Sony DSC-T7 Cyber-shot

Sony DSC-T7 cameraSony’s slimmest Cyber-shot, the DSC-T7, is more than just a camera. It’s skinny enough that you could use it to shim up a wobbly kitchen table or to wedge a door shut. Or you could weld on a little extra hardware and wear it as a belt buckle.

The DSC-T7’s body is barely 0.4 inches thick, making it easily the thinnest digital camera we’ve seen. A sliding lens cover increases the overall thickness to a bit more than half an inch. To turn the camera on, just slide this cover down. If you’re a hipster, you’ll do it using one hand, like a street tough flicking open a pocketknife. Shooting one-handed is similarly easy, thanks to a simple zoom control and shutter button on top.

To change among the nine preset shooting modes or to adjust the camera’s settings, you use the menu button plus a five-way controller on the back face. That’s it — there are almost no other buttons to worry about on this camera. If you’ve got big fingers, you might find the DSC-T7 a bit awkward to manipulate, but otherwise this is one simple point-and-shoot camera.

The DSC-T7 captures 5-megapixel stills or 640 x 480-pixel video with sound. Although the videos are ostensibly 30 frames per second, their quality falls far short of what you’d expect. This camera’s movies are as jerky and jumpy as an old Charlie Chaplin flick, except blurrier, and without the piano soundtrack. You can’t zoom while filming, and the focus has a disturbing tendency to drift in and out. If you want to feel nostalgic for last weekend’s pool party, these old-timey videos are just the ticket.

No matter: The DSC-T7’s best and highest purpose is taking still images, and it does that like a natural. And unlike other supercompact cameras, the DSC-T7 has a 3x optical zoom, so you won’t sacrifice image quality when you zero in on distant celebrities at a movie premiere.

Pictures look very good in a variety of lighting conditions, from low light to full sunlight, although the camera has the most trouble with very dark and very bright scenes. The flash is adequate, despite its small size, and yet it won’t blind your subjects when you point it at them. The clarity score of 2.3 is better than any other ultracompact but the Fuji FinePix F450, so you aren’t trading image quality for portability with the DSC-T7.

The DSC-T7 uses Sony’s somewhat expensive Memory Stick Duo media and lacks standard cable connectors (you must use the included dongle to connect the camera to a computer or to a TV for image playback). Also, its onscreen menus can be cryptic, and the manual is confusingly organized. But these are small prices to pay for having the skinniest camera on the block. With cameras, as in Hollywood, the thinnest starlets get the best parts — and get to go to the most exotic locations. We predict a brilliant career for this streamlined newcomer. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Amazingly small size
Worst Feature: Amazingly crummy video

Sony DSC-T7 Cyber-shot
Price: $475
Weight:
Size: 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches
Specs: 5.1 megapixels; 3x optical zoom; 640 x 480-pixel, 30-fps video recording with audio; 2.4-inch LCD; Memory Stick Duo slot (32MB card included)
www.sony.com

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Link: Sony DSC-T7 Cyber-shot

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Sony DSC-T7 Cyber-shot

IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet

ThinkPad X41 TabletTo some, the Tablet PC operating system ranks right up there with Microsoft Bob, Clippy the Office Wizard, and Steve Ballmer as one of Microsoft’s most obnoxious, useless creations. The IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet is unlikely to change the minds of the haters. But for more open-minded folks, the X41 shows that it is possible to make a tablet that’s usable, functional, well built, and even attractive.

Granted, IBM is late to the tablet game, and the X41 may not break the Curse of the Tablet: high prices, slow sales, and general public apathy. But IBM has clearly been watching and learning from the missteps of earlier tablet manufacturers.

For starters, the X41 Tablet doesn’t look goofy, and it’s not flimsily put together. At first glance, it’s black, serious, and a bit on the dull side — a typical ThinkPad. The keyboard is stiff and slightly cramped, but solid. The swiveling hinge is the first hint that something’s different. Spin the screen around, fold it back, and the notebook converts to a slab. Tablet-specific controls, including scroll and rotation buttons, line one side of the 12.1-inch screen’s bezel. And the X41 is light, tipping the scales at just over 4 pounds (4.9 pounds with the charger), although its lack of an optical drive is a big drawback.

The display is where the X41 really stands out. Though it’s small, the screen is clear and has remarkably wide viewing angles in all four directions. This is what makes us miss the optical drive more: Watching DVDs on this sweet screen would have been great for cross-country flights, especially since you can lay the tablet flat so that it doesn’t get crushed by the lummox in front of you when he reclines his seat all the way back. The screen also has just the right degree of friction for comfortable onscreen writing and scribbling with the stylus.

In one corner of the display is the X41’s other secret weapon: A fingerprint scanner. IBM’s security software makes short work of scanning your fingertips and then, optionally, tying them into the Windows login. It works well, correctly identifying you with just one or two swipes of your finger and denying access to your evil nemeses.

The X41’s performance is decent for a tablet, with a middling Sysmark score of 134 and a surprisingly good Unreal benchmark score of 60.4 fps. Not that you’re likely to take it to any LAN parties — but if you did, the X41 would at least let you stay in the game.

Honestly, though, this is a tool for browsing the web, reading e-mail, and taking notes, and for that, it’s a dream machine. The icing on the cake is its five-plus hours of battery life, enabling the X41 to go the distance on most jobs — unless you’re taking notes at a Castro speech or trying to work all the way through a flight to New Zealand. Add in the great screen, security, and performance, and you’ve got a machine that’s a pleasure to use as a tablet and as a more conventional notebook. If it were about $300 cheaper, we’d love it all the more. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Terrific display for viewing and writing
Worst Feature: No optical drive for watching DVDs

IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet
Price: $2,058
Weight: 4.1 pounds
Size: 10.8 x 10.5 x 1.3 inches
Specs: 1.5GHz Pentium M; 512MB of RAM; 40GB hard drive; integrated graphics; 1,204 x 768-pixel, 12.1-inch TFT; SD slot; 802.11g; fingerprint reader; Windows XP Tablet 2005
www.pc.ibm.com

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Link: IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet

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IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet

SanDisk Sansa e130

SanDisk MP3 playerIf you prefer the McDonald’s dollar menu to dining at the Ritz, Friday night TV movies to Broadway shows, and big blocks of Velveeta to imported French Brie, then the SanDisk Sansa e130 is the perfect audio player for you. Just don’t ask it to deliver top-drawer audio quality or usability.

There’s a lot to like about the Sansa e130. It’s among the lightest players we’ve tested. It handles a wide variety of file formats. There’s a built-in FM tuner. And despite its low price, it comes with accessories that most manufacturers make you pay extra for, including an arm strap, a cheap protective vinyl pouch, and a variety of different-size tips for the earbuds.

An SD slot lets you expand the player’s capacity beyond its internal 512MB, and if you’ve preloaded a card with music, the Sansa will automatically create a new playlist that includes audio files on both the card and the internal memory.

Unfortunately, sound quality is not great, with slight but noticeable background hiss and a tendency to distort higher frequencies. Bass response is lightweight, despite the audio-enhancing electronics. The interface is clunky and occasionally slow, and the Sansa e130’s lightweight plastic casing screams chintz at the top of its lungs.

Still, for just $75, you may be willing to overlook these limitations. Stuff the player in your thrift-store corduroys, jam the white headphones into your ears, and from a distance you’ll look just like any other iPod-wearing poseur. Unless you’re spotted standing in the soup kitchen line, that is. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Easily expandable via SD slot
Worst Feature: Flimsy construction and substandard audio

SanDisk Sansa e130
Price: $75
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Size: 2.9 x 2.1 x 0.5 inches
Specs: 512MB; 1.3-inch LCD; plays MP3, WAV, and WMA audio; SD slot; FM tuner; USB 2.0; uses one AAA battery
www.sandisk.com

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Link: SanDisk Sansa e130

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SanDisk Sansa e130

Interface revolution.

“There is a design revolution going on. And it’s not about the winner of round 5 of the console wars. This is about moving our devices out into free space, no longer constrained by their own form factor. This is about how we start using our bodies for communication, commerce and play in a digital world.”

— frogdesign’s David Merkoski, on Gizmodo

Interface revolution.

Mobile no more.

Well, I should have lots more time for blogging now that my days won’t be taken up with the agonizing work of producing the world’s most entertaining, authoritative magazine on mobile technology. Yes, it’s true: Mobile magazine has folded. Despite having far better-written, more accurate, and better edited copy than the competition, despite having a respectably large monthly circulation, and despite selling nearly 40 pages of quite expensive ads every month, we somehow never managed to crawl out of the money pit we dug for ourselves in the early days. Or so they told me. I just wrangled words; somebody else blew all the money. Honest.

Look for our last issue (November’s) on newsstands in early October, god willing. As for me, I will be dusting off my work gloves and laying in to the plumbing, the walls, and the windows for awhile. Or maybe I’ll just go surfing. Meanwhile, look for my latest writings here. There’s some good stuff in there.

Mobile no more.

Baroque Hoedown.

perrey album cover For me, Disney’s Electrical Parade was the highlight of our visit there this past spring. It’s a long, trippy parade of illuminated vehicles and floats, some of which are covered with thousands of lights, which starts just about sundown and goes on for maybe 20 minutes. As it rolls slowly by in the dark, this bizarre, baroque, electronic music plays over and over again on the loudspeakers that surround you. The music is cheerful, repetitive, bizarre, and totally overtakes your brain, leaving you feeling spacey, stoned, and a bit out of your head. I loved it.

Today, thanks to BoingBoing, I discovered that the Electrical Parade’s music is a composition by Jean Jacques Perrey called Baroque Hoedown, who has posted an MP3 online. Outstanding!

Perry is having a record release party in SF on Thursday, co-sponsored by RE/Search. I’m sure that will be a strange event.

Baroque Hoedown.

“You” are not “yourself.”

A computer scientist looks at the brain:

“You” are just a subroutine, and a recently-added one at that. You’re like a user-mode driver that gets access to certain kernel data, but you only see and control what the kernel lets you. You have no direct access to the kernel’s process space, but you can make calls into it, and you get notifications from it. The bulk of your nature as a human lies entirely outside your process space, outside your ability to directly perceive or control.

The Multiple Self

“You” are not “yourself.”