Low-Cost Laptops in the Spotlight

And now for something completely different: a bit of bright economic news. Several laptops with reasonably robust specs are available for $500 to $700.

It's probably no surprise that laptop prices have continued to fall. But those who need a new laptop now might be heartened to learn that there are some compelling bargains out there. We'll probably see even more this holiday season, as retailers and computer makers--hammered by the gloomy economy--try to push products by slashing prices.

You'll have to make some compromises with a budget laptop. Full-featured notebooks (as opposed to mini-notebooks) in this price range tend to be a bit heavy and not as zippy as the most powerful laptops. Still, when budget is a primary concern, you're not aiming for perfection, right?

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Ailing Laptop: Repair or Replace?

Remember the opening scene of Night of the Living Dead? A young woman and her brother are visiting their grandfather's plot in a graveyard. A creepy pale-faced dude approaches them, and the screaming begins.

That's how I feel when I check my investments these days. Horrified, shocked, appalled, doomed. I'm not alone, of course. Everyone else I know feels pretty much the same.

Acute anxiety over the economy makes it tough to part with whatever funds you still have. Still, laptops are impervious to your financial woes. When they feel like misbehaving, crashing, or expiring completely, they do it. You're left to figure out the least expensive solution: Repair the laptop or buy a new one?

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Jott Voice-to-Text Revisited

Back in April, I raved at length about Jott, which was then a free beta service. I found the voice-to-text service to be so useful, I couldn't imagine why any mobile professional would not use it.

For instance, Jott lets you dictate a memo to yourself on your cell phone. Within a minute or two, the memo is transcribed accurately into text and sent to you via e-mail and/or text message. The beta version of Jott I tested was a magnificent tool for anyone who's had a brainstorm while driving, jogging, or otherwise away from a computer keyboard or note pad. And that's just one of the ways you can use Jott; there are many others.

Since that review, there have been some significant changes. The good news: There's still a basic service for free. The not-so-good: Most of Jott's usefulness now comes with a price tag. You can get an overview of the different subscription plans on Jott's site. In a nutshell, the three Jott services are Jott Basic (free); Jott ($4/month) and Jott Pro ($13/month). Pay-as-you-go plans are also available.

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Mini-Notebook Mania, Part 2

Last week, I provided background on mini-notebooks and a brief overview of current and upcoming models. This week, the focus on "laptots" continues with a look at their pros and cons, plus recommendations for who should consider buying one--and who should steer clear.

Why Mini-Notebooks Are Worth Considering

They're extremely easy to tote. Mini-notebooks only weigh 2 to 3 pounds, and they're small. For example, the Acer Aspire One measures 9.8 by 6.7 by 1.14 inches, about the size of a standard hardcover book.

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Mini-Notebook Mania, Part 1

For reasons only a psychologist might understand, miniature things have always held an allure for me. As a kid, I collected Matchbox cars and foreign-language dictionaries no bigger than a half-eaten Fig Newton. I consider a hotel stay to be a dismal failure if I'm unable to load up on travel-sized toiletries. I love Tater Tots. And in case you're wondering: Yes, I drive a Mini Cooper.

But I'm not here to be psychoanalyzed. I'm here to discuss mini-notebooks, also known as "netbooks,'" "mobile Internet devices'" and my favorite, "laptots.'" These ultra-compact portables have become hot sellers since Asus introduced its first Eee PC last fall. This week: some background on the mini-notebook phenomenon and a guide to currently available models. Next week: the pros and cons of mini-notebooks.

The Back Story

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Living With an iPhone 3G, Part 2

Last week, I described the e-mail problems I've had with my Apple iPhone 3G. This week I'll give you my take on some other complaints that consumers have raised, including dropped calls, sluggish network speeds, and short battery life.

Complaint: Dropped Calls and Sluggish Web Browsing

Some users are complaining the iPhone 3G's reception isn't nearly as good as it should be. The phone too often drops calls and delivers sluggish Web browsing even when it's within a 3G network service area, or so go the complaints.

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Living With an iPhone 3G, Part 1

Is the Apple iPhone 3G "twice as fast at half the price," as Apple's marketing boasts? Or is it a slow, faulty, overhyped device that drops calls and doesn't reliably or consistently connect to AT&T's network, as a consumer's lawsuit claims?

The truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, in my experience. I bought an iPhone 3G on July 18, one week after the smart phone became available in stores. 'This week and next I'll give you a recap of my experience using the device thus far. First up, a look at the e-mail challenges I've faced (and resolved). Next week, I'll focus on the iPhone 3G's battery life and other issues.

Two Geniuses, One Phone Call

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