Dallas Bar Association

Tech Toys for Lawyers – 2013 Edition

by Tom Mighell

There’s a chill in the air, and people are making lists and checking them twice—which means it is a good time to start thinking about tech toys for the holidays—both for ourselves and those we love. This year, we continue to see the popularity of tablet devices, and there’s a focus on making your home smarter, through technology.

This is the third straight year that tablet computers are really the hot technology toy of the season. The tablet market continues to improve, with Apple arguably the clear leader this season. In October Apple introduced the new iPad Air ($499 - $929), a lighter, faster version of its most recent tablet. It weighs just one pound, and it is 20 percent thinner than the previous model; many technology critics are saying it’s the best tablet on the market right now. For Android fans, the Nexus 10 ($399 and up) remains the top 10” tablet—however, at the time of writing the only available version is one released last year. And those of you who prefer to stay in the world of Windows will be pleasantly surprised by the Windows Surface Pro ($899 - $1799), a tablet that acts (and costs) more like a laptop, with full versions of Microsoft Office applications installed.

Many tablet buyers, me included, prefer to use a smaller device, which is why 7” tablets are becoming so popular. The new iPad Mini (pricing to be announced) should be out by the time this article is published. It has all of the features of the larger iPad—retina display and fast processor the most notable—but in a smaller, easier-to-hold form factor. The Nexus 7 ($229-$269) is the still the best Android 7” tablet out there, and the Kindle Fire HD ($139-$169) is a good choice for reading books, magazines and basic tablet functions. For those of you who simply need a good e-reader, there is really only one choice: the Kindle Paperwhite ($119 - $179) is absolutely the best available—and just keeps getting better.

In the past year, we have seen a real surge in technology tools for the home—gadgets that make it easier to do things around your house. You have probably seen commercials for the Nest Thermostat ($249), which learns the temperatures you like and builds a personalized schedule to efficiently manage the energy usage in your home. The company is also building Nest Protect ($129), a smart smoke/carbon monoxide alarm that promises not to be annoying; to shut off the alarm, you just need to stand under it and wave, and when the alarm is low on batteries it will notify you on your phone, not beep incessantly in the middle of the night.

Another household tool that has seen a technology makeover is the light bulb. One example is the Phillips Hue (Starter Pack with 3 bulbs, $200), a personal wireless lighting system that can be controlled by your smartphone. You can set lights to come on or off at certain times, change colors, and set the tone for any event or situation. Phillips is not the only company designing smart bulbs—your local home improvement store will probably have a number of “smart bulbs” on sale.

To monitor your house while you are gone, check out Dropcam ($199), a do-it-yourself wireless video monitoring solution. Dropcam cameras are pretty high quality, and they connect to your computer wirelessly. You can view your cameras on an iOS or Android device, or through the Web interface, and you can even use the built-in speakers to talk to pets or people in your house. A subscription service allows you to record video and keep it in the cloud, if storing your home surveillance video is something that interests you.

There is one cool stocking stuffer on my list this year, and it is Google’s Chromecast ($35). It is a key-shaped device that plugs into the high-definition port of your television, and broadcasts just about anything from your Google Chrome browser. You can broadcast YouTube videos, music or television from Netflix or Hulu+, or just about any other type of video from your computer or Android phone. At $35, this is a great little tech toy to give this holiday season.

Finally, a real toy, for those of you who like to play with race cars: the Anki Drive ($199, plus $69 for more cars) is a cross between video racing games and the slot cars you may have played with when you were a child. The track is covered with patterned codes that the cars read to stay in their “lanes,” and you drive the car using an app on your iPhone. You drive around the track and try to disable your opponent’s vehicles with “pulse blasts” fired from the app.

Happy holidays everyone, and may you and yours get the tech toys you crave this season!

Tom Mighell is a Senior Consultant with Contoural, Inc., and is the author of “iPad in One Hour for Lawyers,” “iPad Apps in One Hour for Lawyers,” and “iPad in One Hour for Litigators,” all published by the American Bar Association. He can be reached at tmighell@gmail.com.

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