For the last quarter of a century, the role of technology in the practice of law and in our personal lives has increased rapidly and dramatically. It seems like a lifetime ago that we did not have pocket-sized telephones that took excellent pictures, did videoconferences, and functioned as small computers. Or that we did not have iPads, Kindles, or small, lightweight laptop computers that we could easily carry with us wherever we went. But as fast as technology has moved in the last quarter of a century, our dependence on technology moved much faster in the last few years than ever before.
Gift giving at or around year-end holidays has grown ubiquitous. Whether you seek ideas for the holidays, as a token of gratitude or appreciation, or just as a reminder to someone that you care, gift giving is a universal custom. Technology gifts are often shiny, fun, and useful, with many gifts offering a range of multitasking features. Over the last several years, we have adopted the tradition of sharing our insights as our holiday gift to you. Over that time, the importance of technology in our lives has continued to grow, making the practice of gifting technology a very clever idea.
Jeff’s and Ashley’s Lists
As an introduction to the gift guide and a suggestion of what comes next, we will continue our practice of starting with lists of our top ten products, the ones we want the most—or would if we did not already have them. In preparing these lists, each of us operated from the premise that we had none of the technology discussed. (In fact, we have most of the items on our lists.) Working from this premise, we each present our personal top ten choices for 2023.
- iPhone 15 Pro Max, Blue, 1 TB storage
- MacBook Air, 15”, Midnight, M2 chip, 16 GB unified memory, 1 TB storage
- iPad Pro, 11”, silver, 2 TB storage
- Echo Show 10
- Vasco V4 translator
- Air Pods Pro, 2nd generation
- Air Pods Max
- Apple Watch Ultra 2
- Fitbit Charge 6
- Kindle Scribe, 64 GB, leather cover, premium pen
- Galaxy Z Fold5, Icy Blue, 1 TB storage
- ROMOSS Portable Charger Power Bank, 30000mAh
- SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD V2, 2 TB storage
- JBL Flip 6, red
- Echo Show 8, 3rd generation.
- Wyse Cam v3 Pro
- Wasserstein Bird Feeder Camera Case
- Roku Streambar Pro
- Apple Watch Series 9, 41 mm aluminum case, Starlight Finish, Starlight Sport Loop, GPS plus cellular
- Kindle Oasis, 32 GB storage, without ads
Likely the most important single piece of technology in most people’s hands these days, the smartphone has expanded its functionality and desirability on a continuing basis. Most smartphones use Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system. If you want an Android phone, you have numerous manufacturers and many models to choose from. If you want a phone running iOS, you have one manufacturer and several models to choose from. We have a strong partiality to Samsung on the Android side. Apple represents the only option on the iOS platform; we have no problem with that as Apple produces superb and reliable products.
If you have 5G available in your area but have not yet switched to a 5G device, you should do so. 5G refers to fifth-generation wireless technology, which works faster than its predecessors. All 5G phones offer backward compatibility with earlier systems. More 5G coverage has come online over the last year, and this trend should continue for the next several years. You will want to sign with the provider that has the best combination of network availability (coverage) with 4G and 5G, service, and rates.
Not surprisingly, iPads, like other hardware, eventually get old enough that you cannot upgrade them to the new iPad OS. The current point of demarcation for most Apple hardware has proven to be the introduction of Apple’s processing chips (what Apple CEO Tim Cook calls “Apple Silicon”). We have moved well into the second generation of Apple Silicon as the M2 chip has replaced the M1 in newer iterations of the Mac and MacBook computer lines, as well as in the newest versions of the iPad. Although iPhones use different processors, they are also Apple Silicon. We will actually find ourselves in the third generation momentarily. Apple has announced the release of the first computers sporting the M3 processor. Expect to see more computers using it as well as iPads in the immediate future.
iPhone 15 Models
The iPhone 15 represents the basic unit in the new top of Apple’s phone line. It comes in two screen sizes, the iPhone 15 at 6.1” and the iPhone 15 Plus at 6.7.” The Pro versions of the 15 add additional features and boost the price. The differences between the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max primarily relate to the size of the device and its screen (again 6.1” or 6.7”), although there are a few other differences; most significantly, the battery size and the camera features in the Pro Max exceed those in the Pro.
You can compare the features of the iPhone 15 configurations on Apple’s website.
We think that for most people, the iPhone 15 (starting at $799) represents the best value in the Apple line, and the 15 Pro (starting at $999) comes in second in terms of value (but we consider it quite superior to the iPhone 15 in terms of technology, specifications, and features).
Android-powered smartphones have a strong following. Check out the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ($1,199.99 for 256 GB). The S23 features a whopping 200 MP main camera, allowing for incredibly detailed photos. It offers 8K video capture at 30 fps with impressive image stabilization ability, allowing you to record videos with incredible detail and clarity. The phone is powered by the custom-made Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip. The phone has a large 6.8” Dynamic AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, offering a stunning visual experience. The Galaxy S23 Ultra supports Pause USB Power Delivery, which allows you to charge other devices using your phone’s battery. It comes with an integrated S Pen, providing a convenient way to take notes, draw, and navigate the phone’s interface.
The market for tablets has slowed. As the price and power of tablets increases, more and more people have chosen to treat the tablet more like a laptop than a smartphone, upgrading every few years instead of annually or even every other year.
Apple has dominated the tablet market since it introduced the iPad. Once again, we think that Samsung provides Apple’s strongest competition in terms of pure tablets. In our opinion, Apple, however, remains the runaway leader. If you want to get or gift a tablet, we recommend you go with Apple’s iPad.
We like all the iPads, but we particularly recommend the Pro versions for use in your practice. In fact, we like them best for all uses. Both Pro versions have pretty much the same architecture and features. The main differences are the size and weight.
The iPad Pro comes in two versions, the 11” and the 12.9.” We have no issue recommending either version. Memory availability goes up to 2 TB. For most, we recommend 512 GB or 1 TB of memory. Remember that you cannot add memory after you get it, so you should go with the highest amount you anticipate needing. We believe that whatever you think you will need, you should increase by about 25 percent as memory tends to fill up over time with apps, pictures, music, videos, documents, etc. Both the 11” and the 12.9” versions use Apple’s M2 chip. They share the same advanced camera system and include a LiDAR scanner. Both work with Apple’s second-generation pencil and have keyboard folios available as well. Both use facial recognition for security. Pricing starts at $799 for the 11” version and $1,099 for the 12.9” version. You can see a quick comparison of specifications and features of the various iPad models on Apple’s site.
Apple recently released the 15” MacBook Air. We consider this laptop the closest thing that we have encountered to the perfect computer for most attorneys. The 15” display gives an ideal compromise between workspace and portability. The new MacBook Air weighs less than you would expect and provides a crisp and sharp display. Powered by the relatively new Apple M2 processor, the 15” MacBook Air offers plenty of power for the work normally done by attorneys, including trial work, presentation, and videoconferencing. The 13” MacBook Air, now also powered by the M2 processor, comes in a decent second, but we think the difference in workspace makes the 15” option a far better choice. Their technical specifications other than size, are almost completely identical. You can compare the two computers on Apple’s website.
Power banks provide portable charging solutions, allowing users to charge their devices on the go without access to a power outlet. They come in handy in daily life and have proven particularly useful for travel, outdoor activities, and emergency situations where you have limited access to electricity. Power banks can power most portable devices, including smartphones, tablets, e-readers, Bluetooth headphones, smartwatches, and more, although some have limitations based on their capacity and/or the manner of connection.
For most portable applications, you will prefer lightweight batteries with the ability to provide multiple recharges on a single charge. You can find power banks almost everywhere these days: Best Buy, Costco, the Apple Store, Microsoft stores, Amazon, even Rite Aid and Walgreens. You can also get them at many airports and some gas stations. Well-known names include mophie, now owned by Zagg, Jackery, Romoss, Samsung, Anker, and myCharge. Pricing runs from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on size, capacity, and features.
Lawyers Always Need a Good Case
Many, if not most, cases are device specific, so make sure you know what model device you need when shopping. We think that electronic devices should all live in cases or some sort of protective envelope. Look for a strong case that protects your device against such common disasters as dropping the phone onto a sidewalk.
Solid state drives (SSDs) store data using flash memory, a faster and more reliable medium than traditional spinning hard disk drives (HDDs). Popular brands in this arena include Samsung and SanDisk for SSDS and Western Digital and Seagate for HDDs. We particularly like the SSDs for travel due to their diminutive size and weight as well as their ruggedness. If you are in the market for a portable SSD, check out the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD V2, available in 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB ($74.99 to $249.99). The SanDisk Extreme is a convenient, portable device with impressive file transfer speed and durability that lasts. Another solid (get it?) option to consider is the Samsung T9 portable SSD ($199.99 for 2 TB). The T9 offers up an impressive 2,000 MB/s read speed, making this device ideal for students, gamers, and professionals. It has a rugged design and is built with an advanced thermal shield to keep your device cool even during heavy use.
When it comes to external traditional hard disk drives, we like Seagate and then Western Digital (WD). You can get a portable traditional spinning Seagate 6 TB Expansion Desktop hard disk drive for $166.66 or a 6 TB Western My Book Desktop hard drive for only $149.99.
Let There Be Light!
Lighting represents a critical but often overlooked part of setting up for videoconferencing. For videoconferencing and especially court appearances, you will want to avoid backlighting as it will cast shadows over you and make it harder for people to see you. We explored lots of lighting setups during the COVID-19 lockdown and the ensuing reliance on videoconferencing.
LumeCube makes our favorite lighting components. You can find similar devices from other manufacturers and sometimes less costly ones. We have found LumeCube’s offerings to work well. We consider their pricing more reasonable than not and like the flexibility of their components.
For everyday use, we use a pair of LumeCube’s Edge Desk Lights ($129.99 each, currently on sale for $103.99). We use two to minimize glare. The Edge Desk Lights come with a clamp and adjustable arms to let you attach the light to a table and then position it for optimal lighting. The on-off switch and other controls are set in the arm. The adjustments let you make the light brighter or dimmer and give you the ability to change the light’s color temperature to make it more like daylight or warmer indoor lighting. We especially like this flexibility as it allows us to “tune” the lights to supplement the ambient lighting and optimize image quality.
The right speaker can round out your entertainment experience. A portable speaker works great for listening to podcasts, taking calls hands-free, or for use at parties and other social gatherings. Stationary home entertainment speakers also make a great gift. Home entertainment speakers can enhance the shared experience of watching movies or listening to music with friends and family. They create a more immersive and social environment, making it easier to enjoy entertainment together. Whether it’s a movie night or a gathering, good speakers can elevate the overall enjoyment and create lasting memories. JBL’s Flip 6 ($129.95) gives you a great portable speaker with a crisp and robust sound quality. You get your choice of six colors (black, dark blue, gray, teal, red, or “squad” camouflage). The Flip 6 measures 7” x 2.6” x 2.8” in size and weighs just over one pound. It boasts an IP67 waterproof rating, which is different from the IPX6 and IPX7 ratings that we discussed last year. An IP67 means the product is protected from submersion in 1 meter (3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes. This rating also indicates that the product is resistant to dust. Dust accumulation around electronics can lead to hardware failure, so the IP67 rating is an extremely beneficial addition to this product, particularly in drier, dustier climates.
Another great option, especially if you like Smart features, is the Sonos Roam ($179). The Sonos Roam is about the same size as a water bottle and weighs just under one pound, making it easy to carry around in your bag. It produces a powerful sound with a nice bass quality. One of the Roam’s standout smart features, “Sound Swap,” allows you to “throw” your music from the Sonos Roam to the nearest Sonos speaker available. The Roam can connect via WiFi and Bluetooth, and it works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
The Vizio M-Series All-in-One 2.1 Immersive Sound Bar ($149), offers a great entry-level home entertainment option. The Vizio M supports HDMI ARC technology and processes Dolby Audio, and features six built-in speakers and dual built-in subwoofers. The built-in speakers include two radiators, two tweeters, and two mid-range drivers, along with the two subwoofers and passive bass radiators. Vizio uses digital signal processing (DSP) and a gyroscope to alter the sound curve, so it sounds right when mounted. With this speaker, you will get a high-quality reproduction of sound and excellent dialog clarity. It offers a surprisingly deep bass experience as well.
The Vizio M-Series 5.1 ($329, currently $307.48 on Amazon), features discrete surround speakers that connect to a wireless subwoofer that you will need to place toward the back of the room. Vizio also offers the Vizio M-Series Elevate 5.1.2 ($598 on Amazon). The Elevate offers up-firing speakers that actually emerge from the sides of the device when an Atmos signal is detected, which looks awesome. When there is no Atmos signal detected, the speakers spin back into the soundbar and fire directly out at you. The Elevate comes with surround speakers and a subwoofer like the M-Series 5.1.
There’s also the ZVOX AccuVoice AV157 TV Speaker ($249.99, currently on sale for $199.99). If you, or someone you know, struggles to hear dialogue when watching TV or movies, this may help. It employs AccuVoice hearing aid technology with 12 levels of voice boost you can choose from to make dialogue more intelligible.
Audiophiles looking to truly immerse themselves in the Dolby Atmos surround sound experience should check out the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 ($499, currently on sale for $399). Another all-in-one solution with two-up firing drivers, it adds Amazon Alexa voice assistant integration. Bose offers a very robust sound in a sleek, compact package. It is compatible with Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast, allowing you to easily stream from your favorite devices. The Bluetooth feature can store up to eight device connections, but it plays only one device at a time. It can also send sound out if you want to connect it to a pair of Bose headphones, allowing you to listen to a TV that doesn’t have the Bluetooth sound feature without disturbing anyone.
At the higher end of this category, there is the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Plus ($1,499.95, currently on sale for $1,199.95). Sennheiser is the champion when it comes to virtual Dolby Atmos surround sound, and this device may be the best compact single-speaker Dolby Atmos sound solution on the market. It has nine speakers under the hood. There are controls for the soundbar on the device and the remote, but there is a lot of customizing that you can do through the Sennheiser Smart Control app. The highlight of this app is the Ambeo mode and the system calibration feature. The Ambeo mode, Sennheiser’s custom sound-processing method, boosts the overall performance of the soundbar by enhancing the effects of spatial and immersive audio. The app also has an impressive room calibration system that uses four built-in microphones on the soundbar to automatically calibrate the soundbar for you.
Headphones and Earphones
We distinguish between earphones as devices that have some portion that goes into your ear and headphones as devices that fit over or around the ears. We will use that distinction in discussing the two. As a general rule, we prefer the portability and flexibility of the earphones but consider a good set of headphones more comfortable. We also think that top-level headphones provide better sound quality than top-level earphones.