So I was watching some "Everyday Carry Videos" and stumbled on GQ's ten essentials list. This is where a "celebrity" talks about some of their essential items. It isn't meant to be taken too seriously because obviously food, air and shelter would be on anyone's list. However, these are the things that make your life better or easier.
As a result, I decided to replace my "Favs" page with a new "Essentials" page. It is mainly some of my favorite items, but unlike the old "Favs" page, it will be easier to update as new "essentials" come along and gave me some space to discuss what I like about each thing. Just a note, I did not include my dogs or friends on this list because those things are so much more important than a list of products. As a result, I decided that it was better to leave them off.
As in past years (2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011), I am putting together a new list of my top tech. The list will contain my favorite things from the last year, even if they were available in prior years. By "tech" I am basically including any new toys, apps, etc... that I find cool and/or useful. The prices I have in the article are the current prices, but I would expect them to fluctuate between now and the end of the year.
My Favorite Tech of the Year
Apple Watch Series 4 - ($429) This wasn't an easy choice, as usual. However, this Watch can literally be a life saver with features that will call for help if you fall and the EKG features that are forthcoming. The 44mm is easier to read that the older models, you now have the ability to download audio files to listen to later with headphones, and it gets faster every year. It still isn't perfect..they should allow you to listen to podcasts on its speaker and it should have some always on clock face options. However, it is such a big step forward from prior generations that it belonged at the top of this year's list.
I got the cellular version just in case I want to use it down the road, but in hindsight the regular version makes much more sense unless you know exactly what you want to use cellular for and are willing to pay for it with your cellular company.
Sony A7 RIII - ($2798) - This camera was a game changer with its small mirrorless design, adapters that make it work with many lenses, its 42.4 megapixels, and its fantastic 4k video capabilities. My only complaint is the high price of Sony lenses and the fact that the LCD is not fully articulating. Other than that, it is close to perfection.
The Coffee Drinker
Breville BES880BSS1BUS1 Barista Touch Espresso Maker - ($1,124.77) - I have a review coming of this espresso machine. However, it is amazing because it makes it easy to make perfect espresso, cappuccino, latte, etc. with its easy to access recipes on its LCD screen. It will also let you customize and save your own recipes. It is a beautiful machine that makes great tasting coffee with ease.
Unlike other years, I do want to mention 2 other competing devices that I tried this year that are excellent in their own right:
The Nespresso Expert by Breville and the Saeco Incanto Carafe Super Automatic Espresso Machine - The Nespresso uses small pods to make great espresso every single time. I have one so I can get a variety of different flavored espresso drinks. The Saeco is more traditional because it uses real coffee beans, but they have made the process so much easier for those that just want to hit a button and be served fantastic coffee.
On the Road Backup
LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS Computer-Free in-Field Direct Backup and Power Bank with SD Reader - ($349) This is the ideal hard drive for backing up your photos no matter where you are. It works with SD cards, iPhones, iPads, computers, etc. It is the perfect solution for the road warrior.
For Every Kitchen
George Foreman GBR5750SCBQ Broil 7-in-1 Electric Indoor Grill, Broiler, Panini Press, and Waffle Maker - This is my second George Foreman grill and this one takes it to a new level. It is one of the best ways to cook fish because it locks in the juices and flavor. It is excellent for sandwiches, Panini, Waffles and so much more. The best part is that it can stand up on one end, so it takes a lot less room on my counter than the last one I owned.
HomePod - ($349) It is nearly impossible to get great sound from a speaker with such a small footprint. However, somehow, Apple had done it. They also added some smart features that enable you to tell Siri what you want it to play, turn on and off your Hue lights, etc. They recently added Airplay 2 features which means you can just tell it to "Play Sinatra on AppleTV" and music will play from your main home theater system. The one other thing that really sets it apart from the competition is the mics. You don't have to scream at it over music. It just hears the commands at a normal volume.
Smart speaker with small display
Echo Spot - ($89.99) I have one of these in my office and it accomplishes many tasks. It can display my Arlo cameras, play music on the stereo in the room (via AUX), receive a Bluetooth signal from my iPhone, control my Simple Control app, perform calculations, add new items to my grocery list, etc.
The Entertainment Center
AppleTV 4K - When I first set this up, I was shocked to see the movies I had in MoviesAnywhere were now available in 4k in Apple’s movie library. The 4k resolution is amazing, However, being able to tell the HomePod to “Play Prince in the Den” and music just comes from my main system via the AppleTV just takes everything to a new level.
For a Family of Tech Enthusiasts
NETGEAR Orbi Built-in-Modem Whole Home Mesh WiFi System - ($399) Orbi was my top rated product last year and they pushed everything to a new level. They now have a modem built in, so you can eliminate a separate modem from your setup. Of course, their mesh system is reliable and first class which makes the system worth the investment if you are having drop outs.
What's that in the sky?
Parrot Anafi Drone - ($549) - I hesitated to put this on my list because my experience with their customer service was awful. That being said, the camera on this thing is great with HDR, 4k, lossless zoom, etc. It isn't as easy to control as my DJ Mavic, but it costs half as much. Also, one day, I had the drone with me and forgot the controller and was able to have it up in the air with just my iPhone in seconds. It also charges by USB-C, so you can use a powerbank to top it off between locations.
Razer BlackWidow Elite - ($158) This is the ideal keyboard for most gamers. It has mechanical keys (which means it is nice and clicky), has macro buttons you can assign, a media wheel, adjustable RGB lighting, and its app will even allow you to control hue lights. Awesome!
Eureka InstantClear NEA120 Air Purifier - ($150) - What is more important than breathing? I can't think of anything, to be honest. This True Hepa filter captures 99.7 percent of particles in the air. The patented UV LED sterilizer is a bonus. My favorite feature is the good looks and the almost silent low setting that makes it possible to run it all the time.
Lots of great tech and I did not get to it all. Stuff I will review soon are theEufy 30C that takes Robotic vacuuming to a new level,truly wireless headphones, NVME case, and more.
There are also products that I decided not to buy or might buy later. I decided not to update my phone for another year. I am happy with my iPhone 7+ and at the current prices, I just don't see a favorable cost/benefit situation. The iPad 12.7 is delicious, but I want to wait to see if Photoshop is backward compatible when it is released. If it is, I will stick with my 9.7 inch iPad Pro. I already plan on adding the Tamron 28-75mm camera to my gear list, but if it is decent, I will put it on my list next year.
As with last year, there wasn't a lot of inexpensive gear on this year's list, but I guess you have to pay up for most really nice tech.
As I mentioned in my unboxing video post, I have two drones, but I have never flown either of them. The main point of this review is to talk about some of the best features and some of the shortfalls of the Parrot Anafi Drone. I will include some unedited video (other than clipping them to a shorter length) just to show what the footage and photos look like out of the drone.
Getting up and running couldn't have been easier. Just pop the controller and drone out of the box and charge them with any USB/USB-C charger. Getting the wings ready to fly is easier than the process with the Mavic Pro. The "wings" on that drone don't just unfold, two of them rotate around, as well. This means you have to unfold the Mavic in a specific order. The Parrot wings just pop out, so you can unfold them in any order. My Parrot Anafi had a bunch of updates to the controller and the drone, so if you plan on taking it on the road for your first flight, make sure you update it first.
Also, the drone itself comes in a nice carrying case that has a strap so you can wear it on the outside of a backpack or camera bag strap. I had to buy a case for my Mavic. The only thing I can complain about with the design is that it is a bit plasticky and the microSD card has a weird mechanism that holds it in place.
A side note related to their customer service
I received this drone for testing purposes and it came with a note from Parrot with two codes to unlock their "Follow Me"" and "Flight Plan". They were charging nearly 18 dollars per app when I received the drone. However, these codes did not work. Therefore, I called Parrot's customer service to see if they could turn them on and after talking to them over a two week period, they said they would not turn them on and that the codes expired. It should be noted that there is no expiration date on the codes they sent me.
Before I got a final answer from Parrot, these apps dropped to 99 cents each. The company would not even turn them on with that in mind? While I went ahead and bought them, it does make me wonder if someone has a much larger issue with the drone, will this company stand behind their product? Personally, I will never buy anything from Parrot because of it. When I trained to become a hazardous goods specialist several years back, the instructor said that if the outside of the box is screwed up, you can't trust that they got anything right on the inside. If you can't turn on $2 features, what does that say about how they will handle larger issues?
I really like the controller that comes with the Parrot Anafi. It is larger and heavier than the one that came with my Mavic Pro, but I feel like it is worth the extra heft in this case. The knobs on the back for controlling the camera are fantastic. The mounting of the phone above the controller seems to make more sense than the below the controller mount of my Mavic. Also, it uses tension to hold in the phone, while the Mavic has little arms that will hold the phone in. The Mavic has two independent antennas, while the Parrot's antennas are built right into the controller. All in all, with the quick unfolding of the body and the quick mounting of the phone, it is just faster and easier to get everything setup and get the drone in the air.
With 21 megapixels, HDR, 4k, Hyper lapse modes, lossless zoom, etc. there isn't much to complain about. The camera is fantastic and the many features are great.
Below is an example of the hyperlapse mode:
Below is an unedited photos straight from the camera:
Below has an example of the smooth zoom feature. I know these aren't cinematic examples, but I think you can get an idea of the features with these videos. I should mention that the camera can shoot 4k, but I saved them in 1080p for the website:
How it handles
The Parrot handles well and has great features like hand held take off, automatically return to home, has about 25 minutes of flight time, is very quiet, and can travel at speeds of around 35 miles an hour.
While the gimbal is amazing and can travel a full 180 degrees, it only has 3 axis stabilization, so it is slightly more unstable than the Mavic Pro in the wind. The big downfall is the lack of obstacle avoidance. I actually crashed it into a tree because of the tight space of my yard, the number of trees in the area, and the fact that I am a novice. That being said, it fell 10 feet, but there were no noticeable problem with the drone, other than it was a bit dirty.
Overall, I think the Mavic handles a bit better and has obstacle avoidance. The other upside is that there are third party apps like the one from Litchi.
My final thoughts
For my needs, the lossless zoom, 180 degree rotation of the lens, and the great camera are enough to keep this drone in my collection. However, if I had to choose between it and the DJI, I would go with DJI because Parrot's customer service was disappointing at best. I have never dealt with DJI, but I can't imagine that it could be much worse. Also, the DJI Mavic Pro just feels sturdier and the object avoidance is a great feature. That being said, it was more expensive, but I bet deals can be had on Ebay.
Just a quick unboxing of my Parrot Anafi Drone. Hopefully, I will have a full review available in the next month.
Anyone that knows me, knows I love gadgets, so I am not easily impressed. However, the Lacie DJI Copilot BOSS Computer-Free in-Field Direct Backup and Power Bank with SD Reader, 2000GB + 1mo Adobe CC All Apps (2TB) truly impressed me. This review will be longer than my typical review, but hopefully, it will help answer questions for those in the market for such a device.
First off, the packaging was first class. It reminded me of the excellent packaging you get from Apple. Secondly, they provided several cables and a power cable that came with many different connectors for traveling abroad. Most importantly, it looks rugged in its rubbery skin. The main cable that they provide for your phone or tablet tucks nicely into the device and the cable can be run around and tucked into a slit in the surface of the rubber. Then, you can use a removable rubber piece to cover the plugs so they aren’t exposed to the elements. My preference would have been for the rubber piece to stay connected, but it is a separate piece you don’t want to lose.
I thought this device would be a great way to back up SD cards on the road in case one of them got corrupted and this would save me from having to keep that second SD card backup that I use with my A7RIII. In other words, I just pop out my card, pop it into the Copilot and it will start to copy after hitting the “action button”. The LCD screen, which is very minimal, so don’t get too excited, will show you when the SD card is finished copying. At that point, I store the card and then reformat the second backup card and use it for shooting. This gives me a backup on the road without losing an additional SD card in the process. While I would prefer some way to actually see the photos that are copying on the screen, it is nice that I can just pop the iPhone out of my pocket and verify my photos are there (more about that later).
As I mentioned, the iPhone, which I always have on me, can connect to the device with their provided cable. I am a little bit concerned about what will happen if I lose this cable because I checked and didn’t see it for sell on Amazon. Maybe I will contact Lacie and see if I can buy a couple spares. I did test this with the mini-USB to lightning bolt cable that came with my Blue Raspberry Microphone, but it did not work.
When you use this with an iPhone, you download the CoPilot Boss app. This app was of great use to me. You can plug in an SD card or a USB thumb drive or both into the drive and access files on those devices directly from the iPhone, even when they files have not been copied to the drive. When a file format is not natively compatible, you can tell the app to use another app to view them. In my case, that was Infuse and VLC which I already had installed on my phone. I tested playing movies, Flac files, WMA lossless files, etc and the app found a way to play them or it would hand them off to another app that couple play them. This is ideal trips where you want to access music or movies from a thumb drive without taking up space on the Copilot drive, tablet, or phone. I should mention that I also tested this app on my iPad and it works the same way. Of course, files can move both ways. You can save them from the device or backup to the device.
One thing I did notice that is that the app showed my RAW Sony A7RIII on the screen with no problem. However, if I copied them to my iPhone, the Photos app does not see them. However, I could open them up with Lightroom and edit them and save them. I just have to get used to a bunch of blank files in my Photos app until Apple supports the format in iOS. It is fantastic that the file can be reviewed directly from the CoPilot app, though.
When using with a computer, it doesn’t require a separate app. I believe I had to hit the action button the first time I used it, but I haven’t found that necessary every time. I think that if you have used it with the computer once before and the CoPilot is on, it will just show up as an external drive. Anything connected to it…SD card or thumb drive will also show up in the computer’s menu of drives. This is so helpful for recent MBP owners if you don’t want to carry along a bunch of “dongles”. I was curious whether it could handle non-storage devices, so I plugged my DragonFly DAC into the Copilot and the computer recognized it as an audio device and it played back audio through the Dragonfly without any issues. Obviously, I am not commenting on whether sound quality is effected by this type of setup versus using a dongle, but I was happy to see that it works as a “dongle” for other devices.
Is this device perfect? No, the LCD could be better. I would prefer the detachable cover actually stayed attached. However, this device is ideal for my needs. It lets me transfer files, view them on my iPad and iPhone and copy them or backup my devices to its 2 terabyte drive. It also works to allow me to see (or backup) external devices plugged into it, which is ideal for those of us using MacBooks. Heck, in a pinch, it can be used to power your phone or tablet! This is easily one of my favorite, most useful, tech products. As you can tell, I am extremely happy with this device! Now I just have to find out how to get some backup cables!
I got the George Foreman grill mainly for making sandwiches at lunch and it hasn't failed to impress. I warm it up while I am putting together the sandwiches and I just throw them on for a few minutes and the bread it toasted and the cheese is melted.
I have also used the open sided sandwich attachment and it is awesome. It melts the cheese without making a mess. I have also cooked sausage and salmon on it and it comes out great. Just like cooking on any grill, you just have to watch the temperature of what you are cooking so it doesn't get overdone.
I have had George Foreman grills in the past and have never used the waffle plates. I did this time. You have to be careful not to overfill the plate or you will have a mess to clean up. (speaking from experience) However, they came out perfectly.
Clean up is typically easy because you can remove the plates with a touch of a button and pop them into the dishwasher. However in my experience, they don't always get perfectly clean, so a trip to the sink for a quick rubdown is sometimes necessary.
The power cord is pretty short, but it works for my needs. Also, while this unit is bulkier than my old George Foreman grill, it takes up less space when it isn't in use. It can stand up and be moved close to a wall (see top photo). It takes up much less space than my Kitchen Aide Mixer or any number of devices I have in my kitchen. Just make sure you wait for it to cool down and clean the plates before storing it.
I love this machine. The ability to control the temperature means I can cook pretty much anything on it. This level of control was not available on my prior George Foreman grill, so I am very happy with this unit. It has become the most used device in my kitchen. I have used it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it has never failed to impress.
I just wanted to put down some of my initial thoughts of Apple's newest announcements.
Personally, I only have an interest in the Max because prefer large displays. It looks pretty awesome, but that price makes me wonder if I should hold onto my decent iPhone 7 Plus and wait another year. Maybe I am getting close to the law of diminishing returns at this point? It is just hard to justify when I am not a fan of the notch or FaceID in comparison to the old phones with the chin and the forehead. The upside is the processing power that makes "computational" photography even better with DOF adjustment after the picture is taken. Also, OLED looks fantastic.
Just not sure it is worth the money for my needs, even with the payment plans that make it fairly affordable.
Apple Watch 4
While I have to complain about the lack of an option to leave the watch face on all the time, this watch is pretty fantastic. Of course, I am rocking the Original Apple Watch, so speed updates alone are a big deal. However, the new larger face makes it easier to read, the GPS features, and the new health features make me want to jump in and buy one. I am waiting to read more reviews before I get to excited and pull out my wallet. I don't really want a cellular payment plan, so I would probably end up with the $429 model.
I wrote about my initial impressions of the HomePod in prior articles, but Apple has updated it with one great new feature called AirPlay 2. This already works with AppleTV 4 and 4k. However, they also updated 2012 and later Airport Express units.
The thing that makes this so great with these other devices is that you can now say something like "Hey Siri, play Prince in the Den" and music can play over the stereo or home theater system you have connected to your AppleTV.
For me, this means, I can use voice control to send audio to my main music setup or the multiple setups I have around the house connected to an AppleTV or Airport Express.
The Microphones are Underestimated
All the reviews comparing the HomePod to Alexa mention some of Siri's current shortfalls. I understand that because I also have three Amazon Dots and an Amazon Spot. They have their upsides, so there is no argument there.
However, the thing that is often missed is that the HomePod can hear commands in loud rooms much better than any of my Echo devices. If I can listen to music and ask the HomePod to change what is playing in a normal voice without screaming, then I am more likely to use the feature. Of course, with the AppleTV, you get beautiful artwork and/or fantastic 4k screensavers:
iOS and Airplay 2
Of course, you don't have to own a HomePod, though it makes things ultra-convenient. You can simply use iOS with Airplay 2. This allows you to send the same audio stream to all of your Airplay 2 devices in sync, including the HomePod. It will also let you send a different audio stream to each Airplay 2 compatible device. It is a notable feature that has been missing from iOS for years. It always seemed strange to me since the WHAALE app allowed some of these features with the prior version of Airplay!
In the photo below, you can see that I am sending Prince to the Bedroom and Den. AC/DC is playing in the Living Room and Nirvana is playing in the Office.
In the picture below, I simply changed the Living Room from AC/DC and added it to the Prince audio stream.
For me, this is a long awaited feature that will keep me in Apple's ecosystem for a long time to come. It adds flexibility, ease of use, and great sound to nearly every room in my house!
The Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System with built in cable modem was packaged well. I should mention that I already have an Orbi router and one satellite, but the idea of getting a cable modem/Wi-Fi router combo would mean getting rid of one more device in my cluttered office and it also allowed me to expand my network by one extra satellite. One thing that is noticeable is that this satellite is smaller than the original Orbi satellite, which makes it less noticeable on the shelf in your living room or bedroom.
As I said, I was already using Orbi at home and I have had a great experience. This prior ownership experience gave me confidence with going with this new Orbi to replace both my modem and my Wi-Fi router. In my old configuration, I was actually using a Netgear cable modem, a TP Link router with Wi-Fi turned off, and an Orbi router for wifi only. It was a bit cumbersome, but I felt like it saved me time with the setup, but I lost some of Orbi's networking features in that process. This new setup is all in on Orbi.
The setup was straight forward. You connect power and the coax cable and you wait for lights to turn blue. I then connected all my Ethernet cables that were feeding my TP Link and I was ready to set it up. I added the satellite that came with this Orbi using a Mac and I then connected to XFinity and it took about 20 minutes for them to set up my new router. I should mention that it was taking so long from my Mac that I logged into the page from my iPhone and the setup went a lot faster. After that, I reset my old satellite from my prior Orbi system and synced it to the new router. It was all straight forward and I was up and running.
I then tested speeds and I was surprised at the speeds I was getting from Xfinity to my iPhone. They showed a 175mbps down and almost 12 mbps up! Very fast! Also, I went out in the yard and had a great signal no matter where I went.
The app, in my experience, has been hit or miss. Yes, I was able to get it up and running and see my other devices on the network, and turn on and off the Guest network. However, when I set it up for Remote Access, so I could control certain features via Alexa, it would work, but after using the feature it would make it impossible to use my apps. In other words, I would tell Alex to have Netgear turn off my Guest Network, which it would do, but then my router became unreachable from the Orbi app. I always need to restart the Obi modem/router to get everything up and running properly again. To me, this defeats the whole point of using Alexa to control the router.
The Circle app (with Disney) would definitely be useful for those with kids. You can block certain sites from individual devices on the network. I tested this by creating a test user on my iPad and blocking Youtube. I could not access it from the app or a webpage. The Circle app has a premium side, too. However, I only tested the free features and they would be useful if I didn't live alone.
All in all, I am happy with the Orbi modem/router and satellite. I don't often manage my network after initial setup, so some of the weird issues I experienced with Alexa aren't really a problem for my typical use. I want a reliable wifi network, that is fast, and easy to setup and the Orbi fits my needs.
Dog loving, Big Green Egg worshiping, Tech enthusiast, residing in Memphis, TN. Home of the Tigers, Grizzlies, Elvis, Al Green, Stax, Hi Records, Ardent Studios, Beale Street, Peabody Ducks, etc.. I have also added the Jeep Wrangler to the list of things I am enthusiastic about.
Flickr pics below