iPhones, Blu-ray and Slingbox, oh my

In a live Network World chat, Cool Tools gadget guru Keith Shaw explains why the iPhone rules, weighs in on the DVD battle and tells you what to buy the techie who has everything.

In a live Network World chat, Cool Tools gadget guru Keith Shaw explains why the iPhone rules, weighs in on the DVD battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD, and advises readers what to buy the techie who has everything.

Moderator-Julie: Welcome and thank you for coming. Our guest today is gadget guru Keith Shaw, Cool Tools columnist and part of the popular podcast duo Twisted Pair. Today Keith will be answering your questions about techno-toys, and anything else you want to ask him.

Keith_Shaw: Howdy-do campers! Thanks to friends, family and Network World readers for taking time out of your schedule to discuss fun stuff for the holidays for an hour or so... Start firing away with your questions!

PatsFan83: The iPhone is too expensive - what other phones are there that are "cool" but inexpensive?

Keith_Shaw: Nothing else other than the iPhone is cool. We all have to bow down to the greatness of Steve Jobs and his genius, it's a lot easier in the long run. More seriously, there are always 'cool' phones that are less expensive (I particularly like the Samsung UpStage), but inevitably you'll end up comparing them to the iPhone. Unfortunately, the handset makers who promised that they'd come up with an "iPhone killer" have yet to reach that standard. But if you're looking for something less expensive, I'd check out phones by LG, they seem to have the "coolest" phones with some decent features and styles. 

Moderator-Julie: We've got a great photo slide show of the iPhonies out there that are trying to steal some of the shine from Apple.

PatsFan83: What do you think about the news that Verizon is opening up its network?

Keith_Shaw: At first I thought this was a ploy to fend off the Google announcement, to try and take the "big stick" away from detractors who complained that Verizon's "walled garden" was closed, but the more I think about it and read up on the details, it could be great for Verizon and its customers. I think this will provide more device choices for end users, and those customers who just want to buy a phone from Verizon will still be able to do that if they want. The system won't be completely "open," device manufacturers that want to be able to run on the Verizon network will still have to go through some hoops (through Verizon's "lab"), but this is more open than they've been before. The industry will also have to educate consumers that the $50 or "free" phone that has been subsidized in the past will suddenly cost more money, because if the carrier doesn't have control over the phone and its content, why should they also then have to subsidize the phone as well?

Fanboy: The iPhone really isn't THAT great. It is a good device but right now it is locked to 3rd party apps and can't corporate e-mail. Also it does not include a GPS chip. The new line of BlackBerries can do everything the iPhone can and more. What is your opinion on these new BlackBerries?

Keith_Shaw: I love the BlackBerry 8820, the AT&T network one that includes Wi-Fi. RIM and BlackBerry really know the corporate customer, so that's always a plus. I joke about the greatness of the iPhone, but it's also a reasonably smart guess that the next version of the iPhone will not only include more third-party app support (your definition of 'more' may vary from mine), but they'll also start opening up some corporate e-mail functions. They'd be stupid not too, what with end users clamoring for the iPhone at work. But if you are looking for a smart phone that supports corporate e-mail, the latest round of BlackBerry devices are awesome.

Buckeyegirl: Hey, Keith. So what are the hottest gadgets to see at CES this year?

Keith_Shaw: Most of the companies that pre-brief me on CES stuff have me under strict NDAs where I could lose my house, job, cars, kids and assorted limbs if I reveal anything. That said, I'd say that the hottest gadgets will be what they've been in the past -- new cell phones, smart phones, GPS devices, digital cameras, and other assorted things with an on/off switch. I'm still waiting for the portable time machine, not sure if that's going to happen at this year's CES. Maybe in 2009.

Ron: I am trying to find a gift for someone who already has an iPhone, iPod, GPS, laptop and ordinary PCs, Tivo, DVR, digital camera(s), .. looking for suggestions.

Keith_Shaw: Hi Ron -- try a sweater.... If you are still interested in getting a tech-related gift, I'd go the route of getting a good memory card so that the person can store tons of stuff on all of these systems. SD memory cards in particular are very inexpensive, and make a great stocking stuffer for the gadget-lover on your list.

Shoppergirl: Which new tool is really useful for enterprise office worker productivity?

Keith_Shaw: One of the geekier suggestions I have this year was the Aleratec CopyCruiser Plus, which lets you copy files from one USB drive to another without having to run to a PC. If you are constantly getting USB drives as part of your job (we get them all the time from PR folks), this can be a great way to transfer content without running to a PC.

x-mastechboi: Always enjoy your podcast every week, you guys are funny!!

Keith_Shaw: Hey, a Twisted Pair fan! (We are thinking of calling our fans Twisties, but we're not sure yet on the final name). I'm sure Jason will be happy to hear that, we always need more fans to spread the word about our podcast.

j2007: What do you think about HTC's Touch?

Keith_Shaw: Pardon the bad pun, but I haven't been able to touch the HTC Touch yet. I have tried the HTC Advantage, and was impressed with a lot of its features. Now that the gift guide is complete I can find some time to bug HTC to send me the Touch.Buckeyegirl: Will MacWorld steal the thunder from CES again this year?

Keith_Shaw: Great question....Knowing the way Apple operates, I wouldn't be surprised if the company made another huge announcement (an 'enterprise iPhone' perhaps? Start the rumors now!) to help take away some of the CES' thunder. The interesting part is that the two shows are a little farther apart -- CES starts on Jan. 7 and Macworld is on Jan. 14, unlike last year when they were practically in the same week. That should help CES get some of the headlines before Apple steals them again.

x-mastechboi: So do you think the big box stores will have better deals as we get longer into the holiday season?

Keith_Shaw: You weren't one of the millions of people who woke up on 3 a.m. on Black Friday to wait in line for all of those super deals? There's some feeling out there that with a lot of uncertainty in the economy, that as you get closer and closer to the holidays, the deals will start getting better and better. But a lot of that depends on what equipment you want to buy, and whether demand for that product will be high or not. I wouldn't wait to buy a Nintendo Wii, for example -- if you see one, grab it -- even if you have to wrestle a little old lady for it. But if you're looking for a GPS device or digital camera, I'd expect to see deals closer to the end of the season.

PatsFan83: Am I stupid to get a stand-alone GPS device for the car since many phones come with GPS chips (but a monthly fee too, in many cases)?

Keith_Shaw: GPS devices are incredibly mainstream now -- over the Thanksgiving weekend I saw a lot of stores offering them for $99 as part of the "door-buster" promotions. Still, there's the temptation to not get one for the car and just go with the GPS that's installed on the cell phone. There are pros and cons to each method, depending on whether you want a large screen, or how portable you want the device to be. There's a cool appeal to having a GPS in a strange city, for example, if you're walking around and not necessarily in a car.

Shoppergirl: Is it worth the hefty fee to buy one of those gamer's keyboards? I'm thinking of getting one for my kid; don't know if it's worth it; am I better off buying her some other kind of gamer gizmo?

Keith_Shaw: The gamer keyboards and mice are really aimed at hardcore gamers, with special features like changing resolutions, weights and things that only they would appreciate and figure out the right settings for. A lot of keyboards and mice are specialty devices now, if your kid is into music, for example, they have keyboards and mice that can do special things with the music software on the PC, etc.

Ron: Keith, the memory card idea has merit, but I'm looking for the wife and that probably would not fit the "big gift" requirement. Any thoughts along grander lines?

Keith_Shaw: OK, if you're looking for something grander for someone who has it all, I'm also assuming that they have a big-screen TV, DVD player, etc., as well, so I won't recommend anything along those lines. I like the Vudu streaming movie box, which downloads movies directly to a box over a broadband connection, but this is only useful if you don't already have a lot of DVDs or a Netflix subscription, for example. The Myvu portable media glasses are a cool gift idea also, if they have a video iPod the glasses provide that "movie theater experience".

j2007: Nekfit -- would you recommend it?

Keith_Shaw: Yes, if you exercise a lot and don't like any of the sport armbands or wires hanging around that can get pulled out through the running or exercising process. The only drawback at the moment is that the Nekfit only supports the iPod Nano and Shuffle models, larger iPods might not fit. For those who don't know, the Nekfit is a brace that lets you wear the iPod on the back of your neck.

PatsFan83: For Ron – Get her a Slingbox!

Keith_Shaw: Good job, PatsFan83 ... another fine suggestion. Slingbox recently came out with a new version that supports HD content, so you can watch better-quality programming across the Internet.

Buckeyegirl: How's DEMO looking this year?

Keith_Shaw: DEMO is the most awesome technology event in the planet, and I'm not just saying that because Network World runs the show and I'm the editor of the DEMOletter. That helps, of course, but I'd say that if I wasn't involved in the event. It's a great chance to see stuff that a lot of people haven't seen before, and you can gauge where technology is moving through the products and services launched at the show.

Chart: Any picks for a great tech gift under $100 for a guy who's into gaming but already has all the basics?

Keith_Shaw: If he already owns an Xbox, then a great gift would be to buy one of those Xbox Live points cards that allows him to download additional content onto his box. A lot of the online multi-player games also offer "time cards" that allow people to extend their subscriptions for 30-days or 60-days without having to pay the monthly fee. If anyone wants to send me a World of Warcraft 30- or 60-day card, I'd appreciate it (although my wife might not).j2007: What do you think is the best DVD recorder out there -- one that will also be able to transfer from VHS?

Keith_Shaw: I'm not sure that I'd ever recommend a stand-alone DVD recorder (the console type that sits in an entertainment center, for example), if you already have a relatively new PC, most of them come with the ability to record to a DVD. Of course, if you have an older PC, you'd probably want to buy a stand-alone DVD recorder. I've liked what I've seen from Sony -- their DVDirect devices allow for video inputs (like from a camcorder or a VCR), and then it records directly onto a DVD without having to connect to a PC -- the device also acts as a stand-alone optical drive. Some devices from Pinnacle also do this, but you'd also need the DVD recorder function on a PC.

Chart: Keith, any picks for a good DVD recorder if you're on a budget? I have so many great shows saved on DVR that I want on DVD, but don't know what my best bet would be.

Keith_Shaw: See my answer to the previous question, I'd definitely check out the Pinnacle devices, and then maybe look for an inexpensive external DVD recorder.

PatsFan83: How do I convince my IT department that the iPhone is not a bad thing?

Keith_Shaw: You probably can't really convince them at this point, because of the lack of support for corporate e-mail, and there are still some security questions. I'd wait until the next version of the iPhone, see if that one has enterprise support, and then hit them with your best arguments. If that doesn't work, become a rogue user like me and try to hide it from the IT group (just kidding guys!)

j2007: Do you see the Xbox 360 price falling again anytime soon?

Keith_Shaw: Not before the holidays -- I think those prices are pretty set in stone for the moment, and there's a lot of appealing new games for the Xbox 360 -- including Halo 3, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero 3 and the new Rock Band game. I'd be more worried if I was Sony, in trying to convince gamers that its system is a "must have."

j2007: The Slingbox is a good idea but here's a catch. If you are watching a game and someone gets home and decides to change the channel to the soap opera network, not a good thing. :(

Keith_Shaw: Ha! Yes, if you are going to get a Slingbox, make sure it's on a separate TV, and not the "main" TV in the house.

Buckeyegirl: What gadgets do you think were used in the Patriots' big cheating scandal?

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