There's nothing like new toys. They can freshen your work environment, improve productivity and even make the job a bit more fun.
Take the Logitech Couch Mouse M515 – but you can't take mine, I've become quite attached to it. It's a $49.95 (U.S.) cordless mouse that's completely sealed so you can use it on, yes, the couch, the carpet, the bed or, for that matter, the cat, without its internals getting clogged up (the mouse, that is, not the cat). It features Logitech's clever Unifying Receiver, a tiny USB 2.4-GHz wireless transceiver that can talk to up to six compatible devices. It's small enough to leave in the USB port all the time without worrying that it will become damaged. And to make sure the cursor doesn't fly all over the screen when the cat starts to squirm and you drop it, the mouse only activates if it senses it's being held.
It offers all of the usual amenities: a scroll wheel that lets you move between Web pages by tilting it, smooth mousing and an advertised two-year battery life. And it feels good in the hand.
Logitech also offers an $89.99 solar-powered wireless keyboard, the K750, which charges in sunlight or room light. Logitech says it will stay charged for at least three months in total darkness. Like the Couch Mouse, it uses the Unifying Receiver, which means you need only one USB port – even if you are using several compatible devices. It's compact enough, at one-third inch thick, and though it's portable, I still found it surprisingly comfortable to type on. Includes software that allows you to monitor the charging state.
The Couch Mouse works best on fabric, but if you need an ultra-portable rodent that works nicely on hard surfaces, have a look at the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse ($79). It's a fashion statement, arcing gracefully in the hand. It feels a bit odd at first, and instead of a wheel, it has a touch surface between the buttons that you stroke or tap, so its operation has a bit of a learning curve.
Like the Couch Mouse, the Arc Mouse connects via a tiny USB transceiver. But while Logitech provides a storage dock for the USB device in the battery compartment, Microsoft chose to simply attach it to the bottom of the mouse magnetically. And instead of an on-off switch, you power the Arc off by splatting it flat, and turn it on by bending it into a curve again. That means it tucks easily into a laptop bag.
Video-conferencing has become increasingly popular, and if your computer doesn't come equipped with a webcam, the $119 Microsoft LifeCam Studio, with a full 1080p HD sensor that can deliver widescreen video at up to 30 frames per second, is an interesting option. It has an integrated microphone on top and can be mounted on a tripod or clamped to a monitor. And being a Microsoft product, it plays very nicely with Windows Live Messenger video chats. Be aware, however, that the included software can only cope with 720p.
Moving up the price scale, we have the $139 Kobo eReader Touch. You can load PDF and text documents onto it for reading on the go, and with the help of a free program called Calibre you can convert a number of other file types into the ePub format the Kobo likes. Through the Kobo store, you can also subscribe to publications such as Harvard Business Review and The Globe and Mail.
Unlike its predecessor, which was criticized for sluggish page turns, this Kobo performs well. It's smaller than the original model, yet doesn't sacrifice screen real estate, since it doesn't need the huge navigation button – it's mostly controlled through touch. You tap the right side of the screen to advance pages, the left side to turn back, and the middle to pull up menus.
Like all Kobos, the quilted texture on the back makes it easy to hold. On the Touch, the full-sized SD card slot has been replaced by a micro-SD slot that still holds up to 32 GB of additional storage on top of the already generous 2 GB internal space. It connects to your PC via USB or WiFi, and adding your own documents is simply a drag-and-drop exercise (though if you're using Calibre, it will load documents for you). With the latest iteration of software, the integrated dictionary works with all documents, not just volumes obtained through the Kobo store (which, by the way, has a large selection of free books, as well as the expected bestsellers; Kobo says it offers over 2.3 million titles).
If you want the Rolls-Royce of earbuds, have a listen to the $399.99 (U.S.). Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 noise-isolating earphones. Each of these pretty blue buds contains three tiny speakers that draw out the nuances of what you're listening to. It makes quite a difference – I was amazed at the richness of sound. The package contains three sets of ear cushions that neatly block external noise, as well as an attenuator that will protect your hearing from the vagaries of airline entertainment systems and other unpredictable sound sources. The TripleFi 10vi model also has a microphone for use with cellphones.
One sexy laptop
Finally, for a gorgeous, sexy but still powerful laptop, the Samsung Series 9, at $1,700 (Canadian), fills the bill. It's a little more than half an inch thick and weighs 1.3 kilograms, with aircraft-grade duralumin skin, Intel i5 processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM, and a 128 GB solid-state drive, the Series 9 mixes sleekness with enough muscle to run development tools and compilations. If you need more power, there's an 8 GB/256 GB version available. Samsung claims up to seven hours of battery life.
Because the Series 9 is so thin, its few ports are concealed behind a drop-down flap on each side. The USB ports (one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0) have micro-USB connectors; there's a standard-sized USB dongle in the box, as well as a gigabit Ethernet dongle (you also get Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless).
Something this skinny does not have any frills such as an optical drive, however. You'll need to shop for an external drive if you need one.
What you do get is a three-year warranty, and a lot of envious looks when you pull it out of your computer bag.