&t Technology Bytes: Tech Toys Archives


Tech Toys Archives

May 19, 2010

Tech Toy of the Month: Infinite USB Plug

infiniteusb.jpgI spend a lot of time reading about new technology products. Most of the time, the new products I read about are simply upgrades or new versions of old products. Yawn. But every so often I see something that makes me wonder why I didn't think of it first. This month, I came across a concept product that I hope will make it to production soon. I think you'll think the Infinite USB Plug is a good idea too.

As with most good technology products, the design is simple and obvious. Just look at the picture. Each USB cable has a pass-through USB port so you can stack a few USB devices into one port. Simple and convenient! This idea is great for laptops that have limited USB ports as has become the trend with many very small laptops. In one of the pictures on this page, it appears that they show a MacBook Air which does actually have only one USB port.

Unfortunately, the Infinite USB Plug is only a concept at this time, so don't run out looking to purchase this product. But hopefully enough people will think it is a good idea and we will see this product out for sale sooner than later.

If there is a new technology device that you would like more information about, please contact me today!

April 22, 2010

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple iPad Redux

iPad.pngI know that I had the iPad as the January Tech Toy of the Month, but this is such a groundbreaking piece of technology that I felt it deserved another mention. Since the iPad was just released this month and I've had some time to review it, there is no better time to talk about the iPad than now. For those of you that are thinking that this will be a boring dissertation on the technical details of a tech gadget, fear not! Because what is important about the iPad is not the tech details, but what the device empowers users to do.

Many people have commented that the iPad is nothing more than a big iPod Touch. The people that say this mostly have not used the device or have only given it cursory usage. Regardless, to those that think this I say "exactly ... but that's what makes it different." Of course, my response is designed to draw them into a conversation, but the thought behind the statement is spot-on. In other words, the iPad on the surface is really very much like a big iPod Touch (or iPhone). However, the simple fact that the device has a bigger screen opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

The fact that the iPad is like an iPod Touch or iPhone is good because many people already know how to use these devices. This means that for many people there will be no learning curve for the iPad. But regardless if a user has previously used an iPod Touch or iPhone, the Touch OS is extremely easy to learn. So basically using an iPad is just like using the aforementioned devices. It's all touchscreen with a single home button, along with power and volume buttons.

But with a 9.7 inch display, the iPad is a much more functional device. Things like web browsing suddenly take on a whole new experience. It's very hard to describe, but the iPad just feels natural to use. Sitting on the couch web browsing with the iPad is so comfortable that I now find it awkward to sit with my laptop anymore. The touchscreen interface, at least for tasks like web browsing, feels more intuitive to me than a keyboard and mouse. And the fact that you can hold the iPad fairly close to your face makes the screen feel a lot bigger than it actually is.

Reading on the iPad is very pleasant. This is crucial because the iPad has the potential to revolutionize the publishing industry. The long awaited promise of technology to reduce the amount of paper we use may finally become a reality. It is entirely conceivable the iPad and future devices like it will become the dominant method people use to read books, magazines, and newspapers. Given that people will be reading on an interactive touchscreen device, indeed the entire concept of what books, magazines, and newspapers are could even change. Imagine students carrying one iPad instead of a backpack full of textbooks. The electronic book aspect of the iPad alone could change the world.

However, where I think the iPad will really make an impact is in the way we use computers in the home. I have been calling the iPad the first "coffee table" computer. For as far as personal computers have come along, they are still basically tied down to desks. Even laptops are not as portable as most people would like. The iPad changes all this. The device is so small and light and its battery life is so long, that I predict the iPad will be entirely more accessible to family members in a home. As many things in a home, it will find a place on the living room coffee table and it will migrate around the house as necessary. Because the price is so low, I also predict that many homes will own multiple iPads. This will go very far in meeting the ever increasing demand of computing in homes. For the price of a single good laptop or desktop, a family could purchase 2 or 3 iPads which will likely fit the needs of most family members and give them all their own iPad to use.

Because this device could change so much in the computer industry, I recommend that you test drive an iPad as soon as you can, especially if you are considering a new computer purchase in the near future. For all that you can read about the iPad, there is no substitute for actually getting your hands on one. If you know someone that owns an iPad, try using it while lounging on a couch or recliner. I promise it will change the way you think about interacting with computers.

If you'd like to test drive an iPad, visit the MacXprts store in Edwardsville, IL. There are 3 models on display so you should be able to spend as much time as you'd like with one.

March 24, 2010

Tech Toy of the Month: Canon PowerShot SD780

canon-powershot-sd780is.jpgOne of the most common requests I get is recommendations for digital cameras. It seems like a simple question, but holy cow is it hard to make recommendations! There are so many manufacturers, models, features, price points, and target markets for digital cameras that I don't even really try to keep up with them all. However, it is such a requested item that I thought I'd give it a try. What I was looking for was a camera for an average user looking for good quality on a budget. I believe I stumbled upon such a camera, the Canon PowerShot SD780.

In reading reviews of this camera, a few things stood out. First, the camera is less than an inch thick. This makes it easy to take along in a purse or even a pocket. Second, the price point is $250 or less, which makes it a very affordable camera for the for category. Finally, the camera can take respectable 720p HD video.

Overall, the SD780 has gotten very good reviews. I've selected two reviews to link to here:


As well, reading user opinions shows that most customers are happy with their purchase of this camera. I also noted that many users talked about how durable the camera was. I think this is a very important and often-overlooked quality of many tech devices. Broken devices don't make anybody happy.

So if you're in the market for a good quality camera for taking day-to-day snapshots, it seems that the Canon PowerShot SD780 could be a great fit for you.

If there is a new technology device that you would like more information about, please contact me today!

February 17, 2010

Tech Toy of the Month: Wi-Ex zBooster

1-YX510-Product-ImageTHUMB.jpgWith the rising demand for Internet access, many more people are turning to mobile broadband solutions. This includes people who only plan to use mobile broadband in their homes or businesses because they can not get high-speed Internet access otherwise. One of the more common problems people are experiencing is that many buildings do not get a strong cell signal indoors. This is especially true in warehouse-type buildings that are made of metal. Fortunately, there are solutions to boost cell signals that do not require the wireless provider adding more towers in your area. I've known about the Wi-Ex zBooster for some time, so I thought this would be a good time to write about it.

There are a two different branches of zBoost devices: one for home/office use and one for travel. I'll mostly talk about the home & office versions of the zBoost, although the in-vehicle model could be very beneficial for some people. The concept of how the zBoost works is pretty simple. An antenna is mounted outside the building (or near a window), which is connected to the zBoost device by a cable. The zBoost device retransmits the signal from the outside to the indoors and vice-versa. This results in a stronger signal inside the building and improved voice calls as well as faster data connections. This sounds fairly easy and it can be, but the mounting of the antenna and running of the cable to a suitable location indoors may be challenging in some situations.

There are a few different home & office versions of the zBoost, but I recommend the $399 YX510-PCS-CEL. It covers the frequencies of all common carriers, except for Nextel/iDEN devices (no zBoost devices covers Nextel/iDEN devices). There are $299 models that cover only a particular frequency range. If you are completely sure that your provider only uses a particular frequency range then you could save $100 and go with the $299 YX500-PCS or YX500-CEL. However, with the extra $100 for the YX510-PCS-CEL you are covered in case you ever change providers or if someone comes to your location that uses a different provider. This is why I recommend that model.

While the zBoost can be a little pricey and the installation may be challenging, for someone who is desperate to improve the strength of a cell signal in their building, it may be well worth the cost and effort.

Visit my other blog, State of the Tech, to keep up with the world of technology.

January 28, 2010

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple iPad

iPad.pngFor the last several months, there have been many rumors floating that claimed Apple was going to release a tablet computer. The rumors created an extremely strong anticipation among not only technology professionals, but also the general public. What was the Apple tablet computer going to do and how would it change the computing marketplace? Luckily, the Apple iPad tablet computer was introduced today so I can now write some factual information on this heavily anticipated Apple product.

To start, I won't go over the details of what the iPad can do. For that, simply take a look at Apple's iPad web site. It has all the information on the features and benefits of the product that somebody could want. What I will do instead is give an overview of what I think the average person needs to know.

There have been tablet computers made before so what makes the iPad different? Most previous tablet computers ran the Windows operating system. These devices never really sold well because most users found them difficult to use. The main reason for this was that the Windows operating system was designed for a keyboard and mouse, not a touch or pen interface. Therefore most users found tablet PCs awkward to use.

The Apple iPad has been designed from the ground up as a touchscreen device and therefore will be much easier to use. Because the interface is based upon the iPhone and iPod Touch, anyone who has used one of these devices will already know exactly how to use the iPad.

At this time, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the iPad is more like an iPhone than a laptop. Primarily, it is an excellent way to browse the web, check e-mail, view photos, read e-books, watch videos, use iTunes, along with some other digital media functions. For many people that is just about everything they want to do with a computer, so they can stop there and be very happy with the iPad. For people who want more, the iPad can also run most iPhone/iPod Touch apps as well as future apps designed specifically for the iPad (such as Apple's word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software). This will make it an incredibly functional and powerful computing device. However, the iPad is still not a general-purpose computer as Mac and Windows users are accustomed to. Again, many people won't care as the iPad will do everything they want it to, but it is important to understand the distinction.

Overall, I think the iPad will change the landscape of the computer marketplace so it will be a good idea to become familiar with the device and understand how it can be used in both home and business. If you'd like to know more about the iPad or any other technology topic, feel free to contact me.

December 8, 2009

Holiday Tech Toys 2009!

holidaytechtoy.jpgWhat gets me about the holiday lists created by other technology companies is that they often put things like printers and monitors on their lists. Sure, these things might be great tech items, but do they really make great gifts? Maybe for some, but I'd say they are the high-tech equivalents of toasters and blenders. But enough ranting. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, here in no particular order, I present my list of some great technology gifts for 2009.

Ghosts of Christmas Past - I've written 2 previous Holiday Tech Toys lists (2007 and 2008) and you should go back and review them as many of the items there are still great gifts this year. Also, clicking this link will take you to all my previous Tech Toy of the Month articles so you can review other tech gift ideas.

macbook.jpegMacBook - Most laptops purchased as gifts are for high school and college students. The MacBook line is the #1 selling laptop on college campuses. So if you are going to buy a laptop for a student, you can't go wrong with an Apple brand laptop, especially considering that MacBooks can run both the Mac OS and Windows. No other laptop gives a student so much flexibility in their ability to run various software, which is very important for students who may be taking a wide variety of classes.

ps3.jpegConsole Video Games - Of course, the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, and XBox 360 are all popular items. Which one should you get? That completely depends on who you are buying it for. Many people have a preference on which they want - and purchasing the wrong console would be quite disappointing. Or many people now own multiple consoles (usually the Nintendo Wii along with either the Playstation or XBox) so find out what they already own and if they want another console (usually because a particular game is only available on that console). You can read about the Nintendo Wii in my earlier articles (part 1, part 2), along with why I think the Playstation 3 is a great purchase just for playing Blu-Ray movies.

kindle2.jpegKindle - This device is quickly becoming the de-facto standard in the new category of "e-reader". An e-reader is a device that lets you download and read electronic books. Read more about the Kindle from my article earlier this year.

atomicbass.jpegAtomic Bass Headphones - I still love these headphones every time I use them! I think they would make a great gift for someone who is still using the original headphones that came with their iPod or other music player. A previous article details why I think these headphones are great.

iPhoneiPhone & iPod Touch - Yet again, these devices are selling at a phenomenal rate! One of the reasons for the growth of the platform is the high number of applications available for these devices. With now over 100,000 applications available, as the tagline goes, "There's an App for That." This is probably a good time to state that if someone really wants an iPhone or an iPod Touch, know that they will be seriously disappointed if you get them a competing product. iPhone and iPod are not generic names like Kleenex and Xerox :)

imac27.jpegiMac - The iMacs have recently been updated with larger screens (21.5" and 27" models) and increased performance. For people who love big screens, video games, or movies, the new iMacs are a great choice. And the quad-core iMacs are incredibly powerful for the price. I've not been seriously geeked-out about new iMacs in a long time, but I can totally envision myself sitting in front of a 27" quad-core iMac completely immersed in a 3D video game.

itunesgift.jpegiTunes Gift Cards - They're not just for music anymore! The iTunes store has expanded into movies and TV shows as well, but perhaps more important is the fact that applications (and games) for the iPhone and iPod Touch can be purchased through iTunes. For the same price as a single cartridge or disc for most game platforms, many high quality games can be purchased for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

gps.jpegGPS (Personal Navigation Devices) - GPS devices are now being called Personal Navigation Devices or PNDs. Not to be confused with WMDs, Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan are still among the most popular brands. It may be a little difficult to know which model to purchase for someone, so a gift card to a technology store may be a good option here.

If you have any questions about any technology gift, feel free to contact me.

November 4, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Smart Hand

ssmarthandpro.jpgNow this isn't really a tech toy by any stretch of the imagination. But the technology is just so intriguing that I felt I needed to write about it. And since this is my article, I can do what I want!

Basically, researchers in Italy and Sweden have developed a prosthetic hand that allows amputees to actually feel what they are touching! Think Luke Skywalker and his robotic hand from The Empire Strikes Back! The Smart Hand has forty sensors that connect to the nerve endings of the patient, which then links directly to the brain. Of course, the technology is in very early stages, but the potential applications of this technology are amazing to think of.

You can read more about this new technology at the following links:


September 23, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: MiFi Mobile Hotspot

MiFi.png Mobile broadband devices have come a long way in a few short years. At first they required the use of a "PC Card" slot on laptops and only supported certain versions of Windows. Then they started to support more operating systems and eventually were manufactured in USB form, making them more universal. Still, for many users it was limiting to only be able to use one device at a time on mobile broadband connection. And today, many mobile devices, notably the iPod Touch, do not have USB ports. But there is one connectivity option that has become nearly ubiquitous on mobile devices and this is where the MiFi comes into play.

Nearly every laptop and mobile computing device made today comes with Wi-Fi wireless networking capability. The MiFi wireless broadband device takes advantage of this by broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal that any Wi-Fi enabled device can tap into. This makes it very easy to share the wireless broadband connection, as it does not require that users plug the MiFi directly into their mobile devices. In essence, the MiFi is a portable "hotspot", meaning that users can tap into a Wi-Fi Internet connection anywhere they have a cellular wireless signal.

A mobile hotspot is especially useful for those users who want to take advantage the rapidly emerging iPhone platform, but for various reasons are not able to purchase an iPhone. The iPod Touch can perform nearly every major function of the iPhone, including downloading and using the tens of thousands of iPhone apps available today. But the iPod Touch can only connect to the Internet through a Wi-Fi signal, not a cellular signal. For many, the appeal of the iPhone is the ability to access information nearly everywhere, which the iPod Touch simply couldn't do. But with a MiFi device, the iPod Touch can now have access to the Internet nearly everywhere, just like an iPhone.

The MiFi was originally only available for the Sprint and Verizon networks. But recently it has become available for the AT&T and T-Mobile networks as well. So no matter which network you choose to provide your mobile broadband service, you now have a MiFi option available to you. Most providers seem to be pricing the MiFi at about $99 with a two-year commitment, so it is reasonably priced for a mobile broadband device.

Besides iPod Touch users, the MiFi device will be most useful for those who make short, frequent connections to their mobile broadband service. The MiFi can be activated with the push of a button, so instead of physically connecting a protruding USB device to a laptop and then initiating the connection, a simple push will connect the user to the Internet. Claimed battery life is 4 hours while in use and up to 40 hours in standby mode, so it should in theory last most of a day. If you know that you'll be in a relatively stationary area for an extended time, you can plug the MiFi in to charge while using, which will keep it charged for the rest of the day.

If you are in the market for a mobile broadband device, make sure to ask your provider to go over the MiFi option with you. It may be the most convenient, flexible option for your needs.

If you come across an interesting technology product, let me know and I may feature it as a future Tech Toy of the Month!

August 4, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: USB EcoStrip

Ecostrip.pngA lot of environmentally-conscious consumers are realizing that many electronic peripherals draw small amounts of power even when they are turned off. While there is still some debate as to whether these "phantom" or "vampire" loads actually add up to a significant amount of electricity, for those who want to save this power usage, the USB EcoStrip offers a very convenient way to shut off all the peripherals attached to a computer when not in use.

The USB EcoStrip looks like an ordinary power strip. However, this device communicates with a connected computer by a USB cable. When the computer is on, the EcoStrip allows power to flow to its outlets just like a normal surge strip. However, when the computer turns off, the EcoStrip cuts off the power flow, effectively stopping the devices plugged into it from drawing power when they are not in use. After all, if your computer is off, the peripherals connected to it won't be needed, right?

Certainly this seems like a great idea, but consider a couple of things. At $44.95 plus about $10 in shipping, will you save enough electricity to generate a return on your investment? It is certainly possible, but you should carefully consider how much power your devices draw when off to make sure it will be worth it to you. Of course, if you are considering this device for purely environmental reasons, then that probably won't matter much. The other thing to consider is that things like routers and networked printers are shared network devices, which means that other users may want to use them even if the nearby computer is off. So it would make no sense to connect things like that to the USB EcoStrip, since they really do need to be on all the time. For some people, those devices make up the majority of peripherals connected to their computers, so the USB EcoStrip may not really serve any purpose in those cases.

Overall, I think the USB EcoStrip is a great idea for those users who would make effective use of it. If you have come across an interesting technology product, let me know and I may feature it as a future Tech Toy of the Month!

July 6, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Analog Ruler with Digital Display

ruler.jpgWhile you can't yet buy this tech toy, I thought it was interesting enough to talk about. Basically, imagine a regular wooden ruler ... except that the ruler has no markings. Yet it can measure extremely accurately. How? Read on ...

Basically, you lay the ruler down and place a pencil (or pencil-like object) at some point on the ruler. Then you can draw along the ruler and the measurement is displayed in its digital display. You can also simply touch points along the ruler and the measurements are displayed. The ruler is able to calculate the measurements by using sensors along its side. Read some more about this new type of ruler here.

While this particular device may or may not be a commercial success, it uses technology that certainly will be used in other applications. Look for similar devices to hit the market soon. Just remember, you read about it here first!

June 2, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Wii Fit

wii-fit.jpg Back in the fall of 2007, I wrote a couple of articles (part 1, part 2) about the Nintendo Wii, where I talked about how the control system of the Wii was the beginning of a new era in physical interaction with computers. Since that time, Nintendo has made improvements to the accuracy of their controllers and has introduced an entirely new device, the Wii Fit. You've likely heard of the Wii Fit - it is already the 5th best selling console video game of all time and it's only a little over a year old!

The simple explanation of the Wii Fit is a video game fitness system. It combines the use of an electronic balance board and the motion-sensitive Wii controllers with video game-based exercises. I'm not going to go into too much detail of the system, as you can get a great overview at http://www.nintendo.com/wiifit/. Basically, you can do simple things like running in place, step aerobics, hula hoop, leg extensions, and push ups. The Wii can calculate how fast you are going or how much effort you are exerting and keep track of this information. However, the system also has more advanced features like Yoga techniques, tightrope walking, skiing, and some other interesting games. In addition, the Wii Fit can measure your weight, calculate your body mass index (BMI), and calculate your center of balance. It uses all this info to determine your "Wii Fit Age", which is a simplified calculation of your overall health.

While certainly the Wii Fit is not a replacement for a traditional exercise program, it can provide a very good workout. The Wii Fit really seems to excel in balancing games and exercises, due to its balance board controller. While balancing may not seem like it would be good exercise, do note that many physical therapists use balance exercises as a core part of their therapies. Having good balance is a lot harder than it seems at first, as it requires strengthening many muscles throughout your body. As with any exercise program, consistency is key. Because the Wii Fit is in your home and is fun and easy to use, people are more likely to use it consistently. Also, by keeping track of progress over time, it can help provide motivation. People can see how far they've come and when they start to slack off. This is especially useful when competing with others in their overall fitness scores. Families can play and exercise together, keeping track of their progress and having a lot of fun doing it.

By combining exercise with fun and motivation, the Wii Fit has become an extraordinarily popular video game unlike any other to date. It seems the Wii Fit has fans in every age category. If you haven't yet tried the Wii Fit, find a friend that has one and give it a try. Just make sure you are dressed appropriately, as you will likely sweat a little (or a lot!).

May 5, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Incase Power Slider

powerslider.jpegThis month's Tech Toy is a pretty simple device, but for the right type of user, it could be incredibly useful. At first glance, the Incase Power Slider seems to be a normal case for an iPhone 3G. Upon closer inspection, it seems a little thicker than most cases. Closer inspection reveals that this case is more than just a case. It is in fact this extra functionality that makes the Power Slider so unique.

The reason the Power Slider is thicker than most cases is because it holds a supplemental battery, in which the manufacturer claims that it more than doubles the battery life of the iPhone 3G. Additionally, the Power Slider allows users to charge and sync the iPhone without needing to remove the iPhone from the case. For users who heavily use their iPhones, the additional battery life could be a godsend. And unlike other supplemental batteries, the convenience of having the battery encased within a fairly slim protective case that also allows charging and syncing can make the Power Slider a great solution.

The Power Slider is an example of the type of accessory that we can carry at The Tech Spot. If this Tech Toy interests you, please contact us so that we can gauge interest. Or if you know any heavy iPhone users, pass this article along. Regardless, we can special order almost any technology product, so please don't hesitate to ask if you need anything.

April 7, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Atomic Bass Earphones

atomicbass.jpegI am usually not easily impressed. I had a client ask me the other day, "you don't get excited about much, do you?" I had to answer honestly, "no, not usually". It's just in my nature to remain calm and try to think things through rationally before coming to conclusions. So when something actually makes me say "wow" out loud, I think that says a lot. I had a "wow" moment when trying out the Radius Atomic Bass Earphones back at the MacWorld show in January. Don't let the name fool you, these earphones (more acurately earbuds) are not just for bass-heavy music. I can see that many people will appreciate these earbuds for reasons more than the sound.

Let me start off by saying that the first thing that impressed me was not the sound from the earbuds, but the way they fit into my ear. I am very picky about earbuds. Most low-cost earbuds don't fit quite right, seem to fall out too easily, and leave my ears feeling sore. These earbuds seemed to fit like a glove, so to speak, and are incredibly light. I can't see a way that these buds will fall out without actually tugging on the cords. Once set into my ears, they seem to "disappear", as I can hardly tell I am wearing them. The cords connecting the earbuds seem heavier than the buds themselves. So my first impression was that these earbuds were very well designed and as long as they sound decent, I'm going to be happy with them.

More than sounding decent, however, my "wow" moment came when the music started playing. The name Atomic Bass is quite accurate. I could not believe that such little earbuds could produce such a big sounding bass response. Honestly, words can not do these justice - you must try these earphones yourself to understand. One problem with many bass-heavy speaker products is that they sacrifice overall tonal quality to highlight the bass response. However, I feel that these earphones have a very good tonal quality to them. I also conferred with one of my employees who is also a musician and much picker about audio equipment than I am. He also agreed that these earbuds gave a very good quality sound for the price.

Which brings us to the last reason that I think people will appreciate the Atomic Bass Earphones. Most earphones of this quality cost at least $100. The Atomic Bass Earphones are only $40. There is also model with a microphone for iPhone users that are only $50 (the microphone models also work with any iPod that can use a microphone, such as the iPod Touch 2G). It is going to be very difficult in my opinion to find a better overall pair of earphones for the price. But if you'd like more opinions than mine, Radius' web site has links to other reviews as well.

I was so impressed with the Atomic Bass Earphones that we are going to carry them in our store. We will carry the black color earphones to start with and special order the other colors that are available - maroon and silver in the earphone only models; pink, red, and silver in the microphone models. If you'd like to try them out, we should have demo models arriving soon, so feel free to stop by and check them out.

If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys of the Month, send them in today!

March 4, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Amazon Kindle 2

kindle2.jpegThis particular Tech Toy, now in its second revision, has been a fairly unknown device to this point. However, it is now starting to get more attention from some mainstream media in part due to some controversy. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad publicity. Not that this device is generating the bad publicity, but rather those that fear it are doing more to publicize it by complaining about it.

The Kindle is a wireless, portable, e-book reading device. Lighter than a paperback and as thin as a magazine, the Kindle lets you download books in less than 60 seconds and hold over 1500 books in its memory. The Kindle, or devices like it, have the potential to do for books what the iPod did for music. Today it is not uncommon for people to carry their entire music collection with them. Soon it may be the same for their library.

I won't try to explain every feature of the Kindle, as Amazon's web site does a great job of it.

As with other recent media technologies, certain media groups are complaining that this new technology could hurt their business models. It seems to me that those who embrace new technology and figure out how to best make money with the new technology do a lot better than those who fight to keep the status quo.

If you enjoy reading books, newspapers, or magazines, the Amazon Kindle 2 may be in your future. Be sure to read more about this device, as it has the potential to be a much sought after device if it keeps getting more and more publicity.

If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys of the Month, send them in today!

February 2, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: Bushnell Backtrack Personal Location Finder

backtrack.jpgWhen I saw this gadget listed in a magazine, I knew instantly it would be the next Tech Toy of the Month. I generally look for things that are fairly new, are easy to understand and use, and solve a real-world problem in an elegant way. The Bushnell Backtrack fit all three criteria to a T. If you are an outdoors-person or tend to get easily lost, this device may be a must-have for you.

Basically, the Backtrack is a GPS device that can store up to three locations in its memory. Later, a stored location can be recalled and the distance and direction to that location provided. So simple, yet so useful. For example, if you are camping, it would be very useful to store your base camp in the Backtrack so that you could find your way back if lost. Hikers could mark the beginning of their hike. Hunters could mark where they entered the field. People shopping at a large mall can mark where they parked their car. People on vacation can mark their hotel's location.

The real key for this device is its simplicity, both in usage and form factor. There are many other GPS devices out there that can store locations. However, most of those GPS devices are much more complicated to use and are fairly large. The Backtrack only has a few buttons, is designed to only be a location finder, looks and works for the most part like a compass, and is small enough to keep in a pocket or purse. Additionally, they are reasonably priced, approximately $75 for most models.

I can see that the Backtrack (or copycat devices that will undoubtedly be produced) will likely become a staple at camp sites, hiking trails, and hunting grounds. For their low-cost and usefulness, this type of device alone could result in the safe return of countless people who would have otherwise become lost in the outdoors. Who wouldn't send their kids off to summer camp with one of these devices? Who wouldn't take one themselves when exploring unknown areas, whether wilderness or urban?

So be sure to check out the Bushnell Backtrack and remember where you heard about it first!

If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys of the Month, send them in today!

January 4, 2009

Tech Toy of the Month: The Quattro 6000D Sewing Machine

6000d.jpgTo some people, this month's tech toy may seem like one of the most unlikely combinations of technology out there. But in reality, sewing machines have been getting more and more high tech for quite a while now. However, the Quattro 6000D from Brother is quite unlike any other sewing machine before it.

Not being a seamstress, I don't really know much about what makes a good sewing machine. But this machine does seem to have some impressive features, including a large 4.5 x 7 inch LCD display, a 50 square inch workspace, and embedded runway lighting. This machine is so new that pricing information is hard to find, but it appears to retail for $9000 - $13000. This probably explains why Brother has a special financing deal that lets you pay for this over 36 months.

To find out more about this product, take a look at http://www.brother-usa.com/homesewing/quattro/ and http://www.engadget.com/2008/12/30/the-quattro-6000d-this-aint-your-grandmommas-sewing-machine/

If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys of the Month, send them in today!

December 4, 2008

Holiday Tech Toys 2008!

holidaytechtoy.jpgOnce again for the holidays, instead of a single tech toy for the month of December, I am offering a list of cool technology gift ideas. Some of the items on this list are updated from last year, others I've written about this year, and some are totally new!

imac-20in.jpgApple iMac & MacBook

Apple has sold more Macintosh computers in the first 3 quarters of this year than they sold all of last year - and we still have the holiday season to go! Obviously, Macintosh computers continue to grow in popularity by leaps and bounds. Since last year, Apple has introduced the new MacBook Air and has revamped the MacBook line. So once again, take a look at these models of Macs before buying any other computer.

GPS navigation devices

GPS navigation devices used to be luxury items. Now they seem to be considered a standard feature on many cars and a mainstream purchase for those cars that don't already have GPS. If you know someone that drives a lot (or gets lost a lot), a GPS navigation device can make a great gift. Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan are a few of the most popular brands.


Unless you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt heard that most TV stations will be required to broadcast only in HDTV by February 17th 2009. While it is NOT true that you MUST buy a new HDTV by that date, the perception is out there among many people that this is true. The reality is that it will be easier to have an HDTV after this date, so feel free to get yourself an HDTV (or give one as a gift). Prices have never been better on HDTV and it might be possible that prices will go up after the holidays and the February 17th date nears.

Blu-Ray Players

To go along with your new HDTV, consider a Blu-Ray player. Earlier this year, Blu-Ray became the high definition successor to DVD. Blu-Ray discs offer twice the resolution of DVD, taking full advantage of the most advanced HDTVs. Blu-Ray players also "up-convert" today's DVDs, making them look better than they would on a standard TV. As I wrote about previously, consider a Sony PlayStation 3 as your Blu-Ray player.

theone.jpgBinary Watches

For the techie who has everything, consider getting them a stylish "binary" watch from The One. The trick to these watches is that the time is displayed in the binary number format, which is uber-cool for many of those who consider themselves techno-elite. And even if you aren't down with the binary, the watches are extremely stylish, so they can make a great gift for anyone who wants a unique watch. If you're in my area, you can check out watches from The One at Exactime Watch & Clock in Glen Carbon.

Rearview Cameras

Many cars today come with a video screen in the front dash. For cars that don't come with them built-in, it is possible to add them with aftermarket products. These video screens can be used for GPS navigation or other informational features. One accessory for use with these video screens that is gaining in popularity are rearview cameras. Basically, aftermarket rearview cameras mount to the rear of the car and allow the driver to see directly behind the car. This makes backing up and parking a lot safer for the driver and those behind the car.

xlink.jpgXLink BT Cellular Gateway

Many people are dropping their land line phones and going with cell phones only. However, some of those people would still like to be able to make use of their old phones while in their homes. The XLink BT Cellular Gateway allows you to connect your old landline phones to a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. This setup could work really well with those unlimited talk mobile plans. This may not necessarily be a good gift idea for others, but it could make a great gift for yourself or your family, especially if you're able to drop the monthly cost for a landline that you rarely use.

USBaroma.jpgUSB Toys

For a quick and simple tech gift, there are many USB gadgets and toys out there from beverage chillers to foam missile launchers. I had written a previous article with some links to these types of gadgets. A new one I just read about is a USB aromatherapy oil burner.

November 6, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: Nikon Coolpix P6000

nikon-coolpix-p6000-120x160.jpgIt is very difficult to recommend digital cameras, as there are many factors involved in matching a digital camera to a particular individual's picture-taking style or preferences. For the most part, an "average" user will probably never use most of the features in today's digital cameras, if they even understand what those features accomplish. Honestly, I usually recommend to find some good values, read on-line reviews, and try to take a few pictures with the cameras before making a decision. Today's digital cameras are almost all good enough for average users to take good-quality family or hobby pictures. So I'm not necessarily recommending this month's Tech Toy as the camera you should buy, but I am highlighting it because of one very interesting feature.

The Nikon Coolpix P6000 is one of the first digital cameras to integrate a GPS receiver. No, the camera will not help you with directions, but it will encode your pictures with your current GPS location when you take them. This practice is a fairly new but quickly growing phenomenon called "Geotagging". Basically, with the right software that can recognize geotag data, anyone looking at your pictures will later be able to see exactly where you were on a map when you took the picture. Certainly some people may not think this feature is anything special. But I'm sure there are people who are in the market for a digital camera that would probably buy this camera because of this feature.

Again, I'm not necessarily recommending this camera. Reviewing the specifications it seems to be a fairly good camera and would probably serve most users very well. At $499 MSRP, it might be a little pricey for many users. However, for those that do a lot of traveling I can see that geotagging their photos may be a feature they appreciate. So if you fall into that category or you know someone that does, the Nikon Coolpix P6000 may be worth checking out.

Again, if you need help purchasing your holiday technology gifts, attend our class this Tuesday, November 11th. If you can't make the class, please contact me with any questions you may have.

October 13, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: MagicJack

magicjack.jpg One of the most innovative uses of the Internet has been in the field of voice communications. By converting audio into digital data, users can carry on voice conversations with another person anywhere in the world through their computer. As well, companies have implemented the "Voice over IP" or "VoIP" technology to create long distance telephone services that use the Internet as their infrastructure. So in todays' market, you basically have two main options when it comes to using the Internet for long distance communication. Free services that require both parties to talk through their computers, such as Skype, and paid services that replace the phone service in your home, such as Vonage. Now, a relatively new product and service called MagicJack is actually a hybrid of these two concepts. In the process the MagicJack seems to deliver the convenience of using standard phone equipment with the extremely low cost of computer-based communication.

As I mentioned above, MagicJack is a combination of product and service. The product is a USB device that you connect to a computer. On the other end, the device has an RJ-11 port, which is the standard phone port that you normally see in the walls of homes and businesses. So you would connect the MagicJack device into your computer, and then plug a standard phone into the MagicJack. The service part of MagicJack allows you to make a phone call using the phone you just plugged into your computer to anyone in the US or Canada for no per-minute charges. International calls require the purchase of pre-paid minutes. The most notable feature of the MagicJack is the price. To purchase a MagicJack device is about $40, which includes the first year of service. This means that if you only make calls to the US or Canada, your total phone bill for the first year would be about $40, no matter how long you are on the phone. After the first year, the service is only $20 per year, again no matter how many calls you make to the US or Canada.

Of course, the cost matters little if the quality of the service is poor. So far, the company's web site boasts several positive reviews from well-known sources. They claim the quality of their service is better than most free services because you are using a real phone instead of a computer microphone. The question will be if the service quality remains good as they ramp up the number of subscribers. As with any VoIP service, the quality of the underlying Internet connection completely determines the quality of your phone calls, so your particular quality may vary. As well, if your computer is having problems, it could affect your ability to make calls. And finally, we have no idea what their customer service is like.

Another great feature of MagicJack is the ability to use it while traveling. This includes using it while out of the country to call back into the US or Canada for free. This could be really great for users who do travel out of the country a lot and would like to stay in touch back home without racking up huge phone bills. Or for those users who have cell phones that don't work in other countries, the MagicJack could help them stay in touch.

Overall, I think MagicJack has the potential to shake up the long distance industry. Don't be surprised to be hearing more about the MagicJack in the months and years to come.

Contact Marcel for any questions you may have regarding the latest technology gadgets!

September 12, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: The New Jawbone

new_jawbone_black_front.jpgA couple of years ago I started noticing a few people wearing an interesting Bluetooth headset with an equally interesting name - The Jawbone. Reading up a bit about it, I found that the Jawbone received fairly high praise as a very good quality headset. However, I really wasn't interested in it myself because I thought the device was a bit too large and bulky for my taste. Yes, I am a Bluetooth snob. Primarily because I have mostly used Treo phones, which have been notorious for only working well with certain types of Bluetooth headsets. Fast forward to this year and I started reading about a new Jawbone. "The New Jawbone", which some people have dubbed "Jawbone 2", is thinner and included improved noise reduction. In reading about it on the manufacturer's web site, what really struck me were the demos showing unbelievably clear phone calls in incredibly noisy environments. Being a technology professional, it is rare that I am truly impressed by a technology demo. But the new Jawbone demos literally had me saying "wow". So after a couple of months of thinking about it, I finally bit and bought one myself. Does the new Jawbone live up to its promises? Read on to find out.

One reason I held off buying the new Jawbone was that I didn't think I would find it very comfortable. I generally prefer headsets where the bulk of the weight rests behind or on top of the ear as opposed to outside the ear. Looking at the new Jawbone, it seems fairly obvious that most of the weight would be located outside the ear. However, when actually wearing the new Jawbone, I think it feels almost weightless. Additionally, the way the new Jawbone sits on my face it feels like it is hugging my cheek, providing a sense of stability where I don't feel like the device is going to fly off my face even during quick head movements. I forget I am wearing the new Jawbone much more often than I did with previous headsets. Certainly, the smaller size of the new Jawbone has a lot to do with its comfort, but the smaller size also makes this a much more discreet headset, making it less likely that you will be confused with a Borg.

In looking at the new Jawbone, it appears to not have any buttons. But in reality, the whole middle area of the Jawbone acts primarily as the answer/call end button, while the rear acts primarily as the volume button. At first, I wasn't sure what to think of this control set. However, once using the new Jawbone, I found the controls of the Jawbone feel extremely intuitive. Answering and ending calls is very easy because I only need to aim for the center of the headset instead of the relatively small buttons I've used on other headsets. Similarly, I can adjust the volume a lot easier than on other headsets.

So far, it seems my Jawbone has worked very well with my Treo 755p. This is no small feat considering the propensity of the Treo line of phones to give their users fits when working with Bluetooth headsets. In a couple of weeks of use, I can only think of a few instances where the Jawbone didn't connect quickly with the phone when answering or making calls. This has been a big problem for me in the past. Additionally, the times that this did happen I believe it may have been due to the Jawbone running low on battery. Now I've read postings on the Internet where not all Treo users have had great luck with the new Jawbone, so your milage may vary.

Speaking of battery life, the advertised talk time is over 4 hours with standby time of over 8 days. To me it appears that the new Jawbone will last me about 2 full days before needing a recharge. After 2 days, it seems that is when I start to have connection issues with my phone and headset. I use my phone probably a little more than average, so I find this to be acceptable. Plus I'm in the habit of charging my headsets and phone every night, so this isn't such a big deal to me. I also think this is more of a problem with my phone than the Jawbone. Other reviews I've read state they are getting longer times between recharges than I am. I honestly can't say the Jawbone has gotten to a low battery condition, only that I noticed the flaky interaction between it and my Treo seems to resolve after a recharge.

The new Jawbone's charging system is well-designed. The charging cable has a USB connection on one end that can plug into a wall charger (included) or computer, with the other end using a magnetic clip system to ensure a snug fit to the headset without the strain of an actual plug. The magnetic clip is similar to what Apple's Magsafe power adapters on their recent laptop models. The use of a USB connection allows Jawbone users flexibility in charging their headsets, as many more devices are using this approach. A Jawbone user in need of a charge can tap into the multitude of USB-based charging devices on the market or the nearest friendly computer or USB hub. The New Jawbone boasts very quick recharges, claiming an 85% charge in 35 minutes, fully charging in less than an hour. I can say that I have noticed the Jawbone does charge extremely quickly.

Now if you've viewed the new Jawbone demos, you're probably wondering if the devices actually work as well as they show. While I've not tested the device in an actual construction zone or from the inside of a derby car, I did run a few experiments so that I could test the quality of the new Jawbone's noise reduction capability. Basically, while driving I called my home answering machine so that I could record myself talking with my Jawbone and listen to the recording later. I tried talking with my car windows down, with traffic driving by, and my radio up (and all three simultaneously at times). What I found was that the Jawbone did in fact deliver on its promise to reduce almost all background noise. I was amazed at the difference on my recordings when I disabled the noise reduction to when it was active. I could not hear on my recordings the very distracting wind noise that I was experiencing in my car. At the times when I did turn off the noise reduction, the wind noise was very audible on the recording. On my recordings I would note when loud trucks were driving by me while I was in the car, but yet I could not hear them or they were barely audible on the recording.

The New Jawbone's NoiseAssassin technology seems to be nearly perfect in eliminating "ambient" noises such as wind noise, cars, or crowd noise, but not perfect at eliminating louder, "distinct" background sounds. I've noticed there are a few situations where some background noise does come through enough to be distracting (do note again that I'm a Bluetooth snob, so I'm being quite nit-picky here). The first is music or talking from a radio. It appears the Jawbone is not perfect at differentiating voices or music on a radio from the voice of the user wearing the headset. I noticed on my recordings that when I had the radio up to normal listening volume, I could hear enough of the radio to be somewhat distracting. What I could hear seemed to be the singer's voice and the beat of the music. The other situations where background noise comes through is other people's loud talking, kids yelling, and sudden loud noises. Again, it seems that the Jawbone can't quite differentiate these types of sounds well enough from the user's voice to be completely effective in reducing these noises. However, don't get me wrong, the new Jawbone does well enough in reducing even these types of noises to hold an intelligible conversation. It's just that the other person on the line may be able to hear these types of noises, while they may be completely unaware that you are driving in a car or walking down a street.

Overall, The New Jawbone is the best Bluetooth headset I've ever owned both from a comfort and quality standpoint. Certainly, this headset may not be perfect for every individual, as some reviews have cited poor fit, which reduces the noise reduction quality of this device. But I would encourage anyone who is looking for a comfortable and high quality headset to check out The New Jawbone. Just make sure to purchase from a retailer that has a good return policy. This headset is not exactly cheap - but I feel you are getting what you pay for - and if it just doesn't work out for you, then you should be able to return it.

Contact Marcel for any questions you may have regarding the latest technology gadgets!

August 15, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month - Sprint AIRAVE

airave.jpgA lot of cellular users are frustrated by the lack of a strong signal inside certain buildings. This can be especially frustrating when that building is your own home or office. There have been solutions available to boost the signal strength inside a building, but none as technically interesting as this month's Tech Toy. The Sprint AIRAVE may be the first of a trend of devices to marry two important technologies - cellular phones and Internet service.

Currently only available on the Sprint network, the $100 AIRAVE is basically a mini cell phone tower that you can place in your home or office. Unlike other signal boosting technologies which simply retransmit the signal from a nearby cell tower, the AIRAVE uses your broadband Internet service to connect to Sprint's network. By doing so, users who are in extremely poor coverage areas can still receive strong signals. This is because the signal boosting is not dependent on nearby towers since the AIRAVE is relaying calls directly to Sprint's network via the user's Internet connection.

Another potential advantage of the AIRAVE is that Sprint does not charge airtime minutes while a user is connected to the device. Instead, Sprint charges a flat rate of $5 - $10 per month depending on the user's current plan for unlimited use of the AIRAVE. If a user uses a lot of cell minutes while located in a particular building, this can be advantageous. On the flip side, if a user is frustrated by the lack of coverage in a building, paying another $5 - $10 month to improve their coverage may not seem like a good deal. Some reports on the Internet state that Sprint may be offering the AIRAVE free of charge to customers with poor coverage, but of course, take these reports with a large grain of salt.

Another potential issue with the AIRAVE is with the requirement for a broadband Internet connection. Many areas that lack good cell coverage also lack broadband Internet! Many users in remote locations do have satellite Internet service, but it is not likely that the AIRAVE will work well with satellite Internet services. While satellite services can provide good bandwidth, they have high latency which will probably not work well with a cell phone call. So the AIRAVE probably won't be a good solution for users in remote areas.

If the AIRAVE does well, expect other wireless providers to follow up with devices of their own. These devices could become extremely popular, as it allows wireless providers to let users solve their own coverage issues fairly easily. In theory, this can save the wireless companies money since they may not need to deploy as many cell towers.

Contact Marcel for any questions you may have regarding the latest technology gadgets!

July 16, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: iPhone/iPod Touch 2.0 Software

iphone3g.jpgMost people are aware that Apple has just released the iPhone 3G (which incidentally, the 3G refers to the third generation cellular network, not a 3rd generation iPhone). Of course, the iPhone 3G has many new features. There are many articles out there that review all these new features so I won't go over those. Instead, I'd like to focus on something that many people don't realize. Many of the new features of the iPhone 3G are also available as an upgrade to existing iPhones and the iPod Touch.

The reason many of the features of the iPhone 3G are available to existing iPhones and the iPod Touch is that Apple upgraded the operating system that is common to all these devices to coincide with the iPhone 3G release. You can read about the upgrade at this link http://www.apple.com/iphone/softwareupdate/. Some of the minor features that the 2.0 upgrade include improvements to the e-mail, calendar, and contacts programs. More significant features include support for enterprise services and protocols, which will increase adoption of the iPhone in the corporate environment. But the biggest feature by far is the ability for 3rd party developers to create applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

It is quite difficult to explain how the features of the iPhone and iPod Touch create an application environment that is unlike anything seen on any handheld device, or really any computer for that matter. In using many of the free applications available at this time, it is almost like the last year of the iPhone and iPod Touch was simply a teaser, giving us only a fraction of the potential of these devices. The new wave of applications is unearthing a wealth of potential new uses for these devices. Let me just say that these devices will not only make users of other handheld devices jealous, but they may also make users of gaming handhelds jealous as well. For a phone to be able to support the playing of games graphic and feature-rich enough to compete with handheld gaming devices says a lot about the power of the platform.

Earlier this year I predicted that the Apple TV would be the Tech Toy of the Year. However, now with the release of the iPhone/iPod Touch 2.0 software, I am reconsidering that prediction. One million iPhone 3G devices were sold in the first weekend of their release. It took 74 days to sell one million of the original iPhone. Once people start to see the applications that are running on the devices with the 2.0 software there will be even greater demand.

So if you have an older iPhone or iPod Touch, make sure you get the new update and see for yourself the new applications now available. And if you have any questions regarding the iPhone or iPod Touch, please let me know!

June 15, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: iRobot Roomba

roomba.gifOne of the more simple chores that most of us put off doing is vacuuming our floors. Especially for those who have carpets that easily show dirt or crumbs, vacuuming can seem like a never-ending job. Wouldn't it be great if we could just have a little robot zip around our floor when we're not there and clean up for us? Apparently so, because one company has a whole line of little robots that vacuum our floors for us.

The Roomba, from a company called iRobot, is a line of small robot vacuum cleaners. The original Roomba product was introduced in 2002. So this Tech Toy has been around for many years, but it still is not very well known among the average consumer. I'm writing about it because I recently noticed that the company has expanded their product line to include robots that handle all sorts of menial tasks. So it would seem that this company and their products have been very successful.

But I'm going to focus on the Roomba products for this article. Now on their 3rd generation of robotic vacuum cleaners, the Roomba basically works by periodically navigating your floor area, cleaning as it goes. It uses various sensors to avoid stairs, drop-offs, and areas you deem as off-limits. It is small enough to travel under furniture, clean into corners, and along walls. It automatically adjusts for hard floors or carpets, and also is smart enough to determine how dirty an area is and spend extra time on spots that need additional cleaning. Click here for a more detailed video showing how the Roomba works.

When not in use, the Roomba finds it's "home", which is where the Roomba recharges itself when not working. The newer Roomba models can run on a schedule, so you can set it to run when you're not at home, or if you don't mind, while you are sleeping. Since the Roomba runs more often than we humans tend to vacuum our floors, it tends to keep messes from building up, which should give your floor an overall cleaner look most of the time.

As I mentioned, the iRobot company now has a whole line of cleaning robots. One is even designed to clean swimming pools! So if you'd like a little help keeping your home clean, check out the iRobot line of products.

If you have come across an interesting device or emerging technology, please let me know and I may include it in a future newsletter.

May 16, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: Belkin Wireless USB Hub

belkin_wusb.jpgOver the course of the last 10 years, the Universal Serial Bus, otherwise known as USB, has changed the way we use computers for the better. Instead of several different types of ports, USB has become the standard for connecting nearly every type of computer peripheral available. Everything from keyboards to flash drives to printers to digital cameras can be connected via USB. USB is hot-pluggable, which means devices can be plugged in or removed without the need to reboot or without causing any damage, as was the case with older port technologies. The ease of USB has caused the proliferation of many types of USB devices, such as toy kittens and beverage chillers! With all the types of devices that users can plug into their computer, this has also caused the potential for a rats nest of cables. Fortunately, a technology that has been quietly developing for a few years should be soon coming to fruition.

Wireless USB, as the name implies, is USB without wires. Ultimately, the plan is that devices and computers will be created with wireless USB built-in. This will allow for truly wireless USB devices. Users will be able to bring a wireless USB peripheral within range of their computer with wireless USB and "connect" it to their computer just as easily as they do today with a wired USB device.

However, at this time few truly wireless USB devices exist. In the interim manufacturers are creating wireless USB hubs that allow today's wired USB devices to be connected wirelessly to a computer. One good example I found is the simply named Wireless USB Hub from Belkin. While certainly not for everyone, for those users who have a lot of USB devices and could benefit from placing some devices away from their computer, wireless USB hubs like these could be very useful. By moving some devices away from the computer, users reduce the amount of cables connected directly to their computer, helping simplify cable management. It may also increase the amount of usable desk space for some users.

Unfortunately, at this time the Belkin Wireless USB Hub only works with Windows. Mac drivers are in the works and other companies are also working on wireless USB hubs that will work with the Macintosh. Additionally, reviews of the Belkin device show that while performance is generally overall very good, the further the device is moved from the computer, the worse the performance becomes. Therefore, for devices that require higher speed, such as USB hard drives or flash drives, using them wirelessly may not be the best option. Finally, the list price of the Belkin device is currently $199, which seems a bit pricey. But as all technology tends to do, this price will probably come down fairly quickly.

So if you're someone who has a mess of USB devices at their desk, look into the Belkin Wireless USB Hub. It may help you make some room on your desk for those USB cup warmers or toy missile launchers!

If you have come across an interesting device or emerging technology, please let me know and I may include it in a future newsletter.

April 10, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: Nike + iPod

nike_ipod.jpgThis interesting tech toy has been out for quite a while, but many people have never heard of it. It is fairly unique in the world of tech toys, in that it combines "real" exercise and technology (when I say "real" exercise I mean not the kind of exercise you get from playing video games - not that there's anything wrong with that). Basically, the Nike + iPod consists of a small wireless device that fits in your shoe and an adapter that you connect to your iPod Nano. Nike makes a shoe that has a special "pocket" to fit the wireless device into, but there are ways to make other shoes work as well. When you go on a run with the wireless device in your shoe and the adapter connected to your iPod Nano, the Nano is able to keep track of many statistics, such as the time you've been running, the distance you've run, calories you've burned, or the current pace you're on.

By itself, those features are can very useful. However, the integration features of Nike + iPod make things very interesting. You can sync your workout information with iTunes on your Mac or PC, which then in turn can sync with a site called Nikeplus.com. Using Nikeplus.com, you can do things such as compare stats of all your workouts, set goals, and see your personal bests. Finally, if you are so inclined, you can choose to share your stats with others, or see the stats that others have shared. You can then set up competitions with other people, which is an interesting way to push you to work out harder. There are also some other features such as combining custom music for your run, which you can read about at http://www.apple.com/ipod/nike/.

The Nike + iPod is a very interesting combination of technologies that create a very unique product and service. I think this is an example of the first of a new wave of products that we'll likely see be introduced over the next several years. The ability to easily capture, track, and analyze all kinds of personal data will likely change our lives in ways that we haven't even begun to understand yet. If you are a runner, I suggest you check out the Nike + iPod. At only $29.00, you could totally transform the way you keep track of your exercise.

Contact me if you have any questions regarding this technology or any other!

March 4, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple Time Capsule

timecapsule.jpg Backups are something that everyone should do, but most people don't. Primarily, people don't do backups because of the perceived inconvenience of the backup process. Now, Apple has introduced a product that promises to make backups as simple as possible.

The Apple Time Capsule is an 802.11n wireless router with a built-in hard drive. The wireless router part is basically the same as Apple's Airport Express (which is functionally very similar to most 802.11n wireless routers). The main difference is that the built-in hard drive can be used in combination with the "Time Machine" feature of Mac OS 10.5, otherwise known as Leopard. Time Machine normally works with an external hard drive directly connected to your Macintosh computer. But now Time Machine can use the networked hard drive on the Time Capsule device.

Time Machine works by automatically keeping your Mac backed-up in real-time. Combined with Time Capsule, your Mac will stay backed up any time it is connected to the network. This is very convenient for laptops, as every time your laptop comes within range of your wireless network it will back itself up. You don't need to do a thing other than make sure your laptop is on. Additionally, Time Capsule will keep all your Macs on your network backed up, so you do not need a separate hard drive for each computer.

One downside to the Time Capsule is that it does not provide an easy method for off-site backup. You can work around this by using an external hard drive to backup your Mac, which you then would take off-site. However, this is not very convenient if you have multiple Macs. Another downside, if you don't own a Mac, is that Time Capsule does not work with Windows computers - but maybe that's just a good excuse to get a Mac!

Time Capsule is $299 for the 500GB model, $499 for the 1 TB model (TB = terrabye, which is 1000 GB). For $299, the Time Capsule is a good value, considering that you are getting an 802.11n base station and 500GB hard drive. It would be difficult to find a 802.11n wireless router and a 500 GB hard drive for less, plus you would be missing the features of Time Capsule.

If you have any questions regarding a backup plan, please contact me and I'd be happy to help

February 9, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple TV, One Year Later with iTunes Movie Rentals

apple_tv.png In the first Technology Bytes newsletter, written exactly one year ago, I wrote about the Apple TV. I said at the time that if users could browse and play their DVD collections on the Apple TV it would sell like hotcakes. It turns out that while I may not have been completely correct, I was on the right track. Up until now, the Apple TV has not sold very well. Apple has said that the main reason for this was due to lack of movie support on the Apple TV. Additionally, according to Apple's research, many users wanted the ability to rent movies over the Internet, rather than outright buying them.

Now, with the addition of the iTunes movie rental service and a free software upgrade, the Apple TV is poised to be THE tech toy of the year. Imagine being able to rent a movie from the comfort of your own living room, right from your own TV using a remote control, and being able to watch that movie nearly instantly. That is what the Apple TV and iTunes movie rental service promise to deliver. And while some of you may not be very excited about this, I believe that you will become hooked once you try it out yourself. I predict that within 2 years, people will wonder how they ever got along without the ability to rent movies on-line, just as many people today wonder how they ever got along without a Tivo or DVR.

Some of you may be wondering what type of quality the movies will be. I'm happy to report that you will be able to rent movies in HD quality, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. This should provide an impressive experience in any home theater setup.

Along with the ability to rent movies from iTunes, the upgraded Apple TV will also NOT require the use of a computer. Users will still be able to do all the things they could do before, but it is not a requirement to synchronize data from your computer to the Apple TV as it was previously. Because of this, Apple has included additional features that you can do directly from the Apple TV:

- Purchase TV shows, music, and music videos
- View photos from Flickr and .Mac web galleries
- Have direct access to over 125,000 podcasts

The Apple TV is now much more an Internet-enabled device than an accessory to your computer. This means that anyone, regardless of technical skill, will be able to take advantage of the features of the Apple TV. Additionally, Apple has dropped the price of the entry-level Apple TV from $299 to $229. Along with anyone who owns a Mac or PC, now consumers who simply want an "appliance" will be able to use iTunes. This should bode well for iTunes sales and rentals.

Apple originally promised that the Apple TV update would be available 2 weeks after January 15th. That date has come and gone, so expect the update to be available any time. Users who already own the Apple TV will be notified of the update right from their Apple TV. New Apple TV purchases after the update is released should have the update already installed. And don't forget, that the Apple TV really requires that you have an HDTV. While you can buy an adapter for your older TV, I really think you should just put the money towards an HDTV.

As always, if you have any questions about Apple products or home theater, please contact me and I'd be happy to answer them.

January 12, 2008

Tech Toy of the Month: iMuffs

imuffs.jpgNo, they won't keep your eyes warm (or your ears for that matter), but iMuffs (http://www.wi-gear.com/products/imuffs/) will allow you to listen to your iPod without wires. iMuffs are Bluetooth-based wireless headphones that work with any iPod. How can iMuffs work when no iPods have Bluetooth capability? iMuffs come bundled with a Bluetooth adapter that plugs into your iPod. In addition to being wireless, iMuffs have iPod control buttons built into the the headphones so you can remotely control your iPod. If you're walked into the next room while listening to your iPod, you can skip, pause or rewind just by pushing buttons on your headset.

If you have a Bluetooth phone, iMuffs will also automatically pause your iPod and allow you to answer your phone - without taking off the iMuffs. When you've paired the iMuffs with your Bluetooth phone, the iMuffs will detect your phone ringing and send the pause command to your iPod. Then it answers the phone, sending the audio to your ears through the headphones. Using a built-in microphone it sends your voice to your phone. When the call is done, it will unpause your iPod, starting the music back up again!

Other than that, there's not much more to say about the iMuffs. The concept is simple and the execution seems to be very well done. Most reviews show that the iMuffs have good audio quality, and adequate microphone quality if you plan to use it with a phone. At $179.99, they might be a bit pricey, but you are getting what you pay for. Other wireless iPod headphones might be a little less expensive, but they don't have all the features of the iMuffs.

If you have any questions regarding iPods, digitial music or other media, please feel free to contact me.

December 9, 2007

Holiday Tech Toys!

holidaytechtoy.jpgRather than having a single tech toy this month, I've decided to offer a list of what I think are cool technology gift ideas for the holiday season. Some of the items on this list I've written about before. Others are new or have additional information. If for no other reason the items on my list are included simply because I think they are worthy. And I can do that because this is my list - so there! :)

OK, without further ado and in no particular order, here is the Marcel Brown Tech Toy Holiday shopping list:

imac-20in.jpgApple iMac & MacBook

Apple Macintosh computers are a very hot item. Macintosh computers have been slowly but surely gaining market share from Windows over the last few years as more and more users are switching. If you are thinking of buying someone (yourself?) a Macintosh, start by looking at the iMac and MacBook. The iMac is an all-in-one desktop computer. The MacBook is Apple's "consumer" oriented laptop. Both models have recently been "speed-bumped", meaning that new models are out, offering faster speeds and more features at the same price as previous models. However, be warned that these new models are selling out quickly, so you may want to get one ASAP.

centro.jpgPalm Centro SmartPhone

Finally! Palm has come out with a true smartphone for the average user. In other words - it is actually affordable!. With a 2 year agreement, the Centro is only $99. For the time being, the Centro is only available on the Sprint network, but I'm sure it will become available on other carriers soon. For more info on smartphones, see my previous article. For more info on the Centro, see this website: http://www.palm.com/us/products/smartphones/centro/


If you're going to buy someone a TV, please make sure it is an HDTV (high definition television). Remember, all TV stations will be required to broadcast ONLY in high definition in 2009. There are so many HDTV models in so many difference price categories, I can't really make a specific recommendation. However, here are a couple of tips. Try to actually see the TV in person and compare it with other models. There is no substitute for actually seeing a TV in person - after all, what else do you do with a TV but stare at it? Also, make sure the store you purchase from has a liberal return policy. The TV that looks great in the store may not look so great in someone's living room.

digital%20photo%20frame.jpgDigital Photo Frames

Digital photo frames can make a great gift, even for those who are not into tech toys. These gifts can be personalized by including your own family pictures on a compatible media card (this a great use for older, smaller media cards that you may no longer use). Read more about digital photo frames in my previous article.

wii_console.jpgNintendo Wii

Simply put, the Nintendo Wii is a revolutionary video game console, but more importantly, it is THE hottest tech toy of the season. You can get more information about the Wii in my previous articles, http://www.wii.com, or http://www.nintendo.com/wii. Besides the Wii's features, the Wii is also known for being notoriously difficult to find. Availability of the Wii was improving - until the holiday season began. If you are in the market for a Nintendo Wii, shop early and shop often, as your only chance may be to snag one as they put it on the shelf.

Charging Stations

If you know someone who has a few gadgets, then a charging station can make a nice, yet inexpensive gift. Rather than putting up with an unsightly mess of cables, charging stations allow a user to organize the cables and then easily charge their devices. There are many different types of charging stations, so I've picked out two examples at different price points.

powerstation.jpgThe first is the "Power Station". At $19.95, it is useful but inexpensive, charging up to 3 devices at one time. Available in black or grey plastic, it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing product, but if that isn't a consideration, then it should be a much appreciated purchase. You can find the Power Station at X-TremeGeek.com.

The second example is the Brookstone Charging Valet. This charging station can charge up to 6 devices simultaneously and looks as if it is made out of a slightly dark wood, which should blend in nicely in many decors. However, you'll pay for this as at $75, it is more than double the price of the Power Station. However, if "Spouse Approval Factor" (SAF) is important to your gift recipient, then do them a favor and spend the extra money! You can find the Charging Valet at Amazon.com.

iPhoneiPhone & iPod Touch

Unless you've been living under a rock, you certainly know that the iPhone from Apple is a hot item. Feel free to read more about the iPhone in my previous articles or at http://www.apple.com/iphone. However, you may not know about the iPod Touch. Basically, the iPod Touch is just like the iPhone - without the phone features. It still has Wi-Fi connectivity, the Safari browser, the large rotating screen, and all the other cool features of the iPhone. You just can't make calls on it or use it with a cellular data network. It also sports a lower price tag than the iPhone. So for many people who like all the features of the iPhone but don't need another phone, the iPod touch could be perfect.


It appears that the Slingbox is going to be a popular item this year. The Slingbox basically lets you watch programming from your home TV on your laptop or mobile device anywhere in the world. You can read more about the Slingbox in my previous article or at http://www.slingbox.com

ds.jpgNintendo DS

The Nintendo DS is the current handheld game system from Nintendo. It has been a consistent hot seller since the device was introduced in 2004. The DS stands for "dual screen" and is the first handheld game system that uses two screens. One of the screens is a pressure-sensitive touchscreen, which allows users to interact with in-game elements in a more direct way than by pressing buttons. The DS also includes built-in Wi-Fi networking, allowing users to play with others across the room or around the world. Current colors of the Nintendo DS are white, black, and pink.

myvu_solop_prod.jpgMyvu Personal Media Viewer

Simply put, you can wear these glasses to watch movies or play video games on a virtual big screen. With the included earphones, you can watch your movie or play your game without disturbing others. You can connect these glasses to any video source such as a portable DVD player, video iPod, or video game console. I will write in more detail about this item for my next Tech Toy of the Month article, but in the meantime go to http://www.myvu.com for more information.

If you have any questions about any technology gift, feel free to contact me.

November 15, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Slingbox

slingbox_family.jpgThe idea behind the Slingbox is pretty simple. After connecting a Slingbox to your home TV and home network, the Slingbox sends the programming from your TV to your laptop or mobile phone via the Internet. Basically, this means that you can watch your own TV anywhere you are in the world, as long as you have Internet connectivity and an Internet-enabled device.

The Slingbox would be great for people who are out of town, yet want to watch programming only available on their home TV, such as local news or sports. They would be able to do so with the Slingbox. Also, people who use their DVR to record their favorite TV shows could make good use of the Slingbox. If they find themselves with some spare time on their hands while they are away from home, they could use this time to connect to their Slingbox and watch their recordings. Simply speaking, the Slingbox could be used to send video from any source in a home (satellite, cable, Tivo, DVD players, Apple TV, etc) to a user's device. Because of this capability, the Slingbox can be used for a variety of needs besides the examples I just listed.

The various models of Slingbox range in price from $129.99 to $229.99, and is available from most major electronic retailers, or on-lline at http://www.slingbox.com. Because the Slingbox is a device that you purchase and install in your own home, there are no monthly subscription fees. The Slingbox currently supports Windows and Macintosh computers, as well as Windows Mobile/Pocket PC, Palm OS, and Symbian OS handheld devices. Notably absent at this time is support for the iPhone and iPod Touch. However support for these devices will probably become available in the near future, when Apple releases the necessary software for companies to create add-ons for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

While the Slingbox idea sounds great, there are some caveats to be aware of. Only 1 of the 3 current Slingbox models have multiple inputs. This can be limiting if you have multiple sources that you would want to watch remotely. Also, depending on the source, there could be the possibility of conflicting with someone wanting to watch something else at home. Finally, while the Slingbox does have technology to compensate for slower Internet connections, the quality of the video feed could be quite poor if either the Internet service at home or at the remote location isn't fast enough. This could be very noticeable when using mobile devices. The bottom line is to be very sure of everything you would want to do with the Slingbox before you buy one. Consult with a good technology professional who is not only proficient with computers and networking, but also has a good understanding of audio/video technologies as well.

So if you or someone you know could use the capabilities of a Slingbox, be sure to check one out. And feel free to contact me if you would like some advice about setting up a Slingbox in your home.

October 18, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Nintendo Wii, Part II

wii_console.jpgIn my earlier article about the Nintendo Wii, I wrote about its revolutionary control system and physically involving gameplay. In this article, I will discuss the Wii's other main features, namely its Internet connectivity and Virtual Console. First, however, I want make a brief mention of something I alluded to in the earlier article. I stated that physical control systems, like the Wii's, will have significance in areas other than video games. I have recently read articles of hospitals and rehab clinics using the Wii as a rehabilitation tool with great success. So already, examples of the applicability of physical control systems are being seen.

As with the other "next-generation" video game consoles, the Nintendo Wii has network connectivity built-in. This allows the console to be connected to your home network and to the Internet as well. However, unlike the other consoles, the Wii's standard network connectivity is Wi-Fi. If you have a wireless network, this makes connecting your Wii to your home network very convenient. If you don't have a wireless connection, you can buy an Ethernet adapter for wired networking. The Wii uses networking to allow for various features. For example, Wii owners can download Wii updates, software, and games through the Internet. Certain Wii games can be played on-line. It is also possible to send messages to other Wii owners. A couple of other interesting Internet-enabled Wii features are the ability to look up your weather conditions and read news articles.

One of the available programs you can buy and download for the Wii is a web browser, which Nintendo calls the "Internet Channel". It costs approximately $5, which you can pay for with a credit card directly through the Wii. Once downloaded, the Internet Channel allows for Internet browsing nearly as simple and full featured as through a regular computer. This is because the "Internet Channel" is actually the Opera web browser, a fairly popular web browser available for common computer operating systems. Basically, this allows for Internet usage on a family's TV. For families that only have one computer, this lets the kids do some web browsing while the computer is occupied.

One of the potentially biggest selling points of the Wii is what Nintendo calls the "Virtual Console". Simply speaking, the Wii has the ability to play games that were originally developed for the first three Nintendo game systems, as well as a few other "classic" consoles such as the Sega Genesis and Neo-Geo. Wii owners can buy and download these older games via the Wii's Internet connection. Once downloaded, the games are available to play from the Wii's main menu. The games play virtually identically to the original games, so it really is a retro experience for those of us who played these games 10, 15, and 20 years ago! What is interesting, however, is that kids who weren't even born when these games were originally released are interested in playing these old games.

This really is a win-win scenario, as retro gamers get to play the games they grew up with and the video game developers get to make additional profit on games they had closed the books on years ago. The biggest problem so far, and the reason I say "potentially" biggest selling point, is that Nintendo has thus far released a pitifully small number of games for the Virtual Console! Nearly a year after releasing the Wii, there are only 46 titles available from the original Nintendo (NES), 22 from the Super Nintendo (SNES), and a paltry 9 from the Nintendo 64. In my opinion, the selection of games available is also poor. There are many, many titles that I would have already paid for if they were only available. I really don't understand the logic behind this, as I believe that a larger and more popular selection of games would result in more sales. Nintendo, if you're reading this, release more Virtual Console games!

Overall, the Wii differentiates itself from the competition primarily because of its control system and the Virtual Console. No other system has the physical control system of the Wii, and no other system can play retro games like the Wii. It is perhaps because of these two features that the Wii has outsold both the XBox 360 and Playstation 3. This is especially impressive considering the XBox 360 had a one year head start on sales. If you'd like a gaming system that will be good for the entire family and brings an entirely new dimension to gaming, you should definitely consider the Nintendo Wii. Good luck finding one!

If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys, please let me know!

September 16, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Nintendo Wii, Part I

wii_console.jpgFor those of you familiar with the Nintendo Wii, you may be wondering why I'm writing about it now, nearly a year after it was released. One reason is that there are still many people not familiar with the Wii. Even today, obtaining a Wii is pretty difficult. Most stores sell out of them nearly as soon as they get them in. So even people who are interested in a Wii have not had the opportunity to use one. Even after a year, the Wii is still very much a sought-after tech toy, with more and more people hearing about it for the first time. Since I finally got my hands on one (thanks Danelle!), I will write about my experiences with the WIi. However, the Wii has so many interesting features, that I need to write two articles. In my next article I will cover the Wii's Virtual Console (for us old-school gamers), the Wii's Internet connectivity, and some other features. In this article, however, I will finally answer the question everyone wants to know, can playing a video game make you sweat?

For those not very familiar with the Nintendo Wii, I'll give a quick summary. For more details, please visit http://www.nintendo.com/channel/wii and http://www.wii.com. The Nintendo Wii is a "next-generation" home video game console, roughly in the same generation as the Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft XBox 360. However, the main difference between the Wii and other game consoles is in the way players interact with the games. Where Sony and Microsoft's new systems are basically souped-up versions of their last systems, using pretty much the same type of handheld controllers as before, Nintendo decided to create an innovative control system. Simply speaking, the Nintendo controllers are wireless and motion sensitive. Players can control games with physical motion as well as by pressing buttons. As an example, instead of playing video game tennis by sitting on a couch and pushing buttons on a controller, you actually need to stand up and swing the controller like a tennis racket, both forehand and backhand. Swing slowly for a soft lob. Swing harder for a more powerful shot.

As expected, at least for the few games my family and I have played, this method of playing video games is quite intuitive. My girls, ages 3 and 5, are very comfortable playing the Wii games and have had a lot of fun. It literally did not take them more than a half hour to grasp the concepts of how to control the games. The first couple of nights we had the Wii, they played so much they were actually hot and a little sweaty when they were done! One unexpected side-effect of playing sport-type games on the Wii is that my girls have actually expressed some interest in the real-life sports, such as baseball.

One small word of warning. Please be careful when letting young kids play the Wii. There they will smack each other with the controllers if they are not careful! Just keep an eye on them and don't let them wander too close to each other. Also, make sure they wear the wrist straps provided with the controllers. Already, my girls have occasionally lost their grips on the controllers during frenzied moments of gameplay and if not for the wrist straps, the controller could have hit someone or broken something (like the TV!).

In playing the boxing game on the Wii, which requires the use of a controller in each hand, I can definitely say that you do get quite a workout. While the physical motions required for the different types of punches don't quite emulate real-life (probably only an issue for someone like me who has studied martial arts), the action of throwing hundreds of punches and moving my body around to avoid virtual punches did make me work up a sweat. I'm in pretty good shape, but I actually had some slight soreness the day after a 45-minute boxing "workout" on the Wii!

While the sport-type games for the Wii will probably require the most physical action out of a player, I can see that other games might also require significant work out of a player. For example, while I've not played the "Zelda" game for Wii yet, the character in the game uses a sword and shield, which requires the player to swing one controller like a sword and use the other like a shield. I can imagine that after fighting enough bad guys, players could burn a few calories!

The real significance of the Wii is that with its popularity, it is triggering a revolution* in the video game world. Remember, as advanced as the Wii's control system seems today, it is only the first generation in what will undoubtedly be many future advancements in physical game control. I can foresee that in the not too distant future, playing video games will no longer be considered a "couch-potato" activity. Future generations will wonder how we ever had any fun playing video games using only our thumbs and fingers! And it will be very likely that the future development of physical control systems will have significance in things other than video games.

* The Wii's "code-name" during its development was "Revolution". Do you think Nintendo knew they were on to something big?

If you have any ideas for future Tech Toys, please let me know!

August 15, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: WildCharge Wireless Charging Pad

Imagine being able to charge devices such as cell phones or iPods simply by laying them down on a pad. You would not need to connect any wires to the device - you simply lay it down on a pad and it charges. On top of that, you could charge multiple devices on the same pad. If the WildCharge (http://www.wildcharge.com) wireless charging pad delivers as promised, you will soon be able to stop imagining and start doing.

As with many great technologies, the idea is simple and so is the way you use it. In fact, just a few paragraphs from WildCharge's web site pretty much explain the technology:

The WildCharger™ pad is flat and thin with a conductive surface. Once a cell phone or other electronic device that is enabled with WildCharge technology is placed on the pad – anywhere on the pad and at any orientation – it will instantaneously receive power from the pad. It is that simple. And charging speed is the same as if the device is plugged to the wall!
Enabling a portable electronic device with WildCharge technology is also simple. A WildCharge adapter attaches to – or outright replaces – the device’s back cover. This adapter has tiny external “bumps” (contact-points) that come in physical contact with the pad.
Once a compatible electronic device is placed on the WildCharger pad, power is transferred from the pad’s surface through the contact-points to the WildCharge adapter and into the device. The geometries of the charging surface and the contact-points guaranty that regardless of where the device is placed on the pad’s surface, a closed electrical circuit is formed between the surface and the device. Such direct contact allows for a very efficient and safe power transfer without generating harmful radiation or magnetic fields.

One catch to their technology is that the device you want to charge must be "enabled", which as explained above, requires an adapter made for that specific device. Since the product is on the verge of being released, only adapters for the Motorola Razor phone and the iPod Nano are being released right away. Obviously, if WildCharge releases a substantial number of adapters for various devices, this won't be such a problem. This will be especially true if WildCharge works with device manufacturers to ensure that devices are WildCharge compatible out of the box.

Another potential drawback I can foresee is that users who have devices in cases or protective covers will need to take their devices out to charge them. Naturally, this can be quite inconvenient and limit acceptance of the WildCharge product. Potentially, I can imagine that cases could also be made WildCharge compatible, so we will see how the market develops.

The products seem reasonably priced, as a WildCharger pad and a device adapter bundle is listed for $89.99 on WildCharge's web site. So if you don't like plugging in your devices to charge them, keep an eye out for WildCharge's products to be released soon.

July 19, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple iPhone, part II

In last month's Tech Toy article, I previewed the Apple iPhone. Now that the iPhone has been released, I have had a chance to read reviews and spend some time with one myself.

One of my main concerns with the iPhone was the interface. Since there are no hard buttons on the iPhone, I figured Apple would need to hit the proverbial home run with their touchscreen interface. So I started reading reviews. I can sum up what I read the the following few quotes:

“It’s fast, beautiful, menu-free, and dead simple to operate.”

"... it works like magic."

"The lure of the iPhone is that it makes you want to use it. It’s actually fun. Do we say that about any phones? Hardly."

"It’s also the best phone that anybody has ever made.”

"... every moment of user interaction has been quietly stage-managed and orchestrated, with such overwhelming attention to detail that when the history of digital interface design is written, whoever managed this project at Apple will be hailed as a Michelangelo, and the iPhone his or her Sistine Chapel."

Given this build-up, when I had a chance to use the iPhone, it was sort of a let-down. Not that I found any serious problems with the iPhone. To the contrary, the iPhone basically did everything it was supposed to do, exactly as I'd been reading about it. Having used and researched Apple products for so many years, perhaps I've become a little jaded to such breakthroughs. I expect this level of excellence from Apple, so it's not a surprise to me when they release products like this. However, when I "step back" and put everything into perspective, it is very uncommon in the technology industry to create a breakthrough product that delivers everything it promises. And given the long lead time and the unprecedented hype surrounding the iPhone, this is all the more impressive.

To be fair, the biggest nit I have to pick with the iPhone is the virtual keyboard interface. In trying to type with my thumbs like I do with Blackberries or Treos, I had a small bit of difficulty. Perhaps I would get better with practice, so I won't call this a big problem yet. However, I can see that people with larger thumbs or with longer fingernails will have problems. While people like this will have problems with any mobile keyboard, the lack of tactile response combined with the possibility of accidental "key" presses on the iPhone's touchscreen will probably aggravate the situation.

To sum up, the iPhone lives up to the hype. If you see the iPhone in action on Apple's web site, you should expect that you will get exactly what you see if you purchase one for yourself.

For all things Apple, Marcel is your expert.

June 19, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple iPhone, part I

It is perhaps the most anticipated technology gadget in history. It promises to change cell phones in the way the iPod changed mobile music players. It is the Apple iPhone (http://www.apple.com/iphone). While it has not yet been released as of this writing, I will attempt to explain what the iPhone will be in as simple terms as possible.

The iPhone is of course a cell phone. It will only be available on the AT&T network (formerly Cingular) at least through the year 2009 (barring any changes in contract between AT&T and Apple). So if you are with any other wireless provider (Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon), you will NOT be able to get an iPhone unless you switch to AT&T. To be released on June 29th, the iPhone will cost $499 for a 4GB version or $599 for a 8GB version (both prices require a 2-year contract).

The iPhone will also be a fully-functional iPod, playing music, photos, and videos. For many people, the integration of a phone with an iPod will be very compelling. However, the initial cost may be prohibitive for those casually considering a phone/iPod combo.

The main feature most people will immediately notice about the iPhone is the large touchscreen display, along with the fact that there are no hard buttons. While the touchscreen feature looks very nice, the lack of hard buttons may be a concern to some people. Time will tell if the touchscreen interface will be intuitive enough to make up for the lack of hard buttons. One feature that people will notice is the fact that the iPhone can sense when it is rotated and will rotate the display accordingly. In other words, if you want to view the display in widescreen mode, you simply need to rotate the iPhone in your hand. Words really don't do this feature justice, so make sure to see this feature in action on Apple's web site.

Apple is touting that the iPhone will be the most advanced mobile Internet device to date. Apple is using the Mac OS X operating system from its Macintosh computers, along with its Safari web browser, as the operating system for the iPhone. Apple is promising a fully-featured web browser on a phone, the same one in use on desktop computers. This feature, along with the rotating display, should allow users to see web pages the way they were designed to be seen. Other mobile devices must reformat web pages for display on their screens.

The iPhone has Wi-Fi wireless networking for fast Internet speeds in public hotspots or other Wi-Fi networks. The iPhone can also connect to AT&T's data network for Internet access. Basically, this should allow users to be able to get on the Internet almost anywhere, as long as they are in Wi-Fi network or within AT&T's cellular network.

Since the iPhone is not yet available, I will do another article on it sometime after it released and I have the opportunity to read reviews and have had a chance to test the device myself.

For all things Apple, Marcel is your expert.

May 14, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Digital Photo Frames

This isn't really a specific tech toy, but rather a whole category that has started becoming popular lately. The idea is very simple. Basically, imagine a small LCD screen inside a photo frame. Instead of showing just one picture, the screen can cycle through an entire library of photos, making for a dynamic slideshow of sorts.

There are many models out on the market right now. The main differentiators are price and screen size. Obviously, the larger the screen size, the higher the price. On the low end, you can get 5" screens and prices in the $50 range. On the higher end, you can get 8" screens in the $200 range. There are also bigger and more expensive digital picture frames, but I'm limiting this article to the above mentioned price and size ranges. Basically, if you are interested in a digital picture frame, pay attention to a couple of features.

First, get a screen size that will be large enough to adequately display your pictures. 5" screens I feel are too small for most purposes. One exception is displaying the pictures on your desk, as you will be fairly close to the frame so the small screen size shouldn't be a problem. If you can find a good price, go for a 7 or 8" screen. This screen size is usually big enough for display in a living room-type environment.

The second feature to pay attention to is the type of media cards the digital picture frame accepts. Most frames accept a large variety of media cards, but it is best to make sure. Ideally you can re-use your older media cards that don't hold as much data. They are perfect for use in a digital picture frame. To make best use of smaller cards, you can export pictures from your photo organization software in a reduced resolution. Reduced resolution photos don't take as much space, so you can fit a lot more photos on a card than you normally would. Just don't reduce the photos below the resolution of your digital picture frame, or they won't look good.

As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this, or other digital photography topics.

April 9, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month - Walletex Wallet Flash Drive

USB flash drives have become extremely popular in the last year or so. This is for good reason. With the demise of the floppy drive, there has been a need for simple, portable, and inexpensive data storage. USB flash drives fill this need quite nicely. Ladies who carry a purse can easily keep a flash drive with them at all times, but many of us guys tend to forget "extra" things, especially small things like a flash drive. About the only thing that many guys have with them at all times is their wallet. If you are this type of guy (or gal who doesn't carry a purse), the Walletex Wallet Flash Drive is for you (http://www.walletex.com/gp.asp?gpid=2).

The idea is very simple. The Wallet Flash Drive is a flash drive like any other. The only real difference is that the shape of the drive is just like a credit card - with the addition of a USB connector. So this makes it very easy to keep in your wallet, which if you always have your wallet with you, you will always have your flash drive with you as well. Having a flash drive with you at all times may seem like an excess, but we live in a data-centric world and for many people, flash drives are becoming as important as pens and paper. Also, for example, in the not too distant future, people will have their entire medical history available to them in electronic format. Perhaps they will be able to carry this data in a device like this, to which having quick access by medical personnel could end up saving their lives.

Technology-wise, the Wallet Flash drives have a few nice features. First, the USB connector is double-sided, which means you can orient the drive "up" or "down", which will allow it to fit into more connectors. Second, the drive is extremely durable, as most flash drives are, but this is very important to a device that will spend a lot of time in a very tight space, even perhaps taking a trip through the laundry. Finally, the drives come in many capacities to fit many budgets, and for comparison, the Wallet Flash Drives do not cost much more than regular USB flash drives. My only real concern is the durability of the USB connector. For such a slim device, I worry that the USB connector would be susceptible to snapping off. It seems like Walletex has built the device with strong, flexible plastic, so this probably won't be an issue, but I thought I'd mention this concern to be fair.

Overall, this device is great because it can be many things to many people. Even if you don't want one for yourself, I'm sure you can think of someone this would make a great gift for. Also, if you need a promotional item for your business, this could really get your company noticed. Along these lines, Walletex has also come out with an MP3 player in credit card format, which could be a very interesting product. If you are in the market for a USB flash drive, do check out the credit-card sized Wallet Flash Drive from Walletex - and I'll refrain from making any bad jokes about trying to check out with it at the grocery store.

March 6, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Mobile Broadband Internet Router (Linksys WRT54G3G-ST)

What do you do if you need Internet access anywhere, anytime? You probably opt for a mobile broadband Internet service from a cellular company. These types of services allow you to use their networks for Internet data at relatively high speeds through the use of PC card that you insert into your laptop. For most people, having one computer with mobile Internet is enough. However, for mobile groups of individuals, having one computer with Internet access is not enough. Sure, they can each purchase their own PC cards and each subscribe to their own mobile broadband service, but that can get quite costly. So what's the answer?

Enter the Linksys WRT54G3G-ST. This device allows you to share a mobile broadband Internet connection among several computers. Currently, this product only works on the Sprint network, but I expect that more products like this will become available for other carriers. The WRT54G3G-ST works just like a normal cable/DSL router that many of us have in our homes and businesses. You basically plug your Sprint PC card into the router and that connection is available to any computer that connects to the router, either wired or wirelessly.

The Linksys WRT54G3G-ST comes with all the features that one should expect from a modern wireless Internet router, such as a DHCP server, WPA/WPA2 wireless encryption, an SPI firewall, and VPN passthrough. It has 4 wired ethernet ports and also allows you to connect to an existing cable or DSL service if one is available, just like a normal Internet router. Additionally, because all the computers connected to the router are on the same network, they can share files or printers among them as well. Basically, the Linksys WRT54G3G-ST allows you to set up a secure LAN complete with Internet access anywhere you go.

This device could be very useful for companies who send groups to tradeshows. Each individual can bring a computer and have Internet access available to them on the floor of the show. It could also be very useful for companies that send out groups to temporary offices or client sites where they may not have Internet access available to them. Contractors especially work in environments where Internet access may not have yet been installed.

If you have the need for multiple computers to have Internet access anywhere, anytime, feel free to contact me to discuss your options.

February 13, 2007

Tech Toy of the Month: Apple TV

As the Apple iPhone stole most of the headlines from last month's Macworld expo, another new product introduction quietly slipped under the radar in the mainstream media. The "Apple TV" promises to turn your home theater system into a digital jukebox, allowing all of your pictures, music, and movies that are stored on your computer to be browsed and displayed on your living room TV.

I'm particularly excited about this product because it appears that this is the incarnation of an idea that I've been talking about for a few years now. I've been wishing for a product that would further advance the convergence of computers and home theater, and from what I've been reading, the Apple TV could very well accomplish that goal. Here are some of the highlights:

- At only 1.1" tall and 7.7" square, it should fit easily into any entertainment center or TV shelving.
- It has a variety of video and audio outputs, including HMDI and optical audio allowing integration even into high-end high definition displays and true surround sound systems.
- It can work over a wired network, or over the latest high-speed wireless technologies.
- It is a quiet machine, making almost no audible fan noise.
- At $299, it hits a price point that should not scare away the average person.
- It works with Macintosh and Windows

The Apple TV should be available for purchase this month, so we will all know more about its capabilities soon. From what information is available now, there will not be a simple way for users to digitize their DVD collection for play through the Apple TV. However, this is something I will keep a close eye on. I believe that if users can browse and play their DVD collection on a device like the Apple TV, it will sell like hotcakes.

If you would like to talk more about digital convergence, feel free to e-mail me.

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