As far as the sluggish 26″ wheeled bike myth goes…don’t believe the hype. I commuted 40+ miles round trip for several months on a converted, rigid Cannondale kitted with road tires and fenders. Certainly, I could have done the commute faster on a road or touring bike, but the MTB (which I got complete for $250–just add fenders) was comfortable and fast enough. Don’t let the wheel size turn you off of a bike like the Smoke.
If you decide a good commuter bike is better than a half trail/half commuter bike, the REI models or a Breezer would be the best choice, primarily because of 2 things:
With an internally geared hub you will almost never have to perform maintenance. And with a seven speed model, I don’t think you’ll find the hills a problem. A hub generator for your lights means you’ll never change a battery, or get caught out without a light.