Thursday, July 26, 2007

Staying behind the curve

You know when some new gadget comes out and everyone's ooh-ing and aah-ing and plonking down serious amounts of cash? That's when I set a 3-4 year timer and go about my business.

Mobile phones, mp3 players, the original playstation, the Gameboy Advance, inkjets, laser printers, the PS2, digital cameras, just about all computer hardware ... you don't miss much by picking up slightly older or outdated gear. Or even waiting until a technology (e.g. Digital cameras) have matured to the point where a mid-range model now would have cost you $10,000 five years ago - assuming anyone had built such a beast.

For example, back in 2000 or 2001 we bought a decent digital camera at work to take pics for our product catalogues. I still have the camera in a box somewhere - Olympus, 3 x optical zoom, 1024x768 resolution and a memory card which can hold 4 pictures. (It uses a weird paper-thin wafer card, and when I tried to get a larger capacity I discovered all the bigger sizes use a different voltage and are not compatible.) The batteries (4 x AA) would take about five shots before they were drained. That camera cost my workplace $3600. The camera I bought late last year has a 10x optical zoom (28-300), takes pics at 3800 x 2600, holds 400 of them on the memory card and can take over 280 shots on one set of batteries. It cost me under $700.

Please note - I'm not saying nobody should buy the latest gear, ever. If you need the features and/or have the money to spend, I'm not getting between you and nirvana. For example, when it was time to upgrade my PC last October I chose an E6700 Core 2 Duo chip when the E6600 was half the price. Sometimes it feels GOOD to spend up ...

Strangely, the only thing getting more expensive year on year is software, and for that there's Open Source and freeware. (Just look at Firefox, Thunderbird, VideoLan Client, OpenOffice, The Gimp and many other apps ... and some of my own stuff, of course.)

As for tech, let's use PDAs as an example. Until yesterday I was happily using a Palm M125 purchased new in mumble mumble (yeah, a while ago). Nothing released this century has really caught my eye, and if it did it was over a grand. Devices and operating systems have come and go, and through it all I've held on to my cash.

Well, yesterday I sprung for a second hand Treo 650. This is a nifty phone/PDA/media player/etc in one neat little gadget, and while I can see the 680 or the 700 or the 760 or 9500 have more features (I can already hear the Palm enthusiasts rolling them off), I'll just wait a couple of years for those. Yes, Wifi would have been good, but that can wait.

With the 650 I can check my email on the go (at eye-watering data prices - won't be doing THAT very often), browse the web (ditto) and use a mini qwerty keyboard to write proofed, grammatically correct SMSs in plain English (Yes! I've avoided SMS until now, partly because of the leet speak aspect and partly because there doesn't seem to be a way of typing two letters on the same key without waiting for the cursor. Why isn't there a 'Yes, I want that letter. Now show me the damn cursor for the next one?' button? And don't get me started on predictive input. If my phone knows what I want to write, why doesn't it just go ahead and do it without me?)

The 650 has a few other tricks up its sleeve. Bung in the freeware TCPMP player and you can watch full size AVIs, resampled on the fly to the 320x320 screen. There's an MP3 player for the Treo too, and it'll play tracks off the SD card, so my 1 gig MP3 player is heading for retirement. There's also a bunch of emulators for older gaming systems - the ZX Spectrum, for example - which is like having an arcade in your pocket.

The 650 was apparently featured as the mobile of choice in the TV series 24, back when this PDA was over a grand (aussie dollars) and bleeding edge. Now they can be picked up relatively cheaply, and here's the amazing thing: They still have all the same features they had when they cost over a grand! Wow.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)


priya said...

Hi Simon,

For hours of non-writing enjoyment try Patience Revisited with 24 Solitaire games! It's freeware btw and available from Or there is Sudoku - written by a fellow Perth resident, Andrew Gregory and available for free from his site - a Google search on his name and Sudoku brings up his site details.

I have no affiliation with either of these programs / developers other than a love for their programs.


Jo said...