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Wanted: Guidance for a gadget guide

At the end of November, I traditionally devote a few dozen column inches to shopping suggestions for a wide variety of gadgets. Last year, for instance, I used my column to outline my advice on computers, flat-panel TVs and smartphones, then covered digital cameras, MP3 players and other devices in accompanying blog posts.

We're now planning this year's round of gadget guidance, and I could use your help in putting it together -- subject to two fundamental constraints. First, I generally can't recommend individual products in any one category; I just haven't tried enough of them to offer such specific advice and so I'm better off suggesting features to seek or avoid. Second, I don't have the room or the time to cover every single category of product you're likely to see in an electronics store.

With those two things in mind, what would you like me to talk about in this year's gadget-guide package? Assume I'll be able to cover one topic in depth in my column and will then have a series of smaller sidebars to address other kinds of gadgets. So what should they be?

Say I use the column to take care of computers (most likely the most expensive tech purchase people will make); if I'll only have five sidebars, what should I write about in them among, say, digital cameras, smartphones, HDTVs, MP3 players, e-book readers, Blu-ray and DVD players, digital picture frames and all the other devices that beep or blink and come with inscrutable manuals? Please let me know in the comments...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 4, 2009; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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I think that we are seeing enough development in converged handheld devices to make that a worthy topic, although I am not sure that it appeals to a mass audience due to the ongoing cost factor for data plans, content, etc.

Is there really anything new and noteworthy to say about computers? This seems to be a category where the distinctions blur and the features mean very little to the average buyer since they are rarely easy to quantify or see. On the other hand I am really surprised by the changes in TV offerings since I purchased my 50" Samsung plasma a year ago.

Posted by: skipper7 | November 4, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm guessing that 3-D TVs will have to wait for next year.

Posted by: Ghak | November 4, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

A compare-and-contrast article for netbooks vs. traditional laptops would be useful. Highlight the typical features found on each category of machine, with an emphasis on what you're gaining and what you're giving up by switching to a netbook (the less familiar choice for most consumers).

Posted by: Miles_Standish_Proud | November 4, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm with skipper7. Info on the new TVs would be helpful (I know very little about the LED screens being sold now, versus the plasmas and LCDs that have been out for a while).

Posted by: J2-D2 | November 4, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I think smartphones should be covered, emphasizing that features like GPS and mp3 playing will make standalone devices obsolete. I'd also like to see some Blu-ray reviews.

Posted by: Hemisphire | November 4, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

1) Ditto on TVs. LED vs LCD (vs PLASMA) is only part of it. Double clock versus single clock rate (e.g., some VIZO sets) is also a bit of a mystery. HDTV modes (1080p vs 768p)? Are they worth the extra cost?

2) How dead is printed media? Newspapers and magazines are searching for a niche right now. Next, I suspect things like the Kindle will eat paper books for everyone except those who love bindings. My wife uses hers in restaurants and gets lots of people who stop and want to learn about it. Some have gray hair too.

Posted by: rsvaught | November 4, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Digital cameras have gotten tons quicker in the last so shot to shot time should be a determining factor in which cameras shine. The little personal photo printers are pretty awesome, cheap, and therefore worthy of mention too. Maybe a bit about non-smartphones since there's still a market for that. eBook readers deserve coverage about how the competition won't really heat up until next year. Maybe something about wireless networking devices again since better wireless routers and clients (with 802.11n,mimo,traffic shaping) will make a huge difference for people trying to watch video over wifi.

Posted by: hesaid | November 4, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Off topic: AppleTV 3 software is out. Gets high marks from PCMag. Where does Apple get 160gb drives these days? They must have a warehouse full of them. I wonder how hard it is to make a Mac Mini into an Apple TV, or add a tuner and dvd player to the ATV? Hmmm. ATV+Blu-Ray?

More off-topic: Remarked a couple days ago about VMWare not installing because of a bad serial number. I e-mailed VMWare tech support about it and they e-mailed me a good serial number the next day. Excellent service.

Posted by: wiredog | November 4, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I agree with folks above re: smartphones. I get the feeling we're entering a period of good healthy competition.

I didn't know there was a lot going on in TVs - I thought it was still just "LCD v Plasma" and "How many inches can you afford?" Is there more going on? Are we up to fifteen trillion hZ and a quarternillion:1 contrast ratio or something? :)

Computers are at standstill lately - "Desktop or Portable?" and "Windows or Mac?" All other questions are just ripple effects from the answers to those 2 questions.

e-Book readers are worth a sidebar. Do the pages wrinkle when you drop it in the tub, or when you splash milk on it at the kitchen table?

NAS's maybe woth a look? Or more generally, an answer to the question, "How do I stream content X to playback device Y on my home network, without learning anything about routers or ports?" LOL...

Posted by: tripledragon | November 4, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

1) I like the idea of a smartphone review, as long as it covers both hardware and OS. My frustration with the proprietary Verizon software grows with every new phone, and my next purchase might be Windows Mobile or (depending on its critical reception) Android.

2) As far as I can tell, there's only one eBook reader out there worth mentioning. Does the new Sony model or the B&N model (yet to be released, I think) even hold a candle to the Kindle?

Posted by: docmcconl | November 4, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Of what you mention, smartphones seem like the best lead topic, given developments and new releases.

TVs are pretty well troden at this point. Same for computers and even MP3 players and digital cameras (at least P&S, and DSLR buyers ought to do more research than your column can provide). Look at ebook readers though.

What about a coming attractions/don't buy just yet column or sidebar? Take a look ahead say one year at things that are expected to come out and may make a purchase irrelevant. For example, is a Blu-Ray player worth it given Netflix online?

Posted by: ah___ | November 4, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Cameras for the NON-standard user: Someone, like me, who wants a point 'n' shoot for sports or action images in places where a SLR won't work. Such a point 'n' shoot has a viewfinder (so I don't need my reading glasses, or a sunshade, to use it) and fast cycle time, so it takes the picture when I press the button, and not 2 seconds later.

If I can get a casing so I can take it in water that's even better.

Posted by: wiredog | November 4, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I will probably be purchasing a netbook for the family this Christmas. It will augment the 2 desktops and 1 laptop that already exists in my house (me, my wife and 2 kids 10 and 12). So any details on features and brands for netbooks would help me out.


Posted by: kjhealey | November 4, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I think smartphones definitely need to be covered. The product offerings are bewildering and the key features are difficult to distinguish.

TVs, PCs (especially the small laptops and netbooks), and cameras are always big. I don't think MP3 players are worth the bother - they are all pretty much the same now. I don't think there is enough difference between e-book readers and DVD players either.

Posted by: slar | November 4, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Solar powered rechargers like the Solio, since power affects all the portable gadgets everyone else mentions

Posted by: jzuccaro | November 4, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for soliciting input for your annual guide.
Operating systems (Android, WinMo 6.5, Win7, Ubuntu, etc.)
Interesting and unusual gadgets -- time permitting
...Fred T

Posted by: atravnic | November 4, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Of the categories you suggested, I'm most interested to hear about digital cameras (for a thrifty but knowledgeable photographer), Blu-ray & DVD players (is it worth getting Blu-ray if I have a 20-inch TV?), and smartphones.

Posted by: bokamba | November 4, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

1~ Netbooks
2~ E-book readers
3~ Smartphones

Posted by: pclondon | November 5, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Great idea! Is a column on sports gadgets too narrow? I'd especially like to know more about golf GPS devices.

Posted by: mmoore02169 | November 5, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

E-book Readers!

There are a lot of options out there at different price points. We need help cutting through the options and features and picking the right e-book reader to give to our partners, newphews... or ourselves.

Thank you! Enjoy reading your column / blog daily.

Posted by: Rebarob | November 5, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Netbooks and e-readers, please!

Posted by: CONTRALTO | November 5, 2009 9:27 AM | Report abuse

How green is your LCD TV versus a plasma?
Iphone versus the altest how much will it cost for a year.

Any why don't you get together with Angus P. from Sports and do something really useful like review the latest in semi auto shotguns Benelli's Vinci, Browning Maxus
and the Beretta A400 a comparision test to include duck, geese, turkey, pheasant hunting, sporting clays, and five stand.

The Food section could a sidebar on how to prepare the game w/ recipes and help from the chef at the Gunclub of Goldvein who just earned three Michelin stars and is the only chef to have a three star Michelin restaurant on East Coast. Get Chef Bill.

Lets move away from gadgets and things that require electricity to getting outdoors. Where you get some exercise and bring home dinner.

You could also test accesories for hunting dogs!

Muum good meat harvested by a human and a gun!

Posted by: sheepherder | November 5, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

One thing that is on my shopping list is a top-end universal remote. Not the crummy kind that you can buy at Radio Shack or your local drug store, but the ones that are programmable and can be made to talk to just about anything.

Posted by: Annorax | November 5, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

One thing that is on my shopping list is a top-end universal remote. Not the crummy kind that you can buy at Radio Shack or your local drug store, but the ones that are programmable and can be made to talk to just about anything.

Posted by: Annorax | November 5, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

- windows 7 media center and related devs
- latest cameras
- universal remotes
- wireless headphones/headsets
- other wireless gadgets
- laptop dev.:gesture mice, keyboards, etc
- touch-screen interface to computers
- speech interface to computers.
- virtual reality / 3d head gear

Posted by: just-a-guy | November 5, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

#1 Video hub / Internet connected TVs.
#2 Smartphones
#3 Netbooks vs. Notebook

Flat panel TVs are likely to be the largest $ purchase by a consumer today and will last the longest. Many people do not know how much the technology is still in flux and how your choice of TV can be determine by the media accessible to it (i.e. Netflix downloads vs. Amazon Video on Demand, etc). A well researched article about video content choices available with different sets would be welcome to folks who will be living with today's purchases for 10 years.

Posted by: dannews | November 5, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for asking for our input, Rob.

First, I'd love to see a review and comparison of the newest HDTVs coming out this Fall. Or at least information about what features from various manufacturers are worthwhile to spend money on.

Vizio will be releasing some new internet-ready, movie-downloading TVs and I'd love to see those and other "lesser" brands compared with some that are already out from the more "well-known" brands. We've seen advice from Consumer Reports and others saying that LCD TVs are much improved now that refresh rates are up to 160 and 240, LED backlit to help with true black and smoothing for motion blur, etc. but I've also seen a recent article about a study that said none of that really helps and you are just paying more for specs that mean nothing. Clarification on those things would be great. Even if you can't recommend specific brands, we could learn enough to make informed decisions.

Second, I'd like to see an article on cameras in various ranges. Simple point and shoot and the new SLRs with all the latest improvements at about the $800 range. It would be good to see this in context of being able to shoot video with the camera as well.

And I know you said you don't recommend specific brands, but if you find that certain brands have more value based on the criteria you have set up as worthwhile to have, listing those brands would be good for us to know - less research time on our part!

Posted by: Sullyville | November 6, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

How about something on how to get your computer content (music, video, etc.) to TVs, radios and other devices to all the rooms in your house?

Posted by: rbeckert | November 6, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

If you decide to cover smartphones and/or netbooks in this year's guide, PLEASE include some discussion and facts/figures regarding any associated costs and extras, such as: costs for required data plans, any data plan restrictions and overage charges, contract commitments (and early termination fees). Any of these can easily kick the cost of owning a smartphone or netbook into the stratosphere and are often buried in the marketing fine print (if disclosed at all).

Posted by: NotDoc | November 6, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

1) Fun gadgets under $75 dollars
2) Hard drive back up devices
3) Mini-camcorders - flip etc and related software
4) Golf range finders + service costs

Posted by: brfa | November 6, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

At 51 I need a geriatric guide. I can't keep all those gizmos straight. I want to buy a DVD player and dvds but I don't know if regular dvds or blue-rays will be obsolete in a year. Plasma or LCD, what's a old-timer to do. They should just put an expiration date on everything so we don't waste our money. I live in Scotland sometimes and I sold my dvds and VHS tapes only to discover that there are multi-region players. Never knew they existed. If we are really in a global society we need to eqip folks with technology that can travel with them. So I vote for geriatric guidance for those like myself who don't know why people twitter rather than just email, mandatory expiration dates, and better global technical products/conformity.

Posted by: gabriellecassell | November 7, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I think Miles_Standish_Proud nailed it on November 4 when he suggested a "compare-and-contrast article for netbooks vs. traditional laptops." This is an area where us not-so-hi-tech readers need help.
Thanks, Rob.

Posted by: Halburton1 | November 7, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I believe that the ebook reader has finally obtained mindshare. Many consumers are curious. So, I recommend it as the focus for your article. The Kindles, the Nook, Sony's ebook readers, and others about to be released are a worthy topic. Since some ebooks can also be read in smart phone applications, you might want to say something about the apps, too.

Smart phones themselves should be covered in a sidebar. All that is needed is an update, since the iPhone still rules the roost. The Pre has already faded and the Droid has just arrived.

Something I have not seen tech site articles about is stereos that can both play records and convert them to digital files. Having recently scored new releases of classic LPs on sale for only $9.99, I'm trying to decide what to buy to play them on.

Posted by: query0 | November 8, 2009 2:30 AM | Report abuse

i went back and saw you spent a few lines last year on GPS devices.

i guess i'd like a reprise of that this year. maybe the solution has been subsumed by smartphones.

but i don't have a smartphone because i'm not that interested in the monthly charges that they require.

i'd be interested in what, if any updates, there have been to GPS devices. i have a few year old magellan that i'm sure has been surpassed by newer technology; and i think the prices have come down.

tom rusch
sherman oaks/los angeles

Posted by: ValleyDriver | November 8, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, everybody--this is a great exchange.

My hunch is that I'll use the largest block of text to compare your computing choices, from netbooks to laptops to desktops. (BTW, notice that the word "desktop" only appeared twice in all your comments? And that "speed," "MHz" or "GHz" don't appear at all? How times have changed...)

After that, I can assure you that we'll cover smartphones and HDTVs in some detail. I'm thinking of doing some sort of video comparison of the former, since it can be tricky to describe minor touchscreen interface differences in print.

I see plenty of support for quick advice on cameras, Blu-ray/DVD and e-book readers. Realize, though, that some of the more interesting e-readers may not ship until after this gift guide does. As for MP3 players, they might only merit a Twitter-length article ("for most people, the iPod nano should work fine"). Maybe I can squeeze in a short sidebar about electronics accessories too.

But for hunting shotguns... sorry, y'all are on your own for that.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 11, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

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