Fujifilm FinePix F10

FujiFilm FinePix F10Even gadget-heads like us occasionally get tired of fiddling with dials, knobs, and buttons to get our devices working right. Sometimes, in the sleepy, alcohol-infused predawn hours, we just want to snap a picture of our new Reno friends without having to worry about whether we’ve picked the right white balance setting or adjusted the freakin’ autofocus properly. And yet, control freaks that we are, we don’t want to give up such options during our more lucid moments back in the Mobile offices, after the annulment has gone through.

That’s why we like the Fujifilm FinePix F10, a straightforward compact camera that produces excellent shots without requiring you to get a PhD in photography — and yet offers a wealth of easy-to-access options for shutterbugs who refuse to loosen their deathlike grip on their camera’s exposure settings.

With 6.3 megapixels of resolution, the F10 is bumping up against prosumer camera territory, yet it’s still small and portable. The F10’s no-nonsense silver case is about an inch thick except for a slight bulge on the right side of its front face. The display is a generous 2.4 inches, and it’s clear and bright. Fujifilm left out the optical viewfinder, and we didn’t miss it, except when sunlight was drenching the display.

The mode dial encircling the shutter button is simpler than most, with just four positions. In “scene position” mode, you choose between five different preset configurations.

In automatic mode, the F10 is fairly intelligent at sussing out exposure, white balance, and focus settings — and it does so very quickly, with a shutter lag of just half a second and a shot-to-shot recovery time of 1.2 seconds. It powers up quickly, too, and can take a decent shot within 1.8 seconds. If anything, the F10 is a little too eager to get going — it’s easy to turn the camera on accidentally by brushing the power button. Image quality is very good, with accurate color and fine detail; the F10’s clarity score of 2.1 is average for a six-megapixel camera.

For more control, switch into manual mode and use the “F” and “menu” buttons on the camera’s back to adjust film-speed equivalent (there’s a wide range, from ISO 80 to ISO 1600), exposure compensation, and so on. The menus are very easy to use, in combination with Fujifilm’s intuitive onscreen display. Strangely, there’s no autobracketing option for taking three shots in quick succession with different exposures.

In movie mode, the camera shoots videos that, at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames per second, look as good as anything you’re likely to see from a pocket still camera.

It’s hard to find fault with the Finepix F10. Its use of xD cards, instead of the more common (and somewhat cheaper) SD cards, is annoying, and we’d like a macro capability that would let us get closer than 3 inches. But overall, the FinePix F10 is an excellent, flexible companion that’s willing to go anywhere with you and won’t put you in the poorhouse. We wish we could say the same about our Reno friends. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Easy to use, even in manual mode
Worst Feature: LCD easily washed out in bright light

Fujifilm FinePix F10
Price: $366
Weight: 7 ounces
Size: 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches
Specs: 6.3 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 2.4-inch LCD; 640 x 480-pixel, 30-fps AVI video recording; xD card slot (32MB card included)

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Fujifilm FinePix F10

Tiger Telematics Gizmondo

Behold the Gizmondo!Rocky Balboa. The Jamaican bobsled team. Ross Perot. We can’t help but love our scrappy, endearing underdogs. OK, maybe not Ross Perot. But definitely the Gizmondo.

With a gaming market utterly dominated by the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS, the odds of an independent console making it are slim at best. Sure, the Gizmondo has a great design; loads of features; a popular, extensible operating system; and the support of lots of game developers, including powerhouse Electronic Arts.

Unfortunately, all that won’t guarantee success. Just ask Tapwave, whose Zodiac fizzled out this year despite having an excellent design; loads of features; a popular, extensible operating system; and the support of lots of game developers, including EA.

That said, we wish the Gizmondo luck. Competition for the PSP and the DS? Bring it on. Better second-generation consoles? Hell, yes. Price war? We can only hope!

Based on the preproduction unit we tested, the Gizmondo has a lot going for it. It’s well designed and fits comfortably in two hands. On the back is a camera capable of snapping camphone-quality images.

The 2.7-inch LCD is even smaller than a Game Boy Advance’s, but it’s very bright and clear. The Gizmondo plays Windows Media video files but chokes on AVI and MPEG videos. It also plays MP3 audio, and while the tiny speaker is crummy, playback through headphones is excellent. Getting video and audio on the device is as simple as copying files to the SD card (in stark contrast to the PSP). Unfortunately, playback controls are a little clunky, and using the onscreen volume control obscures the video you’re watching. There’s also no hold switch to prevent accidental button-pressing. The battery lasted for two hours and 49 minutes of continuous video playback.

The Gizmondo has GPRS data capability, so it can exchange SMS messages and e-mail as well as browse the web via compatible cellular networks. The preproduction unit we reviewed did not have GPS capabilities, but this feature will be included when the final version ships in August. The Gizmondo connects to your PC via USB to sync Outlook contacts, but there’s no calendar function.

But the Gizmondo really stands out as a gaming platform. Its controls are simple and ergonomic. We tested it with a variety of racing and puzzle games, and found that it was eminently playable. Tiger Telematics says that developers have lined up to create 90 games for the platform.

What’s more, the GPS and integrated camera give those developers opportunities for real innovation. In one demo shown at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the camera was used to sense motion, so you could look around in the game by moving the unit up, down, or around. Future games may also use the camera and GPS to superimpose virtual objects over real places — such as ghosts in Central Park or a spaceship over the Statue of Liberty, which you could see only through your Gizmondo.

Despite some rough edges in the preproduction model, the Gizmondo is promising and innovative. Tiger Telematics has even held the cost down creatively by slashing the price for customers willing to receive three ads per day on the unit. But lacking the PSP’s huge screen and the DS’s enormous game library, the Gizmondo is, unfortunately, a long shot. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Remarkably ergonomic design
Worst Feature: LCD is smaller than its competitors’

Tiger Telematics Gizmondo
Price: $399; $299 with advertising
Weight: 6.6 ounces
Size: 5.4 x 3.2 x 1.1 inches
Specs: 400MHz ARM processor; GPRS; 64MB of RAM; 320 x 240-pixel, 2.7-inch LCD; audio and video playback; 0.3-megapixel camera; GPS; SD slot; Bluetooth; Windows CE 4.2

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Tiger Telematics Gizmondo

Mobile Game Hall of Fame.

SimonThis was a really fun story to work on: Mobile magazine’s list of the top 50 portable video games of all time. Read it in the August issue, or online.

“Don’t know much about history? It’s probably because you spent your time dodging little red blips on a handheld football game instead of reading pages 179 to 193 in your Western Civ textbook, you feckless dingbat. … In this story, we bring you the 50 best mobile video games of all time — from 1976, when the Little Professor started trying to make math fun, to 2005, when the PSP finally made handheld video games look like serious business.”

Mobile Game Hall of Fame.

The end of Suburbia.

James Howard Kunstler takes a sober, pessimistic look at what happens when cheap oil goes away — in Rolling Stone, of all places.

America is in a special predicament due to a set of unfortunate choices we made as a society in the twentieth century. Perhaps the worst was to let our towns and cities rot away and to replace them with suburbia, which had the additional side effect of trashing a lot of the best farmland in America. Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

Serious, scary, and alarmist. Whether justifiably so or not, I can’t tell, but his arguments about oil’s centrality to our economy are hard to refute. If oil production really does decline, and oil prices spike up permanently, he’s no doubt right that it will cause a huge number of problems.

(I recently posted about an interview with Kunstler that is even more direct than the Rolling Stone article.)

Also, Kunstler has a searing, angry weblog called Clusterfuck Nation. Great reading!

The end of Suburbia.

Easy office chai.

How to make chai in a typical office.

Short version: Put teabag and sugar in a mug, fill mug halfway with water, microwave on high for 45 seconds. Let it steep for a minute, then add milk until the cup is 3/4 full and microwave another 15 seconds.

The author says spiced chai is for sissies, but if you must, add a little cardamom. I can’t find cardamom in my office right now, unfortunately.

Easy office chai.

Language is a virus.

Say you’re a Dadaist poet, but you’re tired of slicing up ribbons of newspaper to make your random poetry. You might stop by this web page where the computer can do the cut-ups for you, based on any text of your choosing. There are lots of variants on the cut- up machine, as well as other games and tools for unleashing writerly creativity: Java-based magnetic poetry based on the lexicons of Anais Nin, Baudelaire, Bukowski; interactive, collaborative poems; techniques and games for writing, etc.

Language is a Virus

Language is a virus.