Overlooked and underrated gadgets and technology


Guest contributor Ethan Siegel is cofounder and CEO of Orb Audio.

Press coverage of consumer electronics has always been interesting to me. There are definitely some “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to publicity and mindshare, and if you are a have not, it is hard to get the public’s attention. Even a brief scan of most consumer electronics or technology websites will educate you on the rumors about the next four generations of each of the iEverythings. Better screen this, dual-core that, rumored to work on all planets between Jupiter and Venus, etc. Keeping up with current and future Apple products is not just easy, it is unavoidable.

With that in mind, I was hoping to cover some of the smaller and perhaps less recent product releases that I’ve found myself enjoying at home and at the office. I think I can appreciate technology more than some of the younger generations because I grew up without a lot of the things that we take for granted today. I am a little over 40, and beginning to notice more people who are surprised that there was no internet when I was growing up, or cell phones, or GPS. Traveling? Well, we actually had to know where we were going and how to get there before we left. If we got lost, you had to find a person to ask or a pay phone.

Today, though, I enjoy the comforts of all of these things. I’m not a fanatic, and I don’t wait in lines for new products. But I am an enthusiast, and I usually get around to checking out new technology. Sometimes I like to wait for the initial panic to die down and allow other people to discover all of the bugs in a new device. Either way, I do keep an eye out for interesting products and a lot of them eventually wind up in my home. I’d like to share my thoughts on some recent acquisitions:

AT&T-MicrocellAT&T Microcell

This product brings five-bar AT&T cell service to any place with an Internet connection. I had absolutely no cell coverage in my house (from any carrier) and now I have full voice and data service on my iPhone. Yes, it should be free since you are already paying quite a bit for AT&T cell service. However, it’s only $50 after rebate, and it is something worth considering if you have poor cell service at home or someplace else. There is no monthly charge if you want to use your minutes already included in your calling plan. You can also pay an additional fee to get unlimited minutes through the MicroCell.

AT&T is not the only carrier with this technology. Most of them have something like this by now, and it’s a great problem solver if your carrier can’t get you good service and you want to take matters into your own hands.

Sanyo Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries

I have two kids, plus my own battery habit to support. We go through a lot of AA batteries. I’ve used rechargeable NiMH batteries for years, as they are not that much more expensive than disposable batteries and even perform better in some products. Eneloop are an improved version of the rechargeable battery, and there are two reasons that I like them.

First, they come charged, which is extremely convenient. Most other rechargeable batteries have to be charged for at least a few hours before you can use them.

overlooked and underrated gadgets sanyo eneloopSecond, they basically don’t lose their charge over time. Other rechargeable batteries can lose one percent of their charge per day and be dead in a few months.

Together, this means that the Eneloops have the same convenience of disposable batteries – they are ready to use right out of their package, and they are OK if they sit unused in a toy or cabinet for months at a time. Sanyo recently released the newest generation of these batteries, which can now undergo 1500 recharge cycles, vs. 500 in the prior version. There are also a few other brands selling these types of batteries, just look for a rechargeable NiMH battery that comes pre-charged and you are probably on the right track. This is a great way to save money and be environmentally friendly at the same time.

Intel Sandy Bridge Computer

Confession time…my last computer was old. Almost five years old, which means it sputtered on a lot of modern tasks, like streaming HD video. It was also starting to act up a little, and the time to upgrade had come. Of course, I thought about buying an iMac and how much more handsome it would make me. In the end, though, I decided to get a high-performance Windows PC to see if it could compete.

There wasn’t really an Apple computer that met my desktop needs. I didn’t really need a new screen for my desktop computer (I have 2 good monitors already), so the iMac didn’t really make sense. The Mac Mini was in need of an update (coming soon, I think), and the Mac Pro was more computer, and more expensive, than I needed. So, I tried to take all of the Apple tricks, plus more, and cram them into a PC.

Intel-Sandy-BridgeI chose a lightning-fast SSD drive for Windows and all of my programs, and a spacious regular hard drive for data storage (SSD drives store your programs on flash memory chips instead of spinning hard drive platters, making them much faster). I added a good graphics card, lots of memory, and optimized the components and the case to be as quiet as possible.

Bottom line? I love it. Windows 7 is not quite as easy to use as Mac OS, but it’s a great improvement over prior versions. I highly recommend using a flash-based SSD as your Windows and program drive. No other upgrade will really have a bigger impact on the speed of your computer. Any doubts, look at the second-generation MacBook Air (late 2010), which has a very dated processor and graphics card, but feels fast as lighting when you use it because of the SSD drive. You don’t have to get the fastest or biggest SSD drive, as almost any SSD drive is going to be several times faster than a normal spinning hard drive. I’d recommend 128GB for the size, although you can make do with 64GB if you don’t plan on installing a huge number of programs.

It also turns out that Sandy Bridge was one of those products where it was good to hang back and let other people work out the bugs. Intel had some bumps getting the chipsets right, and there was even a recall of some of the first Sandy Bridge products. I’m glad I waited to buy the computer and didn’t rush out on the first day they were released. The kinks appeared to be worked out now, though, so you can buy with peace of mind.

That’s it for now. You may have heard of some or all of the products that made my list, but perhaps this has been a reminder that there are plenty of cool products that are still delivering the goods long after they have faded from the headlines.

Check out our Intel Sandy Bridge Review.