GPSOLO December 2007
The GPSolo 2007 Shopping Guide to Holiday Techno-Gifts
Technology continues to evolve, giving us more products with more features at better prices than ever before. As a result, techno-tools and toys make excellent gifts for family, friends, law partners, and employees, to say nothing of that ever-popular concept of buying yourself a present. Do not eschew the products discussed in this article just because many of them may prove helpful or useful to you in your practice or may help an employee work more efficiently. They still make good gifts! We have evaluated a great many products to identify those recognized in this guide. We have included in the recommendations a variety of items ranging in cost from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars.
Although the ABA publishes this journal, the product comments made in this article reflect the authors’ observations and do not constitute a position or endorsement by the ABA. The ABA does not make product recommendations. The authors, however, do.
The iPhone and Smart Phones
Apple has given us the newest, slickest, hottest, and yes, dare we say it, “sexiest” of the smart phones in its iPhone. The iPhone provides an interface based on Apple’s OS X and its Safari browser. It looks like no telephone or smart phone interface you have seen before. The iPhone gives you a telephone with a speakerphone, a calendar, address book, e-mail device, and Internet device that allows you to browse the Internet at a reasonable speed (Cingular/AT&T’s Edge technology), listen to your music, and watch your still pictures and videos. You synchronize it to information on your computer using iTunes. And it will play your music, audio books, podcasts, etc., just like any of the iPod devices. In conjunction with the iPhone’s release, Apple also upgraded iTunes and the iTunes store so that you can now go to the store through your iPhone to purchase content and download it directly to your iPhone.
Apple used the same brilliance in designing the iPhone that made the iMac such a popular computer. Originally, Apple released the iPhone in a 4 GB and an 8 GB version. Only a few months after releasing the iPhone, Apple corrected its direction in two ways: It dropped the 4 GB version and, at the same time, reduced the price of the 8 GB version by $200. The iPhone looked good at $599. At $399, it looks even better. This one you should consider buying for yourself! Note that it works only on the AT&T system.
If you want something a bit less fancy, look at the Palm Treo or one of three new BlackBerry phones: the Pearl, the Curve, and the 8800.
Although Palm has generated other new models of the Treo, the 700p remains our favorite. The 700p uses the well-established, amazingly solid, and extremely reliable Palm OS. Most of the others work off of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform. If you want a device on the Windows platform, you have better choices. The 700p while somewhat bulky, still provides excellent features. Note that the 700p works only with Verizon. You can also get an updated version, the 755p that works only on Sprint. It appears substantially similar in function to the 700p with a slightly different design. Its specifications indicate that it has a slightly thinner profile and a minimally slower processor. If you favor the Sprint system, take a look at the 755p.
We continue to like the Palm OS because it has more programs available than any of the other pocket device operating systems. The 700p also accepts SD memory cards, allowing you to add an almost limitless amount of information and software.
Palm recently announced the pending release of a new smart phone, which it has labeled the “Centro.” Initially it will work only with the Sprint system. The current lack of review units for the phone has prevented our examining it in time for this guide, but it should be available by the time you read this. If you use or want to use the Sprint system, you should check out the Centro. Sprint has already started to advertise it at $99 with a two-year contract. As with the Treo, Palm has given the Centro a full thumb board. The Centro has a curved bottom and a thinner form than the Treo. It will come in two colors, black and red.
All three of the featured BlackBerry phones use the “push” technology for e-mail handling. We think that works better than any of the other options. The new models dropped the click wheel in favor of a trackball. The Pearl and the Curve come with cameras (something new for BlackBerry). The 8800 lacks the camera but comes with a built-in GPS (global positioning system) receiver. The Curve and the 8800 have full thumb board keyboards; the Pearl has a special double-letter keyboard that uses half as many keys and SureType software to make sense out of what you type into it. All three units will fit in your jacket pocket. The Pearl has a considerably smaller footprint, however, making it the easiest and most convenient to carry. All three come to you at discounts through most major carriers.
The newest of the three, the Curve, gets its name from the curved face that it sports both for appearance and ergonomics. The Curve also comes with a 2 megapixel camera and improved software.
Samsung positioned its BlackJack as competition for the BlackBerry, the Treo, and the Motorola Q. The BlackJack suffers from the fact that it operates on the Windows Mobile platform. Although this platform allows you to do many things, every device (including the BlackJack) we have tried that uses it burns battery charges too fast. When we got one, the BlackJack came with two batteries. Shortly afterward, a bigger and more powerful battery arrived, with a new back for the BlackJack to accommodate the size of the new battery. If you want Windows Mobile features and don’t mind the battery issue, the BlackJack certainly fits the bill.
If you want cell phone accessories, you have many choices. A Bluetooth (wireless) headset makes a nice gift (or a useful self-purchase). With a Bluetooth earpiece you can join the many people you see wandering through the streets of most cities apparently talking to themselves, but really just using their cell phones wirelessly. Bluetooth earpieces cost between $40 and $200. We like the new, small, barely noticeable versions the best, although they have a relatively short battery life. Their small size and light weight make them more comfortable and less obtrusive to wear. The fact that they go into the ear, instead of over it, cuts down on the amount of background noise that can interfere with your ability to hear. Take a look at Motorola’s H9, Plantronics’s Discovery 665, and the new Apple earpiece released for use with the iPhone. We have been happy with all of those units, although the Motorola H9 tends to have a lower volume than the others, which may prove inconvenient or even unacceptable to some of you. Motorola and Plantronics also have lower-priced units available, some of which work quite well. We have liked Motorola’s H3 and its H700, H800, and H850 (over-the-ear models) as well as the earlier (lower numbered) models of Plantronics’ Discovery series. Plantronics also makes a lightweight Bluetooth headset, the Pulsar 590E, that fits over both ears, providing stereo reception as well as telephone connectivity. It works well and lists for $139.95 (you can find it for about half that price online). Jabra also makes an assortment of reliable Bluetooth headsets at a variety of prices.
A number of less well known manufacturers have produced excellent units at lower prices than those discussed above, all of which have proven satisfactory. BlueAnt’s X3 micro comes from the land down under but does a top-rate job. You can charge the micro from a wall outlet or a USB port on your computer. It lists for $129 but sells for much less online (we have seen it for around $80). Its relatively small size makes it comfortable to wear, and it works very well. While we would have a hard time justifying a $129 price for it, at $80 or $90 you get good value for your money.
Cardo makes the Scala line of Bluetooth headsets. Its 700 (formerly top of its line) works very well and costs relatively little. Although it lists for $89.99, we have seen it online for as little as $35. We like the Scala 700, although not as much as those recommended above. Most of you will find it perfectly satisfactory.
The Jawbone is larger than most of the others and less stylish. Its size makes it heavier as well. I had difficulty getting it on my ear with only one hand. It lists for $119.99 and you can get it from AT&T, Apple, and many other vendors. You can get it online for less. We recently saw it advertised for only $79. Why would we recommend it? Because it uses noise shield technology that filters out background noise so that your listener can more easily hear and understand your transmission. If you frequently use your phone in a noisy environment, the Jawbone makes good sense, despite the drawbacks noted above.
Virtually every computer manufacturer has upgraded its products since last year, often at no price increase. Many computer manufacturers have increased the power and features of their products while actually lowering prices.
If you have thought about getting a new computer for yourself or for someone else, the market offers you fine opportunities. You will likely find more satisfaction with a name brand than an off brand, even if the name brand costs a bit more. Those that stand out in today’s market include Lenovo, HP/Compaq, Sony Vaio, Toshiba, Dell, Acer, and Apple (whose machines now run both the Mac OS X and Windows). By the time you read this article, Apple will have released its new OS X version 10.5 operating system (Leopard) and will sell its new computers with 10.5 installed. Accordingly, you have no reason to delay purchasing the Apple. Microsoft has already released Vista (although you may want to continue to use XP Professional for a while), so you have no reason to wait on any of the Windows-based computers, either.
Configuration. You will want a dual core processor (Intel Core 2 Duo or work- alike). If you get a Windows machine, get one that is Vista compatible (most will be). If you plan on using the computer primarily for work, you probably will want to stay with the XP operating system for a while—Vista has some compatibility issues with pre-existing software. If programs you use have compatibility problems, you will want to wait for new versions of that software or patches to the software to make it work with Vista before adopting that system.
You will want a computer that can read and write DVDs. Ideally those features will come as internal drives, although with some of the super lightweight laptops, optical drives come only as externals. Get the biggest hard disk you can. Consider 100 GB on a laptop and 250 GB on a desktop as minimums. Laptop computers with up to 160 GB have become common, and 200 GB drives are no longer unusual. You can easily find desktop computers with 500 GB hard disks. Most of the hard disks will run at 5,400 RPM (revolutions per minute); some will run faster or slower. Look for at least 5,400 RPM; get 7,200 RPM if you can. Look for at least 2 USB 2.0 ports on a laptop and 4 or 5 on a desktop. Laptops should have a PCMCIA card slot and/or an Express 34 card slot for cellular air cards, expansion cards, etc. You will want built-in Wi-Fi, preferably working off the “N” draft standard (which is compatible with the “G” standard as well). Note that to get the N speeds, you will also need to get an N base station.
If the manufacturer makes Bluetooth an option, add it, as it will enable the use of wireless keyboards, tracking devices, and earphones. If you plan to use a laptop as a desktop replacement, look at a 17” screen or think about adding an external monitor. If you want something more mobile, look at a 12” or 13” screen. The 14” and 15” screens offer a good compromise. They are larger and heavier than the 12” and 13” screens but are still fairly portable. Get at least 1 GB of RAM on a Windows XP machine and at least 2 GB if you plan to run Vista. If you get a Macintosh, go for at least 2 GB to run the Mac OS X system. If you plan to run Windows on the Mac through virtualizing software such as Parallels, you will want more memory because the virtual machines require real RAM allocations. If you will run XP on your virtual machine, you should have at least 3 GB of RAM. Get 4 GB if you plan to run Vista. If you only plan to run Windows using Apple’s BootCamp software, the 2 GB machines will work fine—BootCamp works in only one operating system at a time, so you will have 2 GB for the Mac OS X and the same 2 GB for whatever version(s) of Windows you choose.
Mac vs. Windows. The platform question has grown less significant for several reasons. Both platforms use the same processors, but you have the option of running the Mac OS X and/or Windows on the new Macintosh computers, something you cannot do on machines built solely for Windows. We have seen an increasing number of users choose to get the 13” MacBook as a lightweight computer, even if they plan to run Windows primarily. If you want to run windows primarily on a Macintosh, use Apple’s BootCamp and boot up as a Windows computer, then reboot when you want to return to the Mac OS. You will see a speed improvement over booting up as a Mac and running Windows on a virtual machine through a program such as Parallels. That is especially true if you use a MacBook (which has a 2 GB RAM limit) as opposed to a MacBook Pro, or if you use an older iMac with a 2 GB limit. If you have a MacBook Pro with a 4 GB capacity, the performance difference diminishes—you will have more RAM available for each system.
Tablet computers. Well, it looks like the concept of writing on tablets has survived into the 21st century. It seems like only yesterday we were carving on stone tablets with an iron chisel. Now we’re writing on tablet computers with a plastic stylus. Or a finger. The tablet computer concept has continued to evolve and improve, and the handwriting recognition software that makes it work is now pretty decent. For those of you with an interest in getting a tablet computer, look at Lenovo’s ThinkPad X60/61 or HP’s Pavilion tx1000z. Starting at $1,544, the Think- Pad is the more expensive of the two. We think the $979.99 tx1000z offers the better value for your dollar. The Pavilion tx1000z can function like a standard laptop with keyboard, but you can also twist the optional 12.1” touch-screen display backward for presentations or fold it flat like a slate for use as a tablet (handy for watching DVDs on cramped airplanes, too). The Pavilion tx1000z also comes with an optional integrated biometric reader: Just swipe your finger across the reader at the side of the panel to log on and access password-protected websites and documents.
As a society we continue to move more and more in the direction of storing our information electronically rather than on paper—but that information comes to us in many forms, including hard copies. When you get a paper document, if you want to store it electronically, you need to scan it to create an electronic file. To do this, you will need a scanner and appropriate software to operate the scanner and create an interface between the scanner and a computer.
You can find all sorts of scanners on the market. We have a strong partiality to HP scanners and to those made by Fujitsu. In fact, one of the all-time great bargains comes to you from Fujitsu’s scanner department. We have liked the Fujitsu ScanSnap from the first time we saw it. The ScanSnap closed has the approximate size of a football. It opens to allow you access to the automatic sheet feeder. The ScanSnap works well, has proven reliable, scans rapidly, and can do true duplex scanning (scanning both sides of a two-sided page simultaneously). It scans black-and-white or color documents at 18 pages per minute (36 pages per minute if the pages have information on both sides). Fujitsu rates the capacity of the automatic document feeder at 50 pages, but we have found its operating limit to be 40 pages; any additional pages resulted in jams. To make a good deal even better, Fujitsu includes a full copy of Acrobat with the scanner at a package list price of $495 (we have seen it for as little as $410 online). Fujitsu sells a Macintosh version of the ScanSnap (S500M) as well as a Windows version (S510). The Macintosh version comes with Acrobat 7 Standard, and the Windows version with Acrobat 8 Standard. Whichever you get, we strongly recommend that you upgrade to Acrobat 8 Professional if you do not already have it. The ScanSnap scans only to PDF, but it has a one-touch scan to searchable PDF feature, making it very convenient. As PDF serves as the common standard in many firms and most users have the free Adobe Reader allowing them to read files in that format, the restriction to PDF should not pose a problem. If you need a scanner that produces other formats, both HP and Fujitsu have a number of excellent choices, but the ScanSnap will not work for you.
Scanners come in three basic varieties, flatbed scanners (which allow you to scan one or two pages at a time out of a book opened on the flatbed, as well as single sheets of paper), single-sheet scanners (which scan one sheet at a time), and scanners with an automatic document feeder (which handle 15 or more single-sheet pages at a time). If you want a scanner to handle relatively high volumes of documents and/or want to get the documents scanned quickly, look for one that has an automatic document feeder.
If you want the better of two worlds when it comes to scanners, you can get flatbed scanners that have automatic document feeders as well. A flatbed scanner with a sheet feeder will allow you to do single sheets rapidly and still handle bound books. On the other hand, flatbed scanners take up a lot more real estate than a scanner like the ScanSnap. Both HP and Fujitsu offer such scanners, which have proven reliable and more or less comparably priced. The Fujitsu scanners (with an automatic document feeder rated at up to 200 pages and scanning speed at up to 57 pages per minute simplex [single-sided pages] or 114 pages per minute duplex) will handle more paper faster than the HP scanners (with an automatic document feeder rated at up to 100 pages and scanning speed at up to 35 pages per minute); however, the HP scanners will provide a higher resolution of scan (4,800 dots per inch, or dpi), necessary for quality scanning of pictures, than the Fujitsu (600 dpi) and cost significantly less. The specifications for the above comparison were of the HP 8390 scanner (list price of $1,349.99) and the Fujitsu fi-5650C scanner (list price of $5,995, seen online for $4036).
For those into scanning on the run, take a look at the Planon RC800 DocuPen ($299.99 list price). The DocuPen easily fits in a briefcase without taking up much space. It scans the full width of a standard 8.5” x 11” page at one time. You can scan a page in about four seconds with it set between 100 dpi and 400 dpi. It stores the scanned information on a SanDisk micro SD card until you can upload it to your computer. It’s not for high-volume use, but it’s very nifty for carrying around to scan the odd page here and there.
I.R.I.S., makers of Readiris, one of the best optical character recognition (OCR) programs going, has a version of its OCR program packaged with the IRISPen Executive 6. The Executive 6 works like a highlighter, except that instead of marking the original, it scans the portion of the text you want, OCRs it, and transfers it to your computer so that you can incorporate it into a document. This approach provides a much faster and easier way to get the text into the document than retyping it. The Executive 6 works with Macintosh and Windows computers and lists for $199.
Iris has created another version of its OCR software called Cardiris packaged with the new IRISCard Pro 4 ($199 list price). A real time saver, the Pro 4 can scan up to 600 business cards per hour and place the data into one of several forms for use with your contact manager program. It takes up almost no desk space, and you can easily pack it in a briefcase for travel. It works with both Windows and Macintosh computers.
How about a New Television?
The big screen has come home to television rooms all across the country. Additionally, television has moved strongly in the direction of high definition (HD) programming. If you have cable or satellite television service, you probably have a significant and rapidly increasing amount of HD programming available to you. If you have not experienced HDTV yet, go to a TV store and see it. It represents a major step up from standard resolution television. If you go television shopping today, you will find that most televisions come with liquid crystal display (LCD) or plasma screens, both of the thin and light variety. Most have a widescreen configuration. Plasma screens used to cost much more than LCD, but in the last few years plasma screen prices have dropped significantly. You can find LCD and plasma screens comparably priced. You can find 40” to 50” widescreen HD televisions, LCD or plasma, starting under $2,000 for name brands. Smaller LCD TVs for an office or bedroom cost somewhat less. Brands to look for include Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Samsung, LG, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, Sharp, Toshiba, and Philips. If you want to spend less, check out Vizio sets; they look pretty decent if viewed alone, but suffer in side-by-side comparisons with sets from the other manufacturers listed.
You need to choose between plasma and LCD. You also may need to choose between two versions of HD, one operating at 720p and the other at 1080p. The 1080p versions cost more than the 720p sets. If you get a 32” or smaller TV, the 720p should work fine. For larger sets, get 1080p.
LCD screens take less power and are more environmentally friendly than plasma. Plasma screens provide better color rendition and have a larger viewing angle, but they are more fragile and susceptible to screen burn-in than LCD screens. Plasma screens come in larger sizes than LCD, although that size differential has recently become less significant as LCD technology has advanced. Smaller screens come only as LCDs.
Choose a set with an 8 milliseconds or faster refresh rate (this governs how well images in motion—in adventure films, sports, games, etc.—will display). Some sets go as fast as 4 milliseconds; expect to see more of the 1080p sets at higher rates. Faster is better, especially on larger screens. Check out the number and type of connections. If you have any interest in plugging your computer into the display, make sure it has PC inputs. All sets should have S-Video, cable, and audio connections. Some even have USB connections so that you can plug a video or digital camera directly into the TV.
Although the sets generally come with speakers, consider upgrading the sound quality by adding external speakers. You can get a surround-sound system for a real home theater effect. These systems usually come with four or five speakers and a subwoofer. Some will also include DVD players with changers. You can find surround-sound systems from brands such as Bose and Sony at prices between $200 and $1,000.
Digital image quality has improved to the point that a good digital camera produces pictures that rival film images. As the quality has improved, prices have dropped significantly. It costs less to use a digital camera than a film camera. With digital cameras you don’t have to process film or print the image to see it. You can view images on most digital cameras through their self-contained LCDs. You can also see the images on computer screens, televisions, or iPods at no cost other than the cost of having the display device. Digital media allow you to record more pictures and are reusable. The cost of the digital media has also dropped dramatically. As if all those were not enough reasons to use digital cameras, you also can easily improve your pictures using one of the many available computer programs allowing for the correction of problems or defects in the images.
Image quality reflects a combination of resolution (megapixels), lens quality, and the photographer’s ability to make use of the camera, lighting, etc. Many of the new digital cameras have multiple automatic settings designed to give the photographer some control over the image exposure, but superimposing enough control to ensure a minimum level of quality for the picture. Most people will find it hard to take a badly exposed picture using the automatic settings. Advanced photographers will prefer less automatic cameras or, at least, cameras that allow manual override of automatic settings. In looking for a digital camera, you will want at least 4 megapixels. If you plan to print or project large images, you will need more megapixels to get a good quality image. You can get reasonably priced cameras with up to 10 megapixels. Some with 12 have recently shown up, but we have not yet had the chance to look at them. Cameras with 7 or 8 megapixels have proven very popular and appear to represent the norm. Most cameras have optical or digital zoom capabilities. Many cameras include both. Prefer optical zoom to digital zoom for better image quality.
Canon, Sony, and Nikon dominate the top of the list with digital cameras. Canon and Nikon built reputations for creating excellent lenses for their cameras. Sony uses Zeiss lenses in many of its cameras. Zeiss lenses also have a well-established reputation for excellence. Advanced users will generally favor Canon and Nikon cameras, although Canon and Nikon also make some excellent midrange and basic cameras. Sony appeals mostly to the midrange of experience but also makes some excellent basic cameras. It also has its fans among more advanced users.
If you already have a top-of-the-line digital camera and want a second for backup, or if you are looking for a good basic (essentially point-and-shoot) digital camera that works well and packs easily, look at Casio’s Exilim line. Casio makes three series of cameras in this line, the Exilim Card, the Exilim Zoom, and the Exilim Hi-Zoom. The cameras range from 7.2 megapixels to 12.1 megapixels in resolution, with most having 7.2 megapixels. Each series has a distinguishing characteristic. The Hi-Zoom cameras have 7x optical and 4x digital zoom. The Card series cameras all have an ultra-thin design in addition to 3x optical and 4x digital zoom. The Zoom cameras have a 3x optical and 4x digital zoom. We have tested several of them and found them completely satisfactory for general point-and-shoot use. They easily fit in a pocket and make excellent traveling companions. The cameras list for between $200 and $400.
All of the manufacturers have websites with images and specifications for their full camera lines. CNET provides a good source of reviews if you have difficulty deciding which camera to buy.
Finding Your Way
Portable global positioning system (GPS) devices have advanced both in popularity and affordability. You have several excellent choices in the range between $200 and $500. For those of you not sure exactly what a GPS device does, they locate your position using triangulation from the positions of a group of satellites that circle the globe and then provide you with turn-by-turn directions from where you are to wherever you want to go. Contemporary GPS devices share a number of common features. Most of them have color displays that show you either a map of the area in which you are traveling or the next direction you will execute or both. Most of the devices provide voice navigation as well as visual directions. The devices generally include information relating to points of interest, allowing you to obtain directions directly to such a point of interest as well as to a known street address and, in some cases, an intersection. A number of the devices include other features such as MP3 players or Bluetooth hands-free speaker connections for your cell phone.
We looked at several popular units and tested them for a place in this year’s gift guide. GPS devices make a perfect gift for anyone who travels to unfamiliar areas, whether the travel relates to work or play. Tom Tom’s GO 910 is a portable, lightweight unit, making it perfect for road trips or courthouse rounds. Tom Tom has an excellent reputation for easy-to-use products, and the GO 910 does nothing to hurt that reputation. It comes with a color touch screen, built-in MP3 player, and hands-free Bluetooth connection for your cell phone. The Bluetooth feature is a weakness in the unit—you tend to sound a bit like the guy in the coffee can when you use it—but it’s still better than holding your phone while driving. The $499.95 unit mounts portably in almost any vehicle; it will require regular adjustment as it tends to slide down after time once mounted.
Mio makes excellent GPS devices as well, producing both the least expensive and the most portable units we tested. The two Mio units that we feature run the MioMap v3 software and come pre-loaded with new Tele Atlas maps for the 50 United States and Canada, including some 3.5 million points of interest. Both units come with a DC charger and a suction-cup mounting stand and bracket. Both have color touch screens and provide voice navigation in addition to the visual display of your location and direction. The Mio DigiWalker C220 lists for only $199.95 (we have seen it online for $175), making it our least expensive unit. It measures 4.21” x 3.15” x .91”, weighs 3.88 ounces, and has a 3.5” color screen. The C220 gives you a good, reliable, easy-to-use, portable GPS unit at a reasonable price.
Mio’s more diminutive H610 represents our most portable unit. In fact, it comes not only with a portable mounting bracket for use in the car, it also comes with a cord to allow you to wear it around your neck and keep you on track when you go for a walk. The H610 goes well beyond a basic GPS device. The powers that be at Mio refer to the H610 as a “portable entertainment unit.” It offers multiple navigation modes and includes the ability to play music (MP3s) and display photos and video. The H610 has a 2.7” color touch screen, weighs 3.88 ounces, and measures 2.32” x 3.35” x .74”. The unit easily fits in your pocket. Although it does not handle music or images quite as well as an iPod, it does a very decent job with both. When the H610 first came out, it listed for approximately $495. Recently seen Internet pricing showed it at less than $300.
The Mio devices both provide fairly accurate but not perfect GPS positioning. Their placement seems off from time to time, often by as much as 20 yards. Accordingly, if you listen to the verbal turning instructions but discount the distance estimates, you should be quite happy with either of the Mio units. One other consideration: Used for GPS purposes, the H610 does not provide particularly long battery life. After an hour or so, the battery meter is near the bottom. If you use it in your car, use the cigarette lighter plug to keep it charged. If you use it for walking, you might want to get one of the telephone battery extenders with a mini-USB connector to give you more time. One final comment: Although you can use both Mio devices for walking as well as driving, the H610’s size makes it a better walking companion. Both devices, however, think that you are in a car, and, accordingly, you can save some time if you make some adjustments for use when walking—you can walk in directions and places that a car cannot.
Garmin has been a player in this market for many years, earning its reputation by making good and reliable GPS devices. We feature two of the Garmin units, the nuvi 660 (currently available and actually tested for this article) and the nuvi 770 (not yet available at the time we went to press, but we’ll offer you a preview).
Garmin’s nuvi 660 sports a wide-angle 4.3” color display that you can read in bright sunlight better than most. It has a number of extras built in—you really should call this a “converged GPS device.” Its size makes it a bit unwieldy for walking around, but you can use it that way. The nuvi 660 includes a Bluetooth hands-free speaker system for your compatible telephone. It also has a built-in FM connection for traffic conditions. The nuvi 660 plays MP3s, and if you get a subscription to www.audible.com, you can also get audio books and play them back through the nuvi 660. The 660 has an FM transmitter as well that allows you to play through your car’s stereo system. For extra cost, you can also get travel guides and language translation features to add into the nuvi 660. You can buy data cards for GPS use throughout Europe, South Africa, Mexico, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand. The 660 comes set up for portable use, but you can get the parts to mount it permanently in a single vehicle if you prefer. The nuvi will talk to both Macintosh OS and Windows computers. Garmin lists the nuvi 660 for $857.13. All in all, we think it offers quite a nice package.
At the top of the price range in the units we review is the Garmin nuvi 770, available for a mere $1,071.42. We have not actually seen this unit; Garmin did not have it on the market at the time we went to press, but it is slated for release in November 2007, just in time for the holiday season rush. Accordingly, the information about this device comes from Garmin, without personal observation by the authors. The specifications for this unit look so good, however, that we felt we should mention it to you.
The nuvi 770 features a widescreen, 4.3” color touch-screen display designed to be “sunlight-readable” from any direction. It comes preloaded with North American and European City Navigator NT street maps (2D or 3D), turn-by-turn voice directions, and millions of points of interest (e.g., hotels, restaurants, ATMs). You can set proximity warnings to alert you when you approach these points. When you remove the nuvi 770 from your windshield mount and take it on foot, it automatically remembers your position and will direct you back to your car. It has a Bluetooth wireless connection for your cell phone, and you can even use the touch screen to dial phone numbers.
Putting on a Good Show
LCD and DLP (digital light processing) projectors have continued to shrink in both size and cost while growing in power and brightness. Not that long ago, you could not find a small portable projector weighing less than five pounds, costing less than $5,000, or providing more than 1,000 lumens of brightness. That world has changed dramatically, starting with the development of DLP technology. Now you can find any number of small, highly portable (three to five pounds), very good projectors providing 1,500 to 2,000 lumens for $2,000 or less.
We especially like the XJ-S35, Casio’s slim and portable 2,000-lumen XGA resolution DLP projector (lists for $1,299). It has a 10.6” x 7.83” footprint and stands 1.7” tall. It also has a 2.0x optical zoom lens. It will easily fit in most brief cases and computer bags. I have several computer bags that will carry the projector and my laptop. For extra utility, take a look at Casio’s YC-430 folding, portable document camera ($799 list). It works with the Casio Exilim 1000 camera to allow you to view something through the projector as well as take a picture of it.
HP has made some excellent projectors but apparently has discontinued them; the HP website says the company will honor their projector warranties and continue to support them by selling essential accessories. We found some of the projectors online at discounted prices owing, no doubt, to their discontinued status. You may find an excellent buy in one of the projectors. We liked the ultra-portable 1,500-lumen mp2210 ($1,399) quite a bit for in-office use and for use at meetings and in arbitrations and mediations. It lacks the power for courtroom use. We also like the 1,800-lumen mp3135 (list price $2,869) for its performance, but not so much for its price. Discounted, however, this could turn out to be a great buy—it is an excellent projector for general purpose (not courtroom) use.
Let’s Not Forget the iPod
Apple’s iconic iPod faces more and more competition, but it still remains king of the mountain when it comes to pocketable music players. Apple recently revitalized the entire iPod line, releasing new models to replace all existing iterations in September 2007. Apple also released a new version of iTunes, fully compatible with computers on both the Mac and Windows Operating Systems. The new version enables new features for the iPod and connects to the recently updated iTunes store. With the new version of iTunes, users can go to the iTunes store and download purchases directly to the iPod.
Apple makes an iPod style for just about everyone, and its selection of styles and features offers something for almost everyone on your list. The new models give you good reasons to get a new one to replace an older version—they provide new features, more memory (in most cases), and smaller size. The Apple web site offers complete information on the various models. Recent price reductions make the iPod an even better buy. The current range runs from the shuffle ($79/1 GB) to the nano ($149/4 GB, $199/8 GB) to the full-sized iPod, now renamed the iPod classic ($249/80 GB or $349/160 GB). Building on the iPhone’s instant success and providing us with insight as to the iPods of the future, Apple also released a completely new form of iPod, which it calls the iPod touch. The touch, available in only 8 GB ($299) or 16 GB ($399) versions, incorporates the look and OS of the iPhone. The iPod has established its staying power as it continues to dominate the market and serve as the standard to which people compare the others.
The iPod touch presents the iPhone with more memory and no telephony. It has the same multi-touch screen and Wi-Fi capabilities as the iPhone. It presents pictures and videos at 480 pixels x 320 pixels on an exceptional 3.5” screen that shifts perspective as you turn it from a vertical to a horizontal position. Apple claims the rechargeable battery will provide up to 22 hours of audio or five hours of video use per charge.
The iPod classic, about the same size but a bit more svelte than its predecessors, provides up to 40 hours of audio playback or seven hours of video in a metal jacket. It includes a bright 2.5” color display.
The new nano looks different from its predecessor, a bit wider. It comes with a 2” color screen, and its built-in battery provides up to 24 hours of audio or five hours of video use per charge.
The shuffle has not changed in size or memory but gets a whole new color pallet. Apple says to expect up to 12 hours of audio from its built-in battery. The shuffle has no screen and only replays music.
With the exception of the audio-only shuffle, all the iPods 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), games, and can function as a PDA as well as a backup drive for Macintosh computers.
Throughout the iPod lineup, each gigabyte of storage space holds approximately 240 songs. All of the iPods play MP3 and AAC compressions, and you can use any of the iPod family members to store data other than your music for backup or easy transfer to another computer. Apple will personalize the nano and full-sized 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 that enables them to share a large collection of accessories.
By the way, if you get an iPod for the purpose of listening to recorded CLE programs, it should be as deductible as a tape recorder bought for the same purpose. You can transfer CLE on CD or in one of the many audio formats the iPod supports to the iPod along with audio books and your music using the iTunes software that comes with the iPod. Alternatively, you can get the iPod and an external speaker system for your office and enjoy your music collection at work.
If your intended recipient already has one iPod, consider one of the other models. Many people have more than one and use them for different purposes. The small and lightweight shuffle, for example, makes an excellent exercise companion. The nano will likely accompany many owners to work or shopping. I often take the full-sized iPod with me on long plane flights and also use it as a backup disk—I do not have 160 GB of music and photos on it (yet), and using it for data backup gives me extra security.
If your intended recipients already have all the iPods they need, consider helping them accessorize their iPods. The quantity and variety of accessories for the iPod continue to increase. Available accessories run the range from external speakers to upgraded headphones/earphones, to myriad cases and any number of connectors that make the iPod the heart of a music system for your house, office, or car. More and more new cars come equipped with built-in iPod docks (you can, for example, accessorize your iPod with a BMW), and you have many choices of third-party portable and hard-wired docking solutions to turn your iPod into a boom box.
Earphones/headphones. For those who use the iPod primarily for travel or mobile uses, upgrading the earphones should rate high on the list. The earphones that come with the iPod qualify as adequate only. You can find many better choices. On the relatively inexpensive side, Apple’s $39 in-ear headphones provide much better sound than those that come with the iPod.
In the expensive to premium category you’ll find Shure’s SE series sound isolating devices. Each step up costs more and performs noticeably better than the one below. The SE110 sells for $119.99, the SE210 for $179.99, the SE310 for $299.99, the SE420 for 399.99, and the SE530 for $499.99. Shure also has created a series of earphones that work with your music devices as well as your cell phone: The i2c sells for $129, the i3c for $209, and the i4c for $329.
Etymotic Research also offers exceptional earphones in its ER series. The ER4 costs $299 a pair. The ER6 costs $139 and provides an excellent set of earphones, but with a slightly lower range and responsiveness than the ER4. Etymotic has modified its ER6 to create the 6i, which it designed specifically for the iPod and sells for $149.
To prevent outside noises from impairing the sound quality, Shure and Etymotic both rely on passive sound isolating technology. They use the seal between the ear and the earphone to keep out or at least substantially reduce the incidence of ambient noise from reaching your ears. You might also want to consider a noise-cancellation system. Noise canceling systems actively generate “anti-noise” to blank out the extraneous noise that you would otherwise hear from such things as airplane engines.
Bose makes excellent noise canceling headsets. Their QuietComfort 2 (QC2, $299) has been available for several years. The QuietComfort 3 (QC3, $349) came out a year or so ago. The QC2 earpieces fit over and around the ear. The QC3 has smaller earpieces that fit on top of the ear but do not engulf it as do the earpieces on the QC2. The QC3 weighs less than the QC2 (5.6 to 6.9 ounces), making it more comfortable to wear, especially for longer periods of time. The QC3’s noise cancellation can, however, become somewhat disconcerting after a while. The QC2 requires a standard AAA battery to power its noise cancellation technology. The QC3 comes with a specially configured 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. Neither reduces outside noise as well as the sound isolating earphones, however. We believe that the sound isolating technology produces a better-quality, purer sound than the noise cancellation technology.
Speakers. If you want to share music with others, or just listen to it without earphones, you have a large variety of external speakers to choose from for the iPod. The $299 Bose SoundDock provides a deep, rich, full sound. Altec Lansing offers several speaker sets for the iPod. Its inMotion series, including the inMotion iM3c ($129.95) and inMotion iM7 ($249.95) portable boom boxes both make excellent choices. JBL’s $159 On Stage makes another very good choice. You can find more information about all of these systems online at the Apple store site or at the manufacturers’ sites.
One system stands out as unique and superior in most respects as a home or office iPod dock. Chestnut Hill Sound’s “George” combines an iPod speaker system with an AM/FM radio and an alarm. It comes with a removable faceplate and a full-function remote control unit. Most importantly, it does a great job, producing a full, rich, room-filling sound, making it clearly one of the best, if not the best, we have heard from a set of stand-alone iPod speakers. The George lists for $499.
If you want a small, portable, and inexpensive speaker for the iPod, take a look at the $39.95 Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3. It provides approximately 24 hours of playing time on three AAA batteries. Although it does not provide the sound of Altec Lansing’s larger iPod docks, or of many of the other larger systems, the Orbit also lacks the size, weight, and price tag of those larger systems. For its price, size, and convenience, it provides pretty fair sound.
Making the Case
One of our favorite bag companies, Roadwired, recently changed its name to Skooba Design to capitalize on the branding of its highly successful Skooba Satchel. Skooba Design also upgraded its well-known Skooba Satchel to the Skooba Satchel 2.0 ($99.95). The Skooba Satchel 2.0 incorporates a new bungee-cord shoulder strap, making it very comfortable to carry, even with a fairly substantial load. It has become one of our favorite cases.
Waterfield produces many interesting and well-designed bags, including their newly released iPhone cases that sell for $35 to $39. Take a look at their line if you want a good case for your iPod, iPhone, webcam, or other piece of electronics gear. They also make a fine computer envelope for your laptop.
For computer laptop bags, you might also consider looking at the lines offered by Targus and Wenger Swiss Gear. Both make a variety of well thought out, well designed, and reasonably priced computer bags. We are particularly impressed by the Targus Corporate Traveler series, as we have a strong preference for cases with wheels. Targus also makes a number of messenger-style and backpack-style computer cases. They even have a special line designed for women. Targus prices its cases very reasonably. Wenger also has a good line of reasonably priced and well-designed cases, including shoulder bags, backpacks, and wheeled bags. We have used and enjoyed Wenger’s Patriot case for several years. It carries a tremendous amount of hardware and paperwork.
We recently discovered a new manufacturer for first-quality leather briefcases and computer cases: Korchmar. We found them at the ABA Expo in San Francisco, of all places. Korchmar has a full line of cases in various styles and colors, including some designed (and dyed) specifically for women. We tried out a couple of the Korchmar cases and found them thoughtfully designed, well made, attractive, and reasonably priced. Leather cases often show more wear than the ballistic nylon bags, but, as a general rule, we think they look nicer and more professional. Certainly, lawyers have favored them for many years. If you desire to carry your files and gear in a leather bag or to get a leather bag as a gift for someone, check out the Korchmar bags. We found the Magnetite bag particularly impressive as it is a case you can open with one hand. The messenger-styled bag has a padded computer compartment and places for a PDA, phone, cards, writing implements, and files. The top flap secures to the bottom of the bag with two fairly strong magnetic connections. When we first looked at the bag, we thought that, despite its attractive design, the magnetic closure would prove a problem, particularly after the bag got stuffed with a computer, documents, files, and whatever else got thrown into it. To our surprise, the magnetic closure continued to work even after we stuffed the bag sufficiently full that we had to push the magnetic closures together. We also looked at their wheeled Litigator Catalog Case, which we thought would make an excellent trial bag.
Flash memory drives (often called “thumb drives,” “jump drives,” or “pocket drives”) come in sizes ranging from 8 MB to 16 GB. A flash drive can hold the same amount of information as one to several boxes of floppy disks and/or zip disks, depending on the size of the drive. Prices have dropped tremendously within the last few months, and we have seen 8 GB drives available for under $80 and 16 GB drives for less than $120. Flash memory cards for cameras, video cameras, and other devices have also dropped dramatically in price and will also work as stocking stuffers or small-sized gifts. Well-known and reliable manufacturers include Lexar, SanDisk, and Kingston. We have tried and had no problem with many smaller and less well known brands as well.
You can find flash media in most stores that carry electronics, such as Fry’s, Best Buy, Circuit City, RadioShack, and Comp-USA; you can also find them discounted at Costco, OfficeMax, and Office Depot. As a general rule, you can find thumb drives and other flash memory media cards for less money from reliable online dealers than you can in stores. We have found www.ecost.com to be an excellent place to go for discounted media and electronics. We have had no problems with orders from eCost to date. Many of the flash drives are sold there at store price but with a rebate. Be careful because many of these rebates impose time deadlines—if you don’t purchase and send in the rebate information within the right time period, you will end up paying the original store price for the device.
Apple iTunes store gift cards also make great stocking stuffers. So do cases and other accessories for telephones, iPods, computers, digital cameras, and other electronic devices. You can find many sources for such items. The Apple store has a very large selection of iPod/iPhone accessories and cases available.
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 holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix and is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales and a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may 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 may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or on the web at www.theelectroniclawyer.com.