Personal tech, gadgets and apps

What did I use in 2018?

One of my main reasons for writing is that I can document my thoughts and visit them later. It’s interesting to see how opinions, assumptions and the world changes over time. Today, I’m documenting the apps, services and tech I use on a daily basis.

Hardware

My daily drivers are my Apple MacBook, Xiaomi Notebook Air 12.5, iPad Mini and iPhone X. I iterate between my Macbook and Xiaomi. The Xiaomi runs Linux Mint 19.1. I’m a big fan of Linux on the desktop and despite there’ll be never the year of Linux on the desktop, it’s come a long way. I can as productive on Linux as I’m on my Macbook. In all honesty, I don’t love the Macbook as much as the MacBook Air 11 it replaces. The keyboard is too noisy and it sometimes misses keys. It isn’t bad enough to bring it in for repairs, but I’m sure it won’t last as long as my old Air (3.5 years). Also, it’s slow. It feels slower than the Air. The Xiaomi has similar specs as the MacBook, but with less internal memory and is an Intel generation behind. It performs great though and it feels faster than my Macbook. It also has a 16:9 screen which I like a 100x more than the new 3:2 screens which are the standard now for high-end models. The battery life of the Xiaomi is 8-9 hours while I never get more than 5-6 hours on the Macbook. The only thing the MacBook really has going for it is its weight. It’s super light. But due to lack of battery performance, I tend to travel with my Xiaomi.

The iPhone X is really a great phone. The screen is gorgeous. I sometimes just look at the screen and admires its quality. It’s a marvel. I do think it’s too heavy and unwieldy big. My previous phone was an SE. That one was the perfect size and weight. I notice that I usually take the X out of my pocket because it bothers me. I sometimes forget to bring it because of that. I still dream of a tiny X (or SE2). The X is also too expensive to replace. It moved into laptop territory for me which means I’ll be upgrading on a 3-year cycle. It’s also the first iPhone I have with a case. It’s so fragile and slippery. The first 6 months, I used it without one and it has a couple of screen cracks on the back. It kept falling off the couch. I’m not a fan of its design. I do love Face ID. Touch ID never worked for me on iPhones, my fingers are too big for the home button. In comparison, Touch ID is 100% reliable on the iPad mini.

Talking about the iPad Mini. I love this little iPad. It goes with me everywhere. It’s the perfect consumption device. I use it for reading, browsing, gaming, and occasional video streaming. I’ve an Ipad Air too but I stopped using it. It’s too big and heavy. The Mini is showing its age though and I’m crossing my fingers the rumors are true and Apple is bringing a new version on the market. I’m ok with Touch ID and bezels.

I’ve four headphones which I use regularly. I love the Airpods for phone calls and watching TV in bed. With wireless charging on the iPhone X and the airbuds, there are no more cables.
On the plane, I use Bose QC35s. The sound is satisfactory, but the noise cancellation is great. Since using Bose headphones on planes, life hasn’t been the same. Recommended!
For serious listening, I use Sennheisers HD600X which are just awesome. They’re open back which means that it leaks sounds when using them. Great for when you’re alone but not in a shared environment. They’re wired because bluetooth sound is still inferior and compressed for my critical ears.
On the go, I use a set of Thinksound TS02 earbuds. They’re cheap but sound good plus they’re insulated which is nice of for noisy places like New York City.

My best gadget buy in 2018 was the Nintendo Switch. It’s my exclusive gaming device. I love its mobility while having console-class games at my finger tips. My favorite games were Doom, Wolfenstein and Fortnite. I just started with Starlink: Battle For Atlas.

Apps

I wrote earlier that I love services which are not tied into a device. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid Apple’s walled garden. I love choice. My productivity apps are Google Apps and Simplenote. My digital life is stored on Dropbox. I listen to Spotify and my books are on Kindle.

On the desktop, I work on Google Apps and on IOS I use Google apps suite as well with exception of email. I prefer Edison Mail. My browser is Chromium on Linux, Firefox on MacOS and Safari on IOS. I used to use Safari on the Mac as well, but it’s unusable broken on Mojave. Firefox on Linux is slow as well compared to Chromium.

My passwords live in 1Password. It’s truly game-changing and it works on every conceivable platform. Especially Password X browser extension is a gem. It’s worth every penny. IOS-feature to replace Apple’s password manager with 1Password and serve passwords directly from 1Password in apps and websites is truly amazing.

One of my favorite other apps is Day One. It’s a journaling app with end-to-end encryption. I wish they had a Linux app but it is what it is. On Linux, I use Standard Notes which offers similar functionality but without the “journaling” UI. There’s also an IOS-client.

Services

When writing this, I kind of realized that apps and services are blending into one. I could list Spotify or Google Apps here as well.

For conference calling, I use Uber Conference. It works on every device I own and it properly supports dialing in via phone. I love that you don’t need a PIN and doesn’t have a 1-minute menu – “Please enter your meeting ID”, “Please enter your participant ID” – and I can switch off the waiting music.

I also use Skype occasionally but I avoid Skype for Business at all costs. I’m sure it works great on Windows, but it’s terrible on any other platform.

Messaging is now officially a free for all. I use Telegram, iMessage, Whatsapp, and Messenger regularly.

Besides Spotify for music, I use TuneIn a lot too. I love to listen to Dutch radio and specifically Slam to get my euro dance / EDM fix. It never ceases to amuse me while driving on a US highway while blasting Dutch radio through the car speakers. We’ve come a long way.

For podcasting, I use Apple’s default IOS-client. It isn’t great but serves its purpose. It’s on my todo-list to find something better.

Home

This wasn’t really a category until a couple of years ago, but slowly the amount of tech creeping into my home is quite astounding.

If you read my blog regularly, you know I’m a big fan of Alexa. I got 3 Echo Dots, 1 Echo and 1 Echo Show. I can bark a command to Alexa almost anywhere in the house and I love that. All lights including the Christmas trees (“Alexa turn on Christmas trees”) are connected through Z-Wave controlled outlets driven by a Samsung Smarthings hub.
I do think that the Alexa Show is the weakest product in the lineup. It doesn’t pick up commands as reliable as the other Echos and the sound isn’t great. Alexa sounds like a 50-year old smoker with a whiskey problem. There’s too much bass. Also, you can’t tweak the unsolicited newsfeed it displays and the quality of the newsfeed is like Facebook – buzzy headlines about nothing. I wish I could switch it off.
Heating and AC are controlled by Nest and connected through Alexa. I’ve a Nest Guard too but unfortunately no Alexa integration. It’s also the weakest home automation product I have. I wouldn’t recommend it. I think something fails on a weekly basis. For a Google product, it’s very unstable. Often the Guard “looses” its internet connection. When you investigate, there’s nothing wrong with my wifi or internet connection, it’s Google’s back-end services which fail. It’s very interesting since Google is not a company you expect back-end services to fail. Also regularly one of the sensors goes offline. In the beginning, I would investigate, but nowadays I know it’ll come back online in a few hours. The Nest Guard is in the penalty box and might be replaced if it continues to perform poorly.

For video streaming, I’ve a plain Sony LCD which I adore. I love its natural color profile, unlike TCLs and Samsungs. I just use it as a monitor for my Apple TV (4th gen). I think it’s a gem. I only use it for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. I’ve been cord cutter for 6 years now. I’m thinking of upgrading to 4K with HDR, but the content isn’t there yet to make the switch.

For music streaming, I use two Bluesound’s Node (1st gen). They’re high quality music streamers with plain audio outputs so I can connect them to my hifi systems. They support most music streaming services.

That’s all folks!

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