Systems of the Stars is Laptop Mag’s series that delves into the systems that superstars own, whether it’s a snazzy laptop, a funky drawing tablet, or a next-gen gaming console.
Ahem! Welcome to Systems of the Stars, dear reader, where I'm hoping you can hear the bombastic, resonant "TV voice" tone of this paragraph in honor of our newest guest: NatGeo's Brain Games on the Road host Chuck Nice! Clap, clap, applause, applause.
Nice, a nerdy comedian and TV personality who geeks out over astronomy, artificial intelligence (AI), and other scholarly topics, is like Bill Nye the Science Guy, Chris Rock and Will Smith wrapped in one brainy, hilarious package.
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No, not the real Smith who’s currently in hot water for the slap heard around the world — more like the skeptical homicide detective he plays in I, Robot who is mistrustful of tech. Many brushed him away as illogically paranoid, but his fears were later substantiated when the robots went all Planet of the Apes on everyone. Dun, dun, dun!
Similarly, Nice is hyperaware of how technology affects the human psyche. This is unsurprising given the inquisitive nature of his social network, which includes the likes of world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you were surrounded by great thinkers, you, too, would be ultra-cognizant of how megacorps use technology as a tool of manipulation.
"We are actually teaching machines how to think, how to understand our behavior, how to defend themselves, and even practice deception! What could possibly go wrong?” Nice questioned sarcastically during a 2018 Ted Talk titled, "A Funny Look at the Unintended Consequences of Technology."
So when our staff writer Mark Anthony Ramirez nominated Chuck Nice to be our next Systems of the Stars headliner, I was intrigued. Why? Because with Nice’s I, Robot-esque skepticism, I was curious about his relationship with tech. Does he actively try to protect his data from information-hungry entities or does he resign himself to being a screen-hypnotized puppet?
During an enlightening phone chat, Nice answers these questions. He even obliges my nosey inquiries about why he’s ditching his Android for an iPhone, and how he uses his tech possessions to prepare for Brain Games on the Road.
Chuck’s defensive tactics against data-hungry entities
Some privacy advocates say, “Buy Apple! It cares about your privacy!” After all, the Cupertino-based tech giant boasts about its dedication to protecting consumers’ data. Last year, Apple rolled out a feature that lets users see how apps are using their data. However, as The Washington Post pointed out, this information is self-reported and humans lie, so it’s not the most reliable resource (though Apple argues that it conducts audits regularly). As such, I wondered about Nice’s method for dodging invasive tech.
"When Apple says, ‘We’re being good stewards of your privacy,’ I don't think that’s Apple being magnanimous; it’s Apple finding a smart marketing angle. I can't blame them for that. They're a company and trying to make money,” Nice said. “They collect metadata just like everybody else does. When you ask Siri something, she knows just as much about you, maybe even more, than you know about yourself.”
Nice’s defensive tactics focus less on brand loyalty and more on being selective about what he allows on his devices: “One, I don't download an app unless I absolutely have to have it. Two, I will opt to pay for the app before I take the free version. The reason why free apps are there, if there's a paid version, is because they want to sell your information. The third thing I do is I try my best to turn off push notifications. I don't care what the app is."
However, Nice maintains that the best way to topple privacy encroachment is to light a fire under legislators’ butts. “The way this battle is won is by putting pressure on the people who run our government — and that's Congress,” he said.
How Chuck uses tech to prepare for ‘Brain Games on the Road’
Despite Nice’s leeriness about tech — particularly surrounding its ethics (or lack thereof) — he’s chock-full of devices to make his busy life more seamless. He uses Apple’s latest, top-of-the-line tablet, alongside its stylus (sold separately), to prepare for Brain Games on the Road.
“I have an Apple [Pencil] with my iPad Pro, so I can make changes to the [Brain Games on the Road] script using the [stylus],” Nice said. The brainy TV personality owns a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and says that he uses the device in a similar way, but laments that saved documents on the iPad Pro don’t “cross translate” easily with his Android device.
Nice also uses his iPad Pro, attached with the Magic Keyboard, as a coffee shop or bar companion while he’s working on lightweight tasks on the go. The premium tablet also doubles as an e-reader for Nice, but the Brain Games on the Road host has a message for Apple on how it can improve the slate.
Chuck wants the iPad Pro to stop blinding him as he reads
“Let me see the words!” Nice said with a twinkle of humor. “You don't have a bright backlight while you’re reading a [physical] page or a magazine,” he added, insinuating that there should be an iPad feature that puts the text in the forefront of users’ eyes (not the backlight).
Nice also suggests a blue-light filter option for the tablet to protect users’ eyes. “With these other readers, even the Samsung [tablet], they allow you to [opt for] a yellow-light screen so that it's much easier on your eyes. Apple, you're just looking at the same screen all the time,” he said.
Finally, Nice wants Apple to improve the iPad Pro’s zoom feature: “They have to allow you to zoom during reading of your articles and your downloads. That's [another] thing they need to do."
Chuck uses a trio of Apple devices for three different tasks
While some prefer using an all-in-one approach when it comes to their productivity devices, Nice likes to purchase laptops and tablets for specific tasks. For example, he reserves e-book reading (and script editing) for his iPad Pro, but you likely won’t catch him perusing a novel on his 16-inch MacBook Pro. Instead, he primarily uses the Mac for heavy-duty editing tasks.
It doesn’t stop there. The NatGeo host also has the 13-inch MacBook Pro, too. “I use the big laptop as my workstation and I use a little laptop as a [mobile companion]; I take it with me [on the road],” Nice said.
While Nice digs many aspects of his Apple devices, iCloud is the bane of his existence. “iCloud is kind of bullshit. I'm sorry,” Nice said, impelling me to laugh in agreement. “Give me the opportunity to upload what I want, and leave the other stuff where I want it. You don't have to make everything go across devices.”
Chuck on why he’s reluctantly swapping his Samsung for an iPhone
As mentioned, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is Nice’s daily driver, which he adores. “I love the pen,” Nice said, referring to the stylus that comes with the Samsung device. “It’s so great for jotting down notes. You can also set it so that it [transforms your penmanship] into text.” Nice also uses the KineMaster app on the Note 20 Ultra, and the S Pen is useful for getting to the nitty-gritty when it comes to editing photos and videos.
However, Nice is ready to ditch his beloved Samsung in favor of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Why? He wants a phone with industry-leading cameras. Let’s say Nice is in a bright room where he’s standing on a stage — he’s also backlit. In this scenario, the TV personality says that the iPhone 13 Pro offers better camera features to compensate for the harsh lighting.
“That Apple phone takes a good picture,” Nice said, adding that the process for changing the camera settings to his liking is quicker on iOS. “Samsung is like, ‘You can do [the same thing on Android], but there’s four more steps.”
Whether it’s a Samsung or Apple device, Nice believes each one has room for improvement. That being said, I couldn’t help but ask, “What does the perfect laptop look like for Chuck?”
As per Systems of the Stars tradition, we asked Chuck what his dream laptop looks like
Nice told me he would scrap the crappy webcam that is typically found on laptops and replace it with an iPhone 13 Pro Max-grade lens. “[Laptop webcams] suck!” Nice said. “They're always terrible, so I would have that — my phone’s camera would also be packed into my laptop.”
Next, the laptop would have a detachable keyboard. “It would snap into place. It's just as sturdy as a regular keyboard, but I would be able to take it off so that I could put the screen up and work from different vantage points,” Nice said.
Nice’s dream laptop would also have Apple’s beloved Retina display technology and he would stuff the notebook with his favorite ports: a dual SD card reader, a microSD card reader and 3.5 mm headset jack. In response to why he’d have a dual SD card reader, he said, “I’m often working with two different devices.”
Lastly, Nice, a self-proclaimed audiophile, would add a quad-speaker setup to his laptop for a surround-sound experience while he’s listening to his favorite tunes. “You can't put all this shit in a laptop because it will cost like $8,000,” Nice joked, but hey, the Brain Games on the Road host can dream.