My Tech Picks (Summer 2020)

Last summer saw a pretty radical change in the technology that I use in my day-to-day life. After years of being a strict Windows/Android user, I took the plunge and switched back to the Apple ecosystem. I traded in my Google Pixel for an iPhone and turned my trusty gaming PC into a dual-booting Hackintosh. The reason behind this was largely motivated by my growing frustration with Microsoft’s Windows development process. Over the last few years, Microsoft has made a countless number of blunders.  Their bone-headed actions have affected nearly every market in which they do business. The only real division of Microsoft that hasn’t suffered in one way or another has been their XBox brand. To me, the final straw was their continuous habit of sloppily releasing broken (and occasionally dangerous) updates to Windows. For quite some time it has been one stumble after another and with their current CEO still in charge, I honestly don’t see any end in sight. All of this had me pining for the years where I used Apple products almost exclusively. So, I made the switch.

It is now a year later and once again, things have changed. My stint with Apple lasted a little over six months before I finally switched back to Windows/Android. What motivated this change? Well, as much as I hate to admit this, the Apple seems to have lost its shine. I don’t know if it has to do with the passing of Steve Jobs, or if there’s something else making the difference. But, the Apple of today just isn’t the same as it was in the 80’s or even back in 2007 when I purchased my last Mac. Mac OS has changed drastically and it just doesn’t seem to have the same cohesiveness that it did just ten years ago. But that’s not all. Part of Apple’s appeal for me has always been the “it just works” mentality. Apparently, that’s something of the past. The iPhone XS that I bought last year was one of the most problematic phones I’ve ever owned. From antenna issues to frequent freezes, just using the phone was a daily struggle. Now, I know this is not typical for most iPhone devices, but if I’m going to pay a premium for Apple hardware and software, I fully expect a premium experience. And while many of Apple’s offerings (like Apple Music) are still second-to-none, it just feel the same way it used to. So, I switched back and I’ve never been happier.

So with all that said, let’s take a look at what I’m running day-to-day now:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – I had to learn this the hard way. But, the Mac OS of today just doesn’t do it for me like it used to. Many of the legacy features I loved have been removed and most of the modern introductions seem downright gimmicky. This left me with two choices, go back to Windows or try to go full-neckbeard and experiment with Linux. Now, as appealing as Linux seems to be in some aspects, it’s just not a viable day-to-day platform for me. That puts me back in the Windows camp. Thankfully, Microsoft has taken some steps to try to tighten their development process in recent months. Plus, internal shake-ups have put a new face in charge of Windows development. Let’s hope it makes a difference. Time will tell.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 2004) – I’ve been running this version of Windows since December, but it wasn’t officially released until last month. It seems Microsoft wanted to take their time to try to ensure this release was as bug-free as possible. But, despite their best efforts there were still a few nasty problems. From a feature standpoint, this release was mostly focused on tightening the ship and not adding too many new features to the mix. The next big feature update to Windows should be out towards the end of this year.

Hardware: For the most part, I’m still running the same hardware from last summer, with a couple of minor changes. To start with, I’ve added a second SSD to my rig. This time, in the form of a Samsung Evo 970 M.2 NVMe. These drives are renown for their speed and thus, it has become the host drive for my OS. I still use my other SSD for some of my more intensive games. And of course, I still have a hybrid drive for older games where performance is not so much of a concern. Also, now that I’m worried about Mac OS compatibility I have reintroduced a dedicated sound card back to my rig in the form of a Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus. In terms of audio, this card is the best of the best. It features 32-bit audio, Dolby/DTS, and it sounds absolutely fantastic. On the graphics card front, I decided to stick with the ATI card I purchased for my Hackintosh rig. Over the last year I’ve been extremely pleased with the performance this card. In fact, it’s really made me take a second look at ATI products. Considering everything that’s happened over the last few years with Intel and the Spectre/Meltdown fiasco, I’m highly considering an ATI/AMD solution when I build my next PC.

CPU: Intel i7 8700k @ 3.7ghz (4.7 turbo)

Mainboard: ASUS Prime Z370-A

Physical RAM:  16gb

Graphics: ATI Sapphire Nitro+ RADEON RX590 8GB

Sound: Creative Sound Blaster AE-5 Plus

Storage:  Main:  Samsung EVO 970 SSD 500GB   Secondary: Western Digital Blue NAND SSD 500GB, and two Seagate 2TB Hybrids “Firecuda”

Networking: Integrated LAN and a Fenvi Bluetooth/WiFi card

Media:  External DVD RW &  USB Memory Card reader

Power: 750 watt PSU

Monitors:  AOS G2460V 24″ (1ms FreeSync Gaming Monitor) & ASUS VG245H 24″ (1ms FreeSync Gaming Monitor)

Mobile: Android  – Google Pixel 4 (Android 10) – Since my last post I have switched from iOS back to Android. While the Apple hardware was sleek and attractive, in the end there really wasn’t anything that the iPhone offered that I can’t replicate in Android. In fact, I found myself missing my Pixel way more than I expected to. So, as soon as the first opportunity arose, I went and  picked up the new Pixel 4. This phone doesn’t have some of the flashy bells and whistles that you might find with other flagship phones, but I love the pure Android experience. The only feature that iPhone offered me that I really missed was AirDrop. Being able to move files from the phone to my PC over the air was pretty handy. But now, thanks to the Your Phone app that Microsoft has developed for Android devices, even that functionality is now available. My biggest gripe with this device is that when compared with the previous Pixel 3, there’s really not a whole lot of new bells and whistles. And what is new, seems pretty pointless. For example, the Motion Sense feature… pointless. I really love Android as a platform, but Google is going to have to step up their gameif they want to stay relevant.

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. For my limited purposes, the original Windows RT Surface is perfect.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – No change.  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 Assistant – As you might expect, being back on a Pixel has found me using Google Assistant again. Having used both, I can tell you there’s honestly not much difference. Some things Google tends to do better, and others Siri seems to have the upper hand. But in a day-to-day environment, it’s a toss up.

Web Browser: Chrome Being back on a Windows PC full time finds me using Google Chrome almost exclusively. However, this may soon change. Microsoft has revamped their Edge browser using the Chromium codebase. This gives it all of the features and compatibility that Chrome offers, but without much of the bloat that has slowly become a problem over the years. I’m still feeling things out, but if this trend continues it’s not unthinkable that I might make the switch.

Search: Google – Google remains my go-to for searches.

Email and Calendar: Google/Gmail Even before I left my iPhone behind, it only took a few months before I abandoned iCloud and went back to Gmail. Aside from having the vanity of a mac.com email address, there’s really no reason for me to stick with iCloud. It was just too flaky. Google works for me and I have no qualm with Advertising ID sharing or any other aspects of Google’s business model.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 365 – Nothing beats it. As far as a desktop application suite, Microsoft office is the best. Office 365 (or as it is now known, Microsoft 365) offers the most up-to-date version of office for a low price.

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 365. OneDrive works great with Android and other platforms as well. These days, I use OneDrive mainly for PC Backups, 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. I do make a lot of purchases on GOG and I’ve even ventured into Epic Store from time to time. But nine out of ten purchases are still done on Steam.

Music Management: MusicBee – Apple Music is a great streaming service and also a fantastic piece of software – when using a Mac. iTunes runs like trash on Windows, so I’ve gone back to Music Bee. 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.  For streaming, I use Google Play Music (soon to be YouTube Music), Sirius XM and IHeartRadio. I still keep and maintain a local MP3 collection, but I enjoy the vast stream-able library that Google Play Music offers – I turn to the other services for live media.

Wearables: FitBit Inspire HR –  This time last year I was using an Apple Watch and I will admit, nothing really beats it. The Apple Watch provides the premier wearable experience. But it doesn’t work with anything but an iPhone. Currently, there’s just not another smart watch that comes even close. I’ve had my eye on a Galaxy Watch for a while now, but it seems a bit overpriced for what you get. For my purposes, I’m mostly concerned with fitness. So, for the time being, I’ve gone with a cheap, but efficient fitness tracker. Now that Google has purchased FitBit, I expect some interesting options in the near future. I’ll hold out until then.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Nintendo SwitchWii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and an Xbox 360. (There’s still a spare Wii in the closet).

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

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