Some upgrades are subjective—like moving from pen and paper to a digital note-taker. Other upgrades, however, change the way you use technology, and make it impossible to go back to something inferior. Here are 10 of those things.
The main idea of this list is to find things that are objectively better than their lower-quality counterparts—the kinds of things the vast majority of people would not un-adopt. That means most of these products tend to be more expensive, but we’ve added recommendations for the budget-conscious too, in case you want to get a big upgrade for a small price.
10. A Quality Pair of Headphones
High-end headphones are one of those things you don’t think you need until you’ve been spoiled by them (warning: ignorance is bliss). Not only are you likely to find headphones that are more comfortable and last longer, but the sound will just be unlike anything you’ve heard before—and you’ll never be able to go back to those cheap Apple earbuds (or Beats). If you’re on a budget: try one of these great under-$ 20 headphones. They still won’t reach the level of a truly high-end pair, but they’ll still blow most other cheap cans out of the water. Photo by Hiroyuki Takeda.
9. A Mechanical Keyboard
Membrane keyboards are fine, but mechanical keyboards—like the keyboards of yore—are still kings in terms of durability, feel, and usability (not to mention ergonomics). You’ll still be able to use membrane keyboards after trying a mechanical…but you won’t want to. Check out our guide and our list of the five best to find one that’s right for you. If you’re on a budget: generic brands like Rosewill and Monoprice make some great mechanical keyboards. They won’t have some of the flashier features of the expensive ones, but they’ll give you most of the benefits for a smaller price tag.
8. Better Third-Party Apps
Some “default” apps will never be overthrown, but in a lot of cases, you’ll get more features, nicer design, and more with a good third-party app. We’ve made a huge list of the best third-party apps here, and our App Directory is always a good place to look for the best app in any category. If you’re on a budget: Third-party apps don’t usually cost a lot, but they can cost more than their (usually free) official counterparts. There’s not much you can do if you don’t want to pony up the $ 2, though—unless there’s a good open source alternative available.
7. A Solid-State Drive
A solid-state drive (or SSD) is essentially a hard drive that is much faster than traditional spinning platter drives. It is the best upgrade you can make to your computer. Seriously. Check out our complete guide to SSDs for everything you need to know about using one. If you’re on a budget: SSDs are significantly more expensive than their hard drive counterparts. You could buy a budget-focused SSD (which may not be quite as fast as the fastest, but still good), or you could get a small SSD that holds just your operating system and apps—while keeping your other data on a traditional hard drive. You’ll spend a lot less, and reap most of the benefits.
6. Voice Control
Unlike the other items on this list, you probably already have this one: you just might not be using it to its full potential. Not everything is better with voice, but complicated tasks like setting reminders, converting units, and even performing simple searches are much, much faster with Google Now (or Siri). And if you have a complicated task Google doesn’t support, you can create your own custom command. Once you get used to talking to your phone, you’ll realize how awesome it is—and never make reminders the old way again. If you’re on a budget: This feature is already free!
5. A Quality Bag
A bag may not be “technology” in the strictest sense, but it can make lugging your gadgets around a heck of a lot easier, so we’ll cheat a bit with this one. Bags are one area in which you definitely get what you pay for: a truly quality bag will not only come with convenient features (like, say, a TSA-compliant laptop pocket) but will also last you a lifetime. Check out this bag database from our friends at the Wirecutter for the best of the best. If you’re on a budget, there are still some lower-cost options, but you’ll find your choices much more limited.
4. USB 3.0
Because it’s really, really fast. It’s 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Once you’ve used it for some of those bigger file transfers, USB 2.0 will just feel like molasses. If you’re on a budget: Not much you can do with this one—but you’d be surprised at how inexpensive some USB 3.0 devices are (like this awesome flash drive).
3. A DSLR or MILC Camera
The best camera is the one you have with you—but the second best camera is a real, quality DSLR. You’ll be shocked at how much better your pictures are, even without manual controls—and if you know what you’re doing, there’s no picture you can’t snap. After using one, going back to a point-and-shoot will feel like using the camera on your old Motorola RAZR. Alternatively, you can get a smaller, cheaper, but still really great mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. If you’re on a budget: The mirrorless cameras are significantly cheaper than DSLRs, but are still substantially better than point-and-shoots. However, they’re still fairly costly, so if you’re on a real budget, you can at least make the best of your point-and-shoot with custom firmware.
2. Inexpensive Cables
Okay, so you probably know about this one, and it’s sort of the opposite of the rest of this list: instead of paying more for higher quality, you can pay less for…well, the same quality (usually). There are exceptions, of course—some cables may be more durable than others—but chances are, the $ 40 cables at Best Buy are a waste of your money, and once you’ve tried the quality cables from a place like Monoprice, you’ll never buy the overpriced crap again. If you’re on a budget: then this one’s a gimme!
1. A Desktop PC
Now, I know this may be a more controversial one, but hear me out: Desktop PCs do almost everything better than laptops, except travel. A mouse is better than a trackpad, a real keyboard is better than a condensed chiclet keyboard, you can get more powerful parts, use bigger monitors, and benefit from better ergonomics—all at a lower price. In fact, if you play your cards right, you can buy a desktop and a laptop for as much as many people would spend on one PC. So if you have the room in your house, it’s well worth the investment, and hard to give up once you’ve gotten used to it (especially if you build your own).