Archive for November 9, 2009

Daily electronics deals from The Consumerist

For some time now, our sister site, The Consumerist, has been compiling morning reports of Web deals on popular (and some more obscure) products. The Consumerist receives nothing in exchange for featuring these deals; the posts are intended to be purely informational. In the same vein, the Consumer Reports Electronics Blog will begin reposting The Consumerist's daily deals of electronic products.

By reposting these,  we're not necessarily endorsing the deals or the websites in question—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). And it's prudent to take steps with any electronics retailer to protect yourself. Those steps include being wary of lower-priced deals that seem too good to be true and checking return policies and restocking fees, both of which can offer some nasty surprises otherwise.

Without further ado, here are The Consumerist's finds for today:

  • MacHeist: Twitterrific, Writeroom, and 4 other applications for free.
  • Buy.com : Philips 15-Device Universal Remote Control for $39.99 w/ Free shipping
  • Buydig : LG 50" Plasma 1080p HDTV for $679 w/ Free shipping
  • Radio Shack: Casio Exilim 10.1MP Camera & Polaroid PoGo Pocket Printer Bundle $120
  • Walmart : Kodak EasyShare 8MP Digital Camera Bundle – Aqua for $69 + $2.97 Shipping
  • Staples: Canon PowerShot SD1200 10MP 3X Digital Camera w/ $50 Staples Gift Card for $129.99 plus free shipping
  • Best Buy : $20 Cash Back with $100 Purchase When Using PayPal
  • Sony Style: 40" Sony BRAVIA VE-40VE5 LCD HDTV (REFURB, 1080p, 120Hz, Energy Efficient) for $719.99 plus free shipping
  • NewEgg: Flip UltraHD 120min Camcorder + AC Adapter $160 + free shipping
  • PC Connection: LG 22-inch Energy-saving LCD Monitor $119 + free shipping
  • Amazon: Save up to $100 off Purchase of Blu-ray Disc Titles

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You’re warned: Advertisers plan an early holiday onslaught

Consumer Reports Holiday Headstart

Hoping the soft economy might spare you of an early onslaught of ads featuring Santa slinging flat-panel TVs and elves sporting smart phones? No such luck, according to an alarming report this morning in the Wall Street Journal.

Adding to the likes of advertised sales this past weekend on TVs and Blu-ray players, the report further foretells an early start to visions of GPS-grasping snowmen and frost-dusted digital cameras. And advertising may be more ubiquitous, too; the report also suggests ad spending this holidays will exceed the levels of 2008.

It quotes a Kmart spokesman, for example, as saying that "last year the recession hit [the shopper] right between the eyes and she found herself scrambling. This is the year she said, 'I will do things differently,' so she is looking for deals early."

The report's descriptions of some planned electronics-based ad campaigns are as shiver-inducing as an early frost. Best Buy, we tremble to learn, will "use its blue-shirted store employees as Christmas carolers in TV ads." Sears will this week––yes, alas, this week––begin airing an ad with "Santa and his reindeer shopping in Sears and using the Sears Research Center to find the best prices on big-screen TVs." (For an alternative, try using our Ratings of electronics retailers and the Compare Prices feature in our Ratings of LCD and plasma TVs; all are available to subscribers.)

There will be some nods to the economy, mind you. An OfficeMax spokesman, saying "frugal is the new cool," predicts that "consumers may see as many Ebenezer Scrooges in ads this year as they see Santa Clauses."

Some Scrooges will be at home, too, humbugging as they scramble to switch channels before they're forced to watch another gear-laden sled soar through a snowy sky. ––Paul Reynolds.

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A look at Apple’s new MacBook and Mac mini

new Apple Macbook 13 inch laptop

The new Macbook 13-inch laptop

Continuing my look at Apple’s newest computers, here’s my take on the new Macbook 13-inch and Mac mini.

MacBook 13-inch

Apple’s replacement for the 13” plastic-case MacBook keeps the price at an entry-level (for Apple) $1,000. They’ve given it the large glass-surface, multi-touch, gesture-enabled trackpad of its bigger siblings. They’ve also rounded the case’s edges, switched to an LED-backlit screen, and installed a non-user-replaceable, 10 percent higher-capacity battery with twice the claimed service life (1000 charges) and two hours longer claimed charge life (7 hours).

A couple things were dropped from the previous model: the external battery-charge indicator, the FireWire port, and the remote-control pickup. I guess Apple doesn’t consider this a media-centric laptop.

Under the hood, Apple has bumped up the processor from 2.13 GHz to a 2.26 GHz Core-2 Duo. The hard drive went up from 160 GB to 250 GB. The weight has gone down about 5 ounces to 4.7 lbs.

Some nice touches: The cover snaps closed magnetically, and has a thin, soft-plastic gasket around the edge that might help keep moisture from reaching the keyboard in transit. The seamless bottom panel is actually plastic-coated aluminum, which should help spread out the heat and reduce hot spots on your lap. The top surface of the wrist-rest area stayed cool in our tests.

All in all, this MacBook is a better value than the prior one: a little faster, a little lighter, a little longer running, and able to hold more stuff.

new Apple Mac mini compact desktop

The new Mac mini

Mac mini

Apple’s latest entry in the compact desktop arena hasn’t changed on the outside, but has the expected configuration improvements inside. The Mac mini $600 model goes up from the previous 2 GHz to a 2.26 GHz Core-2 Duo processor, doubles the memory to 2 GB, and expands the hard drive from 120GB to 160GB. It keeps the FireWire 800 port, the generous 5 USB ports (though two are taken if you use a wired keyboard and mouse), and the mini-DVI port along with the adapter needed to connect a DVI display (you can buy a $19 adaptor for a VGA display.) Apple has added a mini-DisplayPort connector, now standard on Apple PCs, for Apple displays and the few non-Apple displays that can fit it.

For $200 more, the sibling model has a 10 percent faster processor (2.53 GHz), doubles the hard drive to 320GB, and doubles the memory to 4 GB.

The Mac mini remains an enigma, being shipped without a keyboard and mouse, presumably to keep the price low. If you add Apple’s wired ones, the price goes up $100, or you can go wireless for $40 more. You’ll also want speakers if you plan to play music, since the mini’s internal speaker is insipid.

In my next post, I’ll take a further look at the design and style of Apple’s new computers. —Dean Gallea

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100th Post!

I wanted to do something special for this post. Being post number one hundred is another milestone, and something i am truly grateful and thankful to be able to share with you all.

This blog has made me rich. Not with money, but with friends from all over the globe. Folks in foreign countries have read this blog, and seen my videos. Best of all is when they write, comment, and share their experiences with the digital transition. Some of the most viewed posts came from your submissions, and a few accidents along the way.

I gave you a tour of our transmitter site, which has 2,084 views on Youtube and on MyNC.com. Replacing an antenna video has 4,660 views and the number one most watched video of mine is….

First, it was a totally fluke, and an accident. I was shooting footage while working on my antenna, and decided to take a few minutes to show how to install an F-connector. I shot so much footage, I spun it off into a video on its’ own. That video has been seen 5,814 times on Youtube!

On the text side, I tried to post details with pictures to help explain some complicated and crazy things RF does in the atmosphere. I have been able to sharpen my Adobe Photoshop skills over the year and a half and it’s been fun and productive.

Not to mention HTML tags and such! The most read posts were inspired by a reader in Madison, Wisconsin and last year’s Internet Pumpkin Toss we played. Gene Falck kept the questions coming and thankfully so, made the most popular posts on this blog.

The F-connector post and the quick battery operated TV comes in as a tie for the number 3 most read posts. How a UHF loop antenna gets many hits per month, and the most complicated, geeky post of all comes in as number one in a lesson on wavelength and Earth science.

And you said you hated math, physics, and science in High School!

As for me, my favorite is the NC State student that took a fan motor apart to create his homemade antenna which worked fine. I’m sure he has bought an antenna since then, but it was a great lesson on “less is more”.

I just upgraded my video editing software, and I’m playing with the new effects, so who knows what is next. I don’t have much free time these days, so anything that streamlines the process will be welcome.

I know this has been rough on many folks switching over to digital, but hopefully we have covered solutions that have worked for you. As always, you can contact me directly here, email, or call our digital hotline at (919) 835-6250.

And. please, let’s not dwell on all the things that went wrong, or bad things that happened to us over the past year. Try to be thankful for what you have, even if it isn’t much. Love your neighbors and yourself, or at least be thankful you are not in their shoes.

And, by the way, no turkeys were harmed in the making of this blog post.

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