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My Favorite Things of 2013: Gaming Mouse, USB 3.0 Stick, Downcast

By Wesley Fenlon

Wes' favorite gear of the year!

The testing I did for The Wirecutter in 2013 meant using a heap of products in a few very specific categories. Surprise--the best ones turned out to be my favorite pieces of tech for the year! The third item on my list is an app that keeps me entertained every time I step out of the house to catch a train.

Also, while it's not a shiny new piece of technology, The Resistance: Avalon is my favorite game of 2013. It's become the staple closing game of our regular game nights, and I think the roles it lets everyone play (like the all-knowing Merlin) make it a far better game than The Resistance, which you may know better as Werewolf or Mafia. Just don't play Avalon if you're the type to hold grudges, or you'll never trust your friends again.

Razer Deathadder 2013

I spent months testing gaming mice this year, and poured tons of time into researching them before testing them out. The Deathadder 2013, which ended up being my pick, is still my daily mouse. It has a fantastic matte texture that doesn't get slick when my hand sweats. But the shape is really what makes it a winner. It fits my hand fine for a relaxed palm grip when I'm browsing, and it's also perfectly suited for a gaming claw grip.

The Deathadder has long been a popular mouse, but the 2013 edition made one especially brilliant addition: grippy pads on the left and right side of the mouse, where your thumbs naturally rest. It might sound silly to talk about mouse "control"--you probably never totally lose control of your mouse when you're gaming--but those grippy pads seriously make a big difference. Your thumb and pinky stay exactly where you want them to be.

I like Razer's software, too. People were upset, and rightfully so, when they first launched their cloud-enabled Synapse drivers, and there were some crappy compatibility issues with older devices. But that doesn't affect the Deathadder 2013, and with the exception of the initial online sign-up, which takes about 30 seconds, the software is pleasantly unobtrusive. At its $70 MSRP Deathadder's is already cheaper than a lot of the other gaming mice I tested, but Amazon typically sells it for closer to $50. At that price, it's a no-brainer.

SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0

Like the Deathadder, the SanDisk Extreme was the winning device I tested for The Wirecutter, and it gets regular use around the house. The 64 gig stick feels like it will never run out of space. It's big enough to transfer HD video files, tons of photographs, and whatever else I need to get from one computer to another without deleting everything between tasks. I filled up two microSD cards shooting 1080p video in Yosemite earlier this year, and eventually copied all of it to the SanDisk drive.

Of course, a portable hard drive would offer more storage, but the Extreme is about the size of most flash drives (it's a big longer than some, but still easily pocketable). And more importantly, it's fast, and cheaper than a whole slew of much slower flash drives. The secret is that SanDisk essentially used an SSD controller for the drive, so it regularly hits speeds of 200 MB/s when used in a USB 3.0 port. Even in the USB 2 ports on the front of my desktop PC, it satures the connection in a way that none of my older USB 2 drives can. If you're in need of a good flash drive, I'd spring for the 64 gig version. It's only $60.

Downcast

When I looked for recommendations on the best iOS podcast app a year ago, I had simple needs. I just wanted something that would play podcasts, essentially, with a better UI and more features than Apple's default podcast app. I didn't know what features I wanted, really. Downcast is the rare app to offer a feature I didn't know I wanted, and now absolutely love using.

First of all, Downcast makes it effortless to bounce between a variety of podcasts, because it remembers where you left off in every audio file. It also offers a ton of customization in terms of how often it downloads new episodes of subscribed shows, how many to keep, and so on--I don't use those options very often. But I do use the app's ability to import files from the iTunes media library into Downcast.

I do this with back episodes of This American Life. I do this with the occasional audiobook, because Downcast's playback memory and quick rewind/fast forward buttons are way more useful than iTunes' on iOS. Downcast's built-in timer is also a great way to listen to chunks of an audiobook at night, and if I fall asleep, I don't have to worry about the app playing for hours.

If I'm listening to something on my iPhone that's not music, I'm probably playing it through Downcast. The $3 app was even updated to iOS 7 for free. Money well spent.