Here are my picks for some of the best products of 2014. They’re based on my personal use of these items, among the several hundred I examine throughout the year.

Best office gear

Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100: A small and light portable scanner that works with a computer, tablet and smartphone using Wi-Fi. Great for scanning receipts, handwritten notes and signed documents into your computer. The accompanying software makes it easy to turn your scans into PDF documents that can be stored or emailed. $229,

Epson WorkForce WF-3640: This is the successor to the full-featured WF-3540 inkjet printer that I’ve been using for two years. It’s been very reliable, prints high-quality color and black and white, both single- and double-sided, and has a large paper capacity that doesn’t require frequent refilling. Epson’s per-page cost is half that of a color laser, and less expensive than some of its competitors. $129,

Best gift for frequent travelers

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise-Canceling Headphones: These are the first in-ear noise-canceling headphones from Bose. They do an amazing job of canceling the background noise from airplanes and other steady sources. In my testing, they work better than their over-the-ear models. You can switch from noise-canceling to the Aware mode that turns off the cancellation when you want to carry on a conversation. The eartips don’t protrude into the ear canals, but sit firmly just outside them, making them comfortable for long trips. $299,

Best tablet

Apple iPad Air 2: Apple’s latest 9.7-inch iPad represents the company’s best tablet yet. Compared to earlier models, it’s thinner and lighter and available in a new gold anodized-aluminum finish. The 2048-by-1536 resolution display has been improved to reduce reflections and enhance the color. From $499.

Best new camera

The Leica D-Lux 109 produces excellent images over a wide range of lighting conditions. Courtesy photo

Lumix LX-100/Leica D-Lux 109: This brand new camera, available in versions from Panasonic and Leica, packs a sensor that’s five times bigger than last year’s award-winning Sony RX100, with an f1.7-2.8, 24-75mm equivalent zoom lens. It produces excellent images over a wide range of lighting conditions, particularly with very low lighting. It has a built-in electronic viewfinder that works great in bright light where the LCD is less effective. The Panasonic Lumix costs $895; the Leica costs $300 more, but provides a three-year warranty, a free copy of Adobe LightRoom, and a nicer finished metal housing.

Best new phones

iPhone 6: This and the iPhone 6 Plus are the best phones Apple has ever built — thinner and rounder than 5s, and with a larger display, now 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch, up from 3.5-inch. They are faster and have Apple Pay built in, using its internal near-field wireless technology.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha: The Alpha is a Samsung phone with a 4.7-inch display that’s built on a metal frame, making it more Apple-like in its construction and appearance. It is a big improvement over other Samsung’s models that feel less substantial. It’s even slightly thinner than the iPhone 6, yet has a removable battery. In my testing of the AT&T version, it felt solid, speedy and was feature-rich. Its replaceable battery lasts considerably longer — up to half a day more — than the battery in the iPhone 6. $199 on contract, $612.99 at full retail or $30.65 per month for a year.

Best desktop computer: HP’s new Sprout is the computer of the future, available now. It combines a scanner, camera, tablet and projector into a single easy-to-use, attractive product. It lets you move real objects from the tabletop to the computer screen, by scanning, and projects your Window’s desktop onto your real desktop.

Best GPS application: While the Waze app has an almost cartoonish appearance, its ability to find the best routes beats Apple Map and Google Maps every time. It takes an aggressive approach to get you through congestion, routing you through streets you never knew existed. In a recent experience, traveling from the Oakland Airport to San Francisco in rush hour, it took me through back road streets, zigzagging around congested streets and highways, shaving 15 minutes off of the 75-minute route calculated by Apple Maps and Google Maps. Free from the iTunes store and the Google app store.

Best backup: Carbonite is one of the simplest ways to back up your computer. Never again will you need to remind yourself that it’s backup time. Install Carbonite on your computer, subscribe and select what you want to back up. It’s all done in the background and you never need to think about it again. Just $5 a month,

Best new travel luggage

Kingsville deluxe brief pack: This attractive backpack is designed for business. It has pockets for a computer, tablet, books, business cards, keys, a water bottle, and chargers, and can even hold a large DSLR camera or large headphones. The most convenient feature is that it’s designed to slide over the handle of a carry-on wheeled luggage. $445,

Torq International Carry-on Spinner: This hard-sided polycarbonate carry-on suitcase by Briggs & Riley has four smooth-rolling wheels. I’ve been using it for 100,000 miles of travel this year. Although the material twists and flexes as I try to stuff it beyond capacity, it has only a few scratches. Best of all, it’s easy on the back and can be pushed along with ease. $479,

Gadget of the year: It could easily have been the iPhone, iPad2 or a Leica D-Lux camera — but it’s none of them. I looked for a gadget that is unique and solves a problem never solved before.

My hands-down favorite is the Coravin Wine System. It’s a product that solves a problem that wine experts never assumed solvable: tasting wine as it’s aging in the bottle without affecting the aging process.

It’s likely only something a consumer of fine wine might appreciate and it’s takes a little patience to use. But it clearly succeeds in its mission and brings a new dimension to wine consumption. It works by inserting a hollow needle into the cork along with argon gas that forces the wine back out through the needle. Oxygen, a spoiler of wine, never gets into the bottle.

It’s also changed the way wine is consumed in restaurants. Jeffrey Strauss, owner of Pampelmousse Grille (, and an early investor in the Coravin, has opened his wine cellar to offer some famous wines by the glass that would never have been considered. For example, he offers a $600 bottle of 2008 Domaine Romanee Conti in a 2.5 ounce pour for $75. And just using it in his restaurant has led to sales of over 600 Coravin systems to his customers.


Accessory companies live or die according to the products Apple introduces. So with the recent introduction of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, and Air 2 tablet, lots of innovative accessories have been hitting store shelves. Here are some of my favorites.

Logitech Any Angle iPad Case: iPad cases typically open up and position the iPad at a few different angles: more upright for watching videos, a lower angle for typing. Logitech’s newly designed case positions the iPad at virtually any angle over a 50-degree range. Available for all iPads, including mini versions., $60.

The HiRise Delux from Twelve South. Courtesy photo

HiRise Deluxe: If you worship your smartphone as much as some, you can actually put it on a pedestal. The HiRise Deluxe from Twelve South is an attractive aluminum stand you can use for charging and positioning your phone on your desk or night table. It works great for Face Time and making hands-free calls. The vertical position of the connector and the back wall of the stand can be adjusted, so it will work for most models of smartphones as long as the charging port is near the middle on the bottom of the phone, without or with most any size case. Comes in silver or gold to match iPhones., $60.

Microsoft Office: Combine an iPad with a keyboard and what else do you need? Microsoft’s Office suite with Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Formerly available only by paid subscription, Microsoft’s new management intends to play a strong role in all mobile platforms, and this is their opening move. In addition, Microsoft has partnered with Dropbox to let you store your documents on their servers. Office is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android and Microsoft phones and tablets. Free, but only for consumers, not businesses.

inCase Icon MacBook Sleeve: I carry a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina and recently discovered this cleverly designed product that offers the advantage of a thin sleeve with the protection of a larger, more rugged case. It looks like a simple neoprene sleeve, but has an integral shock-absorbing frame that surrounds the notebook to protect it from drops. A thin flap at one end lifts opens with a magnetic catch and the notebook slides in, falling precisely into place within the frame. Versions are also available for iPads., $60-$70.

Lifeproof cases for iPhone: This San Diego company has invented the first waterproof, dustproof and drop proof cases for the iPhone. The company’s mission has been “To change the way you live, work and play with your mobile electronics.”

The idea has resonated well with those who love their phones and use them under extreme conditions: in water, snow, high and low temperatures, and dirty environments. They’ve sold millions, and by some analysts’ estimates, has 20 percent of the iPhone case market. Lifeproof is just now rolling out cases for the iPhone 6 and 6 plus, and their growth should take another leap. The new line comes in two styles: Fre and Nud. The Fre covers the display with a clear cover, while the Nud leaves the display exposed, forming a waterproof seal around its perimeter.

The new models are thinner and more stylish. If you want a case to protect your phone like no other and one doesn’t look like an industrial enclosure such as many others, you can’t beat these., $80-$100.

Keys to Go: This new product from Logitech is a stand-alone keyboard for portable use that looks almost like a thin slab. It’s nearly a full size keyboard and just ¼ inch thick. With its Bluetooth connectivity it will work with any iOS device including iPads, iPhones and Apple TV. The mechanical keys sit behind a rubberized fabric, allowing the keyboard to be easily wiped clean and is sufficiently rugged so that it can be tossed into a purse, backpack or briefcase., $70.

BookBook Travel Journal: This product from Twelve South looks like an old leather-bound book, but it’s actually a large zippered case that holds an iPad and accessories and lets you carry everything in one convenient package. It has a variety of pockets, Velcro straps and expandable bands to let you organize all sizes and shapes of headphones, chargers and cables. It’s perfect for those just traveling with an iPad. Fits all sizes with and without a cover. MacBook users will find the case useful for carrying a mouse, power adapters, hard drives and batteries., $100.

Other cases: Locally based STM offers the Harbour Case offers good protection at an attractive price. While somewhat plain looking with its black matte finish, the case provides basic protection. Its composite molded case is made up a hard outer shell and softer inner material that completely surrounds and protects the iPhone’s perimeter, unlike even Apple’s own cases. It has a hinged bottom that props up the phone vertically., $25.

A long-time favorite case I used on the iPhone 5 that offers a good balance between protection and bulk is the Tech21 Evo Mesh Case. It has a built-in compound that absorbs harsh drops. The company now makes versions for the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5., about $35.


I signed up for Gmail in 2004 when it was first announced and have been using it ever since. I’ve stuck with it in spite of it not being particularly intuitive, and with an interface only a techie could love. But because of its inexpensive storage and excellent search capabilities, it’s possible to find emails I wrote years ago in just a few minutes.

Now Google has introduced a major improvement to reading your email. It’s called Inbox, an email program with an entirely new user interface and a new way of organizing your incoming mail.

It’s available by invitation only and open to anyone with a personal Gmail account; business users need to wait. I applied for it about six weeks ago and received an invitation three weeks later. You can send an email requesting an invitation to Inbox is free and runs as an app on an iPhone, Android and on a Chrome browser on your computer.

Inbox offers several new features that organize your incoming email and adds visual clues that let you more easily find attachments.

The items in Inbox’s inbox consist of a mix of individual emails, conversations and something Google calls “bundles,” which are emails grouped by category. As a result, the emails are not always in exact chronological order.

For example, incoming mail that relates to special offers, sales, ads, and promotions are grouped together and shown as one item called Promos. Other bundles are Travel, which groups reservations, flight information and travel announcements, and Purchases, which has receipts, acknowledgements and shipping information.

Touching an item that’s bundled in the Inbox, causes it to expand to show each of the emails. For example, selecting Purchases opened up a long list of Amazon acknowledgements and shipping alerts in chronological order. Selecting Promos brought up promos received that recently arrived and those going back several weeks.

Normal mail is grouped by conversation, similar to the way it’s currently done in Gmail.

The result of all of this bundling into categories and collapsing many messages into one is an Inbox that’s easier to navigate and find what you are looking for — much like going through a stack of file folders instead of just the contents. Google does an excellent job in figuring out which emails belong in what category, and I never encountered an email out of place.

You can choose to disable any of the bundle categories and create new ones, using rules you create. For example, you can chose to create bundles of correspondence by a specific client or project.

After reading an email, you can choose to mark it done, move it to trash or spam, or “snooze” the message to return the next day, next week or a particular time. You can even snooze it to come back when you arrive at a particular location.

Inbox makes it easy to go quickly through your inbox and ignore the unimportant messages, shifting them to return at a predetermined future time. Important messages, such as an electronic boarding pass, can be “pinned.” When a slider switch is activated, the Pinned email jumps to the top of the list.

Messages with attachments or photos display a small graphic, such as a miniature spreadsheet or Word document, making it easy to find a particular spreadsheet or image by scanning through the emails.

Searching the Inbox is very powerful and quick. For example, searching by sender retrieves weeks’ worth of emails from that person in a fraction of a second, displaying the date, subject and a snippet of an attachment. It also brings up the person’s contact information at the top of the list, which allows you to send an email or dial from the window.

Inbox has more intelligence than other email. Searching Southwest Airlines not only brought up every reservation and boarding pass, but also displayed the flight information of my next trip in a separate box.

As useful as Inbox is, I haven’t quite abandoned my normal mail clients — MacMail and Airmail — that allow me look at my messages fully expanded and in exact chronological order, just to be sure I haven’t missed one that occasionally gets hidden within a conversation or part of a bundle.

Inbox is not a replacement for Gmail. Instead, it’s a more efficient way to consume and view email. The apps for the Android and iOS are essentially the same. You can use Inbox on your desktop by using a Chrome browser.

The aesthetics of Inbox is much improved from Gmail. It’s spacious, modern, makes good use of color and seems more like an iPhone app. And new email appeared in Inbox before it appeared in my other email clients.

Inbox shows great potential as a way to reduce inbox clutter and separate out the important from the trivial. It’s novel, useful and a step forward in the evolution of email.


Now that Thanksgiving is a recent memory (and a few added pounds ago), it’s that time of the year to offer some recommendations for holiday gifts.

Sennheiser Momentum Headphones: Headphones are making a resurgence, thanks the growing interest in high-quality music. I’ve had a chance to try out several models this year while listening to high-definition audio. I found the Sennheiser Momentum over the ear headphone to provide a good balance of cost, audio quality, comfort and portability. $270.

Other very good headphones are the Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBL Professional Studio Monitor Headphones for $200, and the Beyerdynamic DT-770-PRO-32 Closed Dynamic Headphone for $229. The AKG K712Pro is a terrific-sounding headphone with very large, soft earpads and an usual headband design that reduces the weight and improves comfort for long listening sessions. $359.

I’ve also recently tested the new Bose QC-25 ($299), the successor to the QC-15. While it does an admirable job of reducing background noise, the QC-25 can’t match the audio quality of any of the models listed above.

Lumix DMC-LX100 Camera: Camera manufacturers keep trying to pack bigger sensors into smaller camera bodies to produce near-SLR quality images. The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 is the latest camera to strive for this goal, and succeeds better than any other camera, albeit with two compromises: a slightly larger size and an external flash. But it has a terrific Leica 24-75mm f/1.7 lens that lets you shoot at very low light levels and a built-in electronic viewfinder. $899.

Dyson Handheld Vacuum: When I tested a Dyson handheld I marveled at the suction power from the small lightweight rechargeable vacuum. I used it to vacuum up coffee grounds around my grinder and espresso machine, as well as vacuum my car and office. It’s not inexpensive, but is beautifully engineered and performs like no other. There are two models, the more powerful DC58 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner at $249.99, and the DC34 for $199.99. Costco also sells a model for slightly less.

Add-on lenses for iPhones and Galaxy: Oloclip, the company that makes add-on lenses for Samsung Galaxy phones and older iPhones now has a model for the 6 series that works on both front and back cameras. It provides a wide-angle, fisheye and 10x and 15x macro options. It’s designed to be used with the phone’s case removed. $80,

TP-Link Portable charger: A new portable charger that has more power for its volume than most is the TP-Link 10400mAh Power Bank. About the size and shape of a salt shaker, it can completely charge an iPad from empty or a phone three or four times over. It’s a great bargain at less than $50.

The Coravin 1000 Wine Access System: One of the most unique products I tested this year, this product lets you pour a glass of wine without opening the bottle. You withdraw the wine from a thin needle inserted in the cork, with argon replacing the air. When you pull the needle out, the cork seals itself so as not to effect the aging of the remaining wine. The argon gas cylinders last for about 2 bottles and cost $10 each. $299,

For barbecue fans: The iGrill Mini provides a remote thermometer that lets you monitor your cooking from up to 100 feet away. I’ll be fully testing this and its big brother, the iGrill2 in the near future. $40,

The Drop Kitchen scale: This product combines a precisely accurate kitchen scale with an iPhone app to add convenient new functions to cooking. It has a silicone top and connects using Bluetooth. The app lets you alter its recipes for different portions, recalculate a recipe if you have too little of an ingredient, and displays an enlarged indicator to measure what’s on the scale. $99,

Microsoft XboxOne: This time last year I was struggling to find a new Microsoft Xbox One that was just rolling out. I ended up buying one on eBay for my two grandsons. While it was a struggle to set up, it’s continued to be a huge hit and in constant use. There are many excellent games, such as Lego Marvel, and it acts as a hub to manage all your entertainment, including cable, Netflix and other content. $400,

Watches: What’s the future of fine mechanical Swiss watches now that the Apple is designing a watch? Switzerland survived the quartz revolution and likely will survive this one. Mechanical watches provide a huge satisfaction to many intrigued by its mechanical complexity of spinning gears and coiled springs.

Most of these watches use a mechanism made by one of the companies that makes Swatch. The better ones are made in-house in small volumes and can cost from $10,000 to $20,000. But check out watches from Nomos, a company in Glashutte, Germany, the home of several of the best watch manufacturers in the world. Nomos makes its own watch movements that can be viewed through a sapphire back on some models. Models have watch straps made of American leather, sport a contemporary design and start from about $1,500. and their US distributor,

Gifting from your phone or computer: Another clever gift option, particularly for those who wait to the last moment, comes from a San Diego company, Congrats. Congrats enables users to send a custom video message and gift from their smartphone or tablet with an option to add a Giftly, a cash gift ranging from $1 to $1,000 that includes suggestions for how the recipient can spend the money. Upon receipt via the app, email or instant messaging, the video can be downloaded and saved to a mobile device or computer. Once redeemed, the Giftly is added to the recipient’s credit or debit card for immediate use. (


ResMed is a well-regarded San Diego company that makes medical devices to help those with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. When I learned the company had developed a sleep monitor for consumer use, it piqued my interest. After all, ResMed probably knows more about sleep disorders than any other products company.

I’ve tried several devices that claim to do much the same, such as multifunction watches and fitness trackers and one that uses a headband. While they all provided some basic information, they were generally cumbersome to use and provided sketchy information that wasn’t all that helpful. The results just weren’t the effort.

The S+ from ResMed is different in many respects. Most significantly, there’s nothing to wear. It’s a rather large device, about the size of a clock radio, which sits vertically on your nightstand. The device is a white cube suspended at the top of a vertical rectangular frame that is tiltable to better aim at the user’s chest. It can be used with or without the frame, as long as it’s higher than the mattress.

Another difference is that its detection capability is much more advanced. Its internal sensors are able to detect breathing patterns and body movements using very weak radio signals. It doesn’t matter which way you are lying, with your back to the device or flat on your stomach, or even if there’s a person beside you in bed; it’s that sensitive and discerning. Other sensors in the unit measure ambient light, temperature and noise level.

When you go to bed, you open the S+ application on your phone or tablet (it works with Apple and Android) and connect it to the device using Bluetooth. You answer a few questions each night, such as how many cups of coffee and alcohol you had during the day and your exercise level.

Then you touch the sleep button on your phone and the display slowly darkens and — in theory — you go to sleep. The normally green light on the S+ shows it’s connected to Bluetooth, and slowly turns off so as not to distract you.

All through the night, the S+ monitors your sleep state, whether it be light, deep or REM, plus the number of interruptions and time spent awake. When you wake up in the morning, you can see a comprehensive analysis of your sleep patterns for that night, along with a score between 0 and 100.

The information is also uploaded to ResMed’s website where you can view it in more detail. It’s tracked with the room’s environment to look for correlations.

The results provide colorful plots, both linear and circular, and a comparison with others in your age category. There are also recommendations to improve your sleeping. You might be advised to drink less coffee or reduce exercise just before bedtime. The recommendations are more general tips than actual medical advice.

At first I found this frustrating, but as ResMed explained, it’s because the FDA prohibits companies from dispensing medical information. I spoke with one of the developers and learned that ResMed continues to assess your information from the S+ over many weeks and, if there is a serious problem, it will offer to provide you a report that you can take to your doctor.

The S+ also provides ways to improve your sleeping, both falling asleep and waking up. You can fall asleep listening to a variety of audio tracks, such as the sound of surf. An alarm can be set to wake you up within a range of time when you are in light sleep, making waking up as pleasant as possible.

The sleep score provides an overall number, the higher the better, but it is not necessarily indicative of a serious disorder. The score is a combination of factors that makes it simple to chart your progress and for ResMed to characterize your sleep. Typically I got a score of 60-70, not real great.

While I used the product for just two weeks, ResMed will continue to provide me with more tailored advice over time, as it learns more about my sleeping, habits and environment.

After two weeks of use, I ran into very few problems. The monitor was easy to set up using the included USB charger that also powers your phone. However, the Bluetooth connection dropped between the tracker and my iPhone 6 a few times, showing a red light on the tracker. The disconnection may be related to iOS 6, which has had difficulties with Bluetooth.

Compared to all of the sleep devices I’ve tried previously, this is by far the best. It requires no contact or need to wear anything on the body, it measures many factors that affect your sleep, it helps you go to sleep and wake up, and you benefit from the company behind it that has extensive knowledge about sleep.

The product costs $149, quite reasonable for all of its capabilities. (