With Christmas just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to bring together the best stuff that’s passed through Toybox’s very scientific testing lab over the past year — and at the same time give you some Christmas gift ideas.
Of all the funny, shiny, crazy and silly toys that have passed by my desk since January, here are my top-five:
1. Blackbox M14 noise cancellation headphones ($379): These gorgeous cans from Kiwi audio technology company Phitek really impressed me. They have made horribly long flights less painful, and helped me concentrate in our noisy open plan office. The headphones are comfortable, of great quality and the AAA battery they run on lasts for ages. Some people might think the price tag is a bit heavy, but if you are frequent traveller, they are worth it.
2. Squeezebox ($599): Logitech’s wireless music player is a cool little device, perfect for, say, an open plan office, or your lounge at home. Using the open source software SlimServer, the wireless device hooks up to your computer or the internet across a 802.11g wireless network or Ethernet connection. It plays MP3, AAC, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless and WAV music files, and also supports online music services. Connect some speakers and you are away.
3. iPod Hi-Fi speakers ($599): Apple’s boombox is a bit big and bulky, but the power of the speakers will blow you away. Even outdoors, the speakers are really loud and can be heard a long way off. The Hi-Fi is compatible with all iPod models with a dock connector through the integrated Universal Dock. Dock adapters are included.
4. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock ($170): What better way to spend summer than in front of your TV, pretending you are a rock star? The Guitar Hero III bundle is available for the Wii console, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 2 and 3.
It is a little bit tricky to play the game at first; you must press and hold the buttons on the neck of the Gibson Les Paul replica guitar and then strum the guitar when the notes cross the strum line on the screen. But even though I still suck, Guitar Hero III is a lot of fun. One of the coolest features of the game is the soundtrack, which holds around 70 songs.
5. Toshiba Portege R400 ($4,865): Of all the notebooks I have played with over the year, I took a particular liking to the lightweight Portege R400, mostly because of its sophisticated look. On the upside, the 1.72kg R400 doubles as a tablet PC, it has a hard drive tilt and bump sensor, and it looks great in its black and white colour scheme. On the downside, it is lacking a CD/DVD drive, the battery life isn’t great and it is quite pricey.
Some other toys that deserve to be mentioned:
Coolest lightweight toy: Despite its appearance, Samsung’s 2GB U3 MP3 player ($159) impressed with its great sound quality, its FM radio receiver and voice recorder.
Heaviest notebook: Toshiba’s Qosmio G40 ($5999), nearly half a metre wide and five centimetres thick, weighs in at 5kg, and with that, beats Panasonic’s robust Toughbook CF-30, which weighs 4kg. To its credit, the G40 has a built-in HD DVD drive and a HD DVD-R optical drive, the writable disc variant of HD DVD.
Most overrated device: The Blackberry Curve 8310 ($999) and Sony Ericsson’s W950i Walkman phone ($799) unfortunately get to share this category. They are both too clumsy and fiddly to use and have too many buttons.