A guide to the coolest ‘best bang for your buck’ gadgets for your family
Whether you’re spending time at home or on the go, with kids or without, a handful of new tech toys can help you remain connected, informed and entertained. Not only are these gadgets getting more powerful with each successive generation, but they’re also becoming smaller, thinner and lighter. In fact, the average cell phone today is far more advanced than the computers NASA used to send Apollo 11 to the moon. But technology can also be expensive. “When purchasing a tech product, I often like to go online and get user opinions wherever possible first,” says Sharon Vinderine of Parent-Tested, Parent-Approved. “I like to know that the software is stable, the support for the product is strong and that there aren’t plans to launch a newer more improved version of the product before they have even rolled out the current product.” Here’s a look at a few recommended products that are less costly than their peers or deliver a lot of bang for the buck.
1 Seeing is believing
Samsung’s 7000 and 8000 LED Series TVs are not only stunning (and stunningly thin) 3D-ready televisions with Internet connectivity – they also support the optional Freetalk TV camera ($150) that lets you Skype with friends and family around the world for free.
From $2,500; samsung.ca
2 In control
Kinect for Xbox 360 is a small accessory – housing cameras, sensors and a microphone – that lets you control dozens of video games using only your body and voice. It’s not just for games. You can also work out in a virtual gym alongside a personal trainer to help reach your fitness goals.
3 A delicious pick
Connect Apple TV to your television to make it a “smart TV.” Use the wireless remote to stream thousands of on-demand movies from iTunes or Netflix, access media on your computer in another room (such as music, photos and videos) or tap into live MLB games, YouTube videos, podcasts and radio stations, and much more.
$119; apple.ca For Marc’s easy how-to hook up instructions, go to ParentsCanada.com.
4 3D for less
Rather than breaking the bank on a 3DTV with “active shutter” technology – one that requires battery-powered glasses that can cost up to $150 per pair – LG’s Cinema 3DTV line uses the less expensive “passive” 3D glasses found at your local movie theatre. Movies, sports and video games still display incredible depth and eye-popping visual effects.
From $1,700; lg.ca
5 Remote possibilities
Take control of your home theatre with ease thanks to the Canadian-invented Harmony universal remotes. To program these clever remotes, connect the Harmony to your computer (via USB cable) and download the codes from the Internet. Once you’re done, simply press one button, such as “Play a Movie,” and the Harmony knows what to turn on.
From $40; logitech.com
1 Not mousing around
Add some pizzazz to your PC with a fashionable accessory. Available in multiple colours and designs, the Logitech Wireless Laser Mouse M305 lets you express some individuality while at your computer – and with no cord to tether you. The comfortable mouse includes a snap-in receiver so you won’t forget to take it with you.
2 A new convertible
Can’t decide between a laptop and a tablet? The Dell Inspiron Duo gives you the best of both worlds. At first glance, it looks like a 10-inch laptop with full-size keyboard and track-pad. But then you can flip the screen over, lie it flat and use your fingertips on the touchscreen tablet for when you want to touch instead of type.
$549; dell.ca, futureshop.ca
3 Touchy subject
Now here’s a twist: the Acer Iconia is the first laptop with not one, but two touchscreens. That is, where you’d typically find a keyboard is a second screen that can be used for typing, playing games or swiping between digital pages of a digital newspaper or e-book. Benefits of a “virtual” keyboard include multi-language support.
4 Slip Me Some Skin
Decorate your favourite laptop or netbook with hundreds of different Gelaskins, high-quality skins that affix to the back of your computer. The Toronto-based company says a percentage of each sale goes to the artist, plus you can upload your own design to create a custom, one-of-a-kind skin for your laptop or other tech toy.
5 Look man, no hands
Chat with loved ones around the world – for free and with video – using Microsoft’s LifeCam Studio, a high-definition (1080p) widescreen webcam with incredible video resolution. A high-quality microphone means you’ll be heard loud and clear, too. Talk live, send a video message or record a video blog.
1 Read between the lines
Canada’s own Kobo eReader is a comfortable, WiFi-enabled electronic
book (e-book) reader with adjustable font sizes, an ultra-clear screen
(for indoor and outdoor reading) and access to thousands of
best-sellers, classics and even daily newspaper subscriptions.
Alternatively, you can rent books digitally
from your local library.
2 Game on!
The Nintendo 3DS is a powerful, portable gaming system that can display
video games in 3D – without requiring any glasses. But yes, it also
works with old Nintendo DS
and downloadable DSi games, too. This
clamshell device also lets you take 3D photos and watch streaming
Netflix movies in 3D, as well as surf the Web
and play music.
3 Making the play
Research in Motion’s eagerly-anticipated BlackBerry PlayBook packs a
powerful punch. This pocketable seven-inch tablet features a
highly-secure operating system, dual-core processor, two cameras and a
browser with Flash support.
$499 for a 16GB version, blackberry.com, futureshop.ca
4 Convergence rules
to lighten your load? Travel with the Motorola Atrix smartphone, a
four-inch touchscreen smartphone powered by Google’s Android operating
system. Leave the laptop at home because you can snap the Atrix into the
optional 2.4-pound LapDock accessory ($330) to use it like a 11.6-inch
laptop with keyboard and mouse.
$170 for a three-year Bell Mobility plan; motorola.ca, futureshop.ca
5 Second time’s the charm
Apple’s iPad 2 retains what made its predecessor so sought after – a
stunning 9.7-inch touchscreen, long battery life and thousands of “apps”
– but the new tablet is faster, thinner, lighter and has two cameras:
one to snap pics or shoot HD video and another to engage in real-time
video conference calls over the Internet.
From $519; apple.ca
1 Tablet talk
The HP eStation is a unique all-in-one device for the home or home
office – not because it’s a wireless-ready printer/scanner/copier/fax
machine, but because it’s the first printer that includes a seven-inch
wireless touchscreen tablet that lets you view and print photos,
websites and apps. The eStation also comes with an email address so you
can send photos and documents to it from anywhere in the world.
2 Preserve that Kodak moment
Not all digital photo frames are created equal. Kodak’s 10-inch Pulse
can store – and display – up to 4,000 of your most recent memories, but
even more impressive is the fact you can email photos directly to the
frame from any smartphone, tablet or computer in the world. Give this
Wi-Fi frame to a loved one and then update it regularly with photos sent
from wherever life takes you.
3 Charge it
Power up your favourite gadgets by simply laying them on the Powermat, a
thin, black mat you can keep by the front door, on your desk or a
kitchen counter. When you get home, drop on your smartphone, game system
or iPod – which needs to be outfitted with a Powermat sleeve (from $30)
– and charge up to three devices at once without having to scramble for
4 Eye-popping fun
Sony’s new Bloggie 3D video camera is a tiny video camera that can
shoot up to four hours of top-of-the-line 1080p HD video (and snap
five-megapixel photos) but it can also capture video how your eyes saw
it: in three dimensions. Play back the photos and videos on the 2.4-inch
LCD (no glasses required), upload the video to YouTube in 3D or watch
on a compatible 3DTV.
5 Tune in
Don’t pay a monthly subscription fee to satellite radio when you’ve got
access to more than 40,000 free radio stations from around the world.
The Logitech Squeezebox Radio uses Wi-Fi to join your home or office’s
wireless network, so you can tune it to the world – searchable by genre
(rock, dance, classical), talk topic (news, sports, religion) or by
country (from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe).
Marc Saltzman is a freelance technology writer and broadcaster based in Toronto.
Published in May, 2011.