Article: Top Gadget & App Picks of 2014
As we are only a few days away from Christmas, everyone is looking for last-minute gift ideas. Although it might be a little too late to order some things, plenty of items are available in stores and, there’s always the option of apps. Because most of these items are designed for or work nicely with Apple devices, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favorite (in no particular order) items for 2014. Most of these were either items I used regularly or purchased in 2014. This is a slightly different approach than my picks last year, which focused on Mac Apps.
Overcast: Although there are plenty of podcast apps on the market, I have to agree with Jason Snell that Marco Arment’s Overcast is the best. It’s free, with a $5 in-app purchase to unlock all of the features, most notably some sound enhancement features. Voice Boost adjusts sound for better voice quality, especially when listening in the car, and Smart Speed will remove some quiet spots in what you’re listening to, saving time even if you listen at 1x. Both features sound quite natural.
Pedometer++: Also borrowing from Snell’s list, David Smith’s Pedometer++ is an app that I immediately installed on my iPhone 6. Only available for users of the iPhone 5S, 6, and 6 Plus, the app uses the M7 or M8 motion coprocessor to provide a simple pedometer. It’s free, but you can give a tip as an in-app purchase to remove the unobtrusive ads. It also has a Notification Center widget, allowing you to keep an eye on your daily moment without even opening the app.
Deliveries: Junecloud’s Deliveries for Mac and iOS is an app I’ve recently started using on both my Mac and iPhone to track the location of various things I’ve ordered. It’s $5 for each version, but a universal app on iOS, meaning that $10 gets you iCloud-synced package tracking across all of your devices. It even lets you archive old deliveries for reference later on.
Threes: Asher Vollmer’s Threes is an often-cloned, but never quite duplicated game that I often find myself reaching for if I have a few minutes to spare. It’s simple, challenging, but also addictive. It’s also Apple’s 2014 Game of the Year and only $2 if you needed more reasons to give it a try.
Western Digital My Passport Ultra: Often heavily discounted, Western Digital makes a darn good external hard drive with the My Passport Ultra and I had a few of these put in use. Although hard drives in general are more failure-prone than most other computer components, having an extra one or two set up with Time Machine or SuperDuper is a great insurance policy for your data. The drive has USB 3.0 connectivity and a pretty compact enclosure. Although the USB interface is directly on the mechanism’s board (unlike some that are SATA and have some sort of adapter), most people would replace the whole item a failure were to occur anyway. Plus, it has a 3-year warranty. If you want to go a little cheaper, the Elements takes the same overall design and drops the warranty down to one year, but is still a very nice drive.
ViewSonic VX2370Smh: Computer monitors are quite subjective, and most computers out there still are limiting users from jumping into 4K or “Retina” resolutions. The ViewSonic VX2270Smh/VX2370Smh/VX2770Smh series of displays feature 1080p resolution, a matte frameless IPS panel (supplied by LG), and plenty of inputs (HDMI, DVI, VGA) at pretty low prices. I picked up the 23” VX2370Smh and was impressed with the quality and features for the price. They included cables to connect to everything, including HDMI, which seems a rarity these days. If you want to use it with a VESA mount, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The stand is always attached (it has some small speakers and holds the inputs), but the display does tilt. If you squint hard enough, the angled matte-black design almost feels like it would’ve been the natural evolution of a NeXT product.
Apple iPhone 6/6 Plus Silicone Case: I’ve already posted the review for this case, but it’s nice to see Apple’s first-party case be a worthwhile addition to any iPhone. Although it is about $5-$10 more than it should be, it should be good enough for most users who aren’t the type to throw their phones across the room.
Logitech Harmony 650: Often discounted, the $80 Logitech Harmony 650 remote has been the longest-serving device in my home theater setup. The remote is programmed via a micro-USB cable connected to your computer and can be set up to turn on and control numerous devices at once (so you can turn on your TV, AV receiver, and cable box and switch to the proper inputs with one button press). If you have some sort of obscure device (which would have to be really obscure due to Logitech’s always-growing and exhaustive database), you can also set up the remote to learn specific commands. The best part is that when you add or replace devices, they can be integrated into your workflow without having to fuss with how each manufacturer designs their remotes. There are some cheaper models, but they lack the display and additional programmability. More expensive models are also available, but the 650 finds the right mix of price and performance.
Yamaha RX-V Series: For years, I’ve always had some sort of audio (and later audio/video) receiver with my main TV setup. It’s nice to use real speakers and also switch between devices, especially if your TV runs out of inputs. When it came time to replace an old receiver, I looked at a number of models, and ended up getting a RX-V675. Prices vary, but most of the RX-V series produce good sound, have a lot of inputs and connectivity, and are generally well-regarded in reviews. If you get any models with network connectivity, you can control it via its IP address in a browser or with an app. It’s worth noting that the RX-V677 is the “2014 model”, and is almost identical from a feature standpoint. If you’re looking for just the basics, the RX-V375 and RX-V377 are great starter devices.
Wink / Wink-Compatible Gadgets: Although it’s still a very, very new product, the Wink ecosystem is a great toy for anyone who has Early Adopter Syndrome™. Some promotions knock prices down quite a bit, but the hub typically starts at $50, and accessories start at $15. So far I’ve been using the hub with some GE Link lightbulbs and have been mostly happy with the setup, and am looking to add a few of the new products that were recently announced. The nice part is that most of the devices themselves use standard protocols, so if something new comes along, you should be able to migrate them easily.
Hopefully these items give you a starting point for gift ideas for yourself or others. Then again, if you find that the person really, truly does have everything, you can’t go wrong with an iTunes or App Store gift card.