For many years GPSolo magazine has published an annual technology gift guide in connection with the holiday season. We continue that tradition this year. We will share our ideas about technology-related gifts for spouses, friends, family, partners, employees, and almost anyone else. Many of the items we discuss may prove helpful to you professionally and/or enjoyable additions to your personal life. The items we have chosen have a price range from less than $20 to more than $1,000. We believe that we have made the list broad enough to let you find an appropriate gift in the desired price range for almost everyone on your list and maybe a few things you want to get for yourself.
The major buzz term in tech in 2015 is the “Internet of Things,” which means a network of physical objects with embedded electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables objects to collect and exchange data. The Internet of Things centers around machine-to-machine automated communication, built on rapidly evolving cloud computing network technology. This technology opens virtually limitless windows of opportunity. We see more and more of these windows at the consumer level. Exciting trends have started to emerge, ranging from biometric authentication in hardware (such as smartphones and computers) to auto-adjusting home surround-sound systems to intelligent cars (some of which drive themselves). At the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Samsung CEO Boo-Keun Yoon predicted that 100 percent of its products would connect to the Internet within the next five years (read: The time to master the art of Internet security is now). You will see the influence, and hopefully the possibilities, of the Internet of Things in some of our recommendations in this year’s gift guide.
In keeping with tradition (and the requirements of the ABA’s legal department), we have to make a few disclaimers, so let’s get them out of the way and focus on the good stuff:
- 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. You may cite this article in support of an argument that something is tax deductible because of its utility in your practice. If you do, we wish you the best of luck in making that work, but we make no representation to you that it will and accept no responsibility if it does not. Notwithstanding the foregoing, remember that, if you think of something as a “gadget” or a “toy,” you probably should not deduct it as a business expense. If, however, you see it as a “tool” to assist you in your practice, you have a shot at making it work as a deduction.
- Nothing in this article constitutes the endorsement of a product by the American Bar Association or its Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. The article contains our personal opinions and observations respecting the products addressed. Please do not give anyone else credit for our thoughts.
- Opinions and information contained in this article do not replace, modify, alter, amend, staple, mutilate, bend, damage, destroy, or supplement manufacturers’ warranties, instructions, or specifications.
- Price references in the article reflect available information regarding manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRP) as of the time of writing, 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 careful to take steps to ensure both that you protect your payment information and that you get what you wanted. Some vendors sell “gray market goods.” These goods are manufactured for sale in other countries and are imported (not always through proper channels) into the United States and then resold. Generally, they sell at a lower cost than those packaged for this country as they often do not include the manufacturer’s U.S. warranty but, instead, include an “international warranty.” Sometimes the vendor will provide its own warranty instead of the manufacturer’s warranty, or a third-party warranty from a warranty service, billing it as a “U.S. warranty.” If you find such goods at a discount and elect to buy them, you may save a significant amount. But remember: caveat emptor!
- Some products discussed in this article were provided to us for review purposes by manufacturers or their public relations agents, others were purchased for our own use, and still others borrowed from friends or, in a few cases, simply ogled and played with in a store. We have not endeavored to look at, let alone test, every product on the market, and there may be very good products not mentioned in this article. The article reflects our observations about the products we have looked at and that attracted our attention.
- The Surgeon General has not yet opined on the subject, but we believe that technology and its products 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, steering a boat, piloting a plane, or walking, bike riding, roller skating, ice skating, skiing, surfing, or skate boarding, can prove dangerous to your health. Accordingly, while we recommend and commend the use of technology to you, we also advise you to use it carefully and in moderation.
- The authors make no warranty, express or implied, respecting any of the items discussed in this gift guide, except that if we say we like something, we really do!
Jeff’s and Ashley’s Lists
Last year we inaugurated the practice of providing lists of our top ten products, the ones we want the most—or would if we did not already have them. (If any of you are thinking of getting something on this list for one of us, please check first to make sure we don’t own it already!) Here are our lists for 2015:
- iPhone 6s Plus (128 GB memory)
- iPad Air 2 (128 GB memory)
- Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
- Apple Watch
- Kindle Voyage e-reader
- Bose QC25 headphones
- Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet
- Bose Solo 15 Series II audio system
- Tumi Alpha Bravo Knox Backpack
- Apple TV streaming device
- iPad mini 4 (128 GB memory)
- Asus ZenFone 2 (64 GB memory)
- Bose Bluetooth Headset Series 2
- Sonos Play:5 wireless speaker
- Amazon Echo speaker and voice-command hub
- Garmin vívoactive fitness tracker and watch
- Jabra Sport Pulse wireless earbuds
- Filson Padded Computer Bag
- Amazon Prime subscription
- ClamCase Pro keyboard case
Although the smartphone remains our number-one recommendation, this year we have opted to talk about digital cameras first. Most smartphones and camcorders also take still photos these days, but their quality often proves somewhat disappointing. From our perspective, if you want high-quality photos, you should still use a dedicated camera. Similarly, although many digital cameras also take video, you should get a camcorder if you want high-quality videos.
For many people, the photographic capacities of their smartphones (which, in many cases, do both digital still photographs and videos) offer all the capability they need or want. Those who find a smartphone sufficient for their photographic needs should use one. The rest of us still will invest in camera equipment, and for good cause. The photographic capabilities of better cameras and camcorders still surpass those of the best of the smartphones. People with even a moderately serious interest in photography will look at the smartphone as an accessory camera to use for a grab shot every once in a while but will not rely on it as their primary camera.
Smartphones have steadily improved as cameras as manufacturers have produced higher resolution cameras with better quality lenses and more features. Even the highest resolution smartphones, however, still have lower resolution than the better stand-alone cameras. Moreover, the number of megapixels, although important, is not everything—the quality of the lens as well as several other factors bear directly on the quality of the image. No smartphones have lenses that compare favorably with the lenses manufactured by Canon or Nikon or by Zeiss for the better Sony cameras. Although you can add accessory lenses to some smartphones, the general quality of the accessory lenses comes under the heading of “adequate” and not superior. Even with these add-on lenses, smartphones do not have the range offered by many cameras, especially system cameras (those with interchangeable lenses).
If you plan to find an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera from a second- or third-tier manufacturer, you may, in fact, not get noticeably better images than you could get from the camera in a good smartphone. In fact, you can even find some that will generate a lesser quality. If you stay with the top-line manufacturers—Canon, Nikon, and Sony—and focus on the middle or upper half of their range, you will end up with much better equipment for picture taking than your smartphone. Other manufacturers, such as Olympus, Fuji, and Samsung, also produce reasonably priced high-quality camera models, but we prefer Canon, Nikon, and Sony products as a general rule. In truth, you can find good cameras from most of the major manufacturers and some that are truly exceptional.
When you look for a camera, remember that last year’s top models may not give up much in comparison to those that have replaced them—and often may prove a better value. Manufacturers often make a few cosmetic changes and put the camera out with a new model number. Last year’s model then drops in price and may become an outstanding buy. And sometimes photographers reach the conclusion that the previous model was actually better, even though it may not have all the features in the newer one (or because it has features not included in this year’s model).
Below we identify several models of cameras that we particularly like. We will not discuss system cameras in this article, focusing only on single-lens versions. If you want to look at system cameras, check out the following: Canon’s EOS 6D, 5D, or EOS Rebel T5; Sony’s Alpha NEX-6, Alpha NEX-7, Alpha 7 II, or Alpha 6000; Nikon’s D7200, DX, D810, or D750; Olympus’s OM-D E-M1; and Samsung’s NX1.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 cameras. The single-lens digital camera that we (and many others) have identified as the best for moderately advanced to advanced photographers is the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 line. The RX100 IV ($949.99, sony.com) is the fourth generation of this line of compact cameras. Previous models, the RX100 III ($799.99) and the RX100 II ($649.99), both remain available and offer excellent choices at lower price points. The RX100 (the first camera in the line) also represents an excellent choice, despite the fact that it is now four years old. Sony offers it on its website for only $499.99.
As with most of Sony’s top-end cameras, Zeiss makes the lenses used on the RX100 series cameras. What really distinguishes the RX100 line of cameras, however, is Sony’s use of a much larger sensor than manufacturers commonly use in compact cameras. This results in consistently higher quality images. Although other manufacturers have started to use larger sensors to compete with the RX100 series, this year Sony upped the ante by introducing a stacked CMOS sensor that it claims will surpass all comers. The RX100 IV has an image density of 20.1 megapixels and supports 4K video recording. We have not yet seen the RX100 IV, but the improvements over the RX100 III do not appear to justify upgrading if you have the III, especially considering the cost of the new model. If you have an earlier model, we think you might want to consider upgrading to the III or the IV. If you want to give a gift that anyone serious about photography will appreciate, any of the RX100 cameras would be a good bet. For most of us, the RX100 III looks like the best value in terms of dollars and features.
Other cameras that we think offer a very good value and somewhat different features, and at a significantly lower price point, include the following:
Olympus Stylus 1. The only knock on the Sony RX100 cameras relates to the relatively limited optical zoom range. The Olympus Stylus 1 ($599.99, getolympus.com) comes in at about the same price range but offers a 10.7x optical zoom (focal lengths 28–300 mm). It has a larger configuration but a smaller sensor and also a lower image density (12 megapixels). The end result is that you get better zoom range but lower quality images.
Nikon Coolpix S-9700. The S-9700 ($349.95, nikonusa.com) comes with a 30x optical zoom lens, built-in WiFi, and GPS. It has a retractable flash. The mode dial accesses Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program modes, as well as offering a fully automatic setting and positions for scene modes, color filters, and a Smart Portrait setting.
Canon PowerShot G7 X. The G7 X ($699.99, usa.canon.com) comes with a 1” sensor and a fast (F1.8–2.8) 24–100 mm zoom lens (4.2x optical zoom). This camera compares favorably to the RX100 III.
The most expensive point-and-shoot we could find: Some people believe that price equates to quality and insist on paying the most they can for something to ensure that they have the very best. For any of you falling into this category, we have the following suggestion: the Leica Q. Leica (leica.com) has a legendary name among camera enthusiasts. Long known for making exceptional (if highly priced) cameras, Leica outdid itself with the Leica Q. The Q will set you back $5,499.95. (That is not a misprint!) Although we recognize that it is a very excellent camera, we have almost as hard a time justifying that as we do the $17,000 Apple charges for the Watch Edition it recently released (which has no additional functions over the less expensive versions, but comes with an 18-karat gold case and extra special cache). The Q is a full-frame, fixed-lens compact that provides 24-megapixel resolution. We have not actually had the opportunity to use this camera, but we rely on the published specifications and reviews from sources we trust in telling you that it produces high-quality images at least as good and, in some cases, better than any of the other cameras we have discussed. But for $5,500 it damned well better! Perhaps if we won the lottery, we might consider buying one for ourselves, or possibly even for a loved one deeply into photography. But unless we win the lottery (or somehow get a payday equivalent to what the Angels pay center fielder Mike Trout), there is not much likelihood we would spend $5,500 for the Q instead of getting an RX100 IV for less than 18 percent of the cost.
Manufacturers have flooded the digital camera field with models that, like digital still cameras, often do not change as much as one might think from year to year. Generally speaking, you will want a reasonably good size zoom ratio and optical image stabilization. Many of the cameras also come with WiFi to make it easier to upload your images to cloud storage. We like this feature but do not consider it essential.
We prefer digital memory cards to a hard drive and a hard drive to tape cartridges. Our recommendations for reasonably priced, good-quality camcorders follow. Each of them sports HD resolution (1080p) at 60 frames per second, face detection, and an image stabilizer; the two Sony camcorders also have Near Field Communications capabilities; all but the JVC have integrated WiFi; the Sony cameras have 2.7” non-touchscreen displays, and the Canon and JVC have 3” touchscreen displays. We have listed the camcorders in our order of preference.
Canon Vixia HF R52 ($449.99): 32x optical zoom, 1140x digital zoom, 0.4 lux low-light rating, 32 GB integrated memory with one card slot.
Sony HDR-PJ275 ($329.99): 27x optical zoom, 54x digital zoom, 3.0 lux low-light rating, 8 GB of integrated memory with one card slot. This camera has a built-in 13-lumen projector and Zeiss optics.
JVC GZ-R70B ($499.95, camcorder.jvc.com): 40x optical zoom, 200x digital zoom, 3.0 lux low-light rating, 32 GB integrated memory with one card slot. This camera claims to be waterproof to 16.4 feet, drop proof to 4.9 feet, freeze proof to 14 degrees F, and dust proof. It also has Konica-Minolta optics.
Sony HDR-CX240 ($229.99): 27x optical zoom, 320x digital zoom, 3.0 lux low-light rating, no integrated memory but one card slot.
Other reasonably priced camcorders to consider include the Canon Vixia HF G10 ($1,299.99), Panasonic HC-X920 ($799.99, panasonic.com), and JVC Everio GZ-EX310 ($269.95).
As our number-one tech gift this year we have chosen the smartphone (again), and at the top of the list, the iPhone 6s/6s Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+. The immediate predecessors to both phones (iPhone 6/6Plus and Galaxy S6) remain available and offer slightly less expensive versions of very similar phones. Although everyone seems to have a smartphone, the top models keep selling in record numbers as people upgrade for newer and better phones. Although there are other systems available, the Apple iOS and the Android OS dominate the market. More people use Android phones (made by numerous manufacturers), but more people buy Apple’s iPhones than any of the Android-based models.
Both of the authors agree that the iPhone 6s/6s Plus represent the best combination of features available in a smartphone today. In our opinion, Samsung makes the best non-iOS smartphones. Sales numbers for Samsung phones suggest that many others share this opinion. Apple and Samsung sell similar volumes of smartphones and between them account for more than half of all smartphone sales. If we could not get an iPhone for some reason, we would choose Samsung’s Galaxy S6 edge+, the newest and greatest of Samsung’s Galaxy S series of telephones. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and S5 represent our next Android smartphone recommendations after the Galaxy S6 edge+. We also found the Galaxy Note 5 and Note 4 very impressive, but we did not include them in our list of favorites because we found them somewhat unwieldy (closer to tablets than phones). If, on the other hand, you do not find the size of these devices off-putting, they are otherwise excellent smartphones.
All the phones we recommended are 4G devices (4G is a reference to fourth-generation wireless technology, which works considerably faster than its predecessors). While we have started to see people writing about 5G devices and 5G technology, the simple fact of the matter is that 5G is not viable today. It will be in the next several years, but we think you should wait a few years before concerning yourself with a 5G model.
As none of the cellular networks works equally well everywhere, you should get a phone that works on the system of the provider that dominates your area. All the major providers now offer both the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S series phones. If the major providers work more or less comparably in your area, note that phones on the AT&T network have one significant 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 users can do one or the other, but not both at the same time. The available 4G networks 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 or another provider. Each of the 4G phones we recommend uses earlier technology in areas where they cannot access a 4G signal.
iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. Apple (apple.com) just released the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. At the same time, it released iOS 9 (which comes on those phones). Unfortunately (and historically untypical of Apple), iOS 9 came out with some bugs and glitches that created problems for a number of users. Apple released two patches within a week of making iOS 9 available, and they appear to have solved the problems (at least most of them). Make sure you update to iOS 9.0.2. The new iPhones offer some impressive new features that put Apple at the top of the hardware mountain for the time being. We will have to wait and see what happens when Samsung comes out with the Galaxy S7.
The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are almost identical to the 6 and 6 Plus in external appearance and size. The insides offer substantially upgraded features including a better, faster processor, better battery life, and a better camera. It also appears that Apple has taken steps to minimize bending incidents that affected some of the previous models. The 6s and 6s Plus come in silver, space gray, gold, and rose gold. You can get them in 16, 64, or 128 GB versions. The new iPhones have Apple’s new(ish) 3D touch (previously called taptic touch) features and its newest A9 processor, which it claims to be much faster than the A8 in the 6 and 6 Plus or the A7 used in the 5s. Apple continues to offer limited versions of previous iterations of its phones. You still can get an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus with 16 GB or 64 GB of memory, or an iPhone 5s with 16 GB or 32 GB of memory; these older models come in silver or space gray. For full specifications and pricing information, go to apple.com, where you also will find information on special offers from your choice of carriers. One significant difference this year is that Apple is offering its own financing.
Although we think the hardware offered by Apple and Samsung present relatively equal choices, we prefer the iOS to the Android operating system and the Apple iTunes App Store (apple.com/itunes) hands-down over the Google Play Store (play.google.com). Our preference focuses on the available apps and their functionality. The media offerings are much more comparable between the iTunes and Google Play stores.
Galaxy S6 edge+. The Galaxy line of Android smartphones from Samsung (samsung.com) has proven very successful and extremely popular. The newest model, the S6 edge+, sports a battery-saving 5.7” Super AMOLED touch screen with dual-edge technology that allows the display of information on the sides of the phone. The display is bright, clear, and sharp. It also has a 5 megapixel front-facing wide-angle camera and a 16 megapixel rear-facing camera and optical image stabilization.
The S6 edge+ has a very fast quad-core processor. The larger size allows room for a 3,000 mAh battery. That, in combination with the lower power demands of the Super AMOLED display, allows a longer time between charges.
The S6 edge+ does not accept memory cards, so whatever memory you buy initially will be all you have. Accordingly, we recommend that you go with the highest memory you can justify.
The Galaxy S6 edge + just came out and should remain the current top of the line through the holiday season. Samsung tends to come out with new models more quickly than Apple. Accordingly, we would not be surprised to see Samsung replace it in the early spring of 2016. For full specifications of the Galaxy S6 edge + and pricing information, go to samsung.com.
The S6 edge+ comes with Google’s Android operating system. The Android operating system has been gaining a larger and larger share of the smartphone market. We like the Android system. It has a clean user interface, and it runs quickly and crisply. We do not like it as much as Apple’s iOS, but that, too, is largely a matter of personal preference; we know people who prefer Android to the iOS. We don’t know when the next iteration of Android will come out or what its feature set will include.
Asus ZenFone 2. Android fans out there also should take a serious look at the Asus ZenFone 2 (asus.com/US). Although the ZenFone starts at $229 for 16 GB, we recommend looking at the 64 GB models, which start around $299. In addition to the extra storage space, this version of the phone is equipped with a faster processor. The phone is powered by Intel’s Atom Quad Core Z3580 processor, which boasts 2.3 GHz processing speed. As with most smartphones, the design of the ZenFone 2 is dictated by the screen size, which in this case is 5.5” full-HD display. The phone is 6” x 3.04” x 0.43”, which means it is not the thinnest of devices. It is slightly shorter than the iPhone 6 Plus, but the Apple phone is thinner at 0.31”. The ZenFone 2 weighs in at 6 ounces. The phone’s user interface is a customized version of Google’s Android 5.0 Lollipop system. The user interface has a visually pleasing, crisp, minimalist look. It comes equipped with Do It Later, a handy reminder app that helps you keep track of text messages to reply to, articles to read, and missed calls to return. You can customize the theme and even the icons on the phone. There is an AutoStart Manager app that lets you select which apps to load into memory when you restart your phone.
The market for tablets continues to grow, improving every year; however, the rate of growth of tablet sales has slowed significantly, suggesting that the market now approaches a level of saturation, and apparently many people have decided to treat the tablet more like a laptop than a smartphone, upgrading every few years instead of annually or every other year.
Apple has dominated this market since it introduced the iPad. Once again, Samsung provides Apple’s strongest competition. Apple, however, remains the runaway leader. If you want to get or gift a tablet, we recommend you go with Apple; both of us continue to use the iPad.
iPads: And now we have three . . . Last year, Apple released the substantially upgraded iPad Air 2 and slightly upgraded iPad mini 3. This year, Apple has released a significantly upgraded iPad mini 4 (the one we think they should have released last year to keep it close to parity with the Air 2). The specs on the mini 4 do not quite match up to the Air 2, but they come much closer than those of the mini 3. Apple has neither released nor announced the impending release of the iPad Air 3 or anything else in the size range of the iPad Air 2. Neither has Apple announced that it will discontinue that model. Instead, Apple has remained silent about upgrades to the iPad Air 2 and further blurred the line between tablet and computer, announcing the imminent release of the much-anticipated iPad Pro.
The iPad Pro has enough similarity to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 to enable legitimate comparisons and to justify the argument that it represents Apple’s answer to the Surface Pro 3; but it is clearly a different animal. The introduction of the iPad Pro at September’s Apple event in San Francisco emphasized its graphic capabilities and featured software that built on the device’s graphics capabilities. In addition to its graphic functionality, it should perform exceptionally well for gaming and as a platform for watching movies. If you know a graphic artist (or a budding one), this might just be the ideal gift, albeit an expensive one. The Pro has not been released as of the writing of this article and may not even be released until after you read this issue; accordingly, we cannot yet determine if it offers enough over its siblings to make it relevant to a law practice. Based on the information made available to date, it would appear that the Pro’s size, price, and features put it more in the realm of a replacement for a laptop. The size also makes it a bit more unwieldy to use in a variety of situations, such as standing in front of a jury. (The jury, as they say, is still out on this one.) But check it out, as the Pro may be just what you are looking to find. The specs and images released for the iPad Pro make it clear that Apple continues to create aesthetically pleasing hardware with excellent components and significant power. We will reserve judgment on the iPad Pro until we actually get our hands on one.
The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 include versions of Apple’s A8 processors (A8 for the mini 4 and A8X for the Air 2) and 8-megapixel front-facing and 1.2-megapixel rear-facing cameras, both capable of still photography and HD video. Apple offers both the Air 2 and the mini 4 in WiFi-only and WiFi + cellular versions with 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB memory options for each version. The price range for the iPad Air 2 runs from $499 to $699 for the WiFi-only versions and an extra $130 for each memory increment of the WiFi + cellular versions. The mini 4 costs $100 less than each equivalent version of the iPad Air 2. The iPad Pro has the same cameras as the Air 2 but features Apple’s new A9X processor. It costs between $799 and $1,079, depending on memory size (32 GB or 128 GB) and connectivity (WiFi-only or WiFi + cellular).
As memory remains non-upgradable, we continue to recommend that you get the largest memory you can justify. We do not recommend that you get less than 64 GB of memory for your primary iPad. For specialized uses (i.e., as a presentation-receiving device in a conference room or a courtroom), the less expensive, lower-memory WiFi-only versions will work fine. Apple continues to offer the iPad Air and the mini 2 (but not the mini 3) in limited configurations at reduced prices). We consider the features in the iPad Air 2 and the mini 4 sufficiently better than the other, similarly sized options from Apple to justify the additional price; we do not, therefore, recommend getting the older versions, unless you want to buy a less-expensive gift for someone or want to use a number of the devices to display information in a community environment, such as a jury or a classroom.
Although we do not consider them anywhere near as desirable as the iPad, we consider the Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus as the next options if you want a tablet but choose to go with an Android device. The vastness of the iTunes App Store represents the major reason for our preference of the iPad and iPad mini over the rest of the tablet universe.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3. We have historically not paid much attention to the Microsoft Surface (microsoft.com). Last year, however, Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3. The Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid between a laptop and a tablet. It functions as a true computer, allowing you to run virtually any Windows 8 or 10 compatible software, along with some apps built specifically for the device. Like a tablet, Microsoft built it without a physical keyboard, but you can get a keyboard that wirelessly connects to the Surface and works very well. You also can get a stylus/pen. The Surface Pro 3 seems like a behemoth with its 12” display, 2.4-pound weight, and 0.55” thickness (with the keyboard cover attached) when you compare it to the iPad, but not so much when you compare it to the 13” MacBook Air (2.96 pounds and 0.68” thick). If you want to compare it to the iPad Pro, the Pro will weigh in at 1.57 pounds (sans keyboard and stylus) and measure 12” x 8.68” x 0.27”; it will sport a 12.9” display.
The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799, but that gets you a bare-bones model including an Intel Core i3 processor, a 64 GB SSD (solid state drive), and no keyboard. We are not favorably impressed by the i3 these days, and we think that 64 GB is too small a storage configuration to be very useful. We think that the 256 GB SSD represents a reasonable choice and that the 128 GB version represents the minimum usable configuration. As for processors, we are very impressed with the i7 and would recommend it to you, but the i5 will also work well and provide adequate power for most uses. A 256 GB version with an i5 processor costs $1,299, and a 256 GB version with an i7 processor costs $1,549. If you need more memory, you also can get a 512 GB SSD (only available with the i7 processor) for $1,949 (we think the $400 price jump for the extra 256 GB is just too much). A cover (which includes the physical keyboard) is in all instances an extra purchase and adds $129.99 to the cost. If you lose the pen or want an extra, replacements cost $49.99. The Surface Pro 3 comes with 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, and either 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM. The Surface Pro 3 comes with two integrated 5-megapixel cameras (front- and rear-facing); however, we did not think they worked as well as the cameras on the Apple or Samsung products.
The Surface Pro 3 favorably impressed us. We would not get it as a primary computer or as a primary tablet, but if you want a lightweight ultrabook that runs Windows and has the flexibility to give you some tablet-like features, it represents a good choice. Still, you might want to wait and see what the iPad Pro looks like when it comes out.
Rumors abound about a Surface Pro 4 that may or may not be out by the time you read this article. We have no official announcement and no list of specifications to examine. In fact, as we write this article, the Microsoft website makes no mention of a Surface Pro 4. (And they say Apple is secretive. . . .)
Accessories for Mobile Devices
Although models continue to upgrade, the state of available accessories for mobile devices has not changed significantly in the last few years. Accessories include a variety of protective cases, carrying cases, earphones, external speakers, and other miscellaneous devices. Most of the accessories (other than cases built for specific models) have universal applicability and will accommodate a variety of similarly sized devices. Accessories such as earphones, headphones, and external speakers generally work with a multitude of devices.
Cases and sleeves. Consider a protective carrying case or envelope as a first-choice accessory for most mobile devices. There are a lot of cases out there that can do the job for you, but not all cases are created equal. Some of the styles of cases available include folio, keyboard, hard-shell, gel skin, and sleeve. As near as we can tell, so many manufacturers are building so many cases that you would think that everyone must be buying several cases for each device. That seems a bit excessive to us, but to each their own. Many protective cases are device specific, although cases designed for a particular model will often fit similarly sized devices. You can find a good selection of cases at service providers stores, electronics stores such as Best Buy and Fry’s, and online. Apple Stores offer a fair selection of cases for Apple devices (some of which would actually work with some of the competition’s products). The designers have gotten into the fray and have created cases advertising their logos, if that is your preference. We prefer function to form but do not balk at paying a reasonable amount for a particularly good case. Below are some of the cases we like and you may want to consider.
For starters, check out the DODOcase ($64.95, dodocase.com). DODOcases do not come cheap, but their high-quality, handmade materials should be considered when choosing a case for your device. The folio-style case consists of a wooden body that your iPad rests comfortably in, and a firm board cover that flips over the screen to protect it. This is a nice setup if you plan to carry your iPad in a briefcase or book bag.
If you like the rugged look, consider the Griffin Survivor All-Terrain ($79.99, griffintechnology.com). The Survivor is a serious case, as the name suggests, designed to protect your tablet from real drops, shocks, dings, or even children. We are not sure if it has been “lab”-tested yet (and by lab-tested, we mean tested to determine if a Labrador Retriever can chew through it, as one of the author’s pets tends to do just that), but it is built to survive the U.S. military’s MIL-STD-810F ruggedness standards, so it will at least present a challenge. The Survivor is built from shatter-resistant polycarbonate with shock-resistant silicone cladding. It is essentially a hard-shell/gel combo that will protect your iPad from shocks, falls, drops, water, or most elements you will encounter. The built-in screen protector seals the iPad’s display from the environment as well, providing you with just as much protection on the front end as you can expect on the back.
If you do extensive amounts of typing on your iPad, you should check out the ClamCase Pro ($149.99, clamcase.com). ClamCase is a slim-profile, hard-shell keyboard case available for a variety of iPad, iPad Air, and iPad mini models. It is built as an aluminum enclosure with a polycarbonate shell. The keyboard feature connects to your iPad via Bluetooth and runs off a lithium-ion battery that will last for months on a single charge. The keyboard is a full QWERTY design with elevated island-style keys to create a more natural typing experience. It opens with a 360-degree hinge, allowing you to adjust the viewing angle of the iPad to suit your comfort. With the hard material and keyboard, the case feels heavier and bulkier than other cases on the market, and the $149.99 sticker price weighs heavier on the pocketbook. But the added comfort of a hard-shell cover and the added convenience of a full keyboard make this case a worthy contender for your tablet.
If you carry an iPad and a laptop in your mobile lawyering tool box, then adding a HighView iPad Hanger ($24.99, highviewcase.com) will give you everything you need for a dual-monitor experience on airplanes. The HighView has a simple design that allows it to do a simple but useful task: hang your iPad for better viewing. This frees the surface of your tray table for your laptop. The HighView iPad Hanger easily fits on the back of the airplane seat in front of you, on luggage if you find yourself stuck at the airport for a while, or even the back of a car seat. The hanger comes in sizes to accommodate the original iPad models, the iPad Air, and the iPad mini, all for the same price. When you are finished using it, the hanger rolls up for easy packing and carrying. For the good Samaritan on your holiday list there is an added bonus: For every Hanger purchased, HighView will give one month of clean water to a classroom of Guatemalan children in need by providing Ecofiltro water filters to the schools.
If you use a Surface Pro, check out Kensington’s BlackBelt 1st Degree case ($39.99, kensington.com). It’s a highly protective case at a reasonable price.
Although many tablet cases provide substantial protection, some people prefer a lighter, thinner case. If you go with the lighter and thinner case, consider getting an envelope for additional protection. You can get neoprene sleeves practically anywhere. You also can get padded ballistic nylon sleeves. We especially like the Tumi ballistic nylon Alpha Tablet Cover ($90, tumi.com) for use with the iPad or other 10” tablets.
If you want leather, Tumi also offers many of their pieces in leather, but it is not our favorite provider of leather cases and envelopes. Col. Littleton makes our favorite leather envelope, the No. 5 Pocket for iPad and Tablets ($165, colonellittleton.com). The envelope is large enough to accommodate many protective cases for your tablet. Its appearance improves with use, as the leather darkens a bit and develops a nice patina. The cases are well made and hold up well to use.
Tough as nails, the Urban Armor Gear Scout Folio (www.urbanarmorgear.com) is a rare find: a useful wallet folio that also offers a significant degree of protection for smartphones. For the iPhone 6/6s ($34.95) or 6 Plus/6s Plus ($39.95) it comes in red or black, which is not a lot of choices, but the draw to this case is its functionality more than its aesthetics. The red case is called the Rogue Folio while the black case is called the Scout Folio. YouTube videos show an iPhone encased in the Scout Folio case being dropped 50 feet and emerging from the test intact. The case offers button coverage, and a significant lip on the case offers screen protection if the folio’s cover is off. The outer shell is composed of Urban Armor Gear’s trademark water-resistant Frog Skin Technology for better grip, while providing easy access to the touch screen and ports. Inside the cover, you will find a slot that can hold up to three credit cards. In truth, you can stuff more than three in there, but doing so will stretch the slot, making it more likely to lose cards. Too many cards will make it difficult for the magnetic strip to stay closed. The rugged features of the case do add some bulk, but it is remarkably light given the level of protection offered. Urban Armor Gear also makes Scout Folio cases for tablets.
Bags and backpacks. Once you have considered cases or sleeves for your mobile devices, you will want to give some thought to how you carry them around. Just as new technology develops, so do new bags and backpacks, with features you may love or loathe. One bag you may want to check out is the Filson Padded Computer Bag ($385, filson.com), a bag made of a rugged, rain-resistant, twill material with aesthetically pleasing leather touches. It contains four stow pockets, one slotted zipper pocket, three interior dividers, and a foam-padded laptop compartment.
The Saddleback Leather Classic Briefcase (saddlebackleather.com, $579 to $669 depending on size) is another excellent choice for carrying your gear and files around. The bag is crafted from “100 percent full-grain boot leather,” with every stress point double-stitched, riveted, or reinforced with hidden nylon strapping.
Tumi also provides a variety of well-designed and organized briefcases, backpacks, slings, and wheeled computer cases in sizes to suit almost every conceivable need. You can sometimes save a few dollars by planning ahead and buying during one of Tumi’s infrequent sales. You also can often get discontinued lines (still quite good) at the retail stores and at outlets. Tumi builds a lesser line of products that it pushes out of its outlet stores, so be careful about what you purchase there. This is one of the situations where you get what you pay for. The material used in many of these outlet pieces does not appear to have the same quality as that used in the retail stores: The nylon often appears stiffer and more course in the body of the bag as well as in the straps. (One simpler way we have found to distinguish the lesser-quality outlet fare is the absence of the little leather initial patch, although not all items in the retail line include that touch.) That said, the outlet bags offer good quality and appear to wear quite well, even if they don’t look quite as nice or have all the same features as the retail products. And they still carry the cache of the Tumi name, if that is what you seek.
We have spent considerable time searching for the holy grail of the “perfect” tech bag for travel. While we recognize that the “perfect” bag only exists in theory, we have found what we consider the next best thing. Tumi had an excellent case in its Alpha Bravo line called the Knox Backpack. We liked it and used it for some time, despite the fact that it lacked some features we would have liked. Recently, Tumi released a re-designed Knox Backpack that took care of the missing features and, as Tumi generally does, added them in a clever and attractive way. The new Knox Backpack ($365 for fabric, $595 for leather) has become our first choice for travel. It is just big enough to carry a collection of necessary and desirable equipment (laptop, tablet, Kindle, and smartphone plus appropriate chargers, connectors and cables, a camera, a cellular hotspot, and a couple of snacks). The pockets and slots available make everything well organized and easily accessible. If you have to carry a little more or need some more room for something you pick up on the road, the bottom of the case expands to create additional space to accommodate the new device. It has wide, well-padded straps that allow you to sling it comfortably over one shoulder or wear it as a traditional backpack. It does not have wheels but does have an “add a bag” slot that allows you easily to slip it over the handle of a wheeled case, should you want to do so.
Levenger (levenger.com) also offers a series of leather tech cases and bags that we like and often has sales that can save you money. Some of the Coach slings (coach.com) also work very well, although they tend to be particularly pricey owing to the name. Like Tumi, Coach has a thriving outlet business and builds a number of outlet-direct products that are not as nice as those it sells in the retail store. Coach also uses the outlets to dispose of excess inventory and discontinued items at good discounts. Coach outlets seem to have more sales and deeper discounts than Tumi’s, so you often can find a good value there. If you simply want function and not appearance or a name, you can get completely satisfactory (and much less expensive) cases from manufacturers such as Tucano (tucanousa.com), Targus (targus.com/us), and Swiss Army/Victorinox (victorinox.com), among others.
Screen protectors. A screen protector helps guard against damage from dropping, scratching, or banging around in normal usage. We strongly recommend getting a good screen protector for your mobile devices. For some time our favorite screen protectors have been plastic film, but that now represents dated technology. Various configurations of tempered glass represent the state of the art now and offer as much or more protection as the plastic film but install much more easily. A number of them come with an installation jig setup in the box to make the process even easier. We have shifted our devices to the newer protective covers and are generally very happy with them. Glass protectors seem to be more susceptible to damage (while still protecting the screen itself) than plastic ones; on the other hand, we have not yet seen any of them discolor over time, as we have with plastic film. Some of the manufacturers of this style of protection include ZAGG (zagg.com), Qmadix (qmadix.com), and BodyGuardz (bodyguardz.com).
The stylus is mightier than the finger. Steve Jobs’ distaste for the stylus notwithstanding, many people like to use a stylus with tablets and/or smartphones. Although the touch screen may have been created with fingertips in mind, fingertips generally have oil on them that tends to smudge the display, making it less easy to read. A stylus keeps greasy fingertips off the display. You have any number of styli to choose from, ranging from the very inexpensive to the substantially more costly. You can find a good variety of styli on Amazon (amazon.com); all the styli listed below are available there.
If you want a decent, inexpensive stylus, check out the products from BoxWave (under $10). Among the most popular styli are those in the Wacom Bamboo line ($8–$40). If you are getting a stylus for a child or simply want a thicker stylus (easier if you are older and/or have arthritis), check out the Just-Mobile AluPen (around $15). Many pen manufacturers have made various types of pens with a built-in stylus. They range from the very inexpensive and up. Some of our favorites include those from Cross (Tech 3+, $28), Monteverde (One Touch, $18; M1, $30; and Invincia, $60), and Delta (Vintage Stylus Rollerball, $140).
If you plan to get the iPad Pro, don’t forget that Apple will sell its own $99 stylus, called the Apple “Pencil” (rather than the Apple “Stylus,” likely as a result of Steve Jobs’ negativity toward the stylus and the many statements he made to that effect).
A battery booster makes a POWERful choice for any user. Most smaller communications devices come with batteries that have a hard time lasting the day, particularly if you are a heavy user. We have read numerous articles about how to prolong battery power in devices and have done enough experimenting that we could write several such articles ourselves. Unfortunately, almost all the power-saving suggestions involve loss of functionality as the cost. The more power you save, the more features you have to give up. In truth, most heavy users will need to recharge their devices during the day. We have found it helpful to carry an external power source. This has proven far more convenient than simply carrying the charger, as we do not always have access to an outlet or the time to spend tethered to one while a device recharges. Because we find these charging devices very convenient and highly useful, we think they make excellent gift choices.
If you have a device with a removable battery, you can always carry a second fully charged battery and swap them out. More and more devices (like the smartphones and tablets mentioned above) have sealed shells that prevent opening them up and easily swapping out a battery. We used to like cases with a battery built into the case structure; this approach gives you one single piece that you carry, with a significantly increased battery capacity. These cases add both size and weight to the phone, however, and have the disadvantage of device specificity. We now prefer external devices that have the ability to charge a variety of devices. We have not seen significant performance differences among the various models we have used, other than as a result of the size of the power reserve. We have seen differences in style, size, and functionality, however, even among devices with the same-size power reserve. You can get devices that will only work well with cell phones and others that work with a variety of devices. You can get some with built-in cable connections for devices and others that require you to use a separate cable. You can find chargers smaller than a roll of pennies and some as large as an iPad mini, but significantly thicker and heavier. You can get some that have a single USB port and some that have multiple USB ports. If you use an iPad, you will want the charger to have at least one port that puts out 2.1 amps. Many of the chargers have multiple ports with different amperage outputs (usually around 0.5–1.0 amps or 2.0–2.4 amps), but some have “smart ports” that figure out what the attached device takes and put out that much power through the connecting port (we like those the best because of the extra flexibility they provide).
We don’t ever leave home without one or more battery boosters. When we travel, we usually take at least two, one small enough to fit in a pocket and a larger one that stays in a briefcase or backpack.
Among of our favorites is a discontinued model from Tylt (tylt.com) that we found at Costco in a package of two for $30. It is a 3,200 mAh device about the size and weight of a roll of pennies that comes with a single port that generates 2.1 amps of output. It easily fits in a pocket, briefcase, or purse, and it can give you extra usage for smartphones and tablets. It is the one we carry on a daily basis. On the other side of the spectrum, the ZeroLemon ToughJuice 30,000 mAh device produces 6-amp output through its four USB ports capable of charging multiple devices, multiple times. This one is primarily for travel. It will not carry comfortably in a pocket owing to its size and weight. On the other hand, it has enough power to keep a couple of iPads running continuously on a flight from San Francisco to the Middle East and power them to arrive with a full charge, recharge a couple of cell phones in flight, and still not exhaust the device’s power reservoir. (It does take several hours to recharge, however, owing to the size of its reservoir). As of this writing, the ZeroLemon website (zerolemon.com) shows this particular charger as unavailable, without an explanation as to why. You may still be able to find it at a third-party supplier (approximately $60). And ZeroLemon has a variety of other batteries, including some that have the ability to use solar energy for recharging.
Earphones and headsets. We recommend upgrading from the standard-issue earphones to higher-quality earphones or headsets to get more enjoyment from most portable devices. Although some of the headsets only work to play music, many of them also handle telephone functions. Both headsets and earphones come in wired and wireless versions. The wireless versions use Bluetooth technology, and the more recent models have gotten quite good. In our opinion, you still generally get better sound quality with the wired versions for both music and telephone conversations, but the wireless versions have shown consistent improvement. The wireless versions offer more convenience as they have no wires to get tangled or to restrict your movement. We use them regularly and enjoy them very much.
Another variable you may want to consider is whether to get active or passive noise reduction (or none at all). Headsets with active noise cancellation use white noise to counter outside noise, effectively canceling the sound created by the outside noise. Passive devices form a virtually soundproof seal to the ear, keeping the noise out. In our opinion, in-ear devices provide the best passive noise reduction as they form a better seal against outside noise. Standard headphones and earphones do not offer noise reduction. In relatively quiet environments, such as a living room, they work just fine. In noisier environments, such as an airplane cabin, noise reduction or noise cancellation can make a big difference.
Bose (bose.com) has had a commanding position respecting noise cancellation devices for some time. Check out the Bose QuietComfort 25 (QC25) acoustic noise canceling headphones ($299.95). The headphones are an upgrade of Bose’s earlier model, the QuietComfort 15. There are a lot of similarities in the design; for example, both require a single AAA battery that delivers up to 35 hours of use. One improvement in the QC25 is noticeable: When the battery dies, the music continues (although the noise cancellation does not). Other improvements include an inline remote and mic for taking calls with recent iPod, iPhone, and iPad models, as well as select non-Apple smartphones. You may want to research before buying, however, as some of the remote features may not work with Android and Windows devices, although the microphone will.
You might also want to check out the QuietComfort 20 (QC20) and QuietComfort 20i (QC20i). The QC20 offers in-ear noise cancellation. Bose designed the QC20i for the iPhone and the QC20 for other cell phones. The difference is the in-line telephone controls. The QC20 controls won’t work with an iPhone, and the QC20i controls work with the iPhone but not other phones. You can use the devices to listen to music on phones for which they are not designed, but you cannot answer calls with them (you need to use the phone’s controls). Both sell for $299.95.
Bose recently upgraded its wired portable headsets (without noise cancellation), including both an iPhone and a standard version. The two current versions, called SoundTrue, include an in-ear ($149.95) and an around-ear ($179.95) version. Each version comes with a carrying case and a remote microphone for telephone use (again, there is one version for iPhones and one for other smartphones). Both have very good sound, as do all the Bose products we have tried.
If you are looking for great sound without the burdensome cord connecting you to devices, you can look at the Bose SoundLink wireless on-ear headsets ($249.95) or the around ear SoundLink II ($279.95). You can also look at the Beats by Dr. Dre PowerBeats 2 ear buds ($199.95, beatsbydre.com). All use Bluetooth technology and produce excellent sound. We like the Bose better for general listening (there is not much difference in sound between the on-ear and over-ear models, but some will find one more comfortable than the other). Now owned by Apple, Beats still produces a harder and more driving bass, and its in-ear styling makes it better for a more active lifestyle.
Bluetooth mono telephone earphones. Designed primarily for use with your phone as a phone and not for music enjoyment, these devices don’t provide stereo. Our recommendations in this category come from Bose, Jawbone (jawbone.com), and Jabra (jabra.com). All the earphones pair easily, have straightforward controls, and produce excellent sound.
The Bose Bluetooth Headset Series 2 has not changed since last year. It still costs $149.95 and comes in two versions, one for the right ear and one for the left. Unlike many other devices, you cannot reverse it to use with the other ear. The Bose headset automatically adjusts volume to deal with environmental noise levels. It is lightweight and comfortable to wear for long periods, owing in part to the use of the Bose StayHear tip, which helps keep the headphone in place. The earphone comes with three sets of tips in different sizes, allowing users to pick the one that best fits their ear.
Portable speaker systems. Wireless speakers come in handy in a lot of situations and make great gifts. They can vary a great deal in terms of size and shape. The market has become so saturated that manufacturers have to add significant extras to distinguish themselves. When it comes to choosing the right speaker, there are a few factors to consider, but mostly it comes down to taste. For starters, do you prefer to connect via AirPlay, Bluetooth, or other proprietary means? AirPlay is an Apple-specific wireless audio feature that lets your iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Mac stream your iTunes libraries. Bluetooth has a longer history for wireless streaming systems, but it generally lacks some of the many features that AirPlay possesses. It does, however, support more devices than AirPlay. AirPlay can simultaneously stream music to multiple speakers, while Bluetooth technology requires pairing (a process in which two Bluetooth devices establish and authenticate a connection for wireless communication); the established Bluetooth connection exists only with one other device, meaning you cannot stream to multiple speakers. Some speakers offer their own proprietary wireless connections; for instance, Sonos offers WiFi-based wireless multi-room audio.
The Bose SoundLink III Bluetooth speaker ($249.95), an ever-popular choice among audiophiles, delivers great sound and a long battery life (14 hours) in its portable speaker package. The SoundLink III measures about 5” high, 10” wide, and 2” deep, and weighs in at 3 pounds. It pairs easily with any Bluetooth-enabled device. The speaker itself has a handful of onboard buttons for controlling volume, muting the sound, and switching to the auxiliary input (no cable is included, but you can connect non-Bluetooth devices to the speaker this way). The speaker comes with four neodymium transducers and dual-opposing passive radiators that combine with a new digital signal processing algorithm and improved electronics to play louder than previous SoundLink generations, creating a better listening experience.
The Sonos Play:5 ($499, sonos.com) is the latest iteration of wireless speaker to come from Sonos. With this speaker, listeners can easily optimize their listening experience no matter where the speaker is placed. Sonos takes this “smart” speaker to another level with TruePlay, a tuning app that allows you automatically to calibrate the speaker’s sound depending on a variety of factors affecting sound. According to Sonos CEO John MacFarlane, TruePlay “is a revolutionary system that gives music lovers confidence that they’re hearing what their favorite artists labored to produce, independent of the room’s acoustics and speaker location.” The Sonos app, the microphone on an iPhone or iPad, and a special tone emitted by the speaker combine to allow the system to analyze how sound reflects off the walls, furnishings, glass, and other surfaces in any given room. The Play:5 is constructed with six synchronized, custom-designed drivers with dedicated amplifiers. The speaker’s three mid-woofers create mid-level and deep lows delivering a deep, rich bass.
One of our favorites, Bose’s SoundLink Mini II ($199.95) is the smaller sibling of the Bose SoundLink III. Although the Sound Link III is relatively small and portable, it seems large in comparison to the 1.5 pound, 7.1” x 2” x 2.3” Mini II. We won’t tell you that the Mini II sounds as good as the Sound Link III, but it sounds extremely good and travels better. Its built-in rechargeable battery will play up to seven hours (depending on volume). The Mini II comes in your choice of colors (as long as you choose silver), but for $24.95 you can get a soft plastic cover to protect the Mini and give it one of eight color accents. The main distinction between the Mini II and the previous generation is the addition of the ability to function as a speakerphone.
Busy lawyers and their loved ones should check out the Amazon Echo ($179.99, amazon.com), a voice-command hub, similar to Siri but more advanced. It is sort of like a personal assistant for your home or office. You can ask it questions (Echo performs searches using the Bing search engine), have it read books from Audible, get sports scores, set timers, and even tell jokes. Some of the technology we recommend could be useful in multiple settings, and this is one of them. The Amazon Echo is a jack-of-all-trades, sort of a technological Swiss Army knife. It’s a Bluetooth speaker, information gatherer, music player, and news broadcaster, all of which can be activated and controlled by voice command. While not flawless, it is impressive and certainly capable of providing hours of usefulness and entertainment. It features voice recognition capable of recognizing and responding to your voice from across the room. Its 360-degree, omni-directional sound projects audio throughout the room. If you store your music collection in Amazon’s cloud, you will really enjoy its streaming function; the Echo links to Amazon Prime Music, which means it will play any music available in your personal Amazon music library or the free music that is available for Prime members. It is also compatible with select Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink connected devices to control lights and switches with your voice. The voice behind Echo is named Alexa, which is also the keyword you use to activate the Echo to receive voice commands.
Over the last several years, electronic readers have come into their own. For many people the electronic file in a reader has replaced the paper book. The electronic system offers many advantages over the printed book. It weighs a lot less. It allows you to select font types for viewing and can even make the print size larger or smaller. It also gives you the opportunity to view the file on any number of devices, ranging from desktop computers to laptop computers to tablets to smartphones to dedicated electronic book readers.
Several manufacturers have produced dedicated electronic book readers. The best known of these devices are Barnes & Noble’s NOOK and Amazon’s Kindle. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have bought into the multi-function concept; in addition to their black-and-white E Ink e-readers, they offer color e-readers that also function as tablets, providing Internet access and e-mail capabilities and allowing you to install certain apps to increase functionality.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others have e-reader apps available for both iOS and Android devices. Apple also has its own iBooks App available for iOS devices only. Although the Android and iOS apps do excellent Kindle and NOOK emulations, there are several reasons why the dedicated electronic reading devices continue to have a place. First, the e-readers/tablets generally cost less than the top-of-the line tablets, making them a reasonable choice if you want a less expensive gift. Second, some of the subscription materials available on the e-readers do not work with emulation apps. Third, although tablets (and the tablet-like color e-readers) work very well indoors, none of them works very well in bright sunlight. The E Ink e-readers, however, work quite well in bright sunlight and also work well indoors. Some of them have internal lighting mechanisms, making them very well suited for use in a darker environment (such as an airplane cabin at night). The E Ink devices generally do not provide Internet or e-mail access. They are pure electronic books. Another factor to consider in choosing between the color and E Ink technologies is the form factor. The E Ink devices we will discuss are smaller and lighter than their color relatives, allowing them to fit easily in many coat pockets.
We recommend you stick with Kindle or NOOK as a dedicated e-reader for personal use or as a gift. Although we like both lines’ E Ink devices, we prefer the Kindle. When it comes to the color e-reader/tablets, we prefer the Barnes & Noble Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0.
Kindle. Amazon has several Kindle models available. The least expensive Kindle costs only $79.99. This WiFi-only E Ink device has a 6” screen, weighs 6.7 ounces, and measures 6.7” x 4.7” x 0.4”. It comes with what Amazon calls “special offers” (read: they push ads onto your device). If you do not want the special offers, you can get the same device for $20 more. We will leave it to you to decide if saving $20 is worth putting up with the special offers. For what it’s worth, the special offers do not impinge on your reading experience; they only appear on your lock screen when the device is on but timed out. This version, simply called the “Kindle,” represents a solid basic e-reader, but it is not our favorite Kindle device.
Stepping up the E Ink line, we come to the Kindle Paperwhite, recently refreshed by Amazon. We really like this device; it is one of our favorite e-readers, with increased resolution and built-in lighting. The WiFi-only version costs $119.99 with special offers; the WiFi plus 3G version costs $189.99 with special offers (each version cost $20 more without special offers). It has a 6” display, measures 6.7” x 4.6” x 0.36”, and weighs 7.2 ounces (WiFi-only) or 7.6 ounces (WiFi plus 3G).
The top of Kindle’s E Ink line, the Voyage comes in WiFi-only ($199.99) or WiFi plus 3G ($269.99) versions. The prices in the preceding sentence are with special offers. The cost goes up by $20 on each version without special offers. It measures 6.4” x 4.5” x 0.3” and weighs in at 6.3 ounces (WiFi-only) or 6.6 ounces (WiFi plus 3G). Although we like the Paperwhite and consider it an excellent e-reader, we prefer the Voyage, which shares its 300 ppi resolution but has a more sophisticated built-in light with an adaptive sensor. It also weighs less. This is our absolute favorite E Ink reader. We recommend it without reservation.
Amazon calls its color e-readers Fire Tablets. Amazon treats the Fire as a different type of device than the E Ink readers. The Fire models work both as readers and as tablets, allowing Internet browsing, e-mail capabilities, and the use of a relatively limited selection of apps. The least of the Fire models, called simply the Fire, has a 7” display and 8 GB of RAM and costs $49.99 (with special offers). The step-up Fire HD models offer greater resolution and come with 6”, 8”, or 10” displays, costing $99.99, $149.99, and $229.99, respectively (all with special offers). Amazon also has added two Fire Kids Edition tablets sporting a “kid-proof” case: a lower-resolution 7” model for $99.99 and a 6” Fire HD model for $149.99.
Amazon provides a detailed comparison of options, features, and pricing as well as technical specifications for all Kindle models on its website. In addition to functioning as e-readers, the Fire devices also handle audiobooks and movies very nicely. To make the Kindle devices even more appealing, Amazon has offered the ability to borrow media at no additional charge if you have Amazon Prime, and it just recently offered a new program called Kindle Unlimited allowing you to get access to a large amount of media on a monthly subscription fee basis. (For more on Kindle Unlimited, see the discussion below under Online Subscriptions.)
NOOK. Barnes & Noble calls its e-reader the NOOK. All NOOKs are WiFi-only. The E Ink version is called the NOOK GlowLight ($99, nook.barnesandnoble.com). It has 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 GlowLight has a 6” display, weighs 6.2 ounces, and will hold approximately 2,000 books. Barnes & Noble dropped its own label color tablet devices and partnered with Samsung to offer a Galaxy Tab line of color NOOKs. Although the Barnes & Noble/Samsung partnership has produced two newer and more powerful tablet readers, we think the $149.99 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0 still offers the best combination of price and features. It has a 7” standard-definition LCD display, weighs 9.74 ounces, and comes with 8 GB of memory (expandable to 32 GB via a microSD card). If you plan on spending as much as the newer devices cost ($249.99 for the Samsung Galaxy Tab E NOOK or $399.99 for the top-of-the line Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 NOOK), we think you should look at an iPad instead. That said, both of the new devices, while more limited than the iPad as tablets, are excellent readers and screens for viewing video. The E NOOK sports a 9.6” HD display, weighs 19.3 ounces, and comes with 16 GB of memory (expandable to 128 GB via a microSD card); the S2 NOOK features an 8” Super AMOLED display, weighs 9.4 ounces, and comes with 32 GB of memory (expandable to 128 GB via a microSD card). Barnes & Noble is trying to position the new devices as productivity tools to help justify the additional price. While they can contribute to your productivity, that pits them against the iPads as productivity tools, and we think they fall short in the comparison.
A dedicated e-reader is a nice thing to have, and it will make a great gift for most people, even if they have a tablet. The Kindle and NOOK apps allow you access to their libraries on most tablets, however, and true tablets make a better and more versatile (but more costly) choice than the color versions of the Kindle and NOOK. The E Ink versions of these devices, however, offer a significant advantage over the color versions and other tablets in terms of portability and the ability to read them in bright sunlight. For that reason, E Ink versions of the Kindle and NOOK should prove a better choice for people who already have a tablet.
Online subscriptions can make great gifts, and not just for last-minute shoppers (although, admittedly, they are good for that, too). Online subscriptions come in a variety of packages, making it easy to buy someone something they are interested in. Subscription gifts tend to fall into three categories:
- gifts that recipients would normally buy for themselves anyway (so you’re saving them money and time);
- gifts that recipients would love but would not spend money experimenting with, such as wine or clothes or beauty products (so you’re giving them an experience as well as a gift); and
- gifts that recipients are interested in but would never have thought to buy (so you’re giving them cool stuff, which is always fun).
A quick Google search reveals limitless possible gift subscriptions, but here are some to consider.
Amazon Prime. This service ($99 for a one-year subscription) is a must-have for the shopaholic or agoraphobic (and especially the agoraphobic shopaholic) in your life. Amazon Prime is a subscription through Amazon.com that grants a host of benefits to users, perhaps the most enticing of which is the free two-day shipping on eligible items in the contiguous United States. Anyone located in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico will not be able to take advantage of the free two-day shipping but still can enjoy free standard shipping (it takes around three to seven business days). Access to Prime Instant Video (a Netflix-like on-demand video service) and Prime Music Services are additional perks in the membership plan.
For busy people who lack the time or the inclination to shop in bricks-and-mortar stores, or who lack convenient access to stores, this gift subscription is huge. Even for those who venture to the bricks-and-mortar venues, Amazon provides a great way to comparison price shop, and oftentimes you can order an item and have it arrive before you would have time to make it out to the store. Amazon has even launched a grocery delivery service, called Amazon Prime Fresh ($299 for a one-year subscription), which offers same-day and early morning delivery on orders over $50, including fresh groceries, everyday essentials, and more found on AmazonFresh.com. This could be a life-saver, or at least a welcome indulgence, for a lawyer balancing family and career.
Audible. Buying for a book lover? Consider a subscription to Audible (audible.com), which offers two monthly plans. With the first plan ($14.95 per month) you get to download, and keep forever, one book per month; you also get 30 percent off the list price for books you purchase in addition to the one free book per month. The second plan ($21.95 per month) increases your monthly download credits to two books and an extra 20 percent in savings on all books bought without credits. Pro Tip: If you are considering giving this to someone as a gift, or even gifting it to yourself, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the hyperlink that reads “Gift Center.” Here you can purchase a 12-month gift plan that gives you the same number of credits and same discount as the one-book-per-month plan, but with an annual savings of $29.40. Audible allows you to roll-over up to six of your credits with the one-credit-per-month plan and 12 of your credits with the two-credits-per-month plan. It is noted on the website that gift memberships allow the same number of rollovers but will expire six months after the end of the membership. If you are worried you may waste a credit on a book you do not like, fear not. With Audible you can return a title up to one year after purchase. Another perk offered by all plans is a complimentary audio subscription to The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
Kindle Unlimited. Avid readers who prefer digital to audiobooks would enjoy Kindle Unlimited ($9.99 per month), a subscription plan available through Amazon that allows you access to more than 1 million Kindle books and thousands of audiobooks with Whispersync for Voice (this feature allows you to sync between the e-reader and audio versions of a book). You can keep up to ten books at a time, and there are no due dates. Read your Kindle Unlimited books on any Amazon device or through the free Kindle reading app. It is a good idea to explore the library before you sign up, to know if the membership is right for you (or the people you are buying it for, if you know their taste). Other subscription eBook services worth looking into include Scribd ($8.99 per month, scribd.com) and Bookmate ($4.99 per month, en.bookmate.com).
Ancestry. For the history buff in your life, you can give the gift of a six-month membership to Ancestry ($99, ancestry.com). If you have been watching any TV recently, then you have probably seen commercials where users (sometimes even celebrities) share their story of discovering a long-lost relative or ancestor and learning about their past. Ancestry.com is a great resource for finding missing genealogical information. The genealogy website allows users to collaborate with other family members to build family trees together and share photos and stories and other media clippings. Users can control how much of what they share is public and can choose who has access to see, post, or edit information in their trees. Pro-tip: For the serious history buff, you may even want to go as far as ordering Ancestry’s DNA test kit. The results take a while to get in but can provide a wealth of tree connections to fuel your research.
Netflix. TV and movie lovers will get a kick out of Netflix (plans starting from $7.99 per month, Netflix.com), which offers movies and TV series that you can view on demand with Internet access. Netflix maintains a huge catalog of content, including high-quality original programming, nostalgic TV shows, British cult hits, family favorites, comedy specials, and much more.
Texture. Magazine fiends will enjoy a gift subscription to Texture (previously called Next Issue; nextissue.com), an app for mobile devices that has been heralded as the “Netflix for magazines.” It includes a rich bounty of current magazine titles and back issues that you would find on your neighborhood newsstand. Memberships run $9.99 per month for all monthly magazines or $14.99 per month for monthly and weekly magazines (such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Entertainment Weekly, and Sports Illustrated).
Techie Gift Cards
Likely you have heard that the iTunes App Store has apps for practically everything. Other manufacturers, particularly Samsung, have excellent offerings, but none of them can access the iTunes Store and none of them has anything that compares favorably to it. The Google Play Store (a terrible choice of names in our opinion) comes in second, but it is not a close race yet.
You can get gift cards that let the recipients 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.
Similarly, you can get gift cards for the Google Play Store, allowing the recipient to choose from the Android apps and media available for sale there. You also can get gift cards for Amazon’s Kindle store. You might want to check at Costco to see if they have the card you want. They now sell a large collection of gift cards. You often can get a discount on the cards there. We recently saw Apple iTunes cards at Costco for $84 for a pack of four $25 cards. That is the first time we have seen the cards selling at a discount.
Memory Storage Devices
We all need to store data. A 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. We particularly like Seagate (seagate.com) and Western Digital (wdc.com) hard disk drives as they offer good quality at reasonable prices. We use them for our own backups in and out of the office. Both make desktop as well as portable drives. In this article we will focus on the portable drives, which they offer in various configurations ranging from small to smaller and thin to thinner. Seagate and Western Digital drives are available for the Mac OS as well as for Windows, but you can easily reconfigure a drive formatted for either platform to a drive formatted for the other. Often drive manufacturers charge a premium price for hardware that is formatted for the Mac but that otherwise is identical to hardware formatted for Windows. You can buy the Windows-formatted version and reformat it for the Mac, saving the surcharge. Both companies make drives that work with USB 3.0 and are backward-compatible to USB 2.0. We strongly prefer the 3.0 devices owing to the more rapid transfer speeds. Do note, however, that a 3.0 drive plugged into a 2.0 port runs at 2.0 speeds. You need both a 3.0 drive and a 3.0 computer port if you want the faster speeds. Prices on the drives vary significantly depending on configuration and where you buy them. We have seen both lines discounted at Costco. You should be able to find portable drives of 1 TB, 1.5 TB, or 2.0 TB for around $69 to $149.
Seagate offers a 1 TB Wireless Plus ($129.99) that has the ability to create its own WiFi network and stream media to WiFi-enabled computers and portable devices. The 5” x 3.5” x .78”, 0.56 pound Wireless Plus makes a great traveling partner. The Wireless Plus also works with USB 3.0. Seagate also offers a 1 TB Backup Plus with Thunderbolt connection (offering even greater transfer speeds; $229.99).
You have probably noticed that more and more laptop manufacturers have started shifting production from traditional hard drives to flash drives. You often will see these drives called SSDs (solid state drives). The SSD drives cost more but offer significant benefits. Compared to standard (FDD) hard drives they boot up much faster, operate much faster (faster read/write speeds), use less battery power, and resist damage better as they have no moving parts. Recently we have seen a number of external SSD devices come onto the market. Like the internal SSDs, they tend to be pricier than traditional hard drives. They also generally have a much smaller footprint and weigh less, making them even better for travel. We have seen the SSD devices in a variety of sizes, the most common of which are 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB. We recently have seen 1 TB internal SSDs offered between $300 and $450, which, while not unreasonable for SSDs at this time, we consider a bit too pricey for most of us. The best values still appear to be those in the 128 GB to 256 GB range. We have seen internal SSDs for around $50 for the 128 GB size and around $85 for the 256 GB size. Some manufacturers now offer stand-alone external SSDs. We have tried some of these (and currently use them). These drives are very fast and amazingly small. We have seen a variety of 128 GB external SSDs available for between $110 and $200; we found 256 GB external SSDs for between $186 and $300 and 512 GB external SSDs starting around $200 and going up to more than $600. We found 1 TB external SSDs starting around $430 and going up from there.
The USB flash drive (AKA thumb drive, AKA USB stick, AKA about a dozen or more other names) has become a very common tool for people to carry data around with them. Pricing on these drives is all over the lot, as are design and style. You can find thumb drives ranging in sizes from 256 KB to 256 GB. Bigger drives are available but are still very pricey. As with most things USB these days, you can find USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 thumb drives. You will still pay a small premium for USB 3.0 drives, but that is disappearing, as more manufacturers move to the 3.0 system. Because you can find these devices from a large number of manufacturers, in a wide variety of configurations and prices, you can find one for almost anyone you want to gift. Some law firms even buy them in bulk with the firm name on them and use them for promotional purposes and client gifts. You can find a number of sources online for such special productions. Some of the best-known flash drive manufacturers with the most reliable drives are SanDisk, Transcend, Kingston, Lexar, Patriot, Corsair, and PNY. You can find these devices in most electronics stores and many other online stores. We recently priced some USB 3.0 thumb drives on Amazon. We found 32 GB drives starting at $9.99, 64 GB drives starting at $18.95, 128 GB drives starting at $34.95, and 256 GB drives starting at $69.99. Please note that not all USB 3.0 thumb drives work at the same speed. Some will read/write faster than others. Generally the fastest ones cost the most.
UBOARD SMART. If you have started contemplating your 2016 New Year’s resolutions, and one of them is to get organized, you may want to check out the UBOARD SMART ($58.93, amazon.com). The UBOARD is a desktop surface organizer that can function in multiple ways to reduce the clutter on your surface. You can use it as a stand for your monitor, or as an above-keyboard tray. It does well holding 27-inch monitors. The base is made of tempered glass, so it’s really sturdy. The three USB ports get their power and data from a USB port on your computer (no AC power connector). The board comes with two attachable side stands, one that serves as a cup holder and one for your phone.
Cyanics iStick. If you prefer dedicated spaces to a smooth surface, then Cyanics makes the iStick multifunction desk organizer ($39.99, cyanics.net), which comes with three USB ports, a cup holder, card reader, letter opener, and a paper or photo holder.
myKeyO 6-in-1. The myKeyO 6-in-1 full-size Bluetooth keyboard with stand and organizer ($54.95, mykeyo.com) does its part to organize your mobile tools, providing a keyboard and stand for your phone or tablet. The keyboard forms the lid of an organizer case that can house a variety of office tools such as USB flash drives, pens, rulers, sticky notes, etc. The keyboard itself contains 105 keys (including nine shortcut buttons) and connects via Bluetooth technology, providing a cable-free connection. The stand provides a resting place for a tablet, iPad, iPhone, or smartphone. It is designed to position devices at the optimal viewing angle. One major drawback to this stand is that it is not a charging dock, but hopefully that feature will come along later. It seems a little bulky to take on the road with you, but it would be a pretty nifty gadget to keep in a conference room as a flexible mobile workstation.
Bluelounge Sanctuary4. For the minimalist’s office, you may want to look at the Bluelounge Sanctuary4 charging station ($99.95, bluelounge.com). Bluelounge packs a lot into a very minimal package. This 4-amp charger provides enough juice to quickly charge up to four devices. You can customize what devices you charge, so long as they can connect and charge via a USB port. The sleek appearance—glossy outside with a soft matte top surface—comes in black or in a black-and-white combination. There is a large black metal railing found along the backside of the lid, providing upright or angled support depending on how you adjust a hidden thumbscrew. In front of the railing you will find a hole that lets you pass a cable through to a tablet or phone standing on your choice of orientations.
Health-Related Devices and Wearable Technology
More and more of us have grown increasingly health conscious. Where consumers have an interest, manufacturers flock to make products. As a result, we have seen a large growth in what we will refer to as “health-tech” devices. Health-tech devices represent technology, often wearable, that assists in developing and maintaining healthful behavior patterns or lifestyles or in treating existing health conditions. We expect to see lots of growth in this area as more and more people become health conscious and as more and more Baby Boomers age and realize that they need to do more to take care of themselves.
When we think of health-related devices, likely the first thing that comes to mind is the smart watch. When it comes to fitness-tracking smart watches, more and more manufacturers are incorporating GPS features into their devices. Why are these features important for anyone training with a goal in mind? For starters, when it comes to improving fitness and avoiding injuries, volume and intensity are important. GPS watches enable users to achieve and maintain recommended intensity levels. GPS watches collect a live stream of data (speed, distance, pace, heart rate, etc.) that is available for viewing on the watch’s display. The data then can be transferred into a database in order to view your progress over time. Some devices will include audible or vibration alerts to provide you with feedback during a session. The device’s accompanying software also acts as a training log for your activity and allows you to plot your route on a map. It can also display graphs and tables of information (pace, distance, overall time, etc.) for you to review later. When choosing a fitness tracker, consider a few things:
- What is your goal?
- What is your comfortable price range?
- Are size and weight factors?
- How important is fashion and style to you?
Defining your goal is the first place to start. Fitness trackers have increased in popularity largely owing to our inherent competitive nature and the tracker’s ability to motivate us to push ourselves. Reaching a goal can be as satisfying as checking an item off your to-do list. If your goal is to get off the couch more, the simpler devices can achieve this without hitting your pocketbook too hard. If your goal is to run a race or finish a long bike ride, you may want a device with more features to address your needs. As with most consumer products, your choices in fitness trackers span an array of price ranges. We do not recommend the Rolls-Royce of fitness trackers for casual users. If your goal is knowing how far you walked in a day, and you are not too fashion conscious, you can easily get by for under $100. The more features you require (and the more important you consider fashion), the more you will have to spend. Adding GPS and smartphone integration features will inflate the price. Adding style features and shrinking the size will inflate it even further, as will upgrading the quality of materials. Lastly, wearable technology generally only works if you actually wear it, so consider the size and weight, along with how comfortable it feels, before you make your purchase. To assist you in your research, the authors have rounded up a few of their favorites for your consideration.
Garmin vívoactive. For starters, check out the Garmin vívoactive fitness tracker and watch ($249.99, garmin.com) a mid-priced fitness-tracking smart watch. It is really a hybrid of three useful tools: part smart watch, part activity tracker, and part GPS sport watch. The vívoactive has an ultra-slim design, good battery life, and an always-on color display that shines when used in outdoor settings. It features multi-sport tracking through GPS and can be worn in the shower and the pool. It will vibrate to notify you of incoming calls, text messages, e-mails, and app and calendar alerts from your smartphone (when connected via Bluetooth). That vibration also can be used to wake you gently in the morning. The vívoactive comes with an app store (called Connect IQ) that you can access from the Garmin Connect mobile app. Connect IQ offers a variety of third-party apps, widgets, and watch faces that you can installed on the device.
Fitbit Surge. In the same range of feature-rich, mid-priced devices, check out the Fitbit Surge ($249.95, fitbit.com), the latest development from Fitbit. It is packed with some pretty nice features. The Surge tracks your steps like a typical pedometer, but it also tracks your heart rate without the annoying chest strap. Its user interface allows you to track workouts, play music, get text notifications, and monitor your sleep without having to use the app on your phone. Fitbit also makes the Charge ($129.95) and the Charge HR ($149.95); they don’t have all the features of the Surge, but they are smaller and a bit less industrial looking and will satisfy most casual users’ needs.
Timex Ironman One GPS+. If you want GPS features in addition to your activity tracker, check out the Timex Ironman One GPS+ ($199.95, timex.com). This feature-packed, fitness-tracking watch (which previously sold for $399.95) includes GPS, Bluetooth, and 3G connectivity, which are all great tools for anyone who takes the road less traveled—and gets completely lost. Trust me, until you find yourself wandering in the woods for hours on what should have been a simple 5 K trail (like one of the authors), you may not be able to appreciate the value of these features. If you do find yourself lost somewhere, the Timex Ironman can send out an S.O.S. signal to friends with your location.
TomTom Multi-Sport. Similar to the Garmin vívoactive, the TomTom Multi-Sport ($149.99, tomtom.com) is designed for athletes who do more than just run. This GPS-enabled watch can track your swimming and bike rides as well. It also features QuickGPSFix, which can locate the watch quickly, so you can get started faster and change terrain without dropping your GPS signal.
Apple Watch. If you find style important, the range of Apple Watch models offers an excellent combination of style and features, but comes at a premium price. Apple gives you three different lines of watches ranching from the relatively inexpensive Watch Sport line (starting at $349) to the Watch line (starting at $549) to the jewelry-priced Watch Edition line (starting at $10,000 and going up to $17,000). We cannot imagine most people spending $17,000 for a digital watch, even one with an 18-karat rose gold case; they know it likely will get replaced by a newer model that has a lot more features in the relatively near future (such is the path of technology in our society). But some people will see this as acceptable. If you have an extra $17,000, you could find worse things to buy with it. The interesting thing is that other than the materials and bands, the various iterations of the Apple Watch are substantially the same. They all have the same sensors and the same features. They all include GPS and Bluetooth capabilities and can pair with smartphones. They all do the same thing and work the same way. Accordingly, you can pay a premium price for the Apple Watch Sport and get the same workings you would get for the ultra-premium Apple Watch Edition. The cost difference is not entirely cosmetic as the Apple Watch (middle of the line) has (in our opinion) better materials in the case and display than the Apple Watch Sport. Accordingly, while we like the Apple Watch Sport line in general, we prefer the Apple Watch. We have nothing against the Apple Watch Edition other than the price. If the price does not concern you, by all means, get one.
emWave2. The emWave2 ($199, heartmathstore.com) uses 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 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.
Withings Smart Body Analyzer. The Withings Smart Body Analyzer ($149.95, withings.com) makes a great gift for fitness fiends. This beefed-up scale provides a litany of analytical tools for your iPhone to monitor your fitness progress. The virtual health snapshot that it creates for you includes data on weight, fat, mass percentage, and heart rate. The analyzer measures your heart rate every time you step on the scale. Many users weigh themselves in the morning when they first wake up, which creates a snapshot over time of their resting heart rate, an indicator of their overall state of health. For fat mass measurements, you can indicate on the scale whether you are an athlete or non-athlete. Athletic body types tend to have different muscle mass and hydration levels, so changing between modes has an effect on the readings. Generally this just means it will account for more muscle in the body fat percentage estimation.
In addition to analyzing your health, the Smart Body Analyzer records data on your surrounding environment, such as temperature and carbon dioxide levels. Carbon dioxide results from metabolic activity and can build up over time in homes with poor air circulation. The accumulation of carbon dioxide can have adverse health effects, causing a decline in sleep quality, headaches, restlessness, difficulty breathing, and other possible effects. The analyzer helps increase your awareness of the indoor air quality so you can breathe a little easier.
Neubac. Giving a gift to someone who “jokingly” calls you a pain in the backside? Give a Neubac to treat the symptoms. The Neubac by Hollywog ($139.95, neubac.com) provides an easy-to-use method of administering transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). The device, shaped like a butterfly, goes on the lower back and provides electrical stimuli to the nerves in the back using wireless technology to control the intensity. The device functions to block pain signals to the brain from nerves in the back. Thin enough to wear under clothing, it allows continuous treatment of back pain while you work. The shape and configuration allow the device to fit almost anyone and places the stimulation units at an appropriate distance apart to ensure proper function.
iHealth blood pressure monitors. For those interested in measuring blood pressure, iHealth (ihealthlabs.com) offers two wireless blood pressure monitors, one that fits on the wrist ($79.95) and the other on the biceps ($99.95). Both wirelessly connect to your smartphone (iOS or Android) via an app to let you know your blood pressure. You also can transmit the information to a third party, such as a physician or other health care provider.
Oral-B Pro 5000. The link between oral health and overall health is a strong one; bacteria and inflammation associated with periodontitis can affect or contribute to a variety of health conditions: endocarditis, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other conditions. So among the “smart” devices on the market today, maybe it is time to check out the Oral-B Pro 5000 ($129.99, oralb.com). The Bluetooth feature on this toothbrush connects with a downloadable app, allowing you to get real-time feedback on your brushing habits. It’s like getting advice from a dental hygienist, without the scary pick. The brush comes with five modes: daily clean, gum care, sensitive, whitening, and deep clean. It contains a pressure sensor that sends feedback to the app, alerting you when you are applying too much pressure.
Jabra Sport Pulse. The Jabra Sport Pulse wireless earbuds ($199.99) are headphones that cut most of the cord, and if you are using a strap around your chest to monitor your heart rate, they cut that, too. With a simple tap on the left ear bud you can hear your current heart rate. The headphones will also give you audio cues with your exercise time, pace, and distance. Quick, simple taps can also allow you to take calls and control your music.
Television hardware has evolved dramatically in recent years, and now most of us have large-screen digital HD televisions that connect to the Internet either directly or indirectly. Because of that phenomenon and the availability of an amazing quantity of media through downloading, the television has become a more and more important part of our entertainment.
Bose Solo 15 Series II. The quality of the built-in audio on most televisions has not kept up with the quality of the HD images they can display. As a result, more and more manufacturers have offered after-market audio systems to upgrade the sound quality of televisions. You can find many models at varying prices. We have found one model in particular that we like very much. You have probably already figured out that we have a certain partiality for the high-quality engineered sound generated by Bose products. Accordingly, it should not surprise you that the audio add-on system we like comes from Bose. Bose has more expensive speaker systems that you can connect to a television, but the Solo 15 Series II comes at a reasonable price ($449.95) in a compact box that sits under your television display (or wherever else you want to put it) and provides excellent sound in an easy-to-use package. The system consists of a single box (no separate subwoofer to connect and locate). A single connection seals the deal. You can order it online from Bose and try it out. They currently offer a 30-day trial and return privilege. Alternatively, you can go to one of the bricks-and-mortar Bose stores and check it out there (and take it home with you). We think most people will find this system sufficient to provide room-filling, high-quality sound. For the really serious home theater people who have a major surround-sound speaker system connected to a primary television, think about this for a second television (say in a bedroom, kitchen, or home office). You still can find the original model, the Bose Solo 10. A bit more basic, a bit smaller, and a bit less costly, it’s still an excellent augmentation to TV audio. We have seen the Solo 10 discounted at Costco. Incidentally, we have noticed that Costco has started to offer a number of discontinued Bose products at discounted prices. You might want to check that out, as the discontinued models still work very well.
Streaming devices. Several manufacturers have devices to connect your television to massive quantities of Internet content, including movies, television shows, videos, and more. The devices we like best include the Apple TV ($69), Amazon Fire TV ($99.99), and Roku 3 ($99.99, roku.com). You might also want to check out the Google Chromecast unit ($35, google.com). The Chromecast has a few things going for it, namely its very small size and price and its ease of use. As a result, even someone with another TV device might like to have a Chromecast unit for travel. The nice thing is that you can share your subscriptions to services, such as Netflix, with more than one of these devices. By the way, Apple has announced a new generation of the Apple TV that will sell for $149 (32 GB) or $199 (64 GB). Apple will release it in conjunction with a newly created operating system called tvOS, which will bring new apps and Siri into the picture and promises to give the TV experience a whole new dimension. We look forward to seeing it. It will be available by the time you read this article, so be sure to check it out at the Apple Store.
Transport yourself to the cloud. Many attorneys have their practices in the cloud. For a variety of reasons, we like the idea of having a private cloud. A number of manufacturers have products that will help you with this process. One of our favorites, Connected Data (filetransporter.com), makes a device called the Transporter that allows you to operate your own cloud storage facility with “plug-and-play” ease. All devices connected to the same account can access the data on the Transporter. If you get more than one Transporter, you can securely sync and back up data from one device to the other. The smallest Transporter model starts at 1 TB of data for $249.
Save the environment, get a bamboo keyboard. Keyboards do not have to come in plastic or metal. Impecca (impeccausa.com) makes wired and wireless keyboards in bamboo cases (prices range from $29.95 to $99.95). They work as well as any other keyboard and both have novelty value and offer an ecologically sound alternative to other materials.
Emergency starter for your car. The folks at Impecca also make a portable emergency jump starter for your car. If you have ever had a dead battery in your car, you know what a pain that can be. Save yourself or a friend a lot of aggravation by getting one of these starters to keep in the car. The boosters also come with USB ports, so they can do double-duty and start your car or boost the battery on your smartphone or tablet. Prices range from $99.95 to $379.99, depending on the size of the battery booster.
Save your fingers, let your mouth do the talking. The Dragon speech engine has pretty much taken over the world of voice recognition (VR) software. Now owned by Nuance (nuance.com), Dragon has released new versions for the Mac and for Windows. Having watched this genre of software for many years and tested and reviewed the last several versions, we can tell you that using VR software on your computer saves a lot of effort. Each new version has improved over its predecessors in ease of use and accuracy. The newest versions (Dragon for Mac and Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows) are no exception. Dragon represents the best in its field and would make an excellent present to buy yourself or give to someone you care about. Go to nuance.com for details of options and pricing.
Sometimes you want to go with low tech. Not everything related to health comes under the heading of wearable technology or even high tech. Exercise itself is sort of old school. You can wear a piece of technology that keeps track of what you do, but if you want to get in shape, you still have to do something. The people at Dyna-Flex (dynaflexpro.com) make a variety of devices that can help you get in shape without leaving your living room. They sell gyroscope-based exercisers that have the ability to generate sufficient torque to give you a good workout. Most of their products focus on the hand and arms and come under the name Powerballs. The Powerballs range in price from $24.99 to $119.99 depending on the accessories or the material (the top-end Powerballs are entirely metal, much heavier than the less expensive ones, and generate considerably more force). They work on the hands, wrist, forearms, biceps, and shoulders. They also have a gyroscopic core trainer for $299.99. The core trainer can generate up to 200 pounds of torque to tone your core. All the devices work on the same basic principle of a spinning ball that creates torque against which you provide resistance that tones your muscles.
What to Do with Your Old Stuff?
With all this shiny new tech coming out, we feel it is a good time to remind readers that you should securely recycle your tech rather than throw it out. Office Depot points out that each year, Americans throw away millions of tons of old or broken electronics. This can create potentially harmful waste known as tech trash. Your old electronics are made of a lot of toxic stuff, including materials such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium, which no one wants sitting around in a landfill. And if this tech contains personal or client information, you do not want that sitting out in the open. Instead, consider employing an electronic waste recycling firm, such as Electronic Recyclers International (ERI, electronicrecyclers.com), among the biggest e-waste recycling firms in the world. ERI offers data-deleting services as part of its recycling and refurbishing programs. The company features eight locations across the United States. For technology that does not contain personal information, many consumer electronic storefronts, such as Office Depot or Best Buy, offer electronic recycling services for a nominal fee to cover the cost of shipping.