Monday, December 29, 2003

Christmas is over -- time to shop!

My old boss and good buddy Mark Hurst sent around this excellent Gift Guide and Almanac for 2004. Aside from being clear and pretty, it has great advice on which gadgets to buy that do the job as simply as possible. His digital camera entry gives you a good flavor of the entire .pdf, which is well worth downloading:
Buy the Sony CyberShot U30 because it’s really, really small. It’s smaller than my wallet, smaller even than a cell phone, which means I carry the camera in my pocket at all times. This is the whole point of having a digital camera: the film is free, so you want the ability to take a picture of anything at any time. When you get down to it, size is all that matters in digital cameras. This is because most digital cameras are about the same in other criteria.
Simple. Clear. Hard to argue with. (Also check out his excellent Zagat-esque Wiki Add Your Own. The Boston section is thin, but so is its restaurant scene.)

One gadget Mark did not talk about was cellphones. I was a happy Sprint customer in NYC and Chicago for 5 years, but I don't get reception in my underground Boston apartment nor in upstate New York where I frequently travel, so it's time to change. I met the Forrester Analyst in charge of cell phones at a party who told me that Verizon would have the least worst network if I picked a tri-mode phone, so that's what I've been looking into. Unfortunately, Verizon's phone selections have been pretty uninspiring, but if the other, more progressive carriers intimate the future, they are only going to get worse.

It seems that every handset maker has lost its mind. Instead of building rugged phones with sensitive reception, great audio fidelity, and batteries that last forever, they are making shiny gee-gaws with lousy reception, screens that turn black in the light of day, and batteries that run down faster than an antique Italian car. I've written about how I think camera phones are a good idea, and I think they are, but 1) they need to be easy to use to simply send photos between phones and 2) they come after basics like 1) reception 2) audio clarity and 3) battery life.

"Steve's Southern Ontario Cell Phone Page" has many wise words on the merits of a truly astonishing number of phones, and he focuses on the core features I find most important, such as how good they sound, and how well can they pick up a signal. Every phone seems to force the user into some sort of compromise between audio quality, reception, and battery life, and if you overlay the strengths and weaknesses of the different wireless networks you have an ocean of tradeoffs without anything that really fits the bill. What I'm really saying is "Verizon -- please offer a black and white phone with the Nokia menu system and an external antenna that really *is* tri-mode, unlike the Nokia 2285 which is only tri-mode on your website."

It's easy to blame the handset manufacturers, but they are just trying to make phones people want to buy. The same dynamic that makes people buy on shinyness even though they consume the experience of *using* the thing (not being dazzled by its polyphonic high-lights) is as true of us with phones as it is with technology in general.


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