Archives For Reviews

Sungale desk lamp

In my continuing quest to find meaningful evolution in the digital photo frame space, I stumbled upon the Sungale desk lamp with photo and video display. Not long ago I reviewed a Sungale touch-screen frame, and came away hoping for more. But the desk lamp is a different story. The photos are sharp on the 3.5″ screen, video is surprisingly crisp and easy to upload, and the device even plays any MP3 files you’ve got. My one hesitation here is that the lamp retails for $100 ($90 at Amazon). It’s probably not an unreasonable price, but I still find it hard to justify in my own budget as someone who would normally spend about $15 for a desk light. If your price range is higher, however, you should definitely give the Sungale lamp a whirl. It’s a lot of fun and would be a good gadget gift for the office worker.

First off, this desk lamp doesn’t disappoint in its primary function. The light is bright, soft, and easily flexes in any direction. It’s also energy efficient, consuming only 5W of power.

Getting beyond the lighting function, the lamp has a little pop-up LCD screen that resides in the base. As a photo frame, it’s a bit small, but remarkably clear. The screen gets 320×240 resolution, and the lamp has 512 MB of built-in memory. You can also plug in your camera’s memory card (SD, MMC, MS), or connect to a computer via USB. Transporting photos was easy. My PC opened up a dialog box asking if I wanted to connect using the “program provided on the device.” The software isn’t flashy, but it’s perfectly serviceable, and settings on the lamp allowed me to control the slide-show display.

Sungale desk lamp main menu

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Zoodles kid browser

There’s a market for kid-friendly online browsing. Children watch their parents on computers and want to get in on the fun from an early age, even if they don’t quite know how. Although there are a number of kid computers (VTech, Fisher-Price, etc.), these low-end devices don’t offer the same breadth of options available on the Internet. Kids don’t want one brand of entertainment; they want many. Enter software-based solutions. Earlier in the year I talked about Kidthing, which showed up at CES. Now I’ve had a chance to play with Zoodles as well. Here’s my take on the kid-friendly browser launched last April.

What it Does
Go to, and you can download the application (Adobe Air, Mac or PC) for free. Zoodles will ask you a few questions about your child to establish content parameters, and will then load the program on your computer with a Zoodles desktop icon. (Yes, you can set up profiles for multiple children.) Launch the application and you open up your child’s “toybox.” The toybox has big friendly picture buttons linking to different games, and big arrows on the right and left so you can scroll through multiple screens. The games listed come from all over the Web, with sites represented ranging from Scholastic to Playhouse Disney. More content is added on a regular basis.

The Good
The biggest benefit to Zoodles is that it aggregates a tremendous number of age-appropriate games in one place. Unlike Kidthing, all of the content is free, and I haven’t found any games that require a separate download. There’s also the advantage that the browser mixes non-branded games with commercial characters that kids (for better or worse) already know. Nothing beats the appeal of Dora or Kai-lan.

Safety-wise, Zoodles only allows kids to click through on approved URLs. That means that if there’s an ad placed next to a game, your child won’t be able to click on it and move over to another site.

A premium membership to Zoodles ($5.95/month or less) also adds in a parental dashboard feature. Although I’d be hard-pressed to sign up for another monthly subscription service, the dashboard offers a tremendous amount of control over the application. You can look at reports on what your child has played, block specific sites, games, or shows, and even promote certain skill sets (have certain types of games show up more often) that you want your child to work on. Subjects include language and literacy, life skills, math, science, and social science.

The Bad
There’s very little negative to say about Zoodles. I found it ran a bit slowly, but whether that’s the application or my netbook is hard to say. I spoke to CEO and co-founder Mark Williamson, and he suggested that part of the goal of Zoodles is to get kids able to play by themselves on a computer without constantly needing help or supervision. Sounds good, but I still found there were plenty of places where it was possible to get stuck without parental intervention. Again, this isn’t really the fault of Zoodles. Some games just don’t make it clear what to do next, or make it difficult to start over.

The Verdict
I will definitely keep using Zoodles with my almost-4-year-old. Like being on the kids’ computers at our local library, Zoodles makes it easy to find games that my daughter likes and learns from. If online safety is a big concern for you (the FCC has a new report out on the issue), Zoodles is also a great alternative to relying on filtering software. Older kids need a different solution, but for children aged 3 to 8, the free Zoodles app is the way to  go.

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For a few years I have been on a quest to reliably stream HD video from my NAS to my TV. I’ve tried both Powerline and draft 802.11n wireless solutions, but neither has proven sufficient. Which is I was excited to see Netgear release the MCAB1001 MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapter Kit (~$200). I used to build out 10Base2 networks back in the day, so why not use the existing coaxial cable running through my home to move data?

Our review unit consisted of a pair of MoCA devices, power adapters, stands, a pair of Ethernet cables and a pair of coax cables. I was glad to see that Netgear included the coax cables. I had feared that I would be taking a trip to The Shack.


Setup of the MoCA units is very simple, although your mileage may vary. I unplugged the cable from the TV and plugged it in the Coax In port on the MoCA device. I then ran the included coax from the Coax Out to the TV. Next, I connected the Ethernet cable to the Ethernet port and connected the other end to my Popcorn Hour A-110. (Netgear, we’d be happy to take a look at the EVA9150. Hint, hint.) I then connected the second MoCA device to my router. I made sure the Mode button on each device was set to Normal and then plugged in the power. After a few seconds the Ethernet and MoCA lights started flashing. I turned the wireless off on the A-110 and browsed to my movie share and started streaming a 720p HD file. The video played without a problem! I then played a 1080p HD video and am happy to say that it played without a problem as well.

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Sungale Wi-Fi photo frame with widgets

UPDATE: Sungale has let me know that there will be another firmware update before the frame officially hits retail. The company is graciously letting me hold on to the frame until the update, and I plan to post again.

I’ve had something of an obsession with Wi-Fi photo frames ever since eStarling brought the first one (disastrously) to market. So naturally I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the new Sungale touch-screen, Wi-Fi, widgetized photo frame – colloquially known as the ID800WT.

Sungale’s attempt to create a photo-displaying widget station is ambitious to the say the least. I’ve seen other manufacturers add wireless connectivity, limited access to Web content, and touch-screen capabilities, but not at the level that Sungale attempts. Everything on the screen is touchable, and the widget menu includes weather, news, Picasa, Gmail, YouTube, and Internet radio access. Alas, the execution doesn’t currently live up to the vision. The Sungale ID800WT is decent as a standard digital photo frame, but it’s not the tablet of the future that it aims to be.

Full review, specs, and photos after the jump.

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My initial impression of the Verizon Hub wasn’t entirely positive – I’d rather have a touchscreen Eee Top in my kitchen. –DZ, 02/09

Given my pre-release proclamation above and after catching Brad Linder’s (Lilliputing) ASUS Eee Top ETP1602 review, I had to get my hands on a unit. Fortunately, Brad (and ASUS) were quite accommodating and I’ve been playing with his very same review loaner the last couple weeks. Whereas Brad dropped the Eee Top (~$500) in his office, being a fan (conceptually) of the Audrey and Icebox computing appliances of lore, I placed the 15.6″ all-in-one PC in our kitchen. Where I believe it belongs.

First off, while definitely plasticy, the Eee looks pretty sharp. Minus the cable clutter. My phone related paraphernalia could easily be cleaned up, but I positioned it front and center (well, off to the left) to demonstrate connectivity. Unfortunately, the wired keyboard and mouse would require an additional investment to free yourself of cables. In fact, if we’re counting pennies, I’d prefer ASUS provide wireless interfaces over the touchscreen – which I found myself rarely using. (Perhaps compounded by the review unit not shipping with its bundled stylus.) I appreciated the volume and brightness controls located on the bezel, in addition to the screen blanking button. And the Eee Top rear, which Brad photographed, features a simple yet effective, adjustable kickstand and various ports.

The custom apps (i.e. Eee Easy Mode) and third party software (i.e. Cyberlink media shell) that Brad felt made the Eee Top stand out, were mostly a distraction for me. (But are perfectly suitable for non-techies and children.) Thus, they were banished in relatively short order. Windows XP has been around for eons and I’m comfortable mousing around the UI as designed. To meet my widget needs, I installed all of Google Desktop. For telephonic capabilities, I plugged in the magicJack ($40, free US calling the first year) on a side USB port. (Although Skype would also work well, given the built-in microphone and video camera.) I had hoped the ETP1602 would made a great web-based kitchen television, but the video capabilities are a mixed bag…

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Kevin Tofel’s purchase and coverage of the Kodak Zi6 pocketable HD video cam (MSRP $180) led to an impulse buy Friday morning on the way to Disney World and in preparation for CES. I shot a couple dozen clips, about an hour of video filling maybe half an 8GB SD card (~$20), under a variety of conditions. The device was dead simple to use, as was offloading 720p video (H.264) onto a Mac using the integrated USB connector. As expected, video quality was nice in daylight and when I managed to keep my hand/arm still during shooting. Low light quality wasn’t great, although better than I expected. The associated audio recordings were also better than I expected. However, the still photo capabilities were poor – on par with a middle-of-the-pack cell phone camera. Video colors look a bit hyper-realistic and, in addition to my unsteady hand, the Zi6 seemed to introduce periodic stutters. Below is a brief clip of some birds (YouTube link) outside during the day and here’s a night recording of some SpectroMagic.

What folks really want to know, of course, is how the Kodak Zi6 stacks up against the Flip MinoHD. As I didn’t have both cameras in my possession simultaneously, I can’t do a direct comparison of video quality. I’ve read a couple of blog posts suggesting the Zi6 provides somewhat better visuals, but I imagine results are similar. However, we do know is that the Kodak currently runs about $60 cheaper than the MinoHD on Amazon. Although, some of that saved cash would be invested in a SD memory card. The Zi6 has a larger display (2.4″) than the MinoHD (1.5″), but that results in a more bulky (although, still relatively compact) unit. The Zi6 has the benefit of accepting AA batteries, and ships with a pair that can be recharged… only when removed from the camera. Compare to the MinoHD, which has a built-in rechargeable battery. You lose the ability to pick up spare batteries, but again this design decision results in a smaller device… that can be charged via USB. Where I think the Zi6 really trumps the MinoHD is by providing macro mode for close-ups (critical for geek bloggers) and by offering essentially unlimited storage via SD cards.

So, what’s my verdict? At the end of the day, both the MinoHD and Zi6 are basic recording devices. Even though they capture high def video resolutions, the optics and options are decidedly low-end. What they have going for them is their simplicity, compact size, and attractive price point – excellent for casual and spontaneous video capture. And not all that different from features found in many digital still cameras.

Update: Kodak announced the Zx1 today, the heir apparent, ahead of CES. The ‘weather resistant’ cam boasts a sleeker, smaller enclosure and bundles an HDMI-out cable.

Hands On with Griffin RoadTrip

Dave Zatz —  December 9, 2008


Over the years, I’ve owned several iPods. And along with them, several car charging solutions and/or car mounts. They’ve run the gamut from a low-tech cup holder to higher end solutions from Monster and Belkin. But my new favorite, by a long shot, is the latest iteration of the Griffin RoadTrip.

My recent search for an iPhone mount began when rumors of a GPS-enabled iPhone first surfaced. Other than a few clunky-looking generic device holders, I wasn’t seeing much until I stumbled upon the Griffin WindowSeat. Unfortunately, right about when I discovered the unit they either delayed the release or temporarily pulled it while adding an adapter to support the iPhone 3G. I also took a look at the highly regarded ProClip solutions, but the price ($65) and single car installation kept me away.

Enter Griffin RoadTrip. The newest version (MSRP $99, $68 @ Amazon) includes adapters for a wide variety of iPod devices, including both the iPhone and the iPhone 3G, charges the unit, looks great, and beams all audio over FM to your car stereo. The RoadTrip also nearly instantaneously identifies open frequencies to broadcast on. Which comes in handy given the radio pollution in metro areas like mine. (However, you can expect some GSM interference if using an iPhone with cellular connectivity – easily masked while music is playing. And this isn’t necessarily Griffin’s fault… I get similar interference without the mount in play when my phone pulls email, etc.)

As I’m still toting a first gen non-3G iPhone, I had assumed I’d have to load it up with my own tracks for in-car entertainment. However, Pandora over EDGE with the RoadTrip broadcasting in mono (less interference) works surprisingly well and is a decent solution since dumping XM. It’s also been nice to be able to see incoming callers without fumbling for the phone, and if the font is maxed out, I can read email – while the car is stopped, of course. I snapped a pic of Google Maps (below) to represent what I hope is some sort of future turn-by-turn GPS application… at which point I’ll upgrade my iPhone (or when Apple adds a respectable camera). And given my in-car success with Anderson Cooper’s 360 video podcast, I wouldn’t mind seeing some mobile Slingbox software.