Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 12: November 2007


Interesting & Peculiar Products

Color at 42 PPM!

That’s the promise of Xerox’ $1,600 Phaser 63600DN color laser printer—and an Editors’ Choice review in the August 7, 2007 PC Magazine supports the claim. That’s not surprising: Unlike inkjet printers, laser printers almost always operate at their claimed speed.

The unit has a duplexer, a 550-sheet standard tray and a 150-sheet multipurpose tray; you can add optional paper trays for total 2,350-sheet capacity. Text quality isn’t quite as good as on most lasers, but it sure is fast.

Really Big Monitors

I’m still delighted with my 19” Sony LCD display, even if I’ve had it for a couple of years now. Serious aficionados would say it’s too small—I need at least a 22” widescreen (which would probably be a little shorter than this display) and preferably a 24” unit. But wait! There’s more! A June 2007 PC World piece reviews three 30-inch LCDs, giving a Best Buy to the HP LP3065 for its stellar image quality and large number of ports. It’s also the cheapest of the three—by a buck. It costs $1,699 as compared to $1,700 for the Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP and $1,800 for the Samsung SyncMaster 305T. What kind of resolution can you get on that big a screen? 2560x1600—if you have a graphics card with enough oomph and dual DVI-out.

Audyssey Sound Processing

This isn’t exactly a product—it’s software that comes built into a growing number of A/V receivers. Audyssey is designed to handle speaker configuration automatically, but also to do room equalization, tweaking amplifier response to account for the standing waves and other irregularities that plague most real-life acoustical spaces.

According to a writeup in the August 2007 Home Theater, it works remarkably well, at least the higher-end Audyssey MultiEQ Pro. You have to do some of the work (placing the supplied microphone in several different room locations and pressing buttons), but the reviewer found even the lower-end version improvements “nothing short of dramatic,” improving clarity and broadening the “sweet spot” so you can get good sound in more locations within a room.

The Must-Have Device du Jour

That’s how Stewart Wolpin describes the Apple iPhone in a September 2007 The Perfect Vision review—an over-the-top comment followed by “this first-generation model is not for everyone.” So we must have it even though it’s not for everyone?

It’s an appropriately fawning review from a magazine that at one point seemed to stress serious reviews of video equipment but has turned into another glossy wowie-zowie magazine. Somehow it’s a wonderful idea that you can’t activate an iPhone when you buy it. When I saw that pricing plans start at $60 a month, I knew the iPhone wasn’t for me: Our use of cell phones is such that we’re now using a $15-a-quarter automatic-top-up pay-as-you go phone, and the saved $660/year will buy a lot of other things. (We’re not everyone—but we’re not nobody either.)

It’s not an entirely positive review, even as Wolpin speaks of “endlessly entertaining YouTube” (some people are more easily endlessly-entertained than others): The simulated keyboard’s a lot slower than any physical keyboard, for example. This review isn’t as hard on the iPhone’s mediocre quality as a, um, phone as some other reviewss, but still admits it’s not all that great. Oh, and reception problems: Wolpin says that’s AT&T’s fault, not Apple. On the odd “ratings” box, it gets a pretty poor rating for audio quality, worse for web access and only slightly better for voice quality—but it gets top marks for “intangibles.” After all, it is an Apple product. So, even though the music playback in particular is not very good (with the usual crappy Apple supplied earbuds—and it’s designed to make it difficult to plug in other ones), the review ends: “But for most folks, this is the music phone you’ve been praying for.” Whatever.

PC Magazine is of two minds about the iPhone, at least in the August 7, 2007 issue. Editor Jim Louderback titles his commentary “iPhone to fly…then flop,” saying it will lose its cool after lots of people have it and will be relegated to “those with more money than taste.” Why? Most of us like tactile feedback; flat screens are less satisfactory, particularly for those with “fat fingers.” Those “hip, young technorati” who will flock to the iPhone will find it disappointing as an email/messaging device compared to, say, the BlackBerry or Treo—and the slow connection makes web surfing “like trying to drive the autobahn on a Vespa.” Also, it’s too expensive for the U.S. market, where we’re used to heavily subsidized cell phones. Lance Ulanoff uses a complementary title: “iPhone to flop…then fly.” He’s sure of this: “Anyone who doesn’t know this isn’t paying attention.” (Don’t you love absolute certainty?) He takes care of all the issues raised by “naysayers”—single carrier, too expensive, no buttons—and tells us why they’re all wrong, wrong, wrong. After all, Apple always charges more for its premium products—and “all the young, trendy, flexible iPod-loving customers Apple cares about” will just love an interface with no tactile feedback. He used the word “all”—I didn’t add that universalism. He assures us the iPhone “will become the ultimate cell-phone status symbol” and will be “a blockbuster success. I guarantee it.” So who is Lance Ulanoff—besides, presumably, being incredibly wealthy with his 100% absolute knowledge of consumer desires? Damned if I know. (OK, I do know: He’s a PC journalist—he’s been writing about this stuff for a while. Not as long as I have, but a while.)

Make that three minds: The next PC Magazine (August 21, 2007) features a two-page formal review of the iPhone by Sascha Segan and Tim Gideon, with the headline “Fun, fabulous, and flawed.” Flaws? “The built-in speaker…can be used for music and movies, but sounds lousy. Volume controls sit conveniently on the left-hand side, but the headphone jack is recessed, which makes it all but impossible to use a standard stereo headset without an adapter.” OK, those are nits. These, not so much:

Call quality was the worst we’ve heard on a high-end device in years. Earpiece volume is a bit understated, and the speakerphone is downright quiet. Voices through the earpiece are a bit muffled, but comprehensible. Transmission, on the other hand, is vile. We got static in our in-ear feedback, and calls made with the iPhone sounded hideously compressed on the other end. We had two dropped calls and significant audio wobble. Inexplicably, at one point we got the distinctive dit-dit-dit of GSM RFI interference over our own call.

Didn’t Stewart Wolpin point the finger at AT&T for call quality—without offering any evidence? These reviewers tried another AT&T cell phone at the same time, presumably over the same towers and circuits.

We’re not going to put these audio issues on AT&T, either, since our BlackBerry Curve made much clearer calls at the same time, in the same place. Reception also leaves something to be desired. Basically, as a handset, the iPhone is complicated to dial, difficult to send text messages with, and missing all sorts of features that are usually taken for granted in high-end multimedia phones nowadays, including picture messaging, IM, and voice dialing.

Basically, the iPhone may be a great iPod, but it appears to be a lousy cell phone. If there are those who still believe that a cell phone should first and foremost be competent as a phone, that is…

Other Phones

If you’re one of the few holdouts who doesn’t see the iPhone as mandatory, other interesting choices are emerging. PC Magazine gives an Editors’ Choice and four-dot rating to the $295 Helio Ocean (Pantech PN-810), an interesting package that can slide vertically to expose a phone keyboard or horizontally to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. Helio runs over Sprint, so you get fairly fast access via Sprint’s EV-DO network. The most powerful feature appears to be the messaging client (which can integrate text and email from AOL, Gmail, Windows Live and Yahoo!, along with IM from AIM, Yahoo! and MSN). The review calls this the “queen bee” of messaging-centric devices.

Feisty Fawn?

Silly name, superior product, according to an August 2007 PC World review, which gives this item a very high 92 points. Oh, and it’s free. The less whimsical name is Ubuntu Linux 7.04, and it appears to be an excellent introduction to Linux, even installing easily as a dual-boot product on a Windows box (and copying your bookmarks, documents, etc. in the process). By default, the downloadable CD-ROM install will come up with Gnome as a user interface; if you prefer KDE (closer to Windows), you might prefer Kubuntu as an install. You also get OpenOffice 2.2, Firefox, GIMP and lots of other software. Since the CD-ROM itself boots up as a self-contained environment instead of the setup program, you can try it out first—see whether your peripherals are covered, for example.

I don’t know that I’m ready to give Linux a try, but distributions like this make it more plausible.

Editors’ Choices and Other Winners

PC World’s “luxury laptop” roundup in September 2007 gives two Best Buy awards. As a desktop replacement, they choose the $3,000 HP Pavilion HDX, with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 20.1” wide screen, HD DVD drive (but only burns regular DVDs), two 100GB hard disks and a 15.1lb. weight. It’s huge, heavy, and fast—and, of course, wildly expensive, performing the rare feat of out-pricing Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro, if by a mere $51. (It’s a gamer’s machine, and for them no price is too high.) As an all-purpose laptop, the $2,004 Lenovo ThinkPad R61 gets the nod: 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, 14.1” screen, 5.8 lb., and better than three hour battery life.

PC Magazine looked at half a dozen notebooks using Intel’s new Mobile Centrino platform in a July 17, 2007 review. A single Editors’ Choice emerged: the $2,510 Lenovo ThinkPad T61 Widescreen: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700.

The same issue reviews half a dozen 22” widescreen LCD displays—”the big picture” when you’re still dealing with an ordinary desk. I was quite surprised by the Editors’ Choice—the $500 Westinghouse LCM-22w2, with loads of ports and strong image quality. Second place and an identical four-dot rating: The $400 Sansumg SyncMaster 225BW.

The August 21, 2007 PC Magazine looks at desktops and notebooks, claiming to offer “the best new PC for you.” Their choices? For bargain hunters, the $1,099 Dell Inspiron 1420 (well configured for the price, but it’s hard to call an $1,100 notebook a bargain-hunter’s dream). For road warriors, the $2,700 Lenovo ThinkPad X60. For musicians, Apple’s MacBook Pro ($2,000) or Mac Pro ($8,577!) For business professionals, the $1,260 Lenovo ThinkCentre m55e mini-desktop and Lenovo ThinkPad T61 Widescreen ($2,510). Family guys? HP’s $1,800 Touchsmart IQ770. Home theater: The $5,500 Niveus Media Center Rainier Edition. College students: The $709 Dell Inspiron 531 ($899 with a 19” monitor) and $999 Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition, both desktops. For artist/designers, the $2,750 Apple iMac 24”, and for cramped-space dwellers, the $1,500 Apple iMac 20”.

A “new breed” roundup in the September 18, 2007 PC Magazine covers midrange notebooks, typically costing $1,000 to $2,000: heavier than ultraportables but with larger screens. Of six units tested, two earn Editors’ Choices: The 1,999 Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (LED) and $1,099 Dell Inspiron 1420. The MacBook is generally better equipped and better designed, but it’s also nearly twice as expensive; the Inspiron is well equipped for the price, and still comes in at just under six pounds.

PC Magazine awards an Editors’ Choice to the $2,200 Dell XPS M1330 ultraportable in its September 18, 2007 issue. Ultraportables always cost more, in this case a lot more. The reviw uses the Lenovo ThinkPad X60 as a comparison point and is faster in every respect (but has slightly worse battery life). It comes with a 160GB hard disk and an integrated DVD burner (unusual for ultraportables) and as a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 CPU, 2GB RAM, and discrete nVidia graphics; the 13.3” screen is LED backlit. It just barely qualifies as an ultraportable (PC sets a four-pound cutoff), and that only with the smaller of two battery options. Still, it’s a sleek, loaded system.

An August 7, 2007 PC Magazine “superguide” for point-and-shoot cameras yields three Editors’ Choices: the $300 Canon PowerShot SD1000 (7.1 megapixels, 3x optical zoom), $300 Canon PowerShot A630 (8MP, 4x optical zoom, smaller) and $350 Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 (7.2MP, 10x optical zoom). A related superguide covers photo-editing software and offers two Editors’ Choices: The usual (Adobe PhotoShop Elements, $100) and a freebie, Google Picasa.

PC World evaluates “bargain cameras” in an August 2007 group review; as usual, only the top five are listed. Of those, the $130 Canon PowerShot A460 gets Best Buy honors; it’s a 5MP camera with 4x zoom and good image quality.

Security software favorites keep changing. PC Magazine’s August 21, 2007 issue doesn’t have a roundup but does include a new contender: Spy Sweeper 5.5, now with Sophos antivirus support. It earns an Editors’ Choice—not surprising, since Spy Sweeper has always been well-regarded. This isn’t a full suite (no firewall) and it doesn’t block spyware installation as well as it removes existing spyware.

The October 2007 PC World roundup of color laser printers gives first place to a remarkably inexpensive unit, Dell’s $299 Color Laser Printer 1320c—but that’s a tricky rating, as its per-page costs are apparently quite high. It’s also relatively slow for a contemporary laser (12.4 ppm text, 4.2 graphics) but does offer “surprisingly smooth photo quality for a low-end laser.” Clearly the price weighs heavily in this point system.

PC World says that Microsoft Windows Defender won’t do a good job protecting you from spyware—and that Spybot Search & Destroy is no longer a good tool. Best Buy in a test of several spyware tools (not suites): PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.0, $30 per year.

Who does the best mapping-and-direction work? PC World’s October 2007 article yields a surprise winner, one that I’ve been using for a while: Microsoft Live Search, scoring a “Superior” 95 points. Ask City also scores Superior at 93. MapQuest is the lowest of the five listed; things do change.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 7, Number 12, Whole Issue 96, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Learning Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

Opinions herein may not represent those of PALINET or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to waltcrawford@gmail.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2007 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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