Monday, May 30, 2011

Five Gadgets Your Smartphone Will Replace


COMMENTARY | The smartphone is what's called a convergence device: It's where multiple different gadgets converge, becoming one. And I've got apps on my Android smartphone that turn it into a camera, a camcorder, an MP3 player, a calculator, and even a flashlight.

Most of you already know that smartphones are starting to replace these gadgets. But you may be surprised at the territory our phones are now encroaching on:

5. Tablets

"Say what?" you ask. "Isn't the iPad the fastest-selling gadget of all time?" Why, yes, notes PCWorld. But what if your smartphone could replace it? That's what Asus is apparently asking for its rumored-to-be-upcoming Padfone tablet. (See, it's a 'pad and a phone! Aren't they witty?)

A hatch on the back lets you plug your phone into the much larger tablet, where it presumably serves as the tablet's processor -- and camera, thanks to a hole in the hatch. The two will apparently be sold as a package, and it's that package deal that may be the selling point. Why buy just a tablet when you can get a phone to go with it as well? Plus, the tablet could recharge your phone.

4. Laptops

This one you may have already seen, thanks to its commercials which feature a man explaining himself to the TSA's grope squad. The Motorola Atrix smartphone has an optional $150 laptop dock with a touchpad and keyboard and much larger screen.

The Atrix's problem is its execution. It isn't a phone that turns into a laptop, as the commercials would have you believe. Its accessory is a laptop that only works with your expensive phone plugged into it. It costs half as much as a netbook, but it does less than half; it can only run the Firefox web browser, and it runs that poorly. (I saw it crash while a salesperson demonstrated it, which doesn't bode well.)

3. Desktop PCs

Hat tip to the Atrix again, as it also has optional accessories that turn it into a desktop computer. These include a keyboard and a dock that has three USB ports and an HDMI port. Again, you can't use it for anything more than web browsing and Android apps. But darned if it isn't one of the smallest, cheapest, most energy-efficient desktop computers out there.

2. DVR

The Atrix can't actually record live TV, but it can play back movies on your big screen. And that desktop dock works a lot better when you've got it hooked up to your HDTV (according to Engadget). Remote control? Check. Sleek, Front Row-style interface? Check. Why Apple is selling Apple TVs, and not an Apple TV app for iPhones, the world may never know.

1. Game console

You probably already know that the iPhone and iPod Touch are making inroads into the handheld gaming market. And you probably also know that the Xperia Play is Sony's first "PlayStation Certified" Android smartphone, with a slide-out game controller, PlayStation Network access, and a store with exclusive games.

So why not go all the way and make it so you can connect your phone to your TV and play your games on it? Oh wait -- you can! With the iPad 2, at least -- and you can bet Apple's looking for ways to bring that feature to its iPod and iPhone lines.

Is this for real?

Given examples like the Atrix? Not yet it isn't. But give it time -- the GPS companies didn't see smartphones coming either.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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