Ara's favorite things: The tech and accessories I use every day
We're kicking into high gear around here with all the fun fall launches in the next two months — the Google Pixel 4 is two weeks away, and Disney+ is a month after that — and yet there are still so many things I've wanted to write about, fun things that have crossed my desk, useful things that have been added to my gear bag, a new gear bag I bought on Prime Day.
We usually save these kinds of roundups for Christmas, but let's kick things off early.
My new gear bag Himawari 15" Travel Backpack
This adorable backpack is why waitlists are worth joining. Someone else didn't follow through on their purchase, so I got my new gear bag for $22. It's not big enough for three laptops, six phones, and countless battery packs like the bottomless Timbuk2s most of my coworkers rock, but a bigger bag just takes longer to go through at the bag check outside theme parks.
Most days in the park (I live near Disney World), I just need a bag that's big enough for my Chromebook, an umbrella, some snacks, my secondary phone, a power bank, a cable, a water bottle, and some snacks, and in that regard, the Himawari is the perfect size. When I'm wearing it, the backpack straps on the shorter side — or wearing it on one shoulder, a bad habit I can't break myself of — I can snap the excess strap up to the top of the bag, keeping it out of the way as I'm hopping onto roller coasters or saving spots for the fireworks.
This bag is surprisingly adaptable for a compact carry-all, featuring side pockets on both the inside and outside of the bag that I use for water bottles, umbrellas, and folding fans. The interior pockets in the main compartment can make the bag top-heavy when you load yours up with phones and power banks like I do, but they're also good places to pack away smaller snacks and your emergency candy ration.
What, you don't have an emergency candy ration? Get on that!
The sleeve for laptops isn't as padded as I'd like, but most of the time it's perfectly fine for hauling around my durable run-and-gun workhorse, the Lenovo C330. If you have something more delicate like a MacBook, you'll want to invest in a slim neoprene sleeve. The front pouch opening looks like it's a leather latch but actually the tops of the straps have snaps on them for easier access.
The corners on the zipper give me issues sometimes and the bag can get top-heavy and tip over if I'm not careful, but otherwise it's been a great little pack for me, and it matches my holster, too! It's not a bag that'll work for everyone, but it works well enough for me.
My new gear bag
This bag isn't made for cross-country trips and marathon days at conventions, but it's perfect for a day at a theme park or hauling around campus for classes.
Get a (slim) grip Speck GrabTab
I've been rocking a GrabTab all summer long on my Pixel 3a (opens in new tab), and while there's still room for improvement, this is a phone grip that I've come to rely on with my daily driver Pixel. It's got a much larger credit card-sized footprint that the PopSocket or Style Ring, but it's slimmer than either one, a tradeoff that some users will prefer since it helps the grip to sticking out like a sore thumb in your pocket.
The center strap slides up and down along its track, allowing you to easily slip one or two fingers through it for a secure grip. It doesn't interfere with wireless charging and you can transfer it between cases once, maybe twice if you get lucky. The only real drawback of the GrabTab is that the kickstand won't really stay up after the first couple of times you use it, but I've got standalone kickstands I use it with at home.
Available in dozens of styles from food to animals to pride to the colors of the cosmos, Speck's GrabTab is a phone grip that is great for users who want a slim grip that's easy to use with one finger.
Charge your way OtterBox OtterSpot
When the OtterSpot system first arrived on my doorstep, I didn't think I was going to like it very much. Round power banks tend to get in the way too much and at only 5,000mAh apiece, a single OtterSpot could only recharge your nearly-dead once 1-1.5 times.
In fact, I've really enjoyed the OtterSpot system around my apartment and in the parks. I'm good about remembering to charge phones but terrible about keeping my power banks charged up, but OtterSpots you can just toss on the base and forget about until you need to swap one out.
If you don't have the charging base the main system comes with, that's no real problem, either. Whenever your OtterSpot battery is plugged in to charge, it'll function as a Qi wireless pad, something I've only seen previously in the Moshi Porto Q (opens in new tab) and really wish all portable wireless chargers did. That plus the option to charge your phone over USB-C or Qi wireless adds up to a very useful and lightweight battery pack. It's still pretty overpriced at the moment — especially the starter kit with one 5,000mAh battery and one charging base — but it's a system with a lot of potential once it starts getting some holiday sales later this year.
Once you have a few OtterSpot batteries to swap around and use on the fly, they're great, but building up that system just costs too much right now.
Can you hear me now? Blue Yeti USB Microphone
My first USB microphone started malfunctioning on the first day of Prime Day. Lucky for me, day two had a deal on a Blue Yeti, so not only could I get myself another reliable mic, I could get myself a better sounding one — though it can only help so much with an awkward voice like mine.
The Yeti is much heavier than my Samson, which makes sense because it's easily twice its size, but it's more stable thanks to a wide, sturdy stand. It's still easy enough to carry the mic from my standing desk to my closet for podcasting, and I keep the mini-USB cable and aux headphone cable plugged in at all times to help this one last longer than my last one.
My podcast partner
Blue's been the gold standard for a while, and I'm quite glad to have finally hopped on the bandwagon. This mic is solid, sturdy, and help me sound as good as I ever will.
Keeping it together Sturme 3" Carabiner (12-Pack)
I don't always bring my gear bag to the parks, and when I don't, the carrying duties get transferred from the Himawari to this rainbow-colored carabiner pack. Three-inch carabiners are big enough for the handles of my trusty refillable popcorn tubs, they're easy to get on an off my belt loops when I'm getting on rides, and there's a proper color for every tub and accessory I carry with them. My Halloween bucket gets the purple clip, my Mickey Mouse umbrella gets the yellow, and when I bring a spare — in case I spot a new popcorn tub I just have to add to my collection — I bring along the classic red.
These clips are a small accessory that can last a long time — I still have a speckled red/silver carabiner in my active rotation from high school, and it shows no signs of giving up the ghost anytime soon.
Clip on awesome
These carabiners help me keep my gear safely attached to my bags, my hips, or anywhere else I ment need to access a snack or umbrella with ease. This multi-pack will last you years, and everyone in the family can have their own color clip.
Everyone needs a Scooby Snack Keebler Scooby-Doo! Graham Cracker Sticks
I'm a girl that loves her snacks, and when I moved to Florida, I had to give up one of my favorites. Goldfish Grahams are awesome but apparently there's an ingredient in them that makes them unstable for long-distance shipping, so while they were still plentiful in Texas, they were nowhere to be found in Florida when I arrived. By summer, they were missing everywhere, and while I miss them like crazy, I've had to move on to finding a replacement.
Teddy Grahams have a stiffer, dense texture and aren't as flavorful. Annie's are too sweet and mealy. One day at Target, Scooby Snacks were on sale so I grabbed a box to see how they fared, and I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised. These have a good texture, a good crunch, good flavor, and I can go through a whole bag in a few days, which is good because they can go stale quicker than other brands if you don't keep the bag sealed properly inside the box.
Got the munchies?
While salty snacks are my jam, you need to balance them out with sweet snacks, and these Cinnamon sugar graham cracker cookies have become one of my go-to sweet snacks when I'm packing for a night at the parks.
Even cookies are happy cookies Oxo Good Grips Cookie Scoop
A cookie scoop doesn't live in my gear bag, but the cookies it turns out do! I like to mix up a batch of cookie dough and then bake up a dozen cookies every other day or so as I eat them, and a good cookie scoop makes the process quicker and easier for me, allowing me to get back to work while also ensuring my cookies are consistent in shape and quality.
Most bakers use the medium or large scoops because they believe bigger cookies are better cookies, but I have a different philosophy. More cookies are better cookies, and my small scoop allows me to make more cookies from a single batch of dough, not to mention smaller cookies are easier to pack for my trips into the parks. Oxo's scoop is relatively easy to clean, doesn't wear my hand out instantly, and produces excellent two-bit chocolate-chip cookies.
Eat more cookies!
This scoop allows me to quickly bake up some cookies that are even and delicious. A smaller scoop means you get more cookies, and who doesn't want more cookies?!
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Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.
I don't think you're carrying enough snacks in that bag.
Pumpkin seeds, graham crackers snacks, cookies, goldfish, Skittles, butterscotch, and strawberry Runts in a small mylar bag in my front pocket.
Dry sheets. Ice cream. Jelly beans. Three of my favourite things, in my order of favourite things. Grabtab, eh? Well, i got a popsocket on your recommendation. And while I don't exactly love it, I'm pretty sure my right little finger metacarpal is healing, so I'll give it a look.
If Ara is going to the Oxo cookie scoop (of which I have three, in two sizes), at least she can include her favourite cookie recipes...
Toll House cookie recipe with shortening instead of butter and double the chocolate chips. Or the Alton Brown "Chewy" recipe if I'm feeling fancy. I already shared a prized recipe this week in my Editor's Desk with the pumpkin seeds!!!
My favorite is the customized chromebook stand she uses in her Yeti article.
It's an old tape box I grabbed from the TV station when they were doing a purge. It's sitting on a VAVA Docking Station box (the station's too unstable for regular use, but the box makes for a good riser. I've been agonizing over getting a good lap desk for 10 months, but I haven't even given a single thought to buying a proper laptop stand.
I like your cookie recipe, but I love butter, so I'd probably do that one change. I'm ALL in for double chocolate chips though! What kind do you use, semi-sweet? I prefer to leave my stuff in the car and bring just my phone, but I imagine buying snacks would get overly expensive if you're a regular. How do you spend the 16 to 18 hours required to drain your phone at a theme park in one day?