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Transcript

Holiday Tech Buying Guide

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, December 6, 2004; 2:00 PM

Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro was online to host his second discussion on The Washington Post's holiday tech buying guide and answer your personal tech questions.

A transcript follows.

Rob Pegoraro (The Post)

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Wednesday's Sessions
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Rob Pegoraro: Hello, and welcome to the first of three chats I'll be doing about holiday tech-gift shopping between now and Xmas. Let's go to the first question...

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Reston, Va.: Are there any good deals on iPod minis out there? I haven't seen a good sale price anywhere in the ads or online . . .

Rob Pegoraro: And you probably never will. Apple keeps a tight grip on retail pricing, such that it's essentially impossible to find any Apple product sold for less than list. The best you can do is find deals that bundle other items with a list-priced Apple item--for example, if you can get an iPod mini bundled with a carrying case, or an iMac G5 sold with extra memory.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Great review of the Treo 650 yesterday - any inside scoop on when it might come out on Verizon? I know they took forever to test the 600 and hoping it won't take forever like it did with the 600...thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: PalmOne's Treo 650: Hybrid Phones Keep Getting Smarter (The Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2004)

Rob Pegoraro: I asked Verizon about that last week, but I didn't get a response. Since the Treo 650, in terms of its software, isn't all that different from the Treo 600, I would doubt that Verizon would need to spend as much time testing it.

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Need Ipod help: 1 - Does Itrip work better than first generation FM transmitters? I had one for my old Archos MP3 player and while it worked ok, it suffered from interference and occasional cutouts. Worth the price?

2 - Does the IPOD shuffle function work in each folder - or is it throughout the device? In other words, if I am in the folder artist-all with shuffle on, will that shuffle just that artist? If not, is there a way to do that?

Rob Pegoraro: 1) I think so, provided you don't use it outside of a car. (The FM transmitter on the iTrip that I tried petered out at maybe 5 to 7 feet from the receiver, so I couldn't use it to send an iPod's music to my stereo at home.)

2) There are two shuffle modes available on an iPod. One is the older kind, where you turn on "shuffle" under the Settings menu; whatever collection you select will be played through randomly. The newer one is the "Shuffle Songs" command in the main menu, which starts playing through your entire iPod library at random.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, In your weekly list you mention that a developer of handheld organizers other than palm has developed a cheaper, less functional smartphone than Palm's line of smartphones. Which products were you referring to? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: The Smartphone edition of Microsoft's Windows Mobile software--unlike Microsoft's other Pocket PC software, this edition is pleasantly streamlined and pretty easy to use.

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Monterey, Calif.: What are your favorite recommendations for a first digital camera? I have all HP hardware. Should I steer toward HP cameras or does it not make any difference.

Thank you, Rob.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Doesn't make a difference; if your PC has a USB port or a card reader, you can use whatever camera you like. And here's my advice on digital cameras.

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Reston, Va. : When do you think Cingular will be offering the palm Treo 650?

Rob Pegoraro: Don't know in this case either. Sorry...

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Washington, D.C.: Problems with Games an WinXP

Rob -- my 10 year old loves the EA (Electronic Arts) Games: Madden NFL, MVP Baseball, et al.

We've run into a problem using XP that EA admits to but doesn't seem to care about.

Not only must you have administrative privileges to install the games (quite normal), you also -must- have administrative privileges to run them! Considering that my son has limited privileges (i.e., not administrative ones... he's too dangerous to be an administrator), I'm forced to -not- install them. There's not mention of this in the 'system requirements' label on the box, CD or paper inserts.

Are all game makers the same? This seems ridiculous. As a parent, I have no problem with my kids playing games, but to expose the computer to their quick and not-all-too-knowledgeable trigger (mouse) fingers is something I'm not willing to do.

What now?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think this is anything exclusive to EA, or game developers in general. It's really hard to do *anything* useful as a limited user in Windows XP. You can, however, run individual applications with an admin's privileges; it's just not at all obvious or intuitive. Right-click on the app in question--not its shortcut, but the actual .exe file--and select "run as..." off that menu. You can then supply an admin's name and password, and that one program will get admin rights.

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Arlington, Va.: Of course the Gamecube is obsolete. Except for Zelda, Nintendo hasn't kept up with more adult gamers. They would be better off just providing software for kids for the other consoles. That said, the Xbox is also clearly superior to the PS2. The graphics are better, the games are cooler, and on-line play (with high-speed Internet) is a blast. With great exclusives like Halo 2 and Knights of the Old Republic 2 recently out, I'm at a loss to see why anyone would get a PS2.

Rob Pegoraro: This is the first of many game-console posts I expect to see today...

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Istanbul, Turkey: Greetings Sir!; I am currently stationed in Turkey and would like to buy the Palm one Treo 650. Can I buy just the phone without a service plan through my dad in the states and use it here with my own provider. I already have a sim card. Is the phone GSM and Triband +/or quad band? I know it has blue tooth technology. My e-mail address is dannofiveo-msn.com Thank you sir!;

Rob Pegoraro: The only Treo 650 available today is the Sprint model, which is CDMA only; you couldn't use that one with your GSM SIM card.

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Alexandria, Va.: We're looking for a good color printer for photos. We have concerns about fading. We were also interested in the ones that copy and scan but the most important feature would be printing. Would you make a recommendation? Do the ones that have individual color refills instead of all colors in a cartridge save that much? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: As long as you don't have the picture hung on a wall where the sun hits it directly, fading should not a problem. The ink manufacturers have really worked on that, and these days it's not something you need to worry about.

One distinction that does still exist, however, is water-resistance; Epson has managed to stay ahead of competitors with its DuraBrite inks. (This isn't a factor for photos you hang on walls, but it is something to consider if you're printing out recipes.)

Individual color cartridges *can* save you money, but only if there's a meaningful difference in the speed at which you consume one color versus another. I doubt that happens all that often, unless you're in the middle of Picasso's blue period.

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Arlington, Va.: I am thinking of dropping my home phone Verizon), and have cell phone only. However, in average I call overseas 8 times per month, and when I went to the cell phone stores (Verizon Wireless, Cingular...), they all told me they don't have international plan. Is there a misunderstanding here? Thanks. PS- I do not need to call somebody when I am in Europe, but I need to call somebody in Asia when I am Arlington, Va.

Rob Pegoraro: Even when international service is included, you don't want to use it--it's extremely expensive. Just get a calling card for that instead.

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Shrewsbury, Pa.: My cousin likes to play devil's advocate and tries to puncture my enthusiasm for Apple/Macintosh.

So, he recently downloaded iTunes to his PC, and after some investigation, he claims (and chides Apple for not being out-front about it) that iTunes will allow you to load your MP3's that are not DRM-protected only to an iPod, not to any other brand of player. Neither he nor I have an MP3 player that we can experiment with.

I maintain that any jukebox (iTunes _is_ a jukebox, isn't it?) should allow you to load any non-DRM MP3s to any type of MP3 player. My reasoning is that MP3 players are basically just hard drives, and iTunes should recognize them as such.

Who wins?

Rob Pegoraro: The Windows version of iTunes won't load music on non-iPod players, true. The Mac version, OTOH, works with plenty of different players. Either way, if the player actually does function as a hard drive--that is, you can copy songs onto it just from the Windows desktop--then you could still use iTunes to manage your songs, then simply drag the ones you want to copy out of iTunes' window and onto the player's disk icon.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I'm looking to buy a low-cost laptop and I'm confused by the new Intel Pentium M processors. The processor speeds seem slower than that of my 2-year old Toshiba Satellite(1.5 Ghz with a Celeron); will they perform better? We use the laptop primarily in our home for web-surfing and bookkeeping, occasionally my wife uses it for business trips, and would prefer a more powerful processor. What is the advantage of the Pentium M processors and what would you recommend? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: The Pentium M is a great processor--it's far more efficient with power than anything else Intel makes, and it's also fast. Its clock speeds wouldn't lead you think that, but those GHz figures ignore the actual amount of work the Pentium M can get done per clock cycle. So, yes, you and anybody else who cares about battery life on a laptop should get a Pentium M instead of another Intel chip.

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USA: Rob,

I enjoy the column and the chats.

Any advice / comments about satellite radio? Sirius or XM?

washingtonpost.com: At XM, Boldly Going

Rob Pegoraro: I like XM over Sirius, based on my own experience of each service's reception. XM performed a lot better around here; it doesn't have some of Sirius' exclusives (Howard Stern, NFL broadcasts) but I personally don't consider their loss to be any sort of a dealbreaker. YMMV, of course.

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: After downloading firefox, I tried IE and found I was not able to access my favorites anymore either in IE or firefox--not until I uninstalled firefox did favorites work--this was the third time I tried to download firefox and had the same pb. what am I doing wrong? I tried as both default browser and otherwise. peter

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea--I have installed Firefox dozens of times over this year and I have never seen a problem like that. Not once. Any suggestions?

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Washington, D.C. : Rob, My husband and I have put forth the challenge of $100 maximum for gifts this year. I would like to buy him a gadget, as we are painfully out of the technology era (basically, we have a cell phone and a home computer). Are there any great gadgets you can recommend at that price? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Palm's Zire 21 is $1 under your limit. I wouldn't go shopping for digital cameras or MP3 players below $100, though; you'll be trading off too much capability/quality to hit that target.

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Addled in Bethesda, Md.: Hey there, Rob -- happy holidays! Mine is not so much a holiday shopping query but a what-to-do-with-our-music-now quandary. Here goes.

My wife and I have retired our single-CD player, receiver, and speakers -- all were over 12 years old -- and we are looking for a logical replacement. We have many, many CDs, and these CD jukeboxes intrigue us -- although they are terribly-clunky looking. At the same time we listen to the radio and might wanna stream internet radio from the family's desktop computer (in the basement, with a DSL connection -- yes, there's a wireless network in the house) to any receiver that we purchase.

I very much like the sleek and small look of the Bose and Denon home theater systems (was shown the Denon at Sears yesterday -- was supposed to be microwave oven shopping) but we do not watch enough TV or even DVDs/videos to warrant the purchase of one of these. It's really all about music. And I wanna be able to add speakers to whatever system that we purchase, as we have a patio going into the backyard soon, and I'd like to string speakers out that way, at some point.

I am unsure of what to pursue -- CD jukebox with a receiver and small Bose speaker system? Move all CDs onto the home computer -- as MP3 files, to play over the wireless network? Buy a home theater system and have this local company that was in another column of yours take our CDs and compress them into a more compact format?

Your thoughts? Thanks much.

Rob Pegoraro: I think the CD jukebox is one of those products that's about to get selected out of the consumer-electronics ecosystem--copying the CDs to a computer makes it much easier to manage them, and you can now buy wireless receivers that allow you stream any of those songs from the PC to the stereo. So I'd recommend getting a "home theater in a box" setup that puts the CD/DVD player and receiver in one box, then get a wireless media receiver that will play your MP3s and Web radio. The Roku SoundBridge and the SlimDevices Squeezebox are both good at that job; Roku's device works better with iTunes, if you use that for your digital music.

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Granada Hills, Calif.: Hi Rob! There are so many new and about to be released new smartphones, that it is hard to make the best decision about which is best for me. I want everything that there is to offer in a smartphone. Wi-fi is not offered on most of the models that I have checked out. I usually check them out on www.phonescoop.com

question: What's your take on the Motorola's about to be released Mpx? Does it measure up to the Treo 650?

http://www.phonescoop.com/phones/phone.php?p=479

Thank you very much,
Ron

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: MPx200 'Smartphone' Keeps Things Simple (The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2003)

Rob Pegoraro: I have no opinion about the MPx, not having tried it yet. (The review linked to is of an earlier Motorola model, the MPx200.)

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Hampton, S.C.: We have requests for digital cameras from 2 of our children this year, and haven't bought one since our Toshiba 2.1 mp was a big deal. One of the two (high school freshman) needs little more than a point and shoot. Are any of those $100 or less cameras any good?

After reading your Holiday Tech buying guide, I'm a little intimidated by the $250 or more price for the other camera (for the grad student). Is there not a serviceable camera (like our old Toshiba) in the $100s?

Rob Pegoraro: If by "$100s" you mean $150 to $200, yes, you can definitely get a decent camera these days. But under $100, I would be leery unless you're getting a closeout deal on an older model.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: An odd question, but perhaps you can help. I am looking for a laptop that does not have a large wrist space in front of the keyboard. It makes my wrists hurt (carpal tunnel perhaps) to reach over this gap in order to type. Are there any with the mouses in a different position or really small mouses so that there is no big gap that I have to stretch over to type? Beyond that, I am not picky about the features. I am just using it for basic research and writing for grad school... Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, but I haven't seen a laptop that doesn't have that palm wrest placement in years. Possibly not since the mid 1990s...

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Lake Ridge, Va.: I've got a quick Firefox question - my scroll mouse won't work with it. The scroll works fine in IE and Microsoft Office apps, but it won't work in Firefox, which makes me think it is a Firefox setting and not a mouse setting. I haven't had any luck figuring out how to fix it. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: What kind of scroll mouse are you using? I've got a Logitech scroll mouse plugged into this computer, and the scroller works fine within Firefox. (I don't think I even loaded the drivers for it; Windows 2000 recognized it off the bat when I plugged it into the USB port, so I never bothered finding the Logitech CD.)

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Arlington, Va.: We recently got a new PC, but if we leave it for an hour or more, it automatically disconnects from the internet. The only way to reconnect is to reboot. Another PC (also with XP) is on the same router, but does have this problem, so it must be the new PC rather than the IPS. Any suggestions? Is there a timeout feature in Windows I need to adjust? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I saw a Q&A item on this in another paper not long ago... are you, by any chance, using DSL with a "PPPoE" ("Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet" setup? If so, the Windows default is to disconnect the machine if the connection is left idle. The fix goes something like this: Open the Network Connections control panel, right-click the icon for your DSL, select Properties and uncheck that "disconnect if idle" setting.

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Chantilly, Va.: Rob, I consider one of the most important aspects of a PDA to be the carrying case. I'm concerned that the Treo 650 is not a flip-phone and therefore could be easily damaged. Is there a good carrying case that protects its screen from one's keys and coins without making it difficult to use and without adding bulk?

Rob Pegoraro: No doubt, but I haven't gone shopping for one myself. (The 650 is the same size and weight as the 600, with only a slightly different layout of buttons, so a case for the 600 would probably work with the 650 as well.)

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Fairfax, Va.: I grabbed a HP Pavilion ze4911 -40 Gig HD, 256 MB Ram] at the CompUSA Black Friday sale. Not a powerhouse computer, but for $500 (after Rebate) a pretty decent deal (plus I got a wireless router and receivers cheap too). I mostly plan to use this for writing newsletters and documents, as well as checking e-mail when on the road or the wife is on the main computer playing games. I found a place where memory chips for this are on sale, $59.99 for 512 MB. Would it be worthwhile to get one or two of these? Or is that sinking too much power into a small laptop? (Max is 1 Gig)

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: For what you're doing, 512 megs of memory total should be enough.

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Oakton, Va.: Forgive me for being a very behind, hassled parent looking at game consoles, but is there any truth to a new X-Box next year as my son tells me. How about the PS or GC?

washingtonpost.com: Tech Buying Guide: Gaming

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not hearing anything about new consoles arriving next year. The only upcoming hardware of note is Sony's PSP, a handheld game/digital-music player that's supposed to compete with Nintendo's DS.

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Vancouver, B.C.: If this is the wrong forum for this question, my apologies ... but I'm in the market for either a 42" - 50" DLP or LCD projection HD Ready TV sets. Any recommendations on makes and models?
thanks..

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Decoding Digital TV

Rob Pegoraro: I can't recommend a particular make or model, but I can certainly endorse your choice of technology--at those screen sizes, DLP and rear-projection LCD represent a much better deal than plasma or non-projection LCD.

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Burke, Va.: Rob:

Buying a music player for my 14-year-old daughter. Of course, we STARTED looking with the iPod, but her talent for taking care of expensive items is somewhat limited, and I'm not thrilled with the iPod's lack of compatibility with WMA format. What's more, she doesn't have THAT much music -- she doesn't really need room for thousands of songs right now (or for a while, I'd guess). The Creative Zen Micro looked promising (with FM, too), and a 5GB HD, but it's still around $249. I finally went flash memory -- the Sandisk 1GB music player (which also has FM), which I nailed at $143 from Amazon. By my count, it'll hold 250-300 songs, and that should work for a while. It's my impression, based on my own players (I've got an old Creative Nomad and my wife has an old Compaq PA-1) that flash memory is more stable than the mini-drives. True? I think the rush to the mini-drive players is giving the flash players short shrift. Do you really think that most people want to carry their WHOLE music collections around?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think there's a real difference in stability between hard drives and flash memory, at least as both are used in MP3 players. The drives employed in those models are designed to take a fair amount of abuse; you can go jogging with an iPod and it won't get hurt. (If you drop it, that might change, but that could take out a flash-based player too.)

The issue of "who wants to carry around their entire collection"--that's a great question. If you own enough CDs, it's difficult to do that even with the largest-capacity players around (currently, 60 GB). I think in practice, it comes down to deciding how *much* of your collection you want to have on hand at any one time.

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Los Angeles: I'm looking for an early Christmas gift for me. I am hearing impaired and seek a portable cell phone/system that offers a speaker phone, instant messengering capability plus email. Pardon my ignorance as I've yet to do any research in this area, but are these Blackberrys? Treos? Help!

Rob Pegoraro: Quite a few smartphones can do that--both Blackberries and Treos, as well as T-Mobile's Sidekick II. I would suggest looking at either a Treo or a Sidekick; the Blackberry's software is a bit of a mess, owing to the woeful interface the Blackberry's designers slapped on it.

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Mt. Laurel, N.J.: Rob--

I bought an HDTV with an integrated HDTV tuner and DVI input (32", $800! Nice! ). Now, I'm about to buy a DVD player with DVI and upconversion. Is it worth the extra $100 vs standard progressive scan DVD?

thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: How far away will you watching this TV from? At the average couch distance, you might not see much of a difference. (BTW, $800 for a 32-in. HDTV with its own tuner is a *great* price. Which set is this?)

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Falls Church, Va.: What do you get for the Mac addict who has everything? My husband has all the iPod accessories, speakers, all the cool software titles for his mac, the isight, scanners, printers, etc., etc. I need an obscure present that will make him take notice. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Does he have an AirPort Express? That might round out the collection nicely.

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Wash. D.C.: HELP!;!; I want to buy my husband a portable DVD player for Christmas but I don't know what I'm doing!;!; My budget is $300. Please help.

Rob Pegoraro: There are pretty much commodity items (just like DVD players themselves). If you can find one from a brand you know under that range, just go ahead and buy it.

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New York: This isn't a holiday gaming gift question. I'm actually interested to know if you know how many adults (older than 25) play or buy video games. Specifically, what the average age of an online video game player and is it pretty much all males? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: By the numbers I've heard of, the game demographic is mostly male, but not "pretty much all." Not sure about the average age, but I suspect it's on the younger side.

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Washington, D.C.: If I want to give someone TiVo, should I give them an upgrade to digital cable, too? Or does it work well with standard cable now?

Rob Pegoraro: It works fine with standard cable. "Digital cable" is a bit of a rip off; it's really "some digital cable," in the sense of being a bundle of digital channels sent to you on top of the same analog channels you got before.

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Washington, D.C.: For Chantilly...There are many great cases out there for the Treo. Reports, reviews and shopping at sites like treocentral.com, palmgear.com, palmone.com, senacases.com, just to name a few.

Verizon provided a terrible case.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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SW Va.: Something odd has been happening with my IE. I have XP SP2 and usually use Firefox. Online grad school applications have to use IE, though. IE will load my homepage somewhat slowly and then refuse to follow any clicked link. If I go up to my bookmarks, the response is incredibly slow--IE's using 99% or 100% of the memory! This problem happens about half the time when I try to run IE. I've run AdAware, Spybot, and Norton Antivirus in safe mode and come up with nothing. Any suggestions? You've said IE can't be uninstalled, but can I install a new copy over it? Might that help?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've installed SP2, you already have the latest copy. Does this grad-school site require you to load some weird plug-in? What happens when you navigate away from that page?

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Boston: Rob, for the person from Chevy Chase who's looking for a laptop without a wrist rest, he can check out the $2,999 Sony Vaio X505, the ultra-super-slim notebook from Sony. Here's the link.

Cheers. -Chris

Rob Pegoraro: You're right--I'd completely forgotten about this. OTOH: $2,999?! That price is just a little absurd.

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Washington, D.C.: Interesting point you make about the obsolescence of CD-jukeboxes. But what about those of us w/ 100s of CDs we haven't ripped to MP3 yet. The time to do all the ripping is awfully daunting. Do you have any suggestions for an low-effort way of doing it?

Rob Pegoraro: I know what you mean. You can either copy a few a day, gradually building our your MP3 collection; you can get a family member bizarrely interested by computers to do it for you (in my family, that's me :), or you can pay a service to do it for you (you mail them the CDs, they mail you back those CDs plus MP3 copies of the same in one medium or another).

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Washington, D.C.: Gamecubes are obsolete because Nintendo takes its sweet time making games for the system. And when games come at a trickle, other developers lose interest and development slows from them as well. Also Nintendo's game library just does not compare to it's two biggest competitors Sony and Microsoft.

Right now all the action is on PS2 and Xbox. Especially Xbox with it's built in broadband support for gaming.

But Rob, what are your thoughts on the upcoming PSP system? Close to PS2 quality games plus movie playback all in a system that fits in your hand sounds compelling.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's more of that game-console commentary. I'm sure the GameCube fans will be chiming in soon.

I'm a bit of a skeptic about the PSP. Not the game half of it, but the music and movie components. Sony's ventures in digital music have amounted to an ongoing disaster, between the overly restrictive copy controls and the strange insistence on promoting Sony's ATRAC format over MP3.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob. I love your column and chats!;

Do you have any comments on the various "pay as you go" cell phones? I don't use phones very frequently, but I would like to have one for those rare occasions that, for me, they are useful.

Thanks for any musings you care to provide.

Rob Pegoraro: As it happens, a reader just sent me a link to a comparison of prepaid services that one guy did on his own time: http://www.markson.net/cell_prepaid_compare.htm

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D.C.: What are the differences between the Apple IPod and the HP version? What's to make someone want the HP version?

Rob Pegoraro: We can't figure that out either. The "Apple iPod by HP" is identical to the real thing in every respect but the logo on the back and the way you can customize HP iPods with these printable sleeves.

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Falls Church, Va.: I kept my last graphics card for 5 years before just upgrading a month ago. Granted I mainly play strategy games, which aren't as graphics-heavy as first-person games, but saying you might "need" to upgrade your graphics card next year seems like overkill.

One question, I'm thinking of a CPU upgrade soon... what do you think of the Athlon 64s? Does a 64-bit processor actually make any sort of difference yet?

Rob Pegoraro: No, a 64-bit processor makes no difference in performance. It can provide a little more security; Windows XP Service Pack 2 supports a form of memory protection on 64-bit processors that's supposed to stop a common variety of attacks called "buffer overrruns."

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Washington, D.C.: Rob,

Great column on the Treo 650. I'm a little jealous, but extremely happy anyway since my wife and I are very happy Treo 600 users and would highly recommend this phone.

I'd like to stream audio & video in both directions between my computer and TV. Is there a way to do this wirelessly? I know you can stream wirelessly to a TV and by wire from it, but I haven't had any luck figuring out wireless from the TV. I would like to create a pvr on my computer, which is in another room.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen any TV-to-PC solutions either. (One problem is that 802.11b WiFi, the most common kind, isn't fast enough to stream video reliably.) I think you'd be better off putting a cable or satellite jack in whatever room the computer resides in.

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you looked at the Toshiba Qosmio notebooks yet, which use Media Center XP and are TV-ready, including a PVR and an all-format DVD drive? I'm interested but am wondering if maybe it's a case where the machine does too many things, none well.

Rob Pegoraro: I've got one at home; I'm writing about the new Media Center edition more than the laptop, but I can tell you that this is one hefty laptop. It could not be more bulked-up if it were designed by BALCO. (And yet the screen is only 15 inches across...)

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Ottawa, Ca.: Bluetooth Challenge. Any ideas for help: (tried Palm and Nokia) Trying to link Nokia 6310i and Palm T3.. no problem with Palm Dialout and sending/receiving back SMS. But getting blue tooth to be a modem link for GPRS -Web Pro doesn't yet work. I can see the connection begin but it hangs part way. Have tried to develop various scripts. Using Rogers GPRS is clearly working as the Phone does link to my laptop (via IR) and give Web Access through the phone. Suspecting AT&T customer might have a similar (to Rogers) bluetooth script as networks are similar. Any expert references to try? Bob

Rob Pegoraro: Dunno... this is one of the most annoying aspects of life with Bluetooth. It's a degree of difficulty similar to what people once faced setting up dial-up Internet connections, before everybody standardized on the same basic setup. I can tell you that I did get a Tungsten T3 to go online via a Cingular or AT&T phone. I forget which one it was, but I remember that it was a phone that the Palm PhoneLink program explicitly supported.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob:

I'd love to combine my corporate Blackberry and my cell phone into a single device that can sync with Lotus Notes (calendar, address book, and task list). Are there any devices on the market today (or in the near future) that I should consider?

Rob Pegoraro: Couldn't tell you. I can't stand Lotus Notes; fortunately, as the consumer-tech guy, I don't have to stay conversant with business-only applications like that.

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Reston, Va.: Re: Sony X505. I have one and absolutely love it. I travel for work and having a 1.7 pound laptop with reasonable battery time is a life saver. Yes it is expensive, but it is cheaper in the long run than all the back strain of carrying a much larger notebook.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm a big fan of lightweight laptops too. However, there are much cheaper alternatives out there... the Panasonic Toughbook W2 remains my favorite in that category, partially because it's about $1,000 cheaper.

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Princeton, N.J.: Hey Rob...got a question about XM/Sirius satellite radio for the car with an FM modulator. How will the fidelity or output "sound" by using one of your FM channels to listen to the satellite service? The reason I ask is that years ago, I purchased one of those cassette tape adapters for a cd player so that I could listen to my cds in the car and the output was terrible...underpowered and I had to crank up the volume all the way up just to hear normal sound levels. I'm reluctant to buy a dedicated satellite radio receiver for my car now as it would destroy the look of my dashboard. Thanks as always, Ken

Rob Pegoraro: When I tested XM, it was with cassette adapter--sounded fine to me. With any cassette or FM system, you will lose a bit of audio quality, since you're going from digital audio to an analog medium of lower fidelity... but, y'know, it's a car, and that's not the most acoustically pure listening environment around.

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Bronx, N.Y.: Bluetooth question: I sometimes go places where only cellphone service is available, no landline. Is Bluetooth the way to get email??? With laptop, PDA as the ultimate receiver?

Rob Pegoraro: In that case, yes--that's one of the original ideas Bluetooth was meant to solve. (You could also get a data cable for your phone, but there isn't a standard cable that would work for different brands of cell phones, while Bluetooth is such a cross-brand standard.)

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Annandale, Va.: Any idea when the Microsoft Media Center review will run? I'm debating it vs XP Pro on a new desktop.

Rob Pegoraro: Hope to have it in print this Sunday. (If you've tried it out and would like to share your experience, drop me a line, please: rob at twp.com)

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Philadelphia: Rob - I recently purchased an iPod and have found one source of 'downloadable' books, audible.com. Are there any other websites that have downloadable books that I can listen to on my iPod? Thanks, Nate

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I know of.

BTW, as is often my habit here, I'll stick around for a few more minutes to catch up on some questions I missed.

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Baltimore, HON: I have a wireless network in my house using WPA with a passkey. I use a D-Link router, I think its the 624. My question is whether I could use the Apple Airport Express to extend the network, or will the Express not "talk to" non-Apple products?

Thanks! (especially for your Verizon DSL help!)

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not sure that you can. From what I've read, WDS (the technical term for extending WiFi networks in this manner) works in different ways among different manufacturers. An AirPort Express can extend an existing AirPort network, but it won't do that with a NetGear or Linksys system. Or it won't do that easily.

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Alexandria, Va.: A response for the person with a problem with Favorites/bookmarks between Firefox and IE. I had a similar experience, but it cleared up after a reboot of the machine. Before that, the favorites were a mess, but now, they show up fine in both browsers. Stopping and starting the browsers did no good, but the complete restart of the machine seems to have done the trick.

Rob Pegoraro: The old "shut up and reboot" instruction from tech support--sometimes, it's actually correct!

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Carlsbad, Calif.: OK, here's the other side of the GameCube argument, and its very relevant for Christmas buying:

First the graphics quality is somewhat superior to the PS2 (though below the Xbox), which negates the technical obsolescence argument of the box.

Second, and more important, the GameCube is the best platform for three important groups -- pre-teen children; GBA enthusiasts and casual gamers.

The link between GBA games and GameCube are vital--my kids (Girl 10/Boy 7) almost exclusively play GameCube-only games such as Mario Kart Double Dash, Animal Crossing, Supersmash Bros. and Pokemon Coliseum. And as a dad who played about 8 hours of Halo and MKDD with his kids yesterday (Santa will deliver Halo 2 on the 25th), I know more than your average dad about gaming. (Also, I was Editor in Chief of GameSpy.com, which explains why I own both an Xbox and GameCube).

The other exceptions are the die-hard GBA fans of any age and older casual gamers. For the hard-core GBAer, seeing their favorite Pokemon character on TV can't be replaced. For casual players (like my 70-year-old mother) they can get all the games they want (like mahjong) on a cheap platform that offers them everything they need.

There's no question that if you're a 20/30something (or even 40something like me) buying for yourself or another person teenage or older, you should choose between Xbox and PS2. But I would think your readers would be made up of a lot (if not a majority) of readers who fit the categories best suited for GameCube.

Besides, at $100, the GameCube will last a few years until those kids are old enough for the Xbox2 or PS3 to come along.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the posting!

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About Treo Carrying cases: There are several carrying cases made for the Treo 600 that will work with the 650. If you go to Treocentral.com, a lot of them are discussed there. I use a carrying case made by "Ripoffs" (for the sound it makes when you open the velcro top, the price is actually very good) that works well with the Treo (it's the model for the Blackberry, but you just turn the Treo facing in instead of out)

Rob Pegoraro: Another answer on Treo cases...

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Falls Church, Va.: Do you have any experience with OpenOffice.org software? Would you recommend the current version? Or should I wait for 2.0?

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I use OpenOffice all the time; you can use that instead of Microsoft Office, if you spend most of your time using Word documents. OO.org's spreadsheet isn't as capable as Excel, and its file imports aren't as clean. If, however, you don't like Microsoft Office's complexity, you won't be too impressed with OO.org either. It's no Firefox.

The 2.0 release is allegedly due in March, but I would not be surprised to see that date slip.

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Ellicott City, Md.: I've moved my kids away from IE to Firefox. I'd like to move them from Outlook Express to Thunderbird. Two things Outlook Express does that I like is (a) allow me to configure it so that they can only receive email from people on their contact list, and (b) present their contact list in the left pane instead of their folders. Email folders are a little too complex an idea for them. Can Thunderbird do this?

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You could set up a filter in T-bird to route all mail from strangers to the trash, but I don't think you can set this program to display the address book as you outline.

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New York: This is about Bluetooth and cellphones, Rob:

I have a Motorola V99 and will get free upgrade to V180 with my T-Mobile plan. I could get a Motorola V500 or V600 with Bluetooth and a camera etc. I'm interested in Bluetooth to get email when traveling. (I'll be living in Turkey 6 months starting Feb.2005.) What is the best source of info on downloading email using Bluetooth? I have a Dell Axim X3 wireless and Bluetooth and an IBM centrino T40 laptop.

Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: There isn't any one great source--what you need is instructions specific to your carrier and your hardware, and Googling for them is as much help as anything. (That's how I figured out how to get the V710's Bluetooth to work with an iMac G5.)

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Baltimore: Do you know anything about the Swiss Army Memory Air Travel 128? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: Very geeky! Not a great buy, though; 128-meg flash memory keychains sell for a lot less than $70 these days, and I don't think I'd get much use out of the LED flashlight on this.

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Ferdinand, Ind.: Hi-enjoy your columns and chats. I'm looking for a DVR with a hard drive, but am not interested in Tivo being a part of it. An article on consumersearch.com notes that a lot of reviewers like the Toshiba RD-XS32. Any thoughts on this model or what you would recommend to someone looking for a DVR with hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: It doesn't use the type of recordable DVDs that I prefer, DVD+RW. They should work in any new or vaguely new DVD player without a problem, while the DVD-RW, -R and -RAM discs this Toshiba uses either need a finalization step or don't work at all in new players.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

Planning to replace my cellphone and just wondering if it's worth it to get a new bluetooth-capable cellphone, or should I wait till it's more standard (my laptop and desktop are bluetooth-enabled). If so, I was looking at the Motorola v505 but couldn't find anything on how well the bluetooth is implemented on it.

Thoughts or suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got Bluetooth on both of your computers, you are a) way ahead of the curve, and b) likely to appreciate Bluetooth on your phone as well. Make sure that whatever phone you get supports address-book synchronization and file transfer (the two features that Verizon chose to shut off on the V710 that I reviewed).

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To the XBOX fan: NO WAY THE XBOX IS BETTER THAN THE PS2!;

the ps2 carries many more games of all sorts of genres. it also has the better controller and accessories. just my two cents.

Rob Pegoraro: I love posts like this, I really do. Gonna sign off in a minute before any more bomb-throwing rhetoric gets tossed around...

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misc. Treo 650: I was surprised that your review didn't mention the Treo 650's memory problems. I.e., that the new memory architecture results in having only approx. 2/3 of the memory available in Treo 600. Unfortunately it's also hard to nail down how much memory you will actually consume, since programs with lots of small records (e.g., a large phone directory) winds up consuming an inordinate amount of Treo 650 memory. See, e.g.:

With regard to Cingular, there have been AT&T 650 GSM phones spotted, so it seems likely to me that there will be Cingular/AT& T 650s available in roughly February 2005.

Rob Pegoraro: I did mention that, but only in passing--I don't think this is a real issue for most users. I loaded several hundred addresses, four or five years' worth of calendar, a hundred or so text notes and all of the programs I've accumulated in four or so years of Palm use and I still had plenty of room.

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Crofton, Md.: Rob, not really a question, more a cautionary note to your readers; find out the level of post warranty support you can expect before you plunk down serious cash for your gadgets this year. i bought a winbook laptop 15 months ago, and recently experienced a minor problem needing repair. i was shocked to hear that ANY repair no matter how small performed out of warranty would cost $389 and would require shipping my unit at my cost to california and might take several weeks. on the heels of that news, i decided to get the power button (which doesn't spring on and off properly) on my less that one year old palm tungsten e repaired while still under warranty. i was again disappointed to learn that palm only offers a 90 day warranty, and charges a flat rate of $125 for any repair done after that date. i guess it's my fault for not knowing, but still, these aren't inexpensive items, and that "non-support" suggests these are readily disposable items like a bic lighter.

please address this subject when appropriate from your large podium.

thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Home Is Where the Help Desk Is

Rob Pegoraro: Glad to bring your post to people's attention.

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McLean, Va.: Whats your take on the new motorola razr 3 phone? definitely sleek and cool to look at, but is it that much better than existing phones to carry a hefty $600 price?

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried it, but I agree that price is a little crazy.

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Reston, Va.: Rob: My husband is making googly-eyes over the MyFi -- the wireless and portable XM radio. Is it worth the $350 or so (plus the cost of monthly programming)? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: We hope to have an answer for you in Sunday's paper!

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Bowie, Md.: Is the IPOD a much better player than other MP3's or has the hype put it ahead of others in sales? What is your MP3 of choice?

Rob Pegoraro: I got three questions in a row on this question... the answer is, yes, the iPod really is better. It's simpler, it's more stylish, it's more elegant, and it has the advantage of working with iTunes, which remains the best digital-music software out there. Apple would not have 90 percent or so of the market for hard drive-based players if it hadn't gotten this product right.

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Rob Pegoraro: And with that, I'm signing off. Thanks for all the questions; I'll be back here next Monday at 2 p.m.

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