One the the promises I’m trying to belatedly keep is to give follow-ups on how various pieces of tech gear worked out this year. Some, like the iBox2Go, got road-tested and reviewed earlier. Here’s my take on some of the other notables:
LG GGW-H20L Blu-Ray Burner
True tech trivia: ComicBase Archive Edition was the world’s first computer program to ship on the Blu-ray Disc format (The first commercially viable Blu-ray burners appeared weeks before our ship date and we were able to use them to port our entire art comic book library to Blu-ray in just a few days!)
At the time, however, there was exactly one Blu-ray burner on the market: the $1,000 Pioneer BDR-101A. Sure, the publicity of having the first Blu-ray product on the market alone made it an easy purchase for a computer software company to justify, but the $1,000 price tag ensured slow adoption in the consumer space. That, and this drive didn’t even burn (or play) CD’s–that required a separate drive!. Worse, unlike almost everything else in the tech world, it took ages for the price to fall significantly, particularly into the key $200-$300 range where serious consumers might want to jump in.
This year—finally!—the Blu-ray burner situation improved enough that we decided it was time to upgrade. The choice was the $269 LG GGW-H20L, and it’s been problem-free ever since it was installed. Not only does it burn to every format and type of disk under the sun, but it does it faster than ever, and in multiple layers too! (This means that it’s conceivable that the future may see a 50GB disk version of the Blu-ray Archive Edition someday (if only the media price would come down from its insane $35/slice level!)
The iPhone 3G (16 GB)
As part of preparing Atlas, we acquired samples of virtually every major brand of smart phone and smart device. And—since it was clearly going to be the talk of the smart phone world when it was released just weeks before San Diego Comic-Con—it meant that I was one of those poor saps sitting around for three hours to buy my iPhone 3G on the day they shipped. I’ll tell you now that I don’t think I’ve ever felt so positively foolish during any consumer purchasing experience.
Luckily, the phone itself turned out to be great—so good, in fact, that it became my regular handset (and yes, I sprung for the data plan as well—there’s virtually no point getting the phone without it). The gestural interface is downright clever, the phone speed and reception are definitely acceptable, and the integration of a the iPod features made it a replacement for the iPod I used to carry everywhere as well. I’ll admit that I still haven’t managed to get it integrated with our office email (and I’m not sure I’d want to if it meant that I’d be typing everything on a tiny, one-finger keyboard), and I’d love to see a more open platform in terms of song storage and the like.
Still, despite the hype, it’s a phone that definitely delivers on what it promises, and its mere presence has been a game changer for the whole handheld internet space. Even if you don’t have an iPhone, the browser on the phone you do have is likely far better than it would be if the iPhone weren’t resetting expectations in the market. (Remember WAP? Ugh)
A very cool lawyer (not an oxymoron, apparently) at the office next door was showing off her PSP to me and my son Neil this year, and I couldn’t believe how different the reality of handheld gaming was from my preconceptions. I’ll admit: my impression of the whole handheld gaming space was colored by the ancient Mattel Football game I’d played to death in 1978, as well as the less-than-impressive games I’d seen countless folks play on their washed-out Nintendo Gameboy screens. As a grown-up-type-person, I just wasn’t interested.
But as it turns out, The PSP is actually a fascinating little computer system, complete with most of the elements you think of as belonging to a “real” machine: Wi-fi, data storage, MP3 and video playback, sound in and out…even a full (albeit sorta terrible) web browser. You can even use it as a Skype handset for goodness sake—all for just about $169.
That said, the PSP is a bit of an odd duck as a gaming platform. The games it has are fine, if scant, but I’ve yet to find something truly addictive to get me hooked (although Daxter isn’t bad—particularly with the hookup to a big-screen TV). I think for me what I find most interesting is its potential as a lightweight computing platform and a place to tinker. (Tellingly, I’ve spent more time using it to listen to last.fm than I have actually playing games).
The XBox 360 (Professional Edition)
Finally bought one at Christmas after lusting after them for years. Generally, my impression is quite positive, although there are certain aspects of it that apparently can make small children cry in frustration. This would make a pretty good topic for a full User Interface Review–particularly of their NXE (“New XBox Experience”).
Having previously owned a PS3, the XBox seems less centered on showing off itself as a multi-purpose tech platform, and more as a sort of online gaming/media hub. Software support is impressive, although it’s a surprisingly closed platform, coming from a computer company. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it seemed a marked swing in the opposite direction from the chaotically freewheeling platform that Windows represents.
Other than it being Christmas, what finally made me jump into the XBox platform was the combination of a price drop, a bigger hard drive (making it usable for media) and the new integration of Netflix playback, letting me stream HD-ish movies directly onto the big screen in the living room. Watching “National Treasure 2” with the family just a minute or two after someone suggested it one night was a real treat—it really was one of those times where you spend half of the movie in sheer wonder of simply being able to do what’s now possible with technology in this Age of Wonders of ours…