With all the attention paid to smartphones, tablets, and other “mainstream” gadgets, we thought it was time to point the spotlight on some gadgets and technology we think deserve more attention.
HD Radio Sounds Better
High definition radio has been around for a while but you probably have never heard much about it. Lots of radio stations broadcast in HD and even broadcast (multicast) an extra channel or two. You can see what’s available in your area on this site. HD radio is cleaner, crisper and less susceptible to static and noise. Many new cars come with HD radios, the old Microsoft Zune had HD radio built in and you can buy a very reasonably priced table top HD radio for less than $50.
USB TV Tuners Turn Your Laptop into a Portable TV For around $50 you can get a small USB tuner for your computer that can pull in HD signals over the air. The WinTV Aero-M from Hauppauge receives ATSC digital TV broadcasts as well as the ATSC M/H (mobile/handheld) signals that are OTA (over the air) signals optimized for receivers on the go. Aver Media sells a similar device (minus ATSC M/H) called the Hybrid Volar Max TV Tuner which also sells for around $50. We’ve been playing with the WinTV Aero-M and can tell you we were pleased with the reception and quality of the audio and video on our Toshiba netbook computer.
Portable Speakers Boost Phone and Laptop Speakers For less than $25 you can turn your iPod, iPad, iPhone, laptop or any other device with an audio plug into a portable player. The Altec Lansing iM-237 runs for a long time on a pair of AA batteries and has a short cord with a 3.5mm plug that hooks up to your device and delivers an impressive sound for such a small and portable device. It’s easy to take along and you can use it just as easily for presentations or conference calls as a speaker for your music. In case you need more sound, you can always move up to one of the many speakerdocks. We like ones with rechargeable batteries like the Logitech S315i or S715i that can play music on the go and also charge your Apple device (when they’re plugged in).
WebCams Keep an Eye on Things
Call them petcams, grannycams, nannycams, kidcams, or just plain old webcams the idea of having a “spy cam” in your own house, vacation home, your parents’ home or anywhere you would like to keep an eye on something is very compelling. As handy as these things could be, you’d think they would be plentiful, cheap and easy to use. Unfortunately that’s not quite the case as the selection is somewhat limited and performance can be somewhat unpredictable. On the other hand, there are some decent devices to choose from. The Panasonic BL-C131A works over Wi-Fi, costs around $300 but gets somewhat mixed reviews. Logitech’s Alert 750e is the outdoor version of a high def, night vision capable web cam and security system. It costs around $230 and also gets somewhat mixed user reviews. David Pogue recently reviewed a promising webcam called the iZon but found it came up short in a few areas. If you’re willing to take a chance on one of these they can offer peace of mind in return for a modest investment.
DLNA Lets You Move Things Around
You might call it Apple AirPlay for the rest of us but DLNA or Digital Living Network Alliance has been around a lot longer and has “certified” over 9,000 different devices that can all theoretically share data in some form or another. DLNA works like Apple’s AirPlay with devices “discovering” other compatible devices on the network and then allowing data sharing, so for example, a photo or video on one DLNA certified device like a camera or phone can be displayed on another device like an HDTV set.
Apple Device Sound Enhancer
The SRS iWOW 3D sits between your iOS device and your headphones and uses some sophisticated audio technology to enhance the sound coming out of the device. The difference really is quite dramatic and the only drawbacks are the extra demand on your battery and the fact that it only works with Apple products. You can buy an SRS iWOW 3D on Amazon for around $35.
A Wireless Mouse (or Trackpad) Is an Essential Laptop Add-On
We know this one is pretty obvious but if you own a laptop computer and don’t have a wireless mouse for it you should consider getting one. Yes, we know the built-in Apple multi-touchpad is pretty easy to use and if you like the Thinkpad pointing stick than maybe you don’t need to look into a wireless mouse however, if you’re like most Window’s laptop owners you could probably gain a lot of productivity spending a few bucks ($20 - $40) for a good quality wireless mouse. The new ones will work on all kinds of surfaces and the batteries last a long time. For Apple laptop owners there's always the Bluetooth, wireless, Magic Trackpad for around $70.