- 1 Devices
- 2 Wearables
- 3 Accessories and Gadgets
- 4 Software
- 5 Miscellaneous Stuff
- 6 Conclusion
I love gadgets. I remember wandering around the electronics store, checking the specs on every portable radio cassette player, and drooling over an Aiwa one that could play both sides of the tape without requiring manual flipping. I was also the 14-year-old girl who went to the computer shop and had a list of every spec she wanted in her first computer.
Now in my (very) late twenties, that passion hasn't subsided. I still love these pieces of plastic and metal. I read about them, try them when I can, buy them when it's justifiable, tinker with them, and it led me to write about them. All of that takes a lot of time. In my spare minutes (whatever is left after you factor in proofreading every word that gets published on Android Police and chipping in with my own posts), I own a pharmacy and manage it.
I average 60 to 70 opening hours per week, all year long. I like to call it (legally) selling drugs. Because saying you're on a phone call with your drug dealer sounds a lot more dangerous than a medical rep, and claiming you just made a big drug sale has more oomph than filling someone's prescription for blood pressure and diabetes medications. Plus it's cool to work for the Police and sell drugs, amirite?
But I didn't stumble into this dual tech/pharmacy career setup by mistake. I had medical dictionaries on my Nokia 3250 while still a university student, used an N95 to research cases during my hospital internship, and wrote part of my thesis on an E71. Technology has always been an integral part of my pharmacy and medical research career, one that helped advance and simplify it, and it ended up becoming a career on its own.
My first mentor, Ricky Cadden, says that "technology should enable and enrich real life." I keep these words engrained in my brain because I have noticed how easy it was for us to get lost in the specs and the tech for the sake of the specs and the tech. Like him, I carry that belief and try to practice it as much as possible. So I may have amassed a huge catalog of stuff over the years, but my gadgets all enable and/or enrich my real life (the one that now also involves writing about these same gadgets, conveniently).
This is a post about that stuff and how it fits in my everyday life.
I have one daily driver: the LG G3 (32GB white). I had been using the G2 for almost a year when I got the G3 and I couldn't be happier about owning this phone. The screen is gorgeous, though I honestly can't tell the difference between QHD and 1080p. The battery life is great but I don't really worry about it because you'll see that I have charging solutions everywhere. The camera is as excellent as the G2's and faster. It has 32GB of storage, double that of my 16GB G2, and a MicroSD slot where I have a 32GB card for all my media — relying on cloud solutions on a Lebanese connection is madness.
And I honestly love LG's skin, I have since the G2. It was the first Android phone I didn't install a custom ROM on and didn't even root. I feel the same about the G3, except the software looks better and is further optimized. Knock Code is the first security unlocking method I have ever been able to live with because it doesn't punish me as the person who has to use it dozens of times each day. Double tap to lock is a great bonus. I love the volume keys position: they keep the phone's sides clean, they're easier to reach, and they don't get pressed by mistake. QuickRemote works very well. LG's new keyboard runs laps around the one they had on the G2. But most importantly, I have grown so used to LG's Clip Tray and QuickMemo+ that I miss them on any other brand's devices.
I am confident that this will be my phone for the next (give or take) year. I also have a Nokia Lumia 1020 on a long-term loan. Dat cam! It doesn't take HDR photos natively, which is the only letdown about it, but in every other setting, it is mind-blowingly good. Also, the phone is bright yellow, which is super cool.
I don't hold onto old phones, I usually sell or recycle them to family members. The exception is the Nokia E71. It's still in my drawer because I am confident that in the case of a zombie apocalypse, it will have enough power to help me save humanity. Y'all are very welcome.
I have two tablets: a 32 GB Nexus 7 (2013, Wi-Fi) and a 16GB iPad Mini with Retina Display (the first generation one).
The iPad Mini was a contest prize that I never would have bought, but it ended up being a useful piece of kit. I keep it in my pharmacy and use it when I'm proofreading the Android Police posts. I have a couple of games installed on it, but it's mostly a portable web browser that I can walk around with (instead of sitting at my desk). I can also type on that on-screen keyboard (still on iOS7) almost as fast as I do on a physical keyboard. That's a bonus when I feel like writing a post without being tied down to a computer.
The Nexus 7 is my home tablet. It fills the same browsing/proofreading shoes as the iPad. It's also my home media player, either on its own screen or through the Chromecast. I love its book-like portability, especially its width, and I don't plan on switching to a Nexus 9. Since I use it mostly while walking around the house, I can't imagine lugging a larger and wider tablet.
In 2008, after buying my 7th consecutive replacement Toshiba notebook charger (the plug that goes into the computer kept breaking), I spent months reading everything I could about MacOS. The Macbook's magnetic plug sounded like my savior from that problem, but I wasn't sure about using a Mac. At the time, my other option was Vista. I repeat, Vista. I eventually pulled the plug (pun!), bought a white Macbook, and never looked back.
That silly magnetic plug was a sign of the huge difference in attention to detail between Apple and everything on the PC side. The speed, virus-free(ish) environment, consumer-friendly Automator and Apple Scripts, and so many other factors won me over back then and keep me rooted firmly in the Mac side. I still have that same Macbook, six years later. I bought a new battery for it in 2011 and I once spilled hot soup on it and had to switch the top case. Otherwise, it's a bit slow but still does its job. I only use it an hour a day at home so I'm keeping it until Apple releases a Retina Macbook Air.
At the pharmacy, I have two iMacs, both the 2011 model. The counter iMac fits so perfectly with the white and grey décor and looks badass enough that, even three years later, new customers still ask me if it's a new computer and how much it costs, then they marvel for minutes at the Magic Trackpad. Aesthetics aside, this iMac houses the pharmacy's sales software and my complete music collection (and serves as my audio system).
The desk iMac is my "other job" computer. It's the one I use for my work here on AP. This physical distinction helps me maintain a much-needed barrier between both jobs. When I'm in front of my counter iMac, I don't have easy access to WordPress, Photoshop, Basecamp, or HipChat. I don't get sidetracked by our AP group chats or a new comment, I just focus on my patients and that's crucial. But when I switch back to my desk, everything is ready for me to instantly get immersed in that side of my work life. This desk iMac, along with an external 1.5TB hard disk, also holds my massive TV show collection.
I've always struggled with my weight. Both my computer-ridden writing job and my pharmacy work, which is rather unpredictable and can have me standing an entire day or sitting for hours on end, didn't help. In March of last year, I decided to become more active. I started swimming regularly, paid attention to my nutrition, and got a Fitbit One in May. For the first 2 weeks, I simply clipped it on my bra and didn't make any additional effort, to figure out my baseline. It was 3000 daily steps on average. Abysmal! I set my daily goal at 5000 and started trying to walk more. Fast forward 18 months, I average more than 10000 steps daily, often reaching 15K, and a few times surpassing 25 and 30K. I lost 35 pounds, started hiking sporadically on Sundays, and recently began running as well.
I am hence a firm believer in the benefit of activity tracking and Wearables. To be clear, I don't think they will make you change your lifestyle, but they will help immensely when you have already decided to do so. My Fitbit, which stays inconspicuously on my bra at all times, keeps me active on days when I feel the most tired. Looking at those step numbers and pushing myself to do slightly more helped me maintain my weight during the cold winter months when I stopped swimming and running. And with the new challenges feature, it's making me go slightly further every day.
LG G Watch
When you work in the public service sector, you can't have your phone buzzing with every tweet, email, and WhatsApp or Hangouts message. You also can't miss important calls from patients or companies. Thanks to my G Watch, for the first time in years, I can leave my phone on silent while at the pharmacy without risking missing important notifications or calls. That alone is reason enough for me to be completely convinced by Android Wear. Being able to dictate quick voice replies is a fantastic bonus. Controlling music playback and seeing my stats when running is the icing on the cake. Smartwatches are a niche product, but I sit smack in the middle of that niche.
I may also be in the minority here but I love my regular LG G Watch. I have tiny wrists and still got used to it quite quickly. I wear it in public and I often get asked about it when people see me interacting with the screen. I would love a round watch, sure, but I'm waiting for the next generation of watches with built-in GPS, wireless charging, an ambient light sensor, and better battery life. In the meantime, the G Watch is great.
Accessories and Gadgets
Cases, cases, more cases!
Unlike most of the AP staff, I love cases. Let me back up. I am incredibly clumsy. My phone or tablet flying off and landing on the floor is an occurrence regular enough that I don't get annoyed by it anymore. But that's why I always make sure I have a TPU case on my gadgets. Why TPU? Because it's thin, flexible, shock-absorbent, comes in all designs and colors, and keeps the screen accessible at all times. I won't flip open a case every.single.frigging.time I want to use my phone, no siree!
TPU cases can range from the ugly cheap to the acceptable and sometimes the genuinely cool. Having bought dozens upon dozens from every manufacturer, I now always come back to these brands: Goospery (a.k.a. Mercury or Caseology), Nekeda, Cruzerlite, Tudia, Verus, Spigen, and Voia. For every phone or tablet I own, there are at least 5 cases in my drawer. I like to match them with my shirts, shoes, or scarfs (as evidenced by my Instagram feed). I'm a girl like that.
In My Purse
Guys have gadget bags or huge pockets, I carry a purse. It holds girly stuff and a few gadgety things.
- Plantronics Backbeat Go 2: You could almost never catch me without these around my neck — I use them for listening to podcasts while I'm out and about. They fit comfortably, they're low profile and wireless, and the battery lasts 3-4 hours, enough for my use over a couple of days.
- Nomad ChargeKey: A tiny cable you can carry everywhere to charge and transfer anything from a USB port? Yes please! I have both the MicroUSB and Lightning versions, and they always come in handy either for me or my friends.
- Anker Astro Slim3: I used to have v1 of this charger and loved it, so I recently bought the third iteration. It fits easily in my purse's internal pocket, has its own embedded MicroUSB cable, houses a 6000mAh battery, and is (usually) very reasonably priced. Perfect.
- KeySmart: When you have 4 sets of keys for an apartment, a house, a car, and a pharmacy, you come to hate opening or closing any door or lock. That's why I got this key solution. It holds 8 keys in the space that would be taken by much less normally, goes completely unnoticed in my jeans pocket, and doesn't jingle in my purse. Win-win!
- Pocket Tripod: This Transformer-like stand goes from a credit card shape to a portrait or landscape stand in a couple of seconds. It's made for the iPhone 4, but it holds my G3 well enough so it earned a spot in my wallet.
There's a drawer full of battery-operated gadgets in my room — no, not that kind! But the stuff that I use daily is below.
- Chromecast: The best thing $35 can buy you. This plugs into my non-smart 32" LG TV and serves as the vessel of all my movies and shows to the big screen, thanks to the awesomeness of Plex. It saves me from our local televisions' deluge of political talk shows and poorly written/acted/directed series.
- Samsung YA-SBR510 Bluetooth Speaker: I discovered this speaker in my house by mistake (how it got here remains a mystery), but I ain't complaining. I connect it to my phone to stream my podcasts and music when I'm doing chores or resting around the house.
- Everdock Duo: I never understood the need for a dock, then I saw this one on Kickstarter, backed it based on its looks, and I'm a convert. I have this Everdock next to my bed. It charges my G3 overnight on the front slot, and my Nexus 7 goes on the back slot when it needs a top-up.
- Generic tablet stand: It's small, versatile, portable, rotates to all angles, works in bed or on a desk, and holds the Nexus 7 securely.
My Everdock is surrounded by two cool Android figurines, a gift from @mobilemandan
As I mentioned earlier, I spend 60 to 70 hours per week at my pharmacy. It's basically my second home so I had to set it up in a way that embraces both of my jobs (hence the two iMacs) and makes my stay there as enjoyable as possible.
- Piper: I have a professional security system at the pharmacy, but the Piper, which I reviewed favorably, earned its spot as a more convenient way to monitor and stream videos.
- Everdock Duo: Yes, another Everdock — told you I'm a convert! This one charges my G3 while I'm at work, doubles as a convenient stand, and houses the iPad Mini on its back slot. It also looks perfect next to my desk iMac.
- GammaRay GR001-C1: I don't know if these really help or if it's just a placebo effect, but they make my eyes hurt less after several hours of staring at a screen. Even if there's a remote chance they are effective, I'd rather use them than live to regret it.
- Quirky Plug Hub and BlueLounge CableBox (in green): You don't want ugly and dangerous loose wires in a pharmacy, do you?
In The Car
I drive a lot. At the very least, I have 45 minutes of commuting each way to get to/from work, so suffice it to say that my ride has to be comfortable and well-equipped. I have a generic MicroUSB car charger that I use when needed, but the more interesting gadgets are the next two.
- Samsung Galaxy Universal Car Mount Kit: I've bought several cheap car holders in the past but this one trumps them all. It's very sturdy, well built, adjustable, not a pain to slide the phone in or out of, and it holds my G3 (and my G2 before it) securely.
- Jabra Freeway: My Mercedes C230's only music solution is FM radio or audio CDs. That's the cross I have to bear. As a solution, I got this Bluetooth speaker and use it to listen to podcasts while driving. The sound is loud enough, the buttons are easy to find and adjust without taking my eyes off the road, it doubles as a speakerphone for calls, and most importantly, it has a motion detector that automatically connects when I get in my car (the speaker goes to sleep when it's disconnected for a while).
I swim an average of 3 to 5 hours per week, 9 months a year. Aside from the usual suit, cap, and goggles, there are three things I use as a frequent swimmer.
- Jaws Quick Spit Antifog spray: Every pair of goggles I used to buy would start fogging after about ten sessions, regardless of brand or price. I was dismayed. After all, I couldn't keep buying a new pair every month. I ended up getting this spray based on its Amazon reviews and it works even better than advertised. My Zoggs are more than a year old, they have served more than a hundred sessions, and one spray in each goggle before a swim brings them to brand-new and crystal clear state.
- Nose clip: After a couple of months in the pool, I started suffering from sinusitis. It got so bad that, for an entire day after each swim, I'd get headaches, sneeze non-stop, and my airways would be so clogged that my voice would sound choked. When you're a pharmacist, your credibility dips scarily if you always look and sound like you're dangerously infectious. My search led me to the conclusion that no drug would help, only a dorky nose clip might. I bought one and I haven't so much as sneezed after a swim since I started using it in April.
- Design Go Luggage Cabin Bottles: Sure, you can carry your shower essentials in their regular big containers, but these travel-sized bottles take so much less space in my gym bag, come with a great zipped pouch, and can hold enough liquids for use over a week or two.
I still don't know how I switched from the person who would barely move to a runner and a hiker of all things. But the fact is that over the past year, as I've gotten more serious about these two hobbies, I've been gradually supplementing my gear, from specific clothing and shoes to the items below.
- A treadmill (Body System BS 4000): When you live in the Greater Beirut area, running outdoors is risky business. Sidewalks are rare, cars won't pay attention to you, and crossing roads is impossibly dangerous while running. That's why I have a treadmill at home. Luckily, for 4 months during the summer, I move to a calm mountain area and can freely run outdoors.
- Limefuel Rugged: A 15000 mAh battery that can charge all my gadgets during a long hike and withstand the elements? Sign me up!
- Plantronics Backbeat Fit: I only recently got this headphone set and it easily beats every other pair I have tried while running. It stays still no matter how much I move my head, the music quality is great (for my non-audiophile ears), and there are no wires for my hands to get caught on.
- Oakley Chainlink: When I'm outdoors in our sunny Lebanese weather, being able to protect my eyes and vision is essential. These Oakleys stay perfectly on my head during runs and mountain climbs or descents, and reduce a lot of glare. I realize these are from the men's collection, but it's impossible to find Oakley's women selection in Lebanon.
- Sennheiser CX 880 E and iiSnapStraps: I don't listen to music when I'm hiking, I prefer to enjoy the silence and sounds of nature, but I do use these earbuds on the long bus rides before and after, and very rarely during hikes if there's an obnoxious person in my group. They offer superb sound quality, a very comfortable fit for hours of listening, and some passive noise-canceling. The iiSnapStraps are genius for keeping earphones around your neck and in your ears, especially if you're being active and don't want to keep adjusting them after they get caught on a tree branch for the umpteenth time.
At any given moment, there are more than 50 third-party apps on my Android phone and tablet. Some of these are being tested, others aren't essential, but a few have become mainstays for months (if not years). Here they are.
- Aviate Launcher: I used to be a hardcore homescreen customizer (proof, more proof) then I installed Aviate for a review. It automatically organized my homescreen the same way I agonized to do it on Nova Launcher. It added contextual elements. It hid the inconsistent widgets but kept them accessible. It looked effortlessly good doing all of that. Now I can't go back to a regular launcher.
- Playboard: It's my app bible. I discover apps, I categorize apps, I collect apps, and I couldn't possibly do what I do without Playboard. Just see my channels to get the idea, 'kay?
- Fenix for Twitter: Fenix is clean, like lickable-clean. It's simple, fluid, and manages to find the perfect balance of design and usability. One year on and I can't fathom the idea of another Twitter client.
- WhatsApp: Everyone in Lebanon is on WhatsApp (moms and weird uncles too). It's our default means of communication and I don't want to be a pariah.
- Link Bubble: I have sloooo-loading-oooo-buffering-oooow internetz. Link Bubble changed my life. Almost literally.
- Pocket Casts: If I have 3 accessories (at home, in my car, in my purse) to listen to podcasts, I must be serious about this radio-like thing, right? Pocket Casts' smart playlists, variable playback speed, and interface won me over a year ago. I remain loyal.
- Todoist: I'm a procrastinator at heart, I don't do to-do lists. But I have to prepare my pharmacy's orders every day and Todoist lets me manage them so beautifully, simply, and reliably.
- SeriesGuide: Confession time: I am kind of a TV addict. SeriesGuide feeds both that addiction and my organization-freak character perfectly. It lets me see which episodes have aired recently, mark them as seen or collected, and sync everything with trakt.tv (more on that later).
- JotterPad: I write. A lot. On all devices. To do that, I use .txt files and sync them over Dropbox, it's the best solution I have found. JotterPad is my way into these text documents on Android. It looks great, has a built-in dictionary and thesaurus, a dark theme, and supports Bluetooth keyboards. What more could a writer want?
- At Work: Some of my work requires tracking billable hours. At Work lets me punch in and out using my G Watch. Handy.
- Pocket Lab Values: Errrrm, Pharmacist with a bit of a forgetful nature seeks details about AST and ALT lab tests.
- Retune: I use iTunes to play music at the pharmacy and Retune to control said playback from my phone even when I am several feet away from the iMac.
- Runtastic Pro: For my outdoor runs and hikes, this is the app that tracks my routes. I sync the data to my Fitbit account through some behind-the-scenes MyFitnessPal magic.
I don't use separate apps for my mail, calendar, news reading, chatting, or writing on my Macs — I do everything through Chrome. I have Adobe Photoshop for some light image editing, Parallels to run Windows XP (in order to use the most reliable pharmacy-management software in Lebanon), and iTunes for my music. Otherwise, here are the cool Mac apps I use.
- Plex and trakt scrobbler: Plex organizes my TV collection, looks beautiful with the reFocus Back To Blue skin, plays all sorts of media formats, and scrobbles everything to my trakt.tv account.
- ClipMenu: This is a free and very versatile clipboard manager. My entire work system would fall to shambles without this awesome tool.
- Moom: The only feature I missed from Windows is tiling windows vertically. I can do it (and more) with a few keyboard shortcuts thanks to Moom.
- Boom: Low volume on any Mac's speakers is no longer a problem. It'll boost that for you.
- BetterTouchTool: The Magic Trackpad would be your best friend if you could customize its actions. Enter BetterTouchTool. My favorite recipe? Tap with three fingers = middle mouse click. That means I can open links in a new tab in Chrome without using the contextual right-click menu. Much better!
- You Control Tunes: This app can do a lot for iTunes, but I use it mostly to quickly rate songs from the menu bar.
I don't have a lot of apps on my iPad Mini. As I mentioned earlier, it's mostly a web browser and reader. However, there are a few apps that I really fell in love with on iOS.
- Mr. Reader: All Android RSS readers should stand shamefully in the corner and weep their code lines out until they can match with Mr. Reader. (I don't use Reeder.) It has multiple account support and in-line search. And get this, it lets you save your frequent searches. No, I don't want to read a thousand articles about the latest patent dispute, the new iPhone 6, or the leaked iPad Pro. Save search term. Mark all as read. I LOVE IT. So much so that I want to be Mrs. Reader.
- Nebulous Notes: This is the iOS equivalent of JotterPad on Android. The customizable Macro Bar on top of the keyboard makes typing even better and faster on the iPad.
- Infuse 3: Infuse plays all sorts of media formats, can receive files over WiFi from any browser instead of requiring syncing through iTunes, and accesses media servers including Plex.
- Inoreader: I have a personal Feedly account, but my friend @N0ki4n pointed me to Inoreader and I started using it for work. It focuses on efficiency more than bells and whistles, has an interface and options (shortcuts!) similar to the good ol' Google Reader, is reliable, and works with Mr. Reader on iOS.
- trakt.tv: I only mentioned my obsession with TV series 4 times so far, let's make it 5! Thanks to trakt.tv, I can keep track of the episodes I've seen, those I loved, those I collected, and those I want to watch. Automatic scrobbling from Plex is a fantastic benefit: I watch an episode, it's marked as seen on the site, and that syncs back to SeriesGuide on my phone. "This is what technology was made for," says the certified couch potato in me.
- Beathound / AlbumReminder: Because keeping a vigilant eye on what artist has released what new single/album isn't my favorite hobby, but listening to them is.
- Foldio: I don't have a DSLR — my phones are my only cameras. However, when it comes to setting up little gadgets for photos as I did in this article and in some of my reviews, I needed an easy solution that doesn't involve reflections or weird backgrounds. I backed the Foldio on Kickstarter and I love it. Unfold it anywhere, no matter the setting, lighting, or background, and you have your very own neat little photo studio. Just watch the video.
- Kordl2 and Earphone Bag: I have tried dozens of solutions to keep earphones untangled and store them securely when not in use. I eventually settled on this combination. The Kordl2 is unassuming so you can keep it on your earphones at all times, then simply hook both ear wires in when you're done. No matter how you wrap your earphones, they won't tangle. Genius! The earphone bag is a regular pouch that opens and closes easily and can go in any pocket or purse. Nothing more is needed.
- Sneakers: Bertel has his Vibrams, I have my sneakers. I'm not partial to any brand, they just have to be comfortable for all-day wear and come in any color under the rainbow. My collection stands at 16 pairs as I write this. Who knows, it might be 18 tomorrow.
- Scarfs: I have the tendency to catch a cold very often — fun problem for a pharmacist! Scarfs, flu vaccine, exercise, and homeopathy saved me last winter. I'm not tempting fate by changing that formula. For the next 6 months, you won't see me anywhere without a scarf.
- Tea: Most techies I know can't function without their coffee. I never understood that — I can wake up and be ready for a run in less than 5 minutes. But I've recently gotten in the habit of drinking tea during the day — iced with fruit flavors during the hot season, green with milk during the cold season.
To say that I have a lot of stuff is an understatement. Some of the items on this list were sent to me for review and were quite good that I continued using them, others I paid for, and some I backed as Kickstarter or Indiegogo projects. I really love good products, hardware or software, and regardless of their provenance or price, especially if they serve a purpose and do it with style and efficiency. And all the items listed above have found a way to fill a need somewhere in my incredibly busy, divided, chaotic, and active life.
So... Congrats on making it this far into this article. If you're still reading and haven't closed the tab while using some colorful language to swear at me, I hope that the time you invested didn't go to waste and you found some cool recommendations for your next shopping spree. I hear Black Friday and Cyber Monday are upon us.
Alternate title: That 5000-Word Article Where Rita Describes Why She's The Poster Child For Consumerism In Our Society