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My Favorite Things of 2013: Roku, ROMs, and Repair Gear

By Nathan Edwards

Our PC columnist's favorite gear and games of the past year!

Roku 3

We moved this year, and decided not to get cable TV at the new place. The Roku 3 is how we made it work. The combined cost for Hulu Plus, Netflix, and a la carte videos from Amazon Prime Video and Vudu is still a lot less than a monthly cable bill, and the Roku 3 plays them all at 1080p without stuttering, thanks to its 2x2 WiFi antenna. Now all we need is a way to subscribe to HBO without cable so we don't miss Game of Thrones.

Ridiculous ZeroLemon Battery & Shiny ROM

I got to test some review units of the Moto X and Nexus 5, my favorite phones of 2013, for my main gig with The Wirecutter. They're incredible, borderline-magical phones. But in real life I'm stuck with my Verizon Galaxy Nexus until February. It's not a great phone anymore--it has the battery life and imaging prowess of a Russet potato--but I've kept it on life support with two things. The first is Baldwinguy77's Shiny ROM, which has kept my phone up-to-date and mostly usable despite Verizon's neglect. The second is the utterly absurd but essential ZeroLemon 5900mAh extended battery. It doubles my phone's thickness, triples its weight, and comes with its own TPU case because nothing else can contain it. But instead of having a phone that lasts until mid-afternoon, I have a phone that lasts until the wee hours, two days later.

Phones with removable backplates and replaceable batteries are getting thin on the ground unless you have a Samsung device, so for my next phone I'll pick up an external battery pack.

Gone Home & Dark Souls

Other than a certain creepiness of ambience, these two games couldn't be more different. Gone Home is a short but intense bit of interactive fiction in which you play a girl coming home to an empty house. Blowhard commenters will say it's not a game at all, but it packs an emotional punch that exceeds anything I've gotten from a game in a long time. It's well worth whatever they're charging at the moment. Which is only $10, so you should buy it immediately.

Dark Souls, on the other hand, hates me. It came out on PC in late 2012, at which point I picked it up for a few dozen hours, got frustrated, and put it back down until last month. Now I'm hooked again. It's an RPG that takes place in a dark and mysterious old world, and it's deep. The story is doled out in a few brief cutscenes, but otherwise must be pieced together through observation, brief snippets of NPC dialog, and a whole lot of inference.

There's no handholding and a lot of dying, but what I love about the game is that every time you die you've learned something. The game isn't unfair, it just rewards caution, tactical awareness, and experimentation, and it'll kill you in a heartbeat if you let it. It's the best game I've played all year. And no, I haven't beaten it yet. It's $10 on Steam right now, so you should buy it immediately too. Don't just take my word for it, though.

Evernote / Doxie Go

I still don't use Evernote as much as I should, but I've made a habit of trying to use it more, to cut down on paper clutter in my life. To that end, I got a Doxie Go and Eye-Fi card, and I've been scanning incoming papers to Evernote. Both Doxie and Evernote have OCR capabilities, so I can search within the text of PDFs. I don't mess around much with tagging or sorting, I just dump everything into Evernote and rely on search to find things. Kind of like Gmail.

If I had to do it again, I'd probably pick a different scanner, since the Doxie is a little touchy about what it'll scan, and it lacks both duplex scanning and a feeder tray. Oh well!

iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit

Can I fix it? Yes I can! An essential all-in-one kit for anyone who wants to tinker with their devices.

Bonus: The Things I Borrowed

I already mentioned the Moto X and Nexus 5, my two favorite phones of the year, so I thought I'd give a special honorable mention to the Acer Aspire S7-392. I borrowed a review unit from Acer for my Wirecutter guide to the best Ultrabooks, and it's the best laptop I've ever used. It's sleek, fast, powerful, has good battery life, and it looks beautiful. Its 1920x1080 screen is the best I've ever used in a laptop. All due respect to the 3200x1800 screens on the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus, but those are only usable if you scale desktop apps up 200 percent, which gives you the same real estate as a 1600x900 screen. 1920x1080 at 13 inches is the perfect resolution: low enough to use without display scaling, high enough to fit two windows side-by-side without losing stuff around the edges.