Tech Firms Ready Gadgets for the Holidays
When it comes to gadgets and gear, smaller is better, high fashion is in vogue, and affordability will be king this holiday buying season. That's the message from tech firms that showed off their holiday wares at back-to-back industry shows in New York last week.
Heavyweights Asus, Hewlett-Packard, Palm, and Toshiba exhibited everything from supersmart digital displays to the latest in communication devices to cutting-edge geek chic. Also here in New York were smaller firms, such as Avaak, which promoted its wireless peel-and-stick video cameras that last one year before you have to replace the battery.
With a few more good beach days left this summer, thinking about holiday gift buying seems downright wrong. But as the days grow shorter, dozens of tech firms are checking their lists twice to make sure their holiday lineups for consumers hit the sweet spot between function and price.
Have a look at what will be hot this holiday season.
A Digital Picture Frame on Steroids
If a run-of-the-mill digital picture frame just won't do, consider HP’s DreamScreen line of smart displays, which do way more than just let you browse pretty pictures. The DreamScreen is a beautiful smart display that comes in two sizes (10 and 13 inches diagonally) and links wirelessly to the Internet. The device can play pictures, videos, five-day weather forecasts, Facebook friend updates, and the Pandora music service. You can also link the display to your desktop so that you can easily put your multimedia content directly on it.
Available now online, the HP DreamScreen will run you $250 for the 100 model and $300 for the 130 model. HP says that the DreamScreens will be in brick-and-mortar retail stores on October 11.
For more details and our initial impressions, see our first look at the DreamScreen.
GPS Tracking Meets Security
GPS real-time tracking devices for keeping tabs on everything from cars to kids are becoming a commodity. The Escort radar and laser product company has teamed with Blackline GPS to offer a real-time GPS tracking system called Entourage PS that has a security twist. The hardware costs $350; Net-based real-time tracking, which you can do via your computer’s Web browser or your smartphone, costs $15 a month.
What's the security angle? The Entourage PS (which stands for "portable security") has an integrated motion sensor that can detect slight movement--not just when someone carries the device from point A to point B. This makes the Entourage PS great for vehicle security or for protecting stuff that you don’t want moved even an inch. When the device senses motion, it can warn you via text message or e-mail (you can configure which alert method it uses).
The Entourage PS can hold a charge for seven days, according to the company, and it also reports vehicle speed and logs past routes. The device uses a “reflective GPS” broadcast system that doesn't rely on line-of-sight communications with satellites--which, the company says, allows you to throw the Entourage PS into your trunk and still get a GPS signal. The product is available now.
Escort also sells the $400 Entourage CIS ("custom install security"). That product requires in-vehicle installation and comes with a key fob for arming and disarming the motion sensor.
Big Storage in a Small Package
The line between beefy external hard drives and sleek USB thumb drives is blurring, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Western Digital’s new My Passport Essential external hard drives. WD says that these new models--which come in 320GB ($99), 500GB ($149), and 640GB (pricing and availability not available) capacities--are 20 percent smaller than previous My Passport Essential portable drives. Measuring 0.6 by 3.0 by 4.3 inches and requiring no external power source, these drives are definitely shirt-pocket-friendly and ready to travel.
The drives come with built-in backup software, and they support up to 256-bit hardware encryption for locking down your data. Except for the 640GB version, the new My Passport Essential models are available now.
Sleek, Flat, and Functional Headset
Bluetooth headsets are a godsend for many people who like gabbing on their cell phone hands-free, but carrying a headset around can be a pain. MoGo Talk for iPhone is a sleek and fashionable alternative to the standard Bluetooth headset.
When not in use, the Mogo headset fits into a plastic back cover that snugly attaches flat onto to the back of any model iPhone. Priced at $130, the device is available for purchase online now, and the company says that brick-and-mortar retailers should have it in time for the holidays.
Stowaway Home Theater System
Is your living room too small to fit a full-fledged sound system for your HDTV? Zvox is offering a drop-dead simple way to squeeze one in. Its Incredibase 575 ($800) fits neatly underneath your HDTV and packs a 133-watt amp plus dual 6.5-inch subwoofers, all inside a 36.0-by-16.5-by-5.0-inch chassis. The Incredibase 575 will be available within the first week of October.
Upsize Your BlackBerry
Navigating Word and Excel files on a BlackBerry can feel a bit cramped on a tiny thumb keypad and what often feels like a postage-stamp-sized screen. That's why Celio thinks its Redfly Mobile Companion smartphone-expander will be a hit. The device, which costs about $50 to $100 less than a netbook, mirrors what is on your BlackBerry (it supports the Bold, Curve, and Tour) or your Windows smartphone, giving you substantially more screen real estate, a trackpad pointer, and a keyboard on which you can touch-type.
The hardware is a dumb terminal and can only wirelessly link via Bluetooth to your handset. Disconnected from your smartphone, it's a paperweight. The 7-inch-screen model, with 5 hours of battery life, costs $200 and comes with an 800-by-480-resolution screen. The 8-inch-screen model is $250, and also has 5 hours of battery life.
If you can get a netbook for around $300, why go for the $250 single-purpose Redfly Mobile Companion? Celio explains that the device can't contain any data, and thus will not become a liability if it's lost or stolen.
For our impressions, see our review of the 8-inch RedFly C8N.
High-Fashion Laptop Bags
Laptop bags are boring and ugly--especially if you’re a style maven. That’s the conclusion that “digital lifestyle” firm iSkin reached, and the company thinks it has come up with a fix for this fashion disaster.
iSkin will be selling stylish and padded handbags that double as a way to tote your electronics around town. Bearing designs by New York-based artist Esther Sanchez, these bags (as one woman said admiringly at the industry gathering) allow you to carry your gear incognito, reducing the odds you’ll get robbed as well as the chances that you'll be called unfashionable.
iSkin showed two of an anticipated five designs that it will start selling in October for between $80 and $100.
(For our look at other eye-catching totes available now, see "Fashionable Laptop Bags Let You Geek Out in Style.")
Skype in Style
If you use Skype to place calls over the Internet, the AiGuru SV1T videophone will definitely enhance your experience. Though this touch-screen videophone is ideal for face-to-face calls with other people who own the AiGuru, it will also work with Skype users who video-chat via their Webcam.
The slick-looking unit connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi, so it can go anywhere in your house. The videophone requires no PC and has a 0.3-megapixel camera. Its 7-inch (800 by 480) touchscreen allows you to manage your Skype account as well as initiate video phone calls. Made by Asus, the AiGuru is available now for $270 through Skype’s online store.
Warning: EyePet Invasion Imminent
Get ready for EyePet, the latest in virtual pets from Sony. Announced last year, EyePet is a game for the PlayStation 3 that could give Tamagotchis a run for their money.
Using the PlayStation Eye camera, EyePet is a virtual pet that interacts with people and objects in an augmented version of the real world inside your TV. The rodent-like EyePet creature wanders inside this virtual environment and can react to objects in it. At the demo I checked out, for example, you can place a card in front of the PlayStation Eye video camera that appears in the EyePet augmented world as a trampoline. The EyePet will try to chase the trampoline around. When EyePet starts jumping on the trampoline, you can catapult it into the air with a flick of your wrist.
Sony representatives say that EyePet will scurry into retail stores in early October.
Palm Pixi Artist Series Backs
When you get your Palm Pixi cell phone, you'll be able to spruce it up with a bit of designer flair. These cell phone backs, part of Palm's Artist Series of covers, snap onto your Pixi and feature the work of artists, illustrators, and designers, including Sheri Bodell, Jeremy Fish, Cole Gerst, Melissa Hutton, and Michelle White. Palm says that it will offer five designs in time for the holidays, but the company is so far mum on pricing and the exact availability date.
Air Mice Turn You Into a Mouse Potato
In an estimated 7 million homes in the United States, geeks have linked a PC to their home theater system and thus made it just one more entertainment option next to their Blu-ray player, according to Hillcrest Labs data. That's an awful lot of people trying to figure out how to best navigate their giant desktop from the couch. Enter two new competing devices, the Hillcrest Labs Loop Pointer Remote and the Gyration Air Mouse Elite, both of which are aimed at helping you get around your desktop from the comfort of your sofa.
The $100 Loop Pointer Remote is a stylish device that's essentially an oddly shaped wireless mouse for pointing and clicking your way around the dial. The remote is also adept at navigating a variety of set-top media hubs, such as the Kodak Theatre HD Player. The Loop Pointer Remote requires no software; but to input text into your computer without a keyboard, you’ll have to use the Loop in conjunction with Windows' free on-screen keyboard feature.
Movea’s rival product, the $100 Gyration Air Mouse Elite, offers similar functions and comes with software to install on your PC. The software optimizes use of the wireless mouse for giving presentations or for navigating multimedia on your computer, sans a keyboard. Movea adds some nice touches to the software, too, such as a predictive-text feature that can auto-complete a recognized word.
Wireless Power, No Strings Attached
A demo darling for years, wireless power charging is finally reaching consumers in a big way this holiday season with a bevy of new options from Powermat. The technology allows you to skip messing with cords--instead, when you want to charge your cell phone, you just set it down on the Powermat, no cables required.
To enable wireless charging of BlackBerry devices, you’ll have to replace the battery door on the back of the phone with a Powermat door. This adds a little bulk, and will run you between $30 and $40 depending on your BlackBerry model. Powermat also offers battery doors for the Nintendo DSi and DS Lite ($30 each). For Apple’s iPods, Powermat has wireless docking stations ($40), as well as a case for the iPod Touch and iPhone 3G ($40 each).
The Powermats themselves come in portable and home-office versions, and each costs $100. Both Powermats support up to three devices recharging simultaneously. Look for Powermat products in Best Buy and Target starting October 4, the company says.
Drive Safely With a No-Cost Hands-Free Messaging Service
If you own a smartphone, you have several options for hands-free text messaging, such as Voice on the Go and ZoomSafer, both of which cost money. Now, a new option called Drivesafe.ly is available for free--but, of course, there is a catch.
First, a bit on how Drivesafe.ly works. You download the Drivesafe.ly application either to a BlackBerry or to an Android-based smartphone. Before you hop in your car, you activate the application and put your phone somewhere you can hear it. Then, when you receive either a text message or e-mail, Drivesafe.ly uses text-to-speech technology to read your message out loud. You can also send a canned text-message response back, such as "I can't respond now, I'm driving." You don't have to touch your phone once.
Here's the catch, however. Drivesafe.ly's free version will read only the first 25 words of any given message. To get the entire message, you'll have to buy the Drivesafe.ly Pro version, which costs either $4 per month or $14 for the life of your phone. The 25-word limit might not faze people who text-message a lot (because SMS missives are short), but it will be a killer for long-form e-mail junkies. Drivesafe.ly will be available September 23, company representatives say.
A USB Drive That Will Guard Your Data Ferociously
Toys for big boys are in the pipeline this holiday. Toshiba will soon sell officially licensed Transformers USB flash drives and an optical mouse, fashioned after a few of the shape-changing robots. According to Toshiba, you can get a 2GB Ravage or Tigatron flash drive for around $40, while a mouse modeled after Grimlock will run you about $50. Toshiba says that the Transformers PC accessories will be available in time for the holidays, but representatives couldn't be more specific.
Confession: After messing with Grimlock for several minutes, I conceded defeat to a Toshiba rep, who had to assemble the mouse for me.
Peel-and-Stick Wireless Cams--With One Year of Battery Life
Surveillance cameras suffer two big drawbacks: They're hard to mount where you want them, and most models require plugging into a wall socket, which is invariably nowhere nearby. One company, Avaak, says that it has come up with a solution, a peel-and-stick video camera system called Vue.
The cameras themselves are about as good as a mediocre Webcam, but what's great about them is that they run on powerful batteries that can last one year, according to the company. Avaak states that it estimates the one-year battery life based on "normal use"--but the company conveniently doesn't define what "normal use" is. Though you can't recharge the Vue batteries, you can replace them for under $10.
Truly wire-free, these little cams can stick nearly anywhere within a 300-foot radius of the base. The Vue wireless surveillance camera kit costs $300 and includes the base unit and two video cameras. Add-on Vue cameras cost $99 each, and the Vue service charges $20 a year for access to a password-protected Web site (one year of complimentary service is included with purchase).
Today's Best Tech Deals
Picked by PCWorld's Editors