Gear Report Volume 1

Straight out of the review laboratories comes the late summer/fall gear report.  This could be the start of a weekly gear/gadget/gaming section, so we’ll have to see how things go.  If you have a product for review, contact us and maybe we’ll let you send us free shit.

Digital cameras have been getting better and better as their prices continue to drop. No longer is it just your typical geek that has a camera, it’s everyone. In the past year new models of digital SLR cameras have come out under 1000 dollars finally opening up that market to more than just professionals. The first decent affordable digital SLR to get a lot of attention is the Canon EOS Digital Rebel. This very popular 6.3 mega pixel camera has preset modes or allows you to manually adjust many settings. Compatible with many existing Canon Rebel lenses, this is a great choice if you are already loyal to Canon products.

Months after Canon released this camera Nikon stepped things up a notch and released their competing digital SLR, the Nikon d70. Like Digital Rebel, the d70 has preset shooting modes where the camera picks the best settings according to what type of scene you are shooting (portraits, macros, nighttime, sports, landscapes, etc). Three manual modes let you fine tune you photos to your likings. Two areas where the d70 excels are instant power up and continuous shooting at 3 shots/second for up to 144 photos. The typical digital camera delay of time between pressing the button and taking the photo is next to zero with this camera. The d70 is available in just the body only or coupled with various lenses. If you are in the market for a digital SLR I highly recommend the Nikon d70. At 6.1 mega pixels, this camera can produce some large, great looking prints.

If you have a portable mp3 player such as an iPod or if you are kickin it old school with a walkman, the Creative Labs TravelSound speakers are definitely worth looking into. These tiny speakers with 2 watts per 2 channels really crank out clear, crisp sounds. Great for camping trips or anywhere a stereo system or boom box is overkill, you simply plug a cord from the head phone jack into your player and your all set. There are a few different TravelSound models to choose from, the one I bought has 32mb built in memory and also takes Smart Media cards so you can use it even without an external player.

During the summer I generally don’t touch any of the gaming systems I have, however after reading some reviews on the interweb about this game I decided to give a new game a chance. All I can say is if you’re a fan of racing games, get Burnout 3 – Takedown now. Released on Xbox and PS2, this action racer is one of the best I’ve ever played. Putting a different touch on the racing genre, Burnout 3 rewards players for with speed boosts by slamming other cars, catching air, and taking various risks. You have to balance these moves with good racing because your opponents are fast and will fight back. There are various game modes from typical racing circuits to crashup only modes. The Xbox and PS2 versions are playable online, or you can race split screen against a friend. The speed, graphics and control in this game are all awesome, get this game now.

Right around the same week the new Star Wars Trilogy Box Set was released, Lucasarts released Star Wars Battlefront on the PC, Xbox and PS2. This action shooter lets you fight in many of the classic Star Wars battles from classic Trilogy to the new Clone Wars. You can be one of many different soldiers from each side and use over 30 different weapons. The game allows you to switch from 1st to 3rd person view and also lets you fly or ride many of the vehicles ranging from the huge AT Walkers to x-Wings to speeder bikes. Playing online gets pretty crazy when you see vehicles flying all over along with ground troops scattering the land. Overall the action is very fast paced and generally fun. I’d have to say the game isn’t quite as refined as Halo or some other first person shooters, but it’s still worth checking out.

Finally, a bit more on the geekier side of things: Vonage broadband phone service. Cell phones are now being used in place of land lines for a variety of reasons. I’d completely ditch my land line except for 1) my tivo [series 1] still needs a phone line to get listings and 2) I’ve had the same phone number for almost 10 years now. For these two reasons, I’m paying Verizon over 35 bucks for local service and NO long distance. Vonage is a replacement for standard landlines, it routes all incoming and outgoing calls over your high speed internet connection. You simply plug in a Vonage device to your router, plug in a phone, and sign up for the service online. You are assigned a phone number and once online setup is complete you can start making calls local or long distance.

So what’s the upside of all of this?

For 24.99 you get UNLIMITED calls anywhere within the US or Canada, plus there are other calling plans available.

All billing and account services are done through a slick web interface at

Many free features such as voice mail, call waiting, call forwarding, caller id, 3-way calling (plus many more)

Voicemail gets email to you as a sound file, plus you can check it over the phone or online.

You can transfer your existing landline number to your Vonage service

So what’s the downside?

All calls have to be made using 10 digit dialing

Your phone is hosed if your internet connection goes down

You have to setup 911 so it works properly

It can take a while for you existing landline number to switch to Vonage (I’m still waiting)

Overall, I’m very satisfied with Vonage and all of it’s services. In addition to being cheaper than my exsisting Verzon phone bill, I now also get free long distance and a host of cool features. If you have broadband and feel you are getting screwed by your phone bill, check it out. If you email me at the address below you can even get a web refferal for 1 free month of service.