Computers

Paul Gilster: Wireless gifts that offer seamless connections

CorrespondentDecember 1, 2013 

Christmas ideas always offer a loose look at developing trends, with none more obvious this year than the move toward putting digital power into formerly unconnected objects. Here are a few ideas that track this and other trends pointing toward a largely wireless holiday season:

• We’re entering the era of wearable computing, when digital power will be available through everything from our eyeglasses (Google Glass) to our wristwatches. The new Jawbone Up24 uses Bluetooth to wirelessly synch with your mobile device, so you can track your activities without having to plug the wrist band into the device manually. The supporting app is, so far, only available for iOS devices, but if you’re an iPhone user, the $150 Up24 will measure distance traveled, calories burned, hours slept – more than you wanted to know about your daily rounds.

• If the wearable computing trend has your attention, another way to make a move in that direction is with the Pebble SmartWatch, which works with both iPhone and Android devices. The $150 wrist gadget can pop up emails, texts and notifications without the need to pull your smartphone out of your pocket. I expect a new frontier of apps for music and sports, even games, to open up as devices like these adapt to our lifestyles. Expect more smart watches in 2014 as we begin to learn how best to exploit computer power in new wireless environments.

• If you want an inexpensive way to get access to work on the Net, HP’s new Chromebook 14 may be just the ticket. The $350 device boasts a 14-inch display and a reasonable keyboard, a 1.4 GHz dual-core Intel Celeron chip and 2 GB of RAM, along with a 16 GB solid state drive for storage, though a Chromebook is designed to live in the cloud, where Google will give you 100 GB of storage free for two years. Chromebooks are based on Google’s Chrome browser and apps delivered over the Web, a new model that this affordable machine gets about right.

• The latest iteration of the Kindle Paperwhite is the obvious choice for a newcomer to e-readers, given not only its superb screen but its access to the Amazon bookselling ecosystem. The earlier Paperwhite had display issues when the built-in reading light was used in low-light settings. The new model ($119) bathes the screen in clean, unmottled light, though reading in normal conditions without the light is a breeze, and the high-contrast display is easy on the eyes.

• The Roku 3 Streaming Media Player will set you back less than $120 while offering streaming options ranging from Netflix to Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and more. If you’re still doing Netflix via snail mail DVDs, this holiday is the chance to upgrade to where the future is going, along with the ability to stream music and photos from your mobile gear straight to your HDTV. The Roku 3 boasts an upgraded interface and a faster processor for snappy performance.

• The BOSE SoundLink Mini wireless speaker uses Bluetooth so you won’t have to plug your gadgets into it to hear your music. At 1.5 pounds, the svelte speaker is easy to take with you and comes with a cradle so you can use it as a docking or charging station. The $199 unit is competitive with other wireless speakers out there and delivers a high-quality acoustic experience that keeps on giving for up to seven hours on its rechargeable lithium battery.

• The Tylt Capio Smartphone Car Mount comes in handy if you’re using your phone’s direction-finding capabilities. The $35 mount fixes securely through a suction cup to your dashboard, a feature I wish I’d had on a recent maze-like trip through Asheville as I tried to follow my phone’s promptings with the device in one hand and the steering wheel in the other.

• If a tablet is on your horizon, I lean strongly toward the smaller models, and find the Asus/Google Nexus 7 to be a winner. At $229, it offers you a lovely 1080p HD display in a lightweight gadget that is considerably cheaper than the admittedly beautiful iPad Mini 2. The 1920 x 1200 resolution on its seven-inch screen delivers all the graphic performance you could ask for as you use apps and videos, and you naturally have e-reader and email capabilities as well, though if your primary purpose is reading text, the Kindle Paperwhite is the better choice.

• Finally, considering how dependent we are on our digital gadgets, how about a MyCharge Peak 6000 rechargeable battery, which can power up your smartphone several times over? $80 buys the device, which can give you a little piece of mind when traveling. It can charge iPads or other tablets, with a USB port that can charge an iPhone 5 when hooked up to your cable.

Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at gilster@mindspring.com.

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