Author Archives: Joy LeMarche

Joy LeMarche

About Joy LeMarche

When Joy LeMarche is not playing with new gadgets, she’s writing about them. She can be reached at lemarchejoy@gmail.com.

Ultrabooks

Four Ultrabooks Rising To The Top

If you’ve been watching the laptop market recently, you’ve noticed the buzz around “ultrabooks,” a new breed of laptops coming out from every major PC manufacturer.

Ultrabooks blur the lines between notebook, tablet and high-powered machine; they go for around $1,000 (give or take) and have evolved significantly since their big introduction earlier this year. Ultrabooks are marked by a sleek, slim design, light-weight (less than four pounds), touch screen features and super long battery life. The major ultrabook players like Intel and HP are promising GPS integration, voice and gesture capabilities as soon as the holidays roll around. The market is definitely heating up.

Here are four ultrabooks rising to the top that could perform beautifully for your business:

HP Envy 14 Spectre comes equipped with a nine-hour battery life, Intel Wireless Display, HP’s CoolSense technology and premium software like Photoshop and a two-year subscription to Norton Internet Security. It weighs in at a hefty 3.8 pounds, and also comes with a slightly hefty price tag as far as ultrabooks go — $1,400. If you like HP but don’t like the cost of the Spectre, check out the…

HP Folio 13-1020us is priced at just $899.99 and 3.25 pounds. Eventually all ultrabooks will come in below $1,000, as this will be a category definer. But we’re likely a year or so away from that. In the meantime, the HP Folio is a beautifully designed and beautifully powered ultrabook. With premium LED lighting (though some reviewers think it could be better), it also features 1.6GHz, dual-core Intel Core i5-2467M processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory, just like some of the bigger books.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is a super slim, super light (three pounds) carbon ultrabook with a beautiful 14-inch high-resolution (1,600 x 900) display. Inside of this executive-geared book is Intel’s third-generation “Ivy Bridge” Core processor with vPro manageability features. The company boasts that the battery can be almost fully recharged in 30 minutes, but hasn’t yet disclosed exact battery life. If it’s anything like it’s ultrabook family, users are looking at eight or more solid hours of battery life. James Bond bonus: there’s a fingerprint reader for added security.

If you want to call yourself an early adopter, then get in line for what’s being touted as the thinnest and lightest ultrabook of all — and this one comes with a secret back door. The Acer S5 will be available this week for an estimated $1,400. It has the 3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3517U Processor with Turbo Boost Technology. Weighing in at just 2.65 pounds (yowza) and with a 13-inch LED back lit display, this machine is as attractive as it is useful. Under the hood are components that can handle anything you want to run, including hefty video and multi-media content. What reviewers love the most, however, is a tiny door at bottom of the book that opens up at the touch of a button to reveal the ports-and-connections block, including HDMI and Thunderbolt.

If you’re still not sure if ultrabooks are strong enough for your business needs, it wouldn’t hurt to hold out another year. There will be a plethora to choose from, especially after next year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES); and most of them will have inched their way to that $1,000-a-pop threshold. So you if can make your existing technology hold out a little while longer, it could be well worth it.

Mint.com screenshot

Five Great Apps For Mobile Finance

Mobile finance is about to boom (some say we’re already there). You may have dabbled a little with your own bank’s mobile app for easy money transfers and to check balances. Or you might be quite savvy with Google Wallet and PayPal on your phone. There are a myriad of new apps to help you with all of your financial needs and are great for both personal and business use.

Most of these apps are available across Apple, Android and Blackberry platforms, and new ones are coming out every week. They help with everything from debt reduction, to managing how payments, to investing.

Here are five mobile finance apps to check out:

Debt Tracker

Most Americans are carrying some debt right now, and businesses are no exception. Debt Tracker helps you store all of your debt information in one place, plan how to pay it off quickly, and it calculates how long it will take you to pay off each debt. This app subscribes to the popular “snowball theory” of debt-repayment — where you aggressively pay off one debt at a time, while paying the minimums to the rest — and has tools to help guide you through. Free and paid versions are available.

Mint

You’ve probably heard of Mint.com, as one of the first free and easy-to-use budgeting tools to hit the Web. This app is free and connects your phone to your bank accounts. It helps you track spending, and stick to a budget. The features in both the online version and the app make it almost a no-brainer, doing all of the hard work for you. If you’re trying to stick to a budget, this is a dependable way to go.

Pageonce

This company claims to manage all of your financial data, and lets you pay bills, from one simple app. They also claim to take security quite seriously, which is important for anyone accessing financial data online. Keep in mind that the payment card industry hasn’t kept up with mobile transactions, in terms of security standards. Anyone who accesses financial information via a mobile device should heed this. However, Pageonce makes a point of touting security as one of the best values of this application.

BillTracker

Sometimes you just forget to pay a bill. It happens to even the most responsible of us. BillTracker keeps you in line and lets you know when bills are due, so you’ll never suffer from a late fee again.

iExpense

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little financial planner in your pocket? That’s the point of this nifty app. iExpense does more than just help you budget and make payments, it actually gives you advice on how to achieve financial goals — whatever those goals are. This app was designed by financial advisors. While it can’t quite replace a real professional, it can act almost like a coach to keep you in line between that annual visit with your planner.

Just keep in mind that mobile finance apps like these are only as good as the person using them. They won’t suddenly make you a financial guru or do all of the work for you. But they can help keep you in line to achieve your financial goals — whatever they may be.

iPad

The New iPad Vs. iPad 2

I heard a colleague pondering out loud the other day about the new iPad. He felt that because this tablet is now three generations in, it’s probably time to get one. So I asked him, “Why get the new one when you can get an iPad 2 refurbished for half the cost?” (In case you haven’t been following, I’m a sucker for second-hand). In truth though, even a new iPad 2 is still cheaper than the most recent iteration, and it’s almost as good.

So this was an honest question. The iPad 2 is incredible — beautiful display, fast, sleek, dual-core processor and a camera. My colleague looked at me like I had grown another head. For him, it was the new iPad or nothing, though I’m not sure he had a valid reason other than it was the new, shiny toy on the market.

For those of you wondering what you can get from the new iPad and if it’s worth the cost, here’s a run-down of its key features:

5MP iSight Camera

Well there’s that. Rabid iPad fans have been waiting for this feature, especially as people turn to their tablet to store pictures and create amazing-looking online scrapbooks. For those not into manual camera tinkering, this camera has features like auto focus, tap to focus, and tap to set exposure functions. In other words, it’ll be hard not to take amazing photos. You can also record 1080p HD video on this iPad, which is great for those who like to record and store stills and video all in one place. But unless you’re a camera junkie, you may not even notice a difference between this and the camera on the iPad 2.

Improved display

Apple is making a big hubbub over the retina display in the new iPad, claiming that it makes images, movies and text remarkably more clear. I’m not entirely sold. Again, to the average, not-terribly-geeked-out eyes, the difference is minimal. The iPad 2 was a substantial improvement over the first iPad. While Apple says it has done it again, and the technical data is there, I’m not calling this as a game changer.

Speed

The new iPad is built for speed. That is, it’s built for the 4G network. It claims to work beautifully on both AT&T and Verizon, and can even support a SIM card. Something else kind of nice, especially for the executive who uses an iPad for work, you can use the iPad as a hotspot. If your carrier supports it, iPad can connect wireless for up to five devices over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB. Not too shabby.

iCloud

The iCloud was one of the best releases for Apple in the last year. For business executives who are nervous about storing content on mobile devices, the iCloud can be seen as a lifesaver. I recently lost my iPhone and was able to quickly track it down using iCloud, then swipe all of the content off my phone, remotely, when I saw that the phone had been picked up by an evil thief. Restoring everything to a new device took mere minutes. And aside from the 20 minutes I spent watching my phone drive through Scottsdale via Google Maps, the iCloud saved me from a lot of anguish. Mostly, I wasn’t concerned that confidential data would be taken from my phone because I had total control, remotely, to save that data and plant it on a new device. Because so many more people are taking the iPad to work, this is absolutely a must. Of course, you can get this with your iPad 2.

To conclude, the third generation iPad is a beautiful device but may not be worth the cost for the first time iPad buyer. Instead, I would recommend it for folks who bought a first generation iPad and are ready for an upgrade. There are significant differences between these two versions. But if you were smart enough to purchase the iPad 2 last year, my advice is to hold on to it and get your money’s worth for another year.

Streaming Devices

Add Streaming Devices As Inexpensive Additions To The Office

Streaming media has become a regular part of many home entertainment choices, with folks (myself included), choosing Netflix, Amazon, and HBO Go instead of scheduled programming or even On Demand. And now many streaming devices have gaming channels, music, and the ability to run personal apps like Facebook and Picasa.

Streaming media devices can also be an inexpensive and cool addition to the office. Most businesses are setting up flat panel screens in their conference rooms and lobbies for better presentation viewing, adding visual elements during meetings, and entertainment for clients as they wait. In open office environments, which house many start ups, screens are usually set to news channels all day long. Connecting an inexpensive streaming media device can break up the monotony with music, pictures from the last office happy hour, and the occasional stress busting game of Angry Birds.

How to choose? Here are some of the best streaming devices for your money:

Roku

Roku wasn’t the original but it appears to be innovating the fastest in the streaming industry and currently has the most choices. Roku has four models, ranging from $49 to $100. Every Roku device gives you access to over 400 channels and growing, with the more expensive models featuring HD video support, a remote for motion control with games, and USB port. Just last month Roku announced a streaming “stick” that will deliver all the joy of streaming from something the size of a jump drive. It’s a solid bet, and you can’t beat the price tag.

Apple TV

I recommend this with reservations because I think the real Apple TV, predicted to debut this fall (or winter, or next spring), will come with streaming technology built inside. But just in case I’m wrong, or if your business has a bonified Apple ecosystem going, then Apple TV is the streaming device for you. Apple TV is the only streaming box compatible with iTunes and AirPlay, which lets you stream content from your iPad and iPhone – both of which are often used as business tools. Apple TV doesn’t have as many channels a Roku, and sits at the high end at $99. But it’s a reliable, great device that will complete your hipster system.

Boxee

Boxee might be the original streaming device, and possibly ahead of its time. I first saw Boxee a few years ago at a Wired party at CES. It was one of 10 or so gadgets on display and everyone who saw it couldn’t lift their jaw off the floor. As is often the case with first-on-the-scene gadgets, Boxee got a little overshadowed by other streaming devices with bigger marketing budgets than this start up. It’s still holding it’s own though, and is actually a great device from a company that continues to innovate. The company just announced Boxee LiveTV, which lets you stream live sports, local news, special events, and shows from your local broadcast stations via an HD antenna. Like other streaming devices you can get all of the great Internet channels such as Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and apps like Facebook. Boxee costs $167, making it the most expensive of these options.

There are several more options enterting the market, and it’s probable that in the next few years the TVs we buy (not just from Apple) will contain this tech inside and we’ll order streaming services from cable. But until then, $100 or less to widen your media capability in the office is a good buy.

CES 2012

The Best Of The Consumer Electronics Show, CES 2012

Another year, another Consumer Electronics Show. Forgive my late “best of” blog; I had to rest a little after this year’s show. Every year I tell myself I’ll have a plan of attack, and every year I find myself wandering way off track and aimlessly between the halls — no bother as it’s hard to turn any corner at the International CES 2012 and not find something incredibly cool.

I didn’t get a look at Snookie or the Beib’s, but I did see some really cool innovations. Here’s a list of the best in the most popular categories.

Ultrabooks

Haven’t you heard? Laptops had to re-brand. At the show this year, it was all about the Ultrabooks; these are laptops that meshed the lines between notebook, tablet and high-powered machine — for around $1,000.

One might not think Lenovo, akin to the clunky ThinkPad, could produce something absolutely elegant in this category. They did. Enter the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. The beautiful machine has a slim but sturdy frame, advanced multi-touch, Windows 8, and … wait for it … the double-hinge design lets you use it as a tablet or a notebook. Pick your poison.

Coming this February is the HP Envy 14 Spectre, equipped with a nine-hour battery life, Intel Wireless Display, HP’s CoolSense technology and premium software, including Photoshop, and a two-year subscription to Norton Internet Security. And, by the way, it’s stunning. This Ultrabook is a tad heavier than the others debuted at the show, weighing in at a hefty 3.8 pounds. And its price tag is a smidge heavier, too, at $1,400.

Tablets

Last year was all about tablet-mania at CES. This year, we got to see some serious next-generation goodies.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab really caught my eye as a nice improvement over last year. Samsung is calling their Galaxy Tab 7.7 the thinnest and lightest of Samsung’s tablet line.  It’s the first tablet with a 7.7 inch Super AMOLED Plus display at a 1280-by-800-pixel resolution. The screen is incredible, and gamers will like the vivid lighting and color display. This tablet will only be available through Verizon for now, but here’s hoping that will expand to other carriers by the end of the year.

Android, of course, had a big year again, powering some of the best tablets and smartphones being shown. One example that created quite a bit of buzz at the show was the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime. This beauty runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (yum) and is extremely powerful for a tablet. Playing with this, you may realize you don’t need a laptop at all. Asus announced at the show that the Prime will have a 1080p panel to boot, making the display unparalleled. It’s also blazing fast with a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor that will be appreciated by serious business users and gamers alike.

Smartphones

Speaking of Android, smartphones featuring the new Ice Cream Sandwich OS abounded. I was really impressed with Sony’s venture into the smartphone world, launching the Sony Xperia Ion through AT&T. This phone, also a gaming device, has a very nice 720p glass screen and a 12-megapixel camera. Its dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor is in there to handle PlayStation games as well as other media, such as music and videos. Right now it’s running on Android Gingerbread, but Sony promises an upgrade later this year.

The LG Spectrum was a great example of something else new this year — HD smartphones. This device also sported a 720p screen but with advanced HD features that make text, images and color on the screen really pop. There’s even an HD-specific app store (HD Angry Birds?). Like the Sony Xperia, right now this slim Spectrum is just running on Gingerbread, but an upgrade soon to ICS is promised by the summer.

For more information about CES 2012, visit cesweb.org.

 

2011 Holiday Gift Guide

2011 Holiday Gadget Guide

2011 Holiday Gadget Guide

It’s that time of year when companies start thinking about what shwag they will bestow on employees, colleagues and clients. ‘Tis the gift that keeps on tweeting? If you’re like many executives, you have a list of who will get a card, a list of who will get a box of Fairytale Brownies (please add me to this list) and a list of who will get something extra special.

Here are some suggestions — your holiday gadget guide — to make the most special on your list the most happy, all under $250:

Kindle Fire

It’s tablet mania out there, and the Kindle Fire, in my book, is one of the coolest tablets you can give for the price. Blazing fast browsing, access to just as much content as any other tablet including movies, magazines and tons of free videos and books for Amazon Prime members. Kindle is giving Nook a run for its money with this tablet. And with access to the endlessly growing Android Market, it’s also a pretty good productivity tool. This 7-inch tablet, as well as the price tag, are extremely lightweight. At $199, it’s my top recommendation for a holiday gadget gift.

Kodak PlaySport Zx5

If a Flip Video is out of your price range, the Kodak PlaySport Zx5 is a great choice. This mini-camcorder captures great video on the go as it’s small enough to tote in a pocket or purse. The camera itself is fairly durable, as the company says it’s shockproof and waterproof (though I don’t know if I’d take it in the pool “just to be sure”). It does have a built-in USB connector like the Flip, but rumors are the battery life isn’t too shabby. Starts at $108 on the company’s website.

Roku XDS

It may not come in handy during meetings; in fact, it may even hinder productivity for the work-at-home types. But whoever receives this little streaming media hockey puck will love it. The Roku XDS gives you a gateway to hundreds of online channels through your TV, including Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Pandora Radio. It also has a growing selection of games, such as Angry Birds, which is free. The small remote also serves as a gaming tool. It’s listed on the site for $99, but I found it as low as $79 on some sites like Amazon boasting holiday specials. Bonus: Roku just released the Roku LT for $50. Doesn’t have as much content, like Angry Birds, but it does the job.

DodoCase

I wrote about the DodoCase earlier this year, and it’s still my top pick for a iPad case. If someone on your list uses an iPad (first generation or iPad 2) and suffers from boring-case-syndrome, you can give them this fix. The DodoCase is a throwback to the elegance of classic book-binding, as the cases are actually handmade in an old book-binding factory in San Francisco. It’s made out of eco-friendly bamboo on the inside to protect the tablet and makes you really feel like you’re opening up a book when you use it. It’s sophisticated in design and now comes in a variety of cool color and design choices. Starts at $59. www.dodocase.com

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W570

A really nice point-and-shoot is a great gift as many people rely on their smartphones for cameras, and sometimes those just don’t cut it. The Sony Cyber-shot is a relatively inexpensive camera with some great little features. The W570 is easy to pocket and has a decent flash — a solid wide-angle lens and a 5x zoom. Starting at $139, this is a great deal.

Online Productivity Tools for Business

Online Productivity Tools For Small And Large Businesses

Online productivity tools: There is a growing category of apps that aim to help businesses be more productive. The problem is, it’s such a broad category and includes hundreds of different solutions depending on what is needed to be more “productive.” An IT department in a large company, for instance, has a very different idea of productivity than a small marketing agency.

But there are some tools that span industries and can be applied to large teams or even large businesses.

Here’s a look at four online productivity tools to helps execs:

Basecamp

Basecamp is catching on as a powerful project management and collaboration tool for businesses in the small-size range, in just about any industry.

The company that developed it, 37 Signals, has taken users away from the charts, graphs and complex analytics that seem to jazz up big company execs and has put the focus on simple UI, organization and collaboration.

For freelancers and small companies, Basecamp provides a really great way to get all of your projects and the tasks associated organized and transparent for the entire team.

One great feature is that you can share projects with clients and invite them to collaborate, reducing some exporting and sharing, while giving insight as to where you are in each project scope.

Pricing starts at $49 for 35 projects and goes up from there.

Easy Projects .NET

Easy Projects .NET is similar to Basecamp, but it’s probably better for mid-size or large companies that need bit more robustness in their reports and features.

It includes all that great charting, graphing and other reporting features that are more in tune with a large company workflow.

Keeping in mind that managers will use it to stay on track of their teams’ output, Easy Projects .NET includes a unique page called My Assignments, designed to help
 manage the day-to-day activities. Managers and users can tag higher priority items, set deadlines within the app, log time on tasks, share files and post comments.

Don’t want your boss on your back? Easy Projects .NET communicates progress on tasks to the people who need to know. This can certainly reduce time usually spent 
on routine tasks like chasing down progress reports (and creating them).

Starts at $75 a month for five users, and you have the option of hosting it yourself or having them host it for you.

LazyMeterLazyMeter, online productivity tools for business

Having trouble motivating? Have a couple procrastinators on your team? You might benefit from the LazyMeter.

Aptly named, this app was designed not just to help you manage projects, but also to help motivate you. No, it doesn’t include audio clips from Tony Robbins.

LazyMeter has developed a software activity list that helps you focus on completing tasks and projects just one day at a time and shows you the progress day to day so you feel more
 accomplished. It is like your favorite teacher reinforcing the great work you’ve done, as you’ve completed it, then gently moves you on to the next task or project.

LazyMeter is both an online and mobile app, so you can feel good from anywhere. It is a newer company and right now the application is free. The company explains on its website that it will start to provide premium services later.

Harvest

Those who work in services find themselves spending an excessive amount of time tracking hours. And translating the time into reports is usually the last task addressed at the end of the month because it’s so tedious.

Harvest tries to alleviate that by making time capture, reporting and even invoicing a lot faster and simpler. This is probably best for small businesses or even consultants that need an easy and affordable way to manage their time, budgets, expenses and reports for projects.

The company has an iPhone app so hours can be 
captured on the go from anywhere. One really cool feature for the mobile exec: use your iPhone camera to scan, categorize and 
upload receipt that goes straight to invoicing.

Starts at just $12 a month for solo users and up to $90 a month for the business package.

Online collaboration tools - AZ Business Magazine July/August 2011

Online Collaboration Tools Keep Executives Connected And Productive

By all accounts, the five-day work week is rarely applicable to today’s business world. For that matter, the standard brick-and-mortar office in which the entire team converges and collaborates Monday through Friday, 9-to-5, is becoming a thing of the past. Even in some of the largest enterprises, teams are spread out from coffee shops across town to satellite offices around the world. For executives, especially at the C-level, this can mean a management nightmare — or an opportunity.

This dilemma has given way to a burgeoning market of online applications that allow teams to communicate, collaborate and share data more efficiently.

Executives can now manage productivity from anywhere, any time zone. Here are some new applications that can keep executives dialed-in and on top of the work:

File and project sharing

Executives can be faced with a myriad of documents, spreadsheets, presentations and the like on a daily basis for review, approval or to pass onto the customer. Tools such as Dropbox and iDisk for Mac allow executives to access shared drives remotely. However, they have some inconvenient pitfalls. For instance, if an employee makes changes to a document, the most recent version may not show up in the shared drive right away. Microsoft’s SkyDrive in the 2011 Office suite is aiming for a solve so multiple users can work on documents simultaneously from any location.

Idea generation

Nearly three years ago, Yammer emerged as a solution that promised to harness the power of social media for the workplace. Now that an estimated 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using Yammer, it appears the company might have succeeded. The goal is to improve workplace communication and collaboration by providing a secure, private forum where workers can share information, pose questions, get answers and build stronger relationships. The CEO of one of Yammer’s customers, Deloitte Digital, posted a message on the Deloitte Australia Yammer network for a new ad campaign. Within the next 24 hours, hundreds of employees submitted thousands of taglines.

Video conferencing

If you’ve ever initiated a video conference with customers, prospects or even your own employees, you have no doubt felt the pain of the download. Watchitoo uses a patent-pending technology to let you see up to 25 people on one call and share files (including large media files) using nothing more than a Web browser. No clunky downloads and nothing to configure.

Virtual teamwork

A scenario that’s becoming more common as advances in audio-visual equipment find their way into design, architecture and engineering firms is the use of SMART Boards from CCS Presentation Systems to enable collaboration with those at the home office and those in the field. These tools used in virtual teamwork are especially important when combined with BIM software and other 3-D technology.

 

Arizona Business Magazine July/August 2011

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Three Tablets Ready for Work

In a very short two years the tablet market has lit up like a wildfire and business executives have a plethora of options. The iPad still reigns supreme, with an estimated 80 percent of the tablet market. But that could change very soon with Android’s Honecomb platform, built just for tablets and now available on several new devices from makers like Samsung and Motorola. With more big players entering the tablet market and sales moving through the wireless carriers, soon we’ll have as many to choose from as we do smart phones. And with that, if you feel like the iPad is a bit too game or entertainment focused for your work needs, here are three alternatives that will get the job done.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

BlackBerry PlaybookMillions of business executives around the world have held their steadfast loyalty to RIM and their crackberries. And it’s easy to understand why. Blackberry was arguably the first line of smartphones built with the executive in mind. Palm may have kicked off this trend, but Blackberry took a very swift lead when it started churning out smartphones for every kind of business user, leaving Palm in the dust. For RIM devotees, there’s the new Blackberry Playbook and it’s living up to its noble name. The user interface is just as intuitive, the design sturdy and elegant, and the browser is top rate. Like the others mentioned, the PlayBook has full Flash-video support. And it has something the others don’t have yet; it can wirelessly send files between computers on the same network. Synching with your Blackberry smartphone is of course a breeze. RIM hasn’t added a video chat feature yet, which may be a hindrance, but you can bet it’s probably not too far behind. It does have a camera though, and can run apps simultaneously for multitasking. Starts at $499 for 16 GB.

Motorola Xoom

Motorola XoomThe Motorola Xoom is building quite the little buzz storm as the first tablet to use Google’s new Android Honeycomb system. That and users really love how fast, cool and powerful it is. It too has Flash support, something that’s becoming more and more of a deal-breaker for business tablet users. It also has a growing list of apps, multitasking, a camera for web chat, and you can transport content from the device to an HDTV — this is a great feature for both home and business user. Presentations delivered through the tab are clear and beautiful, and if you’re on the right network, incredibly fast. This tablet also promises a 10-hour battery life, which can be a lifesaver for the executive who chooses to leave the laptop at home and travel just with the tab. Starts at $599, so not exactly more affordable than an iPad.But user reviews indicate that this tablet is totally worth it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab
This might be the most popular iPad alternative yet, especially for executives who like or need to run Flash. It’s designed to be lightweight, slick, incredibly stylish, and users say it’s as fast as it is pretty. It’s a bit smaller than the iPad, which makes it easier to tote around in a small bag or portfolio. The Galaxy has a camera for both pictures and video, and a front-facing camera for video chat. This can come in handy for video conferencing on the go. The tablet is available through all of the major carriers and starts at just $199. That’s a pretty fair price tag for a tablet that can run loads of great apps, fun entertainment features, and supports your business communications and productivity needs.

 

Dodo Case

Cases That Do More Than Protect Your iPhone And iPad

Three. That’s the number of times I’ve damaged my iPhone from dropping it. Twice it suffered a shattered screen, and the last time the back cracked. Due to my apparent clumsiness you can imagine the care I use in handling my iPad. For someone like me, a sturdy case is in order. But even the coolest of cases, I’ve learned, can do little in the way of actually protecting the device inside. And they don’t add much in the way of functionality. I decided it was high time to go in search of some cases that could not only keep my devices safe from damage, but also serve a functional purpose.

For the iPhone

LifeProof recently launched an iPhone 4 case that the company says stands up to the most active user, both in the office and out. As you can see in these videos, the LifeProof is designed to stand up to just about anything, including iPhone4 with LifeProof Casea robust workout in the park, a shower, and various food items (not necessarily in that order). The thin design rivals other cases that could be categorized as “sleek” and has a thin film that covers the screen. This full enclosure renders the phone inside waterproof, shockproof, dust-proof, and goo-proof. The case still allows for full access to all of the devices’ functions, so there’s no need to remove the case to plug in. LifeProof’s developers allegedly spent more than $1 million to develop the uber-rugged case to ensure it would stand up to the worst abuse you can dish. At the moment, the company only has a case available for the iPhone 4 at $69, which is about equal to the cost to replace the screen on the device should it shatter. The company says on its website that cases for the 3G, 3GS, and iPad are coming soon.

If you prefer a flexible gel skin and would like a little extra power boost, then the Powerskin is worth checking out. This skin is durable and non-obtrusive while acting as both a protective case and a battery pack, giving your phone an additional four to Powerskineight hours (depending on usage). Even just a couple of extra hours can be a life-saver for some executives who find themselves low on juice before lunch. The Powerskin is made of lightweight, impact-resistant silicone rubber. Inside is XPAL Powered patented battery technology. And the skin is made of 100 percent recycled materials, except for the battery and internal components. All cases come standard with a micro-USB re-charge port, on/off button and LED battery status lights. Not an iPhone user? Fear not, Powerskin has cases for a bevy of other smart phones including Samsung Galaxy, Samsung Vibrant, HTC HD7, HTC Evo, and myTouch 4G. The iPhone 4 case will be available this month at Powerskin’s website for $49.99.

For the iPad

One of the greatest benefits of the iPad is that users love it for work and for fun. Between presentations, email, reading and playing games, you may find yourself holding your iPad up a lot of the day. This can cause aching in the wrists and hands after extended use. The HandStand aims to alleviate that pain, and totally free up your navigation hand with an ergonomic design. The case has a handle HandStandon the back and a comfortable shape that naturally contours, enabling the user to essentially cradle the iPad with one hand. The company that developed the HandStand, Hub International, claims that this platform positions the device as an extension of the user’s hand, reducing fatigue and totally freeing up the navigation hand. The handle also sits in a rotating platform that lets you maneuver the iPad 360 degrees, allowing the iPad to move around and adjust as you do. If you’re looking for a more executive-looking leather case, you’ll be disappointed. The HandStand is made of silicone and comes in just three colors — pink, white and black. While it doesn’t quite measure up on the pretty scale, it does provide a level of durability that many would find comforting. Plus, it would likely be difficult to embed the 360-revolving disk on the back of a leather or soft-material case. On the plus side, this case is made from recycled materials. The HandStand is available at the company’s website for $49.95

Looking for something a little more elegant? Even custom? Try the DodoCase, a throwback to the elegance of classic book-binding. Function and style come together really nicely (and at a fair price) with this case. On the outside, it’s made of leather and latches like an Old World notebook with a black strap. On the inside, the iPad is protected by durable, hand-crafted Dodo casebook binding casing that’s made of eco-friendly bamboo. The DodoCase is made to order, and the company appears to put great care into every case it creates at its headquarters in San Francisco. You’ll wait up to six weeks for this $59 case, but chances are you’ll not only love it, you’ll use it as long as you use your iPad.

Hackers

Keeping Your Business Email Safe Is Critical

What do TiVo, Marriott, and Best Buy all have in common? A hacker. All of these companies had their email databases hacked into during the last two weeks. If you’re a customer of these companies, you may have received an email informing you of the breach, and advising you not to open any “suspicious” emails that ask for your passwords or even Social Security numbers. When the company email system is hacked, or a customer email database stolen, it can be extremely terrifying for the company. The consequences include lost data, potential exposure of confidential client information (including credit card numbers), significant downtime, and damage to the brand.

So what can a business do to protect its email? Here are some tips for keeping cyber scum away.

Do a background check on your email host

Clean email starts with the server that’s routing it. And not all email hosts are created equal. Today, the big draw is using a “cloud” host for everything, including email. It’s less expensive (in some cases free), you can scale up or down based on how much space you need, and let’s face it; the cloud is all the rage. But the cloud isn’t exactly secure. In fact, hackers love public cloud environments because they know how vulnerable they are. Are email hosts getting better at securing their clouds? Yes. But it’s going to take some time. So do your homework on your email host. Find out what their security measures are, how they will help you if your email is hacked, and read user reviews. If you have any doubts, go with a secure exchange server host, such as Mailstreet. It costs a little more, but that cost comes with a little more peace of mind.

Stop ignoring the updates

Mac or PC, doesn’t matter, you’re getting update alerts and you’re probably hitting the “not now” button quite often. Who could blame you? Those downloads take forever. They cut right into your day and sometimes they don’t go very smoothly, which takes up more time, further delaying your ability to get work done. You know what else takes time out of your day? Having to come up with an emergency action plan of explaining to your customers that their confidential data may have been stolen. It’s best to check for spam, virus, and malware security updates as often as once a month, even if you’re not getting automatic alerts. Those updates are there to protect your company, and they’re free. Worth an hour of your time? Definitely. If you don’t trust your own reliability (or your employees reliability) to update software often, you can look into a PGP program for an added layer of protection.PGP stands for “Pretty Good Privacy” and various PGP programs will allow you to encrypt your email.

Keep confidential messages off of email

Email has gotten so convenient, and so accessible, that we’ve gotten a little lax in what we communicate, and don’t communicate through this medium. As a rule, don’t send information over email that could be devastating to your company if it ended up in the wrong hands. This includes credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, highly confidential documents, and the like. Instead, use a service like YouSendIt.com, or enlist the help of a good old-fashioned FTP server. Hackers that have found a way to reach your company email will monitor correspondence specifically looking for things like this.

Unless you’re a one-man band, it’s imperative that these guidelines are shared with the entire organization and managed consistently. Everyone in the company needs to understand that they are responsible for keeping company data safe. Consider every employee a back door for a hacker, and put guidelines like this in your handbook. If you have an IT manager on staff, it’s this person’s job to hold everyone accountable. If you aren’t quite there yet, consider enlisting the help of an IT outsourcing company that can step in for both reactive, and proactive measures.

There are certainly hundreds of different ways to make sure your email is never attacked. Starting with these three basics is a good way to minimize the risk significantly.

Wireless Charging Pads: Which are best?

Getting Rid Of The Wires

This used to be a pie-in-the-sky proclamation — the idea of charging all of your gadgets without plugging them into an outlet. Less than five years ago there was a lot of chatter about this tech on the horizon, and now it’s on store shelves. And not just one solution is available. Consumers actually have a choice in what kind of wireless charging devices they want.

The concept for all of the options is the same: one charging mat that plugs into one wall outlet — so not totally wireless. From there, you hook various cases onto your device to enable the charge when you set said device down on the pad. The cover options — ranging from un-obtrusive back covers to stylish hard cases — are in line with what you’d normally purchase for your smartphone, but with the added convenience of enabling a power transfer when placed on the charging mat. Here’s a look at what’s available now:

Powermat – Sleek but Expensive

Powermat has positioned itself as the hipsters’ answer to wireless charging. The skateboard-looking oblong pad makes a stylish addition to the gadgetista’s living or work space. It can charge up to three devices at once on it’s longest pad (one device on its portable pad) and works with about 20 different mobile gadgets.

Most of the Powermat’s compatibility is with smartphones, including the iPhone 4, various Blackberry models, and Droid X. It also works with Nintendo DSi and iPod. But that’s where it’s compatibility stops. Seems a little silly to buy a wireless charging system that only works with your phone and one other device, but the company is working to roll out additional accessories for more devices.

Powermat is on the expensive side, starting at $69 just for the pad and $29 for the back covers. $100 for wireless charging? Maybe if they were the sole player in this space. But with several competitors already selling product and a fresh crop creeping up, Powermat may need to rethink their pricing strategy.

World Leaders in Battery Power – Now Leaders in Wireless Power?

Two of the biggest names in power jumped into the wireless charging market this year — Duracell with its MyGrid and Energizer’s Inductive Charger. The Duracell MyGrid uses conductive charging technology (while everyone else in this space uses inductive) and offers a small, light, charging mat that can power up to five devices at once.

The MyGrid is compatible with hundreds of devices as opposed to the limited number with other wireless charging systems and is cross-compatible with other manufactures that use the same technology. This is a huge bonus if you have multiple devices you wish to charge wirelessly. Another bonus is you don’t have to place the devices in a certain order on the mat. That means if you stumble home and toss your phone onto the general area of your counter top where the mat sits, and it actually lands on the mat, it will receive a charge.

Energizer has taken a difference approach and one that is more in line with where this industry is heading – building the technology into the device, so no extra case or charging accessory is needed. The Energizer Inductive Charger has limited capability now — only working with iPhone 4 and 3Gs and the Blackberry Curve. But what’s so cool about this is you can just replace the back of the phone with a new backing that has the charging technology built in.

This is part of an initiative by the newly formed Wireless Power Consortium. The WPC is working to create an international standard for interoperable wireless charging, called Qi (pronounced “chee”). The idea is that manufacturers — with several including Energizer, already on board — will develop devices that are Qi compliant. When this standard is set, consumers will have the technology automatically included in their devices (sort of like GPS is now included in all phones), and they will work any charging pad they choose. Manufacturers that adopt this charging standard would have a Qi logo on their packaging.

Duracell’s MyGrid bundles start at $89 and Energizer’s at $85; so they’re still pretty pricey.

Other companies that are taking a stab at the wireless charging market include Fulton Innovation with it’s eCoupled Technology, and Radio Shack with a line called Enercell coming out this spring.

Modlet power saver

The Best And The Brightest From The Consumer Electronics Show

They say that after a nuclear war the only survivors will be cockroaches. And so, after the big hubbub of a large tradeshow such as CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, where companies new and old come out with their newest wares — literally bombing us with their incredible, revolutionary, game-changing technologies — I like to take stock after the dust settles to see who’s still standing.

Arguably, it’s too early to tell who will be here a year from now, three years from now, five years from now. But every year a few companies that don’t fall into the name-brand category come out shining. Did I mention it’s a grotesquely large show? Estimates are there were 140,000 people and close to 3,000 companies represented this year. If you’re a needle, you better be a darn shiny and prickly one to stand out in that haystack.

So here we are a month later. And here are a few of the companies that made a splash at the show, and turned it into a tidal wave in the weeks that followed.

ThinkEco’s modlet technology generated a little buzz storm at the show, and carried the conversation well after, being featured in the New York Times, “The Early Show,” and even by Martha Stewart. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Martha loves her gadgets. What was so catchy about this tech? No surprise, it’s a gadget that helps you be green. But this greenie is smart. The modlet covers your existing wall plugs with its own intelligent wall plugs. It then anticipates when you’ll use whatever is plugged into it, and when you won’t. Here’s where the smarts come in. The modlet kills the power during hours when the appliance is not in use. This helps eliminate “phantom power,” or power that is used when an appliance is plugged in, but not used. The company’s website says that plugged-in appliances take up to 40 percent of residential power usage. Imagine cutting your monthly utility bill by that much by just having modlets around the house? Here’s the bad news: The modlet won’t be ready for consumers until later this spring. But you can sign up on a waiting list. If I had to call it, ThinkEco will have a tsunami on its hands by the time the modlet is ready to ship.

A Flagstaff-based company that’s no small potatoes, Southwest Windpower, might have helped put Arizona on the map this year at CES. Maybe. Southwest Windpower, a supplier of distributed wind generators, launched its latest residential wind turbine, the Skystream 600, as part of GE’s “home of the future” exhibit at CES. Since the debut, Southwest Windpower’s claims inquiries have skyrocketed. The latest estimate was a 150 percent increase in the number of inbound calls since this launch, according to company sources. The company estimates that more than 13 million homes in the U.S. could install a wind turbine, and they are positioning to take a bite out of that market. Depending on variables such as position of the turbine and wind resource, this turbine could provide up to 80 percent of an average home’s energy requirements. Skystream 600 allegedly will be available to the public in March. Southwest Windpower is no startup, flash-in-the-pan wind power company. It was founded more than 20 years ago, has 170,000 units installed worldwide and sells 15,000 turbines annually.

Sometimes you have to repeat yourself to really be heard — and convince us that you’re in it for the long haul. The iTwin, which first showed at CES last year, has done just that. The iTwin lets you share data and Internet between two computers with the use of two magic USB flash drives. Each of the drives plugs into a different computer (PC-only right now). Once connected, the two computers are then able to share content and the Internet, securely (and that’s the big draw). Wireless access is only possible when the two plugs are used together. This is actually a very cool concept and I expect that next year there will be a plethora of knock-offs launching at CES. Until then, the iTwin is priced at $99 and sold on the company’s website.

It wouldn’t be CES 2011 without a slew of apps. So I feel compelled to list one here. This year, the emphasis was really on games (thank you Angry Birds) and photos. But I saw one app that appealed to me from a business sense. It originally caught my eye as a winner of the CES Best App Awards. At the time of the show it was only available on iPhone. So naturally I didn’t give it a fleeting thought. Then last week they launched it in the Android Market. And in just the last seven days they’ve had nearly 10,000 downloads. What is it? It’s an app that lets you add a second number to your mobile phone, without buying the phone line. Hello. Line2, as it’s aptly called, achieves this by using carrier-grade SMS that works over the 3G (and we assume 4G) networks, WiFi or cellular networks. Some nice perks — Line2 allows for live call switching between 3G and WiFi. If you are on a Line2 3G VoIP call-and-walk into your house, your phone will automatically switch the call to WiFi without dropping. Unless you’re on AT&T (I can’t resist). The app costs $9.99 monthly on iPhone, but is free on Android.

Apple's iPhone4

Consumer Tech Products To Expect In 2011

The first week of January can only mean one thing: what’s coming out in consumer tech in the next year. Last year at the Consumer Electronics Show (the mecca for new gadgets) there seemed to be two prevailing themes: 3D TVs and smart phones. We all saw how well 3D TV went over. (Really, you didn’t want to sit in your own living room wearing uncomfortable, goofy glasses?) While we expect that smart phones will still be a major draw, my prediction is there will be a couple more prevailing technologies this year that everyone will be buzzing about: tablets and power.

I’m heading out to CES in Las Vegas this week, and plan to report back here on what I see at the show that’s cool (and what’s not). But here’s my preliminary take on what’s going to be hot in tech over the next 12 months.

Phones

Undoubtedly the most anticipated release will be the iPhone on the Verizon Wireless network. Finally, we will all be free to enjoy America’s favorite handheld device AND enjoy the luxury of not dropping every other call. The rumor on the Vegas Strip is that Verizon will make the announcement during the CEO’s keynote at the show.

While everyone is ooohing and aaahing over the marriage of iPhone and reliable 3G and 4G service, Google will be making strong headway with the Android platform, and a buffet of new Android phones will hit the market from HTC, Motorola, Samsung and other major handset developers. As a user and lover of an Android phone, I am extremely excited to see what comes on the market in this space. Right now, Sprint’s Evo is shaping up to be a hell of an iPhone competitor.

Tablets

 

While it took four iterations of the iPhone for a serious competitor to emerge in the Android corner, iPad might see some challengers from this growing platform in the next couple of months. Expect to see several tablets debut this week that will surely eat into Apple’s next iPad release (expected in March). The best thing about the emergence of the tablet wave is that consumers will now be presented with a very nice selection of sleek, affordable tablets that can be used for personal and work life. Expect Samsung, HP, and Microsoft to lead the way.

Power

This is obviously a timely topic from a commercialization standpoint, but it’s also finding its way in the CE conversation. Over the last five years, we’ve seen more and more companies crop up that address our changing needs for how we power all of our devices. From universal chargers (one power device for all of your gadgets), to wireless charging, to solar-powered chargers, to vehicles being embedded with charging technology, power has a vital place in the conversation of gadgetry. I think this year at CES we’re going to see some technology that will change the way consumers charge up. The big issue on the table? Saving energy. Expect to see Duracell, Radio Shack and even phone carriers such as T-Mobile to have cutting-edge power solutions that hit retail shelves this year. And there are plenty of smaller companies holding their own in this space too — Powermat, Call Pod, and iGo, to name a few.

We’ll see if my predictions are on target.CES is known for not only debuting big ideas in consumer tech, but also small ones that are equally cool and noteworthy. I’ll see as much as I can in three short days. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed for short cab lines. Until then, Happy New Year!

Holiday gift guide

Holiday Gift Guide: Find High-Tech Stocking Stuffers That Won’t Break The Bank

The iPhone 4 or iPad (or both) might be on everyone’s Christmas list this year, but if you’re in the same boat as so many Americans, they probably aren’t in your budget. Here are some non-Apple stocking stuffers that won’t break the bank.

Flip videoFlip gets blingy

If you haven’t been to Flip Video’s website recently, you really should. You can now customize the Flip Video camera in a hundred different ways. The company offers tons of pattern and design choices, or you can upload your own image. Flip Video also has teamed up with several consumer electronic companies to offer a line of accessories that makes the Flip experience better. Accessories include a wide-angle lens, two different types of enhanced external microphones, waterproof cases, battery chargers and a pocket projector. iGo, an Arizona-based company, also is offering a battery extender that doubles the Flip Video battery life. $150 – $250, www.theflip.com.

Pa-pa-pa-paparazzi

We all wish we were one of those hipsters at the holiday party with the fancy camera around their necks taking impossibly beautiful shots. Sigh. For the rest of us, a really good point-and-shoot is in order. Canon PowerShotThe Canon PowerShot A495 does the trick and delivers high-quality features usually reserved for much more expensive cameras. For less than $100 it also has some creative modes that will get any photographer on your list excited. Some stores had it for as low as $89.

KindleKindle is still king

The iPad is hot, but as far as e-readers go, the Kindle is still killing the competition and the third generation of Kindle does not disappoint. If you know a bookworm, this is the gift to give this year. It now has an improved screen for higher contrast (oy my eyes), faster page turning, built-in 3G, superior battery life, and a slimmer weight and price tag. $139 at www.amazon.com.

 

Find your way and then some

Yes, there are some people who still want a stand-alone GPS unit despite just about every phone on the market now being GPS enabled. I personally didn’t understand this until I checked out the line of Garmin nuvi devices.  GarminThese little guys do so much more than map. The slick and affordable Garmin’s nuvi 295W is a nice package of best-in-class navigation, plus some fun features. I’m talking about a built-in 3 megapixel camera, WiFi that let’s you e-mail, and a super easy user interface. Even your mom could figure this one out and ENJOY using it.  Staring at $100, www.amazon.com.

MailVU private video messaging

MailVU: private video messaging

Voicemail is so 2008. Today’s personal tech is all about bringing back the human element to communication. That’s why web cameras have become so popular in the last few years. While it used to be a peripheral device, and a costly one at that, nearly every computer now comes with a built-in web cam, and services like Skype and iChat have made it incredibly easy to see the person you’re calling. Now the benefits of web cam have made their way into the office with video messaging services. With these services, you can send that important message with the appropriate corresponding facial expressions and ensure that it gets to the recipient securely, without getting caught in the spam filter.

MailVU, a startup out of Charlotte, NC, promises to deliver the fastest and easiest system for sending private video messages. And our test of the app proved it is really that simple. Just go to http://mailVU.com, click in the box to record your message, hit record, and when you’re done, send it off. Video e-mails arrive right in the recipient’s e-mail inbox for instant click-to-play. MailVU works on all computers, in all browsers, and pretty much all smartphones, including iPhone, Android and Blackberry. Oh yeah, and it’s free.

MailVU works on all computers, in all browsers, and pretty much all smartphones, including iPhone, Android and BlackberryWhen I tried MailVU, my biggest concern was privacy. The last thing I wanted was for my mug to end up in the wrong hands, or rather, the wrong mailbox. MailVU promises the video e-mails are sent directly to the intended recipients, with the senders having some nice options to destroy the video at their discretion. The sender can delete or retract the video message at any point, even before the recipient has viewed it. Once the video message is viewed, the sender is notified, so they can choose to destroy it at that time, or use the self-destruct options. For instance, you can set up criteria on every message to auto-delete after a certain number of days or views. I especially had fun sending messages to friends and letting them know the message would self-destruct, a la James Bond style. To ensure privacy, the company says that all messages stay private and will not come up in Google search.

The best part, in my opinion: You don’t need to sign up for yet another account to a web app, and there is no software or widget download. For those of us looking to de-clutter our desktops and phones of an egregious number of apps and widgets, this is a beautiful thing.

There’s something really nice about sending more personalized messages to colleagues when we can’t chat live. After testing MailVU and seeing how easy it truly is, I have to say I will probably start to use it regularly. Watch out friends; you’re about to see a lot more of my smiling face in your inbox. This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds.

Executive gadgets

Cool Gadgets For The Cool Executive

 

Getting a shiny new toy for the office doesn’t always have to be justified by how much money it will save or how much more productive it will make you (unless you’ve got one of those CFOs). Sometimes you just want cool gear. Here are some fun gadgets just out that get business execs into the cool zone.

We all know a hand talker. Those ever expressive types who accentuate any conversation with their hands waving about. If you have one of these in your office, put those hands to good use with the Air Mouse Elite. Using your own natural hand movements, this uber-sensitive mouse turns into a master presentation controller. You can walk freely and flail your hands every which way while giving a killer presentation. The cursor even turns into a highlighter, laser pointer or pen. You can even gently swipe it in mid-air to activate embedded media and other special effects. It works with both PCs and Macs, retails for $79.99, and it’s carried at a slew of retailers, including Amazon.

 

Keep your laptop and hand-held devices juiced up wherever you go with this slick new universal charger from Targus. The Targus Premium Laptop Charger is smaller and lighter than other universals, and it lets you charge your notebook, plus one low-power device, at the same time.  The charger comes with nine “tips” the enable the connection between the charger and most laptop brands on the market, so you’re likely to find one that works with your laptop.  It also includes a mini-USB tip and an Apple iPod/iPhone/iTouchcharging tip. Power up in the wall or in your car with both AC and DC plugs. $149.99 at www.targus.com.

 

 

Are you fairly certain you’re wasting time in meetings? Want to know exactly how much is being wasted? Not time — money. The Time Is Money (TIM) clock shows you exactly what you’re tossing in terms of cash as every minute passes on the clock. You simply enter your hourly rate, the number of people in the meeting, hit start, and as your team blah, blah, blahs you can see very clearly what it’s costing the company. Now if only they could somehow integrate this with Facebook … This little guy is $24.99 at www.bringtim.com.

 

 

If you’re one of the millions of people who use their iPad for business, then you probably enjoy carrying it around in a stylish case. Why not let your case do more than just protect the device inside? The M-Edge Method Portfolio, while pricey, is a multi-functional, modern portfolio that lets you organize and carry your business wares in the same swanky sleeve as your iPad. This portfolio is designed with a sleeve that holds the iPad in place, four credit cards slots, a clear ID window, and a business envelope/boarding pass pocket. Two leather pockets are sized to fit your smart phones (up to two). A handy zipper pocket keeps all of your other incidentals. $119.99 at www.medgestore.com.