Gadget Review

 = Increasing in utility,  = Decreasing in utility,  = Don’t use it much, but still active


  1. Microsoft Surface Pro – This is actually my second Surface device. I purchased the initial Surface (ARM) version but it was pretty useless. Especially since Office liked Outlook and thus didn’t include the one piece of software I use the most (now fixed). This version of Surface is actually relatively useful. It is too heavy and the dimension are too rectangular to be a tablet, but as a notebook replacement, it is very good. It is especially useful when giving PowerPoint presentations since the PowerPoint preview mode actually works with this. The only downside is that you have to carry a CRT adapter cable with you. Other than that, the power/speed and battery life is pretty good and the touch aspects work very well and is responsive.
  2.  Sony VAIO P (specs don’t matter) – Again, I got this laptop (netbook?) because it was cute.  Unfortunately, given the screen and keyboard size, its relatively useless unless you had a specific debugging or portable application in mind. Plus, since its a netbook, it is relatively slow even for dedicated applications (i.e., a Skype terminal or video player). At the moment, it is being used as a baby monitor (4 cameras, temperature and humidity – aka diaper monitor) and a radiation level monitor/logger.

Mobile Devices/Phones

  1. Samsung Galaxy S4 for DoCoMo (aka SC-04E) While this is just an upgrade to my short lived S3, the interesting part about this phone is that it is more powerful and has a larger screen than my S3 yet it is smaller and lighter overall. The main reason that I so quickly upgraded my phone is that the CPU in the original S3 did not allow for an OS upgrade while only being dual-core and under powered. DoCoMo eventually resolved that problem by coming out with a revised quad core S3 soon thereafter, us early adopters were screwed. Anyway, since the 1st S3 was at times unusably slow, I upgraded to the S4 as soon as it was out.
  2. ↑ BlackBerry (Porche Design) P’9981 (GSM/EDGE/GPRS 850, 900, 1800, 1900 & 3G UMTS 800, 850, 1900, 2100, 14.4 HSDPA, 5.76 HSUPA3, 802.11 b/g/a/n, 2.8″ 640 x 480 pixels (287 ppi), 8GB storage, 768MB RAM, 1.2 GHz processor, NFC 13.56 MHz) – Unfortunately, I could not stand the phantom mouse movement of my last BlackBerry. I also upgraded this the the latest 7.1 firmware and am generally happy with it. The keyboard is interesting and its somewhat difficult to know if you are pressing the ALT key or not.  Otherwise, I will wait for the device specific accessories to come.  The construction is great and it looks cool.  Unfortunately, as I have mentioned on my FaceBook, this is probably going to be my last BlackBerry. The NFC capability is nice if you can use it. My prediction is when the iPhone 5 comes out with NFC, it will place both this phone and my NEC N-01B below.
  3. ↑↑ Iridium Extreme 9575 (140 x 60 x 27 mm, 247 g, IP65 – dust proof and jet water resistant) – While the monthly costs for Iridium service is higher than Inmarsat (my previous provider – see below), this phone is vastly superior to the Inmarsat IsatPhone device for one simple reason – the omni-directional antenna.  Unfortunately, for the IsatPhone, it uses a very directional antenna and you need to point it (by guessing) almost directly (of course unobstructed) at the one of three satellites that orbits the planet (versus Iridium’s 66). The cost and quality of the calls is still cheaper/better than when roaming in some parts of this planet. Furthermore, you can’t beat it when there is an emergency that takes out the cell phone system. Plus, the phone will still kind of work even in standby mode and let you know when calls are coming in, etc… Anyway, the IsatPhone was not a bad phone and pretty good for my first satellite phone, but the Extreme is a vastly superior phone. Plus, with the Iridium AxcessPoint product, you can also go online (though they euphemistically call it “narrow band”) anywhere in the world.
  4. ↑↑ Apple iPad Air – A slight improvement (same screen size, but smaller overall size) over my most recent iPad 2 (which was stolen last year), the boost in speed definitely helps when sorting through my 8,000+ contact address book. This is my most useful all-in-one mobile device. My favorite app is Zinio magazine and Kindle book reader.

Digital Cameras

  1. *NEW* ↑↑ Sony FDR-AX100 4K Handycam – I never thought I’d get another video camera, but this one was too good to pass up. It has a large 1″ sensor, but the most amazing thing about this camera is its relative compact size while taking full 30p 4K movies as well as allowing for picture taking 20MP (without interruptions) during a video shoot. The Zeiss lens is excellent in that all corners come out clean AND at its farthest out, it goes up to f/2.8. Due to the lens and sensor, night vision video is not too shabby either.
  2. ↑↑ Leica M (240) (36 x 24 mm CMOS sensor, 6.0 µm pixel pitch, 5952 x 3976 (24 MP), Max ISO 6400, Max shutter 1/4000) – This is currently my favorite toy. Again, specification-wise, it’s not necessarily the highest anything (i.e., ISO, shutter); it is also probably not the smallest camera you can get with interchangeable Leica lenses (M mount). However, even more than the M9, the lenses Leica makes take beyond incredible pictures with this new body. While this camera is manual everything the one of the new features of Leica M’s is the addition of video recording. One other helpful feature is a more options for metering (an addition of matrix metering versus just spot).
  3.  Leica V-LUX 40 (1/2.33″ CMOS sensor, Still 4320 x 3240 (15.3 MP), HD recording 1920 x 1080 pixels @ 60 fps, Max ISO 3200, Max shutter 1/2000, Leica DC-Vario-Elmar 4.3–86 mm f/3.3–6.4 ASPH. (24–480 mm) – This camera just has incredible zoom capabilities, a built-in flash and can take movies and tag photos with the GPS location. Most importantly, it uses a Leica lens, so the pictures show up better (not like the M9, but pretty good).
  4.  Nikon D700 – When you have as many Nikon lenses as I do, its just a waste not to have a body to go along with it. Especially when you have a newborn and the Leica just can’t focus fast enough. The big difference with this Nikon is that it has a full sized 36 mm FX sensor (versus my older digital Nikon’s – see below). This is important because it removes what is known as “crop factor” and the length (mm) of the lens is the actual size (versus a multiple of it).With its 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor and ISO up to 25,600, it’s a good price before having to jump and get a D3 thats 2-4x more expensive. Unfortunately, it does not shoot video.
  5. *NEW* GoPro HERO3 – This is just a toy for underwater video/still photography. It does 1080p30 with support 5MP photos up to 3 frames per second. The really neat part about this camera is its ultra wide angle lens and no need to focus. Its obviously waterproof but the sound doesn’t come in well when you use that case.
  6.  Logitech (Logicool in Japan) Webcam Pro 9000 – This is an excellent camera for your desktop computer. I use this for video Skype meetings. Not only is it easy to use and high quality, but it has neat features like face tracking and an excellent microphone for hands-free videoconferencing.

Playing with, experimenting or worth noting:

  1. *NEW* ↑↑ D-Link DIR-510L – This replaces my Sitecom router and it does an incredible job in replacing what was already a good device. However, not only this device slightly thinner for my electronic travel bag, but it now uses a USB Micro-B connector (versus the larger Mini-B for the Sitecom device) and thus, all my electronic items (except for Apple products) are now Micro-B making charging easier. This product also acts as a USB battery charger, supports WiFi 802.11ac, acts as a file server for anything plugged into one of the USB connections AND it can share not only a wired internet link, but can re-broadcast/share/boost a WiFi signal. This is especially useful for hotels that now only have WiFi and charge per connection.
  2. MakerBot Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer – Since I’m a gadget freak, playing with the newest buzzword, 3D printer, comes naturally. It is amazing that we can now convert electrons back into atoms (versus “atom to electrons” that computing provided). In a reasonably priced box, it can “print” a build volume of 28.5 L x 15.3 W x 15.5 H cm with layer resolution of 100 microns! Sure, it takes forever, the layers sometimes stick together (creating a mess) and that designing a 3D object is actually harder than it looks, but I feel there is an incredible future in store.
  3.  Fluke ASM-990 Advanced Survey Meter – Given all the radiation issues that affecting Japan, I have had the opportunity to evaluate over 20 radiation detectors, Geiger counters and dosimeters. In the end, you get what you pay for and the best one for the money is by Fluke. It measures in the popular (at least in Japan) µSv/hr format and can detect alpha, beta, gamma and x-ray radiation.  More importantly, you can change the probe to use the traditional Geiger-Mueller, neutron, proportional counter or scintillation sensors. Useful to measure both the environment and items such as food.
  4. Epson Offirio LP-M5600 (Japan only) multifunction printer – This is an all-in-one printer, scanner, fax, copier device that I always purchase in my multiple offices. It is a sturdy device that is a color laser printer at heart. It uses 4 toners (CMYK) and prints relatively quickly. With multiple tray options, it can do A4 and A3 in duplex with no problems. Plus, on top it has a scanning surface for high resolution scanning. All networked, it’s a great printer to have in a small office. The only problem this has is that the paper feed will eventually wear out and you will get more-and-more paper jams. But from what I’ve seen, it’s par for the course with devices this complicated. Update: After several years of moderate use, the paper jam for the device has made this device frustrating to use. I need to start thinking about a replacement…

Retired – Things that I liked in the past but are now obsolete

  1. Lenovo Thinkpad X201 (8GB of RAM, Core i7 2.67Ghz, 128GB SSD) – This is my second Thinkpad. Again, I really love Thinkpads because of their keyboard. This notebook replaces my X300 and the screen is 1″ smaller – yet, I don’t notice the difference.  This notebook doesn’t come with a DVD drive (which I didn’t use as often when copying to flash memory became easier) and the battery lasts even longer (5 hours) at a MUCH faster 64-bit speed. Loved this computer but it was stolen while I was on a trip last year.
  2. ↑↑ Sitecom Wireless Mobile Router – Given all my wireless products that I use around the world, I love my wireless mobile router since it allows me to connect this one device to a hotel network and immediately/automatically allow all my other devices (i.e., Laptop, iPad, BlackBerry) to connect to the network. Without such a device, you could not connect any wireless device that doesn’t have an ethernet port. Furthermore, if you connected each device to a paid hotel internet connection, you might get charged for each device connected. By connecting this one device, you setup just once with the hotel network and all the other devices will connect automatically (with the router) since they are pre-configured. I actually had an Apple AirPort Extreme that I lost (probably left in a hotel room), but this device is better since its also battery based, supports 3G if necessary and is powered via the USB port (also important because one less AC adapter with the wrong plug to carry).
  3. Leica M9 (36 x 24 mm CCD sensor, 6.8 x 6.8 µm pixel pitch, 5212 x 3472 (18 MP), Max ISO 2500, Max shutter 1/4000) – This is currently my favorite toy. Specification-wise, it’s not necessarily the highest anything (i.e., ISO, shutter); however, this is by far the smallest camera you can get with interchangeable Leica lenses (M mount). It’s hard to explain, but while there will always be new camera bodies, the lenses Leica makes just take incredible pictures. Interestingly, this camera is manual everything (and a rangefinder based focusing mechanism), so I’m still trying to get used to it.
  4. ↓↓ Sony Dash – Based on a joint venture with Chumby Industry, I purchased this device, thinking it would make for a good bedside alarm clock that would do some additional useful things. Unfortunately, this is a horrible device. Incredibly, being Sony, this device does not display Japanese so the Twitter application is pretty useless. It is also slow and not very responsive.  Furthermore, Sony has locked the device so that you cannot customize it like the Chumby devices. Finally, while it looks like a nice photo frame, the photo display application on the Dash is terrible. It does make for a decent alarm clock but at $200, it’s way too expensive.
  5. Samsung Y Duos (GT S6102) (109.8 x 60 x 11.95 mm , 109 g, 320 x 240 pixels, 3.14 inches, GSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G UMTS/HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100, HSDPA7.2, ARM32 GB storage, 160 MB RAM) – This is basically a replacement for my overseas dual SIM phone. Nothing fancy, in fact, pretty small for an Android phone. It seems like a reasonable Android phone running a relatively older Android version of the OS (2.3). We’ll see how it goes. (My Dubai and Thai phone)
  6. Samsung Galaxy S3 for DoCoMo (aka SC-06D) I’m not going to repeat the standard Galaxy S3 specifications here except to say that the Japanese version is considerably different from all other models. Specifically, this version uses the dual-core 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 S4 processor (instead of the Exynos 4 quad chipset) – but still plenty fast, 4G LTE support (LTE2100 B1) – very fast, 2GB of RAM (instead of the standard 1GB for all other models) and a 1seg TV tuner (and thus has an extendable attenae that probably makes the Japanese version thicker at 9mm versus the normal 8.6mm). Finally (and for me, most importantly), it has NFCsupports for the JR SuicaEDY and numerous other traditional wallet functions. This is is the first foreign made phone to support the FeliCa/NFC standard. (My Japan phone)
  7. NTT DoCoMo (NEC) N-01B (Japan only) cell phone (8.1 mega pixel camera – that I don’t use) – Unfortunately, I only use this device for its contactless e-wallet function (EDY and Suica) to buy stuff and to ride the train. Obviously, it is also my Japanese number, but if I could get the e-wallet functionality on an Android phone, I wouldn’t use this one. The only redeeming thing about this phone is that the battery life lasts almost a week. It’s a nice phone othrwise but after 2+ years of using it, it is completely falling apart and I don’t know how much I can wait for a replacement.
  8. BlackBerry 9810 Torch (GSM/EDGE/GPRS 850, 900, 1800, 1900 & 3G UMTS 800, 850, 1900, 2100, 14.4 HSDPA, 5.76 HSUPA3, 802.11 b/g/n, 3.2″ 640 x 480 pixels (253 ppi), 8GB storage, 768MB RAM, 1.2 GHz processor) – As I have repeatedly mentioned, my BlackBerry is not really a gadget but a “tool.” This Torch replaces a somewhat underpowered and pokey 9800 Torch (see below) same touch screen and slide out keyboard as the 9800. This version is slightly longer (but everything else including weight is the same) and includes the new OS 7.0. Unfortunately, this time around, I can’t make a positive recommendation. With the new OS, it feels RIM has rushed things. Furthermore, the (IR camera based) touchscreen is too sensitive and you get a lot of random, phantom movements – especially at night as it feels like its affected by fluorescent lighting. This is both weird (its the 3rd version that uses this technology) and sad that such a quality oversight has to make the unit sometimes unusable (the cursor jumps around when typing so you end up inserting characters in the wrong line of a paragraph) under certain lighting conditions. (this is what ended up me upgrading to another device)
  9. Motorola Milestone (115.8 x 60 x 13.7 mm, 165 g, 480 x 854 pixels, 3.7 inches, GSM 850/900/1800/1900, 3G UMTS/HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100, ARM Cortex A8 600 MHz, 133 MB storage, 256 MB RAM) – This is basically a replacement for my crappy Acer dual SIM Windows CE 6.1 phone. It seems like a reasonable Android phone running a relatively new version of the OS (2.1). We’ll see how it goes
  10. Leica V-LUX 20 (1/2.33″ CCD sensor, Still 4000 x 3000 (12.1 MP), HD recording 1280 x 720 pixels 60 fps, Max ISO 1600, Max shutter 1/2000, Leica DC-Vario-Elmar 4.1–49.2 mm f/3.3–4.9 ASPH. (25–300 mm) – I just purchased this camera and it is really fun to use. While the M9 takes really great pictures, it is still too large to carry around in your briefcase. Furthermore, this camera has zoom capabilities, a built-in flash and can take movies and tag photos with the GPS location. Most importantly, it uses a Leica lens, so the pictures show up better (not like the M9, but pretty good).
  11. Dell Adamo XPS (specs don’t matter) – This was purely a sexiness gone wrong purchase. On the website, it looks really nice, but unfortunately the laptop is really large and heavy. However, the worst thing about this is the keyboard and the angle at which you need to type. Furthermore, the key pitch and depth are really bad so it makes for a hard-to-use computer. Unfortunately, with this purchase I realized that, for me, the keyboard makes a big difference. At the moment, because of its DVI output, I am using this as a video server to watch US television programs (using Hulu) via a VPN connection to the U.S.
  12. Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro (170mm x 54mm x 39mm, 279 g) – With the amount of overseas travel (read – Roaming) I do every month, my phone bill over all my phones exceeded $3,500 per month. This was due to roaming per minute charges sometimes costing $3-5/minute. Therefore, when Inmarsat came out with their next generation compact satellite phone, I quickly purchased it as the cost is only $0.85/minute and there is no such thing as roaming. The phone takes awhile to power up, find a satellite and get a GPS fix (about 45 sec. to one minute). You also have to be outside. However, in cases where there is no cellular coverage (like many places during my latest vacation across the United States), it works like a charm. Supposedly, it sounds clearer than the Iridium system since there is less compression and less handoff of the signal. (My “anywhere” phone)
  13. Apple iPad – This is becoming a very useful all-in-one mobile device. I use it completely differently in the morning, afternoon and evening. Even with its slightly small screen and heavier than I like weight, this device is amazing for its speed, connectivity and battery life (10+ hours). What’s more interesting is that I’m starting to use my iPad in places where I may have brought my ThinkPad.
  14. Apple iPhone 4 – The biggest limitation of the 3G – battery life – has been fixed with this faster version of the next generation iPhone. Since you don’t have to worry about battery life, it has become an immensely useful tool.
  15. Pogoplug – This is an interesting device for when you want to share your USB hard disk on the Internet. Sounds like an easy concept, but I have found their software, which automatically maps the shares as a drive letter on your computer, a useful feature. Furthermore, an application for the iPad also makes it pretty useful. Finally, there is a feature where you can copy files from one Pogo drive to another. This is not sync, but it allows you to copy files from one remote disk to another. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this product yet because I don’t know the security of the device, and sometimes it gets files copied into incorrect directories so stability is in question. I hope they fix the software soon and provide real file syncing. Then things will get really interesting.
  16. BlackBerry 9800 Torch (GSM/EDGE/GPRS 850, 900, 1800, 1900 & 3G UMTS 800, 850, 1900, 2100, 802.11 b/g/n, 3.2″ 480 x 360 pixels, 512MB storage, 512MB RAM, 624 MHz processor) – This is one of those things that I cannot live without so I don’t classify this as a “gadget” but more as a “tool.” It replaces a perfectly good 9700 Bold (see below) but the larger touch screen and slide out keyboard makes it even more useful. It “feels” heavier (161.1g) but the new OS 6.0 makes it all better. Since this was with AT&T, I had to hack Japanese font support for it though. (My e-mail phone)
  17. Sony BDP-S560 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player (US only) – Normally, I wouldn’t write about a Blu-ray player, but the notable thing about this device is that you can now get Blu-ray players for less than $150. I remember my first one just a few years ago cost $2000. But what’s most impressive about this (and ironically limits its Blu-ray play usage) is the support for Internet streaming video and, namely, Netflix. I wasn’t a Netflix user before this, but by eliminating the part where you mail the DVD and wait for the next one and now have the ability to stream immediately (in HD – okay, close to HD), I was very impressed. And unlike some Sony software implementation (see above), this was actually done quite well and is relatively easy to use.
  18. ­­­­IBM (Lenovo) Thinkpad X300 (3GB of RAM, 1.5Ghz, 64GB SSD) – This was the first Thinkpad that used a flash SSD drive. I really love Thinkpads because of their keyboard. This notebook is already two years old yet I love it because it has a big screen, a built-in DVD drive and the battery lasts a relatively long time (3 hours).
  19. Sony VAIO X1 (2GB of RAM, 1.86Ghz, 64GB SSD) – This is a really fun computer to have with a relatively long battery life given its very small size and light weight. Unfortunately, the key width and pitch are not very good so in the trade off between usability with the IBM, the IBM comes out ahead.
  20. BlackBerry 9700 (Bold 2 – GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 & HSDPA 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100, 480 x 360 pixels, 256MB storage, 256 MB RAM, 624 MHz processor) – This is one of those things that I cannot live without so I don’t classify this as a “gadget” but more as a “tool.” This is mostly because of the Outlook PIM integration and wireless synchronization, but also because it just works and works for the whole day.
  21. Apple iPhone 3G – This used to be something I carried around. Not as much any more since the music functions are taken over by the iPad. The main reason I currently use this is as my US phone number. The biggest limitation is battery life. If you use it for anything half serious, the battery will be used up in as short as 3 hours. With a phone, you don’t want that.
  22. Amazon Kindle 2 3G worldwide – This device is becoming a victim of the iPad. Amazon also helped the iPad out by creating an applet for the iPad to read Kindle content. The only content you can’t read via this software are magazine subscriptions. In this case, I use the iPad Zinio applet, which provides rich color content (something the Kindle can’t do anyway).
  23. Nikon D2Xs, D300 (specs. don’t matter) – My poor Nikon. I have been a Nikon user ever since my dad gave me his Nikon F2 when I was still in elementary school (I recently returned the favor and gave him my Leica M8.2 when I got my M9). I have tons of lenses for the Nikon, but now realize that the lenses didn’t mean much just because they are big.
  24. Acer DX900 (specs. don’t matter) – I have this phone for the sole purpose of having a dual-SIM phone. I go to many countries overseas and it’s cheaper to buy a local carrier SIM if you are there for more than even a few days. One SIM slot currently has my Dubai cell phone number. The other is swappable depending on the country I’m in. Unfortunately, dual-SIM phones definitely accept two SIMs; however, usually one is 3G and the other one is 2G so you have to select which carrier mode you want to use the SIM in. The other unfortunate thing about this phone is that it runs Windows Mobile (version 6.1). At this point in time, a horrible mobile phone operating system.

This list isn’t meant to be a product endorsement. They are products I really use on an almost daily basis. More importantly, I would actually love to receive comments/feedback on the items so I may learn/use even newer gadgets.

Last updated: March 23rd 2014

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William H. Saito