Super gadget update

posted by Jeff | Saturday, March 19, 2011, 3:40 PM | comments: 0

I tend to write a lot about various gadgets that I buy now and then, but I don't always follow up on them. This particular time of the year, I seem to have anniversaries for acquiring certain things, but instead of individual posts, here's a super update.

I'll start with the big one: The Prius. I've had it for almost a year, and it's easily my favorite car. Granted, I've had a whole lot of cheap cars, so that's not a difficult bar to hit. I generally enjoy driving it, playing "the Prius game" to squeeze out more efficiency, and using the power mode when dodging Washingtonians who can't drive. That was clever of Toyota, because driving in standard mode helps you hit the advertised 51 mpg, but power mode shows just how much the car has some balls. It's very comfortable, I love the XM and the cargo room is surprisingly huge. I really like having a hatch back. On my old commute, I could flirt with 60 mpg every tank of gas, but living in a higher elevation, it tends to hang around 45. Still a huge win over conventional cars.

If I wanted to be picky, I would say that the controls on the center console suck. Putting a few things on the steering wheel was a good idea, but the console is just a mess of buttons. When I change the heat, I want a knob that I can feel, instead of looking over, finding the "mode" button, and then looking again to see if I have it set how I want it. That's a surprisingly uncharacteristic ergonomic fail for Toyota. I can only imagine what it's like on the touch screen models.

Meanwhile, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I put a solid state drive in my two-year-old laptop. As I suspected, it's like having a new laptop. What a huge difference it makes. Everything is noticeably faster, especially when working in a Windows VM. You never even see the loading boot screen. Of course, now it makes me want to get one for my desktop computer as well. That 27" iMac is already pretty sweet, and isn't as slow anyway because it has a real desktop hard drive on it. Still, when bonus/vesting season rolls around, I might think about it. SSD's rule.

I've had the baby Canon S95 now for about six months now. Truthfully, I haven't used it as much as I would like, in part because I've been religiously keeping my 5D and 7D out so I regularly have great photos of Simon. I do plan to use it at certain morale events at work soon, and I'll take it to Vegas for Mix, too. I had it for our two Midwest/coaster trips, and I'm really thrilled with the quality of what I got. It really has the control freak goodness of an SLR in a tiny package. Obviously the big thing you give up is low light capability with certain lenses, but it's a fantastic camera. It's not hard to see why I'm such a Canon fanboy.

I've had my Windows Phone, the Samsung Focus, for a little over four months now, and I'm pretty happy with it. Diana likes hers, too. There are actually two angles to this. The first is that I didn't quite realize how not a big deal a smart phone is. I used to wonder how anyone could use an Android phone, or anything not an iPhone, but for us at least, it seems like a lateral move. It doesn't really matter. Tech nerds and pundits have their panties in a bunch about the slow updating process, and I agree there are a ton of things that need to improve (namely the camera software), but overall it's mostly adequate most of the time. It does the core things that it should exceptionally well.

There are some wins though. Call quality is surprisingly better, and I don't get many dropped calls. Some of the apps are better than their iPhone versions, especially IMDB and Weather Channel. The biggest win for me has been the games. They've done an amazing job with games, and I've bought more for this phone than the entire time I was using the iPhones. Admittedly, part of it is the Xbox Live integration, because I'm an achievement whore. I'm really thrilled with the cross-platform chip sharing on the new Full House Poker. That is a cool feature (your bankroll crosses over from the Xbox to the phone, and vice versa).

Less neat-o, but worth mentioning, is the newer Xbox I got for Christmas. No more jet engine in the living room, and enough hard drive space to install all of the games we play for faster loading. Totally worth it, especially with employee pricing. Right now, we're also enjoying it for a new feature we're beta testing that I don't think we're supposed to talk about. Loads of awesome goodness there.

Thinking about this stuff, it's amazing now how infrequent we buy things that don't meet our needs. It's so easy to find out what other people think of a product that it's rare to make expensive mistakes.


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