dotunderscore by Brian Hough

2015’s most useful gizmos and gadgets

Like most people in our modern day society, I don’t go through a single day without in some way using a gizmo or gadget. There are hundreds of little tools that we all use day in, day out to make life a little more enjoyable, maybe a little more tolerable, and even just a little more convenient. As is the custom this time of the year, I figured it may be useful to someone out there to put together this little list of my most used and abused of these tools, just in time for the new year.

Late 2014 was really when I got hooked on podcasts, but for me, 2015 was the year of the podcast. From relay.fm’s excellent catalogue of podcasts (Connected and Upgrade being my two favorites), to Alex Albrecht and Allison Haslip’s laugh out loud worthy Half Hour Happy Hour, there was no shortage of amazing content. And they were all made better by my first pick, Marco Arment’s extraordinary podcast application for iOS, Overcast (free). Overcast makes it dead simple to find, add, sort, and listen to the content I want to hear. And when I want to save some time, Overcast’s built in Smart Speed functionality removes dead air without making anything sound funky or unnatural. According to Overcast, Smart Speed has saved me 30 hours, simply by removing dead air, which is just insane.

While going through my seemingly never ending cue of podcasts waiting to be listened to, I’ll often brew myself a cup of coffee to wind down after a day at work. I’m a huge coffee fanatic, but I’m a New Englander, so I only ever really drink iced coffee; substantially harder to get on demand at home than the traditional hot stuff. In the old days, I used to simply pour the hot coffee over ice to cool it (like some kind of animal), but I grew to despise how watered down my coffee would become. My Zoku Iced Coffee Maker ($30) solved this. It does one job, and it does it shockingly well - pour fresh brewed, steaming hot coffee into it, wait just a couple of minutes, and boom, you’ve got instant iced coffee. After you’ve enjoyed your coffee, give it a quick wash and put the cup back into the freezer to get it nice and cool for your nice cup. Really, really recommend it for fellow iced coffee addicts.

One my goals for last year that I was (mostly) successful in following through with was my daily outdoor activity. I tried to get at least a 45 minute walk in multiple times a week, and my RHA MA450i ($50) in-ear headphones really helped get me motivated. I love going on quiet walks around the neighborhood, but I think I would love them less without some good music to go along with it. Now, I’m no audiophile (in fact, I have pretty significant hearing loss), so take this recommendation with a grain or two of salt. But I’ve found these headphones to have absolutely excellent sound quality, a great built-in microphone for phone calls, and perfect build quality. In fact, I’ve actually owned these headphones since early 2014 and have used them almost daily, though you’d never know it. They’ve also got a great fabric cable that really does reduce tangling, and they’re an absolute steal at $50 - I paid nearly $100 for them way back when.

Perhaps the most useful addition to my life this year is the most expensive item on this list, but also one that’s infinitely simple and yet remarkably complex; the Apple Watch Sport Edition ($349/$399) has become the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing I set to charge at night, every single day. While smart watches are yet to really break through “useful” territory and into the “necessary,” I can honestly say that wearing an Apple Watch has made me more in the moment in my daily life, significantly changing my habits. I look at my phone far less, it’s encouraged me to be far more active (filling in those three activity rings really do become addicting), and it’s just insanely fun to use. Apple Maps on the Watch makes getting and following walking and driving directions almost fun (which is a weird sentence to write), controlling Overcast and Music playing on my phone from my Watch is convenient, and the built in Remote app has even replaced my Apple TV’s remote control. I’ve also become somewhat of a collector of Apple Watch bands - over the holiday season, I mixed and matched red and green sport bands to make it a little more festive. The Watch isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination; third party applications are incredibly slow to launch and the apps aren’t nearly as useful as their iOS equivalents. But the Apple Watch has made a watch wearer out of me; something I never thought possible.

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