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Post-mortem on Road Trip 2008 gadgets

After 4,583 miles and the opportunity to test out a series of some of the latest gadgets, this year's road trip comes to a close.

For my Road Trip 2008 computer needs, I used a MacBook Air, from Apple. At one point, Apple sent me a second machine, so I had two. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

TAMPA, Fla.--And so it ends.

After driving through nine Southern states and crossing innumerable borders, Road Trip 2008 has come to an end.

What began in Orlando, Fla., ended 4,593 miles later here in Tampa. Along the way, the trip has taken me to a Space Shuttle landing, to the Corvette factory, to watch the Blue Angels practice at their home base, to being banned from Graceland, and much, much more.

Through it all I carried with me thousands of dollars worth of tech gear, aiming to road test it all. The list of gadgets included some of the coolest new toys around, as well as some that have been on the market for many months.

And, unfortunately, I wasn't able to try them all out. The vagaries of driving hundreds of miles a day on top of reporting stories and writing them left me with little time to test the gear I'd brought, something I knew intellectually after last year's journey of 4,891 miles through the Southwest on Road Trip 2007.

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Still, I did manage to use almost every pieces of gear I brought with me, and if you've been following the trip, then you've seen some of my stories about them.

Already, I've talked about how I used two different devices for shooting low-fi video. The first was a service called Qik, which runs on a number of smart phones, such as the Nokia N95 I had with me. The second was a Flip Mino, a dedicated video camera that allows for easy shooting and simple--though sometimes slow--uploading to YouTube and other video-sharing services.

Of course, visuals being as important as they are, a huge piece of this whole project was the thousands of photographs I took. I ran 27 different photo galleries during the trip, and with a couple of exceptions, I shot every single photo with a Nikon D60.

Nikon lent me the camera, as well as two lenses, a 70-200mm telephoto and a 16-85mm.

In addition, because Nikon wasn't able to provide me with an ultra-wide angle lens, I rented one from, as I knew that that would be the lens that I'd use more than any of the others.

And indeed, that's exactly what happened.

As I mentioned, the camera was with me pretty much at all times. It had to be in order to shoot as many pictures as I did.

And I'm a Canon guy. My own personal camera is a Canon Rebel XT, but this year, I thought I'd try Nikon's new D60, just to see what it was like.

I have to say: it was great. It was simple to use, it was fairly light, its batteries lasted forever and, I think, it took great pictures.

To be sure, if I knew a little bit more about how to use it, it would have taken even better pictures, but it did just great thanks.

The Nikon D60 and 16-85mm and 70-300mm lenses I used on Road Trip 2008. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

The D60 has a very satisfying shutter action, an intuitive menu structure, and a satisfying feel in my hand. It is easy to swap lenses on and off, and I did so fairly regularly.

The telephoto lens was great. As I wrote early in the trip, I showed up for the Space Shuttle landing, telephoto lens in hand, only to find that some of the pros there were sporting huge lenses. I thought I was screwed. Yet, the lens did just fine, shooting a series of very serviceable shots, maybe nothing that would work in a magazine, but just fine for online.

I'll be happy to return to my Rebel XT, but I wonder if I'm going to enjoy it as much as the D60.

It is worth noting, however, that one very odd thing happened with the camera.

I was in Pensacola, Fla., standing on the tarmac at the Naval Air Station there where the Blue Angels make their home, and suddenly, without warning, the camera's LCD cracked. Not the glass, mind you, but the LCD under it. This made it impossible to see the pictures once I'd shot them or to make any kind of menu changes.

Luckily, the camera itself still worked fine, and I was able to take at least a thousand or so pictures after this.

But no one I've talked to has ever heard of the LCD cracking on a digital SLR, and even now, I really have no idea what happened. My contact at Nikon is looking into it, I believe.

Sprint's Compass 597, one of the two EVDO modem that I used on Road Trip 2008. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

There's no question that the most important piece of technology I had with me was the MacBook Air I had with me. But rather than go into my experiences with it here, I'll just mention that I've already written a story about that.

Beyond the computer, though, there's little doubt that the next most important set of tech I had with me were the two EVDO modems I was carrying, one each from Sprint and Verizon.

On Road Trip 2007, I had one from Verizon, and I loved it. I would say the same this time around about both the Sprint modem and the new one I had from Verizon.

It's really hard to differentiate between the two of them, though there were clearly places where one worked better than the other. I had all the best intentions of keeping track of where each one worked better, but that was one of the logistical things that fell by the wayside as the realities of the intensity of my daily routine on the trip set in.

Suffice it to say that overall, I would say that they performed equally well: In most places, they both worked great, while in some one would work well, while the other wouldn't. Over the course of the 4,583 miles, I'd say it was probably a wash as to which one worked better at any given time.

Each has a simple software interface. In ideal circumstances, it takes no more than a few seconds to get online and get working.

To be sure, there were places where neither one worked all that well, and when that coincided with poor Wi-Fi reception, that made for some difficult situations, as broadband connectivity is a crucial component of a project that involves sending more than a dozen photos over the Internet every day, as well as tons of Web-based research.

The Verizon USB727, the other EVDO modem I used on Road Trip 2008. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Of course, none of the trip would have been possible without a good car, and so the Subaru Outback 2.5 XT I had for every mile of the journey--except for an overnight round-trip flight from Nashville to Houston and back--was a great solution. But you can read my story about that.

And that leaves the last device I used: an Apple iPhone.

I had been holding out on buying one, but I definitely was interested in trying out the famous smart phone.

Did I think I'd get hooked? No. But one of my colleagues bet me $5 that I'd return from Road Trip ready to buy my own.

And I think she's going to win the bet, especially now that the iPhone 3G is out.

The Subaru Outback 2.5 XT that I drove around the South on Road Trip 2008. All told, I drove 4,593 miles across eight states. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

To be sure, the device--at least the original version--has problems. The AT&T Edge network is painfully slow, as everyone knows.

Yet, the ability to get what amounts to a rich Web experience on the go, as well as to use the mapping tools and the extremely well-thought out iPhone interface won me over.

Despite it having a form factor that I think is a little too big to be comfortable--for me, at least--I'm prepared to fork over the $199 for an iPhone 3G, if only because I know that it has become essential in my life to have Internet as often as possible. I don't know if that's a good thing, but it is what it is.

One odd iPhone experience I had was at Fort Benning, the Army base in Columbus, Ga. In truth, the base straddles the border between Georgia and Alabama, and thus the dividing line between the central and eastern time zones.

At one point while I was on the base, my host and I were driving around trying to find something, both of us clutching our iPhones. I looked down and noticed that my phone had switched to central time, while his hadn't. Or maybe it was the other way around. But the point is that both phones were on the same network, and yet were registering different times. I found that very interesting, and neither of us could figure out why.

It doesn't really matter, of course, but it is worth mentioning.

Ultimately, I used the iPhone constantly, to check e-mail, to figure out where I was, to make phone calls, as my morning alarm clock and more. And yes, I suspect I will be paying off my colleague within a matter of days.

The last device I had with me was a Dash Express car navigator. Unfortunately, I was never able to find the time to get it set up, and so I wasn't able to evaluate it. I hope Dash will be willing to let me hold on to it for a little while longer to try it out in my regular life. But I do apologize for not getting around to using it. I truly was looking forward to doing so.

In the end, Road Trip 2008 was a success. I visited some of the most interesting places I've ever been to, and saw very large parts of a region of the country I'd never been to before.

And without many of the gadgets I was ferrying around with me, I wouldn't have been able to share it with you, and that would have been a shame.

Thanks for following along with me. I really appreciate it. And stay tuned for Road Trip 2009. Now, back to your regularly scheduled Geek Gestalt.