David Gewirtz's top tech purchases of 2015

With a geeky, gadget-junkie streak a mile wide, our own slightly mad scientist, David Gewirtz, lives and works in a home that's somewhere between a smart house and a full-on data center. Here are some of his favorite tech purchases of 2015.
By David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
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Stunningly fast MacBook Pro

This year has been relatively light in terms of major technology purchases. Ever since I moved more to Macs than PCs, I've found my need to upgrade hardware substantially reduced. That said, I was sorely needing a powerful laptop to be able to not only use for writing, but for major products and software development. The MacBook Pro proved to be an ideal choice and has become a workhorse companion for me since it arrived.

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iPhone 6S Plus

It's hard to admit, but the iPhone 6s Plus has really grown on me. I expected to just tolerate it, and I still can't stand the little icons of the very limited launcher screen. But I've found the device itself to be amazingly effective, from the excellent camera to the (also the camera) ability to record 4K video, to some of the apps available only on iOS. It's a win.

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Amazon Echo

Our two Amazon Echo Pringles Cans of Doom have embedded themselves so much into our home life that they have become part of the family. I could probably give up almost any other device on this list for an easy replacement, but the Amazon Echo is unique in its usefulness and always-there assistance.

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2015 Apple TV

Okay, fine. The new Apple TV is growing on me. When I first installed it, I found very little to like. But after a month, and a bunch of system updates along with a better fleshed-out set of apps, I'm finding the new Apple TV has its value. Of major value is the ability to watch the Apple TV with a set of Bluetooth headphones.

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Photive BTH3 Over-The-Ear Wireless Bluetooth Headphones with Built-in Mic

Speaking of Bluetooth headphones, these are what I use to watch Gotham while my wife and puppy doze quietly and adorably on the couch next to me. They're comfortable enough to wear while binge-watching a couple of episodes until 2am, and they're large enough that they fit over my large head.

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VXi BlueParrott B350-XT Bluetooth Headset

At over $100, this is definitely not the cheapest over-the-head phone headset, but it's got some nice things going for it. First, it's an over-the-head form that leaves an ear free to hear what's going on around, and I find that very important during my day use of the headset. It allows me to be on the phone, but also hear and interact with my work environment.

The reason I picked these, though, is because they're the only one-ear, over-the-head phone headset I found that would allow me to not only talk on the phone, but listen to audio apps that normally expect stereo on the iPhone. My older headset worked relatively well (until it didn't), but wouldn't play Pocket narration, audio books, or Spotify. This pair does.

One word of warning: the name of the product claims 95% noise cancellation. That's just silly. With one ear completely uncovered, you're never going to buy these to cancel out the surrounding noise.

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Wolverine F2D Mighty 20MP 7-in-1 Film to Digital Converter

This thing is cool. It's not a photo scanner, it's basically a tiny little digital camera embedded in a custom-purpose box. I have a huge number of negatives and I've been wanting to get them into digital form, but haven't been comfortable with the idea (or cost) of sending my precious originals out to some service bureau that would probably send them offshore to take advantage of cheaper labor. I want to know where my photos are and not worry that they might get lost in transit.

It's a little time-consuming to do the scans, but you load a strip of negatives onto a carrier tray and hit a button. Slide the carrier. Hit a button. Over and over. When you've done enough to lose patience, you transfer the contents of the SD card to a computer and you've got your images.

At just over $100, it's a good investment.

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Miracle Sound Deluxe Lavalier Lapel Clip-on Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone

I finally broke down and got rid of my 1998-vintage Radio Shack lav mic. It wouldn't work with the iPhone and, well, it's running a little long in the tooth. This thing had great reviews and is under $20. If you've watched my recent 3D printing videos, you've had a chance to hear it in action.

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Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer

I'm not sure I'd call this a "smart body analyzer," but it is a connected scale and that's a good thing. I'm a big proponent of recording telemetry data from the body, whether it's regular blood pressure readings, body mass, weight, or even air quality. The Withings scale records weight, heart rate, and air quality and saves it to the cloud. I'm not convinced it, alone, is responsible for my losing 20 pounds over the last half a year or so (probably cutting out cookies helped a little, too), but the integration with cloud health data makes this a very worthwhile purchase.

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Toshiba 5TB SATA 6Gb/s 7200rpm, 128MB Cache, 3.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive

A year of relatively reliable computers, along with the move to the cloud for most of my servers, means I haven't needed to build too many huge storage arrays this year. Even so, I have roughly a quarter petabyte running inside Camp David and when some drives failed in the Drobo after pushing MTBF to the bitter end, it was nice to be able to replace them with nice, big 5TB drives. Yes, there are now easily accessible 6TB drives, but these are about $140 while the 6TB drives are well over $300. That makes these the sweet spot price performance winners.

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Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse

I don't always use this vertical mouse, but I found that when my wrist starts to hurt from a long writing or programming session, it's nice to be able to switch to a different style mouse. This Anker vertical mouse is under $20, is wireless, and is just as nice as other vertical mice costing hundreds of dollars.

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NETGEAR AC1200 High Power 700mW Dual Band Wi-Fi Range Extender

The summers in Florida are horrible, like living on the face of the sun. But while Florida is intolerable for 9 1/2 months of the year, there are 2-3 months when it's possible to venture outside without bursting into flame. Sadly, there are still the Florida bugs, so ... well, Florida is unpleasant no matter how you slice it. I honestly can't understand why anyone in their right mind would want to come to this flat, muggy, broiling hellscape for vacation, but hey, different strokes, right?

Even so, there are days you just can't stand staying inside and it's nice to be able to bring the network outside with you. Our router just couldn't make it through the reinforced walls in Camp David, so we added this WiFi range extender, which did the job.

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Anker Ultra-Slim Wireless Charging Pad

And then there was one. I subjected five Qi wireless charging pads to a series of scientific tests (including how much heat they generated) and this device was not only the least expensive, it was the best of the bunch, with consistent performance and low ambient heat generation.

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Philips 426361 Hue Personal Wireless Lighting

We added Hue bulbs, bulbs that can change color and intensity via a WiFi app, well before we adopted our Alexas (the Amazon Echo devices). But we keep adding more and more bulbs and they have proven to be wonderful replacements for our often faulty X-10 implementation. X-10 is out and Hue is in.

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Philips 452722 A19 Hue Lux Connected Home LED Light Bulb

The only downside of the Hue lighting system is that the bulbs are expensive. When it came time to build my distraction reducing work-focusing signal light, I chose to use the Amazon Echo with Hue Lux lights, and saved a bunch of bucks. Hue Lux lights (depending on the promotions) are range from half to a third the price of traditional color-changing Hue bulbs, but are still controlled via apps, Alexa, and WiFi.

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