HP Photosmart R717

HP Photosmart R717HP has figured out how to make excellent, user-friendly cameras, and it’s not messing with the formula. We liked last year’s HP Photosmart R707, a 5.1-megapixel camera with a virtually identical weight and profile. The Photosmart R717 adds another megapixel of resolution, a slightly bigger LCD, and kicks the image quality up a notch. The result is a capable, economical, no-compromise camera that takes great pictures in nearly all conditions.

The R717 has a somewhat unusual, inelegant, two-tone design, with a brushed-metal front curving around to a dark gray back. Its controls are simple and intuitive, with two fewer buttons than the already-minimalist control panel of the R707. Yet the R717’s buttons and simple menus provide easy access to a wide range of features, from white balance adjustment, exposure adjustment, and even autobracketing, so you can shoot three quick shots with slightly different exposures.

There’s even a manual-focus mode, although it’s difficult to set the focus very accurately using the pixelated image on the R717’s LCD. A mode button on the top of the camera provides access to a dozen useful preset modes for taking action shots, sunset photos, photos of documents, and so forth. A handy “museum” mode turns off the flash and all sound effects for when you need to be unobtrusive.

The R717 is fairly speedy, with a respectable 0.2-second shutter lag and 2.9-second shot-to-shot recovery time. It takes almost 5 seconds to power up and take the first shot, however. But where the R717 really shines is in image quality, indoors and out. We were astonished by its ability to snap indoor shots with the flash off; it captured photos with greater clarity and color than any other camera without built-in image stabilization.

In short, the R717 is a top-notch camera that doesn’t require a PhD to operate. We recommend it to anyone. -Dylan Tweney

SPECS:
HP Photosmart R717
$300
Weight: 7.2 ounces
Size: 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches
Specs: 6.2 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 320 x 240-pixel, 30-fps MPEG video recording; 1.8-inch LCD; SD card slot; 32MB of internal memory
www.hp.com

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HP Photosmart R717

Fossil Wrist PDA

Fossil Wrist PDAIt was inevitable that someone would eventually try to cram a Palm PDA into a wristwatch. And finally, after many delays, Fossil has done it.

The Fossil Wrist PDA is a huge, gleaming chunk of metal and LCD that balances on your wrist about as elegantly as an elephant on a pogo stick. Its nearly 4-ounce weight is tiny for a PDA, but for a watch it’s positively monstrous. Unless you have Schwarzenegger-size forearms, this watch is going to make you look like a puny, twig-armed geek — and let’s face it, that’s probably who’ll most likely wear it, anyway.

As a watch, the Wrist PDA has several shortcomings. The display is dim, the numbers are not very legible, the alarm is absurdly quiet, and the backlight merely turns the black-on-gray screen into faintly glowing white on blue. What’s more, the battery lasts for only two or three days, and if it runs down completely, everything — apps, contacts, data files — is gone.

Granted, as a PDA the Fossil is an impressive feat of miniaturization. It’s the smallest Palm OS device we’ve tested. It even runs applications such as AvantGo and Kinoma, although you’ll need sharp eyes to read much on its tiny screen.

You can enter data on the Wrist PDA’s screen using the included Jot utility, although the tiny folding stylus (stored in the wristband buckle) is annoying and goofy.

For geek cred, the Fossil Wrist PDA is top drawer. Sadly, it’s too bulky to be attractive and its screen is too tiny to be effective, and the lack of a backup battery is unacceptable.
-Dylan Tweney

Best Feature Impressively tiny size for a Palm PDA
Worst Feature If the battery dies, it takes your data with it

SPECS:
Fossil Wrist PDA
$249
Weight: 3.8 ounces
Size: 2.3 x 1.8 x 0.5 inches (face)
Specs: 66MHz processor; 8MB of RAM; 4MB of flash ROM; 160 x 160-pixel, 1.4-inch, touch-screen LCD; infrared; USB port; Palm OS 4.1.2
www.fossil.com

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Fossil Wrist PDA

Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z50

The first thing you need to know about the Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z50 is that using it will not, by itself, make you more attractive. It will, however, make you feel pretty damn slick. It’s slim and light enough to fit into a shirt pocket or a tuxedo without mussing your lines. And when you pull it out, it powers on quickly so that you can snap pictures of the other swells at the club. If you’re in a real rush, you can turn it on and take a shot within 2.6 seconds, but that first shot will be blurry and poorly focused. After that, however, shutter lag is a mere 0.2 seconds and the second shot fires in 2.1 seconds.

Image quality from the EX-Z50 is decent overall, and the camera excels at taking well-lit outdoor shots and indoor photos with the flash on. Like most ultracompact cameras, however, it struggles with low-light photography, producing blurry, poorly focused shots with the flash off. Curiously, it lacks a burst mode. If you want to capture motion, use the movie mode.

The EX-Z50’s menus are cleanly organized and extremely easy to use. One nice touch: The menus appear translucently over the live image on the LCD, so you can keep an eye on the action while you adjust your camera. A variety of options lets you specify creative features such as ISO speed, exposure, and white balance.

If you’re looking for a superportable camera that doesn’t compromise too much on image quality, the Exilim Zoom EX-Z50 is a great choice. –Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Sleek, svelte design
Worst Feature: Low-light shots only so-so

SPECS:
Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z50
$305
Weight: 5.2 ounces
Size: 3.5 x 2.4 x 0.9 inches
Specs: 5 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 320 x 240-pixel, 15-fps AVI video recording; 2-inch LCD; SD card slot; 9.3MB of internal memory
www.casio.com

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Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z50

Kodak EasyShare DX7590

Kodak DX7590Kodak’s EasyShare DX7590 is a great choice for the X Games: It’s a point-and-shoot camera that also has a powerful zoom lens, so you can get action shots of the half pipe even if you’re stuck in the middle of the audience.

With a 10x optical zoom lens and a wide range of automated shooting modes, the DX7590 is just right for holding over your head for those from-the-crowd long shots. It’s a bulky enthusiast camera, to be sure, so it’s not going to fit in a pocket. But it’s lightweight for its class, and with its lens cap securely fitted, you can drop the camera into a backpack with no problem. A rounded grip on the right side makes for comfortable and relatively stable one-handed shooting, and the controls are easily accessible.

A dial on the back lets you select shooting modes. The “SCN” setting leads to an on-screen menu of 14 scene modes, including action, snow, and even a “children” mode, useful for shooting hyperactive teenagers at the skate park. If you trust the camera’s automated circuitry, just switch the dial to the auto mode and let it do its thing. In most cases, the shots will turn out great.

Image quality with the DX7590 is excellent — particularly for outdoor shots and for indoor shots that are lit by the camera’s pop-up flash — with good detail and lots of rich, well-saturated blues and greens. The lack of image stabilization — surprising for a camera with such a powerful zoom lens — is its only serious drawback.

The DX7590 is plenty fast, with a 0.2-second shutter lag and a 2.9-second recovery time between shots. That speed, combined with its powerful and compact zoom lens, will help you get great shots, no matter how fast or far away your subjects are. –Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Powerful yet compact 10x zoom lens
Worst Feature: Perplexing lack of image stabilization

SPECS
Kodak EasyShare DX7590
$449
Weight: 13.6 ounces
Size: 3.9 x 3.2 x 3.2 inches
Specs: 5 megapixels; 10x optical zoom; 640 x 480-pixel, 12-fps QuickTime video recording; 2.2-inch LCD; SD card slot; 32MB of internal memory
www.kodak.com

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Kodak EasyShare DX7590

Canon PowerShot S70

Canon S70So you fancy yourself a serious photographer, but you don’t want to carry a big SLR or a bulky enthusiast camera? The Canon PowerShot S70 is made for you.

It’s fairly chunky, and at 10.8 ounces it’s on the heavy side. But the PowerShot S70’s solidly built, dark gray, metallic body conveys a sense of solidity and seriousness, and it feels good in the hand. The sliding lens cover protects the optics while you’re traveling, and it doubles as a power switch.

The S70 has a daunting array of buttons on its back face, but its mysteries will reveal themselves in short order to the dedicated photographer. The function button provides quick access to the most-used creative features, including exposure compensation, drive mode, ISO speed, and special effects such as black-and-white or sepia-toned shots. Want to go further under the hood? The menu button lets you control such nitty-gritty details as flash synchronization, red-eye reduction, and autofocusing techniques.

The PowerShot S70 produces beautiful 7.1 megapixel images — one of the highest resolutions of any camera in its class. We loved the S70’s ability to capture skin tones, fine fabric details, and the particulars of distant objects. It even shoots in RAW mode.

Are there limitations to using the S70? Sure. It doesn’t have as many automatic modes as other cameras; we noticed some purple fringing around the edges of bright white objects; and 10 fps makes for pretty choppy video. But these are nits. If you’re serious about taking good pictures, it’s hard to beat the PowerShot S70. –Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Gives photographers total creative control
Worst Feature: Video recording is only 10 fps

SPECS
Canon PowerShot S70
$449
Weight: 10.8 ounces
Size: 4.5 x 2.2 x 1.5 inches
Specs: 7.1 megapixels; 3.6x optical zoom; 640 x 480-pixel, 10-fps AVI video recording; 1.8-inch LCD; CF card slot (32MB card included)
www.canon.com

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Canon PowerShot S70

Postcard secrets.

secret postcardIt’s impossible for me not to love Postsecret. People make postcards confessing something that they’ve never told anyone before. They mail them to the site’s owner. And he scans the cards in and posts them in public. It’s everything you might imagine such a site could be, and more.

Postcard secrets.

Eating well.

I’ve never been a particularly picky eater, but reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything about five years ago changed my life. Steingarten’s enthusiasm for food, his erudition, and his ability to combine the two into unmitigated gustatory delight are unique and inimitable. He’s a double inspiration: A gourmand, who also happens to be a terrific and amusing writer. Immediately I wanted to do the same — to eat, and get fat; to write about it, and get a column in Vogue. (Never mind the impossibility of these goals, given my tapeworm-like metabolism and my complete lack of interest in the fashion world.) More importantly, the book gave me permission to enjoy food in a bigger way than I had before — not just eating, but also cooking, savoring, and learning about food. I turned into an amateur culinary geek, roasting endless chickens, forcing my friends to eat my many attempts at an ideal omelette, trying to bake the perfect sourdough muffin. I got copies of Julia Child’s famous cookbooks. I started eating restaurant food more critically and carefully. And I started trying out new flavors, new food experiences, and new restaurants.

It culminated, during a lucky trip to Paris that was made possible by the sudden availability of an apartment Susan was renting, with a pilgrimage to L’Os a Moelle, a “haute bistro” Steingarten recommends in one of his essays.

I have never enjoyed eating so much as I did that night. Without being pretentious or formal, the restaurant put on a theater of food that was completely engrossing and amazing during the two hours that we sat there, shoulder to shoulder with a couple of cigarette-smoking Japanese tourists and a middle aged Parisian couple. Some highlights: A tiny, marble-sized, flavorful puff of pastry that awaited us as we sat down. Hot bowls that contained nothing but a few chopped chives, which, warmed by the bowl, gave off a delicious scent all by themselves, until the waiters filled the bowls in front of us with an amazing potage. A simply-prepared but nonetheless complex and delicate fish. An incredibly densely-flavored duck. Dish after dish, the dinner went on, like a magician’s act — now watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! Now watch me saw this woman in half! Now watch me disappear in an explosion of light and color! At the end, I felt sated, overfull, inspired, and completely blissed-out. K felt good, too, but says she also felt a little “infused” by an excess of coriander, which was apparently the spice of the day.

Shortly after that trip, in November 2000, we adopted our baby girl, CC, and I have had much less time for gourmet pilgrimages and culinary experimentation. But I still read Steingarten every month (what other reason to subscribe to Vogue is there?) and pay much more attention to what I’m eating than I ever did before. A door opened to a new world of experience, and it has never closed, even if I don’t go through it very often these days. So I was delighted to find this online version, via Anil Dash, of Steingarten’s essay on learning to eat everything, the introduction to his excellent book. If you haven’t read it yet, do so–maybe it will change your life too.

Eating well.

LG VX6100

LG VX6100 phoneSometimes, simplicity wins the day. While other phones seek the prize for the slimmest profile, the lightest weight, the biggest LCD, or the loudest ring tone, LG’s VX6100 succeeds by offering a straightforward set of useful features in a sleek, if unremarkable, package. Sure, it’s not going turn heads at your high-school reunion the way a Motorola Razr or a nice orange 2005 Lotus Elise would. But the LG VX6100 has enough panache that you can hold your head up, and you’ll have the added benefit of actually being able to use the phone for conversation.

Like many other LG phones, the VX6100 is a sleek, compact clamshell in four shades of silver and gray plastic. The overall appearance is attractive, although not particularly original. Open the clamshell, and a bright, 160 x 128-pixel LCD display reveals itself. While not terribly large, the display is crisp and usable.

Sound quality from the VX6100 is exceptionally good, both to your ears and to those you’re talking to. Open, the phone fits comfortably in the hand and against the head. The VX6100 includes a speakerphone, but unfortunately the speaker is underpowered and the microphone not particularly adept. Road noise alone makes it useless for hands-free chatting while driving, but if you want to walk around holding your phone at arm’s length and yelling into it like a construction boss on a New Jersey worksite, this speakerphone will fit the bill. Voice-activated dialing also works pretty well; you can use it to enter basic commands (say “contacts” to see your list of contacts) or to dial phone numbers, digit by carefully enunciated digit.

A camera integrated into the phone’s backside features an unusual sliding lens cover with a tiny, convex self-portrait mirror mounted on top it. Unfortunately, that means opening the lens simultaneously plants a big, smudgy thumbprint on the mirror. You can also use the phone’s external, monochrome LCD as a real-time image monitor for self-portraits. It’s low-res but does the trick. Annoyingly, opening the lens cover doesn’t automatically switch the phone into camera mode; you need to press and hold the camera button on the phone’s flank.

The VX6100 offers digital zoom, but don’t count on using it for zeroing in on distant subjects. With images measuring just 640 x 480 pixels at the highest resolution, there aren’t a lot of pixels to begin with, and digital zoom degrades picture quality further. Even without the zoom, image quality is about what you’d expect from a low-end camera phone: middling. A built-in “flash” (really just a tiny, white LED) does little to illuminate your subject unless you’re in intimate circumstances, such as standing a foot or two away in a very dark room.

The VX6100 is no standout when it comes to web browsing. It’s limited by the size of its screen and the slowness of its data connection (forget about 3G; the VX6100 can handle only 1xRTT connections, which average 60Kbps to 80Kbps). The browser reformats text-heavy websites intelligently, although other sites (such as Mobile PC’s) all but disappear under a long vertical column of oddly resized graphics. The VX6100 does better with mobile-optimized sites within Verizon’s default menus. You can enter any URL manually, but this feature is well hidden underneath the browser’s Search menu.

Ultimately, the VX6100’s camera and data features are merely obligatory extras; what this phone does best is voice. Despite some interface hiccups, the folks at LG have put together a capable and reliable phone — more power to them. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Great voice quality
Worst Feature: Substandard web browser

SPECS:
LG VX6100
Price: $129 with a two-year contract
Weight: 3.8 ounces
Size: 4.5 x 1.9 x 0.9 inches
Specs: 800/1900MHz CDMA/1xRTT, 800MHz AMPS; 160 x 128-pixel, 1.9-inch LCD; 0.3-megapixel digital camera with integrated flash; speakerphone; 0.9-inch external monochrome LCD; replaceable lithium-ion battery
www.lge.com; www.verizonwireless.com

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LG VX6100

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1

Sony DSC-M1 cameraImagine that your digital camera developed cell phone envy and tried to transform itself into a hip, nightclubbing swivel-phone from Virgin Mobile. Next imagine that it fell in love with a Wall Street banker and decided to put on a sophisticated, charcoal-black finish reminiscent of a chunk of hematite. Then pretend that it sprouted a bunch of camcorder controls and features in an effort to appeal to soccer moms.

The conflicted, neurotic gadget that would result from this tortuous journey might look a lot like the Sony DSC-M1 Cyber-shot. It’s got enough startling innovations that we gave it a “Most Innovative Product” award at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. And, indeed, the DSC-M1 shows a lot of promise. Despite that scintillating debut, however, its innovations don’t quite gel into a well-adjusted product.

The first quirk of the DSC-M1 you notice is its unusual orientation. Instead of holding it sideways, like most digital cameras, you hold it vertically, like a camera phone. Swiveling the generously sized 2.4-inch LCD to the left turns the camera on; you can then rotate the panel vertically to accommodate shots from various angles. Closing the screen both protects the LCD from damage and powers the camera off.

Opening the screen also reveals the camera’s controls: a bank of buttons and switches that could make a 747 cockpit feel sparse. Unique to the DSC-M1 are its dual shutter buttons: one for snapping 5-megapixel still images; the other for video recording. (You can also shoot photos and video using buttons on the LCD panel.) Between the two sits a vertical zoom switch.

The lens is one of this camera’s biggest disappointments. It zooms slowly and smoothly, which is fine for video but is painstakingly sluggish when you want to zero in on a detail for a quick shot. And it’s only got the 3x zoom typical of a still camera, rather than the 10x or greater optical zoom often found on camcorders. In the end, it’s neither quick nor powerful enough to get the kinds of shots you want. Worse yet, many still shots were out of focus — a problem made especially apparent by the high resolution of the images.

On the plus side, the DSC-M1 records fair-quality videos at an impressive 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames per second. In other tiny camcorders, MPEG-4 encoding usually results in crummy video quality. Not so with the Sony; its video quality is pretty good, considering the camera’s size. And the compression rates are good: A 512MB Memory Stick Duo (or Duo Pro) will hold about 22 minutes of top-quality video, or more than an hour at 320 x 240 pixels.

The Sony DSC-M1 also sports a nifty “hybrid” mode that you can use to capture short video clips together with full-size still photos. It’s constantly buffering video, so when you press the photo shutter button, the camera snaps a photo and saves the preceding five seconds of low-quality (320 x 240-pixel, 15 fps) video, plus the following three seconds, providing a minimovie that shows what happened before and after you took your shot. It’s a fun feature, though it runs the batteries down rather quickly.

Unfortunately, the low quality of its images plus the DSC-M1’s rather chunky body mean that it’s less than ideal as a still camera. And while fairly portable, it’s more expensive than some full-blown camcorders; it relies on expensive Memory Stick media; and you can’t connect it to your computer without included cradle. Unless you’ve simply fallen in love with its unusual good looks, we say stay away: The DSC-M1 needs time to sort out some personal issues. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Remarkably good video quality
Worst Feature: Still images often out of focus

SPECS:
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1
Price: $600
Weight: 7.6 ounces
Size: 4.6 x 2 x 1.1 inches
Specs: 5 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 640 x 480-pixel, 30 fps MPEG-4 video recording with audio; 2.4-inch LCD; Memory Stick Duo/Pro slot; USB 2.0 connection (via cradle only); integrated flash; PictBridge compatible (via cradle); lithium-ion battery
www.sonystyle.com

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1