Five Below, a crapgadget paradise (or, just how good are a five dollar web cam from iConcepts and a five dollar Wallet Pix photo viewer anyway?)

I’m a gadget nut.  I love gadgets, my wife hates them…a marriage made in heaven.  My favorite gadgets are those that don’t cost a lot of money.  Until about two years ago, one had to seek out such crapgadgets online, since most retail establishments do not carry these devices.  So, what changed?  Well, one of my favorite stores blew into town.  Called ‘Five Below’, these stores are ‘upscale’ dollar stores, you know…the stores where nothing costs more than a buck.

Five Below carries a multitude of products from candy and soda to posters, games and…tada…electronic gadgets.  Now, one might think you would not find any worthwhile electronics in such a place but, not here.  This store carries a surprising amount of nifty and very workable electronic gadgets.  Things like toss away keyboards, iPod speakers, mice, game controllers, digital cameras, radios, digital photo viewers, web cams and other cool little toys. 

Granted, for five bucks, you won’t find the highest quality stuff, but you will find gadgets that are suitable for travel, kids and other situations where you may have a need for something that works well enough to get through that pinch or to occupy a child and if they break it, you are not out any real money.  Once in awhile, however, you may even find a gem or two.

For instance, this week, the stores featured a cooling pad for laptops, a web cam and digital photoMy crapgadgets viewer.  All for five bucks each.  The cooling pads went fast.  I picked up one for my son.  It uses USB to get its power, but does not have a USB hub like the more expensive one he had, which broke a few days ago.  The pad-at five bucks-was money well spent.  It moves just enough air to keep the laptop much cooler.  I also picked up the web cam and the photo viewer.  The web cam, an iConcepts web cam made by Sakar, does 640×480, 15 frames per second-pretty standard for lower end web cams.  The video and still mode quality is not bad at all.  In fact, I’d say it was quite a bit better than my Moto Q Smartphone  and better than my first digital camera that cost me four hundred bucks.  It comes with software that, surprisingly, works with Windows 2000, XP and Vista.  It does require a lots of light, but it produced a stutter free and pretty clear video.  It is very small and flexible.  If you need a web cam for the kids computer or one for travel, this thing will work well enough for you.  If you don’t expect high definition video or razor sharpness but want something a bit better than those old Creative Labs cameras, you can’t go wrong with this thing.  Finally, the photo viewer is the same one that was advertised on TV about a year ago.  Called ‘Wallet Pix’, it is about the size of a credit card and a couple of millimeters thick.  The screen is about 1.5 inches and has three buttons:  previous, next and power.  It comes with an image transfer application, but no installation CD since there is nothing to install. It uses the auto play feature of Windows to start executing the transfer application that is resident in the device memory, which mounts as a read only drive in Windows.  NOTE:  you cannot access the memory where the photos are actually stored, just the software.  This version of the device can hold 58 low resolution photos, which is fine due to the screens size.  If you are running Windows 7, the software will still work, but you must run it as administrator and be prepared to be bombarded by UAC prompts if you have that feature turned on.   I’ve never gotten as many prompts with UAC in either Windows 7 or Vista.  Annoying, but I can live with it.  The viewer does an OK job with displaying the photos.  At the price I paid, I can deal with it.  Photos of faces and other close ups do better than with other types of photos.  Holding down the previous button for a few seconds will turn on or off the slideshow feature while holding down the next button for a few seconds will turn on or off the auto power button.  Speaking of power, the device is powered by three hearing aid type batteries.  Generously, the device comes with three batteries installed, plus another three for backup and there is a coupon inside the box that is good for another couple of sets of batteries.  You do have to pay four bucks for shipping, so it may not be a good deal, but the fact that the device comes with TWO sets of batteries is pretty cool.

029 Sakar markets devices under a bevy of names, including Vivitar.  I bought, last summer, a small keychain digital camera because I had left mine at home and hated using my Moto Q as a camera (it took REALLY BAD photos.)  The little camera was a Vivitar.  I figured it would take crappy pictures.  Which, it does, they just are not as crappy as said Moto Q.  The little camera could take up to 25 photos at something like 240×196…definitely NOT anything to write home about.  The colors, while vivid, tended to smear and the detail was lacking.  BUT…those photos have a unique quality about them.  Kind of like the Polaroid instant photos of days gone by.  The nice thing about them is that they look great on the Wallet Pix viewer. 

Other surprisingly useful crapgadgets I’ve purchased recently include:  a wireless nun chuck adaptor for the Wii, a really nice PS2 controller, another nice WIRELESS controller for the PC, lots of cables, a power adaptor for the Nintendo DS Lite that uses four AA batteries and can charge the DS Lite, DS Lite screen protectors and a comfortable pair of earphones that fold (not great for listening to music, but perfect for podcasts.)

I don’t mean to sound like a shill for this store, but just because a place may be perceived as a junk store, does not mean you cannot find something that is useful.  And since I love crapgadgets, this place is pretty cool in my book.

FOLLOW UP:  The WalletPix malfunctioned on me.  I had loaded up some photos and it was working just find.  However, I went to show it to someone, turned it on and the picture looked like an old tube style television with horizontal hold out of whack.  A trip back to the store resulted in an effortless exchange and my purchase of an additional web cam.  I have an idea for a use of said webcam and may write about it at a future date.  I showed the guy at the store what was happening and he exchanged the device, no questions asked.  Which, by the way, speaks volumes of this store.  I’ve always had good service from the store.  For a company that specializes in low cost stuff, the customer service is amazingly good. 

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