10 gadgets you should get rid of... maybe

The New York Times recently listed several consumer electronics you may not need, from digital cameras to e-books. Is this common sense or heresy? Andrew Nusca offers his take.

One of the most popular recent stories on the New York Times' Web site is Sam Grobart's "Gadgets You Should Get Rid Of (Or Not)." In the piece, Grobart outlines several consumer electronics you might not really need. But in reading it, I found myself disagreeing with several of his suggestions, which are meant for a broad (but fairly educated) audience — after all, the Times is among the most popular news outlets in the world.

So I feel compelled to respond with my own take, as an editor immersed in the gadget world for the last three years. I agree with the basic premise that we need fewer gadgets than ever; which gadgets we give up, that's a different matter entirely.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in ZDNet's The ToyBox blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: The desktop computer

Grobart's take: "Lose it... laptops have all the necessary computing power the average user needs."

Nusca's take: Agree. I gave up my desktop in 2005 and haven't looked back. (I currently pipe my MacBook Pro's visuals into a Dell IPS monitor, complete with external keyboard and mouse.) Gamers and other users with computing-intensive applications are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of users no longer need the bulk.

2: Broadband Internet

Grobart's take: "Keep it," because a 3G mobile broadband connection may offer connectivity, but it fails at video streaming, data caps and coverage."

Nusca's take: Agree, but for different reasons. I do think a large portion of computer users — those who use them occasionally — could get by on 3G, video streaming be damned, but the data caps and spotty coverage give me pause. Broadband is more Internet than most homes need, but 3G isn't enough.

3: Cable TV

Grobart's take: "Depends. While you may and should hold on to a good broadband connection at home, it is debatable whether you need to pay for cable TV."

Nusca's take: Keep it, unequivocally. While I advocate cutting the cord in principle, my colleagues at CNET Reviews have demonstrated that the reality is not nearly as easy as it sounds. This isn't about sports or movies — this is about simplicity. And setting up TV service without calling the cable company is about as easy as setting up a home network with Windows 95.

4: Point-and-shoot cameras

Grobart's take: "Lose it. Yes, a dedicated camera will probably take a better picture than the small lens and image sensor of a smartphone, but it will not be that much better."

Nusca's take: Depends. For candid photos around town and of the kids, a current-generation smartphone handles this task, despite some quibbles about resolution. But if you're still getting photos printed and framed, you might consider a proper point-and-shoot. (I still use them to cover events.) World travelers will likely go the dSLR route, anyway.

5: Camcorder

Grobart's take: "Lose it... that camcorder you have now is probably the last one you will own."

Nusca's take: Keep it, assuming it's a Flip-type model. Grobart says digital SLR cameras now handle HD video with aplomb, rendering conventional shotgun-style camcorders useless, but most folks aren't willing to shell out for such expensive (and bulky) cameras. If you've got a conventional camcorder, ditch it — most cheaper models don't offer much better quality than the Flip and its counterparts, and handheld comfort isn't enough to justify a second gadget.

6: USB thumb drive

Grobart's take: "Lose it. File sharing does not require hardware anymore. In almost any case you can think of, you can move files around digitally via the Internet."

Nusca's take: Keep it. While Internet sharing is indeed a large part of the daily grind — I send myself documents through the cloud all day — connectivity problems and speed (large photos, home videos, applications) aren't worth taking the time to upload to the cloud, just to bring back down again. Always-on connectivity might work for the office, but it's not always efficient at home.

7: Digital music player

Grobart's take: "Lose it (probably). Do you have a smartphone? Then you have a music player."

Nusca's take: Agree for most of the population. Only gym rats would consider a small player like the Apple iPod nano, and even then, a smartphone just as easily sits in the cupholder of your treadmill. The only exception is the outdoors runner, who needs to shed weight.

8: Alarm clock

Grobart's take: "Keep it... setting and resetting smartphone alarms may require a dive into one submenu too many."

Nusca's take: Lose it. Modern smartphones can offer shortcuts into said menus, and unless you're attached to the babbling brook setting, your phone will wake you just as effectively. Plus, overseas travelers rely on them, since a U.S. alarm clock won't stay accurate plugged into a wall in Europe.

9: GPS device

Grobart's take: "Lose it... your smartphone can do the same thing, if not more, for half that price, or even free."

Nusca's take: Keep it, for the same reason that Grobart said to keep your alarm clock: simplicity. Sure, top-of-the-line smartphones have navigation capability, but it's a mess of menus — not something you want to deal with when you're driving around lost. In due time, this will be corrected, but the GPS thing is still far too early to ditch your cheap windshield-mounted unit.

10: Books

Grobart's take: "Keep them (with one exception)... consider this about a book: It has a terrific, high-resolution display. It is pretty durable; you could get it a little wet and all would not be lost. It has tremendous battery life. It is often inexpensive enough that, if you misplaced it, you would not be too upset. You can even borrow them free at sites called libraries."

Nusca's take: Depends on your use case. If you're a public transit rider, an e-reader is a godsend, doing away with the weight and bulk of a traditional bound book. For beachgoers, paperback books can handle sand and sun and humidity without giving you heart palpitations. For armchair readers, an e-reader works just as well — provided you can find the stuff you want to read.

That's my take. What's yours?


Andrew Nusca is the editor of SmartPlanet.

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