I don't often write product endorsements, but it's no secret that I'm a Mac user so I don't figure it's much of a stretch to recommend the iSight. After being teased with futuristic technologies for the last half-century — flying cars, sentient robots, colonies on Mars — this is one of those rare gadgets that actually delivers one of those promises: It's a video phone that really works.
A couple of decades ago, you could buy a video phone for about $250. They worked about as well (read: badly) as most webcams nowadays, with a small, grainy image that refreshed every few seconds. You couldn't use it unless you had a unit on both ends of the call — and this was before wireless phones and answering machines, so $250 was a hell of a lot to spend on a telephone.
The Internet solved the compatibility problem; since any computer could receive the images, you could have one-way video chats even if the other party didn't own a webcam. But there was still a chasm between the low quality of the affordable webcams and the exorbitant price you'd have to pay for a good quality image. Then Apple came along.
The iSight combines a dual-element microphone with an autofocusing video camera that broadcasts up to 30 frames per second. In simpler terms, it looks and sounds great. It's not exactly cheap at $150, but it's a reasonable compromise: It's cheaper than a product of comparable quality would have cost a couple of years ago; and Macs are priced toward hardware's high end anyway, so it's about where you'd expect.
I don't really "chat." I had the opportunity to get an iSight cheap when it was first released and I did, but I hadn't used it until last week. Kerrie took a business trip to Denver; and rather than pay for long distance telephone calls, we kept in touch using AOL Instant Messenger's audio capability with our computers' microphones. I unpacked the iSight for good measure — and to make a short story quick, we're going to buy another before her next trip. It's amazing. It delivers exactly what has been promised for decades: clear audio with full-speed, real-time video between two people across the country.
No question, it's a toy you could live without — but it's exceptionally cool. I think it's better than the iPod. For any household with a broadband Internet connection, it's a genuinely viable replacement for the telephone. Granted, it's probably not something I'll use often; but when I have the opportunity, I'll definitely use it — and in the meantime, I recommend it.