Daily gear deals – $220 Netbook, cheap HD camera and iPhone accessories

The star of today’s lineup is the Acer Aspire ONE AOA150 refurbished Netbook. Outfitted with a 1.6GHz processor, 1GB of memory and a 120GB hard drive. Normal retail price is $299, but it is currently on sale at Tiger Direct for just $220. The unit is refurbished, but usually this is not visible in any way. Available from Tiger Direct. Shipping is just $2.

The Kodak ZI6 pocket digital HD Camcorder goes on sale every other week, today’s price is just $99, but this does mean you’ll be getting a refurbished unit. At about $80 under retail, this is still an awesome deal. Available from Amazon and comes with free shipping.

Looking to listen to your iPod/iPhone in the car? Then check out this (horrible looking) charger dock/FM transmitter. The product will not work with the second generation iPhone/iPod Touch, but other versions of the popular player will work just fine. The unit even includes a USB charger port for charging other device. On sale for just $16.99 + free shipping!

Another sale which may interest iPod and iPhone owners is this huge lineup of Kensington accessories. Many of their most popular products are on sale for as much as 50% off. One of the highlights is this pocket battery pack, which we reviewed here last year, on sale for just $27.99

Daily gear deal – Acer Aspire One with Windows XP and 120GB drive for $240

Competition between Netbook makers is fierce – for the past 6 months, prices have been dropping at a very steady pace and have finally brought these machines to the price point where you really should consider picking one up if you are looking for a smaller and lighter laptop.

Today’s deal is for the popular Acer Aspire One. This 1.6GHz machine has 1GB of memory and a 120GB hard drive, which means it stands out amongst all the other sub-$250 Netbook deals. Most other machines in this price range have limited memory and a cramped SSD drive of just 8GB or less. The machine also comes with Windows XP.

To complete the package, the Aspire One also comes with an integrated webcam, WiFi and a multi-card reader.

The only downside to this particular Aspire One is the screen size – at 8.9 inches it may be a tad small for you. Other than that, it has the power to do most on-the-road tasks, and its 120GB drive means you can bring some music or video content with you for a little in-flight entertainment.

The Aspire One is available in black and white for $240, or for $20 more you can get the white version with a 160GB drive. Shipping is free.

Daily deal – Dell Inspiron Mini 9 for $99 with 2 year AT&T data plan

Well, that was fast. Remember when I posted my predictions in tech for 2009? One of my entries was “subsidized notebooks with combined data plans”.

We are just 11 days into the new year, and Dell has already made me look good by making one of my predictions come true. As of today, you can order a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 for just $99 if you purchase it along with a 2 year AT&T mobile broadband subscription.

Your $99 will get you a very small computer, just over 2lbs, with built in wireless Internet access on the AT&T3G network (where available).

The Inspiron Mini 9 is a 1.6GHz Intel Atom powered Netbook with 512MB of memory and an 8GB SSD drive. The base version offered in this deal does not come with a webcam, and once you configure the machine with more memory, a larger SSD drive and Bluetooth, the final price comes to about $185. Still, a hot deal, as it includes an integrated AT&T 3G modem card tucked away inside the machine.

The easiest way to describe the deal is that you can order the Mini 9 from the Dell website, and as long as you activate the AT&T 3G modem, you are eligible for a $350 mail in rebate.

The AT&T 3G service costs $59.99 a month, and you have to activate it within 4 weeks of receiving the laptop. The mail in rebate period expires on February 12th.

If you’d prefer a similar deal, but with a slighly different computer, check out the Acer Aspire One at your local Radio Shack. The Aspire One has 1GB of memory and a 160GB hard drive. The base price of this machine is $449, but just like with this Dell deal, you can purchase it in store for $99 when you commit to a 2 year AT&T data plan.

This year in tech – what 2009 will bring for travelers

I’ve already looked back at the best gadgets 2008 had to offer, and in this list I’ll take a look at some of the travel technologies I expect to take off in 2009. Come back next year to either laugh in my face, or remark how amazingly clever I am.

Computer/data bundles on sale

Back in November of last year, Radio Shack started selling a bundle including an Acer Netbook computer, an integrated 3G modem and a 2 year AT&T data subscription. This combo would normally retail for about $430, but the inclusion of the 2 year subscription lowers the price to just $99.

This practice is not new, and bundles of hardware and mobile subscriptions have long been the norm in many European countries. What is new, is that these deals have finally made their way to the USA.

I predict more of these promotions in 2009, and for the deals to become much more widespread. Offering one laptop at just one store is hardly going to change the way we subscribe to mobile data services, but it is a great start.


4G wireless broadband data

Many people are just making their first steps with 3G mobile data, but some of the major players in the market are already hard at work on 4G.

4G wireless data promises even faster speeds than what we currently get from the 3G services on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

Building these new networks takes an astounding amount of money, but the largest and most ambitious network already has the support (and money) from companies like Intel, Google, Comcast and Sprint.

By the end of 2009, we should see 4G networks available in about 20 major US cities. The speeds offered by a 4G service like Clear (previously called Xohm) run off a technology called Wi-Max and should reach about 4-8Mbit/s, which is the equivalent of most residential DSL or cable connections. Unlimited service will run between $30 and $50 a month, making it a very viable alternative to slower 3G services.


A new iPhone (nano)?

In December of each year, things in the Apple rumor department start to get kind of wacky. That is mainly because January is when the years largest Apple exposition starts (Macworld). The notoriously tight lipped company apparently “leaks” all kinds of amazing stuff, 95% of which is all bogus, fake or downright stupid. One rumor that keeps popping up this year though, is a smaller iPhone.

This “iPhone Nano” has been leaked by several phone case manufacturers, and has all the die-hard Apple fans foaming at the mouth.

Whether we actually see a tiny iPhone remains to be seen, but it sure does sound like a fun little phone.


More Netbook computers

Netbook computers were the big hit in 2008, and 2009 promises to be even bigger for the little machines. We’ll probably see even lighter machines with more power, and lower prices.

As more and more manufacturers hop on the Netbook bandwagon, companies will start putting a lot more effort into innovation, and sooner or later we’ll finally get the perfect computer.

The first fairly basic Netbook computers launched for about $350, but prices have slowly been dropping, and at the moment that same price will get you a very well equipped machine with a 160GB drive and a powerful 6 cell battery.


Better battery technology

Current notebook computers have about 4000 times the processing power of the first portable computer, but just 2 times the battery life. Each year promises to be the biggest year ever in battery developments, but 2009 actually seems like it might come through for us.

Big players like HP have signed up for a new battery design by Boston Power, which promises battery charge times as low as 30 minutes for an 80% charge as well as higher capacities with the same weight as current cells.

What this means to you and I is that sooner or later we really might get a computer that can last an entire long haul flight on a single battery charge and can be recharged during a short stopover.


Paperless boarding documents

I wrote about the future at the airport last week, one of the items in that futuristic lineup is already here, and will probably become more popular in 2009.

Paperless boarding involves having your airline email you a bar code that can then be used to get through security and onto your flight.

Our very own Grant Martin tested it, and says it sort of works, assuming the airport staff know what they are doing.

What is a Netbook? And why should you care?

In some of my previous posts, I dropped the term “Netbook” a couple of times, but an email from one of our readers made me realize I never really explained what a Netbook is.

Of course, since this is Gadling, I’ll not only explain what it is, but I’ll also explain how a Netbook can help you on the road, or how it can help you travel lighter.

The short version of the “Netbook” description is that it is a small portable computer, designed mainly with Internet access in mind. Netbooks are low power, low weight and (usually) low cost.

So, what makes the Netbook special, and why should you care?
The first (current generation) Netbook was introduced in 2007 by Asus and was called the “Eee PC”. Asus claimed that the Eee was Easy to learn, Easy to work and Easy to play, hence the slightly silly name.

The first Eee was an instant success, and forced every other major manufacturer to design their own little machine.

Anyone who has been around computers for more than 8 or 9 years will have a weird sense of déjà vu, as this sudden comeback of small computers is nothing new. Back in 1998 most companies had at least one small computer in their lineup, including one from British PDA designer Psion, called the Netbook.

What can a Netbook do?

Essentially, everything about the Netbook is perfect for people who travel. The machines are lightweight, they use fairly low power components which increases battery life, they are small enough to be used in a cramped coach seat. Most of them are also very affordable.

A Netbook can be found from most major retailers for as little as $299. In fact, the Netbook craze has taken off so well, that they make up 9 of the top 10 selling computer products at Amazon.com at the moment.

As a computer geek, I took an instant liking to Netbooks, and have to admit that my small machine has pretty much replaced my trusty (and bulky) laptop on the road. My Netbook has a 160GB hard drive, a 10″ screen, and can run any application I need, including some heavy multimedia applications like Slingplayer. With the built in webcam, I can make video calls.

Most Netbooks have at least one card reader slot, making them perfect for copying photos off your digital camera, and keeping them safe.

What can’t a Netbook do?

With their huge popularity, you’d expect Netbooks to be the perfect solution for every computer task. There are however still some things you can’t really do with a Netbook.

Gaming – Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to play Solitaire and Minesweeper on a Netbook. Just don’t expect to be able to run graphics intensive games. Many games will also run into problems with the relatively low resolution of the Netbook screen.

Multimedia – almost everything you can do on a “normal” computer will still work just fine on a Netbook. This includes iTunes, Windows Media player and most other media playing applications. A Netbook will have no problems playing large video files, but files in HD quality may be a tad too demanding for the graphics chip inside the machine. Because Netbooks are small, you won’t find a DVD player in them, so if you need to watch DVD’s, you’ll need to “rip” the movie to your hard disc, or purchase an external DVD drive (which pretty much defeats the purpose of a small machine).

There are plenty of other things Netbooks are not very good at – depending on the brand and model of Netbook you purchase, you may get a machine with a fairly small keyboard, so don’t plan to write your next bestseller on it. Also, folks with poor eyesight may find the small screens to be a bit too small, it is just another price you pay for having a light machine.

Picking a Netbook

When you start considering the purchase of a Netbook, you need to ask yourself whether you can live with the limitations the machine presents.

Most Netbooks are often in the same price range of a regular notebook, and that regular notebook has a much larger screen, a DVD drive, full size keyboard and more.

Let me give you a closer look at one of the most popular Netbooks on the market at the moment, the $349 Acer Aspire One:

This machine weighs just 2.3lbs and has an 8.9″ screen with a resolution of 1024×600 pixels. The Aspire One runs on an Intel Atom processor, at 1.6GHz.

The Aspire One is available in several “flavors”; with a solid state hard drive, or with a standard hard drive.

When you start shopping for a Netbook, your first choice will be whether you want a Linux based machine, or Windows. My personal opinion is that while Linux may be a cheap option, it really does not make sense to learn an entirely new operating system when the Windows XP option is just a few bucks more.

The second choice you’ll need to make involves the hard drive. The cheapest options usually involve solid state drives (referred to as SSD). SSD drives are pretty new in the consumer market, and their size is usually limited to about 8 or 16GB. If you plan to use your machine for nothing more than some basic web browsing and email, then the SSD drive will be just fine. If you need to store large files like movies or music, then you will most certainly want to consider a regular hard drive. These drives usually start around 80GB up to 160GB in most Netbooks.

One other advantage of SSD drives is that they are more shockproof than conventional hard drives, since they don’t use any moving parts.

Finally, but just as important; you will need to carefully select a battery. Most machines come with a three cell battery pack, which is good enough for about 2-3 hours of work. If you are often stuck in coach without a power port, then that may not be long enough. If you need more power, you’ll have to find yourself a Netbook with a 6 cell battery. This power source should last up to 5 hours, but there is a trade off; the battery pack adds a lot of weight and bulk to the machine, and these 6 cell packs often stick out the back by an inch or more. Another solution is to carry an external battery pack, like those offered by APC. Of course, with a larger battery, you once again lose a lot of the benefits of a nice small machine.

So there you have it; a Netbook is a small laptop, nothing more and nothing less. But it is without a doubt the biggest thing to happen in computers all year. In just 12 months, we went from one model Netbook, to well over 50. If you travel a lot, and you’d like to shave a couple of pounds off your carry-on bag, then a Netbook may be the perfect solution for you.