Due to the global pandemic, those of us who have been unexpectedly thrust into working from home have had to figure out how to get our work done while sheltering in place. We wanted to share some of the things that have helped us stay productive and more-or-less content since we began physically distancing ourselves from our loved ones and friends who live outside of our homes.
This post is long, so grab a snack and let’s dive in.
Now that I must sit at my kitchen Island to get work done (since I no longer have a desk), my setup for actual work needed to be as clean as possible, and the $34.99 Satechi Desk Mat has been a delight to use. Made of leather, it doubles as a wrist rest and a mouse pad for me, and it works perfectly with the next product on my list.
The $89.99 Satechi USB-C Hub is another saving grace for me. I have a 15-Inch MacBook, but even with its large screen, its not enough for the various windows that I must have open in order to initiate cases at work. The Satechi hub not only gives me the USB ports that my MacBook Pro lacks, but there’s a nifty HDMI port that allows me to connect to an external monitor (provided by my office), so I can use as a secondary window. This is a NEXT-LEVEL hub that doesn’t need to sit flush with your MacBook which is a huge deal, especially if you have a case on your MacBook for protection.
I’ll be brutally honest here, I’ve taken Logitech for granted for far too long. I’ve reviewed their products over the years, and there’s no more fitting time to use their products than when you’re working from home. I’m a fan of the $99.99 MX Master Mouse; it has a variety of different customizable buttons that are great for doing things like typing this article or quickly switching through windows, tables, and tabs in Excel for my full-time job. What’s more, it works on virtually any surface and has an incredible battery life so that even when I forget to charge it (which I have for a few weeks now), it manages to keep on ticking.
Quite possibly the biggest most important thing on my list is the $99.95 Drinkmate. Allowing me to keep hydrated all while offering a change from traditional water, the Drinkmate has the ability to carbonate virtually anything from tap water to soda, from bourbon (trust me, I’ve tried) to wine. Like many people, I’ve grown fond of seltzer waters; with the shelves being bare in the stores this is a great soda water replacement both cost-wise and for the environment.
Yes, I know I should be working while working from home, but there are plenty of shows that I’ve been binging in the midst of getting work done including Tiger King along with everyone else. With thousands of apps on the $149.99 NVIDIA Shield TV, thanks to its Android integration, you can connect to Youtube, Netflix, Hulu … you name it and watch your favorite things on your “lunch breaks”.
Zoom is the one brand that I wish I’d bought stocks in two years ago when I had the opportunity. For the past two years, my podcast friends and I have used Zoom to record all of our “remote” episodes, and now its outpaced Skype and FaceTime as the best way of communicating for me with my friends and co-workers. Virtual Happy hour anyone? Zoom’s free accounts only provide you with 40 minutes of time to use in groups larger than 10, but with the $14.99 per month account you can get unlimited time, and it’s a great way to stay connected with co-workers, boost morale, and make you feel like you’re still in the workplace (or social hour) from home. Zoom is free to join; benefits to the free and paid accounts can be compared here
This is the laptop stand to best all laptop stands; the $69.99 PILLR is a product I started out using to get my podcast setup situated, and has now become the main player in my working-from-home setup. The PILLR allows you to adjust your viewing angle on your coffee table, desk, or kitchen island; with it, I can type at a reasonable angle and not worry about it moving thanks to the built-in grips on the base of the stand.
Social distancing doesn’t stop with just your friends and family, but with the packages that get delivered to you as well. With the $159.99 Eufy Security Doorbell, regardless if you live in a home, apartment, or have proper wiring for either, the Doorbell cam can notify you when that Amazon package gets delivered so you never have to actually interest with the person dropping it off.
Tidal is a great way to stream your music and I’ve been a longtime fan of theirs. With Hi-Fi audio content, you and your family can listen to music from your favorite artists. If you have children, TIDAL has made kid-friendly playlists that will help keep them engaged, thanks to the playlists like Disney Hits, Kidz Bop Essentials, and even Reggae for Kids. What’s more, until April 15th you can get FOUR months of Tidal for only $4 using this link. Tidal is free to use, but the ad-free experience starts at $9.99.
When I’m not jamming to some tunes, I’m listening to just about any and every podcast that you could imagine (including my own, which you can check out here. Pocket Casts gives you suggestions on shows to listen to, and they even have playlists that you can follow from popular people who use the app. From True Crime to Sports to News, Entertainment, and even COVID-19 updates, Pocket Casts is a great way of hearing your favorite personalities. Pocket Casts is free, paying for a subscription brings perks.
For those times when you don’t want to be bothered or distracted by loud music or talking voices, Dark Noise ($3.99) is a fantastic way to create “white noise” in the background while working. Even if you’re not at the beach, there’s a sound for that. There are soundscapes consisting of thunderstorms, rain, cars going by, hairdryers, a desk fan, and even of a cat purring — if you enjoy cats but don’t have one of your own.
With gyms everywhere closed, I still have to find a way to get a workout in even though summer body 2020 isn’t in full effect right now. Freeletics is a great pocket trainer app that walks you through the paces of staying healthy, getting healthy, or maintaining your health even when you’re stuck indoors. I’ve been using it for the past two weeks to direct me through bodyweight workouts such as pushups, sit-ups, and various other exercises that won’t bother the neighbors below. Freeletics is free to use, but if you opt for the in-app purchase of the premium tier, you can even get a nutrition trainer that will tell you what and what not to eat.
Not all of us are as fancy as Greg! For example, my “laptop stand” is two books stacked together — I’ve finally found a use for the 4-Hour Body and The Joy of Running! But honestly, no one’s office is throwing its doors open tomorrow. People at my workplace have been told repeatedly not to expect any communication on when the office will reopen before Memorial Day and even then, it’s going to be a gradual staggered reopening with a lot of flexibility for people in risky groups and people with kids. It’s also very likely this is going to happen in short bursts over and over until a vaccine is found; basically, we’re going to all have to live with the idea that school might abruptly close for a month, or offices might go to work from home for 6 weeks. So what started as a “let’s see how the next 2 weeks go,” has turned into an ongoing issue. Many of us will need to upgrade our home offices to deal with this new reality, and while we might not have wanted to invest money in our ‘work from home’ setup that 3 weeks ago, we’re are realizing more and more that we will need to for the future.
I’m using this $54.99 OWC Travel USB-C Dock, it’s been an absolute lifesaver for me.
I’m using the USB port on the OWC Travel USB-Dock to power a Logitech external keyboard I found in the closet. I’ve never been so excited to see a Logitech logo in my life, as a full-size keyboard makes work much easier. You can find these on Amazon for under $27.
I’m also using this $15 Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse — it’s a simple little guy but it does the job well, and it works without a mousepad. This isn’t the exact mouse I have, but the similar version I’m using was on clearance at Best Buy so…
I spend most of my workday on the phone, and since I didn’t work from home much before this I never bought a dedicated Bluetooth headset. However, I’ve been jumping between these $79.99 TCL True Wireless In-Ear Headphones I picked up at CES …
… and a pair of V-Moda Crossfades to make being on the phone far easier.
I also have to give a shoutout to Chrome OS, as I doubt I’d make it through homeschooling with my sanity intact if my child didn’t have a Chromebook to use. I’d also like to thank Verizon FiOS for their free Samsung Chromebook 3 promotion two years ago, as past-me was utterly brilliant for hanging on to the free Chromebook, “just in case”. You can pick up a similar one for around $225.
From a parent standpoint, the $299 Nintendo Switch is the greatest invention in the world. It’s got plenty of kid-friendly games for my elementary school-age son, and the games are familiar enough that I can help easily (and also maybe play when he’s asleep-hey, links awakening is fun for adults too!)
Finally, since working out is the only way to stay sane, I’ve been following methods listed In the ~$15 book, You Are Your Own Gym as well as making good use of my Jungle Gym XT straps and a very hefty Everlast Punching Bag for days when I’m sick of staring at the walls. The $99 Jungle Gym XT Straps appear to be sold out right now, and an Everlast punching bag like mine is around $170.
Excellent choices by Carly and Greg, but personally, during this time I’ve appreciated more than ever the little things on the periphery that have made this experience manageable.
First of all, for my job, I do a lot of phone conferences and video calls using WebEx as an example. Being in a household with little kids and my wife who also works this is definitely not something I can use speakers and a mic for. Instead, I’ve relied heavily on the excellent $179.99 Jabra Elite 75t earphones. They’re comfortable enough to wear for hours, sound great and their mics are excellent at picking up my voice in meetings. Most importantly there’s plenty of juice on tap and dropping them in the case between meetings, a natural thing, means almost endless longevity. I would be a wreck without them.
To keep your sanity, you need to entertain yourself and make sure you have some downtime. “All work and no play…” as the saying goes. I’ve grown especially in love with Google Stadia during this time for some very simple reasons. Most importantly that I can play it on basically any device in the house from any of the TVs (they each have Chromecast Ultras) to my desktop, my laptop, or even my phone. When you are all crammed into the house for weeks it is increasingly difficult to not end up conflicting on device usage. This gives me the freedom of being able to play whenever I want no matter where other people are. Secondly, the fact it’s instant and again available on any device means you can have quick gaming sessions during lunch or waiting for a meeting to start (theoretically of course). You can try Google Stadia for free; after that, it’s $9.99/month.
Finally, I would say my most important device throughout this and even well before has been my phone, the excellent Google Pixel 4XL. In the recent group review on this site, there were different opinions and that’s totally fine, no device should ever be all things to everyone as that would be a boring place to live. But my Pixel 4 XL has been rock solid throughout, and I’ve been getting easily 24hrs+ of battery life (probably because I’m on wifi the whole time in the house). It’s handled work duties perfectly and I’ve used the WebEx client on it many times to attend a meeting while also multitasking on other work items directly on the device. I’ve never had a crash, reboot, or a single second of instability and that means a lot in this already unstable situation we are all dealing with. It just does its job day in and day out. I’m not saying a modern iPhone or Galaxy device can’t do the same, they totally can, but for me, the Pixel 4XL has really stepped it up and I couldn’t be happier that it’s my phone during this time. Also if you do decide to jump on the train the Pixel 4 phones can be had for all-time low prices right now — starting at just $499 for the Pixel 4 and $599 for the Pixel 4 XL!
I don’t think it even matters if you’re used to working from home or not; I’ve found that trying to get anything done right now — much less staying focused on a single task— has been a huge challenge. When I’m in my office, which for reference, is detached from the main part of our house and connected to the back porch, I usually work on a 27″ iMac. But through a series of unfortunate events that ended up being a gift in their own way, for the first month that we were in self-isolation, Kev and I had our two youngest granddaughters (6 & 7) staying with us. Very quickly, Kev and I had to figure out a new system so that I would be in the main part of the house with the grands while getting my work done; Kev would split the new homeschooling duties with me before leaving for work at his studio.
I thought that once the girls were able to go home with their parents, things would simplify and I’d be able to catch up on all I had fallen behind on, but I’ve found that it’s been a real struggle to stay focused and present. I suspect that a lot of people are dealing with that right now. So if that’s you as well, you’re not alone! <3
Rather than moving my iMac to our dining room table, where I would wind up working most days, I used the Lenovo Yoga C940. This 14″ laptop had proven itself time and time again over the past four months to be excellent for travel, but I also found it did very well as my main computer. The model I have is equipped with an Intel i7 1.3GHz processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. I can also use the C940 as a tablet, and when needed, it was great for the grands’ regular Zoom calls with their teachers and classmates. I can’t say enough good about this laptop. Prices for the Yoga C940 start at $1439.99
In early March, our part of Texas was at the tail-end of a really bad flu season — one that had already shut a neighboring town’s schools down for a week in mid-February. We were also in the midst of early spring allergies, so every sniffle, sore throat, or body ache was suspect as we better understood the severity of the pandemic. A few days into our granddaughters’ stay with us, right about the time that I found out that I might have been exposed on the trip to NYC I had just returned from days earlier, the girls started running low-grade fevers. Using the $99.95 Withings Thermo, I was able to quickly check the girl’s foreheads at different points of the day to check their temperatures. It may seem like a little thing, but the Thermo and the Withings Health Mate app gave me peace of mind in the early days of our self-isolation.
A few days into self-quarantine, I realized how grateful I was for the $99 Sparkel water carbonation system that I’d reviewed late last year. Kev and I had already replaced buying store-bought carbonated water with the Sparkel system, and a refill box of 90 carbonation sachets had arrived just before we started isolating, so we were set. It’s the little things, but having a ready source of cold carbonated water has helped keep me in good spirits. We ordered two extra Sparkel bottles so we could keep cold water bottles in the refrigerator ready for carbonation or flavoring at a moment’s notice; the system is working out well, and we are staying hydrated with our favorite fizzy waters. As we enter our 8th week of sheltering at home, I’ve just ordered another box of 90 carbonation sachets so we don’t take a chance of running out. Getting our carbonated water this was is much easier to deal with than trying to buy unwieldy carbonated waters by the case during our weekly curbside grocery pick-up.
The $249 Air Speaker by Quirky is a clever portable system that can be configured as a single more powerful 24-watt stereo speaker, or it can be pulled apart into five smaller speakers that stay perfectly in sync. I set an Air Speaker up in the girls’ bedroom so that they could listen to music at night as they fell asleep. The speakers have a wireless range of up to 75′, so you can string them out around your home and back patio to create a synchronized multi-speaker system, or you can set them up in a single room to create a surround sound effect; you can also keep them together as a single stereo unit, which is what I wound up doing for the girls. Music played on the speaker soothed them to sleep, which in turn meant that Kev and I could sleep without too many disturbances in the middle of the night.
I don’t know about you, but my stress levels have been through the roof since we’ve been in lockdown. Drinking a bottle of wine each night to knock myself out and (hopefully) stop my mind from racing long enough to sleep simply isn’t a viable or desirable option. Enter the $89.99 QWIN Plus Kit which arrived a few weeks ago; it has been a lifesaver. The pod flavors are delicious, and there is something very calming about the act of taking a puff from this vaporizer. The Plus Kit includes the QWIN Module, four 100mg flavored CBDi Capsules (shortcake, island, brisk, and arabica), and one 200mg CBDRx Supergreen capsule as well as a microUSB wireless charger; you supply the microUSB charging cable. The capsules are designed so that you can puff from them multiple times a day without ill effect, and I’m not even going to pretend to understand why doing so relaxes me and calms my mind, but it does. Worth it. I’ll be ordering refills when these are out.
Not leaving the house but once a week means not being in the car much, and that means I haven’t been listening to my favorite Sirius stations as often. With the app, I can keep up with the news on MSNBC, CNN, BBC, and others, listen to my favorite music stations, and yes, listen to Howard Stern as well as access his past interviews and musical guests’ performances — including video. I didn’t use this streaming app option that much before the pandemic (in fact, I had forgotten to download the app to my current Android phone), but now it’s a daily go-to.
I quickly realized that the girls would sleep better with a nightlight, and I just happened to have recently received the $19.99 AUKEY USB Outlet with Night Light Plug before we went into lockdown. The Aukey Night Light covers both sockets of a conventional double outlet, drawing power from one of them; in return, you get 300 Joules of surge-protection in four AC sockets and two Type-A USB outlets. The top of the night light also serves as a handy phone holder. This worked out very well in the girls’ bedroom because it also gave them a place to charge the devices they were using to complete their schoolwork each day.
Right now is not the time to stress about whether a storm might take out my television or computer, and that’s why I am thankful for the Austere VII Series 8-Port Power Strip; Dan reviewed the 6-port power strip recently, and you can read that review here. I didn’t realize until a meeting with Austere at CES this year that the word ‘Joules’ doesn’t just refer to how powerful or protective a surge protector might be, Joules also refers to a finite protective layer of energy that gets tapped every time there are shocks or surges in your electrical system. In other words, it had somehow never sunk in for me that the three APC backup batteries with 1000 Joule surge protectors that Kev and I had purchased to protect various sets of home electronics over 10 years ago (!!) were all well past their prime. Derp.
The Austere VII Series power strips have 4,000 Joules, and Austere offers a Component Guarantee which promises that “if a VII Series Austere Power Strip is responsible for any damage to a plugged-in device, Austere will replace that device regardless of its value for 7-years.” Blue LEDs on the power strip let you know exactly when the Joules have been depleted; the blue protection shield on the power strip will simply stop glowing. At $179.99 for the 6-port power strip and $199.99 for the 8-port power strip, both power strips also include a 45W USB-C PD port, two USB Type-C ports, and Two-USB-A ports. While the Austere VII Series is likely more expensive than any non-backup-battery-containing surge protector you’ve ever purchased, it makes a case for that purchase with its better than average look, solid build, the Component Guarantee, the 4,000 long-lasting Joules, and the power strip’s advanced EMI/RFI filtration which “cleans noise and artifacts that can travel through power lines and keeps them from impacting your devices.” It’s a worthy update for your home entertainment system at the very least, especially if you can’t remember when the last time you replaced that particular surge protector was.
While I liked the idea behind LG’s use of Dual Screen cases on their V50 ThinQ and the LG G8X ThinQ models, it wasn’t until the 5G LG V50ThinQ that I really fell in love with the phone that went into that Dual Screen case. On its own, the LG V60 ThinQ is a gorgeous navy and gold Android device that features a 6.8″ OLED FHD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Octa-core processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB user memory, a long-lasting 5,000mAh battery, triple rear cameras (including ultra-wide-angle), and many of the other bells and whistles you’d expect in a 2020 flagship with the exception of a faster refresh rate — the V60 ThinQ is 60Hz only rather than a smoother 90 or 120Hz. Will you even notice it? Maybe, maybe not. The one thing that sets it apart from the other 2020 flagships isn’t just the Dual Screen case, it’s the actual size of the phone — it’s huge. While a phone this big (and thick, with the Dual Screen case involved) might get on my nerves if I were traveling or out and about, I have largely been stuck at home, so the size of the phone has not been an issue. When I put the V60 ThinQ into the Dual Screen case, I get two brilliant 6.8″ OLED FHD displays that play well together while I obsessively consume pandemic news, try to relax while playing word games, or while I am being productive. You can get the LG V60ThinQ and the Dual Screen Case for about $900; the phone alone is about $100 less.
Since I haven’t sewn in years and I don’t own a sewing machine (something I would like to rectify), it was important to me to find someone who was making and delivering cloth masks for when Kev and I had to go out in public to pick up groceries or hit the post office. While researching what makes cloth masks most effective, I came across a link mentioning ddroppStudio on Etsy. Each ddroppStudio cloth mask is made with three protective layers that offer around 90% filtration; they come in medium and large sizes, and they have an adjustable aluminum nose wire for a snug but comfortable fit. The masks are not hard to breathe through, and they stay on with loops that go around your ears rather than the back of your head and neck; their fabrics are fashionable for both men and women. DdroppStudio masks start at $38. Cleaning these reusable masks is a simple matter of handwashing and air-drying; since you should do that every time you wear it in public, it’s a good idea to get a couple of these when you order. I have a feeling that conscientious people will be wearing cloth masks at least until the end of this year if not longer, whether or not local orders tell us to do so. It makes sense to find some masks that look good, wear well and will do a good job of protecting us as we start to integrate back into social situations. I am sure that there are other excellent cloth masks available from Etsy makers, but I can personally vouch for the quality and decent shipping times at ddroppStudio.
My situation is a bit different. Synagogues and churches are built around communal connection, and the rapid move to take our entire congregation’s operations online was no small feat. My leadership and I kept the synagogue open as long as we could but, even before our Governor issued his “stay at home” decree, we knew we would eventually have to make this change. By the time I did ask for a vote to shut down the building, we had some of the infrastructure built. We moved all leadership communication to Slack and upgraded our Zoom account so it could handle the expected increase in traffic once we went online. That expectation has been proven correct and, in any given thirty day period since this began, our community has spent well over 250,000 minutes together via Zoom.
Getting myself, not to mention my key staff members, up to speed with regard to hardware was the next challenge. Thankfully, my years with Gear Diary left me in good stead. In fact, most of my staff members are currently using one or more Gear Diary review items that I pulled out of the closet. Over the weeks I have found certain devices to be particularly useful to me. Here are just a few examples.
I usually have a 27” iMac at my office and a 13” MacBook Pro connected to an external monitor in my home office. The day I left my office, I brought the iMac home. It is connected to the $499 BenQ PD2710QC 27” QHD Designer Monitor I reviewed in 2017. The combination of the two gives me a huge amount of screen-estate and had made trying to do ten things at once a bit easier. This also leaves my laptop free to use if it is a nice day and I want some fresh air. They sit atop my Varidesk ProDesk 60 Electric sit-stand desk. Considering how much time I am spending at my desk, having the ability to do some work standing had been a huge help.
And considering that I am at my desk for hours on end, I’m grateful to have the $329 Pursuit Ergonomic Chair by UPLIFT Desk. It is comfortable, adjustable and supportive. And when I don’t want to sit but am too tired to stand, the $149 UPLIFT Motion Stool is a great in-between choice.
Having a decent quality video is important when you are trying to teach or lead services via Zoom. The new $169.99 Logi StreamCam has been great. It offers high resolution and has countless settings that can be customized to your liking.
I’m also using the $499 Logitech ConferenceCam. It is not only a great camera and speaker for streaming but, thanks to its built-in Bluetooth, as the weather improves I’ll be able to take it outside and, once connected to my iPad or iPhone, hold meetings outdoors.
I had the good fortune to be able to choose from a number of microphones I had reviewed over the years. Some went to my colleagues, but I kept the $295 MXL APS Podcasting Bundle, which has been my go-to most of the time. It includes MXL’S BCD-1 Live Broadcast Microphone, MXL’S USB Mic Mate Pro microphone adapter, and an MXL’S BCD Stand which is a convenient way to position my microphone in an optimal manner.
When using my laptop I’ve found the Blue Yeti X Professional USB Microphone to be the best choice. Both microphones work amazingly well and have allowed me to get good audio regardless of whether I am speaking, reading, or singing.
I’ve started videotaping my weekly Shabbat Message. At first, I would use the StreamCam or ConferenceCam to record but, inevitably, it would capture me looking at the text of my message rather than the camera. My solution was to purchase the $19.99 PromptSmart app for iPhone and iPad. It is not only a voice-activated teleprompter that “understands” my text and advances the text as I speak. In addition, it places the text at the upper half of the iPad so I can read the text while looking at and recording from the device’s selfie camera. It works well and, each week, I’m getting better at using it. That said… I have a long way to go and have a renewed sense of respect for broadcasters.
I also rely on music to keep me calm. My Audioengine speakers do the trick. I have their $269 A2+ Wireless Speakers on my desk and their $499 A5+ speakers on stands on the other side of the room. Both are connected to Apple AirPort Expresses so I can have all four speakers playing music via AirPlay. In the den, where I also work sometimes, I have the Audioengine HD6. The powerful powered bookshelf speakers are able to fill the house with sound and come in handy when I’m on the treadmill.
On the headphone front, I’m finding that different devices serve me best at different times. When I’m out for a socially distanced walk with my dog, the Jabra 75t True Wireless Earbuds seem to work best. They are also so small that they don’t get in the way of my face masks. When I’m home and just want to escape for a bit, the Master & Dynamic MW07 PLUS headphones do the trick. Thanks to their onboard active noise cancellation, these earphones let me get lost in the music. And when I’m on the computer but want headphones for music and calls, the Plantronics Voyager 8200 UC and Master & Dynamic MW65 Over-the-Ear headphones do the trick. Both have excellent ANC and both sound fantastic. For the most part, I use the 8200 UC for work and the MW65 for relaxation but both do a great job in almost and situation.
Google Nest WiFi
With both Raina and me working from home, it is more important than ever that we have solid WiFi and the ability to keep all our devices charged. The WiFi issue is nicely addressed by the Google Nest WiFi I reviewed last fall. It is an amazing mesh wireless system that has the benefit of bringing Google Assistant to whichever room becomes the home of the Nest WiFi Point. Yup, in addition to increasing the coverage of the Nest WiFi from Google, the second wireless point is also a speaker with Google Assistant. Another great option would be Eero. That’s the system I had until I received the nest WiFi and its also terrific. Judie bought her eero system and swears by it; Perry thinks it’s great, too; you can read his review here.
Finally, Raina and I are both relying more heavily than ever on our phones, tablets, and headphones. Each device needs to be kept charged lest it become a paperweight and our productivity plummet. We can’t afford for that to happen. Thankfully there are a growing number of sophisticated device chargers that not only top off our phones wirelessly but also charge other devices simultaneously.
Mophie offers a few interesting ones. There’s the Dual Wireless Charging Pad, and there is the mophie 3-in-1 Wireless Charging Base.
As good as those are, however, it is the updated Nomad Base Station that sits by my bed. It wirelessly charges my phone, my Apple Watch, and it has two additional charging ports- one USB-C and the other USB-A for additional charging options. It can also wirelessly charge AirPods with a wireless charging case but I don’t have one of those. I shared details of the charging base some weeks ago and will be finishing up a full review soon.
In the living room, we have the amazing Air Omni 6-in-1 Charging Solution from Pitaka. This charging base will wirelessly charge your phone and AirPods with a wireless charging case and an Apple Watch. In addition, the back section of the Air Omni has a charging area that can charge a device with either a USB-C or a Lightning connector. And as if that weren’t enough, the Air Omni also has a USB-C port and a USB-A port so you can charge two MORE devices. Finally, it has a small, lighted drawer so you can stow a few small items. There’s so much tech packed into this amazing charging base; you can back it on Kickstarter.
Each piece of kit makes working remotely a bit easier. And while I’m looking forward to eventually being back in the office and able to see people face-to-face, for now this is the best that it gets. And I am so grateful to Judie, Gear Diary, and all of the amazing companies we work with for making it possible for me to take a congregation of 800 families online and, in the process, offer even more programming than ever despite the challenges of our times.
Even though I have been teaching from home, my gear has stayed very simple. I have a Dell laptop that I run most of my assignments and work meetings over Google Meet.
My oldest son bought his own HP Chromebook almost two years ago but rarely used it. It has now become his lifeline to his school work. My youngest works at the desktop with two monitors. My wife uses a work-issued laptop also. There are often mornings where we are all sitting silently in the den on our devices trying to get everything finished. I am fully ready to go back to teaching everyone else’s kids and not just my two!
The other saving device in our house is the Xbox One. While it is usually the cause of arguments, it is also a portal for both of my sons to get to talk (yell) and communicate with some of their friends.
I have the $229 Google Nest Hub Max sitting on my desk next to my computer. During the day, I watch TV with my YouTube TV subscription ($49/yr) which I control with my voice (“Hey Google, play xxx on YouTube TV”). In the last few weeks, I’ve used it to keep up-to-date with the stock market. When I have a conference call, I mute the audio and continue watching the video.
I also play music from my YouTube music stations. The sound isn’t super high quality, but it’s good enough to help me pass the time in the office. On occasion, I’ll also use Chromecast to send movies to the screen. The volume is easy to quickly mute since Google added the ability to use quick gestures with the Nest Hub Max.
Technically I don’t think this qualifies as gear. However, Dropbox is essential to my workflow throughout the day. I’ve created a folder solely to sync common files between my three home office computers. Typically I use this to synchronize images or screenshots of things that I’m working on – either for reports or social media posts. But I also use it to sync files between my various computers. This is a very handy tool and allows me to not worry about where I left a particular file since everything is accessible across all my computers. Dropbox business plans start at $15/month with discounted prices for yearly plans. Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive would likely work just as well if you have access to them.
I use this $18 Anker Wireless PowerWave Charger to keep my iPhone 11 Pro Max charged up. I find it tough sometimes to find the “sweet spot” with Qi chargers, but this upright charger makes it so that I get a positive charging connection nearly every time.
I live in a rural area, and I find it helpful to relax mid-day with a walk. On occasion, my walks extend to 5+ miles, which makes it handy to use the $129 Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max Smart Battery Case so I can continue taking calls while out exercising. What I like the most is how easy it is to insert (and remove ) the phone. Simply pull the top portion back and your phone can be easily removed.
The case supports wireless charging, but I generally charge via cable overnight and leave it on my shelf until I’m ready to walk. The grippy case helps prevent drops which is another thing I like. It’s not the cheapest battery case you’ll find, but it’s well built and does the job.
While I have some additional time at home, besides spending more time with my wife and two kids and teaching my 5-year-old daughter how to ride a 2 wheel bike (proud dad moment!), I’ve taken up a few hobbies.
I’ve always wanted to play the guitar, and our friends at Fender hooked me up with a Fender Malibu Player Guitar to try out, as well as their brand new Fullerton Strat Ukulele. The $429 Malibu Player is a gorgeous small-bodied guitar with a built-in electronic Fishman pre-amp and tuner. It’s a great guitar for beginners such as myself and I’ve been enjoying learning on it.
The Fullerton Strat Ukulele is a $199 ukulele that’s designed to look like the classic Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. The Fullerton also has built-in electronics and tuner as well.
I’ve also spent a few weeks learning to play with the Fender Play app, and I’ve seen a lot of growth in such a short amount of time. I went from not knowing anything about playing to playing simple riffs, strumming chords, and switching between chords, albeit slowly. Fender has even put together a New Player Guide that helps budding guitarists navigate their new hobby with everything from gear buying guides to tips and tricks.
If you’re like me and the thousands of other people turning to bread baking with your extra time, there’s no better way to bake your homemade loaves than the $299 Challenger Bread Pan. It was designed by home bakers, for home bakers to be the first highly designed home bread baking pan on the market.
The cast-iron enclosure traps steam, which helps the crust of your bread retain moisture and not cook too quickly, allowing your bread to expand more. The shallow base makes it easy to load your bread into the pan and the handles were ergonomically designed to help you remove the lid easily mid-bake.
If you’re looking to escape your quarantine environment but don’t want to risk infection, check out the $899 HTC Vive Cosmos Elite VR Headset. The Vive Cosmos Elite provides a fully immersive experience thanks to the high-quality headset and accurate tracking of your head and the controllers in your hands.
I’ve had a blast playing first-person shooter games like Half-Life: Alyx as well as action/sports games that get your body moving and your blood pumping. Even my 5-year-old daughter loves slashing at fruit in the classic Fruit Ninja VR.
If we’re talking about actual work (boring), our friends at Kingston hooked me up with some great home office upgrades that have helped make my WFH experience better. The $49.99 Kingston Nucleum USB-C Hub allows me to connect an external monitor, keyboard, and wireless mouse to my laptop with the use of just one port, the USB-C. It’s a great way to reduce clutter and make transitioning between travel and desk work simple.
The HyperX Alloy Origins mechanical gaming keyboard is a joy to type on. It has RGB LED lights that are gorgeous to look at, while the typing experience feels accurate and high end.
The HyperX Pulsefire Dart wireless gaming mouse has three different DPI settings, comfortable leather-like grips, LED-lit accents, and is compatible with wireless Qi charging. Installation of both keyboard and mouse was seamless and I was up and running in minutes.
These are the things that I use every day when I work from home. Much of it changes depending on what’s going on, but this is what I have had since the start of the ‘work from home’ phase of the virus. I always work from home, so my life hasn’t changed much except for not being able to go to the gym and church like I usually do.
My Work-Supplied Gear Includes:
The Dell Precision 7520 is big, thick, and heavy without being too heavy; it works well enough to get my job done.
It’s not fancy but it gets the job done. If you have a Thunderbolt capable Dell, get the ~$200 Dell 3GMVT TB16 Thunderbolt 3 Dock with 240W Adapter; you won’t regret it.
Being in System Administration requires you to have many windows open at once, and the monitor on my work laptop just isn’t enough to handle my day-to-day so I picked up the HP 27″ FreeSync Monitor. It’s 1080p and has enough real estate to take care of things like Slack, Service Now, and other websites I need to have open to get the job done.
The iPhone 11 is my work-provided cellphone. On it, I run Slack, Pager Duty, e-mail, and everything I need when I am out and about or at home for work.
My Personal Gear Includes
One thing I like to do when I am not in a call is have something playing in the background or some other computer besides my work laptop beside me so I can look up things and take care of non-work related things when I take breaks from my normal systems work. My Surface Pro 6 is my favorite device for this. It’s pretty much beside me always when I am working.
Not on the list, but something I always use with my Surface, is the keyboard … which should COME with the Surface Pro! Are you listening Microsoft?
If I need to sketch something or take notes in a call that I don’t care about where they are stored then the $100 Surface Pen comes out. I think it’s essential if you buy a Surface Pro, and the pen is a big pro for buying a Surface Pro in the first place.
The $79.99 Microsoft Surface Arc mouse is nice, but I prefer just the plain old $36 Surface Mouse. It’s small enough that it travels nicely, and I always use it over the trackpad on the keyboard.
A few weeks ago, my normal Logitech H600 headset died. I needed something in a pinch, so I ordered the $89.99 Avantree AH6B Bluetooth Headphones quickly as I spend a lot of time in Zoom calls. This headset works great for that, and it sounds good too!
I always hate using the built-in camera on any laptop. It just makes for horrible viewing angles and is just not as good as an external cam like the $79.99 Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. I love that it has a cover that I usually keep down if I don’t feel like being on cam.
I got the $34 Kaweco Sport Classic Fountain Pen in a Bespoke box, and I love writing with it! When I want something to write with to record things I don’t want on the web, this is what I use.
I’ve been a long time lover of Moleskine notebooks; I always have 2-3 of these hanging around my desk.
On a long call? Getting drowsy? This is why I have the $169 Galenz Mini Fridge. I keep mine fully stocked with cold beverages and the occasional snack.
The $499 IKEA Bekant Sit/Stand Desk is my main desk, and while I rarely use the stand functionality, I do like to be able to work while standing from time to time.
Every office needs storage, and the $199 IKEA Galant Black Storage Cabinet is mine. I keep my camera gear and extra 3D printing supplies in here.
I use the $119.99 IKEA Linnmon/Alex Desk as a side desk told hole extra computers and other junk (I really need to rearrange things in here!)
The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ is my personal phone, and I love using it; it’s pretty much always with me.
The $99.99 LG TONE Style Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset is perfect for podcasts, YouTube, and movies. These are what I usually use these for especially if I don’t want the whole house to ALSO listen! Works ok for calls but don’t usually get too many of those.
I’m a trackpad hater so my work laptop always has to have a mouse. I say go Bluetooth so you can avoid having to keep track of dongles since all of my computers have Bluetooth …you can’t go wrong with this mouse. It’s travel-sized which is what I prefer anyway.
Both my wife and I work in essential businesses, so we have had to adapt to strategies that enable us to work from home when possible but also be on-site each day. In order to be ready for any potential self-quarantine, my approach has been to have everything with me at all times when I leave the facility.
Above is a pile of my ‘essential stuff’
- Mask – we get a new one every morning. Masks had become part of standard PPE throughout the facility even prior to the state order.
- Safety Glasses and Fog-Be-Gone – the first thing everyone does wearing a mask with glasses is to fog them up!
- Earbuds with 3.5mm jack – these are the AKG earbuds that came with my Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (the 10+ comes with USB-C earbuds). I am on conference calls frequently and have found that having something that plugs directly into my laptop works best – and these have great sound and microphone clarity.
- HP Elitebook 840 – this is my work laptop, fully loaded up but still fairly portable. Drives my dual monitor setup at my desk, but the screen is good enough to use anywhere in the facility or at home.
I have been using this iPad since release in 2017, to the point where I just had to replace the Smart Keyboard cover. It is my personal workhorse that I carry everywhere – email, social media, and web browsing, working on shared documents, keeping notes that bridge between work and home, and so much more. And when I get home it is great for music and games!
For nearly nine months the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ has been my primary work phone. It does everything for me, but the S-Pen is the big differentiator, as I can be anywhere and quickly take notes, annotate pictures, and so on. The battery life is incredible, which is invaluable when you need to be in a part of the facility with poor signal without access to a charger for hours on end. This is an incredibly expensive flagship phone, but I have never had a regret.
The $149 Samsung Galaxy Buds pair easily with either iOS or Android devices, but with a Samsung phone, you get more features – none of which I really care about. These are more comfortable than typical earbuds, and allow me to just keep them in my ears during the day so I can talk to people working from home about data, measurements or experiments while involved with other activities. My usage of these has jumped incredibly over the pandemic, as they allow me to be much more flexible and responsive.
Other critical items
Great for every surface at home or work, the $49.99 Logitech M570 Trackball Mouse is easy on the wrist once you get used to using the trackball. I am not a fan of laptop trackpads other than Apple, so when I can use this highly capable mouse I am much happier and more productive.
I bought the Osprey Axis Backpack for hiking in the Grand Canyon, and it quickly became my everyday bag. It’s light, tough, and spacious; everything fits and is easily accessible.
You’ve seen the gear that’s helping us stay productive and sane while we hunker down for the pandemic; what is working for you?