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Gear Gallery: New Ultralights, Easy Wireless Speakers and a Snappy DSLR

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Old 07-03-2008
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Gear Gallery: New Ultralights, Easy Wireless Speakers and a Snappy DSLR
: The Asus U2E is an update of last year's impressive U1F, correcting some early flaws with the model. Most notable is the addition of an optical drive to the system, which will certainly make the laptop more appealing to a broader range of buyers. Another big change: Out goes the FireWire port, in comes HDMI output, though we can't imagine who'll be plugging this into their A/V rig for entertainment purposes.
Unfortunately, the U2E still has some troubling problems. Performance is uninspiring, and the machine is buggy, too. We encountered numerous odd crashes and Windows hiccups throughout our testing. The specs are decent (11.1-inch screen, 120-GB hard drive, 3 GB of RAM, Core 2 Duo, 2.9-pounds), but many competing machines (even the Air and the Lenovo IdeaPad U110) run circles around the U2E on every important benchmark. Still, if you feel the need to be surrounded by leather at all times (and you're fresh out of jeanless chaps) the choice is all but made for you.
WIRED: Handsome. Fully loaded with connectivity options, including three USB ports. Weight on par with similar systems that don't include an optical drive.
TIRED: Numerous software problems. Integrated BIOS/driver update system never completed successfully. Homegrown software works even worse than Vista; causes problems. Too-small keyboard. Too-small, too-stiff mouse buttons. Very loud fan and very quiet speakers. Standard battery is light (machine weighs just 2.9 pounds with it) but gives less than an hour of battery life. (Try the included, larger battery instead: 3.5 pounds total but offers over four hours of life.)
$2,000 as tested, Asus

Photo: Jon Snyder/
Read our full Asus U2E review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
: By the numbers, Eos' 100T1RB Wireless Audio System is what any wire-entangled apartment needs. The relatively small system consists of a base station with an iPod/iPhone dock, an auxiliary out port and satellite speakers capable of wirelessly syncing to the base. Wireless setups like this often come with a host of connectivity headaches, but the 100T1RB was surprisingly simple. I literally plugged everything in, connected my iPod and cranked up my favorite playlist.
Distributing the satellites throughout my apartment was a cinch too. With their removable power supplies, I had the option of plugging the speakers in the old fashioned way, or removing them and plugging the speakers directly into wall outlets. On the downside, the audio quality of the individual speakers could use some work. Both the base unit and the satellites are equipped with subwoofers, but overall the bass output isn't the stuff of earthquakes. Paired with some of the gain I received at higher volumes, it's safe to say that this isn't the end-all-be-all for multiroom audio. Still, in terms of price and ease, the 100T1RB is well-suited for the no-fuss multiroom novice.
WIRED: Great for "quick and dirty" multiroom music. Speakers automatically sync with base unit out of box. Mini stereo input allows connectivity with virtually any MP3 player and most audio devices. Fantastic range -- even in multistory settings. Rejoice, iFanatics -- it charges devices while docked. Ships with remote and a ton of iPod dock adapters.
TIRED: Rechargeable-battery-powered satellites would've been nice. Audio quality doesn't hold a candle to wireless systems from Bose. Altec. 2.1 stereo driver is great for music, but stunts home theater possibilities. Buttons on base station feel flimsy.
$510 as tested, Eos Wireless

Read our full Eos 100T1RB Wireless Audio System review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
: What appeared to be cool about the little Sony Ericsson W350 proved itself to be an annoyance and a hassle to use. Not that it doesn't look good. Sleek and petite, this Walkman phone is slimmer and narrower than most candy-bar handsets. A small flip panel that houses the controls opens to reveal a keypad composed of glossy Chiclets and a squared-off oval navigation pad. Though pretty, these design touches are the most irritating features of the phone. The smooth keys are hard to press in isolation. The navpad leaves little room for easy navigation. And the flimsy flip panel takes great skill to open one-handedly, which makes it bad for efficient answering.
The phone comes with what looks like a 512-MB microSD card. But wait -- it's Sony's own memory card, the incompatible Memory Stick M2. When was the last time you've seen any Memory Stick slots in a non-Sony notebook? Don't forget to lock the phone after every call, because when it's flipped shut, the phone defaults to Walkman mode, and a key in your pocket could start an impromptu jam session in a company meeting. On the bright side, when this phone comes out, it'll be cheap, around $30 with a two-year contract.
WIRED: It's as tiny and as pretty as a music-box ballerina. Includes an FM radio (which will be cool until the HD-radio takeover next year).
TIRED: The keys and navpad are unfit for grownup human use. The phone's clunky headphone connector has all the charm of a tumor. The awkward flip panel makes for clumsy, fumbling answers.
$30 estimated with two-year contract, Sony Ericsson

Photo: Jon Snyder/
Read our full Sony Ericsson W350 review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
: The Nokia E66 has what we in the lab have taken to calling the "mullet button" (actual name: switch mode). This feature allows your mobile to toggle between two separate screen modes. Keep the first one full of all your spreadsheets, work e-mail, TPS reports and other boring business stuff. When you leave the office, let your hair down a little and switch to the personal mode and start using all the applications that hamper productivity.
The E66 has a lot in common with an N-series device, and is functionally almost identical to the N78, sporting 3G, WiFi, media player, FM radio and a 3.2-megapixel cam. But there is one overarching quality that puts it squarely in the business world: Like many jobs, it sounds great at first, but gets old real fast once you see past the shine.
WIRED: A magnificent piece of hardware, with Vertu-level build quality. Nice form factor: thin enough to disappear in your pocket but large enough for a 2.5-inch screen. Upgraded processor runs S60 even more snappily than the N95 8 GB. Automatic screen orientation. Finger-friendly textured keys. Hard buttons for silent mode and Bluetooth on/off.
TIRED: Mullet mode adds yet another level of menus under which to bury functions. Arrgh! S****y metal backplate gets hand-scaldingly hot. Road warriors will scoff at the battery life: around three hours of talk time (con Bluetooth). Must pay extra for business applications -- document, spreadsheet editor, etc. Camera sucks in anything but perfect light.
$500, Nokia

Photo: Jon Snyder/
Read our full Nokia E66 review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
: When we first reviewed the Toshiba Portege R500 in July 2007, it was a breath of fresh air, an impossibly portable ultralight that stood out against a field of also-rans. But the machine hasn't received a significant update in that time, and it is now having its lunch eaten by all of the competition it previously trounced. Our model came with a larger hard drive, a faster CPU and more RAM than the model we tested last year. None of these mild improvements served to boost the R500 up to hang with its newfound contenders.
The R500 is still the lightest full-featured laptop on the market, weighing just 2.4 pounds while still offering an optical drive. But the Portege makes a lot of sacrifices to reach such an anorexic state, the most obvious being build quality and components that feel shaky, to put it mildly. Nearly as problematic is the dreadful performance of the R500, about 23 percent slower than both the Sony Vaio TZ-150 and the MacBook Air ultralights. Still, if the durability and performance concerns don't turn you off, there's a bit to like here. With three USB ports, FireWire, VGA, SD card and ethernet ports, the machine is pretty full-featured, and its $2,149 price is competitive next to most other ultralights.

Amazingly, almost suspiciously, light. Integrated optical drive. 12.1-inch screen a decent compromise between 11.1- and 13.3-inch models.
TIRED:Terrible screen quality, one of the dimmest on the market and hard to read if you're not looking straight on. Pitiful performance under Vista. Lack of sturdiness is outright scary. Only 1 GB of RAM.
$2,150 as tested, Toshiba

Read our full Toshiba R500 review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
: With its buttonless face and black monolithic look, the all-touchscreen Instinct is immediately familiar: It's virtually the same weight and size as the iPhone, only about two-tenths of an inch narrower. Most of the expected specs are here: 3G, GPS, 2-megapixel camera (with video recording), and full e-mail and web browsing features. Of course, the real reason for the iPhone's success is its operating system, and here the Instinct is still playing catch-up. While everything is intuitive and pretty zippy, it's still not quite as polished as Apple's version. As well, the narrower body trims nearly a half inch off the iPhone's screen size, which really cramps page size. Even typing on the Instinct can be rocky: I made so many mistakes in notes and web URLs that typing slowed to a painful crawl even by iPhone's slow standards. The Instinct won't woo the Apple faithful from upgrading to the iPhone 3G, but it's definitely good enough to rank as a solid second-tier player in the smartphone space.
WIRED: Turn-by-turn GPS navigation is very responsive, generally accurate and updates quickly. Easily customizable home screen. Painless e-mail setup works well with numerous hosts. Decent multimedia options (included with $99 all-you-can-eat service plan) include copious TV options. Works with any screen-tapping implement (not just your finger).
TIRED: No WiFi. Clearly cellphone-quality photos. No internal storage: 2-GB microSD card included (upgradeable to 8 GB). Can't edit attachments. Web browser needs a serious reworking. Includes a stylus ... but provides no slot to stow it.
$130 (with two-year contract), Samsung

Photo: Jon Snyder/
Read our full Samsung Instinct review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.
: The diminutive D60 is a fistful of photo-tech fun as the beneficiary of a bucketful of Nikon D300 trickle down like a speedier EXPEED image processor, a vibration-reducing zoom lens, Active D-Lighting and a dust-reduction system with a particle-purging vent. From the moment you flip on the power, the D60 is ready to shoot. Its 10-megapixel photos were punchy, sharp and pleasing. Not a big jump in sharpness from the D40x, but noticeable, especially at higher ISO settings where the new EXPEED image processor's noise reduction algorithm really kicks in.
The simple user interface takes cues from Nikon's point-and-shoots and a variety of in-camera editing and touch-up features pretty much eliminate the need to use any post-production software. The D60 comes up a little short in frame rate. At just three frames per second in continuous shooting mode, you may be disappointed by its stop-action sports performance. Also, its three-point auto-focus system is one-third of its closest competitor, Canon's Rebel XSi. All in all the D60 is a straight outta the box, shoot-your-ever-smiling-face-off winner. However, if you harbor any ambition of getting more creative with your image making, then you may find that you outgrow this camera faster than you'd expected.
WIRED: Brightest, sharpest LCD in category. Stop-motion movies. Active D-Lighting fixes shots during processing. In-camera RAW conversion. Fast start-up to shoot.
TIRED: Compact styling means the controls are a bit cramped for big hands. Only three-point auto-focus system. Manual shooting a bit ungainly. Just three frames per second in continuous shooting mode.
$700 as tested, Nikon

Photo: Jackson Lynch/
Read our full Nikon D60 review.
Check's latest Gadget Lab reviews, updated daily.

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