Here’s an assortment of small gadgets, some so small they rarely get noticed, but useful in their own special way.

I’ve struggled to organize my unwieldy keys — a couple of electronic key fobs for my car and my wife’s, several conventional keys for home and office, a magnetic fob for my office front door and an ID tag for my gym.

Ordinary key cases rarely work with the large key fobs, so I’ve tried putting everything on a large key ring, but that’s awkward to carry in your pocket, with keys sticking into your legs. Enter Nite Ize, a company in Boulder, Colo., that makes little gadgets such as carabiner clips, flashlights and small tools.

I came across their KeyRack Locker that finally provides a workable solution. It has six miniature carabiner clips that are double-ended, spring-loaded S hooks (called S-Biners). They attach to the larger KeyRack.

The S-Biners come in steel or colored plastic to easily identify keys by color. They’re easy to quickly add or remove in order to slim down what you carry or put aside those keys you don’t need, such as at valet parking. What is most impressive with Nite-Ize is its clever design, good engineering and low price. The key system costs just $10 (niteize.com).

An Oregon company, the Leathershop, has developed a very small but elegant leather wallet designed to hold as many as 20 credit cards or business cards in a form perfect for those wanting a side-pocket wallet with little bulge or bulkiness. The Palm wallet is made of a single piece of heavy, beautifully hand-finished leather from the famous Chicago leather company Horween.

The wallet is held together with polished brass rivets. The flap fits under a strap that runs the full width of the front. Its internal width is precisely designed to fit a stack of credit cards. There are three dividers, including a slot in the front, to hold one or two of your most frequently used cards, such as a license and credit card.

Currency is folded in half and slips in the back of the wallet behind the cards. While the wallet is expensive at $120, it’s one of the most compact (2.75 inches long by 4.25 inches wide by 1 inch deep) and best-constructed compact wallet I’ve tried. (http://theleathershop.com.)

With so many of us using iPhones and other smartphones as our cameras, Olloclip has developed a family of add-on lenses that expand the phone’s photographic capability. The Olloclip snaps over the phone’s lens, clamping to the body, to provide a variety of new photo possibilities.

The current 4-in-1 design for the iPhone5S provides a fish-eye lens, wide-angle lens and two macro lenses. The Olloclip is well-made of glass and aluminum, and designed not to scratch your phone, but it requires you to remove your phone case first, if you use one. One limitation is that the lenses don’t focus, but rely on the phone’s lens and, in the case of the macro lenses, positioning the phone at the correct distance.

I’ve tried the lenses and they work well, particularly the close-up lenses that let you get within a half-inch of the subject. The wide angle nearly doubles the field of view and the fish-eye provides a 180-degree field of view of a circularly distorted image. There are versions for the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5. A version for the iPhone 6 is on its way. ($70, olloclip.com)

While hardly high tech, a company called Harry’s has been running sales campaigns over the Internet. Called to my attention by a reader, it’s a company that offers serious competition to Gillette.

Harry’s sells a sleekly designed razor and blades for almost half the price, along with a variety of shaving products you’ll not find in your local CVS. The products are nicely packaged and shipped at no cost.

As a long-time user of Gillette razors that cost close to $4 each and typically last about a week, I’ve found Harry’s blades to last at least as long, shave equally close and cost about $1.80. Harry’s is a great example of how a small company can compete with a huge corporation — such as Procter and Gamble, which owns Gillette — through the Internet with a very good product. (harrys.com).

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Ever wonder what happens to the used iPhones being bought by companies such as Gazelle or San Diego’s EcoATM? When I met with the CEO of EcoATM in June, she was reluctant to answer the question, saying it was confidential.

EcoATM buys back used cellphones from individuals when they trade up to a new model. It’s done using their ingenious machines similar to ATMs that examine and pay for the phone on the spot. Gazelle and other services similarly buy back old iPhones and other smartphones over the Web.

Typically they pay $100 to more than $200 for an iPhone5S, depending on condition, carrier and memory size. Both services are a boon to the environment, allowing a phone to be reused rather than ending up in a landfill.

But why confidential? Such a response made me only more curious, so I have been speaking with industry analysts, phone company employees and manufacturers over the past several months.

I finally got the answer on a recent visit to China, speaking with a senior executive for a major Chinese consumer products manufacturing company that I’ve known for more than 20 years. He said it’s common knowledge there about what happens to the used iPhones bought in the United States.

He said that about 80 percent of the used iPhones are shipped to Hong Kong, where daily auctions are held to sell the phones in large lots. These lots of iPhones are bought by many manufacturing companies that take the phones to their facilities in southern China for refurbishing.

The process includes refinishing the cases and removing scratches from the screens, sometimes replacing the touch-screen surface or the glass. Normally, they don’t bother to replace the batteries.

When the iPhones’ housings have a ding or deep scratch and cannot be repaired, they are replaced with independently manufactured, look-alike housings.

There are two levels of housings: highly accurate copies and cheaper lower-tier copies. Once the refurbishment is complete, the iPhones are categorized by the refurbishers into four tiers of quality varying from “like new” to “fair.”

Each iPhone is put into brand new packaging that’s an exact copy of Apple’s iPhone boxes and sold mostly as new phones to retailers throughout China. While Apple also retails its iPhones in China, the demand is so great that many retailers, particularly those that don’t have a relationship with Apple, will sell whatever they can get. And they typically sell them as new phones.

I asked EcoATM representatives to comment, but they declined. Instead, they explained how “they adhere to strict environmental and recycling standards, and that all the devices they take in are sent to certified buyers.”

They said that “75 percent of the devices collected have found a second life, and 25 percent have been recycled (meaning junked for material).” Of the 75 percent, iPhones represent almost half of EcoATM’s purchases, another source said.

“Their network of international and national buyers are refurbishers and also recyclers,” the company added. “And it’s their documentation that we use during our auditing process, in addition to our own.”

As EcoATM says, creating a way for people to sell their phones so they can be reused rather than disposed of is a major benefit to the environment. I just found it surprising that the phones end up being sold as new phones to unsuspecting Chinese customers. I suspect it’s this secret that most of the companies that sell to refurbishers know or could easily find out, if they wanted to.

However, this practice is not illegal here, as the phones are being bought and not being sold as new in the United States. It may or may not be illegal in China; the U.S. companies are certainly not implicated — it’s the refurbishers that are duping their customers. Still, I think it’s questionable to profit from these sales.

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Surveying both customers and prospective customers can be an important element of the product development process. Companies use surveys to assess opinions about current products and services as well as to figure out what new products or features should be added. While I would never use opinions from surveys or focus groups to design a product, each are useful ways of comparing and prioritizing features, likes and dislikes.

Survey Monkey, a Palo Alto-based company, is the leader in developing tools for us to create online surveys. I’ve been trying the product over the past six weeks and have found it to be a valuable tool for gathering useful information. While it relies on our judgment to formulate the surveys, SurveyMonkey offers nearly 200 survey templates for almost any topic. They can be sent as is or customized to specific needs.

I used it to assess feedback for a company that’s developed a hardware product. Samples of the product were sent out to about three dozen potential customers, and they were asked to try it over a couple of months. The users were asked to send their comments to a special email address. While that provided useful information, it took a well-designed survey to extract information that could be quantified, and I found this to be even more useful than the anecdotal comments.

SurveyMonkey works by providing an online, Web-based tool to design your survey. You select the type of questions you want, enter your questions and the format in which you’d like a response (multiple choice, descriptive, yes/no, etc.). The tool lets you change the order, insert and delete questions and optionally add space for the survey taker to comment on why they chose the answer they did.

I started out using the free version of Survey Monkey, which allowed me to create basic surveys with multiple-choice questions, ranking choices, and questions requiring a text answer. But I found using the product to be frustrating because when I clicked on many of the selections and options, I’d get a message saying I needed to upgrade to access that feature.

In addition, the free version limits you to 10 questions per survey and 100 responses per survey. Among its many other limitations, you can’t output the results into a PDF document, making it difficult to share with others.

The software seemed to be purposely designed to remind me at nearly every step the limitations of the free version. And it worked. I was going to upgrade to the $26/month Select plan, but the company suggested I try the $300/year Gold level. Both offered all the features I needed and for me, the differences were minor.

Once you’re done designing your survey, you can preview it and test it out by answering your questions, and then edit it. The paid versions let you create more complex questions that branch out to different questions, based on the answers. There are many other additions, such as customizing the reports with your company’s name, directing users to find the survey on your website or at an URL with your company name.

In the survey I constructed, I used my own questions as well as a few recommended by SurveyMonkey. There are lists of questions arranged by the type of business and information you are looking for.

Questions included the users’ opinion of the product’s features; whether the price was high, low or about right; and what they most liked and disliked. I asked questions requiring text answers, such as asking how it was used, and what title they might use if they were to write a review.

Once the questionnaire is completed and tested, you enter a list of those recipients you want to participate and send an introductory invitation. That portion was a little finicky in that the participants needed to be listed in a very specific format. SurveyMonkey then sends an email asking those on the list to go to your special link and fill out the survey.

My technique was to create a survey that could be answered within 10 to 15 minutes. I used 15 questions, many multiple choices and included three questions requiring the answers to be written out. Notably, SurveyMonkey did not promote its company in the survey nor in the reports eventually created.

After a couple of days I had responses from about eight of the original 40. In a week it rose to 14 and in three weeks I got 27. I could go to SurveyMonkey’s website at any time and view the results.

I ran into a little trouble the first time I tried printing a report: The responses to the written questions were not included. I used the company’s help page to email a question, and got an email response in about 10 minutes. I had omitted selecting a small button off to the side requesting the comments to be included. I found it odd that it wasn’t set as a default.

Once fixed, I chose a detailed report in PDF format. The report was 20 pages long, listing my questions followed by the answers. In the case of multiple-choice answers, the report displayed the results in an easy-to-read bar graph. For those questions asking for a written answer, the responses were tabulated one after another. You can also examine the responses of a single individual and identify that person, should you want to follow up.

The reports were fascinating to read, and helpful to look for trends and to draw some immediate conclusions. The reports were professional in well-formatted documents that I was able to share with others by sending it out as an attachment. Overall, I found SurveyMonkey to be a valuable tool applicable to product development and to many other uses. In fact, you’ll probably be using it more often as you learn to appreciate how valuable it can be.

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Wireless connectivity has come to portable scanners. I’ve been traveling with the recently introduced Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100, the company’s newest portable scanner. It’s a remarkable little package that lets me turn paper documents into digital documents wherever I am, and do it completely wirelessly. There’s no need for a USB connection or power cord. That means it can connect to smartphones and tablets wirelessly, as well as to a computer both wirelessly or with the USB connector supplied.

I’ve been evaluating the product by scanning receipts, business cards, marked-up documents, NDAs, invoices and bank statements into my computer, iPad and iPhone. I’ve used it at home and on the road in China.

With the scanner by my side, I have scanned in travel receipts minutes after receiving them, such as a hotel receipt while in a cab to the airport. I’ve lost or misplaced receipts in the past, but now they are permanently saved in the cloud or device. Once the documents are scanned, they can be saved in a variety of applications or emailed.

The iX100 is the step-up model to the S1100, a similarly sized unit introduced two years ago that is powered from a USB port on a computer. The iX100 adds a built-in rechargeable battery and built-in Wi-Fi that connects locally to your devices using its own local network and doesn’t require access to a home or public Wi-Fi network.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 wireless scanner is smaller and lighter than a portable umbrella. It weighs 14 ounces and fits next to a keyboard on a desk or in a briefcase on the road. Courtesy photo

The scanner is the same size as the S1100, smaller and lighter than a portable umbrella. It weighs 14 ounces and fits next to a keyboard on a desk or in a briefcase on the road.

Simply open the lid and fold down the front flap and it turns on. You feed in documents using a straight path or a 90-degree path, depending on the stiffness of the document or the availability of desk space. It handles a range of paper thicknesses including flimsy printed receipts, laminated documents, cardboard stock, business cards and even credit cards. Scanning is quick at 5.2 seconds for an 11-inch-long page. It can scan multiple small documents such as receipts at once or multipage documents a page at a time.

Documents larger than legal size, such as charts and diagrams, can be scanned and stitched together. Simply fold the documents in half, scan both sides, and the iX100 will automatically stitch it back together, producing a one-page digital image.

The iX100 is designed to scan documents in full color with 300 dpi resolution, but is not intended to scan photographs. The quality looks exactly what comes off a printer or color copier. The S1100 has 600 dpi resolution, but the perceived differences were not detectable.

In my long use of the S1100 and two-week use of the iX100, it’s apparent that internal software is one of Fujitsu’s strengths. The software can straighten skewed documents that are fed at an angle, and adjust for receipts that are barely readable and business cards on dark backgrounds. Rarely do I get a scan that is not useable.

The included computer software is similar to what Fujitsu provides with its other scanners. It’s robust and easy to use, yet provides broad versatility. After scanning, a window opens and offers a choice of scanning directly to a file folder, Word document, Salesforce, Evernote, a Google Doc, or an email, and can save it as a PDF, jpeg or other format. It works with Windows and Mac computers, as well as iOS, Android and Kindle Fire mobile devices.

The “ScanSnap Connect” app that’s used to scan directly into your tablet or smartphone, can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store, as well as the Amazon App Store for Kindle Fire.

The scanner comes with other software I didn’t evaluate, such as ScanSnap Receipt, to intelligently and automatically extract data from receipts, and CardMinder, which automatically extracts the information from business cards into editable fields that can be exported to Outlook, Excel, Salesforce and other contact management software.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 is available for $229 through Fujitsu authorized resellers. Included is a three-month subscription to Evernote Premium. The S1100 continues to be available for $199.

Both of these products are the best portable scanners I’ve used. I’ve had the S1100 for two years, carrying it around the world without a case, and it’s been reliable and trouble-free. I expect the iX100 to be equally robust and much more convenient to use. The $30 premium for the iX100 is a small price to pay for all its new capabilities.

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When Apple upgraded its computer’s MacOS operating system to Mavericks nearly a year ago, Mail for Mac, which I’ll refer to as Mail, no longer worked well with Gmail.

It failed to retrieve email reliably. Often you’d need to wait for hours, and when the mail did arrive, it could take several minutes to fill in the body of the messages. Outgoing mail could take five or 10 minutes to send.

My solution was to bypass Mail and go online directly to gmail.com, not a very satisfying solution with Gmail’s limited features and archaic user interface. A few months ago, I moved to another computer, and when the problem followed, I began to look for a replacement for Mail.

Now, a bug such as this, while serious, is not all that unusual with a major upgrade, and the issues are often corrected in the next upgrade or two. But in update after update, in spite of Apple saying it has made fixes for Gmail, the problem has continued, and based on reading message boards, many others are still complaining. It’s now nearly a year later and Apple has not fixed the problem.

A senior customer service manager at Apple, referred by its PR department, told me that the engineers are aware of the issues with Gmail, and for now they suggest clicking on the button that takes your Mail offline for a few minutes and then clicking again to reconnect. Didn’t help.

Why should it take so long to fix? Does Apple or Google really want to solve this, or is there some secret plot by Apple to wean Apple users away from Google. Or is Google trying to take revenge on Apple? Or does Apple just not care? As I discovered, there are substitutes for Mail that don’t have the problem and work just fine.

Not by choice, but out of necessity, I’ve been looking for a Mail replacement. I’ve looked at most products and narrowed down my search to three to try: Airmail, Postbox and Unibox. Each does a good job replicating the functions of Mail, and each has its own special features and quirks.

Email programs have come a long way in making it easy to set up your mail accounts — no more manually entering information by hand. Each of these programs figured out all of the settings by just entering my email address and password for all three of my accounts.

Postbox looks the most like Mail and takes the least effort to learn. It uses the same window layout, color scheme and icon layout. Its typography design is excellent, and is easy to read even while displaying a long list of emails.

Airmail also has a similar layout to Mail, but has a jarring black window on the left serving as a background to the files lists. It can be hidden, but the color cannot be changed.

Unibox organizes email by contacts based on the date of the contact’s last email, an approach different from other products. That took some getting used to, because I normally respond to messages in chronological order or by thread, regardless of the sender.

Its sparse clean appearance is unique and attractive. Even message recipients and distribution names are hidden. But I found it too sparse and it required too many clicks to get to the information

There was a big difference in how effectively these programs retrieve, open and send email. I found new email to show up first in Airmail and PostBox. Unibox usually lagged behind, and I would see the spinning wheel on occasion after opening an email and waiting for the contents to arrive. On a few occasions I got an error that the message could not be synced.

But Apple Mail is worse. It’s usually last in downloading new email, sometimes by hours! Opening up the message and contents can take from a few seconds to more than 30 before being able to be read it. While this often occurs for many hours each day, it’s not consistent. Occasionally, for several hours over the course of a day, it will behave perfectly normal.

Over weeks of use, Airmail and Postbox have proven to be the most reliable and trouble free. Unibox occasionally forces me to wait while downloading the contents of some emails, and some units needed to be closed and opened a few times to work. A spokesman said the company is in the midst of an upgrade that should resolve many of these issues. Postbox and Unibox each enable you to switch from a mail view to an attachment view, a useful feature. And Postbox has a clever feature that reminds you to add an attachment should you try sending out an email that contains the word “attachment”.

While I focused on the products’ basic email functionality, each offers features that may cause you to prefer one over another. While Airmail does a good job at matching Mail feature for feature, Postbox seems like the next generation of Mail.

My favorite was Postbox, followed closely by Airmail. A Postbox representative told me that a new version would be released soon with more features.

Each product costs $10 and each offers a free trial. Postbox is also available for Windows.

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Apple’s announcements last week showed the strength of the company’s product design capabilities. No company can match its skills in industrial design, engineering and the integration of beautiful software and hardware. But Apple is also skilled in its ability to exaggerate. Without taking away from its accomplishments, Apple takes credit without embarrassment for features they haven’t originated.

For example, the introduction of new iPhones with larger displays comes four years after Samsung and others made that leap. For the past two years the most popular size display for other phones has been in the 5-inch range.  Just look at the offerings from Microsoft, Motorola, HTC, LG and Samsung. And Apple no longer leads the industry with the highest resolution displays. In fact, if you move from an iPhone 5S to an iPhone 6, the sharpness drops slightly.

Another example: Apple took credit for a “new” feature that enables the iPhone to dial over the Internet using WiFi when your cellular signal is poor. It announced that T-Mobile would be the first to adopt. However, Apple omitted to mention that T-Mobile has had this capability built into its phones for several years.

One of the most dramatic examples on display was the focus on the little cylindrical knob, called a crown, similar to what’s been on watches for eons. Apple calls it a digital crown and uses it to scroll, zoom and click. While the application is very clever and ingenious, the company’s video expounding it as revolutionary seemed over the top. But all of this is part of Apple’s bravado, originated by Steve Jobs, and plays to their loyal and outspoken fan base.

Now all of this is not to take away from Apple’s business acumen and often phenomenal products. One of its strategies is, in fact, not to be first in everything it does, but to wait while other companies try and fail. Then it comes up with a much better solution that’s fully thought through and well implemented, bringing along major partners to make the solution really useful. Apple takes the long view, focusing on what its customers will want and can easily use. Apple may be slow to adopt, but when it does, it’s well executed and something that resonates with the customer.

That’s what it did with Apple Pay, a way to make payments with your iPhone. Companies such as PayPal and Google have tried and failed or have yet to get off the ground. Apple may be the first to succeed because it brings along hundreds of millions of iPhone users, and the cooperation of banks and merchants.

It appears Apple has thought through security, ease of use and has the support from the major credit card companies. And its timing could not be better, with the theft of credit card information from Target, Home Depot and others.

Overall, I came away with a generally positive view of the new offerings, but intend to wait for more specifics. For example, the new iPhone 6 and 6+ offer sleeker IDs and larger displays. But Apple iPhones have had mediocre battery life, and no mention was made of whether that will be improved in spite of more power hungry displays. The reported use of scratchproof sapphire glass never materialized, possibly because it was not ready. Will that be next season’s upgrade?

Most interesting was the Apple Watch. This is not perceived as a limited purpose device like a Jawbone UP or Fitbit. It’s clearly Apple’s next platform, deserving of a new OS.  It’s the beginning.  It’s a multipurpose device that will start out performing some interesting functions, but it’s also a blank slate (or display) that can go in multiple directions, based on new software and services. It’s designed for the long run, not to be replaced with new models every year.

It displays Apple’s core capabilities such as hardware miniaturization, mechanical design and beautiful aesthetics. It’s likely the first smartwatch that both men and women would consider wearing.

Its timeless design, catering to both function and fashion, represents Apple’s entry into wearable computers. It addresses all that has been wrong with other wearable devices: size, attractiveness and functionality.

Just as few of us could envision the potential of the iPad when it was first announced — the same applies to the Apple Watch.

My take-away from the presentation is that Apple is more formidable than ever.  As Samsung comes closer to matching its capabilities in iPhones and tablets, Apple has raised the bar considerably.

The company is so good at what it does, you wonder why they have to exaggerate — but that’s Apple, and the fans love it.

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Get ready for the onslaught of smart watches punctuated by Apple’s announcement Tuesday. Smart watches and wristbands have been the hot new product category hyped by analysts, tech reporters and scores of companies that need something new to talk about and replace their maturing categories of tablets and smartphones. But based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m skeptical.

It’s been a category filled with expensive and flawed products, some even being recalled and cancelled, and a customer base that on average stops using the devices after seven months. Many companies have tried and few have succeeded.

I’ve tried several of them over the past two years and, for the most part, they are underwhelming. I’ve personally gone through the stages of awe, touting my Nike Fuel Band device; complacency, when I realized it was useful for just walking and reading the time in the dark; and finally annoyance, when I forgot to keep the device charged and it stopped working. All while my wife, Jane, kept asking why I continued to wear such an ugly rubber band, especially because it didn’t motivate me to exercise more.

She’s correct. The devices are mostly big, ugly, expensive and offer limited capabilities. They generally promise more than they deliver. And now many of their functions are available on free apps, such as Breeze.

The most useful features of the fitness bands and watches track your walking and compare your progress over time. And many tout the dubious ability to share your workout with friends on Facebook. Really? Some products, such as those from Basis and Withings, offer more health-related features, such as measuring your pulse and sleep state. While these devices are marvels of miniaturization, I found the accuracy among them lacking.

For example, distance walked and calories burned varied over a range of more than 2 to 1 among the Fitbit, Nike Fuel Band, Withings and Basis. When I tested them, none allowed you to enter your stride for accuracy, something a $15 pedometer does. Pulse measurements with the Basis and Withings were not repeatable and varied widely, and none of the devices handle bicycling, in spite of several claiming to. You’re much better off with the free apps MapMyWalk or MapMyRide.

The devices, for the most part are limited, first-generation products. It will take much more accurate sensors and better software to interpret the results and offer meaningful advice for them to become useful. While these devices can accumulate pages of data, they fail to tell you what the information all means.

The real promise of these devices is to be able to improve your health by monitoring many of your health signs and providing personal advice as to what you can do to improve, and to provide real-time information to your physician. That will take cooperation among health providers, doctors and the device manufacturer, something few companies other than Apple have the clout do.

And then there’s the question of privacy. Do we really want Google and Apple to know our health signs and risk sharing that information with others? With the recent news that photos from your phone are in the cloud and can be easily hacked, do you want your weight, exercise habits or medications to be made public by hackers?

But with all that said, I have high expectations for Apple to succeed. When Apple takes interest in a product category, the industry pays attention because the company has a history of redefining an entire category with innovations and outstanding industrial designs. While the company has its work cut out, it will be more likely to get it right.

The iPod was not the first digital player, but it redefined the category, and Apple was able to create important relationships with the record companies. And the iPhone was not the first cellular phone, but it revolutionized the mobile phone industry.

With the iWatch, as it’s been called, I expect Apple will make it part of a huge ecosystem that includes the hardware, software, apps, services and alliances with industries such as health, automotive, security, home automation as well as home appliances.

Few but Apple can get auto companies to make their locks talk to their watch, get medical providers to monitor your health signs, and persuade appliance companies to embed sensors that work with your iWatch.

Apple will find a way to make all of these disparate functions easy to access and use, as well as bring their expertise in industrial design to create a stunning timepiece. The company has the opportunity to create the next-generation watch that combines technology with an attractive piece of 21st-century jewelry.

And I expect they will add new functionality. Instead of tiny buttons, make it voice activated. Allow you to do verbal searches and get verbal answers. Use it to unlock your car, control your space by turning on lights as you walk through your house. Send you alerts that coach and remind you.

There’s a huge opportunity if it’s done right that will require a huge amount of work to miniaturize the technology, and to make it simple to use. The iWatch might just become the next big thing.

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Whatever I’m doing, I always seem to carry more technology gadgets than I need. Even though gadgets have become lighter, my bag has become heavier with many different products. Fortunately, there are some good solutions for dealing with this, as well as for those who want to travel with the smallest possible bag.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I carried a 13-inch MacBook Pro, an iPad mini, chargers for each, an iPhone 5S, an HTC One M8, a Ricoh GR pocket camera, its charger and an extra battery, a music player, Sennheiser Momentum headphones, numerous cables, a paper notebook, a bunch of pens, keys, business cards, and some reading material.

The challenge is to find a bag that does a good job organizing all the stuff while allowing you to find things quickly. Sometimes too many pockets mean extra searching, while too few mean your items are all mixed together with tangles cords.

One solution can be found in the bags from Glaser Design, a San Francisco company run by Myron and Kari Glaser. Myron told me that a vertical briefcase is an inefficient way to carry technology stuff because everything simply drops to the bottom of the bag.

The company has developed a series of modules designed to precisely fit in Glaser’s bags and allow you to store your items and easily retrieve them. They include translucent zippered organizers for your chargers and small items, a presentation binder for paper, a padded panel with movable pockets for pens, phones and business cards, and a variety of removable pockets for a computer. One even transforms into an under arm portfolio.

Leather briefcase with modules from Glaser Designs

While their products are not inexpensive, they are a much better value than designer products that cost even more. Bags begin at about $1,000 and can reach $2000, but they are considered by their worldwide clients to be the best you can buy anywhere. Accessories cost $50 and up, and of course they can be used in any bag. Myron offers free Skype consultation calls in which he will work with you to design a bag for your specific needs. (http://glaserdesigns.wordpress.com).

Some of the most innovative designs these days are coming from Tumi, which has embraced the needs of technology users. Once known for just a few conservative products such as roller bags and men’s ballistic nylon briefcases with a few pockets, they now offer hundreds of products for men and women designed for carrying technology.

For example, Tumi has developed a line of business-oriented backpacks. One of their newest and best is the Kingsville deluxe brief pack, which is exceptionally lightweight and offers a huge amount of space for items of all shapes and sizes.

The ballistic nylon backpack with leather trim has compartments for up to a 15-inch notebook, an iPad, phones, a large pair of headphones and cameras of all sizes. It’s also designed to slide over the handle of a suitcase, much like a briefcase. With a narrower width than a briefcase, it rolls right down the aisle on top of a suitcase. The 17-inch by 12-inch by 7.25-inch model is much more practical than a briefcase for holding bulky items. (tumi.com) $455.

Looking for a minimalist bag? Waterfield Design in San Francisco just introduced a vertical bag that’s lightweight and fashionable. The VertiGo 2.0 Laptop Bag is more like a large men’s handbag that also can carry your tablet or notebook. It comes in black ballistic, brown waxed canvas, with black or chocolate leather. There’s a front pocket with magnet closure, a zippered inside and two open pockets inside, an open back pocket, and key fob. There are handles and a shoulder strap.

The bag comes in three sizes and costs from $129 to $159 in a choice of colors, and is custom made in 3 days from when you place your order. (www.sfbags.com).

For the minimalist who wants to carry just a notebook and iPad in the smallest size package, look at the Thule Stravan Deluxe Attache Case, available exclusively at Apple Stores. It’s a well-padded case with a plush lining that precisely fits a 13-inch MacBook Pro or Air and an iPad, with separate pockets for the chargers and a phone. It also has tuck-away handles and a shoulder strap. $80.

For a wheeled case, I like the Briggs and Riley U116SP Baseline Rolling Cabin Bag, which offers a huge amount of space to carry your office on the go. Its main compartment is not encumbered by partitions, so you can even carry a briefcase inside. It fits perfectly under an airplane seat and easily glides down airport corridors on four wheels. (www.briggs-riley.com) $349.

Another great choice for a minimalist bag is Levenger’s Bomber Jacket Tech Traveler Briefcase. It’s a compact case made of Levenger’s heavy duty pebbled mocha-colored leather with plaid lining that snuggly fits an iPad, even in a case. It has a soft neoprene interior and several interior pockets, and comes with a shoulder strap and handles. (www.levenger.com) $179.

Searching for the perfect briefcase is an addiction many of us have. Each of these companies offers lots of different bags that will keep that addiction alive.

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Both Apple and Samsung are poised to introduce new smartphones in early September. It’s a yearly ritual that highlights the intense competition between the two leading phone makers, each vying to outdo the other. Most expect Apple to release an iPhone design with a larger 4.7-inch display and Samsung to release a Galaxy 5 with a more substantial enclosure.

But while these two companies are fighting it out, they’re beginning to face serious competition from some fast-growing competitors in China. I got a preview when I was there in July and saw how many consumers were moving away from Samsung and Apple and buying new products from Chinese phone makers, specifically Xiaomi and Huawei.

These companies were offering phones unlike what I’d previously seen in China — not the poorly made crude knockoffs with buggy software, but solidly constructed devices that look and work much like Samsung models. All of these phones run Android, the free operating system from Google.

Surprisingly, they are less than half the price of comparable Samsung models. Where a Samsung Galaxy or Note costs about $650, these phones retail for $150 to $300, and come unlocked.

China’s Huawei is now the world’s third-largest phone manufacturer, behind Samsung and Apple. Xiaomi has captured 21 percent of the sales in China compared to Samsung’s 23 percent, Apple’s 16 percent and Huawei’s 8 percent, and is expected to be No. 1 in sales in China this year. Huawei, focused more on the international market, is forecast to sell more than 100 million phones worldwide this year, double from last year. Both of these companies offer a wide variety of models, with most under $300.

I’ve been testing one of Huawei’s latest models, the Ascend Mate 2. It looks much like the Samsung Note with its thin profile and large 6.1-inch display. It’s in the phablet category, measuring 6.34 by 3.33 by 0.37 inches and weighing 7.13 ounces. That compares to the latest Note 3 measuring 5.95 by 3.12 by 0.33 inches and weighing 5.93 ounces. The Note, it should be noted, also has a digitizer that allows writing with its included stylus.

But as a full-featured phone, the Huawei is a bargain. Its display is a high-quality LCD (720 by 1280 pixels, 241 ppi), and a 13mp camera with autofocus, face and smile detection, geo tagging for selfies and Skype.

It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad core processor, has 16 GB memory expandable using up to a 64 GB micro SD card. One of its biggest features (literally) is a whopping 3,900 mAh non-removable battery that provides about two days of use. That compares with the Note’s 3,200 mAh cell and the iPhone with 1,450 mAh.

The Mate2 fully supports AT&T, T-Mobile and any GSM provider in the United States. This includes some of the no-contract MVNOs (mobile virtual network operator) such as Straight Talk, Cricket, and MetroPCS. I tried the phone on a Net 10 MVNO and the phone worked well.

The phone makes a few compromises. The display has about a third lower resolution than a top Samsung phone, yet in my use the display was plenty sharp for reading text and showed no pixilation.

Because Google provides the software, operationally there’s very little difference between this phone and other Android models. Each company offers its own user interface on top of the basic Android design. I preferred the Huawei UI over Samsung because its interface was simple and more iPhone-like, and it wasn’t loaded up with lots of crapware and hard-to-use utilities, something Samsung is notorious for doing. As a result, the Huawei is truer to Google’s reference design.

I found the phone’s size had both pluses and minuses. I liked the fact that the keyboard is larger and I made far fewer typing mistakes than on my HTC with a 5-inch display. It was also easier to browse and read websites such as The New York Times. On the other hand, the phone can barely be used with one hand. Huawei adds a clever utility that provides soft keys such as “back” and “home” to the edge of the display that make it easier to access with one hand.

As to support, Huawei says phones sold in the United States through the website will come with up to a two-year warranty, including U.S.-based customer support over the phone, and free return shipping. The phone is not sold through any carrier partners, only on GetHuawei.com and Amazon.com.

Clearly, this is one of the best phone bargains I’ve come across. Both Huawei and Xiomi have full lines of phones, most of which offer big savings over other Android makes.

What does this mean for the future? I would expect these companies to hurt Samsung most of all, who has led the Android phone market. Apple also needs to be wary. This is the start of full-featured, powerful smartphones at prices unimaginable just a few years ago.

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My wife and I just returned from a two-week vacation visiting Oslo, Bergen and the fjords in Norway, and several towns in Normandy and the Loire Valley in France. I was able to try out some products — not to make work more efficient, but to help make our vacation run smoothly. We carried a MacBook, iPad, and two phones, a Verizon iPhone and T-Mobile HTC One.

Getting connected was less important for email and work, and more important to get in touch with the surroundings to make good choices and better use of our time. WiFi connections at the many hotels we stayed in were free, but in several of them the service was too slow or erratic for browsing or making Skype calls.

While I tried T-Mobile’s new international plan in China a couple of months ago and found it to work well, this was my first time trying it in Europe. Like almost everywhere else in the world, T-Mobile offers free data and phone calls for just 20 cents a minute.

Not surprisingly, it turned out to be the most useful gadget we brought. Last time I was in Europe, I was reluctant to use my Verizon phone for data of any kind, fearful of all those exorbitant international roaming charges. I had to be extra careful: Turn it on, check out directions or a restaurant, and quickly put it back on airplane mode. Even then, I paid nearly $200 for a week of carefully monitored use.

With the T-Mobile service, there were no concerns, no worries and everything worked much as it does at home. We used data for getting directions, checking out restaurant reviews and researching the areas we visited. We gave out our phone number without a concern, knowing that a short call might cost $10 or $20 on other carriers. We made local calls, calls back home and even responded to some email messages. And we used Yelp to find local restaurants and visited the websites to check menus.

Our data connection varied from 2G to 4G, depending on location. It was mostly 3G and 4G in and near cities. 2G data, mostly in the countryside, was marginal and you wouldn’t want to browse, but it usually worked for directions and email. And with a feeling of satisfaction, we used the T-Mobile phone’s hotspot to connect my wife’s iPad and my Verizon iPhone to the Internet to check mail and make a Skype call.

In France, where we rented a car, our most important use was accessing the phone’s GPS. However, we found Google Maps to be disappointing and not nearly as good as it is in the United States. It occasionally got confused and led us astray, once when we were driving to a famous chateau in France and another time driving to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

On several walking excursions, it sent us to the wrong location and didn’t seem to know where we were. When searching for a destination, it often failed to return directions. No matter how we set it, the directions that it did give seemed to be the shortest route between two points, no matter that it was through a farmer’s cornfield!

Most noticeable was its abysmal pronunciation of French street names, even well-known names. For example, “Voltaire” was pronounced as Vault-er. I can understand the app doesn’t speak French, but to mispronounce so many words so badly made the speech nearly unrecognizable.

On the other hand, Waze, now owned by Google, worked much better. It instantly found routes, offered detours around traffic and identified accidents on the highway.

I also took along a new Garmin GPS to try out. Before I left home, Garmin had provided me a subscription to their European maps ($100). But loading the maps was a complicated process: I had to register the GPS unit by plugging it into the computer and it took several attempts to be recognized.

I then downloaded the maps onto a microSD card in the device; that took almost an hour over a fast home cable Internet connection. When I was all done, and it told me it was successful, I tried checking for the maps on the GPS, but the simplified user interface had no way to let me check its map contents, as best as I could tell.

When I arrived in Norway and again in France and turned on the GPS, it failed to show any local directions or destinations. Even if it had worked, with such complexity, I’m sad to say the Garmin is no longer competitive for either cost or ease of use.

One of the frustrations in visiting Europe is that U.S. banks still don’t offer chip and PIN credit cards. They’re standard in Europe and provide greater security because your information is read from a chip imbedded in the card — not the magnetic stripe — and it requires you to enter a PIN number. Shopkeepers bring you a handheld terminal so you always have your card in your possession.

Some credit card companies (American Express, Chase, and Citibank) offer a card with a chip, but you often have to request it, and it’s available only on premium accounts. While we were able to make purchases and pay for meals, we ran into trouble paying highways tolls and buying gas. The cards didn’t work for either, and we needed to use cash. This is just one area where we are behind in technology.

According to milecards.com, the only issuers of chip and PIN in the United States are State Department Federal Credit Union EMV Visa Platinum, Andrews Federal Credit Union, GlobeTrek Visa, PenFed’s Platinum Rewards, Promise & Gold Visa, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard.

I took along a few other products that proved useful: a portable power strip that turns one outlet into three, something very useful with most hotel rooms having a scarcity of outlets. I used the Travelocity 3 Port Travel Outlet for $15. It’s the smallest one I could find, but there are similar units from Belkin and Monster. You just use it with an outlet plug converter such as the OREI Grounded Universal 2 in 1 Schuko Plug Adapter from Amazon ($6.25), and you can charge three items at once.

I traveled with a $75 ScottEVest Pack Jacket. This lightweight jacket with a rain hood took very little space to pack, and was vital during the many rainy days. Its 16 pockets were perfect for protecting my camera and phones and even holding an umbrella and mini-iPad. (www.scottevest.com)

On the last night of our stay we found online that a flight to San Diego opened up where we could use our mileage for super saver awards, so we wouldn’t need to fly into LAX and rent a car to drive home. I immediately called United Airlines from the hotel room using Skype, knowing it would be a lengthy call. But Skype was not working well, so I redialed using the T-Mobile phone. Even a 20-minute call was only $4 and the connection was superb.

The bottom line is, if you travel internationally, it’s important to take the right gadgets. As it turned out, I used mostly the T-Mobile phone and notebook computer. I would have left the other devices home. Most important, taking along a T-Mobile phone will save you a fortune and make your trip easier and more enjoyable.

If you do consider T-Mobile, one caution is that it doesn’t have as big a data network as Verizon and AT&T across the United States, so check your local coverage. My experience over the four months of use is its coverage has been more than adequate for me throughout Southern and Northern California.

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