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Computerworld's 2012 holiday gift guide

By Computerworld staff
December 6, 2012 06:00 AM ET
Livescribe Sky Wifi Smartpen
The Sky Wifi Smartpen (credit: Livescribe).
Click to view larger image.
Livescribe Sky Wifi Smartpen

Livescribe's Smartpen series has always been interesting for those who take written notes. (Remember writing? It was used before there were keyboards.) The innovative digital pen records both your pen strokes and any audio -- such as, say, a lecturer's voice -- and then plays back the audio later any time you touch your pen to the specific note.

However, since we last covered Livescribe's device back in our 2009 holiday gift guide, there have been some major feature enhancements. The latest iteration, the Sky Wifi Smartpen, adds Wi-Fi functionality that allows you to automatically upload your written notes, along with the accompanying audio, to the Evernote online note-taking service.

A quick and easy setup (it took me maybe 10 minutes) lets you register your Smartpen, connect it to your Wi-Fi network and associate it with an existing or new Evernote account (a basic account is free). Using control symbols included on the covers of your notebook, you can start and stop the audio recording; you can also listen to the recording using the pen's own audio speaker. (If you want, you can just record notes without any audio.)

Livescribe automatically creates a new folder where it stores a copy of the audio and a link to a Web page. Click on the link, and you're taken to an online reproduction of your notes; as you listen to the audio, what you were writing at the time is highlighted. So, for example, you can draw a diagram to illustrate an idea you hear at a lecture and then, later, hear what was being said while you drew it -- or see exactly which doodle you were working on at that moment.

With its new functionality, Livescribe's latest Smartpen has become a must-have tool for students, journalists and others who depend on written notes. It comes with 2GB, 4GB or 8GB of onboard storage for $150, $200 or $250, respectively. The first two models let you upload an extra 500MB to Evernote each month (for smartpen notes and audio). The 8GB model includes that plus a one-year subscription to Evernote Premium and a portfolio case for carrying notepads and your pen.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

Price: $150 (2GB), $200 (4GB), $250 (8GB)
Tech specs  |  Video  |  Store locator  |  Phone: (877) 727-4239
Summary: Livescribe's Sky Wifi Smartpen easily transfers written notes (with audio) to an Evernote account.

Logitech Washable Keyboard K310

Sticky-fingered toddlers, marauding cats and snacking teenagers can make a computer keyboard an all-too-frequent victim of spills and general yuckiness. If you know someone who lives with those hazards -- or who's kind of clumsy themselves -- give them this $40 washable keyboard from Logitech.

Logitech Washable Keyboard K310
The Washable Keyboard K310 (credit: Logitech).
Click to view larger image.

It's got drainage holes that not only make it easy to wash but let it dry quickly. (Hand wash it with mild soap in warm water; it's not dishwasher-safe.) The keys are laser-etched and coated to make sure the letters don't wash off. It even comes with a little brush for whisking away food particles.

The K310 is also a full-featured USB keyboard in its own right. The Function keys provide shortcuts for accessing email, controlling media and performing other standard tasks. One thing, though: The specs say it works only with Windows XP, Vista and 7. Windows 8 users may need to wait for updated drivers to use those extra functions and Mac users may be out of luck altogether.

You might also like: For a really offbeat keyboard, check out the USB Typewriter ($799) from Uncommon Goods. This hybrid of old- and new-school technology turns a real mechanical typewriter into a keyboard that works with any USB device -- even an iPad, which can sit above the keys where the paper used to go. Ideal for your steampunk friends, the typewriter has the extra keys (Ctrl, Alt, etc.) you need for modern input.

-- Jake Widman

Street price: $20 - $47
Tech specs  |  Video  |  Phone: (800) 231-7717
Summary: A fully washable keyboard for your friends who live with careless toddlers or clumsy cats.

Eton FRX3 emergency radio/charger/flashlight

After Hurricane Sandy, disaster preparedness is on a lot of people's minds. The photos of people wandering the streets of Manhattan in search of electric outlets brought home how much our ability to communicate -- and our sense of safety -- depends on power.

Eton FRX3 emergency radio/charger/flashlight
The FRX3 (credit: Eton).
Click to view larger image.

Give your loved ones an emergency backup in the form of the Eton FRX3 radio, phone charger and flashlight. It runs on three AAA batteries, and when those run out, they can switch to the internal battery, which can be recharged in any of three ways: via the built-in solar cell, through a USB connection to a computer (one with power, obviously) or with the hand-cranked dynamo.

According to Eton, 90 seconds of cranking will operate the radio for about 5 minutes or provide about 20 minutes of illumination from the built-in LED flashlight. The solar panel can recharge the battery in about 10 hours.

A fully charged battery will keep the radio going for up to four hours. (Besides AM and FM, the radio has presets for the seven NOAA weather station frequencies.) In addition to all that, the FRX3 can also charge a smartphone via its USB out port.

-- Jake Widman

FRX3 from Eton
Street price: $48 - $75
Tech specs (PDF)  |  Video  |  Phone: (800) 872-2228
Summary: Ideal for anyone who might undergo an extended power outage (in other words, pretty much everyone), the Eton FRX3 provides radio, flashlight and mobile phone charging in an emergency.

Nintendo Wii U video game system

Nintendo's new Wii U system marries console/TV gaming and tablet gaming. Its new handheld controller, called the GamePad, features a touch-based 6.2-in. screen as well as traditional button and joystick controls. While the console feeds the main action to the television, the GamePad's handheld display can be used to show additional game data as a window into the virtual world, or to move the gameplay from the TV to your hands.

Nintendo Wii U video game system
The Wii U system (credit: Nintendo).
Click to view larger image.

But the most compelling use is for "asymmetrical gameplay." In multiplayer games, four players use the classic motion-based Wii Remote controllers (sold separately for $40 each) and view the television while a fifth player is offered a unique experience via data shown only on the GamePad, such as seeing a map or radar by which he can assist his teammates -- or hunt them down.

The Wii U also offers streaming video via Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon Instant Video apps. It's the only console on which to find games such as Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros. U and ZombiU, and it's also compatible with all previous Wii games and peripherals.

The system is available in two models: the $300 white Basic Set that has 8GB of internal storage and the $350 black Deluxe Set that includes 32GB of storage, the Nintendo Land game and a few other extras. The Wii U has been in scarce supply since its Nov. 18 launch; we found it available at a number of online retailers, though some are taking advantage of its scarcity by jacking up the price.

You might also like: Microsoft's Xbox 360 console with Kinect motion sensor is cheaper ($250 for a holiday bundle that includes two games) and has a massive software library of original and hardcore titles. For handheld gaming fans, there's the new $200 Nintendo 3DS XL. Like the Wii U, it offers dual screens (one 4.9-in. and 4.2-in.) and a touch interface.

-- Ken Gagne

Street price: $300 - $400 (8GB Basic Set), $350 - $500 (32GB Deluxe Set)
Tech specs  |  Where to buy (scroll down)  |  Wii U demo kiosk locator  |  Phone: (800) 255-3700
Summary: Nintendo's new video game console is an all-in-one media hub that features innovative asymmetrical gameplay for up to five players.



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