Being the “web guys,” we’re constantly asked for our recommendations when it comes to equipment and software. While most of it comes down to simple preference, we can personally vouch for* each of the products and software listed below.
* Your experience may differ. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
1. Favorite Computer
David: I don’t like change. There, I said it. In fact, if you asked me 2 years ago, I would have claimed myself still addicted to Windows XP. Since then, I’ve opened up and found Windows 7 to be an excellent operating system. It allows you to get the most out of your computer (plus, you can customize it to pretty much match the XP functionality). I’m not sold on Windows 8; the interface is just too different from what I’m used to. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe you can make upgrades without having to reinvent the wheel.
Personally, I prefer a Windows-based PC over a Mac. I gave it the old college try, but it has such a steep learning curve. Now, dollar for dollar, Macs offer amazing hardware and a system that won’t let you down. But the average user (and even the professional user) really won’t benefit much from splurging for the Mac. Windows PCs have stepped up their game a lot lately, so if you just want a faster or lighter laptop there are plenty of options that match the quality of the Mac. (Oh, and HP is my favorite brand.)
Craig: After using a variety of computers, from Gateway to Dell, HP, Toshiba, and a few Macs, my absolute favorite has to be Mac. I’ve owned an iMac for personal use, used a MacBook Air for business, and also used a MacBook Pro. Across the board, the Macs have the most power for running multiple programs, almost never crash, and seem to be nearly virus-proof.
David: I’ve been using Firefox for the last 10 years and haven’t looked back. It totally saved me once Internet Explorer (IE) went downhill and started letting pop-ups through. Firefox really thought about all the details: tabs, saving any recently closed windows, and plugins to add functionality. Overall, it is a great browser and runs much better than IE. Firefox also has Firebug, which allows you to see a website’s code, which is helpful in testing out edits when building a website (my bread and butter).
Now Chrome is a close second and I often find myself wondering why I don’t use Chrome more. It’s fast and really is cleaner than Firefox, which is important for speed. Chrome also offers plugins and similar features to Firefox, so it really comes down to preference.
Craig: Google Chrome makes me happy. At some point in my life, I went from IE to Firefox and was a total convert, completely locked into Mozilla’s excellence. I would tell people about Firefox, as if I were a cool cucumber. The pride before the fall. I disrespected and downloaded it into dust and pretty much ruined it with viruses. So, Chrome came out (I love me some Google), and I never looked back. I still open up Mozilla Firefox every now and then, but it always tries to be my default browser and that feels like cheating on my sweet, honey Chrome.
3. Anti-Virus Software
David: I remember the day I realized how important anti-virus software was. I turned on my computer one day as a young lad, and nothing worked the way it was supposed to. Turns out, we had accidentally downloaded a virus called the “Chernobyl Virus.” It’s as bad as it sounds. If you turn on your computer on the anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown, your computer motherboard gets fried. I knew after that point in my life I would never use a PC without anti-virus software.
Naturally, I used Norton and McAfee for a few years with Windows 98 and they were all right. At the time, however, they only found issues when you chose to do a scan of your PC. Then I found Avast, a free anti-virus software that constantly runs in the background, checking for viruses. It also randomly updates and announces, “Virus database has been updated.” What a great feeling. Norton and McAfee added the same “live protection” feature, but you definitely sacrifice computer speed. Avast just doesn’t slow you down (with either the free or paid versions) and you get solid protection.
Craig: Because a man much smarter than I am once told me to use it, I am forever locked on to Avast! It handles my anti-virus like my computer is one of a Fortune 500 company’s arsenal of hardware devices. I like that. It also happens to be free for a pretty good version and you can pay more to have the tip-top features. I have yet to pay. Perhaps one day I will.
4. Free Email Service
David: From AOL to Yahoo, I was always hoping for that special email service that could answer all my needs. Easy to use. A mail service first without trying to be anything else. Then Gmail came out. It fit the bill, plus it loaded quick and sorted SPAM so well I forgot SPAM existed. I’m a total Gmail convert.
Craig: I don’t know when my love of Google came about. Maybe it was back when it first came out and brought so much delight in “googling” random things to see what would come up. In fact, some of that same delight can be recaptured by typing random thoughts into the Google Search bar. It auto-completes some pretty comical things at times, based on Google knowing what is going on inside my brain at all times. My transition to Gmail, Google’s email service, was a bit different, though. Hotmail ruined me with hundreds of SPAM messages per day with nary a filter. Yahoo was much the same, despite starting off as incredible. I fled to Gmail and noticed almost no SPAM. That trend continues and in my opinion, they have the best SPAM filter in the entire universe.
David: I grew up with the Nokia phone and wondered how it could get any better than customized ringtones and backgrounds. Then I got the iPhone 3GS. I’m hooked! It is easy to use, with an army of apps to make it expandable. It runs smoothly, with an easy interface. The fact that it doesn’t even come with an instruction manual shows just how intuitive (and simple) it is to use. Apple also does a great job restricting, testing, and reviewing apps. I know this because Clarity built a few and Apple really picked them apart. Frustrating for the developers, but this type of quality control process helps protect the consumer from shoddy products.
Craig: Despite owning an iPhone 5S, I covet the Galaxy S4. Every time I hold one in my hand, look at pictures of one, or simply watch someone interact with the device, I wants one. I wants one bad. The gimmick of the 5S and the touch-responsive home button is cool for about 14 seconds. The quality of camera on the S4 and Android marketplace is cool for infinity seconds.
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6. Mobile App
David: I’ll give you my top three: Asana, Google Maps, & Netflix.
Asana – The Asana app is what makes Asana the best task management software on the market. You can do everything on the app that you can do in the desktop version, but in an easy-to-use, condensed format that allows you to quickly add tasks, complete tasks, or add a comment, all while on-the-go. Sometimes I catch myself using the app while sitting at my desk (even though the desktop version is right there) just because it is so easy to use.
Google Maps – When I need turn-by-turn directions or just need to find the closest place to get some breakfast, I search my Google maps and–boom–I’m on my way. Easy to use, great traffic notifications and gives you multiple routes to let you choose which way you want to go.
Netflix – I’m not a huge movie or TV fan and the idea of watching TV on my phone’s tiny screen is so painful. But my love for the Netflix app has more to do with what I can do with it than what it does. For instance, with Google Chromecast hooked up to your wifi network, you can stream Netflix on your TV. It’s amazing; I’m able to watch Netflix on my LED flat screen, using the app as a remote control. And it doesn’t even destroy your battery life. I can watch 6 episodes of 30 Rock (more than 2 hours of streaming) and it only uses 5 or 6% of the battery. Now HBO-to-go and Hulu are jumping on the Chromecast bandwagon. Netflix app overall is good, but with Chromecast, it’s amazing.
Craig: My favorite mobile app literally depends on the time of day. For my downtime, not a single app in the world is better than TheChive. None. However, it does not offer me value. Where I’ve been getting the most value and time saving is, oddly enough, both my WellsFargo and Chase banking apps that both allow mobile deposits. I love this feature. Essentially, I’m looking for apps that add something to my life that I can’t get from a website. These banking apps do that. I also absolutely love GenuisScan, which makes a PDF out of anything in 2.4 seconds.
7. Phone Case
David: I have had a few cases over the years, and each year I seem to find one better than the last. I went with the custom designs of Zazzle, and the fabric stylings of Speck, but when I got my current iPhone 5S, I wanted to think outside the box. I found a hand-carved bamboo case offered by Grove and fell in love with it. It offers the protection I need with the rustic, manly style I find so tempting. It’s hand carved. In America. Come on.
Craig: I’m all about the LifeProof. I don’t even have one and I want one. When I used to work behind the bar at TGIFriday’s, I spilled a beer completely on a guy’s phone. I was freaking out, trying to soak it up with a bar towel. He just sat there, chilled out. I was frantic and finally, after he had his fill of enjoyment, he told me to “Relax, bro. LifeProof.” I didn’t know what that was, but he went on to explain that you could basically throw the phone in a pool and be OK. I want.
8. Word Processor
David: Open Office answers all my needs, with more versatility than Microsoft Office. It’s got a simple interface and even offers its own version of Excel and Powerpoint. I love that you can save a document as both old .doc and new .doc files. The differences are so minimal, I rarely notice that I’m not using Microsoft Word. (And actually, I think Open Office is easier.) Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
For a non-downloading option, or for when you’re using someone else’s computer, I love Google Docs. You can do pretty much most of the things you can do in Word or Open Office, but it’s available from anywhere (so it’s great for college students that use the library’s computer lab a lot). And also free.
Craig: I use Open Office, but probably like Microsoft Word the best. It’s the one I grew up with and am the most familiar with. Open Office is a great alternative, but sometimes, the heart wants what the heart wants.
David: My favorite would still be Google Reader, even though it doesn’t exist anymore (gosh, do I miss it). But as a worthy substitute, I use Digg. It’s a great reader with a clean interface, lets me organize and “like” all my favorite feeds and also lets me share great articles with the rest of our team. The only features missing are the ability to share articles with my comments and the ability to search my feeds.
Craig: I’m new to this. I suppose Digg, but I’m not 100% using it as I should. Sadness.
David: I follow Social Media Examiner for the latest in social media news and tutorials. Straightforward, interesting articles that add value to the business. For web design, my favorite is probably Web Designer Depot. They cover everything from design trends to CSS, great for keeping me updated on trends in the web design world. Small Business Bonfire is a great motivator and idea generator for small business owners (very near and dear to us).
Craig: At the moment, the blog I can’t get enough of is Social Media Examiner. It’s a huge resource for learning a wealth of information about the various social media outlets. On any given day, there are articles, podcasts, and shared links to expand one’s knowledge of all things Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al.
Did we mention one of your favorites? Did we leave something out? If you have a great recommendation of your own, leave it in the comments section below (scroll down past the “recommended posts”). We love to hear about awesome stuff!
Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. Our favorite local BBQ is 4Rivers and our favorite clients are small business owners who want to solve a problem they’re having with their business. We love it!