GPSolo December 2006
The 2006 GPSOLO Techno-Guide to Holiday Gifts
Technology has reached the point where evolution comes more rapidly than ever. Changes generally result in lower-cost and better-quality (or at least more fully featured) devices. This year’s gift guide reflects some of that evolution as it incorporates areas that we have not addressed in the past.
Please note that the ABA does not recommend products. The product recommendations discussed in this gift guide come from the authors’ own investigation and do not represent an ABA endorsement. That said, we will give you our take on some of the best technology on the market and some excellent gift choices for the holiday season. We have tried to include a wide variety of gifts and gift prices to ensure that everyone can find something they want to get for themselves or will want to give to a friend, partner, employee, spouse, paramour, child, or grandchild.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. This year, we lead off with tools and toys for the photography buff. Digital photography has taken the dominant position in photographic equipment today. You can find digital cameras in department stores, drug stores, variety stores, and even food stores. You can also find them in photography specialty shops and on the Internet. Digital cameras come in all price ranges now, and the quality of the pictures they produce will satisfy both amateur and professional photographers.
Several factors have contributed to the rise in popularity of digital cameras. The quality of digital pictures has improved significantly, while at the same time the cost of digital cameras has decreased. Additionally, once you have acquired reusable memory media, digital cameras cost next to nothing to operate. The only time a digital photographer needs to pay anything (except for replacing a battery in a camera that does not have rechargeable batteries) is to print a picture rather than simply display it on a screen. To make things even better, the cost of the digital media also has dropped dramatically.
Casio’s $399.99 EX-Z1000 (www.casio.com/home) is the size of a deck of cards, fits nicely in a jacket pocket, has a large 2.8” LCD super-bright viewing screen, and sports a 10-megapixel resolution (mega-pixels refer to the density of the image—the more megapixels, the better the resolution). In addition to still photos, the EX-Z1000 also takes short videos. The EX-Z1000 features a 3x optical zoom; a 4x digital zoom allows further magnification, but at the expense of degrading the image. The camera takes clear, sharp images with rich color.
Casio’s Exilim line of cameras has a reputation for good quality and ease of use; you should be able to find an Exilim camera in a price range and at a level of sophistication suitable for your needs. The EX-Z1000 currently tops this camera line. Casio is in the process of upgrading the line and has recently brought out several other new cameras. If you want to spend a little less, take a look at the EX-S770 or the EX-Z700. Both of these cameras provide 7.2 megapixels of resolution, anti-shake technology, long battery life, and bright screen for easy viewing in daylight. Both take excellent still photographs and movies. The EX-S770 has a 2.8” screen and easily fits into a shirt pocket owing to its very thin body. You can get it in red, blue, or silver for a list price of $380. The $299 EX-Z700 has a 2.7” screen and a thicker configuration (approximately the same size as the EX-Z1000). Any of these cameras would make an excellent gift. You might even want to pick up one for yourself.
Most of the Exilims (including the EX-Z1000, EX-Z700, and EX-S770) use SD cards for memory. Recently the Internet vendor eCost (www.ecost.com) advertised a 4 GB SD card running at 133x speed for $59.94 (after rebate). Earlier this year, 4 GB cards cost more than $200.
As the price of high-end cameras drop-ped, it compressed mid- and low-range camera price. You can easily find very satisfactory digital cameras for $250 or less. Canon’s 5-megapixel PowerShot A530 (www.usa.canon.com) costs $200. Sony’s 6-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-S500 (www.sonystyle.com) lists for $199.95. Nikon’s 6-megapixel Coolpix L2 (www.nikonusacom) costs $229.95. Moving up to a slightly higher price range, the authors like the Canon S3 IS (6 megapixels, 12x optical zoom, list price $400) and its PowerShot A620 (7.1 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, list price $400), as well as the Sony Cyber-shot W70 (7.2 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, list price $299.95). Sony has recently announced what promises to be another super 10-megapixel camera, the $449.95 DSCN2. It will come with a 6x Carl Zeiss zoom lens and a 3” screen.
In looking for a digital camera, remember that image quality represents a combination of resolution (megapixels), lens quality, and the photographer’s ability. Digital cameras generally have automatic settings that ensure a minimum level of picture quality. The more automated the camera, however, the less individuality and creativity for the photographer. Advanced photographers generally prefer cameras that allow them to manually override automatic settings. You will want to get at least 4 megapixels of resolution. If you plan to print or project large images, you will need more megapixels to get a quality image. Most of the cameras have zoom capabilities. Zoom capabilities are either optical or digital. Many high-level cameras include both. Optical zoom produces a better quality picture than digital zoom.
The best-known names in digital cameras include Canon, Sony, and Nikon. Canon and Nikon built reputations for creating lenses. Sony gets to the same place using Zeiss lenses in many of its cameras. Advanced users will likely prefer Canon and Nikon cameras, although Canon and Nikon also make basic cameras for beginners and intermediates. Sony appeals more to the midrange of experience but also makes some excellent basic cameras and some that would appeal to the advanced photographer. All three make digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras, some of which have the ability to interchange lenses. Professional photographers and advanced amateurs favor SLRs because of this ability, as well as the framing control they offer. The authors have a strong preference for the Canon and the Nikon digital SLRs (in that order).
Canon’s PowerShot line represents good selection over a wide price range for both the beginner and the advanced photographer. Nikon’s Coolpix line is the equivalent of the Canon PowerShot line. With Sony cameras, look for the Cyber-shot line. After the big three, we like Casio, Fuji (www.fujifilmusa.com), and Olympus (www.olympusamerica.com). Kodak (www.kodak.com) also has produced some very good beginning- and intermediate-level cameras. All of the manufacturers have websites with images and specifications for their full camera lines. Spend some time comparing features online and then go look at the real thing.
CNET (www.cnet.com) provides a good source of reviews to help you decide what to get. For a reasonably priced, good-quality SLR, we like Canon’s Digital Rebel XT ($800 for body and 18-55mm lens). By the time you read this, Canon also will have released its Digital Rebel XTi, adding a few new features to the XT and increasing the resolution from 8 to 10 megapixels.
Also remember that with cameras, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is basically just a suggested price. The actual price will vary from vendor to vendor, and often you can save a considerable sum by looking on the Internet.
How to put on airs showing your pictures. For an unusual picture display, try a Suspending Picture Frame (available for $19.99 at www.kleargear.com/1907.html). Turn it on and watch the cube rise up and float in midair. This Suspending Picture Frame really is one of the coolest gadgets you can buy in the $20 range. Insert four pictures into the 2.5” x 3.5” frame windows, plug in the included base, and place the floatable frame over the base. The frame is pulled right out of your hand, suspended in midair, where it slowly rotates to display the pictures.
The silver base itself measures 6.61” (l) x 3.15” (w) x 9.45” (h). You can get larger sizes. Whether you’re buying this for yourself or as a gift, this unique levitating gadget is sure to be an instant hit.
Wow! This computes! Think about computers this holiday season. The next several months may prove the best time ever to buy a computer. The Pentium-class processors have served as the mainstay of the Windows operating system for many years. Intel stepped up the microprocessor race by introducing its Core Duo processor that allows dual core functionality, resulting in a much faster computer and much higher performance levels. Following the release of the Core Duo processors and their incorporation into computer construction, computer manufacturers and stores started discounting their inventory of Pentium-class processors. The Core Duo has both desktop and laptop iterations, resulting in price reductions of desktop and laptop computers built with Pentium-class processors. During the last several months, most computer makers shifted their products into dual-core processors.
Intel recently announced the release of a new Core 2 Duo processor. By the time you read this, both desktop and laptop versions of the Core 2 Duo will be on the market. Computer manufacturers and vendors have already anticipated that release by discounting computers with Core Duo processors and further discounting computers with Pentium-class processors. You can find name-brand computers, laptops, and desktops available at discounts of $200 to $300 for Core Duo computers and as much as $500 for some Pentium-based machines.
If you get a Windows machine, look for one that is Vista compatible (Vista is the new Windows system that should be released in 2007). Consider CD RW (read/write) and DVD R (read-only) as essential; having DVD RW is a plus. Get the biggest hard disk you can; at least 60 GB on a laptop and 100 on a desktop; bigger is better. You can easily find laptops with 120 GB hard disks and desktop computers with 250 GB and more. Look for at least two USB 2.0 ports on a laptop and four or five on a desktop. Laptops should have slots for expansion cards: PCMCIA or Express 34 slots for air cards, extra USB ports, etc. (for more on expansions cards, see under “Keeping in touch,” below). Also look to get built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (short-range wireless). If you plan to use a laptop as a desktop replacement, look at 17” screens or plan on getting an external monitor. If you favor mobility, look at the 12” to 13” screens. The 14” to 15” screens offer a good compromise; they are larger and heavier than the 12” to 13” screens, but still fairly portable. Get at least 1 GB of RAM on a Windows XP machine. Get at least 2 GB on a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo running XP. You will definitely want that much if you plan to run Vista. Also get at least 2 GB on Macintosh computers, especially the Core 2 Duo machines. We particularly like the current crop of laptops from Lenovo (www.lenovo.com), HP/Compaq (www.hp.com), Sony (www.sonystyle.com), Toshiba (www.toshiba.com), Fujitsu (www.fujitsu.com), and Apple (www.apple.com).
Keeping in touch. Some of the newer laptops come preconfigured to run an internal air card. An air card provides a cellular connection that allows the computer to transmit and receive data without any other connection to the Internet. Each of these systems operates like a mobile phone—it has its own number, and you get a bill for it. This technology has evolved considerably in the last few years. No longer limited to very slow connect speeds, it has gone to broadband (DSL) speeds with some carriers. The Verizon EVDO system (www22.verizon.com) has worked the best for the authors, providing coverage in most areas and broadband speed in major metropolitan areas. Sprint also provides EVDO, but it has a smaller coverage area. Cingular’s Edge system (www.cingular.com) shows improvement over the slower speeds of yesteryear but has not demonstrated the speeds of the Verizon EVDO system to the authors.
If your laptop does not have a built-in air card, you will have to get a PCMCIA air card or an Express 34 air card to access this technology. Some computers have dropped PCMCIA slots in favor of the Express 34 slot. Currently, the only provider we have found for Express 34 air cards is Verizon. If you have more than one laptop, you will save money by getting a new air card and not activating the card built into your laptop. The cards do not lock to a computer, and you can move them from one laptop to another. That means one card can service a number of computers one at a time. If you use the built-in card, it will be locked to that laptop, and you will either not have the technology for the other laptops or will need to purchase an air card and a separate account for each machine.
If you use a Macintosh, the only air cards that will work on your computer are available on the Verizon system. They have two PCMCIA cards available, of which Kyocera’s KPC 650 ($179 with a two-year contract; www.kyocera.com) works the best. That card also works well with Windows machines. Verizon also has one Express 34 card that works on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms.
If your laptop does not have a PCMCIA slot or you simply want a network with Internet access wherever you go, take a look at the $249.99 Kyocera KR1 Router (currently the subject of a $50 rebate). The router works with the KPC 650 (or other PCMCIA cards). You plug the PCMCIA card into the router and it becomes a wireless and/or a wired router, sharing the Internet connection. The router will easily accommodate up to four connected computers with no significant loss of speed. It works quite well. It will not work with an Express 34 card.
Safe surfing on the Internet. Surfing the Internet without protection can prove dangerous to your personal well-being—as well as to your computer’s integrity. Friends don’t let friends surf naked online! The people at Eli (www.trusteli.com) have developed a device that will give you online protection. The device, called TrustELI, provides a full-featured firewall, anti-virus protection, anti-spam protection, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) connectivity, DSL or cable modem connectivity, and content filtering. It creates an 802.11G wireless gateway and provides a four-port switch. Although designed for home use, it can work quite satisfactorily in a small office environment. The ability to keep a current database of viruses, spyware, and other malware requires continuous updating. Eli provides a managed service for that function at a cost of $10 per month or less, based on the term (one-year minimum). The device itself costs $200.
How about some network-attached storage? HP has just released its Media Vault. HP designed the Media Vault with a focus on home entertainment systems. The vault serves as a means of centralizing and backing up your photographs, music, and home video. The Media Vault comes in two models: the 300 GB mv2010 ($379.99) and the 500 GB mv2020 ($549.99). You can expand it to 1.2 Terabytes of storage. The Vault has two bays, and when shipped, one remains empty for expansion purposes. The Vault’s hard drives run at 7200 RPM. The 300 GB version will hold up to 69,000 songs, and the 500 GB drive will hold up to 116,000 songs. Once you have stored information in the Vault you can easily access it, transfer it to a new computer, and stream media files to your home entertainment center or to another computer. It also works as a print server to facilitate sharing up to three printers. The Media Vault supports file sharing among computers running on Mac, Windows, and Linux systems. The backup system works simply and automatically. You can set it to store up to nine previous versions of a file. The Vault is not the only equipment available to do what it does, but it does its job well and provides a good package for someone wanting a plug-and-play setup.
Let there be music! Apple’s iconic iPod remains a top gift choice. To make sure that you had the opportunity to give someone an iPod that they did not already have, Apple replaced all existing iPod models in September 2006. Apple also released a new version of the iTunes music software. You have to buy the iPods, but you get iTunes free. Even if you don’t have an iPod, get a copy of iTunes. You cannot beat the price, and it provides a great music center for your computer.
The new iPods cost less than previous versions, but they provide improved and additional features, smaller sizes, and better battery life. The current range runs from the shuffle ($79/1 GB) to the nano ($149/2 GB, $199/4 GB, $249/8 GB) to the full-sized iPod ($249/30 GB or $349/80 GB).
The full-sized iPods have 2.5” color displays that are 60 percent brighter than previous models. They show your photos and movies as well as play your music and audio books. They also show recorded TV shows (now available at the iTunes store), play games, and can function as a PDA as well as a backup drive for Macintosh computers. The 80 GB full-sized iPod measures 4.1” x 2.4” x 0.55” and boasts 20 hours of playback per charge. Its 30 GB sibling measures 2.4” x 4.1” x 0.43” and gets up to 14 hours of playback per charge. The nano has a 1.5” diagonal screen and measures 3.5” x 1.6” x 0.26”. The nano gets up to 24 hours of playback per charge. With the new nano, Apple returns to the multi-colored metal casing used with the mini (replaced last year by the nano). That has the advantage of moving away from the “oh-so-scratchable” smooth plastic finish of last year’s nano. Like its predecessors, the new shuffle has no display. The shuffle only comes in a 1 GB size now; it measures 1.62” x 1.07” x 0.41” (including the built-in clip).
Throughout the iPod lineup, each gigabyte holds approximately 240 songs. All of the iPods play MP3 and AAC compressions, and you can use any of the iPods to store data other than your music for backup. Apple will personalize iPods with two lines of engraving at no additional charge. All of the iPods create very full, rich, and impressive sound, allowing the user to enjoy a substantial music library on the go. All the new iPods have Apple’s “dock” connector, which enables them to share a large collection of accessories.
Don’t forget that iPods have business purposes. You can transfer CLE on CD to any iPod, along with audio books and your music, using the iTunes software. You can get the iPod and an external speaker system and enjoy your music collection at work. The new full-sized iPods accommodate video, so you can transfer CLE on DVD (as well as movies) to your iPod.
Although you can move your iPod from office to car to house and everywhere else you go, many people have more than one iPod and use them for different purposes. The small and lightweight shuffle makes an excellent exercise companion. The nano will likely accompany many owners to work or shopping. The full-sized iPod travels well on long plane flights or drives. I have acquired several iPods through the years as I have upgraded from one generation to another. Because I don’t need a photo iPod while driving, I use my third-generation model in the car; I plugged it in one day and left it. It lives there all the time. I carry with me my newer, fancier iPod that does pictures.
Accessorize that iPod. If your intended recipients already have all the iPods they need, consider helping them accessorize. The quantity and variety of accessories for the iPod continues to grow each year. Available accessories run the range from external speakers to upgraded headphones/earphones to myriad cases and any number of connectors to make the iPod the heart of a music system for your house, office, or car. You can even turn it into a boom box. Some cars now come equipped with iPod docks, and you have many choices of third-party portable and hard-wired docking solutions. Harman Kardon’s $200 Drive + Play (www.harmankardon.com) makes an excellent add-on to your car. Professionally installed, the Drive + Play looks almost built-in and does a great job moving the music from the iPod through the car’s built-in stereo system. You can also use a portable installation if you choose.
Apple provides a set of adequate earphones with the iPod. You can, however, find many better choices—the quality of your earphones directly translates to the quality of the sound you hear. All of the iPods generate signals that will sound much better on higher-quality earphones (or external speakers) than they will on lesser ones. On the relatively inexpensive side, Apple’s $39 in-ear headphones provide noticeably better sound than those that come with the iPod.
If you choose to spend more, you can get much better quality still. Our favorites in the premium category, the Shure E series sound-isolating earphones (www.shure.com), all cost more and performed significantly better than the Apple earphones, and they were better (often significantly better) than the other earphones we tried. Shure sells the E2c for $109, the E3c for $199, the E4c for $319, and the E5c for $549. The E2c will work fine for most people, providing very high quality sound. The E3c and E5c each improve on the sound from the lesser units in the series. Shure designed its E4c specifically for digital technology and it does a superb job with it. If you want a truly amazing set of earphones, consider the newest iteration of the Shure E series earphones, the E500PTH ($499). The E500 uses a different sound technology than the E5c. The E5c runs dual live performance drivers, whereas the E500 uses triple-high-definition drivers (the E4c uses a single high-definition driver). For use with the iPod, we prefer the sound of the E500 to the E5c. By the way, they call the E series “sound isolating” because it blocks out a substantial amount of ambient noise. The sound isolation uses a passive technology dependent on the seal of the earphone to your ear. For that reason, the earphones come with several different sizes/styles of covers to match to the user’s ear. By the way, the PTH designation on the E500 refers to its “push to hear” feature. That allows you to push a button, sidestep the sound isolation, and hear outside conversations or other sounds.
The ER series from Etymotic Research (www.etymotic.com) offers another high-quality option. The top of the Etymotic line, the ER•4 costs $299 and provides exceptionally clear sound, blocking out a great deal of ambient noise using a passive seal technology. Etymotic’s ER•6 earphones cost $139 and provide excellent quality, but with a lower range and responsiveness than the ER•4. Etymotic has modified its ER•6 to create the 6i, which it designed specifically for the iPod and sells for $149.
You might also want to consider a noise-canceling system. Noise-canceling systems generate “anti-noise” that blank out sounds that you would otherwise hear from such things as airplane engines. Bose (www.bose.com) makes excellent noise- canceling headsets. Their QuietComfort 2 (QC2) ($299) topped the list for some time. This year, Bose introduced the Quiet-Comfort 3 (QC3) at $349. Although the QC3 offers some new innovations, Bose continues to sell the QC2 as well. The QC2 earpieces fit over the ear. The smaller earpieces of the QC3 fit on top of the ear. Both versions fold and fit into included cases (the QC3 takes up less space). The QC3 weighs less than the QC2 (5.6 versus 6.9 ounces), making it somewhat more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The QC3’s noise cancellation, however, seems more pronounced and can become somewhat disconcerting after a while. The QC2 requires a standard AAA battery to power its noise-cancellation technology. The QC3 comes with a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 20 hours per charge cycle. Both headphones provide excellent audio quality. Both work very well to reduce ambient noise levels such as airplane noise. We think that the sound-isolating earphones reduce noise levels better, however.
Those wanting to share music with others, or just listen to it without earphones, will enjoy receiving a set of external speakers designed for the iPod. You have several excellent choices in this category. One of the top-end external speakers is the Bose SoundDock, which costs $299 and provides a deep, rich, full sound. Apple sells its own iPod Hi-Fi for $349. The iPod Hi-Fi generates a good, room-filling sound, but it lacks the sleekness of design we have come to expect from Apple. Perhaps the best value of the high-end dedicated iPod external speaker choices, the Klipsch (www.klipsch.com) iGroove HG looks neat and provides amazingly good sound. It costs only $249.99. The Bose and Klipsch speakers now come in your choice of black or white exteriors. Apple gives you your choice of any color you want for the Hi-Fi—just as long as it is white!
Altec Lansing (www.alteclansing.com) offers several speaker sets for the iPod. Its M602 ($199.95) or the 0.67”-thick iM500 for the nano ($129.95) both make exceptional choices. JBL’s $159.99 On Stage (www.jbl.com) makes another excellent choice, providing big performance in a compact size.
If you want portable loudspeakers, the Altec Lansing iM-7 ($249.95) and iM-9 ($200) convert the iPod into a boom box for battery- or AC-powered use almost anywhere. Incidentally, Altec Lansing’s “iM” designation stands for “inMotion.” The inMotion line has a number of other pieces, so if we haven’t identified exactly what you want, you might check out some of the other speakers in the line.
If you want iPod accessories at a lower cost, you have a wide selection of iPod cases to choose from. The least expensive we have found costs $5.95 (on sale) and the most expensive, Apple’s Italian leather case for the iPod 60 and 80 GB units, costs $99. We’ve not yet found a case that costs more, but we suspect one is out there if you look hard enough. Many iPod owners have a collection of cases for different purposes. Try Googling “iPod cases” to get a selection of vendors with a wide array of choices, including the Apple online store.
By the way, if you simply cannot decide which iPod-related gift to get, Apple sells gift cards for the iTunes store. The iTunes store now sells audio books, television videos, and movies in addition to music.
An iPod alternative. If you want a music player but prefer not to get an iPod, take a look at Creative Labs’ ZEN V Plus (www.creative.com). The ZEN V Plus comes with a 1.5” OLED color display (a relatively new and quite promising technology), FM radio, voice recorder, and even an alarm clock. Creative Labs offers the device in three sizes: $160/4 GB, $120/2 GB, and $90/1 GB. It boasts compatibility with several online music services, including Yahoo, Music Unlimited, Napster to Go, Urge, and Audible.com. You can also download and transfer music from your own CDs. The unit has eight equalizers allowing adjustment settings for acoustic, classical, disco, jazz, new age, pop, rock, and vocals.
The unit weighs 2 ounces and offers continuous playback time of 15 hours; it also syncs with Microsoft’s Outlook, Contacts, Calendar, and tasks features. The ZEN V Plus comes in a scratch-resistant case in your choice of five colors.
Do you watch enough television? The big-screen phenomenon has taken over. High-definition (HD) programming significantly upgrades the quality of the picture you see. If you have not seen HDTV yet, go to an electronics or appliance store and check it out. We believe it will impress you. LCD and plasma represent the two most commonly seen screens. Both screen types have dropped in price, with plasmas dropping faster than LCDs. You can find 40” to 50” widescreen LCD or Plasma HD televisions starting in the range of $2,000 to $3,000 for name brands such as Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Samsung, LG, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi. Smaller LCD TVs for an office or bedroom cost somewhat less, and you can find 15” to 20” LCD screens, perfect for a dorm room, for less than $400.
Although many manufacturers have produced numerous models and sizes of very good big-screen televisions, some brands stand out a bit more than others. Brands to look for in plasma screens: Panasonic (www.panasonic.com) and Pioneer (www.pioneerelectronics.com). Brands to look for in LCD screens: Sony, Panasonic, HP, and JVC (www.jvc.com).
Call me! Cell phones have become a fact of life for most of us. Many families have phones for each member of the family. During the last few years, the simple telephone has more or less ceased to exist, as phone makers have diligently worked to see how many different features they can cram into a tiny case. If you want a phone that does nothing but make and receive calls, you will have to look hard. Most phones today can send and receive text messages, and some include cameras (some have movie cameras and still cameras). Internet and e-mail capability is also more common (including the transmittal of pictures taken with the phone’s camera). Most phones have color screens to allow the user to play games and display pictures taken with the phone’s camera. Some units have full thumb board keyboards to facilitate text messaging or e-mailing. The newest additions to telephones include the ability to show television shows and the ability to act as a GPS receiver and provide travel directions.
Choosing a phone has become more and more complicated. Features to look for in top-of-the-line phones include Bluetooth capability (short-range wireless transmission for communication with computers or accessories such as earphones and separate speakerphones); built-in speakerphones, good, crisp, clear color displays, and the ability to access the Internet. Some phones are capable of working not only in the United States, but also in certain foreign countries. If your recipient travels internationally, that may become a significant feature. Most new cell phones also have contact and calendar capabilities, as well. Some phones have sophisticated PDA (personal data assistant) functions. Because cell phone pricing will differ from vendor to vendor and will, in part, depend on whether or not you purchase the phone in a package with a new cell number and/or the package you choose, we have not included pricing on some of the phones listed below.
If you use the Cingular system (www.cingular.com), look at the Motorola SLVR (www.motorola.com). The SLVR L7 is an excellent phone with Internet capability, a camera, and the ability to work internationally. Cingular offers significant discounts in connection with new accounts or extensions of existing accounts; the one I purchased for my son last month cost less than $200 from Cingular.
Newer versions of the Motorola RAZR phones have had some difficulties, but upgraded versions have proven excellent. The RAZR V3i offers a good choice. The differences between the V3i and lower-level RAZR phones include a better screen, a better camera (1.23 megapixels), video capture and playback, and the ability to use a memory card for additional memory. It also plays MP3 music using iTunes and can receive news, sports, and other entertainment broadcasts. The V3i is a quad-band receiver that works internationally.
You can buy the SLVR and RAZR V3i from Cingular (other GSM providers may also have the V3i by the time you read this). You can also buy it without a service plan (or a service plan discount) from independent sellers in stores and online. The only reason to buy it from an independent is to get an unlocked version of the phone, but because you can generally get a phone unlocked for about $30, it will likely prove cheaper to get a locked version (if available) with a service plan discount from a provider. That way you are sure to get all the provider’s software. Once you get it, you can have it unlocked. (When you unlock a phone, you can simply remove your local provider’s SIM card and replace it with a SIM card from a provider in another country and get local rates for local calls. Make sure your phone uses the same frequency as the foreign provider.)
If you want the leading edge of telephone technology, Motorola has an even newer and better version of the RAZR called the “MOTOKRZR K1” (“KRZR” for short). The only version of the KRZR sold by a U.S. service provider is a CDMA model from Verizon (www22.verizon.com). As none of the U.S. service providers have the GSM version of the KRZR yet, you will have to get it from an independent supplier. I found the phone unlocked online for just under $400. The KRZR has all the features of the RAZR V3i (including quad-band technology) plus improvements and upgrades including: EDGE (high-speed data) capability, improved PDA capabilities, the ability to sync contacts and calendar information, a sleeker design, enhanced video recording and playback, and a 2-megapixel camera with 8x digital zoom.
If you want a combination telephone/PDA, you have a growing number of choices. The Palm Treo phones (www.palm.com) have grown in popularity and desirability. The Treo 700P comes with a full Palm OS PDA capability, a camera, the ability to play music, Bluetooth connectivity, Internet connectivity, and the ability to receive and send e-mail. Unlike most other phones, it can access the Internet at broadband speed using the Verizon EVDO system; you can even connect your computer to the Internet through the phone. It also has a built-in speakerphone and a thumb board. Note that the 700P only works on Verizon and Sprint. If you want something similar using Windows Mobile, you can get the Palm 700w; it has all the same features, but it runs on the Windows Mobile OS instead of Palm’s operating system, and it does not work as a modem. The recently released Sprint version, the 700wx, adds modem capabilities and increases memory to 64MB. If you do not use Verizon or Sprint as your provider and do not want to switch, the best you can do in the Treo line is the Treo 650, similar in most respects to the 700P, but not capable of broadband Internet access. We have seen the 700P at several different prices from different vendors. You should be able to get one for less than $400 in a package with service.
If you want a phone without a camera that does a great job on e-mail, take a look at Research In Motion’s BlackBerry 8700 series (www.rim.com), which comes in configurations for most of the major cell providers. Cingular sells it for $299.99 in a package with a two-year service plan. The 8700 features a sharp color display, Bluetooth, a built-in speakerphone, basic PDA functions (although with its own proprietary operating system), and a thumb board. Phones in the new BlackBerry 7130 series (also available for $299.99 in a package with a two-year service plan) use a split key system—each key shares two letters. The included SureType software helps the phone “guess” which letter you wanted from the context (you have the ability to override); it works fairly well. The benefit of this system is that it gives the 7130 phones a smaller, sleeker, and more telephone-like “candy bar” shape, as opposed to the wider, more PDA-like shape of the 8700. The authors have used a variety of RIM/BlackBerry devices through the years; the 8700 and 7130 have become our favorites. The 7130’s SureType technology does take some getting used to, but the candy bar shape makes it much easier and more comfortable to hold. The full keyboard of the 8700 allows faster input of information. Both are excellent machines.
HP has stepped up recently in this market with its Mobile Messenger series. The HP iPAQ hw6940 Mobile Messenger provides all the essentials to keep your business running even when you’re away from the office: phone, e-mail, and more secure access to critical business information. It also includes GPS navigation. The 6940 uses quad-band GSM technology and delivers high-quality mobile voice and data services with worldwide roaming capabilities. A variety of integrated wireless technologies, including GPRS/EDGE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, let you connect and communicate in and away from the office. A Mini-SD slot allows you to add memory as you need it or to exchange files between your iPAQ and another device. The 6940 comes with Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 Mobile to play your music and videos, as well as a camera and HP Photo-smart Mobile Software to let you take photos and share them wirelessly. Although the unit is a bit pricey at $599 (list price without a package discount), we really like its features.
The new kid on the block in the PDA/phone category is Motorola’s Moto Q phone. Slimmer than the BlackBerry 8700 or the Treo 700P, the Moto Q appears to be an excellent phone; it features e-mail capabilities, calendar/contact functions, and broadband Internet access on Verizon’s EVDO system. Unfortunately, as of the date of preparing this article, we have not had the opportunity to try it. Early reports indicate that it is worth checking out, however. Verizon offers it for $199.99 in a package deal.
If you want a new phone but find the selection process overwhelming, go to http://cellphones.about.com/library/bl_bw_q1.htm and take the test. The answers will result in a selection of phones most closely meeting your ideal based on your responses.
As for accessories, you have many choices available to you from cases to travel chargers to automobile chargers to a variety of in-car portable speakerphones and wired and wireless headsets. If you carry a cell phone with Bluetooth capabilities but don’t have a Bluetooth earpiece, you should get one for yourself. A welcome gift for almost anyone, the price range for such devices is generally about $30 to $180. We evaluated a number of units with a variety of phones and prefer the Motorola and the Jabra units, particularly the Motorola RAZR H3 ($79.99) and HS850 ($99.99) and the Jabra JX10 (www.jabra.com; $179.99).
The JX10 costs more because it uses digital signal processing technology to compensates for noisy surroundings by automatically adjusting the volume control, making conversations more audible. Noise- cancellation technology also blocks out background noises, so the user’s voice sounds clearer to the person on the other end. The sleek, compact design makes the Jabra JX10 one of the smallest and lightest headsets available today. It weighs less than one ounce and measures less than 1.5” in length (4 cm).
Let’s print something. The new HP Color LaserJet 2605 dtn Printer is a quality, compact model that gives you all that you need in a color laser printer. It comes equipped with two 250-sheet paper trays and features two-sided printing, networking, and a photo memory card slot. It prints up to 12 pages per minute (ppm) in black and white and 10 ppm in color, with the first color page delivered from a cold start in less than 20 seconds. The built-in print server connects to a 10/100Base-TX Ethernet/Fast Ethernet network. This is an excellent printer at a great price: $629.99 (after HP’s online $70 rebate).
Printing on the go. The HP DeskJet 460wbt Mobile Printer prints up to 17 ppm in black and white and up to 16 ppm in color. The machine uses HP thermal inkjet technology and gives you crisp and clean printed pages. You can print using Wi-Fi connections or from Bluetooth-enabled devices such as notebooks, tablet PCs, digital cameras, or select mobile phones and PDAs.
Backup devices worth keeping. CMS (http://cmsproducts.com) offers a wide array of backup drives. All these devices use CMS’s BounceBack software, which makes backup automatic and easy—files are saved in their native format, making access as simple as plugging the drive into a compatible computer. You can duplicate your entire hard disk, creating a fully bootable drive and allowing you to carry your computer with you. The portable ABS-plus USB 2.0 backup drives range in price from $189 for 40 GB to $349 for 160 GB. There is also the FireWire ABSplus for Mac (same pricing as above). The ABSmini ($199 for 40 GB, $259 for 60 GB) is a pocket- sized, high-capacity USB 2.0 external storage device and one-touch backup system that fits in the palm of your hand. CMS also offers desktop backup solutions for Mac and PC, including the Velocity Series (Serial ATA), with transfer rates up to 1.5 GB per minute. Prices range from $169 for 80 GB to $389 for 400 GB. The authors both use CMS hardware and software for backup.
How about some good vibrations? If the person you’re gifting gets lots of back pains and stress sitting in traffic, consider the gift of a personal massage. No, not at a spa, but right there in the car. The IZON Car Massager attaches to your vehicle’s headrest, plugs into the 12V socket, and provides eight different rhythms. You can find it for $29.95 at http://bumperbibstore.com/index.
Get control of those business cards. If you are anything like the authors when it comes to business cards, then you have collected a drawer or more full of them. We always collect them with good intentions of entering them into our contact database. For years, that seldom happened. It just seemed that no matter how hard we tried, we could not get the cards off the desk and into the database.
We finally found a way to alleviate the situation: A card scanner. The IRISCard Pro package from I.R.I.S. ($199; www.irislink.com) consists of their Cardiris software and a very small portable USB scanner designed to handle business cards and photos. Install the software and connect the scanner to your computer, then feed the card and/or photo collection through. The Pro scanner scans in both color and gray scale. The scanner creates a digital image of the card, which the software then reads and exports to one of several major personal information programs including Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, Palm, and ACT on the Windows platform and Entourage, Address Book, Now Contact, Outlook Express, and AppleWorks 6 on the Mac platform. The software can read and recognize cards from more than 50 countries. Iris has developed a reputation for outstanding optical character recognition software, and the program generally has little trouble interpreting the card’s image. It sure beats manually retyping the information and using the card collection to find contact information. Alternatively, for $122, Iris will sell you its IRISCard Mini. The Mini does the same thing as the Pro, but not in color as it only works as a gray-scale scanner. I.R.I.S. makes both scanners and their software compatible with Mac OS X and with Windows 98/2000/Me/XP.
Schleping your gadgets. Gear, gear, everywhere—so how do you move it around? The simple answer: Get a good case (or several). The people at Targus (www.targus.com) get the award this year for creative case making. They have come up with a variety of well-designed and reasonably priced cases. Although you can find computer cases for $400 or so made with better materials, you will have to work very hard to find better-designed cases. As the Targus cases generally sell in the $100 range, you could buy four cases for the price of one of the high-priced cases. As a general rule, the Targus line uses space effectively, even recovering most of the space impinged upon by the handle in a rolling case. The Targus cases come with lots of pockets to hold your gear. Most of them also have a special holder for a bottle of water. Many of them also have a disc holder for CDs or DVDs. The Blacktop Roller case has become one of my favorites. Targus calls it a two-in-one case because the back section can hold a change of clothes. In truth, I have never packed clothes in it—I usually travel with enough gear to fill it up. It provides good protection for my laptop and seems to have plenty of room to hold my files, PDA, cell phone, backup and emergency disk, iPod, extra batteries, chargers, extension cords, USB, FireWire, Ethernet, and phone cables, and the other paraphernalia that I take with me when I travel. The Blacktop Roller comes in two sizes, a smaller model for computers with 15.4” or smaller screens ($89.99) and a larger model for 17” computers ($99.99). The case is constructed with 840D nylon and includes a padded shoulder strap, telescoping trolley handle, and in-line skate wheels.
Targus also makes a number of non-rolling cases in backpack, messenger bag, and briefcase configurations. They even designed a special collection of bags for women. The bags run from about $30 to $150. Many of the bags do not look like obvious computer bags, so they provide a bit of camouflage for your gear. The bags have appeal for a wide range of age groups. My son took one of the Targus Drifter backpacks ($49.99) with him to law school.
According to a recent survey, women buy more than 52 percent of all consumer electronics in the United States. As a result, the people at Mobile Edge (www.mobileedge.com) designed a collection of computer bags/handbags for women. Their Geneva Tote provides style along with the security of a dedicated computer protection compartment. The Geneva Tote is available in either black microfiber or a cotton Jacquard with faux-leather trim. The smaller model ($99.99) accommodates computers with screens up to 14.5”, and the larger model ($119.99) accommodates computers with screens up to 16.3”. Features include a detachable accessories/cosmetics wristlet, an exterior cell phone pocket, and a special pocket that protects wireless devices from data theft, spam, and viruses.
Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He also teaches business law in the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the Business School of the University of Phoenix. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alan Pearlman is a practicing attorney in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. He is the author of the nationally syndicated column The Electronic Lawyer and a frequent speaker at national legal technology seminars. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or on the web at www.theelectroniclawyer.com.