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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

My Favorite Things: Hardware

As a newly minted independent content creator or whatever, I am no longer required by my employer to brainstorm shameless ways to mention products in conjunction with an upcoming set of gift-giving holidays. Fortunately, I’m not barred from it, either.

That being said, on the site I’m going to write a few articles about things I like, so that if they sound good, you might try them out or even give them as a gift. If it was the sort of season when one would do that sort of thing.

27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display

iMac from the side

As I was reviewing Apple’s new Retina iMac I went out and bought one for myself. Yes, I was in the market for a new computer and had some money I needed to spend, but using the new iMac for even a few days was enough to convince me that I needed to get one.

Yes, the display is gorgeous, but the iMac packs processing and graphics power too. Outside of a high-end Mac Pro you will not find a faster Mac. No, it’s not cheap, but $2499 for one of the fastest Macs around attached to a screen so big that even 4K video plays with room to spare… that seems like a pretty good deal.

[Starts at $2499, Amazon link.]

MacBook Air 11”

I love the 11-inch MacBook Air. It’s Apple’s cheapest laptop, but it’s still fast and versatile. Yes, there may be Retina MacBook Air models appearing in 2015, but will they start at $899? All signs point to no. As a travel Mac the 11-inch is a perfect size. Until I got my iMac, I also hooked my MacBook Air up to an external display and used it as my desktop Mac too. The Intel i5 processor and the fast flash storage meant I rarely felt any slowdowns.

[Starts at $899.]

iPad mini 2

Yes, Apple came out with the iPad mini 3 this year. I think the iPad mini 2’s the better buy. The iPad mini 3 is $100 more expensive than the iPad mini 2, but all that’s really changed is the addition of Touch ID. I like Touch ID on my iPhone, but it seems less necessary on an iPad, especially if that addition is going to cost you $100.

Unfortunately, the existence of the iPad mini 3 means that the iPad mini 2 isn’t available in as many variations as it used to be. There are only 16GB and 32GB models, so if you need to max out on storage, you can’t choose this path. Even the $349 32GB iPad mini 2 is a pretty good deal, compared to the $499 64GB iPad mini 3.

I wish Apple had upgraded the iPad mini 3 with the same tech as the iPad Air 2, but that didn’t happen. Instead, by keeping the iPad mini 2 on the price list, Apple’s providing an awfully nice price for a great little iPad. This is the iPad I use every day, happily.

[Starts at $299, Amazon link.]

iPhone 6

iphone6

The question of the fall was iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus? I’m firmly on the side of the iPhone 6. I’ve been loving my iPhone 6 since the day I got it. Though the iPhone 6 Plus has its fans, I don’t think it’s an iPad replacement and it’s just too large for my taste. It’s not a bad product, especially for basketball players and similarly giant people, but it’s not what I would choose. Or recommend.

[Starts at $199 with contract.]

TiVo Roamio

I bought a Tivo Roamio a year ago and I’m still loving it. I haven’t used the latest iterations of every cable and satellite company’s DVRs, obviously, but after several years with DirecTV’s serviceable DVR technology, moving back to TiVo was a pleasure. I can offload recorded shows to watch on the TiVo app, and the two other TVs in my house have a TiVo Mini attached, so they’ve got access to live TV and all the recordings on the main DVR.

The Roamio does more than just TV, too. We also use it to watch Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Comcast On Demand, MLB TV, and Vudu. I love it.

[Plus model starts at $400, $320 now on Amazon. TiVo service extra. Pro model starts at $600, $493 now on Amazon.]

Pebble

I’m still wearing the Pebble, and still liking it. It’s a basic smartwatch with some good hardware, improving software, and very long battery life. I get the distinct feeling that next year will be an Apple Watch kind of year for me, but at $99 the regular Pebble is priced right. It’s the watch I wear most days. I’m wearing it right now.

[$99 for base model. Pebble Steel, which I don’t like as much, costs more.]

Avantree Roxa

This is a weird one, but I use it all the time: The Avantree Roxa is a tiny Bluetooth receiver. I have it plugged in next to my (long-discontinued) Squeezebox Boom music player. The Boom’s a great music player and it’s got a line-in jack for auxiliary input, but no support for Bluetooth. That’s where the Roxa comes in: I connect my iPhone to it via Bluetooth, and it plays the audio through the Boom’s aux jack. It’s even got a USB port for device charging. I picked this up at CES and I honestly haven’t compared it to other, similar devices. But I highly recommend devices like these to retrofit older speakers with line-in jacks into Bluetooth-capable devices.

[$70 list, on Amazon for $35.]

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[Get into the buying, er, holiday spirit by reading our gift guide!]