Posts Tagged "electronics"

Motorola Droid Review

Published on March 20, 2010

Back in December of last year, I made the decision to ditch my land-line telephone and go wireless only. I decided to pick up a smart phone, and chose the Motorola Droid: both because of the Verizon network (with which I was relatively happy) and because it wasn’t an iPhone. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to play with it for a few months, I’d like to share some thoughts on the device.

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Whither iPad?

Published on January 31, 2010

What do you think about Apple’s iPad? Will it fly, or will it flop? Here are a few brief thoughts I had on the newest product from Cupertino:

  • The name is absolutely terrible
  • No physical keyboard is a huge minus on something this size
  • Only one connector (Apple proprietary) is a huge mistake
  • Data plans through AT&T are a big negative
  • What does this give me that I can’t do already on my laptop or netbook?
  • No multitasking seems like a poor decision
  • What a terrible name!

Perhaps Apple will prove me wrong, but I can’t see this device catching on the world over. The “cool” factor just isn’t there; the keynote demos consisted of boring stuff like editing spreadsheets and documents, something the “kids” of today aren’t interested in. So what do you think?

Going Cell Only

Published on November 8, 2009

I have a land line telephone at home, along with a really old cell phone. I’m thinking about ditching the land line and going cell only on a smart phone (I’m looking at the Motorola Droid). Has anyone else here gone cell only? If so, what do you think about it? There are a few edge cases I’m mildly concerned about in migrating to a cell only scenario:

Emergency Contact at Night
Let’s assume someone else needs to get a hold of me late at night. Do I simply keep my cell phone on all the time? I’m assuming I would (it would be connected to the charger overnight). With a land line, this is obviously not a problem.
Loss or Theft of Cell Phone
Suppose the cell phone is either lost or stolen. Replacing it is a no brainer, but in the mean time there would be no fallback plan (right?).
Cell Phone Outages
Rarely, cell phone outages occur (say, from a hurricane). This is, admittedly, an extreme edge case. Land lines can similarly go out in these cases. But what is the fallback plan for outages? Is there one?

I know these are edge cases, but I’m trying to think about all the possibilities before I make the plunge. Any other advice on going cell only?

The Kindle Killer?

Published on October 20, 2009

Barnes & Noble has unveiled the Nook, their Kindle-killing e-book reader. Although I don’t read enough to warrant getting one of these devices, I have to admit that the Nook is very slick looking. It certainly has the Apple-esque design going for it, with its slick looking screen, color keyboard, and general all-around sexiness.

Do any of you use a Kindle, or wish you did? What do you think of this new device? I think B&N will be bringing the heat to Amazon which is always a good thing (we can always use more competition).

iPod Dock Recommendations?

Published on April 26, 2009

I have lots of music that I like to listen to, and I sometimes want to listen to it while lounging around my living room. The most convenient (and obvious) way to access my music is through my iPod, which houses my entire collection. At the moment, I don’t have a way to play my music in the living room (besides busting out my headphones, which I don’t always feel like doing).

Does anyone have recommendations for how I might go about doing this? I don’t want the music to play through the TV (I’m willing to buy external speakers). A user friendly interface would be beneficial as well (maybe a way to change tracks, volume, etc from the couch?).

What does everyone else do?

Wanted: PDA for Shopping

Published on January 1, 2009

I was in the grocery store last night cursing the paper shopping list I had written out. The list had grown messy from scratching out stuff I had already picked up, and items weren’t organized in any fashion, resulting in my backtracking across the store three or four times. So I got thinking about how this is a perfect solution for a PDA. I want a PDA that:

  • Can handle customized shopping lists, saving entered items for future use (perfect for groceries)
  • Can organize said list into categories
  • Has a user-friendly interface
  • Is not an iPhone

Does anyone have any suggestions on what might fit the bill? I’m not terribly interested in using it to do any networking; I mainly want something that can handle data input and the like. Ideally, the device would be affordable, but I’m willing to explore most avenues. Any and all suggestions would be appreciated.

Television Reception Woes

Published on November 17, 2008

A while back, I noted how I was planning on watching my television over the air. I recently bought the Antennas Direct DB2 Multi Directional HDTV Antenna. I started out by placed the antenna next to the TV, pointed in the direction indicated by AntennaWeb.org. Reception was OK, but could have been better.

Thanks to the fact that my house is prewired for cable, I was able to move the antenna to an upstairs bedroom, and wire it directly to my television in the family room downstairs. This helped, but didn’t fix things. My dad helped me mount the antenna outside on an old satellite dish mount. Again, the hope was that this would help my reception. And again, I’ve been disappointed.

Unfortunately, my antenna is ‘looking’ directly through a line of trees about 100 feet behind my house. When the weather is windy, my reception is really bad (and it’s been very windy here recently). As such, I’ve been disappointed with the antenna.

Does anyone here get TV over the air? If so, how do you maximize your signal strength? I’m getting frustrated with my current setup, and I’m not sure how to proceed. Cable television is ridiculously expensive, and I like having stations in HD. But my options seem so limited. Anyone got any tips?

What’s the Deal With Touch Screens?

Published on October 26, 2008

It’s becoming more prevalent that computer manufacturers, along with hand held device companies, are turning to touch screen technology. The Apple iPhone is one prime example, and now HP is offering their TouchSmart PC (Flash warning). Does anyone really need such a thing? What’s wrong with the keyboard and mouse? I can see touch-screen technology used at kiosks in stores or museums, but I’m not exactly sure I understand the appeal of it at home. At the very least, I don’t want fingerprints all over my screen (which is exactly what I’d get). Does anyone have any idea who would want such a setup? Maybe the target market is older people who aren’t familiar with the mouse and keyboard paradigm.

Electronics Shopping

Published on October 5, 2008

I’m currently in the market for a new television and a DVD player, and I still have absolutely no idea which way to go. There’s plenty of educational material on the web, and I’ve read a fair amount of it. The classic LCD vs. plasma debate is the topic of conversation everywhere, and everyone seems to say the same thing: it all depends on what you want. Plasma has some great pros: deeper black levels, a better viewing angle, and (according to some sources) cheaper per inch than an LCD. One of the major drawbacks for me is that plasma screens are highly reflective. I’ve got four windows that allow in the bright afternoon sun, and they’re directly opposite where the TV will ultimately be placed. I’ve got blinds, but they only do so much for the light. However, I primarily watch television at night, so it’s not a major issue (though it might become one in the summer, when it’s lighter later).

My current TV of choice is the Panasonic Viera TH-42PX80U (which seems to be offered by a different 3rd party outfit every day). I’ve read that at under 50 inches, going to 1080p isn’t really worth it, unless you plan on using the screen as a computer monitor. I’m not planning on doing that, so the cost savings is worth it to me.

As far as DVD players go, I’m not sure what to do. Lots of players do upconversion these days, but I’ve read some strange reports of problems with this feature. Some players upconvert to 16:9 only, forcing you to stretch older DVDs (e.g. older television shows) to fit the screen. Other players have reports of defaulting to 1080p, causing display issues on 720p sets.

What kinds of TVs and DVD players do you folks use? Any tips on what I should buy or avoid?

Kensington Digital FM Transmitter Review

Published on May 12, 2008
Kensington Digital FM Transmitter

Back in November, I picked up a Kensington Digital FM Transmitter for my iPod Classic. And on my way back from Dustin and Sarah’s wedding yesterday (congratulations, you guys!), it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet posted a review of the device.

Having never used an FM transmitter before, I was unsure about the reception quality. Thankfully, this specific Kensington model is top notch. It’s rare that I encounter static, and I’ve noted that it most often happens when driving under a particularly large overpass. The audio quality is excellent, though I find that I have to turn up the volume on my car stereo a little higher than I normally would with the corresponding audio CD. This might simply be related to the compression that MP3’s provide, but it’s a minor nuisance.

The unit provides 3 preset buttons, which is very useful to lock in multiple unused stations. This feature was really handy when I went to the mountains last Thanksgiving; one of the preset stations I was using in the RTP area was being used in the Asheville area, and switching was simply a matter of pressing a button (and then tuning to the right place on the receiver).

While your iPod is attached, the unit charges the battery. Unfortunately, there’s no option to not charge the battery, which would be useful for battery conditioning purposes. I don’t use this unit every day, so this minor problem doesn’t impact me as much. One other minor annoyance is that the iPod-style connector doesn’t lock into place. This makes it much easier for the cable to fall out, though I have only seen this happen a time or two.

Overall, I really like this unit. According to the Amazon product page, this particular model is being phased out and replaced by the Kensington LiquidFM Transmitter, which has much lower reviews. If you want one of these models, I suggest picking it up ASAP. You will not be disappointed.

Death Blow to HD-DVD

Published on January 8, 2008

Warner Brothers studios has officially defected to the Blu-ray format, and now Paramount seems poised to do the same. This is all but the end for the HD-DVD format, which is a real shame. Granted, there’s no real difference between the two formats (none that are apparent to the common consumer, anyway). Blu-ray discs may end up being more expensive, due to the fact that they cost a little more to manufacture. They also continue the stupid “region coding,” where certain discs will only play in the players purchased in a specific geographic location.

If for no other reason, I wanted HD-DVD to win the “format war” because Blu-ray is backed by Sony. Any day that Sony fails is a good day in my opinion, and it’s a shame that the movie studios decided to take the low-road. Time will tell how well this format takes off.

CES Highlights

Published on January 7, 2008

I’ve only been casually following the events at this year’s CES, but a few things I’ve seen have been pretty impressive:

Nintendo’s Hardware Exploits

Published on December 28, 2007

One of the things I got for Christmas this year was The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS. I’ve played the game for several hours now, and I wanted to discuss Nintendo’s usage of the DS hardware in the game. Never before have I seen a video game make such good use of the hardware it has access to. Link is controlled entirely through the use of the touch screen (the D-pad and buttons are hardly, if ever, used), which isn’t entirely a new idea; see Kirby: Canvas Curse for a previous touch-screen-only title.

What really blew me away (almost literally) was the usage of the microphone in the game. There are a number of places where the player has to take some action: call out to a character trapped behind a steel door, blow out a few candles, etc. The neat thing is that all of these actions require you to physically do something. When you are told to cry out, you have to literally cry out. When you are asked to blow out the candles, you have to literally blow onto your DS! Is this a genius idea or what? I know that Donkey Konga for the Gamecube used a microphone (where the player clapped their hands), but this is the first game I’ve personally played that makes use of this kind of hardware.

The game also uses one other hardware feature that helps to advance the storyline (I’ll do my best to avoid any spoilers here). At one point, you are asked to perform a specific task to help locate a hidden item in the game world. In order to do this, you literally have to close the lid of the DS, and open it back up. What?!? Unfortunately, the game didn’t give me enough hints to figure this out on my own (or I was too dense to make sense of the clues it was giving me). As a result, I got stuck at this particular point and ended up reading about how to advance forward (and I hate having to do that kind of thing). But this hardware hack really impressed me! It will be interesting to see if any other games make use of this technology; here’s hoping that they will!

Waiting for the Next Best Thing

Published on August 22, 2007

For what seems like an eternity now, I’ve been trying to decide whether to purchase an Apple iPod to replace my Creative Zen Micro (I’ve outgrown the 5 GB of storage). And wouldn’t you know it? Just as I seriously start to move towards purchasing one, my favorite retailer quietly stops stocking them.

A UBS Investment Research analyst recently speculated that Apple might refresh their iPod lineup in the next month or so:

In his note to clients, the UBS analyst also said he expects Apple to refresh its iPod video and iPod nano lines sometime next month. Among the expected introductions are higher capacity iPod nanos at aggressive price points, as well as a flash based widescreen video iPod likely using multi-touch technology for less than $300.

Will all the large iPods go to flash based technology? That would be a surprise to me. The largest flash drives I’ve seen on the market are 16 GB, far short of the 30 GB size of today’s iPods. And what about this price increase? Quoting a price point of less than $300 indicates to me that the new device will cost somewhere between $250 (the current price) and $300 (I’m going to predict $299). It just so happens that $250 is about as much as I’m willing to pay, especially since I still have to buy a separate wall charger (which I still contend is highway robbery). I just wish Amazon would stock the 30 GB players again at $225 ($25 off). If they did, I’d be sold.

MP3 Player Ideas?

Published on July 14, 2007

My Creative Zen Micro only has 5GB of storage and, having filled that up, I’m looking for a new (and larger) MP3 player. All of the major players (the iPod, the Zune, and the Creative Zen Vision M) have their own frustrating drawbacks, like non-replaceable batteries.

As such, I’ve been trying to figure out which way to go, mostly by reading reviews around the web. The more I read, the less impressed I am with each player. What MP3 player(s) do you use and/or own? Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Nintendo DS Lite Review

Published on November 22, 2006

For my birthday this year, I got a Nintendo DS Lite. Now that I’ve had some time to play with it, I’d like to give you my thoughts on the system, along with the various games that I have picked up so far. I’ve given each a letter grade, for whatever that’s worth.

The DS Lite System (A+)
What first wowed me with the DS Lite was the screen brightness. Having never seen an original DS, I can’t make a comparison between the two generations. However, I can say that my Gameboy Advance SP doesn’t touch the DS Lite brightness levels. It’s literally like night and day. However, the brighter you run the screen, the faster the battery drains. I use brightness level 2 (out of 4, if I remember correctly, where 4 is the brightest). I have been very pleased with the battery life at this level; I charge the system after several hours of play (I haven’t timed it, but I’m guessing somewhere between 6 to 10 hours between charges). And the sound in the DS Lite is incredible. I don’t know how they packed such awesome speakers into a tiny package, but they are really crisp. The added bonus that there are two speakers, and that they utilize stereo to great effect, is even better!

The touch screen is a novel idea and works well, though I find it a little hard to use the stylus in a game that also uses the buttons. And while I’m on that topic, let me say that I am glad that Nintendo included the X and Y buttons. The lack of X and Y on the Gameboy Advance SP really hurt the SNES game ports. Hopefully the DS will help fill that gap. It’s also nice that Gameboy Advance games can be played in the DS (though the X and Y buttons still aren’t useful for those older games). It’s nice to only carry one system around but have support for games from multiple platforms.

Since I’m the only one I know with a DS Lite, I haven’t tried the multiplayer stuff (with built-in wireless). I hear it works pretty well, but I can’t comment since I haven’t used that aspect of it.

There isn’t much negative to say about the DS Lite. Each time you start it up, you get a weird “Health and Safety Warning” that requires a tap of the touch screen to bypass. I find this odd, and a minor annoyance, but I guess Nintendo is trying to get people to be mindful of what they do. Also, the shiny casing is nice, but it shows fingerprints very easily (at least on my black model).

Overall, I nothing but good things to say. I highly recommend the DS Lite as a gaming platform.

The New Super Mario Bros. (B)
This being my first game, I was highly excited about it initially. It evokes classic gaming memories from the NES days, and the game’s action is as fun as ever. But, sadly, Mario’s adventure is a little short. The levels are surprisingly small, and are rather easy (to say the least). New power-ups help ease that pain a little; the giant mushroom and tiny mushrooms are a blast to use. I dislike how worlds 4 and 7 are completely optional (and a little difficult to access; they are only available through secret boss-level exits). The included mini-games are cute, but they don’t draw me back to them again and again. Final verdict? This is a fun game, and a must have for Mario fans, even if it is indeed a short endeavor.

Tetris DS (B)
Six game types are available in Tetris DS, and most of them are decent enough. The only two game types that don’t really excite me are the catch mode and mission mode. The other four (touch, push, puzzle, and standard) are really fun, and I would imagine are a blast with multiple players.

Kirby Canvas Curse (A)
I’ve never played a Kirby game before this one, but I must say that this one is highly entertaining. It uses the touch screen and stylus entirely; you never make use of the game pad buttons. By drawing “rainbow bridges” for Kirby to roll on, you must defeat an evil witch who has turned the world into a painting. Artwork in the game is phenomenal, and the action is pretty intense in some places. The stylus is used to great effect, and was a great twist on gaming. I highly recommend this title.

Yoshi’s Island DS (???)
I haven’t assigned this game a grade yet, because I only yesterday received it from Amazon. The original Yoshi’s Island for the Super Nintendo was a blast, and this one looks like it will follow in its predecessor’s footsteps. It uses both screens to show the game world, which is mildly annoying; there is a physical gap between the screens on the DS Lite, and so there’s a “gap” in what the game shows you at any one time. Hopefully this “feature” won’t be too much of a burden as I go forward. Time will tell.

It appears that I have written a lot on the subject, but hopefully you’ll find this information to be of use. I’ll be taking time off from my posting duties over the holiday weekend so until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Zen Micro: Three Months In

Published on October 11, 2005

Over three months ago, I purchased a Creative Zen Micro MP3 player. And at the time, I commented on my initial impressions, all of which were favorable. Now that I have had sufficient time to play with it, I’d like to post a follow-up to that earlier article, expanding upon those initial impressions.

On the whole, I still adore this little device. I use it nearly every day at work and I have taken it on a trip or two. Because the Micro is indeed rather tiny, it makes the perfect traveling companion (no more CD wallet and bulky CD player). And with 5 GB of storage, I can take most of my music with me wherever I go. My Zen Micro currently holds 61 albums (851 tracks) and there is nearly 2 GB of available space left!

The battery life is quite good; I can listen to music at work for two days before I need to charge it. However, I am rather conservative on battery usage, so your mileage may vary (I only ever let it get down to one bar left on the battery indicator). One of these days, I should let it run all the way down to see how far I can go.

I mentioned in my earlier report that the Zen’s ear buds were a little too large for my ears. I have since obtained a pair of Sony buds which hang over your ears. They sound great (although the bass is weaker than the Creative buds) and they don’t fall out so easily.

Creative has certainly done a great job with the Zen Micro. Although I haven’t tried all of its features yet (I still need to give the AM/FM radio a go), it has served me quite well. If you are in the market for an MP3 player, I highly recommend this one from Creative. You won’t be disappointed.

Zen Micro: My First Impressions

Published on July 6, 2005

One week ago today, I received my Creative Zen Micro in the mail, and I’ve been playing with it for the past week. All I can say is that this device rocks! Having never had an MP3 player before, I don’t have anything else to compare it to. But so far, I am very impressed.

Pros

  • Excellent sound output
  • Player is incredibly tiny and light
  • 5 GB of storage
  • Replaceable Battery
  • Easy-to-use touch interface
  • Works great in Windows Media Player 10
  • Available in 10 colors (mine is red)
  • Cool pulsating light when it’s charging

Cons

  • Tiny gap between album tracks
  • Ear buds are a little too big for my ears
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