Tech: My Tech Picks (Late 2016)

It’s been close to a year since my  original “Tech Picks” post in January. And a lot has changed for me when it comes to technology use. So, if you’re curious to see where I stand now on various ecosystems and my personal preferences on technology, this might interest you.

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – As expected from a PC gamer, I’m still using Windows as my platform of choice. Although, I have to express my frustration with Microsoft. Windows is a solid and stable option, but they’ve really made some bone-headed moves over the last year that leaves me questioning the road ahead. I’ve been both a PC and a Mac owner, and I can tell you without hesitation, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform is upgrade-ability and the level of customization that a PC provides.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1607) – Since my last Tech Picks post, Windows 10 has received a refresh. The most current version is now “Windows 10 Anniversary edition”. Overall, this update is pretty solid. But it is not without it’s faults. While I have not been directly affected, this update broke a large number of USB devices for many users. Most notably web cams, Kindle, and other multimedia hardware. At the time of this writing, this issue has been not been resolved. Also a number of cumulative updates have caused havoc for many users. It seems like MS’s quality control has left a lot to be desired.

Hardware: Since my last post I’ve left most everything the same with the exception of a hard drive upgrade. In attempt to resolve some bottleneck issues, I updated my main drive to a hybrid SSD/Mechanical hard disk. I have been very impressed with the results. Everything else has stayed the same.

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Seagate 2TB Hybrid SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 1Tb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Android  – Motorola NEXUS 6 (Android Nougat 7.0) – Yes. I finally jumped ship on the Windows Mobile platform. The writing had been on the wall for some time and I rode it out for as long as I could. But once I saw developers actually leaving, not just “not developing”, I knew the end was near. It seems I was right, as now even Microsoft has all but abandoned their mobile platform. So, I was forced with making a decision between Apple and Google. Now, I’ve owned iPhones before and I think they are great. I have no problems whatsoever with the iOS platform. But, As I’ve mentioned on this site before, I’m very much an “ecosystem” type of guy. I prefer to use like-services. And, being a former Microsoft/Windows user, I decided it would be best to go Android. More specifically, a NEXUS device. NEXUS phones are basic stock-Android devices. They feature the Android OS in it’s purest form, plus, they are very easy to unlock and modify. Originally, my plan was to wipe the factory OS and install CyanogenMOD (a custom ROM). This would allow me to have all the benefits of an Android phone, but I could center it around Cortana and the other Microsoft apps that I enjoy. However, I found myself surprisingly impressed with the stock Android experience. Google’s services really shocked me with how well they all work together when centered on a single device. I will elaborate more on this in other areas of this post, but the way things are going now, I’ve very much become a Google convert. In fact, I’m looking forward to the new Pixel phones that were recently announced.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface No change here. My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Despite now using an Android phone, I see no offerings in the tablet area that tempt me to make a switch to Android. For my purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change here.  The Kindle Paperwhite is an elegant and universal option that serves my needs perfectly. Yes, there are newer Kindle options available. But the Paperwhite remains my go to device.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Google – My switch to Android complicated this a bit. Previously, I was using Cortana exclusively on both my PC and my Phone. The service synced flawlessly and I actually found using a virtual assistant useful. Today, I am using “Ok Google” on my phone when I feel the need to dictate things by voice. But since there’s no Google Assistant on PC, that’s as far as it goes. Yes, I can install Cortana on my Android, but the experience is not nearly as seamless as it was on a Windows Phone device. Cortana is still active on my PC, but with all honesty – she’s not doing much.

Web Browser: Chrome– Despite a slew of improvements made to Edge in the Win 10 Anniversary Update, the browser still pales in comparison to nearly any other. I have set aside Firefox for Chrome, as I’m using Chrome on my phone, As a result, things like bookmarks and prior search results all integrate between my devices. I find this extremely convenient. Plus, Chrome is very well supported and polished.

Search: Google – More Google migration here. As a result of my Android defection, I also find myself using Google again for searches instead of Bing. I still feel like Bing is fine engine and in some ways, superior to Google in terms of design and aesthetics. But when it comes to raw functionality, both search engines seem to be on par with each other. Having Google search integrated so tightly with my phone certainly influenced my switch.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail – Another victim resulting from migrating away from Windows Phone. Gmail and Google Calendar integrate so wonderfully with the Google Now launcher that comes with the NEXUS, that they have managed to sway me away from Outlook. For the record, I still hail Microsoft’s spam controls over Google’s overall, but I keep a tight lid on my email address and as a result, do not general have a spam problem.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Nothing beats it. As far a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and Google Drive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Back ups, and I use Google Drive for photos and general storage. But, both are within arm’s reach at any time.

PC Gaming Services: Steam No change. For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam.

Music Management:  MusicBee – No change here either. I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. MusicBee is my music manager for the desktop. It integrates with my phone and makes it easy to transfer files to Google Play Music on my device.  Side note: I have recently found myself subscribing to Google Play Music as well. At $10 a month, with the perk of YouTube Red (ad free YouTube), it’s been quite an enjoyable experience. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers.

Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR–  I have moved away from the Microsoft Band and joined my wife as a Fitbit user. I was excited with the look and concept that the band promised, but over time I found it to be lackluster and not very practical. The Band itself was large and bulky and seemed more trouble that it was worth. Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Just last week Microsoft announced they were killing off the device.  My job offers an annual discount for Fitbit purchases, so I sold my Band 2 and took advantage. I’m still not a very heavy user of wearable tech, but aside from losing a few nifty features such as text reply and application support, the Fitbit is serving me well for the time being. I do expect in the future to explore some other wearable options, but for now, I’m content.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.