Highly Capable, Affordable Laptop Has a Touch of Class

Product: ID49C07u

Manufacturer: Gateway

Wired Rating: 8

Dashing good looks and cutting-edge performance don’t have to come at a steep price, and for scholars heading back to school this fall, there’s only a handful of machines that strike this trifecta.

And Gateway’s ID series — embodied here in its ID49C07u — has all three. Specs include an Intel Core i3 at 2.26 GHz, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500-GB hard drive. Performance is impressive for a sub-$1,000 unit. While gaming chops are basically nonexistent, general app performance is on par with machines that cost twice as much. There’s no Blu-ray on this unit — and only Intel’s integrated HD graphics — but those are trade-offs worth the uber-affordable $680 price tag.

No slouch in the looks department, the ID49 rocks a modern design, with a platform keyboard and, intriguingly, a track pad that illuminates from beneath when clicked. The gesture area is, unfortunately, a love-it-or-hate-it feature. The entire pad is one big button, depressing into the unit completely when you click on it. While it’s an interesting design choice, clicks require too much effort, and if you don’t have your fingers positioned over the very bottom of the pad, your clicks won’t register at all — although the pad will still depress and make a sound. The light-up effect can also be distracting when the machine is not in use (and the screensaver effects kick in).

The 14-inch (1366 x 768 pixels) wide-screen laptop manages to stay under five pounds while keeping battery life at 2 ¾ hours long and screen brightness exceptionally high. If your academic achiever is looking for a slightly smaller machine than the usual 15-incher — but still wants a machine that performs well and feels plenty spacious — Gateway’s ID series is full of win.

WIRED Solid performance for a great budget price. Modern styling. Well-positioned USB ports. Very portable, fairly lightweight and quite slim.

TIRED Still not used to the mega-click touchpad after a week of testing. Keyboard has next to no travel. Needs a serious kick in the graphics pants.

product image

Swivel Sporting Camcorder Features Flat Footage

Product: Bloggie MHS-PM5

Manufacturer: Sony

Wired Rating: 5

In keeping with the company’s general direction of late, Sony’s entry into the pocket camcorder market is overdesigned and underfunctional.

The big draw with Sony’s Bloggie versus, say, similar offerings from Flip, Creative or Kodak is the inclusion of a swiveling lens, which gives the user immense flexibility in how it is used. Aim forward and shoot the kegger you’re at, or swivel it back to capture your vimeo ready-reaction. After all, YouTube is so 2006.

Another handy feature: The Bloggie can shoot still pictures (5 megapixels) as well as HD video (1920 x 1080p); separate buttons let you mix and match as you see fit.

Sounds good, but the problems soon become evident once you start really using the Bloggie. For starters, simply taking a shot of either type is difficult due to the awkward button placement; they’re too small and hard to hit accurately whether you’re holding it righty or lefty. The zoom feature is dog slow, and changing settings with the five-way pad is awkward, too, as some menus are created vertically and some are built horizontally. The slide-out USB connector for uploads and charging is also badly placed, and it’s difficult to get the camera to hang onto your PC without an adapter cable.

The 2.4-inch LCD looks big until you realize that fully half the screen is taken up by status information and useless junk like the time and date. It’s better at least with playback, if you turn the unit on its side the exhaustive display goes away.

Video quality is roughly as credible as any other pocket cam — though perhaps on the low side — but don’t forget to buy a Memory Stick Pro Duo card for the unit; storage isn’t included, either.

WIRED Rugged and tough, yet compact enough for easy pocketing. Swivel lens also works as a protective lens cover.

TIRED Difficult to use single-handedly. Controls are unintuitive and slow to respond. Included PC software is limited.

product image

Smart Scale Crunches Numbers to Keep You Thin

Product: Wi-Fi Scale

Manufacturer: Withings

Wired Rating: 8

Beyond calorie counting, regular exercise or counter-intuitive strategies like the “Cookie Diet,” one of the easiest ways to boost your chances of losing and maintaining weight is … a scale (duh). Self-tracking can be tedious, though, especially if you’re keeping tabs on a number of metrics. Hence, automation is as good as it gets.

The Wi-Fi Scale from Withings isn’t the only web-connected digital scale on the market, but for now, it’s the best we’ve stepped on. Aside from weight (to a tenth of a pound), the scale immediately calculates Body Mass Index and fat/lean mass (based on measurements like height, which you self-report upon signing-up online). Nice part is that if your computer’s not on, the scale will save data and upload it— in a matter of seconds — next time you log on. Better part is that multiple people (read: your roommate who borrows everything) can use the scale, too. If your weights are very similar and the scale isn’t sure who’s who, the data will be attributed separately to an “unknown” user for you to claim and add to your user name. (Our account tracked three separate people, and only one weigh-in was unclear).

Sleek, sexy and simple, the online interface not only lets you quickly chart trend data for all of the metrics and set and track specific goals, but publish and/or share data in a multitude of ways including Twitter, Google Health and Training Peaks, which allows you to log workouts. Speaking of which, there’s no reason you have to be tethered to a desktop to check out your progress. Withings’ free iPhone app is a particularly solid approximation of the browser experience. Portrait shows you the numbers by day. Turning the phone to landscape gives you a chart of your weight over time. After all, knowing really is half the battle.

WIRED Minimalist digital display is easy-to-read (large digits) and bright (backlit). Modern design lines and slim-and-trim. Display turns off to indicate measurements are complete. Price has dropped $20 in the last year.

TIRED Glass is streak-prone and hard to clean (even with Windex!) Noticeably larger square-footage than a lot of analog scales. Plastic feet bottoms look cheap and come with adhesive that’s weaker than Harold Wormser (front middle). It’s still $160.

product image

Lunch Pail-Sized Portable Printer Makes Pictures Pop

Product: PictureMate Charm

Manufacturer: Epson

Wired Rating: 6

Along with your lunch, you might want to consider bringing Epson’s lunch pail-style photo printer, the PictureMate Charm, the next time you decide to work off campus. This portable print machine churns out surprisingly good photos that will likely win you more raves from classmates than dorm-hall meatloaf.

Weighing just over 8 pounds with the optional rechargeable battery ($50) installed, the PictureMate Charm is heavier than we expected but that’s probably because it’s no lightweight when it comes to print quality. The Charm uses a single four-color dye ink cartridge that’ll give you excellent 4×6-inch prints with sharp detail and bold if slightly oversaturated color.

We stuffed the PictureMate Charm into a custom made carrying case ($34) from Epson along with a packet of Epson paper and headed out to the New York Botanical Garden to photograph plants, flowers, trees and assorted wildlife of the Bronx variety. Though the bag made carrying the printer easier, after an hour or so of trudging around in the hot sun, we were ready to settle down and make some prints.

We parked ourselves next to a small waterfall in a shaded forest-like section of the Botanical Garden, popped the SD card out of our digital camera and inserted it into the Charm’s built-in card reader. Images popped up right away on the printer’s small flip-up 2.5-inch LCD. Photos on the low-resolution screen looked coarse and slightly pixilated. We’d recommend using your digital camera’s LCD to judge sharpness and image quality before you print.

Printing can be done with one touch or, if you feel like it, you can make some basic edits such as removing red-eye in portraits or converting your beautiful nature shots to Ansel Adams-like black-and-whites or oldy-timey sepia tones.

Once you hit print, the Charm is a verifiable speed demon. Our 4x6s at the maximum (5760 x 1440 dpi) resolution spat out of the printer in 45 seconds and were dry to the touch. As stated already, image quality was unexpectedly good; rivaling dedicated photo printers we’ve tested with six or more inks. Inspect your photos closely and they’ll fall short of what you’d get from a lab with some noticeable loss in detail, but that’s to be expected. On the plus side, the prints are water and scratch-resistant.

Designed like a white box with (HWD) dimensions of 5.7 x 9.1 x 6.7 inches and a handle, the Charm is stylish looking but doesn’t feel particularly durable. We’d love to see a more rugged, rubberized version to bring on some serious field trips but this portable PictureMate is certainly not without its charms.

WIRED Fully charged battery can print up to 100 photos. Estimated 200-year print life when photos are stored in an album. Relatively low 25-cent cost per print.

TIRED Can’t print from USB flash drives. Needs pricey battery and bag to be truly “portable.” Can only print up to 4×6-inch size.

product image

Hot Helping of Rapid Wi-Fi Anywhere You Go? Yes Please

Product: MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot

Manufacturer: Verizon

Wired Rating: 9

Seldom does a product come along that blows us away straight out of the box. The MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot, which is made by Novatel for Verizon Wireless, is just such a product. Better yet, since you and up to four friends can jump on this mobile hot spot and surf the net at decent speeds just about anywhere in the United States, the MiFi 2200 is also highly practical, especially if you need to get on the net during your next school field trip. Heck, your teacher may even give you extra points.

We recently took the MiFi 2200 on our own field trip to the New York Botanical Garden and were impressed with the simplicity of its design and how easy it was to use. Shaped like a half-inch-thick credit card, the glossy black MiFi weighs just over 2 ounces and fits easily into your pocket or bag. The edges of the device taper off to a rubberized bottom so it won’t slip away if you set it on a slick surface. (Keep your eye on your friends though, they might want to steal it.)

The MiFi powers up via an AC wall charger that plugs into the device by a micro USB port. About 2.5 hours will give you a full charge which will run the MiFi for the same amount of time with five people hooked in via Wi-Fi. With just one Wi-Fi user, we clocked the MiFi at nearly 4 hours of battery life. (Standby time is rated at approximately 40 hours.)

Set-up for Windows users is relatively easy. Just connect the MiFi to your PC via a USB cable and the device will automatically install the necessary drivers. The VZAccess Manger software that comes with the MiFi is not particularly elegant but it gets the job done, finding your hot spot from the list of others in the area. The password’s right on the bottom of the device which makes it easy to share with the lucky chosen few. Mac users have an even easier time of it — VZAccess Manger isn’t necessary if you’re running Mac OS X 10.4 or higher since the drivers are built right into the operating system.

Though we could only get a sliver of 3G service from AT&T for our iPhone at the Botanical Garden, Verizon’s MiFi gave us full bars of Wi-Fi. When we added in an Asus Eee PC netbook and a MacBook Pro to the signal, we got internet speeds of between 1 and 2 Mbps. While that made HD videos on YouTube look herky-jerky, it was perfectly adequate for casual internet surfing and checking e-mail.

The catch is that while the MiFi itself isn’t expensive, the monthly service plans will seriously set you back. For $39 per month, you get a dinky 250 MB of monthly access while getting docked 10 cents per megabyte in overages. A $59 monthly access plan will give you a 5-GB monthly allowance and five cents per megabyte in overages. No these set-ups aren’t ideal if you want to catch up on episodes of the Jersey Shore but for school work, they’re reasonable — especially if you can get your friends to pitch in.

WIRED Wi-Fi range is 40 feet and we got great service even when device was in the trunk of our car. For $15 you get a 24-hour Wi-Fi Day Pass that’s perfect for that overnight ski trip. Battery is easy to take out and replace.

TIRED Non-3G Verizon areas give you creaky service. Need to periodically “wake” device from sleep mode. Only offered on Verizon Wireless.

product image

Plustek’s AD450 Scans What Others Won’t

Product: AD450

Manufacturer: Plustek

Wired Rating: 5

SCANNER ROUNDUP

Are you a paper hater? A new crop of portable, USB-powered scanners can convert the mess on your desk from a dusty collection of dead trees into pure clean electronics.

It ain’t pretty, and the AD450’s software looks like a refugee from the 1990s, but it can get the job done, if the job means scanning paper, performing OCR, turning business cards into contacts, or even making copies of ID badges.

One of the largest scanners we tested, the AD450 doesn’t win many points on looks. But it does have some unique features. Need to scan credit cards or conference badges? It’s alone among portable scanners in this roundup in being able to handle thick plastic cards easily.

The AD450 also sports three separately configurable action buttons. So rather than fiddling around with software to decide how to scan a document (to generate a PDF, a BMP, or a Word document, for instance) you can assign each button to a different function. Insert your documents, then press the appropriate button, and the scanner delivers the files into a folder you designate.

Scanning to the cloud? For that, you’re almost on your own: You can set the AD450 to drop PDFs it creates into a single folder, and then set Evernote (or other apps) to watch that folder and upload anything that comes into it. But there’s no built-in synchronization with cloud apps, as with some other scanners.

The AD450 may be flexible, but it’s not especially fast: It took about 15 seconds to scan each sheet, plus processing time. It can scan both sides of a sheet simultaneously, but that will add to the processing time. In our tests, it took one minute 45 seconds to scan 5 double-sided sheets to a PDF.

WIRED Scans one- or two-sided. Comes with software to scan business cards, scan to Word documents, PDFs, and more. Has a special feeder for scanning credit cards or plastic ID badges.

TIRED Only compatible with Windows. Slow. Bulky. Software is complicated, with confusing interface. No built-in support for cloud services.

product image

Doxie’s Scanner Is Easy, Portable — and Cute, Too!

Product: Doxie

Manufacturer: Apparent

Wired Rating: 8

SCANNER ROUNDUP

Are you a paper hater? A new crop of portable, USB-powered scanners can convert the mess on your desk from a dusty collection of dead trees into pure clean electronics.

Doxie was very easy to set up: You just need to download a smallish file and it installs quickly and easily.

It was the only model we tested that could natively scan directly to Flickr, Picasa, Google Docs, and other services right out of the box, there’s no fuss about setup: Just enter your credentials for the account of your choice, and it’s ready to receive your scans.

Doxie’s neat, too, and won’t leave PDFs or TIFF files littered around your hard drive like other scanners. Once files are uploaded to the cloud, they’re gone from your desk (unless you want to save files locally).

Powered by a single USB connection and about the size and weight of a curling iron, it’s eminently portable too.

It scans only one side of one page at a time, but can create multi-page documents with ease. One drawback: Since the scanner is so small and there’s no paper-feed tray, it’s easy for pages to go askew. You’ll need to devote time to carefully feeding pages into Doxie to ensure they get scanned straight.  Also, we wish it were a little faster: at 20 or more seconds per page, it could take you all night to digitize those financial documents you “found” on the CEO’s desk.

WIRED Scans to a wide variety of cloud services. Almost no configuration required. Small, lightweight software installation. Cute!

TIRED Slow: Can handle only about two to three pages per minute. No document feeder. Girly styling might not suit your look.

product image

Fujitsu ScanSnap Counts Quality Over Quantity

Product: ScanSnap S1300

Manufacturer: Fujitsu

Wired Rating: 6

SCANNER ROUNDUP

Are you a paper hater? A new crop of portable, USB-powered scanners can convert the mess on your desk from a dusty collection of dead trees into pure clean electronics.

If quality is your concern, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300 is your portable scanner of choice: It produced the clearest, best-looking images of the scanners we tested, largely thanks to its big, solid document feeder, which holds up to 10 pages. That means pages go in straighter, which also helps keep the scans looking good.

When it did get hung up (on a wrinkled sheet torn from a legal pad) it was easy to open the ScanSnap and clear the jam.

Fujitsu has been touting its scanners as especially Evernote-friendly, which is a boon for users of the increasingly popular note management software. In fact, you can get a discount on Evernote Premium when you buy a ScanSnap. However, setting up the scanner and getting it to work with Evernote was a bit complicated. After installing the software from the provided DVD (it takes up more than 1 GB of hard drive space), you need to do some manual adjustment of various settings before it will sync with Evernote.

The ScanSnap comes with OCR software for turning scanned images into text and data, and can also generate Word or Excel documents from scanned pages.

If you’re truly serious about quality, speedy scanning, you might look to the S1300’s bigger brother, the S1500: a desktop model that can digitize big sheafs of paper at about three seconds per page. 

WIRED Delivers crisp, clear images. 10-sheet document feeder keeps pages straighter than other scanners. Easy to clear jams when they do happen. Software supports scanning to PDF, Word documents, and other formats. Reasonably quick at 10 seconds per page.

TIRED The largest of the scanners we tested. Bloated software suite takes over 1 GB of hard drive space. Requires a series of manual steps to get working with Evernote.

product image

Canon’s imageFormula Fires Off Double-Sided Scans

Product: ImageFormula P150M

Manufacturer: Canon

Wired Rating: 7

SCANNER ROUNDUP

Are you a paper hater? A new crop of portable, USB-powered scanners can convert the mess on your desk from a dusty collection of dead trees into pure clean electronics.

Nicknamed the Scan-tini, this scanner is a square slab of shiny, speedy digitizing power: Set it on end and it could terrify the primitive USB thumb drives on your desk, just like the monolith in 2001. Lying flat, it’s the fastest portable scanner we tested, ripping through a 10-page test stack in just over a minute.

It has a sheet feeder with a capacity of 20 sheets. Plus, it can scan both sides of a sheet at the same time, so it’s ideal for scanning pages from magazines or books, provided you’re willing to deconstruct the volumes first. It also works nicely with bank statements, utility bills, handouts from conferences, and other stacks of paper you’d like to scan and then recycle.

Installation can be very simple: The Scan-tini shows up as a USB drive when you plug it in. The drive contains a simple version of scanning software, which will automatically start up if the Auto Start button on the scanner’s back is switched on. That way you don’t need to install a thing, which is a refreshing innovation for scanners.

But if you want to do more complicated things than just scan to files on your computer’s hard drive — such as scanning directly into Evernote — you need to install Canon’s full scanning software from a supplied CD-ROM, and make sure you switch the scanner’s Auto Start button to Off.

It’s a little complicated at first, but once you get it working the way you want, the Scan-tini is fast, easy to use, and produces good-looking scans.

WIRED Speedy scanning, at just six seconds per page. Once configured, scans directly to Evernote with no problems. Document feeder holds up to 20 sheets. Can scan both sides at once.

TIRED A bit chunky. Document tray and paper guides seem a bit flimsy. Complicated setup. Doesn’t scan to cloud services other than Evernote. Needs to be plugged into two USB ports for maximum velocity.

product image

Fast Family Cars for High-Performance Parents

Product: Fast Four-Doors

Manufacturer: Roundup:

Wired Rating: 0

Just because you have a toddler strapped in back doesn’t mean you can’t peel out. With ample legroom, cupholders—even Latch child-seat connectors—high-performance family car is no longer an oxymoron.

1. Mercedes Benz C63 AMG

We’ve driven Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Bugattis, and pretty much every other fast four-wheeler available, but the C63 is what we can most see ourselves owning. A pitch-perfect symphony of performance, luxury, and utility make it a realistic option for everything from a trip to the grocery store to melting tires in block-long burnouts. Its only major flaw is a serious case of petroleum abuse.

WIRED Mild- mannered looks let you cruise by cops without attracting a motorcade. Nasty exhaust note. Tight, balanced handling. Best traditional automatic transmission on the market.

TIRED Terrible V-8 gas mileage (we got around 10 mpg). Interior is tight for larger folk.

$66,500, mbusa.com

Cadillac CTS-V

2. Cadillac CTS-V</strong

With about 100 more horsepower than any other car in the test, the CTS-V could be the best dollar-to-pony value on the planet. So we were ready for it to be a tire-spinning monster. We weren’t, however, expecting the well-appointed interior and taut chassis. Around town, the CTS-V is perfectly civil. In a straight line, it’s nearly unbeatable. And around corners, it blasted away our preconceptions with incredible handling.

WIRED Giddyap—556 hp! Grippy racing seats keep your butt in place.

TIRED Some rattles. Automatic transmission sucks: slow to react and shifts at all the wrong times (six-speed manual is an option).

$68,445, cadillac.com

Porsche Panamera 4S

3. Porsche Panamera 4S

“Four-door Porsche” may be car-guy-speak for “brand dilution,” but the boys of Stuttgart did a nice job bringing Porsche panache to the carpool lane. It’s a lovely machine whose only real sin is not being as much of a driver’s car as its lineage might suggest. Though it’s a bit of work in parking lots and traffic, the Panamera is a pleasure on the highway.

WIRED Fantastic interior: Every seat is like a cockpit. Dual-clutch seven-speed transmission is the world’s best.

TIRED Porsche ruined the world’s best transmission with overthought steering-wheel-mounted shifters. Tiny sunroof. Everything behind the side mirrors is a blind spot.

$107,040, porsche.com

Aston Martin Rapide

4. Aston Martin Rapide

If we judged on looks alone, the Rapide would score 42 out of 10. Too bad aesthetics are only part of the equation. Despite its lofty price, the Aston was the slowest in the group, the interior was uncomfortable, and the handling was uninspired.

WIRED OMGorgeous. Righteous exhaust snarl. Awesome Bang & Olufsen speakers. Interior swaddled in enough leather to outfit Judas Priest. Trick “swan” doors open upward.

TIRED The worst stereo and navigation interfaces we have ever tried to use. Center console looks like it was plucked from a Scion. Long and front-heavy, the car fights you around corners. You call that a trunk?

$210,095, astonmartin.com

product image

Fetish: Stationary Bicycle Celebrates the Art of Spin

Product: Stationary Bicycle

Manufacturer: Ciclotte

Wired Rating: 0

Bowflexes, Roman chairs, those things Suzanne Somers was hawking: Most exercise equipment looks like it belongs in a dungeon, not a home gym. The Ciclotte stationary bicycle, on the other hand, wouldn’t appear out of place in a museum. Which is exactly where its aesthetics hail from. Designer Luca Schieppati took his Ciclò — a concept bike that the Milan Design Museum liked enough to include in its permanent collection—and transformed it into an exercise machine. (Nice move, because the penny-farthing-from-the-future geometry would make it nearly impossible to ride.) Push the pedals and the epicycloid crank system—a set of eccentric gears like you’d find in a pencil sharpener—spins the magnetized main wheel. This in turn generates a magnetic field and plenty of thigh-burning resistance. Just remember to stop ogling it and, you know, ride.

product image

Motorola Nails Smart Sequel With Droid 2

Product: Droid 2 Smartphone

Manufacturer: Motorola

Wired Rating: 7

If anything, the makeover from Droid to Droid 2 is more of a brow wax than a face lift, which judging by the success of the original version, and the ghastly results of many cosmetic surgery fiascoes, is probably a good thing.

No one ever said that the first Droid was a looker, and the second version of the phone isn’t doing much to change that. With its thick gray body (2.4 x 4.5 x 0.5 inches), and surprising heft (5.96 ounces), the device is neither pocket-friendly nor swoon-inducing.

The utilitarian feel is reinforced by the lack of stylistic flourishes other than the designated navigational buttons, which are flush with the surface of the 3.7-inch, 480 x 854–pixel touchscreen. The phone’s rear is made of an infinitely touchable skinlike material, which will almost certainly decrease the likelihood of dropping it into the business end of a toilet bowl after a couple of glasses of pinot.

It may not be particularly pretty, but the Droid 2 is capable as a Leatherman. The 1-GHz TI OMAP processor and Google’s Froyo make for speedy web browsing (only 6 seconds to fully load Wired.com) and a wonderfully sensitive touchscreen, which is made even more responsive by the inclusion of haptic feedback.

Droid 2

Sound quality in videos we took was loud and clear, but the 5-megapixel camera with dual-LED flash is still not a good argument for deep-sixing our Canon S90. The slow shutter response makes pictures, especially those shot indoors, grainy and unappealing. However, camera effects such as “lomo (you might know this as the hipster effect) and “solarize” are neat and go a long way toward improving the shots. Easy upload to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, e-mail or Twitter makes sharing even bad pictures a breeze.

Although getting it open still takes a push, some of the most obvious improvements over the original can be seen in the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The pesky d-pad is gone. There’s an Alt-lock key for typing lots of numbers, and the formerly flat keys — which had our fingers sliding around like a kitten on an ice floe — are now ever-so-slightly domed, preventing us from accidentally typing things like, “Intepesting!”

Despite these improvements, the actual experience of navigating the Droid 2 makes about as much sense as lead weights in a running shoe. The seven home screens seem superfluous and confusing, and many applications lack their own back button — forcing you to return again and again to the home screen. Even for those of us familiar with the original Droid, there was a learning curve.

Droid 2

Which is not to say that it’s not a good phone. The Droid 2, with its dual mics and Verizon network, made awesomely clear calls pretty much everywhere we tried it, which really cannot be overvalued in a device originally meant as a tool for talking to people.

WIRED High call clarity and great reception mean you can actually use it as a phone. Sound output is loud enough to play music for friends. Lightning-fast internet browsing. Slide-out keypad is spacious and easy to use.

TIRED Would have to start wearing cargo pants to be able to put it in our pockets. Fairly difficult to navigate at first. Picture and video quality are okay, but nothing we’d really want to upload to Facebook.

product image

2011 VW Jetta Slashes Price, Still a Hoot to Drive

Product: 2011 Jetta

Manufacturer: Volkswagen

Wired Rating: 0

For the first time, the Volkswagen Jetta is more than a Golf with a trunk. Much more.

The all-new 2011 Jetta is bigger, more attractive and (surprise) cheaper. It is, in a word, terrific despite some flaws. It has to be, because Volkswagen is making the Jetta, its most popular model in the U.S., the centerpiece of a campaign to triple sales by 2018.

To achieve that lofty goal, VW aimed the sixth-gen Jetta at the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. But going head-to-head with two perennial best-sellers meant dropping the Jetta’s base price to just $15,995. In doing that, VW cut some corners, even on the upscale SEL version ($21,895) we spent a day in.

The biggest changes are to the interior, where you’ll find a lot of hard, shiny plastic where VW once used more upscale materials. Some of the knobs and switches feel flimsy. Leather is no longer an option. And though the interior is spacious and comfortable, it doesn’t have quite the same fit and finish as earlier models.

2011 VW Jetta

VW cut costs under the car as well. The base model doesn’t get cruise control. The base and SE models get old-school drums brakes at the rear, but to be fair VW says they perform as well as competitors’ discs. And only the sporty GLI — available early next year— gets the multi-link independent rear suspension. Everything else uses a less sophisticated semi-independent torsion beam.

Truth be told, most people won’t miss what they don’t have. This car is quick, comfortable and a lot of fun to drive.

It’s also attractive. VW completely redesigned the Jetta for 2011, and it no longer shares its skin with the Golf. The designers gave it a long, low look that we found bland at first but came to like. It’s more conservative and polished than previous generations and reminiscent of the Jetta’s upscale Audi siblings.

2011 VW Jetta

The 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine in the SEL offers 170 horsepower and 177 pound feet of torque. It accelerates smoothly and briskly. The six-speed automatic shifts too quickly and crisply to call it a slushbox, and the five-speed manual is a joy to flick. If you want VW’s excellent DSG, you’ll have to wait for the GLI or the diesel, which comes along at the end of the year.

Both transmissions are geared in favor of fuel economy, so you’ll have to kick it down a gear or two if you really want some hard acceleration. Get an automatic and you’ll see 24 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway with the 2.5-liter. The manual is good for 23/33.

2011 VW Jetta

The base model gets a 2.0-liter four cylinder with 115 horsepower and 125 pound feet, but Volkswagen expects most people to choose the bigger mill. The diesel gets a 2.0-liter TDI with 140 horsepower.

We pushed the Jetta hard through the twisties north of San Francisco and found it taut and responsive. There’s no need to wear Pilotis to drive this car, but the handling is excellent for an entry-level sedan. The ride is firm but comfortable, even on potholed city streets. Our only complaint is the power steering is a bit numb. If you really like attacking winding roads, choose the sport package — stiffer suspension, firmer seats and aluminum pedals — or wait for the 200-horsepower GLI. It’s expected early next year.

The interior is spacious, with firm, supportive seats and a steering wheel that feels great in your hands. All of the controls fall readily to hand, and they’re easy to use, especially the intuitive infotainment navi system. The roomy back seat is equally comfortable, with loads of leg- and headroom even with the front seats all the way back. That’s because the 2011 Jetta is 2.9 inches longer than the 2010 model.

VW has no plans to update the Jetta SportWagen anytime soon because it was reworked last year as a 2010 model. As for the hybrid, we’ll have to wait until 2012.

product image

Electric Kettles Steeped in the Future

Product: Hot Pots

Manufacturer: Roundup:

Wired Rating: 0

People have been putting vessels over heat since the Neolithic period. It’s time for an upgrade. We tested some of the most modern electric kettles available to get you out of the Stone Age and steeped in the future.

1. Cuisinart PerfecTemp Cordless Programmable Kettle

Four minutes and nine seconds! That’s the average time it takes for Cuisinart’s electric teapot to boil a liter of water. In addition to this blistering performance, the PerfecTemp offers a host of other highlights: the widest range of preset temperatures (six options, from 160 degrees to boiling), an easily accessed control panel built into the handle, and the ability to keep water warm longer than any other kettle we tested (30 minutes).

WIRED Blazing fast. Baseplate is so streamlined you can’t tell it’s there when the teapot is on it. Manual contains a brief history of tea. Awwww.

TIRED Overshoots selected temperatures by an average of 3 degrees. (We survived.) Tough to get your hand inside for a good scrubbing.

$100, cuisinart.com

2. Breville Variable Temperature Kettle

Breville made a serious run for best in class with this fast, easy-to-use little number. The control panel on the base displays five levels of heat, ranging from 175 degrees (green tea) to a full-on boil (get your English breakfast here! ). And this thing is unmistakably high-end, with solid construction, illuminated buttons, and blue-green-tinted acrylic windows. But you pay a premium for all that: The Breville was the most expensive in our group.

WIRED Easy to clean, easy to use, easy on the eyes. Averaged 5:09 in our liter-boil event. Labeled buttons tell you which temperature suits which beverage. Gets within an average of 1.2 degrees of your selected setting.

TIRED Keep Warm function stays on for only 20 minutes. Large-ish footprint. Spendy.

$150, brevilleusa.com

3. Krups BW4000

If all you want to do is quickly boil a large quantity of water without mussing your minimalist decor, Krups’ die-cast kettle is a solid choice. Operation is dead simple—just hit the switch and wait. The bane side of that boon: You don’t get any of the advanced features you’ll find in similarly priced competitors.

WIRED Two-quart capacity is the largest in our group, while its 56-square-inch footprint saves space. Boils a liter of water in about five minutes—our silver medalist. Wide mouth makes it easy to get your hand inside come cleaning time.

TIRED The class pig at 4.1 pounds. Except for the soft clicking sound of the switch flipping itself off, there is no audible indication that your water has boiled. Pricey for a one-trick pony.

$100, krups.com

4. Chef’s Choice SmartKettle 688

With its homely looks, incessant beeping reminders, and ability to dial in any temperature from 122 degrees to 212, the SmartKettle is a bit of a nerd. True to form, it was also slow, taking last in our 1-liter boilathon. It averaged a tortoiselike six minutes, 25 seconds. But if you’re finicky about your tea temp and not in a hurry, the 688’s math-class precision may be worth waiting for.

WIRED Superlight: just a hair over 2 pounds. Hits specified temperatures to the degree. Speaks both Celsius and Fahrenheit.

TIRED Sloooooow. LED display never turns off. Won’t heat less than 16 ounces of water. Be prepared to scratch your hand when you stick it inside to clean the thing.

$100, chefschoice.com

product image

Microsoft Office 2010 Home & Business (Disc Version)

Microsoft Office 2010 Home & Business (Disc Version)

Amazon.com

Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010 brings together the roles of managing a business, running a household and helping with homework. Get the benefits of all the programs you need to be productive including Microsoft Outlook 2010–so you can tackle your busy day efficiently with powerful email, scheduling and social networking tools to keep your life and work in sync. Traditional Disc Version This version of Microsoft Office Professional 2010 includes the software

Get It