This week we're sharing the hardware, software, tips and tricks, that keep our blogging wheels spinning. Today, I'm sharing my favourite gear, apps, hacks and tricks — the things that help me balance my busy days filled with work, family, and personal projects.
The last time we did this series I was a reader who was also at that time transitioning into my new role as a Lifehacker writer. So, as you can imagine, I loved that inside peek into my fellow writers' setups and have taken more than a tip or two from them. I'll offer some contrariness too, though, in this "getting to know you" post. Here's what I use:
Desktops & Laptops
I'll admit, I have a lot of computers, and technology is my spending Achilles' heel. Unlike the other Lifehacker writers, I don't name my computers. Maybe I should and it would make me feel closer to these devices. Or maybe it would make me feel sadder when I inevitably put the machines out to pasture.
Laptop: Dell XPS 15: This is the machine I use when I don't want to be tied to the desk or when I need a Windows setup, and I really love it. It's also the family laptop, spec'ed out for entertainment. It has astounding (I mean, stunning) audio for a laptop and a great HD display. If I don't see any nice ultrabooks come out by mid-year/fall (Alan described this new class of ultra-thin Windows laptops, if you're curious), I'm claiming this for my main work machine and the family can have the iMac.
- Laptop: Toshiba M700: This 12-inch convertible tablet PC is a little more than three years old but still running pretty strong. I put the Windows 8 developer preview on it and was able to see some of the cool new features in Windows 8 on it, including the touch apps. That's pretty much why I'm still keeping it around: I'm an old-school convertible tablet user and waiting for Windows 8 to bring some new touch features to convertible laptops. (I like the stylus and am not afraid to admit it.) Painting, taking notes, and inking with the pen in apps like Corel Painter, OneNote and SketchBook Pro is just everything you want it to be on a good tablet.
- Netbook: Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t: It's a netbook — small and light, for the most part — but also with a touchscreen. I got it as a gift and have dreams of taking romantic day trips with it to the countryside, but that never happens and so it just lies around waiting to be repurposed.
Because I regularly review and write about laptops it's always tempting for me to get a new computer. The next time we do this series my list will surely be very different. I'm holding out for a hybrid convertible tablet/laptop do-it-all something that I can write on and that runs Windows 8.
Phones, Tablets And Other Mobile Devices
I've always been a bit of a mobile gadget geek and have gone through a lot of devices through the years. From the Zaurus and Handspring PDAs to early Windows Mobile phones to the first Android G1 smartphone, I'd been seeking that perfect "computer in a pocket" device. Today's crop of smartphones and tablets, though, are everything I could have imagined and more.
- Samsung Galaxy S II: This phone has a giant, beautiful display and is thin, lightweight, and zippy. After almost two years of hell with a Motorola Cliq, I'm in heaven.
- iPad (2nd Generation): I was skeptical about the iPad when it first came out, but now after getting the tablet I use it daily. First thing in the morning, I grab the iPad and get back in bed to read my RSS feeds and find stuff to write about — getting work done while sort of half awake under the covers. For me, that's the best thing about the iPad. (For the other benefits, you'll have to ask my daughter, as she uses it the other 90 per cent of the time.)
- iPod Touch (3rd Generation): This came for free with the iMac, so I use it to test out iOS apps, as an MP3 player and just for games. (We've been playing The Sheeps lately. It's fun.)
For desk accessories I have the Microsoft Wireless Comfort Keyboard 5000, Apple Magic Mouse and the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300, on my desk. I love the touch gestures of the Magic Mouse — swiping left to go back or right to go forward in your browser history is just awesome, and the little ScanSnap scanner takes up hardly any room on my desk, yet can be pulled out quickly to digitise a doc.
As for mobile accessories, I have an awful lot of laptop bags, in part because companies send me bags to review and also just because I'm a girl who likes bags. Rather than bore you with all of them, I'll just mention a few: The Sumdex She Rules Nicole Modern Backback, which I think is discontinued now, but is a lightweight backpack made for petite people like me and fits laptops up to 14 inches, and the Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger, really roomy and well made, plus you can customise it almost completely. For travelling, the Wenger Rolling Laptop Case is a sturdy rolling case that also doubles as a carry-on. It fits under most airline seats (I've kicked it enough times) and has a load of compartments.
These are the things I bring with me on the go:
- Microfibre cloth: Probably the most important tech accessory of all.
- Cruzer 16GB Flash Drive: I know everyone else has an iamakey but for some reason I went the Cruzer route and that's that.
- When travelling, Technocel Universal Travel Charger and Back Up Battery: You know the deal, you have too many devices can't charge them all. This universal charging device does double duty — it's a USB charger with a slew of tips to match different devices and it is a portable battery in and of itself (the PowerPack holds a charge for up to a year to power up your devices).
- Nikon D40: It takes incredible pictures and is the perfect size for me (it's one the smallest and lightest of the Nikon DSLRs).
- Eye-Fi memory card: Inside that camera, I use the Eye-Fi memory card, which is great because it automatically uploads pics to my computer over Wi-Fi. It can also upload to Picasa and other sites.
I use mostly desktop programs, and a handful of web apps too. For obvious reasons, I prefer cross-platform apps and free ones (relying on Lifehacker's annual free apps we're most thankful for for inspiration), but will shell out money for software when it matters.
Web Browser, Extensions And Web Apps
Chrome user here, for the dead-simple syncing across systems. These are my favourite extensions:
- Lazarus: Recovers form data in case you accidentally hit the back button, your browser crashes, or any other catastrophe happens. I don't know what I would do without it.
- After The Deadline: Checks spelling, style and grammar. Sure, I still make mistakes, but you'd see more if I didn't have this installed.
- Invisible Hand: Automatic price checks when shopping online. Easy savings!
- Mighty Text: Send and receive SMS from the browser, so I can leave my phone downstairs.
- Google Dictionary: Double-click on words to look them up, so you don't have to leave the page
- Reeder for Chrome: Makes Google Reader look nicer
As for web apps, Springpad is where I collect ideas, make lists, save web clippings and try to organise every aspect of my life. I'm a sucker for beautiful UIs. Read It Later is my tool for bookmarking articles I'm going to write about. And then you have the usual Google suspects: Google Reader, Google Docs, and Google Calendar.
These are the programs I use every day on the Mac and/or on Windows — or at least the ones I can't do without. All are cross-platform unless noted otherwise.
- Dropbox. Until recently, when I was able to get more space thanks to the photo and video upload offer, I was over the limit on storage on Dropbox (Lifehacker shared folders are massive). So I was also using SugarSync, which I've long been a fan of and I think has great features too, but I don't need more syncing services so am phasing out SugarSync.
- GoodSync: For syncing computers and drives locally (yup, another syncing program). I use it to backup files to my NAS but you can also use it to set up your own file-syncing Dropbox clone or automate file transfers to your Amazon S3 server, etc.
- Thunderbird: Because I have multiple email addresses and I'm more of an email sorter than a searcher.
- Trillian for instant messaging
- TypeIt4Me (Mac): A text expander app that saves so much time. It's $US20, but well worth it, and our favourite text expansion app.
- TweetDeck: For keeping up with Twitter and Facebook.
- ShiftIt (Mac): Moves windows and snaps them them around, like Windows 7 does. I love this app with all my heart.
- 1Password: A desktop and mobile password manager and form filler. It's pricey ($US50 for each desktop edition), but I prefer a desktop password manager rather than an online one like LastPass and free KeePassX doesn't have the same robust features that I want.
- Skitch: For taking screenshots and annotating them
- Backblaze: For easy, unlimited online backup (that's cheap too)
Truth be told, while I try out a lot of mobile apps, I only use few of them frequently. Here are my favourites, beside the more obvious ones like Gmail.
- PdaNet (all mobile OSes): This tethering app has saved my hide a number of times.
- Zite (iOS): Magazine-style newsreader that recommends articles based on what you read
- Astrid Tasks: I'm still looking for the perfect to-do list app, to be honest, but Astrid has every feature out there.
- Dolphin Browser HD (Android): As the other Lifehacker editors noted, just a stellar mobile browser.
- Antivirus Free (Android): From AVG, this antivirus app not only scans apps and files in real time, it can remote lock and wipe your phone. I lost a phone once and since then insist on having something like this installed.
- Alarm Clock Free (iOS): Because you have to wake the hell up. I set the alarm on the iPod for naps.
Tips & Tricks Closest To My Heart
This section is the hardest to write, thanks to Lifehacker's plethora of tips and tricks over the years.
- Take a More Realistic Approach to Your To-Do List with the 3+2 Rule: I tend to overbook myself, and definitely feel less stressed and more productive when I limit my task goals for the day to just three things.
- Learn from Elites: Consolidate Your Most Important Work Hours into Distinct Periods: Like working only your "good hours," there are times when each of us are at our peak. I've learned when I'm really struggling with a project to take a break or postpone it for the morning or late evening when I work best. It's made a huge difference in getting stuff done and freeing up my time too.
- Salt your steak: That's not the title of the post, but, boy, learning to really salt the heck out of a steak 40 minutes before cooking it transformed my meat-eating experience.