It doesn’t occur to me very often, but the skills you get in this gig can bleed over into other things. When you get down to it, I’m basically a professional consumer who happens to geek out over Android a little more than most folks do. But those basic skills apply across the board, and I can spend weeks researching pretty trivial purchases. Some of them I end up pretty pleased with, but either way, I am one super picky dude when it comes to just about everything — it’s my job. So here are a few of my favorite things I’ve gotten in the last year.
Some of these are things I can’t really review here. Others are things I hope to have the time to do a full review of later. But they’re all things that I feel pretty passionate about using.
14” 2021 Macbook Pro
You can call it bias or indoctrination, but even though I tend to review things like iPhones pretty favorably, I’m not actually a fan of Apple as a company, given its business practices and my own values. I like open standards, cross-compatibility, customer freedom, and competition — all things Apple seems morally opposed to with its tightly locked down, almost viciously controlled platforms. But there is one exception, and that’s the Mac.
Honestly, I don’t even like macOS. It’s “fine,” and it does some pretty dumb things in the name of security too. But I can’t argue that Apple makes some of the best hardware out there, especially when it comes to its chipsets. And now that the company is back to making a genuinely good “Pro” laptop, I’m back to buying them.
For years, I’ve used a 13” mid-2014 MacBook Pro. I hated the keyboard and loss of an SD slot on the in-between models (even though I picked one up for a short while), so I went right on back to my old, reliable beater.
Come COVID, its aging battery and lack of oomph weren’t much of an issue — I wasn’t going anywhere. But as things started to open back up again, I knew it was time to move on. Fortunately, Apple knew it was time to move on, too, and it released a whole new set of M1 Max and Pro-powered machines, with a snazzy new 14” display size (+2) and a slightly dumb notch (-1).
Goodnight, sweet prince.
I’d been using an M1 Mac Mini for a few months after my Haswell-era desktop’s spectacular end, and I was absolutely ready for more ARM-powered machines, so I snapped one up shortly after pre-orders opened, and I got myself a weird one.
It’s a blogger special that just about no one else will like, with 32GB of RAM because I can legitimately hit that limit in Chrome tabs alone; 2TB of storage, so I don’t have to micromanage my camera use or deal with deleting stuff while I’m at events; and the middle chipset option for a little bit of extra GPU performance. And it’s silver, of course, because that’s prettier.
Arguably, it’s not a very good value, this machine cost me a lot, and I could probably get by with the base model just fine. But, A), as my 2014 MacBook Pro in 2021 attests to, I hang onto these things for a long damn time, and B) I don’t care.
It’s come with me on a handful of recent events I’ve covered, and already I love this laptop more than I can really tell our mostly Apple-angsty readers. After putting together a new big-boy desktop, I even retired the M1 Mac Mini I had relegated to my cabin — Taylor Kerns inherited that one. Which brings me to…
My big-boy desktop
I like to label anything that’s got the choice to add some extra some oomph or power behind it as the “big boy” version. It’s mostly just poking fun, but I particularly like it when I’m talking about my desktop computer, because my big boy is anything but. Like seemingly everyone in the last few years, I have rejected full-size builds in favor of the svelte.
Added restrictions and requirements can make the process of tracking down parts A Thing, and I find that a weirdly entertaining challenge. I basically get to flex all the researching muscles I’ve built as a blogger, but applied to something totally extraneous from work and a subject I don’t follow as closely. Expanding my understanding as the end result literally comes together is really gratifying. So, when my old one died, I built myself a new computer that fits into just shy of 13L of space.
I’ve been out of the loop for a while, so it took a surprising amount of work to catch up when it comes to the minutiae of recent PC hardware — like, did you know there’s this really dumb new thing called “rank” that applies to memory, has a noteworthy effect on performance for some recent architechtures, and which no RAM manufacturers advertise as a spec? (Utterly ridiculous that this isn’t explicitly labeled right next to things like memory timings!) In any event, after about a month and a half of research and accruing parts, I built my itty bitty big boy:
- AMD Ryzen 5900X
- A motherboard I don’t really like
- EK-AIO Basic 240 closed-loop water cooler (death to RGB)
- 64GB RAM
- Nvidia GTX 1080 (MSI Gaming X 8G)
- 2TB NVME storage
- 8TB SATA SSD backup
- Ncase M1 6.1 case (silver)
- And an itty bitty power supply
Apart from my aging GPU (I really wish I could get a reference design GTX 3080 since it would fit in my tiny case), I love this machine. It’s dumb fast, very quiet, and utterly adorable. Since I held onto my 2013-era Haswell build until this year when it died, I’m also confident and happy knowing this one is a little bit more future-proofed — though make no mistake, I’ve already maxed memory use a few times. Plus, my desktop finally fits on my desk!
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Between the M1 Mini and my new MacBook Pro, there’s still one thing Apple just doesn’t do that drives me nuts: include enough ports. Sure, I have the ports I need most of them time built right in, but there are never enough of them when I’m in the middle of some exceptionally elaborate or dumb workflow. So an external dock of some kind is a firm requirement for full productivity. After buying two or three awful ones that all made compromises in weird and bad ways, I tried the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, and I was finally done. It’s the dock to get.
If you start shopping for USB Type-C or Thunderbolt docks, you quickly realize there’s a sort of feature bucket based on certain controller chipsets that get filled up. Each manufacturer has its own combination of ports that fill that bucket, usually right up to the edge, and each thinks its ports are the right ones to include. That’s good if you have a specific workflow and know you just need X, Y, and Z, but it’s very inconvenient if you find yourself needing something else. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock takes a different approach: total overkill. It has all the ports.
On the front you’ve got SD slots, a headphone jack, and a pair of USB ports — both fast, Type C and Type A. On the back, all hell breaks loose. You’ve got four USB-A ports, digital audio out, gigabit ethernet, two thunderbolt ports (you’ll need to use one to connect to your computer), and a Displayport adapter. Oh, and it can provide up to 85W of power to the attached machine; no extra power source is required.
It’s a ridiculous monster and worth every penny of the $300 price tag. In all the time I’ve used it — mostly at my cabin, where I can’t really have something malfunctioning and cramping the otherwise super-relaxed vibe out there — it’s never done a single weird thing. Everything I’ve plugged into it has just worked, unlike some of the docks I’ve used that have randomly disconnected from attached storage devices or which have networking issues. It even works with my ancient-but-I-love-it Apple Thunderbolt Display.
The dock lets me have a simple, relaxing setup like this with the ability to scale as work demands at any time.
If you’ve got specific or high requirements and you’re tired of playing around with subpar no-name Amazon special USB-C docks, this is the one to get — if the computer you’re plugging it into does Thunderbolt.
Bowflex Max Total 16
I know, it’s weird to recommend a piece of home gym equipment, and this isn’t on my desk, but it runs Android!
I’m not the healthiest guy around. Part of that isn’t even my fault, but I have to try harder as a result. In the beforetimes, I used to spend my lunch break at the gym, putting in a solid 45-60 of cardio almost every day of the week. It was my favorite time of day — I even made it a hard requirement to my working at Android Police, as my former boss David Ruddock can attest to. Well, I’m immunocompromised, and these days the gym just isn’t a safe place for me to be. So when Bowflex offered me a chance to check out an Android-powered climber-elliptical-thing, I figured, why not?
The first (different) model I played with had a few issues — the review wasn’t going to be particularly positive. While troubleshooting, they offered to send me the newer version, and it’s a different story. My lunchtime workout sessions are back to being the highlight of my day, as the weight I’ve picked up in the last two years has started dripping back off. A full review is coming later, but consider this a preview: I dig it decently.
The guided workouts are a little nicer than just blasting through with a set heart rate in mind like I previously did. I didn’t think I’d be the sort of person to want variety with my cardio, but now that I have the option and so many different activities available to me, I enjoy switching it up. I also have a few joint issues, like some arthritis in my left knee and a few back problems, and The Max Total 16 has only ever been comfortable to use. It’s also compact enough that I can squeeze it unobtrusively into a corner of the living room, but compact doesn’t mean cheap — in, uh, either sense, there. It’s pretty beefy and well-made, but you’ll pay a lot for it. Think “Peloton,” except it isn’t a bike.
I still have a few complaints, like a lack of touchscreen sensitivity, a very slight inconsistency in the angle of my handles, and a bit of noise from the metal foot platforms in the first couple of moments of exercising. That’s also ignoring the JRNY membership required to use it to its fullest — required, I should note, to even stream your own damn Netflix or Hulu! But, technically, that subscription is cheaper than Peloton’s and still less expensive than a membership at a nice gym would be. Plus, their machines definitely won’t be this nice.
Even if the super-expensive Max Total 16 costs too much for you to consider, I’d give the less expensive M9 and M6 models a look if you’re hoping to lose some weight in the new year without risking your health at the gym — funny how that changed.
My favorite chargers
If you couldn’t tell from the level of detail in my charger reviews, I’m really damn picky about what I’ll plug into my thousand-dollar-plus gadgets. It’s not something that gets a whole lot of attention, but I see zero reasons to risk an expensive purchase with a potentially hazardous power supply. I’m always checking out new models to see how they stack up, and right now, there are two that I carry in my bag with me to events.
The first is Zendure’s SuperPort S2, which I use as my laptop charger. It can provide up to 65W, which is enough for my MacBook Pro to remain charging 99% of the time, and I’m willing to skip out on the snazzy return of Magsafe to consolidate my cables while traveling. Because somehow, I still have a couple devices that charge with Micro USB as we enter the year of our blog 2022 (thanks for dragging your heels, Amazon), the USB Type-A port sadly comes in handy, too.
Unfortunately, it was discontinued, but the new SuperPort S3 is basically the same but with an extra Type-C port. So far, Zendure’s products have always been top-tier in my testing (the company’s 100W charger is part of our dedicated test bench as a reference power source), and I suspect the newer model is excellent as well.
The second charger I carry with me is the Anker Nano II 45W. It’s overkill for phones, supplying more power than they can take, but its compact design means there isn’t much of a trade-off for that extra power, which is enough to top up most laptops at idle and most Chromebooks. If the SuperPort S3 is my setting-up-a-workstation or hotel-room charger, this is the one I keep with me on the go during the day for all-purpose use. It even supports PPS.
Again, these are just the couple that live in my backpack, which means they’re specialized for how I personally use stuff while traveling. If you need the same combination of ports and power, they have my recommendation.
My fancy wood keyboard
A lot of us here at Android Police are into mechanical keyboards (we’re actually spinning up a site just for that, as soon as we have time to write stuff). Everyone thinks that custom mechanical keyboards are like this really big, time-wasting, obscenely expensive hobby. And they’re absolutely right, please help my family, they are starving. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a really cool build for relatively cheap. Take, for example, my snazzy wood keyboard — and I mean honest-to-god milled walnut.
Even the keycaps here are wood. Everyone I’ve shown this thing to loves it, but you probably wouldn’t believe that it’s actually one of the cheapest keyboards that I’ve built. The bits you can see are 100% walnut and brass, and a mere ~$300 to put one together yourself, excluding any switches you get.
- Wooden case and wrist rest $55
- Wooden blank OEM keycaps $126
- DZ65 RGB V3 hot-swap $58 (on sale right now)
- 65% brass plate $39.90
- GMK screw-in stabilizers $14
- 3.5mm 6.25u spacebar foam $5 (trust me, you’ll need it with that wooden spacebar)
If you’re willing to do a little extra research, you can get a different (potentially better) PCB or find a different plate to save a little cash, but it’s an easy one-stop build, and it looks like a million dollars — or at least, like, a thousand. Add in the optional PCB and case foam, which I recommend, and this is a pretty decent build for not a lot of dough. Though be warned, wood doesn’t make for a nice-sounding board, just a nice-looking one. And, if you are worried about sound, consider looking up how to lube or bandaid mod those stabilizers; both are worth doing if you care about that. Lastly, all you need to do is find a switch to go with it (my sensibilities recommend a high-end tactile switch like Zealio V2s or Bobas), and you’re set. Well, apart from the assembly process.
It’s hot swap, which basically means higher-stakes Lego with switches that plug into sockets on the PCB — no soldering required. Because it’s plate-mount without standoffs, the assembly process is straightforward: Switches hold the plate in place, sandwich that whole thing together one piece at a time, then screw the PCB down to the case through the holes in the plate. Get a switch puller and keep a pair of tweezers on hand to straighten switch legs if your spatial reasoning ever fails you — no shame, I tweak probably one in ten or twenty switches myself. And test the PCB with those tweezers before you assemble, shorting the switch leg sockets while it’s plugged in to make sure everything works before you put it all together. If one of the keys is dead, that is a bummer to disassemble and replace, let me tell you.
My editors here are telling me, “Ryne, please stop writing,” so you’ll have to wait for the next episode for some more keyboard-loving, big-boy-computer-building, Apple-hating-but-MacBook-Pro-using product recommendations and contradictions. But if you’re considering buying any new computers, computer parts, chargers, home gym equipment, keeb crap, or other random not-Android-phone things I use and like a lot, I hope some of this can help guide your purchasing decisions.
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About The Author
Ryne Hager (2872 Articles Published)
Ostensibly a senior editor, in reality just some verbose dude who digs on tech, loves Android, and hates anticompetitive practices. His only regret is that he didn’t buy a Nokia N9 in 2012. Email tips or corrections to ryne at androidpolice dot com.