2019 brought us more ways to flex

Tue Dec 24, 2019

It’s already time for a year-end wrap up. Not that I’ve ever done a year-end wrap up. But I intend to remedy this oversight; it’s clichéd, easy, and fun - so why the hell not?

There are plenty of important, serious topics that dominated the conversation in 2019. But I’m not going to talk about any of them.

Instead, I’m going to talk about foldable phones, fake airpods, and cybertrucks - three uniquely 2019 ways for the important man to cultivate an air of swaggering braggadocio. Ladies and gentleman, this is how you flex in 2019.

And then I’ll wrap up by discussing the best game, book, and movie I played, read, and watched this year. To be clear, my faves may not have hit the shelves in 2019, but they’re new for me - and these top picks get my thumbs up for a high enjoyment factor at any time.

Sound good? Let’s get started.

Before 2019, folding phones were the stuff of science fiction. The most realistic of these fantasy foldables has to be the tri-fold device from Westworld. When these puppies pop up in this excellent show, you can really see the appeal of a smartphone-tablet hybrid that you can fold up and put in your pocket.

Now these things are for real - and that fact alone tastes like awesome sauce. The flavour of awesome sauce reminiscent of the first iPad release when another Star Trek gadget came to life.

The first mainstream foldable on the market is the Samsung Galaxy Fold. What isn’t so delicious is the price - a buzz-killing $2,599 in Canada. Not only is that price prohibitive, but the Galaxy Fold isn’t exactly robust. You can kiss your dollars goodbye if a grain of sand gets stuck in the folding mechanism. Let’s just say you should never under any circumstances take this thing to the beach.

But go ahead and buy the Fold if you smile smugly at jealous eyes, if you’re keen to preen, if you want the world to see you flush almost three grand away without even looking into your diamond-encrusted toilet bowl. For everybody else - relax - it’s early days in a nascent product category.

For me, the recently-announced Motorola Razr reboot really hits that foldable sweet spot. These guys worked for four flipping years (sorry) on their hinge design. But flipping the Razr open or closed seems just as satisfying as it was in 2004. A device that folds up into such a pocketable form factor is a definite throwback to the good old days but with the futuristic boon of all that extra screen real estate. And there doesn’t even seem to be much of a crease at the fold.

The new Razr will only be available in 2020 but once again the price is up there - around $2000 Canadian - making this one of the most expensive phones you can buy. I’d say the prestige of owning one of these definitely puts it firmly in flex territory.

However, if you’re desperate to flex but have no cash, enter into the wonderfully seedy world of Chinese knockoffs. I’ve recently gotten more into the overwhelming mess of a marketplace that is Aliexpress. It’s amazing.

You could pick up an iPhone 11 Pro replica for $160, but really, why would you? It may look just like an iPhone, but it most definitely doesn’t perform like an iPhone. That is the very definition of needless suffering just so you can impress precisely no one. And for that kind of money, you’d have to be really invested in the farce.

Airpod replicas, however, are surprisingly good. Not only do they cost next to nothing and are indistinguishable in appearance, but their performance is disgustingly close to the real thing (the disgust will come when you think about Apple’s profit markup).

Let’s be honest here - the Airpods have never sounded that good, so the performance bar wasn’t that hard to clear.

These unscrupulous yet clever clones even have a reverse-engineered H1 chip so that Apple’s slick pairing process is triggered in the iPhone software. And useful features like turning off the music when pulling an Airpod out of your ear are there.

This year, Airpods are right up there on the Christmas wish list for teenagers. They’ve become a status symbol in high schools and on University campuses across North America. Apple have doubled their production just to keep up with demand.

So, if you have teenagers who are bullied mercilessly for wearing wired earphones, there’s no reason to dip into their college fund to ensure they fit in amongst their peers. Get them a couple of Airpod clones from Aliexpress - everybody will be happy (even though you may be paving over bigger problems in your troubled family’s life).

However, if you’re like me and don’t care for the Airpods design, there are some really impressive True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds on Aliexpress for around $20. I recently picked up a pair of the well-regarded Haylou GT1 Pros and really dig how light, unobtrusive, and portable they are. The sound quality is decent - better than similarly-priced TWS buds (but obviously not as good as an expensive pair of over-the-ear headphones). And they sound better than Airpods.

Of course, Apple has recently upped their wireless-earbud game with the Airpods Pro which rights the Airpod wrongs and are much more advanced. If you’re looking for great Airpod Pro clones, you’re out of luck - these will be hard to beat. If you’re trying to look cool, you’d better hope the prestige doesn’t shift to the Pros; soon Airpod wearers could look like paupers.

Now, if you actually are extremely well-off, don’t necessarily care about image, but love avant-garde tech, you’ll probably be getting the Tesla Cybertruck. In which case, you’ll be flexing hard whether you want to or not.

Do you really need a brutalist, bulletproof mutant delorean crafted from the same stainless-steel alloy used on SpaceX rocket ships? Perhaps not, but you will be dystopian-future proof.

There may be a Ford F150 parked in every driveway in middle America right now, but Elon envisions a fleet of techno-demon nightmares pouring out of yuppie enclaves on the East and West coasts and invading America’s heartland. Or perhaps he is preparing ground transport for his Mars colony. Whatever he is thinking, he is definitely thinking out of the box.

Count me into the “love it” camp of the Cybertruck’s polarizing design. Although I’ll never be able to afford it, or have the space for it (this beast is beefier than a Hummer), I’m into it. If only to imagine what a cool Dad I’d be dropping the kids off at school in what is effectively a kid’s drawing of a robot car come to life.

The Cybertruck feels more like a harbinger of the next decade than a product born in 2019. It won’t, after all, come out until we’re well into the 2020s. And given Musk’s track record, even that seems optimistic. But, on the day I see Elon’s toy tank bruising the asphalt on our neighbourhood street, I’ll know the future has truly arrived.

Best of 2019

As promised, here are my personal top picks for media I consumed this year. And because it isn’t easy to pick just one, I’ll also throw in a runner-up honourable mention.

Best game: God of War

There is one one word that describes why this game is so good: polish. A fastidious amount of polish in the pacing, environment, combat and puzzles that is quite frankly missing in those bigger open-world games. The story is also very-well written and rich with Norse mythology.

There is simply no waste or fluff in God of War. The developers have even opted to preserve the perfection of their creation by not adding any DLC. This is a decision I fully support - most DLC is a cash grab.

Honourable mention: Spider-Man. Spider-Man is my childhood favourite, so how could I not enjoy web-swinging through New York.

Best book: Golden Son

The second book in the Red Rising trilogy, Golden Son is just too much fun. Pierce Brown is really good at flipping the script and subverting expectations. And with one of his influences being The Count of Monte Cristo (one of my favourite books of all time), how could I not enjoy the elaborate long game of infiltrating a society you’re going to overturn.

The first book in the trilogy was great, and not only is this sequel a refreshingly different story, but Brown has soundly beaten the sophomore curse and taken the series to the next level. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

Honourable mention: Oathbringer. Brandon Sanderson’s most epic series to date is mind boggling in scope and execution.

Best movie: John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum

I had a blast watching the third John Wick. This movie is devoid of weighty expectations, fan-serving Easter Eggs, or Oscar-baiting monologues. There is something clean, simple, and deeply satisfying in just sitting back and enjoying the excellent choreography.

The John Wick movies have never taken themselves too seriously - after all the original catalyst for the spiralling bloodbath was the murder of John Wick’s dog. But that’s what makes them fun. And Keanu Reeves is just so likable and down-to-earth, it’s almost mandatory to support his resurgent career.

In 2021, both Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 are being released on the same day - they’re calling it Keanu Day. And I couldn’t be happier.

Honourable mention: Avengers: Endgame. If you watched all 23 interconnected Marvel movies to get to this point, how could you not watch this?

So, that’s it folks. Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New year! See you in 2020.

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