The Gadgets Page

June 21, 2012

DecalGirl Skins: Second Verse Same As The First

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,Laptops,PDAs and Phones,Reviews — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Decalgirl Skins by LauraMoncur from FlickrBack in March 2009, I wrote a review for DecalGirl Skins. You can see it here:

Because I had written a review, I was surprised when DecalGirl contacted me and asked if I wanted some free samples to do another one. I gladly agreed and waited for the skins I had selected to arrive in the mail.

I dug out my old gadgets that were still adorned with DecalGirls skins. My Acer Netbook computer was being stored in a box of outdated gadgets. Here’s a current picture of it: (Continue Reading…)

August 23, 2010

PostSecret: I Love You And Hate You

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,Laptops,PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 9:55 am

This week’s postcards from PostSecret told a couple of interesting stories. Here is the first one:

It reads:

I liked you better before you got your iPhone.

But the second one tells a different story.

It reads:

I’m automatically more attracted to you if you use Apple products.

I found the dichotomy of the two interesting and even laughable. Our computers and cell phones are TOOLS. They shouldn’t make us more or less attractive to others, but they DO. Why?

This strange attraction (revulsion) might go as far back instinctively as our Cro-Magnon days. Those early humans started using tools and the best tools guaranteed survival. Mating with a human with better tools might be like mating with a human with a healthy glow in their skin or wide child-bearing hips. It assures survival of our progeny.

I find it interesting that Apple is able to elicit two very different instincts in people.


PostSecret‘s beneficiary is the National Hopeline Network. It is a 24-hour hotline (1 (800) SUICIDE) for anyone who is thinking about suicide or knows someone who is considering it.

January 26, 2010

Apple Tablet Predictions

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,Laptops,PDAs and Phones — Michael Moncur @ 10:00 am

Apple has a special announcement planned for this Wednesday, January 27th, and the rumors are that they will release a tablet device of some sort. At these times it is customary for gadget blogs to make fools of themselves by predicting what Apple will announce, so here’s my attempt.

  • The tablet will run iPhone OS, and will essentially be a giant iPod Touch. Probably with more memory than the current iPhones and Touches, but no hard drive.
  • Steve Jobs will focus on three areas of use for the new device: reading books, watching videos, and running any app from the existing App Store. He’ll show off some new games that use the full screen.
  • The tablet will cost $1000 and every single technology blog and media outlet will complain about this, saying that netbooks are cheaper, that you can buy a “real” computer for the same price, and that Apple won’t sell many tablets. They’ll be hilariously wrong.
  • There will be no keyboard, and initially no external one to attach. The virtual keyboard will resemble the iPhone’s. Everyone will complain about this, but Apple won’t care because they designed the device primarily for consuming media, not creating it.
  • It will have a backlit color LCD screen (probably 10″). Steve will make fun of e-ink devices on stage.
  • A new iPhone OS and SDK will be announced, and support for the tablet’s big screen will be the biggest change. They might also support multitasking, since running multiple iPhone-sized apps on the tablet’s big screen makes sense.
  • Apple will announce deals with publishers for e-books. I suspect they’ll emphasize newspapers, magazines, and college textbooks. The New York Times will be shown as an example, followed by a novel with an embedded video interview with the author to show off how much better it is than a Kindle.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if the “regular” book support comes from a licensing agreement with Amazon. You might think the Kindle is the tablet’s competition, but I think Amazon wants to sell books, not hardware platforms.
  • I think cell-phone data access will be built in. I hope it’s optional and doesn’t cost $30 a month.
  • The name: When Apple changed their baseline notebook computer’s name from “iBook” to “Macbook”, my theory at the time was that they wanted to eventually use “iBook” for an e-book reader. While I doubt the tablet will be just for reading books, I still think “iBook” is a great name for it, and it will fit their new naming scheme: the Macbook runs MacOS and the iBook runs the iPhone OS.

Please note that my predictions are not based on “confidential sources”. I just made them up, and most of them are probably wrong. But whatever the outcome, I hope Apple does something insanely great.

March 17, 2009

Decalgirl Skins

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Laptops,PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

When I got my Acer Aspire, I immediately wanted to make it look unique. Fortunately, there were a ton of skins made specifically for it from Decalgirl. I bought a bunch of different ones, but I really love this one. It’s called, aptly enough, Laurie’s Garden for the Acer Aspire.

Decalgirl Skins by LauraMoncur from Flickr

I really like how the skin is made specifically for my laptop. They even cut out holes for the little indicator lights.

Decalgirl Skins by LauraMoncur from Flickr

I also bought the Laurie’s Garden skin for my iPhone.

Decalgirl Skins by LauraMoncur from Flickr

Each iPhone skin comes with a code to allow me to download a wallpaper to put on my iPhone to match up with the skin. I was worried that the Laurie’s Garden skin might look weird on my white iPhone, but it turns out that there is plenty of white in the design to make it look good.

Decalgirl Skins by LauraMoncur from Flickr

You can see all the photos here:

Whenever I get a new gadget, I want to make it MINE. Putting a skin on my iPhone and laptop is a great way to mark my toys as mine and fulfill my matching disease in one fail swoop.

January 1, 2009

Review: Lenovo IdeaPad S10

Filed under: Laptops,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 5:00 am

Lenovo S10 10.2-Inch Ideapad at Amazon.com“Netbooks”—small, lower-powered, and inexpensive laptops with an emphasis on Internet connectivity rather than general purpose computing—are a big new category in computer sales. With entrants such as the Asus EeeePC, MSI Wind,/a>, HP Mini, and Lenovo IdeaPad, most of the major vendors (with the notable exceptions of Apple and Dell) are moving into this market. Netbooks are typically priced within $100 of the $400 mark.

It takes work to get down to $400: Smaller screens, no CD or DVD reader, lower capacity hard disks, and low-cost, slower, mature components. The processor is usually either the Intel Atom or the Via C7-mobile and they universally use low-end integrated graphics and network connectivity chipsets. This means that they can’t really handle 3D games or CAD work, and they’re not suited to high-speed data transfer on a wired network. They also include less memory than today’s typical laptop—either 512MB or 1GB. Having fewer ports—typically two USB ports, a wired network port, and an analog or digital video port, also reduces cost. All have Wireless G, but most do not have Bluetooth. A few have express-card slots that allow for expansion, however. They run Linux, Windows XP Home, or Windows Vista Basic, usually based on whether or not they have enough RAM for Vista. Many are available in editions that use a small amount of flash memory as a solid-state disk and can only run Linux.

The Lenovo IdeaPad has hit most of the compromises perfectly. It uses Windows XP Home (Vista Basic adds literally nothing of value with these older components) and has literally no unnecessary crapware to be removed.

It has a nice, bright screen, loud-enough speakers for one person to watch a movie, and the keyboard is small but not too small (although the placement of the right shift key is annoying), The screen is suitable for movie watching and the computer is capable of streaming Netflix Instant movies wirelessly at full resolution without pausing.

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 at Amazon.com

Most importantly in my opinion, the Lenovo has an ExpressCard slot, which makes it possible to add any port you need. This remedies a lot of the shortcomings of a Netbook and opens them up to use as a general-purpose computer. I use the ExpressCard slot to add a gigabit network port (to compensate for the fact that the built-in wired port is only 10/100) and to install flash memory for backups. Unfortunately, the ExpressCard slot is not full-length: About a half inch of the card will protrude when fully inserted which makes it difficult to leave an adapter in the machine routinely.

The ASUS Eeee PC and MSI Wind Netbooks get a lot of attention online, but only the original HP Mini compares favorably to the Lenovo in my opinion, and it cost nearly twice as much. For the money (and that’s the idea behind the NetBook category), the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 compromises less and delivers more than any other Netbook on the market right now.

January 16, 2008

The 2008 Macworld Keynote In 60 Seconds

Filed under: Laptops — Laura Moncur @ 1:15 pm

Thanks to Mahalo Daily, here is the 2008 Macworld Keynote in 60 seconds.

You might have to watch it two or three times, but all of the details are there. You just don’t get the cool demonstrations and the nervous CEOs of other companies trying to act cool next to Steve Jobs.

Via: Macworld 2008: 90 minutes of Steve in 60 seconds — but zero “booms”

September 24, 2007

The Tiny Fully Functional PC: Sony UX 390N

Filed under: Laptops,PDAs and Phones,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 5:00 am

Sony VAIO VGN-UX390N 4.5I’ve been a fan of tiny full sized computers for a long time, and I’ve had one of just about every generation of hand held computing device that has ever come along. I bought all those devices because I’d hoped that one of them would actually be useful. There’s always a show-stopping problem: The handwriting recognition can’t be relied upon and there is no keyboard, or the computer is too large, or the keyboard is external and a hassle to carry along and hook up. Also, battery life is never sufficient to spend a day on the road.

It only takes one of these problems to make a small form factor computer useless. Unless it reaches the reliability of a cell phone, I can’t risk not having access to my e-mail, calendar, and tasks.

PDAs have never really worked for me because they can’t carry all the information I need, and nobody has ever really truly solved the syncing problem. PDAs don’t have “lite” version of Visio to jot down a quick network diagram, for example. Furthermore, no PIM on the planet comes close to Microsoft Outlook in organizational functionality. My entire “Getting Things Done” methodology is based on customizations I’ve made to Outlook, and in my old age I insist that computers do what they’re for: Make my life, the way I want to live it, easier.

So when I needed a new PC to run my “Getting Things Done” methodology that I’ve implemented with customizations to Microsoft Outlook, I knew that neither a PDA nor Apple’s forthcoming iPhone would actually work for me—I’ve already attempted to get my system working on both Apple’s set of applications and the major open source apps because I don’t like having a PC just for Outlook. Syncing just doesn’t move all the information I use, and terminaling into a desktop PC from the road is too much hassle. I just want to run outlook on a computer that I can break out in a meeting to record my commitments on.

So I’ve had my eye on the Sony UX 390 for a while. I didn’t buy earlier because I couldn’t swallow the enormous price tag and I was worried about hard disk reliability in a unit I was all but certain to drop. But recent experiences have shown me that it costs more to be without my data than a one time $2500 price tag, so I took the plunge—warily, and at Fry’s where I knew I could return it within 15 days if it wasn’t going to do the job.

Out Of the Box Experience – OOBE

Microsoft has defined an “Out Of the Box Experience” manager for Vista that is supposed to make you feel a rush of serotonin and cause you to pair bond to the computer like a duckling to its mother. The initiative is lovingly referred to as “OOBE”. So, since it apparently matters enough to have an initiative and an acronym, I’ll talk about the OOBE for the UX 390.

Firstly, the initial boot and setup on the device takes about 30 minutes. Once completely installed, you are greeted with the Vista OOBE manager, whose job it is to help you get connected to the Internet and then present the wide array of crapware that comes pre-installed on the computer. There are about fifteen overlapping dialog boxes vying for your initial attention, and six or seven notification area cartoon dialogs.

The amount of crapware in the OOBE manager made me suspicious. I checked the size of the C: drive, and astonishingly, 75% (not exaggerating) of the C: drive was full. Furthermore, the C: drive was only 23GB in size, not the 32GB of precious flash memory I was sure I’d paid for. A visit to the logical disk manager confirmed my suspicion: All that pre-installed crapware required a hefty 8GB restore partition.

Normally, you’d just leave a recovery partition in place. What’s 8GB on a 200GB disk anyway, right? Oh, wait. This is a 32GB disk. And it’s a solid-state disk that I paid $600 extra for. The customer literally must take that partition off because there’s really no room for Vista, Sony’s requisite management apps, Office 2007, and anything of yours if you don’t. Leaving it in place isn’t an option irrespective of the cost or waste.

Sony placed that recovery partition there so that they wouldn’t have to spend $1 to include recovery discs. If you do the math, presuming that the Flash disk costs $600 (the price difference between this computer and its HDD based sibling), that’s $160 of your money so that Sony doesn’t have to spend $1. Thanks, Sony!

In sum, it took me 4 hours to burn my own recovery DVDs, remove the recovery partition (1.5GB of it was mandatory, and remains there still), and restore from DVD You can’t de-select any of the crapware during installation either, so you’ll waste time both re-installing it and subsequently removing it.

The initial boot and gauntlet of EULAs, web page redirections to partner sites, etc. takes an hour to slog through, then it took another 3 hours to remove all the crapware, and another 3 hours to patch it up to date an apply the Sony patches for the crap I hadn’t removed. All told, it took me a solid 12 hours before I could do anything with the device.

So on a scale of 1 to 10, the OOBE on this device is about a -5, all thanks to crapware. The only way it could have been worse would be if the device had actually been broken.

If the recovery partition were a reasonable 1.5GB in the first place, I wouldn’t have bothered with any of this. Compare that to the 30 minutes it took from first boot until my MacBook Pro had copied over all my data and applications from my old PowerBook and was up and useful. Its no wonder Apple is schooling Microsoft and Sony.

Beyond the OOBE

So the day after you buy it is when the fun begins. The first cool thing you’ll do is enroll your fingerprints in the fingerprint security manager for logging in. There’s two types of biometric fingerprint security: Actually secure, and Kid Sister secure. Actually secure fingerprint sensors do live finger detection that can’t be fooled by a Jello mold of your finger (this does) and stores your prints in the device firmware, exchanging only salted hashes with the operating system rather than storing the hash of your fingerprints on the hard disk where they can be compromised. Unfortunately, the sensor on the UX 390 doesn’t do that second part. So what this means is that it’ll keep thieves and relatives out of your data, but not the government.

Irrespective, it’s way easier than typing a password for logging on and just as secure, so it’s a big plus on a computer where you want to minimize use of the keyboard. Enrolling fingerprints is easy and smooth. It’s a slick feature, especially for a computer whose keyboard is painfully small by necessity and which won’t always be exposed to accept passwords.

The device has Bluetooth, WiFi, and Cingular EDGE network built in. EDGE is sort of “2.5G” in terms of network speed: Faster than 2G, but nowhere near the speed of the 3G Verizon or Spring EvDO networks. In my tests, the device does between 144 and 200kbps, which is basically 1/3 the speed of my EvDO card. You can call Sony tech support and get them to unlock the device for you so you can put a T-Mobile SmartCard in it to get on their much less expensive EDGE network, which I strongly recommend if you live in an area with good T-Mobile coverage because it’s much cheaper for unlimited data. EDGE seems to do much better with connections while moving than EvDO, however—at full freeway speed it kept up without disconnecting all over Metro San Diego.

Another unfortunate problem is Cingular’s crappy software. While it works just fine, the “Power Manager” provided by Cingular sucks up 15% of the devices CPU power whether the radio is in use or not, keeping the fan running constantly (which I’m sure obviates any benefit derived by the process’s name). Killing the process will let the computer idle down so the fan can stop running. I used Windows Defender to prevent Sony’s garbage from running and just wrote some batch scripts I keep in the start menu to enable the WWAN radio when I need it.

The screen is beautiful, but the resolution of the screen is so high and size so small that people whose presbyopia has set in should not even consider this computer. I love the resolution, but my older friends are unable to see anything on it without reading glasses.

The touch screen is very accurate, and quite useful. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t released the Vista version of Tablet PC, so you have to dig through some configuration panels to enable little niceties like tap-and-hold being used for right-click. Why this feature isn’t built into all versions of Windows is beyond me. Otherwise, the computer works just fine as a pure tablet, and the handwriting recognition is the best I’ve ever seen, interpreting my chicken scratches correctly about 90% of the time (not quite enough, but still the best ever).

Most importantly, the screen slides up to reveal the world’s first entire PC keyboard implemented as a thumb board. It works amazingly well, but you will get hand cramps trying to write the great American Novel on it. It’s for URLs and email replies, which it works perfectly well for that, and the blue backlight makes it useful at night.

The computer’s 1.5GHz Core-Mono CPU isn’t enough power to run Vista in its default configuration. You’ll notice near continuous disk access when you boot, and booting is slow. Disabling Vista’s desktop search service and file transfer compression service eliminates these problems, dramatically increasing the overall speed of the computer. I also disabled Windows Restore to improve performance and free up disk space. Properly tuned, the computer runs Vista just fine.

Docking the UX-390 turns it into a first-class desktop computer. You will want to disable the small screen so you have a bigger desktop (The Intel video adapter is weak, and won’t let you increase the resolution when driving both screens simultaneously). Additional docks are available of the shelf at the Sony store—I put one at the office and at home so I can just carry the computer between locations. The other accessory you’ll want to buy is the six-hour extended battery. With it, you can work all day without worrying about battery life. Without it, the computer will give up on you about mid-afternoon.

Once you’ve slogged through the OOBE, the Sony UX-390 is far and away the best PDA ever built. It’s small enough to wear on your belt if you don’t mind looking geeky. It’s even a reasonable desktop computer when you dock it. It’s expensive, but a worthwhile investment for people who need a real computer with them on the go.

September 17, 2007

High-Speed Internet on Airplanes

Filed under: Laptops,PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

The FCC has approved the use of cell phones and high-speed Internet on airplanes.

FCC approval and actual ability are two different things, however:

The FCC already had approved a high-speed Internet service provided by Boeing Co. Called “Connexion” which uses satellites to get air passengers online. The service is offered by some international carriers, including some flights to and from the United States.

But airline industry officials say cash-strapped domestic carriers haven’t bought into the service largely because of the cost — an estimated $500,000 per jet to install the needed equipment.

The FCC on Wednesday voted to allow airlines to offer high-speed Internet connections through the frequencies used by seatback phones. It would cost roughly $100,000 to outfit a plane with the necessary equipment.

In the end, we will be the ones to pay the $100K investment. Is it really worth ten or fifteen dollars a flight to access the Internet? Depends on how long the flight is. For me, I won’t even pay the cost to access the Internet at the airport. I get online with my Treo and by-pass their overpriced wi-fi access. I’ll probably just play with my Nintendo DS for a couple of hours on the plane instead of trying to get airline Internet access to work.

What I really wish the FCC would do is finally admit that electronic devices don’t really affect the airplane and quit making me turn off my devices when we are taking off and landing.

April 4, 2007

Fix This! Power Cords on Laptops

Filed under: Laptops — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I Pretend I Have Some Control Over My Power Cord

As Ponzi points out in her excellent entry, there is one true design flaw of ALL laptop computers: the power cord.

What kind of power cord user are you? Ponzi says there are three types:

There are “The people in denial”. – They get rid of it all together and act like it’s not a problem – until they have to deal with it. They put it out of mind and out of sight – pack it in the suitcase. As svelte and cordfree as these people are in the airport secretly they are the ones who frantically throw everything out of their suitcases looking for it when they have a black out in the taxi on the way to the hotel.

The people who don’t care. – This group just stuffs that whole cord into the backpack or bag and say that’s part of carrying the laptop, deal with it. Then all their crap comes pouring out when its time to use it.

There are the ones who try to act like they have some control. – This would be my crowd – for the moment (I tend to bounce between all three). They roll up the cord and use the piece of velcro if they have it (IBM tried to give us a solution) which usually doesn’t fit the whole cord.

Velcro One-Wrap CabletiesI’m one of the “pretend I have some control” people. I found these Velcro One-Wrap Cableties at Home Depot several years ago (pictured in the top photo). They come in an 8 inch size that wraps around my power brick AND the cord to create one easy package to stuff into the laptop bag. As Ponzi points out, however, it’s still a BIG thing to cart around. It takes up as much space as my Nintendo DS. If my bag were any smaller, I would have to choose between the power cord and my personal entertainment device.

ZIP-LINQ Retractable Notebook Power CordZip-Linq has created the ZIP-LINQ Retractable Notebook Power Cord, which is a pretty good deal, but it doesn’t replace your power brick. I could use it to replace half of my cord, but I would still have to wrap the cord to the power brick. If I have to be wrapping cords anyway, I might as well do both. It’s an inexpensive replacement that is pretty tempting, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem.

Smarthome Small Cable ManagerAnother option is the Smarthome Small Cable Manager, but it will only help you if your brick isn’t in the middle of the cord. Otherwise, you’ll use one cable manager for the cord from the laptop to the brick and another for the cord from the brick to the wall. Wrapping cords twice isn’t very efficient, so the Velcro Cableties seem like a better option.

The MacBook Pro power cord has the most useable design.Apple has done the best job of making their power cords useable. The power plug unfolds to plug into the wall and folds up for travel. They have the brick plug directly into the wall and have an attached wire wrap on the brick. It’s still a big thing to keep in your laptop bag, but it’s VERY easy to wrap up.

Sadly, the only other option is to include the power brick in the laptop itself, which would make my tiny laptop MUCH bigger. It’s the whole reason they put the power brick on the cord in the first place. Just think about how much bigger your very portable laptop would be if you had to include that power brick in the case.

In the end, my laptop battery only lasts a couple of hours and I have come to accept the fact that I need to cart around the power cord with it. There are some design frontiers that are waiting to be discovered, but until then, I have become a good friend of Velcro Cableties. Of course, there’s always the “Living In Denial” option.

Via: Chris Pirillo on Twitter

March 28, 2007

Another Good Use For The Mac Remote

Filed under: Laptops — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

This video, entitled, “Really Expensive Cat Toy,” is a perfect example of the fun you can have with a Macintosh laptop, its remote control and Front Row.

I wonder if a scratched screen is covered under the warranty…

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