This is the tech we love, and the tech that broke our hearts
Love it or loathe it, Valentine's Day is a reminder that we sometimes get exactly what we want — and sometimes get the exact opposite. It's true in love and it's true in tech, so we thought we would round up a few of the gadgets and services that we're in serious relationships with, as well as a few that we'd rather forget.
The best Valentine's Day gifts for the practical techie
We've divided this Android allure into two sections, so click the corresponding box below to be swept off your feet, or swept under the rug.
Happy Valentine's Day!
The tech we love
What broke our hearts
The tech we love
The tech we absolutely love
The infatuation: Jabra Elite 75t
- Who loves it? Daniel Bader, managing editor
- How long I've owned it: Two months
- Why I love it: The Jabra Elite 75t true wireless earbuds have practically become a part of me over the past few months, a second limb that I don't feel I can live without. I'm constantly listening to something, and these just work, in one ear or two, all the time.
I've said it so many times because it's true: the tech that you love just becomes part of your daily routine, something you don't need to think about. For me, that's the Jabra Elite 75t earbuds, and before them it was the Jabra Elite 65t. There's a reason there are as popular as they are — and why they're my Valentine.
As good as it gets
A true wireless upgrade.
The Jabra Elite 75t are excellent true wireless earbuds that do everything really well. They're small, comfortable, and sound great, and have fantastic and useful features like auto play/pause. If you're thinking of getting a pair of true wireless earbuds, though, these should be close to the top of your list.
The infatuation: Amazon Echo (1st Gen)
- Who loves it? Jeramy Johnson, staff writer
- How long I've owned it: Five years, two months
- Why I love it: I purchased the first Amazon Echo totally on a whim in late 2014, not knowing exactly what it was or what it meant about the future of ambient computing. At the time, I just thought it was kind of cool to shout commands into the air and (sometimes) get answers to my queries or to be able to listen to whatever music I wanted to.
Little did I know that it would kindle (pun intended) a passion for technology that is still with me to this day. Not only is my home festooned with smart speakers and devices, but I spend most of my waking time playing with, thinking, reading, and writing about these products. Other than my smartphone, no other tech device has had a greater impact on my life than that first Amazon Echo. I still use it every day and feature it prominently in my living room. If that's not an impactful product, I don't know what is!
Time to upgrade
Better sound and cooler colors.
The 3rd gen Echo is built for better sound with a softer, plusher look that comes in four colors, including the soft new Twilight Blue and a firey Product Red.
The infatuation: NVIDIA Shield TV
- Who loves it? Ara Wagoner, accessories editor
- How long I've owned it: 4.5 years
- Why I love it: Name another Android device that's still going strong with over 4 years of system updates and still receiving official support from the manufacturer. No, really, I'll wait. Or at least, I would if you could name one, but nothing beats the NVIDIA Shield TV for support life. I was given mine as a gift in late 2015 and partway into 2020, it's still going strong — except for a bug that turns off the Wi-Fi every week or two until I reboot it.
This is my most-used Android device by far. When I'm eating lunch, I watch Hulu on it. When I'm winding down after editing, I watch Critical Role on YouTube. When I need something to listen to while I work, I turn on Disney+ and quote/sing along with my favorite films. The UI here is easy to peruse — especially using the Nvidia Controller, which Disney+ has the best seeking trick with — and it's easy to pop from one video app to another so I can keep watching Disney+ while I wait for that livestream to start.
The Shield got even better with last year's 2019 model, which brought a bump to the specs and a bump to the 4K compatibility for apps like Disney+. It also upgraded the remote situation by at least 120%, giving us a bigger remote with dedicated fast-forward/rewind buttons, and if you've got an older model like me, you can just get the new remote — at least, you can once it comes back in stock at NVIDIA.
Best streamer around
It's not just for gamers anymore.
The NVIDIA Shield TV gets confused for being something for game streaming, especially with GeForce Now, but the Shield TV is the best Android TV of all time. Even if all you want to do is watch Disney+ and a truly unholy amount of YouTube, the Shield TV is just tops.
The infatuation: Razer Raiju Mobile
- Who loves it? Marc Lagace, games editor
- How long I've owned it: One year
- Why I love it: 2020 is shaping up to be the year that game streaming on Android really takes off. That means you'll want an awesome Bluetooth controller and the absolute best that I've tested is the Razer Raiju Mobile.
The Razer Raiju Mobile is the smartphone equivalent to Microsoft's Xbox Elite controller. It's a top-quality controller that lets you customize and tweak the button layout and input sensitivity settings just how you like it. You can pair two phones simultaneously to the same controller and use the toggle to quickly switch between devices, and with the option of a wired connection with the included USB-C cable.
I love how fast the Raiju Mobile pairs to my phone and it's extremely comfortable to hold for extended gaming sessions with a sturdy and adjustable mount for your smartphone.
The best gaming controller for mobile
Comfortable and customizable.
You truly get your money's worth with the Razer Raiju Mobile. This elite gaming controller offers wireless and wired connections for your phone, remappable buttons, and a sturdy and adjustable grip for your phone.
The infatuation: Apple AirPods Pro
- Who loves it? Andrew Myrick, freelance contributor
- How long I've owned it: Five months
- Why I love it: The AirPods Pro are my dream headphones, regardless of what smartphone I'm using. Sure, the seamlessness offered by the Pros and an iPhone is great. But even when switching to the Note 10+ or Pixel 4, you still get Active Noise Cancellation, (limited) gesture support, and great comfort. I still wish there was some app for Android users that gave us a bit more customization than what you get out of the box.
These headphones pair the same as any other Bluetooth headphones, making it possible to still use them with Android. Transparency Mode makes it so you never have to take the AirPods out of your ears, and the ANC can help tune the rest of the world out to get some work done. Battery life is on par with what you would expect (3.5-4.5 hours), but the wireless charging case gives you up to 24 hours before needing to charge up. Apple swung for the fences and knocked it out of the park.
My dream headphones
Good headphones are good headphones
Despite having my feet in both the iOS and Android trenches, these are the best Bluetooth headphones I've ever used. Up to 24 hours of battery life, ANC, Transparency Mode, and wireless charging, make for a combination that is unmatched.
The infatuation: Rode Wireless Go
- Who loves it? Hayato Huseman, associate video editor
- How long I've owned it: Three months
- Why I love it: Most of my video work for Android Central requires a mobile setup, since I'm always bouncing from city to city for various briefings and events. Video requires a ton of equipment, and my backpack (not to mention my shoulders) can only carry so much — which is why the Wireless Go lav kit has been a complete game changer for me.
I've used other wireless lav mics before, but none of them are this quick and easy to set up. The transmitter has a built-in mic, meaning you don't have to worry about running a lav cable under the talent's shirt. It's a little unsightly on camera, but I don't mind for event coverage. The clip on the receiver is also the perfect size to slide into the shoe mount on any camera; it's truly a brilliant all-in-one setup.
Keeping life in focus
The Rode Wireless Go is the quickest way to get clean on-camera audio without taking up much space in your bag. The built-in mic sounds reasonably good, but you can always attach a separate lav cable if need be.
The infatuation: Google Home Hub / Nest Hub
- Who loves it? Chris Wedel, freelance contributor
- How long I've owned it: Since October 2018
- Why I love it: After getting the first Google Home, I knew that having a Google Assistant on-demand was something that was quickly going to become a staple in my home. So when the smart display came into existence with the Google Home Hub, I knew I had to get one. With two young children, the photo frame aspect was the selling point to my wife — I love it, too — but the ability to do so much more with a screen is why I now have 5 versions of Google Assistant smart displays in my home.
The visual feedback to voice commands is so helpful, whether that is for a reminder that I've set, a quick glance at a timer, following recipes, and even for smart home controls. My kids also get a kick out of it when asking random silly questions, watching YouTube videos, or laughing about old photos that come up. The Nest Hub truly has become part of the family.
Keeping life in focus
With some assistance
The crisp-looking 7-inch screen with automatic dimming and the ability to adjust color temperature keep your favorite photos in perfect view no matter where you put the Google Nest Hub. Whether it's cooking recipes in the kitchen, watching videos on YouTube, or controlling your smart home gadgets, the Google Nest Hub can find its way into your home and heart.
The infatuation: Oculus Quest
- Who loves it? Nick Sutrich, freelance contributor
- How long I've owned it: Six months
- Why I love it: I've been a VR gamer for several years now, and while the experience has always been mind-blowing, it was hard to recommend to most people because it was expensive and difficult to deal with. Even as a techie, it's tiring to deal with the constant problems of PC gaming and the updates that consoles nowadays always have. That's why I love The Oculus Quest.
The Quest works like a true console. You put it on your head and play. That's it, and it's friggin glorious. On top of being easy to use, Facebook has been using it as a testbed for next-generation tech like hand-tracking, too. This, on top of all the new games and miraculous ports the system has received cements it as one of my favorite tech purchases ever, not just recently.
Crazy easy VR
What VR needed
It's not the easiest product to get ahold of right now, but when you get one, you'll never forget the experience. It's VR at its best, in every way.
The infatuation: Sonos Beam
- Who loves it? Joe Maring, senior editor
- How long I've owned it: 1 year and 6 months
- Why I love it: Prior to the Sonos Beam, I had never owned a proper soundbar for my TV. Between my non-smart Insignia TV and TCL Roku TV I later upgraded to, I was perfectly content using the built-in speakers. I know, I'm a monster. The Sonos Beam instantly caught my attention when it was announced in 2018, and shortly after, I decided to pick one up and see what I had been missing out on. Turns out, it was a lot.
The Beam kicks out incredible sound, making both movies and music come to life in a way the crappy built-in speakers of my TV never had. I'm not an audiophile by any means, but it doesn't take discerning ears to know that the Beam sounds damn good. I also adore how compact it is, not to mention that setup takes just a power and HDMI cable. One of the turn-offs to upgrading my TV's sound was fear of an intimidating installation, but Sonos makes this process as easy as can be.
The Beam was also my gateway drug into the rest of the Sonos ecosystem, pushing me to go out and also pick up a couple of Sonos Ones for my apartment shortly after I bought it.
The perfect soundbar
Amazing sound in a compact package
As far as I'm concerned, the Sonos Beam is a virtually perfect soundbar. It sounds amazing for both movies and music, is extremely easy to set up, and fits in event the smallest of entertainment systems.
The infatuation: Beats Powerbeats Pro
- Who loves it? Carli Velocci, senior editor
- How long I've owned it: A month and a half
- Why I love it: I wanted to dive into the world of true wireless earbuds for months, but was hesitant. Every earbud I'd ever tried either hurt my ears or wouldn't stay in (I have the privilege of having very sensitive nerves around my ears and weird scarring from piercings that make my ear canals annoying to parse). In fact, the only ones that I found that worked and stayed put were those $20 Phillips wired earbuds that you could buy at CVS. I thought it was just bulky, over-ear Bluetooth headphones for me.
Then I discovered the Powerbeats Pro. Thanks to a number of gift cards and an Amazon deal, I was able to get these $250 earbuds for only $50 and my life has been changed. Not only do they come with three extra sets of ear tips, but they have hooks that keep them on your ears, even if the tip itself falls out. It also helps that the sound is great — even if there isn't any active noise-cancelation the fit seals in sound — and the battery lasts around 24 hours with the included case. They're so light that sometimes I forget I have them on.
I do have a couple of qualms. Getting the hook around your ear is a bit awkward and it took me a few tries to understand how they fit inside the case, which is unfortunately a bit bulky. However, I can just throw these in my bag and be on my way. Best of all, I never have to worry about them falling out of my ears!
Great fit, no problem
Never worry about fit ever again
The Powerbeats Pro may be expensive, but not only do you get great sound and battery life, you almost never have to worry about fit thanks to the ear hooks and the multiple ear tips in the box.
The infatuation: Bose QC35 headphones
- Who loves it? Andrew Martonik, executive editor
- How long I've owned it: 3 years
- Why I love it: I bought the QC35s to use while I travel, and ended up falling in love with the headphones for everyday use. Over three years in, I'm still loving them as they sit around my neck and on my head every single day. They're incredibly comfortable and light, the noise cancellation is great, and they're no-fuss in their operation. They're truly an appliance, not a gadget or toy, for me. Sure they're a little worn at this point with years of use and hundreds of thousands of miles traveled, but they're still hanging in there and the battery is even strong still.
It's telling that even though Bose has technically replaced them with the Wireless Headphones 700, the QC35s remain on sale at their regular MSRP. They're just that good. And I'm fully in support of it — even after trying the new 700 model, I stuck with my QC35s for their comfort and simplicity because I don't need touch controls or extra features just for the sake of being new.
Obviously I wish Bose would re-release the QC35s with USB-C charging, because I'd buy a pair tomorrow. But the fact that I'll keep using these with the ancient Micro-USB charging port says something about how much I love the QC35s.
My go-to headphones
I just can't live without them.
Bose absolutely owns this product segment, and for good reason. The QC35s are incredibly comfortable, have amazing noise cancellation, and sound good enough for how they're used.
What broke our hearts
The tech that broke our hearts
The breakup: Pebble Time
- Who's the dumper? Jeramy Johnson
- How long I owned it: 2 years
- Why it broke my heart: Like many in the tech sphere, I've fallen for one too many crowdfunding darlings, only to be disappointed in the end. The one crowdfunding product that not only met but exceeded, my expectations was the Pebble Time smartwatch.
At a time when Wear OS was just finding its footing (it arguably still hasn't), Fitbit only made basic fitness trackers, and the Apple Watch was barely a thing, Pebble delivered what is still my favorite take on the smartwatch. A simple, yet effective OS, notification responses that worked with Android AND iPhone, waterproofing, clicky buttons, and an underrated e-ink screen were all huge selling points for me. So when the company was acquired by Fitbit in 2016 and the Pebble products gradually lost official support, I was crushed. I haven't owned a own "real" smartwatch since.
Get this instead
Minor updates create an even better fitness smartwatch.
The Fitbit Versa 2 isn't a drastic upgrade from its predecessor, but the changes it makes are all for the better. The shift to an AMOLED display is great to see, Fitbit Pay is now included by default, and battery life is outstanding. FitbitOS still has room to grow, but as a new entry into Fitbit's ever-growing ecosystem, the Versa 2 stands out as a strong addition.
The breakup: Google Pixel 4
- Who's the dumper? Andrew Myrick
- How long I've owned it: 4 months
- Why it broke my heart: Just about everything with the Pixel 4 is great, including the design, the Oh So Orange color, and those cameras. Man, those cameras. But what absolutely killed the Pixel for me was the battery life. Not even being able to make it through even half of the day before needing to recharge is so frustrating that I had to look elsewhere.
The first time I pointed my Pixel 4 at the night sky and was able to see the stars, I fell in love. And then the more that I used the phone, I realized that it just wasn't the right phone for me because of the battery. Getting, at max, 4-5 hours of screen-on time is just something that I can't live with on a day-to-day basis. If Google had released an OEM battery case, then this may not have made the list for me.
Get this instead
There are other better phones for your money.
A beautiful display, great cameras, fantastic battery life, and the benefit of the S Pen has turned the Note 10+ into one of my favorite devices. One UI has transformed the old stigma of TouchWiz and made this into an enjoyable experience across the board.
The breakup: LIFX smart lights
- Who's the dumper? Chris Wedel
- How long I owned it: 3+ years
- Why it broke my heart: I've owned smart lights from a variety of manufacturers over the years, and one that I keep trying over and over, hoping that the bulbs magically work for me are the lights from LIFX. The idea of smart lights that have brilliant colors, multiple form factors, and no hub seems right up my alley. However, each time I set the lights up, hoping for the best, but in the end, I have to break up with them.
Of all the smart home devices I have used and still use, the lights from LIFX give me the most headaches. The lights continuously fall off the network, and I cannot get them to work locally or via the cloud. I've spent far more time that a person should with their support team, which tries, but still can't seem to solve the problem permanently. When the lights work, LIFX lights are my favorite because of the brightness and color saturation — but inevitably, I end up heartbroken.
Get this instead
Though I prefer the hubless LIFX bulbs and the better saturation of colors they offer, in the end, I need my smart lights to be smart. Philips Hue bulbs are reliable and offer great integrations with my Google Assistant speakers. They even have a return to prior state option which is wonderful for when the power goes out
The breakup: 2016-2018 MacBook Pro
- Who's the dumper? Hayato Huseman
- How long I've owned it: Four years
- Why it broke my heart: I've been a Mac user since I could first afford a used plastic MacBook from Craigslist in high school, partially because Apple's laptops have always been remarkably reliable for me. At least, until the 2016 redesign came around. I pre-ordered one of the then-new MacBook Pros as soon as it was available … then quickly became intimately familiar with its pitfalls.
The lack of non-USB-C ports never bothered me (though the removal of the SD card slot continues to enrage me each and every day). What really did me in was the disastrous keyboard and its shockingly high failure rate, compounded with the utterly useless and equally unreliable Touch Bar above it. I've been through two MacBook Pro models of this design generation and countless Apple Store visits, and it's certainly made me question my relationship with MacOS.
Get this instead
The fix we shouldn't have needed
Call it Stockholm Syndrome if you'd like — I'm still hesitant to recommend a MacBook Pro after these last few years of frustrations, but the most recent model reverts back to the traditional scissor switches for a much more reliable feel. It's also incredibly fast and has a massive battery. Now if only they could do something about that Touch Bar.
The breakup: Google's messaging strategy
- Who's the dumper? Daniel Bader
- How long I've used it: Way too long
- Why it broke my heart: When Google launched Hangouts in 2013, I thought that was it — I'd be able to settle into a cross-platform, properly-synced messaging platform that worked across mobile and the web. All my friends and family would use it, and that would be that.
But that didn't happen. While Hangouts still exists, it's on its way out, and in the meantime, Google's launched and shuttered another bunch of services.
Now the company is leaning into RCS, which sits on top of, or beside, or inside — I don't know the proper analogy — SMS, but once again Google has bungled the launch, allowing carriers to circumvent any universality. Plus, RCS isn't end-to-end encrypted, which makes it less interesting to me for sensitive data, and Apple likely will never support it, so I'll never be able to take for granted that most people in my life will seamlessly use it.
Google, just buy Telegram or something and get your shit together.
Get this instead
Better than WhatsApp — and whatever Google's doing.
Telegram is a great messaging service I wish more people would use. It's got the best features of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage and every other dedicated messaging app, but it's cross-platform. On Android, it's lightweight and reliable, and doesn't cost anything. If you're looking for a replacement for WhatsApp or a good alternative to RCS, try Telegram.
The breakup: 2016 MacBook Pro 13-inch
- Who's the dumper? Andrew Martonik
- How long I've owned it: 3 years, 3 months
- Why it broke my heart: I know Hayato is writing something similar about his 15-inch MacBook Pro of the same era, but I have no problems with dogpiling here to tell the story of using my 13-inch Pro. Buying it at the end of 2016, I've since had the entire top deck replaced once for the infamous keyboard problems, multiple trips to the Apple Store for individual key fixes, and two battery replacements.
That's a lot of core hardware issues, on top of the frustrations over the Touch Bar generally being useless, and battery life being fine and nothing more. I don't even have a problem with the feel of the keyboard, I just hate how unreliable its switches are. I don't even mind the Touch Bar (and I love Touch ID), I just want a real escape key. I've even fully embraced using only USB-C. There are many fundamentals of this machine that are really good — but frustratingly there are others that are really bad.
You'll hear some version of this exact story from so many people in our industry, and the frustration comes from the fact that we want to use a MacBook Pro — just not this MacBook Pro. I've had a MacBook since 2008, I'm very familiar with macOS, and I appreciate the historical tenets of Apple laptops: the general design, robustness of the hardware, display quality, reliability and battery life. Apple just, for whatever reason, got away from those strengths with this generation and it's incredibly disappointing. And for once it makes me question whether I should replace it with another MacBook.
Get this instead
Refinements that should've been here from the start.
Apple "fixed" many of the issues with the first generation of Touch Bar MacBook Pros. But it isn't out of the woods entirely, because we're all looking at things more critically now — and this is a very expensive machine to be unsure about.
The breakup: iRobot Roomba 690
- Who's the dumper? Joe Maring
- How long I owned it: 1 year and 6 months
- Why it broke my heart: The Roomba 690 was the first (and last) robot vacuum I've ever owned. I bought it the same day I got my treasured Sonos Beam, and I thought it was going to change my cleaning routine for the better. I've never minded vacuuming, but the idea of having a gadget that could do it for me so I could focus on other tasks was a dream come true.
I went into the Roomba 690 very optimistic, but then I started using it. And I wanted to tear my hair out.
When the Roomba 690 worked, it was great. It cleaned dirt and dust quite well, and transitioned from hardwood to carpeted floors without a problem. Unfortunately, those instances of bliss were rare. The majority of my time using the Roomba 690 was spent watching it ram into walls and chairs at full force, locking itself in a bathroom or closet, and failing to see its charging station even when it was directly in front of it. There were also the countless notifications letting me know it was on the edge of a cliff when it had stumbled onto a power cord.
I spent more time having to pick up and guide the Roomba 690 than it would have taken just to manually vacuum myself, and that's exactly what I ended up doing a few months after owning it.
Get this instead
A robot vacuum you'll want to use
The Roborock E25 costs about the same as the Roomba 690, and it's better in virtually every way. It makes a virtual map of your home, preventing unwanted collisions with furniture and walls, and can even double as a mop in addition to its vacuum function.
The breakup: Android Wear / Wear OS
- Who's the dumper? Nick Sutrich
- How long I used it: 5 years
- Why it broke my heart: Android Wear (now called WearOS) debuted five years ago with the promise of making your real watch something better than just a way to tell time. While it nailed the form factor and has the support of a boatload of amazing companies that make real watches, Google's failings on the software front and Qualcomm's failings on a deep hardware level have completely broken any hopes and dreams I had left for the platform.
Despite consistent updates and a range of new hardware debuting all the time (as recently as CES last month), WearOS watches are terrible. They're slow. They don't work well. They have terrible battery life, and the software is constantly problematic. I wanted this to work, and I've waited years for things to get better but they just never do. Google, I'm breaking up with you and your platform, and it pains me to do so.
Get this instead
Looks great, works even better
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2 is the latest smartwatch from Samsung. It's got a gorgeous design, a user-friendly interface, multi-day battery life, and basically everything else you want from your smartwatch.
The breakup: Xbox One S
- Who's the dumper? Marc Lagace
- How long I used it: 3 years
- Why it broke my heart: I feel like the gaming industry as a whole has been breaking my heart for the past decade or so, but few pieces of tech have frustrated and disappointed me more than gaming on my Xbox One S.
The issues started shortly after I opened the box and started setting things up. All told, with all the required system updates and the "convenience" of downloading and installing games directly onto the console, it took well over 12 hours before I was able to play a game. Call me petty, but the whole process seriously soured me on the console from day one and I still get salty having to wait for massive games to download and install. I've also had issues just buying games from the Microsoft Store which If not for the great value Xbox Game Pass provides and my interest in checking out game streaming with xCloud, I probably would have sold my Xbox by now.
Truth be told, it was a close call between Google Stadia or Xbox One for my biggest tech heartbreak. But the more I thought about it, the more I've actually come to appreciate how quick and painless Stadia's game streaming services truly are. When a new game is added to Stadia, I can dive right in and play without wasting my time with downloads and updates and that's just what I want from a gaming platform in 2020. Google still has a ways to go to catch up to Microsoft and Sony in terms of its game library, but the underlying technology is fast.
Get this instead
All that you need to game on Stadia.
The Stadia Premiere Edition includes all that you need to get started. The bundle includes a Chromecast Ultra, Stadia Controller, and three free months of Stadia Pro for you and a friend.
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