Gadgets: This is what you should buy

Welcome to our tech-buying cheat sheet. There are no specs and no benchmarks, no rigorous stress-tests or complex comparisons. Just straightforward recommendations, aimed at easing the agony of choice for those who suffer from it. If making a decision only awakens an evil inner imp, who conjures ideal devices comprising the best features of everything you don't choose, this is for you. The "cheap" item indicates quality on a budget. The "best" item represents not extravagance, but excellence that's worth paying for. In the third column lies wonder, weirdness or simply an alternative that deserves mention.
Asus' 900HA is small, cheap and surprisingly capable. (Just don't get the 900A, the stinker at Best Buy and Target) HP's Mini 1000, when upgraded with HSDPA and the 10.2" infinity display, is something that will have to be clawed from your cold, dead hands. But if you care about battery life, it's no match for Samsung's NC10, which gets nearly 7 hours on a charge. People wanting to install OSX should get the MSI Wind.
Basic laptops are nearly interchangeable, but Dell's low-end Inspirons are a safe bet. For people wanting power and serious quality, Apple's MacBook Pro is a nearly perfect marriage of beautiful design and high performance. But if you just want something that looks stunning, Voodoo's Envy 133 is the real object of beauty. Just don't expect it to play all the latest games!
A $30, 9mm-thick handset with a cool e-ink display, Moto's unlocked F3 is ready to take into any cellphone shop for contract-free action. Apple's iPhone 3G is, thanks to its AppStore and fantastic combo of software and hardware, an unstoppable force at $200. LG's Lotus, on Sprint, is about as strange and sexy as you can go without losing a real qwerty keyboard.
Creative's Zen Pebble is a cute little thing, as cheap as a decent family meal. Apple's iPod Touch is practically a handheld computer–movies, music and games galore. Sony's Rolly is a thing of wonder: if you throw yours away, you'll one day curse yourself for it.
Need a basic model? Grab whichever clicker Canon or Sony is currently selling for just under $200, and you'll be happy. After Nikon dropped the ball with the so-so P6000, Canon's G10 is the king of point-and-shoots in the $500 ballpark. Casio's EX-F1 is an insane contraption that shoots video at hundreds of frames per second.
Beginners and bargain hunters will love their Rebel XSis and Nikon D40s for years. Upgrade to the Canon Eos 5D MkII if you want to take the plunge and have giant sacks of cash; the $1,500 Nikon D300 is a mid-range alternative you could start a career with.
Flip's MinoHD marries the original's idiot-proof simplicity with surprisingly good video. Canon's Vixia range offers the best quality you'll get under a grand. Sanyo's Xacti HD1010 is outright phenomenal for something so tiny.
Hate phones but like email? Get a Peek. Want something smaller than a netbook but more powerful? Raon's Everun Note is a $700 7-inch pocket PC that whips them all. When you've realized that buying cheap, nasty GPS boxes is a bad idea, Garmin's Nuvi 880's excellent speech recognition is the antidote. Eye-Fi is an SD card that uploads your photos over WiFi. Smart shoppers only buy TVs they've seen in person, but for bleeding-edge cool, Sony's OLED XEL-1 is the king--all 11 inches of it. Still buying desktop PCs? Sony's JS series all-in-one has blu and solid performance, outclassing Apple's aging current-gen iMac and HP's puny Touchsmart. This cheat sheet will be maintained and updated, so tell us your suggestions in the comments for better choices or new categories. Remember, the idea is to make decisions easier. Not items that evince raw superiority, but equipment you'd be happy with for years: stuff where the fidelity trend goes up, even if it doesn't start so high.

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at  
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43 Responses to Gadgets: This is what you should buy

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beschizza, no one here is going to care about that subjective wonder of technology, a-guide-for-you-and-your-gramps stuff.

    They will just stop scanning at the first thing they disagree with and then dump bipolar basement-dwelling wrath into the comments.

  2. icky2000 says:

    @ BROKENMONKEY: See DCULBERSON’s insightful comment. He has your number.

    @ ROB BESCHIZZA: Grow a pair. Pick your favorite and stand by it. Really, these sorts of lists are necessarily reflective of the folks that wrote them and regardless of your choice, there will be plenty of BROKENMONKEYs available to complain.

    Then again, I’m still using and enjoying a G2 so perhaps I’m not a good judge of things.

  3. zuzu says:

    I’d like to see a non-Mac pick for best cellphone and best music device, please. Both of the devices listed are unacceptable to me

    I’m honestly genuinely satisfied with my BlackBerry Bold. I have an unlocked one I use with T-Mobile as my service provider.

  4. Rob Beschizza says:

    Icky, don’t be a dicky.

  5. grimc says:

    Nintendo DS Lite. It’s for kids, it’s for adults, it’s for kadults!

    I’m getting one for my business traveler brother, with a proper grown up title like Brain Age and something sillier that he can enjoy with his toddler.

  6. Anonymous says:

    A suggestion – perhaps split up the “Cameras” category into Point and shoot and Prosumer/Serious/Marketing-term-of-choice?

    And, on the latter, a vote for the Panasonic LX3 as an alternative to the Canon G10 (and, yes, this is *despite* the huge controversy over RAW support and lens distortion). Compared to the G10 the LX3 is smaller (and thus more discreet); it also has a wider and faster lens.

  7. Rob Beschizza says:


    There’ll be more, though there are categories that none of us are really into.

    I thought of asking some other writers in the “gadgetosphere” to contribute a thing or two, but it would be fantastic if y’all could help out — just bear in mind the concept, however precious it is, of this being personal recommendations for the things that make us happy, not the the facts that justify them.

    I want to do vacuum cleaners, but my grand total experience of vacuum cleaners is a used Dyson, a Hoover and our ancient Kirby That Will Not Die.

  8. Blue says:

    For an entry level DSLR you want to go Canon or Nikon, and the Rebel Xsi (or 450D as we call it) is an excellent choice.

    If you’re starting out, you’re going to probably buy a few extra lenses. If you start out with a entry-level Sony and updgrade to a better Canon/Nikon, you’re going to have to replace those lenses.

    Start as you (may) mean to go on. The rebel/450D is a good choice. You can build a career on one of these, never mind the Nikon D300.

  9. Rob Beschizza says:

    GrimC, I’m gonna get Brandon to do the game category. If he doesn’t include the DS, though, he’s wrong

  10. zuzu says:

    I want to do vacuum cleaners, but my grand total experience of vacuum cleaners is a used Dyson, a Hoover and our ancient Kirby That Will Not Die.

    Roomba FTW. Let the robots do the robot work.

  11. nolly says:

    Eh, dump Xandros for ubuntu-eee, and the 900A’s not bad. Meets my needs so far, at any rate. And the price was right — under $300.

  12. bardfinn says:

    I know a bipolar basement-dweller named Wrath.

    Though I neither agree nor disagree with the article’s suggestions, I cannot help now but to nudge him to check this out.


  13. Morttheinsane says:

    Anyone have any advice for a cheapish ($50-100) pair of headphones? Not earbuds though, I have yet to find a pair that fits comfortably in both my ears.

  14. Julian Bond says:

    MP3 player. Best = iPod 160Gb classic
    Ooops. They don’t make it any more.

  15. gouldina says:

    BrokenMonkey: Spot on. I don’t see how anyone can recommend an entry-level DSLR other than the A200 – they’re virtually giving it away for its spec.

  16. E0157H7 says:

    If you don’t mind sacrificing some PC functionality for size, the Nokia N810 is an awesome little machine. The screen is a 4″ 800×480 touchscreen. Note that it is NOT a UMPC, nor is it comparable to an iPod touch. It uses a 400Mhz ARM processor and a custom-made Linux OS, as well as a thumb board or onscreen keyboard. It’s great for around-the-house web browsing. It can throttle itself way down and reduce battery drain enough to be left on all day and still be ready to go. It also has some features that really appeal to my personal tastes, one of which is a storage slot for a stylus though it is primarily finger-oriented. Another big plus is that it uses the dime-a-dozen Nokia mobile phone chargers. They run about $375, depending on where you buy. Fair warning: It’s decidedly not for everybody. It isn’t a basic netbook, nor is it a friendly Apple product. The OS is easy to figure out but atypical. It probably won’t appeal to the average person but it’s great for someone that wants functional WiFi access on hand in a small package.

  17. Joe H says:

    Thanks for the roundup. How about digital audio recorders? Would be great to hear about voice recorders but especially pro lossless type thingies.

  18. acb says:

    I must disagree with the choice of “best” compact camera. While Canon’s PowerShot range used to be the best, it has declined somewhat after Canon started running the megapixel race hard, to the detriment of dynamic range and low-light performance, and replaced the excellent f/2.0 lenses in the G1-G6 with a standard compact f/2.8 lens. The G10, with its soaring megapixel count and tiny f/2.8 lens, is sadly no exception to this decline.

    I would have placed the Panasonic DMC-LX3 in the G10’s stead; it is, IMHO, probably the best general-purpose compact these days that’s actually in production. (The Sigma DP1 gets points as well, though the prime lens does count against it unless one knows what one is getting into.)

  19. Marsha Keeffer says:

    Thanks for an excellent list – good variety and the price ranges help me select for those near and dear…and, ahum, not so.

  20. Rob Beschizza says:

    Yeah, I’m aware of the g10’s shortcomings and we’ll definitely consider replacing it.

    I also want to get my hands on the Ricoh GR Digital II, as it’s (a) got some unusual features and (b) Ricoh’s fans seem to love their cameras VERY hard.

  21. gobo says:

    I have to give my personal props to the Canon PowerShot SD870. The number of PowerShot models available right now is dizzying and annoying, but the 870 is a gem. Besides brilliant low-light performance and image stabilization (letting me take shots in near-darkness), it’s one of the only wide-angle compact cameras on the market. Best digital camera I’ve owned.

  22. jgrassick says:

    Vacuum cleaners – the Stihl SE61. Same as the Nilfisk but for a third of the price and with cheap bags and accessories; €15 for 3 rubble filters!

    Annoying gadgets – Wii Fit, Mugen Pop Pop, Tefal Ingenio

  23. biffpow says:

    Lots of camera chatter–I wouldn’t have expected that here for some reason. Very informative.

    I’d like to see a non-Mac pick for best cellphone and best music device, please. Both of the devices listed are unacceptable to me (ie: drm’d music and AT+T long distance) and, I’d thought, the boing2 folks. Anyone? Bueller?

  24. Marik says:

    Cell Phones; why aren’t they all waterproof?
    For my money the cell phone to die for is the G’zOne. I have the Type-V so I can’t comment on the newer type S & boulder models but I’ve been satisfied with mine for over two years, it’s still works like when I unwrapped it, and I’m not giving it up.

    Although it doesn’t have some of the whiz-bang features other slimmer/techier phones do I’ve really enjoyed the fact that when I bought it over the phone the customer service rep told me I wouldn’t need the insurance, that I’ve dropped it from the top to the bottom of the up escalator in the mall, off the roof & from a moving vehicle, used it to take pictures/movies of my nephews from the bottom of the pool, and both fixed a broken sprinkler head and changed a tire in the desert in the dark using the built in LED flashlight.
    It’s HILARIOUS when it’s tossed into a friend or co-workers drink at the bar (especially when you call it and it lights up), rebounds sharply from all manner of surfaces, and when dirty cleans up nicely with a little dish soap and running tap water. It’s Mil-Spec’d to MIL-STD-810F, got GPS and lots of other stuff as well.

    It may not be the phone for you, but the question at hand is: why aren’t those features in your phone as well?

  25. penguinchris says:

    I want to chime in with support for #24 Blue’s comment – the Sony and Olympus DSLRs are great cameras, but their limited market share eliminates one of the major advantages of choosing a DSLR in the first place, which is the wide variety of available lenses and other accessories.

    Buying a Sony or Olympus at this point is almost like buying a souped-up P&S camera. You’re stuck with the handful of lenses that are available. A lot of the lenses are good or great, and some likely outperform the Canon or Nikon equivalent, but there’s just no place to go if you want or need something different.

    That said, I don’t think the 5D II belongs on this list. It’s not a casual gift purchase. If someone knows about and desires this camera, they’re already serious about photography and they have plans to buy it on their own – if they can afford it (it’s expensive!) Nothing saddens serious amateurs who can’t afford the 5D series more than seeing photos taken with it by people who have no idea what they’re doing (myself, I can only afford – barely – the prosumer 40D and a handful of decently nice lenses.)

    So, actually, I recommend replacing the 5D II on this list with something from Sony or Olympus. It’ll be the one aimed towards the person who wants more than a P&S can offer, but doesn’t plan on spending a lot of money on lens upgrades in the future. The standard lenses from those companies are very good and should satisfy that kind of photographer, who just wants one or two lenses that work fine for most purposes, for a long time. This is not something that Canon or Nikon focus on, because they have so many nice, expensive lenses available, and I’m sure they’d prefer if everyone bought those instead of sticking with the lens that came with the camera :)

  26. dculberson says:

    Brokenmonkey might or might not have a point about the A200, but he’s such an asshole about it that nobody in their right mind would pay attention to it.

  27. zuzu says:

    I’d like to throw in my support for the G10, or at least the G9. (The G10 seems like it’s basically the same thing but with more megapixels, just as the G9 was to the G7.) With the aluminum bayonet lens adapter, it can be both a high-end point-and-shoot and a low-end DSLR. The only thing it’s missing is GPS for geotagging.

    As for the PowerShot SD770, chdk not supported, yet.

  28. Anonymous says:

    What a load of rubbish! How can anyone claim the iTouch is the best MP3 player?? Apple’s devices have notoriously poor audio quality (surpassed even by an early Sony Ericsson phone), and lacks even a rudimentary EQ (opting instead for a narrow selection of audio profiles). Most of the list is ridiculous.

    As I worked my way through this, I got the impression that it was compiled by someone who has no clue about technology, has no personal experience of the featured devices, or belongs to the cult of Apple. Of course, the first two are easily and accurately assumed of the third anyway.

  29. FutureNerd says:

    Audio recorder– Zoom H2. Four channel lossless up to 48kHz 24bit, or stereo up to 96 kHz 24 bit, or stereo mp3 48-320 kbps.

  30. HarshLanguage says:

    Anyone have an opinion on the lower-end Sanyo Xactis versus the Flip MinoHD? Looks like the Xactis would add complexity, but also nice features like image stabilization and optical zoom. I’ve been looking at Flips, Kodak Vi6, etc and thinking they’re a bit too compromised, at least for this generation of the hardware. Tough decision though, easy-to-use software designed to work with the camera is a big plus.

  31. Rich says:

    Does Apple pay BoingBoing for all the hype?

  32. Joel Johnson says:

    Rich, they pay us exactly as much money as we pay you to come around and be a dumb dick.

  33. BrokenMonkey says:

    I strongly disagree with your choice for cheap DSLR, the Sony Alpha A200 is way better than the Canon XSi or the Nikon D40, since it has built-in image stabilization, so it works with all lenses and you’re not paying extra for stabilized lenses, there is a large range of a-mount lenses available, and it has advanced features like Auto D-range optimizer, all for $100-$150 less than the Canon or Nikon. The Olympus E420 is also a great DSLR for even less than the A200. I’d hoped that BBG would have done more research on this and either you’ve got a Nikon/Canon fanboy writing posts or you just slapped together a lame gift guide, and if that’s the case then I can’t trust any of your suggestions and I would recommend that other people don’t either. If you can’t pick out a good gadget at one price point in one category what is there to make me think that you could in any other category?

  34. ridl says:

    Can you hackintosh the pretty Sony all-in-one?

  35. things says:

    yes! I’m so glad you listed the motofone! I have one and love it!

  36. HarshLanguage says:

    The Creative Zen MP3 player Amazon link didn’t work for me. It may be because the player is called the Stone, not pebble. It’s small, but I guess Creative doesn’t think it’s small enough to be a pebble. That’s next year’s model (with optional shoe-sole storage system!).

    Seriously though, Samsung makes a player called the Pebble. Same shtick as the Stone except no built-in speaker.

    For a cheap MP3 player, though, I’d recommend the Sansa Clip. 4GB Clips are around $45 at the moment. I love my year-old 2GB Clip, especially the, uh, clip. Much less cash per gig than the iPod Shuffle, and more features than the Stone (and the Pebble) for about the same money. It’s definitely not as minimalistic, even though it’s not much bigger than any of the others. Whether that’s a good thing or not is personal preference. I like it because the Clip doesn’t make many compromises compared to larger MP3 players.

  37. gobo says:

    #26 & #27, since the iPod Touch and iPhone work equally well with a Mac or a PC (or, hell, a Mac running Windows), complaining about Apple makes you sound like an old man on his porch, yelling at the kids with their newfangled gadgets. BB doesn’t give Apple stuff props because it’s hip. It’s because they work really damn well.

  38. zuzu says:

    Audio recorder– Zoom H2. Four channel lossless up to 48kHz 24bit, or stereo up to 96 kHz 24 bit, or stereo mp3 48-320 kbps.

    Yes, I know several people who swear by this. One other instead picked up the previous recommendation of M-Audio AudioTrack II.

  39. Rob Beschizza says:

    Yay, nerdrage and spec-sheet citations in the first comment.

    If you think this piece is biased against Sony … I don’t think you can be helped.

  40. TabulaRasa says:

    Whoah, marked the EX-F1 down from 999.99$ to 999.00$!
    Order now, it’s a steal! ;)

  41. dculberson says:

    Oh! Awesome! So you’re getting rich off this, too?

  42. Rob Beschizza says:

    The Motofone is a curious cult item, I used it myself until recently.

    It’s here because it’s both rudimentary and cheap, but has that little extra magic in the thinness and e-ink display. Nokia makes similar things, but they just feel like, well, cheap phones. The Motofone has an air of ruthless subtractive design about it, which I love.

    The implementation is flawed: the e-ink characters are not only very large, meaning you can’t fit a whole number on one line, but they are old-school calculator symbols. It can’t render text properly. The user interface aims for simplicity, but ends up being fiddly and annoying, like playing those old Tiger handheld LCD games from the 1980s.

    A revision with a pixelated e-ink display and a little refinement would be wonderful.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Will headphone/speaker picks be coming along too?

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