Like every year, I used a lot of tech in 2023, including the latest phones, tablets, audio gear, smart home tech, and accessories — So. Many. Accessories. And because I don't know any better, I bought a decent amount of tech.
There was no shortage of excitement on the home front as well, and these are the things that defined the year.
I became a dad
I don't usually talk about my personal life here, but being a parent is a life-changing event that overshadows everything else, so that's obviously what I'm starting with. Our baby girl was born in June, and even now, my wife and I turn to each other and share how surreal it is that we're parents.
Taking care of a baby is a lot of work (and invites a lot of anxiety), but it is also fulfilling on a level I didn't think was possible before. It is plenty of fun, too; my wife and I read a variety of baby books to her, and it's an immensely enjoyable activity (I plan to start reading The Lord of The Rings next month). We listen to a lot of metal, and it's thrilling to see the baby enjoy it. She currently likes Amon Amarth and Avenged Sevenfold, and we're going to introduce Eluveitie, RATM, Amaranthe, Nightwish, and Metallica soon.
I used way too many phones
I tested close to a hundred phones this year, and there were a few that clearly stood out. The Pixel 8 Pro is my favorite phone of 2023, and that's down to two factors: camera and software. It does a terrific job taking photos of babies, and nothing else comes close. Having used a lot of One UI, MIUI, and ColorOS, going back to the Pixel is just a breath of fresh air. I'm intrigued by a few devices launching in January, but I don't see myself switching out from the Pixel 8 Pro anytime soon.
The Xiaomi 13 Ultra is a close second — my biggest issue with this device is that Xiaomi doesn't sell it in more countries. It has the best cameras of any phone, and the videos it takes are on another level entirely. My wife is using the phone as her daily driver, and the portrait shots that she takes are better than what I manage with my mirrorless camera. If you're listening, Xiaomi, please release the 14 Ultra in more regions next year.
The iPad Pro showed me I can get work done anywhere
I used to be very rigid about where I wrote, but sitting at my gaming rig throughout the day just isn't feasible with a baby. I needed a portable option, so I got the iPad Pro six months ago. I used several iPad Air models over the course of the last three years, but the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is in a league of its own; the mini-LED screen is gorgeous, and the large size means it is much more convenient as a productivity device.
Yes, I know iPadOS has its limitations, but those just didn't matter. I tend to focus on one thing when I'm writing anyway, and for that, the iPad Pro was a better device than just about anything else I have around. And while I'm a keyboard snob (see below), I ended up using the Magic Keyboard so much that I actually like it now.
I got back into handheld gaming
I didn't care about the Steam Deck when it launched, as I wasn't big on handhelds. I have a decent gaming rig with the RTX 4090, and when I want to play on the TV, I have a PlayStation 5. But I wasn't able to get much gaming done on either over the last six months, so I bought a Steam Deck to see if I could squeeze in a few minutes of gaming in the middle of errands.
If I had known the Steam Deck was this good, I would have picked it up the moment it launched. It is easily the best gadget I bought this year, and it makes on-the-go gaming effortless. The battery life is average, but that's what power stations are for — if you need a handheld that lets you play your Steam library anywhere, the Steam Deck is the one to get.
I went down the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole
I used mechanical keyboards for over a decade now, and they've mostly been gaming keyboards based on Cherry MX switches. Even until the end of 2022, I was using the Corsair K100 as my board of choice, but with the growing momentum of DIY boards and customizable options, I got my hands on a Glorious GMMK Pro.
I liked it so much I decided to see what else was available, and nearly two dozen keyboards later, I realized that this was a rabbit hole with no end in sight. The best part is that these keyboards are just as accessible as any mainstream gaming product; the Keychron Q1 Pro uses a gasket-mounted design, and it is available as a fully-assembled option that's ready to use out of the box. Honestly, that's the keyboard I'd recommend to anyone wanting to get a high-end mechanical keyboard with Bluetooth.
And if you're partial to OnePlus, the Keyboard 81 Pro is a rebranded version of the Q1 Pro with an amazing design. I have no shortage of keyboards, but this is the one I'm continuing to use just because of the way it looks. I paired it with the terrific LOTR Elvish keys and a Keychron number pad attachment. And if you're interested in the hobby, you should take a look at CableMod — their keyboard cables are works of art.
I got to try out a lot of cool accessories
One of the best parts of this job is getting to use interesting accessories before everyone else, and there has been no shortage of that in 2023. The year has been particularly great if you like see-though designs, with the likes of the Sharge ICEMAG, Acefast GaN chargers, Lofree 1% keyboard, and similar products catering to this niche.
As someone that has way too many gadgets that need to be constantly charged, I'm always interested in tech that streamlines my charging needs. UGREEN met my requirements this year; between the Nexode 200W, DigiNest Pro, and the Nexode 2-in-1 MagSafe charger, I have everything I need to charge all my phones and accessories reliably. The Nexode RG 30W also gets a mention just because of how adorable it is.
I organized my music library — and got decent audio gear
My offline music collection could best be summed up as a hodgepodge, but I was able to get it under control this year. I didn't do much in the way of organizing myself — I let Roon handle that. Roon is a high-end music player that catalogs your music library, and it has a gorgeous interface with plenty of useful metadata. In short, it made a drastic difference in how I listen to music.
I also got a lot of gear upgrades this year, and I have to start with the Audeze MM-500. This headset costs $1,600, and while it isn't the costliest I tested, it sounds absolutely magnificent. I have the MM-500 connected to the Fiio K9 Pro, and I also have Fiio's excellent all-in-one R7 and M15S as the go-to choice to stream music when I'm not at my desk.
On the subject of portability, I used a lot of IEMs this year, and the Sennheiser IE600 stood out along with the Thieaudio Prestige and Fiio FX15. I need to mention Creative's Aurvana Ace 2 as well; these wireless earbuds use all-new solid-state drivers and sound amazing. To round things off, I also got a few gaming headsets, with Corsair's HS80 Max being the best of the lot.
My reading list was wildly different this year
I averaged 75 books a year over the last three years, and it was equally split between science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction. I probably read less than two dozen books this year, and most of it was centered around parenting books. I started the year with pregnancy books, so I have a better understanding of what's going on, and to be honest, it went very smoothly.
But we focused so much on the pregnancy that we sort of forgot what comes after, and we didn't go through any parenting books before the baby was born. If you're thinking of having a baby or have one on the way, don't do what we did and read a book or two before the little one shows up — it makes things significantly easier.
Anyway, the initial weeks were challenging because we had no idea what we were doing and weren't getting any rest. But once my wife and I started reading a bit more, we got a better sense of what our baby was doing, what to look out for, and what things to avoid. Amidst all the parenting books, I was able to squeeze in a few novels, and these are the ones I enjoyed the most:
- "A Day of Fallen Night" by Samantha Shannon
- "System Collapse" by Martha Wells
- "Witch King" by Martha Wells
- "The Coming Wave" by Mustafa Suleyman
- "City of Last Chances" by Adrian Tchaikovsky
We got to travel again
My wife and I used to travel a lot before the pandemic, but all that changed after 2020. We basically locked ourselves in the house and became paranoid about anything to do with the outside world. Our goal in 2023 was to get back to some semblance of normalcy, and while we haven't gotten there yet (we used to go out a lot), we managed to travel to Delhi and not totally freak out, so I'm counting that as progress.
We nerded out over quiz shows
I used to like Netflix, but the service just spits out forgettable shows with no originality these days. Its only redeeming quality is documentaries, and as someone who has read a lot of spy thrillers, "Spycraft" was highly enjoyable. While not on Netflix, "Silo" was a great show, and I'm excited that Hugh Howey's books are being made into TV shows.
For most of the year, my wife and I just streamed a lot of British panel shows, and while there are a lot of terrific choices — "Would I Like To You," "Mock The Week," "QI," and "Taskmaster" immediately come to mind — we decided to stream "University Challenge." Basically, it is the hardest quiz show ever imagined, and the breadth of questions you come across is ridiculous. There are over a hundred questions in each show, and we would be ecstatic if we got seven or eight right.
There are a lot of interesting products launching in January, and I'm excited to see what's in store with the likes of the Xiaomi 14 and OnePlus 12. I got an early look at the potential of 2024 phones with the iQOO 12, and if that is any indication, it's going to be a terrific year.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.