The Gadget of My Year 2009

I hate to be the one to say this but were fast approaching the end of this year. Before we know it we wont be able to decide what to buy loved ones and I wont be able to get my car through the Haworth snow.

With that in mind I thought Id start thinking about the gadgets that have actually made a difference to my life through the year. Every new piece of tech promises that its going to be the one that changes the world forever, yet very few actually manage it. I say few manage it, because some of them actually do and I think its worth taking a look at them. What follows are some nominations for my gadget of the year. They dont have to have been released this year, they just have to had made a significant difference to my life. I may add to this list but looking at whats coming between now and 2010 its unlikely.

So without further a do Ill get on with it.

Sky+ HD


I wrote a post about this little beuty just after it arrived. It was clear at that point that it was going to be a game changer. Until the box arrived I had all but given up on television. They didnt show things when I wanted to watch them, sometimes I missed things all together and worst of all the solution to all the problems I had was BitTorrent. Th problem with piracy is that its free and thats a very difficult thing to compete with. Luckily Apple discovered the solution a few years ago when they opened the iTunes store. First you make things so cheap that people dont have to think before they buy something, then you make it easier to work than the illegal option. Since I got my first iPod several years ago I stopped downloading music over night. It just stopped. However, much like starting to eat more when you give up smoking I started on th tv shows. Pretty much all of our weekly TV viewing came via the Internet, so much so it was taking up more than 100GB of my net connection each month. Then the day came when Sky+HD arrived and the downloading stopped.

The move from VHS to DVD was a tricky one. We gained in areas like picture quality, sound quality and amount of content, but we lost out on things too. Gone were the days of quickly taping something to watch later, and so was the ritual of setting the damn thing to record a week's worth of shows before a holiday. The point is, if you weren't there to see the show when it was on, you were going to miss it. There are recording DVD players but they never really seemed to take off, I don't know anyone who has one. Sky+HD gave the recording power back again. See something on the program guide you want to watch? Just hit the record button and it'll be there. Want to record something on another channel while you watch something? You can do that too. Beyond that the box does some very clever things.

It constantly records up to an hour of any channel you're watching all the time. So if you're in the middle of a show and the doorbell rings you can pause it. If you just missed a bit you can rewind to watch again. The bit that impresses me the most is if I'm watching a show from the beginning and decide half way through that I'd like to record it, then Sky+ will record the entire show, not just the bits on after I press the record button.

Sky even offers a service it calls Anytime TV which is available to everyone with a Sky+ or Sky+HD box. It's basically a selection of the last week of shows automatically stored on your viewing box for instant viewing. It's a long way from total TV on demand, but it's really not a bad effort. I expect I'd get even more out of it if I subscribed to the movie channels.

All that and I haven't even touched on the HD part of the device. Sky offers more HD channels in the UK than any other provider. Right now if you want to see television in high definition in the UK you've got a choice of Freesat, Virgin Media and Sky. As I said Sky has the best choice offering lots of HD movie channels, documentary channels and a selection of general entertainment channels including Sky 1, the channel with all the big shows like 24 and Lost. Freesat offers the next best choice but falls short of Sky's channels by a long way. Because it's a free to air service you only get the free HD channels. That's BBC HD, which is shockingly bad, ITV HD, Channel 4 HD and Channel 5 HD. If you don't like the idea of a monthly subscription then this might be the one for you. Virgin Media should be ashamed of their HD package. For starters the box costs twice as much as the Sky box and offers one HD channel. You get more for free. To make matters worse, the one channel they do offer is BBC HD which only starts showing content at around 7pm.In a nutshell, if you want to see HDTV then you need to get Sky+HD. At £49.99 plus installation you can't really go wrong.

Apple iPod Touch (Not an iTouch, please don't say it like that)


Of late my interest in iPods has started to dwindle a little. I'm starting to see the positives in having just one device in my pocket that does everything, much like people would have you think the iPhone does. I'm not an iPhone fan so getting all my portable devices inside the same box would involve trusting everything to a phone that as yet doesn't exist. However that isn't the only thing that's stopping me actually going through with it. The main reason I can't dump my iPod is simply that I can't imagine not having an iPod. You've got to have an iPod haven't you? It's just one of those things people have like a phone, watch or wallet. I generally won't leave the house without an iPod in my pocket, I can see two of them from where I'm sat right now. The iPod Touch is the absolute top of the iPod range and possibly one of the best devices ever made. Only last week Apple were bragging that the iPod is one of the most sold products in the history of products. I'd like to see that list to find out how iPods sell compared to things like cans of Coka-Cola or Big Macs but it's still an impressive thing to be able to say.

At the same time as bragging about the sales Apple also released the latest version of the iPod Touch, the third generation. To be honest I expected a great deal more, but that's actually a bit unfair. The Touch is a computer, not a feature packed iPod. That's the iPod Nano in case you were wondering. No, the Touch is a computer. That means that all the functionality depends on what you decide it should be. Most portable devices come with a selection of software that the manufacturer thinks you will need, phone makers are especially good at that. But the iPod Touch has the App Store. While I have mixed feelings about the quality of most apps (98% are rubbish) it's certainly possible to find the odd one or two that will make your day go with a swing. At the moment I'm onto one called Things.

Apple are now pushing the Touch as a gaming device and to be fair the is a great selection of games. However very few of them are what I'd call proper games. They aren't as deep as software you'd find on the Nintendo DS or PSP, but they generally cost £2.99 so I suppose it's not the end of the world. Occasionally a big game will slip onto the App Store like the new version of The Secret of Monkey Island. When I sat playing that game for the first time on the Amiga I never imagined that I'd be able to play it in the car (whilst stopped) or even on the toilet.

As with any device you have to get used to the extra functionality in your life and that's something that I'm only just beginning to get into. For example when we first got Sky+ it was a couple of weeks before we remembered that we could pause or rewind television and a couple of months after that we started to do it regularly. So it follows that you can't just add all these usefull apps to your pocket and expect to remember that you've got them. I'm working harder at doing that now and I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.

I wrote the start of this blog post on it and I use it for Twitter and web browsing. To be honest it makes me see the appeal of an iPhone which offers all the same applications but with a connection to the internet always available. The Touch offers Wi-Fi which in principle is amazing, but now isn't as special as it once was. There's Wi-Fi in everything now.

There is a downside to the Touch. I've had mine since November 2008 and it's the second one I've had. The first big iPod I had was an iPod with video. In the year that my guarantee lasted I went through five of them. That's one every two and a bit months, remember that the next time you talk about XBox360 failure rates. After that I switched to Nanos. I had two models of them and both still work as well as they did the day I brought them home. I assumed that the problem was mainly to do with the hard drive that the iPod with video used and the Nanos did not so I expected no problems with my iPod Touch. So like I said, the first one arrived broken. They were good enough to swap it for a new one right away in the Apple Store. Now the one they replaced it with is starting to show a few problems. The speaker now distorts, and the glass front wobbles like it isn't stuck on properly. I don't expect either of those things from a device that cost over £200. On the other hand it could be said that as I've got my iPod with me 24/7 that I just get through them. Nothing lasts forever and maybe I make my iPods go quicker than most. But if that's true then why do my nanos still work?

The new iPod Touch has a faster processor and is now available in a larger 64GB size.

As the end of the year grows closer I'll be adding to the list of nominees.