As usual, “P” means PC Magazine, “W” means PC World. When I forget an identification, “Real-World Testing” and “First Looks” both mean PC Magazine.
This “First Looks” roundup [P25:3] includes three new phones with “a range of cool features.” One earns an Editors’ Choice, and that’s not surprising since it’s a new version of one of the hottest recent phones: the Motorola RAZR V3c, $420 (or $200 and up with Verizon contract), the first RAZR for Verizon users. A little thicker and heavier than the original RAZR and a little less flashy (gunmetal gray). Otherwise, it replaces GSM with CDMA and substitutes iTap predictive text for T9. The camera now offers 1.3mp detail and the phone supports V Cast broadband.
PC’s buying guide [P25:12] focuses on Media Center PCs and favors the $2,700 Sony VAIO XL2 Digital Media Center, which consists of a receiver-styled PC and a 200-disc DVD/CD changer. The unit actually ties (4 dots) with six other units mentioned, priced from $550 to $4,781.
This roundup tests six “economical desktops” with dual-core CPUs [W24:8]. They’re not rock bottom units, with prices ranging from $1,064 to $1,500 (including 17" or 19" LCDs), but they’re also not high-end. The Best Buy goes to HP’s $1,300 Pavilion Media Center m7490n, largely for its extras. The cheapest system, Dell’s $1,064 Dimension E510, is very close: both have 81 PCW Ratings.
“Can you get a good camera for $150? How about $88?” Digital camera, that is. That’s the question asked in this Real-World Testing roundup of four 4mp and 5mp cameras costing under $150 (with mini-reviews of three more under $200). The answer? Sort of (with discounts and rebates), and not yet. The highest rated of the group at 3.5 dots, Canon’s PowerShot A340 offers 4x optical zoom and “very good pictures.” The $88 camera, Polaroid’s PDC 5080 (no zoom), gets a dismal single dot for “dreadful performance and picture quality,” with pictures not much better than a camera phone.
This roundup of midrange point-and-shoot digital cameras [W24:9] features ten units ranging from $300 to $500; all have at least one interesting feature such as a big LCD screen (3" or larger), in-camera panoramic stitching, antishake technology, built-in wifi (?), a ruggedized case, or ultralong battery life. The top-rated camera (Casio’s $299 Exilim EX-Z600) has great battery life but only fair image quality, actually the worst of the ten cameras. I don’t understand a ratings schema that puts so little weight on the quality of the pictures: Isn’t that why you buy a $300 to $500 camera? If you want “very good” image quality, you drop down to the sixth of ten, HP’s $399 Photosmart R927—but it has poor battery life. (Eight other cameras all rated “good” on image quality.)
Another PC mini-guide [P25:12] selects the $1,400 Sony HDR-HC1 as a digital camcorder, notably for its HD recording capabilities (on standard MiniDV tape). It has 10x optical zoom and takes 2.8 megapixel stills.
PC World [24:8] offers more detail on five MiniDV cameras but didn’t include HD models. Although the blurb touts camcorders “for as little as $400,” the Best Buy costs more than twice that much: Panasonic’s $1,000 PV-GS500, with three CCD sensors, 12x optical zoom, and generally superior image quality and battery life.
Three large LCD displays designed to save desktop space [P25:6], none good enough for an Editors’ Choice. Highest-rated: the $649 HP LP2065, a 20.1" display with 1600x1200 resolution. It pivots and comes with Pivot Pro software.
A “Real-World Testing” roundup covers four cheap 19" LCDs—none costing more than $200 after rebates, although they include one $569 20" widescreen for comparison. The CMV CT-934D gets the Editors’ Choice; it offers 1280x1024 resolution, includes decent stereo speakers, and has very good color quality (not great gray performance). You’ll get some artifacts on fast motion and they’ll only replace the panel if there are more than four dead or stuck pixels within the first year. Still: $199.99 for a 19" display! The Dell Ultrasharp 2007WFP scores higher and offers 40% more viewing area, but it’s also almost three times as expensive.
This review [W24:5] looks at mapping websites and in-car GPS units. Highest-rated among the mapping sites: Windows Live Local, with Yahoo Local Maps second and Google Local third. MapQuest is showing its age, although that’s mostly through lack of GeeWhiz features. Among dashboard GPS units, the $600 TomTom Go 300 gets the best rating; it’s also tied for most expensive.
PC World’s latest mini-roundup [W24:3] covers multifunction inkjets. Best Buy is the $200 Canon Pixma MP500; it’s relatively fast and offers very good text quality, and for $200 you get built-in duplexing and dual paper trays. If you plan to do film scanning and don’t want to spend $440 for Canon’s Pixma MP950, go for the second place unit, the $180 Epson Stylus CX7800; good prints but slow printing unless you tweak the driver.
“Desktop killers” is an old refrain for notebooks, and this roundup [W24:6] doesn’t make it fresher. You always get more for your money with a desktop and the lead sentences here are just silly: “Go on, admit it. You’ve been thinking about ditching your desktop in favor of a laptop.” I use a gorgeous 19" LCD display. I use a wonderful wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse. The computer? It’s somewhere over to the side on the floor. Why would I want to “ditch” that for a keyboard that would take me back to painful wrists and a smaller screen? These are very powerful notebooks at very high prices. The Best Buys are HP’s $2,200 Pavilion dv8000z (17” screen, 9.2lb., 3hrs. battery life) and $2,548 Toshiba Qozmio G35-AV600 (10.1lbs., nearly 4-hour battery life, also 17" screen). Both have dual-layer multiformat DVD burners. Both of these have TV tuners.
A PC Magazine “buying guide” [P25:14] for back-to-school notebooks gives the nod to Dell’s $999 Inspiron E505, with an Intel Core Duo CPU, 1GB RAM, ATI graphics, and dual-layer multiformat DVD burner; the screen is 1280x800 (15.4").
One way to make portable music players more effective is portable speakers, covered in a mini-roundup [P25:14]. Editors’ Choice is the $160 Think Outside BoomTube H201, a metal cylinder containing two detachable speakers on either end with dual 2.2" “subwoofers” (lower midrange speakers) and an amp in the center. Alternatives include Logitech’s $65 mm28 for value, Apple’s $349 iPod Hi-Fi for big parties, Altec Lansing’s $200 inMotion iM9 for the great outdoors (ruggedized and in its own little backpack), and Creative’s $80 TravelDock 900, “decent sound from something the size of a sunglasses case.”
The Perfect Vision (July/August 2006) reviews six portable DVD units costing $400 or less, with an overall commentary followed by individual one-page reviews. (A sidebar covers three higher-quality earphones to replace the mediocrities supplied with most players; $10 for Sennheiser MX 400 ear buds will do.) There’s no clear winner, but standouts appear to be Philips’ $399 PET102 (10.2" screen, good battery life, but it’s on the bulky side) and Sony’s $200 DVP-FX810 (8" LCD but it swivels, excellent battery life).
This mini-roundup includes four office printers in four different categories, three of them Editors’ Choices. The $499 Lexmark C522n earns that honor as an inexpensive color laser printer “with great performance, excellent text output, and good graphics and photo quality.” Add $300 for a 500-sheet paper tray (it starts with 250 sheets). For tabloid printing, Ricoh’s $675 Aficio G7500 offers “laser-class speed and quality” with its Gel-Sprinter technology, spraying viscous ink from a nozzle. For heavy-duty ink jet use, consider HP’s $199 Officejet Pro K550. HP calls it the “world’s fastest desktop printer,” which is false, but “it’s certainly the fastest by far in this price class, at least for business applications.”
Color lasers are now cheap enough for home use and robust enough for small offices. This roundup [W24:6] features ten models costing $400 to $1,000. Quality has improved since PC World’s last low-cost color laser roundup; the Best Buy, Dell’s $500 3100cn, earns Superior scores for text, line art, and grayscale graphics—but it’s only Good for graphics and photos. It’s rated at 25 pages per minute for text, 5 pages for graphics; it tested at 17.8 text, 3.4 graphics. The Dell also includes an extra paper tray.
A mini-roundup of color lasers for small offices [P25:14] gives an Editors’ Choice to the $1,499 Xerox Phaser 6300DN for “blazing-fast speed” and “great-looking output.” It includes a duplexer. Alternate recommendations include the $300 HP Color LaserJet 1600 for value, $400 Lexmark C500n as a “well-balanced” choice (particularly if you plan to print mostly monochrome pages), and $600 Oki Printing Solutions C5500n as a speed demon.
A “real-world testing” feature [P25:14] looks at small-office multifunction printers at $130 or less with automatic document feeder and stand-alone faxing, although the reviewer bent the price limit slightly (to $132). That option, Lexmark’s X7350, came in as best of this low-priced lot for a mix of features, speed and quality. Oddly, one of the four units reviewed did not have either an ADF or a fax modem, and doesn’t print color—but it’s a cheap laser-based unit.
This group review [W24:4] features the “top 10” business projectors, ranging in price from $899 to $2,895. They’re all XGA (1024x768) resolution and weigh anywhere from 2.4 pounds to 8.6 pounds (but only two heft six pounds or more), so they’re all reasonably portable. Best Buy goes to NEC’s $2,195 LT35 for its automated features and bright, high-quality images, but the next four places are the four cheapest projectors in the review, all $1,000 or less.
This roundup [W24:5] reviews six one-terabyte external disks: Three “direct-attached storage” (classic external disks) and three network-attached storage (NAS). One issue with big multidrive units like this is flexibility: Can you configure them for something other than RAID 0 and swap out drives readily? Swapping out drives is easy in four finalists and feasible in the other two; all but one of the six supports some lower-capacity/high-reliability RAID version.
Best Buy among direct-attached units is Maxtor’s $825 One Touch III Turbo: Even though drives are hard to replace, it performed well and had good backup software. Best Buy among NAS units is the $1,199 Infrant Technologies ReadyNAS NV, loaded with features and easy to upgrade. These are still at least two-drive units; single-drive 1TB capacity isn’t quite on the consumer market yet (as this is written).
This roundup [P25:3] covers security suites. None is perfect (although antivirus protection should be uniformly reliable these days). Editors’ Choice is ZoneAlarm Security Suite 6.0 for its first-rate firewall and antispam, although its spyware protection needs help. If you use separate spam and spyware solutions and don’t care about parental control, Norton Internet Security is also a good choice. Since none of the suites has great spyware protection, you should also read the anti-spyware roundup that follows. You need more than one (don’t use the “live scan” features of more than one). Editors’ Choices: Spy Sweeper 4.5 and Spyware Doctor 3.2, each $30 per year.
Another suite roundup [W24:7] includes ten contenders—once again, all very good antivirus but not uniform elsewhere. Best Buy is Norton Internet Security 2006, with McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 a close second; ZoneAlarm came in 6th.
A PC miniguide [P25:12] continues to give the Editors’ Choice to ZoneAlarm 6.0 with eTrust second.
This antivirus roundup [W24:3] finds, as usual, that pretty much every commercial antivirus program identifies and blocks 100% of recognized threats, as long as you keep the signatures updated. Ratings get a little tricky: PC World focused on how software would do if you didn’t keep the signatures up to date as a theoretical measure of the software’s ability to handle new threats. The roundup also takes the somewhat irritating (OK, stupid) slant of disabling all other components (except antivirus) in security suites, to avoid such suites having an “unfair advantage” over standalone programs. Say what? Isn’t it a good thing for the components of a suite to strengthen one another? With peculiarities like that, I’m not sure BitDefender 9 Standard’s Best Buy ranking means much. ZoneALarm isn’t even on the list. Why? Because they couldn’t test it without turning off OSFirewall!
Who does the best local mapping? A PC Magazine “First Looks” roundup [P25:4] looks at five such services, including A9.com Maps and AOL Local. Editors’ Choice goes to Windows Live Local, “one of the most addictive Web search tools out there.”
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