10 tech gadgets for 2010
‘Tis the season for the latest technology! With all the new product launches, winter may be the season to indulge in a new tech toy. If you’re in the market, here are some of the latest devices and features to watch for.
eBook readers/wireless reading devices
Imagine carrying a library of electronic books, magazines and newspapers wherever you go — that’s the idea behind eBook readers. They’re about as big as a paperback and as thin as a magazine, but the distinguishing feature is the screen — it’s designed to be easier on the eyes and appear more like a printed page than a computer screen. Another bonus: you can purchase and download content through a wireless internet connection without going through a computer.
If you want to try one out, you may be out of luck. So far, only the Sony Reader ($239-$349) is available in stores in Canada, but the Amazon Kindle ($259 USD), the newly available Kindle DX ($489 USD) and IREX DR800SG ($399 USD) can be shipped here. Barnes & Noble’s Nook ($259 USD) isn’t yet available to Canadians.
Of course, these prices don’t include content, accessories and wireless internet access. Also, beware that most readers use a proprietary file format — in other words, you usually have to buy your content from the same place as you buy your reader. Some devices let you download standard formats like PDF files — which could be handy for work or school.
Not to be confused with their larger cousins, the “notebooks” (i.e. the laptops), these devices take portability to the next level. They’re smaller in size — with screen sizes ranging 8.9″ to 10.1″ — and cheaper, with models ranging from $269-$550.
They’re ideal for traveling and commuting, but experts warn they are meant to complement, not replace, your main computer. Part of what makes them so tiny is that they don’t have peripherals like internal disc drives (you’ll need an external drive to install software from a CD), as many features or as much memory as current laptops. The keyboards and pointing devices are downsized too, so make sure the design fits your needs as well as the functionality.
With all the features available on mobile phones these days, making a simple phone call may become old-fashioned. “Smart phones” offer more features like internet browsing, email, cameras, texting, social networking and hundreds of new applications — plus the networks are getting bigger and faster. With more companies getting into the marketplace, there are more options to choose from than just iPhones and Blackberries.
A word of caution: with smart phones, it pays to look at the total cost of ownership as well as the features. Costs for these phones will vary, and some are even free with a three-year contract. However, data plans for smart phones can run up to $100 a month when fees and taxes are included, not to mention accessories. Software or games (applications or “apps”) can cost $2-$10 each.
These days you can find a basic point-and-click camera for as little as $100-$200, but you don’t need to be an expert to go beyond “automatic mode”. The latest cameras offer more features including more zoom, wide angle and image stabilization (which compensates for a bit of “camera shake” and lets you take clearer pictures in low light). Many companies are also stepping up their night-time offerings with settings for night portraits, night landscapes and fireworks. If you’ve got a busy youngster or a pet, there are also settings to capture them on the move.
As always, watch for more megapixels (i.e. more detail), faster speeds and bigger memory cards. Some cameras now have built-in memory as well. Take the time to try out some of the settings, and watch for deals or kits that include accessories such a spare battery, case and memory card.
There will always be pricier, high-end models but many of today’s video cameras will fit in the palm of your hand — and your budget. “Mini” or “pocket” camcorders are about the size and price of a digital camera, but they shoot HD video instead of photos. Many models from brand names like Sony and Flip are available starting at $150.
Larger handheld models offer more memory and larger view screens, and start at $250. Camera prices quickly climb from there with more features and functionality. If you’re looking for a basic model to shoot a couple of hours of video, you can find a decent model for $200-$300.
No, these players aren’t new — which makes them an attractive buy this year because prices are dropping. If it’s high-definition you want, experts agree you can’t beat Blu-ray for better quality sound and images. However, you’ll need an HD television and good sound system to take advantage of the difference. Prices for the players and discs are higher than conventional DVD — expect to pay at least $150 for a player, and movies typically go for $30 and up.
Unlike the whole Betamax versus VHS war, Blu-ray players will play your current DVDs — and even give then a little boost — so you won’t have to worry about replacing your collection.
It’s the ultimate “set it and forget it” tool. Essentially, a personal video recorder (PVR) records to a hard drive instead of a tape or disc. It has interactive menus and recording features to make it very easy to use.
You can program it to record all your favourite shows and watch them when you want — even as they’re recording. Some devices also let you burn your favourite shows to a DVD, and you can also find units to hook into your PC instead of your TV.
You can purchase these units separately, or buy one that’s integrated with your cable or satellite. Depending on your provider, they cost between $400 – $500 to buy or $25 a month (and up) to rent — plus set-up costs, if applicable. It’s worth looking for special discounts and promotions to help trim the costs.
If you got a PVR last year and you’re already running out of room, you can also buy external hard drives for some extra space. For a less-expensive alternative, DVD recorders that burn to a disc or smaller hard drive go for $130-$300, though they may not have the size or functionality of PVRs.
Global positioning systems (GPS) for your car continue to be popular, with units now available for $100-$500, depending on the features and size. Hand-held devices for hiking, geo-caching, golf and other outdoor activities are also hot items, with prices between $170-$550. The technology has been around long enough that used or refurbished units are now available as people upgrade.
However, GPS technology is also trickling down to other areas, like tracking systems for your car so you can track it at all times. Locate your family if there’s an accident, receive alerts if your car is stolen or if your teen ventures outside a pre-set “safety zone”. You can even buy units to carry with you, or to attach to a pet’s collar if you’ve got a frequent runaway. (See Zoombak.com for an example.)
In addition to the cost of the unit, be sure to factor in any service plans or upgrades that may be needed.
They’re known as “pocket projectors” for a reason — they’re a fraction of the size (and price) of home theatre or office projectors, and they weight less than a pound. These small units let you project video and images from your other tech gear onto a blank surface up to 50″ away. For example, share a sales presentation from your laptop or smart phone, and play video or pictures right from your camera or iPod. You can even watch a movie on the back of an airplane or car seat. (Check out 3M’s MPro120 for an example.)
Units currently range around $300-$500, and they use LED lights and mirrors rather than those highly breakable bulbs and moving parts you find in larger projectors. Experts warn that they may not be bright enough to show images to large groups, or in a brightly-lit environment, but look for improvement in future models.
If you’re looking for some serious projection power, basic projectors start around $1000 and home theatre projectors can cost up to $3,500.
HD televisions and monitors
Still thinking a high-definition television requires a large room and large budget? Take a second look at some of the latest models and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. You can now find HD TVs for smaller spaces with 22″ or 26″ screens — that’s roughly the size of a large computer monitor, and the perfect size for a living room, bedroom or kitchen. The prices are smaller too — think $250 to $400 for a mid-range set.
With all the overlap between flat screen TVs and computer monitors, HD is also making its way into the office. Many models can serve as a computer monitor by day and television by night. The catch: you have to have an HD source (like HD cable) and the right cables to make it all happen.
A final word of advice: regardless of what technology you’re buying, it’s going to take some serious research and comparison shopping to find the right model at the right price. Do some online research and see what people have to say in product reviews. (You might learn something not mentioned in the product specifications or marketing materials.) Look for buying guides and online ratings (like Consumer Reports) for help decoding the features and prices. The more you know about the product, the better able you will be to make the right choice.
Sources: Consumer Reports, electronics retailers
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Amanda Rohde