Sunday, February 28, 2010

Best GSM/ UMTS Frequency Bands to Pick in the US

Best Wireless Cell Phones Part 4

In Part 2 of this review, we picked GSM/ UMTS as our mobile  cellphone technology of choice. It comes, like all other wireless technologies, with large sets of frequency bands, which vary by country. In order for your cellphone to be operable in a given set of countries (and, of course, in the US) it needs to have the ability to communicate on the frequency bands used in these countries -and by the carriers that you choose to work with. So, what frequency bands should we pick, if we live in the US?
image by soundman1024

The AT&T flavor of GSM/UMTS technology (either through AT&T Wireless, or through virtual operators using AT&T Wireless' network) is closest to the world mainstream, and provides the widest choice of compatible phones. Additionally, if your phone carries the appropriate frequency bands, by buying an inexpensive pre-paid SIM card when you land in a foreign country, you can use your phone most anywhere in the world. Other technologies than GSM do not use SIM cards.

Unfortunately, T-Mobile's specific UMTS frequency bands are not commonly used in the rest of the world, so there are less phone choices in T-Mobile's frequency bands. While you can still use a multi-band T-Mobile phone abroad, you may not have access to fast UMTS service, which is really too bad if you spend much time on the web.

It is possible to identify, country by country, what frequency bands are available, for instance here. It is also possible to comb all GSM phones for available frequency combinations, and look for the most commonly used frequency combinations. This is long and painful work, somewhat simplified by the fact that cell phone manufacturers, who are not idiots, also know what the best frequency combinations are, and tend to target the best such combinations.

It turns out that, for best coverage, the ideal choice is a phone using GSM/UMTS technology, accessing GSM 850/900/1800/1900 bands and UMTS 850/1900/2100 bands. It maximizes universal coverage and cell phone availability. The drawback is that, in the US, you will be largely limited to AT&T Wireless. (you would still be able to use T-Mobile GSM frequencies for call and SMS service, but not its broadband service).  AT&T Wireless, with its excellent smartphone availability, has been able to maintain fairly high service plan prices, and, because of its high data network traffic, has acquired a less than stellar reputation for its network access (although very recent PC World tests seem to prove otherwise).

Now that we have gone over all the choices we need to make in terms of network technology, it is time to start looking at the cell phones themselves. Our next page will look at the primary types of smartphones, which constitute the high end of the cell phone market... So come back soon!

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why You Might Not Pick GSM For Your Cell Phone

Best Wireless Cell Phones Part 3

Yesterday we discussed why GSM was the clear choice when looking at cell phone choice as a primary criterion. In particular, when looking at expensive smartphones, in it almost impossible to get the latest models -or sometimes enay model of a given line - on another technology that GSM. In Feb 2010, for instance, it is only possible to get the iPhone and the Google Nexus One on GSM.
image by kalleboo

If, however, phone choice or world mobility are not significant factors, it is worth looking at network coverage and wireless plan features/ costs as primary drivers. In this case, phone choice will be limited to the operator's list of phones for subsequent device selection. In the past few years, Verizon (which also powers Virgin Mobile) has seemed to have the best combined coverage and call reliability record, with the highest prices in the wireless market. Sprint has more affordable plans, along with good customer satisfaction. Nextel, also network provider for Boost Wireless, has the best rates among national providers, but probably the least future-proof technology.

So, if high quality service is most critical to you, while phone choice or world operations are not  important, CDMA is probably the best technology today in the US (in great part because of the high present load of the AT&T Wireless network). In this case, we will be largely limited to the range of phones offered for sale by your wireless carrier, with little opportunity to get an unlocked phone.

Similarly, if price is your only criterion, there is a good chance that iDEN will work well for you - if only for a limited time. In the same way, we will be limited to the range of phones offered for sale by your wireless carrier, which, for the case of iDEN, is a small sample set.

As we are specifically looking at the best cell phone, we will pick GSM/UMTS as our wireless technology of choice. Each cell phone comes with pre-programmed frequency bands - some are better than others for the US. Our next page we will discuss which frequency bands to choose for GSM/UMTS... So come back soon!

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Picking the Best Mobile Wireless Technology

Best Cell Phones Part 2

Yesterday we reviewed the backhaul technologies in use by wireless operators for cellphone use in the US. Which technology should we pick to be able to use the best cell phones?
image by Paul Keller

TDMA is now practically obsoleted in the US, and Nextel has also announced that it will eventually switch to CDMA, the technology of its holding company, Sprint. For this reason, very few new cell phones come out for TDMA or iDEN, and the choice of handsets is quite limited. As a result, TDMA and iDEN has not good choices when looking to buy the best cell phone.

CDMA has a strong footprint in the US, thanks to Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular. It boasts of the best coverage and highest customer satisfaction (albeit highest prices...) thanks to Verizon. Unfortunately, its presence around the world is much less significant, and its addressable population is low compared to GSM/UMTS. Consequently, cell phone manufacturers do not target CDMA in a first introduction, and often never come out with a CDMA version of their devices.

This leaves us with GSM. GSM/UMTS is present in the world around, and has the largest addressable customer market, based on network footprint. For cell phone manufacturers, it is the #1 target and guarantees the largest volume. As a consequence, it is the technology of choice when you want to have the widest selection of cell phones, and get a chance to pick the best cell phone. In fact, when we research actual models, we do find all of the best phones on GSM. We rarely find them on other technologies. Unequivocally, GSM/UMTS is the best technology to optimize phone choice, and, really, the only one to pick in large parts of the world, such as Europe.

Does it mean that we should all choose GSM as a carrier technology? Our next page will look at reasons why we might want to choose others.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Best Mobile Cell Phone: Review

What is the best possible wireless cellphone for your needs? There are so many mobile options to pick from and decisions to make that it is not easy to understand what choices to make. This review series will discuss all aspects of the different options to look at in order to pick the perfect phone and service for you.We will go through all the differences in networks and operators, and discuss how they impact your cell phone choice - then we will review the cell phones themselves.
image by tonynetone

Mobile, wireless, cellular technologies: what you need to know

Wireless operators use three different primary technologies. Each requires a different kind of phone. Each operator uses a set of frequency bands within its technology. So, to be able to operate on a wireless operator's network, your phone must be compatible with its basic technology, and be able to use the right frequency bands.

Picking a phone implies picking a technology and a set of frequency bands, which will, in turn, limit your choice of operators. By picking the most common technology and the most commonly used frequency bands, you can improve your choices of phones and of operators.

The most common wireless technologies for cell phone use in the US are GSM, CDMA, TDMA and iDEN, a variant of TDMA. They go through technology generations, often referred to as 2G, 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G and 4G.

TDMA has been progressively absorbed into GSM standards and does not represent a separate technology thread any more. Cingular (now AT&T) migrated from TDMA to GSM. Nextel, now owned by Sprint, operates on iDEN, a related technology, and plans to migrate to Sprint's CDMA network in the future. TDMA and iDEN do not have a broad future in the US.

CDMA is primarily used by Verizon, Sprint, and regional operator US Cellular, in the US. It is used by a small number of networks around the world outside of te US, including in China. CDMA was 2G. CDMA turned into CDMA2000 1xRTT (2.5G), then CDMA2000 1x EV-DO (3G).

GSM is used by most of the world, and, in the US, by AT&T Wireless and T-Mobile. GSM was 2nd generation wireless, referred to as 2G. Its 2.5G evolution was GPRS, followed by EDGE (sometimes referred to 2.75G), now evolving into UMTS (sometimes referred to as WCDMA) for a 3G (3rd generation) technology. While GSM/GPRS/EDGE can carry voice and data, UMTS allows much faster connectivity and is preferred for fast data and broadband use.

Too complex to follow? The good news is that there is a trend to unify both GSM and CDMA evolution directions towards a common 4G technology call LTE Advanced. Verizon is already doing early deployment for a 3.5G precursor, LTE, and AT&T is planning to do the same. The bad news is that Sprint has already picked an alternative technology called WiMAX, typically associated with broadband rather than mobile use, and spent multiple billion dollars on it. This excellent article on TechSpot tells you all you need to know about 4G in the US.

So what technology should you pick? Our next page will tell you.

Updated: 4G links 

                                           Next: Picking the Best Wireless Technology                Next Page >>

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Best 5mw Laser Pointers: Review Summary

Best Laser Pointers Part 11

Laser pointers of many colors are now available, but, as before, poor quality reigns... After some excruciating, deep, obsessive research across the web, going through thousands of posts and many hundreds of products, we were able to conclude on the best laser pointers available, using the conclusions of the net laser pointer experts and users.

The best laser pointers on the net under 5mW are:

For more detailed information, and many more picks, read the full review, starting here :-)

 << Previous Page

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shopping for Laser Pointers: Best Online Stores

Best Laser Pointers Part 10

What are the best online stores to purchase laser pointers from? As we are focusing on legal, 5mW or less laser pointers, we are not looking at some excellent suppliers which focus on higher power lasers.

The wisdom on the net points identifies these best suppliers:

  • LaserGlow is a high-end source of lasers of all powers, with an excellent reputation and great customer service.
  • Optotronics, also a high end source, caters to the enthusiast and professional market, but has only  a small number of 5mW pointers. Excellent customer service as well.
  • Atlasnova is the best source for cost-effective, good quality presentation laser pointers. It is a small company, but with a long track record and excellent feedback in the user community.
  • Wicked Lasers is a big supplier of high-end gadget lasers: high power, high performance, high cost. There are sometimes mentions of quality issues, in terms of underpowered lasers and DOAs.
  • DealExtreme is an interesting and unusual store: residing offshore in Asia, it offers good customer service, in general free, fairly fast (6-8 days) shipping to the US, and an enormous assortment of inexpensive laser pointers (and other gear as well). The do a fairly good job at electing higher quality items, although it is important to read customer reviews prior to purchase.  
  • The LEDShoppe, based in Hong Kong, is a similar setup as DealExtreme above, with good customer service as well. One big downside is that there are no user reviews, which makes it much harder to identify reliable items.
  • Amazon, as usual, has a wide range of laser pointers. Be aware, however, that many of the pointers offered for sale here are of poor quality. On the other hand, several of the suppliers and OEMs listed above are also available on Amazon.
Tomorrow, we will publish our review summary... So come back soon!

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Best Online Sources for Laser Pointers

Best Laser Pointers Part 9

Where do you find good sources of information on laser pointers?  As usual, the best sources start with large, specialized forums, which group thousands of experts and many tens of thousands of relevant posts. From there, it is typically possible to identify sources of expert information, and good online sources. These forums are also often the best source of information regarding actual product reviews, both in terms of review of product design, but also, what is much more difficult, in terms of reliability and quality. Following the forums are large laser pointer distribution sites with product reviews that feature a strong user community (Amazon, of course is the best example of these).

  • The Laser Pointer Forums are the largest laser-dedicated forums on the net. Their very active community largely focuses on high lower lasers.
  • The Candle Power Forums are the preeminent source of user information on all flashlights and related information. They have a good forum on lasers.
  • The Laser Community is a small community of laser enthusiasts, with a somewhat slow forum
Some other sources:
Research sites:
  • Galttech provides a short review of some available choices, mostly for high power lasers.
Tomorrow, we will list the best online stores for purchasing laser pointers... So come back soon!

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Best Cheap Small Keychain Laser Pointers

Best Laser Pointers Part 8

As discussed here, it is not possible today to identify true quality very small pointers. There are literally hundreds of models that can be found on the net in the category, many of them with interesting features, such as an additional LED light, or a pen. Their typically low quality, combined with the use of difficult to find watch-size batteries with little lasting power, make them a poor bet. In addition, it is important to be aware that these lasers are not power-regulated, and can be more dangerous to handle than proper, power-regulated lasers - although red lasers are typically fairly stable. Thanks to the expert users on the net, we can find some better choices in a small form factor: 

  •  #2  Coast Keychain Red Laser Pointer: the Coast Keychain Laser Pointer, powered by 2 AG5 watch-size batteries, available for $12, is the least objectionable of the tiny, watch-size battery-powered pointers. The present model has gathered some good positive reviews on quality and longevity in several places. The model remains stable for over a minute (we did not test beyond). The issues of battery life and battery availability remain, as does the lack of power regulation.
  • #1  DealExtreme Red Laser Keychain: the Red Laser Keychain (AAA) at DealExtreme, 1xAAA powered red bullet laser pointer, for less than $5 including shipping and battery, provides decent quality, although there are some DOAs, well taken care of by customer service. It is  a bargain that is hard to beat:-). It may actually be the only small 1xAAA laser pointer in stock available anywhere online as we are publishing this review. The model remain stable for over a minute (we did not test beyond). The lack of power regulation is still an issue, and can potentially result in higher power (i.e. more dangerous) than expected.
Clearly there is an opportunity for a good quality manufacturer to enter this market with higher price, high quality models, as we have seen happen in the high end flashlight market. Are there other models that you you have used and  want to tell us about? Please share your expertise and experience with us. We will periodically update this list with the information you share.

Tomorrow we will discuss the best online sources for researching, reviewing and discussing laser pointers... So come back soon!

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Best Slim 5mW Laser Pointers

Best Laser Pointers Part 7

Given the enormous number of very small pointers,  it would be nice to be able to find a very small, quality laser pointer, that is reliable enough to take on the road, or to have at home for a long time without worrying about breakdown.

There are two obstacles to this. The first one is that practically all small pointers, for size reasons, use difficult to find watch-size batteries, which do not last long and are not very available. The second one is that there is practically no reputable company manufacturing and marketing low-power lasers. The market is absolutely saturated with very cheap, small pointers from no-name companies factored by the distributors themselves, with no incentive to provide quality items.

The outcome is that it is practically impossible to find quality pointers in a small form factor, ideally a small 1xAAA flashlight form factor. But, thanks to the expert users on the net, we were able to identify the best slim pointer on the web, slimmer than a 1xAAA flashlight, but a bit longer:

  •  The Apollo Slimline Executive Laser Pointer is a thin red laser in a slim pen-like metal case, available for about $35, which is powered by 2xAAAA batteries. Yes - you read correctly - AAAA, 4 times A. These batteries are smaller that AAAs, and can be found on Amazon or on many other sites. They can however be difficult to find at the convenience store next door, so, if you are giving presentations while traveling, be sure to bring a spare set with you. The Apollo Slimline Pointer appears to be power-regulated. Its duty cycle is not specified, but the pointer does not get hot or unstable within the first minute. The pointer gets good user reviews across multiple sites.
 While it is not possible to find a true quality 1xAAA-size laser pointer, it is possible to find some pointers that are better than the rest. Tomorrow we we list the better smaller laser pointers on the net... So come back soon!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Best Value 5mW Red and Green Laser Pointers

 Best Laser Pointers Part 6

There are value pointers of excellent quality available on the net.  By going for value vs no-holds-barred performance and quality, you will lose, for laser pointers, some good looks, possibly individual laser power testing (most high end lasers are individually tested), and sometimes features such as APC regulation.

What do the most expert users on the net rate highest among high quality value pointers?  The best  value 5mW pen-format presenter laser pointers are:

  •  #3  Staples Brass Red Laser Pointer: the Staples Brass Red Laser Pointer is packaged in the standard pen-format for laser pointers, in a decent metal case, for about $25, with a bit less power and quality that the next two higher-ranked contenders. It appears to be power-regulated. It does not need an IR filter, since it is red.  It is powered by 2xAAAs, and its duty cycle is not specified - but, in practice, it does not heat up or become unstable when ON for long periods of time (such as 1 minute). The product has good reviews, but, being a generic, does not carry the benefit of a good brand reputation.  

    • #2 Optotronics Premium 4.99mW Green Laser: the Optotronics Premium 4.99mW Green Laser, in the same form factor as the Atlas Nova in a similar metal casing, goes for $35 but carries the name of a bigger company and the additional luminosity of a green laser. It is power-regulated, and has an IR filter. It  is powered by 2xAAA batteries, and has a duty cycle of 67% (100sec ON/ 50sec OFF). There are few reviews for this model, but Optotronics carries among net users an excellent reputation for high quality products and top-notch customer service, comparable to LaserGlow. This excellent Optotronics product was very close to the #1 contender, but ended up losing out, despite its edge in perceived luminosity due to its color, because of its slightly worse duty cycle. 

      • #1  Atlas Nova 635nm Orange Red Laser Pointer: the Atlas Nova 635nm Red Laser Pointer is a reliable bright orange-red laser in a metal pen format, which can be obtained for about $25. It uses 2xAAA batteries. It is power-regulated. It does not need an IR filter, since it is red. The duty cycle is 100%, and the beam is more visible to the eye than standard red laser pointers. The casing is brass, and the outside is powder-coated. This pen laser pointer gets excellent user reviews, and is also the winner the of high end red laser pointer category. Atlas Nova, a small company, is highly esteemed by the Candle Power Forums regulars. Its reputation is that of a supplier with excellent customer service and solid quality products. Atlas Nova can also be found on the Amazon Marketplace.
      Are there other models that you you have used and  want to tell us about? Please share your expertise and experience with us. We will periodically update this list with the information you share.

      These pointers are excellent and functional. Sometimes, however, it is useful to have a slimmer model at hand. Tomorrow, we will list the best slim laser pointers on the net... So come back soon!

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      Thursday, February 18, 2010

      The Best High End 5mW Red Laser Pointer

      Best Laser Pointers Part 5

      This section almost ended up blank, as there are very few 5mW red lasers in the high end market. We only found a single red laser that we felt could be considered high end, although its low price also puts it in the value category. The Atlas Nova wins the category by default:-)

      • #1  Atlas Nova 635nm Orange Red Laser Pointer: the Atlas Nova 635nm Red Laser Pointer is a reliable bright orange-red laser in a metal pen format, which can be obtained for about $25. It uses 2xAAA batteries. It is power-regulated. It does not need an IR filter, since it is red. The duty cycle is 100%, and the beam is more visible to the eye than standard red laser pointers. The casing is brass, and the outside is powder-coated. The engineering for this product is excellent, and its only weaknesses in the high end range are its push button, which has been known, rarely (one review only), to function imperfectly, and its case, which is sound, but does not compare to the polished or knurled metal of the high-end green laser pointers. This pen laser pointer gets excellent user reviews. Atlas Nova, a small company, is highly esteemed by the Candle Power Forums regulars. Its reputation is that of a supplier with excellent customer service and solid quality products. Atlas Nova can also be found on the Amazon Marketplace.
      Tomorrow we will review our picks for the value red and green pointers... So come back soon!

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      The 4 Best High-End 5mW Green Laser Pointers

      Best Laser Pointers Part 4

      What are the best pen-style presenter laser pointers overall, at or under 5mW (maximum legal without a permit in the US)? The most expert net users point at these:

      •  #4 LaserGlow Galileo: the Galileo by LaserGlow is an excellent 5mW green laser model with a 100% duty cycle and great reviews. It is power-regulated, and includes an IR filter. It is available for $80. It comes in a very compact, handsome, slightly knurled, robust metal case. Unfortunately, it uses a CR123 battery for power, which is a great form factor and an excellent energy/volume ratio, but one that is not always easily available.
      • #3  Wicked Lasers Core: the Wicked Lasers Core is a powerful 5 mW 532 nm green laser in a fairly ordniary metal pen-like format case, and can be purchased for approximately $60.  It is power-regulated, and includes an IR filter. Wicked Lasers, discussed here, is considered a big name in hobbyists' lasers. The Core is powered by 2 AAA batteries, has a momentary on/off switch (safer) and a strong metal casing. A carrying case is available. While most reviews for Wicked Lasers are positive, there is also some dissatisfaction with Wicked Laser's QA and customer service: several reviews report DOA issues and difficulties in getting good customer support after problems
      • #2  LaserGlow Lyra G5: the Lyra G5 green laser, from LaserGlow, is a very good looking metal case pen-format laser pointer, available for about $60.  It is a powerful 5mW 532nm green laser, powered by 2xAAA batteries. It is power-regulated, and includes an IR filter. LaserGlow, discussed here, is a high-end provider of high quality laser pointers, with excellent customer service. The Lyra's duty cycle is 90 seconds on/ 20 seconds off. User reviews for the Lyra and for LaserGlow are very positive, emphasizing the high quality of the materials, the reliability of the pointers, and the customer service.
      • #1  LaserGlow Lyra-5: the Lyra-5 is a gorgeous 18k gold-plated presenter laser pointer in a  stunning metal pen-format case, with the same characteristics as the G5 above, and is available for about $90.
      Are there other models that you you have used and  want to tell us about? Please share your expertise and experience with us. We will periodically update this list.

      Tomorrow we will pick the best high end 5mW red laser pointers on the net.. So come back soon!

      Updated: Galileo Information

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      Wednesday, February 17, 2010

      Laser Pointers: the Research

      Best Laser Pointers Part 3

      Because laser pointers are not high-profile products with their own review categories, it is not easy to find authoritative resources that have discussed at length over different brands and reputations, or compared products a la Consumer Reports. This is, of course, where the net shines: it is possible to aggregate the opinions of thousands of knowledgeable users who, by being actual owners of the products, are actually more expert at judging these products and their competitors than outside rating agencies...

      All of this to explain why conducting research on laser pointers was a long and difficult process:-) The forums, as usual, were key to identifying brands and models with high and low reputation. There are literally hundreds of sites that sell laser pointers, many of which are distributing no-name devices. Going through several hundreds of sales sites was necessary to filter through the chaff - which, in the case of laser pointers, is 99.9% of the offering. We then had to go through thousands of user reviews and threads covering different models and suppliers.

      The issues is compounded by the fact that most users who write about lasers are enthusiasts. They are interested in much higher power than 5mW, which is the maximum legal power in the US for laser pointers. As a consequence, most of the product information  on lasers focuses on higher power than what we are interested in, leaving only a small percentage of information useful to us:(

      Very quickly, it became clear that random ordering from an unqualified supplier made it very likely to buy a failing product. Not only is there very little QA (Quality Assurance) for most of the products sold, meaning that many of them are DOA or fail very quickly, but there is also the issue of nominal vs actual broadcast power, which, even with somewhat reputable suppliers, could be very different from each other. If you get a lower power laser pointer, you simply don't have the visibility you need. If you get a higher power one you can easily get into safety issues. Worse - specifically due to the technologies in question, it often turns out that broadcast power varies up and down with time, somewhat randomly, unless the supplier has actually used control circuits to regulate that power precisely.

      One other issue cropped up - that of safety. Very few retailers list details such as IR filter or APC. User reviews were critical in that respect. Even then, it was sometimes necessary to contact manufacturers to validate pointer engineering. Of course, most, if not all, cheap pointers simply don't have an IR filter.

      As we progressively filtered through the data, it also became clear that even well-known manufacturers had some quality or reliability problems. Dragon Lasers, Z-Bolt, Techlasers, Skylasers, even Wicked Lasers had, at least for some batches or products, significant QA issues. Users often forgive that when customer service is good, but poor customer service on top of some quality problems has a way to kill reputation very quickly... Most of the suppliers are located in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, as are their shopping sites, making for long language problems and long turnaround times.

      In the end, there are really two markets for laser pointers. One is the cheap laser pointer, which may be obtained for a few dollars, often with interesting wrinkles such as multiple heads, or pen-flashlight-laser combos etc. These are cheap items, both in terms of costs, and in terms of quality. They will fail quickly - or - one out of two or three might be good. The other market is made of  the higher quality lasers, which are not cheap, and which might also run into quality issues, although less frequently - but unfortunately with more money at stake.

      For the first cheap part of the market, the best way to approach it was to identify suppliers with a wide range of products and a good customer support reputation - check the Online Stores section of the review. DealExtreme and LEDShoppe carried the best customer support reputation, and had better items on average. We give our preference to DealExtreme because of the existence of user reviews, extraordinarily useful to be able to get better information about the product and its reliability.

      For the higher-end market, we started with a long list that we pared down progressively. In the end, there were several manufacturers that we liked but that did not quite make the cut. In the higher end, Dragon Laser had good models and some supporters, but also some significant negative reviews on reliability. NovaLasers, with a great reputation, did not carry any more pointers at 5mW or under. Wicked Lasers also had some QA challenges but we felt that, on the whole, they were still above the cut. Enlight Technologies had some good reviews, but their site was not clear enough to allow for easy purchasing. LaserGlow and Optotronics definitely made the grade. Atlas Nova was the most interesting mid-range provider, a small company with honest products and excellent customer support.

      Selection of the products themselves also gave us trouble. We rate usability and reliability highest in terms of attributes. For usability reasons we felt strongly about the power source needing to be AAs and AAAs, especially for laser pointers that can be taken on the road. It turned out that almost all the higher end lasers we found, all with AAAs, had a duty cycle below 100%, meaning that they had to be turned off for a few second every minute or two. As, for safety reasons, we only selected models with a temporary on/off switch (meaning you have to leave your finger on the push button as long as we want to laser to shine) we did not feel that it was a significant drawback.

      Tomorrow we will list our final choices for the best high end laser pointers... So come back soon!

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      Tuesday, February 16, 2010

      What Makes a Good Laser Pointer

      Best 5mW Laser Pointers Part 2

      The first step to shopping for a good laser pointer is to know what we are looking for. What are the criteria that you might want to use when choosing a good 5mW presenter laser pointer?

      • APC Power regulation: the power is constantly measured by the laser circuitry, and properly regulated to remain at 5mW or whatever the nominal power is -this regulation is typically referred to as APC, Auto Power Control. Lasers without APC may see their output power vary: at any time they may become more powerful than their nominal power calls for and become more dangerous, or, conversely, weaker than their nominal power, and therefore less useful.
      • IR Filter: in some wavelengths, in particular green, good pointers also have an infrared (IR) filter for better eye protection. Even though the output power we are looking for is 5mW, the actual diodes (or other devices) generating the original beam use much higher power, such as, for instance, 250mW. In some cases (green is one) there can be significant leakage in the IR wavelengths, meaning that, unless there is an IR filter on the pointer, the damage to eyes or materials can be equivalent to a device many times more powerful than 5mW. What makes IR radiation is so dangerous is that it will severely and permanently damage the eye without being noticed by the user before it is too late, since the IR beam is  invisible to the eye. Red lasers do not leak in the IR range, do not need a filter, and are therefore intrinsically safer.
      • Size: it is compact, small enough to be put on a keyring, or to wear as a pen in a pocket
      • Storage: there is a pocket clip for larger ones, or a way to store it on a key ring for smaller ones
      • Laser power: the actual laser power is reliably close to nominal, for all units manufactured, and is reliably the same, time after time, when you use your laser pointer. Some brands are known for often providing under- or over-powered devices. In many off brand devices, power changes from use to use due to poor connections or engineering.
      • Power source: the battery is a commonly used battery (AAA, or AA, if at all possible) that is small enough to keep the device compact, yet large enough to provide many hours of use. Avoid "watch" batteries, which power most cheap laser pointers.
      • Reliability: the casing is solid, if possible metal, the threads are deep, the device is sturdy and well engineered.  The on/off switch feels good and lasts for a long time. Most laser pointers are not branded or, if branded, carry unknown brands, and suffer from low reliability. 
      • Brand: The average unbranded laser pointer is a pointer without APC or IR filter, and may be dangerous to its user, even if nominally a 5mW device. To pick a good laser pointer, it is essential to specifically choose brands and models with proven reliability and track record. If you pick a cheap, no-name laser, then let it be a red one so that at least there is no IR danger.
      • Cost: always one element of choice

      Tomorrow, we will discuss how we researched the best options in selecting laser pointers... So come back soon!

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      Monday, February 15, 2010

      Best 5mW Laser Pointers: Review

      What You Need to Know About Laser Pointers

      Few tools are more useful in a presentation than a good quality laser pointer. A good laser pointer is one of those rare work tools that seem to do double, triple or quadruple duty at home, for use as a DIY tool, a n astronomy tool, a gadget, a pet toy... Yet many of us who have bought laser pointers at random have found that finding a good quality laser pointer is not easy.

      If you pick, at random, among the enormous numbers of laser pointers available on the net, you are almost certain to buy a poorly assembled device of low quality. Unusually, there are few reputable companies with a recognizable brand name, on which you can count in order to buy quality devices. Using Word of Net (the experience of other net users) is critical to a successful laser pointer purchase.

      Laser pointers are tightly regulated in most countries, due to the potential danger that they can pose when misused (pointing a laser beam at an eye, a plane etc.). In the US, it is illegal to sell a laser pointer with a power of more than 5mW. However, it is possible to buy higher powered lasers working off batteries for such applications as astronomy, firearms guiding systems, etc. In this review, we discuss legal low-power laser pointers, for use in presentations, as pet toys - or as personal gadgets. Class IIIa indicates less than 5mW, while class II is limited to 1mW. We are researching Class IIIa 5mW laser pointers, fully legal for sale in the US as presenter laser pointers.

      While traditional hand-held laser pointers are red, many other colors are now available, including green, blue, violet, and yellow. At equal power, they are all equally dangerous (or innocuous), but green lasers are more visible to the human eye due to the way we perceive different light frequencies. So, for a given power level such as 5mW, a green laser will be most visible.

      As a safety reminder, do remember that even low-power lasers can be dangerous, and permanently damage an eye after even a few seconds of exposure. Never point them at vehicles or faces, including your own. You can be arrested and sent to jail for pointing a laser pointer at planes, police officers, etc. Also be aware that a laser dot may be mistaken by somebody as a weapon targeting device, so, just in case they have a quick trigger finger, be careful how you use your pointer...

      Tomorrow, we will discuss what makes a good laser pointer... So come back soon!

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      Friday, February 12, 2010

      Is This Online Store Reputable? Try

      What is the reputation of an online store? How do you figure out whether this online store you have never tried will treat you well? Before passing your order, check it out on shows customer experience feedback for your store, coming from regular users posting about their own experience with the site. It has excellent coverage of electronic and computer stores, and good coverage of high-tech gear stores. Coverage of other areas can be spotty.

      Do yourself a favor: if the item you buy is in an industry that is well covered by, only buy from a store that is well scored by - or - adjust your expectations to what may happen. And - do others a favor - post your customer feedback for your own purchases so as to help others make the same choice.

      We are not affiliated with, and have no commercial relationship with