10 Things I’ve Purchased Thanks to The Wirecutter

I don’t have a problem, right?

On Wednesday I tweeted about how I had, over more than a year, purchased 10 things based on recommendations from a website called The Wirecutter and how my most recent purchase, a set of 3 pens, had disappointed me. Shortly after posting my tweet three different friends asked me different questions about the 10 things I had used the site to buy and what I thought of the items, so I figured I’d write about my various, very positive experiences.

Here are the 10 things I’ve purchased (so far) based wholly or in part on Wirecutter recommendations, in rough chronological order of when I got them, starting about 18 months ago.

Water Bottle

Mine is silver and has a different top

I think the Klean Kanteen ($14) was my first Wirecutter-approved purchase. I was trying to quit drinking the free soda at work.

In college I had a few Nalgenes but they were big and I heard the plastic deteriorates over time and gives you cancer (jk?). I don’t know anything about water bottles but my brother had a Klean Kanteen. Wirecutter was basically confirming that it was a good choice. I got the 27 oz with a “poly loop cap” (not pictured). It’s a tank and I love it, thus beginning my implicit trust of the Wirecutter. Oh and I went about a year without soda, but started cheating a little in the summer heat.

Laptop

13" Macbook Air

In spring of 2012 I was still rocking a 17" Macbook Pro from college. It was a beast and I had been through a lot with it, but it was getting slow, plus it weighed a ton. I also dented it in my move to Brooklyn. It was time to be a big boy and use my real income to buy a computer.

Using the Wirecutter’s review as a starting point, I did a fair amount of research comparing the limited Mac laptop options. Did the Air have enough computing power for all the shit I wanted to do? What about this flash memory? I had a LaCie external hard drive at the time, so storage space wasn’t a major concern. I can’t remember what ultimately swayed me in the end, but eventually I got a 13"Air with 128 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM (the standard is 4 GB of RAM, but for an extra $100 I wanted to ensure no lagging) for $1200.

A year and a half later I’ve never gotten a pinwheel-of-death or had to forcefully restart it. A week or two ago I was working from home creating an interactive for work. At one point I was running 11 programs at once (to wit: Chrome, Safari, Adium, iTunes, TextEdit, Excel, Word, Cyberduck, Sublime Text 2, iTerm, Preview), flying between windows, browsers, and emails. No problem at all. It also starts up in like 5 seconds. We live in a #blessed age.

External Monitor

Yeah, it’s a Dell

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about using computers, it’s that you can never have enough screen real estate. At work I’ve got three monitors, but at home I figured one additional screen would be fine (my apartments then and now couldn’t have fit a 2nd external monitor, plus the Air can really only handle one external monitor). So I ordered a Dell UltraSharp U2413M ($265) based solely on the Wirecutter’s article.

In short the Dell works great. It comes in handy (a) when doing a lot of shit at once on your computer and (b) when I want to watch Netflix or whatever from my bed. It’s plenty bright and color— I use the DVI connection (higher quality than VGA) and a MiniDisplay Port adapter (I think this is it— the monitor comes with a DVI cable so you just need this adapter) to get it into the Air.

I did have one kind of serious quirk with the monitor when I first got it. When I first plugged into the Air it started right up, but that first day, when I let the computer go into sleep mode for the first time and tried to wake it up, the monitor didn’t come back from sleep mode. It just stayed black even though my Air came right back. After some frantic Googling I found a post on an obscure message board offering a solution. I wish I could find it to link to it, but basically the monitor (which can be spun 90 degrees to a vertical orientation) by default is set to auto-detect its orientation. Apparently something in my Air (maybe the OS?) didn’t like this and it couldn’t wake it up from sleep mode.

To fix it I had to plug in my old 17" MacBook Pro, jump into the monitors menu, and turn this orientation auto-detect off. Then I plugged the Air back in and it’s worked fine ever since. It was kind of weird though, but since I didn’t seen many others online describing the problem and I haven’t seen others comment on the Wirecutter review, I figure it’s just a fluke.

In-Ear Headphones

Gets the job done

My Klipsch IMAGE S4 in-ear headphones ($70) are no longer listed on the Wirecutter (here are their current headphone picks), but they used to be!

Basically, I had bought a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50 for listening to music and videos at work and on my long commute home and I loved them. (The M50s used to be on Wirecutter at one point, but since I bought them before their review went up, I’m not including them in this list. However, I have used their replacement pick— these Sony’s— and know they aren’t as rugged as the M50s.)

I had always preferred over-ear headphones, but at some point I was doing more reporting and needed headphones with a mic to plug into my phone. That’s why I sought out and bought the Klipsches. They stick in my ears just fine and worked well in my iPhone for interviews. They also sound pretty good, but if they broke I might splurge for Wirecutter’s new pick.

Portable External Hard Drive

Comes with a cute little USB cord tucked in

My Silicon Power Rugged Armor A80 1 TB Portable External Hard Drive ($86), which I bought maybe a year ago, has also been replaced on the Wirecutter at this point. But back then this was a solid upgrade, for me at least.

Back in college I had a 500 gigabyte (GB) LaCie behemoth that weighed a ton and had to be plugged in to run at all. It fit all my music and movies and it worked fine, but I was slowly approaching the 500GB limit. Around my college graduation in 2010 LaCie came out with a portable, more rugged 500GB option for a little over $100, so I got that and transferred my music onto it to free up space on the other 500GB LaCie. (By portable I mean that it’s both small and does not need to be plugged into the wall— just the computer.)

By 2012 this 1 terabyte (1,000 GBs) A80 was on the Wirecutter and I moved everything to it, leaving the LaCies as back-ups to gather dust. It’s worked well and I’ve had no problems with it, but as you can see the Wirecutter has now found a 2 TB portable USB 3.0 drive for $150.

I would note that (apparently) non-portable options offer faster transfer speeds than the portables, even if both are USB 3.0. So if you’re regularly accessing a lot of data that lives on your hard drive, you might want to check out the Wirecutter’s 3 TB plug-in-to-the-wall option.

Work Bag

Indiana Jones ain’t got nothing on me

I work in an office and I bring shit back and forth most days, sometimes including my laptop, or just carry it to look like a successful young professional on my commute, so I need a bag for that. When I switched from the 17" MacBook Pro to the 13" Air, I could switch out my awkwardly large computer/work bag for something smaller. My old bag also didn’t have a handle to carry it— just a shoulder strap— and it was kind of beat. It was time for an upgrade.

One of my favorite things about The Wirecutter is their confidence in selecting ONE thing out of many possibilities that is the one you want. However, since bags are relatively subjective, their favorite bags section is kind of a hodgepodge. I went through each and ended up getting the Filson Original Briefcase ($255). My brother has a Filson duffel bag and the thing is just a tank. The briefcase is similarly well-built, with leather handles and a leather shoulder strap. It fits my MacBook Air, headphones, umbrella, and two breakfast sandwiches no problem. I can even fit all my gym shit in there if I need to.

I actually could see this bag lasting me decades. Worth the money for me.

Note: Wirecutter recommends the “Original Briefcase,” which is 4" deep. I actually ended up opting for the 6" deep “Computer Bag” model so I could fit an umbrella or a jacket and a camera or whatever else. I don’t regret getting the deeper Computer Bag, but I guess the 4" one looks a little sexier.

Camera + SD Card

This is probably the coolest machine I’ve ever used

Right around when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 I was kind of in a cloudy place. I needed a hobby, you know? I’d always wondered if I’d be good at or enjoy photography, but never got a chance to really try it in high school or college. My rent was pretty low at the time so I knew I could spend some cash if it meant getting into something I’d enjoy doing. But I knew absolutely nothing about cameras or photography. Like, nothing.

So, I set off to learn and simultaneously do some research on cameras. It was a good winter project for me. As in the past, this started with a trip to the Wirecutter, specifically the cameras section. But I soon went much deeper in my research, learning about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, the importance of sensor size, auto-focusing, etc. I established that I wanted a small, high-quality digital camera that could accept interchangeable lens and had a viewfinder (as opposed to just an LCD screen on the back) and a relatively large sensor.

After making a few spreadsheets of potential choices and reading a lot of reviews (Steve Huff is best I think), I was basically between the Wirecutter’s two $1,000-ish picks: the Sony NEX-6 and the Olympus OM-D EM-5. (I think it speaks volumes of the site and their writers that after all my independent—if amateur—research I was back to the Wirecutter’s two choices.) I also came to agree with the site’s general take on DSLRs: they are just too big and not that much better in image-quality at this point.

After two trips to B and H Photo in Manhattan in February to actually test the cameras, I settled on the EM-5 ($1,100). Briefly, here were my reasons:

  1. The EM-5 has 5-axis image stabilization built into the camera. I have shaky hands and when I tested a friend’s older Nikon DSLR most pictures I took were blurred. That is never a problem with the EM-5.
  2. Micro Four Thirds (the system that the Olympus uses) has better, cheaper lenses than Sony’s E-mount system.
  3. With the optional, $300 grip attached, the slightly bigger EM-5 felt better in my big, awkward hands.

After fooling around with the Olympus kit zoom lens, I racked up a total of 3 “prime” lenses (prime means they don’t zoom, but generally as a trade off let in more light due to bigger apertures): the Olympus 17mm f/1.8, the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, and the Olympus 45mm f/1.8. (Wirecutter also has a guide to Micro Four Thirds lenses.) I also bought Adobe Lightroom 4 ($140-ish?) for my Mac to edit the photos. iPhoto works fine for JPEGs, but to get the most out of your camera you want to shoot and edit RAW apparently (look at me talking like a know-it-all), which iPhoto cannot do as understand it.

I love using this camera. Obviously this was a pretty expensive purchase all told, but for me it’s been worth it. You can see some sample photos (all from the EM-5) on my photo tumblr.

Note: As the Wirecutter review of the EM-5 points out, Olympus is coming out with a newer OM-D called the EM-1 in October. If I were buying now I’d look into the newer model.

Oh, and for the EM-5 I got the Wirecutter’s recommended SD Card, the SanDisk Extreme 16GB. No problems, plenty of space.

Beard Trimmer

BUZZzzzzzzzzz

I have worn a beard almost continuously since senior year of high school (so 8 years). In all that time I never found a good beard trimmer, although I didn’t really look too hard. I went through a number of battery-charged, scroll-the-wheel-to-adjust-trim-depth models, but didn’t love any of them. Enter the Wahl Peanut Trimmer ($35).

This little guy is pretty simple. It comes with 4 “guides” of varying length that you snap on (1/4", 1/2", etc.). Plug it into the wall, flip the switch, and go. It’s super powerful, so it usually cuts on the first pass, and it’s easy to clean. I will say you can’t get a close shave with it— it’s just for trimming, but that’s what I needed.

I’ve used the shortest guide for my two trims so far and I’ve never been able to clean up my scraggly beard so well. Should last a long time too due to lack of rechargeable battery, sturdy design, and ease of cleaning.

Office Pen

Eh, so far

My most-recent Wirecutter-assisted purchase was a set of three uni-ball Jetstream pens ($8 for three pens). It was kind of a last-minute addition to another Amazon order I was making. But after reading the interesting review (there are pen review blogs!) of the Jetstream, I found myself agreeing that my up-till-then-satisfactory Pilot G2s (dozen for $13) did skip often enough for me to notice. The Wirecutter’s experts targeted the G2 specifically, saying that while it was widely used and even loved, it wasn’t that good of a pen. Buy the Jetstream instead they said. So I did and they arrived in the mail just today.

As I mentioned in my tweet, after one afternoon I was disappointed with the Jetstream. Despite being slightly thicker than the G2 it feels lighter and hollower, and thus, to me, cheaper. Also, in my limited test writing, it actually skipped a few times, probably more than the G2 would have. But to be fair I only tried one of the three in the package and it was fresh out of the box, so might have needed some like, warm-up time?

(In the course of writing this mammoth thing a Wirecutter editor responded to my tweet—as they have in the past to my questions because they are amazing— asking what was up with the pens. Maybe I got a lemon?)

I mean they’re not bad pens, I just expected more from a Wirecutter pick after their track record.

Pen Update

After a few years settling with Pilot G2s I’ve started using Uni-ball Signo Dx Um-100s and am liking them a lot. There’s also a 0.38mm model called Uni-ball Signo DX UM-151s.

Conclusion

The Wirecutter is awesome, and at this point I am basically unable to purchase anything with confidence without their blessing.

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