Friday, April 10, 2009

The Best USB Hub

I am using this hub for connecting both a printer and USB hard drive to my airport extreme and it is working perfectly (one note of caution, my hard drive and printer both have their own power supply- I have heard that this non-powered hub will not work for connecting a non-powered hard drive to Airport extreme, but can't verify that)
I have had this product for over a month, with no problems at all, just plugged it in and it worked. Now I can print and back-up wirelessly with my new MacBook. Fantastic solution for such a low price.
I guess the only possible problem with this device would be its short cord, but it is actually a positive for the way that I am using it, because I don't want a large amount of redundant cord piled up.

I got this mini hub as a freebie at a trade show and I am using it occasionally, while on the road - I preemptively plug in the thumb drives that I need and then I attach the entire assembly to whatever machine I may be using when I need them. It's been okay so far.

Any prospective buyer should be aware of the following before making the purchase:

- Definitely meant for travel and laptops, less suitable on one's desk or desktop machines (see below).
- The chord is VERY short. This is an issue with desktops. I suppose it's possible to plug the hub in and leave it hanging off the front or the back of a desktop computer but it's not something that I would do.
- Related to the above, it is not a fashion statement. The hub is functional and allows 4 USB devices to be plugged into it but it is not likely to win any design award. I mention this because, with the chord being as short as it is, the likely space this hub will occupy is on your desk.
- It is not powered. As such, do not plan to use it with (more than one) USB-powered hard drives. It should be okay if the drives use their own power supply.
- It does not have many blinking lights like some other hubs do. I like that.

Overall, the Ultra Mini Hub is a useful device and it should be an excellent buy to the extent that the buyer is aware of the issues I listed above. I see no reason to subtract any stars from my rating because the hub is specifically designed for occasional use while traveling.

Belkin USB 2.0 4-Port Ultra Mini Hub F5U407

The Best Camcorder

I'm a computer artist and animator and I haven't been happy with a lot of cameras. I was drawn to the Ultra Flip because of the lack of wires, I like the idea of the USB stick. They include a set of batteries with the package so you can start recording right away (as well as a little velvet drawstring bag). It was very easy to use, it's just as promised, click the red button to record (and to stop) then flip (ha-ha) the USB stick out and put it in your computer's USB slot.

I read a reviewer of another model of the Flip saying he needed an extra part to hook up his USB, I don't know what he was using but you don't need any middleman if you have a current USB port. Of course it might have been that he didn't feel comfortable with the camera sort of weighing itself down a bit when you have the USB attached to a tower. I'm using mine with a laptop which is on a table so the camera can rest comfortably on it. He might have gotten a USB extension so that he could set his down if he was using a desktop computer. I did try the flip out in my desktop and I did have to make sure that the dog didn't jump around it as it does feel sort of vulnerable, but I will mainly use it in my laptop.

After you have it in your USB port, you will then go to "my computer" and see a new blue icon (unless you're Mac, you'll see a folder for you instead), click it and it installs the program - which seems to run on the stick alone, not taking up any space on your system, although it does put a small encoder on your system.
(Side note: - I did try to click "explore" before I installed the program to see if I could just drag the videos directly to my desktop by passing the program, and while you can save them, you can't see the videos). You have to go through the program to save them to your computer and be viewed properly.

So after you have installed the program, click "flipvideo" from your "my computer", then click "Flip Video for PC.exe" to open the program. It's very simple, you will see your videos and on the left you'll see a "save video" tab, here you can select what video(s) you want to move to your hard drive and then click the save button - they call it saving to your library, they will ask you to name a library, which will end up being a folder that holds your videos, which you will find in your documents as "My Flip Video Library".

After you have done this, you can then open them normally (outside of the program using just a player). They will be saved as AVIs.

They also have a "share video" section where you can upload your movies straight to Youtube, AOL or any video sharing website. Sounds good, but I haven't tried it yet. Now you can make a "movie mix" which is basically adding an effect to your video (slowed down in black and white or cartoon fish floating about etc. - no editing). It's very (very) simple, but it's cute.

They include a little plug that connects your Flip straight to your TV. Use your remote to find your 'line', 'input' or 'source' button to find it, click a few times, you'll see the first still of your video when you've got it right. Then hit play, now it wasn't clear in the instructions, but you want to hit play on your Flip (not the TV), to watch your video on your television and it looks great!

They also have an option to 'save for email' - if you do this it will save the videos into a folder "Flip videos for emailing" on your desktop that you can then send as attachments. When I did this it sped up the sound (think Mickey and Minnie) while the footage remained at normal speed (now don't worry, this doesn't happen when you save the videos to your computer as discussed above). This is probably a compression problem, but we can't fix it in their program, so I won't be using that option again - I'll stick to the 'save to library' option. It also does this for the ecard videos. There is an option to send the video as an ecard with cute little borders around them, recipients are sent a link to see the card, but again when played the sound is sped up.

In spite of that (cuz it's worth it), I have found my video camera, it's so small and light, there are no plugs or cords, it takes great videos, no tracers, no little pixel smudges and the lighting is great. I took one outside at dusk and it looks nice. This thing records twice as long as my bulky handycam and I don't have to format any disks or plug in a bunch of stuff. The picture quality of the Ultra Flip videos is really amazing, my other cameras (handycam, Creative labs, the onboard Vaio and VIJE) do not hold a candle to the Flips quality. I'll be using it for video projects. I am very happy with the Ultra Flip and will be bringing it along with me for a family visit. I recommend it! Yes, I flipped for it!

NEW UPDATE ADDITION (11/15/07): Just an update for you here, after I wrote this review I did run the flip on some other systems and it did not have the problem. I only had the problem on my custom Hypersonic PC laptop which runs windows XP. The computers that had no problems were: A Boxx desktop running Windows XP pro, and a Sony Vaio laptop running Vista, and just today I tested the flip on a Dell desktop running XP home which also had no problems.
-And, a big AND here, after I ran the flip on the first two working machines (the Sony and the Boxx) a few times (using the export and email functions), suddenly it worked on the "bad" Hypersonic laptop. It seemed to have jolted it to work? I don't know why. Since that time I have had continued success on the Hypersonic.
-An engineer from Pure Digital (the makers of the Flip) emailed me after reading my review and we had an extensive exchange working on trying to figure out why this happened and he was very serious about resolving the issue. Another thing that flip does is create updates, so with these two things in mind I feel confident that they have or are taking care of any problems. But again, right now I do not have any problems.
-Also, someone asked if you can take stills. This camera is only a video camera, you can't snap pictures with it, however you can pull stills from your movies inside of their program.

Flip Video MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes (Black)

The Best Laser Mouse

The Logitech VX Nano Laser Mouse is a very good product that fills a big need for mice: a powerful and convenient wireless mouse for mobile use. You can use this mouse for your desktop, but it's really ideal for your laptop on the go. Sure you can take any mouse with your laptop, but the short receiver, small size and included travel case make this mouse extra portable.

Over the past year of using this mouse, I have come to further appreciate its good features as well as become more aware of its short-comings. This is still one of the better laptop mice you can get, but the size means it will be more ideal for women and smaller children than for men. After using it for hours at a time, I have found that even though I have small hands for a man it's just not as comfortable as some of the larger models.

+ The tiny receiver works great! Leave it in your USB port or store it in your mouse!
+ Great optical mouse lets you use it anywhere; no mouse-pads!
+ The side grips have a nice dimpled texture for moving your mouse in comfort
+ The included buttons (L-click, R-click, forward, back, slow) are just enough for most users
+ The buttons can be reprogrammed, though only the *slow* button behind the scroll is worth possibly changing
+ The LED light on top alerts you to a weak battery and when turned on or off
+ The premium scroll wheel switches from normal to turbo with a quick press; can be used to "click" or "hyper-scroll" for normal to superfast scrolling
+ Nice convenient storage compartment for USB receiver inside the mouse
+ Convenient On / Off button for conserving battery power when not in use
+ The AAA batteries are convenient and will last a few months between replacements
+ Great comfort for those with small hands, like women and teens
+ The mouse works for right and left handers; lefties need to click the forward / back buttons with their ring finger or pinkie

- The size of the mouse will be too small for extended use by those with medium sized or larger hands, including most men; might be OK for short stints, but over time it becomes tiresome
- The forward / back buttons are placed in a strange location on the top but still off to the side; this actually is more comfortable with the left hand than the right hand
- Logitech's Setpoint software is often the source of complaints, though it has improved with updates over the past year
- The lack of extra function keys limits this mouse from power users
- The list price is in the ball-park, but not a great value


This mouse generally works upon plugging it in. The software that comes with it allows you to customize the buttons, but for this mouse I didn't have a need to do that. Only the center button behind the scroll wheel is worth customizing. By default it's set to *slow scroll* mode where you move your mouse to control the direction and speed of scrolling. The rest of the buttons are standard and probably don't need to be changed.


This mouse is sleek and fits nicely in your hand. It's got all the standard buttons, and the scroll button is head over heels above all others. The extra *forward* and *back* buttons are now basically standard requirements.

The VX Nano uses 2 AAA batteries, which means no you can use regular or rechargeable batteries and can replace them when they fail. I burned through my first set after about 3 months of usage. I have found since then that I sometimes need to change batteries every month. Sometimes I can get about 2 months out of a set with light usage.

Even when your batteries are dying, you can squeeze out some more time by switching the batteries or turning the mouse off and on again. Turn it off when it's not in use to preserve power. The power button is on the underside of the unit. The mouse also comes equipped with a slot to store the USB plug on the bottom.

In fact, the best feature of this mouse is that USB plug, which is almost flush with the back of my computer when plugged in. Most other wireless mice have plugs that stick out 1-2 inches. This receiver only sticks out about a quarter of an inch. This is the first wireless mouse plug I don't have to worry about forgetting in my laptop. I just toggle it on and off on the bottom and go!

Unfortunately, the forward / backward side keys are in a weird spot, particularly when using this right-handed. You have to move your pointer finger over in such a way as to be uncomfortable. Left-handers can click the forward / back buttons with their ring finger or pinkie, which is much more comfortable. You can even use your middle finger if you are *left-clicking* with it, which is the same as *right-clicking* with your right hand. So if you are ambidextrous, it's better to use this left-handed.

I found the placement of those buttons to be less than ideal when using either hand. They are so small that it's difficult to find them, and after not using them much it's easy to forget they are even there when you need them. They do work a little better left-handed, but in general I wish they were bigger and not so far off to the side.


This is a very good mouse that is great for mobile computing. The discrete USB plug makes it convenient for laptop users on the go. The small size means that over time those with medium or large sized hands will want to step up to a larger version. Some may decide that the nano-receiver is not worth the smaller mouse and choose the Logitech MX Revolution Cordless Laser Mouse or the Logitech VX Revolution Cordless Laser Mouse instead. Logitech has been adding to their lineup of mice that use the smaller mini USB receiver. That includes the Logitech V450 Nano Cordless Mouse- Black and the Logitech V550 Cordless Laser Mouse, among others. So unlike at the time I got the VX Nano, you do have other options.

If you've ever had to replace your computer mouse, then you know that Logitech covers a wide range of the market, from wireless to corded, from tiny to ergonomic, from no-frills to bells-and-whistles. The VX Nano Cordless was designed specifically for use with laptops, although it can be used on desktops.

The "Nano" refers not to the size of the mouse (it is *not* one of those ultra-portable mini mice) but of the wireless USB transmitter. When plugged in, the transmitter extends a mere 1/4 inch; you can leave it attached, slip your notebook into your case, and carry it away without worrying about snapping it off. If you choose not to leave it attached, the mouse itself has a storage compartment underneath that locks in place so you don't lose it. The mouse itself is 3 3/4 inches long, with contoured, rubberized sides for a comfortable grip. The mouse might prove to be too small for large hands, although most people won't want anything larger for their laptops. It beats the mini mouse I have and rarely use.

The tracking sensitivity of the mouse is excellent, and the scrolling feature is lightning quick. Although you can plug in the Nano and start using it right out of the box, you need to download the installation software to take advantage of the more advanced features such as internet search (really cool!) and browser back/forward at a touch. (Mac users have to download the appropriate installation software at the Logitech site, while Windows users can use the enclosed CD.)

The VX Nano comes with two AAA batteries, a soft case, a Windows installation CD, and an adapter for desktop use. The adapter is primarily for computers that do not have a USB connector at desk level; it consists of a USB connector at the end of a cord, with a port for the transmitter. The port is lightweight and can be easily skewed by accident, but its flat bottom keeps it from tipping over. I have an older Mac desktop, with a low-speed USB port on the keyboard, and I was able to plug the transmitter directly into the keyboard to use the mouse.

This device works as well on my MacBook as it does on a Windows laptop. Going online to download the Mac driver doesn't take any longer than it does to slip a CD into the drive and install from there. The only flaw I discovered occurred when I opened the back of the mouse while the transmitter was still plugged into my laptop's USB port, which turned off the mouse power; my laptop displayed a message that it needed to be rebooted, and the screen was completely frozen, disabling the normal restart/shut down menus. I learned quickly that I had to remove the transmitter *before* opening the storage/battery door.

I own two other Logitech mice, but this is by far my favorite. However, no-nonsense laptop users who plan to navigate documents only might find this mouse too pricey. I, however, have already packed mine in my laptop case, where it will travel from home to work and back again.

Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse for Notebooks (Black)

The Best Cable Modem

As an FYI, Amazon has this product listed 3 different ways as "Motorola Surfboard Broadband Cable Modem SB-5101" and as "Motorola Surfboard SB5101 Cable Modem" and as "SURFboard Cable Modem". All are listed at 3 different prices, too!

I did a little bit of homework, and the Motorola seemed to have good reviews. This product is supposed to be the same in function as the SB5120 except that the SB5101 uses a slightly different chip set.

I chose to buy a cable modem so that I could replace the rental unit from the cable company. Make sure your cable company supports this cable modem before buying!

For my setup, I have my cable service from the evil Comcast, my cable modem, and an older Linksys wireless router. The day my Motorola cable modem arrived, I took it out of the box, glanced at the Quick setup guide, and plugged it in. I called Comcast, navigated through their Byzantine automated phone menu system, and read off the MAC ID to the tech services person. He did some stuff on his end to first recognize the new cable modem. Then he had to do some other configuration on his end because of the router. Once that was done, viola! We've been using the cable modem for the past week or so without incident.

To me this is the best kind of electronics product. It takes ~30 sec to hook it up, and once it's done, you can forget about it. It took longer to open the package (and much longer on the call with Comcast) than it took to hook it up.

I've had a Motorola 5100 for about four years. It gradually got degraded and these, like all electronics, wear out and need to be taken out of service. So I bought a new 5101.

The switch was very quick and easy. I called Cox and gave them the information they needed and was online fast.

Let me tell you --- the Internet really flew! I can't tell you how thrilled I was. It made all the difference in the world.

I have a wireless network and a Linksys router. I switched out the router and modem at the same time. The speed on all my computers increased greatly and I no longer have dropped connections.

I depend on my computers for my phone calls through Skype and for my entire business. So I have to have the best and fastest, the most dependable.

I highly recommend this modem. It's reasonably priced and lasts a long time. But do keep in mind that all modems will need to be switched out at least every two or three years if you want to stay on top of things.

Update: I have learned that a number of ISPs like people to use this modem because they can block certain ports of those people who do. This may not be a problem for you. But for some people, it can be. Before you buy it, look around the web and make sure it's what you want. Cable people will deny they do this, but they do. And it can really mess up your Internet experience and give you lots of trouble.

SURFboard SB5101 Cable Modem 515290-107-00

The Best Speakers

Living in a quiet college community I wanted to have access to music while not disturbing other residents. I wanted a nice quality sound for listening to music via the internet and I found it in my new Logtech Stereo Speakers. The sound quality is not unlike that from any good audio system. For such a compact size the sound is awesome. I would recommend these speakers for listeners who enjoy good music while working at their computer or just for listening to music on any computer. They feature adjustable volume, just so you know, and adjusts well to graphic equalizer preferences. It dosent matter the type of music or sound. Logtech speakers adapt well to heavy bass, R and B, Jazz, classical music, video, and/or even techno! Whatever your listening preference Logtech multimedia speakers require little space and delivers quality sound.

I wanted cheap speakers for my desk at work, I was never going to set the sound very high. For the money I paid, I expected some cheap plastic things that would fall over if I looked at them wrong and a volume knob that would fall off if it got the feeling I was thinking about turning it. Boy was I surprised when I opened these today.

Heavy enough to feel planted, solidly built, plenty of cord length (both power and pc connection), 3 rubber feet per speaker, and in my opinion, they look better than they do in photos. Sound quality is decent as well (it should be noted that, as I mentioned earlier, I'm at work and have not turned them up loud).

Logitech S120 2.0 Multimedia Speakers (Black)

The Best External Hard Drive

I've had the Prestige for a little over 2 weeks now. It works great.
-There's No annoying software (like my friend's WD Mybook)
-Runs super quiet
-I've had it on for hours at a time and it only gets a little warm
-It's got a cool stand
-It has a power switch

I've been very impressed thus far and would highly recommend this hard drive. Only downside is its actually about 465 gigs, but most hard drives are like that. The reason I say so far is externals seem to be prone to crashing if you read reviews. Hopefully it lasts forever though.

Amazon offers this unit for less than some big-box stores. Another good reason to buy from Amazon.

Always remember that outfits like iomega, LaCie, Fantom and others are packagers, not hard drive manufacturers. There are only a few hard drive manufacturers and all of them turn out good products. This does not mean that hard drives don't fail - they do and anyone who keeps only one copy of critical data is a fool.

The units I purchased both had current models of Seagate Barracuda drives installed: excellent devices. Right now, the drives themselves from some sources cost only a few dollars less than the iomega unit, so you are getting the external housing for just a few dollars.

The housing has a power switch, very nice at a time when other manufacturers are eliminating such "frills" and a white activity light on the side, which strikes me as a strange place for it. Since the housing has no fan, there is no fan noise. The noise from the drive itself should be imperceptible. (If it isn't, return the unit immediately.)The housing remains cool to the touch in use.

The unit size is nice and a plastic base is included for those who prefer a vertical mounting.

A power supply and USB cable round out the package.

One of the very nice aspects of this unit is that there is no software installed on the drive - nor is any included in the box. Yea! The drive comes NTFS formatted and, for use with an Apple Macintosh, must be reformatted.

Overall, a very nice value.

Iomega Prestige 500 GB USB 2.0 Desktop External Hard Drive 34270

The Best Blu-ray Player

I've been using this for 2 weeks now, and it's my first blu-ray player (no PS3). The good stuff: Excellent look, not too loud, amazing picture and sound. Working ethernet and USB port. (I haven't had to download any firmware or code updates, but I'm sure it'll work fine.)

Operations: No fan noise, no noise while playing, but during menu & loading, you hear some track-seeking which is audible at 10'... nothing offensive, though. I just noticed last night, after my 5th blu-ray a little flicker in in the bottom center of the screen during the credits of Juno... not sure if it's a bad disc or a player having a problem. It was repeatable, and the disc seemed clean. Lastly, the load time, eject time, etc seems just fine. Not instant or as fast a nice DVD player, but not noticably slow. I've heard alot about slow disc-loading, and if it is a problem on other players - it's not a problem on this one. Lastly, sometimes when you click on a menu instead of pausing, the screen with show a "progress-bar" for 2-4 seconds while the next manu loads, which isn't completely kosher, but doesn't bother me.

The so-so stuff: I'm giving this 5-stars because it's near-perfect at what it's designed to do for it's price, but it's not perfect. One reason to get a mid- to lower-cost player is to (duh) save money... if you're someone who has an older receiver that doesn't decode the two new DD and DTS formats, and (probably) doesn't decode multi-channel PCM, this player isn't for you. It only has stereo-out analog RCA plugs, not 5.1 or 7.1 analog outputs.

That means you can't bypass your receivers pre-amp to play the newer audio formats and let the blu-ray player decode them. My old Receiver (which I used the player with for a week) only decoded DD 5.1 (no DTS, and only 2-channel PCM to 48khz). This player lets you send a PCM stream to your receiver from an internally decoded DTS 5.1 signal, but this didn't work for me... as my player can't receive 5.1 PCM streams, it only saw it as 2-channel. At least the player lets you downsample 96khz PCM to 48khz, so that I at least got sound (Golden Compass only has DTS 5.1 or DTS HD Master).

With my new receiver, all formats work perfectly, all bitstreamed.

Some people perhaps are holding off for new receivers because they don't want to connect through the player's analog RCA 5.1/7.1 connectors - but this is probably mis-information. What you want to avoid is taking digital sound, converting it to analog, then back to digital, then back to analog... don't worry - you wouldn't be doing this. Basically you would be doing all your processing in the player digitally, then once it is sent out through the pre-outs to the receiver you'd bypass the receiver's processing and it would go straight to the amplifier (which is of course analog anyway).

So my conclusion for thos people with older (but good) receivers - this blu-ray player won't save you any money. The best savings would be to pay a little more for a player with 5.1 analog outputs and continue to use your existing receiver.

Samsung BD-P1500 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player