Valentine’s Day and consumer technology don’t exactly go hand in hand. Every couple is different, but if you’re getting a loved one a gift for the holiday, it should come from the heart. A new smartphone or portable hard drive is nice, but it doesn’t always scream “romance.”
For the tech-obsessed robots at Ars Technica, though, good gear will always win out against fickle concepts like “human emotions.” So instead of posting a more conventional gift guide, I decided to celebrate this Valentine’s Day in a more Arsian manner: by asking my colleagues to point their hearts not toward other people but toward the tech in their lives that they appreciate the most.
Here are a few things we love.
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Apple iPad (9.7″)
I fully acknowledge that, conceptually, the iPad is boring. But in the year since I sent my old iPad mini 2 to the big closet in the sky, Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet has easily become the piece of tech I use most often.
To peel back the curtain a bit: Ars is a remote operation, so all of us work from home. I’ve used this freedom to experiment with my workflow. Instead of sitting in front of a laptop all day, I split my duties between a Mac mini in my home office and the iPad everywhere else. When I really need to hunker down for something, the old desktop-monitor-mechanical-keyboard triptych is still the most powerful way to plow through a project.
When I get inevitably tired of being chained to a desk, though, the iPad takes over for light writing, note taking, and Web browsing. Blogging is not the most processor-intensive job, so the A9 chip and 2GB of RAM in my iPad is still plenty for me to do the requisite research and emailing on iOS. (I have the 5th-gen model from 2017, to be clear; last year’s successor is more powerful, and a 2019 model is expected sometime in the next couple of months.)
If anything, I find the experience of writing on the iPad to be less distracting than on the desktop. Since the iPad can only display one or two apps at a time, it forces me to focus on what’s on the screen at any given moment. I use the excellent Bear and Ulysses apps for note taking and drafting up posts, respectively, and typing with this nice Brydge keyboard turns the tablet into a pseudo clamshell.
What makes the iPad so valuable comes after work, though. Web browsing and YouTube watching on its great-for-an-LCD display is more enjoyable than using a smaller phone screen and less unwieldy than plopping a laptop on my legs. When my girlfriend takes control of the TV to watch This Is Us, I can just fire up YouTube TV and watch literally anything else. (Love you, dear!) Before bed, the iPad becomes a luxurious tool for reading, the odd casual game, and podcasts. For me, this 9.7-inch form factor is the sweet spot: anything smaller would make work impossible, while anything bigger would be too annoying to carry around.
In other words, this is the closest thing I have to a 24-hour gadget—and for that, I love it. That it cost less than $350 is just a sweetener.
—Jeff Dunn, Tech Writer
Type my last name and “Koss” into any search engine, and you’ll likely find me gushing about the company’s headphone line. I’ve been hooked on Koss’ wares since I got my first dirt-cheap KSC-75s in November 2007, which I sought out because I got tired of ill-fitting earbuds when I became a bus commuter. Turns out, the KSC-75s employ the same audio driver as their affordable and commonly lauded Porta Pro headphones. The things I want in portable audio—including solid frequency range, distortion-free loudness, and an agreeably carved bass oomph (read: not Beats)—don’t come cheaper than the KSC-75s.
The Wisconsin company hasn’t let up in terms of affordable, high-quality options, particularly in the Bluetooth era. Koss’ comfortable FitClips series—which rest around your ear with a rubber, sweat-friendly grip—now includes a Bluetooth model. If that amount of rubber isn’t your cup of portable tea, the BT190 line wedges inside the ear with a grip unlike anything else on the market. (I’m a particularly sweaty gym rat, and Koss’ fitness-friendly products have never proven slippery or uncomfortable during my grossest duress.)
Best of all, this 12-year love affair has been buoyed by a tremendous customer-service promise of replacement cups and buds. Should portable wear-and-tear lead to an ear going silent or other issues, simply ship the broken pair and a check for roughly $7 to Koss HQ to get a replacement. I’ve spent maybe $120 on Koss products over the past decade, and I plan to continue for another 10 years. (But, while I have their attention: can we please get the KSC-35s back? I love those things.)
—Sam Machkovech, Tech Culture Editor