CategoryTools I Use

Tools I use (Dec 2012 updates)

T

That beautiful moment.

I’ve been posting the Tools I Use, ie my gadget and tech setup, a few times by now. It’s a simple way to help share recommendations, and just like The Setup, which I’m somewhat addicted to, it can help others figure out their own tech setup. So here goes another one, as I’ve recently updated a few things.

Galaxy S III

I was a bit miffed when I learned that Google would start selling the Nexus 4 (the pure Android flagship phone) just after I had bought my S III, but I realized I’ll be quite happy with it for awhile to come. The size takes some getting used to – the thing is huge! – but now I have a hard time imagining to go back to anything smaller. (It’s funny how fast we adapt to these things.)

There’s on drawback for the S III, and that’s the software it ships with. As it’s not straight from Google, it comes with Samsung’s flavor of Android, in other words an extra layer of software on top of the operation system. That has a number of advantages and drawbacks.

Pro: The software is customized to fit the hardware perfectly. For example, the photo software that it ships with is lightning fast.

Con: Anything else. It’s less well designed, it’s full of bloatware (although not as bad as expected). My biggest problem with not having the pure Android experience is that it takes much, much longer to get the most recent updates. So currently I’m running it on a Cyanogen mod nightly build, which is all good and fine for me personally, but if you just want to use your phone and not spend a few hours geeking out with your phone to take full control, it’s a bit of a turn-off.

That said, with the Samsung layer scraped off it’s a brilliant phone. (And if you’re not as obsessed with getting any bloatware of your phone as I am, the out-of-the-box version you’d buy might still be brilliant.)

I love how Android has been evolving more recently, and have less and less phantom pain for not having access to iOS by the day. This is a purely personal preference, of course, but I live inside the Google-verse, and hate a lot of the product decisions Apple has made over the last few years, like stronger iTunes and Facebook integration just to name a few. But I digress.

Long story short: I fully recommend the S III, but buying now I might go for the equally powerful and less pricey Google Nexus 4.

Nexus 7

Another member of the Android family, I just got a Nexus 7 tablet. (The 7 stands of the screen size of 7 inches.) It’s the larger model with built-in 3G support, so I can take it on the road. Relying on wifi too much isn’t my thing. The setup, thanks to the Google cloud, is extremely fast and comfortable, and moving all Android apps to the new device is a fast, painless, simple process. Never having owned an iPad, I can’t speak to how it compares directly. What I can tell, though, is that the Nexus tablet has instantly found a good place in my daily routines and workflows. The killer for me is the ability to read anywhere that’s not my laptop, where too many distractions (like work) will keep me from reading longer texts. So I send articles mostly via Pocket (formerly Read It Later) for comfortable consumption. That, and occasional surfing or watching a video while traveling, has been quite enjoyable and I can see that last for awhile.

Kindle

Still going strong: my old Kindle. For books, it’s not going anywhere.

Mac Air

Also just upgraded to a new Mac Air, but since I just set it up and there’s not that much difference over the old models except for the usual evolutionary performance upgrades, there’s not much to say except: While not a machine for developers or if you render a lot of videos, it’s more than powerful enough for your average power user like me. Just make sure to buy the top of the line model with the extra RAM and larger SSD drive and it won’t disappoint.

Tools I Use (September 2012 edition)

T

objects

As a geek, it’s one of my duties and privileges to occasionally give tech & gadget advice. Sometimes to companies, more often to friends and family. I try to collect that stuff online under the tag Tools I Use. Here’s a snapshot of some of the gadgets and tools I’m currently using, and why:

Macbook Air

I’m still on a Macbook Air of about two years of age, about to be replaced. It’s my main & only computer, and I’m on it all day, every day. The Air has enough power for almost anything I encounter day to day, and its super lightweight design makes more than up for the occasionally over-powered processor. Of course, an external screen is nice and recommended. More screen real estate is good.

Nexus S v Galaxy S3

I loved my Nexus S phone, pure Android goodness. But it’s old now, and about to die. Time to let it go.

After years on various Android phones, I was (once more) just about ready to jump ship and switch over to iPhone. Initially I went to Android because it was more open than Apple’s iOS platform, then admittedly because I didn’t want to admit to myself that Google’s competitor isn’t as open as it set out to be. Both platforms by now try to lock you into their ecosystems, and both by now have pretty mature ecosystems, too.

While I consider the hardware design, by now, more eye candy than the software & platform aspects, on the design front the new iPhone kicks the Samsung Galaxy S3’s ass any day. (Same goes for naming conventions, as the last sentence easily demonstrates.)

That said, back to platforms and software: My mail and calendar live at Google. I don’t like iTunes. And I prefer Google Maps over Apple’s less mature mapping tools. (I hear very good things about Nokia maps, but hey, you can’t have it all.) So any promise the iPhone can give me about better integrating iCloud, iTunes or Apple’s calendar and email sounds to me more like a bug than a feature. I understand why many people opt for the Apple-verse, but when the road forked way back when, with one road leading to Apple lock-in and the other leading to (slightly less total) Google lock-in, I made a choice, and now it seems not worth switching.

My new phone is the Samsung Galaxy S3, the current top-of-the-line Android phone, the flagship model.

To get a better hands-on feeling for iOS, I guess I’ll just get an iPad. Using both platforms in parallel will both maximize friction and transaction costs, and give me a good side by side comparison. It’s the price I have to pay for geeking out.

Camera

I don’t really use any camera besides my phone. I’m on the market for a super compact model, but for almost any given context the phone camera should be good enough.

Headphones

For heavy duty, loud contexts (long plane rides, New York subway, etc) I use Audio Technica Quietpoint noise cancelling phones.

For the day to day, including sports and lots of conference calls, I’m quite happy with my Bose IE2 in-ears. Being in-ears, there’s lots of cable to get tangled up, but sound quality and fit are quite good. It’s not easy to find a good mix of headset and in-ears, and I’ve used them for the last nine months or so and am quite content with them.

Extra battery

On more intense days, my phone battery won’t make it through the day. So I frequently need some extra juice. A simple, if not particularly elegant solution is an external battery pack. I use one from TeckNet, which (like the name indicates) is a bit of a plasticky, cheap-ish affair. Yet, it works. And the current models actually look at least superficially like they might have improved in overall quality. Whichever brand you use, it’s good to have an extra charge of connectivity in your pocket.

Travel gear

  • Everyday backpack: Mission Workshop Rambler. Excellent, and just the right size and pocket layout for laptop & the necessary gadgets, extra jacket/sweatshirt, water bottle and all the cables, etc, that keep adding up.
  • Carry on: Rimowa IATA Cabin Trolley (two wheels). Hard to beat, and can take a beating. Heavy, but I like the aluminum finish. (The other materials are more light-weight.) Just big enough for 3-4 days of clothes and running shoes if you travel light.
  • Backpack for longer intense trips: Eagle Creek. Not sure which model, but I think it’s what they would now have updated to Rincon Vita. Light weight, huge volume, pretty much indestructible.

All of them are a bit on the pricy side, but are reliable, durable, feature a decent minimalistic design. I wouldn’t leave my home without them.

More recommendations

Helpful? If you’re into tool recommendations, I highly recommend Kevin Kelly’s fantastic Cool Tools.

Tools I Use: MediaTemple for Hosting

T

MediaTempleFed up with your hosting service prodider’s lousy service, endless hotline calls and slow email response times? Been there, done that. After almost 10 years at 1&1, I’ve had enough. Lucky for me, I had a chat with Johannes Kleske who recommended MediaTemple. I switched, and I don’t regret it a bit.

To call MediaTemple (MT) a small indie host wouldn’t really do them justice, since they aren’t so small after all (MT’s about page). However, it feels just like you’re talking to your local corner hosting shop, so to speak. You drop them a line, you get your answer right away. You don’t get annoying marketing emails. The help section and FAQs work, and in fact contain solutions to most of your problems. (Take that, 1&1!)

What’s more important, though, is that everything just works a charme and is set up very smartly. Example? One-click installations for tools like WordPress or Drupal give you a fresh WordPress when you need, it hardly takes a minute. No more screwing around with FTP or your databases (unless you want to). I’m told MT’s hosting architecture scales very well in case your blog ends up on Digg or Slashdot, but haven’t tested that one yet. Oh, and if you have other users’ email accounts to manage, worry not: You just send them a link to their own admin panel and they can take care of it themselves, you won’t even be involved in their password retrieval process.

MT give you reasonable (bordering excessive) data limits. My hosting plan (MT’s smallest, the GridService) gives me 100GB of storage, 1TB of transfer, and what seems to be a very stable architecture for a mere $20/month.

I switched to MediaTemple, and I’m not planning to leave them anytime soon. If you’re unhappy with your host (or maybe just not overly happy), my recommendation goes to MediaTemple.

What is all this about? Quite often I get asked by friends and colleagues what tools I use for certain tasks. Just as often, I ask them the same question: Word of mouth recommendations top most other research when it comes to getting things done. That’s why I started collecting my recommendations in a loose series of posts titled “Tools I Use” (see more recommendations).