Tech With Value

I am a nerd, and I have disposable income, and those two things mean that I end up buying a lot of technology. I buy some for utility and some just because it’s shiny and I have relatively few defenses against shiny. This has recently led me to consider, out of all the tech that I do have in my house and on my person, which represents the best actual value — that is, what tech do I have that I get the most out of, relative to the price I paid for it?

(Caveat: for the purposes of this exercise I’m considering objects for which the computing aspect is a significant percentage of its utility. Yes, a car and a refrigerator are technology (so are eyeglasses and pants), but I am going to go ahead and skip them out of the discussion. I think you’ll probably understand.)

Let me start with the things that have offered me the least real amount of value. First, I nominate my desktop computers, which are useful but generally spendy, since I have a tendency to make them gaming-capable behemoths and yet spend very little time gaming anymore. These behemoths are nice for photo editing, to be sure, but on balance I overspend relative to actual utility. I live in hope when I buy these rigs, and reality eventually crushes that hope.

Second, my iPad Mini, which is a very pretty and reasonably powerful bit of kit, but which I mostly bought because a videogame I’m helping to develop was initially coded for it, and I needed to be able to look at the thing during development. Beyond that I hardly ever use it, partly because I’m otherwise mostly in the Google ecosystem but also because among the tablets I have my Nexus 7 has the best form factor for me (so of course no one makes tablets with that form factor anymore).

Third, televisions. We have several in the house but I watch relatively little TV these days, mostly because of time constraints, and what TV I do watch I end up watching on computer/tablet/phone more than the TV screen. Now, I’ll note this is just me, since in the Scalzi household both Athena and Krissy watch more TV than I do, and on the TV rather than on other hardware. So for the family overall, there is value. But if I were living on my own (God forbid), it’s questionable whether I would own my own dedicated TV set.

Having cleared out the tech of questionable utility value, what tech do I have that I think on balance has offered me very good value?

First I would nominate my smartphone, which is essentially as powerful as my desktop computer a few iterations ago yet is tiny and goes with me everywhere, pretty much allows me access to all information anywhere, and even has a reasonably competent camera. Plus, from time to time, I can even make phone calls with it, if I want, and sometimes I still do (I mostly text now, though, like other civilized humans). What keeps the smartphone from having the best cost/utility ratio is the form factor, which makes it not useful for, say, writing long-form, which is a thing I do (just thinking of writing this piece on a phone fills me with dread, much less a whole novel), and also because frankly phones aren’t cheap — with hardware costs and carrier charges over the life of the phone added up, it’s a couple thousand dollars per phone. There are ways to brings the cost down, but I don’t do them, for solid (and a couple not-so-solid) reasons. But at the end of the day I live so much on my smartphone that its utility runs very close to its overall price.

Second I would nominate my digital SLRs. These cameras are soooo not cheap (alas!), and while I recently did start getting paid for photography ( and Locus magazine used some of my photos and compensated me for them, which of course they should have), I don’t have any plans to make it a serious part of my professional income. So the question of cost/value here is an interesting one. I nevertheless think I get excellent value from the cameras, but the value is intellectual and existential — taking pictures makes me happy, and working on those pictures after I taken them also gives me pleasure.

Photography is a hobby of mine, basically, and doing it offers me a consequence-free creative outlet, which as it turns out is important to me. I’m a proponent of monetizing the things you love, to be sure. But over time I’ve learned it’s also important to have creative outlets that are just play. It’s good for your mental health, and it’s beneficial for other aspects of your creativity. The cost of the cameras for me is compensated by what I get out of taking and playing with the photos, and that’s something that has value independent of the financial value of the tech.

With that said, the single piece of tech I have that I think has given me the best utility return on investment, hands down, is the Chromebook Flip I bought last year. It cost me $280 or so when I got it (the version I have, with the 4GB RAM, is now down to $250), and in return I’ve gotten a super-useful little laptop that does nearly everything I need it to do. I can write longform, I can flip it over and use it as a tablet during readings and presentations, I can do (basic) photo editing and other tasks, and now that it has access to Android apps, that’s another value add. Its size and battery life have made it useful for travel, to the point where it’s my go-to travel laptop (my Dell Win10 laptop stays at home unless I need to do a marathon Word session).

And to be blunt, if I drop it, or leave it somewhere, or it gets stolen? I’m out $280, it’s replaceable for less than that now, and all the data I use on it is stored elsewhere. I wouldn’t say its disposable, but I would feel rather less put out than I was a few years ago when I accidentally left my Mac Air at LaGuardia and it somehow magically made its way to Brooklyn and then dropped off the radar completely. That was expensive stupidity on my part. Losing the Chromebook Flip, while it would still be stupidity, is within my budget.

The Flip isn’t perfect (How to make it perfect, Asus, in case you were wondering: 1080p screen 11.6-inch screen and backlit keys on the slightly larger keyboard), but this entry isn’t about whether tech is perfect, but whether it offers value for cost. This purchase really has. I really don’t think I’ve been more satisfied, value-wise, with a tech purchase. Something, perhaps, for you to consider for your own future tech purposes.

59 Comments on “Tech With Value”

  1. I’m actually really interested in the version of this that includes pants and cement and fridges. I might have to nominate washing machine.

    I think my desktop is my number 1 actually. Which seems very odd, but I do audio (I’m taking a short break because long morning) so all the recording and editing happens there. It is interesting how close to disposable has a high level of value. (High level of travel matters here I suppose.)

  2. I quite agree about the form factor of the Nexus 7. Videos, email, ebook, magazines, RSS feeds, all work beautifully.

  3. I’ve been pondering this very question. I’ve just dumped a rather substantial sum into building a very old-school monster of a workstation. This was done to support my new, not coincidentally also rather expensive hobby of computer aided machining. Surprisingly, I actually sold my second piece, which puts me… what would be a scary, number of digits away from break-even, if I were looking at this as a monetary venture.

    As far as relations to gizmos, I’m in roughly the same position; a nerd with disposable income. Instead of a family, I have a landlord (which, in San Francisco, I think is still cheaper than a family, but not by much). So even if this was a mistake, it won’t hurt too much, and I am a techie for a living, so having too much machine isn’t such a terrible thing. Plus, someone can mock the Last of the Dinosaur Workstations when I kick it. And if I continue to enjoy making robots make things for me out of wood and metal, well, I’ll enjoy doing that until the tables turn and they start giving me orders.

  4. Hi,

    Longtime lurker, second time commenting here. I have a question. You said that your smartphone is better than a desktop from a few iterations ago. How many iterations? I ask this because I sometimes wonder if perhaps this spread has been narrowing?

  5. My wife and recently moved, and are still at the “many lower-priority boxes have yet to be opened” stage. So I know which things we want enough to fetch them from storage! The TV set has yet to be set up at our new home. We mostly watch either streaming video or from disks (DVD and Blue-Ray); which we can individually view on small screens (my Samsung tablet, which is light enough to hold in one hand has a bigger display than the vacuum-tube TV on which I watched the Apollo Moon Landing as a child!). When we want the big screen experience we just switch on a projector that’s connected to a laptop. Nice big picture and when not in use the thing takes up much less room than the TV that’s still in storage. We watch network programming so rarely that for our new home we chose the cable company’s Bare Internet package.

  6. It’s funny that when I read this, I really didn’t expect to see “television” on the list. But it is tech and does make sense to include. I guess I just don’t initially think of television as tech but more of a general commodity these days. (Also see how you smartly avoided specifying the brand of smartphone, thereby avoiding the inevitable pointless holy war these days that is smartphone preference.)

  7. I’ve been a Chromebook evangelist for years. I used to work in a public library, and people often asked me what to buy for their older relatives who needed something uncomplicated. But they also asked me what to buy for their college-bound children. I tried to convince both types of consumers that no, they really don’t have to have MS Word, that the cloud apps were more than up to whatever task they had before them. That was a few years ago, and it’s just gotten better.

  8. I have a Chromebook as well and love it. I’d love to buy a slightly better one, with a backlit keyboard and a better screen but still low cost.

  9. On watching vs. not watching the TV: I’m going back to the television. I recently got an AppleTV (I’m a Mac guy. *shrug*) and the advantages in picture quality of my HDTV over my laptop screen are clear and unmistakable. So, I find I’m using my HDTV as my laptop “monitor” now that I can, and getting better visual quality. (Admittedly, my MacBookPro is four years old. The current Retina displays may be better…)

  10. I am so down with you on this. Microsoft and Apple make my life miserable by insisting I should use only their products for all purposes, and then don’t give me all the options I need. Google is much more flexible and has wide-ranging options in its Play Store. Tablet 9″ Acer (cheapie) Android, 2nd Tablet Microsoft Surface 2 with RT 8.1 OS, PC Windows 10, spouse with Apple iPAD 1, laptop Windows 10, and both of us have little cheapie Android smart phones that the government decided all seniors need to have for free.

    All of the above was GIVEN to us, usually as hand-me-downs when wealthier friends upgraded (except for the government-issue smartphones with teensy batteries and teensy gigs); only my PC was an outright gift brand new.

    Have to do all my long form writing on the PC because it is the only one with a real keyboard that my fingers can dance over. Would LOVE to be able to do that while out and about, but ,,, no. The little Acer ‘Droid would be beauteous if I could get a nice-sized keyboard for it, but the little bastard is unpredictable: apps stopping, shutting itself into coma-mode (not asleep, but not off either, something in between). The RT 8.1 can sport a detachable keyboard, but I can’t justify the expense because RT 8.1 is basically a tech abortion when Microsoft wasn’t sure how or if they wanted to get into the tablet market, and they don’t even support it already! My sister spent $600 on the thing, didn’t like it so gave it to me and bought herself a nice Samsung, and that makes the RT 8.1 a very expensive paperweight or doorstop, whichever I need at that moment. It’s too big to use as a hockey puck.

    My kingdom (well, okay, it’s only a car and some gewgaws, but it’s MY KINGDOM!) for a Samsung tablet with real sized keyboard.

    You state your stuff is stored elsewhere: do you put most of your work on Drive? That makes me nervous, but I think mainly because I’m an ancient clerk that has anxiety if I can’t touch my files. Seriously, is that what you do?

  11. I use a chromebook intermittently but regularly, and the only thing I can’t get used to is the lack of a capslock key. After a day or so I get used to holding down the shift key with my left hand and hunt-and-peck typing with my right, but a day on another keyboard and the confusion’s back again.

    Not sure why Google took over the capslock – there are plenty of function keys, after all.


  12. The one piece of tech that I find most useful? Our standalone 3 TB backup network drive. In case of a need to bugout, all our important things are stored there, we can unplug it and be away in a minute with 99% of our data. We appreciate the value of the cloud, but data that lives there is not under our direct control. It’s an unsung but vital part of our home computer network, closely followed by our wireless. Most of our hobbies, aside from gaming, don’t require a computer, and the computers we have right now are almost overkill for what we play.

    The one piece of tech I’m on the fence about is a smartphone. DH’s iPhone takes better pictures than our old digital camera from a decade ago did (the camera recently went in a yard sale for $5). I am of the opinion that a cell phone should, primarily, be a phone, used at my pleasure and not as an e-leash. OTOH, I want to occasionally be able to take pictures, as previously said, current smartphone camera capability beats most standalone cameras for my price point, and the ability to e-mail the pictures seamlessly is a big selling point. Old cameras required film and developing; even the previous digital camera required a dongle or the removal of a flash card, thence plugged into the computer before you could do anything with your pictures.

  13. “ and Locus magazine used some of my photos and compensated me for them, which of course they should have…”

    Hm. Locus has run two of my pics, one from Detcon, and one from Launch Pad. In the future, I may need to be more up front about asking for compensation.

  14. Best Dollar Value? Kody. Used to be called XBMC. It powers my media center. It is user developed and carries a price tag of zero. It organizes my TV Shows, Movies, and Music Videos as well as photographs and to some extent my music library (although Itunes still keeps my music and audio books).

    Along with that is my universal remote. It is a bit pricey but my Logitech digital remote is the key to making a home entertainment center work. A push of a button turns on the TV, powers up the amplifier, and lets me switch between DVR, Computer Media Center (bought via ebay for $300), and antenna.

    Did you see that last word? Antenna? Yes, the worst dollar value from technology is cable. Ugh. Pay big monthly bills every month to watch commercials. Remember when we bought cable so we didn’t watch commercials?. There is no need for that. In the digital age there is plenty available over the air, the signal is better, and with a cheap DVR you can skip the commercials.

  15. It’s funny that when I read this, I really didn’t expect to see “television” on the list. But it is tech and does make sense to include.

    But is it *computing* tech or does it belong on the side of the line with the cars and fridges? I don’t really think of what I do with the TV (when I do it at all anymore) as “computing”, even if technically it may involve some.

    But hey, it’s Scalzi’s blog, he can draw the line wherever he wants.

    How to make it perfect, Asus, in case you were wondering: 1080p screen 11.6-inch screen and backlit keys on the slightly larger keyboard

    I don’t own one of these things, but it looks to me like the keyboard already takes up very nearly 100% of the width of the whole device, so in order to make it any larger, you’d have to increase the size (and therefore probably the weight) of the whole unit. There are very likely some users who would consider that an un-improvement (although I suppose they could make multiple sizes).

    Still, if the keyboard is at least big enough that you’d be comfortable typing something the length of this post on it, that’s a step up over any mobile device in my large-handed experience (not quite ham-fisted, I hope, but enough to have trouble with chiclet keyboards and sometimes touch screens).

  16. Chris:

    All my TVs at this point are “smart” TVs, which means they have apps, etc built in (likewise my DSLR has wireless and filtering/processing capabilities in camera).

  17. Just curious: what do people use ipads and other tablets for? I use my laptop at work and at home for writing (and wasting time). But what do you do on a tablet that you can’t do on a laptop? Is it just for portability? I can’t buy a computer I can’t write on, so I wonder what’s the use. What am I missing?

  18. malhilli:
    Perhaps you are right about phones closing the gap in power, but I’m not sure that matters much.

    However smart a phone may be, it’s still a lousy form factor for writing.

    A PC XT running WordStar may have one 200th the “power”, but it’s a more useful writing platform than a phone.

    There is also the question of peak power and how quickly a phone’s battery runs down, and also how warm the phone gets, if it try to operate at peak for very long.

  19. How well does the Chromebook do for hotel entertainment? Can it stream Netflix/Amazon Video/HBO Now reasonably with hotel wifi? Does it have HDMI out?

    I travel a bit on business, and use my corporate issue Macbook Pro for this, but corporate IT keeps threatening to disallow all non-“work essential” usage.

    We have the living room TV, but no one watches anything on it. These days it’s used for Overwatch and little else. Have have a smaller “TV” hanging in front of the elliptical for use as an exercise distraction device, mostly through Netflix or Amazon Video. We’ve found a good motivational strategy is the rule “no TV unless your working out”. It has the twin benefits of making us work out more and making us more selective about our viewing.

  20. thomasmhewlett says:
    July 24, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Just curious: what do people use ipads and other tablets for?


    My wife and I use our iPad Minis for casual browsing (Facebooking) and reading emails, sometimes for Netflix and Hulu. It’s handy and fits on the chairside tables, isn’t particularly heavy, and we have charging cables right by our chairs as well. It’s easy to drag along if I’m going somewhere. I have other stuff for heavy-duty typing.

    That said, based in part on what John said here, I just ordered an Asus Flipbook. I might be changing my habits.

  21. I don’t know if CW Rose will see this but they said:
    “the only thing I can’t get used to is the lack of a capslock key. ”

    in the settings, depending on your chromebook there’s a section that can turn your search key into anything else including a caps lock key.

    I’m lucky. a friend bought me the Acer C710. it had a caps lock key and a home, end, ins, and delete key. also had a 320gb hard drive instead of the 16gb SSD. We slapped Linux on it though and it works as a full laptop.

  22. I work in front of a desktop all day long. I find the home tablets useful for reading- either blogs or through the Kindle app, net-surfing, casual emailing/Facebook, and light-weight games. I’m surviving with only a virtual keyboard, but something like the Chromebook looks like it’s come down enough in price to be worth it. My phone is still an old-school flip phone, and I haven’t replaced the TV, which died a few years back.

  23. I too found the Nexus 7 close to perfect, but have had reluctantly to accept that mine had reached the end of its useful life (fading battery, inability to rotate unaided, and a steadily increasing number of random crashes). The problem is that it’s very hard to know what to replace it with – there really is nothing on the market which quite matches it.

    A few days ago I took a deep breath and switched to an Nvidia Shield K1. It is very slightly bigger than the Nexus, but not so much so that it makes me handle it differently. In other ways it is clearly better than the Nexus – processor oomph and screen quality, for example. And the feature of the Nexus I had thought essential, that it had a mobile data connection as well as wifi, turns out to matter much less than I had thought – tethering to a phone is an entirely adequate substitute.

    This isn’t meant to be s product plug, though, just making a point I would have strongly doubted myself a week ago, that there are more than adequate Nexus replacements.

  24. I’m completely with you on the Nexus 7 thing; I have a Nexus 7 2013 and I think I use it more than I use any other piece of technology. I initially read this blog post with it.

    A few months back, I bought the Nvidia Shield K1, because it seems to be the closest thing in form factor. It’s good, but it’s a little bit bigger than I’d like (I can’t just put it in my back pocket like a Nexus 7), and the battery life isn’t as good. It also has much worse WiFi reception, and since my old-ass house basically functions as a Faraday cage due to all the haphazard, ungrounded wiring, that matters to me. But, it’s OK. It handles complex websites better. The screen is a bit more colorful. But honestly, I expected more from a 3 year gap in tech.

    I still find myself using the Nexus 7 more often than the Nvidia Shield.

  25. Love my Nexus 7 so much that I should buy another for backup if they can be had – the one I currently use was purchased off Amazon last year after I accidentally trashed the first.

    I use mine for reading email, as an e-book reader, for reading RSS, for reading, well, lots of things.

    Yeah, dSLRs. Total hobbyist who is good at any kind of action photography, love my Canon ti5.

  26. I use my iPad for maps/navigation when away from home, and for a crucial “BeatTheTraffic” app which is a lifesaver in Los Angeles traffic. It also hosts my LiveScribe app for my smartpen, and then transfers the notes to Evernote, so I have client notes everywhere when I need them. I also use the Evernote to take short notes I want on all my devices.

    I do not do Facebook away from home, and rarely check email unless I’m away all day on a workday. But it is nice to be able to go online to show other people what I’m talking about or give them a link or location, or to check out restaurant reviews when we’re in a new neighborhood.

  27. Oh, yeah, the iPad has also become my preferred consumption device for (Kindle) magazines. The color is lovely, and I can enlarge photos and text in a way that print magazines just cannot equal. Also, no piles of old paper magazines to store, raise silverfish in, or get rid of.

  28. thomasmhewlett: I bought and mainly use my iPad to use the FaceTime videophone capabilities – I have a farflung family, and we have a critical mass in the Apple ecosystem for Things With Video Calling Capability. Having bought it, I also waste far too much time with a couple of games I like. I occasionally use it as an ebook reader, but I prefer e-ink devices for that.

    It can be very useful for when I’m going to be away for a couple of days, and want/need something with connectivity I can type on that’s smaller and lighter than my laptop – I have a Logitech keyboard cover, and the combination does very well as a netbook. I don’t do enough travelling these days to have justified buying it for that alone, but there was a time when I would have fallen upon it with cries of joy – around about the time I couldn’t *quite* justify the price of a Psion 5mx. :-)

    It’s also handy for carting around the house, and for what my father describes as the “looking up who that actor on the telly is” demographic. Having failed for years to get my mother interested in doing anything on a computer, he has recently has to get a second iPad because the first had become welded to the computer refusenik after she discovered how to look things up on Google while watching tv. The palmtop size and (almost) instant boot is an advantage here.

    I wouldn’t want a tablet as my only computing device, but it is a genuinely useful adjunct to the Real Computer.

  29. thomashewlett – I use my tablet (older iPad) for pretty much everything.

    I bought it for games and for minimal internet access while travelling overseas.

    I’ve started reading more and more books on it. I prefer my fiction to be physical books, but keep a grab bag of stuff on the iPad to read when I’m commuting. Often if there’s a cheap electronic edition of a favourite book I’ll get it as well as the paper version.

    Google maps for in car navigation.

    Pitch training software for singing practice. Not that I sing well, but that’s not te iPad’s fault.

    Comics from the French online comic site Izneo live on the tablet, as do my subscriptions to Clarkesworld and Interzone. I’d really prefer paper, but somehow we’ve ended up here…

    I draw a bit witheither ProCreate or ArtRage. This is where I’d love an iPad Pro so I could use a decent stylus. We were not designed to draw with our fingertips.

    My daughter likes to record and overdub her music practice, so she can multitrack with herself.

    Come to think of it, when she was younger we used to make some stop motion animation, using a phone as the camera and the tablet as the remote control.

    It’s pretty much the only place we watch video now – the tablet on our laps in bed, rather than watching the actual tv.

    The biggest surprise for me was that I don’t mind typing on a flat sheet of glass. Normally I like a good tactile keyboard, but it’s surprisingly tolerable.

    I’ve tried programming on a tablet and sadly that’s a bridge too far. For some things you need a real screen, keyboard and mouse.

    If it isn’t obvious by now, my tablet is mu top bang for the buck technology by a big margin.

    The only thing I don’t like – and this was the other big surprise – is browsing the net. It feels like it should be a good match, but I find it fiddly, pokey, and desperately in need of a mouse.

  30. For me, it’s my MacBook plus an external 27-inch LCD monitor… couldn’t live without them. (Or to be more honest, having survived the days when a 14-inch screen was standard and 17 inches was luxury, I could live without them but would hate it.)

    I do everything from the laptop: editing (which I do for a living), desktop publishing of my books (which I do for the fun of it), managing my Web site, and photo correction on a laptop that goes everywhere I do and that usually lasts me 3 years before I start lusting after something newer and shinier. I used to have a desktop computer, but modern laptops are amply powerful to do everything I need done. I haven’t used a desktop computer in going on a decade.

    I enjoy my iPad and iPhone (yes, I drank the Apple Koolaid long ago), but could easily live without them.

  31. Oh – one more for the tablet: French dictionary and verb conjugation tools for language practice.

  32. Can you print from the Chromebook?

    Also, how difficult to program are the new TVs?

  33. I’ve got one of the old Kindle tablets with the keyboard. Lasts a month or so on a charge, lets me read the non-PDF Hugo nominees conveniently, fits in some of my larger shirt pockets. (Sigh, the PDF-only versions of Hugo nominees and vendor product docs for work are all made for A or A4 sized portrait mode, so they’re unreadable on the Kindle; maybe a retina-screen iPad mini could render them. They’re also hard to read on standard landscape-mode PCs.) The Klunky No-Name Android Tablet gets used for reading those, which it can usually do without crashing.

    The piece of recently acquired tech that’s been really helpful is a 27-inch 1080p monitor. It does mean I do most of my computing at one desk instead of moving around, but it’s much more relaxing to read on the bigger screen. In theory, the Raspberry Pi can drive it; in practice, I haven’t spent enough time playing with that.

    The piece of recently de-acquired and re-acquired tech that’s made a surprising difference is GPS – mine crashed and died for a few days, eventually recovered by pressing the boot button for >20 seconds. I’ve always had a great sense of direction, but it’s useful for reminding me to turn, and especially useful for telling me the names of streets that have hard-to-find signs.

  34. I have plenty of tech around me. I love my Nikon D3200 when it comes to pictures, but there are 2 items I can’t do without. The first is my PC. I dropped near $1000 on it a few years ago. The reason is that everything in it can be replaced or upgraded, which has come in handy during the time I’ve owned it.

    The second is my phone. I’m the oddball in the room in the fact that I’ve owned Windows phones for a long while. The latest is a sub-$100 Lumia 640. Mind all of you i’m not an app guy, at least when it comes to games and such. Gimme some apps for weather, a couple of websites, the ability to surf the net, and messaging and i’m happy. Funny thing: a couple of months after I bought my L-640 a co-worker went phone shopping for a new phone and picked the same for his own. Then a week or two later, my other half picked up one for herself. For a less than $100 smartphone… I would pay more than $100.

  35. “Can you print from the Chromebook?”

    Not an older USB or pin style printer but on a wifi enabled printer you can.

    But here’s the glorious thing. If you have a machine with the old printers and you need to print from google chromebooks, they have a work around. they also have ways you can put files on google docs or dropbox and then go to that machine and print it.

    It’s a hassle I know but look at it this way, it’s either that or buy a new printer.

  36. Hah! Want to talk value? My TV is a 1990’s era Sony Wega ‘Flat Screen’ CRT. Still works, never had a lick of a problem with it and it isn’t ‘smart’ which is a huge selling point for me. I wouldn’t mind having one of those gorgeous hi-def sets but I want tech that doesn’t track me and try to second guess my buying patterns. Want to really piss an old geezer like me off? Try to sell me over and over again the same thing I bought last week through Amazon. Damn me, I hate that. Still, I would have dumped it by now if my wife didn’t need something for her massive VHS and DVD collection, TV programming being the crapfest it is.

    Two things I love in the ‘new world’ are backlit keyboards (fantastic for gaming computers) and e-books. What a treat to carry around my library wherever I go. My favorite computer ever is a Sager gaming laptop I bought 4 years ago and have been using 60 hours a week since (yea, no life here). A bit on the heavy side but it has a full size, upgradeable graphics processor and is portable enough where I’m not anchored to a desk.

  37. You should not be thinking in terms of utility/cost ratio. You should be thinking of the utility/cost derivative.

    Suppose a $1 flip phone gives you $100 worth of utility (phoning, texting) and a $500 smartphone gives you $2000 worth of utility (all of human knowledge instantly accessible so you never have to wonder who that actor was in that old movie, and you don’t have to walk all the way across the room to one of your computers). The 100:1 seems like it should beat the 4:1 ratio; but the $1500 win for the smartphone is better than the $99 gain for the flip.

    Of course this varies from person to person. If you get more utility out of using $500 to feed your children, then you have a different calculus than if you would use that $500 to put a swarovski door handle on the lavatory of your Gulfstream.

  38. The things I use every day are:

    Samsung Ultrabook series 5 – websurfing, email, gaming, ebook organization. Bought it more than 3 years ago at BJ’s Wholesale for $800. It’s been my travel laptop and my “play” computer ever since.

    Samsung 8.4″ tablet that I use for an ereader and sailboat navigation. It replaced my old Nook Color and a multi-thousand dollar chart plotter on the boat. And the tablet will also run apps that tell me about ship traffic. It has an awesome display and works very well as an ereader. I’m thinking about leaving the laptop at home when I go to WorldCon next month; I think the table will do what needs doing.

    And of course my smartphone. I really love carrying the internet around in my handbag.

  39. If I had to acquire them again knowing what I know now, I’d get a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro (same) as the first purchase. The Retina display is gorgeous, I know the ecosystem and how to make it all work (or who to ask), and it’s more than capable enough for everything I do with the extras that the top-of-the-line system has.

    Second would be an iPhone – same ecosystem, and having a portal to the sum of human knowledge everywhere I go is extremely handy.

    Third would be an iPad. Reading on the iPad is tolerable for me, and there are a bunch of games/apps not available elsewhere that my family enjoys.

    The television would be a commodity item, and if I was starting over I might not opt for the same size/tech/features or content system (TiVo + cable).

  40. Just now, I brought up Whatever on my Flip while thinking how nice it was to use. And suddenly there was a Flip on Whatever saying, “YO, DAWG!” Definitely at the top of my value-for-money list. Small, tossable, disposable, Linux-able, good-looking, and I can do my day job on it if necessary. Its VPN support is limited, tho.
    My new-to-me Zero XU ‘lectrobike is up there, though on a very different value axis. Money-wise, it’s terrible. Paid more for it than any of the other 10+ motorcycles I’ve had over the years, and I would be better off cycling or taking transit anyway. But the Zero somehow erases everything that’s a chore about city riding, leaving only pleasant parts and bad drivers. And I can hear my phone ring while riding when on-call.
    An unexpected one was the Grace Reciva ‘net radio. Simple UI, slots in with my nice 80s stereo, plays streaming radio, my wife is confident using it. It’s usually playing music we like when we’re home. It’s nearly invisible and it’s given us many, many times the value of the ~$150 I paid for it. Haven’t the faintest idea how I’d replace it. (I’ve tried Chromecast Audio, I’m sure it works great for other people.)

  41. I have the usual cupboard full of retired, relegated or broken kit. I really have no need for an A3 flatbed scanner, unless I get organised about digitising a bunch of 1910s-40s UK children’s comics… also still packed away. The main PC is a Frankenstein beast, perhaps related to Trigger’s broom, using a 32″ 1080p TV as monitor. Around the house is the usual smart tv, smart blu-ray player, smart phone, laptop, etc.

    The device that has served me best and longest has to be my Nook Color, bought ‘nearly new’ in 2011 from a bloke who’d had it a week but decided he wanted a 10″ tablet. I have it running CyanogenMod’s version of Jellybean, and it can apparently run KitKat. Compared with recent tablets it is a heavy beast and has no camera. It weighs a pound – current ones that size can be sub-300g. But it is *SOLID*. It has taken abuse and damage that would have broken a device of less hardy build many times over. It has been sat on, slept on, stepped on, knocked off pub tables, had beer/wine spilled over it, skittered down flights of concrete stairs, and still works just fine – though some of the plastic has cracked off the sides. The all-metal frame has done a sterling job.

    The form factor lets it (just) fit my suits/jackets inside pockets so it gets carried everywhere. Many, many books and SF magazines – new and old – have been read on it, It gets plugged into a cheap 2.1 speaker system at work to do duty as a music player (no wireless, no BYOD, locked down PCs, etc). An oldish offline version of Wikipedia keeps ‘the internet’ in my pocket even when there’s no wi-fi handy. Thinking about playing around with DosBox to see if I can get my 1990s Shorter OED on CD-ROM to install (min req Win 3.1 or Win 95), because, hey, it’s the OED. And all the other stuff people have said about checking IMDB/Google when watching TV, and so on.

    Lastly, the background wallpaper says “Don’t Panic” in large friendly letters.

    At some point I know it will have a terminal encounter with gravity. I wish there was a reasonably priced tablet of about the same size with equivalent hardiness around.

  42. “John loses saving throw vs. shiny with -5 penalty . John takes 2d8 damage to the credit card”.

    [Sorry Charlie]

  43. “and I have relatively few defenses against shiny”

    Hogwarts now offers a Defense Against the Shiny Arts course.

    Tech is pretty crazy these days.

  44. Very timely. My laptop is showing all the signs of imminent death and I don’t have the money to replace it at the same level. So I was considering chromebooks.
    I was wondering if the flip feature was really worth the extra money. My ipad is also old and has a cracked screen in one corner – so….
    But I don’t want a tablet that is heavier than the ipad. I would want one lighter, and I mostly don’t use it except as a kindle, and I have one of those somewhere. So. I think the flip is not really needed…maybe.
    The regular chromebook is much cheaper.
    Flip is cool though.

  45. Gotta agree on the chromebook. I bought it just to have a cheap lightweight laptop for travel, but then I realized that almost every thing I do that requires significant computing power, at least for work, is on a server somewhere, so really this machine is can almost do it all.

  46. The piece of tech I’d get the most value for money from – I can envision it, unfortunately, but it doesn’t exist.

    My laptop, and the keyboard plugged into my desktop, and my old Smith-Corona 2200 typewriter, have keys set 3/4 ” apart, on center, as does every typewriter I’ve ever run across. Back in the Good Old Days, when the average typist stood 5’2″ in her high heels and every Real Man had a secretary, that mattered not. But in the 21st Century, we all must do our own typing, and those like me – 6’1″ in stature and with big fingers (don’t mean to boast, Donald), find ourselves hitting three keys at a time.

    Sometime (probably when I am dead and gone) will take their keyboard blueprints, enlarge them to 120%, and produce The Big Keyboard For Big People Who Do Big Things. (slogan borrowed from the 1st Cav, thanks)

    OTOH, if such exists today, let me know. My credit card is ready.

  47. Last year my wife and I did a cruise from Prague to Berlin, and I didn’t want to take my MacBook Air. All I needed was email access and the ability to copy my SD cards from my cameras to flash drives for backups. So I bought a $200 Chromebook, for largely the same reasons. They’re crazy light, their batteries last seemingly forever, and you’re not out very much if someone steals it or it’s otherwise lost. I’m very happy with my purchase, I just wish I knew where the charger was.

    I didn’t know that the price of Chrome flipbooks were down so low, I might have to look in to one when I become semi-gainfully employed again.

  48. Well, without the Scalzi-imposed limitation, I’d say the best value-density I’m getting out of any technology in my life is a $3 fountain pen. Even taking into account the ink and paper it runs through, it’s REALLY CHEAP word processing for first drafts, it doesn’t make any joints hurt, and it’s got amazing battery life.

    Working within the limit, I’m also on the Nexus bandwagon; browsing, facebookery, various disaster alerts, and Neko Atsume as a way of cocking a snook at Pokemon Go– what more could one want?

  49. Regarding iPad use, I was interested to see what my students did with them last semester (in a lab class): they would look up schematics, did their homework (amazing to this middle-aged person to see circuit diagrams and equations written down and then digitalized so cleanly), and downloaded textbooks.

    I don’t use my Mini much (DH won it in a raffle at a conference) but I did use it to buy a $4 book on virtual instrumentation written by a professor in India so that I could do a crash course in LabView for the class and that worked out well. Drawings, pictures, schematics, etc. are so much easier to read on a tablet than on my Kindle.

  50. thomasmhewlett: reading comfort mostly (plus – add blushes here- WordFeud). With the iPad I can read (mainly newspapers & essays) wherever I find myself, in an easy chair at home or a cramped bus/plane chair. Before tablets I did these things on laptops but didn’t enjoy it as much.

    Unlike John I’m in the Apple eco-system*. When it comes to value for money, from most to least:
    1) iPod (browsing the internet, music but most of all listening to audibooks)
    2) iPad
    3) MacBook (writing)
    4) iMac. I will not buy another desktop computer after this one. If it died today I would not feel in any way deprived.

    (I don’t own a smartphone)

    *I’m rather hopeless with computers and ages ago a computer savvy friend advised me to buy an Apple instead of a Microsoft computer because the former was idiot proof. That proved to be true in my case. I’m sure these days Microsoft products are also pretty much idiot proof but I’m not adventurous, so I will stick to what I am used to and what works for me.

  51. I absolutely love my iPad Mini. I use it mostly for reading. I’ve tried other devices / systems, but the thing I love most about the iPad is that I can download all the different apps and have my library with me. Being able to carry all of my books with me where ever I go (7000+) is a big deal for me and I don’t want to store them via Cloud Storage. But I also web surf, youtube, FB, email and bank with it, so it’s really a useful device for me. Not crazy about the battery life, but it works.

    I also feel the same way about my iPod. I didn’t want an iPhone, but simply a device where I can store all of my music, photos, and audio books with great sound is a huge draw for me. I recently upgraded to the largest memory size (audio books eat up a TON of memory) in red. Again, the battery life isn’t great but other than that it works beautifully.

    I’m still a bit old school and love my HP Laptop as well. I use that for more long term usage, but I got stuck with Windows 8 and am thinking of finally upgrading the operating system. Works great though and I don’t regret the cost.

  52. The best value for money I’ve even spent on tech was for a BBQ pit controller. It’s basically a little micro with a couple buttons and a temperature sensor controlling a fan and what it does is keep a BBQ smoker at the desired temperature.

    I’m an engineer that makes this kind of thing so I held off buying one forever thinking to myself, “thatss not hard to build so I’ll just make one”. It’s not hard, but it’s time consuming. so every time I thought about it I started getting into weeds about finding temperature probes I could trust, and then calibrating them, building and testing a controller algorithm, getting an enclosure, all that stuff… So I just never did. For close to a decade I just kept putting it off.

    Eventually I stopped worrying about spending that whole $125 and just bought one. So worth it.

    I still check the fire and poke at it, because that’s half the fun, but I don’t have too. I can trust it up to about 9 hours, so now I can sleep all night and leave the house and everything will be just fine. Because I could trust it and it didn’t limit when and where I could go I started doing big smokes more often which makes the whole family happy.

    I should have bought one years earlier.

  53. For me, it’s my Nook HD+. I paid $179 for the 32GB 8.9 inch model, and then another $20 for a folio case with a Bluetooth keyboard. It’s big enough for comics and magazines (7 inch tablets are too small for my eyes) and I’ve managed to write quite a bit of fiction on it thanks to Google Docs. Plus it plays Baldur’s Gate. :)

    For the family though, it’s the $49 Kindle Fire we got my daughter. Great value purchase for her needs.

  54. JAFD, Maybe check out

    Another Apple Ecosystem person here. My Mini is my personal entertainment device: Facebook, games, movies, e-reading. My MacBook Air, is for conferences, where I’m likely to need to do significant amounts of typing and for Quicken. My iPhone is to have a good camera handy when I actually need it, the great interwebs at my beck and call, and to entertain me in waiting rooms when the mini is not close by. I would be upset if I had to give up any one of the three. I got rid of cable for my TV years ago. Roku wants me to upgrade, but I think the TV (and old Roku) will just leave the house instead. I am just about ready to give up the last of my VHS tapes (Wallace and Gromit) even though i may still have a working player, but i haven’t tried it in a while, so maybe not.

  55. Consider a tablet, a on-the-move device. As opposed to opening up your laptop all the time. The tablet is a supplement just like a smartphone phone but the plus most likely the bigger screen. I guess.

  56. I, too, do the whole Windows ecosystem thing. Got the lovely 950XL the day they came out, and it’s a joy to use. I purchased the Surface Pro 3 (i5, 8GB, 256SSD–best bang for the buck) and haven’t looked back. I rarely fire up the Big Cat anymore, and this little gem drives three monitors when at my desk–its own 216X1440, an old 19201200, and the new 28-inch 4K monitor. No hangs, no reboots, no issues.

    That, and the Adobe Master Collection CC for $20 a month are my two best values of late.

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