With today's flexible workstyles, your office can be in a corporate workspace or the dining room table of your home. No matter the place, sometimes you need more than just a notebook and a mouse to get things done - so we're here to help.
The following are a bunch of gift ideas aimed at the workplace - whether that's an office or a home office, as part of the 2012 Cool Yule Tools holiday gift guide.
Note: Products are listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Amazon.com. Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.
The 1912nm is an 18.5-inch monitor with a very basic, non-PC operating system built into the back of the monitor, that lets users connect to the Internet via a Web browser (a basic version of Firefox), as well as view photos, videos or listen to music (via attached SD cards or USB flash drives).
The goal is to provide companies with a Web experience for users without needing to go and use a full PC - think of locations like a hotel lobby, office reception area, Internet cafA(c) or airport. The business can provide Internet access via the browser as well as the other basic entertainment options - music, video, photos. The system comes with a USB wired keyboard and mouse, and three additional USB ports (for access to USB-attached storage devices for file access).
The $200 price tag should appeal to businesses that want to provide basic browser access to customers/guests/users without having to go out and purchase an entire PC, whether the PC is an all-in-one system or not.
However, there's not much in terms of configuration or tweaking - settings changes are minimal. You get what you see - browser access, videos, music, and photos. If you want to add software to this, no such luck. If you want to change the resolution, you can't - you're at 1,366 by 768 (which seems off when using the browser). Also, it seems odd that the system requires an Ethernet connection - this potentially limits places where you can place the unit. While I could visit any website through the browser, I couldn't stream Netflix instant content, which requires an OS to run on it.
- Keith Shaw
The name says it all - The AOC Portable USB Monitor is an additional monitor that you can attach to an existing PC or Mac to provide some extra screen real estate. The 16-inch monitor connects to your system via USB cable only - no extra power cables are needed to run the monitor (the cable provided has two dongles if you use this on older systems). A swivel kickstand on the back of the unit lets you run the monitor in horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait modes). The monitor has a 16:9 aspect ratio, 5 ms response time and 1,366 by 768 resolution (the same as the HP monitor, but this one looked a lot better).
The monitor is extremely portable - at 2.3 pounds, it feels lighter than my iPad. For business travelers who want to take along an extra screen for presentations (or if they just want to extend their existing notebook screen), this is a very lightweight option for a very reasonable price. I've seen several USB monitors that can extend a user's display - this one, by far, is the lightest and most impressive.
Unfortunately, there's no sleeve or protection for the monitor if you want to travel with it - you may have to look at buying a separate 17-inch notebook sleeve to try and protect the screen surface. In addition, you can't adjust the brightness on the display, and Mac owners need to download a separate DisplayLink driver (the provided CD only gives a Windows driver), which could cause some confusion. Also, Mac users can't get the pivot feature, which lets you display the monitor in portrait mode.
- Keith Shaw
Imagine a giant Android tablet that went well beyond its 10-inch display, say more than twice that amount, at 22 inches. While that device would stop being mobile, if you put a stand on the back of it, the device would be able to sit on a desktop or tabletop and look a lot like a computer monitor.
That's basically what ViewSonic has done with its Smart Display, a 22-inch monitor that also contains the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system. Running off a TI Dual-core ARM Processor, the Smart Display has a touch screen for navigating the interface, although you can also plug in a USB keyboard and/or mouse via two ports on the side. Like other all-in-one systems, the Smart Display features a Webcam (1.3 megapixel), Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. An Ethernet port and SD card slot on the back of the unit lets you connect wired Internet and transfer data from a memory card to the device. Rounding out the unit is built-in stereo speakers and a headphone jack on the side.
There's also an HDMI input port, so if you want to connect another computer to the display (or an HDMI-supported gaming console), you can via this port. The unit also would seem to support a Windows 8 computer system with its touch-screen functionality. In other words, you're not necessarily stuck with just the Android OS on the Smart Display.
The processor seemed to run things slower on the Smart Display than what I had experienced with smaller Android tablets. But this could be a misperception on my part - the unit looks and feels so much like an all-in-one computer system, I was trying to compare speeds/activity based on my use of a computer rather than a tablet. Accessing content and apps is done the same way that you would with a tablet, except ViewSonic also created its own app store, hopefully to showcase specific apps that take advantage of the 22-inch screen. Here it fails a bit - the interface of the app store is not very good, and several of the apps I tried didn't work (for example, the CNN app kept failing). Luckily, you can head to the Google Play store and download regular apps if you don't like the ViewSonic app store options (which also require a separate login/account).
The Smart Display seems to be the answer to the question, "Hey, let's build a combination monitor and Android tablet" - a solution looking for a problem. The additional functions of allowing HDMI input and support for Windows 8 touchscreen features may give this device a longer lifespan as a computer monitor rather than a giant tablet.
- Keith Shaw
If you're looking for a desk lamp that doesn't need to run off a hotter light bulb, check out the NuGreen desk lamp from Newer Technology. The lamp uses 50 LEDs that produce a "cool white light" to illuminate a desk area. You can touch both the lamp and the bulbs and not burn your fingers - the lamp is also mercury free (some of the newer energy efficient light bulbs contain mercury).
NewTech says the lights, which only use 3.6 watts of power, can provide up to 45,000 hours of use, about 22x longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. The unit also has a flexible neck, allowing you to place the light in exactly the location you want, whether that's near a pad of paper, or higher up to produce a larger light area for your desk. The light turns on and off via a touch pad at the base of the lamp, and the aluminum design is very stylish.
If you work in an area where you can reduce (or turn off) the light from overhead fluorescent lamps, this light can provide enough lighting and not hurt your eyes as much (if your eyes tend to get tired from fluorescent lighting).
- Keith Shaw
Every year, printers get smaller, cheaper and better. This Epson multi-function device offers printing, scanning and copying features for less than $100. Billed as a "small-in-one," the Epson XP-400 has a more sturdy and well-built feel than some of the smaller entry-level printers.
One feature that we really enjoyed was wireless printing. If your home computer area is like ours, it's a jumble of cords, wires, charging devices, SD cards and power strips. Being able to eliminate that annoying cord that runs from the printer to a USB slot is a relatively small thing; but it's much appreciated. In terms of quality, you aren't going to be able to scan in photos of grandma and print out anything resembling the original photograph, or take a picture that you like from your digital camera and print out an 8x10 copy for framing. But for everyday printing of Word documents, school reports, etc., the XP-400 is easily up to the task. In our testing, we weren't hit with a paper jam even once, and would recommend this printer for home use.
- Neal Weinberg
The Epson Expression Premium XP-800 is an all-in-one color, wireless printer/copier/fax that features a 2-inch by 3.5-inch LCD control screen, a top loader for copying, and internal paper trays for standard 8.5-inch by 11-inch sheets and smaller -- 4x6 or 5x7 -- photo paper.
The desktop machine is compact at 13-by-15-by-8 inches, but when you print a 6-inch tray emerges from the front of the machine (along the 15-inch dimension) to catch the printed page, and while that comes out automatically it doesn't retract by itself, meaning the device will take up more space on your desk. It is very convenient, however, to have the two internal paper trays so you don't have to reload the printer if you suddenly want to print some photos.
The fit and finish are what we have come to expect in printers these days, but the shiny black plastic on this particular unit makes it seem a bit more cheap than others in the category.
Set up was a breeze right out of the box, including the wireless connection. We were printing wirelessly in minutes. And in terms of the all important aspect of operation, the XP-800 didn't disappoint. It spits out black and white and color copies in about 10 seconds (20 if you are using the top feeder), and photos took anywhere from 2.5 minutes to 7 minutes (we have no idea what would account for the difference, unless it was traffic on our home wireless LAN).
Print quality was excellent on black and white and color copies, and photos were crisp and color rendition very good. The printer has ink cartridges for cyan, yellow, magenta and photo black, and an oversized regular black cartridge.
The printer supports two-sided printing, copying and scanning, and also doubles as a fax machine, but we didn't test the latter.
If you're looking for a home printer that offers pretty much everything you'll need, The XP-800 will fit the bill.
- John Dix
Well, the name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But the Brother MFC-J4510DW, a multi-function/all-in-one printer, does an admirable job performing the tasks it was built to do. For a printer, it's actually pretty stylish, too.
Out of the box, most people will be immediately drawn to the unit's large color touch screen (3.7-inches), which is used to navigate menus and set everything up. It's a nice addition to the printer, but I was even more impressed with the fact I never had to plug the printer into anything to set it up. You plug it in, turn it on, connect it to your wireless network, and you're good to go!
Print quality was good, and can be toggled from your computer depending on what you're looking to achieve. Other features include printing at 35 pages per minute of black; 27 pages per minute of color, the ability to print 11-by-17-inch pages, mobile device printing (support for AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Cortado Workplace and Wi-Fi Direct, as well as Brother's own iPrint&Scan app) and the ability to top load your paper in landscape orientation.
Overall this was a great printer to use, and highly recommended if you are in the market for a new printer.
- Dan Hunt
We've had the ability to hold video chats over our computer for many years, but there hasn't been much improvement beyond improving the quality of Webcams or expanding the idea beyond the computer. We've seen some attempts to bring videoconferencing into the living room via the TV screen, but the units have been too expensive or difficult to use or set up.
The TelyHD unit from Tely Labs solves many of these problems. The TelyHD device is an Android-based platform with hardware based on the Tegra2 dual-core ARM 9 processor from NVIDIA. With each core running at 1GHz, this gives the unit to produce 720p HD video and audio. Sitting on top of a HD TV, the unit connects via HDMI (the system comes with a cable) and connects to your home network router via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. The software then integrates with Skype to let you make free video calls to any other Skype member, or you can make voice calls to any telephone number via Skype Credits.