Holiday Gift Ideas: Home and Office Gear

Just because you have a fancy new computer doesn't mean that you're totally set on your technology acumen. You gotta trick out the rest of your office (either at home or at work) with the latest gear to help supplement that fancy new system. Here’s some of our favorites from the past few months.

Just because you have a fancy new computer doesn't mean that you're totally set on your technology acumen. You gotta trick out the rest of your office (either at home or at work) with the latest gear to help supplement that fancy new system. Here's some of our favorites from the past few months:

Wi-Ex zBoost YX510-Dual Band Cellular Repeater

There are few situations more frustrating than poor cellular coverage, which remains a problem for users of all carriers in many parts of the country -- even those with population densities that might otherwise imply good coverage. I'm in that situation myself -- not far from Boston, but with only 1-bar service indoors -- at best - for all of the major carriers. That's why the Wi-Ex zBoost YX510-Dual Band cellular repeater caught my eye. Rather than waiting for at least one of the carriers to offer decent service for all the money I send them every month, this box promises a simple solution, albeit for a few hundred dollars. And the fact that it's carrier-independent (except it doesn't support Nextel, we should point out) and covers both the 800 and 1800 MHz. bands is a big plus.

A caution, though -- this product involves the use of two antennas, one mounted right on the compact Base Unit, and a much larger one connected by a long length of coaxial cable. The two antennas must be separated by a good distance in order for the unit to function properly. Typically, the larger antenna will be mounted outdoors or in an attic -- but professional installation might be required if you go that route.

Setup is otherwise a snap -- connect the antennas, position the larger antenna, and turn the power on. Flashing lights will alert you to anything that needs correcting.

So, how well does it work? Outstanding! My Verizon Wireless handset had never seen more than one bar indoors, and often didn't work at all. Now I've got between two and four bars everywhere in the house, and that's with a less-than-optimal temporary installation of the outdoor antenna. Even Keith Shaw's beloved iPhone with AT&T service worked great -- and this in a location (my house) where he couldn't otherwise get a signal at all! This one is definitely on my holiday gift list, along with yet another letter to the carriers to once again plead for better coverage - oh, well, forget that. Got cellular? I do!

By the way, you might be tempted to consider a carrier-specific femtocell in place of a cellular repeater or booster. You eliminate the need for the second antenna, as the backhaul is via your broadband connection. But you also wind up with a vendor-specific solution that has additional monthly fees, albeit at a lower initial capital outlay. Me, I'm going with the repeater.

Cool Yule Rating: 5 starsPrice: $289.99 at Amazon.comProduct Web site.Reviewed by Craig Mathias

Epson Artisan 810 all-in-one printer

At first glance, spending $300 on a printer might seem extraneous when you can buy a complete computer for only a few more bucks (considering the price of netbooks these days). And if you're just looking for something that prints out your e-mails, then sure, there are a number of printers out there for less money.

But if you're looking for something that can also print photos, CDs, make copies and even fax (we're still trying to figure out who still uses fax machines), then the Artisan 810 has to be on your short list. The last time I loved a printer so much (other than last year's Artisan 800) was back when I saved up my money to buy a laser printer in the early '90s (I know, I'm a geek).The Claria high-definition inks (six individual color packs) truly make the best possible photos I've seen this year. Not only do 4x6 images look amazing, but larger 8x10 prints (something I'm always dreading based on the quality of the original digital image) also look fantastic. I printed photos off several other photo printers this year (including other Epson printers), and nothing looked as good as ones that came from the Artisan 810.

Beyond photo printing, the Artisan 810 can make photo copies and scan documents -- the automatic document feeder on top of the device makes this look like my office printer. Network connectivity -- both via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, make this a fantastic shared printer for the home or home office. The little things that made the Artisan 800 such a good printer are also available on the 810 -- you can scan a photo and then create a coloring book page -- it strips out the color and leaves you with grey borders that your kids can then color in. You can take a blank piece of paper and create a sheet of graph paper or lined sheet (good for last-minute requests from school-aged kids that need "just one more sheet"). A great addition this year is a USB charging port on the front of the device that lets you attach an iPod, turning your "printer" into an all-purpose device. There's even the ability to print from your iPhone (we ran out of time before trying that feature). The system is easy to use and operate, thanks mostly to the 7.8-inch touch panel and 3.5-inch LCD screen that pops up from the side of the printer.

Yes, the price may be a bit high and the additional ink could put a strain on your budget, but once you start using the printer you'll never want to go back to other printers.

Cool Yule Rating: 5 starsPrice: $300 (act quickly for a $100 rebate)Product Web site.Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Prestige Pro805 all-in-one printer by Lexmark

Lexmark hits all the right buttons with this all-in-one, small-business-class printer. First, let's start with the warranty: Lexmark offers a five-year warranty, plus lifetime phone support. If you can find a printer with a longer warranty than that, buy it. If not, a small business would be silly not to consider this product.

In terms of everyday operation, Lexmark says the Prestige Pro805 offers printing at the low cost of a penny per copy. That's tough to beat for a printer that can crank out 33 pages per minute, offers two-sided printing and can handle 150 pages at a time. This four-color inkjet also handles scanning and copying via a very slick and easy to use 4.3-inch LED touch screen.In terms of network connectivity, the Prestige Pro805 has both Ethernet and USB ports. Plus, it features 802.11n Wi-Fi. This is an excellent feature that lets you eliminate that extra printer cable. In addition, you can go to Lexmark's site and download applications that let you connect to Web-based photo sites like Flickr, and even download news and weather information to your printer. Why you would even consider getting weather information from your printer is beyond me, but maybe there's a "coolness" factor involved that I'm missing.

The ultimate test of a color printer is when you try to print a 4X6 or even an 8X10 image. In this regard, the Lexmark was surprisingly good. We printed a bunch of 4X6 photos and the quality was excellent. We then moved up to the 8X10 setting and came away impressed. With the Lexmark Prestige Pro, you can do all your small business printing, copying and scanning, plus create excellent prints from your summer vacation. And you can do it wirelessly.

Cool Yule Rating: 4.5 starsPrice: $299.99Product Web site.Reviewed by Neal Weinberg ~~

Epson WorkForce 610 wireless All-in-one printer (print/copy/scan/fax/photo)

The WorkForce 610 is a multifunction, wireless, small office ink-jet printer whose real claim to fame is the speed of black and white printing and the quality of color printing on plain paper.

Build quality is about what you would expect from a low-cost printer, all of which feature a lot of plastic these days, but this machine felt somewhat solid, particularly the front tip-out control board. And the device performed as advertised through the range of its functions (although we never tested the fax capabilities).

Wireless setup was a breeze, which can't be said of many printers. Using the front-mounted 2.5 inch LCD screen, we had it look for networks and it found the SSID of my wireless network and latched on after I entered the Wired Equivalent Privacy code. With the printer on and seeing the network, I turned on a laptop and connected to the network and ran the Epson software. It found the printer and connected. Effortless.

Printing wirelessly was fast. Even photos transferred in a heartbeat. The printer excelled at black and white document printing and, while not as fast, handled color office documents with aplomb. Full page color documents were not soggy when they came out nor did they smudge. Impressive.

The stack feeder handle pages well, and copying quality was good. Same with scanning.

The printer didn't do as well when it came to photo printing. The pictures were clear, but they appeared a bit flat compared with the quality you can achieve with a dedicated photo printer.

Cool Yule Rating: 4 starsPrice: $199 (but company offering $40 rebate)Product Web site.Reviewed by John Dix

ScanSnap S1500 by Fujitsu

I love, love, love the ScanSnap! It does exactly what it said it will. It scans double- or single-sided pages, up to 20 pages per minute, 40 sides, at up to 600 dpi. It removes blank pages, it fixes orientations if you put a middle page in upside down, and it does all of these things almost silently. Its software lets you easily crop images, tag scans to easily search them, and increase the quality. Well, it increases the quality of paper images, my photos were not enhanced and in fact were obviously scanned.

The included software is very easy to figure out and use, which surprised me considering the manual is 369 pages! ScanSnap can scan to multiple platforms: e-mail, a printer, Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and SharePoint. Additionally it can create a PDF or a JPEG. The ScanSnap comes with Adobe 9 Standard in case you don't already own this software.

One feature I really like is the CardMinder. This feature lets you scan business cards, capturing more than just the image of the card -- after scanning, you can search through cards by name. You can e-mail directly through the system. You can share the data with Microsoft Outlook and update your address book with one click. It even shows you the front and back images of the original card. This is a great way to organize yourself if you've had a ton of business cards sitting on your desk.

I scanned in everything I could find: photos, papers, packets of information, business cards. It handled everything smoothly and the with the exception of the photos, everything looked better on my computer screen. I really loved being able to type on a document that I scanned off a printed PDF. I even scanned in a handwritten "to-do list" into a Word doc. That was the only thing the ScanSnap didn't handle well. It tried to read my curly writing but everything came out as symbols except for one word and some chunks of it came as images. As a PDF though, my note looked fine.

I'm impressed too because the ScanSnap takes up less room on my desk (when closed and off) than my purse does, and as purses go, mine is rather small. The machine is roughly the length and width of my office phone, although it has more height. My only concern was that when I took it out of the box, I managed to break the feeder flap off the top. My thought was that it was going to be really cheap and work poorly. I was wrong. Once I popped the flap back into place, the ScanSnap worked like a dream!

In terms of its giftiness, it wouldn't be amazing just for anyone. My grandmother would hate it and find it useless. I do, however, think that it would be an outstanding gift for a small business owner, a remote employee, or a student who does many collaborative projects. It's so great for organizing yourself and all of its capabilities are useful. I'm going to be very sad when I give this back, I'm really going to miss it.

Cool Yule Rating: 5 starsPrice: $449Product Web site.Reviewed by Jennifer Finn ~~

BlueMax Lighting 70w Desk Lamp, by Full Spectrum Solutions

This is a desk lamp that aims to reproduce natural lighting in an indoor situation. It uses "scotopically enhanced lighting" technology, which basically aims to "stimulate the eye's photoreceptors, making the pupils contract to increase visual acuity."

The light therapy lamp produces 10,000 lux (approximately 4,300 lumens of light) to help those with seasonal affective disorder and aims to help you see more clearly and color more accurately. Features of the lamp include a flexible neck design for aiming the light downward or off to the side (good for projects), a dimming switch that lowers the light to about 20% power, and a solid base that prevents the lamp from tipping over. The company says that about 30 minutes of light therapy in the morning (such as reading e-mail or doing other work) can help you feel better if you're affected by seasonal affective disorder (or if you live in New England in the winter).

I tried this out in my office for a few days and turned off the overhead fluorescent lighting, and it does have a calming effect. Certain things on my desk and my computer screen looked brighter. It's hard to tell whether I'd benefit from this if I contracted seasonal affective disorder -- when I was testing this, it was mainly sunny outside, and the winter hadn't kicked in yet. Still, any lighting beats fluorescent lighting in an office situation, so if you can swing the money, pick one of these up.

Cool Yule Rating: 3 starsPrice: $159Product Web site.Reviewed by Keith Shaw

FuHzion 22" widescreen LCD by ViewSonic

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