I’m a sucker for ‘best’ lists, especially the year-end variety that look back on all the great movies, TV shows, books and so on. Of course, this being CNET, we tend to focus on the technology side of things, hence this roundup of the best tech of 2018.
Me, I focus on the cheap-tech side of things. So before we jump into 2019, I thought I’d pause to reflect on some of my favorite deals and discoveries of the past year. There’s a bit of non-tech stuff sprinkled in as well, just for fun.
Best cheap gadget: BlitzWolf BW-FYE1 wire-free earbuds
I tried a ton of cheap wire-free earbuds this year, and most of them failed in one way or another: bulky charging case, over-sensitive touch controls, bad fit, poor sound quality, etc.
BlitzWolf’s design is just about perfect. Pop open the reasonably compact rectangular case and they instantly pair with each other and your phone. Then just place them in your ears, where they rest snugly but not overly so. You don’t have to ‘screw’ them in like with some noise-isolating ‘buds.
Best of all is the price: They normally run 0, but regular Cheapskate readers have been able to snag them for around 5 (and will be able to do so again at some point, I’m sure).
RUNNER-UP: Wyze Cam Pan. It feels almost impossible that the Wyze Cam Pan is only 0, given that it offers nearly all the features of security cameras costing 3-4 times more. But it’s true, and as CNET’s Pan review reveals, it’s actually a pretty great product, too.
Best cash back service: Dosh
I love getting cash back when I’m not even trying. That happens a lot with Dosh, an app that automatically awards rebates when you shop at various stores. You do have to link at least one credit card to the service, but think how far and wide you’ve already put your cards online. What’s one more place, especially if you’re getting extra money back in exchange?
Best freebie service: Hoopla Digital
People love to tell me that the best free stuff can be found at the library. I love to tell people some of the library’s best free stuff can be found at Hoopla, which offers card holders access to a huge, er, library of digital movies, music, TV shows, ebooks and audiobooks — plus mobile apps for enjoying all that stuff on the go.
No, Hoopla doesn’t have everything you want, but I suspect you’ll be able to find plenty of stuff to keep you entertained. Here’s hoping your library has already partnered with the service. If not, ask them to!
Runner up: Kanopy. Another library-powered service, Kanopy is home to a large and growing catalog of… I won’t say movies, but rather films. Documentaries, indies, international stuff, but definitely some mainstream titles as well. (Still haven’t seen the awesome Ex Machina? Kanopy has it.)
Best freebie app: LastPass
Although it’s obviously not new in 2018, LastPass remains one of the very few password managers that offers synchronization in its free version. Why is that important? So you can access your passwords anywhere and everywhere: phone, tablet, laptop and so on. If you do nothing else in 2019, start using a password manager.
Best newcomer: Sift
Far and away my favorite new app of 2018, Sift reveals all the hidden benefits of your credit card. (Travel insurance? Who knew!) It also tells you which is the best card to use for any given purchase (based on things like rewards, extended warranties and the like) and even helps you get price adjustments if it finds a lower price post-purchase. A new Chrome extension helps you shop smarter at Amazon, too.
Best movie subscription service: None
‘It’s not sustainable!’ critics said of MoviePass and its all-you-can-watch subscription service. Man, oh, man, were they right. MoviePass sent its users on a terrible rollercoaster ride in 2018, to the point where my enthusiastic recommendation at the start of the year changed to a flat-out ‘do not buy’ warning at the end.
What about competitor Sinemia? I’ve soured on that one as well. Blame its flaky app, unreliable support (I recently waited two days to get a problem resolved) and unexpected fees — to say nothing of seemingly constant changes to pricing structures. But you know the biggest problem of all? There just aren’t that many movies I want to see. TV’s way better.
Best unlikely way to save money: Intermittent fasting
I’ve been doing intermittent fasting (IF) for nearly five months, and the most surprising thing about it is not how easy it was to adopt the lifestyle — it’s how much I’ve lowered my monthly food bill. Because, duh, I’m eating less. Indeed, with two out of three members of my household doing IF, we’re saving money and losing weight. Talk about a win-win.
More to come on this in 2019.
Best discoveries: BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty and Hamilton
I’m late to all these parties, but so what? As it happens, I didn’t think I’d care for any of these shows. I started watching both BoJack (Netflix) and Rick and Morty (Hulu) a couple times and thought, ‘Meh.’ They’re both dark, super-crass and kind of disturbing — not really my cup of tea at all.
But I’m glad I went back to them (at the relentless urging of friends), because they’re also hilarious once you get past all that. As for Hamilton, I won’t repeat myself; I’ll just urge you to read How to stream Hamilton for free.
Best podcast: Movie Crush
It’s ironic that the podcast I listened to most in 2018 is about something I did very little of. Because, as noted above, I find TV preferable to movies these days.
But Movie Crush is just a great podcast, thanks in no small part to affable host Chuck Bryant (best known for Stuff You Should Know) and frequent co-host Noel Brown. Some episodes focus on a single movie — usually with a celebrity guest on hand — while others dive into things like movie tropes, trivia and favorites.