The countdown to Christmas is on, and post-holiday sales will soon follow. With a whole new generation of Windows 8 PCs now in the wings, and more smartphone and tablets always arising, now could be a good time to hold off on buying a brand new device (either as a gift or for yourself), in favor of updating an existing model with sharp new accessories.
Here are 25 suggestions for useful and/or entertaining add-ons, including eight accessories each for PCs, smartphones and iPads and other tablets, plus an overall winner which can work across multiple devices that probably dwell somewhere inside your household.
Just to name three of them, the products range from Seagate's FreeAgent GoFlex external PC hard drive (HD) to GoGroove's FlexSMART Univeral Car Mount for mobile devices and a new docking station from ZAGG which works interchangeably with iPads and Android OS tablets.
The tips are drawn from the online pages of NotebookReview and its five sister publications in TechTarget's TechnologyGuide family of Web sites: DesktopReview, TabletPCReview; DigitalCameraReview, PrinterComparison, and Brighthand, a site specializing in smartphones and other handheld devices.
Read on to find out pricing and other details about these 25 cool add-ons for PCs, smartphones, and tablets.
In today's economy, it might not make that much sense to get rid of an existing notebook or desktop PC that's still functioning just fine. With the right add-on accessories, you can give an existing PC a brighter display, an abundance of expanded multimedia file storage, and a wide assortment of other new capabilities. Eight ideas follow.
With people downloading more videos, music and photos from the Web all the time, Seagate has followed up at 3TB drive introduced last year with the industry's first 4TB external hard drive. Other features of the next gen hard drive include an illuminated capacity gauge and software for automatic continuous backup.
For all of that high capacity, the FreeAgent GoFlex is rather reasonably list-priced at $299.99. When will we see an even roomier 5TB product entry? Time will tell.
If you're looking for an external storage drive with a somewhat lower price point and/or a sleeker form factor, The Western Digital My Passport Essential line-up continues to deliver solid performance.
WD's latest edition adds USB 3.0 to the drive's earlier 2.0 functionality, for speedier file transfers. Capacity ranges as high as 1TB.
If you're ever seen either an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S smartphone (and who hasn't by now?), then you've witnessed the brilliance of IPS display technology.
With its Essential Display lineup, HP brings IPS to affordably priced desktop PC displays, at list pricing as low as $179 for the 21.5-inch LE2202x model.
Has the time arrived to replace an aging mouse with a brand new pointer? If so, the Kinsington Orbit Trackball could be the perfect choice.
This wireless trackball mouse has gained earned our recommendation due to its responsiveness, smooth and comfortable build, ease of use, and design. It also helps that Kensington throws in free software and a 5-year limited warranty. The Orbit will work with Microsoft Windows 7, Windows XP, and Vista, in addition to Apple's Mac OS PCs.
Others are taking more innovative approaches to computing input. Back in September, Swedish firm Prestige International first announced plans to deliver the Penclic Mouse, a new peripheral aimed at bringing together the best aspects of pen and mouse computing in a single gizmo.
Now the Penclic is available for purchase, just in time for the holidays. As its name implies, the Penclic consists of a digital pen attached to a flexible joint, sitting on top of a moveable mouse.
Logitech Wireless Touchpad
The new Logitch Wireless Touchpad lets you scroll through documents and Web pages with the use of two fingers, for example, or swipe with four fingers to switch from one application to the next. Thus far, the touchpad supports Windows 7 PCs.
Actually, the 750GB Seagate Momentus XT would be better described as an upgrade, as opposed to an add-on, because it's only available in an internal form factor.
We're including it here, though, because it represents the latest in a line of "hybrid" drives which promises to deliver ultra-fast application launch times at a fraction of the cost of pure solid state drives (SSDs). Seagate's second gen hydrid drive produces both more storage and faster performance.
Panasonic HDC-SDX1 Camcorder
Since when does a camcorder qualify as a PC add-on device? When the camcorder doubles as a Webcam, that's when.
The Panasonic HDC-SDX1 Camcorder turns in superior performance as a Webcam, while also functioning well as a light and versatile standalone camcorder. Panasonic has rolled some high-end camcorder features into this entry-level device, list-priced at $500.
Some add-on accessories for smartphones are specific to either iPhones or various Android OS models. Others, however, can be used with any phone -- and in some cases, with PCs and tablets, too. Keep that in mind as you browse through the following gizmos, which add functionality such as on-the-go battery recharging, in-vehicle use, enhanced music listening and playback, easier text input, and more.
A smartphone doesn't offer the larger display space of a PC, or even of a tablet. What's more, it isn't always convenient to look at a smartphone display, anyway -- let's say, if you're in a business meeting or riding a bike.
In response, Geek.com offers a Bluetooth display watch with caller ID and controls to let you see who's calling and decide whether to take a call immediately, let it go to voicemail, or reject it.
Motorola Atrix HD Multimedia Dock
Question: How do you give a smartphone the same functionality as a notebook or desktop PC? Answer: You plug it into the Motorola Atrix HD Multimedia Dock.
Motorola's dock comes with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse desktop set. Yet the sole catch -- and it's a big one -- is that the dock only works with Motorola's Android-enabled Atrix 4G phone.
For users of Apple's iPhone, Kensington produces quite a different type of dock.
The Kensington PowerLift Dock for iPhone incorporates a stand with a small external battery that can do an excellent job of extending the mobile operating life of eithe an iPhone or an iPod.
Many different car mounts are devised specifically for iPhones, and for various and sundry Android phones. Yet what if you can't find a car mount for your model, or if you're less than impressed with what's available for your phone?
There are lots of "universal" car mounts out there, too, but many aren't all that great. The GoGroove FlexSMART, on the other hand, is a car mount that features a little of everything anyone might need, starting with an innovative gooseneck connection to the car's cigarette lighter port, which doubles as its mounting point. Also included are a powered USB port, for charging any device (even those that don't take a universal microUSB plug); a built-in FM transmitter; a 3.5mm plug; and a backlit digital display.
For listening to music and other pursuits, lots of folks use low-end wireless headsets, priced as low as under $20. For those who want to step up the audio, Jawbone's ERA Bluetooth Headset offers wideband-quality sound, some audio UI capabilities, and even an accelerometer.
Priced at $130, the headset works with any Bluetooth-enabled device, including PCs and tablets along with smartphones
Some Android OS phones -- such as the Motorola Droid 3, for example -- still come with hardware keyboards. Yet the iPhone, of course, does not.
For iPhone owners who want to add that feature, ThinkGeek's TK-421 is a protective case with a swivel-out hard keyboard underneath. List-priced at $49.99, the lightweight gizmo weighs in at only about an ounce-and-a-half.
With or without special features such as swivel-out hard keyboards, tons of different protective cases are available for various sorts of smartphones. OtterBox, for instance, offers a range of effective protective solutions for just about any phone model. Even when there are omissions, OtterBox ultimately seems to take care of that.
To cite one example, for a while, the OtterBox line-up did not cover Apple's latest iPhone model, the 4S. In October, however, OtterBox started to release cases in its Defender, Reflex, and Commuter series which will accommodate both versions of the iPhone 4. Browse though the OtterBox Web site, and you'll see protective cases specifically tailored to Android OS phones from Dell, LG, HTC....You name it.
At first glance, Samsung's Galaxy Player looks more like a smartphone than an accessory. In fact, you might even mistake the player for a Galaxy S II phone, since the two devices are similar in appearance except for small differences around screen dimensions. More specifically, the Galaxy Player (shown at left) comes in 4- and 5-inch versions whereas the Galaxy S II phone (pictured above at the start of the Smartphones Accessories section) is available with either a 4.2- or 4.5-inch screen, depending on mobile carrier.
The player, though, is actually specifically designed as a competitor to Apple's iPod and as a "companion" to Samsung's Android phone. Some might find toting both types of Samsung gadgets to be a bit cumbersome. However, for anyone downloading large volumes of digital multimedia content, the WiFi-only player can serve very useful purposes for playback and extra storage, particularly when used inside the house.
The iPhone's camera keeps getting better, due not just to improvements in the camera itself but to a growing number of impressive camera accessories. Take, for example, the new Kotego Dot Panoramic iPhone 4/4S add-on.
You can now can shoot videos of what's "all around you," instead of just what's directly in front of you. The Kotego Dot is a clip-on lens -- or as Kotego calls it, a "panoramic viewing accessory" -- that lets you shoot 360-degree panoramic video and then share the digital footage via Facebook, Twitter, and Kotego.com.
While iPads and other tablets offer roomier displays than smartphones, these bigger mobile gizmos share similar needs around device protection and battery recharging, Onboard storage can generally use a boost, and alternative input methods can also come in handy. Here are eight products that can increase the functionality of iPads and/or Android tablets.
A stylus can serve as a convenient method on inputting information into a tablet, and it offers greater precision than tapping or gliding your fingers on the touchscreen.
We've found the Wacom Bamboo Stylus to be well constructed and extremely useful for day-to-day operating needs. Priced at merely $30, the stylus might work as a great stocking-stuffer for an iPad 2 owner.
The Seagate GoFlex Satellite is a slick device for extending the storage capacity of either an iPad or an Android tablet.
Offering up to five hours of continuous streaming, the Satellite doesn't require a connection to an outside power source. We've found that the satellite works particularly well in movie streaming.
MSRP: $159.99 for 1 TB
The WD My Book Live might not be the simplest thing to set up, but once you get going with it, the expanded storage is practically seamless.
You can easily jump back and forth between browsing the Web and accessing files stored in My Book Live, all without messing with your WiFi settings.
The Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG functions as both a wireless keyboard and protective casing against any bruises, bumps or falls.
Zagg now makes separate models specifically designed for the iPad 2 and for Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet, for example.
For those more interested in style than in a wireless keypad, Morphie sells a wireless protective case offering full access to the iPad 2's ports and controls, magnetic integration for waking the tablet and putting it to sleep, and the ability to convert to a stand with a wide range of viewing angles.
For anyone who owns both an iPad and an Android tablet, the FLEX swings either way -- iPad or Android -- with just the flick of a switch.
This wireless, rechargeable keyboard from ZAGG is both lightweight and compact, with tactility that will be appreciated by touch typists and thumbers alike.
AirStash, a product from a company of the same name, is an SD card hub small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It provides up to 32GB of storage per SD card.
Users can also carry and swap out multiple SD cards for even more storage. AitStash also supplies its own WiFi network for data access, plus a free app for iPad users.
After working on your iPad all day, why not have some fun with Griffin's HELO TC RC Helicopter?
Even when the iPad-driven helicopter started crashing and flying out of control, we had a blast. While a battery life indicator would be greatly appreciated (and perhaps an accompanying orchestra playing Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" when the chopper is airborne), the HELO TC RC Helicopter is still a highly enjoyable gadget.
And the Overall Winner Is...
Although the HP Officejet 100 Mobile Printer is marketed mainly to the enterprise market, this mobile printer be quite useful to just about anyone who does any work away from the home or office, even if that's only on get away weekends to the mountains or the lake.
Featuring a long-life lithium ion battery, the compact portable printer outputs up to 500 pages when fully charged.
What's more, this Windows-driven but Bluetooth-enabled printer is capable of syncing with a variety of devices, including Android, RIM Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Phone mobile gadgets.
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