Best Value Portable Media Players (Music, Video, Games, Apps) – A Comparative Review

Portable Media Players are available from the low twenties for a basic branded 1 GB mp3 player to anywhere around $300 for multi-purpose players capable of various gigs - music, video, games, and even run Apps. The low-end (below $100) of the market is crowded with manufacturers competing on both features and price. A frugal consumer can definitely angle for better values in this very competitive side of the spectrum. The mid and high-ends of the market are almost a monopoly of Apple’s iPod products.

For the best value comparison spreadsheet listed below of the low-end products, two products each were chosen from each of the following price ranges:
  • less than $25,
  • from $25 to $50, and
  • between $50 to $100.


ModelThumbnailBest PriceFeaturesComments
Coby MP610-4G MP3 and Video Player$35Music - mp3, WMA, video - MTV, Photos - jpg, and text; 4GB Internal Flash Memory, Integrated FM, 8 hr battery, 1.8 inch LCD, Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.6 x 0.4 inches; 8 ouncesExcellent Value. Menu access is slow, ear-buds are average quality, but overall the feature set is impressive in this price change.
Sandisk Sansa Clip+ 2GB MP3 Player$33.65

Music - mp3, WMA, Audible; Integrated FM; Voice Recorder; 15 hr battery, Dimensions: 2.2 x 1.4 x 0.6 inches; 14.1 ounces Excellent - Newer player (8/2009) from a quality brand at value pricing.
Sandisk Sansa Clip+ 4GB Player$39.99Features of Sandisk Sansa Clip 4GB plus more preset FM Channels, 4GB Memory. Dimensions: 2.17 x 1.35 x 0.65 inchesGood Value.
Sony Walkman E-340 8GB Video MP3 Player$69.99

Music – mp3, WMA, AAC, PPM, AVC; Video – MPEG4 and WMV (DRM); Digital FM Tuner; 2-inch LCD; 30 hour battery; Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.8 x 0.4 inches Good basic audio & video player.
Sandisk Sansa Fuze 8GB Video MP3 Player$69.99Music – mp3, WMA, WAV, Audible, Overdrive; Video – MPEG4; Digital FM Tuner, Voice Recording, 1.9 inch LCD screen, MicroSD Expansion Slot, 24-hour Li-Ion battery, Dimensions: 3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 inchesExcellent Value - great pricing - good alternative to higher-end products if your primary interests are music, audio and video.



Apple iPod Shuffle series products compete in the below $100 price range, but as their reviews are all over the map, they did not make this comparison spreadsheet. Usability played second fiddle to minimalist form-factor design. The operational controls are embedded in a sub-par headphone, rather than the main unit. There are workarounds – employing an adapter with the controls allow use of other headphones.

For a best value comparison of the mid and high-end products, we chose the Apple iPod Nano and Touch products along with the Microsoft Zune HD. Below is our spreadsheet:



Feature - ProductApple iPod Nano 8GB 5th GenApple iPod Touch 8GB 3rd GenZune HD 16GB
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Best Price$127.99

$175.99$179.99
Capacity8GB – 2000 songs, 7000 photos, or 8 hours of Video8 GB capacity for 1,750 songs, 10,000 photos, or 10 hours of video16 GB capacity for up to 4,000 songs, 24 hours standard definition video, or 5 hours high definition video
Screen2 inch LCD3.5-inch widescreen – Touchscreen interface3.3-inch OLED screen widescreen
Audio FormatsAAC, MP3, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAVAAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV audio formatsWMA, AAC-LC, MP3
Video FormatsH.264 and MPEG-4H.264 and MPEG-4WMV H.264, MPEG-4, 1080i HD, 720p HD Video Output (HDMI or Composite - requires dock and connector)
Video RecordingYes with Video Special Effects SupportNo


















PedometerYes – Fitness features with iPod+Nike Sport Kit – Sold separatelyNo, but supports iPod+Nike Sport KitNo
FM RadioYes – with pause and rewindNo – needs online appYes
HD RadioNoNoYes
GamesNoYesYes – limited selection
WIFINoYesYes
LanguagesMultiple – Display, Voice Over, and SpokenMultiple –Keyboards with landscape mode, Display, Voice Over, and SpokenYes
Software and Hardware Features Genius – An Apple exclusive feature that creates playlists and mixes based on songs you like, iTunes tagging – allows tagging songs you are listening over the radio to allow easy purchase from iTunes. Shake to shuffle music, VoiceOver Kit – click wheel interface that tells the title and artist of songs you listen to iPhone OS. Features in iPod Nano PLUS Bluetooth (allows wireless listening), On Screen Video Controls, App Store – Browse, Download, Update, and Genius Recommendations to purchase and download applications, Customizable Home Screen with Search, Safari Web Browser, Email, Maps, YouTube, Peer-to-peer gaming, parental controls, Prepackaged Apps – Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Stock Quotes, Weather, Calculator; Kindle Interface and Reader; Multi-Touch – gestures (swipe, glide, pinch, etc) based multi-touch screen interface Windows CE Based OS. Web Browser – Customized version of IE for Windows Mobile; Twist Interface with sections for music, videos, pictures, social, radio, podcasts, marketplace, games and settings; Quickplay – brings to foreground the content you care about most; tap-to-zoom, built-in-accelerator, and touch-screen QWERTY keyboard; Multi-screen streaming support with Windows and XBOX; two-dimensional navigation; Accessories for Video, Audio playback on home and automobile systems, and synching docks
BatteryLi-Ion 24-hour (music) rechargeableLi-Ion 30-hour (music) rechargeableLio-Ion 33-hour (average) rechargeable
Dimensions4.1x2.2x1.8 inches4.3x2.4x0.33 inches4.0x2.1x0.4 inches
Weight4.8 ounces4.05 ounces2.56 ounces



Summary:

Amongst the low-end models, the choice of our best value products boil down to the difference in brand name products, amount of flash storage, and other comparatively minor differences. Compared to higher end models (primarily Apple iPods) that perform all these and beyond, the software interface of the lower end models are far inferior to the almost transparent and slick interface that Apple iPods sport with the iTunes.

At this time, Apple iPods reign supreme over Microsoft Zune. Music pricing is the one area where we think Zune has an edge. Zune marketplace offers a very flexible $15/month music subscription pass that allows unlimited temporary (limited to the length of the pass) downloads of music. Further, ten song credits are issued for each month of subscription and that allows building an extensive music collection of your taste, albeit slowly. Apple on the other hand has a fixed priced model with pricing in three tiers: 69c, 99c, and $1.29. Despite this, Apple iPods are so ubiquitous that Microsoft was on the line to deliver a product rich in features that far exceeded Apple’s at a lower price to even stand a chance. Unfortunately, Zune HD failed to kindle any spark leaving the higher end contest an All Apple one – between the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch.

For around $50 more the 8GB iPod Touch 3G (newest version) with WiFi and gaming seems a better deal than the 8GB iPod Nano (newest 5th generation). The caveat though is that the 8GB iPod Touch is a 3rd generation product by name only – in actuality it is a firmware upgrade of the 8GB iPod Touch 2G. To obtain the 3rd generation product with the faster processor and graphics, go for the 32GB iPod Touch 3G which is priced around $270. For an integrated product, the Apple iPod Nano functions above par in the music, video and other peripheral functionality. However, the video recording feature in the Nano is inferior compared to the popular point-and-shoot camcorders.

Our choice between these products would be the 8GB iPod Touch despite the fact that it is not the latest technology. The Multi-Touch feature in the iPod Touch, that Apple first introduced in 2007 on the iPhone (technology came from their FingerWorks acquisition) is a great interface for a mobile gadget. The under $200 price-point is outstanding given the feature set!




Last Updated: 08/2010.


Best Value Portable Computers (Laptops, Net Books, and MacBooks) for Students – A Comparative Review

On a requirement basis the market for personal computers can be broadly categorized as:
  1. Business Machines– this market is corned overwhelmingly by Windows machines. Until recently, majority of these were desktop or tower computers but the current trend is toward laptops, as its premium have reduced significantly.
  2. Home Machines – Windows rules this roost for the bulk of home machines run Microsoft software with notebooks and/or netbooks replacing older desktops.
  3. Student Machines – The jury is still out on this category as a growing number of students are reaching for Apple MacBook (Laptops) and/or iMacs (Integrated Desktop – Monitor is the computer) as their computer of choice.
For a student seeking a personal computer, lack of portability limits the desktops or iMacs leaving the laptops as the better choice. For folks looking for good quality and low prices a previously owned computer can help you save money. Our best value review of laptops and net books last year has been periodically updated as new models appeared. As this review is focused on students, Apple MacBooks are included.

For best value comparative spreadsheet listed below, a best value Windows 7 Net Book, a best value Windows 7 Laptop, and a couple of Apple’s offerings were chosen. Below is our spreadsheet:


Feature/ProductASUS Eee PC 1005PE-PU17Toshiba Satellite L505-GS5037
MacBook MC516LL
MacBook Air MC233LL
Thumbnail











Price$371.99$599.99$949.98$1429.99
ProcessorIntel Atom 1.66 GHz N450 Processor 512 KB L2 Cache, 533 MHz2.13 GHz Intel® Core™ i3 330M (2.13GHz, 3MB Smart Cache, Graphics Max Frequency - 667 MHz)2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB on-chip shared L2 cache running 1:1 with processor speed. 1066MHx FSB1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB on-chip shared L2 cache running 1:1 with processor speed. 1066MHx FSB
Memory1GB DDR2 RAM, 1 x SODIMM Slot, 2GB Max.4GB DDR3 SO-DIMM2GB (two 1GB SO-DIMMs)2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM onboard.
Hard Disk (HD)250GB SATA Hard Drive (5400RPM)500 GB 5400 RPM Serial ATA250GB 5400-rpm Serial ATA hard disk drive; optional 320GB or 500GB 5400-rpm drive120GB 4200-rpm Serial ATA hard disk drive or 128GB solid-state drive
DrivesNone8x DVD Super Multi Drive with Label Flash8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)None
Ports and Slots1 x VGA Port (D-sub 15-pin for external monitor), 3 x USB 2.0, 1 x LAN RJ-45, 2 x Audio Jack (Head Phone / Mic-in), Card Reader: MMC/ SD(SDHC)(3) USB 2.0 compliant 4-pin ports, 15-pin VGA video connector, Network connector (RJ45), AC adapter connector, Headphone jack, 4-pin IEEE 1394 portMagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet port, Mini DisplayPort, Two USB 2.0 ports (up to 480 Mbps), Audio in/out, Kensington lock slotMagSafe power port, USB Ethernet Adapter, One USB 2.0 port, Analog audio and headphone out.
Other Feature Summary10.1" WSVGA 1024x600 LCD Display, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n. Windows 7 Starter Operating System (32 Bit), 14 Hours of Battery Life, 500GB ASUS web storage. Weight – 2.80 lbs. Size - 10.31x 7.01 x 1.02-1.44 inches15.6” 720p native HD, 1366x768, 16:9; wireless - 802.11b/g/n; Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator (1696MB max shared memory allocation); 4-hour 6-cell 4400 maH Lithium Ion Primary Battery. 1.3 MB Web Cam; Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit. Weight – 6 lbs. Size – 15.1x1.55x10.2 inches13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen; AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking; NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM; 7-hour 60-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard and iLife (includes iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb, iDVD); Weight – 4.7 lbs. Built-in Bluetooth, Size – 1.08x13x9.12 inches13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen; AirPort Extreme 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking; NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM; 5-hour 40-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; built-in bluetooth, camera, display port, Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard and iLife (includes iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb, iDVD); Weight – 3.0 lbs. Size 0.16-0.76x12.8x8.94 inches



The primary differences between Windows and Mac’s can be summarized as:

Operating System: Mac OS X Snow Leopard runs only on proprietary Apple hardware. Apple controls the whole ecosystem unlike Windows where one can purchase or build the machine using components and software from Microsoft or other third-party software vendors.

Virus Protection: One of Apple’s marketing claims is that Macs are 100% free of PC viruses. While true, this claim does muddy the water. Viruses designed for PCs cannot run on the Mac OS X just as any application designed for Windows won’t work on other operating systems. The more pertinent messages the marketing claim fails to mention are:
  • The operating system is based on UNIX designed with security in mind from the ground up, and
  • Due to the outsized market share that Windows enjoy; there are more people writing viruses for Windows than for Macs.
OS Features: Having gone through numerous iterations the operating systems are very solid and functional for both Windows and Macs and the feature set is very comparable. Minimalist setup and slick interface however places the Leopard’s Time Machine as a clear winner over Microsoft Backup.

Software Options: Many but not all of the popular Windows products are available for the Mac and conversely Apple has a number of exclusive software packages that work better than third party products. One dilemma facing students is in choosing between Apple’s productivity suite called iWork and Microsoft Office for the Mac. Although iWork is significantly cheaper and runs better, because of the monopoly enjoyed by Microsoft Office, iWork users will eventually have to deal with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc) documents. While it is true that iWork supports these document types, it is not even remotely as convenient as working with those documents in Microsoft Office.

Peripherals: Although the basic hardware that Apple ships is proprietary, most of the generic Windows peripherals (USB devices such as Mouse, Keyboard, Printers, Hard Drives, etc and other devices such as LCD Monitor, and SD Cards) will work with the MacBook as Apple’s base machine is preinstalled with hundreds of drivers for peripherals. Even so, Apple branded peripherals is popular and regarded to function better by many users. Be cognizant of not only just the higher costs but also of the fact of buying into a proprietary solution. Examples include
  • AirPort Express - a Wireless router (similar as Linksys) plus wireless printing plus wireless music streaming,
  • AirPort Extreme - a Wireless router plus wireless printing plus share a hard drive plus more connections,
  • Time Capsule – An automatic Wireless Backup solution, and
  • Magic Mouse – A wireless multi-touch mouse with gestures based functionality first introduced in iTouch & iPhone.

Summary:

It is indeed gratifying that a student on a tight budget can put together a fully functional setup for around $350 – the ASUS Eee PC with Windows 7 pre-installed along with Open Source Software is sufficient for most student needs. The Toshiba L505 Laptop along with Microsoft Office and/or other software will increase that cost by several hundred dollars but with that is the convenience of a more powerful machine and ease of use. The MacBooks are even easier to use and comes with an intangible cool factor. The minimum cost pushes the $1K mark and begging the question whether the extra cost is justified for the circumstance. We recently went with the Toshiba Satellite L505-GS50 - familiarity with Windows, the fact that it comes preinstalled with the latest Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and the pricing made it our choice. So far, we are really happy with our purchase. Caveats include:
  1. Speakers - we usually have the machine connected to an external monitor and with that setup, the voice from the speakers is really low even when setting at the highest volume,
  2. Preinstalled software - Office and some other software trial versions are included but it is best to get rid of them if you do not plan to spent money to upgrade to the latest versions, and
  3. Windows 7 Media - Install DVD is not shipped with the product. The only motivation we can think of is a little cost savings for the manufacturer. Both the product ID and the license string are not easily accessible. We ended up using a shareware program to retrieve this information from the system for future use. For the install DVD, we downloaded it from one of the public shares. Overall, this is a hassle that they should address!
  4. Compared to our experience with Dell Vostro Laptops, the battery of this Toshiba was well below par - had to replace it in about 18 months and the new ones are expensive.
Related Posts:
  1. Best Values in Netbooks & Notebooks - A Comparative Review.
  2. Best Value Portable Computers for Students (Laptops, Netbooks, and MacBooks) - A Comparative Review (this post).
  3. Tablet PCs - A Comparative Review.

    Last Updated: 01/2012.


    Holiday Shopping – Hits & Misses – A Look Back

    This is a post analysis of our Holiday Shopping from 2008 – how the purchases fared:
    1. Flip Video Ultra-series Camcorder: This was an excellent choice as we use it on all our travels and to capture special moments. Our only harp about it is the abrupt way in which the battery dies – we learnt our lesson and now religiously carry an extra pair of batteries. Amazon’s year-end Customer Vote pricing of $69 made this an unbeatable deal. The Flip Video UltraHD was a worthy upgrade but we ultimately waited a little more and currently use a Kodak Playsport Camcorder purchased in 2011 for around $150 - the price has since come down to under $100.
    2. Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones: This is one silent workhorse in our household – brings down the noise of the exhaust fan in the kitchen and that of the treadmill while exercising. The $100 pricing was definitely steep, but then again, there are not many worthy alternatives that provide comparable noise cancellation, comfort, and convenience - the pricing is still over $100 but in our opinion is worth every penny. We still have it and is providing excellent service.
    3. Nintendo DS Lite: The Nintendo DS Lite was a major disaster in spite of us all taking a liking to the Mario Kart game. Instead of taking us all by the storm sadly in weeks it started collecting dust. Maybe everyone in our family has better things to do! Anyway this wake-up call resulted in us purging Nintendo Wii from our Wish List. Our Nintendo DS Lite still works perfectly, but enjoys limited use in our household. The kids are yet to ask for an upgrade to the newer options.
    4. Resperate Blood Pressure Lowering Device: The idea of an electronically coached slow breathing enticed us to purchasing this item, but our experience proved it is no better than practicing slow breathing with relaxing background music. We purchased this from Costco.com and returned it at the store within the first two weeks and haven't felt the need to consider a purchase since then.
    5. Garmin Nuvi 270 GPS: This impromptu purchase, which came with European maps, from Amazon.com’s Gold Box for $129 replaced our Garmin C320. As we are yet to use the Nuvi 270 in Europe, can’t grade this as a great purchase. As part of our move to the South of India, we sold it in Amazon and recouped about 60% of the money spent.
    6. TAYLORMADE Golf US Open Stand Bag 2008 Majors: This was put to use a few times but it is unclear how much use it will be as our interest in golf is yet to kick into high gear. Overall, we rate this purchase just OK. As part of our move to the South of India, we sold it as part of a complete men's golf set - we recouped most of our money spent.
    7. Books – There are better ways to purchase older versions of travel books than through Amazon.com but it is for the convenience factor that we pay the extra 2-3 dollars (shipping costs & Amazon.com seller commissions). In general, this approach works best for us.
    8. DVDs – We always purchase a few DVDs from the kid’s wish list for the holiday season to go under the tree. This way they have a selection list to choose from when they wish to watch TV – turning ON one of the kids channels is not an option as we don’t subscribe to cable/satellite TV.
    9. MyPassport Portable Hard Drive – this portable hard drive was a good investment to accomplish the monthly backups of all our machines. Four years later, it is still giving excellent service and we use it to backup all our stuff every month. The newer models have lot more space but we are yet to run out of space and so haven't considered an upgrade.
    As noted previously, we rely on the following frugal strategy when purchasing items – having a wish list and purchasing only those items that continues to stay there for a prolonged period of time with unwavering interest. Below is a look at our Wish List from the end of last year and its current status:
    1. HDTV (Panasonic TC-32LX85 32-Inch 720p LCD HDTV) – HDTV has finally dropped off our Wish List after being in it for a number of years. Using the DTV-converter has panned out well – we consistently get around 20 digital channels to our analog TV for free! We will revisit this item as and when needed. After our move to the South of India in 2010, we purchased a Samsung 32" LCD HDTV for ~$650 - good choice but US pricing is about half the price in India.
    2. Camcorder (Canon VIXIA HF100 Flash Memory High Definition Camcorder with 12x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom) – The Canon camcorder disappeared from our wish list after our purchase of the much more economical Flip Ultra. We ultimately upgraded to the Kodak Playsport HD version in 2010 and have been using it ever since.
    3. Video Game Consoles (Nintendo Wii) – Since the Nintendo DS failed to move even a whisker in our household, the Wii was out.
    4. Ooma Core VOIP phone system – Ooma was taken out from our Wish List as we stay connected primarily via the cell phone and email.
    5. Telescope/Binoculars (Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70 Binoculars w/Tripod Adapter) –We yielded this as a birthday present for the younger one whose latest career choice is to be an astronomer. It was $75 then and the pricing has since slipped to around $50 – definitely not a frugal choice. We fell for their marketing pitch that by purchasing in place of a telescope we get something suitable for stargazing too without the complications. This has been a white elephant in our household - basically, the object is too big and the younger kids astronomer career choice seems to have been a passing fad.
    6. DVDs - Mamma Mia! The Movie, As Time Goes By, Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, Mr. Bean, Kung Fu Panda, Polar Express, Slumdog Millionaire, Up etc to our Wish List. Kung Fu Panda, Polar Express, Slumdog Millionaire, Up, Mamma Mia DVD were purchased for under the tree this year. We haven't purchased any DVDs in the last two years as we subscribe to over 200 channels through a Satellite service in India for a very affordable ~$5 per month.
    7. Home Gym (Bowflex Motivator 2 Home Gym) – There was no unwavering interest to support this item.
    8. Clicgear Golf Push Cart Model 2.0 – This too disappeared as our interest in Golf has waned considerably.
    Summary:

    For the frugal shopper in us what we have learnt from our own experience is:
    1. Having a Wish List and giving an item a chance to build momentum over a period of time (6-9 months) before a purchase decision is made has worked heavily in our favor. More than 50% of the items dropped off for one reason or other thus letting the bare necessities come to us. The impromptu deals (Amazon.com Gold Box, Costco, eBay, Wal-Mart and other Online Holiday Deals) still tempt us and we yield sometimes.
    2. Even a Wish List doesn’t guarantee us from acquiring things of questionable value as is again obvious from our experience. Hence, a sister strategy that allows to efficiently eliminate unnecessary items is equally important.

    Last Updated: 03/2012. 


    Sites of Vancouver – A Trip Report

    Vancouver is about 140 miles (2.5 hours) north of Seattle. As mentioned in our Seattle review, Boeing tour in Mukilteo serves as an excellent stopover, about 30 miles from Seattle. Border services were a breeze. Highway 99 from the US border is a 4-lane road until it crosses Oak Street Bridge into Vancouver proper. The 30 km stretch through city traffic to North Vancouver via Lions Gate Bridge past Stanley Park can take upwards of an hour especially during commute hours.

    We were in for a treat beyond words on our drive into and around Vancouver downtown the first day. The fall foliage in all shades of green, yellow, red, and purple both near and far turned ethereal under the cumulus clouds ignited by the setting sun. The hint of moisture left behind from an earlier rain made for a wonderful play of colors and amazingly this Kodak moment lingered till the sun disappeared from the horizon. This was indeed a chance sighting - in stark contrast, our second day in Vancouver dawned bright and clear.

    Our overnight reservations were in North Vancouver (Capilano Road), about seven miles north of the city. It is a great location, for a number of attractions are easily accessible from there. The rates were a bargain at about $85 with breakfast part of the deal. In fact, this was the sole area where we found Vancouver to be less expensive than the US. While this may seem surprising, the reality was that compared to an all-time low exchange rate of 62 cents for one Canadian dollar in the beginning of 2002, Canada was about 70% more expensive for US visitors in 2009 – then, US dollar traded at only a very slight premium to the Canadian dollar.

    Capilano Suspension Bridge built in 1889 continues to be among Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions. Located at 3735 Capilano Road in North Vancouver, the site sitting on 27 acres of rainforest land and structured like a theme park is privately owned. Tickets were $26.95 Adults and $10 Kids (6-12) after AAA discount. The main attractions in the park are:
    1. Story Center, Kia’palano, and Totem Park – The area boasts the world’s largest private collection of First Nations of BC totem poles – the park owners in 1930 invited the First Nations people to position their story poles in the park and thus launching the totem pole theme in the park. These poles are maintained in the same condition they were received. The story center and the cultural center (Kia’palano) complete the theme and give the visitors a glimpse into the lives of First Nations people.
    2. Bridge – A few steps from the story poles is the Capilano Suspension Bridge - a rope bridge supported by anchors of 13 tons of concrete at both ends. The setting with the bridge suspended over the canyon (230 feet) and blessing the trees below is dramatic. The bridge itself is 450 feet long and gently sways in response to the pressure applied. We happily set forth with the seven year old in lead but after the half-way point our older one stepped up to lent her strength. The second half gets progressively steeper, but we all easily made it to the other end. A group of high spirited school boys were behind us and they tried their level best on getting the bridge to swing to their steps much to the chagrin of the employees. Even with that, none of us felt any touch of vertigo.
    3. Treetops AdventureThis is the park’s newest adventure that opened in 2004. It offers a walkway through seven pedestrian bridges suspended between Douglas fir’s. Elevations on the bridges reach 100 feet above the forest floor. Although the attraction claims to provide a squirrel’s eye view of the forest, the adventure part is really more for smaller kids. There is an ecosystem of life in the canopy of the rain forests, but unfortunately this attraction is not geared towards glimpsing that. An engineering achievement sure to please any environmentalist is that the observation decks are designed and built around the Douglas fir tree trunks without damaging them in any way. Overall, the kids really enjoyed this "adventure" and we rate it really relaxing.
    4. Canyon Lookout – Certainly the most excellent views of the Canyon and the river are from here. The best part was spotting salmon fighting its way upstream. We went prepared and the binoculars paid dividends.
    About six kilometers up from Capilano Suspension Bridge is the Grouse Mountain (6400 Nancy Greene Way), the local ski slope and what is considered as the peak of Vancouver. Though small (212 Skiable acres, 26 runs, 5 lifts), it is a popular resort (1.1M visitors per year) partly due to its proximity to Vancouver. Lift tickets and rentals were pricier than its counterparts at Lake Tahoe (Adults 19-64 - $55, Youth 13-18 - $45, Kids 5-12 - $25, and Senior - $45, Ski Rental Package: Adults - $42, Kids - $26, Parking - $5), but the timings (9AM – 10PM) also allow for nighttime skiing. The resort also offers a General Admission ticket which was overpriced in every sense - Adults 19-64 - $37.95, Youth – 13-18 - $22.95, Kids 5-12 - $13.95, $2 discount for seniors. It included access to the following activities:
    1. The theater in the sky – plays the short film “Born to Fly” in high definition featuring the scenic beauty of BC with its mountains and peaks in all its glory.
    2. The refuge of endangered wild life – There are two habitats: a 5-acre Grizzly Bear habitat shelters two orphaned grizzly bears atop the mountain and a smaller habitat at the base of the mountain provides sanctuary to two gray wolves (aka timber wolves and tundra wolves). The grizzly bear habitat is accessible only with the General Admission ticket while the timber wolves are a short hike from the base of the mountain and can be accessed without the gondola ride up!
    3. Access to snowshoe trails – rental ($20 per person) is additional. Beginner lessons start at $69 per person.
    4. Access to Ice Skate Rink – rental ($10.50 for adults and $7.50 for kids plus $2 insurance per person) is additional.
    5. Sleigh Ride – Takes you around the snow-covered mountain forests in a cute sleigh, if conditions permit (good snow coverage over all areas of the plateau is necessary for this to operate – check mountain report or ask at the counter before purchasing the general admission ticket).
    During the peak holiday season (November 28 to December 24), there are some special programs. Overall, we rate this resort just average although there is a huge convenience factor for the locals.

    Our tour of Stanley Park was a very hurried one - one could easily plan a day of relaxation here. Stanley Park is a huge thousand-acre park with the most popular feature being the nine kilometer seawall path encircling the park, used extensively by bicyclers, pedestrians, and inline skaters alike – two paths, one for bicyclists and skaters and the other for pedestrians. From Capilano, it is the first exit past the Lions Gate Bridge. The highlights include the Brockton Point Lighthouse and the Totem Poles. The park also has a huge collection of various statues and plaques. One distinct feature of Stanley Park compared to other parks of comparable size in other cities (Central Park in New York, and London’s Richmond Park) is that the entire landscape takes on a natural feel as most of it is still virgin forest land. Stanley Park hosted a Children’s zoo until 1997 when it was closed following a referendum. The park is still the site of Vancouver Aquarium, the largest in Canada.


    Our final leg of the trip was a round-trip drive on the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99 also called Squamish Highway and Whistler Highway) to Whistler. Whistler Blackcomb Ski area was the location of the 2010 Winter Olympics and preparations were underway in full earnest during our visit. The highway itself received a face-lift with a concrete divider along with other major improvements. For years, the stretch was referred to as the Highway of Death, as a combination of narrow lanes, absence of dividers and barriers, speeding, etc had resulted in many loss of life. With the improvements in place, the drive is much safer, but following speed limits and being wary of conditions is still paramount. The drive to Whistler is about 100 kilometers and can be covered in less than two hours (not including stopovers). The sight is representative of the renowned scenic beauty of British Columbia (BC) and is reminiscent of the drive around Big Sur. Highlights include the Shannon Falls (third highest in BC) and an associated 200 acre provincial park, the Brandywine Falls provincial park, and the Britannia Beach community which hosts the BC Museum of Mining at the site of the old copper mine.

    There is a general perception that Canadians are much more laid back and extremely friendly. We joined the choir during our Eastern Canadian Road Trip, but during this second visit we nailed it – Canadians in the service sector have more of a pleasant disposition, but when it comes to the actual service provided, our US counterparts are on par or better!

    Last Updated: 11/2012.

    Bermuda - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile


    Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, is a group of about 138 coral islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about 700 miles due east of Fripp Island, South Carolina. Population of about 70,000 over a total land area of just 20 square miles makes it one of the top-ten densest countries of the world. It is also one of the top-three richest countries of the world in terms of per-capita GDP (ppp) at over $90,000. The Spanish discovered it in 1503 and the English settled by 1609. Bermuda’s first capital was St. George’s, which holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously settled English town in the New World (1612). Following the achievement of internal self-government in 1968, Formal Constitution and Universal Adult Suffrage was introduced – before that, voting was based on the value of property owned.

    Travel Resources:

    The best time to visit is during the hot season. Though March through October is considered tourist friendly local consider May through September as the right season to enjoy Bermuda. Be on alert for hurricane warnings. Bermuda has a many places of interest aside from the beaches – aquariums, churches, lighthouses, dolphin center, caves, botanical gardens, etc., to name a few. The place also has enough activities and tours to hold the attention of youngsters too. Hamilton City, the Capital, is really the heart of the country. It is teeming with good restaurants, hotels, and is the central place for all activities and tours. Bermuda cuisine is inspired by English and American style of cooking. The locals are known to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and seafood.


    ResourceISBN or ASINBest PriceDescription
    Frommer’s Bermuda 2011978-0470614365$13Itineraries, walking tours, and trip planning ideas backed with detailed maps throughout. Reviews of hotels, restaurants, sights, shopping, and nightlife.
    Fodor’s Bermuda 2011978-1400005024$13Good travel guide with excellent coverage of restaurants, hotels, and sites.
    Bermuda A World Apart: An island and its people978-0939302321$38Roger LaBrucherie, the photojournalist created a masterpiece capturing the essence of Bermuda through excellent photography and accurate research-based text.
    Bermuda Travel Map978-1553411369$91:14,500 SCALE. Shows roads, cycling path (former railroad), hotels, parks, etc. Inset maps of Hamilton and St. George.
    Universal World Wide Travel Charger Adapter PlugB001MGUB9Q$4


    Philatelic Profile:

    The first stamps of Bermuda were Queen Victoria (QV) keytypes released in 1865. The set of six stamps (Scott #1 to #6) in five different designs are extremely rare and valuable at over $2500 for MNH and about one-tenth that for used. The issues along with a few varieties with handstamped surcharges continued till 1880. Genuine handstamps and certain errors are very valuable. The most valuable among them is a “three pence” diagonal handstamp on a 1p red that fetch as high as $19000 for a mint copy and slightly more for used. Two new QV keytype issues appeared in 1880 and was followed by a mixed set of eight existing QV designs (Scott #18 to #25) in 1883. This set is also valuable at around $175 for MNH and $100 for used.

    The first original designs were issued in a Dry Dock theme in single colors in a set of three stamps (Scott #28 to #30) in 1902. The set catalogs for around $30 MNH and $5 used. A long sister set (Scott #31 to #39) followed in 1906 in more colors and denominations. That set is more valuable at around $140 MNH and $60 used. During the period from 1910 to 1935, most of the stamp issues of Bermuda were King George V (KGV) keytypes and certain common design types. The one exception was an issue (Scott #40 to #48) showing a caravel (single color) in original design. Certain denonminations of this set are valued in the $20 range while others can be had for a few dollars.Most of the KGV keytypes of the period fetch a premium with the higher denominations fetching in the high 10s to the low 100s of dollars. The classic period (1840-1940) also saw two long sets in the local scenes theme. The first was a set of elven stamps (Scott #105 to #114) in nine different designs released in 1936. The set catalogs for around $100 MNH and around one-third that for used. The second was a set of fourteen stamps (Scott #118 to #128) in five different designs released in 1938. This set is more valuable at close to $275 MNH and $160 used. Prominent designs in the sets include Hamilton (capital city) Harbor, South Shore, Grape Bay (beach near the capital city), and St. David's Lighthouse (a lighthouse still in daily use in the St. George’s Parrish in the Eastern Coast).

    The local scenes issues along with certain common design types were the only stamps issued during the period from 1936 to 1948. A set of three stamps were released on April 11, 1949 to mark the centenary of Bermuda’s first postage stamp. The set (Scott #135 to #137) is a nice and inexpensive set that catalogs for below a dollar for MNH or used. Other prominent stamp issues of Bermuda include:


    1. A long single-colored set of twenty stamps (Scott #143 to #162) released in the Historical theme during the period from 1953-58. The set catalogs for around $90 MNH and $40 used. The designs show easter lilies, Perot (Bermuda's first post master) stamp, racing dinghy, Sir George Somers (founder of the English colony of Bermuda) and Sea Venture, map, Sea Venture boat hog coin and Perot stamp, yellow-billed tropic bird, hog coins (17th century coins of Bermuda), Arms of St. George, Warwick Fort, earliest hog coin, and Arms of Bermuda.
    2. A long multi-colored set of eighteen stamps (Scott #175 to #191) released in the historical buildings (local architecture) theme during the period from 1962-65. The set catalogs for around $40 MNH or used. The designs show Church of St. Peter, Government House, Cathedral in Hamilton, Dockyard, Perot's Post Office, General Post Office of 1869, Library and Historical Society, Christ Church of Warwick, City Hall of Hamilton, Bermuda Cottage, Town of St. George, Bermuda House 1710, Colonial Secretariat of 1833, Old Post Office of Somerset, and House of Assembly.
    3. An Animals set of nineteen stamps (Scott #363 to #379) released during the period from 1978-79. The set catalogs for around $40 MNH or used. The designs show white-tailed tropicbird, white-eyed vireo, eastern bluebird, whistling tree frog, cardinal, spiny lobster, land crab, skink, four-eyed butterfly fish, red hind, monarch butterfly, rock beauty, banded butterflyfish, blue angelfish, humpback whale, green turtle, and Bermuda petrel. Another prominent issue of 1978 is the Maps set of five stamps (Scott #380 to #384). This is another nice and inexpensive set (under $2).
    4. A set of four stamps (Scott #644 to #647) in the Tourism Posters theme released on February 25, 1993. The colorful set catalogs for around $10 MNH or used. The designs show Cyclist Carriage Ship, golf course, coastline, and dancers.
    5. A set of six stamps (Scott #703 to #708) in the Military Bases theme released on December 4, 1995. This set also catalogs for around $10 MNH or used. The designs show Ordnance Island Submarine Base, Royal Naval Dockyard, Fort Bell and Kindley Field, Darrell's Island, US Navy Operating Base, and Canadian Forces Station.
    Numismatic Profile:

    The first coins issued for Bermuda were a series of 2, 3, 6, and 12 pence coins from the late 17th century with the obverse design showing a pig. The coins are termed “Hogge Money” and are highly collectible. The currency of UK became standard in 1842 and in the interim Birmingham cartwheel coppers were in circulation. The country moved from the Sterling standard to a decimal currency denominated in dollars in 1972. Bermuda has issued a number of gold coins, and bullion over the years starting in 1970. Many of these have low mintage and enjoy a premium over bullion value.

    Numismatic items of Bermuda include:


    ItemPrice RangeDescription
    Gold Coins$100 and upGold proofs from the 2000s with gold content less than 2 grams start around $100. Commemorative issues featuring such themes as the Royal Visit, Royal Wedding, the 1989 Hogge Money Proof Set, Coronation, etc go well into the 100s and 1000s.
    Bullion$10 and upThe Silver Crowns of 1964 in VF start around $10. Silver Proofs from the 1980s start around $15. Palladium Proofs, the Bermuda Triangle proof set, etc go well into the 100s and 1000s.
    Other Coins$3 and upRecent Wild Boar coinage in UNC start around $3. The distinct 1996 Silver Proof Triangle designs start around $50. Boxed and certified versions start around $100.
    Paper Money$10 and upUNC banknotes from the 2000s starts around $10. Specimen notes from the 70s start around $25. Shilling notes from the 50s and prior dates in VF start around $40. Higher denomination early notes and specimens go into the 100s.


    Collectible Memorabilia:

    Art, antiques and handicrafts are definitely good takeaways from this island.


    ResourcePrice RangeDescription
    Antiques$50 and up18th century maps and ship models are the major items.
    Art$5 and upTravel posters and prints start around $5. Original signed paintings by known artists like Alfred Birdsey, A. Buchterkitch, Olivia De Beradinis, J.H.Snow, Joseph Buchler, Cecile Johnson, etc start around $250.


    Last Updated: 12/2015. 
     

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