In what is becoming an annual tradition, the staff here at Tools & Toys have gathered to collect some of our favorite… erm, tools and toys of 2014.
It’s been quite a year. Our team is a little bigger, the site is a lot prettier, and there are lots of new items to talk about. Let’s get started!
We’re big fans of the Kindle here at Tools & Toys. They make excellent gifts for just about anyone, and they have a pretty amazing ecosystem. The newest, top-of-the-line Kindle Voyage is not only lighter and thinner than its predecessor — the Kindle Paperwhite — it also has a higher-resolution 300 PPI e-ink display, dedicated hardware buttons for turning pages, and smarter and brighter screen illumination.
This is one of the more expensive lenses for the micro four thirds ecosystem, but well worth the price tag when you see the gorgeous portraits it can produce. It’s equivalent to a 150mm focal length when used with a micro 4/3 sensor and sports an all-metal construction with a large amount of glass inside, all of which give it a heft that just exudes quality.
Performance-wise, the lens focuses on your subject super quickly and silently, all the while producing the creamiest bokeh you’re likely to see from a micro 4/3 camera — such as, say, the Olympus E-M10. It can also capture lovely video footage.
One of the best sci-fi books of 2014. It’s about an astronaut who becomes accidentally stranded alone on Mars during a botched mission, left with only a limited amount of supplies — and thus, time. It’s fascinating to see how he applies his wits and engineering/botanical knowledge to such a grim situation. As we’ve said before though, The Martian is not a book for children, however enthusiastic they may be about space.
While Leibal’s Felt Case is minimally functional, it is not completely devoid of features. In addition to the basic protection it provides an iPad mini, it comes with a removable “analog” pouch for holding a pocket-sized notebook (hello, Field Notes) and a single pen or pencil.
This sleeve is pretty much all you could want if your chief aim is a humble one: to have an iPad carrying sleeve that is as lightweight and slim as possible. It differentiates itself from other sleeves in that its design sits in the middle ground of functionality — it is able to do more than just hold your iPad, but it’s not a full-on bag. It’s an excellent travel companion.
These headphones are about as good as you can get for the price. For less than a C-Note you get studio-quality headphones that will last a lifetime. Whether you’re recording a podcast or the next platinum record, or even pumping the jams so you don’t have to listen to your co-workers, these are a great choice.
In addition to being editor for Tools & Toys and The Sweet Setup, my other job is running the Relay FM podcast network. where we have opened our official merch store. It’s replete with awesome t-shirts and stickers for your enjoyment. If nothing else, get the $10 sticker pack and show your support by placing stickers all over things (your MacBook Pro, random passerby, etc).
It didn’t take long for the TROVE to usurp my beloved Supr Slim status as primary wallet. The Slim was great because it forced me to cut down on the stuff I carry with me each day. The TROVE took that idea and improved on it in every way — it not only looks and feels nicer in the hand, it’s better constructed as well, thanks in no small part to the leather accents surrounding its exterior.
The Hobonichi is a beautiful planner — known as a techo in Japanese — that goes beyond schedule-planning by also acting as a journal, notebook, sketch(note)book, scribble pad, and generally a place to capture thoughts and moments.
Each page (one per day) shows the current moon phase, and every two-page spread contains a unique quote, from the heartfelt to the humorous to the whimsical. There are also informational pages sprinkled in, covering topics such as herbs and spices around the world, international size charts, random-selection games around the world, national holidays, and more.
The thin, light Tomoe River paper is resistant to ink bleeding, and is part of what keeps the 464-page book so compact. The cover is a textured matte-black material that feels good in the hand, while the stitch-binding allows the book to open flat for easy writing.
I read lots of fantastic books in 2014, including The Martian (chosen by Shawn above), Wool by Hugh Howey, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. It was difficult to narrow my top choice down, but in the end I had to go with The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.
TGATJ takes place in late-19th-century New York. The story revolves around a female golem (Chava) who is marooned in the city after her Polish-immigrant master dies at sea, and a jinni (Ahmad) who is accidentally released from an ancient copper kettle by a Syrian tinsmith, only to find himself mysteriously trapped in human form. Each of them struggles to adapt to American society, the same way any immigrant would.
I found the book’s unique mixture of Jewish and Arab mythologies with American history quite compelling. I’m also surprised this is Helene Wecker’s first novel, given how excellent the writing is. She has a gift, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Fire TV is Amazon’s media-streaming and gaming box for HDTVs. Like its competitors — such as the Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku — Fire TV can stream from a number of services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Pandora, and more.
One feature that sets it apart is the remote control’s built-in mic, which allows you to hold a button and search for content simply by speaking. This works for TV shows, movies, actors, directors, and even genres, so you won’t have to clumsily navigate by on-screen text input. Also, Fire TV arrives pre-registered to your Amazon account so all you have to do is plug it in and go.
Nock Co. is the perfect place for us pen-and-paper nerds to stock up on analog writing accessories, such as cases for pens and notebooks. The cases are hand-made from quality nylon materials, each with a variety of colorways to choose from. Nock Co. also sells a few paper products, such as their 3×5 DotDash note cards ($6 for 50).
Ah, the classic Weber grill. A simple design with a 22.5″ kettle grill that’s easy to work with, thanks to the deep charcoal bowl. What more could you ask for? Just don’t forget the charcoal starter and cover.
One of the major annoyances with my new car it is that it supports Bluetooth, but not Bluetooth audio. Thankfully, the car at least has an AUX port. I could use a 3.5mm cord, but I wanted to ditch cords altogether.
The Miccus Mini-jack RX solves this problem. It plugs into the AUX port, then connects to your phone via Bluetooth. It’s battery powered, but when plugged up to USB, it will power on and off with the car. If you need an inexpensive way to add Bluetooth, this will serve you well. I’ve been using it for a while now and it has been flawless.
I first heard about Harry’s from a podcast advertisement several months ago. I decided to give them a try and support the show, and after a few weeks with the kit — handle, blades, and shave cream — I was hooked. For $25 and free shipping, you get 3 blades, 1 aluminum handle, and your choice of foaming gel or shave cream. For an additional $15, you can get the handle engraved with a set of initials. These guys have really kicked up the quality of my shaving routine.
The excellent HiRise stand-slash-dock is adjustable, so it can handle an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus — with or without a case. Heck, it’s versatile enough to handle an iPad mini or iPhone 5, and will likely work with an iPhone 7 in the future (assuming Apple doesn’t redesign the Lightning connector). Looks great on a desk or nightstand.