- 1 Devices
- 2 Accessories
- 3 Software
It has been a year and a half since my last 'What We Use' post, where I explained what technology and products I used on a regular basis. Nearly every aspect of that post is now out of date — in my never-ending quest to find what devices, services, and applications are best for me, my arsenal of technology has completely changed.
I've upgraded my desktop, switched phones, bought and sold two laptops, and purchased a car. Like all 'What We Use' posts from the AP staff, this is mostly an opportunity for me to ramble about technology I like. However, I do hope some of this information ends up useful — maybe I'll end up mentioning a tool or device you've been looking for.
Without further ado, here's all the technology I use on a regular basis.
Phone: OnePlus 5T
Until about two months ago, my carrier was Google Fi, which meant I could only use a handful of phones if I wanted full service (Fi now supports most GSM devices, but that wasn't true at the time). Now that a few US carriers offer unlimited data for roughly the same price I was paying Fi for 2-3GB of data usage each month, I decided to switch to AT&T's MVNO, Cricket.
With my new-found phone freedom, I'm now using the OnePlus 5T I got last year as my main device. My 2016 Pixel still works perfectly, especially since I replaced the battery a year ago, but the 5T is noticeably faster. My only complaint is that the 5T's photo quality is still hot garbage — all my pictures look like Van Gogh paintings.
I'm not in a rush to upgrade phones, but I imagine I'll probably buy a Pixel 3 at some point. I might also try a Samsung device, since the last one I owned was a Galaxy Player 5.
Tablet: Galaxy Tab S 8.4
I have exactly one use for tablets — watching movies/TV shows in bed. My 2014 Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 can handle that workload just fine, and its Super AMOLED screen still looks great.
The last official update for the Tab S 8.4 was Android 6.0 Marshmallow, so I have LineageOS 14.1 installed. Stock Android 7.1 is a massive upgrade over Marshmallow-era TouchWiz, and it works just fine for media consumption. Originally, Lineage couldn't play Netflix and a few other apps in HD, but that bug was resolved a few months after I first installed the ROM.
Watch: Fossil Sport
After my Moto 360 stopped working, I bought a refurbished Huawei Watch in early 2017. It was definitely one of the best Android Wear watches around that time, and it still works well, especially after last month's update. The Fossil Sport dropped below $200 last month, so I decided to finally upgrade.
My review of the Fossil Sport was published earlier this month, so you should read that if you want my full opinion. Long story short, it's a good watch and a solid upgrade from older Android Wear/Wear OS devices.
My current desktop is a custom-built mini-ITX PC, nicknamed 'Defiant' — all my computers are named after ships from Star Trek. It currently has a Ryzen 5 1600 processor, 16GB RAM, a 500GB Samsung 960 SSD as the system drive, a 1TB Samsung 860 Evo SSD for extra storage, a Zotac GTX 1080 Mini graphics card, and a Thermaltake Core V1 case.
I'm using a simple Dell USB chicklet keyboard while I wait for my Hexgears X-1 to arrive, and my mouse is a Logitech MX Master. My display is a Dell UltraSharp U2913WM, which I bought on clearance last year. It's only 60Hz, but it was a massive upgrade from my previous dual-monitor setup.
The microphone I use for the AP Podcast is a Blue Yeti (just like every single other podcaster uses), but when I'm playing games, I use my trusty $11 iMicro USB headset. I'll probably buy a better headset at some point, but I have absolutely got my money's worth out of that iMicro model — and it even works with Android.
Laptop: Lenovo Yoga 730
Since my last What We Use post, I have changed laptops twice. The Dell Latitude 3340 I was using in 2016 was less than ideal for long-term writing work, especially with the low-res 1366x768 screen. Also, it was exceptionally heavy at 1.8kg (4.0 pounds).
In early 2017, I sold the Dell Latitude and bought an Asus Chromebook C302 (the Core M3 model). That was a major upgrade, to say the least. I wrote my full thoughts about it in a long-term review, but I think it's still one of the best Chromebooks you can buy today — even though it's now over two years old.
Earlier this year, I started taking on more work that required the constant use of Photoshop and other tools that aren't available on Chrome OS. I also missed being able to do development work on the go, which just wasn't possible on my C302 (Linux app support still hasn't arrived). I sold the Chromebook and bought a discounted Lenovo Yoga 730.
The Yoga 730 is far from the most well-built laptop I've ever used, but it's extremely light and performs well. It also has Thunderbolt 3 and a fingerprint sensor — features that are rare finds on a ~$750 laptop. I hardly ever use the 2-in-1 mode, partially because the edges dig into my hands when holding it like a tablet, and partially because Windows 10 is still awful on touch screens.
Camera: Sony Alpha a5000
Before I started working for Android Police, I had never used a camera that cost more than $50 — let alone owned one. Smartphones don't really cut it for review photos, so I bought a Sony Alpha a5000 early last year while it was on sale.
I still have a lot to learn about professional photography, but I've definitely become better at it over the past year, mostly thanks to guidance from others at Android Police. Buying a Sony E 30mm f/3.5 macro lens, as well as using Adobe Lightroom for post-processing, has significantly improved the quality of my photos.
That's not to say I only use the a5000 for phone reviews — I have taken it out on a few trips, too. Below are some non-review photos from the past year, and I have a few other images on my 500px account.
Console: Nintendo Switch
I'm sure all of you know what a Nintendo Switch is and how it works. It's a great console, and probably the one I've had the most fun with since my Nintendo DS Lite. I'm currently playing through Skyrim, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and Super Mario Party.
I covered it in Dbrand's white skin, so it could match my desktop PC. I just need to get Smash Bros Ultimate...
Car: 2015 Nissan Leaf S
The first car I drove was my dad's previous vehicle — a 2002 Nissan Murano. Put simply, it was a lemon. The car broke down constantly for reasons unknown to me or my dad. When I finally saved up enough money to buy my own car (keep in mind, I'm 20 years old), the idea of an electric car was appealing, mostly because fewer things can go wrong mechanically in an EV — there's no engine, brakes wear out slower thanks to regenerative braking, and so on.
There are only a handful of electric cars sold in the United States, and most of them were priced out of my budget. Luckily for me, Nissan Leaf cars from a few years ago are plentiful for under $15K. Used BMW i3s are similar in price, but fast-charging stations for Leaf cars are more common — around where I live, anyway.
I bought a 2015 Nissan Leaf S in 'Brilliant Silver,' and overall, I've been very happy with it. The car is extremely smooth to drive, and it stays nearly silent at all times. I wish it had Android Auto, but Nissan didn't add that until the 2018 Leaf, and replacing the head unit on older models isn't for the faint of heart.
Of course, the major catch with any electric car is the range. Even though my Leaf reports a maximum range of ~80 miles, it's closer to 65-70 when traveling at highway speeds. The only long trip I've attempted is driving from my house (I live north of Atlanta, Georgia) to Jasper, Tennessee — a trip of around 130 miles one-way. I had to stop at two charging stations on the way there, and three on the way back. I also had to check the distance between those stations, to make sure I could actually make it to each one before running out of juice.
Charging for the first time on my Tennessee trip. This is in the parking lot of an outlet mall.
I'm not sure I would recommend a 2015 Leaf to anyone else, mostly because of the short range, but it suits my needs (running errands, going to the park to work, etc.) very well. It also just looks cool.
Charging station: iKits 10-Port Dock
If you have more than a handful of USB-powered devices, you need to get a charging dock. I bought iKits' 10-port charging station a year ago, and it has definitely made my life easier. I don't have to wonder if a certain device is fully charged, and I don't have to mess with multiple power adapters (some of which may charge slower than others).
The one disadvantage to this dock is that there is no fast charging of any kind — 5V/2.4A is the maximum speed. I don't really mind, since whatever I plug into the dock is usually going to stay there until I need it the next day, but it's worth noting.
I have two main pairs of headphones that I use right now, Sony Noise-cancelling headphones (MDR-ZX770BN) and Apple AirPods. I don't have much to say about either of them — they both work like Bluetooth headphones should.
I do wish the AirPods charged via USB Type-C instead of Lightning, but since Apple is slowly switching all of their devices to that connector, I'm sure updated AirPods aren't too far off.
Here are some miscellaneous cables, adapters, and dongles that I use on a regular basis:
Generic 3DS USB Cable: All of Nintendo's recent handheld consoles (DSi/2DS/3DS) charge over USB, but with a custom connector shape — so Nintendo can sell you expensive first-party wall adapters. There are dozens of aftermarket USB Type-A cables you can use instead, which work just fine with your existing USB wall adapters/portable batteries/car chargers.
AmazonBasics Type-C to Type-A Adapter: There are a ton of these adapters that all work the same, but I bought a handful of these a year ago and I haven't had any problems.
Anker Multi-Card Adapter: This is a USB 3.0 adapter for SD and microSD cards. It's cheap and works.
ION Bluetooth Cassette Adapter: Until I bought my Leaf earlier this year, I used this adapter to play music while driving (and to auto-launch Android Auto when my car started). The only catch is that you have to take it out and charge it after about 4-5 hours of use, and it can't charge while inside the tape deck.
MPOW Bluetooth Receiver: My new Leaf has built-in Bluetooth... but only for calls. This Bluetooth-to-AUX receiver is the only one I've found that turns on when my car starts and shuts off when my car shuts off.
Firefox: I've gone back and forth with Firefox over the years, but at this point, it's just as fast as Chrome and has all the extensions I need. Also, I really like Mozilla as a company.
Adobe Creative Cloud: I'm currently subscribed to the Adobe's Photography Plan, which gets you Photoshop, Lightroom, and 20GB of cloud storage. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of Adobe (where's my Linux support?), $9.99/month isn't a bad price for everything you get.
Visual Studio Code: I was a Sublime Text user for years, but now I use Microsoft's Visual Studio Code for all my development work. It's fast, free, and multi-platform — plus it gets updated every month or so.
Visual Studio Code
Handbrake: If you ever need to quickly convert video to another file type, or make a media file smaller, Handbrake is pretty great.
YouTube-DL: This command-line program can download videos from YouTube, DailyMotion, Twitch, Twitter, and hundreds of other sites. I use it regularly to save Android Police's Twitch broadcasts as MP3 files.
LibreOffice: I use Google Docs for most of my document editing, but on the few occasions I need to open Microsoft Office files, LibreOffice is fantastic.
VLC Media Player: I'm sure just about everyone reading this has used VLC in the past, but it's fantastic. I install it on all my computers, and every computer I set up for someone else.
Plex Media Server: Google Play Music is mostly abandoned, so I use Plex to store all my music (plus some rips of my own Blu-ray discs). No more device authorization limits.
Windows Mail: There's still room for improvement, but the built-in mail application on Windows 10 is pretty decent these days — even when using Gmail accounts.
7-Zip: This is another program I install on every computer. It can open every compressed file type out there.
Firefox: It took a very long time, but Firefox for Android is finally comparable to Chrome in terms of performance and usability. It can even open Custom Tabs, and most extensions from desktop Firefox are supported.
Google Authenticator: Yes, I'm using Google Authenticator instead of Authy. I don't like storing two-factor tokens in the cloud.
Sony PlayMemories: This lets me transfer photos from my Sony Alpha camera to my phone by tapping them together.
PlugShare: It's basically impossible to find electric car charging stations without some kind of online map; they're often hidden behind buildings or in parking lots of restaurants and stores. PlugShare lists charging stations from both major networks and EV owners. Seriously, some people add their own houses as charging stations and let others plug in if needed — not all heroes wear capes.
Pocket Casts: This is the only good podcast app for Android.
Google Tasks: Google's own task management app is extremely basic, but it works well enough for me.
Tusky: This is one of several third-party clients for Mastodon, a federated open-source alternative to Twitter. If you're on Mastodon (or another network that interacts with Masto), feel free to follow me!
Feedly: It's nearly impossible to keep up with news on social media, and I hate using Google News/Feed, so I started using Feedly earlier this year. I was previously using third-party clients on Android (like gReader and Newsfold), but I switched back to the official app after the recent redesign.
Toolbox for Google Play Store: This is an official browser extension from Android Police. It adds buttons for APKMirror and AP to Play Store webpages, links to a beta program (if one is available), and more. It's available for Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. The Firefox version even works on the Android browser!
Keepa: I cannot express how amazing the Keepa browser extension is — it shows a price history graph under every Amazon listing. Part of my work involves determining if sales are actually good or not, and this extension has saved me countless hours. It's available for all major browsers.
Mini Google Tasks: I like the Google Tasks app, but as we all know, Google is allergic to making desktop applications. I made an extension that brings Tasks (specifically the old Gmail tasks widget with some added CSS) to your browser. It adds a Tasks sidebar to Firefox, and on Chrome you can access it from a button. You can download it for Chrome or Firefox, and the code is on GitHub.
Mini Google Tasks on Firefox
Peek: This is another extension I made. When you hover over a link to a file, it shows a preview of the contents. It works with PDFs, Office documents, videos, audio files, Google Docs links, and more. It's available for Chrome and Opera, and the code is on GitHub.
Google Search Fixer: Google Search doesn't provide the same search experience for Firefox on Android as it does for Chrome, even though Firefox is more than capable of viewing the same pages. Information cards, AMP links, and other features are completely absent. This extension sends a Chrome user agent to Google Search, so you get the same results. It's available for Firefox on Android.
Redirect AMP to HTML: I still have no idea why Google doesn't automatically redirect AMP pages on desktop computers to the normal pages, but this fixes that. It's available here for Firefox, and here is a similar extension for Chrome.
That covers just about all technology I use on a regular basis. If you have any questions, I'll be more than happy to answer them in the comments. I'm looking forward to how different my setup will be next year — I have my eyes on a new monitor, at least.