Office bling for '09

Old notion: Squeeze every drop from your old equipment. New order: Fresh gadgets crank up your productivity.

Nothing stands still in business; needs, skills and opportunities change. When upgrading IT equipment, most enterprises squeeze every drop of utility from basic hardware to get the best possible return.

That's sensible, but many companies look at upgrades differently. Rather than settling for minimal commodity equipment, they invest a little more to get products with fresh features and new capabilities that may increase their employees' productivity. (View images of these products here.)

With this in mind, consider using or testing some of these interesting and innovative products in the coming months. (And remember to check out Computerworld's 2008 Holiday Gift Guide.)

1. Smart Phones and Cell Phones

Offering PDA capabilities, add-on applications, e-mail, Web browsing, GPS, maps, cameras, voice recorders, music players, multimode wireless and more, today's best smart phones seem to be the consolidated devices we've been waiting for -- at least until something better comes along.

I find Apple Inc.'s iPhone 3G (with AT&T service) reigns supreme for ease of use and the best overall interface, plus it offers an excellent API. But given the wide corporate acceptance of previous BlackBerries, the new BlackBerry Storm (with Verizon service) could be a better bet for enterprise use, though it lacks Wi-Fi. And HTC Corp.'s Android-based G1 (with T-Mobile service) might be the best choice for other enterprises.

2. Netbooks

When you need a bigger screen, a keyboard and real PC applications, but weight and mobility still matter, check out these units at under 3 lb. each. I tried and liked the Windows XP-based Mini-1000 from Hewlett-Packard Co. Initially skeptical that it might be too small for easy use, I took the $549 Mini-1000 on a weeklong trip and found that it did everything I needed it to.

I wouldn't want this as my only computer, especially since it lacks a DVD drive and its keyboard is a bit too small for fast typing with big fingers, but overall, it's a sweet package that travels easily.

3. Laptops

Here's a potentially controversial vote in favor of the new Apple laptops. They cost more than PCs and using them could require IT to support Mac OS X as well as Windows, but the MacBook and the MacBook Pro match up very well against enterprise notebooks from Lenovo Group Ltd.or Dell Inc. The Apple machines are great -- rugged, reliable and nicely portable.

For a more traditional, Windows-only choice, I like the new Latitude E-4300, a worthy successor to Dell's long line of enterprise laptops for road warriors.

4. Desktop PCs

Often considered mere commodities, desktop PCs have undergone few major changes in recent years. But take a fresh look at HP's TouchSmart IQ500 series, starting at $1,300. The large integrated touch-screen/CPU/drive package could change your notion of the ways you can interact with a computer. This new desktop format easily switches among multiple applications, and it will look spectacular on a reception desk.

5. Display Monitors

With flat screens the norm, consider new, inexpensive 19-in. and larger models with energy-saving LED backlights. Employees will appreciate their bigger, brighter images.

For the very best color and highest contrast, I looked at Dell's spectacular 30-in. widescreen monitor, the $1,999 UltraSharp 3008WFP. With its huge, high-resolution screen (1,920-by-1,080 analog; 2,560-by-1,600 digital) I find I actually work differently and more efficiently, keeping more application windows and data on-screen simultaneously -- a real timesaver with large projects. And all without eyestrain or the prescription glasses I need for smaller monitors.

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