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Blog posts and video from Steven as he “COMBS” through the minutia to discover tech, retro-computing, physical computing, gadgets and sci-fi.

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15 September 2015

The electronic devices we use

by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.
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I’m often asked what electronic devices we use on a regular basis. This post lists those devices and provides a bit of information about their use and location in our home. This is a live, and very unorganized, list that I will update regularly as new devices become favored and old devices fall out of favor. Old devices will remain in the list; however, they will receive strike through highlighting. There are copious hyperlinks through the list. Some will take you to a purchase page and others will simply provide further information on an older device.

Device Usage
iPhone 5s This is Nikki’s phone. She uses the phone on the Virgin Mobile network to keep the cost of her plan to $30 monthly.
Nexus 6 My primary phone that runs Android Lollipop 5.1.1. I use this phone on the Google Project Fi network. Project Fi has a unique pricing structure and I rarely spend more than $28/month for my service
Pebble Time I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear a watch again after a five year hiatus; however, the Pebble Time is a very handy adjunct to my Nexus 6. It provides timely, and selected, notifications and lets me control my audio while driving, walking or running. Its a great wearable for Android users and an okay device for iOS users.
iPad Air The iPad Air is my primary tablet. Since the purchase of a large screen Nexus 6, I find myself using the iPad Air less and less. Still, for long form reading, it is the best device I own.
iPad 2 Nikki has used her iPad 2 for several years now. She uses it to read ebooks, scan her work email and play a few casual games. She’s not asked for an upgrade and she’s not had a single complaint. Recently she’s expressed interest in the new 12 inch iPad Pro. It may be time for an upgrade.
Amazon Echo I’ve already written much about the Amazon Echo. Suffice it to say, we are fans of the Echo and it provides us with information, music and home automation control.
50 inch Sony Bravia Television This television is roughly 5 years old and was one of the first so called, “smart televisions.” We no longer use any of the smart television features. Instead we have several devices connected to the television.
Yamaha YSP-1100 Sound Bar Beneath our Sony television sits a 2006 era Yamaha sound bar. This thing still sounds great. The Yamaha setup configures the sound bar to match your room layout. The speakers inside the sound bar actually move to disperse the surround sound channels around the room!
Sony 100 watt Subwoofer To add more punch to our sound bar, a 2005 era Sony 100 watt subwoofer connects to the Yamaha sound bar. Together, the two provide amazing surround without the need for rear speakers.
Amazon Fire TV Our Fire TV is connected to the television in our bedroom. We use it to view content from Amazon Prime, Netflix, Plex and Sling TV.
Chromecast This device is also connected to our bedroom television and is often used to mirror content from my Nexus 6 or from the YouTube apps on our iOS devices.
TiVo HD Another device connected to our Sony television is a 2010 TiVo HD. It serves a single purpose, to DVR local network programming. We have a basic Comcast plan that includes only local cable channels, high speed internet and HBO (didn’t ask for it, but have it anyway). If we were to live in an area were I could mount an aerial antenna or an indoor antenna would capture all the network stations, I would get rid of cable all together.
Mid 2010 Apple Mac mini The last device connected to our bedroom television is a Mac mini. We don’t view content from the Mac mini, but use it as a Plex server to stream our ripped DVDs to the televisions in our home and our mobile devices. It also hosts an Apple Server and iSyncr to sync our iTunes library to my Nexus 6.
Logitech Harmony Home Hub To control all this gadget madness in our bedroom, we use the Harmony remote and home hub. It allows us to press one button and have all devices turn on, switch inputs and ready to control the a selected device. Its the perfect solution for our gadget riddled home.
42 inch Vizio Television This is the primary screen in our living room and is mounted above our fireplace. It’s a great television that is very thin with a thin bezel. It too has smart features, but like the Sony television, we never use them in favor of a more modern device.
Amazon Fire TV Stick This is only device connected to the television in our living room. We also use it to view Amazon Prime, Netflix, Plex and Sling TV content. The television in our living room is not connected to cable.
Kindle Fire HD 7 Honestly, if you use Amazon Fire devices, you need a Kindle Fire for the outstanding X-ray view alone. While watching a show on Amazon Prime, the Fire HD presents information about the movie, actors and even trivia. Look for a sale and you can probably snag one for around $70-$80. For live show, install the Twitter app, search for the live tweets hashtag and join others watching the same show.
Early 2009 24 inch iMac We’ve had this Mac for quite some time and it is my go to mac for blogging at home, grading, and research. In 2012 it received a RAM and SSD upgrade to extend its life. It is a workhorse and an amazing long term value. How many 2009 PCs are still running strong with the latest operating system?
Mid 2014 Mac mini Early this year it was time for Nikki to upgrade her home office computer. We choose a 2014 Mac mini with 8Gb of RAM and a 256Gb SSD. On this computer she uses two Viewsonic 27 inch monitors. Attached is an ergonomic mouse and a Logitech Mac solar bluetooth keyboard.
Early 2015 Macbook My earlier 11 inch Early 2012 MacBook Air didn’t last long. At the time of purchase, I made the mistake to only included 2Gb of RAM. That decision made this Mac obsolete a year later (reminder: Always get the Max amount of RAM possible). I sold it and then saved for a new Early 2015 MacBook. It is the best laptop I’ve ever owned.
Acer C720 Chromebook I bought this Chromebook on a whim during the 2014 Black Friday sales. I was able to snag it from Amazon for $149 (Normally $220). As someone who keeps up with the latest gadgets and operating systems, it was a great way to try ChromeOS. I use it regularly to browse and shop online. It boots faster than any other computer I own and is absolutely the easiest to maintain. ChromeOS has come a long way and I have a blast pushing it to its limits. For the geekier set out there, I’ve even installed Linux on the device to extend its usefulness.
Sonos Play:3 Sonos claims access to all the world’s music. Very close, but not quite there. This device is awesome though. Easy setup over Wi-Fi and you can connect to several online accounts such as Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Google Play and other popular online sources. Even SiriusXM support is built in. It also sounds great. If you have two or more Sonos devices, you can sync the sound to provide around the home coverage of your favorite music, news or podcasts. Our Play:3 sits in our living room.
Sonos Play:1 Similar to the Play:3 above, but smaller and less expensive. Nikki has this in her home office and regularly rocks to local radio and chills to an online Beethoven channel. I anticipate that more of these will show up in our home in the future.

That’s an exhaustive list and as I look around our home, I see other devices I need to include. I will add those as time permits. In the mean time, if you have questions about these devices, please leave them in the comments section below.

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