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Gadget Overload

Frank Ahrens

How many gadgets is too many?

The television commercial for the new Samsung BlackJack smartphone got me thinking about this question.

The BlackJack looks like a BlackBerry but skinnier.

The commercial is a slick one, and it shows a pair of hands digitally shuffling a half-dozen small electronic devices -- cell phone, music player, video player and so on -- like a deck of cards.

Even watching all these gadgets gave me a rush of gadget anxiety -- and I like gadgets.

But then the hands shuffle all the gadgets into one -- the BlackJack -- in a smooth marketing move. Ah, I get it: It's all these devices wrapped in one. Suddenly, my anxiety ceded. Just like Samsung wanted.

I am adamantly opposed to carrying more than one electronic communications device. I have a Treo phone, which works as my phone, my PDA and lets me text--everything I want to do. I turned down a BlackBerry from work because a) I don't want to carry two devices and b) work doesn't need another way to find me.

Let me hear from you on this one: How many devices do you carry and why? What can device-makers do to make your life easier (and less-cumbersome)?

Today In The Post:

* Who needs the stunning visuals and production values of XBox and PS3? For retro gamers -- who love the classics (read: 1980s and before) like Atari, "a game is a game is a game," says one. Jose Antonio Vargas reports.

*You've heard of video mash-ups, now check out data mash-ups: Mixing online data for high purposes, such as finding college-educated single women in New York bars. Kim Hart reports.


* Visits to online shopping sites jumped 12 percent on the day after Thanksgiving this year compared to last year, Nielsen/NetRatings reports, but it was less than half the increase of last year over 2004. The big shopping item? Consumer electronics. Big winner? Best Buy.

* Why is gazillionaire, octogenarian Viacom honcho Sumner Redstone so bullish on Midway Games which, in a golden age for video games, can't seem to stop a steep stock slide? His family would probably like to know, too: 88 percent of the company -- and its diminishing value -- is held by Redstone and his kin.

By Frank Ahrens  |  November 27, 2006; 11:03 AM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
Previous: Kramer Helps Seinfeld DVD Marketing. Not. | Next: Tough Times At The New York Times

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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I carry my Creative Zen MicroPhoto mp3 player on my commute. That's it. I don't want to have to carry all that other stuff. No cell phone. I leave my phone in the car for emergency use. No camera phone either and I only recently upgraded to a digital phone with a color screen. No PDA.

Posted by: Glenn | November 27, 2006 1:43 PM

I have an HP iPaq Smartphone - my phone, calendar, phone book, notes, text msg'ing, email, and mp3 player all in one. I wouldn't carry anything BUT an all-in-one smartphone ever again.

Posted by: Scum Sucking Lawyer | November 27, 2006 2:29 PM

I carry a 5 year-old cell phone, a 5 year-old micro laptop (Sony PCG-SRX99P), and a 5 year-old commercial digital camera (Nikon D100) all over the planet. The latter two devices still draw compliments from clients in exotic places. Everything works like the day they were purchased and I know how to use every feature. My advice to clients is: Do not replace anything unless you are prepared to spend business time learning and using new features. Buying technology to keep up with the manufacturer's whims is a waste of valuable employee time. Data security issues are another way early adopters get stung. A salesperson's lost or broken all-in-one device can be a real problem.

Posted by: thw2001 | November 27, 2006 2:43 PM

I carry a bunch of electronics, everywhere. For some reason, I find them sor of comforting, even if my wife thinks I'm a loon. :-)

Most are just for entertainment though (like an iPod, PSP, voice recorder, GPS tracker, etc) and just happen to live in my bag.

There are just two devices that I always have and use: an older monochrome (but full-screen) Blackberry model 6710 that my job provides (complete with activated phone), and my own LG VX-8100 phone, that was middle of the line a year ago (it does have a mini SD card and MP3 player built in, though.)

I am a gadget-lover, but I only own and have interest in those that I think I will actually use; I find it depressing to buy a new electronic gadget and then discover that I don't use it.

This is why I do not have a PDA. Years ago (1999) I bought a Palm III and, fun for a while though it was, in the end I was distressed to find that to me it ended up a $300 address book. I've never taken to "life planners," electronic or otherwise.

Just as a matter of random observation, I've noticed that there's a couple of common themes to many discussions on portable gadgets: Lots of people talk about how they don't want to carry "all these gadgets"; others like to go further and take a kind of synthetic moral high ground by vehemently advertising the fact that they "hate" cell phones and such devices.

As for the latter, I've always suspected that the driving force behind this "hate" is actually fear--technophobia rather than a genuine dislike of the actual idea of a cell phone.

Because, given that communications devices generally have "off" buttons (at least in my experience), what is there to really hate? Who really hates the idea of having the option of contacting someone if they need to, from virtually anywhere? If one needs help? If one is lost? Or a million other reasons?

Of course, if a person doesn't use a phone much in the first place, I can understand a person being not needing, and therefore indifferent to, cell phones. And, I can understand being peeved at the careless conduct of some cell phone users.

But many people speak of cell phones themselves with disdain, or even venom in their voices. Why is that?

I love cell phones, always have. I've loved them ever since I first read about the idea of them, before they even existed. Even to this day, I still think they are among the neatest and coolest and most useful and life-changing tools in the modern world. And I'm not talking about all the less-than-useful add-ons, like cameras and games, and things I never use. A bare-bones phone with none of that would still be just as wonderful.

Anyway, back on topic. About the idea of having only one communications device: There are situations where this not only isn't easily possible, but not even necessarily a great idea.

I work in high-end IT, and I need to be reachable at all times, though I work with some incredibly savvy people, who know to contact me off-hours only in the case of dire need. But if something does go very wrong, I really need and want to know about it as soon as possible or earlier, both for the sake of my client and for myself.

Therefore I do not begrudge my work having mutiple ways to contact me, as in the long run it actually benefits me. In other fields I can understand not wanting to supply more contact methods than is necessary, but in mine, the more the merrier.

For this connectivity, my job provides me with a Blackberry/phone, and they have my home and other contact information.

But, and especially in today's environment of questioned (and sometimes questionable ethics,) I would not want to use the company-owned device for anything other than work-related business, to avoid the impression, real or imagined, that I was using company resources for private benefit.

So I carry my own cell phone as well, for personal use. It just seems proper that way.

I don't mind, I'm flexible.

Posted by: Will Seabrook | November 27, 2006 4:23 PM

I carry my mobile phone (a RAZR), an iPod and my work phone (a chunky, ugly Nextel whose only redeeming feature is you can drop it down two flights of stairs into mud, step on it and still take a call).

Although I'm looking very intently at a Treo 680 or an Ericsson m600i. Either way, they both combine my bulky day planner (which I didn't list, oops) and my phone.

As for that Nextel, as soon as I'm out the office door (I work for a newspaper), call forwarding gets turned on and routes all the calls to my personal phone.

I figure the slim chance I would rack up enough airtime to get an overage before "nights" kick in at 9 is well worth not carrying around a military-specification chunk of plastic on my hip.

Posted by: B. deR. West | November 27, 2006 4:25 PM

I want my phone to be as small and unobtrusive as possible. It must have excellent connectivity and let me hear and speak clearly. That's about it.
The killer app for me would be usable screen space. The maximum available in a truly portable package appears to be 3.7" on a few PDA devices. Anything less to me is eyestrain. Do everything phones just don't cut it for web work or even mail.
My teenage daughter is a thumb wiz and, yes, Blackberrys seem to make the world go round but why are we forcing ourselves into such a box? I see only one PDA with hard drive storage though several now have WiFi. I would gladly carry my personal cell phone and a robust PDA available for the full range of Office functions and WiFi use. As these are my business needs my employer is not likely to cover a monthly phone bill. My current Tungston does yeoman's work with contacts, calendar and a few docs but is really not up to all my needs. Are we all waiting for the Nokia 888?

Posted by: Richard | November 27, 2006 5:09 PM

What can they do to help us? Slim down batteries (i.e., less weight/size), while extending their useful life.

Posted by: Moose | November 27, 2006 5:56 PM

Treo 700w, 2-way pager (which will be dumped as soon as I'm sure that the 700w is reliable in the text-messaging department) and, on occasion, my iPod. I travel with a laptop but find that with the Treo I need it less and less.

I know the Treo has music abilities, but I love the iPod too much to give it up. (I also have a bunch of money invested in ITMS offerings, which won't play ont he Treo, but I don't mind because I knew of that limitation whenI started buying them.)

Posted by: PJ | November 28, 2006 9:43 AM

I ditched my cutting edge cell phone a few years back - and haven't missed it.

As to the PS2 and 360 choices for game consoles - all I can say is the Wii is a heck of a lot more fun. Maybe when the other 95 percent of America buys HDTV, then I'll think about those two, but for now, most Americans can't really tell much difference, other than the more fun games on the Wii.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | November 28, 2006 5:18 PM

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