18 Apple product alternatives

There are three kinds of people in this world: people who love and own Apple products; people who love but can't afford Apple products; and people who—for whatever reason—absolutely loathe anything branded with the fruit. Here's something for the latter two groups.

PCMag has compiled a list of 18 Apple product alternatives, from phones to media players to laptops.  Apple-lovers may turn up their noses at the selection, but others will find a number of respectable devices, often with lower pricetags.

Added bonus for ConsumerReports.org subscribers: We've tested many of PCMag's suggested products (in addition to all the Apples). See how they fared in our Ratings of MP3 players/portable media players, laptop Ratings, desktop Ratings, and smart phone Ratings.

Got any other Apple alternatives to share?

—Nick K. Mandle

To take better photos, use the Rule of Thirds

rule of thirds photography

There are many ways to improve your photos, but one lesser-known way is to use something called the rule of thirds. Here's the basic idea: Avoid placing your subjects in the dead center of the picture.

Instead, if your digital camera has this feature, turn on its grid setting on your LCD so that you see a Tic-Tac-Toe pattern. Then, line your subject up on one of the four spots where the vertical and horizontal lines cross (each of these spots is roughly located 1/3 of the way from the top to the bottom and from the left to the right side of the frame; hence, the term "rule of thirds"). Doing this, instead of placing the subject directly in the center of the frame, usually improves the aesthetics of your image.

Here's an illustration: In the image on the right, the subject is near one of the intersection points to create a more pleasing composition than if the subject were dead-center.

If your camera doesn't have a grid feature, you can get the same effect by eyeballing it: Place the subject roughly one third of the way from the top or bottom of the frame and from the left or right edge. You can also do this in your image-editing program after the fact.

For an added tip, see my post on how to use your camera's flash to take better pictures.

—Terry Sullivan

Next Steps

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E-book readers: Intriguing new type of power-frugal color screen is coming

A pre-production e-reader displaying
Marisol's color technology.
Photo: Qualcomm

A new color-screen technology for e-book screens that claims power efficiency to at least match that of current e-ink technology appears promising, based on a preview I saw yesterday at an e-reading conference in New York. 

Scheduled to be out on a device with a 5.7-inch screen in the third quarter of this year, the Marisol screen technology is made by Qualcomm, a company best-known for its cell-phone processors. Speaking with me at "The E-Reading Revolution," a Magazine Publishers of America conference at which we both appeared as panelists, Qualcomm's Cheryl Goodman said the company eventually plans to roll out the technology to a wider array of devices, with screens both larger and smaller than the first Marisol device. 

Like the e-ink screens used in almost all of the current e-book readers, Marisol uses reflected ambient light. Viewed on a pre-production version of the upcoming device (shown above), the Marisol images varied in brightness depending on the viewing conditions, as would be expected. Even in fairly bright light—standing near a window, for example—the screen, like e-ink ones, lacked the backlit pop of the LCD screens found on computers and cell phones. 

Also, as with the e-ink color screen of the Skiff e-book reader prototype I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the colors were somewhat muted. The type also lacked the crisp immediacy of most e-ink screens. What I saw, however, is still a work in progress, and it looked at least passable; I'll be curious to see the finished product. 

Qualcomm claims that Marisol, like e-ink, will use dramatically less power than backlit LCD screens. But the company also claims it will have an edge on e-ink in its power handling of video content—likely to be a growing addition to e-reader content in the coming years, as a number of speakers emphasized at the conference. That, Qualcomm says, is because Marisol avoids the frequent page refreshes—up to 30 a second—required to display video on e-ink screens, each of which has a power drain comparable to a page turn. (No video content was available to view on the Marisol prototype.) 

Qualcomm isn't disclosing the manufacturer under whose nameplate the first Marisol device will be sold. Nor could they say whether 3G will be a feature of the unit, or give a firm price for it. However, their spokeswoman said the company realizes it must be priced below that of the Apple iPad, whose screen is more than twice as large and costs $499 and up. But she demurred when I asked if it might cost as little as $199—the price of the Sony Pocket, which has a 5-inch screen. 

Meantime, demos of some color e-ink screens were part of a trade show in China this week, according to PC World. The previews included some demos of video, reportedly with compromised quality, on a color e-ink screen. However, in an interview with E Ink's new CEO on Xconomy suggests that, even in its color iteration, E Ink is aiming to be a color reading technology rather than a media-rich platform for video and the like. 

Also, while some reports are suggesting that color e-ink devices will hit the market late this year, the CEO's remarks suggest that the early 2011 timing I reported after CES remains the more likely scenario.

Paul Reynolds

Daily electronics deals

Today's electronics deals, courtesy of The Consumerist:

  • Dell : 30% Off Used Laptops w/ Coupon 4DayOnly#$LPSale and 30% Off Used Desktops w/ Coupon 4DayOnly#$DTSale
  • Sixth Avenue : Sylvania 4.3" Touch Screen Portable GPS for $73.32 w/ Coupon BONUSBUY w/ Free Shipping
  • Buydig : Samsung 55" LED 1080p HDTV for $1949 w/ Coupon UN55B8000 w/ Free Shipping
  • Dell : Sony Blu-Ray Disc Player for $99.99 w/ Free Shipping
  • Creative : Creative 2GB Pocket Video Cam for $39.99 w/ Free Shipping
  • NewEgg: 15.6-inch Toshiba Satellite L505D $399.99 + $10 shipping
  • JR.com: 14-inch MSI X400 $399 + free shipping
  • Buy.com : Miami Vice Complete Series DVD Set for $39.99 w/ Free Shipping
  • Buy.com: Miami Vice: Complete Series DVD Box Set $39.99 + free shipping
  • Walmart.com: [New Super Mario Bros. game + Wii Remote w/ MotionPlus $69 + free ship to store or $2.47 to home
  • Dell Home: PSP 3000 $129; Gran Turismo or Assassin's Creed Bloodlines bundles $169 + free shipping
  • Dell Home: Xbox 360 Arcade $149 + free shipping
  • Newegg: Garmin nuvi 265T GPS Navigation (3.5in, Bluetooth, Lifetime Traffic Updates) $99.99
  • Buydig.com: Samsung UN55B8000 55in LED HDTV (1080p, 240Hz) $1949 Free Shipping

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Neither Consumer Reports nor The Consumerist receive anything in
exchange for featuring these deals; the posts are intended to be purely
informational. These deals are often fleeting, with prices changing or
products becoming unavailable as the day progresses.

These posts are not an endorsement of the featured products or
the Web sites that sell them—though some of the sites may be included,
and recommended, in our Ratings of retailers for computers and other major electronics (both available to subscribers). Price shouldn't be your only criterion. Be wary of lower-priced deals that seem too good to be true, and check return policies for restocking fees and other gotchas.

For general buying advice for many of the products on sale above, check out our free Buying Guides.

Suds Episodes 1-4 combined

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