2020 Holiday Technology Upgrade Guide

From my perspective, the end of 2020 is a good time to re-examine technology categories that have quietly improved over the last few years. I've got five suggestions for potential upgrades this holiday season.

If you haven't already given in, this may be the year to purchase some noise-canceling headphones. The best of these devices are now so good. Whether it's Bose's QuietComfort 35 Series II headphones (the long-time market leader), Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones (a current favorite of mine), or Apple's AirPods Pro earphones (the miniaturization leader), these are computers that you wear near your ears. I'm waiting to see some reviews of Apple's brand-new AirPods Max headphones before developing an opinion—they'll have to be amazing to be worth their $550 tariff.

Think about getting a keyboard optimized for your personal needs and preferences. Sure, it'll cost more than a generic keyboard, but think about how much you type. You can either go "off the rack" with Adesso's excellent devices or get a bespoke keyboard. About a year ago, I purchased a custom mechanical keyboard from WASD—a company that sells an inexpensive keyboard switch tester so you can decide which feel you prefer. The short form? I should have gotten a custom keyboard years ago.

If you can, upgrade your RAM and storage. This is especially relevant if you are trying to hang in there with your current system until there's an Apple silicon-based Mac available that's right for you. This year, I doubled my iMac's RAM and replaced its Fusion boot drive with an OWC SSD. I see this as a relatively inexpensive way of deferring what will eventually be a significant purchase.

Consider transitioning to a mesh network for the home. Mesh kits work to minimize some of the many underlying issues with the various WiFi protocols and are especially effective in older or larger homes. I like Netgear's Orbi, but Linksys' Velop, Euro, and Plume HomePass also seem worth considering. If you aren't going to go mesh, at least explore a modern router—even that can make a big difference. How many more WiFi devices do you have in your house than the last time you upgraded your router?

Finally, I'll ask again—is it time to replace that elderly iPad? My rule of thumb is that there are three reasons to replace an iPad: a) it's broken, b) there are applications you use that don't run well on it, c) you can no longer update it to the latest iOS version. When folks do get a new iPad, they tend to be very happy with it. The good news is that there isn't a poor iPad choice right now. Just remember to budget for an Apple Pencil while you are shopping—pens, pencils, and styluses have improved vastly in the last decade.

John Mulhern III, posted 12/13/2020