With Thanksgiving a week away, the Crave team couldn't help but express gratitude for the consumer electronics that make life easier--and sometimes far less productive. Click through this gallery to see which gadgets Crave contributors appreciate most these days, and be sure to have a look at part deux, in which Cravers give thanks for the Apple iPhone, iRobot Scooba, Nikon D80, and more.
BlackBerry Curve Those who have known me for the past four years know how attached I was to my Palm Treo. I wrote stories on it, checked e-mail on it, and could be seen wandering around the newsroom, bumping into things as I focused more on the phone than my surroundings. That said, the gadget I am most thankful for at this moment is the replacement for my Palm Treo, the BlackBerry Curve.
While my Treo was rock solid when it came to e-mail, the Palm OS' sub-par Web browsing and multimedia abilities left me wanting. The BlackBerry Curve has managed to do everything my Treo did--and do it better. Plus, although it's no Canon, the camera is good enough to take blog-worthy pictures from time to time. I don't even have Storm envy... yet.
Alpine CDA-9884 When is it time to get a new car stereo? When your 7-year-old factory-installed CD player rejects Bruce Springsteen. It first started editorializing earlier this year when it dismissed the new album from Destroyer--not to everyone's taste, I admit.
Later, it regurgitated the latest from the Raconteurs--more mainstream and hard not to like. Next, it said no to the Boss. The only thing to do was replace the stereo.
Enter the Alpine CDA-9884. Not surprisingly, it accepts all CDs (I have simple needs). It's satellite-radio-ready, and it's Bluetooth-ready, so it's a stereo I can really grow into. But best of all, it enables me to access the music collection on my 30GB iPod right from the stereo.
The iPod connects--and charges--via a hidden cable (about $30 extra) that runs from the stereo to the glove box. I can hook up the iPod, toss it in the glove box, and forget about it. A seemingly endless menu of music is at my fingertips.
Add to that the fact that the guy who installed the stereo goes by the name "Goose" (it even says so on the receipt). Makes me wonder how I ever got along without it.
Logitech Harmony 550 When I bought the Logitech Harmony 550 a year and a half ago for my father-in-law, it was the cheapest Harmony on the market, and it still is today. He didn't like it though--the buttons were too small and he had to squint at the readout--so I dutifully gave him my beloved flyswatter, the Home Theater Master MX-700, and took the Harmony for myself. It was a bittersweet trade. At the time, I had defended the MX-700 to Harmony fanboys at work, and anybody else who would listen, calling it the best clicker on the planet.
After a year with the 550 though, I'm changing my tune: Harmony is just the best. I'm not saying the entry-level 550 is the best Harmony remote though. I still complain about the counterintuitive arrangement of the Menu, Guide, Exit, and Info keys, and I hate the undistinguishable 2x4 grid of transport controls at the top. But I can live with those problems, because what matters to me is getting the Harmony operating system for a low price.
It's just cake to set up and use. When I get a new piece of gear or have to test something in my system at home, I fire up the software and have it integrated in moments. My tech-impatient wife, who was able to understand and use the remote immediately, swears by the Help function. On the cheat sheet to my home's tech for house-sitters, the section devoted to the entertainment system takes up one line: "Use Harmony Remote." Thanks, Harmony.
Canon EF 70-200mm F/4L IS lens Canon's EF 70-200mm F/4L IS lens is a workhorse, and I love it. Sure, its price is on the wrong side of $1,000, but if you're serious about photography, rationalize it this way: it'll last you more than 10 years at a bit over 25 cents a day.
The lens has fantastic image stabilization that's enabled me to shoot all the way out at 200mm at 1/10 of a second handheld on many occasions, but even better is the terrific sharpness. Pro photographers prefer Canon's image-stabilized F2.8 lens with the same zoom range, but the slower F4 model is about $500 cheaper right now and considerably lighter, and I'm willing to bump my camera's ISO speed up a notch when it's darker. It's rugged and sealed against the elements, which I appreciate as I lug it on hikes, business trips, and especially backpacking excursions.
The lens comes with a removable lens hood to cut down on glare and protect the outer lens element--and even better for the status symbol crowd, it adds about three inches to the length to more effectively cow SLR owners who just have the kit lens. The bummer for tripod mounting ring is an extra $150 accessory.
Sharp 42-inch Aquos Nothing says Thanksgiving like football. Well, I suppose there are those purists who believe the day is about taking time to reconnect with family and friends over a traditional feast meant to remind us that life is good. But those people are lame.
While this Thanksgiving I'll have to be away from my beloved 42-inch Sharp Aquos HD television, I'll always be thankful for the ability to watch both a terrible Detroit Lions team and the underachieving Dallas Cowboys in crystal-clear high definition.
And of course, the Bay Area sporting calendar never takes a holiday, which means I'll see every blade of grass fly as Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell runs for his life, I'll count the revolutions of an ill-advised Golden State Warriors three-pointer clanging off the rim, and mirror the expressions of disgust on the fans at AT&T Park as we watch yet another San Francisco Giant strike out with a runner on third and one out.
Atari 2600 While the Atari 2600 I have these days isn't my original, it's the same wood-grain, six-switch model I played so often as that kid at left.
Why do I favor it over modern game consoles? Partly because it was the first system I had as a kid, and partly because it's still fun. Pitfall, River Raid, and even Kool-Aid Man. Yes, they made a game of Kool-Aid Man.
I earned a patch for my score on Activision's Seaquest when I was a youngster, and when my kids get a little older, I'll let them play. Maybe.
MacBook I am thankful for my new aluminum MacBook. I've been holding out on buying a MacBook since it was introduced in mid-2006, due to Apple's routine of giving the Pro version a few extra bells and whistles that would later trickle down to the lesser models.
The new version has all of them though: a backlit keyboard, large multitouch trackpad, a user-replacable hard drive, and aluminum body so it won't get scratched up or easily crunched up while it travels with me to and from work.
Garmin Nuvi 370 Several times a week, I thank the gadget gods for my Garmin Nuvi 370. There's no more arguing with others in the car over a map's true meaning, and when you can never get lost, you tend to venture much further from the beaten track.
The Nuvi 370, while not newest Garmin model, gets the job done, and the once-$900 device is now priced at an extremely reasonable $270. The hardy unit has a 3.5-inch touch screen, voice alerts, Bluetooth capability, North American and European maps, an MP3 player, photo storage, a currency converter, a calculator, and local listings.
Driving in foreign countries, you begin to appreciate the persnickety U.S. habit of labeling roads. Most impressive is Garmin's up-to-date knowledge of the most obscure roads in deeply rural England, Scotland, and Italy.
The only flaw is Garmin's gross mispronunciation of foreign-language place names when in American or British English mode. While it's amusing to be told to make a left onto "VIE-al-ay Angle-O MASS-in," it results in missing the turn for Viale Angelo Masini.
--Candace Lombardi, from the picturesque English countryside
PDACookbook Plus Confession: I'm a compulsive recipe hoarder. I check out cookbooks from the library, I regularly browse cooking sites and blogs, and I tear recipes out of food magazines. A few years ago, when I realized the sheer disorganization of my recipe collection was discouraging me from actually cooking, I invested in PDACookbook Plus, a simple database program tailored for recipes.
Now when I find a dish I want to try, I add it to the database, which is searchable by ingredient or category, among other fields. Building a menu and a shopping list for the week--or for a big holiday meal--is just a matter of selecting the recipes and making a few clicks.
I chose PDACookbook Plus because it synchs with my smartphone, which is oh so handy when I'm dashing through the grocery store at 6 p.m. trying to figure out what to make for dinner. But there are plenty of similar programs available to relieve you of your overstuffed file folders and piles of clipped recipes.
iPod Shuffle I bought an iPod Shuffle awhile ago and I will be so sad if Apple ever has the dumb idea to discontinue this product.
It's the perfect workout gadget--I just clip it onto the waistband of my running shorts and I don't have to worry about it bouncing around or getting beat up. The buttons are no-nonsense (click wheels and touch screens aren't easy to operate while running or on a spinning bike) and it clips on to just about any kind of fabric without a problem.