The GPSolo 2009 Shopping Guide to Holiday Techno-Gifts

By Jeffrey Allen

Technology impacts almost every aspect of our lives. The evolution of technology affects all of us and the things we do. As a result, things technological can make great gift choices. Although techno-gifts will not likely replace season tickets to your local professional football team or jewelry for your significant other, they can satisfy your gift-giving needs for your children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers, employees, or partners. If you find some of the techno-treats mentioned in this guide appealing, what the heck, buy yourself a techno-gift or two. If you gift it to an employee or partner or get it for work and use it in your practice, you may even get to deduct it, making it an even better value. (Note: Do not construe any comment made in this guide as tax advice. Consult your tax preparer respecting the deductibility of any expenditure.)

More required warnings: This paragraph does not replace the long list of side-effects, warnings, and known dangers of varying degrees of likelihood that have found their way into almost every ad that you see these days. But we do have to tell you that, despite the fact that this guide will appear in a magazine published by a Division of the American Bar Association (ABA), all suggestions, recommendations, criticisms, and other product-related comments made in this article reflect the author’s observations and opinions. The comments and opinions expressed in this guide do not constitute a position or endorsement by the ABA. The ABA does not make product recommendations. The author, however, does not hesitate to do so. The recommendations and comments made in this article represent the author’s opinions; they do not replace the manufacturers’ information, instructions, specifications, or warranties.

iPhone Home!
The honor of leading off this year’s gift guide goes to the iPhone. Perhaps no other single piece of technology in recent times has found its way into so many hands. The iPhone, an evolution and convergence of the smart phone and the iPod, has brought the ability to surf the net, get GPS (global positioning system) guidance, take pictures, record information, review documents, play music, watch movies, store pictures, play games, read books, do your banking, pay your bills, shop, and who knows how many more things to your pocket or purse. If you don’t have an iPhone for yourself, get one. If you want a great techno-gift for a loved one or co-worker, employee, etc., who does not yet have an iPhone, look no further for a great gift.

To make things even better, the most recent iteration of the iPhone, the 3GS, is faster, more powerful, all-around better, and less costly than its progenitors. Below is the current iPhone pricing (with a two-year AT&T iPhone contract):
32 GB 3GS: $299
16 GB 3GS: $199
8 GB 3G (older technology): $99
Note: If you already have an AT&T phone and do not have an available renewal and upgrade, the iPhone will cost you more. (For more details, go to www.apple.com.)

The 3GS adds more memory, faster processing speeds, a better camera, and improved GPS functionality to the 3G. Apple has not changed the iPhone color scheme, and you can have any color you want, so long as you want black or white. (If you really want another color, you can always cloak your iPhone in a colored case.)

Adding on to the iPhone. You can choose from a cornucopia of add-on gifts for your iPhone-carrying recipients. The available supplements to the iPhone experience run the gamut from car adapters to cases, external batteries, and wired and Bluetooth earphones. Don’t forget the possibility of simply giving an iTunes Store gift card that lets the recipient choose among more than 50,000 apps, music, and videos to fill up the iPhone’s memory.

The accessories and add-ons discussed below include those designed exclusively for the iPhone as well as those that work on other phones and devices. I will identify those exclusively limited to iPhone use.

Taking the stand. The folks at Pivotal came up with one of the slickest iPhone add-ons ever, the Podium ( www.podiumrevolution.com). The Podium gives you a solid, elevated stand for your iPhone on your desk, making it easier to work with the iPhone, use its calendar functions, look at pictures, or even watch a movie. The Podium comes in Platinum, Pearl, and Carbon versions, each of which lists for $68 and all of which currently are on sale as of the time this issue went to press (with Platinum and Carbon models designed for the old 3G at a closeout price of $38). The one thing I don’t like about the Podium is that it will not work with the iPhone in a hard-shell case. I would really like to see a modification including a spring-loaded connection.

Power to the iPhone and to some other phones, too. Power supply poses one of the biggest problems for the heavy-duty iPhone user. If you use an iPhone near a computer or an electric outlet, you can always plug it in and keep it fully powered while you use it. If you don’t find yourself near a power source, you have to rely on the iPhone’s internal battery. Although it works perfectly fine off a phone battery, the iPhone is not just a phone. The more things you use the iPhone to do, the more power it uses to do those things. If you use the iPhone a lot, you will find that it lacks sufficient battery power to keep it functioning on a long-term basis (that is the biggest problem with the iPhone). Because Apple has sealed the iPhone, you cannot go out and get a second battery to keep the iPhone powered up. Or can you?

Never doubt the ingenuity of the technologically inclined. The answer to the iPhone battery quandary: If you can’t put it on the inside, put it on the outside. A number of vendors have created devices designed to give you additional charging power for the iPhone. These devices come in a variety of forms but basically two classes of device: (1) the case with an integrated battery and (2) the dongle.

Although I find the case with integrated battery the best theoretical design, in fact my experience with these devices has proved less than ideal. I have found that they work quite conveniently when it comes to charging the phone and providing supplemental power, but I have had problems getting them to work with syncing the phone. As the iPhone allows me to do most of my syncing wirelessly now, that has proven not to be as significant a drawback as it was earlier in my iPhone experience. When it comes to the case-style battery supplements, the best of the lot does not truly qualify as a case, but rather as a portable docking station. Mophie’s Juice Pack ( www.mophie.com) will cost you $99.95 and will provide you with 1800 mAh of power for whatever you use your iPhone to do. The iPhone docks in the Juice Pack and draws power through the incorporated iPhone dock. You power and recharge the Juice Pack by connecting its mini-USB port to your computer or to an AC or DC power source. Mophie also makes a Juice Pack Air that functions as a full case for the iPhone. The Juice Pack Air costs $79.95, comes in black, white, and purple, and has a smooth, hard plastic finish that I think makes it more likely for you to drop the phone. The Juice Pack Air also appears to block some of the signal to the iPhone and impair reception. Bottom line: I like the original Juice Pack much better than the Air. Both devices work with the iPhone 3G and the 3GS.

You can find many contestants in the dongle category. They range in size, power, and cost. Tumi ( www.tumi.com) sells my personal favorite in the dongle category; it offers the best combination of style and function. The Tumi Mobile Power Pack holds multiple charges for your iPhone (or for many other devices as well), charges quickly, and comes in many colors and with many connectors and a handsome case. It is a bit overpriced at $150, but it also comes with the Tumi caché. Note that Tumi is apparently making some modifications to this charger—the Tumi website now shows it as a new product shipping in January 2010. The price and size appear to be the same on the new version as on the older one. You can get the Mobile Power Pack in red or gunmetal. It will charge any iPhone or iPod with Apple’s docking port. As the Tumi Mobile Power Pack’s iPhone dock connector has a short cord, it will work with almost any iPhone case. Although the Tumi Mobile Power Pack takes up more space than most of the dongle devices, I prefer it to many as a result of its flexibility. The available adapters allow it to charge iPhones, iPods, BlackBerrys, and numerous other similar devices. Tumi gives you the connecting cables that you need for your products at no extra cost. Several are included with the charger, but there is a separate collection of additional cable connectors (for most devices) for you to choose from.

Richard Thalheimer (formerly of Sharper Image fame) is alive and well and now has his own website ( www.richardsolo.com). RichardSolo sells two iPhone/iPod dongles, a 1200-mAh device for $54.95 and an 1800-mAh device with a flashlight and laser pointer for $69.95. The RichardSolo devices will easily slip into your pocket, purse, or briefcase until you need them. Then you plug them into your device and recharge it. Note that the Richard-Solo devices have a docking port integrated into the body of the unit; accordingly, if you have a case that comes below the docking port, you may find that you need to buy an extension docking connector cable (effectively converting the unit into a dongle), as the docking connector on the charger will not reach through the case to the iPhone/iPod.

Earphones. The earphone devices that most telephone/MP3 player vendors deliver with their devices work satisfactorily, but if you want first-rate sound, you need an upgraded earphone or speaker system. Do note, however, that not all earphones will work with the iPhone’s telephony. Some will give you excellent stereo sound; others will work with a phone, providing both earphone and microphone. Only a few handle both tasks.

The world of earphones breaks down into two major categories: hard-wired and wireless. The hard-wired devices have the disadvantage of requiring a physical wire running from the device to your ear and the advantage of not requiring the power drain of the wireless connection. Wired devices also avoid the problem of static interference. Most of the wireless earphones use Bluetooth (a short-range wireless transmission technology) and are primarily for the telephony features and lack the ability to provide true stereo sound. The earphone devices discussed in this guide will, of course, work with the iPhone, the iPod, and most other music players and many compatible telephones. Recently, a number of manufacturers have released Bluetooth stereo headsets. The new iPhone OS 3.0 and higher enables the use of stereo headphones with the iPhone.

Wired earphones. In the wired category, I like the Shure earphones the best ( www.shure.com), as they started with outstanding stereo earphones and then added a telephone adapter that introduces the required microphone and allows you to use their earphones for both stereo music and telephony. Shure’s current lineup includes the SE210 ($179.99), SE310 ($299.99), SE420 ($399.99), and SE530 ($499.99). As you move up the line, each provides better sound than the models beneath it; however, if you just pick one and listen only to it, you will probably find it most satisfactory. I thought the SE210 was really good and quite satisfactory until I heard the 310, 420, and 530. I much prefer the 420 and 530, so now I use those instead of the 210 and 310. Shure uses a sound-isolation technology to keep out ambient noise and let you have a pure sound experience. The sound-isolation technology depends on a good seal between the earphone and your ear, so take advantage of the included sizing kit to ensure that you get a good fit. The 530 model also comes in a PTH version. The PTH phones have a “Push-To-Hear” technology (from which they get the “PTH” acronym) that allows you to let more or less ambient noise in, depending on your needs and the circumstances and to activate the “Voice-Port” microphone, so that you can carry on a conversation without removing your earphones. The PTH model costs $549. You can buy the PTH control separately for $69.99 and add it to any of the Shure earphones. Please remember to remove at least one of your earphones if you use the sound-isolating technology when you are driving, so that you can hear sirens and the like. By the way, although the Shure earphones do not work as telephone headsets, you can adapt them to do so by getting Shure’s $49.99 Music Phone Adapter. It converts any Shure earphones to a stereo mobile headset.

The Etymotic ( www.etymotic.com) ear buds compare very favorably to Shure’s. The ER•4 sells for $299 and the ER•6i sells for $149. The Etymotic earphones use their own version of sound-isolation technology. The Etymotic devices work as stereo earphones only and do not work for telephony; but I won’t tell the Shure people if you get one of their Music Phone Adapters and plug an Etymotic earphone into it. I also won’t tell the Shure people if you get one of their earphone sets and decide to spend $19.95 for Monster’s ( www.monstercable.com) iSoni-Talk microphone headphone adapter for the iPhone, which works almost as well as Shure’s.

Bose ( www.bose.com) built a solid reputation for high-end engineered sound devices. For a number of years, Bose has also had a line of noise-canceling headsets. This year Bose has dropped its Quiet-Comfort 2 from the line, but it continues the Quiet-Comfort 3 (QC3) as a current model. The QC3 comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 20 hours per cycle and with a protective zippered case. The QC3 has been around for a few years. It has small, lightweight ear cups that fit on the ear, but do not engulf it. They are quite comfortable to wear.

This year Bose also announced a new entry into its acoustic noise-canceling headphone lineup: the Quie-tComfort 15 (QC15; I have no idea what happened to models three through 14). Not surprisingly, Bose describes the QC15 as its best yet, claiming a greater reduction of noise over a wider range of frequencies than its predecessors. The QC15 draws its power from a AAA battery that reportedly drives the system for up to 35 hours. Like its predecessors, it comes from the factory with a nice, protective, zippered carrying case. Bose has redesigned the ear cups to provide a better seal and improve the ambient noise attenuation.

Both headphones provide excellent audio quality. Both reduce outside noise, such as airplane noise, although not as well as the earphones with sound-isolating technology. To my ear, the sound-isolating technology produces a better-quality, purer sound than the noise-cancellation technology. Bose has brick-and-mortar stores all over the country. Go into one and try these out to see which system you like better.

Wireless earphones. Likely every reader has seen myriads of people wandering around apparently talking to themselves. The absence of any visible wires gives us some pause. Not too long ago, we did not know exactly what to think, and many of us concluded these people played the game of life a few cards short of a full deck. We learned, however, that some (but not all) of them really did have it together. They simply had purchased a wireless earphone for their wireless phone. The wireless headset industry has standardized on Bluetooth technology. Over time, the quality of the Bluetooth headsets has shown considerable improvement, evidenced by better reception, better quality sound transmission, better noise-reduction technology, and longer-lived battery charges.

A good Bluetooth headset makes a fine gift and a helpful acquisition for your own use. You have a choice of many options in terms of high-quality Bluetooth headsets. My current favorites come from Plantronics, Aliph, and Blue-Ant. Aliph makes the Jawbone ( www.jawbone.com) and calls its newest and hottest offering the Jawbone PRIME. Plantronics calls its the Discovery 975 ( www.plantronics.com), and Blue-Ant calls its the Q1 ( www.myblueant.com). All have noise-reduction technology. All do an excellent job. All list for under $130.

Wireless headset manufacturers come out with new versions fairly regularly, and you can get the most recently displaced top-of-the-line models for substantial discounts. In my opinion, you will do fine if you stick with the better lines of wireless headsets, which I consider to include (not in any particular order), Motorola, Jawbone, Plantronics, Jabra, and Blue-Ant. By way of example, you can find the Blue-Ant Z1, a former top-of-the-line headset that sold for $110 last year, online now for less than $40. It is still an excellent headset, and at $40, a super buy. Aliph’s Jawbone 2, also an excellent choice, sold for $129 last year; having been displaced by the PRIME, it now can be found online for around $50. You can find Motorola’s MOTOPURE H12 ( www.motorola.com), which cost about $125 when it topped the line, for about $50 online.

On the road. Many states have adopted restrictions on cell phone use while driving. Although no portable device I am aware of will save you from a ticket for DWTM (driving while text messaging) or DWE (driving while e-mailing), hands-free earphones can save you from a ticket for DWT (driving while telephoning), as the motor vehicle regulations generally allow for hands-free operation of a phone. The personal earphones discussed above will satisfy most hands-free operation requirements, but you or your intended recipient may not like driving around with an earphone. Or, you may want more than one person in the vehicle to hear the discussion. In that case, you must rely on any built-in speakerphone capability of your phone, have a built-in Bluetooth speaker system in the car, or have a portable Bluetooth car adapter that you can take with you when you travel to use in rental vehicles or to use as a separate speaker phone attachment for your meetings. If I plan to rent a car when I travel, I generally take a portable Bluetooth car adapter along. If I did not have a hard-wired adapter in my personal car, I would also use one at home. Many of these devices will work off of a battery, enabling you to use them for speakerphones outside of a vehicle as well as in a vehicle as a mobile hands-free system.

Motorola’s MOTOROKR T305 (list price $79.99), Blue-Ant’s Supertooth 3 (list price $129.99), and the Jabra ( www.jabra.com) SP700 (list price $99.99) are among my favorites. Each is completely portable, and you can purchase them all online for less than their list prices. BlueAnt has also recently released its S1, which also works quite well.

Keeping Connected
I am a big fan of those cellular accounts that allow you to get your computer online from almost anywhere. I have had one since shortly after they first came out. Over time, my hardware has evolved from a PCMCIA card to an Express 34 card to a USB modem to one of the newest, hottest gadgets to come out recently, the portable, wireless, WiFi hot spot. Novatel ( www.novatelwireless.com) has released the MiFi 2200, which works as a tethered USB modem or as a wireless hot spot on the Verizon or the Sprint networks. Aside from the convenience of a wireless connection wherever you might find yourself (well, almost anywhere), you also get the advantage of connectability for up to five devices. True, the bandwidth does tend to stretch a bit thin as you get closer to five; but it will accept multiple connections, which, among other things, allows me to use it for both my laptop and my iPhone or iPod touch at the same time. I have not tried the MiFi on the Sprint network, only on the Verizon network. It gives me performance comparable to the USB modem it replaced. Check it out at your local Verizon store or look at it online. It works with CDMA 1xEV-DO Rev. A/0, and it reports data speeds of up to 3.1 Mbps for download and up to 1.8 Mbps for upload. The device is only 3.5” x 2.32” x 0.35” and weighs 2.08 ounces. It works wirelessly on the 802.11b/g standards. You can power it from an AC adaptor, a USB connection to your laptop, or through the removable onboard lithium-ion battery. The price you will pay depends on your carrier and the data plan. You should be able to get it for around $50.

Benign Dictators
Digital technology is now the preferred means of dictation in more and more places. You can easily e-mail digital files to your secretary for transcription; if you don’t have a secretary, the digital files can be easily uploaded to a transcribing service. The files can also work in connection with voice recognition software (see below).

I recommend using devices specifically designed for professional dictation. You can get by with other recorders, but the sound quality will not be as good and they will probably prove frustrating. (Don’t you want your favorite dictator to be happy?)

Dictation devices work both wirelessly and hard wired (via USB connection) to the computer. I have a strong preference for the wireless devices as I can use them in my office or anywhere else I happen to be. Wired devices have a tendency to cause wire tangle at my desk (or maybe I just have a predisposition for wire tangle). At any rate, I do recommend that you look at the wireless devices. They tend to cost more, but they afford far greater flexibility. I particularly like the Olympus ( www.olympusamerica.com) line. I quite contentedly used the Olympus DS-4000 for several years. Last year, Olympus released the DS-5000 (list $599/street $499). I upgraded to the DS-5000 this year. I like it a great deal and do not hesitate to recommend both the DS-4000 (now discontinued, but still available from some vendors) and the DS-5000. The Olympus recorders work well with computers on both the Windows and the Mac OS platforms.

Philips’ ( www.dictation.philips.com) entry into the wireless professional dictation market, the Digital Pocket Memo 9600, sells for $499. The 9600 is a bit more svelte than the DS-5000 and works quite well on the Windows platform. It does not work as well with the Mac OS. Generally, the only way you can transfer files to a Mac is by removing the memory card and plugging it into the Mac using a card reader. Choose the Olympus if you use a Mac. Otherwise, either one works fine. Many of the wireless dictating devices also work with voice recognition (VR) software. Using a better-quality device as your full-time dictation recorder can save you the time and inconvenience of creating separate voice records for different devices.

Wireless Computer Mics
In a slightly different category, consider the Revolabs ( www.revolabs.com) xTag wireless Bluetooth microphone for use with your computer and, in particular, for use in connection with dictation into a voice-recognition system in a quiet environment. You can also use it for Skype or other VoIP structures, pod-casting, or web conferencing. The xTag lists for $279, but you can find it online for $199 without too much difficulty. Battery life on the xTag is up to eight hours. The mic takes some getting used to, but once you have accommodated to it, it works well.

Speak to Me
Ever since I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey (remember HAL?), I wanted to talk to a computer and have it talk back. Voice-recognition (VR) software doesn’t quite take us to that level, but it does let us talk to the computer and have it convert speech to text. It also lets us give spoken commands to the computer for execution. Nuance’s Dragon Naturally-Speaking ( www.nuance.com), long considered the industry leader in VR software, recently released version 10 of its program. It has come a very long way and works quite well with little training and effort. It only works with Windows. On the Mac side, the equivalent software, Dictate ( www.macspeech.com), recently hit the streets. Dictate uses the most recent iteration of the Dragon engine and works comparably to the Dragon software on the Windows side. Dragon for the Window’s user or Dictate for the Mac user makes a great gift all by itself. If you don’t have your own copy, you probably will want to get one. Both Dictate and Dragon come in multiple versions. The legal versions cost considerably more than the basic versions, but they offer the user the advantage of built-in legal vocabularies that can save considerable time, effort, and frustration with respect to getting the program to handle legal citations in proper form.

Dragon Naturally-Speaking lists for $199.99 for the Preferred version, $899.99 for the Professional version, and $1,199.99 for the Legal version. The Professional version represents a considerably enhancement to the Preferred version. The Legal version uses the Professional version as its base and adds the specialized vocabulary. Dictate sells for $199 for the basic version and $595 for the Legal version.

Making a Record?
If you want to record lectures, meetings, interviews, and the like, you will probably get better results from using a recorder designed for that purpose than one designed specifically for dictation. Although nothing prevents you from using a dictation unit for such purposes, the units designed for general-purpose audio uses typically offer a collection of features that facilitate getting optimal results with that type of recording. Olympus and Roland ( www.rolandus.com) both make excellent general-purpose digital recording devices. Both are small, lightweight, and record with excellent fidelity.

Roland offers the Edirol R-09HR, a high-resolution WAV and MP3 recorder with built-in stereo microphones and a large organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display. The R-09HR accepts SD and SDHC memory cards up to 32 GB for storage, giving you considerable recording time. Roland also offers cases, stands, external microphones, and speakers to compliment its recording devices. The R-09HR lists for $450, but you can find it online for under $300.

The Olympus LS-10 records in WAV, MP3, and WMA formats, comes with 2 GB of built-in memory, and accepts SD cards for additional storage. It also has built-in stereo microphones. The LS-10 lists for $449.95, but I have found it online for as little as $225. Both the R-09HR and the LS-10 were designed for professional recording but work superbly as general recording devices for music, nature, witness interviews, lectures, conferences, and the like.

The folks at Samson ( www.samsontech.com) also have something to say about high-end portable recording. Their offering, the Zoom H2, uses four built-in microphones to ensure the best possible fidelity. The H2 is designed for general use in recording of music, conferences, meetings, seminars, and podcasts. It comes with a small stand and a 512 MB SD card. You can use SD cards up to 16 GB (which will record 24 hours). The H2 weighs only four ounces and will easily fit in a coat pocket, purse, shoulder bag, or briefcase. The files it produces work with both Mac and Windows computers. The H2 was built to list for $334.99, but I have seen it online for less than half that price.

Rattle the Windows
When you don’t feel like wearing a set of earphones or a headset or when you want to make your music available for others to hear, you will want to have a good set of speakers or one of the many docking station/speaker systems available for portable music players.

The iPod has induced more companies to make speaker systems designed specifically for it than any other portable player. Most of the newer docking systems designed for the iPod will also work with the iPhone. Often older systems will cause a docked iPhone to display a message to the effect that the device lacks iPhone compatibility. Such devices may not charge your iPhone while it is docked to them. Many of the devices will trigger a response from the iPhone that turns off its telephonic capabilities (effectively putting it in the airplane mode) so that it will not create static as a result of interference from the iPhone. Most of the devices will also work with other music players through auxiliary port connections.

My favorite iPod/iPhone speaker systems come from companies named Bose, Altec Lansing, and Chestnut Hill. Some of the systems are designed for portability, while others are built for a more stationary role in the home or office. Note that the docking systems will also work with other players than an iPhone/iPod, but the other players will not be able to use the iPod dock built into the docking devices.

Bose makes a very good, if expensive, docking station for the iPod/iPhone. One of the original supporters of the form, Bose now sells three models: the Sound-Dock II ($299.95), the Sound-Dock Portable ($399.95), and the Sound-Dock 10 ($599.95). All produce excellent engineered sound. The Sound-Dock Portable features a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery and comes with a handhold for carrying, although you should consider purchasing a separate carrying case—such as the $59.95 case from Bose—if you plan to carry the device for any distance. The new top-of-the-line Sound-Dock 10 builds on the entry-level Sound-Dock II by adding deeper bass, an output jack that lets you watch iPod video on your television, and optional Bluetooth capability to connect to a music cell phone.

The George iPod speaker system from Chestnut Hill Sound ($499; www.chillsound.com) ranks as one of the best stand-alone iPod speaker packages I have heard. It generates a full, rich, room-filling sound, and it has an easy-to-use remote- control unit that allows you to operate your iPod from a distance. There’s even an AM/FM radio and an alarm.

The Altec Lansing Sound-Blade ($129.95; www.alteclansing.com) will appeal to those who put a premium on portability. The unit has a depth of only 1”, but it uses “SRS Truebass technology” to deliver sound comparable to that of a much larger speaker system. Note that the Sound-Blade does not have an iPod docking station, unlike the other models discussed above. It connects to iPods or cell phones via Bluetooth or a hard-wire connection to its auxiliary input jack. The Sound-Blade features a built-in microphone that lets your cell phone function as a speakerphone.

If you want a relatively inexpensive set of quality speakers for your iPod or computer, check out the recently updated iGroove SXT from Klipsch ($149.99; www.klipsch.com). It includes a built-in docking station that allows it to work with (and charge) any iPod with a docking port. It also works well with the iPhone, as its circuitry prevents static interference. Auxiliary ports in the rear of the device allow you to connect it to music players other than iPods and iPhones. It will also connect to your computer and provide you with quality stereo speakers for your laptop or desktop.

Sony’s ( www.sonystyle.com) $99.95 AM/FM clock radio is a good low-cost alternative. It works pretty well as a charging station for an iPhone (or iPod) and as an alarm clock—but its sound can’t compare to upscale models such as the George or the Sound-Dock 10. You can program your own music to help you sleep at night and to wake you up in the morning. Unfortunately, the alarm generates a chirping sound that does not make very much noise. I sleep fairly soundly and often sleep right through it. Fortunately, it has the ability to provide a dual alarm and use the radio or the iPod/iPhone as the source of the alarm sound. The ability to adjust the volume of play for purposes of wake-up enables the alarm to generate sufficient noise to wake even a very sound sleeper.

There are also other external speakers made expressly for your desktop or laptop computer—a good thing, considering that I’ve yet to hear a truly excellent computer speaker system that came built-in with a computer. For laptops my top choice is the Bose Computer Music-Monitor ($399.95 list). It produces an amazingly full sound, even though the system consists only of two tiny speakers—there is no sub-woofer. Bose offers a $59 case to protect them and make them readily transportable. They work with Mac and Windows computers, as well as DVD players, music players, etc.

Bose also continues to offer its Companion 2 speaker system, an inexpensive and decent-quality alternative that will work fine for computer speakers. The Companion 2 system costs only $89. It gives you adequate sound that is still a step up from most computer speakers but not close to the Music-Monitor.

If you want to convert your computer into a home theater system with very high quality speakers, Axiom offers its Audiobyte system in your choice of ten different finishes ($349; www.axiomaudio.com). For an additional $179, Axiom will include its EPZero subwoofer to give you the depth and the bass you will want. The Audiobyte provides true audiophile-level sound, suitable for music, movie soundtracks, even gaming. Bose also offers a variety of high-end speakers with subwoofers.

How about Something to eRead?
The ability to obtain and read books in electronic format has evolved significantly over the last several years. In addition to the ability to read books on computers, we have new handheld readers available from both Sony (the Reader) and Amazon (the Kindle).

Sony recently discontinued its Digital Reader PRS-505/RC as well as the newer PRS-700. Sony announced two new models, a smaller version called the Reader Pocket Edition ($199.99; model PRS-300SC) and the Reader Touch Edition ($299.99; model PRS-600SC). At the time this issue went to press, the Touch edition was back-ordered on the Sony-Style website, but it should be available by the time that you read this guide. Both versions have eight-level grayscale displays at a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels.

The Pocket Edition has a 5” diagonal screen that comes in a svelte 6.25” x 4.25” x 13/32” package weighing in at a mere 7.76 oz. It supports ePub, PDF, BBeB Book, TXT, RTF, and MS Word formats. Control buttons and a multidirectional navigation button allow you to make menu selections. The Pocket Edition provides 512 MB of memory that should hold about 350 books.

The Touch Edition comes with a 6” diagonal screen in a 6.9” x 4.8” x 0.4” package weighing in at a more substantial 10.1 oz. It supports ePub, PDF, BBeB Book, TXT, RTF, Word, JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP formats and allows control via its touch screen as well as its control buttons. Like the Pocket Edition, the Touch comes with 512 MB of usable memory to store books and other materials. Unlike the Pocket version, the Touch has slots for memory cards and will accept SD cards and Memory Stick PRO Duo cards up to 16 GB, substantially increasing available storage capacity.

In truth, most of us will find 350 books plenty to take along on most trips. If size and weight are more important considerations to you, the Pocket Edition will work fine. If you want greater flexibility and/or a slightly larger screen, go with the Touch. Sony has an excellent reputation respecting its Readers, and you will not go wrong with either.

Purchasing and loading material onto the Sony Readers still requires interfacing with a computer via the Sony eBook Library software and an account at the Sony eBook Store. You can check out the fairly comprehensive list of available titles at http://ebookstore.sony.com. Sony has incorporated the free library of Google books into its eBook library, so you can now download vast quantities of reading material to your eBook library at no cost.

The biggest news from Sony this year is that version 3.0 of its eBook Library Software works with both Windows and Mac OS computers. This marks the first time that Sony’s Reader has had full Mac OS compatibility. (The Mac version requires OS X 10.4.11 or later; the Windows version requires XP or Vista.) In the past I have advised Mac owners to stay away from the historically Windows-only Sony Reader devices. No longer. I have tried the new software and can report that the Mac version works just as well as the Windows version. Kudos to Sony for finally figuring it out!

Amazon remains the other major player in the e-reader game. Amazon’s Kindle ( www.amazon.com) requires no computer interface, although you can sync the Kindle to a computer to add content. In truth, I have never connected my Kindle to a computer. It is easier to add my personal content via e-mail. The Kindle requires no computer connection to purchase or receive books or periodical/blog subscriptions. Amazon created its own wireless connectivity, using a cellular connection that works in conjunction with the Sprint 3G system, so you do not even have to find a WiFi hot spot. It costs nothing to use it for your Kindle. You can go to the Kindle store online through the Kindle, select books, magazines, or blogs and purchase or subscribe to them through the Kindle. You can then take almost immediate delivery via the Kindle.

Amazon upgraded the Kindle hardware this year, releasing two new models: the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX. The Kindle 2 has a 6” screen, sells for $299, and comes in an 8” x 5.3” x 0.36” package. It holds 1,500 books. The Kindle 2 does not accept memory cards. The Kindle DX has a 9.7” display in a 10.4” x 7.2” x 0.38” package. It holds 3,500 books and costs $489.

I have worked with both the Sony Reader and the Kindle. All models are quite readable and hold at least a bookcase full of library materials while fitting easily in a briefcase or a good-sized purse; all except the Kindle DX also fit into a large coat pocket. I have a general preference for the look and feel of the Sony Reader, as the Kindle has a less substantial and more plastic feel and appearance, but overall, I have preferred the Kindle’s performance owing to its full keyboard for notes and comments and the wireless connectivity that avoids the need to sync to a computer. My inclination among the various models would be for the Sony Reader Touch Edition or the Kindle 2. The Reader Pocket Edition has too many performance limitations for my tastes; but it would make sense if you wanted a slightly smaller unit. The Kindle DX is a bit large for travel by my standards. It makes a good device for home or office use. Alternatively, if you require a larger image, you might want to deal with the extra size and weight of the Kindle DX.

This year Amazon also developed a Kindle App for the iPhone/iPod touch. The Kindle App allows you to access the Kindle Store and download to your iPhone/iPod touch books you have purchased for your Kindle. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, the App still lets you buy digital books and download them directly to your iPhone/iPod touch. Books have proven quite readable on the iPhone or iPod touch. By the way, the Kindle App costs nothing (they make it up in book sales). Other, third-party Apps such as Stanza ( www.lexcycle.com), Classics ( www.classicsapp.com), and Free Books ( http://freebooksapp.com ) let you access vast libraries of books in electronic format on your iPhone or iPod touch.

Scan This!
I have long advocated Fujitsu’s Scan-Snap scanners ( www.fujitsu.com). They represent one of the best values around and have proven reliable and sturdy. Fujitsu brought this line out several years ago, initially only for Windows computers, but then for the Mac as well. Over time, Fujitsu expanded and upgraded the line. It now consists of two basic models: the S300 and the S1500 for Windows, tweaked slightly for Macintosh compatibility as the S300M and the S1500M.

The S300 and S300M scanners (each $295) weigh in at just over 3 lbs. and measure 11.18” x 3.74” x 3.03”. They operate off of a USB connection to the computer or through an AC adapter. The color and black-and-white full duplex scanners can scan up to eight double-
sided pages per minute. The automatic document feed handles up to ten pages (I find it best to keep it to about eight, though). The S300M comes with Scan-Snap Manager V2.2 and Cardiris V3.6 for Scan-Snap software. The S300 comes with Scan-Snap Manager V4.2, Scan-Snap Organizer V3.2, and Card-Minder V3.2 software.

The S1500 and S1500M scanners (each $495) weigh in at 6.62 lbs. and measure 11.5” x 6.3” x 6.2”. They require AC power. The S1500 scanners can scan up to 20 double-sided pages per minute. The automatic document feeder has a capacity of up to 50 pages (I have found, however, that when I place more than 40 pages in the feeder, it is more likely to pull multiple pages or jam). The S1500 comes with Scan-Snap Manager V5.0, Scan-Snap Organizer V4.0, Card-Minder V4.0, Adobe Acrobat 9 Standard (a real value), and ABBYY Fine-Reader for Scan-Snap 4.0. The S1500M comes with Scan-Snap Manager V3.0 for Mac, Cardiris 3.6 for Scan-Snap for Mac, Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional for Mac, and ABBYY Fine-Reader for Scan-Snap 4.0 Mac Edition. A word of warning: ABBYY Fine-Reader for Scan-Snap 4.0 Mac is not Snow Leopard compatible. ABBYY customer service offered no date for a release of a Snow Leopard-compatible version.

Most people do not handle received business cards very efficiently. They get shoved into drawers, boxes, or books with vinyl sheets, left on the desktop or credenza, or stuck somewhere else with good intentions of transferring the information to a well-organized computer contact management system. To organize that pile of cards, I.R.I.S. has created the IRIS-Card Pro 4 ( www.irislink.com), which works on both the Macintosh and the Windows platforms using I.R.I.S.’s own Cardiris software to handle the OCR (optical character recognition) conversion of the card information to text for your database. The IRIS-Card Pro 4 lists for $149; it has a smaller, slower sibling, the IRIS-Card Mini 4 that lists for $99. I.R.I.S. has an outstanding reputation in the industry for high-quality and high-accuracy OCR conversion.

Another special scanning function is the retention and organization of personal and business financial records and receipts. The people at The Neat Company ( www.neatco.com) have created a special package of software called Neat-Works to help you organize your scanned images and collect information from them to facilitate your accounting work. The software comes bundled with a small portable scanner (and travel case) in a package called Neat-Receipts, currently on sale for $179.94 (regularly $229.95). You can get the Neat-Desk package, which includes a larger, duplex desktop scanner and the Neat-Works software on sale for $399.95 (regularly $499.94). The company has both Mac and Windows versions of the program. If you already have a scanner and use the Mac, Neat will happily sell you their Neat-Works software as a stand-alone product (now $79.95; regularly $99.95).

A Good Case
No lawyer ever wants to have a bad case. A good case for your gear will make your life traveling with the gear that much easier. Cases also make excellent gifts for partners, employees, students, and friends. The nice thing about cases is that you can find a case for almost any single piece of technology. You can also find larger cases that will hold multiple pieces of your technology. In the best of all worlds, a lawyer should have a small case for carrying things to and from the office, a larger case for traveling with technology, and an even larger case for trial attorneys to take to court. You may want or need more than those cases, depending on your personal needs. I will not endeavor to cover the full waterfront of cases in this guide, but only will make a few suggestions. Note that no matter what type of case you want or what technology you want to carry, you will have more choices than you reasonably need to find one that works for you. Note also that although I may make suggestions, the choice of a case becomes, in the end, a very personal thing. Each of us will have different ideas of what features work the best or are the most important.

In thinking about cases, remember that the older you are and the larger the case, the greater the need for wheels. Even if you are relatively young, there is no point in killing yourself schlepping heavy cases around when you could easily pull them along on wheels. My favorites among the producers of wheeled cases remain Victorinox/Swiss Army ( www.swissarmy.com) and Tumi. Brenthaven ( www.brenthaven.com) comes in a distant third. Tumi generally gets the least discounting. Although I think that Tumi bags generally have great style and impressive design features, I have not been as happy with the way they handle laptops as I have with some of the others. On the other hand, I have never had a Tumi case break.

Victorinox/Swiss Army produces a greater variety of business and computer cases than Tumi and sells them over a significantly wider price range. I have found the Victorinox/Swiss Army cases highly satisfactory, well made, and sturdy. I have only had one Victorinox/Swiss Army case that required repair (a handle broke on a three-year-old case). I sent it in to Victorinox/Swiss Army for repair; rather than fix it, they simply replaced it. I received the replacement within two weeks of sending in the broken case. That’s pretty hard to argue with. Brenthaven makes the most limited number of wheeled cases, but they generally cost significantly less than Tumi or Victorinox/Swiss Army cases. They are generally well designed, and I have found them satisfactory.

All three vendors sell cases made of ballistic nylon. Tumi also sells leather bags. Although the leather looks richer (and costs more), my experience is that the ballistic nylon represents a better value, unless you want to buy style points, in which case, go with the leather.

Expect to pay $500 to $700 (list) for wheeled Tumi nylon bags and $700 to $1,000 for Tumi leather bags. You can occasionally find a discontinued Tumi line on sale for up to 20 percent off, but it’s rare to find better discounts than that. If you want a Tumi case, check out the Alpha line. The Alpha cases follow traditional Tumi style lines and come in several sizes and in nylon and leather versions.

Victorinox/Swiss Army has some good discounts available online right now. Check out the Victorinox/Swiss Army website for details. For example, the Werks Traveler (WT) 2.0 wheeled, expandable, ballistic nylon case lists for $485 and is on sale for $289.99 at the Victorinox/Swiss Army website. It’s an excellent case and a great buy.

All three manufacturers also make cases that do not come with wheels. Generally, wheeled cases cost more than over-the-shoulder carry cases. I have found excellent over-the-shoulder cases from all three of these vendors, as well as from several others.

Brenthaven has introduced the customizable computer case in its C-Y-C (Customize Your Case) line. The C-Y-C cases come in ballistic nylon for $149.95 or leather for $299.95. You might want to check it out on their website. You get to choose the material and make design choices as to size, protection system, pockets, handle, and hardware.

The Victorinox/Swiss Army Werks Traveler 2.0 Pocketed Brief is one of my favorite over-the-shoulder cases. It is well designed and comes in ballistic nylon. Swiss Army lists the bag for $260 but currently has it on sale on its web site for $155.99.

Tumi also has over-the-shoulder bags in its Alpha line. Again, they are well designed and high quality, but fairly expensive. Their top-selling Expandable Organizer Computer Brief lists for $350 or $395 (regular or large-sized respectively) in ballistic nylon.

If you want a bit more sporty-looking case, check out the bags at Waterfield Designs ( www.sfbags.com) or Skoo-ba Design ( www.skoobadesign.com). Each makes a line of primarily nylon bags that will accommodate almost any piece of technology from video games, to smart phones, to computers, and beyond. Many of their cases come with computer compartments; others do not but can function nicely as a computer bag if you put one of their computer sleeves or inserts in to protect the laptop. I am particularly partial to Waterfield’s Cargo bag. It comes in three sizes, ranging in cost from $179 to $269, depending on size and material. I also have an affinity for their Kindle 2 cases (list price $49). Skoo-ba’s $99.95 Skooba Satchel 2.0, currently on sale for $74.95, offers a great buy on a light-weight bag with decent laptop protection and the flexibility to carry almost any of your gear. It comes with Skooba’s Superbungee Bag Strap, which very comfortably handles the weight of a loaded bag. FYI, Skoo-ba sells the Superbungee Bag Strap separately for $25.95, making the value of the Satchel 2.0 even greater. If you want a less expensive gift, the Superbungee Bag Strap by itself qualifies and will make your recipients think of you every time they comfortably hoist a bag onto their shoulder.

Another set of casual bags worth looking at comes from Tom Bihn ( www.tombihn.com). Tom Bihn made its name with its backpacks but has expanded its line considerably. The Tom Bihn bags are a bit pricier than Skooba or Waterfield bags, but they still retain a casual style. The $140 Tom Bihn Brain Bag makes a good choice for students or casual business travel; so does the $130 Smart Alec backpack. Tom Bihn makes a variety of accessories that allow you to personalize your bag. I recently took a Smart Alec, outfitted with their $60 Vertical Brain Cell (laptop padding) and a $35 Vertical Freudian Slip (lots of pockets and dividers for papers, cell phones, and other gadgets) for a spin and found it very satisfactory. The Brain Cell and Freudian Slip also come in a horizontal configuration at the same price.

If you want a casual style brief bag, consider Tom Bihn’s $160 Empire Builder. With a Horizontal Brain Cell you have a very good laptop bag. It comes with built-in dividers and a front pocket for pens, phones, etc. The darker colors are sufficiently conservative that you could even take one to court. The Empire Builder has a pocket in the back with a zipper bottom, allowing you to unzip it and slide it over the handle of a wheeled bag. That pocket has a feature that I really like: It adds a second pocket behind the first, so that if you carry the bag over the handle of a wheeled case, you can slip a magazine, newspaper, or a boarding pass into the readily accessible outer pocket.

Recently the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved design requirements for laptop bags that allow you to put your bag on the X-ray belt while still in its case. Basically, the TSA requires that the bag open up and lay flat, so that the computer is in a compartment by itself on one side of the case (see illustration on page 54). Nothing can cover the computer other than the material of the case itself. This genre of bag sometimes goes under the designation of “checkpoint friendly.” Some people think that this innovation is a wonderful idea. I have no issue with that analysis, but I tend to see it as a more minor convenience. A company called Mobile Edge ( www.mobileedge.com) has come out with its ScanFast line that meets the TSA requirements, works satisfactorily, and is not overly expensive. Their ScanFast Messenger Bag and Briefcase each list for $99.99.

Skooba also entered the check-through competition, offering a large wheeled bag, the Check-through Roller, for $189.95 that should hold most, if not all, of your gear for trial or travels. For the younger or more adventurous at heart, Skoo-ba also offers the Check-through Backpack for $129.95. Although I am old-school enough that I would not want to take a backpack with me to court, a good backpack can serve well as a traveling companion.

Tom Bihn makes an excellent checkpoint-friendly bag, the $220 Checkpoint Flyer. I recently took it for a flight and found it well designed, well made, protective of my laptop, and completely satisfactory.

Tumi has its own line of TSA-compliant, checkpoint-friendly bags that it designates as “T-PASS.” This line runs the range from relatively inexpensive to expensive. The T-Tech Adventure T-PASS Slim Laptop Brief lists for $175. The T-Tech is made of a more lightweight nylon that Tumi refers to as its “ultra-durable X-Tech fabric.” Bottom line: It costs less and is less durable than the traditional ballistic nylon bags. The Alpha case comes in multiple T-PASS sizes and in both leather and ballistic nylon. The slim bag starts at $275 in ballistic nylon and $495 in leather. Tumi’s Townhouse T-PASS William Document Brief, a combination of ballistic nylon and leather trim, sells for $695.

Stocking Stuffers
If you want a few more ideas for relatively inexpensive “stocking-stuffer” style gifts, try these on for size:
•    iTunes Store gift cards
•    Amazon gift cards for the Kindle Store
•    High-speed/high-capacity (now up to 16 GB) flash memory cards, inexpensively available at Costco, Fry’s, and all over the Internet; ideal for digital photography or for storing eBooks for the Sony Reader (other than the Pocket Edition)
•    High-speed/high-capacity (now up to 64 GB) USB thumb drives

And remember: In these times of economic turmoil, a great holiday shopping season will be seen as evidence that we have started a recovery. When it comes to our economy, perception often becomes reality. Think about it.

HAPPY SHOPPING!!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the small law firm of Graves & Allen in Oakland, California, with a general practice that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans, and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. He also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He serves as the editor of the Technology eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GPSolo magazine. He regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for attorneys and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, Jeffrey has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. You may contact him via e-mail at jallenlawtek@aol.com; he blogs on the intersection of law and technology at www.jallenlawtekblog.com.

Copyright 2009

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