Jerry Hildenbrand's Top 10 of 2023

Android figures
(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

This year was one of those years that didn't completely suck. We saw some terrible things and some great things in 2023, but most of the year just chugged along being average, and after the past few years, I think we all needed just a little bit of average in our lives. 

There were a handful of things I personally enjoyed about 2023, as well as things I enjoyed a lot less, but I like to end things on a positive note whenever I can. Here are the top ten things I'll remember fondly — some of them are even about tech!

The Fairphone 5 is awesome

Fairphone 5

(Image credit: Fairphone)

The Fairphone 5 is the best value of any phone made today and a big step up for the company.

Yes, it costs more than other phones with similar specs and more than its predecessor at €699.00, but one thing makes it worth it — real long-term support.

In 2028, you may be using the same Samsung or Pixel phone you bought in 2023 if you're willing to pay someone to swap batteries a few times. If you bought a Fairphone 5, you just bought a battery and swapped it yourself — it's the most repair-friendly phone we've ever seen.

It even uses the new QCM6490 chip from Qualcomm that has an extra-long support cycle, so the updates will keep coming and coming. You won't find anything that comes close for less money, and no company is as friendly to the planet and workers as Fairphone is. 

These need to come to North America.

The Raspberry Pi gets a refresh

Raspberry Pi

(Image credit: Future)

I haven't gotten my Raspberry Pi 5 yet, but it is one of the rare things I've preordered.

On paper, it doesn't look like a huge leap compared to the Raspberry Pi 4. It's more like a typical upgrade where everything is a generation newer and slightly faster, so it will be better, but that's not why I was excited to see it. What I love about it is that it shows the Raspberry Pi Foundation is still committed to what it does best — providing low-cost solutions for students and hobbyists alike. 

You can find plenty of single-board computers that are more powerful or better suited to a specific application than the Raspberry Pi is, but I'll always say you are better off buying one because of the support from the foundation and the community the little board has. This is a product that will help shape the future, and I'm behind it 100%.

Baldur's Gate 3 showed us everything wrong with the gaming industry

Screenshot of Baldur's Gate 3 successful dice roll

(Image credit: Future)

If you love gaming and haven't played Baldur's Gate 3, you really should give it a go.

It's a great game even if you're not into tabletop gaming or turn-based games, but that's not why you should check it out. You should have a look so you can see how bad the gaming industry is and how easy it would be to fix.

Larian Studios isn't exactly some independent studio making games in a garage somewhere, but compared to companies like Bethesda, Sony, or Blizzard, the company can easily be seen as "the little guy." Yet, they delivered a game that's complete without microtransactions, got great reviews without using corporate influence, and paid prompt attention to the inevitable bugs as they arise. There have been five hotfixes since release for the smallest of issues, but I'm still waiting on the 4GB memory fix for Fallout New Vegas promised to us in 2012.

It's also pretty fun to play, especially if you like acting like a complete idiot and being rewarded for your creative thinking. For me, it sets the bar against which I'm going to measure all new games.

Google Meet is almost like being there

Google Meet logo on a phone screen

(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

My family is spread across the United States from Florida to Oregon. It'd be nice if I had a private jet to go visit anytime I liked, but I'm just a regular dude with regular means, and Google Meet is almost like being there. 

My oldest granddaughter started school in 2023, and I even got to watch her first actual holiday singing show thingy via Google Meet, which was cool. It's nice to see school systems use technology the right way so extended families can feel like they are part of it all.

The kids even know how to call us via their mom's Nest Home so they can talk to Grandpa and Nana. It's one of the best things Google has ever done, as far as I'm concerned.

The Garmin Venu 3: finally a fitness watch for people like me

Garmin Venu 3 push tracker

(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand)

If you're a wheelchair user and interested in a fitness smartwatch, the Garmin Venu 3 is the one you should buy.

Making a smartwatch is probably really difficult to do, at least if you're trying to make a good one. That goes double when your watch starts focusing on being part of a fitness platform. Do you know how to make that even harder? Emphasize fitness for people who use a wheelchair.

I know this is hard to do because the world's biggest and best tech companies haven't figured it out yet. It was hard for me to get excited over a new Galaxy Watch or Apple Watch because it seemed like they weren't designed for people like me, and honestly, I gave up on caring about the whole wearables sector. I know they were working on it, and there have been improvements in many areas, but they're not there yet.

Garmin is there. I would have never known if our wearables and fitness editor Michael Hicks hadn't told me to give the Venu 3 a try, but Garmin has figured out how to build a smartwatch and fitness platform that does more than convert steps into wheelchair pushes. 

I've been wearing my Venu 3 since August, and I only take it off once a week to charge it for 30 minutes. I'm not sure if my health has improved or if I'm becoming more fit, but I know it's nice to feel like I'm able to enjoy normal things.

People are learning how stupid AI can be

ChatGPT is stupid

(Image credit: Future)

In 2023, you couldn't go a single day without seeing or hearing the term AI. One good thing all that exposure accomplished is showing us how stupid the tech is.

AI isn't anything new — in the 1990s, I worked on software algorithms that could decide if an apple was red enough or if a spring didn't have any kinks in it. What's new is how integrated it has become into our daily lives. AI is now part of your life and not just some big machine that makes or packages stuff.

Some of it is great — AI helps people hear, see, and communicate better. It can help detect diseases or other ailments. It can even help you take pictures worth keeping so you'll always have special memories.

It's not a substitute for a real-thinking person, though. For every time someone on the internet says an AI can pass a college exam or write poetry, there is an equal number of times AI does a nose dive into a fiery dumpster of hilariousness.

The tech keeps getting better, and years from now, the things people say today will be mostly true. Something tells me the expectations and hype will grow at the same pace, and we'll always be able to laugh at the stupid computers trying to sound like people.

Gigabit internet

Netflix app logo on a phone

(Image credit: Android Central)

I know I'm behind the times here, but I finally was able to get gigabit internet out here in the woods. 

It's nice to be able to have YouTube playing in the background while I'm working and still be able to download some multi-mega-huge press download, and worth the cost.

It did take away my excuse for being so bad at Rainbow 6 Siege, though.

Gone fishin'

Live Bait vending machine

(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand)

No matter how good or bad the week has been, Saturday is always a great day because it has fishing in it.

I'm not one of those guys who has expensive fishing gear and can take a boat out to win prizes or anything. I wish I were sometimes, but I mostly go fishing as a way to relax and find time away from all the things that go beep.

Fishing was a little easier when I could walk, but I don't let my wheelchair hold me back. There are plenty of places where I can wheel out on the dock or down to the bank of the creek and toss out my line; every one is special to me.

I tried a flip phone and didn't hate it

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 in Flex Mode with YouTube controls

I think folding phones are an abomination. Taking a huge thing that opens up into an even huger thing is just something I have no use for, and all I can think of when I see one is how much it costs compared to a Pixel 7a and an iPad Mini.

"Flipables" are a different story. Taking one huge thing and folding it in half so it's less huge and easy to put in my pocket sounds like a great idea, but I'm cheap and never bothered to buy one and see if I like it. My wife did get a Galaxy Z Flip 4, but I never really got to mess with it, and it got stolen out of the car shortly after she bought it. 

When the Galaxy Z Flip 5 came out, I guess someone at AT&T or Samsung was tired of me talking out of my butt and sent me one. I turned my other phone off and used it for two weeks, and to my surprise, I didn't hate it at all. 

It's still longer and skinnier than I like, and I'm not sold on the plastic screen, but folding it in half and putting it in my shirt pocket offsets that. I'm still cheap and haven't yet bought one, but it's near the top of my list when I do have to spend some of my dusty money.

Pets are people too

Pipi the silly parrot

(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand)

I spend all day every day working in my spare bedroom turned office, and I'm not going to lie; it can get lonely.

I may not have any coworkers here, but I do have companions to talk to: Henri the parrot and WeeWee the dog. Don't make that face, the grandkids named her WeeWee because you can probably guess what happened the first time she came to the house.

While Henri can talk to me, and I'm pretty sure she understands much of what she's saying, WeeWee can communicate with me too. Whether I'm fighting with the dumb bird over a water bottle or watching that silly dog dance, prance, and beg for a bite of my PB&J sandwich, I don't feel as alone as I would without them.

Pets are like people, and I love mine like they're my kids. Don't judge.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.