Need some ideas for holiday gifts? Here’s a selection of products, many of which are new this year, and that I’ve tried and liked.
Sonos Play 1 and Playbar: Sonos, the company that invented wireless audio systems that play music in multiple rooms and from multiple sources, has two new products. The new Play 1 ($200) is its lowest cost powered/connected speaker that’s simple to set up and can play the tunes on your computer, Pandora, Spotify, Internet radio and XM/Sirius, all controlled by an app on your iPhone or Android. The second product, the Playbar ($700), is designed to provide surround sound from your HDTV, as well as deliver the same audio content as their other products. (sonos.com)
Orbita Watch Winder: Orbita, a North Carolina company, reinvented the watch winder more than a decade ago and makes some of the best-designed (and expensive) devices to wind automatic mechanical watches. It’s perfect for those who have more than one timepiece and don’t want to constantly reset it. Orbita now offers a moderately priced line that uses much of its inventive technology. The Sparta Bold model operates with D-cell batteries that last for many years and uses the company’s rotorwind technology that simulates the actual wearing of the watch. It’s absolutely silent so it can even sit on your nightable. (from $295,Orbita.com)
iPad Air: The iPad Air is Apple’s latest model and the company’s best ever. Most notably it’s 30 percent lighter, has a sharper display and runs faster. While you can pay less for a tablet, nothing matches its ease of use and the breadth of apps that are available for it. $499 for the 16GB version. (Spoiler alert — this is what I’m getting my wife!)
MotoX Phone: Motorola’s MotoX Android smartphone is a fine Android phone that gets everything right. In particular, it has a nice 4.7-inch Amoled screen size, likely the same size as on the next iPhone. It’s attractively slim, feels good in the hand and doesn’t add lots of junk software or a complicated interface that other Android phone makers do. Because of its association with Google, it’s already been upgraded to the latest KitKat version of Android OS and it’s becoming a showcase for inventive ideas from their new research group led by Regina Dugan, formerly head of DARPA. Users were recently treated to an entertaining animated video, “Windy Day,” created by a Pixar producer that uses virtual reality. Expect more surprises throughout the year. From free to $99 with a new account at most of the carriers.
Tumi Brooks Slim Brief perfectly sized bag: I buy many more computer bags than I can ever use, but I’m always searching for that perfect one. This is close to that: a lightweight bag that’s perfectly sized for carrying a 13-inch notebook and tablet, with pockets for each. It’s just 11″ x 15″ x 4″ yet has a number of outside pockets for carrying power supplies, cords, a water bottle, cards, pens, keys and other essentials. It has a back zipper pocket to fit over a rollerboard handle and is small enough to pass for a large man-bag as well. ($325, tumi.com).
Casio Digital Watch GBX6900: We’re still waiting for the true iWatch that many, including me, expected by now. While Samsung has pre-empted Apple with its Galaxy Gear watch, it’s huge, clumsy, not very useful and limited to using with a few Samsung phones. Casio’s latest second-generation G-Shock Bluetooth watch is a better bet. It connects with most smartphones to control the music player and display alerts such as incoming email. The smartphone can be used to set many of a watch’s functions as well, such as the alarm, countdown timer and world time. ($200, gshock.com)
Gene Café Home Coffee roaster: One product I’m testing for an upcoming review is the Gene Café home coffee roaster. This may be the present I’ll ask for. So far I’ve found it roasts green coffee beans — costing about a third of roasted coffee — with little effort and great results…most of the time. Expect a full review in a few weeks. ($515,batchcoffee.com)
Leica M Digital Camera: There are so many great cameras available this year that it’s hard to pick the best one. It’s now more a matter of what you preferences are for features, size, handling and looks. Some of best include the Sony RX100II, Fuji x100s, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 and LX7, and the Olympus OM-D E-M1. But my favorite is the Leica M Digital, the company’s new rangefinder camera with an up-to-date full-size 24MP sensor. It costs as much as Canon’s top professional EOS-1D X DSLR ($7,000), but is more compact and is Leica’s best digital camera ever. In my month of testing, it’s taken fabulous images using the 50mm 2.0 Summicron lens. It’s best for those photographers who want to savor the moment and take their time composing, focusing and shooting rather than capturing images quickly. And it’s compact enough to carry almost everywhere in a briefcase or computer bag. (us.leica-camera.com)
Keyport Slide: This is a clever device that reduces the bulk of carrying lots of keys and other items in your pocket. The Keyport Slide is replacement for the conventional keychain by consolidating those items we carry everywhere, including keys, USB flash drive, flashlight and bottle opener into a single, streamlined device that fits your pocket.
It can hold up to six keys and other tools in the same volume as a box of Tic Tacs and provides quick access to each with the slide of a thumb. Keyport has created a way to replace the wide range of large, oddly shaped key heads with its own patented, universal head that is only slightly larger than the stem of the key. A complete Keyport Slide 2.0 plus 6 Standard Blades is $58.94. (mykeyport.com)
CCRadio from C.Crane: When I reviewed it earlier this year I found this little radio to perform nearly as well as the company’s famous full-size model. It can pull in stations from hundreds of miles away, and is well-engineered and intuitive to use. It has a built-in speaker, 55 station presets, and AM, FM and weather bands. It also has a large LCD lighted display, sleep timer, clock, alarm, battery meter, signal meter and removable belt clip. It uses two AA batteries providing 75 hours of earphone listening. ($60, ccrane.com)
Lenovo 7” Yoga tablet: Not an Apple enthusiast? This is one of the most original tablet designs ever and I like it a lot. The Yoga is a very thin device with a cylindrical tube running down one side, resembling an Apple keyboard. The cylinder holds the batteries and, doubles as a handle and a serves as the hinge point for a really solid stand. As a result, it’s easy to hold, provides a 15-hour battery life, and is easy to stand next to your computer to use as a second display. I’ve used it for book reading and then sit it on my desk with Gmail open to see my incoming email. While its processor and display’s 1,280 x 800 pixels are just adequate, the aluminum housing and build construction are outstanding. ($249, Lenovo.com)
Orbita Lighthouse LED Flashlight: Think of a miniature lighthouse with multiple LEDs on top and around its circumference. It’s Orbita’s new Lighthouse combination pocket beacon and lantern that emits 350 lumens of intense white light, selectable in six different patterns with lamps rated for 100,000 hours. The construction is all stainless steel with a sapphire lens, polished aluminum reflector, and rechargeable lithium-Ion battery. It uses Cree technology, (the leading U.S. LED company). Great for emergency use, camping or carrying with you in your briefcase. ($235,orbita.com)
Baker is the author of “From Concept to Consumer,” published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to email@example.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.Read More...