The line between A necessary business tool and a delightful toy is a thin one, especially for technophiles. Following is an idiosyncratic list of some exciting products that may increase your firm's efficiency or simply serve as occupational distractions. Whether you consider them a business expense or a personal purchase is between you and the IRS.
When it comes to digital photography, size is everything. Pictures can never be big enough, and cameras, inversely, can never be too small. Canon knows this formula well, as their Powershot G9 illustrates nicely. Most SLR cameras demonstrate their portability with a shoulder strap and a lunchbox-sized carrying case, but the G9 is small enough to fit in a pocket, while still snapping screen-busting 12.1 Megapixels images. The G9 pulls this feat off by capturing RAW images, the best format for manipulating contrast, exposure and white levels.
Of course, this portability comes at the peril of an unsteady hand, but the camera's optical image stabilizer keeps photos from blurring up. No doubt, users will deploy these features snapping party pics (and thankfully the G9 comes with face-detection capabilities), but when the camera's 6x optical zoom is engaged, the result is also crisp detail. And the three-inch LCD features increased viewing angles, allowing photographers to take better high- and low-angle shots. $499, canon.com
A Little Light Music
Most great leaps in livingroom technology are designed by engineers, which helps to explain why rabbit ears prevailed for so long. But when designers join the conversation, smart products like the Soundolier are born. A torchiere lamp with an integrated, wireless speaker, the Soundolier helps situate sound around the living room without the hassle of wires or the ugliness of random speakers strewn about.
Packing a 5 1/4 -inch speaker in the top of the torchiere, the Soundolier is equipped to project sound a full 360?. Right/left toggle switches allow the speaker lamp to be used as rear channel speakers, eliminating the need to strew unsightly speaker wires around the room. And since the unit operates on a 2.4 gigahertz signal, the lamps can be positioned up to 300 feet from the sound's source and still receive crisp, clean sound. Soundolier won several top honors at last year's Consumer Electronics Show. $299, soundolier.com
Cruising Above the Rest
Cell phones took a tremendous leap forward last year with the heralded launch of iPhone, but this year consumers should look for the big leap to come from non-Apple branded handsets. The reason? Google's Android operating system will bring the kind of software application development to many cellphones that even iPhone users have only dreamed of until now.
In fact, rumor has it that when Google was selling its idea to the major providers, they did it on HTC handsets, and the HTC Touch Cruise is their top-of-the-line unit. Sporting a 2.8-inch back-lit LCD touch screen, the Touch Cruise wows every bit as much as the iPhone, but this unit includes many features that the Apple offering lacks, like 3G data transmission, GPS, and an SD memory card expansion slot. It currently comes loaded with the Windows Mobile 6 operating system, though its Live HTC Home feature rounds up local weather into the phone's main page, and its 3d Touch Cube allows for quick navigation. Two cameras--one for taking photos and recording video, the other for video-conferencing--round out the features and knock out the competition. Video conferencing, eh? The iPhone can't do that either. $699, htc.com
In this eco-friendly age, everyone is all about renewable energy. With Moixa's USBCell Rechargable Batteries, all you need is your computer to keep your gadgets all juiced up. The clever AA cells gather their charge from the USB port, meaning you won't need to track down that pesky battery charger to get your clicker clicking or your camera snapping again.
Ideal for wireless peripherals like optical mice, bluetooth keyboards or game controllers, the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) cells charge more than 90 percent in five hours, or can be charged fully in seven hours--if your USB ports are already all plugged up. The company also plans to release AAA, nine-volt, cell phone and popular device-sized models in the future. Sounds like we're going to need some USB hubs to keep these all in the green. $17.49, usbcell.com
Wake Up To Widgets
Since the advent of digital displays, there really haven't been that many advances in the world of alarm clocks. Sure, there are those expensive iPod-integrated alarms that make you afraid to whack the snooze button. And there are even annoying clocks-on-wheels that take off around the room to get you out of bed. But the Philips Dashboard Clock/Radio sets the new standard for what should be on everyone's night stand. Easy on the eyes, this slick unit displays pictures on its seven-inch display, in addition to showing the time and date. No big feat, you say? Well, imagine waking up to photos of a loved one while being gently reminded what the date is before you try to rouse the rest of your senses with a morning shower. It's a nicer way to start the day than staring at bright red numbers flashing angrily at you. The photos (as well as music of video clips) can be loaded into the clock easily through USB and SD card slots.
Another gentle feature of this bedside buddy is its ability to gradually wake you up to nature sounds or fall asleep peacefully with pre-loaded relaxation music. Or if you just can't separate yourself from the morning show morons yelling "wake-up!" the digital display also helps you tune into FM stations, even keeping up to 20 of them in memory. $129, philips.com
In A Flash
There are Kodak moments, and there are camcorder moments--and the latter usually come at a time when we wished we had our camera, but couldn't be bothered to lug around all five pounds of it. Well, the time has come for the Samsung SC-HMX10, a tiny little device that is handy enough to capture all the big moments. At 2.44- by 2.66- by 4.63-inches, this video camera doesn't look like much--and that's the point! Its 0.7 pounds pack in a whole lot of functionality, like the ability to shoot high-definition video and high-resolution images, as well as print on the fly.
With its size comes a bit of compromise. For example, while other camcorders on the market can record at the highest HD-video standard of 1080p, the HMX10 only dials its resolution up to 720p--still overkill for birthday parties and kids' soccer games. It also packs only eight gigs of memory--remember when that was a lot? But keep in mind that that's roughly the size of a DVD, anyway. If that's still not enough, the camcorder's memory can be augmented through its SD and MMC memory card slots.
The touch-screen interface keeps the camera's form-factor slim as can be, and its three-second "Quick start" means you won't miss a thing--unless old habits die hard, and you forget and leave it home! $799, samsung.com
aIt's Tablet Time
In the world of portable computer design, tablet PCs have long been the holy grail. From IBM and HP to Microsoft, many companies have pronounced the tablet to be the future of computing, yet no one seems to have been able to get it right--until now. Enter Nokia--famous for its cellphones--as the company that has finally realized the tablet's potential. The Nokia N810 is an all-in-one wonder that has incredible functionality right out of the box.
The difference between Nokia's efforts and previous tablets is that much of this device's utility relies on its full Internet capability, rather than specified industry-specific applications. For example, tablets have been successfully implemented by the shipping industry--just ask your local UPS delivery man--but casual consumers couldn't get one to surf the Web. The N810, however, can access the Web as well as data-intensive Internet services like Skype. In fact, the N810 does everything that iPhone owners wish their favorite little gadget could do (such as download and install programs and, well, type accurately). Also, with integrated GPS, the N810 adds a whole layer of functionality that includes driving directions. It looks like couch-surfing has finally gotten its first short board! $499; nokiausa.com/n810
The online in-the-know have starting calling the Internet "the cloud." If that makes sense, then the Belkin N1 Wireless Internet Router is one heck of a weathervane. This wireless networking device tells you everything you need to know about your Internet connection, like network speed, files being downloaded and connected devices, as well as allowing you to access the Internet without being tethered to an ethernet port. Its slick design makes it look more like stereo equipment than networking gear, making it more likely that you will actually check out its display than hide it from sight.
The N1 also runs on the new 802.11n standard, which allows users to beam video around a network so anyone interested in streaming video to their TVs will need to upgrade from their 802.11b or 802.11g router--and this is the gadget to step up to. $179, belkin.com
A Great View
Multi-taskers might cringe at the Sony VAIO LT HD, but this all-in-one, 22-inch PC/TV combo is great if you've got a one-track mind. Combining the functionalities of a flat panel LCD TV and a desktop computer, this slim wall-mountable unit provides all the usual PC-related functions and also features multimedia capabilities like watching and recording HD television.
The unit packs a Blu-Ray drive, embedding the next-generation of video disc viewing right into your television. And the unit's built-in camera and microphone allow futuristic video-chat from the couch. The computer's quick resume switch allows users to swap from TV to PC without missing a beat, but alas, synchronized Web and channel surfing are a no-no, as you have only one screen to make it all happen. $2049, sonystyle.com
When you think of buying a GPS unit, it's unlikely that the Mio brand will pop up on many radar screens--and that's a shame. With each manufacturer trying to cram more useless capabilities into their devices (why do I need to store digital photos on my navigational system?), the Mio C728 actually provides something useful: A seven-inch, 800x480 widescreen display.
Of course, with a display that big, it's a no-brainer that the C728 doubles as an MP3 and video-playing entertainment unit, but its split-screen functionality makes the device more than just eye candy. The increased size means the Mio is simpler to operate, and its interface, traffic data and points of interest are much easier to see from the driver's seat. The unit's 2.5-hour battery life is a bit below standards, but it takes a lot of juice to light up all those pixels. However, the in-car charger should keep it nice and bright. Price not available at press time. mio-tech.com
John Patrick Pullen, a freelancer in Portland, Oregon, has written extensively on technology.