pocket-sized chargers to magic mice: your 2009 techno-gift guide
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
December 8-14, 2009 issue #1050
High Tech Office column
It’s the time of year for techno-Santa to dig deep into his
high-tech gift bag. Here are some of the things he’s recommending for
this season’s gift giving.
Keep your hands on the
In-car mobile-phone use is a no-no, unless you can keep both hands on
the wheel and your eyes on the road. To help, Motorola offers a range
of devices using Bluetooth wireless connections to pair a headset to
your phone. For instance, the $90 Motorola H790 is a lightweight device
looking a little bit like a USB memory key on an ear loop. It includes
various-sized earbuds to ensure a comfortable fit. Motorola’s
CrystalTalk noise-cancelling technology ensures clear call quality.
Nice touch: when turned on, the headset tells you its battery status;
it’s good for about five hours of talk time and 168 hours of standby.
It’s not an iPod
It’s tiny, inexpensive and plays music. And it’s more affordable and
more fully featured than its better-known competitor from the
fruit-flavoured company. San Disk’s matchbox-sized Sansa Clip+ comes in
several colours with storage capacities from two to eight gigabytes,
includes a built-in FM radio and voice recording and is Windows and Mac
compatible. For additional storage, you can plug in a microSD memory
card. Unlike Apple’s low-end iPod Shuffle, there’s a little screen and
controls so music-play isn’t random ($50 to $80).
To fill the Clip+ with the gift of music, San Disk offers $44 SlotRadio
cards, each of which hold 1,000 or so genre-specific tunes pre-loaded:
rock, country, oldies, hip hop, ’80s and ’90s. ($40.)
recording in your pocket
Pocket-sized video recorders are getting better and better. Last year,
a variety of models offered SD (old-style standard definition)
recording. Earlier in 2009, the new wave of models delivered 720p
high-definition video. Kodak’s new $200 Zi8 model ups the ante with
1080p. It’s thinner than the last-generation 720p Zi6 model (still
available), exchanging the earlier model’s AA batteries for a
space-saving rechargeable (and replaceable) lithium-ion battery. Also
new: image stabilization and face tracking for clearer videos and a
handy audio input. Like the Zi6 (and unlike pocket cameras from Flip
and Creative), you can take still pictures. And unlike most of the
competition, both Kodak’s new and old models use removable storage –
widely available SD memory cards, so you never need to run out of
space. Just remember to buy a card or two along with the Zi8!
Magic for Mac users
wheel on your mouse goes round and round. But not on Apple’s new Magic
Nearly flat and with no visible buttons, it also has no wheel. Instead,
the Magic Mouse uses multi-touch gestures like an iPhone. Rather than
spinning a wheel to scroll up or down, you just move your finger along
the mouse surface to scroll up, down, left or right. Despite the
apparent lack of buttons, clicking on the left or on the right of the
mouse does what you would hope. (Yes, the Mac supports right-clicking.)
The Magic Mouse is wireless. It uses the Bluetooth connection built
into all of Apple’s Mac models. Power management saves on battery
power, but is smart enough to quickly wake the mouse up as needed.
The Magic Mouse is bundled with Apple’s new iMac and Mac Pro desktop
models and available on its own ($70) to give to Mac users. Windows
users could use it as a standard wireless two-button mouse but will
miss the magic multi-touch support.
Print your festive
family images – now!
Holiday season is a big time for family photo-taking. If you can’t wait
to get your hands on glossy snapshots, HP suggests you include a
Photosmart A646 photo printer ($180) under the tree and promises you
printouts in as little as 28 seconds. Lunchbox-sized, complete with
handle, it has some nice touches: touch-screen controls on a large LCD
panel along with the ability to get photos over Bluetooth from
compatible mobile phones or cameras.
A carrying bag made of recycled plastics is included, and HP notes that
the printer is made from 32% recycled materials.
Picture quality is bright and sharp, and the printer is easy to set up
and use with Windows and Mac systems.
Fix ‘em before you print ‘em
Adobe’s Elements series of programs offers much of the power of its
pro-level photo and video editors: Photoshop and Premiere with an
interface aiming to make the power features usable by the rest of us,
and for a fraction of the price the pros are asked to pay. New
versions: Photoshop Elements 8 and Premiere Elements 8 can be bought
individually (US$100 each before $20 rebate) or bundled together
(US$150 before $30 rebate) – at least by Windows users. Mac users get
only a version of Photoshop Elements, presumably because they’re happy
with Apple’s iMovie for video editing.
Easy backup anywhere, anytime
For most people backup is a chore that while
admittedly important, is most often avoided. Canadian company Clickfree
has done a good job of making it relatively painless with a range of
products that activate easy-to-use backup software – no installation
needed – as soon as they’re plugged in. Starting with portable external
hard drives, the product line has grown this year, adding support for
Macs to its initial Windows software. Among my favourites: the $60
Clickfree Transformer for iPod is a simple adaptor that lets you use
Clickfree’s automatic software to store your backups onto free space on
an iPod or iPhone without overwriting the music or other data stored
A bonus: it can also be used to transfer music from your iPod or iPhone
back onto your computer. A similar $90 Transformer SE can be used with
USB hard drive as well as iPod/iPhone models for Clickfree backup
The Clickfree Traveller models look like metal-encased credit cards,
but they’re USB backup storage devices with 16-, 32- or 64-gigabyte
capacities ($80-$270). A clever, flexible USB connector is built in,
ready to connect. Like the other Clickfree devices, as soon as it’s
plugged in, the company’s clever backup software pops up.
that a charger in your pocket?
Batteries seem to die when you need them most. With more devices you
either need to tote around more dedicated chargers or, perhaps, keep a
laptop on hand because, increasingly, devices can be charged via a USB
connection. Duracell’s $50 Powerhouse USB Charger is a pocket-sized
device that can be used to charge a wide range of gear, including
iPods, iPhones, BlackBerrys, many other mobile-phone models and many
digital cameras. Storing enough power to charge an iPhone or BlackBerry
four times, it can be used to charge two items at once and includes a
swing-out mini-USB arm and a standard-sized USB port. (Duracell also
offers a smaller, less-powerful $30 Instant USB Charger.) •