'Tis the season and all that. In years past, the High-Tech Office seasonally recommended a range of high-tech gifts. This time around, though, the focus is on high tech for the office. Instead of gifts for your loved ones or yourself, these are recommendations to make your work life more productive.
To start off, take a break from reading this column and take a look at your keyboard. Having coffee breaks and lunch at your desk has resulted in a keyboard that's pretty grotty, right? Crumbs, brown stains and more.
I've seen some that seemed to have lichen growing. Do you really want to type on that? Or even touch it?
You can wash your keyboard, but then you'll have to wait – often a week or more – for the water that inevitably gets inside to dry out.
Logitech suggests you toss that ugly thing, replacing it with its $40 Washable Keyboard K310. It can be hand-washed or even submerged in water, making it much easier to keep it clean. It's reasonably waterproof, spill- and dust resistant. It's even pretty stylish. A bonus: no clicking sounds as you type.
The downsides? The feel is a bit mushy for my taste, and it's PC-only. Of course, Mac users are too fastidious to ever spill anything on their keyboards!
Your office probably has a Wi-Fi router. And it's probably several years old. While you might think it's working fine, there are reasons to look at replacing it. With newly released Linksys EA6500 ($199), for instance, manufacturer Cisco has dramatically simplified the steps needed for initial set up (securely) and makes it possible to add devices to the network with the tap of a button or quick scan of a tag. After setting up an online account with Cisco, the router's administration settings can be accessed (securely) from a web browser or using an iOS or Android app. Antenna improvements result in increased range – a very good thing – and the EA6500's support for the new 802.11ac standard offers the possibility of bandwidth equal to high-speed gigabit wired networking. Using its pair of USB ports you can connect a printer and a hard drive and share them across the network.
Note though, high-speed 802.11ac wireless is not yet in wide use in laptops, smart phones or other devices. The EA6500 will do a fine job of working with older wireless standards, but these won't be any faster.
As well, some of the EA6500's features – such as the online access – can be added to recent-generation Linksys products.
When away from the office, for many of us our smartphones act as an office in our pocket. That means being at the mercy of their limited battery life. Motorola's Razr HD LTE deserves attention for its extra-large battery, resulting in up to 16 hours talk-time or up to six hours of high-speed LTE network access on a single charge. Bonus features: a large high-resolution display and rugged (Gorilla Glass and Kevlar back) construction.
This Android-powered smartphone is exclusive to Rogers (from $99).
Over the past year, PC ultrabooks have challenged Apple's popular MacBook Air notebook series.
Like the Air, ultrabooks are lighter and slimmer than your average notebook. They're typically built around 13-inch displays and often use fast and rugged solid-state (SSD) storage.
Once of my favorites is HP's Envy Spectre XT (about $950). Among its features: all-metal construction, a backlit keyboard, seven hours of battery life and better than average audio (from Beats Audio). An Intel Core i5 processor, four gigabytes of memory and 128 GB SSD storage combine to deliver perky performance.
If you're moving to Windows 8, though, you might want a notebook that also features a touch-sensitive display or a convertible device that can be used both as a conventional notebook and a tablet.
Expect a growing range of such products in the new year.
Toshiba's Satellite U920t convertible is available now (about $1,150), with a 12.5- inch touch screen and a unique sliding hinged keyboard. This Windows 8 system is in many ways a hybrid ultrabook and tablet.
Finally, I'm sure my editor won't notice if I slip in something for you or yours. The earbuds that ship with most smartphones or music players are far from state of the art. A replacement set can vastly improve your music-listening experience even if it doesn't make you more productive in the office.
Wicked Audio offers headsets ranging from tiny earbuds to over-the-ears headphones. Pricing starts at $10 ($15 with microphone) for its Deuce model earbuds.
The $30 Heist earbuds include a second jack on the cable for sharing music with a significant other, enhanced bass and noise isolation.
The $50 Evac over-the-ear model provides higher fidelity sound and collapses for easy portability. •