Must Have Tech – Updated 2016 Q2
A lot of people tend to ask what piece of tech they should be using to make their lives better. We’ve seen some AMAZING advancements when it comes to tech in the last few years.
Now more than ever there are super cool gadgets that will make your life easier and a bit more futuristic (we’re already 15 years into the new millennium!). Of course we skipped the usuals such as a smartphone, tablet etc. and wanted to dig out some stuff you may not know about or do know about but haven’t really pulled the trigger yet/
Without further ado, here are our top reco’s:
Chromecast Audio (Not the regular Chromecast)
The Chromecast Audio device some say is a Sonos killer. It differs compared to Sonos in many ways, but we’ll get to that in a sec. Chromecast audio easily connects into any old powered speakers or a receiver, acting as a conduit for your music to play through.
What makes this different from Bluetooth is that instead of streaming from your device (laptop/ cell phone) through Bluetooth, the signal is sent straight from the service you are streaming from, so you get much higher audio quality.
The device is under $50 and in future you will be able to sync these across multi rooms – kinda like Sonos. Where this differs is that Sonos is essentially plug and play with a few extra features, and the newest Play 5 has detection technology that will change the way the music sounds within a room so it is consistent with all your other rooms.
Sonos is the all in one solution with the Play 1,3,5, sound bar and sub. I’m sure there are other brands out there, but Sonos has been doing this for a long time and seem to come up in the conversation a lot when it comes to easy multiroom sound.
Forget your smart TV. Kodi is an amazing ecosystem. Essentially it is a full media player solution for video (also does music as well) that allows you to stream whatever you choose and handles any sort of video playback. The software can be installed onto an HTPC, or most tv boxes to enable a really fantastic polished way of watching media on your tv. Combine this with the Flirc below so you can control all from the same remote control.
There are other options out there like ATV (Apple TV), and the Nexus player (kind of like a modified Android experience for your TV). Roku is another set top box that comes up too. There are also a multitude of set-op boxes that you can buy on Aliexpress that have Android or even Kodi pre-installed. Kodi is definitely our fave, and when installed on something like an HTPC or even a Chromebox, this set-up is hard to beat for all your tv entertainment needs.
Flirc allows you to use any remote with your media center. So for example if you have a set-top box that uses a keyboard, you can program the keyboard keys that you need into your current tv remote. That way instead of using the tv remote and your keyboard, you can essentially use just one remote for your tv and media center to control things like on/off, volume and general navigation. Makes things super easy and intuitive. After all, sometimes its a huge pain in the ass to use a keyboard AND remote, when you can get this little device which plugs into a usb port and only use your remote.
Only con here is that it uses infra-red which means there has to be line of sight between your remote and this device. We have tested putting it at the back of an HTPC and Chromebox, but the results weren’t that great.
Also the see-through case isn’t the prettiest thing to have sticking out the front of your HTPC for everyone to see. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Top marks for setup though. the software makes this device a breeze to set up. There were even pre-programmed set-ups for different devices e.g. Kodi.
Wired earphones are always going to be your go-to if quality of sound is your biggest factor. However with more and more people always on the go, having a pair of Bluetooth earphones really comes in handy, especially in an office setting or during exercise. We highly recommend the Soundpeats QY7 or the updated QY8 for their unbeatable value. Great sound, lots of ear tips, easy to use and reliable for between $20 to $30.
An alternative to the Soundpeats are the Mpows, but review wise they come up short compared to the Soundpeats and come with less ear fittings. Both the above are what they call sports earphones, so they are sweat-proof – but not waterproof. You can tell when you pull off the ear-tips and see that there is a moisture filter on the actual earphone itself.
If you’ve got the money, then the Jaybirds X2 could be worth a look, but for the price just isn’t worth it.
The old point and shoot has become a relic now that cellphones have such amazing 12 megapixel plus rear shooters, with pretty large front shooters too. What is super handy is having a fully waterproof point and shoot camera. One that you can drop or take into the water during your next vacation. For only a few hundred dollars, you get piece of mind that your camera won’t break and you’ll be able to take some really fun shots.
There are a ton of different models that provide good enough pics (obviously not dslr or micro 4/3 quality). Our recommendation would be a solid mid range performer – The Olympus TG-860. Olympus also has a reconditioned store where you can get cameras at sometimes 20% off. Check it out here. To be honest any big name brand here will do as cameras seem pretty even across the board here in quality.
A cool accessory to get here would be a floating strap if you will be taking the camera into some deep water, as well as a spare MicroSD card in case you loose your camera on the trip as a bit of a back-up.
Portable phone battery charger
Most phone batteries are pretty decent these days, especially with the larger batteries in some of the larger phones coming out that have batteries over 3000 or even over 4000 mah (Huawei Ascend Mate 7, new Xiaomi Note phones).
There are two main brands that seem to pop up on Amazon all the time, these are Anker and Aukey. Their products are very similar and it really comes down to which is on special for the amount of mah on the day, and to a certain extent – looks. Both have fairly minimalist designs, but there are slight design details that may discern you when comparing both.
We highly recommend having a lipstick charger (one that is the size of lipstick) as it is super portable and will give you an emergency charge or two. We also recommend purchasing a 10,000+ mah portable battery charger. With this amount you can charge multiple phones (these types of chargers at this upper range normally comes with two usb outlets to charge multiple devices at the same time. The upside here is that you can also charge a tablet as well if need be while on the road.
There are other brands like Xiaomi that also have some good products. Be aware that both Aukey and Anker have had accusations of paid reviews. This is where they send out their products for free in exchange for a non-biased review. Some people may argue this does in fact cause a biased review in itself in expectation of future free products, but you can check the lower star reviews on Amazon to see if there are any features/ bugs with certain models.
A portable charger is great to throw into a purse, be used for a road trip, camping, or even in the coffee table in your lounge when a power socket isn’t conveniently nearby.
Car dashcams have come down a lot in price, especially with cheaper units coming out of China from aliexpress. For around the $50-$70 mark you should be able to get a dashcam that does the job pretty well (maybe not the best in low light, but good enough). This alone makes the benefits worth it if you get into an accident that isn’t your fault and you need proof. The jack-up in insurance rates would be much more expensive than having a dashcam.
For dash-cams you’ll want to go with one that has a capacitive battery (so one that doesn’t hold charge for an extended period). A capacitive battery will work better in hot/ cold conditions and be a lot more durable. There have been reports where regular batteries have been destroyed by high heat.
In terms of installation, get a plastic trim worker kit (see below). This allows you to tuck any cords away underneath your interior panels without scratching anything.
The G1W (with a capacitive battery – also called the G1WC) is a great choice for all round bang for buck. Blueskysea is probably the best vender on Aliexpress to get this from if you’re looking to import at a low cost. Here’s the link.
This particular cam has all the features you need and the screen turns off after a while while driving. There is a little bit of an annoying red flashing led that is on the back that flashes, but you can place a piece of black tape over this. So you can see it if you looked close enough, but that way it wouldn’t distract you while you were driving, especially at night.
The other good thing about the G1W series is that it can be mounted via a suction cup or via an adapter that attaches to the rear view mirror stem. Models like the A118/B40 require you to stick this directly on your windshield. This is fine depending on how your wipers work (whether you get an uncleared gap at the top or bottom that may impede the camera’s view when dirty).
With a camera like the G1W-C you will have to spray the front part as the silver does stick out a bit in terms of looks. If you want some discreteness then a quick spray with matte black over the front works wonders. We’ll have a full 1 year usage review coming up soon on this.
Interesting thing to note that in places like Russia, almost every motorist has a dashcam due to the high risk of insurance fraud. However this is also a common occurrence in many other countries which is unfortunate, so its a small investment to be safe.
Having an electric toothbrush is a worthy little investment. This one goes without saying. You can typically pick up an Oral B or Philips Sonicare for around $50 to $100. Oral B has a good line of ‘ProfessionalCare’ toothbrushes:
Oral-B ProfessionalCare 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 7000. Yeah and within those there are different varieties of toothbrush heads you can get. The entry level 1000 is great. Does the job well, and has a little vibrate that goes off every 30 seconds, so you can wait for this to happen 4 times before hitting 2 mins and finish brushing.
The higher end brushes have fancy bluetooth reporting, pressure sensors etc,. stuff you don’t really need when it comes to brushing your teeth. Time, technique, and thoroughness counts for much more as well as flossing and using a good mouth wash.
On the flip side to Oral-B you have the Philips Sonicare series. The feeling between both is actually quite different. The Oral-B twists the actual brush into an oscillating motion back and forth. Whereas the Sonicare feels more like the brush head is vibrating the whole time, but kind of like micro vibrating. Unfortunately most people will never get a chance to try both, so the difference doesn’t really matter too much.
Both Oral-B and Philips Sonicare toothbrushes have wireless charging. They both sit on a base without any metal on metal contact, so you could technically keep this in your bathroom where possible (our recommendation is to do so wherever safe and to confirm with the manufacturer what is right or wrong).
We think your teeth and your dentist will thank you in the long run for investing in an electric toothbrush.
Wireless phone charger/ Fast charger
Many new phones coming out have wireless charging or are able to be fast charged. This is especially true with Qualcomm’s newest chips – most are offering this. The Nexus 5 and 6 support this, but the 5X and 6P don’t unfortunately. You can pick up a cheap wireless Qi charger from Aliexpress for about $10 shipped to your door.
If your phone supports it, we definitely recommend a fast charger to charge your phones faster. These typically put out a higher wattage. Fast charging is available got the Samsung S6, S6 Edge, Edge+, Note 4, Note 5, Note Edge, Nexus 6, Xperia Z2, Z3, the HTC M9 and many others. The Anker quick charge 2.0 does the job beautifully (pictured above). Be aware that advertised Chinese phones with quick charge like Xiaomi may not necessarily support quick charge e.g. the Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 – be sure to double check the model number and consult the appropriate Xiaomi forum.
Securing information so that noone else can ever see it is a must do with some of your files. Truecrypt used to be the go to but now may not be secure due to the development stop after Microsoft pulled support on Windows XP. Full details here. There are a few good options out there. We prefer Diskcryptor.
Even with your wifi router, sometimes you do want to connect something up to your router hardwired without the need to have it in the same room as your router. Like a printer in the office when your router is in the lounge. A great way to do this is using a power-line adapter. Essentially what this does is turn your home or apartment’s electrical wiring into network cables for your home network.
You plug in an adapter from your router to a power plug. Then from any other power plug in your home you plug in another adapter that you can plug an Ethernet cord into. This is great if the wifi really sucks and you need to extend this to a different router hard wired or like we mentioned earlier for devices in other rooms.
You can now get power-line adapters that can theoretically hit speeds of up to 1000 Mbps. That’s more than enough for most users on a dsl or cable package. Even for those with a fiber optic package would suit too.
For around $30 to $60 you can pick up a basic starter kit with two adapters to get you going. Trendnet has their older AV line and newer AV2 line which make for great options and are very well reviewd on Amazon. We use an AV1 nano kit here at Design Establishment and it works great for connecting a printer in a different room. On top of this Netgear and TP-Link has some great options and are highly regarded too.
Note: Design Establishment didn’t get paid to promote any of the above products. They are products we use and love on a daily basis. The links do have our affiliate id on them however to support our website, if you use’em we really appreciate it, otherwise all good! We’ll be back to update this as more cool items come out.
Let us know what you think or what you think are must have/ cool tech items below.