Patrick O’Rourke’s favourite things of 2020

Xbox Series X

While I spent most of 2020 confined to my house amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I actually enjoyed a lot about this past year.

For one, while I like the travel that’s a significant part of my job at MobileSyrup, it was great to be able to spend time at home with my partner and my cat. That said, even though I’m a homebody, I’m very much looking forward to being able to attend tech conferences and events around the world again. However, unfortunately, it still remains unclear when it will be safe for that to start happening.

I’m also extremely thankful to still have a job doing something I love when so many people around the world have been laid off during the pandemic.

With all that said, my favourite things from this year are relatively expected if you know anything about me; there’s a new console, a video game, a smartphone and at least one or two things that might surprise you.

Xbox Series X

Xbox Series X

New console launches are always a special time in the tech media world. They happen once every seven to 10 years or so and often feature a wide range of fascinating leaks leading up to their release, and the launch of the Xbox Series X was an absolute whirlwind.

Because Microsoft launched the Xbox Series X amid a global pandemic, the company was forced to handle things differently from when it released the Xbox One back in 2013. I was lucky enough to be part of a relatively small group of media that had access to an early build of the console months before its release.

The embargo was extremely restrictive regarding what I could write about the Series X, and I ran into several technical difficulties. Still, it was a childhood dream come true to have access to the console so early.

Though the Xbox Series X doesn’t have any marquee launch titles thanks to Halo Infinite’s delay, it’s a backwards-compatible beast and includes several great features like ‘Quick Resume,’ which allows you to instantly jump back into a game even after the console has been turned off, and custom NVMe SSD technology that results in speedy load times, even with previous-generation titles.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Series X is a stunning-looking console despite being basically a black box. There’s a simple elegance to its look the bulky Count Chocula-like PlayStation 5 lacks.

For more on the Xbox Series X, check out my review of the console.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 screenshot

The Tony Hawk Pro Skater series has influenced me significantly over the years, including my interest in skateboarding culture despite being horrible at it in real-life and my questionable taste in punk music.

Though the franchise has been on indefinite hiatus for the last few years following Robomodo’s abysmal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, this remake of the first two iconic entries in the long-running series managed to surpass even my high expectations. This was partly because Vicarious Visions, the developer currently in charge of the platform, has worked on the past series.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (THPS 1+2) features all of the remarkable levels from the first two titles, including ‘The Hanger’ and ‘School II,’ but most importantly, it actually plays like a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game. Creating combos, grinding and even linking tricks together feels incredibly fluid.

The game also retains its classic art style with a fresh coat of high-definition paint added to it. For most, THPS 1+2 looks precisely how you remember it did, even though early entries in the franchise are visually downright horrible by today’s graphical standards.

I’m hoping the game was successful enough financially to warrant a remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 + 4, or perhaps even an entirely new entry in the series built with the same excellent engine.

Oh, and after 22 years, I finally managed to 100 percent both games; let’s not talk about the fact reverts and manuals being included in both Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 made accomplishing some goals way easier.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

Taking a call on the iPhone 12 Pro Max

Over the past decade, I’ve reviewed a lot of iPhones. While some are more exciting than others, the years where Apple shifts its smartphone line’s design is when covering Apple gets way more interesting.

In 2020, the tech giant shook things up by releasing four smartphones: the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. While the iPhone 12 is the best model for most people since it includes all of the line’s most important high-end features, like Apple’s powerful A14 process and even an OLED display, I still appreciate the additional screen real-estate size the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers.

The ‘big boi’ of a smartphone measures in at an expansive 6.7-inches, making it the largest iPhone Apple has ever released. It also features 2.5x optical zoom, sensor shift image stabilization and an overall larger image sensor resulting in better low-light performance.

As I said in my story focused on the Pro Max from a few months ago, the difference in camera performance compared to the iPhone 12 and even the iPhone 12 Pro Max is negligible. Still, if you shoot most of your photos with an iPhone like myself, you’ll appreciate these minor upgrades.

Finally, as someone who always places a lot of stock into devices’ design, I love the throwback iPhone 4-like look of the iPhone 12 series’ squared-off sides. In an industry full of devices that are black curved slabs, it helps Apple’s iPhone 12 series stand out.

Not travelling

Patrick in a ghost costume

I already alluded to this earlier in this story, but I’m not a big fan of travelling. My work as a tech reporter/blogger over the last decade has allowed me to travel more than I thought I ever would in my entire life. I’m thankful to have been able to go to Barcelona, Germany, Boston, New York (unfortunately), Vancouver and several other places around the world.

That said, I’m always happiest at home, hanging out with my partner, my cat and playing video games or watching movies. After a decade spent travelling nearly at least once or twice a month, it’s been great to be able to spend the past year at home enjoying the house I recently purchased and spending time with my small family.

I’m looking forward to eventually attending at least some in-person events again later in 2021. Still, I hope the remote keynotes and briefings tech companies have been forced to adapt to over the past year will result in a shift across the industry. You don’t always need to fly a reporter/blogger/YouTuber out to be briefed on a product in person, and in fact, a quick video call can accomplish that exact same thing. I don’t expect every company to adopt this approach and I’m more than happy to travel when it makes sense to do so, but I have my fingers crossed that at least a few tech giants out there learned something from pandemic remote work.

Gardening

Patrick's garden

I love gardening. However, I really often don’t know what I’m doing. Whether it’s growing cannabis with the Canadian-made Grobo, dropping strawberry, pepper or various herb pods into my Click & Grow, or taking care of the garden my partner and I built this year in our backyard, getting my hands dirty and growing plants has been a great respite from a hectic year in the tech industry.

In 2021, I have several improvements planned for my backyard garden, including creating raised beds with far more soil because the dirt in my area is mostly hard clay and roots have trouble growing in it. I’m also about to swap out my strawberry and hot pepper click and grow pods for different herbs used to make tea, which I’m pretty excited about.

I also hope to learn more about gardening rather than resorting to trial and error like I have for the past few years. This will likely involve reading more books on the subject, something else I’m hoping to spend more time doing this year.

Most of my hobbies involve staring at different screens, so it’s nice to have finally found something I’m interested in that is only very loosely related to technology.

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