Wednesday, January 31, 2007


I use a few gadgets on a daily basis. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Sandisk Sansa e280 Mp3 Player

I get a lot of mileage out of this mp3 player. It has 8 gigs of internal memory, plus a miniSD slot for extra swappable memory. Most of my friends have some kind of iPod or iPod Nano, but for my purposes I think the Sandisk player suits me better. I'm not so concerned with how flashy it looks, and honestly I prefer the look of my player to any iPod - I think it looks less like an product made by a computer manufacturer, and more like an electronics gadget. From what I understand, the iPod products require iTunes to really do anything useful. For me that would be a deal-breaker on it's own - I love the ability to use Windows Explorer to just drag and drop stuff, and it's also good that it will recognize pretty much any file format.

Before this player, I used the MPIO FL100 player. This served it's purpose for a reasonably long lifetime - over 3 years, I think. Towards the end it got to the point that the LCD screen display was bleeding so badly that I could only read the 2 leftmost characters. I finally gave in and decided to get something new. I should mention that with this player, I was forced to use an extra program to transfer files back and forth - but there was more than one option, and the protocol appears to be open enough for users to write their own software, such as this one.

2. Sony Headphones

For most of my daily usage while I'm mobile, I insist on these:

I should admit that they have broken many, many times - it usually comes down to the quality of the cable inside the wires, which is hair-thin. I've tried many times to repair them, and a couple of times I've had success - but it's never really because the soldering has just come loose - it's usually because the wire close under the earpiece has completely stripped down to a hair. So I end up just cutting the wire down to that point, and re-soldering to end up with a much shorter cable length. This technique has extended the lifetime an extra 3 months or so.

This hair-thin wire design makes them very light (and explains why they are cheap), but also makes them particularly delicate, and probably way too fragile for my rough excercise and transportation habits. But so far they have always proven easy enough to find replacement for, and they usually cost around 10 pounds (18 dollars) , so it's not too bad. I try to keep the warranty stuff around, but never quite get around to trying to use it. I've been using these for about 4 years now, and have probably had about 8 or 9 sets in that time.

But it's worth it, because while they keep working, they are great. Well, at least for my taste - I don't particularly want something penetrating deep in my ear, and I don't even really care about noise blocking or cancellation. In fact, when I am at the gym or out for a run, I kind of prefer to have the ambient noise - running a path where I need to cross streets with busy traffic, it's especially useful, and would probably be reckless to use noise-cancelling headphones. Since they don't really weigh anything, I definitely prefer the over-the-ear design, even though it probably looks a bit more tacky than a simpler in-the-ear headphone.

I also want to rant briefly about one of my biggest pet peeves - the standard iPod headphones, and people who use them in public. I'm not sure who in the "world's greatest design firm" designed this masterpiece, but from a usability standpoint they are ridiculous. Perhaps it's not really something you notice when you are wearing them, and it's also probably not something you would notice if you never take public transportation. But for those of us who sit on the subway every day and invariably end up sitting between two iPod users, it is like torture. The design of these headphones almost seems to have an "open ambient" technique, which makes them louder externally than internally. Regardless of what type of audio or music the person sitting next to you is listening to, you'll be able to make out very clearly everything they are listening to - even if you have your own headphones on.

For some of the work I do in my studio at home, I prefer the MDR-V700 fully enclosed headphones. These are the same headphones used by many DJs, and give a great combination of excellent quality, encapsulation, and flexibile/portable design.

3. Motorola MPx220

After using the MPx200 phone for about a year until its total extinction, I was more than happy to upgrade to the MPx220 phone. I had a ton of complaints about the reliability of the older MPx200, and I think most of those issues were to do with the older Windows Mobile 2003 operating system, but also probably a few device issues.

This new phone has been going solid for a couple of years now, even though I managed to break the clamshell hinge a good while back. Since then I've had to be extra-careful opening and closing the thing, but suprisingly, it still works perfectly and doesn't even seem to know that its wires could snap at any moment. This is a big improvement from older clamshell phones I've used where they were rendered useless very shortly after breaking the hinge.

I've already purchased a brand new empty casing for the phone off eBay, for about 10 dollars. But it's a bit too complex for me to switch it out without putting some serious study into it, or just taking it down to the electronics center and finding someone more capable to do it for me. But so far it keeps working fine, so I haven't had the motivation to get down there and get it done.

In short, I love the phone and I love the OS - I think they've fixed the majority of stupid issues I had with the old one. I actually used to have to reboot that thing as often as I rebooted my Win2k desktop. But this new one hardly ever gets a reboot - probably only once a month or so, or whenever I have to turn it off to get on an airplane.

One thing I haven't really had an opportunity to try with the new phone is the GSM internet access. I used this quite frequently with my old MPx200, but always had problems with it. For some reason it would hardly ever work with the cable, and I could only really get it working with infrared. I would guess that this is going to work much better with this phone, like everything else does, if I ever get an opportunity to try it out.

I found a very detailed review of this phone here. They even go and open the phone up and show all of it's inner guts.

4. Motorola HS850

I really can't live without my bluetooth headset. I've seen various complaints on websites about this unit, but honestly I haven't had major problems. And considering how much the price has dropped, it's now cheap enough that if one breaks I can just grab a new one without making a big deal about it. So far, I've had one break, after about 6+ months of very frequent usage. I then went out and bought a pair of new ones, in different colors, to go with the two telephones I use (one for UK, one for Italy).

I'm biding my time until this one breaks, so I can upgrade to the next gen model, the Motorola H700 headset, which is lighter and even more streamlined:

My roommate just got one, and it's really suprisingly small. But on a minor negative note, they have once again pulled the famous old Motorola trick - they've switched the power adapter again! So it seems that with every new iteration of products, Motorola loves to switch between the proprietary "fork" plug interface, and the more standard mini-USB format. Here's the rundown I've seen so far, based on my experience (in order of purchase date):

  • Motorola MPx200 : mini-USB connector
  • Motorola MPx220 : proprietary Motorola connector
  • Motorola HS850 : proprietary Motorola connector
  • Motorola SLVR : mini-USB connector
  • Motorola H700 : mini-USB connector

Most feedback I've seen on the web is more in favor of the mini-USB connection, and I am too. If for no other reason - those are much easier standard cables to find replacements for. They also don't feel as flimsy, and tend to stay connected better.

Oh, by the way, as for the H700 - they even make a flashier gold Dolce & Gabbana version!

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