2005 Gear of the Year, part 2

By Brian Livingston

Reviewers of computer products often exhibit maddening differences in their ratings of identical sets of items. But when several unrelated reviewers all pick the same product as Editors’ Choice, you can be sure you’ve found a real winner.

That’s the concept behind my Gear of the Year awards. I’ve analyzed every objective test of computer products I could find in calendar year 2005. Out of that mass of data emerges a picture of the best of the best. Those products are featured here.

Back in the Nov. 10 issue, I reported my findings on Windows-compatible cameras, LCD screens, laptops, MP3 players, hard drives, PDAs, projectors, and printers. Today, I’m covering lower-priced items — perhaps a stocking stuffer for a loved one or, more likely, a treat you’ll be buying for yourself. (Ho, ho, ho!)

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The latest test results from the dozens of reviewers we analyze are summarized during the year in the newsletter’s Index of Reviews section. I’ve left that section out this issue to make room for part 2 of the Gear of the Year. You can find every ranking we’ve indexed in the past 12 months — and use our search engine to locate any comparison you may need — in the Reviews section of WindowsSecrets.com.

Palm treo 650 smartphone
Motorola razr v3 Treo 650 takes the prize for calls
A lot of powerful cell phones came out this year, but the dominant force in test after test is the Palm Treo 650 (photo, left)
. It’s barely 2 inches wide but managed to cram in a full Qwerty keyboard, which is admittedly tiny. The Treo was named Editors’ Choice by Mobile Magazine and Laptop Magazine and is top-rated by CNET. Motorola’s slinky RAZR V3 (right) also won props from Mobile Mag, but the Treo edges it out.
More info: Palm Treo 650, Motorola RAZR V3
Link to all reviews of phones

Canon pixma ip4200
Epson picturemate deluxe viewer Canon Pixma iP4200 is fast duplexer
It’s impressive enough when an inkjet printer offers two separate paper trays and duplex printing. But Canon’s Pixma iP4200 (left) is also PC World’s Best Buy as the fastest of numerous inkjets tested
. The new model improves upon the older Pixma 4000, which was top-rated earlier in the year by PC Magazine and PC Pro. Honorable mention for Gear of the Year goes to the Epson PictureMate Deluxe Viewer (right), an Editors’ Choice by PC Magazine.
More info: Canon Pixma iP4200, Epson PictureMate Deluxe Viewer
Link to all reviews of inkjet printers

Verbatim store 'n' go
Verbatim’s U3 USB drive offers antivirus
The biggest advance this year in USB drives — a category that suffers from Look-Alike Syndrome — is the U3 System. This new, open standard allows you to run many applications directly from a USB device without installing software on whatever PC you may be using. It’s too early for real comparative reviews, but Verbatim’s Store ‘n’ Go U3 Smart Drive (left) stands out as the best of the bunch so far. Verbatim bundles McAfee antivirus scanning and several other free programs with its 1GB drive.
More info: Verbatim Store ‘n’ Go U3
Link to all reviews of USB drives

LG super-multi dvd rewriter
LG drive is the Switzerland of burners
Can’t we all just get along? That’s the obvious question when we’re confronted with the varying DVD formats: DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, and DVD-RAM. The LG Electronics Super-Multi Rewriter handles this with aplomb by supporting every format. As a bonus, it can burn labels directly onto so-called LightScribe discs. PC World gives it a Best Buy honor and calls it “in a class by itself.”
More info: LG Electronics GSA-2166D
Link to all reviews of DVD recorders

ZyXel ag-225h wi-fi finder/modem
Canary hotspotter Don’t just spot Wi-Fi, share it
ots of awards early this year went to the Canary Hotspotter (right), which tells you when Wi-Fi service is in range. But, based on newer tests, the Canary is far surpassed by the ZyXel Wi-Fi Finder/Modem (left). The ZyXel not only identifies available secure and nonsecure Wi-Fi near you and acts as your laptop’s Wi-Fi adapter. It also amplifies the signal for your companions whose own laptop antennas are too weak to connect.
More info: ZyXel AG-225H Wi-Fi Finder/Modem, Canary Hotspotter
Link to all reviews of wireless products

That’s it for the 2005 Gear of the Year awards. I hope you find the ratings in this and the previous issue helpful in finding the best devices for your business or personal use. Good hunting!

Brian Livingston is editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter and the coauthor of Windows 2000 Secrets, Windows Me Secrets, and eight other books.
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2005-11-22: