By Jason Snell
November 24, 2021 10:00 AM PT
A Thanksgiving spread
This time of year leads to a few inevitable kinds of stories. Giving thanks, and… deals? Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and Black Friday one of my least favorite “holidays”, and yet they’re placed back to back on the (U.S.) calendar.
I’ve written the occasional tech-I’m-thankful-for column over the years, and even drafted Thanksgiving dinner one year. And while I’ve witnessed many of my friends in the tech press being forced to spend their holiday week digging up Black Friday Deals, I’ve generally been able to stay out of it.
But in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d spread several familiar dishes across the table this week.
Tech-themed giving of thanks
On this week’s episode of Upgrade, a listener wrote in to ask about the second-generation Apple Pencil. I have to admit, I haven’t written much about the Apple Pencil since writing a love song to it back in 2018, though I did make a video that showed it off as part of my podcast-editing workflow.
So let me give thanks to one of the most remarkable pieces of technology I’ve ever used. Unlike most appealing tech products, the second-generation Apple Pencil does not offer shiny buttons and blinking lights and the promise of more power. Its greatness comes in its subtlety.
It’s blank. It doesn’t have those buttons or lights, or a battery compartment, or an interface to speak of. A flat surface keeps it from rolling off a table and lets it attach to iPads to charge and pair, automatically. Jony Ive’s less-is-more aesthetic may have been taken to some unfortunate extremes by 2010s Apple, but the Apple Pencil feels like the perfect example of that aesthetic done right. Using it feels natural and simple and never like fussing with a tech product. It’s magical—a word Apple throws around a bit too much, if you ask me.
This is not to say that the Apple Pencil is perfect. It’s not. While it contains an accelerometer that theoretically lets you double-tap it to send a gesture to change modes or execute a shortcut of some sort, I have never been able to get it to work reliably. What’s worse, I frequently inadvertently trigger the double-tap gesture. Put them both together and what do you get? A person who has turned off all gestures on the Apple Pencil, thank you very much.
When Apple create a third-generation pencil, I hope that it finds a way to make that gesture more reliable, or replaces it with something else. (Yes, I’d even take a physical button, even if it does drain away some of the magic.) My podcast compatriot Myke Hurley also suggests that the Pencil might benefit from a second touch surface on the other end, to use as an eraser (or any other function an app would want to use it for). That would work for me.
But let’s not perfect be the enemy of good. I’m thankful, very thankful, for the second-generation Apple Pencil.
Deals! Gift ideas! Deals! Gift ideas!
Sorry — I don’t have any special deals for you. But I do have a gift idea. Last week I updated my article about e-readers, after reviewing three recent e-reader releases.
If you or a loved one are a big book reader, I highly recommend buying a dedicated e-reader. The screens are great for text, the batteries last forever, and they don’t have the distractions that you’ll get reading on an iPhone or iPad. Most of them are waterproof, so they’re great for reading in the bathtub or at the pool.
My e-reader of choice right now is the $180 Kobo Libra 2, which offers physical page-turn buttons and a great seven-inch diagonal screen. But if you don’t care about using buttons to turn pages—it’s way better than tapping a screen, I promise!—or are already deep in Amazon’s ecosystem, the $160 ($140 with ads) Kindle Paperwhite remains a favorite.
In terms of the best Mac out there right now, I’m going to echo my 2021 advice: The go-to Mac for most people is the M1 MacBook Air. Yes, there are rumors of a new MacBook Air design coming in 2022, but look—there’s always another new computer around the corner. The M1 MacBook Air is great now, and will be great a few years from now. The $999 starting price gets you a fantastic computer, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be some good deals available on the MacBook Air, from Apple, Amazon, and others, during the holiday season.
Yes, the new MacBook Pro laptops are amazing. If you want one, you know. But for the average student or just a regular home user, the MacBook Air is plenty—and at a great price. (The new M1 iMac is also pretty great, if you’re in the market for a desktop Mac. Please, I beg you, buy it in a fun color!)
The gratitude part
This is the part of the post where I express my gratitude to all of you, the Six Colors members, for allowing me to do this as my job. Last night as I was falling asleep, I recalled how some of my most formative job experiences were relatively brief in hindsight. I worked on my college newspaper for three years, yet this week I found myself browsing merchandise that references the name. I only worked at MacUser magazine for four years. That was all followed, of course, by Macworld, where I worked for 17 years. A long time, yet strangely, it seems shorter!
My point is, I have now been at this Six Colors thing for an unbelievable seven years. As much time as my college paper and MacUser stints put together. Forty percent of the length of time I spent at Macworld. This still feels like my “new job,” while simultaneously feeling like I’ve been doing it forever.
In any event, in 2014 I went out on my own and decided I didn’t want to get another corporate media job, but do my own thing. Six Colors is the center of that thing, and it’s thanks to all of you that I am still out here writing this stuff seven years later. (And Dan Moren would certainly say the same.)
So, in the spirit of the season: Thank you. I am grateful for your support and interest all year round, but it gets all embarrassing and awkward to talk about it every week, so I save it all up and let it out in late November. Thank you.