Archives For Gadgets

The Squeezebox I got for Christmas two years ago is the gift that keeps on giving. Logitech announced a firmware update earlier this week, and I finally got around to trying out the new features this morning. My favorite is a new link under the Internet Radio menu for local stations. Using my IP address, the Squeezebox gives me a line-up of local radio stations available online. Virtually anything I can get on an FM radio I can now get just as easily through my Squeezebox. No searching around. See WXPN, click on it, and listen to the live stream. The Squeezebox even has the stations listed in order by their place on the dial.

The firmware update also adds functionality for putting full music albums in your Amazon shopping cart. Click the “On Amazon” option for the artist you’re listening to, scroll for the album you want, and click “Add Audio CD to Cart”. It doesn’t look like you can can purchase individual songs yet, but I’d be very surprised if we don’t see that in a future software release.

Other improvements from Logitech:

  • Support for Deezer music service in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany
  • Music Stores menu has been added to the Home menu, allowing you to browse and search the Amazon CD store by artist, genre, or most popular in the US, UK, Canada, France, and Germany
  • Improvements have been made to the Player sync UI
  • Streamlined Internet Radio menu with direct access to Local Radio, World Radio, and other options provided by Radiotime
  • Improvements have been made to player sync, track cross-fade on synced players, gapless playback when synced, stream drift has been reduced and overall reliability has been improved
  • Support for Nordic languages (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish) has been added
  • Improved SqueezeCenter installation and setup
  • Numerous bug fixes

Still looking for a holiday gift? I highly recommend the Squeezebox. And there are several versions now too, including the Squeezebox Duet with sexy remote and the Squeezebox Boom with speakers.

Mari’s had her say (thumbs up), so the time has come to give away our Slacker G2 review unit ($200 MSRP).

We’re both big fans of the Slacker web radio service, and Mari is also a satisfied owner of the first generation Slacker player. What separates Slacker Radio from say Pandora on the iPhone is their music licensing terms… While Pandora requires a persistent Internet connection for streaming, Slacker hardware periodically downloads (over WiFi) buckets of tracks from your queue of pre-selected “stations” – meaning, you can take Slacker on a plane with pre-loaded music. Slacker offer two service tiers, free and premium. Most would probably be content with the free service, although a paid subscription enables unlimited skipping and saving song favorites. Additionally, Slacker Radio provides all sorts of artist information which has been kinda fun. However, being a minimalist in search of further convergence, I’m personally holding out for a Slacker mobile client.

If the Slacker G2 sounds like something you’d enjoy, simply leave a comment saying you want in on this giveaway. One lucky US resident will be randomly selected as the winner in the next day or so.

I’ve been testing out the Flip MinoHD for a couple of weeks now, but I’m still not entirely ready to render a verdict.

While the video quality is pretty darn good for the size and cost of the device, it’s not been enough to knock my socks off. Plus, I’m finding there are actually down sides to shooting in HD. The files are so large as to be unwieldy (although YouTube now accepts up to 1GB uploads), and oddly the freebie Windows Movie Maker app won’t accept the MPEG-4 format. On the good side, the audio on the MinoHD is an improvement over my current Flip Ultra, which goes very staticky with any finger rubbing on the front of the case.

To check out the difference in video, see the clip above from the MinoHD (click “watch in HD” if you visit YouTube), and the comparison clip from the Flip Ultra (click “watch in high quality”). But keep in mind that YouTube still compresses everything. The quality of the MinoHD clip was higher before upload.

Finally, if you’re set on getting a cheap HD camcorder, read Andy Ihnatko’s comparison of the Flip MinoHD versus the Kodak Zi6. He’s very thorough.

CE Surprises of Holiday 2009

Mari Silbey —  December 4, 2008 — 6 Comments

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) hosted a webcast this afternoon with a recap on Black Friday CE spending. There was too much juicy data to report in one post, so for now I thought I’d relate some of the surprises from the holiday weekend. As far as overall spending is concerned, the consensus seems to be that Black Friday shopping was up in 2008 over 2007. Check out recent reports from ShopperTrak and the National Retail Federation.

Smaller TVs
I was surprised to hear a rep at the Sony Style store say that smaller HDTVs in the 32″ range were flying off the shelves last Friday. But according to the CEA, the sweet spot for TVs right now is actually even smaller at 21″-23″. At the beginning of this year, TV sets over 40″ made up more than half of TV shipments. Now they represent only 36%. Again, the only thing I can assume here is that folks are buying for second and third rooms.

Cheaper Blu-ray Players
Just six weeks ago the experts at the CEA didn’t expect to see prices for Blu-ray players drop below $250. Black Friday weekend proved them wrong, with players dipping below the $200 mark. The price drop did wonders for volume sales. The category is now expected to slightly surpass the CEA’s forecast of 2.75 million unit shipments in 2008.

GPS is a Surprise Hit
A CEA survey in September found that GPS devices didn’t even make the top-ten list of planned CE gifts. However, by the time Black Friday rolled around, GPS units generated the highest interest from in-store CE shoppers, above MP3 players, TVs and digital cameras. The CEA says the GPS category is shaping up to be one of the hottest of Holiday 2009. That conclusion is somewhat undermined by the fact that a CEA survey shows only 9% of Black Friday shoppers who bought consumer electronics picked up GPS devices. However, given the aggressive pricing right now, we’ll probably see GPS sales continue to increase through the holiday season.

Cyber Monday Deals

Mari Silbey —  November 30, 2008 — 3 Comments

Too lazy to roll out of bed at 4 AM on Black Friday? Luckily Cyber Monday is upon us, and lots of sites are offering free shipping for items on your holiday gadget wish list. Many of the discounts aren’t fabulous, but at least you don’t have to pay for door-to-door delivery. You can find free shipping deals at Best Buy, Amazon and, among many others.

If you’re looking for a little more than free shipping, choose your gadget categories wisely. Big-screen TVs are still your best bet for top deals. Newegg, for example, has a 52″ Sharp Aquos set listed at $1,100 off MSRP. You can also get decent discounts on digital cameras, though the Retrevo price index shows prices generally went up in November after declines in October. Two 8-megapixel cameras under $100: the Nikon Coolpix L18 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8K.

Of course, if you’re after coveted products, like the Apple iPod Touch, don’t expect much help from the Cyber Monday fairies. Best Buy will give you $30 bucks off a first-gen iPod Touch, or $10-$15 off second-gen versions.

CE retailers are naturally feeling skittish with the downturn in the economy. On the one hand, they don’t want to mark products down too far. On the other hand, they don’t want to end up with excess inventory. I can’t help but wonder if this year the best deals won’t be found closer to December 25th. But it’s up to you if you want to play chicken with the gadget dealers.

In a highly unscientific investigation, I stopped by my local Sony Style store yesterday to ask the customer reps about Black Friday sales. The rep I talked to initially suspected I was a mall employee, but once we got that case of mistaken identity out of the way, he was very willing to share details on the day’s activities.

First, my new friend assured me that traffic had been brisk, and indeed it was during my visit. More interesting though was his record of the top-selling products. Here’s his account of what was flying off the shelves:

  • TVs – The most popular sizes were in the 32″ and 52″ ranges. Hmm. Think the 32-inchers were first-time HD buyers, or folks outfitting second and third rooms?
  • Blu-ray Disc players – At a $100 discount, it’s not surprising the Blu-ray players were top sellers. Ticket price: a sweet $199.99.
  • Playstation 3 – My friend claimed the PS3 consoles were going fast. No doubt because of the new Netflix Watch Now functionality, right?
  • Cyber-shot T700 – I have to admit this is a pretty one, with 4GB of memory, a 3.5″ touch screen, and lots of other goodies. It comes in a range of colors too. Not surprising it’s a popular gift.

Obvious disclaimer: this was one Sony employee’s take on Black Friday sales. Take that as you will.

Any of these products on your holiday shopping list?

If your entire Black Friday strategy involves stopping by the mall on the day after Thanksgiving, you might want to check out Retrevo’s guide to Black Friday buying. Not only do the Retrevo folks follow consumer electronics obsessively, they track pricing, availability and demand – you know, all the important information that’s a pain to hunt down. The guide includes top deals in different categories as well as some common sense tips for how to get what you want at the start of the holiday season while forking over the least amount of cash. One of my takeaways? Oddly, shopping at Staples looks like a really good bet for cheap CE stocking stuffers.

Not listed in the Black Friday guide, but equally important from my point of view, is Retrevo’s analysis of trends in CE pricing and demand. I discovered very recently that the site now has a feature called Retrevo Pulse, which aggregates CE buying data and shows real-time analytics. Way cool. For example, looking at recent trends for GPS units, it appears that prices have leveled off and demand is on the upswing after a four-month decline. I asked my contact at Retrevo for other recent findings, and here’s what he listed:

  • Demand for TVs, digital cameras and MP3 players is turning up as we head into the holiday shopping season, but demand for cell phones is static, if not headed downward.
  • Prices for digital cameras began falling in late October.
  • Prices for MP3 players have been stable.
  • Prices for cell phones are starting to creep up.

Talk about good intelligence for your seasonal CE shopping.