2016’s most useful tools

iPhone 7 Plus

Just does everything. Quickly. Smoothly. And the battery lasts a day. I grudgingly switched from my 5S in November, and can’t believe how much it improved my day. A thousand little lags and frustrations, all gone. The Plus is likely too big for most people – I have long, thin fingers and it’s still a contortion sometimes – but the extra space and battery is lovely.

Google Photos

I’ve used this a lot, as it’s so easy to share good-looking albums. Drag photos in, add them to an album, then it’s two clicks to get a shareable link to that album. 30 seconds tops.

The albums are elegant, show the photos large, and have a ‘download all’ button.

And the searching is very powerful: Google’s image recognition features are delightfully clever1, so you can search for ‘boat’ or ‘dog’ or ‘ballroom dancing’ and find photos from years back.

Face recognition is also amazingly good2 – it worked out that my 1-year-old nephew was the same person as my 5-year-old nephew, presumably by watching the transition. Facial recognition isn’t yet enabled in the EU, but you can turn it on by TunnelBear-ing into the US.


I use this daily. It’s still probably too fiddly for less techy people, but is a godsend for everyone else.


I love Chromebooks! I tested them at work as a way for remote users to access our systems without me having to worry about the security of their home machines. I liked them so much I took one to New Zealand as my only machine, and processed all my photos on it. Was it amazing? No. But it was entirely ok: light, thin, had Chrome and USB3, and only cost £100.

Then I lost it on the way home in highly mysterious circumstances – it was in my bag, then it wasn’t, though I had my bag at all times. I had a bunch of work stuff on it, but it’s encrypted by default so that was fine.

Requires you to be all Googled up, of course.

Portable battery

Just get a portable phone battery and leave it in your bag. It’s always worth it.


Still useful after all these years. Particularly so now everything talks to it – most iPhone apps can push data in there, and even if they can’t there’s the import-by-email address. I shove anything and everything into the default Notebook, and sort it when I can. It’s particularly useful at Christmas, when the ‘gift ideas for others’ notes save me hours of searching.

Amazon Echo

Does cooking timers. Turns the lights on. Reads out my daily calendar while I have breakfast. Plays whatever music I fancy while I’m doing the washing up. Won’t do reminders, annoyingly – presumably because its policy is to only speak when spoken to. But clearly the future. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to it – last month I walked into a dark hotel room with arms full of bags and had to manually find a lightswitch.


Food powder. Like a slimfast milkshake, but for all your daily nutrition rather than dieting. I use it for evening meals: it takes a minute to make, tastes fine, and is as many calories as you put in. And you know you’re getting everything you need. Perfect for late nights after dancing, or when you’re on the run.

It’s probably not economical to use it for breakfasts. And switching to it entirely seems cavalier – nutrition isn’t a solved science. And if you’re big on cooking or food in general, it’s probably not for you. But I’m not, and at least 1/3 of my meals are just fuel, so it’s great.

You Need A Budget

I can’t emphasise enough how much better my life became once I got control of my finances. YNAB still works for me. Though I recommend getting into the habit of inputting your finances weekly. I keep slipping, and it’s tedious when you have to do a month at once.

  1. and not creepy: stop finding everything creepy []
  2. as long as you don’t, say, have an ex-girlfriend it still hurts to see []