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Old 08-07-2008, 08:51 PM Offline   #1 (permalink)

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Default Gear Gallery: Shrinking Computers, DVR Expander and iPhone Competitors

</img>: Most of the new mini-laptops look like toys, educational tools or lab experiments in miniaturization, but the MSI Wind is an actual PC. Packing the latest 1.6-GHz Atom processor and a roomy 80-GB drive, the Wind boasts some legit PC cred. Yes, your iPod probably has more drive space, but 80 gigs was plenty not so long ago, and it's not like you're going to be producing HD video on this thing; it's more of an internet lapdog than a laptop.
The 10-inch widescreen can display most fixed-width webpages comfortably, and its keyboard is large enough to house decent-size keys so you can type easily without resorting to Homer's dialing wand. While even some larger laptops are short on ports, the Wind finds room for three USBs, an SD slot and a display connector (take note, MacBook Air!). Of course, it's not perfect. We would have loved to see a DVD burner included, and with all its ports, a mini FireWire would be welcome. Also, don't expect high-end performance from the unit or hearty battery life from its slim, three-cell battery. But if you want a cheap and tiny companion for uploading pictures during a Malaysian jungle trek, or just a little buddy to hang out with you on the couch for IMDB searches, it's pretty hard to be against the Wind.
WIRED: Grown-up looks (as opposed to "I want to sit at the big kids' table" found in other netbooks). Full keyboard and the largest screen among mini-notes. Plenty of ports to plug away at. 2.3-pound weight and rounded edges make it simple to pack and lug.
TIRED: Lack of a DVD is understandable, but it still makes us cry a little. Hard drive sometimes makes mysterious swallowing sounds. Two-hour battery life is OK, but three would be better.
$500, MSI Mobile

Photo: Jon Snyder/ Wired.com
Read our full MSI Wind U100 review.
Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: Behold, the new Eee Box! Like the rest of the Eee bloodline, these varicolored desktop boxes are small, cheap and adorable (think AppleTV or Mac Mini). Intel's 1.6-GHz Atom processor, up to 2 GBs of memory, four USB ports, an SD card slot, 802.11n and Bluetooth are plenty for the Eee Box to hit that elusive "good enough" mark with aplomb. Once again, you'll get your choice of running either Linux or Windows XP.
Then there's the size. While it does have a slightly larger overall footprint, it's much trimmer than the Mac Mini. Not only will this elegant 8.5 x 7 x 1-inch box fit anywhere, but you also have the choice of mounting it directly to the back of any extra monitor you happen to have lying around. To be clear, the Eee Box is not for sweaty frag fests or heavy-duty HD video decoding. But if you have a hankering for a killer kitchen PC or just an über-cheap second or third home PC that runs Linux or XP, it simply can't be beat.
WIRED: Small, lightweight and cuter than a bowlful of kittens. More than enough processing power for everyday computing. Cheaper than an ounce of Da Kine bud. The option of running Splashtop for preboot access to Skype, web browsing and IM clients.
TIRED: Where's the optical drive? No HDMI output, which actually doesn't matter much because there's also no hardware to decode acceleration. By itself, the Atom processor can barely handle 720p H.264 streams, dashing our hopes of this being the ultimate home-streaming box.
$300 as tested, Asus

Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
Read our full Asus Eee Box review.
Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: Iomega's own $190 solution for a filled DVR is a 500-GB drive that plays nice with two DVRs in particular: Scientific Atlanta's 80-GB standard definition 8300 and the more recent 160-GB 8300-HD model. We tested the drive out on the latter model and found it more or less did what it promised. It even worked with a neighbor's Series 3 TiVo, which (to its credit) is known for being something of an eSATA slut.
Setup in both instances was quick and painless, and involved simply turning off the DVR, plugging in the Iomega drive, and then turning everything back on again. Voila, no more having to choose between Emmanuelle: The Art of Love and the latest episode of Mad Men.
WIRED: Reasonably priced. Your grandmother could probably set it up. Instantly adds an additional 300 hours of SD TV, or 60 hours of HD content.
TIRED: Only one way to connect the drive to a DVR (that would be eSATA). Limited compatibility, although Iomega claims the drive will work with future SA eSATA-enabled DVRs. No way of controlling what gets stored on the expander drive and what gets stored on the DVR. Transporting DVR'd content to your computer is verboten, and plugging the drive into a computer will automatically reformat it.
$190, Iomega

Read our full Iomega DVR Expander Drive review.
Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: The Samsung U900, aka Soul, aka Magical Touch, doesn't really have any supernatural abilities. What it does have is a tiny, touch-sensitive OLED nav-pad that is one of the coolest, most efficient touch interfaces we've seen on a handset. The small display (situated below the main 2.2-inch QVGA screen) features icons that morph based on whatever application is currently on the screen. Switch to camera mode and controls for snapping pictures. Toggle to the music player and buttons for fast-forward, rewind, pause and play pop up.
The big selling point is the phone's pocketability. The picture quality and dynamic range could be better (LED flash, we're talking about you), but at 0.5-inches thick and 7 ounces, this slider is more svelte than just about every 5-MP cam we've tested. Ultimately, our biggest complaint is that you cannot use the camera without sliding open the phone first. This design protects the lens from dust bunnies and pocket grime, yes, but shooting with a fully open device was a tad awkward at times.
WIRED: External microSD slot makes it a cinch to swap cards on the fly. Bluetooth (+A2DP). Competent image-editing suite. Video editor allows you to layer additional audio tracks. Decent facial detection. Haptic feedback can be tweaked to three different levels of intensity or switched-off entirely.
TIRED: Bundled proprietary ear buds sound duller than Ben Stein. No Xenon flash. No GPS. No WiFi. Lower-res video clips. Proprietary headphone jack positioned on the side = hard to pocket when phones are plugged in. Noticeable screen glare when outdoors.
$400, Samsung

Photo: Issac Brekken/Wired.com
Read our full Samsung SGH-U900 Soul "Magical Touch" review.
Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: The biggest selling point of the new Sidekick is supposed to be the customizable "skins" you can order to replace the solid-color ones (we opted for jet black). But apart from flashy aesthetics, the pocket-friendly 2008 is 0.4-inches shorter and 0.9-ounces lighter than the pricier LX. It also packs features that were sorely missed with the tragically minimalist iD. Most notably, a 2.0-megapixel camera that can also capture video clips (albeit crappy ones).
Though the 2.6-inch WQVGA swivel screenís received a slight -- and necessary -- boost in pixels (400 x 240), the resolutionís still not fantastic. And neither is Bluetooth. We found data transfers not only paused the media player (annoying), but afterward, we had to go back and manually un-pause whatever track was playing (doubly annoying). For the price, though the 2008 is a solid option compared to the LX -- but only if you live and die by instant messaging and you don't mind being seen with Paris Hilton's device of choice in public.
WIRED: Spacious, comfy QWERTY. 3.5-mm headphone jack. Surprisingly loud, radically clear music player. Wide screen excellent for web browsing. Solid battery life. Quick video recording/sharing. Comes with two skins (we got black and iridescent lime). Bluetooth with A2DP (great to have, even if it does disrupt tunes).

TIRED: Screen retains more fingerprints than the Feds. No flash. No WiFi. Mike captures poor sound when recording video. Only 20-second video clips. Only 512-MB microSD card included. Apps are mostly in the $2.99+ range (except for the janky free Calculator). No 3-G. Price/maker: $150 (with 2-year contract), T-Mobile

Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
Read our full Sidekick review.
Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: Cyclists know it's plum foolish to roll around on two wheels sans helmet, but it can be just as dangerous to bike about at night without a light. A good headlight affixed to your handlebars is just the thing to help cut through the murk and get you to your destination safely. Here we pit two of the top dogs on the market against each other and see which comes out on top. óEric Smillie

Planet Bike Blaze

This one-watt LED cannon goes the extra mile, and we don't just mean it shoots light a ridiculous distance. Due in no small part to its particularly aggressive blinking mode, accurately called superflash, it didnít just help us catch drivers' attentions; it had them anxiously craning their necks to check whether we were trying to pull them over. Drawing on only two AA batteries, this baby cuts down on weight but its CREE XR-E diode, coupled with a specially engineered Fraen lens, still pumps out the brightest light of all the lamps we tested -- enough to bounce off signs, license plates, and other reflective materials up to four blocks away, giving us plenty of time to make an impression. All we have to worry about now is whether some cop-hating, GTA IV-overdosing motorist trying to run us down.
WIRED: Recessed switch only works if pressed firmly, which means it wonít turn on in your bag while you jostle your way to the bar, leaving you in the dark at closing time. Planet Bike spends 25 percent of its profits on bike advocacy.
TIRED: The brightness and reduced weight come at a price: 20 hours of battery life in blinking mode, and only seven on high. Though it installs without the use of a tool, the handlebar bracket is tricky to tighten and slips easily.
$50, Planet Bike

Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: While not the sharpest bulb on our handlebars, the WhiteLite HP AA is in it for the long haul. Donít get us wrong -- just like other 1-watt LED headlamps, this portable, all-in one lamp is more than a glorified blinky. When engineering this light, Topeak got all snippy, cutting the cords to one of its external power-pack lights and reengineered it to accept three AA batteries.
Its widely diffused beam covers plenty of surface area and earned our trust by helping us dodge nasty potholes and tree roots on unlit paths. But where this guy really shines is in perseverance, by lasting 30 hours on high and a whopping 120 on flash.
WIRED: The mounting bracket screws tight with a finger knob and adjusts five degrees left and right to get a straight aim even on angled handlebars, although it does require an Allen key to tighten. Little red LED signals when batteries are low.
TIRED: Blinks come slowly and lack urgency in flashing mode. Pushing the rear on/off push button can rotate the mount and mess up the light angle. Sound like a small problem? It won't be when you look up just in time to face plant into the bumper of a lifted pickup.
$60, Topeak

Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
</img>: The E71 looks more like a Blackberry Killer, but donít be fooled: This great white hope gives the iPhone a run for its money in a lot of different areas (yes, really). Despite its obvious lack of an oversize touchscreen interface, Nokia wins points for a remarkably trim profile (10mm vs. 12.3mm), decent 3.2-megapixel camera (instead of 2.0), and the fact it's not tied to any carrier (yet). Setting up Nokia's Mail for Exchange program required no IT help or time. QuickOffice let us create, edit and send Word/Excel/PowerPoint files on the fly while we browsed PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The E71 is stocked with enough apps and goodies to keep even the most overworked road warrior on the ball, but it didn't feel too "business" due to two separate customizable home screens. One is designed to house all of your work apps while the other is geared more toward entertainment with programs for audio, video and gaming. The phone's 2.36-inch, 320 x 240 QVGA display is only slightly smaller than the iPod classic's, and though the resolution can't top the iPhone's, with 15 fps, the E71 is still solid for YouTube clips. Oh, and did we mention the E71's got battery life for days? Yes, literally, three of them.
WIRED: Up to 8 GB in an easy-to-access, external microSD slot. Quick and seamless OS. GPS, 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth (you name it, it's basically got it). Vivid screen (even in direct sunlight). Textured stainless steel backing prevents slippage. Relatively lightweight (127 grams = six grams lighter than iPhone). Hit any letter on the QWERTY pad and predictive text calls up that section of your address book.
TIRED: No standard 3.5-mm headphone jack. 3.2-megapixel camera's optics could be better. LED flash could be way better. N-Gage gaming platform not available. Screen's wide, but not wide enough to do a feature-length film justice. For $500, you could get two 8-GB, 3-G JesusPhones (with $100 left over to put toward AT&T's data plan).
$500 (unlocked), Nokia

Photo: Max Buck/Wired.com
Read our full Nokia E71 review.
Check Wired.com's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.


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