Pogue: Checking Out Overlooked Tech Gems
To ordinary people, the end of the year brings holiday gatherings, gift-giving and New Year’s resolutions. To a technology critic, though, the year’s end also brings a sobering realization: no matter how hard you try, no matter how many columns and blog entries you write, you can’t review everything.
A look inside Pogue’s Technology Closet is all the proof you need. Here are four shelves of products, sitting forlornly in their shipping boxes, still unreviewed, wearing little stainless-steel expressions that seem to say, “When is it our turn?”
Today, my little electronic friends. Today.
Herewith, minireviews of products that, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day in this column. Who knows? Some of them might actually make great last-minute, unexpected Christmas presents.
Chargepod ($50). On paper, it sounds O.K.: a little round hub with six short spokes, each of which can charge one of your mobile gadgets. That is, the Chargepod can charge a cellphone, iPod, Game Boy, Bluetooth earpiece, Palm organizer and BlackBerry simultaneously.
In practice, it’s even better. First, you don’t need a power strip to charge all your gadgets, just a single outlet. Second, you’ve eliminated six hideous, snarling black cables and transformers. Third, this thing is the size of a drink coaster; you can slip it into its carrying case and leave your six individual adapters at home.
The bad news: Since the electronics industry idiotically insists on inventing incompatible, noninterchangeable connectors for every new gadget, you have to order the appropriate Chargepod spokes (actually short black cables) individually, at $10 apiece. Callpod, the company that makes Chargepod, offers dozens of them for individual cellphone models, iPods and so on at www.callpod.com. Ten bucks each for four-inch cables is borderline outrageous; they’re not even labeled.
Still, though — you’ll use and get pleasure from this invention every single day.
LightScoop ($30). If you’ve paid $500 or more for a digital S.L.R. camera, you deserve to get photographic results that put pocket cameras to shame. And you do — except when you use the built-in flash. At close range, an S.L.R. can turn a face into featureless whiteness just as well as a $200 junker.
This clever mirror attachment slides onto your S.L.R.’s flash (at lightscoop.com, you order the model that corresponds to your camera brand). When you take a flash picture, the mirror bounces the light off the ceiling. The result: your subject is illuminated by diffuse light, just as if you had used one of those reflector umbrellas that the pros use. The LightScoop also eliminates red-eye and the “cave effect,” where the room background comes out looking black.
The LightScoop requires a ceiling or light-colored wall, so it’s useless outdoors. But it produces nuanced, natural, flattering light on your subject; the before-after difference is incredible.
PhotoFiddle. One morning, Mr. FedEx dropped off a mysterious package that looked for all the world as if it contained a painting.
It did: a stunning interpretive painting of my two children hugging, by the seashore at sunset. Oil on canvas, stretched across a 16-x-20-inch frame.
It was awesome — and sneaky. It had been sent by PhotoFiddle.com, a company that turns your digital photos into actual paint-on-canvas originals, in any of dozens of art styles (modern, abstract, Warhol, sketch and so on). They’d found the photo on my own Web site, run it through their computerized painting machines, and sent it, unsolicited, in hopes of piquing my interest.
My editor said I was welcome to write about it — but I couldn’t keep it unless I paid for it. Which I did ($140).
There are other companies that turn photos into canvas paintings, by the way; Google can find them for you, and they make incredible gifts. But not many of them offer a choice of painter styles the way PhotoFiddle does.
Evolve wireless speakers ($300). This speaker system is more a magic trick than a product.
It looks sensational: two 5.5-inch cube speakers sit on a 16-inch brushed-metal platform. You slip your iPod into the center slot (or connect some type of source to the input jacks) and use the tiny remote to control playback and volume.
But here’s the “wow” part: those speaker cubes aren’t attached to anything, not even wires. Even while they’re playing, you can pick them up and park them on a shelf, a piano, in the bedroom, on the patio or anywhere within 100 to 150 feet. Talk about stereo separation!
You don’t have to remember which is the left and right speaker; just setting them back on the platform, which is a recharger, changes their identities. In fact, if your friends bring their cubes over, they can set them briefly on the platform; those cubes become part of your system, broadcasting the same music.
There’s not much in the way of thumping bass. But speakers that recharge and play wirelessly — how cool is that?
George iPod speaker system ($500). Yes, it’s another wireless iPod speaker system. This time, though, it’s not the speakers that are wireless; it’s the control panel.
When you pull this panel away from the tabletop speaker system, it becomes a full-blown wireless remote. Unlike the bare-bones remotes for most iPod speakers, this one displays everything you’d see on the iPod — playlists, songs, and so on. Using the knob, you can scroll through your collection as if you were using the iPod itself. The George sounds great, although even with its little internal subwoofer, the bass doesn’t rattle your ribs.
There’s also AM and FM radio, plus a gloriously smart alarm clock. Here’s a first: It wakes you with the iPod track and volume level that were in effect when you set the alarm, even if the George has played other stuff, at other volumes, in the meantime.
Eye-Fi wireless SD card ($100). Now $100 is a lot to pay for a 2-gigabyte memory card for your camera. But this one (www.eye.fi) has a stealth feature: incredibly, it has a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter. Whenever your camera is turned on and in your home wireless network, it begins beaming your full-size photos back to your computer and to your choice of 17 photo Web sites (Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and so on). Automatically and effortlessly.
There are downsides. You have to set up the wireless network ahead of time, so you can’t spontaneously use someone else’s network. You can’t use the Eye-Fi at commercial hot spots. The uploading is slow (about 45 seconds a photo). The card sends only JPEG files, not movies or RAW files. You have to erase the card manually after the transfer.
You can’t choose which photos to upload, either. The card sends everything, always. And you don’t get any indication of when the uploading is finished. You have to walk over to the computer, inspect the new arrivals and compare them with what’s on the camera; otherwise, you risk shutting off the camera too soon and preventing some photos from escaping.
Still, what a stunt: You come home, take off your coat, turn on the camera and walk away, confident that your photos will shortly be safely on the computer and online. At a party, you can set up a live slide show, where photos of your guests appear on your PC or TV within seconds of your snapping them.
So there you have it: a purging of my closet and my conscience. Now, having done my columnar duty, I can finally get these babies packed up and sent back to their manufacturers. After all: don’t gadgets deserve to be home for the holidays, too?
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.