As a tech industry analyst, I get a ton of gadgets, consumer electronics and other tech products in every year for evaluation and some of them are memorable enough that they stand out above the pack. I figured as we dropped into the last couple weeks of 2009 that it would be fun to look back at those items that were a pleasure to use and that I’d miss when they are gone. Away we go…
I carried this ultra-rugged laptop around most of the year and it proved to be a champ. I had one problem in Europe where I thought I’d fried the system, and it turned out that what I’d fried was an aftermarket universal charger – thankfully, the Toughbook lived up to its name and was just fine. This notebook literally went coast to coast and nation to nation with me, and while it won’t win any beauty contests, after being banged around a lot, it looks little different than the day it was new. See if your year-old MacBook Pro can boast the same after 365 days of abuse. The system went seamlessly from Windows XP to Windows Vista to Windows 7, and the only other thing I wish it had was a good outdoor viewable screen, something none of my long-term test products got this year.
Dell sent me a pre-production prototype, and while it was clearly not as robust as the Panasonic laptop, what the system lost in overall ruggedness it made up for in beauty. I’ve had people walk by and do a double-take, come back and get down on their knees to look at this gorgeous laptop better. The notebook is incredibly light and thin, and you really appreciate thin if you have the kind of crammed full backpack that I tend to travel with (if my trip is less than 4 days, everything goes in the old rucksack). There is just something fun about having a product that is stunning, and believe me: This laptop fits the bill. On top of the outdoor viewable display though, I would have liked for the system to have boasted better battery life, as this came in with the 2-hour standard battery. (I mostly flew Virgin America which has AC in the seats so this wasn’t as big a problem as I thought it was going to be – if you have a choice I highly recommend Virgin America for local travel.)
I actually didn’t have that bad a time with Windows Vista, particularly after the first service pack (though I broke a lot of machines installing that service pack). But successor Windows 7 was a huge improvement over Windows Vista, and many of my ongoing network problems simply vanished after it was installed. Now Vista is a dim memory and I have machines all over the place that seem to go in and out of suspend instantly and are ready on a moment’s notice (something I was promised would work with Windows XP, but never seemed to work right). Bravo, Microsoft.
I often have to switch between listening to something off my PC, doing a podcast, doing a Skype call, or making a regular call, and the headset juggling act can get annoying. The Plantronics Savi Office headset has been a godsend because it allows me to use the same headset to do all of the above without looking like a total geek. The sound is good, the headset’s range is two floors, and battery life hasn’t been a problem. It’s actually not bad looking either and I don’t know how I ever worked without it.
Every couple of weeks I do a video podcast and I had been using an older Logitech camera which worked OK, but had a really tight field of view and the resolution wasn’t very good. I switched to this Microsoft HD LifeCam Cinema a few months ago and the picture is sharp, folks can see I’m in an office, and the experience is much better. I also noticed the price dropped on the camera to under $50 on Amazon and so bought two for each of my relatives who had spouses in the military for Christmas (They haven’t opened them yet so don’t tell them).
The folks over at Cisco liked this pocket-friendly digital video camera so much they bought the company. Initially I thought the camcorder was a gimmick, but it actually works rather well and is very affordable (I bought a bunch of these for my nieces and nephew). There are those moments that can truly be memorable on YouTube and this is the perfect YouTube camera. I’m looking forward to future versions with a light source and some kind of stability control, but I liked this camera so much I gave a bunch as gifts this year. Simple, easy to use, and affordable, you can’t do better than that.
Muvee Reveal does the full suite of production tasks you’d expect from a movie editing product and it is a hell of a lot cheaper than Final Cut Pro (and vastly easier to use). It is one of the few utilities that I found very useful as I began to explore this new inexpensive video experience.
I built a home studio again this year and used the M-Audio speakers, microphone, keyboard, and mixer to create a credible beginner effort. My next door neighbor has been working five years now to complete a professional studio in his basement and I can give him grief that mine at least works while his may still be several years out. Granted, when done his will be professional level. Rock Band or Guitar Hero won’t teach you how to play an instrument or sing on key, and this stuff won’t either, but with lessons you could become a musician. Which reminds me that I need to start taking the damn lessons…
I’ve had one of these for about a year now and I have been using it too much for gaming. This is a treadmill desk and several times last year I played for 6 or more hours. You see, it is on the first floor of my three-story house and after 6 hours I can’t lift my feet up the first stair. This can be a problem because all of the food is on the second floor (we only have cat food on the first floor and fortunately I’ve never gotten THAT hungry). If you find yourself on the computer a lot this is a way to get exercise and still game or work.
The Kindle has gone places with me that most technology products would be afraid to go. I’m on my third Kindle now having started with the first and second generations and now gotten hooked on the larger and more expensive DX (bigger size, bigger print, no glasses). This year Sony did a refresh on its like of Reader e-reader units, but the company’s eBook store still sucks, and the new Barnes & Noble Nook looked interesting, but it is both hard to find and seems to be breaking on a lot of folks, with both showcasing why the Kindle is still simply better. I’m so attached to this thing that I actually get concerned if I don’t have it on me or in clear sight (I think I’m addicted).
I love building my own desktop PCs and the most fun was in picking up a Zotac Atom/Ion-based board which has everything including wireless networking on it, tossing it in a small Antec Skeleton Mini-itx case, and plopping in an SSD drive. For under $600, you get a screaming near solid state (the fans and optical drive spin) micro desktop that folks can’t help but comment on. If you are slow, it takes about 45 minutes to build one and it’s a lot of fun. (I’ve built three so far and given one away as a gift).
It’s been a fun year and I’m looking forward to being overwhelmed by Smart-Tablets/Smartpads next year as Apple and others roll these devices out to market. One from Notion Ink uses both the NVIDIA Tegra chipset (graphics) and the amazing Pixel Qi hybrid display. This one could give Apple a run for the money, but I’ll need to see it first before I can be sure. In any case, 2010 is looking to be just as chock full of fun products as this one – happy holidays!