Like my Christmas shopping this Best of 2011 list is coming at you last-minute. Today I will take a look at some of the best new products we had a chance to review over the course of the past year. Since this is a tech focused site most of these products will include products for PC, Mac and iOS devices.
With the recent Thailand flooding Hard Drive prices have been skyrocketing. Now may be the best time to transition to the SSD format for your desktop PC and laptops. The Kingston HyperX SSD takes advantage of SATA 6 speeds making it one of the fastest drives on the market. It features blazing fast write speeds of 510 MB/s and read speeds of 555 MB/s. With a max capacity of 240GB it can handily function as a primary drive on any machine.
Longer lifespan with 5000 erase cycles
Upgrade kit is fully stocked
Stylish HyperX appearance
Lightning fast speeds
USB enclosure uses USB 2.0 interface
Another great addition to one’s PC experience would be the Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate. This mechanical keyboard uses Cherry MX Blue mechanical key switches with gold contacts to provide that “clicky” tactile sensation when typing. Typing on it feels substantial as each keyboard touch provides a palpable and audible click. Das Keyboard offers labeled and for true touch typists a totally blank key version. Although I reviewed the totally unlabeled version I ended up buying the labeled keyboard as I still sometimes looked down all typing.
Excellent mechanical keyboard with tactile and acoustic feedback
Built in USB hub
Should improve touch typing skills over time
Lacks Multimedia Controls
Of course sitting next to one’s computer all day can be boring so why not add a pair of media speakers to play back some tunes or watch a movie. The Lower East Side Media Speakers from Audyssey are great way to add excellent sound in a small package. They’re designed to work with a computer, TV set-top box or Media Center. Since they are digitally and analog enabled you can use most types of audio cables to hook them up.
Analog and digital enabled
Not wall mountable
No built in equalization ability
Does not include optical cable
For those who are overwhelmed by the paper clutter in their office then NeatReceipts from the Neat Company should be on your holiday list. It is available for both the PC and Mac. I reviewed the Mac version earlier this year and gave it my highest recommendation as it has made a difference in my frequently messy office. The beauty of the NeatReceipt system is its portability; you can carry it in your laptop bag while traveling or keep it discreetly out-of-the-way on your desk.
Portable digital filing system
Fast, portable scanner
Robust well designed software
Imminent free software upgrade
No tagging capability …yet
Moving to the Mac side of things I was able to try out two programs that have become everyday staples in my computing life. Dragon Dicate for Mac is the latest speech recognition software from Nuance. This is a program I currently use for most of my reviews as it saves me a lot of time typing.
Improves on earlier versions
Accurate speech recognition
Twitter and Facebook functionality
Allows iOS devices to work as wireless microphone
Compatible with OS X Lion and Word 2011
The second program that I have gotten plenty of daily use from is Fantastical. This calendar application sits in the menu bar allowing quick access to one’s schedule. It works with iCal, BusyCal, Entourage, or Outlook. Fantastical even allows the use of iCloud, Mobile Me, Google Calendar or Yahoo simply by importing them to iCal.
Uses natural language for event entry
Built in search feature
Works with online calendars including Yahoo and Google
Unable to edit events within Fantastical – Note: Since resolved with update
This year provided plenty of new accessories for Apple’s iDevices. Two iPad 2 cases stood out from the pack; the Grip Stand 2 provides a multipurpose case that features a handle which doubles as a stand and even allows the case to hang the iPad 2 from the back of a car’s head rest. An additional pedestal stand lets the iPad 2 functions as a stationary display.
Works as shell case or portfolio (combined with Apple Smart Cover)
Limitless positioning options using the built in handle/foot
Allows iPad 2 to function as display screen when used with GripBase
Can hang iPad 2 in vehicle or off wall
Appearance is rather uninspired
The other iPad 2 case that I frequently use is the Octavo from book bindery inspired Pad&Quill. This case will look familiar to those who have seen the DodoCase but in my opinion it seems more solidly constructed. The Octavo features the Moleskin look that always looks professional and casual at the same time.
Case is gorgeous
Built with traditional bookbinding techniques
Includes magnetic iPad 2 sensor bar on inner cover
Does not work as a viewing stand
Keeping with the iOS theme one of the better iPhone 4 cases that we saw was the iChair case. While the name is a little silly it does describe the product, which has a built-in stand allowing the case to position the iPhone 4 into standing vertical and horizontal positions. They also make an iPad case that offers the same functionality. To keep the user from getting bored of the case’s appearance the company offers two different color top sections to provide some variety.
Plenty of padding
Works as a stand in portrait and landscape views
Include screen and back film protectors
Interchangeable top slider
Verizon and AT&T compatible
Attracts finger prints
Only one angle for the stand
Recently we reviewed the SRS iWOW 3D, which is an audio adapter that helps make the audio on an iOS device really stand out. This dongle attaches to the dock connector of an iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone. No additional software is needed; to use it simply plug your headphones into the 3.5 mm jack at the end of the dongle then listen to your music or video. Trust me you’ll be impressed by the rich sound coming from this small device.
Makes audio sound richer and fuller
Can be used right out-of-the-box
Has free optional iOS app
Cannot listen to audio through 3-D and native headphone jack at same time
Beware of active Bluetooth connections
For the guitarist in your life the Griffin StompBox is an awesome addition as it provides a virtual pedal board rivaling many professional guitarists. This guitar peripheral works with an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in conjunction with the free iOS app iShred Live. The app includes a few free pedals and additional ones can be purchased for $.99 (the prices will be going up at the end of this year). Also included in the app are a metronome, recording studio and music playback from your iTunes library.
Inexpensive virtual effects guitar pedal
Free iShred LIVE app
Easy to add more virtual pedals through the app
GuitarConnect cable included
Only one app currently available for it
No included mic stand for the Apple device
No matter what type of touchscreen device you’re using fingerprints will always be an unbeatable foe. One way to keep the finger grease at bay is to wipe it down using the ToddyCloth from Toddy Gear. This inexpensive cleaning cloth has a microfiber surface with an antibacterial coating.
+ Cleans all types of screen
+ Microfiber finish
+ Anti-microbial coating
- Patterns seem aimed more towards the female demographic
As a music lover my favorite piece of audio equipment is my Sonos set up. This past year saw the release of the Sonos Play:3 which is a wireless self-contained speaker system that can work as a stand alone entry into the Sonos ecosystem or as an additional zone to an establish Sonos system.
The beauty of Sonos is it plug-and-play ability of streaming one’s music library throughout one’s home or office. But like they say on the infomercials, “but there’s more” – the Sonos also features numerous music services including my current favorite Spotify.
+Excellent sound despite compact frame
+Works with free Apple/Android mobile apps
+Vast online music selection
- Lacks input and headphone jack
- No power switch – vampire drain
- Requires Sonos Bridge or other Sonos device for wireless function
2011 was certainly an interesting year for some new and exciting products. With the release of Ice Cream Sandwich enabled Android devices, rumored iPad 3 and iPhone 5 updates among others, 2012 should be an exciting year in technology. Happy New Year from all of us at TestFreaks!