As I look back on my gadgets of 2012, I think I had a very good year. There’s not a total dud in the bunch. Perhaps I’m just getting a better sense at what technology I’ll like and will use before I take the plunge. (Let’s not talk about the XBOX Kinect I bought in 2011. At least it has a new good home.)
What’s been on my 2012 list? It’s not necessarily an ordered list, but I’ll get to the best at the end.
I loved my Fitbit Ultra while I used it. It tracked my daily steps, number of flights of stairs climbed, how well I slept. Then I stopped using it.
When I was using it I enjoyed seeing my activity level and it spurred me to try to beat my own “score”. But keeping up with the Fitbit meant to that I always had to make sure it was attached to my clothes somehow though, which was a bit of an announce after a while. It would also slip off my clothes if I attached its clip on the waste of my jeans. That meant I needed to attach it to my shirt collar or somewhere else. I tried just putting it in my pocket as well, but in my pocket, I’d end up accidentally pressing the button on it and starting it’s timer, indicating I was starting some workout or had just decided to go jogging or maybe take a nap. Those little usability issues were enough to have it fall off my used device list. I still find the idea of the Fitbit interesting, but the Fitbit Ultra has been retired for me. I see the Fitbit Ultra has already been replace with the new Fitbit One. Maybe those usability issues are addressed in the newer model but I have not tried it.
The iPhone is my most used device. If asked my phone preference, I always recommend the iPhone. . Why isn’t my most-used device my favorite device? Primarily the problem with it is that its predecessor was already very good. The iPhone 4S was a great device and the iPhone 5 was only incrementally better. It’s got the problem of not needing to be better to begin with. I think this leaves room for a shake up in the whole phone arena.
The things that I don’t like about the iPhone has more to do with the Apple ecosystem. That ecosystem, built on a proprietary DRM system needlessly locks me into Apple. Luckily, I’ve been able to strip that DRM away where I need, but I don’t like having to do that. Apple isn’t the only bad corporate giant when it comes to this criticism though. The Google store has it’s own DRM as does Amazon. Basically, they all are awful when it comes to DRM. Each purchase locking you in tighter to their system. Imagine if you bought a DVD that would only play in Sharp DVD players and you being given the choice of re-purchasing all your DVDs if you decided to replace your DVD with a Sony DVD next time around. DRM doesn’t stop so-called pirates, which is it’s stated goal, and only limits the choices of people who pay for content. Ok, I’ve said my peace. Now back to the list.
13” MacBook Air
My 15” “MacBook Pro was getting a little past its prime so when the new 1” “MacBook Pro with Retina Display was announced, I thought that might be the machine for me. I hesitated though because when I traveled with the 15” MacBook Pro, I found it a little heavier than I wanted, so I started considering moving to a lighter, less powerful machine. I ended up buying the 13” “MacBook Air and I think it was the right choice. I maxed out the RAM to 8 gigs and the SSD hard drive with 500 gigs of space.
Phillips 17 watt AmbientLED light bulb
How did a light bulb make it so high on my favorite gadget list? Lighting Because it just feels right. Over the past decade or so, if you even vaguely consider yourself “aware of the environment” you’ve been sold off of traditional incandescent light bulbs in favor of something that uses less power. That usually meant you ended up with those awful fluorescent curly bulbs. I hate those things, but I’ve used them. The color of the light makes everything it touches ugly and there is a subtle flicker to them that reminds me of long lonely corridors in horror movies. Fluorescent bulbs just don’t cut it.
Perhaps it’s simply because I grew up in an era of incandescent bulbs, but I prefer the warm yellow cast that type of bulb puts out. I think it’s deeper than that though. The yellow cast in the light is reminiscent of warm sunlight and the toasty glow from a fireplace.
I’ve looked into LED lights for a year or more as a possible solution. They use less energy, satisfying that eco-need and I don’t see the “flicker” effect from them, but the color of the light has left me unhappy. They emit a bright blue color has a sterility to it I still find unsatisfying.
While shopping at a Home Depot with a friend who needed to pick up some Christmas stuff, I noticed they had a lighting display with some Phillips LED bulbs. I immediately noticed they had LED bulbs that connected to standard lamps, the type of bulbs that you screw into place. The next thing that caught my eye was the what looked like a deep yellow bulb. To look at it, you may expect it to put off a rather harsh yellow light, but that’s not really the case. That yellow color is what makes it so nice when it’s in use.
If you’re sold on one of these bulbs now, I should warn you for a bit of sticker shock. For the 40 Watt bulb, I paid $40 for a single bulb. These are not the prices you’re used to for a light bulb. Am I happy with the purchase? Absolutely. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.
The next year promises more bells and whistles in the LED light bulb field. Phillips has a high-tech set of bulbs at the Apple store now that allow you to customize the color of your light and control it with your iPhone. There is also a LED light bulb KickStarter project (of which I’m a backer), LIFX [http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/limemouse/lifx-the-light-bulb-reinvented] that promises a similar type of custom control of your home lighting.
After living with AmbientLED that I’ve already got, I think it will still ultimately be more useful than the “connected” bulb projects I just mentioned though. I just really want a bulb that has pleasant light and doesn’t require a change in how I interact with lighting in my life. Also, with LED bulbs promising over 20 years of life per bulb, those color light bulbs that rely on your iPad or phone to control will be “old tech” within 2 years while the simple bulb-the-just-works, the AmbientLED, will be fine until it burns out in 2034 after being used for 22 years.
Who would have thought light bulbs would be a hot tech gadget?
I loved my iPad, the old, big, “iPad 3”, then along came the iPad mini. I never looked back. This is the iPad I didn’t know I wanted. Since it’s arrival I haven’t used my iPad maxi since.
OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Disc Player
If you’ve shopped for a Blu-ray player, you’ve no doubt seen they seem to run between $79 - $150 and they are plentiful. In my experience, you get what you pay for though and when my most recent Samsung Blu-ray player started making high pitched noises as it tried to play my discs, I decided I wasn’t going to go for another cheap player. After investigation, I decided to go with the OPPO BDP-103. It’s $500 and it’s very impressive.
It’s primary use is as a Blu-ray player, but on it’s product page, http://www.oppodigital.com/blu-ray-bdp-103/, it’s referred to as a “Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player.” It’s played every type of disc I’ve thrown at it, but what impressed me the most is that it’s able to see my network drive, my Drobo FS [http://www.drobo.com/products/professionals/drobo-fs/], and play my video files I’ve got on my local network. I’ve tried mp4 files and MKV files. I don’t have and AVIs or Windows Media files, so I don’t know how those will play. The one “file type” I’ve not had luck with is when I’ve got a directory that is a full DVD, it doesn’t seem to recognize it as a DVD. Instead it sees it as a series of video files and will simply play those. I’ve written OPPO support an email asking about getting the player to recognize that folder structure as a DVD. It seems like it should be possible.
It’s also got a Netflix app, a VUDU app, Pandora, Rhapsody, a photo player and more and more and more. Check out the product page link and you’ll see what I mean. Read any review of this player then just get this player.
I’m a reader, and while I use my iPad mini daily, I also use my Kindle daily for reading traditional long form books. I’ve always preferred e-ink screens for reading. It feels right for long-form reading of text content. I had the previous version of the Kindle, the Kindle Touch. It was good, but I really wanted it to have a bit better contrast screen. The Kindle Paperwhite does everything right for me. It’s a single purpose device, but it succeeds at that single purpose.
The OPPO and the Kindle Paperwhite are the 2 pieces of tech that I’m loving the most while the iPhone and iPad mini are the ones I use the most often, unless you count that LED lightbulb as being used whenever its on. So 2012 was a very good gadget year.