John Mulhern III's 2021 End-Of-Year Technology Upgrade Guide

From my perspective, the end of every year is an excellent time to re-examine technology categories that have improved significantly over the last few years. I've got seven suggestions for potential upgrades.

If you haven't already secured a pair, this may be the time to purchase noise-canceling headphones. The best of these devices are now so good and so configurable. 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.

This suggestion may sound strange, but consider purchasing 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 customized keyboard. About two years 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 many years ago.

If you can, upgrade your RAM and boot drive. This course of action is especially relevant for Mac users trying to hang in there with their current system until there's an Apple silicon-based Mac available that's right for them. Last year, I doubled my aging iMac's RAM and replaced its Fusion boot drive with an OWC SSD (something I also should have done years ago). I see these two upgrades as a relatively inexpensive way of deferring what will eventually be a significant purchase.

Think about transitioning to a mesh network for the home. Mesh kits minimize many underlying issues with the various WiFi protocols and are especially effective in older or larger homes. I have a high opinion of Netgear's Orbi WiFi 6, though it's rather pricy. Euro and Linksys' Velop are also worth considering. If you aren't yet ready to go mesh, explore a modern router—even that can make a big difference. How many more WiFi devices do you have in your house since the last time you upgraded your router?

Make sure your backup strategy is up-to-date. My counsel is to remember that you are backing up different types of data—your backup strategy for email should not be the same as the one you have for photos. For notebook backups, I recently transitioned to SSD drives—they just aren't as pricy as you may remember. I'm partial to the newish SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD V2.

Consider a new multi-function printer. I know, a new printer; does John know what decade it is? The key here is the multi-function part of that description—the printer designation is now a Trojan horse for the hardware portion of a document management system. As an example, my wife and I use the printing features of our multi-function notably less than the scanning and copying features. I've been a fan of Epson's Expression series for at least a decade, and we've had an XP-950 for a couple of years. A comparable current model would be the Expression XP-970, but I'm considering moving to Epson's EcoTank series—no one I know who owns one is unhappy. The comparable model in that line is the EcoTank Photo ET-8500.

Finally, I'll ask once again—is it time to replace that elderly iPad? I believe there are three fundamental 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 a supported iPadOS version. When folks get a new iPad, they tend to be very happy with it. There isn't a poor iPad choice right now—I'm particularly impressed with the latest "classic" iPad, the new iPad mini, and the iPad Pro. Remember to budget for an Apple Pencil while shopping—pens, pencils, and styluses have improved vastly in the last decade.

John Mulhern III, posted 12/26/2021