Welcome to The Pipeline, Engadget's weekly roundup of the latest comments from the major tech and gadget pundits. This week, we check out Walt Mossberg's review of two ultralight laptops, David Pogue on binoc-cams, Stephen Wildstrom on the PSP, David Kirkpatrick on iPods, and more.
But first, we bid a fond farewell to The New York Times' Circuits section, which ran for the last time this week. Circuits began during the heady days of the dot-com boom, and managed to survive the bursting of the bubble, only to see its end come amid continued competition in the technology and consumer electronics space from magazines and web sites (er, sorry, guys), as well as a shift in direction by the paper's management (according to a leaked memo, Circuits will be replaced by a new section focusing "fashion, fitness, beauty, smart shopping and lifestyles"). Though columnist David Pogue will continue to ruminate in the paper's Business pages, and gaming articles will run in the Weekend section, we'll lose the "How It Works" feature, with its great cutaway pics of hot products; the "Online Diary," which ran links to off-the-beaten-path sites (and this week, fittingly, did a "where are they now" piece on some net pioneers); and the other features that made staggering out in our bathrobe on Thursday morning to grab the paper a worthwhile experience. Now we have one more reason to sleep in ... and to get our tech news online instead of in print.
In his last regular Circuits column, David Pogue checks out a handful of binoculars that have built-in digital cameras. Not surprisingly, even the best among them took mediocre pics, given their low megapixel count, inevitable camera shake and huge distance they're expected to cover. But, as Pogue points out, if you're the target customer for these — a bird-watcher (or maybe a trainspotter?) — image quality matters less than just the sheer ability to capture what you're seeing in real-time. Note: This is one column you'll want to read online, just to check out Pogue's loony bird-watching video. Let's hope he keeps this stuff up when he's over at the Business section.
Walt Mossberg this week returned to one of his — and our — favorite subjects: ultralight laptops. His two hot boxes this time around: the Sony Vaio T250 and the Fujitsu LifeBook P7010 (pictured at left). Both are just over three pounds, have great battery life, and have built-in DVD burners. At about $2,000 each, these won't replace a Presario or iBook as a workhorse machine, but for frequent travelers with expense account cash (i.e., readers of Mossberg's WSJ column), these are the new briefcase Bimmers.
If you're a regular visitor to Engadget, you'll recall that this was the week that an Australian school banned iPods, saying they created "social isolation." Meanwhile, Fortune's David Kirkpatrick mused on the iPod phenomenon, declaring that a little isolation isn't necessarily such a bad thing: "Why do I, and so many others, want to cocoon ourselves off into our little music bubbles, even when we're out and about? I think one reason has to do our exasperation with the other technologies around us: cellphones, PCs, BlackBerries, laptops, etc. ... I'm getting shell-shocked by technology. But now a new technology offers me an antidote: the iPod shuffle. And so my music-enveloped cocoon grows tighter. Music soothes the frazzled beast. My blood pressure drops." Hmm; wonder if we can get our health insurance to cover a Shuffle.
Kirkpatrick also commented on the fact that the music industry is missing the boat completely by failing to notice that iPods and other portable audio players are actually creating a bigger potential market, because people are listening to more music, as they wrap themselves tighter in their white plastic cocoons. The music industry was also on the mind of USA Today's Andrew Kantor, who used the PyMusique-iTunes battle as a jumping off point to argue that restrictive DRM policies are driving music lovers away from legit services and into the arms of pirates: "Imagine buying a music CD at the mall, bringing it home, and playing it on your stereo. Then you play it on your car's CD player driving to work. But when you get there and pop it into the little player on your desk, you hear a voice say, 'We're sorry, but you are only authorized to play this disk on up to two CD players. You have now exceeded that. Thank you.' That's exactly how iTunes and most of the other legal online music service work. When you pay for and download a song, it comes with various built-in restrictions. ... And people wonder why music piracy is so rampant." Kantor states that, until the music industry ends its "empty-headed, heavy-handed approach to business," consumers will "continue to get the shaft," and piracy will thrive.
Finally, the latest PlayStation Portable review from the business press. BusinessWeek's Stephen Wildstrom joined the growing consensus lauding the PSP for its game-playing capabilities and trashing it for everything else. Wildstrom takes particular aim at Sony's long-held policy of adding proprietary technology to every product they sell, rather than just sticking with proven standards: "The PSP supports only MP3 and Sony's own ATRAC formats, so the only purchased music you can play is songs from Sony's Connect music service. Even then, purchased music must be stored on a special type of Memory Stick — another Sony design — that includes Sony's MagicGate copy protection." Wildstrom also hits Sony's UMD-format videodiscs, and poor WiFi implementation. He does, however, offer a way out: "Standards rather than proprietary technologies are growing more and more important in a networked world. A continuing insistence on doing everything the Sony way leads only to isolation." Are you listening, Sir Howard?The New York Times - Circuits
David Pogue: Sizing Up a New Species: Camera-Binoculars
Walt Mossberg: Two Ultralight Laptops Offer Lots of Features, Improved Portability
David Kirkpatrick: iPods Make the World Go Away
Andrew Kantor: Hard to lower pirate flag while legal alternatives still lacking
Stephen Wildstrom: The PlayStation Portable Has Miles To Go