Unsolicited Product Summaries for Black Friday Part 1

Even if you aren't in the market for new devices this holiday season, the discounted products available online or in shopping outlets can be pretty tempting especially if you have a few dollars hidden in your couch you're willing to spend. Mainstream consumers are getting better at figuring out which products are new but most people aren't nearly as attentive to product announcements, ads or company websites (unless it's from Apple). This article is mostly composed of older products that are now being sold at a lower price or recent products available almost anywhere.

Recommendations

1. WD TV Live Media Player

Media Players seem to be anachronistic now since most consumer cord-cutters prefer devices such as Chromecast or skip huge displays for their tablet or phablet instead. However, for users who still have older displays (the WD TV Live supports Composite cables) and have plenty of videos stored in external hard drives or Linux/Windows servers, a budget media player such as the WD TV Live Media Player is an excellent choice for streaming media over your network. Apple TV is nice if you're invested in the Apple ecosystem but if you have plenty of your own media (legal and bootlegged), the WD TV Live supports external hard drives, NFS and Samba Shares, Miracast, Linux and Windows media servers. The WD TV Live has been around for awhile and Western Digital has been diligent about providing firmware updates, which you can install from the UI or download directly from their website and install using a USB stick. The WD TV Live media player also has access to good online channels (unless you live in China), performs well over a Wireless N or Wireless AC network and works flawlessly on a Linux or Windows 10 network.


 


Unsolicited comment: I've had the WD TV Live Media Player on my Linux and Windows network for around three years now and it's a dependable device whether I'm casting my Sony Xperia C3 to a display or watching old movies via DLNA. One of the less advertised features of the WD TV Live media player is that it also sets up a file server for any storage connected to the WD TV Live. The UI is somewhat slow and unappealing if you're used to touch screens, but the iOS and Android remote control app takes away the pain of a clumsy handheld IR remote control. I've only noticed one bug with the WD TV Live Media Player, but it only occurs if you power down the media player after every use.

2. Logitech K480 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard

The Logitech K480 looks like a toy and looks odd at the office, but since it's a desktop Bluetooth keyboard you won't be bringing it anywhere anyway. The K480 works with Android, iOS, Windows and even Linux machines and can "remember" up to three devices at a time. The K480 is for users with several tablets, smartphones or phablets, switch back and forth between them at home, AND do plenty of typing. If you're in the market for a portable, lightweight or foldable multi-device Bluetooth keyboard, look elsewhere.


 

Unsolicited comment: I've tested the K480 on Linux PCs, Windows 10, Android 5.x and iOS 9. It's important to note that it doesn't pair with Windows Phone devices, although that may change once Windows Phone 10 is made available to the public. I encountered only one issue with the K480 after a long period of lack of use but it's a minor one that is easily rectified.


3. Zotac ZBOX Nano series of Mini-PCs

The Zotac brand isn't very well-known in the West and isn't as big a player as ASUS or Acer in the East. However, their Nano series of Mini-PCs are hardy, well-built and affordable devices. You get more bang for your buck with a ZBOX than you do with competing mini-PC HP or Dell products. If you already have a display or dislike the All-in-One form factor, test out a Zotac ZBOX Nano and see if the components and design fit your requirements. Even a low-end, budget ZBOX Nano with a Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD can serve as a competent server or workstation. As a footnote, if you plan to use the ZBOX Nano as a media player, the mini-PC has a built-in IR receiver but doesn't come with a handheld remote control.


 

Unsolicited Comment: I actually forgot that I was running only a Celeron processor and 4GB RAM on the XBOX Nano CI320 I owned. I had planned to upgrade the RAM but decided to save my cash when the mini-PC not only handled tasks in CorelDraw X5 and photo management using Sony PlayMemories Home, but ran Windows 10 and was able to multi-task applications such as Photoshop CS4, Corel Designer X5, uTorrent, Office 2010 and browsers such as Edge and Firefox. Although ZBOX products are designed with Windows in mind, the CI320 also handled openSUSE 13.2, Debian 8 Jessie and Linux Mint with Cinnamon very well with no hardware issues.

4. Wacom Stylus Solo

Styli are making a comeback but its utility varies between users. Don't buy stylus unless you really need it. As a rule, stylus made specifically for the device and designed by the original equipment manufacturer work best. Samsung's S-Pen and Microsoft's Surface Pen are excellent because they were designed for their respective devices. Wacom does their best with their various stylus models, including the affordable Stylus Solo, but their products have specific limitations depending on the type of device you use them with. The Stylus Solo is fine for basic tasks such as highlighting text, tapping app icons and typing on onscreen keyboards, but isn't recommended for any other tasks that require precision.
 

Unsolicited Comment: I've used the Stylus Solo with the Lumia 925, iPad 2, Kobo Glo, Memo Pad Hd7 and various Sony Xperia devices. It doesn't work at all with the HP Stream 8 (which is more the Stream 8's fault). The Stylus Solo isn't very good for writing in OneNote or drawing in popular apps such as Autodesk Sketchbook, but it's fine for annotating or highlighting text in PDFs and ebooks in the Kobo and Adobe Reader app.

Continued in Unsolicited Product Summaries for Black Friday Part 2

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