Advancements regularly enhance technology’s significance to almost everything that we do. As a result, people have come to regard technology as a desirable gift (one of my favorites). For certain occasions within specific relationships (Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, etc.) you may wish to get your spouse or significant other a more traditional gift, but for most holidays, and for most relationships, technology offers highly suitable gifting opportunities.
In this guide I will share some ideas about technology-related gifts for friends, family, partners, employees, and almost anyone else. Many of the items will prove helpful to you professionally and/or enjoyable, if not desirable, additions to your personal life. The items discussed in this article have a price range from less than $20 to more than $1,000. You should find something in this list suitable for almost everyone on your list.
In keeping with custom (and the requirements of the ABA legal department), the obligatory warnings:
- Nothing said in this article constitutes tax advice. Consult your tax preparer about deductibility, depreciation, and other tax-related matters. If you think that something in this article constitutes tax advice, you made a mistake. You cannot use information in this article for purposes of tax evasion.
- Nothing in this article constitutes an endorsement of a product by the American Bar Association or its Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. The article contains my personal opinions and observations. Please do not give anyone else credit for them.
- Opinions and information contained in this article do not replace or supplement manufacturers’ warranties, instructions, or specifications.
- Price references reflect available information as to manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, unless otherwise stated. Although some items rarely sell for discounts, you can find discounts for most products if you look hard enough. Often products sell online for less than in bricks-and-mortar shops. If you shop online, be wary of whom you deal with and take steps to ensure that you get what you wanted.
- Some products discussed in this article were provided to me for review purposes by manufacturers or their media agents, others were purchased for my own use, and still others borrowed from friends. I have not endeavored to test every product on the market, and there may be good products not mentioned in this article. The article reflects my observations on the products I have looked at.
- The Surgeon General has not yet opined on the subject, but I think that the use of certain technology may prove addictive and, to the extent that you give up physical activity in favor of technology or allow it to distract you when driving a car or a boat, piloting a plane, or walking in the vicinity of traffic, can be dangerous to your health. Accordingly, although I recommend and commend the use of technology to you, use it advisedly and in moderation.
Apple’s Newest iPads
This is only the second time a product line has repeated as the number-one recommendation in this guide. As much as I would have liked to avoid repeating a number-one recommendation, doing so would ignore the fact that the iPad remains the first-choice technology gift in the country according to everything I have seen and heard. That may account for why Apple (www.apple.com) sold some 17 million iPads in the second quarter of 2012 alone. I do not know anyone unhappy about getting an iPad. I have heard many people who do not have iPads express the desire to acquire one.
The iPad has attracted people of all ages, all genders, and all levels of education. Attorneys use them in their practices, educators use them in classrooms, and lots of people use them professionally and/or personally. I know many people who carry their iPad with them almost everywhere, using it to surf the web, read eBooks, handle e-mail, provide calendar information, play games, and do a variety of other things. In addition, the iPad gives you an excellent audio and video media player. Although the audio does not noticeably improve on the iPhone/iPod, the video does. The larger screen and its high resolution give you a much better visual experience than the smaller screens.
Just as this issue of GPSolo went to press, Apple announced a fourth iteration of the iPad, to replace the third iteration it had introduced a scant seven months before. Apple calls the new model the “iPad with Retina display”; this name makes no real sense as the model it supersedes, which Apple had named (now rather ironically) the “New iPad,” also had a Retina display.
The iPad with Retina display will be equipped with an A6X chip, a much faster processor than the A5X chip in the now-discontinued New iPad. The iPad with Retina display will have the same memory configuration, the same cellular/WiFi options, and the same price points as its predecessor, however, making it available to people looking for gifts costing from $499 to $829.
The iPad with Retina display comes in WiFi-only and WiFi + 4G versions (like the New iPad). The WiFi-only version requires a WiFi connection for access to the Internet, e-mail, etc. The WiFi + 4G version allows you to get Internet access anywhere you can find a data signal from your provider, at a much higher speed than the 3G connection of previous iPads.
The iPad comes with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of memory. You cannot add memory to the iPad after purchase. New offerings on the market provide external memory additions, which, while somewhat helpful, lack the convenience of onboard memory. I continue to wish that Apple provided for the use of a memory card and/or upgraded memory to 128 GB.
One change in the iPad with Retina display is the replacement of the 30-pin docking connector with Apple’s new Lightning connector. (For more on this, see the discussion of the iPhone 5, below.)
Apple had not released the iPad with Retina display prior to my sending this issue to the printer, but I do have a New iPad, and it is a worthwhile upgrade to the iPad 2 and a significant improvement over the original iPad. The iPad with Retina display should be available by the time you read this, and it looks to be another nice upgrade to the previous model.
At the same event where it introduced the iPad with Retina display, Apple also announced an iPad mini with a smaller screen (7.9”) and no Retina display (it has the same resolution as the iPad 2). The iPad mini will use a slower processor than the iPad with Retina display. It will come in the same memory configurations and with or without 4G cellular capacity. It will also feature the new Lightning connector. Pricing for the mini is higher than most of us anticipated; the least expensive model costs $329.
Although I do not consider it anywhere near as desirable as the iPad, I consider the Samsung Galaxy Tab (www.samsung.com) as the next option if you want a slate but have opted not to get an iPad. I don’t consider it as desirable owing to the fact that I prefer the iOS to the Android OS, and comparing the Google Play store to the iTunes Store is sort of like comparing a Lexus to a Model T. Given the outcome of Apple’s patent infringement suit against Samsung respecting the Galaxy Tab and other devices, there is some question about what will happen to those devices in the near future.
Accessories for the iPad
If you have an iPad (or know someone who has one), you have a vast array of accessories to choose from for your own use or as possible gifts. The state of available iPad accessories has not changed significantly in the last year. Many (most) of the accessories I wrote about in last year’s Techno-Gift Guide remain on the market and continue to represent excellent choices. Rather than repeat those recommendations, I will simply refer you to last year’s guide, comment on a few new developments, and then move into other areas of technology-related gifts that you may find interesting, in order to maximize the benefit to you of this article and help you get the most for your technology-gift dollars. If you did not save the December 2011 issue of GPSolo (shame on you), you can find it online at tinyurl.com/8jucsu6.
I recommend that you consider a protective carrying case or an envelope as a first-choice accessory for the iPad. You can choose among a wide selection of cases for the iPad. The cases offer varying degrees of protection and functionality. My iPad travels with me a lot, so I want to give it a fair amount of protection. I cloaked my iPad in a ZAGG invisibleSHIELD (www.zagg.com) for protection against scratching and scuffing and to reduce the problem of fingerprints. Wrapsol (www.wrapsol.com) also offers protective plastic covers for the iPad (and other devices). The Wrapsol products cost approximately the same as those made by ZAGG and go on with a similar application process. I have come to prefer the Wrapsol products, although I still think very highly of the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD. My preference for the Wrapsol products stems from the facts that I find them a little easier to install and that over time, I have found that the ZAGG screen protectors may discolor a bit. I have not yet observed that phenomenon in the Wrapsol products, but, in fairness, that may simply reflect the fact that I have not had them on as long.
I like Apple’s iPad Smart Cover and keep one on my iPad most of the time. Apple came out with a new version this year. Instead of just a top with a magnetic attachment to the side of the iPad, this year’s version (only available in plastic and not in leather) provides protection for the back of the iPad as well as the sides. The cover slips over the back and sides, slightly expanding the measurements of the device. I like it better than the old one as it provides some protection from damage for the back of the iPad and also does not come off in normal use.
For additional protection, I generally put my iPad in a sleeve and carry it in a briefcase or a small messenger bag. You can get neoprene sleeves practically anywhere. As a gift, however, I am partial to Tumi’s leather-trimmed Alpha Small Laptop Cover ($65, www.tumi.com). You can, however, find perfectly adequate neoprene sleeves for considerably less money. Levenger (www.levenger.com) sells a leather Bomber Jacket 10” Laptop/Tech Sleeve for $89. The Bomber Jacket sleeves accommodate the New iPad, the iPad 2, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10, and many netbooks. (If you really like the leather Bomber Jacket sleeve but have a full-size laptop, Levenger sells a version for 15” laptops for $119.)
Col. Littleton still makes my favorite leather envelope, the No. 5 Pocket for iPad ($157.50, www.colonellittleton.com). It fits the New iPad in the new Apple cover perfectly. Its appearance improves with use, as the leather darkens a bit and develops a nice patina. The Colonel did not add padding to the envelope, but the thickness of the leather protects the iPad. As the envelope has no shoulder strap, you will probably want to put it inside a bag that does. Any number of messenger bags, cross-body bags, shoulder bags, briefcases, and backpacks accommodate that need. I am partial to such items from Tumi, Levenger, and Coach (www.coach.com) as I like their style and appreciate the very high quality of their designs, materials, and craftsmanship. You can get completely satisfactory (and much less expensive) cases from manufacturers such as Tucano (www.tucanousa.com), Targus (www.targus.com), and Swiss Army (Victorinox, www.victorinox.com), among others. I particularly like the Levenger Bomber Jacket series of messenger bags and iPad cases, including the Bomber Jacket iPad/Travel Pack ($179) and the Bomber Jacket Tech Traveler ($189). Tumi sells a great collection of bags in both ballistic nylon and leather. Its Alpha series tops my list of favorites, but I also like the Ducati series. Tumi’s Alpha Netbook Mini Messenger ($175), Alpha Bravo Knox Backpack ($295), and Ducati Deso Small Flap Crossbody bag ($145) all work very well and make stylish accessories. If you need something larger, look at the Alpha Tumi T-Pass Business Class Brief Pack ($445). It will accommodate everything from an iPad to a 15” laptop. I use one as my everyday briefcase.
If you want less expensive cases, check out the Tucano Finatex Extra Small ($34.99) or Work_Out for 11 ($39.99); both were designed for the 11” MacBook Air but work fine for the iPad. I also discovered a rough-and-tumble case for the iPad made by Hazard 4 (www.hazard4.com) called the Kato Tablet + Netbook Mini-Messenger ($99.99). You can get that bag and others at www.gearbunker.com. The Kato looks like military gear and was designed to carry and protect a tablet and other equipment in extreme situations. I tried it with an iPad, a Kindle, an iPhone, camera equipment, and other miscellaneous gear, and it accommodated all, protecting it well. If you have an outdoorsperson to buy for (or like to do the outdoors thing yourself, or simply want to look the part), check out the Kato.
I use a stylus with my iPad. I have not found any new styli of note since I wrote last year’s Techno-Gift Guide and refer you to that issue for a discussion of styli.
iPhone 5. I have used the iPhone since it first came out. It remains my favorite cell phone. I currently have an iPhone 5, released just as I was finishing this article. The iPhone 5 works on the so-called 4G networks (at last) and uses a new and more powerful A6 processor. The iPhone 5 is bigger and thinner than its predecessors, measuring 4.87” high, 2.31” wide, and 0.3” thick. It weighs in at 3.95 ounces. It has a 4” Multi-Touch Retina display with an 1136 x 640 pixel resolution. The iPhone 5 features a new connection system (called Lightning), so you will need an accessory adapter to use the iPhone 5 with an existing docking connector (speakers, chargers, etc.). As the adapter will not work with all accessories, you will need to verify that it works with the accessory you have in mind. The adapter does not support video or analog audio output. The camera compares favorably to most of the other top phone cameras I have seen and provides a very satisfactory point-and-shoot camera and HD video camera for everyday casual photography. Apple has included details about the features of the iPhone 5 on its website. You can order the iPhone 5 online from the Apple store or from your service provider. You can also get it at the bricks-and-mortar Apple Stores, from service provider stores, and at additional physical locations.
The iPhone 5 comes with the newly released iOS 6 and an upgraded version of Siri, a voice command program that allows you to instruct the phone with verbal commands and have it understand and respond by words and/or actions.
Memory options include the same 16 GB ($199), 32 GB ($299), and 64 GB ($399) choices as Apple made available for the iPhone 4S. To get the phone at these prices, you must also purchase a data plan and enter into a two-year subscription agreement.
Apple also offers the 16 GB iPhone 4S unlocked for $549. The unlocked versions comes without contractual ties to a provider, but you have to purchase a plan from a provider to use the phone on its network. I have not heard that any provider offers reduced-priced plans for those with unlocked devices, so you will pay a price that supports a subsidized purchase, even though you did not get a subsidized purchase price. Apple also offers the 8 GB iPhone 4 unlocked for $450. You might want to consider picking up an unlocked version if you travel out of the country a lot and want to have the freedom to pop a SIM card from a foreign provider into your phone.
As none of the networks works equally well everywhere, you have a better chance of getting an iPhone that works for you by getting one through the provider that dominates your area. Phones on the AT&T system do have one significant feature advantage over those on the Verizon and the Sprint networks: AT&T lets you concurrently talk on the phone and browse the Internet; Verizon and Sprint iPhone users can do one or the other, but not both at the same time. Now that a 4G iPhone is available, your preference of providers may change; the 4G networks offered do not have the same scope of coverage as the 3G networks, and you may find that your area has no 4G coverage at all or only has 4G coverage from one of the other providers (the phone will fall back on 3G coverage in areas where it cannot get 4G).
As noted above, Apple has released iOS 6. Check out the Apple website for information about the new features that will come with iOS 6. The new iOS will come installed on the iPhone 5 and iPod Gen. 5, as well as the new iPads. iOS 6 can be installed on the most recent of the earlier versions of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, but not all the features of iOS 6 will work on the older hardware.
Android. Google’s Android operating system has been gaining a larger and larger share of the smartphone market. Although the iPhone has proven the most popular smartphone hardware, more smartphone users use the Android platform than the iOS platform. Many manufacturers make Android phones, including Motorola (www.motorola.com), Samsung (www.samsung.com), HTC (www.htc.com), LG (www.lg.com), and Sony (www.sonymobile.com). All the major and many of the minor service providers have Android phone offerings. The Samsung Galaxy Note, my personal favorite of the Android phones, works on the AT&T 4G network (it also has backward compatibility with earlier networks that comes into play when it cannot find a 4G signal). The Note has a much larger display (5.3”) than the iPhone and uses a super AMOLED screen to conserve on battery life. The screen is bright, clear, and sharp. The Note has a good-sized battery, but I find that it will not last a full day in heavy use. As it has a removable back and replaceable battery, you might want to consider getting a second battery. As an alternative, you can carry a portable charger that will hold enough power to recharge your smartphone. Samsung has announced that it will release a new version of the Note (the Note II) by the time you read this article. The Note II will work on 4G, have an 8 MP camera, handle HD video at 1080p, run on a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, run Android 4.1, and have a 5.55” super AMOLED HD display. It will come with your choice of 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of RAM and accept Micro SD cards up to 64GB. I have not yet seen pricing information, but I expect it will cost about the same as the iPhone 5.
BlackBerry. BlackBerry (Research In Motion, or RIM; us.blackberry.com) had a long run as king of the mountain, but both iOS 6 and the Android operating systems now surpass the BlackBerry OS in features and performance. On the hardware side, BlackBerry has recently updated its Torch, Bold, and Curve models. The Curve is a decent consumer phone; the new Bold offers a more substantial and professional model. Both of them have the candy-bar styling with a small screen and a physical keyboard. The new Torch has a display that fills the entire top of the phone and only a virtual keyboard. Although BlackBerry phones do a competent job as telephones and still handle e-mail exceptionally well, BlackBerry has the least developed app store of the three major phone operating systems, and that is a virtually insurmountable deficit. Put another way, the BlackBerry remains a smartphone in the “genius phone” era.
Music Player Choice: Apple's iPod touch
When it announced the iPhone 5, Apple also announced updated models for the iPod line. The top of the line, the iPod touch, is substantially the same thing as an iPhone 5 with a more slender profile but no cellular functionality or independent telephone capability. Calling an iPod touch a music player really does it an injustice as it provides far more than the ability to play music (although it does play music exceptionally well). It includes a camera, runs apps, plays videos, and functions as a PDA. The iPod touch has memory options of 32 GB ($299) and 64 GB ($399). I have both the iPhone and the iPod touch. I use the iPod more for media and the iPhone more for running apps and for e-mail as well as telephony owing to its cellular and cellular data connectivity without the need for WiFi. If I did not have an iPhone, I would most assuredly want an iPod touch. In that case, however, I would load more apps on the iPod touch. As Apple just released the fifth-generation iPod touch as I was finishing this article, I have not yet had the opportunity to test it. The fourth generation of the iPod touch was excellent, and the fifth generation improves the speed, improves the camera, and provides a 4” display; I expect it will prove even better than its predecessor. By the way, Apple’s website indicates continued availability of the 16 GB and 32 GB versions of the fourth-generation iPod touch for $199 and $249, respectively.
Apple also announced an update to the nano line, featuring a redesigned 16 GB version with a 2.5” display selling for $149.
Apple has a complete breakdown of the features of each model of the iPod on its website. The new iterations of the iPod line will use the same new connection configuration as the iPhone 5, so you will need an adapter for it to work with accessories built for Apple’s 30-pin docking connection. Be sure to verify that your device will work with the adapter. Newer versions of many products, including speakers, use Bluetooth connectivity, so they will work with iDevices and any other Bluetooth-capable device.
Accessories for Smartphones and iPods
In addition to the basic accessories manufacturers offer for their devices, third-party manufacturers have developed a veritable cornucopia of add-ons. As with the iPad, the state of available accessories has not dramatically changed in the last year. Many (most) of the accessories I wrote about in last year’s gift guide remain on the market and continue to represent excellent choices. Accessories for the new iPhone/iPod releases have not yet come out but will start to become available prior to the time you read this. Please note that as the new iPods and the iPhone 5 have a larger footprint than the earlier models, cases designed for earlier models will not work with the new devices. New cases should be available by the time you read this article, however, likely from the same people who made the iPhone 4S accessories. Additionally, Apple’s implementation of the new Lightning connector replacing its 30-pin docking connector means that you will need an adapter to allow the new iPhone/iPod to work with devices built for the 30-pin docking connector (check to make sure the accessory works with the adapter).
Power! Most of our communications devices come with a patently insufficient power source. No matter what I do, I seem always to run low on power at a critical time. You can jump through a lot of hoops trying to preserve battery power, but at some point, you will still run low if you use your devices heavily. And if you jump through all those power-conservation hoops, you will end up cutting down on the functionality and convenience of your device. As a result, I carry a supplemental power source. That has proven more useful and more convenient than always carrying the charger, as I do not always have access to an outlet or the time to spend tethered to one while my device recharges.
The $79.95 mophie juice pack air (www.mophie.com) provides good protection for the iPhone 4/4S and remains an excellent choice for battery supplementation. Third Rail offers the Slim Case ($89.99, www.thirdrailmobility.com) for the iPhone 4/4S, which features the ability to add and remove battery packs. That gives you the option of a slender and lightweight package plus additional battery power if and when you need it. The fact that you can swap batteries adds to its functionality—and is the trade-off for choosing this case versus the mophie juice pack air, which lacks this ability but has smoother and more refined styling. Note that none of these cases will work with the iPhone 5. Expect that mophie and others will have powered cases for the iPhone 5, possibly in time for holiday gifting.
External battery supplementation remains another option. My current favorite power device comes from a company called myCharge (www.mycharge.com). The myCharge Summit 3000 ($79.99) has built-in cables to connect to USB and micro USB plugs as well as Apple dock connectors and provides 3000mA of power. The devices are pocketable, lightweight, and work quite well. I almost always have one with me. You can also get similar devices with 6000mA of power for $99.99. These devices are the Portable Power Bank 6000 and the Peak 6000. Note that the Peak and the Summit have built-in AC connections as well as USB for charging, and the Power Bank requires a USB connection for charging. The external devices I recommended last year remain available as options, except that Tumi has apparently discontinued its device. mophie also sells a number of universal charging devices that will accept Apple charger connections as well as micro and mini USB connectors.
Some of the more substantial external devices will also power the iPad. I have never found it necessary to worry about that with the iPad, as its battery life has proven sufficient for my purposes with a recharge overnight on days of heavy usage or every few days most of the time. If you will make exceptionally heavy use of an iPad or other tablet device, consider getting a more powerful (larger capacity) charger with the ability to charge an iPad. To charge an iPad, the device should have a 2.1 amp output. Also note that with the announcement of the iPhone 5 and the new iterations of the iPod touch and nano, Apple has abandoned the 30-pin docking connector for the new Lightning connector.
The HyperJuice 100Wh ($299.95, www.hypershop.com) will power a computer, iPads, smartphones, and any other USB-connectable charging device for a considerable time period. Notably, it is one of the few suppliers of supplemental external battery power for the sealed Macintosh laptops. Although the computer connection is designed for Apple computers, it should work fine with any computer using a standard airline adapter.
People with multiple devices to charge may want to check out The Joy Factory (www.thejoyfactory.com) Zip Touch-n-go ($79.95) and Zip Mini Touch-n-go ($49.95). Both devices use magnetic connections to allow you to set up your device to charge your equipment using the appropriate combination of micro/mini USB and Apple dock connector plugs. You get a basic assortment with your device and can buy additional plugs to supplement that collection. As yet, no Apple Lightning connector plugs exist, so you will have to use an Apple Lightning-to-30-pin dock connector adapter.
Earphones and headsets. The earphones that come with the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod, and most other smartphones, MP3 players, and slates generally function competently but do not provide exceptional sound quality. Personally, I immediately upgrade to a high-quality earphone or headset. The wired earphones and headsets I recommended in last year’s gift guide remain available and solid-performing choices. In addition to those, Bowers & Wilkins (www.bowers-wilkins.com) released a P3 headset for $199 that compares favorably to Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre Solo headset (www.beatsbydre.com). Many will find it preferable in terms of both style and sound quality. The Bowers & Wilkins P5 and the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headsets remain my favorite wired over-ear headsets under $300. Those of you who enjoy a deep, full bass will likely prefer the Beats by Dr. Dre Studio headset, and the rest of you will probably prefer the Bowers & Wilkins P5. Both offer exceptionally good sound. The smaller and lighter Bowers & Wilkins headsets take up less space and fold into much smaller packages than their Dr. Dre counterparts.
Bose (www.bose.com) has released new versions of its portable headsets (except noise-cancelling devices), including both an iPhone and a standard version. The iPhone versions include a microphone and allow you to use the headphones for telephone calls as well as music and cost $30 more. The two new versions, the AE2 and AE2i (iPhone version) and the OE2 and OE2i (iPhone version) cost $179.95 for the iPhone versions and $149.95 without the iPhone microphone. The AE versions surround the ears and the OE versions rest on them. The OE versions fold more compactly and travel better. Both have very good sound, as do all the Bose products I have tried. The OE headphones have a bit more bass to my ear, which causes me to prefer them. I found both quite comfortable but prefer the OE versions.
No matter what wired headset you use, take a look at SRS Labs (www.srslabs.com) iWOW adapters (starting at $59.99). These devices enhance the audio performance of your media files, particularly on the bass end.
The newest innovation in headsets is the marriage of a stereo headset to Bluetooth technology. My favorite piece in that space comes from Monster as part of the Beats by Dr. Dre lineup. The Beats Wireless headphones cost $279.95 and also come with a cable letting you use it as a wired set. Comparing it to the other headsets in the Beats by Dr. Dre lineup, I think it falls between the Studio and Solo headset in sound quality. The sound beats (pun intended) any that I have heard on a Bluetooth set as well as many wired headsets.
Speaker systems. In addition to the Bluetooth speakers I recommended last year, I have a new model for you to consider. Beats by Dr. Dre’s $399.95 BeatBox Portable works off AC power or six D cell batteries, uses Bluetooth technology to connect to compatible devices, and provides a powerful sound for a relatively small (4 kg) device. Typical of the Beats line, it offers very strong, rich bass performance. I could not get my hands on a unit for thorough testing and had to settle for checking it out in a store. I was favorably impressed by the high-quality store-filling sound (okay, it wasn’t that big of a store, but it would easily fill a good-sized den or office). I think it compares favorably to the smaller Bose speakers I discussed in the 2011 Techno-Gift Guide but provides more bass.
Techie gift cards. Likely you have heard that the iTunes App Store has apps for practically everything. If you have not taken the time to screen-shop in the iTunes App Store, you should. While in the iTunes Store, check out its Music, eBook, and Video departments as well as the App Store. For those old enough to remember Arlo Guthrie, think of it as a contemporary version of “Alice’s Restaurant.” For those too young to remember that song, the catch line is that “you can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.” The iTunes Store is one of the reasons that the iPad has no close competition in the tablet category and one of the reasons the iPhone sells so well. Manufacturers for other platforms have technologically sound offerings, but none of them can access the iTunes Store, and none of them have anything that compares favorably to it.
At any Apple Store or, for that matter, at a number of other retailers, you can get gift cards that let the recipient purchase any type of media for sale in the iTunes Store. They can use the card for apps, music, books, movies, or television shows to add to their media collection for playing on their iPad, iPod, or iPhone. Giving the gift of media allows your recipients to apply your generosity to something they select for themselves. Gift cards come in denominations of $10 and up.
Several manufacturers have produced dedicated electronic book readers. You likely have heard the names of the best known of these devices: the Sony Reader, the Barnes & Noble NOOK, and the Amazon Kindle. All three have recently lowered their prices and released or announced updated models. I have tried all of the models that were available at the time this article was written (late September), and I like each of them. I really like the NOOK Color and the Kindle Fire, but I do not think they compare favorably to the iPad. In fact, I generally prefer to use the E Ink technology devices to the NOOK Color and the Kindle Fire. The E Ink technology works better in sunlight than the color technology (including the iPad), and if you plan to read outdoors, you should consider an e-reader that uses E Ink technology, even if you have an iPad. Additionally, the E Ink readers offer a package that is smaller, lighter, and therefore easier to carry around with you. They fit easily in a coat pocket or a purse. The larger slate or tablet devices do not. If you pushed me for a recommendation or a ranking, I would tell you that historically, my overall impression would cause me to rank the Kindle above the NOOK, and the NOOK above the Sony Reader. That said, all three are exceptionally useful and high-quality devices. I have seen a number of devices from less well known brands, but I have never been impressed enough by them to acquire one. I would stick with Kindle, NOOK, and Sony Reader as dedicated electronic book reader choices for personal use or as a gift.
Kindle. Amazon (www.amazon.com) has several new Kindle models: its top-of-the-line Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, which will come in a 4G LTE version (32 GB for $499, 64 GB for $599) or a WiFi-only version (16 GB for $299, 32 GB for $369), along with the WiFi-only Kindle Fire HD (7” screen, 16 GB for $199, 32 GB for $249 ) and Kindle Fire (7” screen, 8 GB for $159). All the above have color screens and use multi-touch technology.
Black-and-white E Ink versions include the Kindle (6” screen, 2 GB, 5-way controller, $89), the Kindle Keyboard 3G (6” screen, 4 GB, $159), and the Kindle DX WiFi (9.7" screen, 4 GB, keyboard controller, $379). As I write this article, Amazon has announced that it will update its line of black-and-white Kindles with two new offerings to be released prior to your receipt of this guide. The new “Paperwhite” Kindles come in a WiFi-only and a WiFi plus 3G version ($139 and $199, respectively). Both models have 6” screens, 2 GB of memory, and multi-touch interfaces; most importantly, they also feature built-in illumination, making them much better suited for reading in a less bright environment.
Amazon is currently advertising a special offer of $20 off the price of all black-and-white Kindle models noted above (except the DX) if you will accept advertising on your startup screen.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Fire HD models give you a full color tablet and the ability to play movies or other videos. If you want an inexpensive tablet for playing media, this might be a good choice. Don’t think of it as a replacement for or competitor to the iPad; it is not. The Fire does give you some significant features that the E Ink devices do not; the color versions handle color magazine subscriptions and allow you to play videos. The E Ink versions work better in bright sunlight.
Amazon provides a detailed comparison of options, features, and pricing as well as technical specifications for all Kindle models on its website.
NOOK. Barnes & Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com) has announced several additions to its line of color NOOK e-readers that should be available by the time you read this issue: The NOOK HD+ Slate (9” touchscreen, 16 GB for $269, 32 GB for $299) and the NOOK HD (7” touchscreen, 8 GB for $199, 16 GB for $229). These new offering will join the recently released NOOK Tablet (7” touchscreen, 8 GB for $179, 16 GB for $199). The NOOK Tablet offers substantial improvements in speed and power to its predecessor, the NOOK Color (7” touchscreen, 8 GB for $149).
Barnes & Noble also released a new E Ink version called the Simple Touch with GlowLight (6” touchscreen, 2 GB); like the Kindle Paperwhite, it has its own lighting built in, so you get the advantage of E Ink technology for daylight reading without the drop-off in usability in a darker environment. The NOOK Simple Touch (without GlowLight) is available at the reduced cost of $99 (6” touchscreen, 2 GB). All the NOOK devices listed above are available in WiFi only.
Comparison charts available on Barnes & Noble’s website compare the features of the NOOK devices. Of the models I have had the chance to test, I prefer the NOOK Tablet to the Color as it is more powerful. I prefer the SimpleTouch with GlowLight to the SimpleTouch as the GlowLight version does everything the SimpleTouch does, but adds the built-in lighting. As with the Kindle, the E Ink versions have the advantages of smaller size, less weight, better readability in sunlight, and a lower price point. The color versions do a better job presenting magazines and also allow you to play video media.
Reader. I think that Sony (store.sony.com) always made the most physically solid e-reader; I always liked its style. In the past, I was not enamored of its computer interface. Although I considered the Reader an excellent product, I ranked it lower than the Kindle and the NOOK because of the interface issues and because of the less well developed store. Last year Sony closed much of the gap respecting E Ink readers when it announced the Reader Wi-Fi, which allowed downloading books through WiFi, avoiding the computer issues. It also allowed wireless downloading of books from public libraries. It will hold up to 1,200 titles in its internal memory, but it also accepts SD cards, affording up to an additional 32 GB of storage space. It uses E Ink technology. Sony has not announced a color Reader. This year Sony upgraded its e-reader product with a newer version that appears basically the same product (6” display, 1.3 GB internal memory). The new version, called simply the Reader, comes in three colors and two versions. The black version comes with a copy of a Harry Potter book. A red version and a white version do not come with the Harry Potter book. All of them sell for $129.99. As I cannot find any other versions of the Reader on the Sony website at this time, it appears that the new Reader replaces all previously available versions. The Reader provides the easiest connection to the public library, but I prefer the Barnes & Noble and Amazon bookstores to Sony’s bookstore.
Remembering The Past
There is a saying that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sometimes, we want the ability to review the past, not because we do not wish to repeat it, but rather because we cannot repeat it. Technology gives us many devices to record the past, including audio recorders (also useful for dictation), camcorders, and cameras.
Pocket-sized, fixed-lens digital still cameras. For some people, the cameras built into their phones suffice to provide them with the ability to take the pictures they want. While phone cameras have improved considerably and may prove adequate for many uses, they lack the flexibility of a good camera, and you should not see them as a substitute for a good camera. A good camera also makes a wonderful gift. One of the nice things about digital cameras is that you can pick a camera suitable for any level of photographic expertise, almost any age, and a price range starting at under $100 and going to several thousand dollars.
When you select a digital camera, you have a number of options to look at. A fixed-lens camera will generally cost less than a system camera (interchangeable lenses). It will also likely prove less flexible, considerably lighter, and far more easily carried. Many such cameras will easily fit in a pocket. Although the body for most system cameras might fit in a large pocket, by the time you add a lens to it, you need to carry it in a case.
When it comes to fixed-lens digital cameras, you have a vast array to choose among. My advice is to stick with the top-end manufacturers, although sometimes you will find a gem from a lesser brand. I consider the top-end manufacturers to include Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic. The features you want to focus on in comparing models include: (1) sensor size, (2) lens quality, (3) optical and digital zoom factors, (4) image stabilization, (5) display, and (6) other features such as size, weight, automatic functions, lens speed, video recording capabilities, whether it has a hot shoe for accessory attachment, face detection technology, etc.
The number of still digital cameras available makes it impossible for me to test or even examine them all. I have, however, tried out many, looked at a great many, and reviewed literature and other reviews enabling me to compare features respecting even more of them. I have provided the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) for you as reflected on the manufacturer’s website. You can often find camera equipment discounted online. If you decide to buy online, you should check out your vendor first. Not all vendors are reliable. If you buy online, you should confirm that you are getting the manufacturer’s U.S. warranty; sometimes vendors sell goods produced for sale outside the United States and that do not have a U.S. warranty; this means you will not be able to get warranty service in this country and will have to pay for any required repairs.
I have focused on pocketable fixed-lens cameras in this discussion. You can find digital cameras in many configurations. I do not mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with the other configurations. In fact, I own several excellent cameras in larger configurations. I focused on the pocketable cameras as they appear to be the most popular. Even people who have high-quality system cameras often also want a pocketable fixed-lens camera as well, owing to its portability and convenience. I have provided the URL to the website of the manufacturer of each of the cameras I have discussed to enable you to get the full listing of specifications (all the manufacturers offer that information on their websites; duplicating that information here exceeds the scope of this article and the amount of space available).
Sony (store.sony.com) makes my current favorite among the pocketable cameras (and the one I most recently bought), the newly released and somewhat pricey ($649.99) Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which I consider one of the best fixed-lens digital still cameras on the market today. Sony has positioned the RX100 as a professional or advanced amateur camera and provided it with a good selection of automatic settings as well as the ability to manually control exposure using a control ring that surrounds the lens. The camera comes with a built-in pop-up flash (no hot shoe). Its aluminum body feels solid and sturdy. It has a relatively large sensor for its size (20-megapixel CMOS sensor measuring 13.2 mm by 8.8 mm), a 3.6x optical zoom factor, ISO settings from 100 to 25,600, and a Zeiss f1.8-4.9 aperture lens. It shoots video at 1080p/60 frames per second. The RX100 packs all of that into a 4” x 2 3/8” x 1 7/16” body that weighs only 8.5 ounces. For a serious photographer, the RX100 makes a great choice. Although you could get the RX100 for anyone, it is a lot of money to spend for someone not seriously into photography. It is also more camera than a casual photographer needs and has features that the casual photographer will not likely use.
Other excellent fixed-lens options for serious photographers include the Canon PowerShot S100 (www.canonusa.com, $379.99, 12.1 megapixels, 3” LCD display, no optical viewfinder, f2.0-f5.9 lens, 1080p HD video, built-in flash, 5x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, 3.9” x 2.34” x 1.05”, 6.98 ounces). Another option from Canon is the venerable PowerShot G12 ($499.99, 10 megapixels, 2.8” variable angle LCD display, optical viewfinder, 5x optical/4x digital zoom, f2.8-f4.5 lens, optical image stabilization, 720p HD video, built-in flash, 4.41” x 3” x 1.9”, 12.4 ounces).
For the more casual photographer, you might want to check out the following, less expensive possibilities (listed in alphabetical order):
Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS ($249.99, 16.1 megapixels, 5x optical/4x digital zoom, 3.2” touch panel display, 1080p HD video, built-in flash, optical image stabilization, WiFi, 3.68” x 2.22” x 0.82”, 5.11 ounces).
Nikon (www.nikon.com) Coolpix S8200 ($329.95, 16.1 megapixels, 14x optical/2x digital zoom, 3” display, built-in flash, image stabilization, 1080p HD video, 4.1” x 2.4” x 1.3”, 7.6 ounces).
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10 ($299, 13.2 megapixels, 16x optical/2x digital zoom, 3” display, built-in flash, image stabilization, 1080p HD video, 4.1” x 2.4” x 1.4”, 8.3 ounces).
If you just want a good basic digital still camera at a reasonable price, consider the following options (in alphabetical order):
Canon Elph 110S ($199.99, 16.8 megapixels, 3” display, 5x optical/4x digital zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video, 3.67” x 2.24” x 0.79”, 4.76 ounces).
Panasonic (www.panasonic.com) Lumix DMC-ZS15 ($249.99, 12.1 megapixels, 3” display, 16x optical/4x digital zoom, optical image stabilization, 1080p HD video, 4.13” x 2.27” x 1.31”, 7.1 ounces).
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150 ($249.99, currently on sale by Sony for $209.99, 18.2 megapixels, 2.7” display, 10x optical/2x digital zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video, 3.75” x 2.25” x 0.87”, 4.1 ounces).
The fixed-lens digital camera market constantly changes. Manufacturers release new models all the time. Although some new models incorporate substantial changes, new models frequently reflect relatively modest modifications from earlier models. You can frequently find an earlier iteration of a camera at a substantially reduced price.
Digital dictation devices. The digital dictation equipment market has been relatively stable for the last several years. This year, Olympus (www.olympusamerica.com) released two new devices. Likely its main competitor, Philips (www.dictation.philips.com) will release updated devices in the near future in response. For the present, Olympus continues to offer its previous top-of-the-line DS-5000 ($549.99) notwithstanding the release of its new top-of-the-line model, the DS-7000. Olympus also released a new mid-level DS-3500 dictation system. Featuring durable, metal-bodied design and large color LCD screens, both models combine ease of use with excellent recording quality. The use of PIN protection and 256-bit DSS Pro real time data encryption allows protection of your files. Olympus also released the AS-7000 Transcription Kit to allow hands-free operation and to make the most of speech recognition software.
The DS-7000 ($599.99) offers a sliding thumb switch, making control of dictation functions easy and convenient. It accepts SD and Micro SD cards for additional memory. It also offers an improved microphone system compared to the DS-5000. You can get complete specifications on the Olympus website.
The DS-3500 lists for $499.99. It offers essentially the same features as the DS-7000 except that it does not have the slide switch control; instead, it has push-button playback controls. As is the case with other Olympus recording devices, the DS-7000 and DS-3500 work well with both the Mac OS and Windows.
Other recording devices. Although you can always use a good piece of digital dictation equipment to record a meeting or even your kid’s performance as Dorothy in the elementary school production of the Wizard of Oz, the simple fact of the matter is that you can get better equipment for those uses and, generally, will be better off if you get a device designed for that purpose. With that in mind, I have a number of suggestions for you to consider. Note that I do not recommend using any of these devices for dictation. Stick to professional dictation equipment for that use.
When it comes to audio recording of musical performances or recording a conference, I am partial to the products made by Samson (www.samsontech.com). My favorites include the H2n and H4n audio recorders and the Q3HD audio/video recorder. Samson also makes the very small (1.7” x 5.4” x 1.2”) and light (2 ounces) H1.
Far and away the smallest and lightest in the range, the H1 also has proven the easiest to use. This is a great recorder for carrying around when you travel or to take to a conference. While it works very well as a handheld, it also has a tripod socket, so that you can place it in the middle of a conference table. It records in stereo with high-quality microphones. It lists for $159.99, but I have found it online for less than $100 (check it out on Amazon).
The H2n is one of the most versatile in the range. A solid, dependable performer, it comes in a relatively small and lightweight package that fits comfortably in your hand or sits on a tripod using the built-in tripod socket. The H2n records in four-channel surround sound using mid-side microphones and the traditional Samson X-Y microphone configuration. It works on two AA batteries that produce about 20 hours of recording. It also works off of an AC adapter. It has a 1.8” backlit display, making it fairly easy to see what you are doing when inputting the settings. A built-in reference speaker lets you check what you are recording. The H2n records on SD/SDHC cards and accepts up to a 32 GB card that will record approximately 50 hours using WAV format and 555 hours using an MP3 format. The H2n measures 2.66” x 4.48” x 1.68” and weighs 4.58 ounces without batteries. It lists for $349.99, but Amazon sells it for less than half that price. For general use, this is my favorite in the range.
The Zoom H4n is the largest and most powerful of the devices in the range. It provides what Samson refers to as “professional” level recording. It will record on four channels using the built-in and external microphones in combination. It records on SD/SDHC cards and accepts up to a 32 GB card. The list of features is too long to summarize adequately in the space available here. Check it out at the Samson website. The H4n lists for $609.99, however, I have seen it online for less than half that price. The H4n measures 6.2” x 2.8” x 1.4” and weighs 9.9 ounces.
Samson also makes an audio/video recording device, the Q3HD. It offers solid audio performance and decent video but does not give you video at the quality of a good camcorder. If, however, you want to grab some video to augment audio recording, it is a good compromise piece, particularly if the audio is more important to you than the video. Using the same microphones as the H4n, it unquestionably does a better job than the typical camcorder on the audio side. On the video side, the Q3HD has no optical zoom but does provide a 4x digital zoom. It records in your choice of 720p or 1080p HD video. The built-in LCD display also functions as a monitor for reviewing your video. It works very well for recording podcasts. The Q3HD measures 2” x 0.9” x 5.2” and weighs 3.2 ounces. It lists for $439.99. Online discounts have it available for under $300. Like its dedicated audio relatives, it accepts SD and SDHC cards up to 32 GB.
Samson makes one other piece that I strongly recommend for your consideration. They call it the Go Mic. It is a portable, omni-directional USB microphone that plays well with Macs and Windows. It works for recording music, webcasting, podcasts, and VoIP. It will sit on your desktop or clip to many computers. It folds up compactly to fit into the included case. It lists for $89.99, but you can find it online for less than $40.
Blue Microphones (www.bluemic.com) offers another option for a relatively small and easily portable microphone, the Snowflake. The Snowflake folds for portability but is not as portable as the Go Mic. It works well, but I prefer the Go Mic for travel. If you want a small inexpensive microphone for desktop use, the Snowflake represents a very solid choice (list $59.99, but I have seen it online for less than $40).
If you want a larger USB microphone for desktop use, you might also want to check out the Samson Meteor Microphone (list $149.99, available online for less than half that price), the Blue Microphones Yeti (list $149, available online for about $105), and the Blue Microphones Snowball (list $99, available online for about $66). All these microphones have worked very well for me.
If you want some cool presentation technology equipment (or want to get a gift for a trial lawyer or teacher), check out the digital presenter market. My new favorite in this category comes from Elmo (www.elmousa.com). Elmo recently released a pocket-sized presenter called the MO-1. The MO-1 lists for $399.99, but I have seen some discounting online. It has a 5 MP CMOS sensor, 8x digital zoom capabilities, a full-HD image, can record full-motion video at 30 fps, and outputs to both HDMI and VGA. The MO-1 has a footprint of 3.97” x 9.89” and folds down to 1.1”. Set up, it stands 13.3” high. It weighs only 1.2 lbs. The MO-1 gives you excellent resolution and a very portable, solid-performing document camera. No trial lawyer (and only a few teachers) should miss this one.
Casio (www.casio.com) makes a line of slim projectors billed as environmentally friendly. The top-of-the-line XJ-A256 Slim lists for $1,699.99 and provides 3,000 lumens of light. It is plug and play for both the Mac OS and Windows. The Slim incorporates a hybrid light source combining Laser and LED technology for high brightness that Casio claims can last up to 20,000 hours. Mine has not burned out but has nowhere near 20,000 hours yet, so I cannot address the 20,000-hour claim. The Slim is a low-maintenance projector with a 2x power zoom lens. It weighs five pounds and measures 11.69” x 8.26” x 1.69” at its thickest point, making it a great portable projector. It easily fits in the same case as my laptop.
The range of Slim projectors from Casio includes several models with similar dimensions and weight. The bottom of the range, the XJ-A141 costs $1,199.99 and provides 2,500 lumens of light. Although 3,000 lumens remains the gold standard for most courtroom work, you can often get by with 2,500 lumens, particularly in smaller courtrooms and administrative matters that generally use smaller hearing rooms.
Enough people have grown health conscious that I thought I would add a few health-oriented devices to the list this year. My favorite health device comes from a company called BodyMedia (www.bodymedia.com). The company makes a Bluetooth wireless armband device called the LINK that measures your skin temperature, motion, and galvanic skin response (electrical conductivity of your skin) constantly and analyzes that information to record your activity level, how long you sleep, and how many calories you burn in a day. You can sync it and transfer data for storage through your computer or iPhone or Android phone (free apps are available). The device costs $149. A smaller version, the CORE, that does not have Bluetooth (and will not sync to a phone) costs $119. Either version requires a subscription to the BodyMedia web service ($6.95/month) to record and store your data. If you take the time to record your caloric intake, it becomes a great tool for weight management. The armband device is relatively small and unobtrusive. You cannot see it under a long-sleeve shirt or blouse, and you can wear it high enough that it is virtually invisible under a short-sleeve shirt or blouse.
Zona Plus ($399, www.zona.com) is an isometric device that uses handgrip exercises and measurements to strengthen the cardiovascular system. It is the size of a handgrip and easily fits in a briefcase, purse, large pocket, or carry-on travel bag. The device works with a therapy program that takes 12 minutes per daily session. The manufacturer claims clinical support for the proposition that the device helps you train your autonomic nervous system to relax and helps you improve your endothelial system, which, in turn, helps reduce blood pressure.
The emWave2 (www.heartmathstore.com) attempts to improve wellness and facilitate personal growth using biometric feedback to help teach you to change your heart rhythm pattern to create “coherence”—a measurable state characterized by increased order and harmony in psychological and physiological processes. The emWave technology collects pulse data through a sensor and then translates the information into graphics displayed on your computer or into lights on the portable emWave2. Practice with the device reportedly can increase your coherence baseline and your ability to take charge of your emotional reactions. It is reported to be particularly helpful in handling the reaction to stress. Check out the website for additional information. The emWave2 costs $229.
Storage and the Cloud
We all need to store data. More and more of us have started to use cyberspace as a data storage facility. A hard disk can make a well-appreciated gift that will get a lot of use, particularly a small portable hard disk. It also makes a useful acquisition for personal use. I am partial to Seagate drives (www.seagate.com) and use them for my own backups in and out of the office. My favorites include the 500 GB Slim drive ($119.99) and the USB 3.0, 1.5 TB GoFlex drive ($149.99). Both are highly portable. I also like the 500 GB Seagate Satellite ($199.99), which broadcasts its own WiFi signal allowing you to transfer and to stream media from it to laptop or desktop computers, tablets, music players, and smartphones. Seagate also makes desktop external hard disks.
The USB flash drive (aka thumb drive, aka USB stick, aka about a dozen or more other names) has become a common tool for people to carry necessary data around with them. Pricing on these drives is all over the lot, as is design and style. If you want an interesting version to give as a gift, check out Victorinox (www.victorinox.com). The makers of the iconic Swiss Army Knife (and a variety of Swiss Army accoutrement including watches, luggage, backpacks, and computer bags) now have a line of USB memory sticks. Victorinox styled its memory sticks after the Swiss Army Knife, some of which include only the memory stick, while others include attachments reminiscent of the smaller-scale multifunctional knives. The memory sticks currently come in 4 GB to 64 GB capacities and with your choice of aluminum or plastic handles. They rank among the more expensive in terms of price, from $9.99 for 4 GB and $49.99 for 64 GB for the aluminum-handled memory sticks without attachments and up to $402.86 for a 64 GB plastic-handled version with a laser pointer, scissors, knife blade screwdriver, and nail file (you can get a bladeless version for a few dollars less for frequent fliers); but they come out at or near the top of the list in terms of panache. Note: Victorinox does not use memory modules larger than 32 GB, so the 64 GB devices have two 32 GB modules. The Victorinox website shows the less expensive aluminum-handled knives without attachments as currently unavailable. I have, however, found them currently available online at discounted pricing. The more expensive plastic-handled knives remain readily available.
If you want to set up your own Cloud storage device, check out the Buffalo CloudStor Pro ($259.99, www.buffalocloudstor.com). The hardware consists of a two-bay hard disk frame preconfigured with one 2 TB drive. You can add another at any time. It functions as a normal hard drive or, in conjunction with the included Pogoplug software (www.pogoplug.com), as a server for your own cloud storage. It is easy to set up and I have been very satisfied with its performance.
It sounds funny to talk about radios as technology gifts in today’s world, but, in fact, you can get some interesting radios these days. One group of radios to consider plays radio stations from all over the world via an Internet connection. You can get Internet radios that play only Internet stations and you can get radios that connect via the Internet to SiriusXM and have its programming, too. If you want to get satellite radio via the Internet, you can find a number of radio sets available to you from SiriusXM. My favorite in this category is the TTR1 Tabletop Internet Radio available for $149.99 from SiriusXM (shop.siriusxm.com). It allows ten preselected stations (favorites), gives you access to the SiriusXM programing, has very good sound, comes with a remote control, sets up over WiFi directly (no computer interface required), and sets time automatically over the Internet. Please note that, as with all satellite radios, the TTR1 requires a subscription to the satellite provider’s Internet radio service.
If you don’t want to subscribe to a satellite provider but want access to Internet radio without using your computer, check out the Logitech Squeezebox Touch ($299.99, www.logitech.com). It’s a very good device for those with reasonable technological sophistication, but not so much for technophobes.
Having an emergency radio strikes me as a pretty decent idea. The folks at Eton (www.shopetoncorp.com) have worked with the American Red Cross and generated a series of emergency radios. Check them out at the referenced website. My favorite is the American Red Cross Axis ($70). The Axis works on AC/batteries or with a manual crank to generate power. It provides AM/FM/weather station access and has a built-in flashlight. Although it won’t replace a good-quality music player for listening pleasure, it will work indefinitely without the need to plug it into an AC socket. In case of an emergency, it may save a life.
Eton also makes a device called the American Red Cross Road Torq ($30), which belongs in every car. It provides a flashing warning beacon in case of an accident or breakdown and a foldable tripod allowing you to stand it up on the road as a warning. It works off of a DC charge or by hand crank.
j5 Create’s JUD 500 Ultra Station ($129.99, www.j5create.com) serves as a functional docking station for both Mac OS and Windows OS laptops. It includes ports for displays, keyboards, and other USB-connected devices. It allows sharing of keyboards and peripherals between computers and will allow transfer of data from one computer to another, including across platforms. It is designed as a bar so that the back of the laptop sits on top of the bar, creating better air circulation to help keep your laptop running cooler. j5Create also makes Wormhole switches that allow you to transfer data between two computers, even across platforms ($24.99 to $59.60, depending on configuration).
The iTwin ($99, www.itwin.com) allows you to transfer information easily between two computers on the Mac OS, Windows OS, or across the two platforms. The device is plug and play: plug the two-piece device into an Internet-connected computer, remove one of the pieces and plug it into another Internet-connected computer, and transfer data between the two computers in an automatically encrypted format (uses AES-256 encryption). If you lose one-half of the device, you can remotely disable it through the other device.
The Spracht Aura SOHO Desktop/Conference Room Speakerphone ($249, www.spracht.com) gives you an excellent quality full duplex speakerphone with echo and noise cancellation. The system comes set up for analog phones, but you can convert it to digital use if you need to do so. It also comes with Bluetooth capabilities allowing you to use it with your cell phone.
Jabra (www.jabra.com) has a reputation for excellence in the headset and speakerphone industry, and the Jabra SPEAK 410 ($159) does nothing to harm that reputation. Jabra designed the small, portable speakerphone to work well with a unified communications client, such as Skype. You can also connect it to a computer and use it to stream music and for voice calls, although music is not its strong suit and you have better options for that purpose. The SPEAK 410 comes with a neoprene carrying case to enhance its portability. You can easily travel with it and connect it to your laptop computer. I have seen the SPEAK 410 available online at substantially less than the MSRP.
Jabra also makes an excellent portable speakerphone for cars called the Jabra FREEWAY. I like to use it when I rent a car. It has three speakers to create a virtual surround-sound impression. The sound quality is quite good, and I have been told by those whom I contacted that the microphones do a good job filtering out noise. The FREEWAY lists for $129 and represents the top of the range for Jabra. You can find it discounted online.