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What I Use: Part 1—Hardware

This is the first part of a series of related posts I've decided to write about what technology I use in my daily life. Along the way, I will discuss the choices I've made and why I've done so.

Part 1 is where I'll talk about the physical devices in my life. The rest of this series will be:

OK, that's a spoiler alert up-front; I'm a cross-platform person. :) More on that later.

The big hammer—Apple iMac (5K Retina, 27-inch, 2017)

Apple iMac

I started out as a PC person in the early 1990s, for reasons of cost and having the technology that I'd need for work. I'd had experience of Apple Macs during my university years, but those were well outside of my budget at the time.

In the early 2000s I rediscovered the Mac after moving into graphic design. I had access to a PowerMac G4 and a PowerMac G5 at my workplace. The latter machine performed CD/DVD authoring and audio/video editing. Apple's hardware impressed me, but at the time I didn't have any real need to buy a Mac, nor the budget to justify doing so.

That all changed in 2012. I'd recently taken voluntary redundancy, and needed to start self-employment. Then the PC I was using at the time decided to give up the ghost. (I'm pleased to say I didn't lose any data—more on that later in this post.) This was the second time in about a year that I'd had to deal with hardware failure. I was wary of trying yet another PC brand that might not prove to be reliable in the long term. So, after weighing up the pros and cons, I decided to get an Apple iMac.

That machine proved to be one of the most reliable I've ever owned. It soldiered on for 6 years before wear and tear finally caught up with it. While its replacement wasn't cheap, I have no regrets, as it has proven to be a solid and reliable beast. Yes, I could have gotten a PC system for less money, but as I'll detail more in Part 2, Windows 10 doesn't sit well with me.

That's not to say that I'm completely happy with macOS. It has its own quirks, but I've found that I can live with most of them, and work around those that I can't.

The medium hammer—iPad Mini 4

iPad Mini 4

I've been through two other iPads before this one. The original iPad in October 2010, and the third-generation iPad in late 2012. Both of those served me well, and I only parted with them when they weren't up to handling newer apps.

When the iPad was first announced in early 2010, I was underwhelmed and couldn't imagine it in my life. It was only after a large number of iPad-specific apps appeared that my interest piqued.

I bought the iPad Mini 4 refurbished from Apple at a not inconsiderable discount. I was a bit reticent about moving to the Mini after owning two 9.7" iPads, but the smaller size hasn't had any impact on my use. Quite the opposite, in fact; it is a lot easier to carry around and hold in one hand.

Tech21 Case for iPad Mini 4
I got this case for the iPad Mini 4 because it's a lot more rugged than the Smart Cover!

The Mini 4 serves many functions. Library, organiser, learning and training tool, writing pad, radio, clock and more. So its value is not only in what it can do, but also in the number of extra devices that I no longer need.

The little hammer—Lenovo PHAB2 phone

This isn't my first Android phone; I owned a HTC Wildfire for a time. But for a long time, from 2012 to 2018, I had been toting an iPhone 4S, which I adored. But as it started to show its age, it was time to look at newer phones.

I ruled out the latest Apple and Samsung phones, as I couldn't justify the expense. I actually use my phone as a phone for the most part; the ability to take photos and do other stuff is a bonus.

So I did some research online, and the Lenovo PHAB2 came up. While it's not the latest tech, it did have one major thing going for it: the size of its battery. Being able to go a couple of days between charges appealed to me! Plus, it was a lot cheaper to buy outright. Combined with a SIM-only contract, it has saved me quite a decent some of money.

I'll admit that I would have loved to get a smaller phone. Even with my large hands, this one is a monster and definitely requires both hands to operate. Alas, the options for a phone closer to the size of my old 4S are diminishing by the day, so it looks like I'll have to lump it.

The Drill—Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 Keyboard

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 Keyboard

This is a recent acquisition for me. I've been through a few different keyboards with my iMacs. For a long time my favourite was the Apple Wired Extended Keyboard, whose extra keys I made full use of.

So why change, and to a non-Mac keyboard? Well, the two things that I didn't love about the Wired Extended Keyboard are that it's too damn flat! That might work for Sir Jony Ive, but it's not ideal for me. The keys are too low down, and the entire keyboard hugs close to my desk top. That's a problem. My big hands needed some rest! My fingers were hovering above the keys while my palms pressed against the edge of the desk.

By comparison, the Microsoft keyboard is a veritable mountain, but in a good way. The palm rest at the front allows my hands to rest while typing, and the keys are nice and clicky. The curvature has taken some getting used to, as has the different layout. (I will detail in Part 3 how I've worked around the latter.)

The Chizel—R-Go HE Ergonomic Vertical Mouse (Large, Right Handed)

R-Go HE Vertical Mouse

Another recent acquisition, after years of using various regular size and style mice. (And by regular style, I mean with buttons—I've never been able to get used to Apple's button-less mice.) Those were OK, but my right hand was starting to experience occasional twinges, so it was time for a change.

R-Go's mice aren't cheap, but well worth the money. The large size fits my hand well, unlike the Microsoft and Logitech mice I'd used before. The vertical style isn't that jarring, and the buttons and scroll wheel are larger and easier to hit. (The two side buttons don't do anything on a Mac by default, and R-Go don't supply Mac software. But as I'll detail in Part 3 I've got a solution for that.)

I should add a mention for the Wacom Bamboo One tablet which I've used for several years. Alas, Wacom no longer support this model on recent versions of macOS. I've had to cajole the existing driver software to work again after each OS upgrade. So I've bid that device adieu. I've owned quite a few Wacom tablets over the years. The hardware is good, but support for them has been awkward at best. I may add a different graphic tablet at some point.

The Lathe—Canon PIXMA MP610 Printer/Scanner/Copier

Canon PIXMA MP610

I've had this printer for over a decade and it has done me very well during that time. Its ability to do reliable duplex print has been a life-saver at times.

All good things must come to an end, and I fear that the MP610's time will soon be up. The print quality when outputting photos isn't what it used to be. And Canon no longer support it on versions of macOS beyond 10.8 Mountain Lion. I'm currently betting that the next version of macOS will be the death blow. Oh well, it's fair to see I've got my money's worth out of it.

Other Tools

I'm someone who has dealt with computer failure, more than once, so it's fair to say that I got the Backup Religion. So I currently have a 5TB external hard drive attached to the iMac for Time Machine to backup my data to. (That's not the only copy I keep of my data, as I'll explain in Part 2.)

Since the current iMac no longer has a SuperDrive built-in, I keep a Samsung external CD/DVD writer around. These days, it's called on for ripping music CDs into iTunes as I work through my large CD collection. I'm struggling to remember the last time I bought any software on CD or DVD, definitely not in the last four years.

I use the cameras on my phone and tablet most of the time. But I still have a point-and-shoot camera, the Canon PowerShot G9. Despite its age, it still produces pretty good shots, and is a lot more comfortable to hold in the hand. (Singular, I should point out. Good luck trying that with the phone or tablet!)

In Part 2, I'll discuss my workflow and philosophy around what I do with my devices, and why I've made the choices I have.

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