Friday, August 05, 2005

Filling In for Walt Mossberg...

As a VC I often get to demo new gadgets in development. In this post I recommend my favorite gadgets on the market, or soon to be (and no, I'm not invested in any of these companies).

1. SONOS Home Audio Controller.

Imagine piping music from any analog or digital source to all the rooms throughout your home and yard, even playing different streams in different parts of your house, and controlling all the streams from your PC/Mac or, better yet, from an iPod-like remote control with full color LCD that displays cover art and dynamically creates play lists.

One approach is to build a new house, install in-wall speakers that are all wired back to a central closet with lots of sources and amplifiers, buy an MP3 streamer that is networked to your PCs, and purchase a Crestron system with color wireless controllers and custom programming. This can be accomplished for about $200,000, not including the house.

For those of us who don't wish to build a new home or spend $200,000 on new gear, we can still get the same functionality (even better) by spending a thousand or two on the new SONOS product. SONOS cleverly turns the equipment you already have into a full home audio system.

The primary component is the zone player. Distribute these little white boxes throughout your house anywhere you have amplifiers or amplified speakers, and the boxes create their own wireless mesh network, so only one of them needs an Ethernet connection. (The players even have a 4-port ethernet switch built in.) The player communicates with companion software on your PC or Mac to pull digital music from your collection, internet radio or Rhapsody. It also has RCA input ports for external music sources. The player also has an amplifier so it can drive the local speakers, as well line level output for driving a local amplifier.

The second component is the controller. This beautiful unit, when in range of any player, allows you to stream music to any zone player in your home. You can also link multiple zones into a single "Party Zone" so everyone can listen to the same stream.

I picked up version 1.0 of this product and it has worked perfectly (though I did have to navigate the friendly menu system to select a different frequency that didn't conflict with my Panasonic cordless phone). SONOS does exactly what you would want it to do, leveraging all the sources, amplifiers, speakers, and music you already own.

2. Brother P-Touch Label Printer.

Hardly a high-tech item, this little label factory is exactly what I needed to organize all the junk around my house--the contents of file drawers, instructions for using the features of my cordless phone, the purpose of each light switch, the purpose of each power transformer (there must be hundreds floating around my home), my name and number on my mobile gadgets, the kids' names (who can keep them straight?), and lots more.

3. Good G100.
If you're an email nut, forget about using a cell phone with its absurd keyboard, and lay aside the blackberry. The G100 rocks, but it is also discontinued so you'll have to get yours on eBay.

G100 beats Blackberry because it is much easier to navigate. The directional/scroll controller is located front and center (Blackberry splits up vertical and horizontal control), and the software allows you to scroll not only up and down the day schedule, but also left and right to previous and next days, so you can easily jump around on your calendar. G100 is conveniently small and has a backlit display and keys, so you can check your email in bed at night if you're as disturbed as I am. The keyboard, though, is spacious with buttons that are sufficiently raised for accurate feel and feedback.
(If however you want converged email and voice, make sure you buy a phone with Visto software, or you won't get push e-mail, attachments, over-the-air synchronization, and full Outlook content.)

4. Radar Golf.
Okay, if you're not a golfer, skip to the next item, because you wouldn't understand.

If you golf like I do, you spend 20+ minutes a round hunting for the balls you sliced into the woods (who has time for this?), only to take penalty strokes for the elusive ones. Radar Golf has developed a handheld ball finder that directs you straight to your ball, whether it's in the fairway or perched at the bottom of a goddamned canyon. A passive RF element is baked into the core of the ball--a ball that performs as well as other high end golf balls (RG's ball designer has designed numerous branded balls such as, I seem to recall, the Noodle). Radar golf should be available at Sharper Image in Q4, but you can reserve your unit now.

5. Wi-Life Video Surveillance.

Visit Radio Shack in Q4 to find your Wi-Life Lukenworks Surveillance System. This system delivers unprecedented ease of installation, as well as unprecedented functionality and quality, all in one inexpensive package. I plan to use mine for home security, child monitoring, and pool safety.

The cameras use TI sensors to record high quality color video, and transmit the video via Home Plug to your PC. Wi-Life is easy to install because the Home Plug frees you from stringing CAT5 to your camera locations (wireless doesn't work reliably at this frame rate) and the cameras even come with little suction cups that stick right to the inside of your window, so you can monitor your yard, driveway, or entrance without climbing up ladders to mount cameras (who has time for that?). Wi-Life is unusually functional because it offers professional features like multi-image screens (watch 6 feeds at the same time), motion detection, and full Tivo-like archiving and playback of the video. Wi-life can even send you motion-triggered email alerts, with video attached.

Without Wi-Life, you'd need $10,000 of video capture equipment, and another $10,000 of in-home wiring to even approach the same functionality. A starter kit will run about $300--expect to pay somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500 for a complete home setup of Wi-Life with 6 cameras. (Due to legal restrictions in certain states, Wi-life doesn't record sound.)

6. Seascooter XL

Tired of flapping your arms and legs only to swim slower than a snail? (who has time for that?) Grab one of these underwater scooters for $200 from Symall, and you'll snorkel at top speed.

Got your own favorite gadget? I'd like to hear about it...


  1. Anonymous9:08 PM

    Your Panasonic phone that interferes with the it 2.4ghz or 5.8ghz?

  2. 2.4 GHz. But changing the frequency was simple simple simple--you select a different frequency in the remote control's settings menu, and the controller communicates the change to the other units!

  3. Anonymous5:11 AM

    Wilife looks like a very interesting and market affecting product; one comment - to furnish and install a comparable 6 camera system with current technology costs closer to $3,000 to $5,0000 and that's assuming the installer runs the cabling and provides a dedicated DVR; I think the $10,000 figures reflect costs from a few years ago, prices for video surveillance (especially at the low end) have dropped significantly over the last few years

  4. Anonymous5:51 PM

    Better watch out, David. You've given me some great ideas about new gadgets that I didn't even know I needed. If my wife finds out, we're both dead. Lately, she's been after me to stop my impulsive gadget buying. Anyway, here are some of my favorite recent purchases...

    Archos AV400 pocket video recorder...Not perfect but I find it does the job better than its competitors. Great for long airplane rides. I set it up with Yahoo TV acting as a a DVR and it automatically loads up my favorite episodes of Entourage and West Wing. Or just load it up with movies and MP3s.

    Nikon D70...Best digital consumer camera available. Trust me. I have them all.

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1...I've got a bigger camcorder with higher quality resolution but this tiny combo camera/camcorder is great for throwing in the diaper bag. Lets you capture all those moments that you might normally miss because you didn't want to pack a bigger device.

    Sony Ericsson K750...Not yet available in the U.S. but I got an unlocked one from Best phone on the market now. Excellent mix of innovative design and great functionability.

    Now, excuse me. I've got to go find that SONOS produce you mentioned. THANKS!

  5. Metro,
    BossLady will forgive us as soon as you're able to crank up Raffi on demand for dance time with Peanut.
    I've been thinking about that Archos gizmo--now I'll have to try it.