As a guy who spends his days breaking down gadgets galore, Kyle Wiens of iFixit.com has seen the good, the bad, and the unrepairable. And he's not one to withhold his opinions thereof, like when he told us in November that the MacBook Pro Retina is designed to fail.
His sincerity and disclosure about consumer electronics inspired us to ask him what gadgets he cannot live without. Be advised that a guy exposed to so many devices will have lots of techie toys vying for his affections. But for the time being at least, Kyle Wiens is casting his votes for these five gadgets.
Nikon D800 36.3-Megapixel Digital SLR Camera Body
(Refurbished, $2,299.99 with free shipping, a low by $57)
Even when Wiens loves a device, he can't help getting in a barb or two when it's warranted. "I'm not happy at all about Nikon's recent crackdown on independent repair," he says. But he's definitely geeked about a camera that features a 3.2" display, 1080p video recording, and inputs for HDMI and USB 3.0. Aside from all that high-definition video goodness, "the D800 is pretty darn rugged," Wiens says, even if it is heavy at 31.7 oz. for just the camera body.
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter
($299 with free shipping, a low by $11)
It sounds like sci-fi to us: a high-flying device that streams and records footage directly to your smartphone or tablet using the built-in 720p HD camera. You can also get this baby to take off, land, hover, and flip using your touchscreen device. But trust us, it's real, and Wiens is a real fan. "It's super repairable, and they've opened up the software development kit so people can write apps for it," Wiens says.
Zoom H4N Portable Digital Recorder
($234.58 with free shipping, a low by $4)
Tricked out with a pair of stereo condenser micas in an x-y pattern, the Zoom H4N delivers great audio quality that can turn field recording into a joyous audio experience. "The interface is a bit clunky, but the audio quality is fantastic and it provides phantom power to shotgun microphones," Wiens says. That means if you're recording music outdoors, this machine can power two sophisticated external mics that require 48 volts of electricity, with two channels left over for the built-in mics. Sweet!
HP Z1 Intel Xeon 3.3GHz 27" Workstation
($1,544.46 with $33.50 s&h, a low by $21)
No, it's not cheap. But PC Magazine marvels at the Z1, praising it as "powerful, easy to service, and [with] a beautiful 27" screen." Wien's super-charged setup also boasts a 3.5GHz processor, 16GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. (The base machine has less RAM and storage.) Yet, this compact super machine for all of its processing power is easy to repair. "We got one for our teardown, and now it's our workhorse machine for computer-aided design," he says. It earned our first ever 10/10 repairability score for a computer because HP posts service information on their website."
Turbo Ace X830-D Quadcopter
($599.95 with free shipping)
Some say "quadricopter," others say "quadrocopter," and still others say "quadcopter." Wiens is known as a grammar stickler but he might take a grammar holiday just to land one of these superb flying machines, which takes airborne video to the next level. It uses four 35A ESC dynamically-balanced brushless motors to reduce vibrations and increase payload. It also only comes 80% assembled and without a camera at this price, but that gives Wiens a chance to fulfill one of his aerial fantasies: "I need a quadcopter strong enough to lift the Nikon D800! And then, of course, a repair manual for the camera for when the inevitable happens." That's assuming, of course, that this quadcopter/quadricopter/quadrocopter survives. But if it doesn't, we know who can fix it.