Bluetooth Headsets. Since smartphones are so much more than a phone, it’s a shame to hold them up to your face to talk when you could be checking your calendar at the same time. So get yourself a Bluetooth headset and keep talking without tying up your hands.
Today’s Bluetooth headsets have very impressive noise reduction capabilities, using dual microphones to separate your voice from the background, wind screens for outdoor use, and sophisticated digital signal processing. You actually can stand near a noisy fan, running water, or between trains, and your caller will hear only your voice, even sounding fairly natural in not too hostile conditions.
And you’ll typically find that you no longer need to hold the headset in place with an earloop, or with an earplug rooted in your ear canal — new earbud designs have an attached loop that gently nestles into the folds of your outer ear for a more comfortable fit.
You can choose from a broad array of designs, from fun to functional, compact to more accessible. For example, the Aliph Jawbone Prime features an “invisible” button design with a subtle texture, in vivid “Ear Candy” colors as a lifestyle statement for all-day users ($129, www.jawbone.com).
The Jabra BT530 has a straightforward design with clearly marked controls that are great for occasional users ($79, www.jabra.com).
The Plantronics Discovery 975 with boom mic extension to get closer to your voice includes a protective case that doubles as a booster battery for long road trips ($129, www.plantronics.com), while the Plantronics Voyager PRO has a retro over-ear design with boom mic and the electronics in a pod behind the ear, for comfortable long-term use in an office or on the road ($99).
Sharing your music and videos. These portable devices make great personal media players but aren’t so useful for sharing the fun. They have tiny speakers and small screens that are less visible off-angle. Even a laptop is not good for viewing by more than a few people.
So carry your own pocket-size projector like the second-generation 3M MPro120 Pocket Projector. This projects an image from 8 to 50 inches diagonal (up to 3 1/2 feet away). At 10 to 12 lumens it’s bright enough to see in the light and includes a built-in speaker. You can hook up to a laptop (with VGA), analog video (component A/V), or to iPods with a separate cable ($349, 3mmpro.com).
The similar Optima PK102 Pico Projector adds internal memory to store photos and videos ($249, www.optomausa.com).
You also can boost your audio with portable speakers. For example, the Altec Lansing Orbit Speaker is a cylinder around 3 3/8 inches wide and is available with an audio connector, or in a USB version for laptops ($39 / $49, www.alteclansing.com). LaCie USB/FireWire Speakers provide 1 watt each of stereo sound for laptops in a curvy design powered over USB or FireWire ($29-$79, www.lacie.com).
Even power goes wireless. Our increasing dependence on portable gadgets has a downside — all the different power adapters and cables required to keep them charged. More devices now use USB as a standard connector for data interfacing and power, which at least reduces the need to drag along custom connectors.
Of course, there are three USB connectors — full-size (on laptops), mini (on some players and phones), and micro (on Bluetooth headsets), so you’ll need cables for each. But with USB wall adapters and car adapters, as well as USB-based portable batteries, things are getting at least a little simpler.
Yet if everything else is going wireless, why not power? We’re not talking about pulling energy out of the air, or beaming voltage around. The idea is that you can just sit your device down on the table and it charges, without the muss and fuss of wires and connectors.
Sound good? Well, we’re not quite there yet, but several companies are on the path. The first products have a charging mat that you plug in the conventional way, plus compatible sleeve adapters that you attach to your portable devices. They also include universal adapters with micro USB interfaces.
Powermat (www.powermatusa.com) uses magnetic induction technology, so your device snaps into position on the mat. The Wildcharge system, available as the Duracell MyGrid, uses conduction technology with direct contact (www.duracell.com/us/mygrid). These typically charge at the same rate as the device’s own charger.
And no, they don’t spark if you put metal on them, or fry you if you touch them.
Of course, these products use incompatible technologies, so there will be a shake-out period in the market as the companies push to get their technology built directly into portable devices. Someday we’ll expect everything from conference room tables to kitchen counters to supply power.
Portable storage and the cloud. All these devices depend on flash memory to provide storage that is lightweight and relatively inexpensive for significant capacity. Many also provide a memory card slot for additional storage, with postage-stamp SD cards for cameras and fingernail microSD for phones and players.
Memory cards also come in more expensive higher-speed versions, but these are only needed if your device requires such performance, for example for recoding HD video or shooting bursts of high-res photos. And the new SDXC (eXtended Capacity) format promises even higher capacities, up to 2 terabytes.
Another portable device, the USB “thumb” drive, has replaced floppy disks and CDs as convenient portable storage for backup and sharing. New “system in package” technology has squeezed all the electronic components into a single miniaturized sealed unit, so USB drives like the Verbatim Tuff-’N’-Tiny can fit 8 GB in half the size of an SD card (around $29, www.verbatim.com). Or to carry your storage more conventionally, the LaCie iamaKey is a standard-size metal key with a USB interface on the end, holding up to 32 GB for $99 (www.lacie.com).