Stuff

Introduction

I'd like to show you my favorites gadgets. Each time I buy something geeky, I try to find and to use each function, and to customize it my way.

The goal is also to write content not related to myself, in case you would have believed that I was a selfish guy :). You'll find some interesting details for each object. These are not tests but my point of view, particularly on the usage I make of these products. Don't hesitate to contact me if you want to know more.

Select a category of device:

The routers

I'm pleased to start with the most important tool, the router. Used to provide Internet to all my other gadgets, or sometimes to bring my stuff to Internet.

Turris Omnia

Turris Omnia

I currently own a Turris Omnia, a router developed by the CZ.NIC association. It was the evident choice when it was released because it's running OpenWRT which is my OS of choice for a router. I like how OpenWRT is easy to configure and easy to use. The Turris Omnia is powerful enought to handle my Gigabit access to the Internet provided by Init7. I'm a bit disappointed by how the manufacturer forked OpenWRT: the result is a bit messy.

WRT160NL

WRT160NL

My previous router was a WRT160NL. This router is very small but fast and did a great job. It doesn't make any noise and has some beautiful blue LEDs to show you when it works. Design is far less geeky than my previous WRT54GL and is very discreet. This is currently one of the the best customizable router (after the WRT54G series) because it has good specifications, particularly its 8MB flash memory.

I didn't even try the default Linksys firmware: I've removed it to install OpenWRT. Installing OpenWRT is an easy task and give you a very powerful router with features from professional models such as VLANs, VPN, Web hosting, thanks to nice guys who create tons of interesting packages. OpenWRT comes with a pretty interface to manage most of these features. I installed a Nginx web server to host this website for a while and to make a reverse proxy to my NAS where some of my projects were hosted. I also set up an OpenVPN server, which is pretty cool to play video games with my friends and to make me believe I'm always at home.

I like to play with custom firmwares. I've compiled my own OpenWRT to delete extra stuff I don't use and to bundle some other packages. Unfortunately, I made a mistake one day and bricked it. It was hard to recover because serial contacts pin points on the PCB are not easily accessible. I finally succeed with a Nokia DKU-5 and a bit of soldering.

WRT54GL

WRT54GL

A long time ago, I was a user of the mythic WRT54GL with DD-WRT and OpenWRT.

The NAS

I've been using a NAS to store my data for years. Thanks to a NAS, I can access my data from my different computers (even from my smartphone) and through a VPN. Nowadays a NAS can also be used a a media server or to host your pet projects thanks to the support of different programming languages, Docker or SQL databases.

I really enjoy using Synology products because of their OS which is very easy to use. The web application they provide to manage the NAS is really nice and powerful. Moreover, Synology does a very good job with theirs firmwares and their products are often updated. There is a lot of features to test and to play with, like a media server, their surveillance station or an e-mail server.

DS1512+

DS1512+

I'm currently using a DS1512+. I needed a new NAS to replace my DS409+ that had three problems: no wake on lan, not enough disk space and an external power supply. So I bought this bigger NAS. In fact it is more a PC than a NAS. It has a lot of USB (v3 and v2) ports, two e-Sata and two 1Go LAN. I filled it with 5x2To Western Digital hard drives (red series, made exclusively for NAS) in raid 5 to build a huge 8To volume. I hope to have enough space for 4 or 5 years!

This new NAS is less noisy than my previous DS409+, mainly thanks to the new hard drives. Theses drives are really cool: they offer good performance, are quiet and they stay cold. I plan to replace the two fans of the NAS with low noise models.

Regarding the software, it is exactly the same as for the DS409+. Nicely integrated, there is a ton of features and everything works perfectly. I like it.

DS409+

DS409+

My previous NAS was a DS409+. This was a very good NAS. I've put 4x1To Western Digital hard drives (blue series) in raid 5 inside. Unfortunately, with 4x7200rpm hard drives, this NAS is really nosy and power greedy. It is the price to pay to have a so good equipment at home.

You can manage it via SSH if you feel comfortable with command line. By default, you can't install any other softwares but it is really easy to add ipkg which will give you access to a lot of packages compiled for this material. I can't resist to install it and to add a SVN and a LDAP server.

After I bought my new DS1512+, I used this one for backups. I want to be sure my data are safe.

The phones

For a long time, I've been interested in the progress made in smartphones. From my very first smartphone, the SPV E200 from 2002 (a Windows Phone made by HTC for a French mobile operator) to the smartphones of 2020, it's hard not to be amazed by the evolution. But now, it's done. The new iterations are not worth the update. Don't get me wrong, I'm still pleased by the new devices, but they don't bring enough new features to be interesting.

Generally I update my smartphone only when someone around me is interested in my current phone.

Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6

The OnePlus One I gave to my dad was dying. So it was the time for a shift: buying myself a new phone, and giving him my OnePlus 5t. After the decline of the OnePlus band and from what I learned about their bad tweaks of their version of Android (that were causing issues in my car equipped with Android Auto), I decided to go for a Pixel.

I'm quite happy for now. The phone performs well. It has an excellent battery life and takes good photos (but it's still not able to replace a good compact camera). However, it's really heavy and very slippery.

OnePlus 5T

OnePlus 5T

My dad was lurking on my OnePlus One so I took the opportunity to buy myself a new phone. I finally got used to the 5.5 inches form factor and I excluded the option to buy a phone with a locked bootloader. The OnePlus 5T appears as the best option to replace my One. I really enjoy this phone. It's so fast it's able to handle 2018 websites bloated with tons of JavaScript.

So far it's working amazingly well. The battery lasts almost two days and I appreciate the dual SIM feature.

OnePlus One

OnePlus One

Tired of the bad camera of my Nexus 5. I decided to try a OnePlus. It really is a good device, even more when you consider the price. It takes great photos and is very fast. Unfortunately, it is definitely too big for me. I now know that the good size for my hands is no more than 5 inches.

Like a lot of people, I've faced issues with the touchscreen. They appear after the phone stayed a long time at a hot location. Fortunately, an update of the ROM solved the problem. I didn't like at all how OnePlus handled the problem, they need to be more transparent.

Nexus 5

Nexus 5

Fourth Android phone and second Nexus. A good evolution of the Nexus 4. I bought this believing it would take better pictures as my new hobby is to take photospheres everywhere I go. Unfortunately this is not the case. I am also a bit disappointed by the battery life, but this must be the price to pay for such an amazing screen.

Nexus 4

Nexus 4

This is my new and third Android phone. Beautiful piece of hardware. Resolution is just stunning.

After one HTC and one Samsung, both used with custom roms, I would like to try the real Google experience. That's really a pleasure to not have to look how you'll replace the original ROM five minutes after you unbox the phone. I'm missing some Cyanogen features but I've spent enough time to customize my phone. Now, I just need a phone that works. And that is what the Nexus 4 does: everything just works out of the box.

Two days of autonomy if you use it gently, fast, stable. No more HTC or Samsung for me.

Samsung Galaxy S2

Galaxy S2

This is the Android phone I used in 2011. I needed a second phone so I choose this one. Wonderful screen, amazingly thick, very lightweight and so fast. Nothing more to say for the hardware. It's very impressive.

Concerning the stock ROM, I don't like it. Samsung try to make a copycat from the iPhone and it's ugly. There is also a lot of bloatwares bundled. I kept this ROM one day before installing a new one: Cognition. I've then switched to the Oxygen ROM and I'm now using Cyanogen 10.

The main default, again, is autonomy. With the original battery (1900mAh), you have one day, not more. However, I've recently bought the official Samsung 2100mAh battery which can power the phone for two to three days. Don't hesitate to let it reach the last percents of juice.

HTC Desire

Desire

One of the best 2010 Android phone. Technically beautiful (or quietly brilliant) with a wonderful OS. This phone is super fast and very usable. The screen is beautiful, the covering is nice and the phone is solid. Integration with Google services and social networks is close to perfect, thanks to Sense. Android is an amazing OS, customizable home screen is very useful, some applications are very cool.

Mine is rooted, of course! After some months with a custom 2.2 ROM from Modaco, I now use a 2.3 AOSP ROM: Oxygen. I installed an OpenVPN client so I can connect my home from everywhere.

Its main default, like most smartphones, is the one-day and a half autonomy. Too bad you can't use it one week or more far from a power plug. One more problem is that the screen is dual touch only, meaning you can't play with more than two fingers. It's enough to pinch but I expect more. It will also keep the rotating feature from the last Google Maps version away.

Axis M1031W

M1031W

A nice video camera. With this and my VPN, I can watch my hall from everywhere, anytime. Not sure if this is useful against robbers but it's pretty geeky, isn't it?

The video quality is excellent and the web interface used to manage the camera is surprisingly fast and complete. There is a lot of settings: you can manage users, choose the format of the video stream or rotate the image. It embeds a motion detection mechanism. I use it with my NAS to record the stream as soon as movement is detected. Funny bonus, you can play sounds directly from the camera.

Fonera

Fonera

I own a Fonera to share my WiFi connection. Check the Fon website if you don't know how it works.

I'm a bit disappointed with this one. Barely updated and not enough open. Some options are locked. For example, you can't disable the private WiFi channel. It's really a pity for a product you've bought to contribute to a community. Anyway, it works, but mine is almost never used. To be honest, I also never use my Fon account to connect to the internet because I never found a place covered by another Fonera.

The day after I thought about a shutdown of my Fonera, I found a place to use my account. One internet provider in Antwerpen, Belgium has a deal with Fonera so you can connect a lot of hotspot in the city thanks to your Fonera account.

Siemens Gigaset S685IP / SL85H

S685IP SL78H

A good VoIP phone. A base takes care of the VoIP stuff and you can link one or more handsets to it. I choose the beautiful SL78H handset to replace the ugly one bundled with the base. Technically, it works well. Unfortunately the user interface is awful. The phone itself is so lazy. The web app too. You can't easily manage your contacts from the web app since contacts are recorded directly on the phone and not on the base. Moreover, there is no easy way to switch between VoIP providers.

There is not a large choice of non-professional VoIP phones. I don't want to have a big wired Cisco device at home, so this phone is still a good alternative for now.

The tablets

A few years ago, when smartphones were not bigger than 5 inches, I was using a tablet. It was very useful during my vacations to check Google Maps or read some news. Now I only use my phone. Here is the list of the tablets I used.

LG G-Pad 8.3

G-Pad 8.3

After my bad experience with my Nexus 7, I chose this new tablet which is a little bigger. I would have bought the Google Play Edition (GPE) if it was available in Europe but it was not. Instead, I got the LG version, being confident that I would be able to replace the LG rom by the GPE rom, so I don't see LG bloatwares anymore. In fact, I had a very bad time unlocking the bootloader only to discover that it is not possible to flash the Android stock rom. I still don't understand why manufacturers lock their device. It just gave me another reason to buy only unlocked devices.

Putting aside problems with the ROM, the rest is pretty good. 8 inches is a good size and every Android tablet look like other Android tablets. It is actually a good thing. The device is just a tool, a piece of hardware, to do your stuff on the web. I like the idea.

Nexus 7 2013

Nexus 7 2013

As I was very happy with my Nexus 7 2012, I bought the new version. This tablet is a great update of the 2012 version. The screen is even more wonderful, and it is even more lightning fast. Everything an update should be.

I've got nothing more to say. Nexus 7 series is a fantastic lineup. I discovered that 7" is the good size for me compared to 10". I could eventually try an 8" but certainly not something bigger.

Unfortunately, after 6 months of use, the screen starts flickering, as shown in this video. As I bought it in the USA, Asus France would like to charge me for almost the price of the tablet to do the reparation.

Nexus 7 2012

Nexus 7 2012

After almost two years spent with my Galaxy Tab, I learned how to use a tablet and what are my needs. I took my Galaxy Tab in any of my trips and it was a real pleasure. I totally forgot my notebook. So when Google released this new 7" tablet at 249€ I rushed to the Play Store to buy one. This tablet is very, very nice. The screen is wonderful, and it is lightning fast. Some problems I had with the Galaxy Tab disappear. It is really easy to switch between apps (because of the dedicated onscreen button and because it works instantaneously), the keyboard is better and the screen definition allows a better web experience.

This tablet comes with a pure Google experience. No more bloatwares and no more Samsung crap. If, like me, you like Android as it is in its Git repository, it really makes things easier: no more research on XDA website to find new roms, no installation of kernels or modems to be able to erase Samsung skin. I've just unlocked the bootloader in two commands, became root to run some powerful applications that I like. And with this tablet, you have the new version of Android two days after it has been announced. I'm really pissed off with Samsung trying to transform Android and hiding it. I'm pretty sure my next mobile devices will be Nexus devices. Bye bye Samsung, and it is a pity for their good hardware.

By the way, my opinion of tablets didn't change. It still can only be used for consumption even if it's true that the web starts to pay attention to mobile users, so you have a lot more mobile websites and no more flash everywhere.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Galaxy Tab

I've had an opportunity to get this tablet. This is not a product I would have bought without a specific occasion because I wasn't sure I needed this kind of device. So now I have one. It's a wonderful device. Very light and well-designed. An unbelievable screen. You can handle it with one or two hands in any direction and it almost fits in a pocket.

The default ROM is a mess. Samsung tries to skin Android launcher like an iPhone and it's ugly. The browser is slow and don't resize text to the screen. Of course, you can download some applications from the market to replace this crap, but it's a pity to ruin Android like that. I've first replaced the default ROM by Overcome, a custom ROM which adds some improvements. Now I'm running Ice Cream Sandwich thanks to Cyanogen guys. By the way some Google apps are amazing like Earth: it's a real pleasure to "browse" our planet with two fingers.

I think tablets can only be used for media consumption. Read e-mails or Google Reader, watch a Youtube clip or some pictures, but don't try to use them like PCs. As soon as you have to produce something, you'll be frustrated. Write something is a pain, even on the big screen of the Galaxy Tab. Nothing will replace a real keyboard.
Android OS is also not tablet ready. Switching from an app to an other required too much time, and I dare you to have a Gtalk intermittent discussion with a distracted friend while reading a website. Moreover, don't think a 7 inches screen will give you a nice Internet experience: too many websites have a fixed design and Flash is still everywhere. You can't use anything without an app and I really dislike telling this.

HP TouchPad

Touchpad

You know the story. HP bought Palm, launched WebOS and the TouchPad, then announced to kill everything. At that moment, I rushed the 129€ TouchPad 32Go. I would like to test WebOS and the perspective of an Android installation was very attractive. I found WebOS very impressive. Multitask management is far better than on Android or iOS. Most of the applications have a similar design thanks (or due) to what seems a very restrictive UI API (à la iOS). Unfortunately WebOS system is slow, very slow, very very slow. When you switch from a Galaxy S2 to the Touchpad, you have the feeling to always be waiting for the system. I've installed Android in dual boot, and it works like a charm faster than light, proving the hardware is not deficient.

Anyway it was a good deal. Even if the design is very cheap and the front camera takes pictures like 80's polaroids, you have a fully functional 10" tablet for less than a 5th Galaxy S2 price.

The laptops

I'm more of a desktop PC guy. One at home, one at work. I only use my laptop when I'm moving around (that is the purpose of a laptop, right?).

Dell XPS 13 9380 (Early 2019)

XPS 13 9380

Same brand, same size, same lineup. Never change a winning team. I really enjoyed my previous XPS, so I bought the newest version. The hardware is almost perfect. I wish the screen takes all the available front space. Instead, you have a big "Dell" logo at the bottom. Fortunately, this has been fixed in the 2020 model.

I formatted the hard drive to install a Debian testing. It's very fast and convenient to use. The only issue is that, sometimes, it fails to enter hibernation mode. I hope this will be fixed in a future version of the Linux kernel.

Dell XPS 13 9350 (Late 2015)

XPS 13 9350

I had the need of a new laptop (a real one, not a toy like my previous HP). I mean a laptop on which I can do development and that is easy to move around. I was watching Dell XPS for a long time and this 2015 version seemed to be very interesting, so I bought one. The screen is stunning, the autonomy is huge and performances are good. What else? It is really a nice working tool. This new generation of laptop is powerful enough to write code under good conditions. I was hoping to install Linux but the WiFi card is not supported (yeah that still happens, but it will be supported by kernel 4.4) so I installed Windows 10 instead. I realize I don't really care about the OS because the environment I need is available for every OS.

If I had to describe the perfect laptop, I would certainly begin describing this one. Then I would add more autonomy and remove 30% of the weight. I would also replace the horrible power brick by a USB 3 charger.

HP Mini 311C

Mini 311C

This is my first laptop. Yeah for real, I never owe a laptop for my personal use. I never felt the need. Then come netbooks, cheap and simple. The Mini311C was the best of its category, so I decided to buy one, just in case. To be honest I spent more time experimenting all Linux distributions than really using it. I ended installing Windows to have everything functional. The keyboard is cheap and the tiny touchpad doesn't work well. But you have what you pay for: a working computer with an 11"6 screen, 3Go of RAM, an nVidia ION, a 250Go HDD and a fair autonomy. With this you can browse Google Reader, watch HD movies on the plane or take notes.

I don't believe tablets will replace notebooks. Have you ever try to take some notes during a meeting with a tablet? You can type on a keyboard while focusing on the speaker. You can't do that with a touchscreen.

Philips HomeRun

HomeRun

Ok, I know this is not really a technological equipment, but it's the first vacuum cleaner with a USB port I own. It does a great job if the floor of your house is arranged neatly. It manages to circle almost every big obstacle. Just be sure to keep wires away from its path because of the two rotating brushes in the front.

The software used to run the doodad is an embedded Linux. Sounds good, yeah? I can't wait for some tweaks with a custom firmware (because, yes, you can now flash your vacuum cleaner). For now, the first version of the Philips firmware is not that good. The main issue is it is laking a lot of options. You can program it to start a cleaning session at one specific hour but you can't do a scheduling for an entire week. I really hope this will be added in the next firmware.

Philips Hue

Hue LivingColors

My first home automation item. It took a me a long time to decide to buy these lights. I was already owning several Philips LivingColors (the equivalent of Hue with the lamp around the bulb and a remote controller) and I would like to be sure that they were compatible together and that I will be able to control everything with my remotes. The original idea with the Hue is to control your lights with your smartphone, but I find this very unpractical.

After one entire evening spent to setup all lights and remotes, it finally worked. The result is pretty nice and it is very enjoyable to turn the lights on and off directly from my desk. I have to say that sometimes, I'm missing my wall switches. I'm now trying to find good use cases with IFTTT and it seems promising.

The wearables

WakeMate

WakeMate

Again, this is not really a technological equipment but it's pretty cool. This wristband, coupled with a smartphone, will analyze your nights and wake you up at the right moment.

Wear this little device, link it to your smartphone in Bluetooth via the application (Android or iOS), set your alarm time, and you're ready to sleep. Your phone will wake you up at the right moment, retrieve your sleep data and send them to WakeMate server where you can see some nice graphs and benchmarks.

The concept is cool but is not well executed. The Android application is full of bugs, and I've lost the data of many nights. The worst is there is no update since July 2011. The website is pretty but has some annoying bugs. However, the company behind this is still young and I hope it will better in a close future. For now, I don't recommend this toy for those who own an Android device.

Unfortunately the startup behind this product went bankruptcy. The wristband now lies on my bedside. The shame is that I can't get my data back from their website!

Fitbit

Fitbit

I'm sure you know this. I wear it for some time. The hardware is very good: light, water resistant and with a good autonomy. I like the vibrating feature and I am sure this could be used much better.

On the software side, it's not so good. The Android application and the website could be much better. The worst is you have to pay to download your data as a CSV file. After my previous experience with the WakeMate, I feel bad about this.

I also rely on Fitbit website to log everything I eat. This is very constraining but I decided to be rigorous for several months. For now on, I don't know what to do with all this data but I'm pretty sure I'll find a good application in the future.

The sport devices

Garmin Edge 520

Edge 520

The shiny new version of the Edge 500. I bought it because it is much more precise than the Edge 500, and it is able to find the GPS signal much faster. I really enjoyed their new speed and cadence sensors that use accelerometers instead of magnets. This makes these sensors more resistant and easier to set up.

Navigation in device menus is not as easy as it was on the Edge 500 even if they add two buttons. The screen which now displays colors, is not very good.

Garmin Edge 500

Edge 500

I enjoy riding my bike during my free time. As soon as I discovered Garmin products, I decided to buy the Edge 500. It is a very good and very resistant device (mine already got a free ride in a washing machine without any issue). It gives you all the information you need when you are on your bike and you can store all your activities on the Garmin Connect website. You can gather even more data if, like me, you buy their heart rate monitor and cadence sensor.

However, I am not happy with Garmin new developments. They recently released a new version of the Garmin Connect website and features I was using on a regular basis are now buried down into unclear menus. The ergonomic is also quite poor. As a proof, it is still possible to use the old version of the website almost two years after the release of the new one. Moreover, they try to force you to use their own Garmin Express software to manage your device. Before that, as the Edge 500 behaves like a USB key when you connect it to your computer, you could easily upload your activity files on their website from any computer.

Garmin Fenix 3

Fenix 3

After I bought my Edge 500, I discovered myself using it a lot more than just for cycling. I used it when I was skiing, running or even during boat or plane rides. As you can imagine, it was not very comfortable to have it in my pocket. The GPS signal was not optimal and it was annoying to reach my pocket every time I needed to read some information. Therefore, I decided to buy the more appropriate Fenix 3. I am very pleased with this watch. Using the Bluetooth connectivity, it synchronizes wirelessly with my phone and automatically uploads my activities on the Garmin Connect website. All sensors I bought for the Edge are compatible with the watch.

Compared to other more fashionable watches, it is clear that the Fenix 3 can not be worn every day. It is far too big and heavy. But when you're doing sport, you can be assured that it will not fall short of battery (mine can do GPS tracking for more than a day and can stay on for an entire week). It can also be used while swimming and can even detect your swim stroke.

The peripherals

At home or at work, I'm using a desktop computer. I think that the most important part of a computer is its peripherals. I'd rather have a good mouse and a good keyboard than a powerful CPU (to be honest I'd rather have both). Here is the stuff I use.

Logitech MX 1100 and Illuminated keyboard

MX 1100 Illuminated

This is the mouse/keyboard kit I use at work. I like Logitech products and this mouse is one of the best I ever had. After a day with a free-spinning scroll wheel you can't come back. The keyboard is beautiful and pleasant to use.

Logitech Performance MX and G15

Performance MX G15

After my working devices, here is my home kit. This mouse is very ergonomic and has a lot of buttons. The G15 is a bit old but still nice. I must say that I no longer use all extra keys and the LCD screen. However, the dedicated media keys are useful.

TP-Link TL-WR702N

TL-WR702N

This is the perfect router for travel. Tiny (57*57*18mm) and powered through a micro usb (you can use your smartphone's power adapter). This is a must have when you're in a hotel with only wired internet access. The configuration UI is functional and the WiFi works like a charm. Moreover, it is very inexpensive. A very, very good choice.

Futuro Cube

Futuro Cube

I've been offered this "thing" for christmas 2017 because I played a lot with different Rubik's cubes during the year. First of all, this toy is not an electronic Rubik's cube. It's much more than that. Basically it's a cube with nine colorful LEDs on each side that also has an accelerometer, a speaker and a micro USB port. It comes with a set of pre-installed games that are very enjoyable (special mention to "Snake") and you can add games or apps from the internet using the USB connection. Among these apps, there is one that mimics the genuine Rubik's cube but it's very hard to play because you can not choose the rotating direction of the selected side. At the moment the most interesting games are the installed by default.

My favorite feature is the SDK. It's super easy to start tweaking the cube and to write your own application.

You can read more on the website of the project: Futuro Cube

More to come

I'll soon add some words for my webcam and my headset.