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 café 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.
When using your HDTV as a monitor for making a call (as opposed to your smaller laptop screen or on a smaller monitor), the camera provides a wider angle for calls - instead of three or four people crowding around a tiny monitor to be within range of a laptop's Webcam, you can all sit on the couch comfortably when making a call. The unit does provide some pan/tilt/zoom features as well, if you want to get closer to a subject during a call. Voice volume comes through the speakers on your TV set as opposed to tiny speakers. The unit contains four noise-canceling microphones that can pick up audio better when multiple people are all talking.
The design of the unit is quite nice - it reminds me of an Xbox Kinect camera in its shape and size. The unit comes with a bracket that is easily adjustable to fit onto the back of any TV, no screws or installation is needed. Configuration is handled through the included remote control, including signing in to an existing Skype account (recommended) or setting a new one up.
In addition to making Skype calls, the unit comes equipped with a Web browser that you can view via the TV - you can download a free iOS or Android app to provide a rudimentary mouse/keyboard for this option - it's not the best app, but can work if you quickly need to check something on the Web (although it's probably quicker to use your smartphone's browser).
Ideally you'll want to buy two units - one for yourself and one for the person who you want to have regular video chats with. While you can call anyone with this, if the person is on their Webcam/computer/smartphone and you're on the TV, they'll see a great picture and you'll see whatever device they're using. Also, having good broadband on both sides (I tested mine with a very nice FiOS network with great upload bandwidth) will create a better experience.
At $250 for one unit, the price may turn off some people, especially if they're looking to buy two units - but at the moment I can't think of a better way to have a videoconference between a family and a far-away grandparent (or other relative) that produces such good quality video and audio.
- Keith Shaw
With large-screen TVs donning every other living room it seems, the age-old projector is a thing of the past. But ViewSonic has created a projector that could bring back memories of the days when your family would sit together watching films - albeit not the old, grainy reels from the 1950s, but modern movies with high-definition resolution.
The PLED-W200 LED projector is about the size of a paperback book, so this also makes for a great projector for road warriors who need to make a boardroom presentation. All you need is a laptop to show a PowerPoint presentation or play a DVD or you can also show off your latest photos or videos you might have on a CD - just be careful not to mix up those vacation photos when on your business meeting.
The biggest obstacle for me was thinking that I needed to install software from ViewSonic in order to connect the projector to my computer. After figuring this out, it's a quick matter of plugging in the AC power cord, connecting to the computer via the included multi-input cable, and getting the popcorn ready. The unit does come with cables that let you hook up to external speakers, but for the most part we found that laptop speakers provide adequate sound. Or you can use the projector's 2-watt speakers.
The projector includes a very easy-to-use dial for focusing the lens once you're projecting, and also for adjusting the height of the display. It has an SD card slot that you can use for PC-less presentations.
Overall this handy unit provides for quick and easy setup for viewing videos or presentations, whether you're in the boardroom or the living room.
- Ryan Francis
Compact, portable projectors remain a staple of business, but these can also be useful in the home, especially when optimized for HDTV. The ViewSonic PLED-W500 is just such a beast, with a native 720p (1280x800) resolution. No, this isn't 1080p (although up to 1080p input [scaled] is supported), but the objective here is a great big-screen experience from a very small package. And this resolution does indeed match that of many notebooks today, so the PLED-W500 might also be a good choice for business presentations. But wait - it gets better.
The PLED-W500 has 1GB of internal storage, which can display Microsoft Office, PDFs, and other files natively, without a computer attached. Wi-Fi is optional (at up to 1024 x 768), meaning you don't even have to plug in a computer - but HDMI is standard if you do, along with composite, component, USB, and even S-video ports. Apps for iOS and Android are available to drive presentations right from your handheld - long a desire of mine.
The internal guts are DLP, which isn't seen much in TVs anymore (it can't be made super-thin) but this is perfect for projectors. The light source for the PLED-W500, as one might guess from the model number, is a bright white LED, promising long life, limited heat output, and little noise (the bane of most projectors, in my experience). We set up the projector using a commercial projection screen at a distance of about three meters with a resulting 2.13 meters image size, and the result looked great, with brightness rated at 500 lumens. DP-Link 3D is supported (with optional glasses and an external video processor), with a 120-Hz. refresh rate.
The projector is quite small - just 2.6 pounds and 1.6 inches high. You'll need to download the manual; the included Quick Start Guide is less than basic. The zoom is digital-only; a minor drawback in most cases. You can tweak a large array of options, but the results look pretty good right out of the box. The only drawback - it's still kind of noisy, but not unusually so for a projector.
- Craig Mathias
This very portable projector weighs only 6.35 ounces, making it very easy to stick into a laptop bag for mobile workers and sales staff. The DLP Pico projector connects to a user's Windows PC (sorry, Macs not supported) via a provided USB cable (two cables attach for power, or you can also connect a power adapter for additional brightness). The projector supports an input resolution of up to1280 by 800 that down-converts to 854 by 480, and has 100 lumens of brightness and a 1000:1 contrast ratio.
The small size and light weight of the C120 is a huge factor for sales professionals who don't have to lug around a heavier projector when traveling. The USB connections are also very nice -- too many times I've seen people struggle with trying to connect a VGA adapter or other connector to their laptops for projecting presentations -- the USB connection works quickly and easily.
However, end users need to make themselves familiar with the device -- it has a maximum projection distance of 12.14 feet, and a minimum of 15.75 inches, so figuring out where to place the projector for the best possible image could be tricky at first. In a larger board room setting, the brightness was not optimal -- this would be better for smaller room settings, and you still need to keep the room very dark. It took some time for me to find the focus wheel on the device -- the unit's minimal user guide could use some updating. I was also disappointed that the projector had no Macintosh or even iOS support -- connecting an iPhone or iPad to the C120 would be extremely awesome.
- Keith Shaw
I absolutely love Wi-Fi pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cameras, and I've used them for everything from home security and monitoring applications to catching an elusive flying squirrel that had taken up residence in my attic. The ZyXEL IPC4605N CloudEnabled IP Camera features up to 720p video, infrared LED illumination for night use (with limited range and no color, of course), 10x digital zoom, panning to 340 degrees, and tilting to 100 degrees. The output can be viewed via the cloud on any browser. A 30 frames-per-second rate is obtainable at up to 640 x 480, at 720p this drops to 15 fps, which is still quite good. A broad range of video adjustments is included, as is - and this is cool - two-way audio via a speaker port. Mounting hardware is included for walls and ceilings as well. And it's relatively small and unobtrusive.
Now if it only worked.
I'll probably get it to eventually, but just consider the problems I discovered after only a few minutes: the AC power cord was missing from the box. The .pdf of the manual is missing from the CD (yes, they ship a CD, and the PC software installer was not available on their website). The password to the unit (when accessed from a browser) is "1234", not "admin" as it states in the manual. A plugin from videolan.org is required once you do get into the browser, but only 32-bit browsers are supported. The included setup software only works on PCs - so Mac users are out of luck. Support is spotty and ZyXEL's website is hard to use due to an overly-complex structure. Wireless isn't built-in; rather, a USB key adapter is included. In short - it's amateur hour over there, and thus we have in this product a gift suitable only for your less-favored friends.
- Craig Mathias
In essence, the DCS-5222L from D-Link is a security camera that can be mounted as a traditional security camera (upside down), vertically on a wall or on a table or other flat surface. It can rotate 360 degrees and will pan/tilt. A scan feature moves the camera around 360 degrees at the level it's set, returning to its previous position. You can also toggle between night vision and normal viewing.
The picture is pretty crisp, and the sound from the microphone is above average (you can almost hear too much). You can record the video feed with a built-in microSD card slot, and you can connect wirelessly to a router via WPS (I had to quickly check if my router had those capabilities - luckily most new routers do). If you don't want to connect over wireless, you can attach the camera via Ethernet (they include a cable).
Setup via WPS was simple - just press a button on the camera, then the WPS button on your router and it instantly configures. Software needs to be downloaded to your computer (I did have some issues with the required Java Runtime Environment for my Mac), and you also need to create an account on mydlink.com in order to view content over the cloud.
In addition to viewing the camera's video via browser, you can access the camera from mobile devices. I tested apps for my Android phone as well as an iPad. The iPad interface had less functionality than the Android app, which appeared to be the same experience as if viewing from the computer.
I mainly used the camera and apps to watch what my dogs were doing while I was at work (they're older and require more attention). This can be a perfect gift for pet owners, as well as those who have caregivers in their homes, or for people with second homes who want to keep an eye on their place while away. The fact that the camera can be moved around (although you can also permanently attach it to a wall if you want) is very helpful, especially if you're unsure about placement.
- Juan-Roberto Ortiz
The Brookstone 1080p HDMI Pocket Projector is just what the name says. It's a small, 3.9-inch x 3.8-inch x 0.89-inch HDMI projector. It weighs in at 0.5 pounds and will fit in a jacket pocket. This projector provides a good quality picture that can project up to a 60-inch diagonal picture, which is very respectable for its size.
Size isn't its only convenience; the projector can also run off the internal battery for up to two hours. All of these things make it a really good gift from a company to their road warriors. Salesmen never need to worry about a last minute change of venue that might not have a projector. They can connect this in seconds and be up and running.
I found only one downside with this projector that, to me, limits its use to the above-mentioned one. The projector doesn't display dark colors or true black very well. This would keep me from using it with video games or movies.
It comes with HDMI adapters that work with most devices, but will need a Apple Digital AV Adapter to be purchased to work with iOS devices. So if you are thinking of an added gift for your sales force this might be it.
- Tom Lupien