Tech Gadgets that Don’t Work (For Me)

This is the second of my pair of articles on gadgets that work or don't work.  The first, Tech Gadgets that Work, was on the gadgets that I've bought and found myself using often and that were generally good purchases.  These are the gadgets that I bought and would up selling or just not using. 

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these products, necessarily, but that I personally found them not useful to me.

So on with the list:

Not Useful: SPOT Watch

The SPOT Watch concept (MSN Direct) is a good one:  have your watch receive wireless data and display it.  The execution has a couple of flaws.

The killer for me was battery life.  A watch is typically something that you replace the battery in every few years or so, but the Abacus watch I have requres charging every few days.  It changes a watch from a reliable, dependable device to one that's about as reliable as a cell phone.  And I'm not good at remembering to charge my cell phone.

Plus I just wasn't using the data service enough to justify $60/year.

Not Useful: Wii

This is a tough one.  I took a look around the house for devices that I've bought but don't use, and the Wii unfortunately falls into this category.

It's not really the Wii's fault; the XBox 360 just has more games that interest me, and looks much better on my TV.

The only time I use the Wii is when I have friends over, because that's when Wii Sports and Wii Play suddenly become fun.  It's not a lot of fun bowling by yourself.

This could change when Mario Galaxy or some other fun (and unique) single player games come out.

Not Useful: Vonage

Vonage was actually useful for a long time, but lately has fallen into the "Not Useful" category.  What changed is that Rogers now offers a flat rate unlimited long distance plan within Ontario.

That was the reason I got Vonage in the first place, and stuck with it through all the troubles.  My wife's family is in Southern Ontario, so we needed cheap long distance.  Bell used to offer a $20 plan and then removed it a few years back - and subsequently lost all my telecom business.

The one killer feature Vonage has is that it can email you your voicemail.  I considered staying with it for that, but in the end it just wasn't worth it.

Not Useful: PDAs

I've had a few PDAs over the years.  An iPaq, an older HP, a Palm Pilot.  I love the idea of having a PDA with me, but it falls into the same category as the SPOT Watch:  forget to sync it and it dies.  Too often when I'd want to use it, it would be dead, because I forgot to charge it.

This is what makes Windows Mobile attractive to me.  I didn't put my SMT5600 phone on either list because I'm still undecided on it, but having some PDA aspects in your phone makes it more likely I'll keep it charged, and usually guarantees a longer battery life.

Not Useful: Video Baby Monitor

This had potential; our son is now a year old and the ability to monitor him from the rooms where we spend our time is essential.  There are three problems with this particular product:  It's analog, so occasionally picks up the neighbors telephone calls.  The signal is too weak, so even though we're only 2 floors away in the same house, the picture is mostly static, and even if it were closer, think about it:  When you're baby's sleeping, the room is usually dark.  The camera portion tries to accomodate for this with infrared LEDs and a camera sensitive to that spectrum, but that only works if the camera's about a foot from your baby's head.

Next time around, I'll probably go for a digital audio-only monitor.

Not Useful: Sony PSP

Bought it, played with it for a while, sold it on eBay. 

The form factor is part of the problem:  It's too big to carry around.  The DS Lite is a much better portable, and tends to have better games - at least, games I enjoy more.  I'm really looking forward to Opera for the DS.

Not Useful: XM Radio

I've tried a few things to get more and better audio in the car, and this was one of them.  On paper it sounds great:  tons of all-digital channels, including a fair assortment of ones I'd like.

Two things went wrong here, one of them XM's fault and one mine.  The one that's my fault is I bought a Delphi MyFi radio, which uses an FM transmitter to broadcast to your car stereo, and FM radio just doesn't sound that good.

But the bigger problem, that made me abandon XM, is the compression artifacts.  Some stations, especially talk radio, are so compressed that you can hear the telltale warbling and other artifacts that signal an insufficient bitrate.  Sometimes it was hard to make out what people were saying.  This showed up in music as well - some stations sounded great, but others didn't.

The sound quality difference between the XM FM setup I had and the iPod setup I went with is clearly obvious.

Not Useful: Wireless Keyboards / Mice

I don't really need my keyboard or mouse to be wireless, since I always use them in the same place.  And nothing beats the frustration of using an input device that's losing input events thanks to low battery.