desk (hello, Tek Syndicate fans!). Out of everything in that list above, I am ready to upgrade my monitors. I'd like to get a 1440p 144Hz monitor for my main display and possibly a second Asus for a total of three. This Acer one is pretty much garbage, but it makes a good dedicated Slack (for our internal chat) display.
The Western Digital HDD is filling up quick. PC games are not small in file size these days and it all adds up. The next internal upgrade I think will be better RAM or another HDD... I haven't quite decided yet. Thanks to either my motherboard and/or CPU dying, I will be upgrading to a Ryzen 7 1700 and a Gigabyte Aorus GA-AX370 Gaming K7 motherboard within the next little while. I do, in fact, plan to overclock the Ryzen. And sometime down the line, I am looking to incorporate a custom watercooling loop for my CPU and 1080 Ti (probably from EKWB).
My mouse is one of my favorite peripherals. Logitech did an excellent job with this mouse, other than the included charging cable. It's a bit restrictive for gaming and often gets in my way during normal use. The rechargeable battery doesn't last for anything anymore, which is something I should work on. The reasons that I love this mouse are many, but one of the top ones is the ergonomics — I had a hard time finding one better for a heavy palm gripper like me. For reference, I came from a Razer Deathadder black edition. The custom DPI and button settings are also great, such that I've nailed down a system that makes me super productive.
Windows is a necessary evil for me, mainly for school and gaming, though 10 has made some things better (and other things worse). At the moment, I am running an Insider's build. I tend to do a lot of AP-related stuff in Linux, mainly because there are less distractions (I struggle with an extremely short attention span). I chose Linux Mint several years ago for its versatility and usability. It's a great distro that does most everything well.
Since I am a tall guy, my wife got me a nice Big & Tall executive-style office chair for Christmas. It's extremely comfortable and I highly recommend it. There's adjustable lumbar support, comfortable arm rests, and plenty of height adjustments. I just need my desk to be taller. Oh, and a monitor stand... I really need one of those. My displays are currently sitting on top of book stacks.
Like I said, I do 90% of my work on my desktop. You can keep me talking about my rig all day, if I'm being honest. I saved up for a very long time to build it and it does everything I want it to and more.
Laptop: MacBook Pro mid-2010
For those times when I am not at my desk, I carry this brick around. My 17" mid-2010 MacBook Pro was actually a great deal from a friend who didn't want it anymore. It's pretty beat up and has several dents in the chassis, but it boots and does what I need it to.
I recently slapped in a 128GB SDD, which made a huge difference in terms of boot time and overall speed from the stock 5400rpm drive. It currently has 4GB of RAM, which I swear makes Cody choke every time I mention it. The 8GB upgrade is definitely on the list.
The laptop serves as my school machine, where I take notes, read lectures, and follow along with PowerPoints. It's also where I surf Reddit and such when I'm bored. When time permits on my class days, I set this up with my headphones in the library and either knock out an assignment or write some posts for AP.
Honestly, I can't complain about it. It's heavy as all get out and a bit on the slow side, but in the end, it gets the job done and that's all that matters. For grad school, I will be getting myself something newer and faster, but that's a little ways off.
Honorable mention: Lenovo Yoga 2 11
Since I intended this post to show everything I use, I need to mention this guy. Formerly my wife's school laptop for her undergrad (God bless her soul), it took a spot on the shelf when she got her iMac. Me being the resourceful computer nerd that I am, I immediately took it apart. Like my MacBook, it had a 5400rpm drive, too. Couple that with running Windows made for an agonizingly slow mess.
After some work, I found out that the HDD was one of those ultra-slim buggers. I had not encountered these before. My plan was to put in a spare SSD, install Ubuntu (Unity is one of the better touchscreen desktop environments), and have fun with it. My SSD, however, was too thick so I removed it from its enclosure, taped down the board in the drive bay, and booted up. I ran with Ubuntu for awhile, but I switched back to Win10.
I don't use it much, but it's there. Severely underpowered, though the SSD helps Windows move along faster. I mainly use it for some web browsing on the couch in tablet mode or as a secondary display to monitor my NAS.
Phones: They keep piling up
Since I work for an Android-focused site, I see a lot of phones. While I have only had the privilege of writing for AP for about eleven months, I have amassed a small collection. If you're wondering which ones, be sure to check out my reviews.
However, I will only address my daily driver and my secondary. For the time being, I use the LG G6 (borrowed) as my main device mostly because it's the nicest and most powerful one available to me. I had the OnePlus 3, but a series of unfortunate events at my last job (Target) ruined it. I was kindly lent a Nexus 6P to use until I had something with American LTE bands and semi-usable software. That phone has returned to its original owner.
The G6 is great. Software is meh, but I love the hardware. Since I forgot to take my real camera on my recent vacation, the G6's shooter worked extremely well. I thought about getting a Pixel, but the price and age at this point are not worth it to me. It's a personal decision that I have come to; if you're considering a Pixel, don't let me stop you.
My secondary phone is the Meizu Pro 6 Plus. I use it as my media player in the gym, because I don't care if it gets smashed by a dumbbell or something. I have updated it to the new Flyme OS 6 beta (which is still based on Marshmallow) with its shady Google Play Services workaround. Still, it plays music and shows my workouts. Can't complain.
I also have a Nextbit Robin that I use to satisfy my rooting/custom ROM itch. It's a fun phone to have and use, and only the poor battery life has kept me from using it full-time.
Tablet: Underused, but still loved
The Asus ZenPad Z10 is still lying around. It's my wife who uses it for the most part for shopping, reading her grad school textbooks, and playing her games. It gets tossed or jostled around sometimes, but it's held up really well. The screen is beautiful, though it has started to seriously slow down since I reviewed it. The Snapdragon 650 and 3GB of RAM were kind of an odd choice.
I use it at school sometimes when I don't feel like hauling out and booting up my MacBook. Android tablets still kinda suck, especially since the app situation hasn't really improved. Asus made a fine tablet, though. For a casual media consuming machine, it does exactly what we need in my house.
Watches: Samsung Gear S3 Classic and LG Watch Urbane
Some of you have probably heard me say this already, but I love watches. Before smartwatches, I wore a timepiece all the time. I rocked the Pebble when that was a thing, followed by the G Watch, Gear Live, and Moto 360. I upgraded to an LG Watch Urbane after that, which I used for a long time. It was only a few months ago that I got my Samsung Gear S3 Classic.
Let me be frank here: this watch is awesome. Not only do I love the styling, but the rotating bezel and Samsung Pay are stellar. NFC hasn't really taken off where I live, so having the MST compatibility is great. The band is not my favorite, but I've finally broken it in. I am looking for a new stitched leather strap, but it's not that important at the moment.
My secondary watch is my original LG Watch Urbane, which I keep to play around with Wear 2.0. I have had it for quite some time and been through thick and thin with it (seriously, ask any Target team member who works the floor or backroom). I am not a huge fan of the rectangular/circular body, but it's a solid device. The battery life is still fantastic and I still wear it out when I want something a bit different from my Gear.
Other devices: The stuff that clutters up my house, desk, and bag
Moving on, I'll briefly go over what other devices I use daily. The first thing that comes to mind is my headphones, which you'll notice that I left out of my PC discussion (even though it's listed in my specs/peripherals). After my admittedly-cheap Turtle Beach X12 headset died, I was left looking for a suitable replacement. I settled on the Blue Lola, which came with some recommendation from our own David. I love them. Sound quality is great. What's better is that they're extremely comfortable (especially for those of us with thick-framed glasses) for long-term listening/gaming. I opted for the white ones and I quite like the look of them.
When out and about, I use my Beats Studio Wireless. I either link them to my phone via Bluetooth or to my MacBook for long hours in the library, and they're perfectly suited to that task. Remaining on the topic of sound, I use the LG HBS-800 Tone Ultra Bluetooth earphones for the gym. I can throw them in my gym bag, toss them on, and not have to worry about them while lifting (excluding a few circumstances). I don't particularly like these, but I attribute that mostly to the degradation the device has experienced over time.
As for the e-reader that I use almost daily (depends on what I'm reading), I have the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight Plus. The aluminium chassis is really nice, if not slippery, and the screen is crisp. With WiFi and the backlight off, I get almost a month's usage with an average of two hours of reading a day. I throw it in my bag when heading to school or in my suitcase when going on vacation.
In my living room, the Nvidia Shield TV (2015) is the most-used device. I love the interface, apps, and experience, despite the seeming lack of love from Google. I also have a PlayStation 4 that sits under my television, but it is used mainly as a Blu-Ray player. There are games I play on PS4, but they're ones I can't get on my PC (e.g. Bloodborne, Nioh, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Destiny).
My Google Home resides in the bedroom, acting mainly as an expensive alarm clock, meteorologist, and occasional Chromecast speaker.
Camera: Nikon D3300
Before getting this job, I was barely more than a casual photographer. Obviously, as part of reviewing devices, taking decent photos is a requirement. After some serious consideration and discussion, I opted for a Nikon D3300 that I found a good deal on. I only have an 18-55mm lens, which does the trick most of the time.
As I have reviewed more devices, I have steadily gotten better with my photography — mostly because of some patience from David. Darktable helps a lot with making those images look more presentable in post-processing, too. I suppose that, someday, I may upgrade to something different, but the D3300 does the trick for me. I do plan to get another lens, though.
If it seems like I am glossing over this section, it's because I know very little about cameras. Before getting this job, I had a digital camera and my phone, which did what I wanted them to. Now, however, I am starting to appreciate this arena more and more... and that means that I want to spend more money on this new hobby.
I am not going to list every single app that I use, but I'll run through some of my everyday ones. I don't typically play games on my mobile devices, except when testing out new phones for reviews. These are not in order of most commonly used, rather I had to place them alphabetically.
Inbox & Gmail
Email is one of those necessary evils and there are several ways of managing it. When it comes to Google's offering, I straddle the fence between Inbox for personal email and the Gmail app proper for work stuff. I have no particular allegiance to either, preferring to cash in the strengths of both while doing my best to skirt their weaknesses.
Facebook is one of the social media platforms that I use the least. It's around more for legacy's sake than actually connecting with friends. I am an active member in some groups like the Destiny, PC Master Race, and Elite: Dangerous ones. I keep my friends list very short and limited to only a few people. Most of the things that I post to Facebook are actually just cross-posted from Google+.
For phones that don't have the official Facebook app pre-installed (looking at you, Huawei), I always install Metal Pro. It's a third-party client that supports notifications, groups, and even messaging. The free version is quite functional on its own, but I thought it was worth paying a few bucks for Pro. The Material Design theme, no ads, and support for a dev that does a good job justified the $2.49 for me.
I don't like texting and I let Google Voice handle most of it for me. But for family and close friends, my carrier number is the only one they have. For the ones I haven't converted to Hangouts, I use Pulse SMS. Coming from Luke Klinker, a dev that I have followed and supported for many years, Pulse is one the best SMS apps. Just ask David.
The clean look, high reliability, and customization options are just the tip of the iceberg. For a fee, you can have Pushbullet-like syncing of your messages across devices including PCs. I consider Pulse to be Klinker's best app yet.
Here at AP, our internal communication happens via Slack. It's where we share stuff, discuss random things, and see what needs to be done. Slack as a platform has its issues, but I've liked it well enough so far. Obviously, I use the official Android app, which gets things done.
Like Artem, I run in the beta track of this app. It works really well for me and I even get notifications most of the time that I'm pinged. Slack is one of the first apps that I pay attention to when I sign into a new phone. Oh, the tablet version sucks, by the way.
Talon for Twitter
Another of Klinker's apps, Talon is my preferred Twitter client. I have used several, including the official app, and I keep coming back to Talon. It looks nice, it's really fast, and brings me all of the information I need when I need it. I have become more active on Twitter in recent months, so Talon's clean design and speed have been rather helpful.
Tasker is an app that is as useful as you want it to be. The learning curve is steep, and only after many years of using it can I call myself an intermediate. I have a few go-to tasks, like unlocking Windows with the fingerprint scanner on my phone, an automatic Dropbox backup, a workaround for casting YouTube to my Google Home, and a Google Play Music/Home alarm clock combo.
Tasker is well worth the cost to me. There are more plugins than I can count, but I definitely use most of João Dias' AutoApps. Tasker is a large beast to tackle, but the satisfaction that is found in victory is amazing.
The other way that I communicate is through Telegram. Though it's dedicated to talking to my wife throughout the day, I quite like the platform. The desktop apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux are all fantastic and the Android app keeps getting better with time.
Games: My hobby, my obsession
Much like my apps section, the following games are in no particular order. I don't game much on Android, and when I do, it's for a few minutes before I inevitably get bored. I play on my PC the vast majority of the time, but there are a few exclusives that draw me to my PS4. Gaming is something that I love doing — probably a little too much. I prefer to play solo and usually don't like multiplayer. For me, games are worlds to be a part of, not interact with other people. There are exceptions to that, like Destiny.
Below is a short list of my most-played games. Between my Steam, Origin, GOG, and locally installed libraries, the list is insanely large, so I narrowed it down. I often play at my desk, but I also stream to my TV via my Steam Link or Shield TV.
Dark Souls trilogy (Soulsborne)
To say that I am a huge fan of From Software's Soulsborne series would be an understatement. I first got into the series when Dark Souls was on sale for $10 at Gamestop. I popped it in my Xbox 360, made my character, and got myself wrecked (git rekt). I rage quit several times until I realized that I was going about things all wrong. I made a faster character and was much more successful (thanks, EpicNameBro).
I have played every entry in the series from Demon's Souls all the way to Dark Souls III (working on the final DLC now). I love the challenge, gameplay, story, and art design. There is such attention to detail and I love my time in the worlds created here.
Doom and I go way back. I was just a wee lad when the first game came out, but I fondly remember playing it. The latest entry into the venerable series is simply fantastic. It's visceral, bloody, and just a ton of fun. Doomguy is as good as ever and feels right at home in today's gaming space.
This is the game that I play when I need to vent some frustration. Who doesn't like ripping demons apart?
Elite: Dangerous is a space flight/combat/exploration/trading simulator. It's beautifully crafted, totally believable (the faster-than-light travel is based on the Alcubierre drive concept), and a very relaxing experience. It can get boring sometimes, and the grind is real, but I love flying amongst the stars of the Milky Way, seeing what there is to explore.
Plus, the in-game story is really starting to heat up with aliens, political intrigue, and other players trolling the community. And, yes, I play with a Hands On Throttle-and-Stick (HOTAS) — the Thrustmaster T-Flight Hotas X.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Growing up, I was a huge fan of Tolkien's work. The world of Arda (Middle-Earth, Beleriand, Valinor, etc.) is so full of beauty, mystery, and lore — I ravenously dig through any of the Tolkien mythos. I say all of this to give you a perspective on how much I love high fantasy. When I discovered The Witcher several years ago, I was hooked. The story was utterly fantastic, even if the game has not aged well. I bought The Witcher 2 shortly after it came out, followed by The Witcher III: Wild Hunt — one of the best games of all time.
The story is rich, the characters are dynamic, and the world is lush and full of danger. Geralt of Rivia himself is a great character. The game's combat system is excellent, the voice acting is top-notch, and the mechanics are solid. I have dumped a lot of hours into the Northern Realms, which makes me even sadder to see the story of Geralt come to a close (at least in game form).
And that about wraps it up. I use a lot of different hardware and software in a given day, and I play a lot more games than the ones listed here (*ahem* Destiny). Feel free to ask me questions in the comments or on Twitter, or we can have a pleasant discussion over on Google+. And if anyone wants to get together for Destiny 2 (PC), let me know. I'm really looking forward to it.
If you want to add me on Steam or PSN, my gamertag is Daiarthaine65.