by Phil Baker
As a gadget person and technology columnist for the San Diego Transcript I try out dozens of new tech gadgets each month that range from clever to what were they thinking? With my experience in product design, I'm pretty skeptical about many of the products that seem to be created just because they can be, not because they fill a need. Yet out of those that I evaluate, some exceptional ones emerge.
For my final column in this guest role I thought I'd note some of my current favorites. What makes them special? They bring a little joy and pleasure, satisfy a real need, or just make things simpler.
Novatel MiFi Card ($40-$50/month) -- I recently returned from Tokyo where I used an international version of the Novate MiFi Card that I for $15/day. It saved me hundreds of dollars in voice and data charges compared to using my AT&T iPhone. This credit card-sized device created a WiFi hotspot wherever I went. I used it to make calls back to the U.S. for two cents a minute using the iPhone Skype app and sent and received email while riding the trains. In the U.S. I carry the Sprint version of the MiFi card with me everywhere. It's available from most U.S. carriers for $50 plus a monthly charge. Currently Virgin Mobile has the best deal at $40/month.
TripIt Pro ($49/year) -- This service is like having a travel assistant wherever you go. Forward your confirmations for air, hotel, and car reservations in any order, at any time, and it figures out your itineraries, adds all of the information to your calendar, and lets you access them from your iPhone or Android using their free app. While on a trip, it sends you reminders to check-in, alerts of flight delays, gate changes and cancellations. It suggests alternative flights and even monitors your ticket pricing, should lower fares become available.
SugarSync ($10/month) -- This clever software keeps your files synced between multiple computers. Never again do you need you worry where the latest revision of a document or presentation is located. Just note which files or folders you want to keep synced and it works in the background without any intervention. It also works as a backup, as well as giving you access to your documents from your iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android phone.
Jawbone ERA Bluetooth Headset ($130) -- The brand new ERA improves on Jawbone's previous models with better sound, a longer-lasting battery and a built-in motion sensor that lets you answer a call with a tap of your finger. It streams Internet radio, podcasts, and music between calls, and lets you add apps that personalize it with different voices, languages, and even your favorite number for making a one-touch call. And its new shadow grill styling is stunning.