Over the course of last year I tested, tried, and used a lot of new devices some sourced from kickstarter and Indiegogo, as well as software and apps, all of which were quality of life enhancers. The question is not only which ones stand out (and why) but which do I like so much as to continue using them into 2018. Here are my top ten:
1. Can you hear me now? The year of Alexa.
Can’t operate tech but know how to bark orders? Then Alexa is for you. The ubiquity of Alexa voice control for various devices led me to become a little Alexa crazy: I have Amazon Echos in both home and office, and a series of echo dots in rooms where I might want occasional music or to know the weather or time (bedroom, breakfast room). Alexa controls my lights using Lutron’s Caseta system (see below) next item), as well as the Sonos Speaker One in my courtyard. Despite my enthusiasm for Alexa, I still find its practical uses somewhat limited in my own life. However, the ability to call up one of my favorite radio stations, WWOZ in New Orleans, or tell Alexa to play a song that’s lodged in my head is priceless – but given that the echo dot can now be had for under $30, it is also affordable.
2. When you got to go, take. G-Ro. G-Ro luggage.
No one is completely happy with their carry-on luggage. Ken Hertz, a frequent flyer (and one of my close friends – I have no financial or personal interest in the company or the product) had a notion to disrupt the luggage industry and together with Israeli Industrial Designer Netta Shalgi, they designed a better carry-on – one with larger wheels to distribute the bag’s weight better and with the design optimized for the overhead compartment and with plenty of pockets. There is even an electronic add-on that allows one to charge your phone or laptop, track your bag, and other functions. The most successful luggage Kickstarter, G-Ro launched earlier in the year. I’ve taken mine to New York, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Tbilisi, running across airports to catch flights and it is light and can hold a week’s worth of clothes and gear (at least for me!). The second iteration of the G-Ro is just being released along with a backpack, and a larger luggage for those willing to check.
3. Lid Helmet.
Lid is a collapsible bicycle helmet that is currently still in its indiegogo campaign ($99 until January 7). With all the bike share programs, and Bird (the electric scooter share – see below) you want to have a helmet with you but not the clumsiness of carrying one around. Lid tries to solve this in a stylish casque whose sides collapse inward to reduce the size the helmet. I’ve demo’ed one for the last two weeks on scooter and bike, and it is light and comfortable and looks good. I’d love it to collapse more into the size of a large water bottle or flat enough to fit in my computer bag, or to come with a carbiner to hook it onto my bag strap. For not, I just clip it around my bag strap, which is fine. But I look forward to their next iteration and improvements. Until better to carry Lid helmet and be safe, than not.
4. Lights on, lights off. Lutron Caseta lights.
Remember “The Clapper,” the much-mocked device where your turned the lights or appliances on or off by clapping your hands? Well Lutron has added Alexa voice control to its lights and it’s no joke. I come home, and tell Alexa to turn the lights on to my preferred setting . It does; and when I leave the room I tell Alexa to close the lights. And wonder of wonders it works. It still seems like a party trick every time I do it, but it makes me smile every time!
5. Music at my fingertips. Sonos.
Sonos is the simple (though not inexpensive) way to have Bluetooth app controlled music in your home. If you are loath to replace the wires crisscrossing your home via your basement or behind your walls. This is a work-around. You can get a Sonos connect or Sonos connect amp (as I have) that integrates with your existing stereo or sound system allows you to control it via the Sonos app. What this means is that I can play my music services (or favorite radio or internet radio stations) in my living room through my floor standing speakers and subwoofer (a Sonos Sub), or play my music in my backyard through the outdoor speakers. Or call out to the Alexa-equipped Sonos One speaker and tell it what to play. What’s great is that this returns to me listening to higher quality audio (including vinyl on my turntable) through futuristic wireless app control. Very 2017 and very 2018.
6. The Sound of Music: Tidal....
Tidal is a music service like Spotify or Pandora, offering the ability to stream millions upon millions of tracks by a wide swath of artists across genres and time, including many of the newest tracks and albums as they are released (which, in a sense, makes the service pay for itself). It has had a somewhat checkered history (celebrities are in; celebrities are out), but it offers streaming Hi-Res audio, lossless, for a premium ($20 a month). Can you tell the difference? I can only say that for that price I imagine I can. However, what Tidal has done for me – which the other music services did not – is listening to entire albums much as I did in my college and post grad years – as well as listening to new artists and albums (which as they are available for my monthly subscription) avoids any buyer’s remorse such as Samantha Fish, Beth Ditto, Amanda Shaw and Omawumi while revisiting artists I never explored as deeply as might have such as John Coltrane, Walter Trout and Guy Clark. Tidal has improved the quality of my music listening and that is worth paying for.
7. A Gift of Cool. Blue Note Review.
Don Was, producer, musician and President of Blue Note Records wanted to return a sense of discovery and connoisseurship to Blue Note, as well as create a new revenue stream. His latest innovation, the Blue Note Review, is a subscription based curated limited edition box of goodies. Volume One, called “Peace, Love & Fishing,,” curated by Was, includes a double LP and CD of new recordings from their roster, as well one of their albums from the Blue Note vault, as well as some of those cool photos from the Blue Note Archive, and a surprise, in this case, a debonair Blue Note scarf designed by John Varvatos. Dig it!
8. Bird is the Word. Bird
Have you noticed those mat black electric scooters dotting the urban landscape like new age flamingos? In Santa Monica, they are everywhere, and all one needs is the Bird app to unlock one and ride. One needs to ride them in the street rather than on the sidewalk. They are sturdy and stable and go pretty fast. I’ve used them to commute to my office when my car was in the shop or to run errands when parking would be a hassle. The charge for usage is minimal (a few dollars) – more than public transportation but less than an Uber or Lyft. And there is something inescapably joyful in having the air rush by as you zoom down the street — as you fly by, feeling free as a Bird.
9. Hold for me, please! Pitaka.
Now that you’ve got your Iphone X with its wireless charging capability you”ll be needing a case and a way to charge your Iphone in your car. Don’t worry, Pitaka has you covered. They make a super-thin case that not only protects but that has hidden within some spots of conducting metal that allow for handsfree use and wireless charging. Regrettably, you still need a cord to power the wireless charging from the car’s USB jack.
10. Podcasting 101.
Audacity and Auphonic. I co-host a podcast about Journalism, called “The Buried Lede: Beyond the Bylines” (available on Itunes), and the fact that I can produce the program with (mostly) free software, and that software is easy enough for me - word guy, a written and spoken word guy, a reader, not a programmer, coder, or computer geek –blows me away. As Alexa and Sonos (above) demonstrate, technology is advancing to overcome our own natural or structural resistance. Audacity allows me to assemble and edit the segments and intros and outros of our program, and Auphonic lets me up the production quality to an acceptable level that, frankly, Audacity is free and Auphonic is free for the first 2 hours a month of recorded production (and then there is a nominal fee). I did not imagine myself capable. And if there is a message for 2018, it is to attempt new endeavors, try new devices, apps, and software, and use them to allow you new experiences and new accomplishments in 2018.