Archive for June 17, 2009

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8: You download, they donate

Download IE8 free and feed the hungry? Deal.

Download IE 8 for free, and Microsoft will donate food for the hungry until August 8th.
[ Photo courtesy of eyeliam ]

Perhaps Microsoft is tired of being on the receiving end of those hoaxes that promise to donate money to [fill in the cause] if you click on [fill in the Web address]. Or perhaps the company thought all those hoaxers actually had the germ of a good idea: People click when you promise to donate.

Whatever its motivation, Microsoft is encouraging users to download IE8, the latest version of Internet Explorer, and promising to help the hungry in return. For real.

With its “Browser for the Better” campaign, Microsoft is donating enough money to buy eight meals for Feeding America’s network of 206 local food banks for every one download of Internet Explorer 8. Feeding America gets food to more than 25 million Americans every year. To set the donation in motion, you’ve got to download IE8 from the official “Browser for the Better” Web site.

The promotion runs through Aug. 8, 2009.

Internet Explorer 8 was released in March. You should download it (or other new browser versions) for increased security, but be aware of possible compatibility issues. —Will Dilella

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Father’s Day: Electronics gifts for every e-dad

Father's Day camera

[ Photo courtesy of thelastminute ]

If your dad has been sending signals, subtle or otherwise, about his need for a cooler digital camera, a lighter laptop, or a GPS to rid himself of those infernal maps that never fold up right, Father’s Day is your chance to shine.

As we did for mom on her day, we’ve picked some e-toy categories that we think our diverse group of dads would like to get. We’ve also recommended a model (or sometimes two) to buy in each category. These selections aren’t definitive; we’ve added links to our full Ratings (available to subscribers), where you’ll find many other recommended models.

The artsy type. For serious photographers, an SLR camera is the best choice. They are large and heavy but are more versatile than point-and-shoots, allowing a savvy shooter to capture images in a range of light conditions and styles. Not for amateurs.

  • Recommended: Canon EOS 40D Digital, $900. For the price, this camera’s excellent image quality, large LCD viewer, and ability to snap 6.5 frames per second make this advanced SLR a great deal. Full SLR camera Ratings

The snap-happy photographer. If dad is content to take photos of soccer games and family vacations, a simple, compact point-and-shoot camera makes a good gift. They don’t have the complexity of an SLR, but a casual photographer would probably be grateful for that.

  • Recommended: Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS, $230. This subcompact is a great value given all of its attributes: face detection, sharp image quality, a short next-shot delay, and excellent dynamic range (so it can handle a wide variety of shooting situations). Full point-and-shoot camera Ratings

The business-traveler. If he always seems to be working on a plane or train, consider getting dad a netbook. These utilitarian mini-laptops don’t have the power of their larger cousins but are great for basic tasks like word-processing, e-mail, and Web browsing. Many are so small they’ll slip easily into a satchel.

The hapless navigator. For dads who can’t tell north from south, a GPS unit is a fine choice— especially if he’s about to take a vacation to unfamiliar territory. True, more cell phones are acquiring GPS capabilities, but the screens on most are smaller than on GPS units and many impose an ongoing monthly GPS fee that can really add up.

  • Recommended: Garmin Nuvi 760, $250. This low-priced model offers many of the features of more expensive units, like Bluetooth connectivity, an MP3 player, and a trip computer. Full GPS Ratings

The voracious reader. For fathers who always seem to have a book or newspaper in hand, consider an e-reader. They’re expensive, but they offer the convenience of having a novel, magazine, and morning newspaper all in one console.

  • Recommended: Amazon Kindle 2, $359 or Sony Reader PRS-700, $349. Both use e-ink technology, making reading on screen easy on the eyes. They are both fine devices but differ in some ways. See our previous reviews of the Kindle and the Reader.

The jogger. An MP3 player makes a good exercise companion. Dad can burn his Beatles CDs, load them to the player, and be off and running.

  • Recommended: iPod Nano, $150 (8 GB). Easy to use and small enough to strap onto an arm. The headphones sound very good. Full MP3 player Ratings  —Nick K. Mandle

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DTV converter-box coupons: Act now, program ends July 31, 2009

Digital TV DTV coupon FCC NTIA

The digital converter box coupon program will end July 31.

If you received over-the-air TV broadcasts on an analog TV and would still like to apply for a coupon to offset the cost of getting a DTV converter, the deadline for requesting one—July 31, 2009— is fast approaching. A DTV converter will enable you to continue receiving TV broadcasts, now sent as digital signals, on an analog TV.

You can apply for a converter-box coupon on the Web, by mail at PO Box 2000, Portland, OR 97208-2000, or by calling the coupon program's toll-free 24-hour automated system at 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009). You can also fax a coupon application to 1-877-388-4632. Applications can be downloaded via the DTV coupon website. (Note that those living in a licensed nursing home, intermediate care facility or assisted living facility, must mail in the Application Form for Nursing Home Residents).

As part of the DTV transition, all eligible U.S. households can request two $40 coupons, which can be used to buy eligible converter boxes at participating consumer electronics retailers. Applications will be accepted until midnight, July 31, and coupons must then be used within 90 days of being mailed.

If you need more information about the converter-box program, you can visit an online FAQ, or call the toll-free hotline: 1-888-388-2009 (voice) or 1-877-530-2634 (TTY). And if you recently applied for a coupon and would like to check the status of your request and the expected mailing date, visit the NTIA's converter-box status Web site. There's also a troubleshooting Web site for handling problems.

We suggest not waiting until the last minute, as it's possible that supplies of digital converter boxes at retail could be more limited the closer we get to the coupon deadline. So apply for a coupon today! —James K. Willcox

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iPhone 3.0: Everyone’s waiting…

On the day of one of the most-awaited mobile operating system updates, iPhone 3.0, even basic details remain mystery. We do know it is coming sometime today, June 17th. And Apple's Web site kindly informs us that iPhone users get it free, but iPod Touch owners will have to pay for it (our guess is about $10, based on the last iPhone OS update).

How do the upgrade's new cut-and-paste, landscape keyboard, and direct-video downloads cut it? And how much better are the new searching and calendaring capabilities? Stay tuned. —Mike Gikas

Update: speculates that we may see the iPhone 3.0 update around 1 p.m. E.S.T.

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Netbook or laptop? MSI’s X-Slim tries to be both

Olympus E-P1 four-thirds digital camera point-and-shoot D-SLR

MSI X-Slim X320. Click to enlarge.

[ Photo by: Balazs Gal (under Creative Commons) ]

Intel's Atom processor, originally designed to power netbooks, is making its way onto a variety of computers, from so-called net-tops to larger laptops. The latest entry comes from MSI. Its X-Slim line is a series of 13-inch laptops that feel like the MacBook Air, but unfortunately the resemblance stops there.

We took a first look at the MSI X-Slim (X320-037US, $600), a 13-inch laptop that weighs just 2.9 pounds and measures a skinny 7/8-inch thick. It's an easy system to carry around, and battery life in our preliminary tests was also respectable. With Wi-Fi on, it lasted 3.75 hours, including running 30 minutes of CNN video.

Once you start trying to do anything substantive with the X-Slim, however, the Atom's limitations start to show. That's not surprising, since we've said from the start that netbooks aren't good for much more than surfing, e-mailing, and light word processing.

For example, MSI includes a Webcam application on the system, but it overtaxes the processor and makes the program difficult to use. Ditto for the suite of multimedia applications that's included with the X-Slim. The touchpad has a sluggish response to quick touches that made it difficult to move the cursor around the screen unless you use a smooth finger-sweeping motion, and there's no scroll area, nor can you turn off the "tap-to-click" feature.

It took an hour for the system to initialize the first time we turned it on, and nearly another hour to run the large number of Windows Updates and software installations required.

On the plus side, the X-Slim has a sufficiently large keyboard, touchpad, and wrist rest. It's got 2GB of RAM, and the system we bought had a 320GB hard drive, 3 USB ports, and Microsoft Works.

The only reason you'd buy this system instead of a typical netbook is for the larger screen. But we think you're better off saving your money and opting for a smaller netbook. The screen won't be as large, but the processing power on the MSI X-Slim simply isn't sufficient for doing the kind of tasks you'd need a larger screen for. —Dean Gallea and Donna Tapellini

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