A timely list of favorite things from 2019.

The idea for this list started in the final hours of 2019 thanks to The Wirecutter’s Twitter feed and me caring enough to respond to it.

Wirecutter Twitter
Twitter at its most civil.

Looking back, I think that when I responded, I was listing these five items — Kobo Clara HD, Nintendo Switch, Google Pixel 3a, Withings Steel HR Sport (I wrote it wrong in the tweet pictured above), and Aldi wines — in a Top Five Favorites type of order. I’m not sure if this order still stands, however, so I will write about them instead in chronological order by purchase date, which actually is pretty similar anyway. But nonetheless!

Kobo Clara HD

Kobo Clara HD
I’m loving reading again.

I’m not sure what happened between, let’s say, 2001 and 2018, but there was a severe lack of reading going on in my life. Like, maybe I read five books in that 17-year span? But near the end of 2018, I picked it back up for no real reason that I can think of (I wanted to read Annihilation) and just got back into it again. So much so that, in the early months of 2019, I decided I wanted to get an ebook reader.

I was still coming off of a year of privacy concerns, so I knew I didn’t want to get a Kindle, which means the only logical competitor to that (and a great one, I might add) is Rakuten’s Kobo line of products. The one closest in size to my wife’s Kindle was the Clara HD, so I went with that and what can I say? I’m loving reading again!

I think what makes this product special to me is, yes, it’s small and light and great for reading, but that it has a few little extra niceties built-in. The backlight transitions from brighter blue light to gentler warmer hues at night to better lull you into sleep. The Kobo lets you log into your Pocket account to catch up on articles you might save to read for later. If you have a library card and have an Overdrive/Libby account, when you search for a book in the Kobo Book Store, a single tap will let you search to see if the book is available through your library and either check it out or put it on hold right then and there.

Anyway, I’m quite pleased with my purchase and if you’re looking for an ebook reader, I highly recommend the Clara HD.

Google Pixel 3a

Google Pixel 3a
It’s a phone.

My wife lost her phone in an airport a few years back. The cheapest solution at the time was for me, a liker of smaller phones, to buy the iPhone SE and give her my like-new iPhone 6s to replace hers with. This was just months after the SE came out, so this was actually a pretty great solution for everyone.

Last year, the SE finally started giving on up itself. I’d have to charge it three times a day with minimal use, and this is after having the battery replaced. I was no longer working for fruit company, so buying a new iPhone seemed like an expensive endeavor — even going through Apple’s Online Refurbished Store seemed expensive, especially with how much an SE in good physical condition would trade-in for ($80).

Then, out of no where (sort of, I guess there were rumors), Google announced and released their “budget” device, the Pixel 3a.

Despite where I was previously employed and owning all Apple products, and still coming down from my getting carried away with online privacy and security, there were a few things working in my favor to moving over to an Android — specifically Google Pixel — device: Very few of the apps and services I use are owned/operated by Apple or Google, so nothing was tying me down; while Google itself is not known for its strong stance on user privacy, their security is pretty top-notch; because Google was in a position of wanting to move units of its newest device, it was offering $250 for my SE and a $100 Google Store credit with purchase of the Pixel 3a.

Once reviews started to roll out about the device, it kinda became a no brainer for me; the price was right ($399) and the trade-in promotion was great! And when the phone arrived, I discovered why people who love their Android devices were always so fiercely protective of it: Android really does let you use it the way that works best for you.

This isn’t to say I’ve turned into one of those Google nuts (I mean that in the nicest way possible) — like fun would I use a Chromebook (I’m sure they’re fine), good luck finding a decent Android tablet (iPad for life!), and DuckDuckGo forever — but outside of a few small learning curves, the Pixel 3a is quite almost nearly my perfect phone. For real.

(As for that $100 Google Store credit? After seeing the Pixel 3a and delighting in its camera quality and thinking about what apps she uses most (none are really tied to Apple, but a lot are tied to Google), I put it toward getting my wife a Pixel 3a as well, and she got $100 for the 6s. Everyone won last summer.)

Now if only I could get everyone to just use Signal

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch
This is my dedicated Asphalt 9: Legends machine.

I was a pretty bigger gamer for most of my life until I wasn’t anymore a few years ago. I can’t say for sure why I stopped, but I can say that the Nintendo Switch has reignited my enjoyment of gaming.

Sure, I really only play Asphalt 9: Legends these days (I just broke the 80-hours-played mark), or occasionally Overcooked with my wife, but it’s still a delight to have in my life.

(Shout-out to my good friend Jesse for hooking up a great deal on mine!)

Withings Steel HR Sport

Withings Steel HR Sport
The watch that does it all.

My history with activity tracking/smart watches goes back to around 2011 with the Jawbone Up and came about, yes, to track steps/fitness, but also sleep. Because I sleep like shit.

After owning a couple versions of the Jawbone Up-devices, I switched to a more traditional watch-style tracker. I also, owned a couple versions of this style device until my wife and I got married in 2017 and we both got Apple Watches.

But then we also both got Android phones! And then it turns out that we both missed getting notifications on our wrists! Enter Withings to the rescue once again; a Steel HR Sport for me and a Steel HR Limited for her.

There’s a lot that makes this tracker great: it just looks like a watch; it tracks heart rate (the HR in the product name); it tracks steps/sleep/workouts; it’s waterproof so I can just jump in a pool if I wanted to (I don’t.); you can receive quite a few notifications on its little LCD screen; it has easily swappable bands; it has a 25-day battery life and charges in just under two hours from almost nearly fully dead.

A few drawbacks: you can’t respond to messages straight from your wrist; I wish it would display weather notifications, but it doesn’t. That’s it. Those are my biggest complaints.

My wife, having gone from Fitbit to Apple Watch to Steel HR, believes that the Withings doesn’t track as many steps, but she also believes that the Fitbit was too generous at times/tracked erroneous steps. No one in the world can decipher how the Apple Watch tracks anything, but everyone who owns one loves to try and close those rings, so that’s something.

As for me, I think the tracking is fine. It’s a nice ballpark average of all the activity you’ve done throughout the day. Sleep tracking, however, is pretty spot-on, and the silent alarm (it vibrates within 30 minutes of your preferred wake-up time depending on the deepness of your sleep) is accurate and sufficient for me.

Anyway, I love it and I’m glad I bought one last year.

Aldi Wines

(Photo unavailable. I drank them all.)

I mean… c’mon! Is there a better value in delicious, alcoholic grape juice? Even if you don’t like the one you bought, you’re out, what? $4? That’s chump change!

And that’s it! It really seemed like early-March was an appropriate time to look back on 2019 and write about these things, so I hope you enjoyed this stupid recap.

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