Portable hard drives are one of those extra devices you scan as you’re walking through Best Buy but never pull the trigger and buy. But even in today’s world of cloud this and cloud that, when it comes to backing up your data, expanding storage or transporting large volumes of files from point A to point B, there’s nothing better. Computers suffer from system crashes, viruses or loss and theft, and when these things happen, you risk losing things you care about. If you don’t back up your computer, you’re playing with fire. But if peace of mind isn’t enough to persuade you into buying a portable drive, there are other reasons. For one thing, you can never have too much space. If your desktop is long in the tooth you might find yourself knocking your head on the hard disc’s ceiling, and while you can buy internal hard drives to expand storage, it’s never enough to house the gradually expanding volume of digital media. And, they’re versatile. Many set-top boxed such as WDTV Live Hub or Boxee Box can use portable drives as add-on storage. And, many drives are small enough to fit into your back pocket, so if there’s a need to transfer 500 gigabytes of data between home and work or over to a friend’s, use the supersized thumb drive. You can find a range of portable drives by manufacturer such as Western Digital, Seagate and Clickfree at electronics stores ranging from $100 to $200, depending on the storage capacity, which generally ranges from 320 GB to two terabytes.
Consumers can have a love-hate relationship with their printers. On one hand, some households see it as an indispensable tool that’s used frequently. But it’s hard to swallow the price you pay for refilling or buying new ink cartridges. Still, if you buy a good-quality printer today from pretty much any major manufacturer (HP, Canon, Brother and Lexmark, to name a few), it should still be more than adequate five years from now. Printers are in a nice spot. Image quality has increased over the past 10 years while purchasing costs have fallen. You can buy an all-in-one printer such as the HP Officejet 6700 that includes a scanner, touchscreen controller and wireless connectivity for less than $200. Don’t knock the scanner. Most of us still have a treasure trove of pictures from childhood or school that, with a little time and effort, can make great talking points on your Facebook timeline. If you are in the market, make sure you look into a wireless printer. They join your home network rather than connect to a computer or laptop via a USB cord, and you can send documents or images to the printer wirelessly from laptops, mobile phones and tablets.
While most of us can get by with just about any keyboard, a specialized keyboard looks and feels great. And there’s a lot of variety. You can get a chic keyboard that’s light and thin or something specially made for the type of user you are. There’s wired and wireless, gaming keyboards with extra programming keys, and media keyboards that have toggles and switches for volume, play and pause. There are also office keyboards with quick keys to frequently used programs if you need to, you know, work. Pick the one you like and any worthwhile keyboard will last until you get bored of it. Logitech and Microsoft have a wide selection, including keyboards for tablets. You can go out of the mainstream, too, and build and order custom keyboards from companies such as WASD Keyboards or, if you’re really extreme, Datamancer, whose custom creations can cost as much as $1,500.
A good set of headphones can make the difference between dominating and getting pwned in online multiplayer games. Anyone who spends any time in front of a console or PC playing video games can’t lose by investing in a good set of cans. Not only do headphones give you an edge by letting you pinpoint your opponent’s movements and actions, but they also allow you to communicate with teammates, which can be invaluable during team play. Turtle Beach, Razer and Logitech make quality headsets for console and PC gaming – some that come with nifty tricks. Turtle Beach’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II Ear Force Tango Limited Edition Headset boasts Dolby digital surround sound, Bluetooth connections to mobile devices (yes, if your phone rings you can answer it and use your headset to chat). Some headsets, such as the Ear Force Tango, also come with voice morphing, which changes your voice, and are preprogrammed with voice prompts recorded by the actors in certain games, who announce when your headset is powering on or when the battery is low.
XBox 360 and PS3
Okay, so the PS3 is six years old and the xBox 360 is seven and (rumours have it) both are due to be replaced a year from now when Microsoft and Sony unveil their new game consoles, but who knew in 2007 how versatile game consoles would become? Defying just about every principle there is when it comes to consumer electronics, the old game console has become stronger with age. They’re much more than game machines. Connected to your home network, game consoles can stream video, music and pictures from your computers or connect you to a deep and growing music and video library on Microsoft and Sony’s respective online media markets. With the introduction of video apps such as Netflix and MLB.com, consumers are spending hours on their consoles consuming media. However, don’t go out and buy one unless you really have to. This time next year, Microsoft and Sony will likely be releasing their new consoles, which promise to do as much and more.