THE GENIUS IS BRAIN DEAD

We look at a lot of products we never write about. That’s because they don’t work.

We usually say nothing about bad products because what’s the point of wasting ink on junk? But sometimes it gets to be too much, and so begins the¬†gnashing of teeth and cries of frustration. In other words, it’s high dudgeon time. Here are two examples:

A company named Genius sent us a web camera called the Look 313 Media. (Where do they get these names?) It is beautifully designed, with speakers that can swivel to point toward the user and extra USB connection ports, which we never have enough of.

Unlike other webcams that sell for $40, however, it has no microphone. There’s a socket where you can plug in your own microphone. What? You don’t have a microphone lying around? What kind of technology buff are you? The Look 313 Media webcam also has no hook for hanging it on top of the monitor; you have to find a flat support surface somewhere nearby.

Four attempts to install the software, using three computers, all failed to get the webcam working. “This program requires a camera,” a little message would inform us. No kidding. We tried loading the driver from the Web instead of the disk. We then got a message saying there was not enough storage available to complete the operation. There were over 100 gigabytes available, so that must be one really big driver. More information on this little gem at geniusnet.com.

Next Victim:Westinghouse Digital Photo Frame

Westinghouse sent over a digital picture frame. The popularity of these things took one of us completely by surprise. Bob thought these frames were wretched techno excess, but Joy understood they would be a big hit, and they have been.

There are several makers, and the frames come in various sizes. You can get a small one for the desk, larger for the mantle, on up to this 14-incher from Westinghouse, the DPF-1411. Plug in a digital camera card or USB flash drive and you can watch all the pictures you took last summer roll by in an endless slide show. You can also watch videos.

The first frame Westinghouse sent over didn’t work at all. Couldn’t even get a blinking red power light. Now this isn’t Westinghouse’s fault really, but we mention it because we have been seeing more and more products that are faulty right out of the box. Companies replace them, but it’s not a good sign. Anyway, the second frame worked fairly well.

The faint praise is because we plugged in a camera card and got a message that some of the pictures could not be displayed because they were in an incompatible format. The fact is, they were all in the same format. We plugged that card into an HP Media Center computer and it had no trouble viewing all the pictures. This was not good, comparison wise, as they say. Especially since the Westinghouse 14-inch frame costs $400.

Out of 18 photos that the computer recognized with no trouble, the Westinghouse frame recognized 14. The Web site for this product is wde.com.

Kodak Prints and Copies EasyShare 5300

Kodak prints, and also scans, with its new $200 EasyShare 5300 multifunction inkjet printer. That makes it a copying machine as well. But there’s nothing special about that; multifunction units like this have been around for a decade. What’s special, says Kodak, is that its ink cartridges are much cheaper than the ones from other printer companies. On the other hand, the printer itself is more expensive than its rivals.

The prints were good; scanning was good. But right in line with more faulty manufacturing coming our way lately: We had to unplug the printer to turn it off. The “off” button didn’t work.

Joy thinks what’s really interesting about this printer is that you can put lots of photos on the scanner, and it will scan them into separate files, saving you the trouble of separating them out.

Bob thinks what’s really interesting about this printer is that Kodak is selling it at all. Inkjet printers occupy one of the most crowded fields in high tech, and the big players are well-established. Prices are so competitive there’s no profit at all in selling the printers. All the profit is in the ink. A stock analyst covering Hewlett-Packard, the leading printer and computer maker, has noted that nearly all that company’s profit comes from selling ink.

Kodak says ink for its new EasyShare 5300 will cost only half what other printer makers charge. (Black ink is $10 per cartridge, and color is $15.) How can they do that? Ink is enormously profitable. You could almost write the dialogue for that marketing meeting.

For most of its existence, Kodak’s cash cow, as they call it, has been photographic film. Well that business is over. Film sales are for specialty uses now; the rest of the business has gone digital. Ink is it.

Trouble is, high profit margins for ink sales are eroding fast. Office stores and drugstore chains are now selling discount refills for inkjet printers. Joy recently did a Web search and found black-ink cartridges for Hewlett-Packard printers for $24 from HP, $20 from Amazon.com and $3.66 for “refurbished” cartridges from suppliers in Amazon’s “marketplace” section. That’s quite a price range. The future of ink profits does not look bright.

This is pretty much the way we all shop: We ask someone we know what they use and like, or we look up published opinions. But we’ve mentioned the problems with this before. Some songs of praise may be coming from people connected with the manufacturer or people who know a friend who works there. Some critical opinions may come from people at competing companies or someone bearing a grudge. It’s always a judgment call, and common sense should be applied.

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