It’s been four years since I shared with you all the gadgets and quirky things that I own and love in my previous What We Use post. In the time since, a lot has changed in my personal life. I met the most awesome, weird, and pun-loving man. We got married, moved into an apartment of our own, and started traveling a little more frequently.
But a lot is still the same. I still pull double work duties: I own and manage my pharmacy, and I work here at Android Police, obviously. In between selling drugs and counseling patients, I sit back at my desk, clean up hundreds of emails a day, write a few posts, virtually shout at the entire team if they miss an Oxford comma, and come up with silly or inappropriate jokes. I love every second of it — this job is better than Xanax and has fewer side effects.
Talking about side effects, I still have that same gadget
addiction interest that I described four years ago. I probably own more stuff now than I did then, but as was the case before, I still only buy and use items after lots of research to make sure they serve their purpose well. It helps a lot that I get to write about most of these things too — the perfect excuse I can give to both my husband and wallet.
So without further ado, here is all the stuff I currently use and love.
Last year, I made the plunge for a Pixel 2 XL and I have been using it since then as my daily driver. When the Pixel 3 line-up started leaking and then got announced, I spent a lot of time debating whether or not to buy one. My conundrum was this: I prefer the larger screen, but I don’t like the notch, and I can’t justify paying over $1100 to get it in the US, ship it over to Lebanon, and then pay local customs and taxes. After many heated discussions with myself, I saw no concrete benefits to the Pixel 3/3XL over my 2 XL, even if a big part of my daily job revolves around these phones. So I’m sticking with the 2 XL, which has served me well so far. The screen isn’t the greatest, nor are the specs nowadays, but if I’m being honest with myself, it does everything I need it to, on both personal and work levels, and then some. It also takes great pictures and was my only camera on a 7-day trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Hallstatt.
All of my phones sit clad in TPU cases because my clumsiness has been known to cause them to fly several feet in the air and land on gravel. Fours years ago, I used to buy multiple colored cases and change them to match my wardrobe, now I just get two or three per phone, and switch every couple of months.
Tablets may be a little dead, especially Android ones, but there are many reasons I still use one. Currently, the Huawei MediaPad M5 8.4″ (my review) is my favorite: I can carry it in my purse, walk around with it, and easily hold it with one hand. It also has a gorgeous display, very loud speakers, and excellent battery life when idle so I only need to charge it every few days. I use it to read Android Police articles on Chrome, check Yummly recipes, browse Amazon and Ebay, and edit a few Drive files. A Chrome OS tablet could do the same things, except there’s none in the 8″ form factor.
Beside it, my husband and I use a Galaxy Tab S2 8″ and Kindle Paperwhite 7th gen, respectively, for reading. We were voracious readers when we were younger, but jobs and responsibilities got in the way over the past years. A few months ago, we got back in the habit of reading, especially on trips and lazy days. I don’t like the interface of the Kindle, but once you open a book, it’s easily the best reading experience I’ve had on a screen. No eye strain, no glaring light, and I can read for hours without interruption.
My main computer at work remains the same iMac (2011 model). I upgraded to 12GB of RAM, but haven’t needed to do anything else to keep it churning along for 8+ hours every day. It hasn’t given up on me yet, and I’ll probably upgrade to another iMac when the time comes.
I had to (reluctantly) switch the pharmacy’s iMac to a Windows machine though, and I went with an HP ProOne 440 G3 all-in-one. Saying goodbye to the Apple Keyboard and Magic Trackpad were probably the hardest part of that transition, but I found solace in the Microsoft Surface Keyboard and Arc Mouse. Mechanical keyboard fans (hi, Ryan and Ryne!) would burn me at the stake for saying such blasphemous words, but I love me some chiclet keyboards.
My personal home computer is currently a Google Pixelbook (Core i5, 8GB, 128GB). I got it at the $750 discount a few months ago, because my Toshiba Chromebook 2 was getting too slow for my liking. The Pixelbook flies in comparison, with a better display, backlit keyboard, and Play Store support. I appreciate the slim form-factor, excellent build quality, and the touchscreen (handy when using Android apps). It still can’t 100% replace a Mac machine for me, since there’s no Photoshop and no good clipboard manager, but it does the trick for 95% of my use. Besides, any computer that can take my hectic typing, tab switching, and frenetic copy/pasting during a Google event deserves all the accolades, and the Pixelbook handled the last October 9 announcement like a champ.
My passion towards wearables has calmed a little over the past couple of years, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up on my Fitbit and smartwatch just yet. Over the past 18 months, I’ve had the Fitbit Alta HR (my review) strapped to my right wrist for sleep and activity tracking. Fitbit’s automatic tracking continues to win me over, because I don’t have to manually start an exercise for it to know I’m walking, running, or on the elliptical — a far cry from Wear OS.
Speaking of, my left wrist is now the home of the Skagen Falster (my review). It’s not the most modern smartwatch anymore, but it has been updated to the latest Wear OS interface. I think of it as a piece of jewelry first and foremost, and a notification machine second. I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb all the time to avoid the 300+ daily pings and dings, which means that I rely on my watch for notifications.
I’ve been using my smartphones for photography since 2008 and I was convinced that wouldn’t change, especially with phones getting so much better at it. But something got into my head recently and I thought that if we sold my husband’s Canon EOS 1200D, which was too heavy and bulky to carry anywhere and thus just sat collecting dust, we’d have at least half the funds to get a decent mirrorless cam. What started out as an idle browsing session ended up as three weeks of serious reading and research, eventually leading me to the Olympus OM-D EM-10 Mark III. The cam is light, compact, fast, easy to use, and everything I wanted, except for GPS geotagging.
I bought the cam bundle with the M.Zuiko 14-42mm EZ and 40-150mm lenses — the first because thanks to this lens cap, the Olympus acts like a point-and-shoot, opening and closing the cap automatically when you turn it on/off; and the second because it’s a cheap but good zoom lens. However, my favorite lens was a third one I purchased separately, the Panasonic Lumix G Lens 25mm f1.7. Without any control over zoom, it was confusing at first, but with time, I’m realizing that it’s making me work and think about my perspective more. If you know what you’re doing, which I’ll be the first to admit I don’t, you can get killer bokeh with even more killer focus for the price. Here are a few lucky samples from my experiments with it so far.
Given my noob level, I’m not ready to further invest in lenses yet, so this will be my setup for the foreseeable future. I did just buy a cheap Olympus Macro converter though, because I like macro photography and it might be useful when writing reviews. I also got the Peak Design Leash strap for it, since the default strap is short and annoying to remove. Both items haven’t been delivered yet, so I couldn’t tell you anything about them.
Beside the Olympus, I have two fun cameras that I use from time to time. The Insta360 ONE is an awesome 360 camera that lets me take funky tiny planets (like this or this), or shoot video without worrying about perspective or angle then frame it later to perfection. Its Android app has excellent editing abilities, and the fact that it magically removes the selfie stick is bonkers. But I’m annoyed about having to use the USB-C adapter to transfer photos to my phone. That’s why I’m really looking forward to the newer ONE X.
The second camera is a GoPro Hero Session. I had the opportunity to buy it new for $32, so I couldn’t say no. I haven’t used it much so far, but it’ll be my go-to cam during my upcoming trip to Nepal when I’m paragliding or participating in an elephant bath. The ruggedness and waterproofing should do the trick.
Accessories and gadgets
For the Pixelbook
A Pixelbook deserves to be treated right, whether you’re using it or not. For the former, I have the Satechi lightweight aluminum laptop stand, an elegant stand that props it up for comfortable typing and better eye alignment with the display. All of Satechi’s press material shows it off with a Macbook, but goodness, it fits the Pixelbook like a glove: size, color, finish, and even the rubber grip at the bottom aligns perfectly with the Pixelbook. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitted stand, and the company should start publicizing this.
For the latter, I have Satechi’s universal vertical aluminum stand, which can store any computer in a standing position. Given that I don’t have a proper office/desk at home yet, this helps me keep the Pixelbook nearby without it taking too much space.
My love for Satechi’s stuff doesn’t end here. I also have the company’s USB-C to A converter and USB-C MicroSD and SD reader. Like the first stand, they look like they’re made for the Pixelbook, and even have their USB-C port a little off-center so it aligns perfectly with the bottom of the computer and doesn’t make it wobble when they’re plugged in. It’s the little things, but they do matter.
Beside these, and because the #donglelife is real, I also have a Moshi USB-C Multiport Adapter. I got the pink one by mistake, but there’s a silver one too. It’s very well built with a small USB-C cable that conveniently tucks in. On the other side, there’s a USB-C port for passthrough charging, a USB-A port, and an HDMI port. Perfect when I want to connect my Pixelbook to a larger display.
And finally, since I didn’t feel like paying $99 for the official Pixelbook pen, but still wanted something to work on the touchscreen without getting my grubby fingers on it, I did a little research and found that this Lenovo ThinkPad Pen is compatible and costs a fraction of the price. I’ve had it for a few months and can attest to that: pressure sensitivity, palm rejection, Google Assistant, everything works except tilt support. That’s fine by me.
Ever since we started traveling and taking local vacations a little more often, my husband and I have had to look at a few solutions to keep our sanity in check while doing so.
First is our business/photography bag, the Moshi Arcus backpack with its camera insert. It’s expensive, a little big, but so incredibly well made. The thick material, excellent zippers, padded laptop compartment for my Pixelbook and Huawei MediaPad, are all great. However, what I really like about it are two special aspects. One, there are tons of pockets and compartments, which is a boon or an organization freak like me. Second, the camera insert aligns with a special opening on the side of the bag, letting me safely store my Olympus, but also quickly access it without opening up the entire backpack. It’s super practical when I’m at an event or traveling and need to reach my camera frequently then stow it away. I’ve looked at potential alternatives but keep coming back to the Moshi because of how much it can store and how safe my belongings feel in it.
Second is the Bobby backpack, our leisure bag. I backed it on Kickstarter several years ago and it’s already been with us on several vacations, taken a beating, and come out victorious. It’s lighter and smaller than the Moshi, with no compartment for a laptop, but has the benefit of being anti-theft, which is necessary when going to touristic sites. The hidden but easily accessible pockets are very handy for passports, wallets, hotel and luggage keys, and the rest of the stuff can be reached if you open the full backpack. Plus, my husband approves of it, which is really the only factor that matters because he’s the one usually carrying things around on vacation.
For packing, we got two different colors of these Bagail packing cubes to easily differentiate our clothes, which saves us a lot of time and space, and this large BUBM cable organizer for all of our chargers, cables, small gear, and other paraphernalia. Speaking of, we’re currently using the Satechi 75W (Ryne’s review) and Xtorm CX018 (my review) chargers, depending on whether we’re going for a long trip or short weekend. Other travel gear we often carry around includes power banks and the Libratone Track+ (my review), which are light, comfortable, a joy to hold and touch, and provide active noise cancelation as a bonus.
In my purse
Women carry lipstick and foundation in their purses, or so I’m told. I carry SIM ejector tools, SIM and SD card adapters, and:
In my car
Earlier this year, I got a new (used) Subaru Crosstrek XV, which unlike my previous car, has a 3.5mm port — what a wonderful modern technology! So instead of scrambling for a solution to listen to my podcasts while driving, I now have a cheap 3.5mm cable with a USB-C adapter hooked up to plug in my Pixel 2 XL. I also got an Aukey USB-C and dual USB-A port car charger when my phone needs a top-off on the road.
In my gym bag
Although I exercise and swim less now than I did four years ago, I’m still trying to stay as active as possible. My current gym setup includes a few nice items but the most important thing is the bag itself. I looked high and low for an affordable large drawstring bag made of good materials, with more than one pocket, and found none until I stumbled on the Karry 2.0 on Kickstarter. The bag was delivered on time, is made of excellent sturdy material, has three pockets, a top closure, and comfy straps. It has been my gym bag for over a year yet still looks as good as new. I love it so much that I got the Karry 3.0 and would be considering the new 3.0+ if the first two weren’t still in excellent condition.
The second essential is the Zolo Liberty+ true wireless earphones. Their killer battery life is what swayed me as I can leave them for weeks in my bag, not worrying about charging them, and just take them out when at the gym. They’re also comfortable enough for my small ears and sit still, even when I’m running.
Four years ago, I shared my list of home gadgets and detailed the reasons I was using them, but I’m afraid this would be incredibly tedious to do this time around. Our apartment is now decked with smart home gear, and it would take an entire article to explain why I chose every item — I’m planning on writing this up separately though, in the future. Instead, I’ll just list the items below and link you to my reviews, when available.
- SmartThings Hub v2 + GoControl Z-Wave sensors + First Alert Z-Wave smoke and CO sensor: our low-level home security system.
- Nuki smart lock (my review): still working perfectly on our European-style lock.
- Canary all-in-one (my review): it’s ok, but I’ve been looking to upgrade to another camera though I can’t decide between the Logi Circle 2 and Arlo Pro 2.
- Switchbot bots and hub (my review): a no-fuss solution to make our light switches smart.
- LIFX, LIFX+, and LIFX Z (my review): some colored smart lights to add accents to our living room.
- Belkin WeMo Insight (my review): for the Christmas tree.
- Sensibo Sky (my review) and Cielo Breez (my review): both very good to remotely control our ACs — I’ll likely pick one system and stick to it later.
- Synology DS416Play (my review): our in-home file and media server.
- Logitech Harmony Elite: a great universal remote for our entertainment center, made even better by the recent Google Assistant integration.
- NVIDIA Shield TV (2017): our go-to smart TV and gaming box; we use it every day for Plex, YouTube, and light gaming.
- Polk MagniFi Mini (my review): the best compact soundbar you could find; powerful with plenty of connections and easy integration in our multi-room Chromecast setup.
- JBL Playlist (my review): another great speaker with Chromecast built-in.
- JBL Link View (my review): this Smart Display lives in our kitchen for easy access to recipes, Duo with our families, YouTube, music. Plus, the rotating photos are a joy to come across and bring up some fond memories.
- Google Home: we have two of them across the house and, along with the Link View above, they’re our voice control interface for the house.
- Xtorm Vigor power hub (my review): my bedside charger with its 5 USB-A ports, USB-C port, and wireless charging pad.
- Ubiquiti AmpliFi Mesh Point (my review): our mesh repeater, which helps the WiFi signal reach the other side of the apartment.
Unlike my apartment, the pharmacy doesn’t suffer from too-many-network-devices-Rita-please-stop syndrome. I still have the cable organization boxes I talked about last time, my GammaRay eyeglasses, but I stopped using a dock for my phone, and I got a couple of new items:
- Netatmo Welcome camera: it acts as a backup to my wired security system, recognizes faces, arms and disarms when my assistant or I are there, stores videos on Dropbox, doesn’t require a monthly subscription, and is compatible with Google Assistant.
- Google Home Mini: this little puck lets us listen to music, answers our questions, sets up our appointments, and remains mostly invisible throughout.
- Bose QuietComfort 35 (my review): helps me focus and get some work done at the pharmacy, I’m using it now while writing this article for example.
My current Android setup feels a little vanilla to me, compared to how customized and funky my previous homescreens were. But I prefer practicality nowadays, so I’m using the Pixel Launcher with an At A Glance widget and the Google Wallpapers app set to rotate backgrounds daily. Beside that, most of the apps I use aren’t anything to talk about: WhatsApp, Google Chrome, Calendar, Maps, Gboard, Drive (et al.), Photos, Keep, Trips, Files, Pocket Casts, Todoist, Slack, Pushbullet, Instagram, etc…
Some though may be a little lesser known:
- Google Duo: it’s my favorite way of video calling my parents and in-laws.
- Google Trusted Contacts: I don’t need to know where my family is all the time, but in case I want to quickly check up on them if I can’t reach them, this is the best low-profile solution.
- Myki (my review) + Enpass as password managers: I’m undecided, ok? So I’m currently using both.
- Jotterpad: will always be my favorite writing app on Android.
- AZ screen recorder: the best screen recorder I could find, helps me make those nice GIFs you see when reading our articles.
- Camera roll: remember QuickPic? This is the alternative. I use it because the Google Photos app doesn’t have one-tap access to locally stored pics.
- Backdrops wallpapers: the best wallpapers app, bar none. I oscillate between it and Google Wallpapers.
- Zomato: currently the Lebanese restaurant bible, I wouldn’t eat anywhere before checking the place on Zomato.
- Yummly: my favorite recipe app with great UI, tons of sources, and easy bookmarking.
- Clue period tracker: no flowers, no pink, no fuss period tracker, which lets me share my cycle with my husband. Saves us a lot of “what’s wrong with you today?” questions.
- Money Lover: one of the best expense managers there is for many reasons too long to list here.
- Add Watermark: despite an old UI, it’s still the best watermarking tool on Android now. Useful for images like the ones in this article.
Oh and, you may have noticed that I don’t have a Twitter app. That’s because I’ve bookmarked the mobile site (which is a PWA) to my homescreen. For Facebook, I just visit the mobile site when I need it.
Since I have Mac, Windows, and Chrome OS computers, I live and work inside of Chrome. It’s easier this way. When a service has both a website and a native app, I use the former all the time, except for Spotify. Beside that, the three apps I can’t live without on my Mac are Photoshop, ClipMenu (a free and awesome clipboard manager), and Moom (the best window resizing tool I’ve found).
Chrome OS apps
On my Pixelbook, I also use Chrome first and foremost. For photo editing, I have a few apps but Pixlr’s online editor remains the closest thing to Photoshop I could find. One day I’ll install Gimp on it to check it out, but for now, Pixlr does the trick.
- Spotify: after years of painstakingly managing a local music collection in iTunes, I switched to Spotify. Although the Discover Weekly playlist never gets it right, the Release Radar one helps me stay on top of my favorite artists, and the radios help with discovery. Plus, Spotify is compatible and much easier to use with all my smart speakers.
- Todoist: my pharmacy lives and dies by Todoist. All of our drug orders are managed through it, same as our out of stock list, pending credit notes, special patient orders, and more.
- Shop & Ship: without it, I wouldn’t be able to have even 10% of the things on this list. It gives me addresses all over the world and lets me easily forward any package delivered to those over to Lebanon. A must for any gadget lover living outside the US and Europe.
This is where I tell you about all the weird things I like that don’t fit in any section above. But before I do that, I need to address two important things that my life would be miserable without. The first are keyboard shortcuts; I wouldn’t use any service or app that doesn’t have them, because they’re excellent time-savers. You should see me when I’m checking hundreds of emails in Gmail… I know keyboard-fu and I’m not afraid to use it.
In the same vein are my second favorite things: Chrome custom search engines. I have 70+ search engines, and my Android Police colleagues would tell you that I bring them up anytime I get the chance to. Want to find an app on the Play Store in the US? There’s a custom search engine for that. How about the price of something on Amazon France? Sure. Maybe look for a word specifically in Cody’s teardown articles? Definitely. Something in my personal Chrome browsing history? You betcha. Anything that can be searched for on any site with any filters or parameters can become a search engine easily accessible with a few keystrokes. I love it.
Moving on to more concrete things, I have to tell you about GIR. It has nothing to do with gadgets or tech, but since I’m talking about the things I can’t live without, I had to mention it. This brand makes awesome high-quality silicone utensils for the kitchen, and I’ve already bought several of its items — the ultimate spoonula, ladle, ultimate flip, perforated spoon, scraper, baking mat, fractal tower bottle stopper, and tons of round lids. I like getting creative in the kitchen and GIR’s products are colorful and a joy to use, instead of the frustration other brands/materials bring.
And finally, I’ll mention this make-do necklace closet that we built. Every girl deserves to have such easy access to her necklaces, and this saves me minutes every morning as I can see everything clearly laid out. It also saves my husband from hearing me curse or complain. Win-win.
I didn’t think I could out-do the previous list, but I think it’s clear that I did. There is a lot more stuff mentioned here, all of it carefully researched and chosen. I hope you have fun going through the items — and maybe you’ll find some ideas for your Christmas gifts among them. If you have questions about any of my picks, let me know.
Finally, there’s one last but very important thing I need to address. When you’re as passionate about gadgets, tech, and gear as I am, you should keep in mind to recycle everything you don’t need. That’s what I do: every few months, I go through a purge, box up the things I’m no longer using and either give them away to friends/family or sell them to help purchase newer/different items. They’re better off being used by someone who needs them than sitting untouched in a drawer.
Alternate title: On the next episode of Hoarders…