Another article that fell victim to the demise of Cargo magazine would have been their first annual Hall of Fame for great tech products. I wrote half of it, and here are the entries. I have spent time with these products, and they are all quite great.
Media Player: Apple iPod
So many people rave about the iPod, you have to wonder if they are just lemmings following the Apple marketing machine. But we say the praise is justified.
Not only is the current iPod a fantastically sleek, sonorous music player, it has also launched the portable video revolution. The new, wider LCD screen is impressively crisp and colorful -- making even a miniature video fully engrossing. And only Steve Jobs had a reality forcefieled strong enough to draw Hollywood into the portable download business.
Unfortunately, the included white earbuds don't match the new glossy black models. (See. We can be critical.)
MP3 Sound System: Klipsch iFi
iPods aren't just for commuting. Many companies (including Apple) make boom-box style speakers with an iPod dock to boost the player's sound beyond headphone quality. But Klipsch went all out, building a full-on stereo system with enough big, clear sound to fill the room.
The iFi's dual-driver satellite speakers deliver buttery, distortion-free audio for any genre from acoustic to noise pop. (To get the most of this system, feed it high-quality MP3 or AAC tunes ripped at a data rate of 192kbps or higher.) The system performed equally well with the throbbing, ominous soundtrack from a Battlestar Galactica episode downloaded from the iTunes store. And despite its imposing dimensions, the subwoofer generates subtle, measured rumble that doesn’t overpower the finer notes.
Still, the iFi could do more. Treble control is a conspicuous omission. And while the tiny RF remote is cute, it's rather Spartan with just play/pause, forward, back, and volume controls. How about iPod menu navigation?
[Note: Including this item was my editors' idea. While this is a great product for what it does, I'm dubious about the need to spend so much money on an iPod speaker set. Better put that money toward a good audio system and plug the iPod into one of the audio inputs, or buy an AirPort Express for wireless streaming.]
Cell Phone: Motorola Razr V3c from Verizon
Motorola redefined cell phones with the Razr -- transforming them from necessities to objects of desire (for a wider audience than just uebergeeks). And unlike other fashion phones, the Razr actually works well --delivering solid audio quality for such a slim model.
But Verizon helped the Razr reach its full potential, with the upgrade from VGA to a one-megapixel camera, plus a needed software overhaul. (Now you can assign more than one phone number to each name in your address book.)
It also liberated the Razr from the GSM phone system -- which is painfully slow in the US --and brought it to Verizon's zippy EV-DO data network, making fast Web browsing and streaming video possible.
$199.99 with one-year
$149.99 with two-year contract
Beginner Digital SLR: Nikon D50
Moving up from a point-and-shoot to an SLR doesn't just make you look cooler, it makes the photos better, too. SLR's have comparatively gargantuan image sensors that produce crisper, cleaner images. And because they take interchangeable lenses, SLRs can keep pace as your skills grow.
Canon and Nikon offer superb entry-level models, but Nikon's D50 wins out. At $760 (with an 18-55 millimeter zoom lens), it beats Canon's $999 Digital Rebel XT on price. And because it takes SD memory cards, which you may have lying around from your point and shoots, the Nikon could save you even more. The D50 is also easier to operate, with its bigger handgrip, more-intuitive menu and button layout, and larger LCD screen.
Music Networking: Sonos Digital Music System
Music comes from nearly everywhere today: computers, CDs, iPods, Internet radio. And Sonos pulls it all together elegantly.
Similar to other music streamers like the Apple AirPort Express or Slim Devices Squeezebox, the Sonos ZonePlayers use wireless networking to bring music from your computer to other parts of the home. But Sonos goes far beyond the competition in both where it gets music and where it sends it. Using a special wireless network, Sonos can accommodate up to 32 zone players, spread around even the largest of homes. Any player can grab not only digital music from PCs and Macs, network hard drives, Internet radio stations, and Rhapsody's streaming music service, but also analog input from devices like iPods and CD players. A single remote -- with an iPod-esq scroll wheel and menu system -- lets you browse and cue up music from any source, then send it wirelessly to any or all ZonePlayers around the house. You can play different tunes on every device, or link any or all of them together to play in perfect synchronicity, without any echo or delay.
The new, $349 ZP80 players connect to self-powered audio systems, such a stereo or home theater. The ZP100 units ($499) include amps and require only basic, unpowered speakers (like a $179 pair by Sonos).
$349 for ZP80
$499 for ZP100
$399 for Controller CR100
$999 for Controller and two ZP80s
$1199 for Controller and two ZP100s
Technology Standard: The SD Card
You shouldn't have to care about memory card formats; and Secure Digital makes that possible. In the year 2000, Panasonic, Toshiba, and SanDisk introduced the SD format to a world of flash-memory anarchy and aggressively promoted it as a standard that today is endorsed by over 800 technology companies and accounts for about 50 percent of all memory cards. Resisting its archrivals Panasonic and Toshiba, Sony persists with the Memory Stick format. And camera makers Fujifilm and Olympus push the obscure xD card. But products from most other companies -- ranging from cameras to PDAs to laptops to televisions -- feature SD slots. Some portables even support SDIO, which powers SD-sized devices including GPS receivers or Wi-Fi radios. The memory format also scales down to miniSD and microSD for ultrathin cell phones.