A couple of years ago, inspired by one of my friend, Georgia Dow's, talks on de-cluttering, I decided I was going to buy less but better. Instead of a lot of cheap stuff, I'd have to replace every few years, I was going to buy very few things of much better quality that would hopefully last much longer. It does mean controlling a lot of impulse buying impulses, and suppressing a lot of tech-lust, but so far, so great. With all of that in mind, here's the best of what I bought this year, including what I'm buying for those I care about most.
12. Tumi Alpha Bravo Knox Backpack
Kevin Michaluk recommended the Tumi Alpha Bravo Knox Backpack to me when we were at CES last year. I was slugging around a giant camera sling, and complaining about it, and he was zipping around with an impossible amount of stuff stuffed into an impossibly small pack. Which is very Kevin.
After a couple more trips to the West Coast, though, where the unilateral weight of my sling was starting to cause me neck pain and other postural problems, I decided I needed to make the change. And I'm glad I did.
The Knox really does feel like a bag of holding. It seems tiny, but when my colleagues Serenity Caldwell, Mark Guim, and I were in New York City for the iPhones 6s launch, I managed to stuff more boxes, cases, and gear inside than nature or physics should allow. I even snuck my Canon 5D Mark III in there on many occasions without a problem, and with tons of room to spare.
The inside pockets are a little floppy for my liking, so I do need to be careful to make sure I get my MacBook or iPad into the dedicated slot, and the charger into its pocket, but otherwise it's brilliant. I use the two external side pockets for my iPhone/iPad charger and Apple Watch chargers. I have pens, straps, and a battery pack, and other gear in the front pockets. And I have room for what seems like tons of stuff inside.
Just don't tell Kevin he was right.
11. Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
I bought the Baratza Virtuoso coffee grinder a couple of years ago but gave it to my mom after her blade grinder conked out on her. Because blade grinder. This year I went looking for a new grinder but couldn't find anything I liked better. So I bought it again.
At first glance, the Baratza Virtuoso seems like overkill. It costs quite a bi, it takes up a lot of space, and it's a uni-tasker. I know. But if coffee isn't a commodity for you, if it's something you enjoy from the smell of roasting beans to first grind to press to sip, then it's an amazingly great indulgence.
Just fill it with beans—I still subscribe to Blue Bottle—and either set the timer and hold down the button and it produces a consistent grind every time. Then you're just one short AeroPress away from pure coffee bliss.
10. Sony a7R II
I'm almost cheating by including the Sony a7R II since I only just ordered it. I've been using a Canon 5D Mark III for a few years now, and I love it, but it's really big and using it for long periods of time is really draining. (Lightning helps usability, who'd have thought it??). I'd been eyeing the Sony a7R II since it was announced, and everyone I know who has one, from Leo Laporte to Marco Arment, really seems to love it, so I finally decided to go for it.
I use the iPhone 6s Plus to shoot most of the time now, but there are still enough situations where I want the absolute best sensors and glass available. That used to mean a big DSLR. Now I'm eager to see what a mirrorless system brings.
The new MacBook isn't for everyone. It's cutting edge technology at a cutting edge price. Intel's Core M only goes so far. There's one port, a 720p iSight, and an all-new, all-shallow keyboard. Even so, the new MacBook is amazing. It's the closest thing to an iPad the Mac has ever gotten, and that means what it lacks in power it more than makes up for in portability—I can fit it in the inside pocket of my travel jacket.
The Retina display is fantastic. It's finally a small computer with a large amount of pixels. The new keyboard is more than fine for me—I don't even notice it anymore. And the Force Touch Trackpad, for me, is better than the physical trackpads have been in ages.
If you need a lot of power or ports, allow me to gently walk you over to the MacBook Pro table. If you need something to travel with, and you want a taste of the future of laptops but you want it today, I'd highly recommend the new MacBook.
8. LEGO Ideas Doctor Who
LEGO Ideas is where anyone can go and submit a design for a LEGO set. It's how we've gotten everything from Back to the Future to Big Bang Theory. And this month, it's how we got Doctor Who. If you're a gamer, you can get the LEGO Dimensions level set. If you're a builder, you can get this.
You get both Eleven and Twelve, because bow-ties are cool, and attack eyebrows are... attacky, and Clara Oswald. You also get a couple of LEGO Daleks and a Weeping Angel. So. Don't. Blink.
For the last few years, I've been adding LEGO sets to my podcast studio background. First Batman's Arkham Asylum. Then the Star Wars Mos Eisley Canteena and, most recently, the Avengers Tower and Quinjet. The Doctor will be joining them shortly.
7. Hue lights for HomeKit
I've been using Hue lights for a while. I love that I can watch Star Wars with my lights set to the reds and yellows of a Tatooine sunset, the Abyss is deepest blues, the Matrix in machine green, and the list goes on and on. I can even pop some solar whites when Winter drear has me down.
What HomeKit adds, though, is incredible—Siri voice control for the entire home. "Hey Siri, turn on my kitchen lights!" "Hey Siri, turn the studio lights to purple!" "Hey Siri, turn the bedroom lights to 20%". "Hey Siri, crash the compound!"
I can yell at my iPhone if it's close enough, but I can also just whisper to my Apple Watch. Sure, flipping a switch is faster, but voice is way more fun. I can also say "turn on the living room lights" just as I start walking down the hall and they're on by the time I get there. It's especially great when my hands are full and switches wouldn't be possible.
I've also got an iHome HomeKit plug that I can use to turn on a fan, space heater, or right now the LED panels in my studio. And I can't wait to add more!
6. Apple TV
Yes, the new Apple TV was both too long in coming and too unfinished out the door, but it's still a terrific improvement over the previous generation. Since cutting the cable cord a few years ago, the Apple TV, iTunes, and Netflix have been my primary sources for video entertainment. I buy movies and season passes for what I want to keep and watch repeatedly, and I rent or way and binge on what I just want to watch once. It's a great pairing.
That the new Apple TV runs apps is great. That none of the Canadian TV networks have bothered to release apps for it is disappointing in the extreme. Even so, the games are fun, especially with the SteelSeries Nimbus controller, as are the fitness apps. What I really love, though, is the Siri integration. I can simply hold down a button, say, "Show me the latest episode of Doctor Who" and the clever boy shows up ready to run.
If I've bought something in iTunes, it shows up ready to play. If it's available in Netflix, it's front and center. If not, and I can buy it, it gives me that option as well. And although missing at launch, Siri for Apple Music and Apple Remote app for iPhone and Apple Watch are both there and working now as well. Outstanding.
I'm giving Apple TV's to all my immediate family members for the holidays. It's the epitome of a gift that keeps on giving.
5. Global Knives
A couple of years ago I took advantage of the Boxing Day Sales (think Black Friday but for Canadians and right after Christmas) to get a set of Global knives. I love cooking and right after time and temperature, I'd argue knives are one of the most important things.
Though Global knives look like the old, cheese-grater Mac Pro, that's not why I went with them. Well, not completely. I love the one piece design but more than that, I love the way they feel. It's simply steel all the way down.
Since then, every year, I get or am given at least one new knife to add to my collection. For the last little while, it's been steak knives. If you're just starting out with really good knives, though, I'd recommend the chef's knife. It's a fantastic piece and useful for just about every major cooking task.
4. iPad Pro + Apple Pencil
From about the age of 6 to 16 I spent hours a day, every day, drawing everything and anything I can imagine. Later in life, I worked professionally as an illustrator and a designer, and I spent a decade with a Wacom tablet as my constant companion. I haven't done as much art in the last few years, though. I just haven't had enough time.
With the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil, though, I don't need as much time. I don't have to shop for supplies before hand and clean up afterwards. I just have to grab the Pencil and start drawing or painting. And it's amazing.
I can work as well on an iPad Pro as I can a MacBook now, though everything from BBEdit to Photoshop to Final Cut Pro X to simple drag-and-drop interface are all muscle memory for me now. But the Apple Pencil is unique. It's better than any digital pen I've ever used, and I'm having more fun with it than I've had with any device in years.
Now I take it with me not to replace my laptop, but to do things my laptop simply can't do.
3. Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones
I flew a lot this year. A lot a lot. And what helped make it not only manageable but downright pleasurable were the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones. Friends of mine had been recommending them for years, but I didn't really get it until I got them.
You have to charge them, which is a drag. There's a big dongle on the bottom, which literally drags. But when you plug the little miracles in, the world kinda falls away. The minute you flip the switch about 80% of the engine and human noise just disappears, and you're left with something quieter, calmer, and much less stressful.
I bought a pair right before traveling to Ireland for the Ull Conference and I've been using them ever since. I'll even break them out sometimes when I'm working at a coffee shop and need to edit video or a podcast. The din disappears, and I can better focus on the tasks at hand.
They're the only reason I'm even a little apprehensive about the 3.5mm headphone jack going the way of the floppy...
2. iPhone 6s Plus
The iPhone is the most important device I own. It's with me almost all the time. It's my connection to the greater world around me. It's what I reach for when I've gotten up and what I put down before going to bed. The portability and connectivity simply can't be beaten, and the larger screen and longer battery life, I can handle almost anything that comes up when I'm away from my Mac or iPad.
Because of the speed and memory of its processor, the iPhone 6s Plus just flies. And with 3D Touch, it feels even faster, since you can shortcut into apps, peek at content, and pop between tasks. The 12-megapixel stills look fantastic, as does the 4K video.
It may be a bit big for some, and other will always want to wait for redesigned version, but I think for most people the iPhone 6s Plus is an outstanding choice. Even for those who may not think so at first.
1. Apple Watch
A couple of weeks ago a popular periodical bloviated that the Apple Watch wasn't a great holiday gift. Then a major retailer disclosed Apple Watch was one of the most popular gifts of the year. That illustrates the disconnect between popular media and popular opinion.
For my part, I just this week bought an Apple Watch as a gift for one of the people closest to me. It's a first generation product, to be sure, but it's also the best first generation product I've ever used. And I use it constantly.
Rather than add to notification noise, it reduces my anxiety by making sure I never miss the alerts that are most important to me. It keeps me standing, stepping, hydrating, and otherwise improves my health and my awareness of my health on a daily basis.
For travel, the Apple Watch was literally love at first flight. I use it for Uber, for Apple Pay and Starbucks, for boarding passes and updates, for directions and reservations. And if my iPhone is in a tray, pocket, or been lent out to keep a godchild busy, I never miss a delay or gate change announcement.
I use it for cooking timers and even to answer the phone while cooking. I use it to control my Hue lights and my Apple TV.
Just like my iPhone can't do as much as my Mac, but can do enough of the really important stuff that I can leave my Mac, my Apple Watch does enough of the really important stuff that I can leave my iPhone. That not only makes it invaluable to me, it makes it the best thing I bought myself this year.
Your best tech buys?
Those are a few of my favorite things from this year but I'd love to know yours. What were your best tech buys of 2015?
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