Archive for the ‘tech gadgets’ Category

Review: Popcorn Hour A-100, Part 1: Setup

Posted by matt on May 3, 2008

popcorn-hour-open-box.jpgA couple weeks ago, I did my ‘unbox’ review for the Popcorn Hour which was well received, so I thought I would go much more in-depth. This is part 1, which covers setup of the device and many of the setup screens. Later parts will go over video playback as well as all the streaming capabilities.

One of the more interesting devices I’ve used in quite awhile, the Popcorn Hour (PCH for short) is a device that I’d best describe as a cross between Apple TV (which I don’t own, but based on the specs), a media center computer and the some of the on-demand services you’d find on your cable or satellite box. It closely resembles a Mediagate MG-35, which I’ve had for awhile, but does so much more. The kicker is, it’s only $179 (w/out a hard drive) and for the money, is about as good a deal as you can get for the uncrippled feature set.

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Posted under Popcorn Hour, reviews, tech gadgets

Unbox Gadget Review: Canon Digital Rebel XSi (450D)

Posted by matt on May 2, 2008

So coming from someone who has owned every Canon Digital Rebel (Rebel, Rebel XT, Rebel XTi and now the Rebel XSi), I can easily say this is the best one yet! Canon has done a nice job making each upgrade worthwhile.

  • From Rebel to Rebel XT, it shrunk the body, better battery life, 6.3 – 8.0 MP and quite a bit faster picture-wise.
  • From Rebel XT to Rebel XTi, the sensor cleaner was added so this was a must have for me (I change lenses a lot and had dust issues) . Bigger LCD with easy readout and the 8.0 – 10.1MP bump was nice too.
  • From Rebel XTi to the Rebel XSi (the model # is a little puzzling…) you get auto ISO, live view, 10-12MP, improved sensor, better timer, etc. etc. Actually, I’m a little bummed they went from Compact Flash to SDHC as so far, the SDHC card I have is quite a bit slower since I shoot both Raw and large JPEGs (each picture racking up a whopping 15-20MB for the raw+jpg…) I think my card is really slow though, so I guess a new one is in order there.

Since I shoot stock, I’m always interested in (responsibly) upgrading my gear. Where you may have heard that “megapixels don’t matter”, in high-end camera gear they do. If I need to crop an image but can still sell it at 8MP, then size does matter. If I’m starting with a 8MP file and need to crop, I might get a size not usable by stock agencies (or I’ll end up getting less $ since the size is smaller).

Why pick the XSi? Well I have a bunch of nice Canon lenses, so I’m not switching camps there. Where I’d like to get the Canon 5D, I’m not quite there yet budget-wise. With the good resale I get for the older rebels, my upgrades have been fairly inexpensive (I actually profited on one of my upgrades since I bought a nice lens off of eBay and resold it for more than I paid). The 40D is tempting, but the features and size it brings isn’t worth it for me. As far as I’m concerned, the XSi has leaped-frogged the 40D and is actually about $500 cheaper. Here are the quick pictures from my unbox:


I might do a full review, but there are tons of these already online probably as good as I could do or better. I’d rather take pictures with it!

I highly recommend getting the Canon Rebel XSi though, or even the Rebel XTi if you want to save a little coin.

Posted under reviews, tech gadgets, Unbox

Buying Cheap Tech Gadgets Online

Posted by matt on April 30, 2008

garmin-nuvi-360-booting-up.jpgSo as someone who buys a lot of electronics (about 1 ‘thing’ a week), people always wonder how / why / where I get all these things. The “why” is somewhat of an addiction, so I won’t get into that, but the “where” and the “how did you get product x at y price?!” is something I can help you out with.

I’m a cheapskate at heart, and always look for the best deals. High quality is equally important though, so I do spend some time making sure I’m getting the correct solution to whatever problem I’m trying to solve (or whatever problem I first create, then try to solve!). While digging around can be time consuming, I’ve found a few resources that have helped me and saved me a ton: – This is probably the best consumer electronic resource to get an idea of what’s out there. Ben scours the Internet for great deals and posts 50+ of them a day. Search becomes key here. If you are looking for something, lets say a 750GB hard drive, simply type in 750GB into his search and BAM, some of the best deals you’ll find. I (somewhat guiltily) check this site a couple times a day, as the best deals sell out fast. Don’t miss the ‘discuss’ portion of each deal, as you can learn about an item or read some humorous comments. – This one is a little more causal, as there are only a few select deals out there each day. I do check this one, but not as often (Bens probably already has these deals on his site). The forums are excellent here though, with lots of great content–often where the deals come from in the first place. – I’ve been buying stuff off woot since the first month they launched (back in summer of 2004). Four years later, it’s still the best version of what’s out there, which is a site that offers one item per day (at midnight CST) until it’s sold out, or the next day rolls around. There have been many other rip-off type sites like midnight box and ThingFling, but woot still has game. Great deals, above-average podcasts and some of the best copy writing you’ll see. I usually check this everyday as well. – I’m a long-time shopper of newegg, and if I’m building a new computer system, I just get all the parts from here. You can shop around at a bunch of different sites and maybe get a better deal, but you’ll get killed by multiple shipping charges and it’s a hassle. Also, newegg’s return policy is excellent, so if you have an issue you are covered. The user reviews are top-notch, and you can really get unbiased opinions. For instance, if you are looking for a laptop, check out the current laptop deals. You can usually find something for as good or better than any Best Buy or Circuit City. Shipping is really fast too.

Amazon – It’s obviously more than books, Amazon is excellent for electronics. I usually get a lot of my camera stuff there because if they don’t have it as the cheapest, they will link someone who does. Amazon should be part of your search, as it’s always one of the best online shopping experiences around.

Google Products (froogle)- As a sanity check on bigger ticket items, I’ll hop on Google product search and see if I can find some competitive offers. I’d rather pay a little more and get from a site I’ve worked with, but if it’s a lot less, I might gamble. You can’t find new good sites if you don’t do this… Beware though, there are a lot of rip-off sites out there, especially for camera stuff. If you see a price too good to be true for camera equipment, it’s probably one of the sites in Brooklyn, NY who are waiting to screw you over. Google the company name and avoid if you find a ton of bad reviews. You even have to beware of fake review sites that these guys set up! Do your homework if you go this route.

OthersPricewatch was once the resource that I always went to, but haven’t used it since switching to froogle. You can usually find just as good a deal on Newegg or a link off bens (which may be to or another quality site) so it’s not worth looking on there. Finally as a last resort, many might use eBay, but I have already bought great deals off of Bens, and see them going for more used on eBay. It just shows you that eBay isn’t always the cheapest, plus you have a lot of unknowns to deal with in those types of transactions.

Those are the big ones for me. I average 50+ transactions a year doing this and have saved $100’s… so what sites do you use?

Posted under reviews, tech gadgets

Gadget Review: Mobile blogging on the cheap

Posted by matt on April 18, 2008

on-the-road.jpgI’m currently a passenger cruising north on Hwy 51 at 63MPH (weather is rainy) and am enjoying full Internet access on my laptop the whole way. How am I doing this? Not too hard actually…

So while blogging while on the road is nothing new, blogging on a laptop while not using a standard Sprint/Verizon card (or paying extra for tethered service) is a little more tricky. Let’s explore:


700p.jpgPhone with Internet Access – I’ve had the excellent Treo 700p, for almost 2 years now. While this phone was not cheap, the Sprint Sero plan I have is. Unlimited Internet, 500 anytime minutes, unlimited picture messaging, unlimited nights and weekends, etc. etc. for only $30 per month! After a txt plan and taxes, mine comes to about $37 per month. Most people pay that for just minutes, so this plan is a steal!

delld420.jpgLaptop – This is a fairly obvious requirement. I’m using my new (to me) Dell D420 which I’ve been enjoying for the past 2 weeks. Great keyboard for typing, 4 hour battery and powerful enough to easily run Photoshop. (I also used my Powershot A710 to snap these pictures). The Dell is handy because it has an SD card slot on it so all of this is easy.

Phone connection to Laptop – My Dell has Bluetooth built in, so using this is the easiest setup. USB tethering is also possible, but you have to install some weird drivers to do it. I did this on my old laptop and was somewhat of a pain, so I’d recommend Bluetooth. Plus it’s just nice to only have to have the phone nearby to get this to work.

Tying it all together, the tethered hack – Google is your friend. If you are thinking of the Sprint Sero plan and want to do this, be sure to google and find if you can get a tethered hack for your phone. The 700p tethered hack has worked quite well for me for the last 2 years. I don’t pay any extra to do this (I don’t do it very often anyway) but it works great when traveling. You just set a dialup connection to dial #777 with no username/pass and all is well (after the hack is installed). This all depends on your phone, so google to see exactly how to do it. It probably took me 30 minutes to set the entire thing up for the first time, but now establishing a connection takes about 30 seconds.

So there you have it, mobile blogging on the cheap. While I can do this all directly with only Treo, a post this long with links and pictures would be almost impossible to do on a thumb-sized keyboard.

For next time: using your land-line phone while in the car???!!! It actually works!


Posted under reviews, tech gadgets

Who needs 4 laptops?

Posted by matt on April 12, 2008

So does any one person need FOUR laptops? Probably not, but for a very short period of time, I had them!

4-laptops-again.jpg 4-laptops.jpg4-laptops-stacked.jpg4-laptops-closed.jpg

From left to right (biggest to smallest):

Toshiba Satellite A15-S157 – Nice 15.4″, 6lb. machine (which to the 17″ crazy-big one, seems small), and still quite usable. I got this when I started grad school back in 2003. The screen hinge is a little messed up, but still functional. Battery life is low now, but for around the house use, it is excellent. Compared to the others in this picture, this thing looks huge!

Dell Latitude D420 – Got this 12.1″ off of ebay and have been enjoying it so far. Amazing to have 1280×800 on a screen that small, but it works. Keyboard is just right, and it’s only 3lbs.  I killed Vista on it though… just no point right now.

OLPC XO Laptop– I got this One Laptop Per Child from the give-one-get-one program where I donated one, then could buy another one. It’s fun, but I really don’t need it. So I’m selling it!

ASUS eeePC 7″ – 800×480 is just too small a resolution, but at 2 lbs. this thing is the definition of ultraportable. I even threw WinXP on it. Takes awhile to get the hang of typing on it though.

So the story goes, the Toshiba is my ‘old’ one that I gave to my wife and is the ‘around the house’ laptop. I wanted a smaller one for travel and got the eeePC. After a few months, just a little too small, so I sold it to my bro-in-law and bought the Dell D420, which is the perfect size. Then just selling the OLPC because I just don’t need it. So though I had 4 laptops, it was just for a week. I really only have 2 (well 1, since I gave the one to my wife). It was fun while it lasted!


What size/model defines your perfect portable laptop?

Posted under tech gadgets