It's the holiday season, time to pick up gifts for family and friends. We bring you the best stuff year-round, but often quality is in short supply this time of year.
For you last-minute shoppers, here's my annual list of the ten worst products of the year — as scored and reviewed by PC Magazine Labs. These may all look shiny and sharp on the shelves, but each one is fundamentally flawed. You've been warned!
10. Oakley Thump: If you've overdone it with the eggnog, a $500 pair of sunglasses with a built-in MP3 player might seem a divine combination. It's not. The poorly fitting earbuds chafe, the glasses feel flimsy, and the style is dated. And what happens if you want to rock out at night? Unless you're buying for Bono, pick up an iPod shuffle and a pair of Revos for half the price.
9. Voodoo Doll D210: If you give someone this zippy breadbox-sized PC, they'll be sticking pins in your effigy all year—and you'll be out more than 3,000 smackeroos, too. Voodoo crammed two CPUs and two hard drives inside, but left out the keyboard, mouse, and monitor. If you buy one anyway, get a pair of industrial-strength ear protectors too, as it whines like a 747 taxiing for takeoff.
8. H2i SimplyTouch OpticalBar: Turn any monitor into a touch screen! That's the promise; the reality is different. The OpticalBar sits atop your monitor and tracks your finger as you touch special parts of the screen. Alas, it works more slowly than the midnight shift at an all-night diner, and often gets your order wrong, too. Opt for a tablet notebook instead.
7. ROKR E1: The Oakley Thump of the mobile phone set; at least it's a decent phone. The hype around "The First iTunes Phone" created unfulfillable expectations. It's not as polished as an iPod, and its oddly limited music storage makes a mediocre player even worse. Glacially slow music-transfer speeds put the final nail in this coffin. Sony Ericsson sells a much better MP3-phone combo, but I suggest a Shuffle and a RAZR phone: Cheaper — and better, too.
6. Cinego D-1000: It slices! It dices! It projects your DVDs onto the wall! You might be tempted by this combination front-projector and DVD player, but stay away. Marred by a minuscule remote, nasty interface and terrible video quality, it'll be quickly relegated to the garage or eBay. For budget home theater, hold out for HP's ep9010 combo, or pick up a cheaper projector and a DVD player for less.
5. PQI mPack P800 Media Player: Looking for a portable music and video player? The mPack looks attractive — you can record video and FM radio directly, and it even includes a CompactFlash slot. But playback is a problem. Even with the most recent flash update, fast-forward and rewind simply do not work, despite the manual's direction. The screen is terrible, the interface abysmal, and the physical buttons erratic. Apple's video iPod, the Creative Zen Vision, and anything from Archos deliver a better experience for less.
4. Dual XNAV3500P: Even alpha males can use a little GPS assistance now and then. This hybrid car and portable mapping system seems solid — until you start using it. Marred by an awful interface and a poor data-entry keypad, it failed our tests. Pick up a TomTom GO, or give an IOU for Garmin's amazing Nuvi, debuting here in January.
3. PepperPad: Following in the footsteps of the Audrey, Netpliance, and NIC, this is an Internet bubble failure five years too late. More expensive than a laptop, with a battery life measured in minutes, and a tiny 8- by 6-inch touch screen, this home Internet tablet has few redeeming features. Unless you're a fan of freaky keyboards, opt for a cheap tablet PC instead.
2. Sony S2 Sports Network Walkman NW-S23: Pity poor Sony. It invented the Walkman and then squabbled as Apple stole its lunch. This player finally supports MP3 files, yet it lacks so much else that it's hardly worth the price. With ergonomics straight from a Klingon warship, balky software and a poor display, this one deserves a place in the remainder rack. Again, you're better off with a shuffle.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for... the worst product of the year — and from a surprising source:
1. Samsung Digimax V700: Samsung can seemingly do no wrong these days. The company has supplanted Sony as the top electronics brand, exuding both quality and cool. We hope this terrible digital camera is an aberration, not a sign of things to come. With slow performance, lousy auto-exposure, and some shutter lag, this 7.1-megapixel camera never should have been released. Compact cameras from Canon, Sony and Nikon are far better—even if they do cost a bit more.
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