Monday, December 31, 2007

10 Worst Tech Products of 2007

10 Worst Tech Products of 2007
Tue Dec 18, 2007

Would you be surprised to learn that a certain Windows upgrade made the list? Behold the worst tech of the year, including a pair of $7,250 speaker cables, ad-riddled video downloads that expire after a week, a much-hyped TV set-top box that's dying on the vine, and more.

So here we alphabetical order:

Apple TV: Apple's foray into the living room seemed like a no-brainer, and this HDMI-packing, Wi-Fi- and Ethernet-enabled set-top box looked like a sure-fire success. From the beginning, however, Apple TV was hamstrung by the meager movie selection (and now dwindling selection of TV shows) on iTunes, plus the fact that you can't browse or buy videos directly over the box. Even worse, Apple seems to have lost interest in its home theater "hobby," with a full six months passing since the last Apple TV software update. Short of a sudden infusion of new features, look for this once-promising box to go the way of iPod Hi-Fi.

iPod Battery Replacement Kit: One of the chief complaints I hear about the iPod (and the iPhone, for that matter) is that the battery is sealed in the casing, with Apple adding insult to injury by charging $60 to replace out-of-warranty iPod batteries (or $86 for the iPhone). So here's Blue Raven's $30 iPod battery replacement kit, which consists of a new battery, a tiny screwdriver, and a plastic thingy that looks like a mini crowbar (similar kits are available for the iPhone). I tried it with my old iPod, and I replaced the battery all right, but I also managed wreck the crummy plastic tool and scratch the heck out of my once-shiny iPod in the process. Next time I want to scratch up my gadgets, I'll save $30 and use my own little screwdriver, thanks very much.

Microsoft Surface: Unveiled in May with great fanfare, Microsoft's jaw-dropping Surface computer—a touch-sensitive tabletop PC that immediately invited comparisons to Tom Cruise's mid-air dragging-and-dropping in "Minority Report"—whipped the tech press into a frenzy of excitement. But scratch Surface and you'll something a little shy of elegant, including a full-on Vista PC and five (count 'em, five) motion-detecting cameras mounted beneath the 30-inch touch-sensitive sheet. Oh, and then there's the $5,000-to-$10,000 price tag. And of course, in true Microsoft fashion, the first Surface systems (intended primarily as kiosks in retail and hospitality venues) have reportedly been delayed until spring. Something tells me it'll be a long, long time before we see these babies in our living rooms.

NBC Direct: Give NBC credit for trying a little of everything when it comes to online video, but here's a service that's got a few too many restrictions for comfort. Yes, you can download full, free episodes of shows like "Heroes" and "The Office," but you have to sit through commercials, and you can't transfer shows to a portable player or another PC, and the videos won't work on a Mac...and the shows expire in a week, rendering the files unwatchable. Great.

Palm Foleo: It was a two-pound sub-notebook—sorry, smartphone companion—that was supposed to connect to your phone via Bluetooth and let you type emails, surf the Web, and edit documents with a full-size keyboard and screen. As I've written before, the Foleo might be a good idea in a decade or so, when our supercharged smartphones become our primary computing devices. But when it was announced in June, reviewers dog-piled on the Foleo, complaining that the $500 gadget would be just another device we'd have to lug around. Smelling a flop, Palm benched the Foleo before it ever saw the inside of a store.

Pear Audio "Anjou" speaker cable: I'm sure this pair of 12-foot speaker cables sounds just fine—but the $7,250 price tag puts it in contention for tech rip-off of the year.

Ringles: The big music labels still think the CD can be saved, and the "ringle"—a a $5.98-to-$6.98 bundle of three songs, plus a ringtone, all in an eye-catching slip cover—was the latest in a line of painfully sad attempts to lure us back into brick-and-mortar music stores. Last time I checked, however, CD sales were still tanking.

SunRocket VoIP: More of a service than a gadget, mind you, but still one of the biggest tech debacles of the year (and one, as many readers pointed out, that I should have mentioned in my recent "10 Tech Train Wrecks" post). SunRocket was, in fact, a perfectly fine VoIP service—that is, until July 16, 2007, when the financially strapped company abruptly closed its doors and disconnected tens of thousands of customers without warning. Well, that's one way of handling customer service.

Windows Vista: Where to begin? Vista arrived in stores months late, forced untold thousands of users to upgrade their hardware, made mincemeat of software and drivers that worked perfectly well in XP, ended up lacking many of the bold-faced features we'd been promised, and came saddled with new and annoying set of video DRM schemes. At least Vista now boasts an option for downgrading back to XP. (Now, before you Mac fanboys out there begin gloating, let me remind you that Leopard shipped a full six months late, and that many users are still suffering from sluggish, buggy systems after upgrading.)

Wireless USB: Just imagine it—the convenience of USB, without all the wires. Sounds awesome! Too bad the first examples of Wireless USB technology have fallen flat. Case in point: the IoGear Wireless USB Hub & Adapter, a device that's supposed to deliver speedy wireless connectivity within a range of about 30 feet. Reviewers took a crack at the $200 IoGear hub (including our own Chris Null) suffered slow and spotty connections from only a few feet away, and promptly went back to their old, but reliable, USB cables. Wireless USB may well be the wave of the future, but "future" is the key word.

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