The Gadgets Page

September 21, 2007

GPS For Your Motorcyle: TomTom Rider

Filed under: Cars & Transportation,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 5:00 am

TomTom Rider 32MB GPS Navigator for Motorcycles and Scooters at Amazon.comI’ve become completely addicted to navigation systems since getting one in my car a few years ago. Sadly, I can’t find my way around without one anymore, so when I bought a motorcycle, putting a nav system on it was a forgone conclusion.

Looking at the competing units, I decided to get a TomTom Rider because it was adapted specifically for motorcycling. It comes with a mount that converts power from 12v and a cable that can be wired into your motorcycle’s electrical bus, and with mounting hardware and a Bluetooth headset designed for helmets.

The unit itself is quite servable, having all the standard navigation features and an easy to use touch screen. Just about all buttons were large enough to press with my gloves on without difficulty, and it comes with a complete set of maps for the U.S. and Canada on a 1GB SD card. The setup and configuration was easy enough that I didn’t have to crack the manual to get everything figured out. For pure navigation features, it’s pretty solid as are all TomTom products in my experience. For that reason, I’m going to focus on the motorcycle specific features of this unit.

The unit will connect to a Bluetooth-DUN enabled phone for live traffic if your phone supports it—a really nice feature. It also supports features included with the TomTom Plus service (most of which are theoretically interesting but practically useless, such as locating nearby buddies).

The system allows you to make hands-free phone calls through the navi head unit, uploading your address book and allowing you to dial through the navi while your phone sits safely in your pocket. It’s a neat feature, but one I doubt I’ll use very often since you can’t make phone calls at speed anyway.

Unfortunately, the mounting hardware was useless on my bike. As with most modern sport-bikes, the handlebars are multi-piece forged aluminum slabs, not the ¾” round handlebars of days gone by. There was literally nowhere to attach the mounting hardware on a stock Kawasaki ZX-14, so after about two hours of trying, I gave up and bought a TechMount designed specifically for my model of bike, costing an additional $80.

Once that hurdle was crossed, wiring the unit in was easy with the provided cable. Because of capacious the internal battery, it’s not necessary to wire the power up unless you intend to leave the unit on your bike all the time. The battery lasts all day in my tests, so many users will opt to simply take the system in with them and charge it on wall power rather than wiring the mount to power on their bike. It’s nice that both options are available.

The unit comes with a motorcycle specific Bluetooth headset that can be permanently mounted inside your helmet. It’s interesting idea, but it doesn’t work well in practice. The earpiece takes up enough room inside the helmet to make it a hard to get my ear in on the side where the speaker is mounted. The disconnectable Bluetooth transceiver recharges on house power—A recharging dock on the unit would have been much more motorcycle friendly, especially for those of us who tour for multiple days at a time. Finally, the unit is all but worthless at freeway speed as it is too quiet at full volume to hear above freeway and wind noise.

Unfortunately, the unit will only provide spoken instructions via Bluetooth. I would have vastly preferred a speaker on the unit that could be turned up to hear at speed. There’s not even a headphone jack, so you basically don’t have any options—it’s Bluetooth or no spoken instructions.

A better idea for a motorcycle nav system would be to forgo spoken turn instructions entirely in favor of bright LED turn indicators similar to those used for turn signal indicators, one on each side of the unit. Flashing left would mean it’s time to take the next left, and flashing right means next right. The frequency of flashing could increase with proximity to the turn, and the number of LEDs on each side could indicate whether it’s a merge or turn. LEDs would be far more obvious and easy to interpret at speed than spoken instructions even if there was a good way to deliver them, which there is not.

Another missing feature is a speedometer calibration display. It’s pretty difficult to get raw GPS information out of the unit (you have to dig through many layers of configuration screens) and there’s no single place where you can just show your latitude, longitude, heading, and speed over ground. Accelerometer features would be a big plus as well. You can enable speed display on the main screen, but a single “info” screen with a very large speed display would be preferable for motorcyclists.

Speaking of displays, color backlit LCDs are useless in direct sun, this one included, You simply cannot see it unless there’s a shadow cast on it. The display has a small sun hood, but too small to be of any real use. A unit built specifically for motorcycles would just use a high resolution black and white LCD designed for front-lighting in the first place.

In all, it’s a serviceable unit and a good navigator, but clearly merely adapted for the motorcycle market rather than developed for it. To be honest, the motorcycle enhancements don’t make it worth the extra cost considering that none of them are actually useful. Don’t waste your money on this motorcycle-adapted unit, just purchase the correct 3rd party mount for your motorcycle and use the portable navigation unit that you like best. Perhaps someone will pick up the gauntlet and make a unit truly designed for motorcyclists.

September 20, 2007

Flash Voyager 16GB USB drive

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 5:00 am

Corsair 16GB Flash Voyager USB Flash Drive at Amazon.comI’ve finally found a flash drive that works for the power geek: The Corsair Memory Flash Voyager 16GB. It’s fast, low power, and extremely high capacity at 16GB—more than enough for even the very largest files you may need to transfer. It comes in a novel neoprene case with a cap that makes it waterproof when closed.

With a sustained 7MB/sec write speed, the Flash Voyager is comparable to most medium speed flash devices. It’s not as fast as high-speed camera flash memory, but it’s faster than most thumb drives. Read speed is a nice 12MB/sec.

At 16GB, I can move an ISO of an installation DVD, an entire virtual machine, the largest Photoshop RAW images, entire websites, and do backups of all of my important files onto a single stick. It’s big enough to hold my entire MP3 library as well.

Another nice feature is the low power draw. I’m able to gang four of them on a small bus-powered USB hub off a single port of my MacBook Pro (which are notorious for supplying the low end of the power specification for USB) and drive them all as RAID-0 array with no external power adapters.

Next time you’re looking for a thumb drive, choose something that works well instead of the cheapest one you can find. With low power, intense speed and high capacity, you can’t go wrong with the Corsair Flash Voyager.

May 29, 2007

Games N Music for the Nintendo DS

Filed under: Audio and Video,Reviews,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I picked up Games ‘n Music up at Walmart for about $35. It was just inexpensive enough to try out for fun. It is a game card that allows you to play videos, music and homebrew games on your Nintendo DS. It came with a 128 MB Micro SD card loaded with 25 games. The included card was enough to hold two hours worth of video, but I bought a 2 GB card and now I can play almost 11 hours of video on Nintendo.

You can see a video demonstrating Games n’ Music here:

Click here to see the video

As you can see, the video looks really good. Their software to convert video is amazingly fast. I used the lowest quality conversion and it still looks really good on the screen. Sadly, the video player leaves something to be desired. You can’t fast forward or reverse the video. If you go out of the video you’re watching and then go back in, it will restart you at the beginning of the video instead of where you were last and there is no way to fast forward to where you were before.

The MP3 player is a little better because it allows you to scan through the song. It also allows you to skip to the next song. Unfortunately, there is no good organization for the music and it doesn’t read song title from the MP3 data.

The games that come with it are utter crap. Sorry, but there is no nice way to say it. They are not worth the small storage space that they take on your card. They don’t use any of the buttons on the DS, even if the game would be better played with the button controls than a touch screen. There is no way to get out of the games without turning off your Nintendo. You can’t reset or hold down the start button to escape them.

I have been able to run some homebrew software using this card, but honestly, I haven’t been able to find anything good out there. I don’t know if this card is making them crash or if they are just substandard and crash all the time. I guess when it comes to online software available for free, you get what you pay for.

I compared the video quality of the Nintendo DS running Games n’ Music with the Video iPod and the Samsung U-740. You can see how each of them handled this Galaticast video.

Nintendo DS, Video iPod and Samsung U-740 Video Showdown

The Games n’ Music conversion “squishes” wide videos to make them fit on the DS screen instead of letterboxing them like the iPod and the Samsung U-740 did. I feel like that should bother me, but honestly it doesn’t. My standards for video go way down when I’m watching it on a tiny screen. The cool thing is I can load up my card, keep my DS in my purse and pull it out to watch a video whenever I want. I could do the same thing with my Treo, but it is SO difficult and time consuming to get video to work on my Treo. It’s as easy with Games n’ Music as it is with the iPod. I just wish they would let me download a fix for the video player.

Official Website: Datel Design & Development Ltd – Games N Music

April 10, 2007

Review: Sims 2 for Nintendo DS

Filed under: Reviews,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Sims 2 for Nintendo DSHey, all you people who think video games are just a bunch of people shooting each other and driving cars really fast, try Sims 2 for Nintendo DS. I know, I know… I tried The Sims back when they came out and hated them too. I had one of those zen moments when I was making my Sim wash the dishes and I could see the dirty dishes in my own sink from the computer. I never played that game again. Sims 2 for Nintendo DS is different, I promise.

Firstly, there is a lot less dish washing, showering and sleeping in this game than in the original Sims version. I don’t know if it’s because they had to simplify it for the DS system or if they realized that watching your Sim wash her dishes isn’t all that fun. Either way, the Sim maintenance is still part of the game, but it usually happens when I have to go to the bathroom, so it’s just fine with me.

Secondly, they have added a simple story line to the game. In Sims 2 for the DS, I have to run a hotel and get its score higher by building guest rooms and other attractions. I have to deal with a mobster in my Penthouse. I have to deal with invasions of aliens and robots (I’m building a Rat Cave next so I can create weapons to fight off those meanies). Strictly open game play like the original Sims was just not fun for me, but I love having a list of little tasks to achieve.

Now, Sims 2 DS is not perfect. I am particularly disturbed by the angry and loopy Sims. It’s my responsibility to calm them down. If I don’t do it right, they take a swing at me. I really don’t like that the only way to stop them from punching me is to “beg” them. It is even more disturbing to me when the Sim is male. In “real” life if a man acted like that around me, he would be evicted from my hotel and barred from ever coming back in. That’s not an option in this game, so several times a day, I have to beg Sims not to punch me. I took a video of an interaction so you could see what I mean:

Click here to see the video

The angry Sim apologizes and gives you a gift after you calm him down, but I am disturbed by the punching. I know people get angry in real life, but begging them isn’t the way to stop them from punching you. I think it bothers me because it’s my job to make people happy, calm or stop acting so drunk. In real life, I have found that I can’t really change other people’s emotions. Their emotions are strictly under their own control. I like how Animal Crossing does it instead. When my animal friends are angry or sad, they tell me to leave them alone for a little while while they work through their feelings. That seems a little more realistic to me.

I was also bothered by the fact that the first thing you need to do to revitalize your hotel is to build a casino, but I haven’t seen the entire story arc. I have purposely stayed away from walkthroughs and spoilers as much as I can because I want the game to surprise me. I don’t want to know everything about the game before I even get to play it.

On the whole, this is a great game for adults. If you kept hearing about how The Sims is a wonderful game, but couldn’t understand what everyone was so excited about, try Sims 2 for the Nintendo DS. It’s almost good enough to draw my attention away from Animal Crossing.

November 16, 2006

Silicon Case for Nintendo DS Lite

Filed under: Reviews,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

My Green Silicone Skin for the DS Lite

Back in September, I wrote about buying a silicon case for my Nintendo DS Lite:

It has been a couple of months now and I’ve been playing with my DS a lot because of Animal Crossing, so I thought I’d give a more detailed review. I actually LOVE this case. Here’s why:

  • The cover is sticky: I like that the cover makes my DS a little more “grippy” so it won’t slip off the table. I was worried that the cover would attract dirt because it’s kind of sticky, but it looks as good today as when I bought it back in September.

  • The smell goes away: The silicon had a strange smell when I first got it, but it went away in a couple of days.

  • I can tell my DS apart from Mike’s: I like that it differentiates my DS from my husband’s. It makes it really easy to tell which one is mine. This is especially important now that I’m playing Animal Crossing on both. I have two Animal Crossing towns, so now I can tell which one is which by just looking at the machine.

  • It cushions my hands: I can really tell when I’m playing with my DS with the silicon skin and when I’m playing with Mike’s without one. Mine has more of a cushion and doesn’t hurt my hands when I’m playing for a long time.

  • One minor problem: There is a little bit of a problem with the design of the cover. When you have the charger plugged in and open the case, the silicon cover bunches up kind of funny. Sometimes it actually pushes the top part off a bit, covering part of the screen. This ONLY happens when the charger is plugged in, otherwise, the skin folds nicely and stays in place. I don’t play with the charger plugged in that often, so it’s not much of an issue for me.

The skin bunches up a little when the charger is plugged in.

An example of how the skin can be when the charger is plugged in.

When they came out with the Pink and Black Nintendo DS Lite, I felt kind of sad that I hadn’t waited. Since I’ve had this cover, which makes my DS green, I haven’t cared one bit about the pink one.

Silicone Skin for Nitendo Ds Lite NDS Lite Console

October 5, 2006

Review of the Nike Imara HRM at Starling Fitness

Filed under: Reviews,Watches — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Nike Imara HRMI wrote a review of the Nike Imara Heart Rate Monitor on Starling Fitness. You can see it here:

Finding a watch that I am happy with is a difficult task for me. I got my Imara for Christmas last year.

“I haven’t done a review for it. Want to know why?”

“I don’t like to give bad reviews.”

Just last month, I realized that I actually DO like my watch:

“I love how it tracks my calories and how much time I exercise in the low, medium and high ranges. I love that it’s water resistant up to 50M, so if I’m lazy, I don’t even have to take it off when I shower. In fact, I’ve been wearing my Nike Imara almost constantly ever since I got it. That is unheard of for me, since I used to change watches like jewelry.”

“That’s when I realized that I love my Nike Imara.”

“It still doesn’t work whenever I run on my treadmill, but it has been a watch that’s a good friend for almost a year now. It’s so rare for me to find a watch that I enjoy that when I finally found one, it took me 10 months to realize that I actually loved it.”

I’ve talked in the past about why I hate the watch designers of this world. The Nike Imara doesn’t fulfill all of my desires in a watch, namely, it’s not pretty enough to wear with a dress. Also, it’s a little on the big side, even though it’s a women’s watch. Despite that, I have enjoyed this watch for the last 10 months without even realizing I was content. This little guy slipped in under my radar and I didn’t even notice.

October 4, 2006

Nintendo DS: Mario Kart

Filed under: Reviews,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 12:47 pm

Mario KartWhen I’m not playing my DS alone with Animal Crossing, all my group Nintendo DS time is spent with Mario Kart. I look back at myself from before a time when I owned anything by Nintendo. Would that girl understand the draw of Mario Kart? Could I explain to her how intensely fun it is? What would a conversation with her be like?

Laura of the Present: Oh man! You have GOT to get yourself a Nintendo DS!

Laura of the Past: Yeah, I know! I can’t wait to play that Brain Age game!

Laura of the Present: No, forget about that, seriously. You’ll play it religiously for a month and then quit. In fact, you’ll probably like Big Brain Academy better, but that’s another story.

Laura of the Past: Why do I need a DS then, smartie pants?

Laura of the Present: There’s this game called Mario Kart! It will totally…

Laura of the Past: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. It’s a racing game. We were going to buy it for Kristen on the Gamecube. It’s just a racing game. It can’t compare to Project Gotham or Colin McRae.

Laura of the Present: No, seriously. Mario Kart is WAY funner than either one of those.

Laura of the Past: Why?

I can tell she doesn’t believe me.

Laura of the Present: Because you can play against Stacey and Dan and Mike all at the same time. I think you can play eight people total. It totally rocks!

Laura of the Past: Everyone plays on my DS? How can you split a screen EIGHT ways?

No split screen with Mario Kart DSLaura of the Present: No, listen to me. Mario Kart is THE reason that Mike, Stacey AND Dan are all going to buy DSes of their own. All four of you are going to play race after race against each other until your right thumb hurts so bad you can’t hold a pencil. Seriously, it’s THAT fun. They don’t split the screen, each of you can only see the race from your point of view on your screen. Remember how confused you get with the split screen because you realize halfway through the race that you’ve been looking at Mike’s car instead of your own. You won’t even remember that problem with Mario Kart. It’s that easy.

Laura of the Past: Umm…

I’m not convincing her. What can I tell her that will convince her that this game is MORE than awesome?!

Laura of the Present: You get to choose your character and your kart. The more you play, the more karts you open up.

Laura of the Past: Yeah, so what. I can do that with Project Gotham.

Toad - Beyond CutenessLaura of the Present: No, this is totally better. You get to be Toad!

Laura of the Past: I get to be a toad? What, like a frog?

Oh, man! How do I describe Toad to her? How do I describe that level of cuteness? He’s more than a mushroom. He’s Toad! I can’t do it!

Laura of the Present: Nevermind that!

What is the killer app? Oh yeah, the turtle shells!

You get to shoot Stacey with turtle shells...Laura of the Present: You get to shoot Stacey with turtle shells…

Laura of the Past: I get to shoot Stacey?

She’s interested, now reel her in…

Laura of the Present: Yeah, Stacey, Dan and Mike. You get to trip them with banana peels, shoot them with shells, turn them into itsy-bitsy tiny karts that can fall through the mesh into the lava.

Laura of the Past: I get to push them into lava?

I’ve got her!

Laura of the Present: Yep! Plus, you can push them into water and outer space!

Laura of the Past: Outer space?

Oops! I went too far. She’s not buying the outer space thing. How could I describe Rainbow Ridge in a way that makes sense?! Oh man, there’s no way! Just drop it!

Laura of the Present: Yeah, but only on one race. That’s not important. The important thing is that you need to get yourself a DS.

Laura of the Past: Okay, I’ll buy one right now.

Laura of the Present: Nope. You gotta wait until they come out with the DS Lite because the screen is brighter. Don’t wait too long, though, ’cause then you’ll be tempted to buy the pink one. You don’t want to buy the pink one.

Laura of the Past: I hate pink.

Laura of the Present: You won’t hate this pink, trust me.

Laura of the Past: Now I KNOW you’re lying to me.

October 3, 2006

Nintendo DS: Animal Crossing

Filed under: Animal Crossing,Reviews,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Animal Crossing: Wild WorldMy nephew came over for a visit. I told him to bring all his DS and GBA games so I could try them out. I wanted to see if there was anything fun out there and his selection is completely different than mine. I played with about eight or nine games before I put his Animal Crossing into my DS Lite. I didn’t expect to like it anymore than the previous mind-numbing games. I was expecting Sims for kids. I hated the Sims, so I had zero hope for Animal Crossing.

How could I have been so wrong?!

My nephew hadn’t played in a long time and his town had fallen into disrepair with garbage all over the ground. Additionally, there were cool things to pick up (so many that my pockets were full very quickly). I played with his game Saturday evening for about four hours while he and Mike endlessly played the mini-games on Super Monkey Ball.

Sunday morning, I was on the phone with the local game store trying to find out how soon they opened. I had to wait until noon to buy my own copy of the game.

That’s when the really interesting thing happened…

I bought a used game at the store.

“Do you guys clear out these cards when you get them or am I going to have to delete the previous owner’s stuff?”

“We don’t do anything with them. If it doesn’t work, bring it back, but yes, you’ll probably have to delete the old stuff.”

“Does this come with the book?”

“Nope, just the card.”

I saved five dollars, but ended up not getting the book. Oh well, Mike assured me that if I get stuck, I can figure out things online.

When I put the used Animal Crossing game into my DS, I was confronted with a very different world than my nephew’s. It was a barren desert. “I guess you can choose the climate when you build your world, Mike. Look at this one it’s a desert.” There were few trees and lots of sand. It looked hot, barren and desolate; kind of like Northern Nevada.

I deleted the previous owner’s town, Las Habras, and waded through all the warnings about killing everyone in the town and never being able to get them back. I felt guilty for massacring the citizens of Las Habras, but I wanted to start a town of my own. One that wasn’t a desert and didn’t have litter and garbage all over.

When I set up my town, Merriton, I realized the truth. Las Habras wasn’t a desert because you get to choose the climate. Las Habras was a desert because the previous owner had killed all the insects, fish and plants. After playing with Las Habras and my nephew’s towns, I never even knew that there were insects that you could catch. I couldn’t find any because they had all been caught to extinction. Las Habras was a desert because some of the resources are limited. My nephew had garbage everywhere because his town was neglected. The only way to keep my town beautiful and garden-like was to limit how many fish and insects I caught. I would have to spend my money on plants and saplings instead of furniture, wall coverings, carpeting and clothing.

Saddest of all, when I visited my town’s museum, all I could find were empty exhibit halls. I walked past the empty aquariums and galleries with a sad sense of guilt. My job would be to fill the museum with all that my town had to offer.

I played for eight hours on Sunday just earning money to pay off my humble house (with no plans on upgrades) and catching fish and insects for the museum. When I catch a fish or insect that the museum already has, I release it. I haven’t figured out how to fill the museum with paintings yet and I haven’t bought a shovel yet, so I haven’t found any dinosaur fossils. My whole goal is to create a museum that makes me happy to visit and keep the town beautiful. I love to walk around and hear the crickets. I love to see the butterflies. I want them to stay in my town.

Most importantly, I don’t want Merriton to become a desert.

Whenever the other characters in the game tell me that my house is small or plain, I don’t care because I don’t want a cool house. In fact, when they give me things to put in my house, I either regift them or sell them. I’d rather sell wallpaper than fish. Once they are sold to Tom Nook, they are gone forever.

It seems like the fruit on the trees and the seashells are renewable resources, so that is how I have been paying off my house. I use the cherries and seashells to pay off my debt and the fish and insects go to the museum.

Why is it that I’m obsessed with Merriton, but I couldn’t have cared less about whether my Sims did their dishes or practiced for their acting career? Is it a world just different enough from my own world that I am completely lost? Is it the cute characters and how funny they are?

I don’t know. All I know is that I’m withholding Animal Crossing privileges until I get my real world chores done. It’s that motivating and enjoyable.

Update 10-16-06: After weeks of obsessing over this game, I have written a follow-up. You can read it here:

September 8, 2006

Review: OpenOffice

Filed under: Reviews,Software — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I have been playing with OpenOffice for a couple of weeks now and I thought I would give you all the details. OpenOffice is a free, open source office suite for Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems.

I downloaded the Windows version. The first thing I noticed is that it didn’t take forever to boot up and it didn’t suck down my resources. When I Beta tested the new MS Office, I took it off my computer within a few hours of installing it because it made my computer so slow. I have a pretty nice computer that performs well with video editing software, but the new MS Office made it crawl like a turtle when I used it, so I removed it. That wasn’t the case for OpenOffice. It runs smoothly.

It also opens MS Office documents and can save in that format. My Excel documents loaded in Calc (including all the sheets) and looked exactly like they did in Excel. That wasn’t the case when I uploaded Excel spreadsheets into the Google online spreadsheet. The charts where messed up and the pages looked completely different. Calc really beats Google spreadsheet in that case.

There were a few small things that I noticed that might affect your decision.

  • The software is different from Word and Excel: If you have trouble learning new things, there would be an adjustment period. I was able to easily find the things that I usually use, but not everyone can learn software quickly. If that is problem for you, it might be worth it to pay the $400 for Microsoft Office. Of course, for $400, I’m willing to put up with a little confusion.

  • It isn’t perfect: There are small things that might make you wish for your old MS Office, like passwords. You can password protect documents, but only in the OpenOffice format, not the MS Office formats. When I cut and pasted some cells in Calc (their spreadsheet program) the formulas that were based on those cells didn’t automatically correct like they do with MS Excel. That is a minor thing that is different than Excel and might even be a preference that I can change, but it’s an example of their programs not being “perfect”.

  • It might not be around forever: If you are scared that OpenOffice won’t be around in the future, you might want to stick with MS Office. OpenOffice is an open source product of Sun Microsystems, so that gives it some stability in the unstable world of computers, but there is an old saying, “No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft.” Of course, that saying used to be, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM,” and they aren’t quite the market leader that they used to be. There are really no guarantees no matter which software you use.

Most importantly, you can’t beat the price. OpenOffice is free and available for download here:

For that price, give the software a test run and see how you like it. Maybe you will be able to take that old bootleg copy of MS Office off your computer and free up a little memory while you’re at it.

August 29, 2006

Review: Shield Zone Invisible Shield

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

Invisible Shield

ShieldZone markets a line of plastic film gadget protectors called Invisible Shield. They’re similar to a screen protector except they cover the entire device (including the screen). Do they actually protect your device? Do they stand up to wear and tear without coming off? Can a non-professional actually put them on without making the gadget look like a grade-school craft project? And how do they look? We reveal all in our review.

What it is

ShieldZone sells a line of plastic protective liners for electronic devices. As of this writing, they support 450 of the most common electronic devices including video games, cellular phones, iPods, and PDAs. Considering the breadth of their line, they’re likely to have an Invisible Shield for every device you own. Prices start at $19.95, so this is no cheap screen protector.

The Invisible Shield comes in a package as a page or two of clear stickers, a flat plastic squeegee, and a small spray bottle of fluid. The only thing that changes between the various packages is the cut shape of the sticky material. We tested the Invisible Shield for the Palm Treo 650 and for the Sony PSP. In both samples we received, the label on the spray bottle had been applied to the wrong end of the bottle over the cap and had to be removed in order to open the bottle. Otherwise, the product quality was high.

The clingy material that the stickers are made out of similar to the material that has been sold as screen protectors for years. The spray bottle contains a non-stick fluid that prevents the clingy stickers from actually sticking until the fluid evaporates. It is this fluid that differentiates the Invisible Shield from similar competitors.

How it Works

To apply the stickers, you remove them from their backing paper, spray them, and apply them to your device. Because they go on slightly wet, you can easily reposition them before they dry and stick in place. If you’ve ever tried to apply a screen protector to a cell-phone or PDA, you’ll know why the ability to reposition the sticker after you’ve applied it is important: It’s basically impossible to do it correctly the first time.

Some devices have pieces that are incredibly convoluted: For example, the upper back piece of the Treo 650 is extraordinarily difficult to remove without getting its many odd appendages stuck to one another. It is a frustrating problem that would probably cause about half of the people using this product to give up in frustration.

The solution is to spray your fingers before you start and to spray the pieces before and as you remove them. This is also the solution to pieces that stick to your fingers—just spray them, and your finger will unstick. But I had to figure this out for myself—the whole job would have been much easier if the instructions mentioned this.

The liquid is not an adhesive—it’s actually an anti-adhesive that prevents the pieces from sticking while you slide them into place on the device, and it dramatically reduces the number of bubbles you’ll get under the film. In fact, the easiest piece to apply on the Treo 650 was the screen protector, and it went on simpler and more cleanly than any other sticky screen protector I’ve used. Using the spray also allows you to line up the plastic film pieces after you’ve applied them to the device, for perfect alignment that’s simply not possible using sticky backed adhesive film without the spray. These were actually the easiest plastic film protectors to apply that I’ve ever used, but only after I figured out that you want to spray your fingers and the film as you remove it.

The individual film pieces are convoluted because wrapping 3D surfaces is a topologically complex operation. Unfortunately, the film pieces generally split around corners, leaving the apex of the corner unprotected—exactly the spot that’s most likely to be hit when you drop it. In my opinion, the designers should have spent more effort covering the corners and protrusions with extra pieces. Furthermore, some of the corner areas were impossible to completely tamp down while the adhesive was wet, and had to be stuck down after the liquid had evaporated, which increases the odds of trapping a bubble.

I’m not sure what the spray is, but it is non-toxic and not at all harmful according to the bottle. It has no smell, and leaves no residue. I hope it’s non-conductive as well, but I didn’t see any indications of such. The instructions recommend removing the battery from your device and leaving it out until the spray evaporates.

The PSP Invisible Shield was an entirely different matter—it was essentially a large rectangle rather than the delicate filaments required for the Treo 650. The only problem I encountered with it was that despite drenching it with spray, it was large enough to be somewhat difficult to move around on the device—but it was possible to move it around, just more difficult than the small pieces on the Treo. It went on quickly and easily, smoothed out very rapidly, and had very few trapped bubbles, all of which were easy to tamp down. The cover did not interfere with any of the controls, and provided a matte finish to the display that I prefer to the shiny reflective surface of the PSP.

The PSP was considerably easier to protect than the Treo because it was one large flat piece. The only minor problem I encountered was that it was difficult to get the large piece to slide around after application because I hadn’t actually covered it completely with the spray. It was easy to remove and re-spray to get it right, and I was then able to slide it around to line it up perfectly.

Our Review

I would consider putting one of these shields to be mandatory if you want to keep a PSP nice—it actually hid the many scratches on the display of my PSP. However, the sticker is a matte finish, so you’ll loose the glossy look of the PSP screen. I don’t like the glossy finish of the PSP display because it reflects glare, so I consider this to be a feature. If you like the glossy look, you won’t be able to use a screen protector.

The film really is pretty much invisible—the most noticeable change to your gadget will be the way it feels. Instead of a slippery metal or plastic surface, it will have a tactile, softer, and almost rubber feel to it that’s easier to grip.

If you’ve got a gadget you’d like to keep nice, Invisible Shields are a good way to do it. I tend not to like cases that make devices bulkier because I usually carry devices like PDAs, cell phones, and iPods in my pocket. For video games, your options are a bit wider so cases can make sense, but consider an Invisible Shield anyway—they don’t change the look of your device at all, and they definitely protect the finish. They probably won’t protect your device from serious damage due to dropping the way a good case can, so you need to decide what type of damage you’re looking to avoid before you invest in a protector. I definitely recommend them for iPod nanos, PSPs, and other gossy screen devices that are likely to get scratched.

An unexpected benefit is that the film is tackier than the device itself, which makes them easier to hold and less likely to slip around on surfaces like your dashboard or center console.

I’ll definitely be wrapping my new gadgets in the future.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress
(c) 2003-2010 Michael Moncur, Laura Moncur, Matthew Strebe, and The Gadgets Page