Visions of sugarplums are all very nice, but at this time of year, visions of tech toys tend to light up one's eyes just as brightly. While some of these goodies tend to the practical, they're all nice to find under the tree.
Let's start with something (almost) pocket-sized. One frustrating thing about being on the road is the lack of reliable wireless connectivity; hotel Wi-Fi often tends to be iffy at best. One solution: a travel router. Belkin's Wireless Dual-Band Travel Router is $79.99.
The router itself is the size of a deck of cards, and it comes in a travel case that keeps it and its tiny power plug and cables corralled. Its small size doesn't mean small functionality – the router plugs into a hotel room's Ethernet connection; then you attach the included USB cable to the power plug and connect it, and you have your very own wireless hotspot for all of your devices.
The router is pre-configured with 256-bit WPA2 encryption to keep your hotspot secure and private, and supports 802.11a/b/g/n wireless standards. It will operate on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands simultaneously, and is VPN-friendly.
Cute and useful – what more could one want!
Speaking of cute and useful, another (rather more expensive) option for the entrepreneur in your life is the Toshiba Portégé Z830 ultrabook. About half an inch thick at its fattest, and tipping the scales at a mere 2.5 lb, this 13.3 inch ultrabook would slip easily into the document pocket of a briefcase. With its Core i3 processor, standard 4GB memory and 128GB solid state drive, it has enough muscle for most office functions, and the eight-cell lithium ion battery will power the machine for up to 8.5 hours.
Videos play very smoothly on the Portégé Z830, and Intel Wireless Display software allows you to stream them to an appropriately equipped TV with the help of a device such as D-Link’s MainStage TV Adapter. It plugs into a composite video or HDMI connection on your HDTV to display streamed content in 1080p with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound – perfect for presentations on the road.
Once the work is done, you might want to grab a good book. The Kobo Vox eReader is the only colour eReader currently available in Canada. Under the covers, it's a 7-inch tablet running Android 2.3 Gingerbread on an 800 MHz processor. It has 8 GB of internal storage, and will hold up to 8,000 books. If that's not enough, it will also take a 32 GB Micro-SD card.
All of that space can be stuffed full of books from the source of your choice, as long as they’re in ePub format. The Kobo store offers colour books especially for the Vox.
In addition, the Vox comes loaded with the Zinio reader for magazines, PressReader for over 1,900 newspapers, Globe2Go, the Globe and Mail's ePaper, and apps for Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and more. And you can install other Android apps (yes, even Angry Birds). Of course there’s audio and video support; listen through the speaker (tinny), or via earphone.
Android users who try to swipe to turn pages in the reader app are apt to be frustrated. For best results, all you need to do is tap the right edge of the screen to advance, the left edge to go back a page, and the middle to pull up menus, just as on Kobo's eInk readers. Opening a book takes a moment or two, but page turns are brisk.
The battery life is not wonderful. You need to keep Wi-Fi turned off to get best results, which Kobo says is up to seven hours (usually less). And the Vox will not charge over USB; you need to use the A/C adapter. But if you're looking for an eReader that also has tablet functionality to put under the tree, it'll do the job quite well.
Finally, a toy that’s practical but still interesting: the Belkin Conserve Insight Energy Use Monitor (about $30). Just plug it into a standard outlet, plug the device you’re curious about into the monitor’s plug, and you’ll get an instant view of its power usage. Leave it for a while and you can see how much the device is costing you (you can program in local rates), or how much CO2 emission that usage represents. A long cord between plug and display lets you monitor an outlet without crawling under the desk.