Gadget Report

I promised one and I’m delivering. I’ve made three big gadget purchases recently, though I’ve only really explored one to its fullest.

The two I won’t say much about are 1) the Edirol R-09 voice recorder, which is amazingly light and easy-to-use. I bought it and promptly lent it to Erin, a doctoral student of mine going to Ethiopia to do some fieldwork for 4 months; and 2) a Shure SM-7b microphone, which is the microphone one uses, in combination with a compressor, to achieve the “voice of God FM announcer” sound. I’ve used them before in studios and it works well with my voice. If all goes well, you’ll hear it in use later this summer.

The big purchase, though, was a PDA: an HP Travel Companion

This was originally motivated by the complete breakdown of my paper calendar, which has served me so well for so many years. It just wasn’t cutting it anymore as I was planning ahead all the way to 2008-9 at this point and needed something that I could use in conjunction with an electronic calendar (even though I like iCal better, I’ve been using the Exchange calendar just to keep everything in one program).

I had actually planned to purchase a midrange iPaq, but Carrie came into the store with me, took one look at the silver box and said “this one looks way cooler.” Which is true, since the others with their smartly-designed flip-top screens vaguely resemble oversized Star Trek communicators. Anyway, I was originally all set to purchase a smartphone or a blackberry or at least a Palm, but then I discovered Skype and that Skype ran on Windows Mobile, and my mind changed. The Travel Companion has WiFi and Bluetooth, so I can connect to the internet when there is wireless around and skip the expensive cellphone data plans. I also like not getting my email automatically dumped onto my PDA, but rather having to check. The kicker, though, is that it runs Skype (which Palm does not), which means that I can call Carrie for free from the road anywhere I can get WiFi. Way cheaper than using the cell, and super useful for future trips to Europe (though perhaps a calling card will do). I thought I’d foresworn Windows, but Windows Mobile appears to be a solid OS for my limited uses and I like being able to open Word documents on the unit. Perhaps I’ll be able to travel without my laptop if I’m not doing any serious writing.

The other thing the Travel Companion has is a GPS system, which is absolutely freaking amazing. It was really handy on our roadtrip to DC, allowing us to recalculate routes from different places, and to choose alternate routes when the traffic got bad (on the way back; on the way down we were kind of doomed). There’s also something very pleasing about looking up (from the passengers’ seat; don’t worry) and seeing the road unfolding before you, and then looking down and seeing the video representation of your movement through space. I’m sure that there are already 10 space theory papers on this sort of thing, but for me it’s just more of a gee-whiz observation.

I’m not saying I’m not psyched about an iPhone as a true convergence device, but who knows how long it will be before it is a) available in Canada b) works with McGill’s Exchange Server, Skype and other software I use and c) will be obtainable without some stupid hundreds-of-dollars-per-month service plan from Rogers Wireless. So until then, it’s an iPod, cellphone and PDA for me, which sounds silly until you realize the PDA is smaller and lighter than the paper calendar I was carrying around for the last 8 years.