Personal Tech: Advice for Holiday Gift Giving

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, December 18, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice for this holiday season.

The transcript follows.

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog, Faster Forward.


Rob Pegoraro: Last call!

That's right: It's my last Web chat of the year. So if you've been stuck on some gadget-procurement quandary, the next hour or so would be an excellent time to ask me about it. (My next chat, if anybody's curious, will be Jan. 8 or maybe the 9th, should I have room in my CES schedule, or the 15th, should I not--any preferences on that?)

OK, let's get started...


New York City: Rob -

With reference to your Blackberry review this morning. Have you tried out the Nokia E71, which seems to be a bit of a competitor to the Blackberry Bold? If so, how do you feel it compares to other smartphones on the market?

Thanks. Fast Forward: BlackBerrys Again Get Sleeker but Can't Challenge iPhone

Rob Pegoraro: I'll start with a question about today's column. I haven't tried the E71, but I have tried earlier Nokia phones running the same Symbian software, like the N93 (link below). And I haven't been too impressed. The Symbian software has been on the slow side, it's come with some seriously awful desktop-sync software, and--here's the big problem--no U.S. carriers ever seem to sell these flagship models at a subsidized rate, meaning they sell for $500, $600 or more.

It's difficult for me to justify ink and paper to spotlight a phone that most readers will not ever consider. (That's why the N93 review also covered two other phones with similar features, one easily available at Verizon Wireless stores.)


Lithium ion battery laND: Hi Rob! Your colleague John Kelly said in his column today that he'd been told by some sales guy not to recharge lithium ion batteries overnight because it causes them to "swell," eventually rendering them useless. This is surely the first I've ever heard of that. Is it correct? As one who routinely charges a cell phone overnight, I'd like to know whether I really am doing something detrimental or this guy was full of it. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I was chuckling over that column as I was walking into work. (No, literally; one of these days I'm going to plow into a streetlight post because I've got my head in some story.) I'm just about positive that this clerk was... creatively informed, shall we say. I've never heard of lithium-ion batteries swelling up if left in a charger too long; if that was the case, every laptop left plugged into an outlet would have a bulging battery-compartment cover.


Antwerp, Belgium: Happy Holidays! I have a XP SP3 PC very well maintained, 2 gig memory (2x512+1000). I scanned my pc with Crucial and it said I can max till 3. My PC guy says its not worth it, I wont see a difference in performance, especially in XP between 2 or 3 gig doesn't matter. Is he right? I had before 1 and I saw a real difference when I up it to 2 recently. Isn't the more memory the better? I told him I'll ask Rob from the WP, he said he'll abide by your verdict. Thanks and Happy New Year.

Rob Pegoraro: You get the award for "most distant chatter" (for now--surely somebody can top this!). If you're not running a memory-hogging app like Photoshop or virtualization software like VirtualPC, I don't think you'd see a major performance boost.

The other side of the equation, though, is how cheap memory is. You might find that a slight performance boost justifies dropping, say, $20 on that extra gig.


Washington, D.C.: I have a first generation Ipod Touch 16gb. I'd like to get the second generation 32gb model (with an external speaker and volume rocker this time:). Does Apple have an upgrade type program -so, I can I get the new model a little cheaper?

Rob Pegoraro: If you take the old iPod into an Apple Store, they'll give you 10 percent off the cost of a new model (and recycle the old one for you).

You might do better flipping the old iPod on eBay...


Richmond, Va.: Rob, I have a Mac iBook G4 with the older processor (before Intel) and it has been telling me that my 'start up disk' is full. I took that to mean that my hard drive is full (and it probably is with 18GB of music in my iTunes library).

I want to increase the hard drive space, but I was told by the folks at the Apple store that they don't do that. So, I decided to get an external hard drive. I put all of my music on the external hard drive, but now I am having a problem updating my iPod.

Is there a better way? I really would love a larger hard drive. When I got this machine, I got the largest hard drive available at that time.

What would you do in this situation? I want something that is easier than plugging in the external hard drive when I sync my iPod. I am really not a 'tech savvy' person.

Thanks, Sharon Richmond, Va.

Rob Pegoraro: First thing I'd do is this situation is try clearing some room off the hard drive: dump programs you've added but never use, get rid of downloaded files you no longer use, go through the iPhoto library and delete the pictures that aren't actually that good. You can recover further disk space with a utility called Monolingual, which will strip out foreign-language support files from your apps (here's the Help File I wrote on it: )

Or you could just pay somebody to replace the iBook's hard drive with a larger model. Apple's own stores may not do that, but any independent Mac shop will--and will charge less than what Apple would, too.


Washington, D.C.: I have a nice flat panel 13" TV in my kitchen that is several years old and want to get another as a gift for a relative but I cannot find any 13" TVs any more - not in stores and not on line. Are they no longer being produced?

Rob Pegoraro: Could be--the only place I've seen sub-15-inch LCDs over the last few years has been on laptops. But you could just get a 15-incher... the footprint of the set won't be that much bigger.


Rockville, Md: Which Smartphone is the smart choice: Bold, Storm, or iPhone?

Rob Pegoraro: The answer here has to have a lot of Ifs:

* If you commute by Metro, the AT&T-only iPhone and Bold won't work underground.

* If you mainly use your smartphone as a Web device, get the iPhone or, as a lesser option, the Storm.

* If you need to deal with a lot of e-mail, the iPhone and the Bold make more sense.

* If your smartphone doubles as a media player, get the iPhone.


Eastern Market: I'm expecting to have to play tech support when I go home for Christmas. I saw your Thanksgiving suggestions about this, but I just have one question about Windows. If they do not have SP2 installed, can I upgrade to SP3 directly, or should I first install SP2?

Thanks. Thanksgiving Tech-Support Recipes

Rob Pegoraro: Well, I *hope* they've got SP2 installed already, but if for some reason they don't, SP3 will get the computer largely up to speed (you'll still need to download any subsequent updates, but it won't be nearly as big of a download). Good luck!


Woodbridge, Va.: For Christmas, we're doing Secret Santa with a limit of $50. I picked my brother's name. I'd like to get him an iPod-like device for his car since he won't buy a CD player (it's a '93 Honda). And suggestions on one worth buying?

Rob Pegoraro: The iPod shuffle is $49, but you'll also need some way to get the music into the car's stereo. A tape-deck adapter will cost $10 or so extra--there goes the $50 limit. You've got a decent choice of simple, non-iPod, under-$50 players; here's my blog post on shopping for this category of hardware:


stevensville, md: have u done any previous columns about internet tv? i'm looking for a dependable application aside from hulu. also something software based as much as possible.

Rob Pegoraro: The market for standalone video players seems to be drying up--yesterday or the day before, the Joost video service announced that it was moving to an exclusively Web-based platform and retiring its player app. I can see why video sites are doing this; they can pretty much count on any visitor having the Flash plug-in running in their browser, but many of these people will balk at, or won't know how to, install an extra program.


Arlington, Va.: Hello, Rob. Are 64-bit computers going to become the standard? And, if so, should home users consider them when shopping for a new one despite all the growing pains right now?

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe; on balance, no. The "x is going to be standard" argument will usually lead you to buy more hardware than you need.


For Richmond: Probably worth mentioning to Richmond to be sure you actually empty the trash including within iPhoto (it has a separate trash than system-wide). Easy to have lots of hard drive taken up by things you think are deleted.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a good tip; the iPhoto trash can swell to gigabytes in size without your noticing.


Blackberry Storm vs. Samsung Omnia: Have you tried either of these? The Omnia is getting much better reviews but I've tried both in the store (a few times) and the Storm seems easier to navigate. Go with the Storm and hope that subsequent patches will resolve most problems?

Rob Pegoraro: I have not tried the Omnia yet. The important thing to know about is that it's a Windows Mobile device, which means that it will sync very well with Outlook but not to anything else (if you use a Mac, you'll need to buy an extra sync program to get it hooked up to iCal and Address Book).

The other thing to know is that the Omnia, like a lot of recent Windows Mobile phones, has an extra layer of software interface on top of the standard WinMo front-end. I've seen other phones that do this--the HTC Diamond, for instance--and it seems problematic, in that you inevitably get kicked out of the simple, slick interface the manufacturer added and land back in the standard Windows UI. It can be a jarring experience.


Olney, Md.: Rob, AT&T doesn't seem to want my money! I've tried for days to order two iPhones online, but they keep limiting my order to one. I finally canceled the remaining order, because the whole point was for my wife and I to have a Family Plan. Rather than go to an AT&T store, at this point I'm so disgusted with their botching of my web orders that I'm wondering when the next Android-based phone might come out. I definitely would prefer an iPhone over a G1, but if the next Android phone is just a small, incremental improvement over the G1, I won't feel like I'm settling. Any rumors or feelings about the next "Google phone"?

Rob Pegoraro: I very much hope to see a good selection of new Android phones at CES--the timing would be right--but I can't guarantee that.


New Vista user: Three years ago I traded my Windows 98 PC for a Mac and have since forgotten most of what I knew about Windows. Now, my Mom in Florida has a new Windows Vista PC sitting in a box in her apartment waiting for me to come down next week and set it up for her.

Any tips? It comes with Norton Security. How automated can I get updates and security to be? She won't run scans, and if a program asks her to allow an update, she's likely to say "No" since she doesn't understand it and want to do anything dangerous. She does want to shop online though so really needs decent security.

Rob Pegoraro: The best way to make updates automatic would be to get rid of the Norton security app and put on a free anti-virus program (I'm hearing good things about Avira these days), so she won't get nagged to renew her subscription and she won't have the complexity of a third-party firewall.

I'd also install Firefox and make that the default browser instead of IE.

Any other suggestions for this situation?


Fairfax, Va.: I just upgraded memory on my almost 5 year old Dell Pentium 4 (XP SP3)to 3G and replaced one of the DVD RW drives that wouldn't eject and my 120G hard drive is filling up with a lot of photographs. I bought a 500G external HD and am moving a lot of files over to it to free up the internal HD, but a tech person told me I'm probably at the end of upgrading this dinosaur. I'd like to replace it with a laptop, like a Dell Studio but I need something that can handle a lot of photo work (Photoshop, etc.) Are the new processors (Core 2 Duo) that much faster that I'll see a difference from my current system and should I stick with XP (still using a Palm TX which I've hear Vista doesn't play well with) or will Vista work better and faster? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I can assure you that the processor industry has made mighty strides in the last half decade :) You *will* notice the difference, trust me.

But forget about using your existing copy of XP on the new machine. You'll be in driver hell, trying to get XP to support all the PC's components. Palm Desktop has been updated for Vista, so that's not an issue anymore (but make sure you don't get a 64-bit edition of Vista, since Palm only supports 32-bit Vista).


Hartford, Conn.: Do you think this is the time to buy Blue Ray? Do you think that Blue Ray will stay around or is it Beta? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No; I'm not sure. Blu-ray is making some slow progress, but I'm not happy with the continued high cost of the players and, more important, the discs. So if you don't need a new video player (i.e., your DVD player works fine), why spend the cash now?


iPod weirdness: My iPod has been behaving oddly. I've had it for about two years. 1) sometimes will make a beeping noise when attached to the charger & display a message that the current device isn't supported by FireWire or something like that 2) when I turn it on, it will have a DOS-looking screen prompting me to run a manual or auto test. Then it goes thru all sorts of functions and "tests" them. I usually spend several minutes just pushing buttons 'til it returns to normal. 3) last time I plugged it into iTunes (earlier this week), it said it was unable to synch & also I was unable to install the newest Intel security(?) update. Said I didn't have a working Internet connection, which I did.

Is my iPod asking to be euthanized or what?

Rob Pegoraro: It's certainly asking for a restore to factory settings, which will wipe its memory and reinstall its software. You do this in iTunes, and here's how:

If that doesn't help either, then your iPod may be frying itself.


Closer than Antwerp: Our Belgian friend inspires another question: other than digging out the manuals (where DID I put those things, anyway?), just how can we "diagnose" the capability of our home computer? By that I mean especially its memory, and also its ability to have that memory expanded. What do we need to examine? It's a nice Dell machine, bought summer 2005 and worth every penny. Like Antwerp, I'd rather buy some more memory than buy a new computer right now.

Rob Pegoraro: Any memory vendor's site will let you plug in the computer's make and model number, then tell you how much memory it can accept and what kind to buy.

To look up how much you've got, go to the Control Panel's performance and maintenance category, then open the System control panel.


Verona, Italy: I think I'm more distant than the Antwerp guy. What we both have in common is trying to find dvd players that will play both the dvds we buy in the USA (Region 1) and those we buy in Europe (Region 2).

Rob Pegoraro: Ciao, Verona! Hit the nearest Amazon site (, I think) which should have a wide selection of "multi-region" or "region-free" DVD players.


Washington, D.C.: When does the free 'life-time' updates no longer apply? A couple of years ago, I purchased a life-time license to future upgrades for a product called Network Magic. I really like the products as it allows me to manage my wireless network and easily link my printer and the various laptops that access my network. About a year ago, Cisco bought the product and recently released a new version. Their upgrade page now requires that I pay $30 for the upgrade.

Rob Pegoraro: I suspect that if you read the fine print in the original Network Magic license, it would contain the standard clause to the effect of "we can revise this if we want to."


Columbus, Ohio: Any word on RIM actually making the necessary software upgrades for the Storm (ie, an OS designed for a touch screen rather than an adaptation of the standard OS)? As an aside, having large hands, I found the Storm considerably roomier for typing purposes than the iPhone. Thoughts on "typability" between the two? Any odds on an Android based phone for Verizon? Have a good holiday.

Rob Pegoraro: If you look around some of the BlackBerry enthusiast sites, you'll see that other carriers in other countries have already rolled out updates to the Storm's software beyond the one Verizon released last week. (Which doesn't surprise me; VzW tends to take its time testing new software updates.)


Arlington, Va.: Do you have any advice on slide scanners? I'm thinking that it might be a good gift for someone who has dozens of trays of slides but who has since moved to the digital age.

But I'm not quite sure what to look for and what the relevant criteria are? Do you know if there are any that work with slide trays directly or do they all require you to drop slides into its own holder?


Rob Pegoraro: I don't, but some of your fellow readers had some useful suggestions in the Dec. 4 chat:


RE: Fairfax on updating to a laptop using XP: I noticed that Dell allows you to order some laptops with XP with the option to upgrade to Vista later. Does Dell have a different version of XP that works better with the newer processors?

Rob Pegoraro: That's what Dell calls the "Windows Vista Business Bonus": You get a machine with XP preinstalled, plus a Vista Business DVD that you can upgrade to later on. So you're now paying extra for two Windows licenses--and you get a much smaller choice of machines. (Among Inspiron laptops, only the 1525 seems to allow this.)


Alexandria, Va.: I really want a new stereo system. I can't have a back speaker, so I've been looking at the sound bar/Bose 3-2-1 type models, but all are fairly expensive and have a DVD player. My fear is that in a couple years, the world with go to Blue-ray (or something else) and my stereo system will be extinct. Should I be worried, or just go buy one? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not a fan of the all-in-one soundbar systems for the same reason--speakers have far longer useful lifespans than other stereo components. But you can buy speaker-only soundbars, not just ones that have home-theater components stuck in the middle. The Cruchfield site has an entire page devoted to this category, with several sub-$500 options:


Columbia, Md.: We have a T1 line at work and I LOVE the high speed. Will T1 lines ever be available for home installation?

Rob Pegoraro: They've been available for years. But they'll cost you $$$. DSL, cable and fiber can all deliver pretty high speed in their own right for $, or $$ at worst.


New York City: A follow-up comment regarding my earlier Nokia E71 question. You had mentioned the cost being a factor, however the Nokia seems to be available online for around $350 (no contract commitment), while the Blackberry Bold is available from AT&T with a 2 year contract for $299 (only $50 less). Plus the AT&T data plan for iPhone and BB Bold is $30/month, whereas you can get a data plan for the Nokia from AT&T for $15/month.

That's why I am considering the Nokia.

Rob Pegoraro: That is cheaper than a lot of the Nokias I've seen.


Chicago: We're looking to buy the Sony VGC -the all in one desktop. The base model has 2.2 Ghz speed, L2 cache of 1 mb and a 320 gb harddrive. Is it worth an extra $450 to get 3.0 ghz, L2 of 6 mb, 500 gb harddrive and blue ray read capability?

Rob Pegoraro: No.


Washington, D.C.: Which Bluetooth printer for my home should I consider?

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't get a Bluetooth printer--but I would look at getting one with WiFi (and which might include Bluetooth as well). Unfortunately, I haven't tried any myself, despite plans to test a few. Would anybody like to share WiFi printer suggestions?


Washington, D.C.: Will the iPhone synch easily with my Vista desktop and, if I get a MacBook Air (as I've been contemplating given its portability), will the three devices communicate with each other without my needing to return to college for a BA in Geek Studies? (Phone/email coverage between the US and Europe is key.)



Rob Pegoraro: Yes and yes.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Advice on digital tuners needed - how the heck do we compare over-the-air reception prior to buying? Am debating on trying to live cable free in this brave new digital era, where I have MUCH better reception than in analog but I'm having trouble getting the Pittsburgh ABC affiliate over the air. The trouble is I have a hard time figuring out what type of tv's to buy. Thus far I've bought a Magnavox 19 inch digital tv and an insignia digital converter box. Both of those were able to receive channel 4 over the air with antenna, but my Tivo HD and Sharp HDTV and Magnavox digital converter box do not receive channel 4 over the air (but do receive others). Are there TVs with reputation for best digital tuner reception? How do we test prior to buying? And why the heck would the Magnavox TV have picked up channel 4 but the converter box not? All I want for Christmas is for Santa (or Rob) to answer my question and help me decide.

Rob Pegoraro: There are variations in quality and performance among different DTV tuners; these devices have also gotten better as manufacturers have gotten more experience building them.

The LG/Zenith DTV tuner, for example, did better than a Magnavox one I tried earlier this year (and I've been told more than once that the Insignia tuner is an LG box on the inside).

At this point, you should look into maybe upgrading your antenna.


Short Hills, N.J.: Another suggestion regarding slides -- there are a number of Internet services that will convert slides to CDs or DVDs at decent prices. Even better, Costco does in-store conversion at very good prices. You don't have to ship off your precious slides and you don't have to spend hundreds of hours doing it yourself. Perhaps a giftcard to Costco Photo might be a better gift than the slide converter.

Rob Pegoraro: That's not a bad idea... if you can avoid making that Costco trip on a Saturday or Sunday!


Alexandria, Va.: The printer that came with our Dell desktop a few years ago is awful. We'd like to upgrade to something better but not too expensive. Any recommendations? If it was, say, a printer/copier/scanner that wouldn't hurt.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, get a printer/scanner/copier--they cost little more than a printer, the scanner lets you digitize old photos, and you can also make copies even with the computer shut off.

These products are a bit of a commodity by now, so I can't give a "buy this!" recommendation, just suggest other things to consider. For instance, some Epsons can also print labels on CDs and DVDs; Kodak is advertising lower ink costs; if you want to print directly from a camera's memory card, a lot of models include little color screens that let you preview each shot.


Re: wireless printer: I've been using an HP 7280 for about a year and while I hate the bloated HP software that constantly reminds me to check my ink etc, the wireless works great. Had a 7180 prior to that with no connection problems but I got rid of it because I was picky about the color output. The 7280 is connected to my desktop via USB and to two laptops via wi-fi. The only problem is that with my daughter's computer the last line of a document occasionally get cut in half. Other than that it works great.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

(As the owner of an HP printer/scanner, I know what you mean about its bloated software. A printer-driver-package download should not be as large as a Windows Service Pack download!)


Flat Screens: My husband and I are thinking of getting a small flat screen to mount to our bedroom wall- any suggestions? I don't know the difference between LCD & plasma or really what to look for when shopping. Also when is the "best time" time buy a flat screen?

Rob Pegoraro: Plasmas don't come in small sizes, so forget about that.

Best time? When your old TV breaks. Otherwise, there is no "best time."

Below, you'll find my advice on TV shopping:


Mom with Windows: The best advice is to tell any family member if they want tech support from you is that they have to buy a Mac. No Mac = no support.

Rob Pegoraro: But what if you've only used Windows yourself?


Alexandria, Va.: Rob, thoughts on the Logitech Squeezebox Boom? I like the idea, but you can't play any DRM files... blah.

Rob Pegoraro: Music DRM is a problem that is solving itself. You can buy MP3s from every label on Amazon, and at some point iTunes will match that selection--seriously, it's about damn time that happened, and I will be astonished if there isn't news about this at Macworld. I wouldn't hold that against the Squeezebox; the older version I tried was a sharp little device.


Alexandria, Va.: I would like to give a mobile e-mail device to a friend working in Kosovo. Taking into account carrier and device, would I be better off with a Blackberry Bold (VzW), iPhone (ATT), or Blackberry intl (T-Mobile)?

Rob Pegoraro: Um, I think you'd be better off send this to one of Foreign's chats, or just asking somebody who has ever set foot in Kosovo. Which would not be me!

(If anybody here can recommend a phone for use there, be my guest...)


D.C.: A co-worker and I have been debating the merits and future of smart phones and their services. He maintains that there is no reason anyone should purchase an MP3 player, GPS device or satellite radio or Slacker player because their smart phone can do those functions for them, so fewer gadgets to carry. I counter that not all people want to buy smart phone and have to pay extra for access to data services, and that individual gadgets often do a better job at their given task. How do you see things shaking out, and on what time and price frame?

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't buy a standalong GPS device or portable satellite-radio either: Google Maps and other location-aware apps work better than a GPS receiver (which itself can't pull down new data from the Internet), and it costs less to add an Internet radio service to a cell phone than to pay for a Sirius/XM subscription.

I would buy an MP3 player, but that's because a) they're so cheap, and b) only one smartphone directly integrates with iTunes, the music/video player I use.


I've been looking at soundbars for my parents: I'd recommend the Sony HT-CT100. You can get it for less than $300. Seems to be the best bang for your buck. And, it does not include a DVD player.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion...


Slide Answerman: Rob:

I have been scanning in negatives and slides each night for the past three weeks. I have a Canonscan 5600 and I would highly recommend any of the Canon products. The only issue will be footprint on your desk - the hammacler ones are much smaller but then you don't have the option of scanning regular photos, so it is a trade off.

Regardless, be prepared to sit at your desk for a long time when scanning; each negative takes about 2 minutes and by the time you do all of the "magic" to it, you are looking at scanning 30 slides per hour. It takes time and patience.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the recommendation and the reality-check.


Chinatown, D.C.: I'm pregnant, exhausted and with only a few shopping days left before the holidays, desperately in need of advice on a good video/camcorder in the $350-$400-ish range so the hubby can capture all those "baby's first" moments and e-mail them to the grandfolks. Is this even realistic?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, certainly so--it's amazing how cheap camcorders have gotten.

One thing to consider, though, is whether your digital camera can already do that job. They can all record video, and some do so at a pretty high quality level.

Another option is to get a cheap, Internet-focused camcorder like the Flip or the Kodak Zi6, which won't do for any long recordings but will serve up clips ready to send in e-mail or upload to YouTube or wherever.


Home Stereo Quandary: We have a garage full of big-a-- speakers and high-powered amps, and as we entered the digital music age in our 40s, we've put a nice set of hundred-buck "desktop" speakers and a subwoofer on the living room shelves. With an iPod plugged in, the sound is as crisp as any of the stereos we've ever had. Now we don't blast the volume, but the sound quality is frighteningly good.

Rob Pegoraro: Anybody looking to get a big, honkin' speakers? Perhaps you and HSQ can do business together...


richmond: was going to get a digital frame, but someone said any below $125 are not worth it. Any recommendations on how to get a good one for a reasonable price?

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of picture frames cost under $125 at retail, so I'd like to know where your friend came up with that advice. Here's my general guidance (second item in this post):


iPod Touch or Android: Hi Rob, my husband and I are locked into another 14 months of T-mobile service and I've switched to Macs at home and work -- and love iCal and Mail. I am due for a new phone, and was wondering whether you would advise the Android (quick web search seemed to say it would be possible to sync with iCal and Mail via Google Calendar and Gmail, but not easy -- and probably tricky enough to annoy me) or a cheapo phone and an iPod Touch?

I really want access to my email and calendar wherever I am (I work at a university with wifi everywhere and have wifi at home), and I don't do a lot of phoning. The iPhone would obviously be great, but for our pesky contract. Do you think I would be disappointed by the iPod Touch?

Rob Pegoraro: What you're looking at doing is possible, but it will take an extra program or two.

The "easy" part is your e-mail; you can set Gmail to pick up messages sent to your existing account, or you can set the G1 to check your account on its own.

For your calendar, you'd need to add a program to sync iCal with Google Calendar. Google has a free one called Calaboration (OS X 10.5 only), but it's been weird in my testing--keeps coughing up server errors, then syncing the calendars anyway. Other iCal-to-GCal sync apps cost more (e.g., BusySync), but seem to get better reviews.


Barberton, Ohio: In response to the question concerning Wi-Fi printers, I purchased an HP C7280 multi-function and it was very easy to set up and works with the four computers in the house.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Arlington, Va.: I got a Samsung Omnia over the Storm, because it had Wifi, which I believe the Storm does not support. It is a little sluggish and very similar to the Sprint Samsung Instinct. It's not a bad enough phone for me to get an iPhone which has much worse coverage.

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, the Storm doesn't have WiFi. (Granted, with Verizon's coverage that's not the same concern as, say, a T-Mobile phone without WiFi would be.)


Smart phone v. portables: So I should spend an extra $30+/month for a data package? I'm the guy that says go with the individual units unless you already have a smart phone. Maybe when data plans are standard in a wireless rate I can be convinces otherwise.

Rob Pegoraro: To me, a smartphone without a data plan is as useless as a bus without wheels.


Can I go to Vegas with you?: I don't take up much room ...

Rob Pegoraro: Do you know how crowded flights to Vegas are during CES season? They'd have to check you at the gate, and then you'd be stuck in a cold baggage hold for hours.


Laptop and HDMI: Rob,

Hi. I want to get a laptop with a HDMI port to connect to my TV so I can watch Netflix movies.

Any other requirements that I would need to ensure the video streams to my TV ok? I am using Comcast cable for my internet.

Also, should I splurge on 4GB of RAM instead of 3GB since RAM is so cheap?


Rob Pegoraro: Well, the laptop should be small enough to fit comfortably next to the TV. It would also help if it comes with a remote control (many HPs include one that tucks into the ExpressCard slot, for instance).

Getting 4 GB means you get the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista, which you don't want unless you've already inventoried your hardware and software for potential conflicts with the 64-bit version.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rob, I'm generally a pretty tech savvy guy (been running Linux for years, write sophisticated scientific software, even compiled my own Emacs from CVS). I took a leap a couple of weeks ago and upgraded my 7 year-old cell phone with a Sanyo Pro-700 (Sprint service). I love the phone (I mostly wanted a phone, not a walking computer), but am exploring customizing it a bit and spent about three hours last night trying to download a MP3 ringtone (a freebie, not one of the Sprint supplied $2.50 jobs). I keep getting error messages that the built-in web browser can't display the file, and Opera mini can't access the file system (or some such thing). The phone manual is no help.

Any suggestions on websites where someone like myself who needs to quickly catch up on seven years of phone technology can turn to figure out how this really works? I don't mind reading manuals.

Rob Pegoraro: If you really want to geek out with a phone, have a look at


Bethesda, Md.: Bethesda here again continuing last week's TiVo conversation. I'm here to convince you that you need to experience the full TiVo HD experience....and ask you to do your analysis of its features separate from your analysis of value.

All of these things I've done, none of which can be done with a Comcast or RCN DVR in DC:

Two weeks of programming to search through, not 2 or 3 days, keyword searches for shows, and schedule recordings remotely from the web and mobile web.

Download movies from Amazon on demand, stream Netflix movies (including HD titles instantly), watch YouTube videos, and move ripped home videos/DVD files to my TiVo.

Access web and desktop music through the TiVo interface, and view pictures stored my desktop and on Picasa.

Take a show off the TiVo and move it to othe TiVos AND my desktop AND laptop PCs, burn a show to DVD, and convert a show to iPod/PSP formats....LEGALLY.

And finally, a smooth running DVR...not the buggy ones the CableCos which allows supported additional storage via an external hard drive.

You can also buy a movie ticket and order a pizza, though I've not done the pizza yet.

And instead of paying $17.95 a month for a HD DVR from the CableCo, I pay $3.00 for two cable cards.

What's not to love, other than the buy-in price?

Rob Pegoraro: Thank you for the TiVo commercial. My complaint isn't with the buy-in price--$300 isn't bad for a box with that level of utility--it's with what you pay afterwards every month.

Also: did your Comcast DVR really only allow a look at programs two or three days in the future? That would be seriously pathetic...


Columbia, Md.: One comment about camcorders: those Internet camcorders like the Flip work well and are easy to use. But one thing they are missing that is basic to my use of video is any kind of decent zoom, either digital or optical.

Rob Pegoraro: Something to consider for our camcorder shopper...


Anonymous: My Mom is 78 and hates her Tel-a-Go phone. Buttons are too small, Difficult to operate, the cell coverage in her area N.W.PA is lame.... I read the JitterBug is scamming a few people. Do you have any advice? It would MAKE her Christmas! Thanks, Ronda V.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't heard of any complaints about the Jitterbug service. Their coverage map shows that all of Pennsylvania has service... but you can't zoom in, so you can't see if there isn't a tiny hole in coverage centered on your mom's house.


Downtown DC: A more mundane query: our camera's a Canon 570IS, and we like it, but can't seem to make it perform the red-eye reduction that it claims it can do. That is to say, when the camera is in red-eye mode, it acts as if we -want- red eye. Do you or any of your readers have tips on how to prevent the red? Are we overlooking a setting or a feature?

And thanks for all of your work!

Rob Pegoraro: Canon's red-eye fix, IIRC, is something you invoke in playback mode--it doesn't fix red eyes automatically after you take the picture.


Atlanta, Ga.: What's the best way to time-shift over-the-air digital broadcast tv?

Rob Pegoraro: One option is the TiVo HD. (Have you heard of it? If not, I've got a reader in Bethesda who'd like to tell you all about it :) Another is a Philips DVD recorder with a built-in hard drive, which AFAIK is the only DVD recorder to include that feature. A third option is to plug a digital tuner into your computer, then use your computer's hard drive to time-shift and record shows. (I've got a Pinnacle HDTV add-on that I've been meaning to try out for this purpose.)


Beltsville, Md.: My Comcast DVR in Prince George's County lets me see the listings and program recordings for up to two weeks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: That's what I thought...


RE: I want to get a laptop with a HDMI port to connect to my TV so I can watch Netflix movies.: Rob: You didn't answer the laptop-to-HDMI part of it. Just this morning I saw a new product announcement: USB to HDMI Adaptor (MSRP: $179). This will solve the laptop-to-HDMI issue. Read all about it here.

Rob Pegoraro: Right, I should have noted that the laptops with HDMI ports tend to be on the larger side.

I'd want to see some reviews of this adapter that indicate whether you'll have have "handshake" issues with DRMed videos.


flip for baby: I think flip cameras are perfect for little kids because they are so easy to use and send off a minute of whatever fascinating thing your baby is doing to the adoring grandparents. It's not stuff you're ever really going to need in high def, so the convenience of easily getting it to email-able or post-able size (and not having to search for a cord) means you end up with lots of great videos.

Rob Pegoraro: At first, I read this as a recommendation of the Flip for use *by* a kid. Which I suppose is also possible...


N.Y.: Rob, what non-CE gadgets will you be buying this season?

Rob Pegoraro: Probably those of the kitchen variety. I am one of those people who should not be allowed inside an Oxo showroom. There might be a power tool or two on the list as well...


Rob Pegoraro: OK, folks, I have to wrap this up. Thanks for all the questions--today and all year. Good luck with the rest of your shopping, with setting up/installing/configuring whatever you get, and with debugging your relatives' computers. See you next year!


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