Christmas gadgets in the Wilson family

I’m writing this a couple of days after Christmas, as the great British public starts is looking for bargains in the sales.  If you’re reading this blog, the chances are that technology plays a significant part of your life if which case it’s likely that Father Christmas/Santa Claus/St. Nick/whoever distributes presents to your house brought you at least one gadget for Christmas.

The old saying is that giving is better than receiving and I gave away a couple of gadget gifts this Christmas with which the reciepients have been particularly pleased, so I wanted to tell you a little bit about them…

Pure Evoke-1S DAB digital radio

First up is the DAB digital radio that I bought for my wife.  Normally, she despairs of my penchant for expensive electronic items but a few weeks back she returned from a girly weekend in Sheffield and told me that some friends of ours had a digital radio and she’d really like one.  Naturally, I was pleased – I’d toyed with the idea for a while but I don’t listen to enough radio to justify it – I was even more pleased when it transpired that the model that had impressed her so was from Pure and it was the Evoke-1S.

Pure Evoke-1SPure is one of the better-known digital radio producers in the UK and the Evoke-1S is the current version of a model that has been around for a while.  Whilst some consider the wooden finish to be a little tired, I much prefer it to the cheap-plastic-sprayed-with-metallic-effect-paint that seems to be the current trend for consumer electronics.  It sounds pretty good too.  One speaker means mono but this is a radio (not the ultimate in high fidelity sound presentation) and anyway, this device lives in our kitchen (which does not have the best acoustics either).  For what we wanted – access to digital radio in an attractive unit at a reasonable price, this unit is perfect.

How perfect? Well, the setup process was easy enough for Mrs. W to get up and running in a few seconds with no intervention from me – that’s a good start.  It also has an alarm, and a kitchen timer.  There’s provision for a second speaker, as well as an auxiliary input (I’ll probably get an iPod dock and then I can use it to catch up on downloaded episodes of The Archers).  Then there is a USB port for software updates (e.g. to DAB+, should it ever reach these shores).

The Evoke-1S is just one of many models available from Pure (for a little more money I thought the Evoke Flow looked good, featuring Internet radio in it’s capabilities) but it was also a bargain.  Available for around £96 from most electronics retailers (maybe less if you go for the Cherry version – we preferred the Maple finish), I bought ours from John Lewis Online.  John Lewis Online’s packaging is terrible (it’s just a strong plastic bag) so the box was a little beaten up when it reached us but they were happy enough to offer me a discount by way of compensation.  The next day, I saw it on sale in PC World for £68.47 so I bought that (to guarantee stock) before getting John Lewis to price match (John Lewis Online won’t price match but the brick and mortar stores are never knowingly undersold and they refunded and resold the item to me, after which I returned the unit I’d bought in PC World).  Why the complicated refund and resale?  Because John Lewis offer a 2 year warranty on all new electrical purchases and because, if I had to guess which of the two retailers will still be trading in 2 years time, John Lewis looks a more certain bet to me than PC World’s parent company, DSG International (it should be noted that I have no information to back that up – it’s purely a personal opinion).

To find out more about the Evoke-1S, there’s an FAQ on Pure’s support pages.

VTech Kidizoom Multimedia Digital Camera

My children have grown up in the glare of my digital cameras and we thought that my 4-year-old would enjoy one of his own (for the last year or so he’s been playing with an old disposable camera body that I glued shut and he loves taking pretend photos).

VTech KidizoomAfter looking into the various options for rugged digital cameras (i.e. those with rubberised bodies designed to withstand the inevitable knocks and bangs which will be inflicted by children), we settled on a VTech Kidizoom (which we got 20% off by using a voucher at ELC). What we hadn’t realised was just how big a hit this would be.  By the end of Christmas day he had taken over 400 pictures and it was pushing 700 by the end of Boxing Day!  Furthermore, he takes his camera everywhere with him (just like his Dad… although I don’t take mine to bed with me!) and looking at his pictures has given me a great insight into the things that interest a 4-year-old (pictures of Mummy, Daddy, his brother, visiting grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc., his toys, the food on the table, his teddy bears, the Christmas tree, the television, the view from the car window, boats on the lake in the local country park, the produce in the supermarket, etc., etc.).  I simply cannot stress how much my son loves this present – I have never seen anything hold his attention for so long.

Ironically, we nearly didn’t buy it for him – most of the reviews concentrate on the poor quality of the pictures, the inadequate flash, the fact that the pictures in the internal memory are lost when the (non-rechargeable) batteries run out, etc. and, having experienced the device now, I wanted to set the record straight.  After all, I think I’m qualified to do so: as a parent; an amateur photographer; and as an IT bloke.

Firstly, picture quality.  Yes, this is a 640×480 (0.3MP) camera and so the pictures are not great – that’s putting it mildly – actually they are pretty awful, with sludgy colours and high compression.  But it’s also in the hands of a 4-year-old!  He may take the odd picture that’s OK but these are unlikely to be the family album shots and he’s more than happy looking at them on the computer screen or the TV (the camera is supplied with USB and composite video leads for connection to a PC or a TV).

Here’s an example of one of the pictures – at 33% and a section at 100%:

Sample image taken with a the VTech Kidizoom (33 percent)Section of a sample image taken with a the VTech Kidizoom (100 percent)

Next, the flash – it’s not very powerful (probably for safety reasons… as little people are bound to hold the camera the wrong way around and take a self portrait) and it bleaches out anything close-up, but it does the job – sort of.  I’ve come to the conclusion that this camera is designed for pictures to be taken at a distance of around 1.5 metres (which is the sort of distance my son stands from his subject anyway!) but pictures taken outside are definitely better.

Sample image taken with a the VTech Kidizoom using a flashSample image taken outdoors with a the VTech Kidizoom

The Kidizoom comes with 16MB of internal memory and the instructions do warn that it will be erased if the batteries (4xAA) run out but it also has an SD card slot and the pictures on this card are safe in the event of power loss.  I’ve set my son’s camera to use an old 1GB SD card by default and that’s around 33,000 of his pictures (it was just an old card that I was using for ReadyBoost on the PC and is too small to be useful in any of my cameras).  Basically, RTFM and then losing photos when the batteries run out won’t be a problem.

Sample image taken with a the VTech Kidizoom and border added in-cameraI haven’t used the supplied software – both Windows and Mac OS X detected the internal memory and the SD card as removable drives and were happy to copy over the pictures.  The camera also includes a video mode and some games but we haven’t used them yet – at this point still photos are a big enough attraction.  It’s a bit too easy for the kids to turn the flash off (although I had to read the manual to work out how to turn it back on) and quite a few pictures seem to have had a novelty border added by accident but these are minor issues given the market at which this camera is aimed. There’s also no EXIF data and the date and timestamp seems to be added when the image is copied from the camera – not when it’s taken.

In summary, this camera is far from perfect but I also have to remember that my 2-year-old will get his hands on it too and it’s more than good enough to last the next couple of years until they can both be trusted with a “grown-up” digital compact.  In terms of entertainment value it’s been a huge hit – most children emulate their parents and mine are certainly happy to be snapping away like their Daddy.

Nikon D60 DSLR camera

Nikon D60 and 18-55VR kitMy brother used to be a reasonable photographer but these days he hardly picks up his film camera (a Minolta X300, which, incidentally, last time I used, I really enjoyed for it’s raw simplicity).  In an attempt to set things straight this Christmas, his other half bought him a Nikon D60 kit, based on advice from me, including an 18-55VR lens (see DP reviews for a review of the D60).  The lens is a standard kit lens – cheap, built of plastic, slow glass – but is enough to get him started (and he can borrow one of mine if he needs to).  He brought it over to my place on Boxing Day and I was impressed – in fact I would say that, as a consumer DSLR, the D60 is fantastic.  It’s not the top of Nikon’s range (far from it) but it matches or exceed most of the features in my aging D70, packs in more pixels (10.2MP), includes image sensor cleaning, and is smaller, lighter, and more compact.  All in all, it’s a great DSLR – especially at around £300.

If you prefer Canon then all I have to go on is the fact that my Dad seems pretty pleased with his new 1000D, which appears to be broadly equivalent to the D60.  If you’re looking at any other brand for a DSLR I’d question why – Canon and Nikon are the market leaders which means there is a huge range of OEM and aftermarket support (accessories, etc.) and both offer plenty of scope to progress to a more advanced model, if required, at a later date.

Closing thoughts

Apologies to those who don’t find these items remotely interesting but this website comes up on enough Google searches that hopefully my comments will be of use to someone.  And if someone bought you something for Christmas that you think is fantastic and you’d like to share it with the world, please leave a comment on this post.

As for me – what gadgets did I receive this Christmas?  Nothing in particular (I bought myself a netbook a few weeks ago and most of what I asked for was books – like the excellent Landscape Photographer of the Year collections) but I do collect Pixar movies and I’m just about to sit down and enjoy the DVD of WALL-E that Father Christmas left in my stocking!

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