Making the Demo Rounds, Day 2

Once more, Senior Editor Tekla S. Perry reports from the DEMOfall show in San Diego on the latest gadgets looking to prove themselves to consumers. Here are her thoughts on Day Two. (For her Day One musings, click here.)

Tekla S. Perry

I've seen 67 product demonstrations at a distance and gone one-on-one with about two-thirds of these new products. Some make absolutely no sense to me.

For example, for about 40 cents a pop, I can add cartoon speech bubbles to photos I take with my cellphone and then send the altered images to my friends. I don't have a camera phone; but even if I did, I doubt I'd spend time and money "cranking" the images (which is what the company, photocrank, is calling this editing). Or I can download music for free to my cellphone or MP3 player, with Lirix, as long as I'm willing to listen to advertisements along with my music. I'm not. And then there's the wireless rabbit that will read the New York Times to me when I wake up in the morning and send me secret messages by tilting its ears. The Nabaztag from Violet has an appealing shape, a cross between a Pokemon and a lava lamp; but at US $150, I think not. The developers of those products, however, can console themselves with the fact that, as a 40-something mom, I'm not in their target demographic; they're mostly looking for 18 to 25 year olds, maybe 30 at the outside.

Most of the other products seemed reasonable but, for the most part, blur together in my mind. However, in spite of Demo overload, a few products that I saw on Day Two did manage to stand out. They fill a real need, are well designed and, while I can't be sure without testing them outside of the Demo environment, seem to work.

Living in Silicon Valley, I can't take a walk down the street without seeing people that appear to have Bluetooth earpieces permanently implanted on the sides of their heads. Could be, though, that they're going to want a device transplant after seeing the Mvox Duo. At $199, this unit looks like an ordinary Bluetooth earpiece, but it converts to a speakerphone, with impressive clarity and volume. It uses an omni-directional mike for noise canceling and a directional mike for picking up conversation. The thing I liked most is that Mvox got the little things right. A magnetic switch in the lapel-clip turns on the speakerphone; pull the earpiece out of the clip and the speakerphone switches off; this protects your ear from an accidental up-close overdose of sound. The lapel-clip fits nicely on a seatbelt; a feature I'll need in California very soon, because driving while holding a cellphone will soon be against the law. And a twist of the lapel-clip turns it into a microphone stand for conference table use. Very clever.

As the person in my household who is in charge of tech support, Retrevo is definitely for me. I rarely bother with specialized search engines, but this free one looks for specific solutions to problems, sorting past chit-chat and product reviews. And it looks inside manuals, not just on Web sites and blogs. Given that I tend to lose manuals, I can use this feature several times a year. The Retrevo demo involved figuring out how to reset a Slingbox that had stopped slinging, and easily found the procedure. But I had a trickier test for it. About a month ago the keyless remote for my Mazda MPV died; changing the battery didn't work, it just wasn't talking to the car anymore. I spent over an hour scouring the Internet for a solution beyond "take the car to an authorized service center." Eventually, I found the answer (an arcane combination of key turns and door slams that resembles the chicken dance) buried deep in a blog. When I proposed this search to the executives at Retrevo, they prepared me for failure. A car remote isn't really a consumer electronics product, they pointed out, definitely on the fringe at best, but they would give it a try. Retrevo found that deeply buried answer in about five seconds. We were all amazed.

The idea of having one phone number you can use for all your phones forever isn't a new idea. Call-forwarding is an early implementation; sometimes useful, but not simple or powerful enough to bother with regularly. GrandCentral gives you that single phone number and a Web interface. You can manage incoming callers by phone number, sending them selectively to your different phone numbers (work, cell, or home) directly into voice mail, or into the purgatory that is a spam folder. The voicemail service alone seems worth the price of admission—Grand Central's $14.99 a month is cheaper than the monthly fee for my AT&T voice-mailbox. And I like that you can use voicemail to record conversations; I can't do that with my existing voicemail.

I'll try Grand Central, and you can to, for free, for the next 60 days. You can also try Retrevo for free as well—can you come up with a better challenge than I did? Contact me at tDOTperryATieeeDOTorg to tell me about your experiences.


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