I often get asked what I use or what I recommend for a specific need or device. I setup this page specifically to answer those types of questions. I have personally used 100% of these products myself. I won’t recommend something I haven’t actually tried out myself. Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means if you purchase something using the links I may receive a commission however the links have zero effect on your price.
Last updated October, 2018.
Google’s G Suite Learning Center
Below are direct links’s to the G Suite Learning Center.
Laptop & Chromebook Accessories
Logitech Wireless Trackball
I love this Logitech Wireless Trackball. I actually have two of them now. One stays connected to my desktop. The second travels in my backpack. I use it with several different laptops and Chromebooks. It has a USB stub that you pair with the trackball. Once you pair the two, you can plug the USB stub into any laptop or Chromebook and use the mouse without having to install any software or re-pair the devices. The USB stub is great because you can leave it plugged in to your device without having to worry about it breaking off.
This year I started using the SMK-Link Pilot Pro Presenter Remote. It goes a bit above your standard presenter remote because it also is a mouse. This is useful when your presenting something other than a typical slide deck and you need more interaction with the computer.
Audio & Video Production
Camtasia by TechSmith is the software I use for video editing and screen recording. I think it has a great balance between being easy to use while being very powerful. I haven’t run into anything I wanted to do that the software hasn’t been able to accommodate yet. Here’s some examples of videos I have made with it.
Snagit is also made my TechSmith and does screen captures. It also can do video captures. I primarily use it to annotate on my screenshots and to blur info in images I do not want shown.
Canva is an online tool for making images. The interface is very easy to use ans works on a Chromebook. They have templates for most social media images sizes so you don’t have to guess whether or not your image will fit. They have a paid subscription, but right now I’m using the free version.
Home Entertainment Systems
I describe many of the products below in my Cut the Cord: Cable TV Alternatives with Roku and PlayOn post.
The Roku Express is currently the cheapest current Roku model. The base model works great in most situations. I prefer Roku over Apple TV, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire Sticks.
We have a few Roku TVs. They are the only Smart TV I recommend. Each one is mounted on a wall with one of these full motion mounts and has nothing but a power cable plugged into them. They support cable TV and digital antennas, but we only watch streaming content on them. Never loose your remote because Android or Apple phone can control them via the free Roku app. They do however come with a physical remote control too.
PlayOn DVR Software
PlayOn records shows directly from websites like CBS, NBC, Hulu, & Netflix. Recording shows from streaming sites allows you to watch them even when they are no longer available online. Also, some basic streaming subscriptions only allow you to stream one show at a time. Using PlayOn you can manually or automatically record shows and family members can watch different shows on multiple TVs, phones, or laptops at once.
I do not have cable TV service. Instead I subscribe to a few streaming services. Like I mentioned, I record many of the shows using PlayOn.
Amazon Prime Video
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you already have access to Amazon Prime Video. There are a ton of shows and movies to stream. You will also see videos to rent and buy. Tip: if you have kids, require a passcode when making purchases.
I binge watch some shows on Netflix, but primarily my kids use it. Here’s a huge tip: There are different subscription levels for streaming that are only a few dollars apart. The highest one will allow you to stream 4 videos at one time. You can also setup 5 different profiles within one Netflix account. The profiles are handy to separate kids accounts from parents. Also useful if multiple people are watching the same series. So if you have a “large family” you can have up to 4 videos streaming at the same time an have “family members” separated by profiles regardless of where the users are located.
Hulu will allow you to setup profiles too. However, you can only stream one show at a time per account. This is where PlayOn comes in handy. It can stream/record your shows through the night. Then you and stream multiple shows from PlayOn at the same time.
I don’t pay for a subscription to YouTube, by I do watch a lot of it. It’s easy enough to skip the commercials. My kids probably watch more YouTube than anything else. They have there favorite YouTubers and subscribe (free) to their channels. There is a subscription service called YouTube Red. It primarily gives you the ability to do three things:
- Download videos to your mobile device for offline viewing
- Cuts out most pre-video commercials
- You can continue the video playing on your mobile device when YouTube is not the forefront app. Handy when you just care about the audio
If those three are of interest you may want to look into Red. Otherwise, stick with the free version.
Other Streaming Services
There are other streaming services out there, but I haven’t tried them. As I said at the beginning, I’m only recommending things I’ve actually tried. Keep in mind, that the number one reason people move to streaming services is to save money on cable TV. However, if you subscribe to too many you can quickly see those savings disappear.
For the past several years I’ve been into flying RC helicopters. I have a few criteria when choosing a helicopter. It needs to be maneuverable. Secondly, it has to been inexpensive enough that
if when I crash it hard enough that it breaks, I won’t cry.
The yellow Syma S107 is the first helicopter I ever bought. It is a fun indoor infrared helicopter. The remote can be set on one of two channels so two can fly at the same time. They are mostly made out of metal so they are very durable and can take an impact. My kids love flying these. My daughter was 6 when she first tried it. Her first flight was a full throttle rise into the vaulted ceiling followed by a free fall back to the ground. The helicopter lived to fly again. It can be as easy or difficult to fly as you want. Do you want to land on a table or on a ceiling fan blade? You can get pretty skilled at flying these.
After many many hours of research and watching YouTube bought a WLtoys v911 helicopter. I have bought a few of them now. I bought my first one with a remote control. I have bought two others and I used the same remote for all three. I’ve been impressed with how well they fly and recover from a crash. These can be flown inside and outside.
Tip: If a part breaks it is often just as cheap to buy a new one (without remote.) Save the damaged one for parts.
The WLtoys v912 is a great starter copter when you want to move up in size. You’ll want to make the Tim the tool man sound when you start it up. You can feel the air move when you fly it overhead. It comes with a nicer remote control than the v911. The cool thing is the remote can be used with the v911 and the v912. You definitely want to fly this one outside and away from any cars, building, power lines, etc… until you get the hang of it. It is powerful enough to fly in the wind.
I also have a quad copter. Like with the helicopters I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. I bought the Syma X5SW. It has a camera that will stream video to your mobile phone or tablet via a free app. The app saves the video to your device. With the included blade guards, its safe to fly almost anywhere. It does not have a GPS or gyroscope. Its simple, but fun and will even do a flip in the air.
Don’t Buy this Type of Helicopter
This is an example of a large 3.5 channel helicopter. They are sold everywhere. Some of them are even bigger. There are two sets of main blades. Each pair of blades are angled opposite. This keeps the body of the copter from spinning in circles. The main issue I have with this type of helicopter is the tail rotor. Notice the blades are pointed vertically. Unlike 4 channel (and above) helicopters, this one uses the tail rotor lift the rear boom up and down slightly. This is how the helicopter moves forwards and backwards (slowly).
My issue is you can only fly them in limited places or conditions. The large helicopters aren’t great for flying inside homes. This is especially true if you are just learning how to fly it. These do not fly outside in any type of wind very well due to its design. It can work well inside a gymnasium, but I’ve even have problems maneuvering when the air conditioners turn on. I did start learning to fly on a 3.5 channel helicopter, but I quickly was ready for something more maneuverable.
HobbyZone Champ RTF Airplane
I have one airplane. It’s a HobbyZone Champ RTF. Here’s some quick terminology, RTF stands for “Ready To Fly”. You can take that literally. The whole plane sits in its box all put together. This is great for storing or traveling with it. One thing that might surprise you is it is almost completely made of Styrofoam. The second surprise, it can actually fly. It doesn’t have to be a completely windless day to fly either. However, I don’t recommend trying to land on a hard surface in the wind.
This is a great plane to learn on because it is also a glider. If you get yourself in a jam and are quickly headed for a meteor type impact with the ground, just let go of the controls. You heard (read) me right. If you get into trouble, let go of the controls and it will level itself. That feature has saved me many time!