I consider myself quite lucky to be able to make a living writing things on the internet because it gives me an outlet for my natural geekery. Even if I had never started crafting snarky blog posts on a daily basis, I suspect many of the things on this list would still be in my office (I guess then I'd call it something else). However, in this version of reality, I'm a professional nerd, and these are the things that I use every day.
Desktop Battlestation: Custom Built
I didn't do a "What We Use" post last year because I didn't feel like enough had really changed from my 2013 post to warrant revisiting it. This is very much not the case this year. In fact, my desktop work space just got a long overdue makeover.
I've been building computers for… oh god… more than half of my life now. I suddenly feel old. At any rate, I do most of my work on a desktop PC, but it's also my gaming rig. I'm not really a console gamer, so I basically kill two birds with one stone here. These are my current specs.
- Corsair Carbide Air 540 case
- MSI H170A Socket 1151 Motherboard
- Intel Core-i5 6500 (Skylake)
- 16GB dual-channel DDR4 RAM
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX780
- Corsair 750W PSU
- Samsung 256GB SSD
- Western Digital 3TB Green HDD
- BENQ 1440p IPS LCD 27-inch monitor
- 2x Asus 1080p IPS LCD 24-inch monitors
- Technical Pro boom mic
- Logitech c920 HD webcam
- Logitech MX Master mouse
- Windows 10
Since this is a new build, I'm pretty happy with the setup. The video card was salvaged from my last PC, so it's the only thing I think will need an upgrade before too long. Although, it can still run most games at 1440p with high or very high settings, and it's powering those three monitors just fine. I also bought a new desk recently, a big Ikea slab that can accommodate all my monitors without issue. It's also deeper so I can have all my Android minis on the desk without feeling cluttered. The drawers tucked under the right side of the desk are where I keep all my phones and tablets.
I moved from two to three monitors in the last year, which accounts for most of my desk space now. I always feel constricted when I have to use something with one monitor. Maybe this is all placebo, but I feel much more productive when I can have everything I need up at the same time. I usually have two browser windows split on the main screen. Then Photoshop and a few explorer folders on the left monitor. The right one is reserved for chat applications and whatever else might come up.
Keyboards: All Mechanical, All The Time
I'm a big keyboard nerd. It's gotten to the point that I've purchased switch testers, custom keycap sets, and even handmade artisan keycaps. It's become a bit of a hobby in addition to work—the intricacies of all the different mechanical keyboards are so cool. I've been on a quest this past year to find the perfect keyboard for writing, which I consider one of the most important pieces of technology I own. After all, I spend all day typing, so I'd prefer to be doing that on the right keyboard.
Most of my work right now is done on a Vortex Pok3r (above), which is a 60% keyboard. There's a function layer that has all the stuff you'd get on a larger board, plus multiple programmable layers. I opted for the non-backlit version with PBT keycaps. Most keyboards use ABS caps, which are fine, but tend to be a little slippery and will wear down over time. PBT is harder and has a cool "gritty" texture. This board uses Cherry MX Clear switches. These are stiff, very tactile switches, which are a big change from the light MX Brown switches I've been using for the last few years. You can get tired typing on Clears if you're not careful, as the bottom-out weight is almost 100g. The tactile bump is far from that, though. It's like a cushion that keeps you from slamming down the keys and making a lot of unnecessary noise. So far, I really like these switches.
This board has all stock keycaps, with the exception of the RGBY mod kit and a couple artisan caps (one at the top of the post and another visible in the image above). Artisan caps are definitely the most insane aspect of the mechanical keyboard community. Some of the rare caps can sell for (seriously) hundreds of dollars. These were much, much cheaper. They appeal to my need to collect things, which I've done all my life.
Because Clear switches aren't ideal for gaming, I've been floating around between a few secondary boards with Brown switches. These are much lighter, but still slightly tactile. Some people prefer linear switches like Reds and Blacks for gaming, but I like having a little tactile bump as I tend to write with it sometimes as well. The board in this photo is a Magicforce 68, which I got in a group buy on Massdrop recently. It has a custom keycap set on it called Jukebox, but I'm toying with the idea of trading the caps and the board for a different combo. Trades are a big thing in the mech community.
In a few months, I expect to build my first custom mechanical keyboard in the form of a White Fox kit with 65g tactile Zealio switches. I'm super-excited for that thing to ship. It'll probably replace my Pok3r at that time.
Laptop: Dell Chromebook 13
I managed to ditch my old Asus Windows laptop this year and move to Chrome OS as my main laptop platform. I ended up getting the Dell Chromebook 13 as soon as it was available for pre-order a few months ago. I got the version with 8GB of RAM and a Core-i3 CPU, and let me tell you, it's stupidly fast.
Most of my work relies upon Chrome. I write either in WordPress or in Google Docs, and I use Dropbox for important file storage. There's very little need for Windows software if I'm just working lightly. I do miss having Photoshop, but I can do most of the things I do on my desktop with a Chromebook. I really love the battery life on this thing too. It can easily run for 10-12 hours of active use. The trackpad is one of the best I've used too. I don't even bother to take a mouse with me anymore.
I wish I could say this had been an entirely positive experience, but I did have a battery failure with this device shortly after getting it. Dell is not pleasant to deal with thanks to what appears to be chronic understaffing, but I got everything worked out eventually. Other than that, the physical build quality is amazing, and the keyboard isn't mushy like a lot of laptops in this price range.
Phones: So Many
I have a pretty crazy number of phones floating around, so I won't bother telling you about all of them. Instead, here are the ones I use most often right now and why I like using them.
- Nexus 6P: It's stock Android and runs the latest build. It's important to have for work, but I also really like the phone in general. The screen is great. It's also the first Snapdragon 810 device that doesn't seem to throttle too aggressively.
- Moto X Pure: I still really like the design of the Moto X Pure. Who doesn't like swanky wood paneling? It's comfortable despite being so huge. I miss not having a fingerprint reader like the 6P, but Moto Display is pretty awesome.
- LG G4: I still pull out the G4 on occasion because it's a light, comfortable phone with a fantastic camera. The software isn't my favorite, but I can cope.
- HTC One A9: I would not recommend that you buy this device because it's weirdly expensive. However, it's a fun little phone that I still find myself picking up fairly often right now.
Tablets: NVIDIA SHIELD, Nexus 9, And Pixel C
I won't bore you with a justification for the existence of Android tablets. I use them because I like Android. They work well as content consumption devices, and I even manage to get some work done on them from time to time.
I think NVIDIA has a good handle on the Android tablet market. Android tablets have an identity crisis right now with a lack of properly optimized apps. NVIDIA gives its tablets a reason to exist with gaming add-ons like GeForce Now and GameStream. My SHIELD is from the original batch, so it's also got a stylus, which I find pretty handy. Even without that, the updated K1 is a great buy. The SHIELD is a convenient size to do some writing, either by tapping or using swipe input with the stylus. I also looooove NVIDIA's official magnetic cover.
The Nexus 9 was a regrettable purchase for me. It took months for it to be a usable tablet because of a pretty ridiculous amount of lag. For a long time, I was just jumping from one review unit to another for my tablet needs… such as they are. The N9 is much, much better on Marshmallow, so I actually find myself using it again. I strongly prefer the 4:3 screen ratio of this tablet, which seems more comfortable for browsing.
I'm still sorting out my feelings on the Pixel C, but I mostly like it. Again, I have a hard time recommending it to anyone, not because the hardware doesn't warrant the price, but because the software doesn't. It's just Android, and it does most of the same things cheaper tablets do, but it's $500. It's the nicest Android tablet I've ever used, no doubt about it. The screen is lovely and it's blazing fast. This whole productivity angle with the $150 keyboard is nonsense, though.
Watches: Moto 360 And Huawei Watch
I review a lot of Android Wear watches, but I keep coming back to the 2015 Moto 360 and the Huawei Watch. I usually have one of these paired with whatever phone I'm carrying. The Motorola watch is still the most comfortable smart watch I've worn (the 42mm one), and the customizable design is awesome. Motorola also has the best watch faces. The flat tire is troubling, but I don't notice it too much these days. It's still the one thing I'd change about this watch. A Moto 360 with a fully round AMOLED is my dream watch.
The longer I use the Huawei Watch, the more impressed I am with it. Huawei never made a watch before this, and it's fantastic. The build quality is top notch, and it looks great. I don't find it as comfortable to wear as the 360 (the lugs aren't quite as watch-like), but the display is completely round and has a higher resolution than most other watches. It goes to show you what Huawei can do when they leave the software up to someone else.
NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV: This is probably the only Android TV box worth getting. Why am I saying "probably?" It is, especially considering there are only like three of them. It does video streaming just as well as all the other devices I have around, and I like that it has Google Cast built-in. That's handy for testing.
It's the gaming stuff that makes the SHIELD so great. The Tegra-exclusive games are impressive (yay, Doom 3), and even a lot of regular Android games look reasonably good on the SHIELD. I have an NVIDIA-powered gaming PC (seen above), so I don't use GeForce Now, but I did try it when it was launched recently and thought it was pretty good. GameStream works well for me via the OnHub... oh, the OnHub.
Google OnHub: Okay, this is another purchase I kind of regret. The OnHub is very stable as a router. It handles a ton of devices without issue, and I mostly like the app. What I do not like is the lack of updates. There's been (I think) one update, and it added nothing of consequence. The USB port still does nothing. Where are these home automation features we heard about? I thought it would be interesting to watch this device evolve, but it's not really doing that yet.
Pioneer 8100NEX Android Auto: I mostly liked Android Auto when I reviewed it last year, but it had a few shortcomings. Sadly, most of those have not been addressed all these months later. I still use the Pioneer head unit whenever I'm in the car because I don't really have an alternative. I suppose I'd rather use Android Auto than not, but Google hasn't been paying a lot of attention to this platform. It needs some serious work.
Some Vizio TV and soundbar: I have a 37-inch 1080p TV in my office. Vizio made it. I have no objection to the quality or capabilities of this TV because it was like $300. TVs are crazy cheap now.
Camera: It's Complicated
I still have the same old DSLR I had years ago, a Nikon D3100. It works fine, but it lacks a lot of features that newer cameras have. At the same time, smartphone cameras have gotten really great. I find myself in a strange situation where I often take photos with a phone rather than haul out the DSLR.
If it's a bright day or I set up my photo lights, a phone like the Galaxy S6 or LG G4 can take photos that are just as good as the DSLR for my purposes. The images I'm posting on AP are a few hundred pixels across, so I don't need super-high-resolution perfection. And the image stabilization of these phones is better than my stock DSLR.
A new camera is on the list for later this year, but I doubt I'll get another DSLR. I just don't make sufficient use of all the features. I'll probably go with a nice mirrorless camera when the time comes.
I test a huge number of apps, but most of them get uninstalled shortly thereafter. Here are the apps that I install everywhere and use extensively to get work (and other stuff) done.
Pushbullet: This one almost goes without saying. I've used this app since it came out and it's only gotten more useful. The desktop notification mirroring and link pushing is absolutely indispensable for me.
Authy: I use 2 factor authentication wherever I can, and Authy is the best way I've found to manage that. It syncs the encrypted tokens between devices so I don't have to worry about which phone or tablet I'm using when I need to access my accounts. It's crazy to me this app is free.
Lastpass: I keep all my passwords in Lastpass because it seems to be the most foolproof password manager out there. The app has gotten a lot better recently, and I like that it has Marshmallow fingerprint support.
Unclouded: Simply the best way I've found to manage multiple cloud storage accounts in a single app.
Sync for Reddit: It's the best Reddit client for phones, so it's the one I use most. It's super-fast, and it has plenty of options and reliable notifications.
Reddit is Fun: What? a second Reddit app? Yes, I use RIF on tablets because it has the best implementation of split-screen browsing I've seen. You can have a webview browser in one pane and still scroll through links in the other.
Fenix: This is my preferred Twitter client because it's fast and the design makes sense. I think it's priced higher these days, but it's worth it.
I'm going to include Android games, as well as some PC games. They count because I play them on the Shield via Gamestream sometimes. Unlike apps, I don't run the same games forever, so there are only a few that I feel warrant a mention here.
The Room Three: I was a huge fan of the first two games, so I immediately bought the third one when it came out recently. It seems every bit as enjoyable as the first two, but there's more of it. I haven't beaten it yet because I'm trying to savor the experience.
Shooty Skies: I don't know what it is about this game, but I keep coming back. It's so simple, yet provides a good challenge. It's great for killing a few minutes on my phone.
Ski Safari 2: This is a great little time killer endless runner. The IAPs aren't obnoxious either.
Doom 3 (SHIELD): I played Doom 3 many moons ago when it came out, and it's still a good time on the SHIELD. I'm not great with a controller in shooters, but Doom 3 is worth a little frustration. The updated graphics look better than just about anything else on Android.
Crashlands: The latest game from Butterscotch Shenanigans just came out, but I'm really into it. It's a sort of exploration survival game with lots of crafting and wacky over-the-top creatures. It doesn't have any in-app purchases, which is so refreshing.
The Witcher 3 (PC/SHIELD): I've logged an insane number of hours playing The Witcher 3 since it came out last summer. I've played it all the way through multiple times to see all the content and pre-purchased the expansions (which I never do). The storytelling and attention to detail are staggering. It really puts Fallout 4 to shame, which by comparison feels like a cynical, lazy cash-grab.
Just Cause 3 (PC/SHIELD): In every way The Witcher 3 is deep and emotional, Just Cause 3 is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Do you want to steal a military jet then crash it into a cluster of fuel tanks to "liberate" a small town? Then Just Cause 3 is what you've been waiting for. It's just a lot of mindless fun, plus you've got a wingsuit.
Star Wars Battlefront (PC/SHIELD): I like Star Wars, and I like shooters. So, this works out pretty well for me. I don't usually enjoy online-only games, but this title has a number of mechanisms that make it fun even if you're not the best player on the server. I'm lying a little bit about this one because I don't really play it on SHIELD. I could, but I'm rubbish with a controller in shooters.
So, that's the stuff I use on a regular basis—computers, apps, keyboards. All the things, basically. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or yell at me about my cable management (dealwithit.gif).