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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Twelve great gadgets for the 2011 holiday season



Topping the holiday gift list for 2010 was Apple's iPad, the original version of the magical tablet that started a revolution in personal computing. A year later it's still at the top of the list, followed by tablets and e-readers from other manufacturers. A recent report from The Nielsen Company showed that 44 percent of kids aged 6-12 were wishing for an iPad this season, with 24 percent of those 13 and above (including adults) hoping for one too. Computers, E-Readers and other tablets, HD TVs, smartphones, iPods and gaming system round out the top of the list for 2011.

So with current trends and the economy in mind, here's my 2011 holiday gift list. It's a nice mix of some of the trendy stuff, one gadget for the health-conscious geeks, tools for expanding your personal storage horizons, gadgets for home and mobile entertainment and one thing that's just for fun! And although I easily could have included 30 things on this year's list, from this list you'll have no trouble finding a great gift for the gadgeteer on your gift list.

iPad 2 and Vizio Tablet

Despite the cost of the the iPad 2 as compared to some of the less-expensive options, it's still the clear winner in the tablet arena. The iPad hardware is no longer ground-breaking but the selection of apps and the recent iOS 5 update still give it an edge over all the Android wannabes. Starting at $499 for the 16GB WiFi-only version, one iPad is $100 more than two Kindle Fires and costs the same as two Nook Tablets. Those two Android-based choices look good, but since they're designed to deliver content that's tightly governed by Amazon and Barnes & Nobles proprietary eco-systems, they're limited quite a bit. So I'm going against the grain and recommending a budget Android tablet that has a richer set of features for under $200.


The Vizio Tablet (VTAB1008) is an 8-inch Android Gingerbread tablet with many features that aren't included with the Fire and Nook. It has a camera and microphone so it can be used for Skype video calls, it has Bluetooth, it can access the Android Market, has a MicroSD Card slot and it's also a universal remote. And although it's a little heavier and not as snappy as some of the other tablets in it's class, the quality is there and it's a solid performer. Recently available for as little as $189 at places like Walmart and Costco, it's a fantastic value. If you have a couple of kids who are asking for iPads that aren't in the budget, the Vizio is worth a good look.

iPhone 4S and Motorola Droid RAZR

Smartphones continue to be near the top of everyone's wish lists and in many cases have lead to less people wanting new point and shoot cameras. With excellent still photo and video cameras built into the best smartphones, they're now the cameras we always have with us. On the iOS side of things the new iPhone 4S offers better performance, an 8-megapixel camera and a 1080p HD video camera along with Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant. It starts at $199 with a new, 2-year contract on AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. For the Android believers the new Motorola Droid RAZR is every bit as good as the iPhone 4S with blazing speed on Verizon's 4G LTE network. It has an impressive, 4.3-inch display, fast performance, an 8-megapixel still camera and 1080p HD video camera too. It's currently $299 with a new, 2-year contract on Verizon.

iphone_4s.png  droid_razr.png

GoFlex Satellite and Kingston Wi-Drive

All the tablet and smartphone manufacturers tout the ability of those devices to be used as multimedia entertainment systems. The problem is, streaming a lot of video over your wireless connection can cost you money (unless you have an unlimited plan) and storing videos on your device can fill up your drive. Want to stream videos from an external drive in your pocket? The Seagate GoFlex Satellite and Kingston Wi-Drive are portable hard drives that generate their own WiFi networks so you can store and stream videos and other files via a direct WiFi connection with your device. The GoFlex Satellite is a battery-operated 500GB drive that can hold 300 HD movies and stream to three devices at once. It sells for $200. The Kingston Wi-Drive is smaller, about the size of an iPod Touch, and it comes in 16GB and 32GB sizes. It also can be shared with up to three devices and acts as a WiFi bridge so you can keep your Internet connection while using it. It's available for $70 (16GB) and $100(32GB). Both are accessed by iOS devices via free apps.

goflex_satellite.png  kingston_wi-drive.png  


We've all been hearing a lot about "cloud" storage lately as the need to access and sync files on multiple online devices has increased with smartphones and tablets. The iTwin is a new twist on the cloud concept that uses two USB keys to create a personal cloud with all files stored on your own computer. It's compatible with Macs and PCs for cross-platform file sharing. You attach one half to the computer that holds the files you want to share, then you take the other half with you. When you connect to any computer on the Internet you can access your files at home as if the two computers were connected by a cable. It's available for $99 at Amazon and Best Buy.


Pogoplug Mobile

Pogoplug is similar to iTwin in that it makes your files at home available to you in a personal cloud. The latest model, Pogoplug Mobile, is a smaller and simplified version of the original with just one USB port and an SD card slot. Just connect it to your router via ethernet then connect a USB drive to the Pogoplug and your personal cloud is online. Then you can load up a 1TB drive with video files, music, photos and documents and have access to all of it through free apps on your iOS or Android smartphones and tablets. The SD card slot is a great feature for photographers, who can slip in an SD card and immediately share photos and videos for viewing on a smartphone, tablet or computer.


You also can access your files via any web browser via your Pogoplug account (which comes with 5GB of free storage). The greatest feature? The apps can be set to automatically upload smartphone photos and videos to your cloud, so you never have to worry about losing those files again. The Pogoplug Mobile sells for $80.

Griffin HELO TC Helicopter

The HELO TC is a twin-rotor helicopter you can fly using your iPhone or iPod. Included with the helicopter is the Flight Deck infrared module that snaps on to your iOS device and plugs into the headphone jack to send remote commands to the chopper. You can choose from two modes for flight control. Touch Control uses the multi-touch screen and Tilt to Steer uses the accelerometers. You also can record up to three flight plans for later review. The helicopter has five super-bright onboard LEDs that you can control from the app as well.

The helicopter's built-in battery can be charged using any USB power source, including your computer’s USB port. The Flight Deck module is powered by 4 AAA batteries. It's one the most stable-flying RC helicopters I've tried and although I'm not very good at flying it, in capable hands it could make some impressive flights. It's available at Best BuyTarget and other stores for $50.

foxL V2 Bluetooth speaker

Despite the multimedia capabilities on all the latest smartphones and tablets, one thing that still needs improvement is the audio those devices can deliver. When you want to share a video or song with one or more people, you need a good external speaker. The foxL v2 (pronounced Fox-ul) from SoundMatters is a compact speaker with fantastic sound for it's size. At just 5.6 x 2.2 x 1.4 inches and weighing 9.5 oz, you can carry it with your tablet or phone  and have a small entertainment system on the go. The basic version connects via cables to your device and it's $169. The Bluetooth version is $199 and streams your music wirelessly. It also functions as a high-quality speakerphone for conference calls or use with Skype. Both versions are rechargeable and rated to run for up to 12 hours on a charge. The sound is really unbelievable.


Griffin Beacon universal remote

The Griffin Beacon transforms your iOS or Android devices into a custom, universal remote. The device itself is a small, battery-operated infrared blaster that you control through Bluetooth with your phone or tablet. Using the Dijit Universal Remote app for iOS or Android, you can set up controls for all your home entertainment components and even make separate configurations for the different rooms in your house. You also can view the channel lineup for your cable provider and click on the schedule to watch TV programming. Although setup takes some time, especially if you have a lot of components, it works really well once configured. The Beacon sells for $69.99 at, Best Buy, Target, Amazon and other retailers. SPECIAL NOTE: You have to buy either the iOS or Android version of the Beacon. The device is not cross-platform compatible.


Supertooth HD Bluetooth speakerphone

The Supertooth HD is a high-quality Bluetooth speakerphone designed to keep your hands on the wheel while driving and using your smartphone. It has two microphones with noise-canceling technology and uses voice recognition for operation that is almost completely hands-free. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Bluetooth speakerphone with better quality and features. The Supertooth HD also has the ability to send Facebook updates, Twitter tweets and email using voice-to-text technology through the Dial2Do Hands-free Assistant. The Dial2Do voice recognition, however, is not very reliable so I'm recommending the Supertooth as an excellent speakerphone only, hoping that the Dial2Do features will improve with time. It retails for $129 but you can get if for much less at Amazon and other places online.


Joos Orange solar panel

I've used portable solar panels before and always have been disappointed by their performance as compared to manufacturer's claims. That's not the case with the JOOS Orange (think orange juice) which is the most amazing small solar panel I've used. It's a tough, waterproof panel paired with a 5,400 mAh Lithium-ion battery and it comes with connectors for various cell phones and other USB devices. The panel is incredibly sensitive to light and can collect energy even in shady conditions. Recently I put it out in on a cloudy day with light rain and I was amazed that after about two hours it had charged the battery by about 20 percent. It's also a fast charger, designed to power-up your smartphone, iPod, tablet or laptop 3 to 5 times faster than similar charges. This is a great gadget for the pool, beach or boat when you need to keep your phone juiced-up while away from power. Sells for $149.


Zeo Sleep Manager

Studies show that many adults do not get enough restorative REM and Deep sleep that are critical for mental clarity, physical well-being and peak performance. The Zeo Sleep Manager system uses a lightweight, Bluetooth headband with three sensors that read your brainwaves while you sleep to record sleep data. The Zeo Mobile collects data from the headband and wirelessly sends it to an app on an iOS or Android smartphone. The data is then synced to the web site where you can view your sleep patterns then get feedback and coaching to improve the quality of your sleep. The Zeo Bedside also is available for people who don't have a Bluetooth smartphone. It looks like a tabletop alarm clock and writes your sleep data to an SD card for later transfer to the web site using a computer. The Zeo Mobile retails for $99 and the Zeo Bedside is $149. Both are available at Best Buy


DOT 360 interactive video device

I'm a huge fan of panoramic photography and love to make and view interactive 360-degree photos. I have always dreamed of making interactive, panoramic videos but no tools were available to achieve that goal. Then along came the DOT from Kogeto and the panoramic world has been spinning ever since. The DOT is a small lens attachment for the iPhone 4/4S and it lets you shoot 360-degree panoramic videos from the palm of your hand. It works with the Looker app to gather, process and upload videos to Kogeto, Facebook or Twitter. The videos play normally except you can swipe your finger on them to see a moving, 360-degree panoramic view with audio. You really have to see it to believe it. It sells for $79 on the Kogeto site and an Android version is in the works.


[Last modified: Saturday, December 10, 2011 12:58pm]


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