Home and Office Gear Tech Treasures [2011 Cool Yule Tools]

Presenting the gems in your home or office environment.

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Setup was fast and easy (and limited to setting IP address, security, and SSID; you probably won’t need the manual), and I must say that the N750 continues Belkin’s tradition of producing stylish routers with a vertical theme that demand placement somewhere other than under a table in the basement. A clever feature on this model is auto-update, which works like system-update facilities on PCs and Macs – new firmware can be automatically downloaded and installed as it is released; no thinking required. 

The only bad news, as can be surmised from the product’s name, is that 3x3 performance is only available at 5GHz. This may not be a major drawback; 2.4GHz isn’t a great place to use 40 MHz channels anyway. But just so you know. 

I’m going to be testing the performance of 450Mbps routers shortly, and the N750 is on the list for that project. In the meantime, this one is worth considering and is a real bargain if 450Mbps at 5GHz is all you need. 

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars  

Price: $129.99 (list)

Reviewed by C.J. Mathias

Ooma Telo Wireless Adapter, by Ooma For users of the Ooma Telo home VoIP service, one of the big problems is that the base station needs to be connected via Ethernet cable to your home router. For many users (myself included), this meant having the Ooma system connected in a basement or closet, where you tended to forget that you had the system. 

That changes with the Telo Wireless Adapter, a USB dongle that attaches to the back of the Telo base station, allowing network connectivity without it needing to be connected directly to the router. Setup was relatively simple - just attach the adapter to the USB port on the back, then connect a PC to configure the adapter to your existing Wi-Fi network. After it configures, you can then unplug the Telo base station and move it to another room in the house (as long as you're in wireless range). It's a nice addition to owners of an existing Ooma system, and recommended if you are getting the entire system for the first time (the Ooma system gives you home telephone service without monthly subscription, using your existing broadband Internet service). 

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars 

Price: $49.99

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Artisan 837 Color Inkjet All-In-One, by Epson I’m "in like" with the Epson Artisan 837. I wanted to whole heartedly love it, but it fell short a few times for me. First things first, the Artisan 837 is a printer, photo printer, copier, scanner, and fax machine. It even prints labels on CDs. It does a lot! And it does almost all of it, wirelessly. Of course, we at Network World just love that the whole house can easily be networked to the printer. However, because of all of those great things, set up takes a while. It took my tech-savvy boyfriend more than an hour to set up this one. 

The print quality is lovely. The photo print quality is very nice once you get the colors right. Plus, it does all of this wirelessly. The box will tell you that it prints the “world’s fastest 4 x 6 photos.” It also says those photos will be “ultra hi-definition prints.” I found that it will print photos very quickly, but on the worst possible setting they look off. When set to a photo quality, the photos are lovely, but print at a slower speed. 

One feature that sets the Artisan 837 apart is that the machine has its own e-mail address, so you can email the machine and it will print it for you. My first thought was “Why?” But then I realized: mobile devices! If I take a picture on my phone, I can print it, no matter where I am. That’s pretty cool. Technically, I could give the e-mail address to my friends and they could surprise me by sending me pictures. The only problem with that is the Epson’s e-mail address basically resembles a 26 character WEP code. If you bought this for a grandparent, you could write down the email address and then surprise them with photos of their grandchildren just printing out of their device (if you can remember the email address and as long as the grandparents remember to keep the printer on and stocked with ink and paper). 

Like previous versions of the Artisan printer, you can use your own photos and turn them into coloring book pages – children find it pretty fun to color in pictures of themselves – it’s also very nice for homemade art projects or finding something to do on a rainy afternoon. Yes, the Artisan 837 has a fax machine, but we didn’t test this (I’m part of the generation that doesn’t even have a home phone thanks to cell phones). If you are interested in this feature, it can use the 30-page automatic document feeder. 

The scanner portion comes with software that will convert scanned images into editable text. The scanner can also scan older photos and help clean them up, raising them to 4800 dpi if you want. It can fix colors in old photos, and they do look much sharper. It also says it can remove the appearance of dust, but I couldn’t see much of a difference. If the dust is part of the photos (I was testing photos from the 1980s), it didn’t seem to clean up any of that. The photo scanner is amazingly slow, and you have to scan them one at a time – the software for uploading photos is also a major pain, because it makes you preview at least one photo if you want to scan anything (and you have to leave that preview open to keep scanning additional photos), but it will remember how many photos you have scanned in so as not to overwrite earlier scans. If you’re a blogger and you just want to scan in old photos occasionally, this will work great. But if you want to scan in every photo you have from before the digital age, this isn’t the scanner for you. Also, we couldn’t scan via Wi-Fi – we needed to be plugged into the printer in order to receive the scans. However, you can scan photos directly to a memory card.

The Artisan 837 also boasts having a touch screen, but I found it to be the slowest, most unresponsive touch screen ever. Yes, you can print straight from your camera this way, and that’s great. But using it otherwise is tedious. 

This is a great machine for a combination of home office work as well as photo printing. It’s even just great for photo printing. My only warning is that you shouldn’t buy it if you only want it for photo scanning capabilities. Otherwise, enjoy all that it has to offer, wirelessly! 

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars 

Price: $234.99 (Amazon)

Reviewed by Jennifer Finn

Internet phone, by Bedol Oh, thank goodness, there's a phone for the Internet! I'm not sure what it's supposed to actually do or if anyone answers ("Hello, Internet? Stop being so slow!"), but there's now an Internet Phone, and it's from Bedol.

Bad name aside, the "Internet phone" is actually a USB-connected handset that works with VoIP programs like Skype or Google Talk. It's the same thing as a USB-connected handset - it gives you a microphone and a speaker, but instead of wearing it on your head, you get a sleek and slim handset that you'd put on the side of your head like you were talking on a normal phone.

When it's in the base station, the phone can act as a speaker for your computer, it works with music apps to play music (say, from iTunes or other streaming sites), or you can use it as a speakerphone as well.

The unit we tested is different from the ones that Bedol is currently selling on the site, which either means I'm trapped in an alternate dimension, or they've upgraded the unit since they sent us one to try out. The unit we had included buttons on the front that would adjust for volume, a play/pause button and a mute button. The one on the site has a digital display that offers time/temperature. I'm not sure which version is better.

Also, the instructions are pretty vague, but they win points for hilarity. Here's an example: "Install the Internet Phone program to your computer and create your username and Personal Profile. You can download the program from the Internet. To use the Internet telephone for calling, your computer should be on line. After dialing your phone call or receiving your phone call on your computer, you can use this Internet Phone Handset to speak and listen through the Internet."

For the price of the phone (listed at $50), there are much better options out there for voice headsets and microphone, but maybe that's only available in this dimension.

Cool Yule rating: 1 star

Price: $50 (Bedol site)

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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