Withings ScaleDo you remember the  good old days, back in the late 90′s, when it was fun to sit around and laugh at people who talked about Internet-connected everything?  ”The Internet-connected toaster!” you’d shout, and your friends would laugh.  If you were all geeks.  Just hypothetically speaking.

Well, it’s 2010 now, and we just expect everything to have Internet features at the least, and iPhone connectivity is a big plus.  Enter Withings, with their WiFi-enabled, body-fat-percentage-detecting, iPhone accessible bathroom scale ($159 direct).  Yes, a bathroom scale with an IP address.

I’ve been using the Withings scale for about six weeks.   On the whole, it’s performed well, and I would give it a qualified recommendation.  It is certainly better, fancier, and more helpful than the generic digital scale I had before.   But there are quirks, both technical and psychological.

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MacBook ProThere are plenty enough reviews of the MacBook Pro that talk about gigahertz (2.26, in this case), memory (2GB), and tech specs like the LED backlit display.   Like most actual users, I’m much less interested in that stuff than I am in how well it works as a daily driver laptop.  Also, like many people who are considering purchasing a MacBook, this was my first experience with Apple laptops.  I’ve been a Windows guy for a long time and I was curious to see if the MacBook would be an adequate replacement for my Windows laptop.

The build quality and industrial design is first rate, as you’d expect from Apple.  The unibody aluminum construction makes this thing feel solid, and details like the tiny beveling on the edges makes for a very elegant, very well designed feel.  More than once, I found myself stopping my work for a moment to examine an edge or the way a USB port was cut from the aluminum.  It’s really nice work, and brings out the design geek in anyone.

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Lenovo S10-2As the novelty of netbooks wears off and they become commodities with market-dictated standard features, the focus shifts from whether a particular machine is innovative or affordable to whether it does a good job of just being a netbook.  I’m happy to report that Lenovo’s S10-2 is a good choice for a traveler’s netbook.

I found this out first hand by traveling with the S10-2 on a six week trip that took me from the urban center of Amman, through the Sinai desert, cruising up the Nile on a felucca, and then through various rural and urban parts of Morocco, Turkey, and Croatia, among more common destinations like Budapest and London.  The S10-2 not only survived the trip, it excelled.  Its small form factor, long battery life, and durability convinced me that my days of deciding between traveling with a full fledged laptop or relying on Internet cafes are over.  Netbooks are it, from here on out.

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Communicator C100SI often rely on Skype to make cheap calls, in fact I use Skype exclusively in my office – it’s a tremendous money saver. But I absolutely hate the fact that when I am ready to make a call my headset seems to have walked away and hidden itself. I’ve also tried various Skype hand-sets but they all come with their own set of problems which I am not going to get into here.

So Polycom sends me their USB Communicator C100S speaker phone, but given my past not-so-great experiences with other Skype hardware, I fondled the C100S with a certain degree of skepticism. On one hand there is Polycom’s impeccable reputation for making terrific speaker phones. On the other hand there is the fact that C100S is just another Skype compatible USB device that promises the same technology used in Polycom’s legendary line of triangular SoundStation conference phones; crystal-clear, natural conversations, freedom of not wearing a headset for hands-free Skype calls, high-fidelity wideband voice quality, excellent range for small group conversations, Polycom Acoustic Clarity Technology which eliminates echoes and feedback, etc. Simple reality is that I, or any other small business, don’t care what technology is packed into the gadget as long as Skype conversations are uninterrupted by the party on the other end  asking me to reaped what I said because I sound like I’m sitting inside an echo chamber.

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iphone_3g_sYou can’t throw a stone on the Internet without hitting an iPhone 3G S review, so let’s quickly skip over the basics and then get to the meat.  The new iPhone has a faster processor, twice the system memory, a better camera that supports video and autofocus, and a digital compass.   Version 3.0 of the iPhone OS adds a handy search screen, landscape mode for SMS and email composition, video capture and YouTube upload, cut and paste, and support for MMS and tethering (unless you’re an AT&T customer).

Great, but how does Apple’s latest compare to previous iterations for real world use?  It’s a mixed bag, really.  Let’s start with the good stuff.  The phone is simply more usable than its predecessors.

On the original and 3G iPhones, there were times when I would tap the email or SMS button, wait a couple of seconds, then put the phone down and go get a glass of water while waiting for it to launch the app.   Things got better after I found the excellent MemoryInfo app, but the phones always felt like they were struggling to deliver.  Not so the 3G s; it’s snappy and responsive even after using several apps.  I have yet to find myself typing a single letter ahead of text input areas, let alone the 6-8 characters I was often ahead on the older models.

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Dells E4300: A solid business-class laptop... with some quirks

Dell's E4300: A solid business-class laptop... with some quirks

Any good geek knows that technology products that seem wonderful at launch can lose their luster over time, and that products that don’t seem all that spectacular can become an essential part of one’s kit.

Dell’s E4300 laptop is designed to be a business user’s main workstation, and also a very capable small and light travel laptop.  I’ve been using one as my main machine for nine months now, and my overall opinion is that, while it has its share of quirks and problems, it’s a fairly strong solution for its niche.

The machine I’m using sports a 1280×800 LED-baclkit display, 4GB of RAM, a 160GB, 7200RPM hard drive, an Intel Core2 Duo P9400 processor, the optional fingerprint reader and integrated webcam, and the Intel GM45 mobile video chipset.   I opted for Vista Business 32 bit.

My relationship with the E4300 got off to a bit of a rocky start — it shipped a few weeks later than Dell’s configuration website suggested it would, and despite their promise to ship it to me while I was traveling, it instead shipped to my home address, so I was left using a “rugged” Panasonic CF-25 that I had pretty decently destroyed while driving in the Baja 1000.  But that’s another story.

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The Spot-1 satellite / GPS device

These days GPS trackers are a dime a dozen.  If you want to geotag photos or map favorite hiking trails, there are dozens of sub-$100 solutions that perform well.  But what if you’re an adventurer and want to let family and friends know where you are, and that you’re alive and kicking,  in more or less real time?   What if you frequently find yourself outside of cell coverage, or immersed in whitewater that would make short work of most electronics?

Spot LLC, a subsidiary of Globalstar, thinks they have a solution.  The Spot-1 is a rugged portable GPS receiver and one-way satellite phone transmitter.  The device itself is very simple: it receives GPS signals and can send short messages over Globalstar’s satellite network to Spot’s data center, which will then forward those messages as appropriate.

In normal operation, these messages are limited to “OK”, which lets friends and family know that you’ve survived so far; “Help”, which lets your support network know that you need attention (think broken axle, not broken neck); and “911″, which Spot LLC promises will launch a helicopters-and-all search and rescue operation.  Don’t push that button by mistake.

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The Squeezebox Duet is a package consisting of the Squeezebox Receiver, a headless networked audio playback unit, and the Squeezebox Controller, a handheld WiFi-based remote control with a 2.4″ color LCD screen. Sound pretty sexy, don’t they? Well, yeah, they are. After a few years of incremental improvement in the network audio playback space, the Duet is the first thing that’s wowed me in quite a while. But before we get to the nitty gritty, some background is in order.

I’ve been a fan of Slim Devices since the original Squeezebox, which I picked up when it first shipped in 2003. Over the years I upgraded to the Squeezebox v2 and then the Squeezebox v3, which had the kind of industrial design usually produced by much larger companies. Slim Devices was really rocking, so I was apprehensive about their future when they were acquired by Logitech in 2006. The Squeezebox Duet is the first product designed after the acquisition, and I am pleased to report that my concerns have been assuaged. The Duet package counts as serious progress on all fronts.

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Orb Mod2 Home Theater Speaker

There’s a fundamental problem one faces when buying speakers:  the very best ones are both huge and very expensive. Sure, I’d love a pair of Martin Logan Summits,  but I’m not sure I could get $10k by selling my kitties for science experiments, and even if I could, I’d still have to spend another $10k or so to get their matching center channel and surround speakers.  And then my living room would be dominated by my speakers, and my neighbors would hate me for the awesome servo-driven subwoofer.

So, for those of us on real budgets, with limited space, and with neighbors, speaker decisions always involve compromise.  I’m here to tell you that if you’re looking for a quality home theater setup with good design and good sound, these Orb Mod2′s are a great choice.  They sound great, provide a matched surround setup that’s incredibly clean, and come in at a reasonable price.

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