Archives For Reviews

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The Vue Personal Video Network bundle has been shipping for a number of months now. And in the time I’ve dilly dallied with my review hardware, Vue has seen some notable improvements since the possibly reserved launch coverage.

The $300 Vue bundle consist of a wireless base station, which you hardwire to your router, and two wireless cameras to remotely monitor just about anything from a Flash-capable browser. Or (now) iPhone app! The cameras are quite small and clever, as magnetically paired and positioned on their half sphere mounts. Additional cams can be purchased for $100 each. Video resolution isn’t horrible, maxing out at 640×480, but Vue’s frame rate seems low and you’re going to need good lighting for best results. Another heads up for prospective buyers is the Lithium Ion CR123 camera battery requirement. Avaak, the company behind Vue, expects battery life to run about a year — by estimating 10 minutes of usage a day. But, during my eval period, I burned through a pair of batteries and replacements ran me about $14.

Pretty much everything, from setup to viewing, is handled via web browser at VueZone.com. You can flip between camera feeds, adjust viewing sizes, and snap still images or record video clips. Additionally, both live feeds and archived content can be shared with friends, family, or business associates via VueZone. Plus, Flickr and YouTube upload options are provided. An initial knock on Vue’s video monitoring solution was the lack of motion detection and scheduled recording capabilities as found in competing products. However, through a recent firmware update, Vue now offers a variety of scheduling options as pictured above.

Catching up with company reps at CES didn’t yield details on product updates. However, Avaak has just secured $10 million in new financing/investment.

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Targus-Premium-Laptop-Charger-1

UPDATE: Engadget is reporting a major recall of Targus adapters. Buyer beware.

Ever been short a power cord? Or an outlet? Targus has a solution. The Targus Premium Laptop Charger comes with one slim power adapter that splits in two for simultaneous charging of a laptop and mobile device. The product also bundles in a car adapter, and a wide selection of tips for different laptop/netbook models. Since I’m often on the go, I took Targus up on the offer of a review unit.

First of all, I tend to be skeptical of any product that includes adapter tips. It can be hard to find the right tip for your device, quality is often questionable, and tips are easy to lose. Initially it seemed Targus was an exception. I snapped up adapter tip L107 (as indicated by the manual for Asus laptops), popped it in to my computer, and it immediately appeared to start charging. Unfortunately, some time later my computer shut off unexpectedly. I didn’t have time then to investigate, but in attempting to charge my Asus again later in the day with the Targus adapter, the same thing happened. I plugged in my regular charger and discovered I’d dropped down to 1% power. There was no low-battery alert. Nothing except sudden shut-down.

As it turns out, I didn’t have the right adapter. Targus shipped me a new one immediately (the L124), and it does indeed charge as advertised.

Putting aside my experience for a moment, Targus does include a lot in its adapter package. The Premium Laptop Charger comes with tips for laptops/netbooks made by HP, Compaq, Dell, Acer, Toshiba, Gateway, IBM, Lenovo, Asus, Sony, Panasonic, and Fujitsu. Targus even includes a handy tip clip for keeping an extra tip close at hand – in case you want to switch up your machine. And if you register your product, Targus promises free tips for future laptops and cell phones. That means if the tip you need isn’t in the package, you too can have a new one sent out – free except for shipping.

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On the mobile side, the Targus package includes a mini USB tip, which will power most cell phones now, and a tip for Apple iPods and iPhones. I had no problems juicing up my phone.

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HP DreamScreen clock photo

It’s taken a little longer than I had hoped, but I’ve finally composed my thoughts after reviewing the HP DreamScreen. Bottom line: It’s a beautiful display with some very useful applications. If HP could guarantee additional apps, available in the near future via software download, I could imagine plunking down the $249.99 ($219.99 at Amazon) for my own 10.2″ DreamScreen. But the device does need some tweaking, and more apps, more apps, more apps. Here’s the complete lowdown.

The DreamScreen is a Wi-Fi-connected photo display with widgets that provide: clock, calendar, weather, Snapfish photos, Pandora, and Facebook functionality. You can also use the DreamScreen to play your own library of music and videos. The picture quality is stunning, and as HP describes it, the device itself is piano-black with a “flush-glass widescreen display.” There’s a touchbar at the bottom of the screen, but I found it largely useless. The best way to control the DreamScreen is with its remote. As other people have noted, the interface could use some work, but it didn’t bother me overly much. There are cases where you have to click up or down to get to the horizontal menu selection you want, and sometimes it’s difficult to backtrack if you’ve inputted something incorrectly (like a password). However, these types of annoyances are the kind I can get past pretty quickly, especially when there’s nothing better currently on the market.

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Sungale desk lamp

In my continuing quest to find meaningful evolution in the digital photo frame space, I stumbled upon the Sungale desk lamp with photo and video display. Not long ago I reviewed a Sungale touch-screen frame, and came away hoping for more. But the desk lamp is a different story. The photos are sharp on the 3.5″ screen, video is surprisingly crisp and easy to upload, and the device even plays any MP3 files you’ve got. My one hesitation here is that the lamp retails for $100 ($90 at Amazon). It’s probably not an unreasonable price, but I still find it hard to justify in my own budget as someone who would normally spend about $15 for a desk light. If your price range is higher, however, you should definitely give the Sungale lamp a whirl. It’s a lot of fun and would be a good gadget gift for the office worker.

First off, this desk lamp doesn’t disappoint in its primary function. The light is bright, soft, and easily flexes in any direction. It’s also energy efficient, consuming only 5W of power.

Getting beyond the lighting function, the lamp has a little pop-up LCD screen that resides in the base. As a photo frame, it’s a bit small, but remarkably clear. The screen gets 320×240 resolution, and the lamp has 512 MB of built-in memory. You can also plug in your camera’s memory card (SD, MMC, MS), or connect to a computer via USB. Transporting photos was easy. My PC opened up a dialog box asking if I wanted to connect using the “program provided on the device.” The software isn’t flashy, but it’s perfectly serviceable, and settings on the lamp allowed me to control the slide-show display.

Sungale desk lamp main menu

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Zoodles kid browser

There’s a market for kid-friendly online browsing. Children watch their parents on computers and want to get in on the fun from an early age, even if they don’t quite know how. Although there are a number of kid computers (VTech, Fisher-Price, etc.), these low-end devices don’t offer the same breadth of options available on the Internet. Kids don’t want one brand of entertainment; they want many. Enter software-based solutions. Earlier in the year I talked about Kidthing, which showed up at CES. Now I’ve had a chance to play with Zoodles as well. Here’s my take on the kid-friendly browser launched last April.

What it Does
Go to Zoodles.com, and you can download the application (Adobe Air, Mac or PC) for free. Zoodles will ask you a few questions about your child to establish content parameters, and will then load the program on your computer with a Zoodles desktop icon. (Yes, you can set up profiles for multiple children.) Launch the application and you open up your child’s “toybox.” The toybox has big friendly picture buttons linking to different games, and big arrows on the right and left so you can scroll through multiple screens. The games listed come from all over the Web, with sites represented ranging from Scholastic to Playhouse Disney. More content is added on a regular basis.

The Good
The biggest benefit to Zoodles is that it aggregates a tremendous number of age-appropriate games in one place. Unlike Kidthing, all of the content is free, and I haven’t found any games that require a separate download. There’s also the advantage that the browser mixes non-branded games with commercial characters that kids (for better or worse) already know. Nothing beats the appeal of Dora or Kai-lan.

Safety-wise, Zoodles only allows kids to click through on approved URLs. That means that if there’s an ad placed next to a game, your child won’t be able to click on it and move over to another site.

A premium membership to Zoodles ($5.95/month or less) also adds in a parental dashboard feature. Although I’d be hard-pressed to sign up for another monthly subscription service, the dashboard offers a tremendous amount of control over the application. You can look at reports on what your child has played, block specific sites, games, or shows, and even promote certain skill sets (have certain types of games show up more often) that you want your child to work on. Subjects include language and literacy, life skills, math, science, and social science.

The Bad
There’s very little negative to say about Zoodles. I found it ran a bit slowly, but whether that’s the application or my netbook is hard to say. I spoke to CEO and co-founder Mark Williamson, and he suggested that part of the goal of Zoodles is to get kids able to play by themselves on a computer without constantly needing help or supervision. Sounds good, but I still found there were plenty of places where it was possible to get stuck without parental intervention. Again, this isn’t really the fault of Zoodles. Some games just don’t make it clear what to do next, or make it difficult to start over.

The Verdict
I will definitely keep using Zoodles with my almost-4-year-old. Like being on the kids’ computers at our local library, Zoodles makes it easy to find games that my daughter likes and learns from. If online safety is a big concern for you (the FCC has a new report out on the issue), Zoodles is also a great alternative to relying on filtering software. Older kids need a different solution, but for children aged 3 to 8, the free Zoodles app is the way to  go.

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