Gizmos and Gadgets

I’ve written several posts about my efforts to clear out the clutter and reduce the number of things in my life – and I really have made decent progress. But, as good as I’ve been about curtailing the purchase of clothes, shoes, and random household stuff, I find my willpower grows weak in the face of the latest electronic gizmo designed to make my life better (or so they say).  

Up to this point, my husband and I have been pretty even on our electronic gadget count; we each have a desktop computer, a smartphone, and a tablet. Our desktops are approximately the same vintage, my iPhone is newer, but his iPad is much newer, faster, and more reliable.

I have been considering getting a new iPad for a while now. The storage – huge I thought when I first purchased it – is getting used up at an alarming rate. I worry each time Apple sends out an update because I’m not sure my ancient iPad had the required space to accept it.

In addition to needing wanting a new tablet, I also thought I might want a laptop. Tablets are great for what they are designed to do, but they aren’t a true computer. They run apps, not programs, and as great as some apps are, they aren’t as robust as computer programs (for instance, Lightroom – a terrific photo editing program – offers an app version, but it lacks much of the capabilities of the full-fledged program). I also like the portability of a laptop – I wouldn’t have to disappear into my office to use my computer. Additionally, I want to be able to write while traveling, something that I find inconvenient to do on my iPad. Purchasing both a new iPad and a laptop didn’t make sense financially; I needed to choose between the two platforms, but was having a hard time doing that.

My new little buddy

Then I discovered Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, which appeared to give me everything I was looking for in a nice little package. It’s a small laptop with a robust operating system and it can morph into a tablet, providing the convenience I love about the iPad.

I’ve had my Surface Pro for about a week now and, so far, I’m pleased. I’m typing this post sitting at our dining room table, enjoying being in the same room as my husband, not sequestered in another area of the house. I can choose to use the keypad, or scroll up and down the screen using my finger. I can also take a picture with either the front- or back-facing camera. Later this evening, if I want to take a quick look at my emails or read a few blogs, I can use it as a tablet by easily detaching the keyboard (the screen is a bit larger but it weighs less than my old iPad, which is nice).

Test picture I took with my laptop to insert into this post… so far, so good.

I am optimistic that I have made the right decision for my needs but my search made me wonder about what others have chosen that works for them.

With so many options out there – none of which are very cheap – what types of electronic gadgetry do you use? What can’t you live without? If you travel, which devices do you take with you? What, if anything, have you purchased that didn’t live up to its hype and sits there gathering dust?

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

63 thoughts on “Gizmos and Gadgets”

  1. Husband has a laptop, desktop, Kindle,& something else; I have a laptop and Kindle but we both have flip phones. Right now I am volunteering with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program via UW so I like taking my laptop. My Kindle is good for easy carrying when there is available Wifi. We may upgrade to better phones eventually. Your Surface Pro looks good. I may have to adapt to less space if we ever downsize.

    1. Well, I had my fingers crossed when I posted this because I wasn’t confident that the WordPress interface would work like it did with my desktop – but it did! Yay for little victories! I’m curious, do you have one of the Kindles that work similarly to a tablet (in addition to reading books, you can check emails, etc.)? I’m trying to cut down on all the electronics I pack while traveling, but they all seem to have a unique function.

  2. Congratulations on your new laptop, Janis. It looks like a perfect choice!
    Since I have come from schools and school districts that were Apple based, I currently use a MAC Air and iPhone 6. I tried an iPad but found juggling a third device to be awkward for me.
    That being said, I do have a love-hate relationship with Apple….but that would be too long of a rant for this post!
    BTW – Great test photo.

    1. Since our tablets and phones are Apple products, I thought about an Apple laptop too. But, since I like working with my PC (and not wanting to learn too many new tricks), I figured that a Microsoft product would be the best. So far, I really like the ability to either use a keyboard or my finger to scroll, plus there’s a pen that I need to learn how to use that looks like fun. What I really need is a teenager to teach me how to use all the gadgets.

  3. Congrats on your new technology. When I was working, I was on a Windows platform on an old clunky Dell notebook and had Blackberry as my mobile.

    Since then, I’ve gone Macbook Air (with an Ipad mini and Iphone 5S) but only because the rest of the family has Macbooks, Ipads, or iPhones so I wanted to integrate with the rest of the technology at home. Luckily, my husband and son are both quite passionate about Apple and fix anything that goes wrong. Thank goodness! Or else I might have gotten angry with these little rectangles of metal, silicone, and plastic as I went through the learning curve. 🙂

    I’ve seen the TV ads for the MS Surface Pro though. I really like the concept of combining a notebook with a tablet.

    1. Lucky you for having your own IT department in your house! That may be one of the main things I miss from work – there was always someone whose brain I could tap for answers to my computer questions. I don’t know where I’d be without the Googles.

  4. I love my iPad mini but memory is a issue with it. It goes everywhere with me because of it’s size and of course so does our IPhone. For short trips I use the mini for email, etc., but for bigger jobs or longer trips I use a PC laptop.

    1. It sounds like you are at about the same place I am gadget-wise. I won’t be taking my new laptop on short trips, but it will be nice to have on longer ones. It’s amazing how small and light the new electronics are so they are easy to pack.

  5. Getting a new toy is always really exciting – at least it is for me.

    I have a Microsoft laptop, Android phone, and an iPad. I do virtually all my reading on either my phone while in transit, or on my iPad. I toyed with the idea of getting a Kindle until I discovered that reading from my phone is actually pretty good – especially when I discovered Kindle will synch between devices. Amazing.

    I hate, hate, hate my laptop. It’s only a couple of years old but it’s been a vengeful little hunk of junk from day 1. I’ve spent more time on the phone with technical support than is reasonable and I’ve even sent it back for repairs. It’s still a hunk of junk.

    After being a MS user since the 80s, I swore this will be the last one and my next laptop will be an Apple. THAT’S how bad it is :/

    1. Yikes! I hope my laptop won’t turn out so problematic. I have 30 days to return it if I don’t like it but so far it seems ok. I really love all how everything syncs – have the Kindle app on my tablet and iPhone too. Which device to you use to write for and post to your blog? I’m amazed at those who do that on their phones.

      1. I do virtually all my blogging on my laptop. While I’ll use my iPad for a lot of stuff, I find WP is just too twitchy on the iPad.
        … and I’m one of those people who thinks a phone is just for, you know, phoning 😉 I’ve only recently discovered it’s not a bad reader too … but WP? Never.

  6. I had a Surface Pro 3 at work, but I didn’t like the configuration. I found that I couldn’t use it effectively on my lap, on a plane/train tray table or in places where I was used to be able to use my laptop. On a table or desk, it worked fine. I was generally please with the machine, but when it came time to replace it, I asked for a laptop. I went back to a Lenovo laptop, a brand (ThinkPad) I have used since IBM first put it on the market. Good luck. finding what works for yo is what matters.

    1. We had ThinkPads at work and they were nice. I’m surprised that you weren’t able to use your Surface Pro 3 just like your other laptop… did it not have a keyboard? I sure hope I have the right configuration, it can get expensive and frustrating to have to buy an electronic gadget just for one or two specific uses.

      1. It did have a keyboard, but with the kickstand and the keyboard, it needed more space than a airplane or AMTRAK tray table offered. If you are on Pinterest, here’s my illustration of what happens when I try to work on my lap –

        1. I love your illustration! I don’t normally use my lap as a desk so (hopefully) that won’t happen to me. I do wonder about a plane’s tray table, though. Maybe at that point, I flip the screen back – or disconnect it – and use it as a tablet.

          1. The problem on those trays is when the guy in front jolts his seat back and crushed your laptop. That happened to the guy next to me in s flight last fall. I think tablet mode would work.

  7. Congratulations on your new purchase. I was a PC user for most of my life, then switched about 8 years ago to Apple. I have a desktop machine with a large monitor which I use most of the time for writing my posts; a MacBook Pro laptop that I use for doing research in front of a tv movie at night and for writing when I want to lounge on the couch, an iPad that mostly gets used when I travel or for the Kindle on it if there’s a book that I just have to read NOW. Finally, I have an old iPhone 4 which I hate and have always hated, not because there’s anything wrong with the phone but because I’ve spent too many years in airports and on planes where we’d land at 2:00 a.m. and everyone would be sitting with their finger on their phone button ready to activate the moment we started taxiing to the gate. I have a love relationship with Apple (not Donna’s love/hate one) but don’t get me started on my “cellphones are destroying civilization” rant!
    I’d love to get a MacBook Air – not for travel particularly because I don’t have much of a travel bug going on right now and when I do travel I plan to be pretty much tech free other than a camera. I just want the MacBook Air because I’m craving a new gadget. You’ve activated my gadget envy, Janis. Oh no!

    1. There is just something about getting a new gadget, isn’t there? So much promise, so many possibilities… I did consider just getting a new iPad with a keyboard (that’s how they are displaying them at the Apple stores), but I wanted a real computer. The MacBook Airs are beautiful too, but I wasn’t anxious to learn a whole new system and, like all Apple products, they are rather pricey. We will be traveling this summer a bit so I guess I’ll find out if I made the right decision.

  8. I have a desktop and a Kindle Fire. I know that I will eventually have to replace the computer and am thinking about a laptop. I find this post very interesting. I do not have a smartphone and have no desire for one. I like to be as disconnected as possible, lol.

    1. I remember resisting a cell phone for as long as possible, but eventually my work insisted. Then I discovered texting and I was hooked. I really don’t like talking on the phone so it’s the perfect solution for introverted me! I’m curious, do you use your Kindle Fire just to read books or for other things?

  9. Two seniors = two Mac laptops, one netbook for volunteer work, two Samsung tablets for reading and travel, one flip phone, and one Samsung Note smart phone. And, charger cords everywhere. Hope your new purchase meets all your needs and then some. 🙂

    1. Oh, the dreaded collection of charger cords! Haha We travel with a Surface, a Samsung tablet, a Samsung phone, and a generic unlocked phone for local cell coverage. Cords & chargers gallore! What a pain!

    2. It is truly amazing how many gadgets we can acquire! And you are right, many of them use completely different charging cords. We have an area in our house dedicated as a charging station that has multiple types of chargers. At least when (and if) I get rid of my ancient iPad, I will no longer need the larger charger… Oh, wait, my ancient iPod uses that same type of charger.

  10. My biggest delight is in having two screens to spread my work out over…the one on my laptop and the flatscreen hp 23es….the flatscreen stays on my desk while the laptop is portable (of course).

    1. I remember that some people – usually the engineers – had two active screens at work. I never had a need for that configuration (that I know of, and I don’t want to know if I do), so a single screen works for me. I do think that I may want to be able to dock my laptop so I can use it with my larger desktop monitor, though. Like I said earlier, I need to borrow a teenager to set everything up for me.

      1. I’m no engineer!!! HA! but I need the space to fool around with various things associated with my music software – notation scoring, sounds, extracted parts and whole scores, etc And then there’s being able to have all that in view with related written docs/text/photos, etc…Seriously tho, my true self is on that performance stool, not on a rolling office chair!

  11. The excitement of a new computer congratulations! I think you will like the combo of tablet and laptop design. I can’t type on a tablet it drives me crazy, I use the laptop, the wife uses nothing but her tablet. I love gadgets and the wife laughs at me but they are all used.

    I have two desktops in the home office here. One an old Vista machine for running the weather station and the security webcams. The main computer dual boots Windows7 and Linux but I haven’t used the Windows side in a year. I had three desktops but one of them expired about a month ago, it was for testing anyway.
    We have one laptop for portable use.
    She has a ASUS 10.1 inch tablet and I have a old HP memo tablet that I modified and put Android on.
    We each have an older Droid Turbo smart phone, both need to be traded in as they are going on 4 years old.

    I think you will really enjoy your new Surface.

    1. You are way beyond me in the tech area! So far the Surface seems to be working out fine. I felt pretty comfortable using it to write out and post to my blog (a big test for me) and I’m anxious to try some of its other features. There are even apps that can be downloaded, but as of yet, they don’t offer the bizillion options that Apple and droids do.

  12. Hubby and I each have a desktop, I have a tablet, and a there’s a laptop sitting unused in storage. We both have cell phones, but they are vintage and for emergency use only. About as low-tech as they come.

    My tablet serves as a reader, and on occasion I can fire off a quick email, blog comment (never a post!) or chat on Facebook. Of course, I play my games on the tablet.

    One line in your post stuck with me. I do like working in close proximity to my hubby. Except when I don’t – that’s usually when I am in creative mode and I need/prefer total silence. Reiner tends to chatter to himself, at a volume and in a tone that suggests he’s posing questions or comments to me. Having a device that would allow me to scoot away for those times would be nice.

    I’m interested in hearing more about your experience with your new device. Especially if the pen can be used as a design too.

    1. I think both of us were intrigued with Gabe’s post where he talked about his digital art. I hope that the pen might offer some creative possibilities, but I haven’t discovered anything yet (not enough time). I will definitely let you know what I find out.

      Being able to work out in the general living area is nice. We have lots of natural light so it’s very pleasant. But, I agree that too much closeness could be a problem. Sometimes I need to really concentrate or maybe just need alone time. That’s probably when I’ll retreat to my office and boot up my desktop.

  13. I have a desktop that I do all my “serious” work on and a fancy Kindle. I can read, email and read blogs on it although I wouldn’t want to type much. I also have an 8 year old laptop that I bought for something portable. Never liked it. Too heavy for a lap so I only used it for vacations. I never got used to the stupid built in mouse either so I had to have an external. I should have bought something smaller then but the guy at the store talked me into a laptop. I have a smart phone I only use for texting. My husband had a desktop and simple Kindle with no internet access and he’s ok with that. I really need a teenager. I have watched the ads for the SurfacePro and have been intrigued. It’s bigger than my Kindle which would be good but still light. Also has a keyboard. Glad you are happy with it.

    1. Now you have me wondering about getting a “fancy Kindle.” I have just a basic one (a PaperWhite), but maybe I should have gotten one that would be more like a tablet. Since I mostly use my tablet for emails, blog reading and commenting, and Facebook, a fancy Kindle might have just what I need (and at a better price than a new iPad). Drat, is there another new gadget in my future?

  14. I laughed when I read that you want a laptop so you can work in an area shared by both of you. Last week, I finally took my laptop and positioned it on my desk in my study, where it will stay! I realized I don’t multitask very well, and am so easily distracted by conversations and television!

    1. Well, there is certainly something to be said for alone time! I’m also a horrible multitasker, but – at least during the day – the distractions are minimal. My husband is usually working on a project, on his tablet, or reading a book when I’m on my computer. But, if there is something going on that I need to tune out, I can just take my laptop into my office.

  15. I switched to the Macbook Air laptop when I retired. I had an iPad and an iPhone and decided to go full Apple. Then I had to add in Word and Powerpoint because I just couldn’t “get” the Apple programs! I use my laptop for writing and work stuff. My iPad for email and FB and blog reading. I’m still a real-book girl for reading! Hubby has more gadgets than I can count… he hides them from me so I can’t figure out how many he has. 🙂

    1. I considered the Air too, but for a few reasons decided against it. I also prefer real books, but for travel it’s hard to beat the storage capacity of a Kindle (or the Kindle app). If my experiment with a small laptop doesn’t pan out – or I just can’t stand not to also have a new iPad, I’ll probably have to hide that purchase from my husband too!

  16. Thanks for explaining the difference between the iPad and a laptop. I didn’t know that only apps worked on an iPad. I currently have an older Macbook Pro, an iPod Touch, and an iMac. I have avoided getting a tablet because I couldn’t see the usefulness of it. I appreciate your discussion of how much you like your Microsoft Surface.

    1. Don’t take my word for it… I think that’s the difference, but I’m not a techie at all. You can get Word and (I think) other Office apps for your iPad, but I’ve been told they aren’t as robust as the actual computer program. I guess everyone just needs to figure out what works best for them. I know people who couldn’t live without their tablet, but I have a good friend who recently decided that a laptop and a phone were enough for her and she dumped her tablet.

  17. I like my iPad, but it’s for consuming content– not creating it. I dislike my kindle, having decided that reading a book is a tactile experience so the kindle sits gathering dust. I do about 96% of my computing on my old iMac, but have an Apple laptop that gathers dust. Somehow laptop computers don’t call to me. I know they’re what everyone uses, but I find them difficult to work on.

    1. I have to admit that the whole experience of using my laptop to write this post wasn’t as easy as on my desktop, but I expected a learning curve. I always write it out in Word first, then cut and paste it into the WP platform and add photos. It was a bit more clunky, but it was probably me not used to the laptop. The important thing is that it worked and there weren’t any (at least that I noticed) glaring errors. I know what you mean about the tactile experience of reading a real book. That will probably continue to be my format of choice, but for travel and getting ebook deals through BookBub, sometimes a Kindle can’t be beat.

  18. At home, in addition to the Samsung tablet, Surface Pro 3, and Samsung phone, we also have an old desktop (just because it’s sitting in the office and hasn’t died, yet) and an equally old laptop (mostly for streaming to our tv, since we can’t seem to stream shows from certain tv channel websites from other devices). When either of these old clunkers dies, we’ll be looking to buy an additional tablet or laptop or whatever the techno world comes up with that day of the week.

    I have very mixed feelings about my Surface Pro 3. I bought it about a year and a half ago precisely for travel. We wanted more than a tablet offers, but less (size and weight) of a laptop.

    Only a month after buying it, we went to England, and I went through an extremely frustrating experience with Microsoft’s Customer Service. As a Canadian in a totally different time zone, getting help was not easy. Eventually, after weeks of following their tech support suggestions, it was determined that I needed a whole new machine. THAT part was easy.

    The pros of the Surface are as you mentioned. The keyboard is fab, the size and weight is great, the touch screen is pretty fantastic (I find myself trying to use regular old monitors as touch screens).

    I am NOT happy with Microsoft Support, the company’s strangle-hold on what we can/must purchase to use the device, and the limited access to apps I can use on my Samsung devices. I especially can not stomach the cost of RENTING Microsoft Windows software (can’t buy it)! I can’t even remember what the cost was, but forget it! I just do without.

    Would I buy a Surface again? I’m not sure. Certainly not without an exhaustive search of my other options.

    That said, happy Surfacing! Enjoy that ‘new gadget smell.’

  19. I’m an apple girl all the way. I have a Mac (desktop) an iPad and an iPhone 7. I even still have my iPod nano, which I leave in my car. It doesn’t synch any more, but fortunately it has so much music on it, It isn’t a problem.

    I haven’t used a pc based product since leaving work 5 years ago.
    I am at the point where I hate having to devote time and energy learning new apps/software, so I am sometimes cranky when something gets updated. (Who IS that crabby old lady?)

    BUT I still marvel that my iPhone is a flashlight, a “CD player”, a library, an address book, a calendar, an atlas, a Nav system, an alarm clock, a calculator, a “typewriter”, a camera, oh yeah, and sometimes a phone

    1. I hardly ever use my phone as a phone. I HATE talking on the phone. But, it gives me the ability to text…. and all that other stuff you mentioned, which I love.

      I go back and forth will Apple vs. PC, but since I am comfortable using my PC desktop, I figured I’s be better off with a MS laptop.

  20. Techy stuff is wonderful! I had the surface Pro 3 (good deal at Costco) but after 18 months it simply quit. Truth be told, I hadn’t learned all the functions and the screen was just too small. Costco replaced my SP3 with a Dell 13″ all in one laptop (touch screen) for free. I guess I’m more of a laptop girl. However I have a desktop with large monitor for school work. I also have a couple of tablets, so somedays you can see me sitting in the living room with my laptop, cell phone and tablet all together. Errgh! Congrats on your Pro 4 and hope it gives you years of satisfaction 🙂

    1. You are right about the screen; it is a little small. My computer of choice for writing or working with my pictures is still my desktop. The Pro 4 will be great to take on our vacations because it’s light and doesn’t take up much room. We do love our gadgets, don’t we?

  21. My laptop has the same concept as yours, but I have never, in eight months or so, taken off the screen to use it as a touch screen. I don’t really like touch screens. I bought this laptop, because it came at a great price on eBay and was the right size for me. My husband is now on his second laptop with detachable screen, but he never takes it off either. What we do enjoy, is the flexibility to fold the screen over and watch movies that way. In terms of gadgets, I would find it hard to pick between my iPad and laptop. They each have their functions now – I write, post blogs and edit and store my photos on my computer, which I sit behind during “work hours”, and I use my iPad when I get up in the morning and before going to sleep, to read emails, read blogs, post comments and check Facebook. And it has my daily diary. I still prefer writing emails on my laptop, though. The only other “gadget” I have is my compact camera. No phone, let alone a Smart phone, and not missing it a bit! 🙂

    1. Truth be told, I haven’t detached the screen more than once or twice yet either. But, I do like the option to scroll and “click” with my finger even in laptop mode. I find myself reaching out and touching my desktop screen by mistake forgetting it’s not a touch screen.

      I resisted first a cell phone, then a smart phone for a long time. Then I got one and fell in love with texting. I can’t imagine ever being without that function… and it takes pretty good pictures too.

  22. Glad you’re enjoying your new Surface Pro. John’s been using one of those for work for a while now and loves it. It’s much more portable when he goes away on business too. I’ve completely bypassed laptops and take my mini iPad almost everywhere. I’m sometimes tempted though!

      1. I usually use the pc. Only occasionally do I publish a whole post via the iPad, though sometimes I’ll jot notes in a draft. I like the WordPress app for keeping track of and answering comments though, and I I do nearly all my blog reading on the iPad. Generally, I think iPads are great for consuming content but too fiddly for creation. The Surface Pro seems a great half way house.

  23. Naïvely, I thought I could get by with my iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard to keep up with my blog on our seven month journey. I’ve found that the WordPress app is more than flakey and adding photos is more than a challenge. I’m going to explore your solution for our next adventure. Thanks!!

    1. I don’t know how people write and post to their blogs using tablets, let alone their phones. I’ve also heard that the WP app is a challenge, so I haven’t even tried. Good luck with whatever solution you come up with. I still gravitate to my desktop whenever I can… it just feels most comfortable to me.

  24. Surface Pro 4 is indeed a very impressive machine with a lot of processing power in such a sleek body. However, I am not a fond of how the stand on the back looks. Its good to know that its serving you well!

    1. I know the stand gives some people problems – especially if they want to use it on an airplane, or anywhere else that doesn’t have enough space. Fortunately, it hasn’t been a problem for me. I do like being able to use it conventionally and also as a touch screen. Thank you for your comment!

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