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Cool Yule Tools 2011

Smartphones and Accessories Tech Treasures [2011 Cool Yule Tools]

Presenting the gems that will enhance your smartphones during the holidays.

By Network World Staff, Network World
November 21, 2011 12:09 AM ET

Network World - Remember when cell phones were as big as a brick and required a separate shoulder pack to keep the battery up and running? Yeah, so do we. But we also remember the birth of the smartphone, and since then, they’ve gotten smarter and smarter. With dozens of choices out there now (several iPhone models and carriers, along with multitudes of Android devices), we figure that your gift recipient already has a smartphone. So we’re focusing on some products that can enhance their smartphone, whether it’s a nice case, charging device, Bluetooth headset or other cool accessory. Here’s what we liked this year:

Watch a slideshow version of some of these products.

Products reviewed in this category
HTC Wildfire S smartphone, by T-Mobile
Marque M155 Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics
Speaky Bluetooth car speakerphone, by Bluetrek
i4 Charging Station, by IDAPT
Cel-Fi RS1 Cellular Repeater, by Nextivity
i1Eco universal charger, by IDAPT
Case-Mate iPhone 4 Monsta Case
Aegis Series for iPhone 4, by Trident Case
The Callet - phone case and wallet in one
Speck iPhone 4 cases (many varieties), by Speck Products
Spiderpodium, by Breffo
PowerSlice universal charger, by Fuse
Zip Touch-n-Go Multi-Charging Station, by The Joy Factory
Mobile Power Station, by IOGEAR
Inductive Charger, by Energizer
Carbon Bluetooth headset, by Bluetrek
Freeway Bluetooth speaker phone, by Jabra
M50 Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics
Jabra Supreme Bluetooth headset, by Jabra
Voyager Pro HD Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics
Icon HD Bluetooth headset + The Nerd, by Jawbone

The reviews

HTC Wildfire S smartphone, by T-Mobile
I know iPhones are all the rage, must-have, cool, and hey, wait a second – if that’s true, why is Android outselling the iPhone by such a wide margin? Is there anything wrong with Android? Well, as an Android user myself I can tell you, sure, nothing’s perfect, but for most users the differences between Android and iPhone are inconsequential. And since an iPhone is going to set you back a wad of cash (OK, except for the antique 8GB 3GS, which, like the Wildfires S reviewed here, is also now free), handsets like the Wildfire S are truly worth a look.

So, what can you get for free? It’s 3G, of course, has Wi-Fi, GPS, and has a 5-megapixel/720p camera. It’s a true world phone, covering all the major bands, and supports HSPA, tethering over both USB and Wi-Fi (essential for business use, IMHO), and there’s Bluetooth and a 3.5mm audio jack. It runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and HTC’s Sense UI, and has all manner of sensors and other bells and whistles. For most people, this is a more than serviceable phone.

What’s not to like? Well, this can be both a plus and a minus, but it’s small – much smaller than an iPhone or most Android phones, but still very usable. Screen resolution, though, is limited to 320 by 480, a consequential disadvantage. The processor is slower than higher-end phones. Storage is primarily on the MicroSD card, but these can range up to 32GB. The battery cover must be removed, however, and as is common, to access this slot.

In use, the Wildfire S is like any other Android phone. Everything works, and with a little practice, even techno-novices will take to this one. OK, it’s not as fast or as slick as some higher-end phones, but anyone looking for a truly pocket-sized Android handset will likely be quite happy with this one – especially now that T-Mobile is literally giving them away (OK, with a contract, but still…)

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars
Price: Free (Web pricing) with activation and data service; free shipping
Reviewed by C.J. Mathias

Marque M155 Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics
The Marque M155 headset from Plantronics is aimed at owners of smartphones like the iPhone or Android phones. In addition to its regular Bluetooth hands-free headset features, the Marque M155 can synch with the MyHeadset app, which gives you additional tips and tools. Like previous versions from Plantronics, the M155 includes access to the Vocalyst voice service (which lets you dictate Facebook and Twitter updates via the headset), and can also stream music, podcasts, Internet radio and even GPS directions via Bluetooth v3.0 and A2DP stereo support. The headset also includes multipoint technology, which lets you pair the headset to two phones simultaneously.

The headset is also extremely tiny - if you are worried that a Bluetooth headset will make you look like a cyborg, fear not - this is barely noticeable on your head. The eargel fits securely and comfortably on the inside part of your ear (not inside your eardrum); different sizes are given for you to find the best fit. If you want an earloop to go over your ear, it's available, but you shouldn't need one with the cleverly designed eargel tips.

Pairing the device to your phone is very simple - a voice inside the headset walks you through the process, so even a first-time Bluetooth user should be able to get paired quickly (as long as they know where on their smartphone the Bluetooth settings are located). Speaking of voices, when a call comes in, you don't even have to check your phone - you can say "answer" or "ignore" and keep your eyes on the road while driving, for example. Another great part of the headset? An on/off slider switch that lets you save its battery power, so you don't have to worry about constantly recharging it. The same voice that helps with pairing the device also tells you if the phone is paired with the headset, and approximately how much battery power you have left.

There's no noise cancellation or wind noise reduction as seen on more premium headsets from Plantronics, but the sound quality was still pretty good while I was driving my car (as long as the radio and air conditioning was off). If you don't need some of the advanced functionality found in some of the premium headsets, the Marque M155 is a great value.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars
Price: $59.99 (list)
Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Speaky Bluetooth car speakerphone, by Bluetrek
The Bluetooth speakerphone that normally attaches to the driver’s side visor gets an upgrade with the it-may-be-too-cute-for some Speaky – at first glance, it looks like a tiny fat baby (or Ziggy), but inside is a Bluetooth speakerphone that provides hands-free cell phone calls. Speaky comes in either black or pink designs, and quickly connects via Bluetooth to your cell phone. If you leave the system powered on, every time you enter the car, it finds your phone and says “Hi, what’s up?” when connected. In fact, my kids started answering Speaky whenever they were in the car and it started talking to us. In fact, Speaky has an impressive set of words and voice prompts, it can tell you when it needs a charge (“Please charge me up!”) or if it loses the Bluetooth connection (“I lost your phone!”).

The system also comes with a cigarette adapter charger, and an auxiliary headphone jack if you want to use Speaky to connect an iPod/iPhone for music purposes. Since I already have an AUX jack on my car stereo, I didn’t see the need for this, but for cars that don’t have the AUX jack, you could utilize Speaky in this way. The system also came with a nice Velcro base that you could stick onto the dashboard quite easily.

Overall this is a speaker system that’s geared towards users who may not be familiar with more advanced Bluetooth car speaker systems, or for kids or others who want to have some fun (in fact, you could take Speaky out of the car and use it as a Bluetooth speaker system for music). It may be too cute for your husband or other power user on your list, but for others (teens, kids, grandparents), it might be a perfect fit.

Cool Yule rating: 5 stars
Price: $69.95
Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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