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.

In recent years in the effective altruism community there has been a trend of people writing product recommendation blog posts (see here for a recent example that links out to a bunch of other ones). While these posts are similar to what I’m doing here, I kinda don’t like how these posts are framed as “here’s some things you should buy”. In general I don’t want to be buying more and more things. I also like giving a more representative sample of things I’ve bought, instead of selecting for the things I am most glad I bought (I feel like I learn just as much from mistakes people think they’ve made in buying something as successes).

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.

As of 2022 or so I’ve been planning to switch to Oracle Cloud as Oracle offers a free VPS (so I wouldn’t have to pay $11/month to host several lightweight websites), but it is such a pain that I’ve been delaying the switch (I’m also kind of uncertain whether Oracle will offer the free VPS in the long term, and I don’t want to switch and then have to switch back).

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). (I think I wrote about this more at college computer setup.)

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. (Update: with the arrival of my ThinkPad X1 Yoga (see below) I have basically stopped using this tablet.)

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.


Tried in November 2017. I started ordering them myself in 2022 and quite like them.

See here.

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

Purchased via Amazon in January 2020:

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:

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: ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 3 (14") Laptop 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 (though i did briefly look at things like dell XPS). 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:

Xiaomi Redmi 10

See here for product info.

I bought this phone in 2021. This is my current smartphone as of 2023.

It is alright and does what I need. A few comments:

Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator (53358), Made in U.S.A, Universal Size, 50 Respirators/Bag

Amazon link:

I bought these after seeing Wei Dai’s post here. They are comfortable and work well in my experience (I have only gotten sick once since using these masks, and it was via someone I interact with regularly unmasked rather than from strangers in areas where I wear the mask).

See here for some more thoughts I wrote on this mask.

l-theanine (multiple products)

I once bought a big powder thing from Nootropic Depot. My reasoning was that with a powder I would be able to use a scale to measure out arbitrary amount, allowing me to see what dose works well for me. It turned out this was a pretty bad idea: when I am feeling anxious, I do not have the capacity to use fine-grained motor skills to measure out a powder, and also taking a white powder in general while feeling anxious tends to make me even more anxious (even when I know it’s safe). I ended up getting Jarrow’s 100mg theanine gummies later on and this turned out to be much better.

Overall though, at the 100–200mg range, l-theanine doesn’t seem to do very much for me (decreases anxiety a little bit, but then it makes me sleepy rather than further reducing anxiety) and I am too scared to increase the dosage.

IKEA MARJUN curtains

IKEA link:

I bought these after seeing them recommended by the Wirecutter in this article.

They work well enough. My room stays very noticeably darker now than before I installed the curtains (before this, I just had blinds).

They do have a kind of unpleasant off-gassing smell. Several months after installing the curtains, this smell became bad enough that it started to make me feel nauseous. However I was able to wash the curtains in a laundry machine and this seems to have gotten rid of the smell for now.

I do also want to note though that contrary to what the Wirecutter article claims, the Marjun curtains are considered merely “room-darkening” by IKEA, rather than “blackout”. There are other curtains, such as the Majgull, that are considered “blackout”. I did email the author of the Wirecutter article about why they made no mention of this or attempt to compare the various IKEA curtains, but received no response.

If I was buying curtains today, I’m … not sure what I would do. I may actually go to a physical store and smell a bunch of the curtains (if such a thing is even possible), since that turned out to be the main problem with the ones I bought.

Sun Zero SN47074 Bronn Wrap Around Window Curtain Rod, 66-120”, Matte Black

Amazon link:

Since my room did not come with curtains, I had to buy a curtain rod to attach the curtains reviewed in the previous section. This rod works fine. It is kind of rough though so a bit hard to drag the curtains on. They curve at the ends so it’s possible to wrap the curtains around them, to create an even darker room. The rod twists on the sides and shrinks so the curtains can be detached without unmounting the whole thing, so it is good if you want to wash your curtains frequently.

Coway Airmega AP-1512HH(W) air filter

Amazon link:

I … don’t actually notice a difference in my general health (e.g. allergies, breathing problem) after having bought this air filter. I bought this mostly as a sort of “well, I have a bunch of health problems that can plausibly be improved by breathing in cleaner air” thinking. It is quiet enough and I have no particular reason to doubt the theory, so I keep it on 24/7.

I keep the ionizer turned off, as I have read that the ozone produced by such devices can irritate some sensitive people (and I am probably such a sensitive person).

When I leave the filter on on the auto setting, I do notice it detecting bad air (e.g. if someone in the house fries food) and increasing its speed as a result.

Microwave cover

Amazon link:

Most microwave covers are pretty short and only work well for flat plates. However, I like to eat out of slanted bowls most of the time. The problem with using a short microwave cover on a slanted bowl is that the top of the cover touches your food, which I find a little gross … gross enough that I would prefer making the microwave messy with splattered food. It took quite a bit of searching but I finally found this microwave cover and I am satisfied with it.

FIDECO SATA/IDE to USB 3.0 Adapter

Amazon link:

This adapter was able to read all the SATA drives I tested it on as well as one of my two IDE drives (but the second IDE drive wouldn’t show up for some reason, and I am trying to debug this).

This shape of adapter is much better than the “docking/slotting” types in my opinion, because sometimes hard drives will have things like screws or other metal pieces attached to them that are potentially difficult to remove, and so at least a few drives I have had have failed to slot into the dock-style adapters. By minimizing the contact area, smaller adapters like this FIDECO one work on these trickier drives.

Protein bars

I feel pretty confused about what protein bars are good (in the sense of being safe to consume over long periods of time). These days I tend to eat both Costco’s brand of protein bars (chocolate chip cookie dough + chocolate brownie) and Probar meal on-the-go (peanut butter chocolate chip). Neither of these bars causes problems for me after I eat them (in the past, some bars I have tried like Zone Perfect bars have caused hunger attacks shortly after consuming them). They are also tasty enough and filling. The probar ones are a bit too sweet.

Microsoft Comfort Mouse 3000

This is some crappy default mouse that Microsoft made at one point, but I love it. After I stopped using the Microsoft Pro Intellimouse (see above) I switched to this mouse. Some things I like about this mouse:

Some things I don’t like about it are:

Wahl beard trimmer Model 5537N

Amazon link: ($16.50 including tax at the time of my purchase in 2023; the Amazon link says Model 5537-420 but the one I got says 5537N)

One of the things that’s hard with my chronic illness is standing in one place for more than a few minutes. This makes certain everyday activities like showering quite difficult. For a few reasons*, I like to shave while showering but because I am showering + shaving at the same time, this means I have to stay standing for quite a while, which has made showering pretty difficult in recent times.

This beard trimmer allows me to decouple showering and shaving, and in fact allows me to shave while seated. It makes shaving so easy that I can do it more often, which makes the average length of my facial hair over time shorter, even though it cuts the hair longer than actual shaving.

The product comes with a matching nose hair trimmer, but I don’t really get long nose hairs (at least as of now), so I have not used it.

*: When I shave at the sink, the water drips down to my clothes/down my neck, which I don’t like. Also, somehow the hot steamy air created from the shower helps to soften my skin or moisten it, which helps the razors be less likely to injure my face while shaving (I don’t fully understand why it works this way, but this has been my experience based on trying it both in the shower and at the sink). I suppose I could invest in shaving cream or something to make the shaving at the sink work more smoothly, but this would not solve the “water drips down my neck” problem.