Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006: This Year In Gadgets

Welcome all to my first annual "This Year In Gadgets" post. Aside from loving coding and *nix and stuff, I'm also a major gadget junkie . . . and this post will cover my gadget purchases in the last year, and review all of them based on two seperate criteria. The first category of ranking is the Gadgetiness rating on a scale of 1 - 10, this is how much the purchase of the gadget tickled my gadget bone. This ranking will combine how gimicky and rediculous the gadget is. The second category is Usefullness, and this rating will cover how usefull the gadget actually is. So in the order in which they were purchased in 2006 here we go:

Nokia 770

Gadgetiness Rating: 9
Usefullness Rating: 7

List Price: $359.99
Price Paid: $175.99

Technically I picked up this bad boy at the end of 2005, but as this is my first gadget year in review, this thing needs to be in here. My friend Sean and I got these at half price with a developers license, and we had them overnighted to us in anticipation of playing with the first ever "Web Tablet." My first concern was that the screen was so small as to make the product useless for viewing actual web pages, but when I navigated to gmail to play around everything was fine. The tiny screen (about 4 in by 3 in) features an 800 x 600 px display making the screen easily viewable even when set to the dimmest setting.

Unlike a cell phone, the 770 uses wi-fi to browse actual web pages, and so you're not stuck with the restrictions of the mobile web. The Nokia 770 runs a flavor of Linux specially developed for it called "Maemo" and this thing is exceedingly usefull. Aside from being able to view web-pages, once you complete the firmware upgrade and OS upgrade, you can also install a miriad of applications from SSH to GAIM, making the Nokia 770 a tiny versitile Unix client machine that allows you to do pretty much everything a sys-admin needs to be able to do. In addition to this the battery life on this baby is huge, I get about 8 hours when listening to music, and about 10 hours of use when simply browsing the internet.

The 770 also can connect to your computer via Bluetooth or USB 2.0, and when you plug it in via USB 2.0 the flash memory card in the 770 appears as an external hard drive to your computer . . . as far as I can tell this works equally well for all operating systems (having tested on Ubuntu, Debian, Suse, OS X, and Windows XP). All in all the 770 is the perfect little toy for the serious computer user on the go, it's much more robust than a smart phone, and much much smaller and lighter than a laptop. In a word: Awesome.

Olevia 527V HDTV

Gadgetiness Rating: 4
Usefullness Rating: 9

List Price: $699.99
Price Paid: $499.99

This isn't really a gadget, so much as it's a HDTV, but it is very gadgety as far as TVs go. I bought this in anticipation of purchasing a new computer, and stumbled upon the 527V while looking for a monitor. The 527V is a HDTV/Monitor and features a wide variety of inputs including one SVGA and one DVI input for computer monitors, these in addition to 2 Composite and 2 Component ports. As far as the usefullness rating goes, it gets a 9 not because it's a particularly good HDTV, indeed the 527V is at the very low end of the HDTV spectrum, but it is can be used for so much more than just your typical HDTV. I currently have a computer, 2 gaming systems, a DVD player, a Cable Box, and a VHS player hooked up to this bad boy.

The 527V supports 1080i and 720p, and has a fairly high contrast ratio and response time for a low end HDTV. All in all for the money, this is a great all around monitor/TV, I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Intel Core Duo Mac Mini

Gadgetiness Rating: 7
Usefullness Rating: 10

Retail Price: $1199.99
Price Paid: $1199.99

This fully functioning computer is just . . . well . . . it's sexy. It has an extremely small footprint, and it just looks so damn hot . . . mmmmm. Where do I start with this thing. Firstly, the retail price seems a bit high, but that price includes the cost of necessary upgrades (specifically upgrading to 1GB of RAM, a 100GB Hard Drive, and the cost of an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and Mouse). This thing is hooked up to my Olevia 527V via DVI and it works very well for a variety of reasons. First the machine runs very very fast, and can be used extremely well as a Unix Client, as OS X is a unix varient. So i can sit on my couch and do everything I need to do for my job. But why is this a gadget? Well my friends I will tell you.

The Mac mini is pretty much designed to be a fully functioning Mac, that also can function as the ever popularizing "Living Room Computer." This thing is . . . as Apple calls it . . . a "Multimedia Hub." The Mini comes with a IR remote control that can be used to control iTunes, DVD Player and also front row. Front Row is the key though, Front Row is Mac's answer to Windows Media Center Edition, and it comes standard on all Macs. By pressing the "Menu" button on the remote control you can bring up an interface that will allow you to view pictures, watch films, listen to music or (not sure about this) watch TV. God is this thing cool, I can navigate to my films through front row using a remote control, and the preview window is totally sweet. This thing is an all around great computer with a fast enough processor to encode video or be used as a unix client, and with enough cool shit to be used as a Multimedia Hub. And in addition to this, the Mini is silent, you really can't tell if it's on aside from the light on the front, which means that your viewing or listening pleasure is never interrupted by the not-so-gentle whir of processor or power supply fans . . . awesome.

NetGear SPH101 Skype Phone

Gadgetiness Rating: 10
Usefullness Rating: 4

Retail Price: $230
Price Paid: $200

This thing is a gadgetphiles gadget. I couldn't wait to get my hands on one of these, and had been following the development of the project for quite some time before the actual hardware was released. The SPH101 is the first of it's kind, it is a wi-fi skype phone with the skype software embeded on the phone. This means that the SPH101 is a stand alone skype client, and is used without interfacing with any computer. I bought this thing for the gadgetiness of it, and also because the number of skype accessories for Mac OS X is small, and for Linux is none, and as these are my primary operating systems I was stuck using Skype on my Mac with a microphone and my TV speakers, huddled 2 feet from the TV . . . it sucked.

It's not surprising that NetGear released the first of this breed, as NetGear (partnered with eBay) owns Skype, but NetGear's hardware really has a long way to come. This thing is hilarious, It's made of some really low grade plastics, and it feels like it could come apart in your hand at any time. I will say that the call quality on it is pretty freaking sweet, and that the size and look of the thing are roughly similar to that of cell phones from about 3 years ago. There are a few real problems with this thing though: First, the wireless card inside of it is shit, you have to be within about 20 feet of your router for it to work, but inside that 20 feet it works very well. The battery life is about 1.5 hours of talk time, and about 8 hours of not talk time, which is nasty, especially when you consider that it doesn't warn you before it dies. The phone also overheats from time to time during extensive (1 hour plus) periods of use, resulting in the phone shutting off and an inability to turn it back on untill it reaches a suitable temperature . . . also this hurts the side of your face . . . no really . . . it hurts. The software also doesn't track calls accross sessions, so you can only view your calls in the current session that you've logged on, if you miss a call and you lose your network connection and sign back in you'll never know that you missed a call unless they left a voice mail. All in all I show this thing off to my techie friends, because it's a hilarious piece of hardware, and I use it to Skype with my friends, and for a local chicago number . . . but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone but the most serious gadget freaks.

Samsung M610 (Sprint PowerVision)

Gadgetiness Rating: 7
Usefullness Rating: 9

Retail Price: $329.99
Price Paid: $329.99

I just got this for Christmas, so this review will be less complete than the others, but here goes. This thing is "the thinnest clamshell in the world" and I believe it, this thing is thin enough to give Kate Moss an eating disorder . . . I mean . . . give her another eating disorder. It gets a high gadgetiness rating because key to this rating is the show-off-ishness of a electronic device . . . and this thing is something that you can proudly show to anyone . . . sexy. This is not a smartphone however, so it can't get a truly astronomical gadgetiness rating.

The main boast of the M610 is how thin it is, but it also features a 2 Mpx camera with 180 degree rotation on the vertical axis . . . pretty sweet for snapping pictures of yourself . . . if that's your thing. The only problem with this is that the camera doesn't flip the picture so if you take a picture of yourself with it, it will be upsidedown, and in phone there is no way to rotate the picture. In addition to this it also features Mp3 player software and comes with NFL mobile (if you like that sort of thing). The M610 is designed to access the Sprint "PowerVision" network, which is expensive and sucks horribly, though it has lots and lots of sucky content. But with a gnarly-awesome screen that is very bright, very clear and large for a clamshell you can browse the internet with much more ease than your average phone.

While this thing is totally kick-ass, it does have a few annoying problems. Due to the brightness of the screen, unless you signifigantly turn down the brightness from the factory settings, you're looking at very low battery life for internet browsing or TV watching. In addition to this, they cut down on thickness by excluding an external speaker on the phone, so there is no speaker phone for it, and also the ringer uses the earpiece speaker, and so you will most likely miss a lot of calls, as the maximum volume of the ringer is still quite quiet. You also don't get a larger external screen, as is common on most clamshells, so if you're a big fan of seeing a picture of your friends on the outside of your phone when they call . . . well . . . don't expect this out of the M610 because it can't handle it. The phone also only features a single I/O port which is new to the M610 and so the accessories for the phone (wired headsets, datalinks etc) are rare, but it does boast bluetooth, so this shouldn't be a real issue. The only other problem i've had with it is that it is so new that quite a bit of usefull software doesn't work for it yet . . . including gmail.app, so if you need lots of software for your phone, go with the Samsung A900, as apps will be sure to work for it.

All in all though, this phone is great, it has a hot screen, and a sleek profile, I would highly recommend this to all sprint users.

Untill Next year . . . gadget on!

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