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Gadget Scorecard: How I Covered Macworld And CES

It's time for the return of an annual feature here -- the post in which I see how the computers, gadgets and software I took with me to report on Macworld and CES worked out in the field.

As I did last year, I primarily relied on a compact, lightweight Dell provided by the Post's I.T. department. This Latitude D430, thanks to its extra-capacity battery, offered the same excellent battery life as the D420 I used last year.

But it also shared some issues with that older model: It sometimes locked up when entering or recovering from standby mode, and its USB ports are inconveniently confined to the rear of the machine.

Then there was this D430's maddening habit of freezing up when I popped an SD Card into the slot on its left. To avoid that glitchy card slot, I relied on a crafty feature of my camera's SanDisk memory card: it folds open to expose a plug that fits into a regular USB port.

This Dell came with a Verizon Wireless data card to get onto that carrier's wireless broadband network. Most of the time, this worked great, connecting in seconds to provide several hundred megabits kilobits per second of download speed. But this card came with some sort of Web-acceleration service that caused some sites, such as the Kayak travel planner, to stop working. I couldn't figure out how to turn it off, since the Verizon software on this laptop didn't include the "Venturi" tab in its preferences window described by its help file.

I carried two smartphones, an Apple iPhone 3G that I'm overdue to return to that company's PR department and the Palm Centro I picked up last year (for next to nothing). The iPhone, as usual, worked well for checking e-mail and Web pages on the go. On the Centro, its copy of DataViz's Documents To Go software let me jot my notes into a Microsoft Word file, while its minimal browser sufficed for writing my Twitter updates, checking the Post's newsroom messaging page and not much else.

I shot the photos and video you saw here on the same Canon A570is as last year, but this time around Google's Picasa 3 turned out to be unexpectedly useful for basic video edits like trimming a clip to a shorter size and compressing it for faster uploading.

One last component of my reporting apparently started to break down in the last few days of the trip, but I didn't see any signs of trouble until after I'd gotten home: me. As I type this, I'm home sick with a pretty miserable case of the flu. So while I'm taking naps every hour, it's going to take me a little longer to catch up with your e-mail; please be patient.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  January 13, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  CES 2009 , Macworld 2009 , The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Wrapping Up CES: Blu-ray, Cameras And More
Next: Steve Jobs Is Sicker Than We Thought. Now What?



I'm pondering the Centro, mainly just to get my contacts/calendar on my phone, and I like the (apparently about to vanish) Palm OS -- did you LIKE using the Centro? That's a little bitty screen there . . .


Posted by: mdean3 | January 13, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I love my Centro, in fact, I was reading this page with it, but it wouldn't let me enter a comment because of the Javascript required. Typing the comment (although I couldn't post it here) with it was a lot easier than trying to do that on an iPhone, I also have an iPod touch and typing things like email is a pain with it compared to the Centro... The screen is indeed smaller, but the letters are bigger so eyestrain is not an issue... Web browsing works for the most part, it is useful on many sites with Blazer and those that don't work will work on Opera Mini, though you have to tweak Java's settings to get Opera Mini to work on PalmOS (google for instructions, and for a place to get the Java interpreter since palm no longer provides it.) I rarely use Opera though because Blazer displays the pages in a way more suitable for the Centro's screen.

You'll enjoy it's contacts list, and it's PIM - it has an unmatched set of PDA functions (calendar, to-do, etc.) I hear Agendus's PIM for PalmOS is even better, but it's a little steep for a portable app; maybe if my life was busier I'd want it. I also am trying out ChatterMail email, which is a little better than the email apps that come with it, though they are more than servicable.

Posted by: PloniAlmoni | January 14, 2009 6:27 AM | Report abuse

to rob: hey rob we should remember that the ipod touch has no monthly charges and i use it all over los angeles where there are many wifi hotspots, even on the beach!!! its great for stockquotes and very very short emails.

Posted by: willemkraal | January 14, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

This Dell came with a Verizon Wireless data card to get onto that carrier's wireless broadband network. Most of the time, this worked great, connecting in seconds to provide several hundred megabits per second of download speed.

Can I get one of those cards? Or is it just for journalists? several hundred MEGABITS?


Posted by: blasher | January 14, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I'm quite sure Rob meant "kbps", not megabits. We'll blame the flu.

Rob, did you find the D-series laptop slow and painful? They are very portable, but I think the max processor in those things is 1.2Ghz. The new E4200/4300 series is supposed to have the same form factor, but much faster processors (and the 4200 has solid state hard drives.) If you can, take one of those to your next event. I'm thinking it will be much more enjoyable.

Posted by: wilson7 | January 14, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I am looking for a laptop and I am curious if it is worth chasing one with an XP vs Vista operating system? The XP is $250 more but I have heard a lot on the issues with Vista and its compatability with other software.

Posted by: rajinde | January 14, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

@wilson7: Good catch. (Have you considered work as a copy editor?) As for the D430's speed, I didn't have any real complaints. It did take a while to compress those video clips, but since I only did that twice it wasn't a big factor in this laptop's utility.

@mdean3: I like the Centro OK. I basically got it as an interim phone, thinking that in a year or two I'd have a much broader selection of smartphones--at the time, I had Android in mind but now Palm's Pre looks interesting too. It's done its job, but I don't miss it when it gets retired for something with meaningful Web access.

- Rob Pegoraro

Posted by: robpegoraro | January 14, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Just wondering, since you use a Dell Latitude D430: I use a Dell Latitude D610. I use it for home, at Panera (one of the few free wifi spots) and while at the library. Not saying I'm doing anything specific, so it's a generic question, but what do you think of the D610 (other than it's a little larger and heavier than the D430)?

Posted by: Dungarees | January 14, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse


Just my two cents, having used the D610 for while. I don't find the D610 particularly fast but it's in no way slow and painful. For what I use it for (various internet activities, traditional MS packages, watching videos, etc., it's more than satisfactory. A friend using the D620 regularly has a similar view. The only fault I have regarding speed, is that it seems (again... seems) to take a while to start up and to shut down.
Bottom line: Satisfactory speed, good solid feel, I can live with the weight because the 14" screen is worth it (vice the 12" screen). Well worth the money.

Posted by: Dungarees | January 14, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

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