Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

What is it?
12-megapixel Micro Four Thirds digital camera.

How much does it cost?
Around £700, depending on which kit lens you want with it.

Why did I buy it?
My love for Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GF1 developed after doing two things. The first was owning a Panasonic Lumix TZ3 three years ago. This was a large but high-performing compact with a beautiful LCD display. But following what I can only assume was a tragic case of Journotheft (stealing tech from a tech journalist — for shame!) my life was left with a gaping great TZ3-shaped wound, from which I felt I’d never recover.

Enter 2009, and, more specifically, enter the GF1. I played with a review model. Then moved publications and, what the hell, got another review model. It not only filled the TZ3-shaped gap my life had for so long suffered, but filled several other gaps I didn’t even know I had, such as the love of Micro Four Thirds technology.

It was with this fillage of gaps that I decided it was time to invest with my own cash. The GF1 has 12.1 effective megapixels, a build quality unrivalled by most and produces some of the most glorious pictures I’ve ever taken since ditching film SLRs many years ago. It essentially combines the functionality of a dSLR with the portability of a large compact, but sacrifices no perceivable performance over a dSLR in the same price bracket.

A shame, then, that I managed to crack the LCD display mere days into my life as a GF1 owner. But hell, supermodel with a broken neck’s still a supermodel, right?

Where can you get it?
Directly from Panasonic’s website, or from most good online camera stores.

  Recommended by lanxon-deactivated20100629 4 years ago — 3 notes

Belkin Universal Media Reader

What is it?
A USB media card reader with slots for all modern formats.

How much does it cost?
£12/$27, or thereabouts.

Why did I buy it?
Flexibility, basically. It takes every media card I’m likely to want to use, including the high-capacity variants of the SD family, and doesn’t require the use of fiddly adapters for small-form-factor cards such as microSD. It comes with two different lengths of USB cable, and even mounts cards from multiple slots at once. (I’d assume there’s a limit to the amount of power the bus will supply that will put a ceiling on the number and type of cards, but I haven’t hit it.) Plus, it looks smart.

Where can you get it?
Pretty much anywhere. It’s always worth trying Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com first.

  Recommended by chrisphin 4 years ago — 1 note

Carbonite

What is it?
Secure offsite backup.

How much does it cost?
From $54.95 for a year to $129.95 for three years’ subscription, all with unlimited storage.

Why did I buy it?
Yes, I also have SugarSync running on my machine, but that’s tiered by the amount of online storage you want, and it’s just too expensive for the space I need. Besides, I don’t need all my data to be synced.

Carbonite, on the other hand, lets you back up as much data to the company’s servers as you like – caveat: it doesn’t back up external disks – and I was delighted by how good a Mac citizen it is. (It was originally a Windows app, and still is; usually, however, when companies make a Mac version of a Windows app, it’s a kludge. Carbonite really seems to have got the Mac, though.)

It runs quietly in the background, completely transparently – though the daemon sometimes canes the CPU; it can be paused – and I like Carbonite over solutions such as the peer-to-peer option for CrashPlan because my data is being backed up not to a mate’s single, fallible hard disk, but to a proper redundant, managed server system.

And because it’s offsite backup, it doesn’t matter if my flat is comprehensively burgled or even razed to the ground; the most precious stuff, my data, is safe.

Where can you get it?
You can get a free 15-day trial for Windows and Mac at Carbonite’s site.

  Recommended by chrisphin 4 years ago — 2 notes

Motorola Milestone

What is it?
A smartphone running Android 2.0 with a physical QWERTY keyboard

How much does it cost?
£360 inc VAT SIM-free, or free on your average 18-month contract

Why did I buy it?
The iPhone is a lovely device, and the HTC Desire is a really rather splendid handset if you prefer Android. Neither, however, has a proper keyboard - one with, you know, keys to press when you want to type a letter. The Milestone may look like something out of the Hasselhoff-era of technology design, all angular and shiny black with occasional patches of gold, but it slides open to reveal a full QWERTY keypad with dedicated buttons for key punctuation symbols (unlike, for example, some Blackberry devices).

Having a proper, usable keyboard transforms a smartphone that’s fit for reading Twitter during a commute into something so much more useful. Armed with a keyboard it’s suddently possible to type URLs and get the page you actually wanted rather than one chosen by luck-of-the-typo-draw, and to send emails without having to resist the urge to hurl the device through the nearest window as it autocorrects meaning into stupidity for the umpteenth time.

Of course having a keyboard alone isn’t good enough - if it were, I’d just use a Blackberry. Fortunately the Milestone is a very capable smartphone. The display has a stupidly high resolution that dwarfs that of the iPhone (854x480 pixels), the web browser is lovely, renders well and supports multi-touch, the GPS system is quick to lock onto satellites and the three panel Android design makes it possible to have panoramic cat photographs as your wallpaper. And yes, that is terribly important.

And there are the miscellaneous advantages to having an Android phone rather than an iPhone - the ability to multitask now rather than at some as-yet-undisclosed point in the future, a choice of apps not filtered by the Whim Of Jobs principle, free contact synchronisation with Google’s online services, and so on. An over-the-air update to Android 2.1, including Flash support, is scheduled for this month.

It’s not, of course, flawless. Ugliness aside, the lip at the bottom of the phone is awkward, and the camera is as average as those in most smartphones. That said, if you’re the type of phone user who likes to, well, type, it’s the one to buy. And so, when the review sample left with a courier, I bought.

Where can you get it?
Although not sold directly by the major UK networks, the Milestone is listed SIM-free or on a selection of contracts at Expansys.com. The US version is known as the Motorola Droid - but there are a few differences in specification, as outlined here, that are worth looking out for.

  Recommended by tomroyal 4 years ago — 2 notes

Drobo

What is it?
An enclosure for up to four bare hard disks that gives you lots of storage.

How much does it cost?
$335/£279

Why did I buy it?
I could have bought a big RAID system such as LaCie’s 4big for my media collection, but the problem with that is that it’s finite; once it’s full, you have to buy another, bigger drive and copy everything across. The Drobo system, though, lets you chuck in any old 3½″ SATA hard disks you have lying around, and it’ll present them to your Mac or PC as a single chunk of storage. It’s redundant; if one drive fails, your data’s still safe. (Just be sure to replace the failed drive as soon as you can!)

When it gets full, pop out the smallest drive and replace it with a larger capacity drive, and Drobo will remap your data automatically; the fringe benefit of this is that you can buy not-the-biggest-capacity-drives for cheaps, and use larger drives when the prices fall.

It’s not perfect; it can be a little slow, and there’s some silliness about having to define volume sizes from the start, but I’m happy to trade that for a system that’s redundant and allows for organic growth.

Where can you get it?
Loads of places; you can buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, for example.

  Recommended by chrisphin 4 years ago — 5 notes