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From time to time Mike and Dave will get some goodies in the mail to check out so that we can share with you what is worth spending some coin on, and what to stay away from!

Not only do we review hardware and software, but the occasional book crosses our path too. Listen in weekly, or check back here to keep up with TechTalk reviews!

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Views and Reviews

Look here for reviews on some of the great products we've seen. We'll give you the TechTalk lowdown on anything we come across and will update these pages frequently. Don't forget to check out our growing collection of book and software reviews too!

Gear

10/22/2010

Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball

Before reading this review, you should know that I am a longtime Logitech trackball user.  More than that, I take every chance I get to proselytize the benefits of trackballs to my friends and coworkers.  Trust me, if you haven’t tried a trackball, borrow one and use it for a week – you’ll never go back (see, I’m doing it again)! Most of my friends are dedicated “regular” mousers and I haven’t been able to convince them to even try the trackball option however … yet.  Perhaps I’m just not that persuasive?

So if you aren’t a trackball user already, this review may not convince you to make the switch.  If you, however, like me, are full of the trackball love, I think you’ll be excited by Logitech’s M570 – a wireless trackball mouse linked with their Unity receiver for impressive range and flexibility.

THE MOUSE:  The form factor on the mouse is nearly identical to their wired trackball, though there are a few differences.  For one it’s got a blue ball, perhaps specifically to separate it from the other trackball lines.  The range is about 30’ – a vast improvement over previous 6’ (or less) ranges reported in the field.  There’s also the addition of unobtrusive forward and back buttons settled in just left of the index finger position. 

The feel and roll of the mouse itself is very good.  As expected from Logitech, it’s solid and put up with my abuse of keeping it in a laptop bag, dropping it onto hard floors from about 4’ up several times and the like with nary a shiver or serious scratch.  For longtime users of the standard trackball there is a slightly different feel to the roll however.  I wound up comparing the weights of the trackballs themselves and discovered there’s a couple gram difference in the wireless one – it’s slightly lighter.  I think this is to allow for the weight of the batteries and make it more portable, though I’m not sure.  It bothered me very slightly and only for a short period of time, but is worth noting.

THE INSTALLATION:  A battery is included so you can use it direct from the box, and other than a quick guide Logitech has made the purchase to usage process as minimal as seems practical.

Speaking of purchase to usage, you definitely won’t be disappointed (or delayed) by the setup.  If you’re running a recent version of Windows (I tried on Windows 7 and Vista) simply plugging the unity receiver into an available USB slot, then remembering to turn the mouse on was all that was required.  The hardware was discovered, drivers installed, and the mouse started working under all my test conditions in no more than 70 seconds. 

This is a welcome break from Logitech’s previous products that I’ve had experience with in that you are not required or even suggested to installed ~200MB of applications and ‘driver helpers’ configuration tools and the like.  It’s just a mouse for heaven’s sake, so it’s nice to see that Logitech has moved away from this annoying habit (HP, can you hear me?). 

THE EXTRAS: The back and forward buttons at first glance I was very concerned about; if placed badly they could seriously impact functionality and generally I don’t think doo-dads add much to the experience.  They’re typically not enough to help if you’re a serious gamer, and just get in the way of more standard office use workers. In this case, however, I was pleasantly surprised!  The buttons are expertly placed to be completely non-obtrusive; they angle inward where your finger meets so you have to reach a bit to notice them even.  Once configured they can be extremely useful: I set them up to go through a powerpoint deck I was presenting in a meeting and it was comparable to having a slightly large professional presentation mouse in my hand.  The 30’ range allowed me to walk around the room, and the buttons themselves were easy to find and click.  I’m sure I’ll find other uses for this as I time goes on, and I can envision them being particularly useful to remote control media from your easy chair.

THE RESULTS:  Perhaps not much of a surprise here, but I’m giving the M570 a 5 out of 5 chips rating.  Other than the slight ‘feel’ difference in the ball I couldn’t find much to complain about.  The $50 pricetag is reasonable, the quality is up to Logitech standards, and I’m looking forward to combining it with a keyboard that is also tied to the unity wireless tech.  A true TechTalk “must have” if you’re a trackball fanatic!
TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $50 retail
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.logitech.com

9/16/2009

MyIne IRA Wireless Internet Radio

The press release from Myine Electronics states "Myine's Ira Wireless Internet Radio is designed to harness the universe of radio broadcasts available on the Internet and to allow user enjoyment anywhere a wireless internet connection, a speaker system and power sources are available." And that pretty well sums it up - and it does a great job at it too!

The general point of the unit is to not only give you access to the world of internet streaming radio and podcasts, but to do it easily, quickly, and without having to know a whole lot about what's going on with your network or connections. "There is a lack of good products available for people who are not tech savvy or just busy," said Jake Sigal, Principal and Founder of Myine Electronics. "Ira doesn't have any unnecessary bells and whistles, and sets up automatically right out of the box without a computer. We believe that with potentially confusing electronics, less is more."

When you first break the Ira out of the box, you'll see that it comes with the unit itself, a power cable, and a remote. It relies on WiFi being available to access the internet, and this is the first caution I would give potential buyers - make sure you have WiFi in your home, and that it is strong in the area you intend to put the Ira. The Ira seems very sensitive to interference and distance, so don't expect it to work as consistently and quickly as your laptop card does.

After plugging it in to the power and a set of speakers or a receiver, the next thing you'll need to do is configure it to access that WiFi broadcast. Although the Ira is geared towards `low-tech' users, it will definitely take some knowledge of networking and network configuration (plus a fair amount of patience) if you have any security enabled. Although it picks up the SSID if you are broadcasting that, and will tell you what type of security or encryption protocol, you'll need to be able to enter the passcode. If this is a WEP secure connection, this means you'll need to use the arrows on the remote and a pseudo keyboard on the screen to plunk out the 16 digits/characters/symbols - and unfortunately the Ira will not save incorrect configurations meaning you'll have to do it all again if you get one of the numbers wrong! It saves it if you get it right, so this may not be a big deal, particularly once you're past it.

Once you've got it all set up, you really start seeing the value and power of this unit. Users can filter by location or genre, and there are literally thousands of stations available. There are you're your typical shoutcast internet only stations, but also streaming live stations from around the globe. You've also got access to podcasts (including yours truly) and audio presentations, though you may find some of the more obscure ones missing. Myine selects the podcasts and stations that it will display through some mechanism that wasn't revealed to me. They did add podcasts that I requested (e.g., TechTalk on WRLR) without any questions or hesitation however, so I don't see this as a big hit.

If you're familiar at all with listening to radio or streaming audio on your laptop or desktop, you'll "get" this product immediately. What's really neat about it for me is how portable it is - I can listen to tunes up in my bedroom, then take the little unit downstairs to our porch outside, plug it into some speakers there and keep listening - without having to drag my laptop with it's rather junky soundcard all over the place! It's even small enough to throw in a jacket pocket and take to someone else's house to show off.

One area for future development and a feature that I really missed on the Ira is the lack of song information. Most stations broadcast the track and artist info with the song, but oddly the Ira unit does not display it. You can get a lot of other streaming and audio info, just nothing about the current track playing. The Ira software does have the capability to get updated over the wifi connection you use, so I would expect to see this fixed in a later release.

Overall Rating - 3 out of 5 Chips. It's a fantastic little product and idea, with portability and ease-of-use in the forefront of internet connected audio players (plus the benefit of not paying for XM or other similar options!). The lack of song tagging and weak reception strength make it just a little tougher to use than it should be however, and drops it down a notch. The price point is a touch high but still definitely within reach at around $130.


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $150 retail
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.myine.com

7/24/2009

Casio Exilim-FC100 High Speed Camera

The Casio EX-FC100 is one of Casio’s newest entries in their line of highly regarded, extreme tech point and shoot cameras.  Like the others in the line, the FC100 has a very small form factor and weight, 9 megapixel JPG resolution, and a large, easy to read LCD. 

Although there are some nice options like the ‘best shot’ presets and a really fabulous anti-shake system, if all you’re looking for is a good, easy to carry point and shoot, you might think the $399 list price is somewhat overpriced; and you’d be right.  Where the FC100 really shines and achieves it’s value is in the breadth and depth of their high speed still and video options.

Just looking at the back of the camera you’ll notice some buttons that should grab your attention.  The first is one called ‘slow.’  Using this button caused a universal jaw-drop to everyone I demonstrated it for … it seems to slow down whatever you are looking at until you are ready to take your picture(s)!  At least within the confines of the LCD screen, when you click the ‘slow’ button, you start viewing 1, 2, or 3 seconds worth of full-resolution images at 30, 15, or 10 frames per second that allows you to cherry pick just the pictures you want to take – no more missed smiles, splashes, or slam dunks!

There’s also a one-click ‘30’ button that takes a burst of 30 pictures during one second – so if you know you’re going to see something cool, you can bracket it with this and come up with some pretty neat flip card type pictures and effects as well as making sure you don’t miss that critical shot.  It would have been nice if the FC100 let you adjust the burst mode, speed, or number of pictures, but in most cases between that and the slow motion button I did not miss it.  Of course, 30 fps is going to fill up your storage pretty quickly, but the FC100 has a nicely intuitive interface to let you choose just the frames you want – another great way to zero in on just the right picture.

Typical for this level of p&s these days there is a video camera mode as well.  What is atypical is the ability to switch on a ‘high-speed’ function that allows you to take from 30 to 1000 frames per second video (thus producing a slow-motion video experience).  I had a great time with this as my friends went golfing and we were able to minutely dissect each other’s golf swings.  I didn’t find pushing it to the max 1000 fps setting very useful though, as even the 240 fps image quality was at the limits of usability for this purpose I felt … much experimentation would be needed to ensure that you are using the appropriate setting for HS video and not losing important detail of what you are trying to capture.

One thing to be careful about: The switch for going between normal and HS video is easy to flip – particularly if you haven’t used the camera much before, and the HS video does not record sound.  My wife was disappointed at losing some video and audio of our 3 year-old daughter singing a song because it was accidentally left in HS mode. I should also mention that there is a video out on the camera that not only allows you to view the videos and pictures on your HDTV, but also creates an impromptu slide-show type of thing.  You won’t want to do that too often though, except maybe to quickly look through what you’ve accomplished during the day as the background music choices range from the merely insipid to downright irritating! :)

Back to basics on this camera, I have to say I was particularly impressed by the quick on-to-picture time … the boot process was clean and quick every time.  The LCD screen was big and bright, though it seemed to alter it’s refractive capabilities oddly when taking pictures sideways in sunlight.  I kept trying to figure out if this was just my viewpoint or sunglasses or something, and it wasn’t a big deal but I thought was strange and you might want to play with it a bit and see if it bothers you before purchasing.

My bottom line is that while at first it seems a touch pricey at retail of $400, if you can find it cheaper (I’ve seen it for close to and under $300 lately) and will make use of the high-speed functionality this is a top-notch, cutting edge camera that is a lot of fun to play with!  If you’ve got kids in sports or pets that you love to get action photos of - that would make the Casio EX-FC100 nearly a must-have in my book. Check out our interview with Casio to hear even more detail about this very cool, 4 chips out of 5 product!
TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $399 retail
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.casio.com

6/12/2009

Plextor PX-B310U

The Plextor B310U BD is a slick, glossy black external DVD/CD burner, and Blu-ray disc ROM.  It cuts DVD’s at 16x and CD’s at 48x.  It can read Blu-ray at 6x, but note that it does NOT write blu-ray … if you’re looking for that you’ll have to step up to a pro model (and pay quite a bit more).

Stepping through the basics, I’ve got to say that the installation was one of the easiest that I’ve done in a long time!  You connect it up to your USB and then turn it on.  There’s no driver disks, no need to download stuff off the Internet, you literally just plug it  in, wait a minute and it’s ready to go!  I installed it in this manner on both my Dell Latitude loaded with XP and also an Acer with Vista Home Premium with the same results.  It brings the ‘play’ back to ‘plug and play’ like it’s meant to be!

After installation, I found that the B310U was recognized and usable by all native windows and any 3rd party apps I threw at it, including iTunes, Windows media Player, Roxio, and the included CyberLink BD Suite and PlexUTILITIES.  The latter software was very user-friendly and easy to understand.  If you don’t already have a video compilation tool, data or audio burning suite that you’re using you won’t find much to be disappointed with in Plextor’s offering.  It’s not an extremely comprehensive or deep set of tools like you would find with Roxio Creator or Adobe’s video suites or the like, but it’s a lot more than I expected would be thrown in the box as a party favor – it really does stand on it’s own as a decent set of tools for both video and audio, DVD and CD burning. 

The speed of the unit was really great – it nailed the specs and even seemed to exceed the 16x and 48x given … it certainly blew away the speed I’m used to for my built-in DVD burner I’ve got in the Latitude.

I also grabbed a Blu-ray disc to view, and it performed well using the PlexUTILITIES suite on my screen.  My laptop doesn’t have great video, but it certainly had a nice high-def feel to it and the system played flawlessly and without hesitation throughout “Night at the Museum” for the kids.

I had a tough time writing this review – it’s so much easier to get motivated about writing something when there’s a problem, or it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to …. and that just isn’t the case here.  If I struggle to find something wrong, it’s simply a lack. I had hoped that the unit would include a bit more advanced Blu-ray playback capabilities and it seems that for just a little bit extra they could have thrown in the ability to play back Blu-ray direct to TV, or put in a remote and IR to make watching on your PC a little more like ‘regular’ movie watching.  This may not be a fair ding against the B310U however, as it clearly wasn’t designed as an entertainment unit (even though their features page says “Turn your PC into a Hi-Def Entertainment System”), but as a storage device.  As a storage device/burner it performs extremely well – get it for it’s outstanding capabilities on that front, and consider the Blu-ray playback an extra and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $159 retail
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.plextor.com

4/04/2009

iFrogz DJ Style "Union" Headphones

When I first saw these headphones, I went ‘Yow!’  My cohost and other DJ’s at the studio had a similar reaction.  I believe the quoted statement was ‘you look like a DJ escapee from a Mumbai discotheque!’ You can catch the complete show – and our live reactions right HERE.

Let there be no mistake however, these are some serious ‘phones.  I plugged them first into my laptop to start reviewing and listening to music prep for the show and pulled up some Talking Heads ‘Naïve Melody’ … and was immediately impressed.  The bass response was deep and full, the highs registered well with only minimal loss at upper registers, and the overall comfort and fit were excellent.  It really made listening to some of these ‘classic’ tunes like hearing them for the first time again.


I used a 1/8” to ¼” adapter to allow me to plug into our professional Tascam equipment for the show.  Again, I was suitably impressed with the response and comfort during our hour long show.  The ‘phones come with an extra long cord, perfect for moving around the board, giving enough extra reach that you can easily arrange mic’s for guests, spin in your chair or whatever needs you might have.

I have to admit the aesthetics of the headphones are not my cup of tea (black, oolong or chai).  The chrome in particular I feel lends the set a somewhat cheap, fragile look.  This fragility is belied by the feel however; the ear pieces have good flexibility, and you can fold the whole thing up for carrying quite nicely.  The mesh interior to the headphones themselves is also a nice touch, and the fabric feels sturdy and tear resistant.  It’s yet to be seen if these last long-term, but I am optimistic and have no reason to believe otherwise. 

The TechTalk bottom line on these is that, while if you’re looking for a professional set of headphones these may not fit your need like some high-end Koss or Bose, they also don’t carry anywhere near the pocket ripping cost that those do.  For home, home studio, or light professional usage, at the price point these come in at they really can’t be beat.  So long as you’re willing to look like – or perhaps are – a slumdog millionaire disco DJ, we’re confident you’ll be very happy with these ‘phones!
TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $28.99 - $39.99
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.ifrogz.com

3/20/2009

Like many people, I do a lot of things with my iPod, so finding good headphones that are comfortable and practical is very important to me.  During a given week I’ll be working out, running, biking, on a plane, and sitting around with some ‘bud’ or other stuck in my ear.  The standard earbuds that come from Apple and you can get cheaply everywhere just don’t cut it in my opinion – they aren’t the right size, they move around or fall out, and tend to trap bubbles of sweat in your ear canal when they do stay in if you’re working out.

So I was very interested when I heard about Acoustibuds – if it would be possible have a low-cost way of improving the standard bud setup I’d be all for it!  These attachments are definitely an improvement on your basic buds, and while I can’t whole-heartedly endorse them for everyone, I think they are a particularly good solution for a specific user; particularly anyone who is not satisfied with the earphones included in the new Apple Shuffle, which basically force you to use their buds. 

So what are these things anyways?  Simply, they are small, grooved rubber cones with the large end just big enough to slip over the round end of your bud, and the small end positioned to pump sound into your ear canal.  They are easy to install and use, but make sure you get the right size (mine were a little too big, which made them a touch uncomfortable).  Once attached, pull your earlobe and push these gently down into your ear canal, twisting a little to get good placement.  After some experimentation and adaptation, I found them surprisingly comfortable.  The sound quality with the caps was noticeably improved as well – perhaps due to the fact that less of the audio was being lost to the ambient air with the loose fit a standard bud gives.

I did however have some difficulty with the buds staying in place.  That may have been because my ear canal is a bit smaller than most, but getting them positioned properly seemed to be a little hit or miss, and it was really frustrating if after all of that someone would come along and want to talk to me, or I jostled them in just the wrong way and had to pull them out and start over again.  To be fair, it was still an improvement over your standard buds, and this is probably just a good warning about getting the right size again!

Bottom line – if you have a new iShuffle and don’t want to pay $50 - $100 to get an adapter or other way of breaking the bud habit, these Acoustibuds a great solution.  If you’ve got a bunch of buds hanging around, or want to quickly adjust (and make sanitary) the ones you use on a plane, these are great .  If you’re looking for something specifically for jogging or working out, you may want to pay a bit more for one of the headsets designed specifically for exercising.


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $14.99 - $19.99
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.acoustibuds.com

08/02/2008

Able Planet Sound Clarity Wireless IR Stereo Headphones

Able Planet makes both single and dual channel versions of their "Sound Clarity" headsets and IR transmitter. The TechTalk Labs was fortunate enough to test the dual transmitter version, though it seems likely that the results would be the same - assuming you didn't experience interference. We tested with both channels and experienced no difference.

I tested the AP Headphones in both our bedroom and the family/media room.  In the bedroom, it was great because my wife could watch her 'stories' late at night while I read or worked on my laptop and without her having to suffer snide comments or raised eyebrows from me during the more, erm, let's say "trenchant" dialogue.

In the family room it was also a real boon. We occasionally have movies or shows where if you crank the sound up to catch all the vocals and dialogue, it's blaring when the sound FX pump up - the AP Headphones were able to proficiently manage balancing the volume shifts and present good listening quality at all times.

I was very impressed with the range and depth of sound of the AP Headhpones - in the media room I found myself preferring them to listening via our surround sound system!

The IR transmitter works as expected, primarily line of sight, but has reasonable distance for that. I tested to the 25' length of our hallway with no problem, but going behind drywall signal was lost. The transmitter looks like the eye-slot of a cylon from the old-school BSG show, but the red lights are reasonably dim and non-intrusive. Most homes have enough green, red, and blue lights from various pieces of equipment that you don't need a tree come December anymore, so I don't see this as a big issue today.

The headphones themselves were reasonably comfortable, though the standard foam padding does tend to get a bit itchy and warm, particualrly if you are laying in bed or watching for extended periods. You certainly could not use these as a quieter way to view TV during a home workout. The volume controls and on-off are well placed and it has an auto-off after 3 1/2 minutes of no signal from your TV, so overall they're quite well designed. You may know that some TV's come with headphones, and testing against that there is simply no comparison - audio quality, ease of use, comfort, and durability are far superior with Able Planet versus the Sony headphones that came with our TV.

You should be able to also use this in your car if you have an over-seat DVD player or other equipment. We have a built-in DVD, and I could not locate the output audio jacks in time to test this. You would of course also need an AC jack in your car, though converters can be found at most local retailers, so this should not be a major hindrance.

Now to pricing - you have to be careful on this one; if you look on their website, you'll see retail pricing of $170+. This seems a bit steep to me! However, if you are in the market Able Planet has a great level of quality and is worth a bit extra in my opinion, especially as you can easily find this on Amazon and other sites for far less. We've put an asterisk by our 4 chip rating in economy to reflect this.

Our overall rating is a 4 out of 5 chips, making this a definite "buy it!" if you're in the market. CLICK HERE or on the picture above for a discounted Amazon store price..


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $69 - $179
  Utility:  
  Economy: * Website: http://www.ableplanet.com

05/12/2008 updated

Pandigital 8" PhotoFrame w/ TouchScreen

On the cutting edge of in-home "entertainment" technology, these digital frames are really taking off ... it seems you can't turn around without seeing them! They promise to remove or reduce all sorts of knick-knack frames currently around the house, and with the prices dropping and features increasing, is definitely something to consider!

As soon as we opened it up, I turned it on and was floored by the quality of the picture - It's very bright, sharp, and big enough to be seen from a good distance away (I was looking at an 8" model).

I loaded a bunch of my own pictures in using the USB port on the side (it has 512MB of memory built-in, or you can run right off the flash), and it picks up the drive and any subfolders instantly.

The menus and screens were really intuitive, particularly with the 'touch screen' capabilities. I put that in quotes intentionally; thought it's touted as touch-screen, in reality there are some touch-sensitive areas in one corner and the sides that are used for navigating the menus. Still, this made an already pretty easy process even more intuitive. Just don't expect to be able to drag and drop or finger-flick groups of pics.

The units can also be used with bluetooth or wifi dongles, though I didn't get the chance to try that out.

Once we got our own pictures in place, it was time to unveil it on the world! Having just moved into a new office at work, this was a good time to show it off. Pretty much everyone that saw it (including the wife) was very impressed with the display, the transitions, and the brightness of it.

The only things that gave us any problems were 1) your typical LCD screen issue; if you're at too much of an angle, you can't really see the pictures. The angle you lose quality at was pretty obtuse however, so this is not really a big deal depending on where you place it. 2) Direct light on the frame reflects back making it tough to see the pictures - can't knock it too much for that, as you have the same problem with a standard picture in a glass frame. And 3) the main gripe we had with it was that you have to plug it in. It would be very nice to load it up with some batteries so that you could hang it on a wall or something, but that is not an option in this model.

Overall just a great product, and one we're more than happy to recommend! Picture quality and ease-of-use are exceptional for this product level, and if you're thinking of getting one I haven't seen better.

Note that you can't buy this direct - but if you click on the picture above you will go right to the Amazon site for purchase. It can also be found at Walmart, Target, and some other big box stores: just make sure and look for brand names; not all picture frames are created equal!


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $180-$220
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.pandigital.net

03/15/2008

Attache Laptop Stand

Lapworks makes 2 version of this stand, the all black Envoy and the slightly pricier but sleek silver Attache.

 I tested the Attache in my house.  This is definitely a nice looking piece of equipment, but not flashy.  My wife liked the fact that the power light was blue instead of the more typical red … there’s really not much to look at here but certainly nothing distracts you as being out of place either.

The Attache worked perfectly in all my tests.  I have a slightly older Dell lappy with a high speed CPU and a DVD burner drive that runs quite hot.  In the past when using it in my bed or on a chair, the laptop gets so hot that I have to put a blanket over my legs to use it, and even then I can usually feel it heating through.  With the Attache running this problem was completely averted. 

My main fear with it was that there would be tons of noise with the fans running, but even in my quiet bedroom there was very little noticeable ambient noise.  Installation and operation worked flawlessly.  One nice touch on this system is two tabs at the bottom for supporting the laptop on the cooler – they flip up so the laptop doesn’t slide down onto you!  There’s also a ‘wing’ you can flip up on the underside to support it that seemed of more limited utility, but perhaps if I used this on a desk more this would be nice to prop it up at the appropriate angle.

Another REALLY nice feature is that although the fans run off of your USB power, so you would normally lose a USB connection, the stand has 4 additional USB ports for you.  They were found immediately and without additional software installation on my XP machine.

At $69 list (you can probably find this somewhat cheaper) this is not a bad deal at all I think; getting a 4-port USB hub would run you $20 anyways, and with how well this works I’d say it’s a bargain! You can get the Envoy for only $49, so that's probably even more of a steal.
TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $49 - $69
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.lapworks.com

10/29/2007

Macally BTCup iPod FM Transmitter w/ BlueTooth

The BTCup - a 'bluetooth cup' for your iPod - is one of the cooler pieces of gear we've had the opportunity to test at the TechTalk labs! It performs just as advertised on all fronts, allowing you to power and play your iPod in your car and use it's built-in bluetooth connectivity to talk and receive phone calls.

Setup was easier than what you would expect with this, and my bluetooth connection happened without a hitch. You have to find a good FM signal without a lot of interference to broadcast to, but I used the default 88.1 and that worked fine. There are presets in the system so you can easily switch out if you drive through a lot of different areas. Bluetooth setup also was a breeze. I have to do the find on it again every once in a while, but that simply means holding the 'phone' button down for a couple seconds and it's done.

 

The sounds quality of the iPod and phone through the car speakers was excellent. I don't have a great set of speakers in my car, but this made them sound awfully good! The sound quality from the mic for phone usage was just so-so, about what you would expect from your typical 'speakerphone' experience. People I was speaking to would occasionally complain about echos coming back to them - this may have been due to my speakers being turned up high while driving at high speeds. There is an included earphone for privacy and if the echo or mic quality is a problem.

Overall, this is a great product. The only thing I mark it down for is the cupholder shape may not fit everyone's needs, and on my wife's car the cupholder did not hold the BT unit very securely. It was never loose enough to cause worries, but may bother some.


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $100-$120
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.macally.com

9/27/2007

MaCally TunePro

The Macally TunePro is a classy looking, high performing piece of equipment. The flat panel, smoked glass background really sets this piece apart in your bedroom. It comes complete with adapters for all the current and past versions of the iPod plus a connector for any other mp3 player (though you can't wake to those).

Functionally, everything is great - particularly the double alarm settings, and the location of the snooze button being far away from the 'turn the darn thing off' button makes it much less likely you'll make a horrible meeting-missing mistake in the morning.

The sound quality is quite good, particularly considering the size and the cost. Short of paying double or triple what this costs I don't know that you could get better sound for the size. There are many audio options, including SRS and WOW for expanded surround sound and bass performance.

The two negatives I would give this are that it's large for an alarm clock, and there is no powersave battery location. It also is a little tricky to set, and you have to remember to turn the alarm back on once it's been turned off in the morning. These are pretty minor issues however - overall this is a top-notch product!


TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $100-$120
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.macally.com

9/1/2007

OtterBox Laptop Case

This is quite a case! Hard outer shell, comfortable strap, and velcro inserts to adjust the size make it a perfect carrying case for wandering around the campus, or the Serengeti for that matter!

The shell is surprisingly lightweight (relatively so anyways), and easy to carry. It is supposed to be waterproof but not submersible ... I did not test the submersion, but it certainly repels water and stains. It also seems to resist scratching pretty well, though if your kids are dedicated they'll find a way. Using this reminded me of the old Samsonite commercials with the gorilla at the zoo tossing luggage around - he'd have an equally tough time with this one!

My knocks, and why it didn't get 5 chips, or 4? The main issue is that there's nowhere to put your power supply. I have a dell laptop with a big 'brick' power supply, and have to carry it in a separate bag or backpack to use this case for a trip of any length. The other ding I gave is for the price - Don't get me wrong, if you need this case it's not a bad buy, but for your casual road warrior it seems a bit pricey to me.

TechTalk Overall Rating:
  Aesthetics: Cost: $170-$200
  Utility:  
  Economy: Website: http://www.otterbox.com