I had been holding off on buying a bunch of things and in the past six months have finally gotten around buying them. Some out of necessity, some out of opportunity, some out of ... well, just because. This post describes what I was looking for, my demands, the options my research found, and what I went for. I hope it helps you if you're looking for anything like this, or inspires you if you weren't (sorry! ;) )
In general, and in particular when it comes to tech, when I'm looking to buy something new I want something recent. Amazon has best seller
lists of various categories, but you can't filter them by age or price range. But that puts the "JBL Flip 4" at the top of portable audio
, made in 2017, in the 75-100 dollar price range. Not what I wanted. That makes them a little useless for me, apart from a good starter. And makes it involve a lot of research. Of course, it's sometimes hard to trust those scores anyways, but that's a different story.
In addition, I've heavily leaned on a Dutch pricewatch site (tweakers.net/pricewatch
) which, as far as I can tell at the time of writing, is still a fairly accurate price comparison site for Dutch stores. Although it never hurts to also do an extra search, especially in the case of cutting edge releases. For many things I probably spent more time deliberating than it was worth it, but so be it.
- mobile phone
- computer screen / monitor
- docking station
- mouse / keyboard
- music (speakers)
I had been running an htc handset for a couple of years now. I think since the M7, up to the U12. The U12 was an excellent last choice because of the double sim card support. We had just moved to London and wanted to keep our Dutch sims as well so that was super.
Now that we're back, and two years later, and my screen was partially broken, I wanted a new phone and needed a new mobile plan. Requirements were pretty straightforward:
- dual sim support
- flagship feature phone
- not a Samsung
- 5+ gb / month (+text/calls but who cares about that these days)
- 10 eur / month
Unfortunately that leaves my choices just a few. I had used the Google Pixel 3 at fb for my work phone. That was okay but not super impressive. The Pixel 4 had just been released but reviews were pretty bad so I didn't want to take a chance.
Before the Pixel, I had a Samsung 10 for work phone and just hated that thing. So no Samsung.
HTC had no new release in 2019, maybe 2020, but I couldn't wait that long. So ultimately that almost automatically ends up you with OnePlus.
Ultimately there were 4 models of the OnePlus 7
- 7, 7 pro, 7T, 7T pro
- released between June and Octoer 2019
- prices range from like 500 to 1000 eur
The 7 was definitely not the model but it took me a long time before making my final pick. The problem was that the 7 pro's had a pop-up selfy cam, meaning it physically pops out. I was a little hesitant about that.
Ultimately, after carefully weighing my options and checking various prices of various models and plan combinations and doing the math I ended up with the most expensive model, the 7T pro ("mclaren editition", barf). It was simply the one with the most diskspace and memory, newest model, and price deltas between my second choice were just a few tens of euro so why not.
Mobile phone plans are a pita to compare because they have many misleading advertisements and all comparison sites can't be trusted either. Made more complex by me wanting to compare the price of a plan + mobile phone and average cost per month (regardless of whether I'd buy it separately, bundled, and how much I paid extra). So a lot of puzzling.
Holy moly mobile plans are still expensive in NL. I had a 10 euro 3gb giffgaff plan in London but anything close to that is 15-20 euro here. So. Expensive.
I ended up paying 944 euro for a 1 year plan, 5gb/month, tmobile. Paying about 750 euro for the phone and 16/mo for the plan.
Have it for about six months now. No regrets. It's a solid phone. Charges superfast and meets the few demands I have. Packaging is nice (but who really cares) and it comes with a really nice soft back bumper (wasted 10 eur on getting one before I received the phone, uups).
One downside is that their "game mode" is a little awkward to get out of. Something I got used to.
In hindsight, the 7T or 7 pro would probably have suited me fine as well. This is definitely something I'm a sucker for.
The new model was announced last week. It finally supports wireless charging. That is _very_ interesting, but I don't think I could put myself to buy a new phone just for the sake of that, when the 7t pro works fine for me. If I really wanted wireless charging, I could go for some of the flat usb-c options out there. But honestly, the "warp" charging works fine for me.
Before moving to London I had two wall mounted 21" screens. In London we didn't have a space so I exclusively worked on my laptop. Now that we were back, and I was gonna work from home again, I wanted a solid setup again. Including new screens.
I really wanted a dual screen setup so I was looking into two 21" or 24" screens. Aside from that I wanted thin bezels and wall mountable. And decent quality. Like I was willing to pay over 500 per screen. That's not gonna give you super 8k screens but decent ones.
I had almost locked in to something like this LG 27UK650, when somehow (I don't remember how) I learned about "PbP" mode, which is "picture by picture". It turned out there were ultrawide screens that supported this. Well _that_ was interesting.
There are two important parts that make pbp mode important to me:
- I have a laptop with weak gpu which cannot drive 2xUHD (5120x1440) properly
- My workflow really enjoys being able to maximize a window on one of the two screens and rarely on the whole width
The pbp mode of an ultrawide solves this gracefully because to the computer it's still two individual screens! That means I don't have to simulate two individual screens in linux, and don't have to worry about apps ignoring that and going ultrawide fullscreen anyways. That. Is. Great.
Okay, so I ditched my dual-screen plans and hunted for an ultrawide instead. In my last days at fb I borrowed an empty desk with ultrawide for a few days to give that a spin. It wasn't enough time to get a clear feeling for it but I also wasn't against it.
After some research I had a few models / outcomes:
- Dell U4919DW
- Acer EI491CR
- LG's pbp was software driven, apparently, which people did not recommend. So I skipped LG.
- Dell Alienware apparently had no pbp mode, deal breaker
- Philips 499P9H
- Asys ROG Strix XG49VQ
- Samsung c49rg90
The Samsung was last on the list. I compared prices and features to the other ones and was about to pick the Philips when somebody suggested the Samsung. Was cutting edge, just released. Its specs seemed to beat everything else and reviews were very good.
So that's what I ultimately went with, Samsung LC49RG90SS. A 49" ultra-wide screen.
I was afraid that the curve would be a problem on my desk but that turns out to be fine. The glare is a bit of a problem in my living room, with bright light, but managable.
It took me a little while before getting to a friendly setup because certain plugs did not support 100hz. The screen can do 120hz ultrawide but 100hz pbp and only 60hz over hdmi. Tbh 100hz is fine for me but my laptop only had one dp-out and one hdmi-out so I worked with that initially. That doesn't work well because then you clearly see the difference in hz.
After a while I got a thunderbolt 3 dock and now I'm running one screen through the dock and one screen through the power usb-c port (while charging over thunderbolt, of course). That works fine and allows me to do dual pbp @ 100hz.
The screen itself has a "fat ass". I don't like that because I still haven't come around to put it up the wall, so it takes up some 30cm on my desk and I still feel it's too close to my face. It does come with a wall-mount-support so that thing is going on a wall at some point. I just don't quite understand why they had to give it a hump in the center, rather than making it more flat and putting some of that weight in the outer curved cut-outs. Oh well.
The screen set me back some 1200 euro in October 2019. On black friday I saw it listed for under 1000. Not unexpected but I didn't want to wait that long for the gamble because this is my work desk. Apparently you could get it for 1150 eur so I'm not sweating that too much :)
Unfortunately I have some bad experiences with docking stations in linux. Very high tendency to crashing. So instead I went for a regular dock, not specific to the laptop.
There's a few out there but it seems I didn't save my notes for them. Ultimately I went for a CalDigit TS3 Plus, at 270 euro. First purchase in an Apple store :p
Initially that worked fine for my screen and power, but the usb and audio ports were dead to linux. After some further investigation, it turns out that I needed to authorize
the thunderbolt dock before in order to get the other ports to work. But since I have, it works great. Really happy with the dock.
For power I initially got a "Hyper USB-C 87W + USC-A 70W adapter" for 90 eur because I only had UK plugs for my laptop power and that was annoying (I think the charger is for 87 watt, but whatever). In the end I'm now charging my laptop through the CalDigit dock, so this is more of a phone/device charger than anything else. But works great at that :)
Mouse / Keyboard
I still strongly prefer a mouse over laptop touchpad so when I can, I'll use an actual mouse.
I have been using a Logitech MX Master mouse ever since it was released and am still really happy with it. They released the v3 a few months back so that's what I'm rocking right now. In hindsight, I'm not sure whether the v3 is better than the v2, but I guess it worse either. A little different.
Keyboards are a different story. While I'll never get the satisfaction of my Trust Ergo Track, I've still been searching for a proper keyboard that fits my needs. I've tried some mechanical keyboards, and they are fine, but the past two years I worked about 50% of the time on a laptop and I noticed I actually quite like the travel speed and lightness of those keys. So I decided to ditch the mechanical keyboard idea (anyone want one, I got a few dusting up) and find something more laptop-y.
And I'll be damned, together with the v3 of the MX Master mouse, Logitech released an MX Keys keyboard (120 eur?).
The downside to Logitech keyboards is that they are FUCKING UP the European market with weird keys so I pulled some strings to import the proper model from the US.
After using it a few months here's my take on it;
- It seems the shift key is a bit too sticky, as I often find myself starting sentences with two capitals.
- USB-c charging, nice. I charge it roughly once per one-two weeks, full daily utilization. (Mouse is like once a month or so, also usb-c)
- Nice and slim, fairly light
- Weird audio control layout. If you look at the keyboard, the "toggle mute" and "volume down" buttons are fn-keys shared with f11 and f12. But the "volume up" button is solo, with no other function. I think they should have made the toggle the stand-alone button, since you're more prone to want to quickly hit that, than the volume up button.
- Three dedicated buttons to receive control. They could have been physical buttons, like on the mouse, imo. I sometimes hit them randomly. But I have actually set them up, because I can hop onto the local tty of my NUC this way :)
- Keyboard lights up if it detects movement near it. That is ... nice? I dunno.
- No light indicator for the numlock or ins. Sometimes annoying.
- The lock key is just ctrl+l and effectively a dead key for me.
- Works well under linux, out of the box. Will require windows for its config app, of course. But that doesn't need to be the same machine.
Overall, I'm still quite happy with this keyboard even if the layout could use some work. Would love to talk to somebody who designs these layouts some day and understand certain choices better... :/
Similar to the computer screens, I wanted a new tv. We had a relatively old tv (from like, 2013?) which worked fine but ... well it was 2013. We moved to a new house so I wanted a new tv. I went looking.
After some research, lcd or oled, what is what in 2019, and Dutch market compatibility, I ended up with a few options;
- Philips 55OLED854/12
- Panasonic TX-55GZT1506
- Sony KD-55AG9
- Panasonic TX-55GZW2004 --> GZW2004 / GZT1506 / GZW1004
Now, let me save you some searching ... these are all quite pricy models. 2.000 - 2.000 eur. That did not sit well with my partner. On top of that she was not quite amused by the size, but a 55" is about the smallest these oled screens come and I really wanted this because from what I could tell that's the best on the market currently.
Anyways. Some sensible discussion later and I'm looking at the LG OLED55B9PLA she suggested instead. This the "b9", the entry level. There's also a c9 and e9.
After some research I was happy with this model and ended up getting the middle one, the C9 (LG OLED55C9PLA). I waited for Black Friday and snagged it up for 1600 eur. Apparently you can get one now for 1.230 eur, but at the time the norm was 2.300 eur so I'm okay with this.
While my wife had some doubts about it initially, and especially the size, I think she's okay with it now. Still feels like it's more than we need, but I think she enjoys it more than she initially thought :) Or maybe I hope so.
One of the last things I got was a webcam. Having cleaned up my desktop and no longer actually working on my laptop, I only used it for the webcam. Which was becoming annoying. So I set out to search.
Holy moly the webcam market is crap. I was looking for something with a hint of industrial design. Or short of that, something that looked funky (while, of course, still having some cam quality). But if you're looking at 100-200 euro cams you really just don't get anything that looks nice. Really sad. Also, image searching for certain (innocent) keywords together with "cam" can lead you to some very dark places.
Anyways, here is my disappointing shortlist. Note that prices have inflated a bit, I was searching for it one or two weeks into the outbreak and prices were on the rise.
- logitech streamcam: Fresh release, 160 eur, no usb-c
- logitech brio: 200-260 eur, usb-c, cable can be released
- kiyo: some design going on here, light as part of the cam
- logitech C920s: 140 eur, no usb-c, a bit older but still at the top of most lists
Preferably I had gone for a webcam that looked nice, performed well, and had a proper hardware privacy switch. I went with the C920s because it seems popular, good quality, and at least came with a visual privacy screen. Though tbh, that privacy screen is really just a separate plastic cover. But it blocks the view and that's important. I wish it had a way to cut the microphone but I guess that's not in the books right now. And let's face it, my laptop still has a mic too so ... shrug.
I really considered the brio for a long time, almost pulled the trigger on it, but just couldn't defend the 100 euro extra tag considering there was a good model that would perform just as well. So I didn't, this time :)
The C920s performs fine for me (plug-n-play linux). It took me a few days to get used to the cam on the top of my ultrawide, but now I hardly notice it anymore. I put it in the center, and when I put video calls in the top-middle of the screen (right below where the cam is sitting) the positioning is fine so it looks as if I'm looking at the person, rather than left or right of them.
This is probably the biggest "head ache dosier". Moving into a new house I wanted some decent music playing again because in London we basically played radio over the tv. Various reasons why that was sub-par.
In our previous place I had proper audio setup with an Onkyo receiver and a 5.1 setup for tv and two more tweeters for music. Hooked up to computer and everything, it worked quite well. But it was overkill. So I ditched it when we moved out.
So now what. When we just moved to London I had pulled the trigger on four Bose SoundTouch 10's. They were wireless speakers that could be connected to each other. After getting a decent deal on them (500 gbp) my experience was sub-par. What could have been a great concept was just a haze of disconnections and desyncs. It worked only sometimes but was such a disappointment that I actually returned them. The bar for me to return something is high. We listened to radio on tv instead for the remaining time there.
Back in NL I wanted something more concrete for music. I still had my Bose QC35's. After about 4 years they're still superb and the only way for me to work while the kids are home. But when they're not, I don't mind listening to background music, rather than headsound. Additionally, I want some more sound in the house because it's relatively quiet without music. I also want our kids to listen to music, whether theirs or ours.
Initially my constraints were a little rough.
- Something that played nice music
- Not as physically invasive as a big receiver.
- Looks decent on a dressoir in the middle of the house.
- Play decent quality music, even without having a proper speaker setup.
- something that played Spotify and my computer audio.
- stretch goal; something with a battery that we could take into the garden
- 100-300 eur but no hard bounds
To be fair, I didn't actually understand how Spotify Connect worked. Wishful thinking on that part. TIL.
There were some options... This has kept me busy for a few nights. In no specific order;
- Sonos move
- JLB Charge 4
- JBL Pulse 4
- JBL Xtreme 2
- AudioPro Addon T3
- Dali Katch
- B&O Play Beolit 17
- Bose SoundLink Mini II
- MARSHALL Stanmore II
- Denon DSB-250BT Envaya
- Audio Pro Addon C3
- Naim Mu-so Qb v2
- Ultimate Ears Blast
- Audio Pro A10
- Megaboom 3
- Anker SoundCore 2
- Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
- JBL boombox
- bose soundlink revolve+
- Minirig 3
- minirig mini
- minirig sub
- Tribit X Sound Go
Ugh. So much ugh.
At the end of my long story short I stumbled upon the minirigs. I really liked the designs and despite it not showing up on many of the lists, the ones that did had good ratings for it. I think it wasn't on most of the lists because it was a UK brand focusing more on local market. The rigs didn't support Spotify Connect so I got an Audio Pro A10 to serve as a bridge, thinking it could run as a sort of standalone Spotify server.
So that's what I ended up buying ... at first. A Minirig 3 @ 140 eur, its subwoofer @ 140 eur, and an Audio Pro Link 1 @ 100 eur.
The rigs were okay. Their design was good and packaging was great. Sound is fine as far as I can tell.
- Much to my shagrin, the power connectors were proprietary for the speakers and the other side was a "weird" usb plug which also served as an extension for another usb plug. So you could plug one into another.
- The cords were super thin so I was worried that they would break easily.
- When all the cords are plugged in, it looks really really messy.
- The controls were too simplistic, with just one button for on-off and audio-level toggle. These boxes were meant to be used as bluetooth. Turns out, I don't like that.
Even on the desktop they didn't work well for me because the sound was going up (behind my screen). Charging and playing didn't work well for me. Overall I just wasn't happy with this and I put them back in the box.
The Link 1 was ... my mistake. With zero physical controls everything still requires your mobile phone as a controller. Additionally, physically, the top cutout is very annoying to my fingers. I just didn't understand what Spotify Connect was.
A second round of searching for music had me some hard lessons learned. Time for new parameters:
- Support for DAB+ radio (the European followup of FM radio) so we can listen to regular radio
- Spotify Connect
- Nice design
Turns out that the dab+ requirement restricted the models to more European ones. Fortunately for me there was one model that sticked out well beyond all the others: Roberts Radio Stream 67
This has a retro look while having very positive reviews. I bought one for 206 eur. Very happy with it, actually. Physical turn knobs to turn on the radio, no frills there. Simple connect to spotify. Good radio connection. Easy volume control (because twist knob). On all accounts, really happy with this purchase.
For my desktop I ended up buying an Audio Pro Addon C5. Because when the kids are at school and my wife is at work I do like to listen to music without headphones. Unfortunately the virus crisis kicked in shortly after getting these so I haven't really used it yet. So far it worked fine but can't really tell yet.
I got a NUC, a "Next Unit of Computing", to do benchmark tests for work.
Some options, in no particular order:
- Intel NUC
- MSI Cubi 3 Silent S-026EU
- SKIKK (rebranded intel nuc NU87KE )
- Aurora Fanless PC
- ZOTAC ZBOX CI660 NANO
- HP z2 mini
I did have a lookaround and while the silent / fanless variants looked very appealing, ultimately the form factor of Intel's NUC's, which are smaller than a dvd, just beats anything else considering the power you get in return.
I got a NUC10i7FNH, with an i7 10th gen and 64gb, for 1145 eur. This is the flatter model
), as there's also a model that has space for 2.5" (beware), but I wasn't planning to use that anyways. It runs a headless ubuntu with everything stripped and it performs well as a dedicated benchmark machine :D
Note that this could serve as a regular pc. For me the thing that holds me back is having zero mobility. Maybe I can hack together a tiny PSU that would allow me to move from downstairs to attic in a pinch, or maybe even travel in suspend mode. Together with a smal form factor mobile screen, moues, keyboard. Perhaps a bit clunky but it could work. And an eGPU at home, provided that sort of thing actually works with linux at all.
They did just announce the NUC9 Extreme "Ghost Canyon" (shouldn't that be a nuc10?). Considerably larger
) than its 4"x4" siblings but seems to be a worthy tiny powerhouse computer. Probably not going to buy one myself (no promises).
For now I'll stick to my laptop.