Archive for December, 2009

Best and worst gadgets of 2009: Some personal perspectives

Best and Worst gadgets of 2009

The end of 2009 is upon us. A few of us here on the Electronics Blog thought we’d share our favorite (and not-so-favorite) things of 2009. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts below! —Ed.

By far, the best gadget that I (personally) own and used this year is my Samsung BD-P2550 Blu-ray player. It was actually a “gift for the whole family” from last Christmas, but I’m the one that has used it the most this year. In this tight economy, I’ve become really picky about movies that I have to own in HD, so my library is still quite small. (Here’s hoping that Blu-ray titles become even cheaper in 2010!)

Still, the beauty of my Samsung—like most Blu-ray players—is that it plays standard-def DVDs beautifully. And since the player is connected to my home broadband Net connection, I’ve been streaming movies, old TV shows (like Columbo), and documentaries from Netflix on those nights when there’s absolutely nothing else to watch. (It’s like pay-per-view without the pay!)

I didn’t buy many personal electronics this year. (A “shiny” side to the bad economy of 2009?) So, thankfully I don’t have any “duds” from 2009 to complain about. However during one of my many trips through Costco, I did spy a gadget that had me scratching my head: the TwitterPeek. It’s a smartphone-sized mobile device that allows anyone to “tweet” on Twitter while on the run. Cost: $99 for the device and $8 per month—or $200 for “lifetime service.”

I haven’t used this device, but I can’t help but wonder: Are there that many Twitter addicts to justify such a specific-function mobile device? Why aren’t they just using smartphones such as a Droid or an iPhone, which typically come with free software apps and access to Twitter? Can the TwitterPeek be that much better—enough to warrant another $300 and yet another device to carry around? Sorry, but to me this just sounds like a “bad gadget.” —Paul Eng</em

My favorite gadget this year is the Motorola Droid. (See our review of the Droid[link] and, if you’re a subscirber, our Ratings of smartphones for more information.) When I bought mine in November, it ended two years of waiting for an iPhone-like device compatible with Verizon. I love its versatility: Most of the apps I used on my iPod Touch (or their equivalents) are available for the Droid. I’ve already used apps to make dinner reservations (Open Table), tweet (Twidroid), watch lectures (Mother TED), record and upload videos (YouTube), act as a wireless 3G USB-modem for my netbook (PDAnet), scan bar codes (ShopSavvy), and check the weather (Weather Channel). I can’t wait for the release of the mobile version of Firefox. One of my favorite features is the notifications window, which shows, on a single screen, everything that requires your attention—voicemails, unread e-mail, text messages, appointments, etc.

Downsides? A few: It’s bulky, most apps don’t yet support multitouch (pinch to zoom), and the video recorder doesn’t appear to have a zoom function. But those are small potatoes, considering that I can replace the battery myself and buy/charge spares, which I couldn’t do with an iPhone. —Jeff Fox

My favorite electronics gadget of ’09 is the Cambridge Soundworks i765 iPod/Video Entertainment System. It’s a sleek-looking tabletop radio cum speaker system cum CD/DVD player that’s perched on my kitchen counter. The sound is full, rich, and gorgeous. I dock my iPod in it, play CDs, listen to the radio—I could even pop in a DVD and connect it to a TV if I wanted to. It may not be cutting-edge but it does all I want and then some, and looks great doing it. Taking a leaf from Paul Eng’s book, I’m just setting up a new Blu-ray player with Netflix that promises to be another favorite. I’ll let you know. —Eileen McCooey

With camera competition fierce, fine overall performance was the norm more than ever among this year’s crop of point-and-shoots. What mostly made models stand out were innovative special features.

My favorite such example this year is the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj, a camera that integrated a built-in projector. Sure, we had a few minor quibbles about the feature, and the Nikon isn’t cheap at $350. But overall, we found it to be a solid performer with a delightful additional capability. —Terry Sullivan

Apple has a reputation for building great computers, of course. But the company is also known for its high prices. Its all-in-one computers, however, are more price-competitive with Windows all-in-ones. Case in point: The new 21.5-inch iMac costs $1,200, right in line with other all-in-one systems. Even better, performance was excellent. (See our closer look at Apple’s new iMacs and, if you’re a subscriber, our Ratings of Desktop computers for more information.)

Worst product: Computer manufacturers got the not-so-bright idea to use Atom processors—the low-powered chips used in netbooks—for desktop computers. The result was underwhelming. Sure, prices were great at less than $400. But performance was poor. And the cost-cutting affected the systems across the board. We found that the displays and sound in these all-in-one nettops were only fair to poor. —Donna Tapellini

Ever since I completed my dedicated home theater—which includes a 1080p front-projector, 106-inch screen, and a 7.2-channel Martin Logan speaker system—I haven’t really lusted after a lot of gear. (OK, I did add a new Ferrari-red Pro-Ject turntable and matching tube pre-amp, but that’s because my old turntable was broken). But this year, my Christmas list contained not a single consumer electronics device—until I came across the sleek, sexy Olive 4HD Hi-Fi Music Server, from Olive Media.

If you’ve ever thought that digitized music had to have an inferior sound, the 4HD will change your mind: 24-bit/192kHz oversampling for high-resolution sound, the ability to store rip and store 6,000 CDs or 20,000 individual tracks without a PC, and the ability to send the music to any room of your house via optional Olive 2 Hi-Fi players. And you can use the 4HD as an outboard DAC (digital-to-analog converter) for your other gear. To get you started, the company will rip up to 100 of your CDs free of charge if you buy the 4HD (you can send them all your CDs and they’ll load them into the system for a nominal charge), plus give you 12 free HD tracks from Chesky Records.

Now for the down side: It costs $2,000. Sure that’s a lot, especially in this economy, but as I told my wife, can you really put a price tag on happiness? Unfortunately, she said you can, and did. Maybe it’ll be cheaper next Christmas. —James K. Willcox

What gadgets did you love—and loved to hate!—this year? Speak your mind in our Comments section.

Happy New Year!

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Recommended MP3 Players

Look at the ones that we chose as the best of the best.

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Daily Dispatch: 3D TV channel to launch in U.S in 2010; Top Internet memes of ’09

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Combing through hundreds of blog posts and news articles daily, Dirk Klingner, our technology-trend watcher, sifts through the noise to bring you the tech news most important to consumers. If you have a tip on a story you want to share, leave a comment below.

First 3D Television Channel to Launch in the U.S. in 2010 (Mashable)

…and existing DirecTV set-top boxes will simply need a firmware upgrade to support the 3D programming. Unfortunately, you’ll still need to pick up a 3D-capable HDTV to play it back, and that’s where the market lag will play a role in determining how fast 3D will penetrate.

Top 9 Internet memes of 2009 (Technotica)

Click through for a slideshow style recap of 9 of the most popular Internet memes of the year.

iPods and educational applications have Minnesota students giddy about learning (PioneerPress)

…Somerset recently obtained an iPod Touch minilab of sorts — consisting of a storage-and-charging cart on wheels with dozens of the players, along with a laptop for downloading educational apps and transferring them to the players. Teachers take turns checking out the cart one or more times a week and handing out the charged-up iPods to students for some high-tech learning that, to the kids, feels a lot like playtime.

Haagen-Dazs Re-Ups Social Cause Campaign for Honey Bees, Again (ClickZ)

…In November, the ice cream maker renewed with Experience Project, using TwitCause to help raise funds for The University of California at Davis Honey Bee Research Facility. Häagen-Dazs agreed to pay $1 to the school every time someone retweeted its message about the fundraising effort.

Lighter Side: Smule awards $5,000 to I Am T-Pain video contest winner (smule)

All contest entries created using the I Am T-Pain iPhone app can be watched from the smule site. Some very creative uses of video and the iPhone.

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Daily electronics deals

Today’s electronics deals, courtesy of The Consumerist:

Computers and Electronics

Entertainment

Related: Computer Ratings and buying tips; Digital camera buying tips and Ratings; Video game console buying tips and online video: Choosing a video game system; DVD & Blu-ray player Ratings and buying tips.

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.

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Digital Dispatch: Spreezio serves up local deals; Google City Tours improved

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Combing through hundreds of blog posts and news articles daily, Dirk Klingner, our technology-trend watcher, sifts through the noise to bring you the tech news most important to consumers. If you have a tip on a story you want to share, leave a comment below.

Spreezio Serves Up Deals From Merchants Based On Where You Live (TechCrunch)

…Here’s how Spreezio works: you sign up as a shopper, and browse Spreezio’s product database, which includes over 35 million items, to find what you’re looking for, using the category icons or search bar. Once you’ve found a corresponding item, you can indicate how much you’d be willing to pay for it or what percentage of discount you’d expect in order to get you to go out and buy it from the merchants who can supply it.

Cellphone Encryption Code Is Divulged (New York Times)

…Simon Bransfield-Garth, the chief executive of Cellcrypt, a company based in London that sells software, said Mr. Nohl’s efforts could put sophisticated mobile interception technology — limited to governments and intelligence agencies — within the reach of “any reasonable well-funded criminal organization.”

Plan a trip in one click (Google Lat Long Blog)

Updates to Google’s City Tours service, a virtual tour guide, now provides complete walking direction and allows users to import a My Map as a tour.

Pro HDR brings high dynamic range photography to your iPhone 3GS (eyeApps LLC)

This iPhone 3GS app promises to let “you capture an image exposed for the highlights and another exposed for the shadows. It then automatically aligns and blends the images, giving you a gorgeous 3-megapixel HDR image like nothing you’ve ever seen from such a tiny device.” Check out the example photos that show the underexposed, overexposed and HDR images.

Lighter Side: 2009 in Social Media: A Noise to Signal Retrospective (Noise to Signal)

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Fox, Time-Warner battle over cable fees

If you live in a market served by Time Warner Cable, you’ve probably heard that Fox TV programming—including NBA, NFL, and college bowl games, hit shows such as American Idol and 24, and local stations—could disappear on New Year’s Day. Stations owned by Fox, such as FX, home of Nip/Tuck and Damages, could also vanish.

The blackout would reportedly affect some 13 million households in areas served by TWC (including New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas) as well as subscribers to Bright House Networks (which serves Florida, Alabama, California, Indiana, and Michigan).

In a nutshell, the battle is over so-called carriage fees, the amount networks charge TV service providers for their programming. CNN/Money has done a great job outlining the details. Each of the combatants is campaigning to win over the public to its viewpoint, in newspaper and TV ads and on the Web. You can check out the Fox and TWC positions for yourself.

Whatever happens, it’s likely that TV viewers will pay the piper. Carriage fees are one of the big reasons that your monthly bills keep rising. ESPN alone is said to account for close to $4 of your monthly tab.

Advocates for Consumers Union, our parent company, have long been concerned about spiraling TV service fees and pushing for a la carte programming so viewers don’t pay for channels they never watch.

Even if you’re not in the cross-hairs right now, you could be at any given time. This issue goes far beyond Fox and Time Warner, affecting the whole TV business model. What do you think should happen?

—Eileen McCooey

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