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Top Travel Gadgets and Gizmos for 2009

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Happy with her cell phoneThousands of new gadgets are introduced each year, but few rise above mediocrity.  

Gadget guy Phil Baker shares some of the best products among the several hundred he’s tested this year.

From stocking stuffers to gifts of a lifetime, each one represents excellence in design and performance, a good value, and stands apart from competitive offerings.

Toshiba mini NB200 netbook – While Toshiba is late to the netbook market than many of its competition, the NB200 is a product worth waiting for.  It has a near full-size keyboard, a rarity on netbooks. It weighs three pounds, gets more than five hours of real battery life, and has the highest environmental ranking for a PC. Its three USB ports remain on when the lid is closed making it a portable charger, as well. Best of all, it’s shipping with Windows 7. $350;

Sprint Novatel MifiNovatel MiFi – A stand-alone wireless card, sold by Sprint and Verizon, it combines 3G and Wi-Fi into a credit card-size device that provides a Wireless hotspot wherever you go. It allows up to five devices to be wirelessly connected to a 3G network and eliminates the need to install drivers in your devices. I use it with my notebook and iPhone, and share it with others in meetings. $100 plus $60/month; and

TripIt Pro – The TripIt Pro app for computers and smart phones brings organization to all of your travel plans, making it a must for frequent business travelers. Simply forward your confirmations from airlines, rental car companies and hotels, and TripIt organizes each trip, adds the items to your calendar and provides you with timely reminders. $49/year;

Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset – Among the dozens of Bluetooth headsets I’ve tried, the Pro is one of the very few that gets just about everything right.  It provides very good clarity at both ends of the conversation, has a long battery life  and is comfortable, even when worn all day long. Its controls are easy to use and understand, and it uses a standard micro USB charger.  $99;

For more, try Portable Travel Gadgets: The Winners and Losers of 2008

Windows 7 logoWindows 7 – This long-awaited new Windows operating system puts Vista users out of their misery and brings a new level of usability to all PCs.  It’s an example of where less is more: fewer interruptions, annoyances and quirks. It’s the first Windows OS that should give Apple some pause. If there’s one complaint it’s that there are too many versions, complicating what should be a simple purchase. $120;

Palm Pre – This is the first smart cell phone that’s a formidable challenger to the iPhone. It uses a new operating system, WebOS, that’s superb, if a little slow. While it still can’t compete in all areas to the iPhone, the phone is smaller, has great call quality, and is on the much-preferred Sprint network. It’s complemented by its excellent line of well designed accessories, particularly its Touchstone inductive charger. $149;

Don’t miss our Travel Gadgets & Gear section for more great ideas!

Motorola DroidMotorola’s Droid Phone – This is the best Android phone yet and is Motorola’s best new phone since the RAZR. It runs Google’s new 2.0 OS; it’s a slim, attractive phone, about the size and weight of an iPhone. It has the best display of any phone, a slide out keyboard, and a replaceable battery. It has a built-in turn-by-turn GPS system, but proved rough around its edges.  Two clever docks ($30 each), one for the car and another for home, transform the phone into the navigator and alarm clock modes. About $200; and

Pentax K7 – This compact semi-professional DSLR does everything well at a very competitive price. It has all of the features most pros need, yet can be used by beginners using its green setting. The K-7 has received rave reviews for packing so much into such a small a package that’s weatherproof and ruggedly constructed out of magnesium. That puts it ahead of competitive offerings that are larger and mostly plastic. About $1,050; 

executive expandable briggs and rileyBriggs & Riley 15.4″ Executive Expandable Rolling Brief (KR306X) – New this year, this is the most functional, well-designed, and durable rolling business bag I’ve found. It has useful pockets and compartments to hold everything in its place.

It’s narrow enough to wheel down a coach class cabin, small enough to fit under most airplane seats, and big enough to carry most everything you need. $369;

Mindjet Mind Manager – This is a terrific software product for PCs and Macs that users can’t live without, yet most are unaware of it. It enables you to organize, manage, and communicate ideas and information using visual diagrams called a mind map. For some activities it’s much more effective than using lists. You begin with a central theme and add sub-topics on branches that can include notes, ideas, tasks or images. The latest version for the Mac, MindManager 8, adds much more functionality including integration with Mac apps, Excel and Word, and lets you link items on your map to Web sites, online information, documents and photos. $99-$249;

Learn more: The Best Rolling Briefcases for Business Travelers.

Bose mobile headsetKensington Portable Power Adapter – Ideal for travelers, this is one of the best implementations of a portable outlet for charging multiple devices all at once. The slim device plugs into a single outlet and connects five devices at once with its three AC and two USB sockets. Its grounded cord wraps into a thin, lightweight package that’s easy to take everywhere. $25;

Bose Quiet Comfort 15 Noise reducing headphones – This new model works far better then their previous models, the QC 2 and QC3, and competitive products. Noise reduction is almost total, while comfort and fidelity are improved. The QCV15 has dispensed with clumsy rechargeable batteries and gone back to using a single AAA cells that lasts about 30 hours, making it much more convenient for travelers. $300;

By Phil Baker for Visit Phil on the Web at, and check out his book, From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money.

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