Product reviews

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This is an incomplete list of products I have bought along with what I thought of the purchase.

I don’t use affiliate links, am not getting paid in any way to write these reviews, am not affiliated with any of the brands or product sellers, etc. These reviews are just my opinion as a consumer.

I don’t use any ratings for the reviews below, for three reasons: (1) in many cases I have not used any other products in the same reference class, so I have nothing else to use for comparison; (2) I often have idiosyncratic preferences so I don’t want my rating to feel like a universal judgment on the product as a whole; (3) sometimes when I buy something I don’t like, it’s mostly my fault because I didn’t do enough research and bought something that I should have known I wouldn’t like, and it feels unfair to frame this as a rating of the product.

(Haven’t thought about this much, so I could be totally wrong, but) I wish more people would write this kind of page: product reviews and ratings on purchasing sites like Amazon and on discussion sites like Reddit seem unreliable because as soon as it becomes common for people to do research on these sites, product sellers will try to game them by inserting fake reviews or paying people to write favorable reviews. Review sites using affiliate links also seem sketchy to me (it seems like any purchase is a good one, so there isn’t much incentive to get people to buy the right things, and there is also an incentive to get people to buy more things in general, whereas it may be more useful to be told something like “instead of buying this class of products, you can actually make this thing yourself or substitute using some other item that you already have”). Even something like Facebook can be a problem (if product companies can pay to have the newsfeed algorithm show positive reviews of itself and negative reviews of competitors). Decentralized product reviews on small personal websites seem much harder to game, and I get to look at the reviewer’s general personality and writing along with the product reviews.

Feel free to contact me if you have suggestions on ways to make this page more useful for you.

Linode (web hosting)

Started using around November 2014.

I use Linode for hosting this website (and some other websites as well).

If I recall correctly, I chose Linode because Vipul Naik uses it for his websites.

I’ve been happy with Linode; it does everything I need.

Sometime around 2018 or so, Linode switched the dashboard to a “modern web design” one full of JavaScript. I would have preferred to stick with the old dashboard, but since I rarely sign in it’s not too much of a problem.

Hover (domain names)

Started using around November 2014.

If I recall correctly, I asked my father for recommendations, and he asked some coworkers, one of whom suggested Hover.

It does everything I need (which isn’t much, since I just manage a handful of websites) and does it without causing me any pain, so I am happy with it.

Nexus 7 tablet (2013 version)

Purchased in late 2014 or early 2015, I believe at some store like Best Buy.

I bought this tablet for college; my plan was to have a desktop computer in my dorm room and to carry around the tablet with me. The hope was that the tablet would be able to do everything I wanted to do in lectures while being lighter to carry than a laptop, and that I could do more “real work” on the desktop in my room. This turned out to be not such a good idea. For some CS courses, having a real programming environment was pretty important, so the tablet was inadequate for lectures. I also frequently went home on the weekends, so not being able to carry the desktop computer home was also annoying (I had a separate computer at home and would sync coursework using GitHub). Also the keyboard I bought for the tablet was pretty crappy and unpleasant to type on. After a few quarters of this setup, I gave up and just bought a laptop (the X220; see below).

The tablet itself works well, except that it keeps getting slower and slower as apps get updated (and of course apps like Messenger force you to update in order to continue using them at all, so there is no choice to stick with the old version).

As of December 2020, I still use this tablet for video calls, since my X220 does not have a camera.

Lenovo ThinkPad X220

Purchased on eBay in 2015.

I didn’t do much research for this laptop. I remember asking some friends for recommendations, and two of them suggested the X220.

This laptop is still working fine after five years of use. Overall I am happy with it, though I wish I had done more research when buying it; mine came without a camera, which is finally turning out to be a big problem in the COVID era.

In March 2021 part of the frame (bottom right of the screen near the right hinge) started cracking and small pieces of the black plastic frame came off. The laptop itself still functions fine, but I am afraid now that if I keep opening and closing the lid it will eventually break.

Sony MDR-XB450 (white) headphones

I got these as a hand-me-down from someone after they got new headphones. They worked fine for my use case (listening to music occasionally when I couldn’t use speakers), but I found them uncomfortable to wear for long periods since the earmuff are not large enough to cover my entire ear, so that they would press against them. After a year or two of use, the right earmuff tore at the seams, showing the yellow sponge underneath.

Sennheiser MB 660 headphones

I got these as a gift and started using them because my old Sony headphones were falling apart (the cover on the right earmuff had torn at the seams so that the yellow sponge underneath was showing). I therefore did not do any research prior to getting these, and can’t say whether the quality is worth the price since I did not pay for this product.

I am satisfied with this product. Compared to my old headphones, my entire ear fits under the earmuff (rather than pressing against my ear) so my ears don’t get sore from wearing them for long periods of time. I still prefer listening to things with speakers, but it’s often not possible to do that (e.g. during video calls or in noisy environments).

I’ve never used the active noise canceling or bluetooth features of these headphones, so I can’t comment on how well these work.

Crucial 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3/DDR3L 1600 MT/S (PC3-12800) Unbuffered SODIMM 204-Pin Memory - CT2KIT102464BF160B

Purchased via Amazon in January 2020: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007B5S52C/

I knew for a long time that my X220 could be upgraded to 16GB of RAM, but I was too lazy to actually do the research to find the compatible RAM and buy it and look up how to insert it (partly because I was wondering if I should just get a new laptop instead of going through with the memory upgrade). Well, I finally got fed up with the 4GB RAM after five years or so of use, and bought these sticks.

I am very happy with this purchase. Insertion into the X220 was very simple (I just watched a couple of tutorials on YouTube), and the RAM works reliably. I no longer need to worry about my web browsing habit overwhelming the system memory.

Microsoft Pro Intellimouse – Dark Shadow

Purchased via Amazon in August 2020: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RPBXBMV/

I bought this mouse after my old one (a boring default Microsoft mouse) started double clicking. Since my old mouse was so crappy (and I was happy with it), I thought I didn’t need to do much research in order to find a mouse that was significantly better. After looking around a bit, I decided to just go with the InstallGentoo wiki’s recommendation.

This mouse turned out to be too big and heavy for my hand. For the first two weeks or so of using it, my wrist vaguely hurt and I thought of returning it and buying a different mouse. After this initial period though, my hand/wrist got used to it and I no longer experience any pain when using it. The scroll wheel is also kind of too heavy for me. After a month or so of using it, the mouse’s scroll wheel started to not register some scrolls; it would occasionally “skip” a scroll. After a few more months, the scroll skipping problem became worse, and I would also get “double scrolls”, where moving the mouse wheel by one notch would scroll the screen twice.

The mouse also leaves black markings on my mouse pad.

Overall I wish I had done more research to find a better mouse.

Samsung Galaxy S4 battery

Product link: New OEM Samsung Galaxy S4 ACTIVE i9295 i545 B600BU 2600mAh Original S4 Battery

Purchased via eBay in April 2021.

Since the battery was so cheap, I thought it would be worth trying even though I was somewhat skeptical of the product quality. The seller had 99.4% positive feedback and I couldn’t find anything too bad about buying batteries on eBay online, so I went through with the purchase. It did turn out that the battery was low quality, but having two low quality batteries seems better than having just one…

To copy from my eBay review:

Battery charge does not last long

The battery works as expected, but the charge only lasts about a day if I leave the phone connected to WiFi, which is about the same as the 8 year old battery that came with the phone (which used to hold charge for much longer). It’s not entirely useless, but the “New OEM” part of the product description seems misleading.

HDMI to VGA adaptor

Product link: 1080P HDMI Male to VGA Female Video Cable Cord Converter Adapter For PC Monitor

Purchased from eBay in April 2021.

The item was barely functional. When I plug it in, an image does display on the external monitor but the image quality is extremely bad. I’ve tested the setup using two other HDMI to VGA adapters and everything works, so the problem seems to be with the eBay adapter.

Here are some photos comparing the different adapters. The ones labeled “ebay” are the ones I purchased. Notice how the text is much more crisp on the other two adapters. The resolution on the eBay adapter was also off, and I could not get it to be in the correct resolution even after trying all of the options in the Windows display settings. The other two adapters were automatically in the right resolution, so again I think something is wrong with this eBay adapter.

I was able to get a full refund for the product.

ThinkPad X1 Yoga gen 3

(I should eventually clean this up, but I am feeling lazy so I will probably never get around to it. I think it contains the main points I’d like to bring up.)

Purchased in April 2021 from the Lenovo Outlet (US).

This is where i made the purchase: https://web.archive.org/web/20210404193235/https://www.lenovo.com/us/en/outletus/laptops/thinkpad/thinkpad-2-in-1-laptops/ThinkPad-X1-Yoga-3rd-Gen/p/20LFX01700 NOTE: the “Tech Specs” at the top are inaccurate. The actual specs are below in the “Models” section.

I’m not including any Windows vs Linux thoughts here, though I was definitely getting a shock from switching away from Linux as my main OS after 10+ years.

how did i make the choice of which laptop to buy and where? i wanted a high quality/durable laptop. from my reading, it seemed like laptops can be divided roughly into “consumer grade” and “business grade” laptops, with the latter being of much higher build quality. so i decided to focus my attention on business laptops. thinkpads are the most well-known among these (in particular, this means there is the most amount of online discussion and data about them), and i had good experiences with my previous X220, so i decided to focus most of my search on getting a thinkpad. my other requirement was that i wanted to play some windows-only video games and other windows-only software like supermemo, so i was looking at getting a windows laptop. One option for getting a cheap thinkpad is to buy a used one on eBay. However, I did not want to deal with pirated versions of windows or malware installed by the seller, so if the laptop was a used one, i would have had to buy a legitimate copy of windows, which is $140–$200 depending on the version. (It’s possible that I could have just installed a fresh copy of Windows by downloading official images online, and then using the activation key associated with the motherboard, but I didn’t know how reliable this process was.) Thus, i could get a $400 thinkpad plus spend $140 on a copy of windows 10 for a total of $540 or so.

could i do better? doing more research, i found that lenovo has an official new and refurbished products store called the Outlet, which sells somewhat older versions of products for far cheaper. if i was quick to find a good deal, this meant I could get a better and almost-new laptop for $600–$900, depending on the model and specs. this would also come with a new copy of windows (i tried looking at whether it was possible for the previous owner to do something to the laptop like install malware on it and have it slip by Lenovo’s refurbishing process, but could not find any information, and thought this was unlikely enough that i didn’t worry about it).

after doing some more reading, i concluded the lenovo outlet option seemed like the best combination of cheap + high build quality (in particular, both on reddit and /g/ I saw people speaking positively of the Outlet and didn’t find very many horror stories). so my research shifted to finding a good deal on the outlet. after some looking, i was able to find the x1 yoga gen 3 for $615. after consulting some typical prices for the model (e.g. you can find some price charts on /g/), i concluded this was a good enough deal, so bought it.

Some thoughts after having used the laptop for a couple of months: