Following up on my kitchen posts and cookbook posts, I now inundate you with my favorite electronic gear of the year:
1. The iPod and its minions: I made the mistake of getting a 30GB, which is already too small, and I'm not even a music buff. I continue to maintain that the screen is too small for watching serious video, so I recommend the 80GB.
Yes, it's expensive and in two or three years the battery will die, leaving you with a pretty rock. But network effects have basically made the iPod into the new Windows. You buy it not because other players are inadequate, but because its ubiquity has created by far the richest market in secondary products. Also, someone will always have a cable or a charger to lend you.
I own both Composite AV cables, for hooking it up to my clock radio (the cables also charge it), and a Bose SoundDock, about which I cannot rave enough. The new version is sleeker, but the old version is plenty good looking, and apparently on sale for $100 less. It's easily portable, and if you're like me, and have a kind of inadequate music collection, it lets you prey on the better offerings on your friends' iPods during parties. I'm also a fan of this Belkin case for keeping your expensive system unharmed. Also, an eMusic subscription to keep it well stocked; I get 100 songs a month for $25. The selection is limited, but they're use-anywhere MP3s rather than Apple's DRM-crippled items. If you do want to buy off iTunes (and often you have to), I recommend buying iTunes gift cards from Costco, which gives you a 10% discount on your songs.
2. Laptops: I am the proud owner of a Sony Vaio and a Mac Powerbook Pro (well, technically, The Atlantic owns it). Partisans will be shocked to hear that I like 'em both. The Sony is a perfect size (13.3 inches), which is hard to find from other manufacturers. It is also very, very, very light, which makes it terrific for travelling or taking to a coffee shop. And it is much more powerful than a Mac, has a huge hard drive, and tons of connectivity. On the down side, I had a lot of trouble with their customer service, though that's hardly unusual among computer manufacturers.
The Mac is lovely and easy to use, and for web stuff, the suite of software is very good. Because Apple builds all the helper apps natively, they work together much better than those on the Vaio. Its built-in camera turns out to be, surprisingly, extremely useful--too useful, as it tempted me to stay up late Skyping from Vietnam. And it's super-easy to use, so if you have far-flung relatives or significant others, this alone is enough that you should be thinking hard about getting one. On the downside, it runs critical apps on emulation, is slower than my PC, and has a tiny hard drive, which is now becoming a problem with my music and photos. Its battery life is also bad, and rapidly getting worse. And the perennial problem of Macs is the limited software selection, although frankly, it hasn't bothered me much.
3. Tivo Series Three: After a downsizing parent gave me a small HD (sorta) television, I realized my Tivo wouldn't work with it. I lumped it with the cable company DVR for a while, but it's really hard to overstate how much better a Tivo is. Its guide is better, its software is better designed, it supports add on features such as music and photos, it lets you subscribe to podcasts, its season passes work better, its suggestions are actually useful, it lets you download your stored programs to a computer over the network, it supports remote programming from the road through Tivo's website . . . in every way you can imagine, it's better. Did I mention it's not supported by the sluggards at your cable company? The Series 3 takes two cable cards, which means you can record and watch two different shows, thus destroying the Comcast DVR's sole advantage. And you can hook an external hard drive up to it via USB to store extra shows.
Speaking of which, I am a big fan of my new Western Digital 1TB drive, which is currently acting as a sort of St. Joseph's Baby NAS via an Airport router scored from a home merging friend. Airport routers are overpriced, thanks mainly to their looks. But the ability to hook up a printer or a hard drive via USB turns out to be pretty sweet; the backup is slow, but works fine for my needs. If you need a network backup, it's worth thinking about, but not otherwise.
4. Camera: my work camera is this Sony Cybershot, which takes great pictures, and is the next-best thing to an SLR. Better for me, actually, since I am not talented enough to fiddle with my fstop and focus every time I take a photo. The best thing about it is the 10X optical zoom, which makes a huge difference if you're taking anything besides snapshots of your friends at bars. The soft-touch flash is also nice, and there's both a manual feature for full control, and an intermediate mode that lets you program most of the settings, such as color saturation and ISO. The only problem I've detected is that I sometimes accidentally activate the delay timer.
5. Nintendo DS Lite: It's kind of silly, and I'd never have bought one outright. But Comcast sent me one in exchange for signing up for its voice package. And it turns out, they're kind of useful for travelling. The battery life is great, and it really helps keep the airport rage down to a manageable level. You can even do crosswords on them, which I did all across Asia.
6. Headphones: for earbuds, I like the Shure E3C noise-cancelling model with the triple-flange sleeves. They take a little getting used to, but once you do, they're not only cheaper than the Bose models, but better. The Bose uses white noise to cancel out common frequencies, particularly those found on planes. The E3C actually blocks the noise from entering your canal. That means that they block noise in a wider range of environments, and even on a plane, the screaming baby disappears along with the wing rattle. Plus, they're a lot easier to carry and sleep in than the big over-ear models once you get used to them. And in my opinion, the sound quality is also better. I prefer the E3C to the cheaper E2C because the E2C doesn't take the flange sleeves (which, btw, you have to order separately for $10). I found the triple-flange both more comfortable and more effective at blocking noise.
For the computer, I am a huge fan of this Logitech headset, which can actually also be used as a pair of regular headphones. The sound quality is very good, and the microphone folds neatly back when you're not using it so that it looks like a normal set of headphones. Most other headsets make you look as if you're trying to land WWII cargo planes through the power of the internet. That's the headset I use for Skype and Bloggingheads.
For a bluetooth cell phone headset, I like the Aliph Jawbone, which gets great sound, looks good, and offers really very superior noise cancellation. It also comes in colors, but I'm not that stylish.
7. Printer: I bought a Brother MFC-7820N multifunction laser printer when my last printer died. It's great. Really great. Almost too great; I am besieged with requests to borrow my fax/printer. It has built-in network support, which is rare in a multi-function, and installing the drivers is easy, so guests can easily log on. So far, every feature I've tried has worked great, and if you have an answering machine and only one phone line, the fax will decide where to route unanswered calls. And I prefer laser to the more common inkjet.
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