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My favourite 5… Computer + Software gadgets

I’m a gadget freak, I love gadgets

I like brand new “first-to-market” gadgets which do something that nothing else does, and I like “best of breed” gadgets which offer the best performance in a given price bracket/form factor/etc.

I’m a pain to live with (as Sofia will confirm) – everything we buy has to be perfect. Shopping for any home electrical or entertainment purchase involves me checking several websites, independent reviews, many shopping comparison sites, etc…

I’m also a pain to buy Christmas and birthday gifts for.

So, during this slightly uneventful weekend I’ve compiled my “Favourite 5” gadgets across a number of areas:

  • Computers + Software
  • Entertainment Equipment,
  • Personal Style, and
  • Around the Home

So let’s kick off with:

Computers + Software

Laptop/Computer: Sony Vaio VGN-U50
official link (Japanese) | independent review | recommended supplier

Sony VGN-U50 laptop

Although this is listed as my favourite laptop/computer, it’s admittedly not my “main” computer (I have about 5 computers I use regularly!). These days you don’t really need a recommendation for a regular workstation – the PC market is buoyant and so any cheap Dell or similar will probably be well speced, and make a fine workhorse.

However, the Sony Vaio VGN-U50 is still my favourite computer due to it’s shear size and cool-factor. It’s got the most unbelievable hi-res crisp LCD screen with Sony’s X-Black technology.

I use my u50 for watching video, note taking in meetings and casual WiFi where portability is required. It makes a great companion to conferences as it’s easy to pack and has uber geek value. “Ha ha – check a load of this you PowerBook weilding nerd conference conformists… It looks like a Newton but does (almost) everything you’re PowerBook can do!”

The u50 is not as well speced as the u70 or the new u71p, weighing in with just 900mhz processor/256Mb ram/20Gig HD. But it’s much cheaper than it’s bigger brothers, and is more than adequate for web browsing, note taking and MPEG viewing.

Unfortunately the VGN-U* series hasn’t officially made it out of the Japanese market, meaning that you’ll either have to buy one in Asia, find a grey-import distributor or check eBay. (Also consider the OQO).

Computer accessory: Dell 2005FPW 20″ widescreen TFT monitor
official link | independent review | recommended supplier

Dell 2005FPW 20

I think Dell sell the best all-round TFT screens on the market. Yes, Sharp may have excellent performance, but they tend to be a tad on the expensive side. For me, Dell are the best combination of price and performance.

This 20″ WSXGA baby makes a great multifunction monitor – it creates a large on-screen working area, displays DVD’s in their native aspect ratio and is ideal for wide-screen gaming. It also has a nifty feature of being able to be rotated 90° so you can work on documents in portrait mode!

(The LCD unit in this monitor is exactly the same one used in the 20″ Apple Cinema display – however unlike the Apple, the Dell also has composit and S-Video in)

After-market retailers such as Aria have been known to sell this for as little £360 inc VAT against Dell’s official list price of £530. (also consider the Sharp LL191AB)

PDA/Phone: Sony Ericcson P900
official link | independent review | recommended supplier

Sony Ericsson P900 mobile phone

Mobile phone manufactures are clever. They know there are about 5 or 6 different demographics of mobile phone user. They know what sets of features each of those demographics want in a mobile phone.

To that end they know what the “ideal phone” would look like to each demographic. But as I was saying, mobile phone manufactures are clever. They know not to ever put out such a phone – they make the feature sets are not quite spot on, and forever maintain an upgrade path.

Think about it – if your phone had everything you needed, you wouldn’t need a new one in 12 months time.

However, Sony Ericcson made a mistake with the P900. They made the perfect geek phone.

The UIQ version of the Symbian operating system is far more sophisticated than Nokia’s Series 60 – allowing a far greater level of interaction. Install Opera on the P900 and you’ve got the best mobile web browsing solution on the market (and that’s from a phone that’s at least 2 years old).

The wealth of other software available for UIQ – from IRC and SSH clients to PDF viewers and DOC editors – make’s it the closest thing you can get to a PC in your pocket (unless to exclude the U50 and OQO mentioned above).

Some say it’s a little bit big – but if it were any smaller the screen would be too-tiny to use. (Also consider the newer P910i, although I found the added “thumb-board” keyboard impossible to use)

Software: Firefox
official link | independent review | (free)

Not much has to be said for Firefox. For those of us who remember Netscape 3 and the early days of Netscape 4, Firefox offers that much needed renaissance, an escape away from the dark side.

It’s ancestor had that little N logo, with animated shooting stars and sweeping shadows that used to install a sensor of awe and wonder as I surfed the “information super highway”. Firefox is sans-flashy logo these days, but it’s still Mozilla through-and-through – engineered back to the excellent quality that it’s fore-father Mark Andreessen always intended. (Also consider Thunderbird)

Operating System: Ubuntu
official link | independent review | (free)

Ubuntu screenshot

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these Linux uber-zealots who believe every computer on the planet should have a penguin inside. Windows XP makes sense for your average Joe who just wants a well supported Operating System to run their daily software lives.

However, there are many reasons for choosing Linux – maybe you’re a developer, or maybe you’re like me with many computers and are sick of paying hundreds and hundreds of pounds for the equivilent site-licence to keep the whole lot legit…

If you’re going to install a Linux then check out Ubuntu. Red Hat IMHO has the server end of things sewn up, but I’m not a fan of it on the workstation. Maybe it’s a dent in my geekiness, but I’ve always preferred the soft, warm and friendly desktop Linux distro’s. Previously that was Mandrake, but these days I’m digging Ubuntu.

It has a nice, easy install and has a suite of default installed software that matches my requirements. (Also consider SLAX live Linux distro)

(wow, this took much longer than expected to think about, write and re-write!)

In the next installment of “My favourite 5…” I’ll be checking out my favourite entertainment equipment.

Published in Gadgets


  1. Sofia Sofia

    Soooooooo – what do you want for your birthday then?????

  2. Ben Ben

    Hmmm I don’t know. Isn’t it sad that we have to communicate via my blog? 🙂

  3. rob rob


  4. rob rob


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