The Best Of: 2023

In 2023, the year was characterized by conflict, upheaval, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these challenges, I have compiled a list of my best and favorite things from this year as a way to shift focus. While I typically indulge in watching numerous movies, the circumstances of this year prevented me from viewing several significant films that I had hoped to experience.

Best Movie
Barbie
What I thought was going to be a childish movie for kids, actually appealed to some of my comedic senses. Out of all the movies I watched in 2023, it was the most memorable and one I rated the highest. I hope to see more films this winter and have a better pick for next year. This live-action film managed to blend humor, adventure, and valuable life lessons seamlessly. The cinematography was visually stunning, and the acting was top-notch, making it an enjoyable experience for viewers of all ages. The story was heartwarming and had a strong message about the power of friendship and believing in oneself, which left a lasting impact. Barbie exceeded my expectations and proved to be a delightful surprise.
Runners-up: Asteroid City; Knock at the Cabin

Best TV Show
The Bear
The Bear, available on Hulu, has truly captured the hearts of many viewers, and with the second season released this year, the excitement has only grown. This captivating restaurant drama/comedy effortlessly blends elements of anxiety, emotion, and heartwarming moments, making it a truly binge-worthy experience. Whether you’re a fan of the culinary world or simply enjoy immersive storytelling, The Bear is a must-watch. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to dive into the series and witness the enthralling narrative unfold, leaving you eagerly anticipating each new episode.
Runners-up: Succession (MAX); Beef (Netflix)

Best Music Album
The Elovators – Endless Summer
The Elovators’ album “Endless Summer” has become an integral part of my music collection. Their unique blend of reggae and rock creates a captivating sound that has resonated with me. From the moment I discovered the band, I found myself eagerly anticipating the release of this album, and it did not disappoint. The tracks quickly became the soundtrack of my summer, and even now, I find myself turning to these songs on a daily basis. Their music has a way of transporting me to a laid-back state of mind, filled with sunny vibes and carefree moments. I was fortunate enough to attend their live performance in November, and it was an experience to remember. The energy and passion they bring to the stage is just as powerful and captivating as their studio recordings. It’s evident that The Elovators pour their hearts into their music, and this authenticity shines through in every note. The atmosphere at the concert was electric, with fans swaying to the rhythm and singing along to every word. It was a testament to the band’s ability to connect with their audience and create an unforgettable music experience.
Runners-up: Morgan Wallen – One Thing at a Time; mansionz – mansionz 2

Best Song
Morgan Wallen – Everything I love
When it comes to music, the beauty lies in its ability to transcend boundaries and connect with people from all walks of life. Morgan Wallen’s “Everything I Love” achieves just that with its soulful blend of throwback country and Americana influences. This captivating song is not only a breath of fresh air for the genre but also a testament to Wallen’s versatility as an artist. As the world embraced the allure of Americana music, Wallen’s interpretation of this genre brought a new dimension to his artistry, earning accolades from fans and critics alike. His ability to infuse classic country elements with modern sensibilities resonated deeply, making “Everything I Love” a standout in his discography.
Runners-up: Passafire – Offer; Rome & Duddy – Coast of Mexico

Best Video Game
Hogwarts Legacy
While I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, I do like the Wizarding World crafted around the stories of the character. I was hesitant at first about an open-world game set in this universe, but after seeing some reviews upon the launch, I felt I needed to experience it. A well-crafted RPG game, Hogwarts Legacy excels with the story and chance encounters in the world. I was deeply immersed in this game, having spent well over 40 hours completing the story and side missions. The attention to detail in bringing the magical world to life, the intricate storyline, and the freedom to explore Hogwarts and its surroundings truly captivated me. The game mechanics, spell-casting, and the variety of magical creatures added a layer of complexity that kept me engaged throughout. Not many games can capture my attention and dedication these days like Hogwarts Legacy, and I eagerly look forward to any future expansions or sequels that further delve into the enchanting universe of Harry Potter.
Runners-up: Starfield (Xbox); Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)

Best Mobile Game
NYT Games
For some reason, this year I started getting into crossword puzzles, and I thought, what better way to test my ability than to do the New York Times crosswords. I soon discovered that the NYT had an iOS app that included their crosswords, Wordle, and other word and letter games. I quickly subscribed to their service and have been playing daily for about 6 months. It’s been such a rewarding experience diving into these puzzles and word games. The New York Times crosswords are known for their clever, engaging clues and diverse range of themes, which always keep me on my toes. I’ve found that solving these puzzles not only sharpens my vocabulary and problem-solving skills but also provides a great mental workout. The Wordle game, in particular, has become a favorite quick challenge for me to tackle each day. The feeling of satisfaction when I fill in the final word is truly unparalleled. Overall, my journey with the NYT Games has been an enriching and enjoyable one, and I look forward to many more months of fun and mental stimulation.
Runners-up: Knotwords; finity.

Best iOS App
Callsheet
If you’re a cinephile or simply enjoy keeping track of your favorite movies and TV shows, look no further than Callsheet, the standout iOS app of the year. Created with the intention of replacing the cumbersome IMDB app, Callsheet provides a seamless experience for accessing movie and TV show details without the clutter of ads and promotions. Its sleek design, user-friendly interface, and superior features make it a refreshing addition to the app world. One of the most noteworthy aspects of Callsheet is its innovative feature that allows you to view the age of the actors during the filming of the specific movie or TV show you’re exploring. Gone are the days of wondering, “How old was she in this?” as Callsheet empowers you to effortlessly obtain this information within a matter of seconds, directly from your phone. This thoughtful addition enhances the viewing experience, bringing a new level of insight and appreciation to your favorite entertainment.
Runners-up: Threads; Sports Alerts

Best Podcast
Accidental Tech Podcast
As the year unfolds, the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP) continues to hold the top spot as my favorite podcast. Despite not being a new addition to the podcast world, ATP has managed to maintain its relevance and captivate audiences with its compelling content. The trio of hosts delves into an array of technology topics, spanning from discussions on Apple’s latest innovations to the complexities of AI and the ever-evolving landscape of gaming. Not only does ATP cater to tech enthusiasts, but it also incorporates lively discussions on automotive technology, stemming from the hosts’ roots in a car-oriented podcast known as Neutral. This unique blend injects an appealing dynamic into the podcast, ensuring that every episode is a delightful fusion of tech insights and entertaining car talk. For me, tuning in to ATP each week has become a ritual, a source of not only staying updated with the latest tech developments but also immersing myself in the amiable banter and camaraderie shared among the three seasoned hosts. Their chemistry and camaraderie create a warm and welcoming atmosphere that keeps me eagerly anticipating each new episode.
Runners-up: Reconcilable Differences; The Backmarkers

Best New Tech Product
Sony PS VR2
As my first foray into virtual reality (VR), the PS VR2 certainly wowed me with all of its immersive features and technology. While the games to support the hardware have been a little lackluster, I hope it gets better as time goes one. Ready my full review of this cool new tech product here.
Runners-up: TP-Link Deco; Nest Cam Spotlight

Best New Apple Product
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
The latest flagship iPhone is proving to be the best yet with the additions of USB-C and a titanium build. Read my full review of this amazing product here.
Runners-up: Apple Watch Ultra 2; MacBook Pro M3


Links and sources:

Barbiehttps://www.themoviedb.org/movie/346698-barbieNYT Gameshttps://apps.apple.com/app/id307569751
Asteroid Cityhttps://www.themoviedb.org/movie/747188-asteroid-cityKnotwordshttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/knotwords/id1598756238
Knock At The Cabinhttps://www.themoviedb.org/movie/631842-knock-at-the-cabinfinity.https://apps.apple.com/us/app/finity/id1071698434
The Bearhttps://www.themoviedb.org/tv/136315Callsheethttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/callsheet-find-cast-crew/id1672356376
Successionhttps://www.themoviedb.org/tv/76331Threadshttps://threads.net
Beefhttps://www.themoviedb.org/tv/154385Sports Alertshttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/sports-alerts/id432450349
The Elovators – Endless Summerhttps://songwhip.com/the-elovaters/endlesssummerAccidental Tech Podcasthttps://atp.fm
Morgan Wallen – One Thing At A Timehttps://songwhip.com/morgan-wallen/onethingatatimeReconciliable Differenceshttps://relay.fm/rd
mansionz – mansionz 2https://songwhip.com/mansionz-2/mansionz-2The Backmarkershttps://relay.fm/backmarkers
Morgan Wallen – Everything I Lovehttps://songwhip.com/morgan-wallen/everything-i-loveSony PS VR2https://www.playstation.com/en-us/ps-vr2/
Passafire – Offerhttps://songwhip.com/passafire/offerTP-Link Decohttps://www.tp-link.com/us/deco-mesh-wifi/
Rome & Duddy – Coast of Mexicohttps://songwhip.com/romeandduddy/coast-of-mexicoNest Cam Floodlighthttps://store.google.com/us/product/nest_cam_floodlight?hl=en-US
Hogwarts Legacyhttps://www.hogwartslegacy.com/en-usApple iPhone 15 Pro Maxhttps://apple.com/iphone-15-pro
Starfieldhttps://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/store/starfield/9ncjsxwztp88Apple Watch Ultra 2https://apple.com/apple-watch-ultra-2
Super Mario Bros. Wonderhttps://supermariobroswonder.nintendo.comMacBook Pro M3https://www.apple.com/macbook-pro/

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max: The Beard Blog Review

iPhone 15 PM

It’s no surprise that Apple releases new iPhones in the fall every year, and this September is no different. Apple held an event on September 13th 2023 to announce four new iPhones and two new Apple Watches. All models were available to purchase starting on September 22nd. I again upgraded to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Read about my thoughts on the 17th flagship iPhone.

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iPhone 14: One Year Later

It’s been about a year since I received my iPhone 14 Pro Max and published my review. Normally I don’t revisit these as I’m looking forward to a new iPhone in the fall. This year I wanted to highlight my experiences with my iPhone 14. It could be too early to tell, but this may be the best iPhone I’ve ever owned. That of course comes with some concessions as it’s not perfect.

iPhone 14 Pro Max

Durability

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the most durable iPhone I’ve ever owned. It may be one of the most durable pieces of technology I’ve ever used. I normally don’t use a case, and this year my iPhone didn’t spend a single minute in any protection. The first few months, I babied the device, but after the first drop, that quickly faded. Now, on average, I drop my phone on a hard surface five times a week. In the past, by the summer, my iPhone is so beat up that I need to get it replaced with AppleCare. This year is an exception. Not only do I not need to get it replaced, but there is barely a mark anywhere on it. The most noticeable blemishes are on the screen and around the stainless steel edge. About six months ago, I noticed a deep scratch about one inch long in the middle of my screen. I have no idea where it came from, but I’ve lived with it since. As I mentioned before, I drop it a lot. I’ve even dropped it on concrete from waist-high and cringed as I bent over to pick it up, expecting to reveal a spiderweb of glass on the front. Time and time again, it comes out unscathed

The Dynamic Island

Not quite a gimmick, but not really a useful feature. The Dynamic Island debuted as the coolest way to date to blend the front camera into the screen. In practice, it kind of just faded and became more of a button to get to music playing or a progress bar for when something is uploading. I still like it, but I’m hopeful it gets better in the next iterations before it’s replaced by under-screen cameras and sensors.

Always On Display

Probably the biggest functional difference in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max is the always-on display. I’ve heard that some people turn it off to save battery life, but in my (and others) testing, it does not have a significant impact on daily battery life. At first, it was somewhat odd to look over at your iPhone on the table and see a full-color display lit up, but I quickly got used to it. Now it serves as a way for me to glance at the time, widgets, and what’s currently playing. I love how Apple engineered the display and software to not just go monochrome like some other phones, but also preserve your wallpaper while giving you the choice to turn it off. Once again, the long wait was worth it.

Not So Great Points

  • The cameras are fine, but I’m ready for a major upgrade.
  • One thing I noted in my review last year was the focus distance of the main camera, especially when scanning barcodes. This was a pain point all year and I believe Apple will fix that on the next iPhone.
  • Battery life has also been just fine. It seems like this phone’s battery is degrading faster than previous ones.
  • The Pro colors are boring, but I don’t see Apple changing this anytime soon.

Pour one out for Lightning

The iPhone 14, 14 Plus, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max may likely be the last iPhones with the Lightning connector. While it’s over 10 years old, the Lightning connector is one of the best port innovations we’ve seen in a long time. Some may forget that Apple was part of the consortium that helped develop USB-C, so it was loosely based on Lightning. In a physical connector sense, Lightning is better than USB-C because the complicated and fragile bits are on the inside of the device, whereas USB-C exposes them on the cable side. It was a big deal when Lightning launched on the iPhone 5 in 2012, and it’s still in use on a lot of products today. Let’s pour one out for the previous best charging solution and the originator of the reversible charging cable.

iPhone 14 to 15

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a great device and while it may be the best iPhone I’ve ever used, there is always the newest one to take that title. I probably won’t think about the 14 again after this, but it remains a favorite in my book. The next iPhone is rumored to be named the iPhone 15, in numerical order after the current iPhone 14. If all goes well, you will soon be reading my review of the next iPhone right here on Beard Blog.

Apple Watch Series 7 – A Beard Blog Review

apple watch series 7

The Apple Watch is a weird product because unlike the iPhone, it doesn’t have much utility outside of showing me information. Sure it logs health and activity data, but when you get a new watch you strap it on your wrist, it’s just there. No flashy features or cameras to test out, just an appliance waiting for you wonder what time it is. 

I’ve been wearing a watch just about every day on my left wrist for the last 12 years. I started out with ordinary mid-level watches and then got into collecting different types of movements, shapes, and sizes. The day that I got my first Apple Watch, all of that stopped. I no longer felt the need to change my watch based on my outfit or mood, I could now do that with a band. I still was wearing a watch every day, but this time for a different reason. If I missed a day of closing my activity rings, I felt like I forgot to do something that day. 

The best part about the new display on the Series 7 is the digital time is larger and easier to read.

Much has changed since the first Apple Watch both with my lifestyle (thanks COVID) and the Apple Watch itself. What started out as a fashion accessory that can run apps, slowly evolved into a health monitor that tells you the time. I’m overly pleased with where the watch has gone and shamelessly order the new model every year on day one. 

The Series 7 is different. Something is going on at Apple in the watch department. I can’t quite figure out what it is, but maybe in time it will be revealed. All of the leakers and rumor sites were dead certain that this year’s watch would be a complete redesign and it look totally different. What we actually got was the same watch, with a slightly different screen. It’s almost like this was the backup plan when ‘plan A’ didn’t pan out. That being said, Apple is able to manufactur and deliver a huge amount of technology during this unprecedented component shortage. I wouldn’t have faulted them for just skipping this year’s watch and make it up to us next year. Tim Cook loves selling widgets so here we are.

Not much is new on my Series 7 versus my outgoing Series 6, but if you’re curious, head over to Apple’s website to check it out.

I loved having a stainless steel watch for the better sapphire crystal, but I couldn’t pass up my favorite color being an available aluminum option. The green anodized aluminum looks almost black in most lighting, but in direct sunlight you can see the gorgeous green glow!

series 6 vs series 7 animated
Animating the differences in the UI elements and screen size on Series 7 vs Series 6

The Good

  • Bigger screen in same sized case 1
  • UI elements, like buttons got bigger
  • Every Apple Watch band made is still compatible
  • Fast charging is great for all-day watch wearers
  • Finally, a full keyboard we can use for text entry
  • Small iteration on already good formula

The Missed Opportunities

  • Color choices are very bland and too limiting 2
  • We were expecting a full redesign, has that been delayed?
  • Faster wireless communication should be addressed
  • Same proprietary “wireless” watch charger 3
  • The display is brighter in “wrist down” mode, but the UI elements still annoyingly move 4

The Bad

  • Still requires an iPhone to use
  • Watch faces are not very interesting, and stale
  • No third-party watch faces
  • Third-party app market is struggling
BeardBlog Score: 8.5/10

Maybe next year we’ll see a redesign and some noteworthy feature upgrades, but for now this remains a small iteration over last year’s similarly small iteration, the Series 6.

More Beard Blog tech reviews

Beard Blog Movie Review 2017 Roundup

Beard Blog movie rankings for 2017

Ranking the movies I’ve seen in 2017 from best to worst. Some I have reviewed and some I have not. Click on the link to read the full review for each applicable movie.

  1. Lady Bird – 9 / 10
  2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 9 / 10
  3. Star Wars – The Last Jedi – 8.5 / 10
  4. Get Out – 8.5 / 10
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 8 / 10
  6. The Big Sick – 8 / 10
  7. The Disaster Artist – 8 / 10
  8. Baby Driver – 8 / 10
  9. Thor: Ragnarok – 8 / 10
  10. It – 8 / 10
  11. Jigsaw – 7.5 / 10
  12. Mother! – 7.5 / 10
  13. Stronger – 7.5 / 10
  14. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – 7.5 / 10
  15. Kong: Skull Island – 7.5 / 10
  16. Murder on the Orient Express – 7.5 / 10
  17. Battle of the Sexes – 7 / 10
  18. Logan – 7 / 10
  19. Life – 7 / 10
  20. John Wick: Chapter 2 – 7 / 10
  21. Logan Lucky – 6.5 / 10
  22. Alien: Covenant – 6.5 / 10
  23. Dunkirk – 6.5 / 10
  24. The Hitman’s Bodyguard – 6 / 10
  25. The Fate of the Furious – 6 / 10
  26. The Wizard of Lies – 6 / 10
  27. The Circle – 6 / 10
  28. American Made – 5.5 / 10
  29. Baywatch – 5 / 10
  30. The House – 5 / 10
  31. CHiPS – 5 / 10
  32. All Eyez On Me – 4.5 / 10
  33. XxX: Return of Xander Cage – 4 / 10
  34. Suburbicon – 3 / 10

 

More reviews to come in 2018!

Beard Blog Movie Review: Suburbicon (2017)

Nothing like this ever happens here.

A white man living in 1950s cliche suburbia contracts the mob to kill his wife so he can collect insurance money and run off with his sister-in-law. This plan unravels faster than you can say Suburbicon.

Suburbicon
Matt Damon struggling to get through this movie

First of all, I have a few problems with this movie:

  1. The actress that plays Matt Damon’s wife and sister-in-law is the same person, Julianne Moore. They don’t look different in the beginning and then the sister-in-law character goes a step further and basically becomes the wife.  [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”…it carries a lot of white guilt through the whole film.”[/perfectpullquote]
  2. We are given little to no information upfront about what is going on in Suburbicon which would be fine, but most of it never gets explained.
  3. The characters are so bland, emotionless, and boring that you never feel for any of them. At the end I was thinking “Oh well…”

In addition to those problems, theres a bigger, more upsetting issue with this film. While the aftermath of the mob hit is going on, there’s an entire plot around a black family moving into this previously white-only neighborhood. Suburbicon spends so much time on this, you think it has something to do with the main plot, but it actually doesn’t. I’m not sure why it was written into this movie but it carries a lot of white guilt through the whole film.

I love the Coen brothers’ movies. They have written some great American classics such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country For Old Men, to name a few. Lately their writing has been a snooze, literally. I fell asleep all three times I tried to watch Hail Caesar! That, Inside Llewyn Davis, and A Serious Man have all been very weak in my opinion. But, as a die-hard Coen bros fan, I had to see this movie.

Unlike other Coen brothers movies, Suburbicon is directed by George Clooney which probably made a difference, for the worse.

Who should watch this movie? Fans of the Coen Brothers

Who should not watch this movie? Just about everyone

Score

3 / 10 – Most of the acting was good, but the directing and writing was very weak.

 

See more of my movie reviews here

Spoilers

Caution: spoilers below

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The Beard Blog iPhone 6s Review!

Such a Success

This year the new iPhone has been dubbed the iPhone 6s, much to my dismay (6s sounds like success and it’s annoying, not clever), and packs more than the usual punches. This review won’t be like some reviews where all new features are explained, I would like to share my candid opinion. If you wish to read A LOT of words about the new phones, check out Rene Ritchie’s review over at iMore.com.

I’ve had my iPhone 6s Plus since launch day and this year I’ve switched up the color. For the last two years I have opted with the stunning gold finish, but this year I’m going back to black! Even with my short time thus far, I have already come to like this year’s iPhone more than any in the past. It may look the same from a far, but if you get too close, this phone will change the way you think of smartphones.

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Logitech Type+ Keyboard for iPad Air 2 Review

I’ve always touted an iPad or any other tablet as a second device to your computer. If you need a computer for certain things (e.g. word processing, graphics, A/V, etc.) a tablet cannot replace this and you will be unhappy with just an iPad at home. The tablet market is for when you don’t feel like being on your smartphone, but also don’t want to be on a full-fledged computer. Adding a physical keyboard to a tablet a la Microsoft Surface begins to blur the lines between tablet and laptop. To preface this so-called review I want to state that I received no compensation for this nor did Logitech provide me anything for free. I purchased this keyboard with my own, hard-earned, money. Logitech Type+ for iPad Air 2

My current iPad is called the iPad Air 2 and it is my 5th iPad that I’ve owned to date. Starting with the original iPad shortly after it’s release I followed it up with an iPad 4 with lightning connector. I’ve also had the original iPad Air as well as the original iPad Mini. Being my 5th iPad, I’ve never used an external keyboard with it. In the early days they were really thick and became more of a hinderance than a helpful accessory.

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My Apple Watch Review: 3 Months of Joy

From Fitbit to Apple Watch

As an avid Apple enthusiast, I’m always excited about their new products. I’ve been following the Apple Watch or ‘iWatch’ news since it was first reported on MacRumors years ago. Previously I’ve never worn a smartwatch, but I have been collecting traditional watches for some time. Just about every day I could have been spotted wearing a watch on my left hand, so you could say I was ready for the next generation of watches. I later grew tired of waiting for an Apple iWatch to emerge so I ventured in the wearables market by purchasing a Fitbit Flex. This was great, it could track my steps and only needed charged about once a week. As this point I’m wearing a traditional watch on my left wrist, and a Fibit fitness tracker on my right wrist. This is where Apple captured my interest, by combining both a watch and fitness tracker into one device, both my wrists no longer needed to be decorated with straps.

Expense over Excitement

When the Apple Watch was announced in the fall of 2014, I was immediately immersed in the hype, and by spring of 2015 I was over eager to meet my new wrist companion. The publicity since fall kind of dissipated so I didn’t know that many people taking the plunge on this first generation device. On pre-order day I settled on ordering two Apple Watches, one for me of course, and one for my wife to share the experience with me… and send my heartbeat to. For me it was the Apple Watch (Stainless Steel Case) with black sport band and the Apple Watch Sport with white sport band for my wife. After adding AppleCare+ this was a large purchase and immediately I started having buyer’s remorse. Would I actually use this thing? Will it be another great Apple product? Apple Watch

My wife’s Apple Watch Sport band arrived first, and to my surprise, my Apple Watch had yet to be shipped. This was a tiny dilemma because it was a surprise gift for her and I wanted to have both at the same time. I ruined the surprise and asked if I can wear it until mine was delivered, of course agreed as it was already adorning my wrist. Ten days later my Apple Watch arrived in glorious fashion, while I was out of town. This put my time with the Apple Watch Sport at about two weeks. I enjoyed the sport, but fell in love with the look and design of the stainless steel Apple Watch. I’m pretty rough on watches so I knew I would not only need AppleCare+, but a scratch-proof sapphire screen sold me.

Since then I’ve been wearing my Apple Watch everyday, and I have the activity history to prove it.

Three months later I’m as happy as ever, especially when people ask me if I still like it as much as the day I got it. My only answer can be, “why yes, it is essential to me everyday.”

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