Gadgets you can keep

Recently the New York Times ran an article by Sam Grobart called “Gadgets You Can Get Rid Of (or Not)” in which he severely downplays the usefulness of many gadgets still available, even if their demand is waning. In some cases he’s right, but let’s wait till the end to tally his score.

1. Desktop computer

He says: Lose it.

I say: Wait a second…

When you are deciding on a computer for your own personal use, evaluate all options available against what you need. For most people, it can be a toss-up between a laptop or a desktop. However if you are going to be doing any kind of video editing, spring for a desktop. If you’re going to be editing large images (such as from a >8 megapixel digital camera) spring for a desktop — the larger monitors that are available will make it a lot easier, and desktops have a lot more power to them.

What about games? If you’re a gamer, you already know that nothing beats a desktop computer, not even the consoles. Most hard-core gamers custom build their own systems, which brings up one major benefit of desktops over laptops: almost limitless upgradability. For most people this won’t be a major consideration, though.

Now if you need to be able to use a computer on the road, the laptop is pretty much your only option there. Laptops also generally use less power than desktops, though many desktop systems are rather energy-efficient, but they tend to also be inhibited system. Definitely shop around, though.

2. High speed Internet at home

He says: Keep it.

I say: Keep it.

You should definitely keep high speed Internet access at home even if you have access to the Internet through your mobile phone. The reason is simple: cellular and wireless signals are notoriously inconsistent and unreliable. Having a wired high-speed option coming to your home, either by cable or DSL, will save you a ton of headaches in the long run.

Plus if you get a wireless data card for your laptop, make sure to read the fine print on the contract: what is unlimited for your cellular phone may not be for the data card. Want to tether your cell phone to your laptop? That may cost extra too.

3. Cable TV

He says: Depends.

I say: Depends

My fiancée and I get away very well not having any premium television service coming into our living room. We are perfectly content waiting until shows appear online or on DVD to watch them. We don’t even connect an antenna to our television. You, however, may feel differently, so choose accordingly.

4. Point-and-shoot camera

He says: Lose it.

I say: Wait a sec…

Point and shoot cameras still have a lot of power and capability, and will always provide photo quality better than that of camera phones. Okay, much better than that of camera phones. If you actually care about photo quality, explore the P&S and SLR options available to find one that you feel suits you the best. Personally I have a Nikon D40 DSLR camera, and it’s not going anywhere.

Now while he does make a good point when he says that your point and shoot may not be handy when a photo op arises, are those ops the kind of moments where you will be planning ahead for quality pictures? If you’re going to be at a family gathering, will you be relying on your cell phone or a dedicated point and shoot or DSLR camera?

And to say that point and shoot cameras aren’t much better than cell phone cameras is just plain ignorance on his part. I’ve seen the differences and I’ve yet to see a phone camera that comes close to the level of quality you can get with a point and shoot, and none of them come even close to a DSLR.

5. Camcorder

He says: Lose it

I say: Not so fast…

Sam seems to think that the DSLR cameras available today can substitute well for a camcorder, but he also seems to think that you’re made of money. The DSLR cameras that are actually worth it that also shoot good HD video have 4 digits to their price tag before the decimal, yet you can get a good quality HD camcorder for around $300 to $400, possibly less, depending on where you go. Add on top the fact that a good quality point and shoot camera can be had for less than $200. Explore your options, of which your cell phone isn’t one of them.

6. USB Thumb drive

He says: Lose it

I say: Keep plenty of them

Once again a person not familiar with technology, or who hasn’t been familiar with it for long, is bringing up the cloud. And the cloud is a great resource: being able to store files online and access them from any Internet-ready device is a great convenience. But before you consider getting rid of writable DVDs, USB drives and external hard drives, here’s something to consider.

System administrators are very familiar with creating multiple points of redundancy in a system. Note this word: redundancy. When it comes to backing up personal digital affects, such as photos and documents, you want as much redundancy as possible.

First of all, online options have one very big weakness in them: the Internet connection. One may not always be available, and if one is not, you don’t have access to your files. Storing everything in the cloud exclusively requires you to relinquish immediate control of your digital property. USB drives are quick and easy destinations for small files such as copies of letters you’ve mailed and backing up your financial accounting system.

Now if you remember having to use floppy disks, you also remember this rule: never back up just once. With the reliability of today’s storage media this rule doesn’t entirely apply, but it’s still a helpful rule nonetheless, especially given that you can get a 4 GB USB thumb drive for $12, or an 8 GB drive for $20. Plus along with backing up small files quickly, you can also store digitally signed copies of a will or living will and keep them locked in a bank vault or fire-proof chest.

You will also always retain immediate access and control over your files without having to be at the mercy of a third party, passwords, and an Internet connection.

7. Digital music player

He says: Lose it (probably)

I say: Lose it

Virtually any cell phone today can play MP3s. For iTunes files you may have to… finagle things a little to convert them, but it’s doable. And virtually all phones (the iPhone being the only exception I can think of) have microSD slots on them, allowing the use of expandable media on which you can store your music collection. Don’t forget to keep backups, though.

Now I do have a 30 GB 5th generation iPod I bought a little over 5 years ago and will probably be keeping around until it dies. But when that happens, it’s not getting replaced with another iPod.

8. Alarm clock

He says: Keep it

I say: Keep it

When it comes to waking up in the morning, the cell phone alarm is a great thing to have, but nothing beats a backup. Plus having to answer both your alarm clock and cell phone alarm in the morning is a good way to help get you up on time.

9. GPS Unit

He says: Lose it

I say: Not so fast

GPS has been getting better and better as the years go by, and virtually every cell phone now has a GPS unit built in. Having a GPS unit separate of the one in your cell phone can still prove to be quite convenient, especially if you’re new to smart phones and haven’t quite figured out the turn-by-turn navigation on your cell phone, which also may not work if you’re also trying to talk while you’re on the road, depending on your cell phone provider.

10. Books

He says: Keep them (except cookbooks)

I say: Keep them (no exceptions)

Digital books may be the future, but they have two significant flaws. First, once you buy an e-book, you’re stuck with it. Hardcopy books you can resell at a used book store for credit toward other books. Not all books are available electronically either.

Second, the e-reader itself is an electronic device, meaning all kinds of things can happen to it. As Sam points out, books never run out of batteries, can withstand getting wet to a much farther degree, and they can be relatively inexpensive.

Sam says to lose the cookbooks, but I say to keep those too. They’re much easier to reference and virtually everyone has experience trying to cook from one. Plus recipes you find online can be printed out and kept in recipe boxes or, if you’re so inclined, in a Moleskine Passions recipe notebook or other kind of notebook. Plus would you rather walk into a kitchen with shelves lined with cookbooks and other assorted recipe books, or one with an iPad or e-reader and few, if any, cookbooks? The cookbooks tell you you’re walking into the kitchen of someone who loves to cook, and that’s the kind of kitchen I’d like to walk into.