Seven clever gifts for execs

Rather than put together a typical Christmas gift guide, here are seven suggestions which are immediately useful and not very expensive.

We try to think outside the box at Technology Spectator, so instead of a typical Christmas gift guide suggesting buying lots of cool gadgets we’ve made seven technology suggestions which are immediately useful and not very expensive so your return on investment will be swift.

The Future and Other Related Nonsense

In his new book author Antony Funnell has distilled his thoughts about a host of issues that his ABC Radio National Future Tense program has covered recently.

Funnell has created a great resource for time poor executives who want to learn about technology trends from a member of the media who has a healthy scepticism about technology hype and beliefs that we will soon live in a techno-utopia.

One such topic is Jevon’s Paradox, which describes situations where improving the efficiency of something tends to increase (rather than decrease) the amount it is used. For example more efficient lighting often leads to more lights being installed and then being left on all the time.

The Future and Other Related Nonsense is available as an ebook (kobo, kindle, google) as well as an old fashioned paperback from ABC Shops.

Hack your health

The IT industry often involves working long hours sitting at a desk which is bad for your health.

One way to counter this is to use technology to monitor your physical activity. Some people choose to do this by buying yet another gadget like; the pedometer and sleep monitor Fitbit.

But one problem we found while testing it is that its ongoing battle to get the full benefits from this tool, as it’s tough to remember to continually clip onto your clothes.

Another solution - that requires no extra gadgets and is free to use – is the Runkeeper app which is available for Android and iPhone. Runkeeper uses your phone’s GPS to track how far you have walked, cycled or run and logs these activities month by month. It also tells you when you break personal records which can help as motivation. For example it offers up details on your longest duration ever travelled and continually requests that you beat last week’s total distance.  

Handle phone calls with ease

Answering phone calls shouldn’t mean you have to find where your phone is each time it rings. Plantronics new Voyager Legend bluetooth earpiece can simultaneously pair with two devices such as your personal and work smartphones.

Sound clarity and noise cancelling has improved from the previous Plantronics model and the Voyager Legend is also smaller and lighter to boot.

Some other perks include being told the caller’s name if they are in your phone’s contact list and being able to respond to a call by saying “answer” or “ignore”. If a call comes in and you’re not wearing the Voyager Legend it intelligently rings the phone instead, however, if you wear it while ringing it switches to its own speaker and intercepts the call so you can answer smoothly.

If you’ve misplaced the earpiece you can locate it using Plantronics MyHeadset app for Android smartphones. It’s battery life lasts for about seven hours with standby of two weeks.

It’s no wonder Plantronics dominates the Bluetooth scene, as corporate use cases range  taxi drivers to executives who have to deal with a barrage of calls. The Voyager Legend retails in-store for about $100.

More power

A common problem for business people on the go is running out of smartphone or tablet battery power late in the afternoon, especially for 4G enabled devices.

Several companies offer external battery packs or that you can use to recharge your gadgets when you’re not near a power outlet. Alternatively, there are now phone cases on the market that extend battery capacity.

We’d suggest checking out the range or products available from Mophie and Droidax at various price points.

Take one tablet after breakfast & dinner

The surprising sales success of Google’s Nexus 7 and Apple’s iPad Mini shows how much pent up demand there has been for seven-ish inch tablets.

Advantages over their larger tablet cousins are much lower cost which allow a greater proportion of people to afford them, lighter weight which makes the more mobile and smaller dimensions so they fit in a handbag or backpack more easily.

New glowing e-book readers

E-ink e-book readers have not stood still while LCD screen tablets have innovated, though prices have stabilised at just north of $100.

We’ve been using the latest generation Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Touch and Kobo Glo Touch during recent trips overseas as well as commuting around Sydney. We found their new in-screen diffused backlit technology makes it much easier to read in a dark room or during a night flight when it is switched on. The product’s battery life is extremely impressive as it lasts for several weeks.

In terms of software both are easy to use and have smartphone and tablet apps that synch to your e-reader so that you can continue reading on them if you leave it at home by mistake.

Book availability remains problematic with Kobo having some authors and publishers on board that Amazon don’t and vice versa. And sometimes the book you want won’t be available for sale in Australia at all which is frustrating. Kobo has the edge because you can load any ePub book onto it, Amazon will only let you read books you buy through the Kindle store.

Hardware wise both have Micro USB ports at the bottom. Kobo is WiFi only whereas Kindle has Wi-Fi and 3G models. Both screens are 6” in size but the Kobo has a smaller bezel so it is less high and wide edge to edge.

Overall both are splendid devices. However, Kobo’s Glo has the edge for Australians because it is officially sold here, whereas we had to ship in the Kindle Paperwhite via a technology industry contact in the USA which adds extra time and expense.

Slash USB transfer times

USB storage has been steadily increasing in storage capacity and affordability over time. However, until recently the transfer rate was hobbled by USB 2.0’s maximum real life rate of about 30 megabytes/second. This meant that transferring multi gigabyte file collections to and from a USB drive was a tedious time consuming process.

Thankfully new laptops support the much faster USB 3.0 standard for at least one port, regardless of whether the laptop is a budget or premium model. Also many mid to high end laptops have SSD drives which tend to be a lot faster than their magnetic platter hard drive predecessors.

SanDisk’s Extreme USB 3.0 64 gigabyte flash drive excels when transferring a few very large files but drops down in speed when transferring many small files. Nonetheless it could easily cut the time you waste transferring files to and from USB storage by 50-75 per cent. Shop around because retail prices vary a lot from $65 to $100 online.