Anirudh RegidiDec 31, 2020 19:33:53 IST
Editor's Note: This story is part of a series about tech gadgets and devices that helped Team tech2 and some of our friends through the pandemic, lockdown, and the year 2020, in general.
As a tech journalist, I’m used to having a tonne of gadgets to play around with all year round. Be it phones, laptops, tablets, or some form of smart toy or other, gadgets come and go at a rather rapid rate, which means that my relationship with them is fickle at best.
The two gadgets that are the exception to the rule, however, are my iPhone 11 and MacBook Pro 16, and you’d rarely find me with my eyes averted from either screen.
All that changed during the pandemic.
Lockdowns and movement restrictions tied me to my home, which entailed, simultaneously, a more sedentary work life and a more chore-heavy home life. Not having to spend 3-4 hours a day travelling freed up a tonne of time to pursue some long-neglected hobbies (the only good thing that resulted from COVID-19), and more time stationary meant that I could give my phone and MacBook a rest while I dusted off my darling PC and prepped it for some long, late-night gaming sessions.
Here’s a look at all the tech that got me through the pandemic (so far):
Chores: Roomba 966 and Braava Jet M3
When it comes to doing chores, I’m as lazy as they come. I’d rather be lounging around in an easy chair watching re-runs of Battlestar Galactica than sweeping and swabbing and bothering with other household chores.
Enter the iRobot Roomba 966 (Review) and Braava Jet M3. The former is an automated vacuum cleaner and the other a mop: a perfect pairing.
Setting them up was a breeze and once I’d figured out a suitable schedule for them, I stopped worrying about dust. I was impressed with the stubbornness with which these ’bots sought out dust and hard-to-reach areas, they were also surprisingly effective.
While maintenance costs add up in the long run (rollers, filters, mop attachments), and the initial cost is very high, they saved me a tonne of trouble and I doubt I’m ever going back to sweeping and swabbing ever again. Even my initially distrustful mom warmed up to the bots within days.
Entertainment: iPad Pro + AirPods Pro
Before the pandemic, my iPhone 11 (Review), paired with a Sennheiser CX150 BT (Review), was my entertainment centre. A phone because it was handy on Mumbai’s perilous locals, and the CX150 BT because unlike my AirPods Pro, they were dirt cheap, and there was little risk of them falling off at random.
My more sedentary post-lockdown life required a change. First, a larger screen was in order. Now I do have an HDR capable TV and HDR400 certified computer monitor, both of which are fantastic, but neither is mounted on the ceiling, which is the direction my head normally faces when I’m in bed. So, iPad Pro it was.
The Pro — mine’s the 2018 model — features a superb, wide-gamut, 500-nit, 10.5-inch LCD display with HDR support that knocks the socks off any laptop not made by Apple. It’s also very light, and with four powerful speakers, it’s the perfect entertainment centre.
For audio, I ditched the CX150 BT and went with the AirPods Pro. Now, despite their price, the AirPods Pro aren’t the best sounding headphones around; the CX150s are better, in fact. What sets the AirPods Pro apart is convenience — I have multiple Apple devices and AirPods sync seamlessly across everything — and a mid-year update that brought positional audio (Dolby Atmos support) to the set.
The result? An immersive movie/TV experience unlike anything I can get from either my TV or PC setup. And when I get a call or have to roll off the bed for whatever reason, the AirPods seamlessly transfer to my phone or Mac as necessary. Perfect.
Hobbies: Fuji X-T30 + XF 55–200 lens
The one thing that did get me off my arse was photography. I’ve always loved it and have been shooting since long before digital cameras and smartphones were a thing. This was a hobby that took a back-seat during my pre-pandemic days, however. Having to basically worry about work from 6 am to 9 pm, there was very little time to dust off my camera. Post lockdown, I had all the time in the world for my hobbies, and boy did I make use of that time.
The camera I use is a Fuji X-T30. It’s a bit of an unusual choice in a world dominated by Canons, Nikons and Sonys, but I’ve had an irrational love for Fuji cameras for almost five years now. It’s a pricey camera system to get into, but the capabilities of that X-Trans sensor tend to defy belief and can challenge even some entry-level full-frame cameras from the big three.
Since Fuji uses a custom colour filter instead of the industry standard Bayer array, moiré is not something you ever need to worry about. This means that you also don’t need an anti-aliasing filter, which means more light to the sensor, and thus less noise across the entire ISO range.
The little noise that does creep in at around ISO 3200 and above looks more like film grain than noise.
The design of the Fuji X cameras is also very analogue, with almost all essential controls available as buttons or dials. As someone who’s shot a lot of film, I love this. The lenses also tend to have dedicated aperture rings, tend to be made of metal, and are, without exception, incredibly sharp.
This may not be the best camera system, but it’s one I love using, and Fuji’s X-T30 is, for me, the perfect photographer’s camera. Battery life is poor, and I find the ergonomics a bit of a letdown when compared to the X-T10 and T20 that came before it, but these are small niggles in what is otherwise a nearly perfect camera.
In a pinch, the camera can also shoot fantastic DCI 4K 30 fps video at 200 Mb/s, which is downsampled from 6K, and uses the entire sensor. This is much higher quality than most cameras in this price range can manage, and even some cameras that are twice the price struggle with. It also offers a clean HDMI out (with 10-bit 4:2:2 support) for those who want to use external recorders and monitors. There are some serious limitations in the video department, however, and I’ll get into those later.
I have a selection of lenses, but the one I use the most is the Fuji XF 55–200 f/3.5–4.8. It’s pretty fast for a 200 mm APS-C telephoto lens, and tack sharp throughout its zoom range.
I love this lens because I love the compression you get from a telephoto. And for you smartphone folk, this is real telephoto, not the 50 mm equivalent faux telephoto you get from your ‘2x zooms’. The 50 mm equivalent you get on a smartphone is, in fact, considered a ‘normal’ focal length and not ‘tele’.
I digress. The 55–200 is a fantastic lens and easily one of the best optically stabilised lenses available on any platform, and perfect for the kinds of photos I take. All the image samples in this section were shot on this camera and lens system.
I did, towards the end of the year, upgrade to an X-T4, but that upgrade was primarily for video. The X-T30, while it does offer fantastic image quality, has a 10 min recording limit for 4K video, overheats within about 40 minutes, drains its battery in less than an hour, and it’s I/O ports are so closely spaced that you can’t use an external recorder and battery charger simultaneously.
The X-T4 is a much larger camera, but includes a battery that’s twice as large, dual SD card slots, insanely fast AF, and even more buttons and dials, as well as a flippy screen. Additionally, you get 4K 60 fps 10-bit 4:2:0 internal recording, FHD 240 fps, IBIS, digital IS, and a whole lot more. The only thing you lose is a flash.
Canons, Nikons and Sonys are fantastic systems in their own right, and perhaps technically superior on a lot of fronts, but I don’t enjoy shooting on them as much as I do on my Fujis.
Gaming: A PC
Another of my favourite pastimes is gaming, and I’ve probably been gaming longer than I’ve been taking photos. Between my Steam, Epic Games, Origin, GOG, and UPlay libraries, I must have several thousand games, all of which I’ve played at some point.
As is obvious from the software platforms that house my vast library, I play on PC. The one I’m currently using is admittedly long in the tooth at this point, but it’s served me very well for almost five years now, and will probably continue to serve me well, with minor upgrades, till the PC as a concept becomes obsolete.
My machine, upgraded over the years, is currently specced as follows:
- CPU: Intel Core i7 6700K OC’ed to 4.6 GHz (with a planned upgrade to a 10600K in the works)
- Motherboard: Gigabyte Z170-D3H
- RAM: 2x 8 GB Corsair Vengeance RGB @ 3,200 MHz
- GPU: Gigabyte RTX 2070 Super
- PSU: Corsair AX850 (Yes, it’s overkill, but it’s also future-proof)
- Cabinet: NZXT H500
- Storage: Corsair MP600, Crucial MX500, Samsung 840 Evo, 2x WD Red NAS drives for backup
- CPU Cooler: NZXT Kraken x53 240 mm AiO
- Additional cooling: Noctua NF-A15 exhaust, 2x Noctua NF-F12 intakes
- Monitor: BenQ EX2780Q (1440p @ 144 Hz)
- Keyboard: Corsair Strafe RGB w/ Cherry MX Red switches
- Mouse: Logitech G502 Proteus Core
For me, this PC has been a welcome distraction these past few months. There’s something soothing about the steady hum of powerful fans, the feeling of warmth from the dissipating heat, the hypnotically calming effect of gently pulsing LEDs. If you’re as mad as I am, a PC can transcend its physical form.
2020? I hardly remember a day of it.
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