The common theme in 2012 has been 'wireless'
The year has left some remarkable new showpiece apps, games and gadgets. During 2012 I have posted about some of the most interesting ones I've found, leaving many on the drafting pad. This is the perfect opportunity to make a list of the gadgets that have made the year a little bit more pleasurable — not necessarily all the cool things that came out — just the ones I chose to buy and use. Spoiler alert: no iPhone 5* or iPad minis** allowed here!
MacBook Air (mid-2012)
My first and only Mac has been a white polycarbonate MacBook from 2006. To give you some perspective, this thing was running Tiger and wouldn't support Lion. Being in love with such a vintage machine meant I couldn't settle for anything other than a laptop with Retina Display: if I have to say goodbye to my first love, I want it to be a great machine.
When the first Retina Display enabled computer was announced, it didn't really click with me. I realised I wasn't willing to become an early adopter for a thing that I could use for another six years easily, like the white MacBook. My eyes turned instead to the Air range, a veteran category in Apple's lineup that has evolved over the years from a portable solution for executives on the go to an entry-level netbook killer.
My decision to go for a full spec 13-inch 2 GHz Intel Core i7 with 8GB of RAM on a 'try and tested' machine will hopefully give me hours of computing joy. The most notable improvements are the fast start-up times, quick solid-state drives and the operating system. Why not? I didn't get to try Lion! Waiting so long for a laptop upgrade has allowed me to jump into the best version of an amazing product that has been improved over the last four years.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Under the impression this would take ages to be released in the UK, I decided to jump on it immediately as soon as Amazon brought its best ebook reader to date to the European market. The evolution of these things has been amazing, improving at a pace I could not have predicted when I bought my first ebook reader, a Sony PRS-505 Reader in 2008. The entry price is also ridiculously low on these gadgets, so upgrading from a perfectly good Kindle Wi-Fi keyboard to one with touch screen and built-in light was a no brainer.
The Paperwhite is smaller than an iPad mini**, incredibly prone to smudges and surprisingly low on physical buttons. Along with a snappier e-ink refresh rate and responsive touch controls, the new interface is a big bonus. I don't make folders with books and journals anymore. Everything is on the cloud without any logical organisation, so why bother? It's as mysterious as Apple's 'Documents in the Cloud' but it works.
The lighting? You can tell this is a first-gen attempt. Hey, you can read in bed without disturbing your partner or destroying your eyesight. It works. This isn't a product as expensive or well-finished as an iPad, for example, so I'm way more motivated to take it with me anywhere. I'm not worried if it ever gets broken, dirty, lost or stolen. The important stuff, the books, are safe in the cloud somewhere. I carry it either naked or on a cheap Shocksock neoprene sleeve in my coat pocket.
The new iPad with Retina Display (AKA iPad 4)
I fell for 'the new iPad'; this being the third version of Apple's tablet. Replaced seven months later by surprise by a similar model with beefier processor and a new charging connector, I chose to upgrade. Even if the sales assistant at the Apple Store wouldn't believe how stupid I was to do this and kept recommending the 'almost-sold-out' iPad mini**. Maybe the new sales training for blondes doesn't say some Apple customers are nerds.
Since I have sold all my previous iPads when a new version comes out, it was almost irresponsible not to sell this iPad 3. At least that's what I told my friends. Notice Apple still sells the iPad 2 alongside the newest iPad 4, so my basic model still had some value in the second hand market.
I cannot say much about the iPad other than in 2012 I upgraded my tablet twice. That makes me look like moron I guess. I like the form factor and the capabilities of this machine rather than smaller 7" tablets such as the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD or iPad mini** that were the trend of the year.
Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speaker
As part of very nice Christmas present I got to solve one of the first world problems my home was facing. How to bring all the digital music content to every room in the house. Having an audiophile at home didn't make the issue any easier so we finally settled for this model from Bose — a manufacturer with some reputation when it comes to sound quality.
The Bose SoundLink is a heavy and expensive piece of equipment leaning on the bass side. A very rich bass if you ask me that varies on how you position the device. The unusual setup using two speakers so close to each other and a subwoofer all packed in the same box makes it unfair to compare it with more traditional setups. Of course, there's an audio quality loss associated with the Bluetooth transfer itself too.
I can't deny a wireless speaker is something extremely convenient on the paper. After a full year the initially beloved wireless Bose hasn't become the centre of the house as I had expected. There are some constrains having to pair not less than five Bluetooth-capable devices to playback audio in the house. Also, it just tends to run out of battery when you need it most. Instead of looking for the charger I found myself grabbing my old trusty Koss Porta Pro headphones plenty of times.
Having experimented with Kickstarter ventures such as the Hidden radio, the Bose SoundLink feels like an excellent speaker with a very decent audio output for music and not so much for podcasts and radio. Good stuff.
Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad
I do a fair bit of writing on my iPad and the touch keyboard has never been any issue for me. I know some people have a hard time getting used to it but this isn't my case. I'm quite used to it, actually. And that's the problem. The lack of physical feedback and being unable to rest my fingers on the display made me develop a weird hunt and peck typing technique.
For my day job, I need to keep a decent typing rate. In order to avoid bad habits developing I got myself a wireless keyboard. Counting on the customer reviews from Amazon or Argos (UK readers know what I mean) can be a real miss. Thankfully, Federico Viticci of MacStories put together an in-depth review of this Logitech keyboard that gave me the confidence to buy it without even testing the unit before. Apart from the odd decision in the placement of some keys I really love it — on the picture at the top of the post you can see I'm not the only one!
If I could change something, I would remap the key combination used to delete forward on the Mac (like the Del key on PCs) as it triggers the home button behaviour and it exits the app. You don't know how many times iA Writer has closed this way. Apart from that, it's a great keyboard with a nice case that doubles as an iPad stand. After this purchase I've also been more aware of the peripherals by Logitech — a brand I considered focused on Windows machines — and the amount and quality of iPad gadgets they bring to the market. Willing to try more from Logitech in the future.
This multi-purpose plasticine-like product to fix and hack your gadgets has been in my drawer for months. Only when my iPhone charging cable started peeling I remembered I could use a bit of Sugru as advertised on the box. It also comes in small sachets that make them look like a box of condoms, which I don't think it helps marketing them.
The thing is that I had a big pack of them handy when I needed them after a long time thinking Sugru was a gimmick. It actually works, it's fun and has a great finished feel once it dries. The website has a lot of cool uses if you want to know more about it.
To give you an idea, I'm in the process of 'fixing' all my iPhone 30-pin connector cables so I know the right way to plug them even at night with the lights off. Yes, remember those cords prior Lightning can be only plugged one way? There you go, put a little Sugru ball on one side to immediately recognise by touch the right way to plug it to your gadget.
The OCD chef wooden chopping board
Uniting my passion and my obsession disorder comes the OCD chopping and cutting board (also sold as The Obsessive Chef). This was one of those presents that feel someone has commissioned right for you and really appreciate it.
If a recipe calls for fine julienne, there you have it. This wooden plank is engraved with some serious measurements, including angles (!) You can finally allow others to help you with the ingredient prep knowing they can follow your rigorous instructions — You'll use the board once the job is done to check those carrot dices are exactly 2mm wide and perfectly cut at a square angle. Not only funny, I find it very useful. It's just too precious to use it everyday though.
Braun Oral-B Toothbrush + Smart Guide
I said the theme of this year's gadgets was 'wireless' and I'm going to finish it off with a toothbrush. No, it doesn't pair with an iPhone app. That would be awesome.
After the battery of my old electric toothbrush died and the dentist confirmed it's actually alright to use them if you do it properly, I went and looked for a new one. Fortunately, Amazon had some impressive discount on this model that comes with a number of totally superfluous features. The truth is, they remind me I need to brush my teeth after every meal.
Along with multiple brushing modes, softer and harder, a variety of rhythms and three heads, there's the Smart Guide. Should I say the wireless Smart Guide. This is a digital clock you put on a shelf or stick it on the wall to track the time you've been brushing your teeth. Nothing less than two minutes or the happy face on the display won't be so happy. It also tells you with a red light if you're pressing too hard on your gums, which you wouldn't find out otherwise. I could do with a normal brush, but hey, this is way more fun.
iPhone 5 We cannot deny this deserves to be in everyone's best gadget of the year list. Maybe some other smartphones as well. In this list I'm talking about the one's I've used during the year and unfortunately, I still have some months on my carrier contract for my iPhone 4S. *Not included because iPhone 7S will be better
iPad mini I love the form factor but I've chosen the big tablet display its older brother offers. Not so keen on the non Retina Display to be honest with you. I know in two or three generations this product will rock, so it's only a matter of waiting using more capable gadgets. *Not included because iPad mini 6 will be better
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