Writing, podcasting, video and more: What’s been keeping me busy in October and November 2021

A double sized heaping of Alex goodness, because I’ve just been that busy. Here’s everything I’ve been up to as a freelance journalist across October and November 2021.

It’s been a busy couple of months, and I’m 100% going to stick with that as my excuse as to why there wasn’t an October update. It’s certainly not from a lack of work, although as always, if you’ve got a need for a freelance tech writer, radio commentator, podcaster, video presenter, editor or anything in-between, drop me a line.

Still, there’s a lot here to get through, so I’ve broken it up into linked sections for your easier browsing. Enjoy!

 

Writing

Many might see the “regular” iPad as the dull one, because it doesn’t get the fancy tech features of your iPad Minis or iPads Pro. I still think it’s the model most consumers should buy, and at Finder, I explained why in my full iPad 9th Gen review.

I was less enthused about the Oppo A94 5G; it’s not that it’s a bad handset per se, but we’re awash in mid-market 5G handsets right now, and even Oppo has made better and more compelling devices.

Some devices are of course targeted at terribly specific niches. That’s totally the case for the Suunto 9 Peak, a good sports-centric smartwatch, but arguably not a great buy for the masses. You’ve got to be seriously into your sports tracking for it to make sense.

I work keyboards hard — very hard, indeed — so with my investigative hat on, I worked out the best computer keyboards money can buy in Australia, which you can read here.

Apple just kept on coming with the events in October, leading to a predictions/where to watch guide for the Unleashed event, then a writeup on the MacBook Pro-centric event itself, complete with yawn-inducing early start.

I’d like to say I’ve never done this. I’d… like to be able to say that.

It wasn’t just Apple on the announcement trail, with Google unleashing the Pixel 6 (which still had some surprises) and Pixel 6 Pro. Here’s what you need to know about the Pixel 6, and the same for the Pixel 6 Pro.

It also led to an interesting comparison point with the Apple iPhone 13 family, because Google was particularly aggressive across a couple of factors where Apple’s flagship phones are distinctly lacking. What are those factors, I hear you ask? Read all about it here.

Not to be outdone, Samsung followed suit with… the Galaxy Z Flip 3 in bespoke colours. Which was a thing.

The larger Apple Watch Series 7 landed on my review desk, so onto my wrist it went for a comprehensive review. Spoiler: It’s a smartwatch, and I like those.

Not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Sticking with the smartwatches, the Fitbit Sense made sense to me in my review.

The big lad of the Pixel family, the Pixel 6 Pro was my next review target, and I took it everywhere day and night to deliver a chunky and wholly comprehensive review. You can read my full Pixel 6 Pro review here.

The arrival of the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro also put the question of 2021’s best phones back into focus, so I wrote up my picks for the best phones you can buy right now in the premium space.

Flip phones used to be a thing… and it turns out that they still are, even though your choices are considerably more limited these days. I explored the wonderful world of Flip phone options here.

Microsoft of course had Windows 11 on its mind, but also new hardware, so I tested out the new Microsoft Surface Pro 8. It made an interesting counterpoint to Apple’s new flagship MacBook Pro 16 M1 Max, which also underwent review in October.

However, that wasn’t the only comparison I could make between the world’s biggest tech companies, because Microsoft finally brought the Surface Duo phones down under, in the form of the Surface Duo 2. Was it worth the wait? Read my full Surface Duo 2 review to find out.

You know how some people really dislike the word “moist”?

If that’s you, be warned that it features in my review of the Eufy Robovac X8 Hybrid.

Amazon’s Eero mesh networking gear had largely left me wanting… until the Eero Pro 6 Mesh landed on my review desk. It’s a seriously good — but seriously expensive — mesh networking system.

 

Coming in considerably cheaper was the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. No, you don’t have to be called Max to own one.

Really.

Remember how I recommended the regular iPad as the tablet people should buy? I still stand by that, but what if you don’t play in the Apple walled garden? Your Android tablet options are somewhat more limited, but Samsung continues to offer options. I took the large screen and more affordable Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE through its paces, mostly liking the hardware… with some reservations about the software.

There was a time when Bose was THE brand you’d see on flights, wrapped around the heads of serious travellers. That was when we could get on planes, mind you. Bose dropped a set of its new QuietComfort QC45 headphones on my review desk, so I got to making my best fake airplane noises in order to test them out.

Chromebooks are cheap, simple devices, right? Well.. they don’t have to be. Case in point: The HP Chromebook X2, a decidedly “premium” Chromebook experience.

Apple has a lot of form when it comes to asking for serious money for its own repair services, controlling even its “authorised repairers” with an iron glove. That iron glove might be getting a satin lining, however, with Apple announcing that from next year, consumers will be able to access repair manuals and buy parts direct from Apple itself. But should you try iPhone or Mac repair yourself?

Amazon kept the hardware coming, with the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition trying to tempt me into doing even more reading. Silly Amazon. I read a lot on my own time anyway, don’t need you tempting me (though the Kindle Paperwhite Signature is kinda nice.)

Typically I self-install everything I review, just as a consumer would have to. That wasn’t the case for the Google Nest Cam with Floodlight, because I’m legally not allowed to do so. So while the review words were my own, some of the experience of installation belongs to my electrician.

Do not install at home. This is why.

Black Friday is of course a US invention, but it’s one that Australians have taken to with gusto. As a result, I penned guides to getting Apple Gift cards, Microsoft bargains, the best smartphone deals, best iPhone deals, and best games deals at EB Games.

Mesh testing continued as the Netgear Orbi Wi-Fi 6 AX6000 dropped onto my review desk. These aren’t subtle mesh nodes… and they weren’t slow ones, either.

Meanwhile, in the slower lane, something quite different in the form of the Dynabook E10-S laptop. Sure, laptops are nothing new, but this is a model specifically built and sold for school use.

At Geeks2U, I penned a number of columns and reviews, covering everything from whether or not the iPhone 13 was a worthy upgrade to my experiences with the release version of Windows 11, and quite a bit more besides.

I also broke down the differences (and benefits) of smartwatches, fitness watches and fitness trackers, wrote up the news from the Apple Unleashed MacBook Pro event, gave tips for cool smartphone tricks, reviewed the new MacBook Pro 16, wrote up a guide for novices wanting to format USB flash drives and gave advice on how to improve everyone’s use of browsers.

For Digitally Downloaded, I donned my cap of game reviewing once more, putting the revamped Actraiser Renaissance to the test as well as testing out my dino herding skills with Jurassic World Evolution 2.

I’m well known as a big fan of Taito’s classic Bubble Bobble, so when there was a PC release of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron’s Workshop, I was ready and waiting to take that one on.

However, that wasn’t my major bit of Bubble Bobble writing for the period. For the Dee Dee Zine I wrote a deep dive on the history, development and impact of the world’s finest video game*, Bubble Bobble. It’s been a while since I’ve had a meaty magazine piece to work on, and this one was a cracker. You can subscribe to read that one here.

(*According to research from the Alex Kidman institute of Bubble Bobble studies. Don’t blame me. It’s just science)

But I’m not done yet! For this very site, I also wrote up a review of the Arcade 1Up Attack From Mars Pinball table, mused on the real issue with the Switch Online N64 “Expansion Pass”, and then stuck googly eyes on, respectively, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, an HTC 7 Mozart, an HTC Re and a 2nd Gen Apple iPod Touch. You know, for science.

Doctor Who is back, and I’ve been following her adventures in season 13, AKA “Doctor Who Flux”. Here’s my thoughts so far on The Halloween Apocalypse, War Of The Sontarans, Once, Upon Time, Village Of The Angels and Survivors of The Flux.

Is that enough words? I think so. Time to move onto…

Podcasting

Each week, I present Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News with co-host Adam Turner and the cream of the crop of Australia’s technology journalists, diving into the week’s biggest stories. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts, or online at verticalhold.com.au.

So what have we been talking about?

Alice Clarke from the SMH/Age and Chris Duckett from ZDNet joined us to talk Windows 11, Xcloud Gaming and virtual PAX Aus:

Cyber Safety Lady Leonie Smith, TV Blackbox’s Steve Molk and Finder’s Angus Kidman joined us to talk fixing Facebook and Instagram, and why Foxtel is going to start selling flat panel TVs. No… really.

Apple, Google and Samsung held launches in the same week, so we invited EFTM’s Dan Tyson and the Courier Mail’s Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson to drop into the virtual studios to talk MacBook Pros, Pixel Pros and whether anyone wanted a mixed colour Z Flip phone:

Pickr’s Leigh Stark and Technology Uncorked’s Geoff Quattromani joined us to talk autonomous cars and the new features of macOS Monterey:

Choice’s Erin Turner and Finder’s Angus Kidman dropped by to talk dodgy gadgets, 5G Home broadband and whether Facebook’s name change to Meta really meant much:

Aussie Broadband’s Phil Britt and the Register’s Simon Sharwood joined us to talk all things NBN and why smarter networking hardware is changing the way we experience the Internet:

Digitally Downloaded’s Matt Sainsbury, Choice’s Erin Turner and Chris Duckett from ZDNet joined us to talk 20 years of Xbox, whether it’s worth getting your power from Telstra and the consumer warranty implications of Apple’s DIY repair schemes:

Star Trek Discovery was taken from Australians at the last minute. Then it wasn’t… sort of. It was more confusing than making sense of Star Trek V, so we teleported TV Blackbox’s Steve Molk into the studios to make sense of it all, as well as to get a sense of the future of streaming services:

I should also note that Adam Turner sent me a celebratory cake for the 350th episode. He’s a hell of a guy… and the 400th ep cake will be heading his way in due course.

Video

I also produce video for YouTube, which means according to the rules of the Internet, I have to implore you to like, comment and subscribe every three seconds or so.

So, y’know, do that. I wouldn’t want to anger the Internet gods.

First up, my video review of the Arcade 1UP Attack From Mars pinball table:

An unboxing and early impressions video of the Apple Watch Series 7:

A full video review of the Google Pixel 6 Pro:

A review of the green-in-theory Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse:

Unboxing and impressions of Nintendo’s newest Game & Watch:

And a USB hub, because why not?

Radio

I pop up regularly on radio, mostly on ABC networks at the moment. Through October and November you could catch me chatting to Jo Printz in a regular morning segment at 10:40 on Tuesdays on ABC Radio across most of regional Victoria, talking technology.

Sadly, budget cuts at the ABC mean I won’t be back next year in that slot. Anyone got a need for a radio tech commentator? Drop me a line.

You could have also caught me talking tech with Nic Healey on ABC Western Plains a few weeks back, chatting about the history of Xbox and why the chip shortage is bad news for your Christmas gadget buying plans.

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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