Amazon did us a favor a few weeks ago by announcing the top-selling electronics devices of 2018. It now appears that an already-rapidly aging set of gadgets, including, of course, the Amazon Echo, is passing the hill. Now it’s time to revise the list.
An updated version of the list was released today. Here are four items we’d like to see listed again:
A great standalone project whose commercial status may be waning
Remember those big old-school boxes that came with your television when you got your first set? They were there for a reason, except that the idea behind them was basically the same as the one that was behind the Amazon Echo. Rather than making a set of complicated and expensive component parts, there was the one-piece, box-like thing you could fit in a corner of your bedroom. Now, in some quarters, the idea behind Alexa is the exact same, albeit simpler and cleaner: connect a working set of electronics to the internet, and have it do stuff. But the proposition of installing Alexa—or any big-ass dumb radio set, for that matter—is a pain, so most people just plug in a dumb Wi-Fi router and hang on.
But really, at its best, the old boxes were good at doing something useful, something that others either weren’t or could only do by using lots of wires and arm twisting. A lot of those things haven’t gotten as widespread a use as they might have, because home entertainment systems and peripheral devices and newfangled games consoles have mostly replaced things like set-top boxes, desktop speakers, and DVD players. And if any of those things go off the rails, you’re stuck with them, since they’re not all that adaptable and they’re not very adaptable compared to laptops and smart speakers. Meanwhile, the old box guys are still there.
An open source computer
The netbook isn’t the netbook it was supposed to be, and nor is its descendants. A lot of cloud apps don’t support Windows XP-type software. And while virtualization is improving, it’s still a lot harder to move those apps over to laptops than it used to be. And a lot of video games don’t play well on modern consoles. So the netbook, in other words, is failing to get a lot of the use that was promised. (One popular explanation is that many people prefer the light, portable nature of tablets and phones, which the netbook isn’t built for.)
So what does the netbook offer that’s worth owning? Someone who really cares about web-based software, for instance, could find it’s the only place to find a trustworthy version of Adium (used by a lot of Slack users). Or it could be the only place you get one of the alternatives to Microsoft Office, such as LibreOffice. And yes, those old, big old-school radios still have useful functions. The same could be said of older-style DVD players, which a lot of people either gave up on or bought today in response to the rise of Internet streaming. Of course, with TiVo and Roku and Chromecast and Apple TV and the other alternatives to TV streaming in the market, some of those things just haven’t gotten as much use as they might have.
Finally, if you really liked your old printed books and wondered what they would be like as an electronic book, a system like Pocket Books could have some good answers. There’s nothing really like Pocket Books’ built-in electronic monaural speakers, for instance, which could actually be used for more than just reading. (For what it’s worth, though, just having the spoken word in a book is vastly better than watching a video via a tablet—in many cases, a tablet is just too large for the back of a book.) And if you like to throw in your childhood, you could easily add a mix of old-school print books and old-school audiobooks. (Most of these products can’t actually translate over to your Kindle, but that’s okay. Just add your own magnetic cutouts, and you’ll be good to go.)
With the rise of the Netbook and new age gadgets such as the Amazon Echo, it’s harder than ever to find things that you like to do and don’t have to worry about dying. But there are still some great, cool-sounding things for people who actually want the old-school stuff they’ve known and loved. A good question to ask yourself, then, is this: Would you rather own a shiny new device or an old