New year, same sweet tech
2014 was a big year for me, device-wise. I went through a few phones — three Moto Xs, to be exact — I lost a tablet, I gained a few Chromebooks, and in the course of my writing here, I got to play with devices I'd otherwise never see. It's been somewhat eye-opening, but more than anything, it's helped reassure me of what I want in my devices. And now I'll share my favorites with you. This list is a tad different — I haven't played with any of the current tablets enough to confess a favorite, but my Chromebook had replaced my tablet and my old laptop to boot — but it's a good list and it's my list.
Onto the show!
My favorite entertainment device — Google Chromecast
It may seem weird that my first device is actually a device from last year, but I can honestly say that the Chromecast is one of my favorite devices of the year. It's cheap, it's drop-dead simple to use, and while it technically came out last year, the Chromecast finally blossomed into a true Roku/Apple TV/Fire TV competitor this year. The list of supported apps exploded and regular folks began to understand and accept the device once they saw their friends use one, or got to use one at a friend or family member's house.
More: Our Chromecast review
My Chromecast is why I don't really care about the "free" cable in my apartment. I'd rather watch my Netflix or Hulu than watch cable before work. Or I can mirror (almost) anything in Chrome to my Chromecast for a nice long marathon while I escape the summer heat or the unbearable cold snap here in Texas today. Mirroring from my particular phone is a relatively new thing, and I don't do it often, but I do mirror a lot from my Chromebooks, especially Amazon Prime video. And speaking of Chromebooks…
My favorite Chromebook — Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook
As I said last week in my favorite apps post, a year ago I thought Chromebooks were a joke and now they're my second-favorite computer, behind my Android smartphone. And while I started out on the Chromebook Pixel, the Chromebook that has planted itself in my daily bag and in my heart is the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook.
The Yoga — and to an extent the Pixel — have solidified for me that the only way to go on a Chromebook is touchscreen. It may not be completely touch-optimized yet, but I love the touchscreen so much. Another feature that the Yoga helped solidify for me is that I really, really want backlit keys. Yes, Full HD IPS displays would be wonderful, and if they could trim the bezels and give the space back to the screen, that'd be awesome, but the Yoga is my daily driver and I love it to pieces.
It's light enough to carry around the TV station — though my father picked it up on Christmas and called it a brick — the battery will usually last 6-8 hours between charges — which is on the low end of the Chromebook battery scale, amazingly enough — and most importantly, I can get my work done quickly and easily on it. It's not the prettiest machine in the world, but I love it and it's great for typing on the couch, in bed, in the studio, or anywhere else life takes me.
I'm hoping to do more Chromebook and Chrome OS coverage this year, especially in regards to family use and using a Chromebook as your main — or only — computer. Because these things are amazing and for the people who don't 'get' computers — and those of us who do — these could change lives.
My favorite smartwatch — Moto 360
I've been waiting for the Moto 360 a long time. I'm actually still waiting for the slim or 'female' metal bands to be sold without a watch already attached to them. But I love my 360 and I find new reasons to every week.
I've wanted a smartwatch almost the entire time I've had an Android device, and my reasoning behind one was simple, selfish, and to most people not even remotely able to justify the price of one: I wanted music controls I could quickly and easily access without picking up my phone. Volume controls were on all of my Bluetooth headphones/speakers/etc, but many of them lacked playback controls — including my $300 Bose Soundlink, which at that price should at least include a play/pause button.
While my 360 had given me play/pause and next/previous, there is one control from my old iPods that I still miss: seeking. I had seeking within a track on my iPod Video almost down to a science; I didn't even have to pull it out of my pockets to do it. And yet, the Play Music app for Wear doesn't have it, which isn't surprising considering that their widget doesn't have it either, and none of the Wear faces or third-party music control Wear apps have added it back in.
More: Our Moto 360 review
My 360 has also helped me around the station, as I can leave my phone in my pockets more, relying on my 360 for notifications and music controls. The 5.0 update left me missing the old companion app for Android — Dark apps forever! — but in return I got two settings I desperately wanted: theater mode and a toggle for tilt to wake. The tilt to wake toggle was especially important because like to dance in dark rooms, and get ready for bed in near-dark rooms, and my watch lighting up during all of that just got annoying. I actually leave tilt to wake off entirely now, and I'm starting to track the battery savings it's giving me.
My favorite Android smartphone — Moto X (2014)
Last, but certainly not least, is my phone, the Moto X 2014. I was upgraded to this phone in November by Motorola after my third 2013 Moto X, and in that short time, it's blown me away in most aspects. As with last year, the camera is not one of them, but I'm hoping the focus issues on the Moto Camera software are fixed soon. I got used to the size far more quickly than I thought I would, and while I do wish the dimple — or crater, as others have called it — was a button of some type as was indicated in some breakdowns, or allowed wireless charging like the Nexus 6, the feel on the Moto X is similar enough to the original for me to be blissfully content.
I like the symmetry of the front face — the black one, anyway — with the speakers, but with sound only coming from one of them, it feels a little like a sick joke, especially when the Moto G got dual speakers. It also feels like an oversight that phones with physical or capacitive buttons will rotate 180 degrees and a phone with on-screen buttons like the Moto X still won't. C'mon, Motorola!
More: Our Moto X 2014 review
But the Moto X got a lot right with the hardware this year, including something I initially called silly when I saw it in the Moto X announcement: the IR sensors. When I saw that, I thought it was a misprint, that it had to be a blaster not a sensor, but nope, they wrote that right and they got that right. The features tied to the IR sensors are just as intuitive and amazing as Active Display was last year, and it means that I well and truly have almost no reason to use the power button anymore.
And while this feature is coming to the original Moto X — eventually — the ability to change your trigger phrase to anything you want on the new Moto X is wonderful. You have more freedom, fewer misfires, and if Google adopted it across Android, we wouldn't get complaints in the AC podcast about "Ok Google" setting off half the audience's phones.
Motorola has a little ground to make back up with the Lollipop update and what that's broken on Pure Edition Moto Xs — I've got the AT&T variant, so I haven't seen Lollipop yet — but Motorola should rise to the challenge, and hopefully since they haven't gotten the carrier variants to a soak test yet, they'll take the extra time to give us the fixes rather than leave us waiting for a second update that'll be stuck in testing until the summer.
Now, this list isn't exactly shocking stuff, but they are genuinely my favorites right now. I haven't gotten to use it personally, but I'd like to give an honorary mention to the Moto G which not only has Lollipop and a wallet-friendly price tag, but dual speakers and a great and growing following around the world. I'm looking forward to expanding my list next year — and getting some tablets back on it — but for now, Moto and Chrome rule my world. How about yours?