Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate that which we have loved, but also that which disappointed our romantic illusions.
CNET Reviews staff
James Martin/CNET Networks
Sure, Valentine's Day is a time for long-stem roses and "I Love You!" teddy bears. But as this day of compulsory romance approaches, some people find themselves reflecting on their heartbreaks, as well.
It's not just sweethearts who stomp on our dreams, though--technology can, too. So put down that Hallmark card and those pink balloons and scroll through the following pages to see which gadgets have broken Crave contributors' hearts--or at least made us question our undying love.
Windows Media Center
I've always had a bit of a thing for Windows Media Center.
When it first came out, it was the idea of being able to both record TV and burn that show to a DVD that had my heart fluttering. I bought a Windows XP Media Center machine and plugged the cable TV antenna in, relegating TiVo to the other TV.
Over time, though, the computer got slower and slower. Worse, it became flaky at recording TV shows, sometimes crashing in the middle of watching or recording TV.
Media Center has, of course, improved since those early days. It has enhanced some of its recording abilities and added support for things like Web video. Unfortunately, it hasn't really kept pace with how most people watch TV. For example, despite announcing a deal with DirecTV years ago, there is still no way to connect Media Center to a DirecTV signal.
Why, Media Center, why do you make me choose between my loves?
Doctor Doom's Doom Roller
When I was a wee slip of a lad, lo those many years ago, I was a rabid collector of superhero action figures. Being a staunch DC Comics reader, I naturally gravitated toward Kenner's Super Powers Collection. Each figure had a "power action" that you activated by squeezing the figure's legs or arms.
During every trip to any store that had a toy department, my younger brother and I made a beeline to the Super Powers display to look for any figures or vehicles we didn't have. As we had almost everything, we ended up getting stuff from Mattel's Marvel Secret Wars collection. We couldn't leave without buying something.
Flash forward 20-some-odd years to a moment of weakness while perusing eBay, when I found myself the proud owner of Doctor Doom's Doom Roller. This, along with the Tower of Doom playset, were the two major pieces of the toy line that I wished I'd gotten as a kid. In relatively short order, I had them both and was planning on sharing them with my son (granted, he wasn't born yet, but nerds plan ahead).
After leaving the Doom Roller in its unopened box for years, I decided to put it together to show my now-existent son.
The Doom Roller was a car-size pod that was set in a giant wheel. When you turned it on, Dr. Doom would roll over anything in his path. That was the theory, anyway. After struggling far too long to get the pod set on its track properly, I was finally ready to show my then 2-year-old son what cool toys were like when I was a kid. I flipped the on switch, and...nothing.
I checked the batteries; they were put in the right way. Everything was the way it was supposed to be, except that it wasn't moving.
Now it might be a stretch to say that this primitive gadget broke my heart, but I didn't want my son to be disappointed. I braced myself to explain to him that the toy was broken, expecting the worst.
What I hadn't noticed was that in the time it had taken me to troubleshoot the Doom Roller, he'd already moved on to playing with his cars.
He must not be a Marvel fan, either.
James Martin/CNET Networks
Palm Vx and TX
I was the one who was unfaithful.
Since 2001, Palm electronic day planners served me well, starting with the Vx and later the TX. But last summer, I dumped them for a trophy handheld.
My Vx wasn't pretty. It was plain as paper, really, but God did that device change my life.
On my daily commute, it was me and my Vx. I could Hot-Sync the handheld to my computer and download e-mail as well as news stories from AvantGo. The auto reminders saved me from paying bills late or forgetting a friend's birthday. For someone who long carried a traditional paper planner, it was much easier to manage my work source list with a stylus and tab field. Swoosh, up came a person's info.
In 2005, I upgraded to the Palm TX. My Vx worked fine, but I was wooed by the TX's integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 128MB of flash memory, and big 320x480 color screen. I could store photos, music (though it never came close to replacing my iPod), and Word documents. The bigger screen provided a much better e-reading experience, and my TX eventually held a pretty big digital library.
That was the first sign that I had an eye for the slick, flashy gadgets.
Last July 11, the day Apple's iPhone 3G debuted, my relationship with Palm came to an end. Though my TX had helped to organize my life, it simply couldn't offer me a phone, a great digital music player, or an almost infinite number of apps. Next to all this, my TX appeared downright dowdy.
The truth is my Palm and I grew apart, or more accurately, Palm stopped growing. Consumers now want digital devices to perform scores of tasks and offer oodles of extras. At a time when everyone packs a Swiss Army knife, Palm continued to offer potato peelers.
Then photos of HP's Mini Note began appearing, and it was whispered that Acer would join the fray. I was eager to try out these small, cheap laptops that would help me accomplish my main tasks as a reporter: getting online wirelessly, uploading photos and video, and taking notes. Could it be, I wondered, the ultimate blogging machine?
I go to lots of events dragging around a 15-inch laptop issued by my employer. It gets the job done, but it's an ergonomic horror--I'm convinced my right shoulder is permanently lower than my left.
A few Netbook makers let me try out their models. One was completely unusable due to the tiny keys I simply couldn't get used to. Another, which has a keyboard only 8 percent smaller than a full-size one--the best offered on a Netbook--wasn't much better. I brought it to a few conferences and found I couldn't write anywhere close to my normal speed. Plus, using the Netbook was physically painful: I subconsciously hunched forward and craned my neck to make out the tiny text onscreen, and the way I was forced to type strained my wrists.
Finally, I found myself dreading having to use Netbooks. I wanted to love them, I really did. Sorry, Netbooks, it wasn't meant to be.
That was certainly the case with my first MP3 player, the Archos Jukebox MP3 Player/Recorder & Data Storage USB Hard Disk that came out in 2001.
It didn't break my heart so much as it strained my wrist.
In the flush of new love, I was ecstatic. I mean, I could carry 6GB of music in the palm of my hand. Including the rubber corners to protect against drops my Archos (as I affectionately nicknamed "my lover") was 1.25 inches thick.
Sure, compared with the third-gen iPod Nano's 8GB capacity in a tiny eighth-of-an-inch thick case, that seems monstrous now. But looking back, was Marilyn Monroe really all that sexy? As with standards of beauty, what was once a hot item now just seems cute and quaint in the tech world.
When I jogged or did aerobics with weights, I only had to use one weight. The Archos acted as the weight in my other hand.
Then there was the time I thought I broke my pinky toe after dropping the Archos on my foot during yoga.
But one thing is funny. The iPod still doesn't have all the capabilities that my ex did.
The Archos had a mic jack so I could use it as a voice recorder. It came with a DC input that let me recharge it directly from a wall outlet. It had a USB port for transferring music and any other files to and from my computer.
I don't really use it anymore, but I just can't seem to part with it.
Rafe Needleman/CNET Networks
This is the story of how the MacBook made me a two-timing bastard.
I was ready. I wanted to leave my Windows laptop and jump into the arms of the hot new MacBook. I prepared myself for the shiny new experience: I did my reading and got set to re-learn a few things. I set my expectations, I thought, at a reasonable level. Mostly, after all these years I was ready to ditch Windows.
But I just can't leave my ThinkPad and Windows. It's not because the MacBook and OS X are not gorgeous and reliable; they are. But some of the apps and gadgets I need (mostly from non-Apple manufacturers) just don't work with the Mac. And using the Mac in a corporate environment is difficult since there's no good Mac equivalent to Microsoft Outlook (Microsoft Entourage isn't there).
Oh, let's be honest...I'm just used to Windows. To its flaws, its quirks, and to my muscle memory that lets me work on a PC without thinking. It's not that Windows is better. It's not. It's just what I know.
The Mac has let me down by being not a PC. It is completely unfair. Mac, it's not you; it's me.
I am still committed to giving the Mac a fair shot, though, and here's what I'm doing to try to make things work: I'm using my Mac all the time for IM, browsing, and Twitter, and when I hit the road, the MacBook comes with. (To make e-mail work, I use Outlook on Windows running under VMWare Fusion).
When I'm at the office, I set up my Mac next to my PC, and I use Synergy to share one keyboard and mouse between the two computers. So far, this configuration works, and I'm slowly becoming productive on the Mac. The setup is not elegant. It's not stable. But conflicted relationships never are.
If you've ever seen Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, you know Macaulay Culkin's character Kevin McCallister used the Talkboy (pictured above in a 1993 commercial) for various nefarious deeds. At its heart it was simply a cassette tape player with a microphone and speaker.
What made it special, however, was its capability to slow down and speed up the recording, effectively letting you do a better Darth Vader than you could ever do in front of a box fan.
Unfortunately, that very same feature made the device a heartbreaker. It ate more tapes than batteries. Worse yet, it was designed to rip out the tape when you tried to open the latch door. Those (such as me) who put enough trust in it to stick music tapes in often ended up with piles of tape or epic re-spooling sessions to get their favorite maxi-single to play again.
Tiger, the maker of the device, went on to make a pink "Talkgirl" version and even a pen and keychain version that did the same thing (only without tape), although by then most had moved on to Stretch Armstrong.
Eton FR350 emergency radio
When I renewed my membership to local public radio station KQED last year, I was particularly psyched about one of the free incentive gifts: an Eton FR350 hand-crank emergency radio.
A couple of minutes of arm power and you get eight shortwave bands, plus AM and FM signals. Two bright white LED lights serve as a built-in flashlight. You can charge your cell phone. And a flashing red LED light sends siren alerts should you get lost camping--or cleaning out your messy garage. That's a lot of gadget for a little cranking.
I figured the portable Eton could be the star of the earthquake-and-other-calamities kit I've been assembling (and which, I'm ashamed to admit, currently consists of a few batteries and Band-Aids--on a good day). With this $60-ish plastic orange contraption at home, I suddenly felt far more responsible--and ready to face power outages, not to mention trips to the mountains.
But sadly, the first time I turned the crank, it snapped off like a wimpy twig--before I had even completed one full rotation. And it didn't break off in such a way that it could be reattached. It broke off where crank meets body in such a way that only getting a brand new radio would have soothed my disappointment.
Clearly, the Eton FR350 is just not that into me, and hey, I don't like it anymore either! I still love Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me, though.
Joshua Goldman/CNET Networks
Amazon Kindle 2
The first-generation Kindle, in my eyes, got only a few things right: Whispernet and its near-instant delivery of content to the device being the biggest (and most important) one. Almost everything else about the electronic reader made it feel like an unfinished product. The design was lame, navigation a pain (I'm still trying to figure out how to get back from reading a footnote), and performance, well performance wasn't bad until you tried to enter text with the keyboard. Uh, the keyboard...
The Kindle 2 seemingly fixes a lot of my design gripes, so why am I brokenhearted over it? Because it's what the original Kindle should have been. Instead of a step forward, the Kindle 2 is simply where Amazon needed to be last year.
The keyboard for example: I'm OK with the keyboard not being onscreen (though a touch screen is more intuitive for reading books), but does it have to be so freakin' big? My cheap cell phone has a keyboard that slides down; why can't the Kindle?
Also, according to David Carnoy's hands-on impression, the navigation is still wonky. And while it's great that Amazon bumped up the internal memory to 2GB, I'd like to know why the SD card slot has gone bye-bye? (Though I guess that at least solves the Kindle's problem of not being able to listen to music from an SD card and reading at the same time.) Also, like many users, I hated the original's case, but to include no protection at all is a negative.
In the end, the Kindle 2 seems like a fine device--had the first-gen Kindle never happened.
While a year ago I was forced to download my favorite TV shows and watch them on my 15-inch laptop, that all changed once I got my Comcast digital video recorder. Being able to watch Lost, 24, and Battlestar on a 40-inch screen in HD whenever I want puts me in TV heaven (yeah, I watch Heroes too, but that's more like TV purgatory for me right now).
As with all relationships, though, this one sees its share of ups and downs. This past weekend, after returning from a four-day trip, I found no less than 25 episodes of Family Guy (another show I record) recorded. I'd seen most of them, so I thought I'd just get rid of them in one fell swoop. There must be an option to delete all episodes of a single show right? No, there isn't.
Not only did I have to delete each episode individually, each time I highlighted an episode to delete it, I needed to make four button presses to get to the delete symbol. I did this for all 25 episodes (well, 24 episodes; there was one where Brian starts dating Meg's teacher that I hadn't seen before). That's way too much time to spend deleting.
Other issues my DVR and I are grappling with:
I have it set to record all Family Guy episodes on all channels. Why is it, then, that HD episodes of the show on TBS never actually record?
More than a few times I've sat down, ready to watch an episode of one of my favorite shows in HD, only to discover the SD version was recorded instead.
When setting up a specific recording, why must the cable box be on the channel I want to record on? Why can't I go to a menu, find 24, and have the system ask me which channel I'd like to record it from?
I realize there are possibly ways around some of these problems, but I'm just not sure I'm willing to work on it anymore. Having access to all these great shows in HD is great. But it's kind of like dating a girl who can get you into really cool parties, and once you get there you only want to hang out with other people.
I like to stay cutting edge. It's not always easy, but it's important to me. When the first portable MP3 players hit the market in the late '90s, I had to have one. So, armed with half a paycheck and an unwavering desire to be high-tech (in 2001), I went out and purchased a Rio 500. It was roughly the size of a deck of cards and had a whopping 64MB of storage, enough for about four whole albums if I used lousy compression. For the time, it was something to show off. It even had expansion capabilities!
Back then, I lived in Olympia, Wash., which at the time was still a rock n' roll haven. Thus there were always members of popular underground acts around. I always made sure to have MP3s of whoever was in town loaded up. Musicians always got a kick out of it: "I've never been an MP3 before, cool!"
Then a few months later Apple released the iPod. You've seen one of those, right? It was roughly the same size as my DAP, cost about the same, and had about 80 times the storage. And, you know, it was an iPod. Suddenly my Rio 500 just didn't seem as cool. I was able to sell it about a week later for less than a quarter of what I bought it for.
Everyone was buying iPods.
It was a brief love affair, but I had to trade up. I didn't immediately, though. I waited for the iPod Mini. It was blue, and I loved it very much. I often think of the Rio these days and the geek status it once gave me. But sometimes, man, you've just got to let go.