Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Favorite Geek Gadgets, Part 1

I often get asked about recommendations for various things and have been meaning to write up my absolute favorite devices for some time. I finally got this done so enjoy! If I think of other devices, I'll write follow-up articles.

Cowon D2 with 16 Gb AData SDHC memory card

This is my media player.  I think it blows away most all on the market, although things are always changing.  There isn't a perfect device out there but this came about as close as possible.
  • 52 hour music playback time
  • 10 hour video playback time
  • Gorgeous audio quality
  • No moving parts -- perfect for those with a propensity to drop their mp3 players
  • Very compact
  • Upgradeable storage
  • Bookmarks
  • Plays almost everything, including WMA DRM audiobooks.
  • Firmware updates, active user and hacking community, and even a RockBox implementation!
The screen is small, but it is big and bright enough for my uses.  The primary downside is the requirement to convert videos to fit on the device (there isn't enough CPU power to downconvert on the fly)

Motorola S9-HD bluetooth headphones

I started out with the original S9 headphones because they were simply the best out there on the market in terms of style and audio quality.  But they are notorious for a terrible design flaw where the touch-sensitive buttons are also moisture-sensitive and prone to just stop working after a few months, especially if you work out in them.

However, Motorola's RMA department was quite smooth and when I suggested (thanks to numerous postings online from other people's experiences) that the problem was endemic to these that perhaps they should replace with the S9-HD, they obliged!  They appear to have fixed the touch-sensitive button design and went with a traditional press button (which has other problems if you try to wear them and a snowboarding helmet at the same time), but they work flawlessly!  The sound is even better.  They can pair with many, many devices at the same time.  I pair them with my computer to play video games and use them as wireless headphones, with my cell phone, and with my media player (via the Jabra device below).

They have the feature where if they are paired with your phone and music player at the same time, they will seamlessly switch to your phone if you get a call and then switch back when you hang up.

I can't say enough good things about these now.  The only downside is that, according to the manual, the battery is not user-replaceable and is only good to 400 charges.  So, this may not be your everyday headphones unless you want to buy new ones in a year.  Also, the battery life is better than the S9 but still not stellar.  Be prepared to charge them after using them for 4-6 hours.

Jabra A120s Bluetooth Music Adapter

I bought this on ebay for a steal of a deal.  I wanted a generic, bluetooth transmitter to use on anything with a regular stereo headphone jack.  I use them with my media player, and have also used them with other devices.  The transmission strength is impressive, although its generally a good idea to keep them within 20 feet of you.  I put this with my D2 in my hydration pack and have no cutouts at all when biking.  Also, when I go to the gym, I leave my player on the floor while running on the treadmill, etc. with no cutouts.  And no wires to get in the way!

These are rechargeable via USB -- a very nice feature.  It is really tiny and amazingly light.  The pictures online are all bigger than the device actually is.  It also comes with velcro so you can stick the device to your music player.  The audio quality is _excellent_ which is another criticism of a lot of the players out there.

Philips SHS8000 Earhook Headphones

For everyday music listening, I switched from Sony earbuds to a set of Philips earhook design.  I liked the Sonys, but the cord was too short and required attaching a heavier extension (included) to get a reasonable length.  The Philips are at least as good, if not better, for audio quality.  I find the earhook design more comfortable than the Sonys, but unlike the Sonys, you cannot convert them to non-earhook style.  The only problem I've had with them is probably my fault -- the wire attachment at the phono jack is very delicate and I made the mistake of wearing them to sleep once or twice and ended up breaking the connection inside the jack.  I'm on my second pair now (purchased on ebay from Hong Kong for ~$20 including shipping) and am sure to use a sacrificial pair for nighttime.

Canon MP970

I really am tired of HP owning the printer market and their tactics with their toner.  But these days you can get aftermarket toner that is just as good for much less.  So, I was considering another HP.  But then I discovered the MP970 at an awesome price with more features and quality and individual ink wells than you can shake a stick at and had to have it.  My main concern was that Canon is unapologetic about not supporting Linux drivers, but I don't print from Linux much anyway, and there is progress being made in reverse-engineering the ethernet protocol so drivers are on the horizon. 

A main beneift of this printer is that it is trivial to share on the network by plugging it into my home LAN.  And it is now my print server (no more need to manage a CUPS print server to share out otherwise unsharable HP printers...)

This printer has superb print quality, has a high-capacity feed tray, is super easy to set up (don't even believe them when they tell you to set it up via USB before connecting to the network. You don't need to), has network and print server support built in, makes network scanning a snap, the software for windows is quite good, has duplex printing, individual ink wells with electronic ink level management, is really, really quiet when printing, etc.

Only possible downside is that it has a rather large desktop footprint.  But its nice looking so I don't find that a problem.

Logitech MX Revolution Wireless Mouse

I got this on an awesome sale at Best Buy.  It comes with a battery charger base so no more AA batteries thrown in the trash.  The battery life is phenomenal and has a warning to tell you when the battery is low.  The design has a great feel, is ergonomic, lightweight, portable.  It also has some great features for the scroll wheel feedback (click or free-spin) that are nice.

Main downside for this mouse is that Logitech drivers are notoriously buggy.  I would definitely just install the drivers that shipped with it and not upgrade them unless you have to.  Newer does not equal better.  They need some better QA on their drivers for sure.  I wish I had a second one for work...

Mio Digiwalker GPS

I bought this used from my friend Kevin and even without text-to-speech, it is absolutely invaluable.  It has a great feature I haven't seen in others (e.g. a Tom Tom I used once):
  • Announces moves coming up 1000 feet ahead and successively closer.  Great for unfamiliar areas.
It has some minor annoyances, such as poor battery life, and it gets confused sometimes with elevated roadways around here, and makes some questionable route choices, like telling me to exit left off of Hwy 99 where there isn't an exit, but it's often very similar routing to Google maps and is pretty easy to use.

It could be easier to add personal points of interest, but I found a way to do it fairly reliably.

And it has developed some sort of short that causes the screen to go white that I have to take apart to investigate.  But now I know some things to look for in the next device.

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