Cool Yule Tools 2016: Digital disruption at Santa's Workshop

The 17th annual Network World holiday gift guide has something for every techie (and techie-wanna-be) on your list.

silicon santa banner 3 Stephen Sauer
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Accessories (power and mobile)

Belkin Valet Charge Dock for Apple Watch and iPhone
More info:

For the iPhone and Apple Watch owner with (almost) everything, the Belkin Valet combo charger is the perfect holiday gift – and it comes in two colors to make it easier to coordinate with your devices.

Officially known as the Valet Charge Dock for Apple Watch + iPhone, this device will simultaneously charge your Apple Watch (both last year’s and this year’s models) as well as any iPhone with a Lightning connector. The Watch charger is magnetic, so you just set your Watch on it and it starts charging immediately.

Although I tested it with my super-sized iPhone 7 Plus, it should handle any model from the smaller iPhone 5SE to the iPhone 6 and 7 or the larger versions of either one. And it has a neat little design trick that makes it even more useful: The height of the Lightning connector sticking up from the base is adjustable. By turning a little thumbwheel on the backside of the charger, you can raise or lower the connector for the perfect connection.

That’s important because it allows you to leave your iPhone in whatever case you may have bought for it – even thicker ones that won’t securely sit on other chargers.

The Valet, which comes in Rose Gold or Silver, feels sturdily built and has a heavy base that won’t tilt or fall over when you use it. It’s not cheap -- $129.99 from Belkin – but the high quality construction is worth it. Why would you want to put your fancy iPhone and pricey Watch on anything less? Highly recommended!

--Ken Mingis

Logitech K780 Multi-Device Keyboard
More info:

On-screen keyboards on today’s mobile devices are OK for short messages and such, but given that the mobile device can now serve as your primary or even only information and communications link to the outside world, said on-screen keyboard is a pain. Small, mobile-centric physical keyboards are a slight improvement for many, but most people prefer a full-size keyboard – exactly what keyboard maven Logitech has presented us with here, and with a few interesting twists.

I tested the K780 with an iPhone. Setup was easy – once the keyboard powers up, it’s discoverable; just use the appropriate iPhone (or whatever) setting to connect. One interesting feature here – you have to enter a security code (displayed on the iPhone) to complete the connection. As you do this with the keyboard itself, you’re certain everything is working as it should, and all of this takes just 20 seconds. It’s also possible to use a pre-paired wireless USB receiver if Bluetooth isn’t available (this, thankfully, being increasingly uncommon) on your PC or other device. The dongle is hidden under the battery door on the bottom. A set of three dedicated keys allows on-the-fly switching between these options, which can be very convenient if you have multiple devices.

While the basic instructions inside the box might be adequate, you should download the manual. As a big bonus, the manual also details the various hot-key combinations available for all supported OSs. These include Windows 7, 8 and 10; Android; iOS and MacOS. A specific OS can be set easily and again on the fly if desired.

The K780 has an uncommon weight and heft to it, denoting, perhaps, quality, but I’ve never had an issue with the dozens of Logitech keyboards I’ve used. Still, it might be a bit much for some laps. The design of the K780 also includes a bit of space at the top of the keyboard where a smartphone-class device or perhaps a tablet is designed to sit (there’s no wire or connector here; it’s just a tray). Unfortunately, the space provided isn’t big enough for my iPhone in its case. This might not be a big issue for you, as lots of separate stands and case/stand combinations are available, but I would have made this space just a bit deeper.

Bottom line – the K780 is flexible, rugged, and I do like the feel of the keys (and I’m pretty picky about this last item). It’s reasonably priced, and, the real bottom line – it would indeed make a great gift this season.

-- C.J. Mathias

Belkin Travel RockStar
More info:

When you’re traveling, the biggest concern for many mobile workers is making sure you have enough “juice” for your computer, phone or tablet. Over the years, we’ve seen device-makers try to tackle this issue with large battery packs, or power outlet extenders. We’ve seen airports try to accommodate this need with rechargeable power stations, but we still see travelers huddled near a wall outlet, sitting on the floor while their phone recharges.

The Belkin Travel RockStar doesn’t necessarily solve this problem, but it goes a long way in helping you keep or obtain power for your mobile devices. First up, it has a three-pronged power adapter that pops out from the side of the device if you happen to find one of those rare wall outlets (good for hotel rooms, too). With the device plugged into the wall, you then get two additional surge-protected outlets for plugging in things like your notebook. The RockStar also has one USB port, which lets you recharge your phone or tablet (it offers 2 amps of power) as long as you have the charging cable.

More importantly (and unseen in other devices like this), the RockStar also has its own battery – so if you can’t find one of those precious wall outlets, you can still recharge your phone with the extra power. The device is also small enough to fit comfortably in your laptop case or backpack without you feeling that you’re carrying bricks of power.

-- Keith Shaw

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