8 Best Business Gadgets of the Year
1. Apple iPad Air2. Beam3. Apple iPhone 5S4. Google Chromebook Pixel5. Sony Smartwatch 26. Leap Motion7. Verizon 4G LTE Broadband Router With Voice8. HP OfficeJet Pro X576dw MFP
What were the real game-changers in 2013? I reviewed the biggest tech debuts of the year looking for the ones that stood out as remarkable advancements in technology. Here are my picks. If you haven't checked out these devices yet, you should.--John Brandon
I'm typing this on an iPad Air, and it's remarkably fast--especially when it comes to doing real work. The new iOS 7 interface is fluid and intuitive. In my backpack, the Air takes up little room (it's only .29-inches thin) and feels very light at just 1 pound. I now forgo a laptop on business trips and use an M-Edge keyboard cover with the Air. I usually type documents in Pages, which is now free.
I tested a Beam recently at a business expo and found the device to be extremely helpful. Tooling around the show floor from the comfort of my own office, I "met" with several tech companies and even had them show me demos. You control the robot using a Mac or Windows computer and it glides across the floor with a 17" LCD screen to display your image. The best part? The company says it will likely start renting them at trade shows--good thing because they cost $16,000 to buy.
Apple had me at "fingerprint reader" this year because it means the gadget juggernaut is finally taking security more seriously. Say what you will about whether it always works, the reader is a good deterrent. The 5S is surprisingly fast when you're running key apps like Evernote, Skype, and the now-free productivity apps from Apple like Keynote and Numbers. But my real reason for picking the 5S is this: for any startup, the iPhone 5S gives you access to the most cutting-edge apps that often debut first on iPhone.
My most controversial pick this year, this laptop does not run Mac or Windows software at all. In fact, it doesn't even run software. The Chrome OS only runs Web apps. But the Pixel is a good fit for a startup. The keyboard is one of the best I've used. It's amazingly fast--not only to boot-up quickly at a meeting (in seconds) but in connecting to a built-in 4G connection. You get free GoGo Inflight credits and free Web storage. But my favorite feature is simply the overall design: slim, light, and well-constructed.
That's right, I've warmed up to this smartwatch, a sequel to the model I reviewed in the magazine in the April 2012 issue. Why is it better than the Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear? For starters, it has a color screen and runs a few powerful apps similar to the Gear including one for Evernote. It lasts about four to five days on a charge, which is much longer than the Galaxy Gear at just two days. Plus, the watch lets you do more than just see incoming calls and texts like the Pebble. You can run apps for finding directions on the watch itself or even track your morning run.
I first wrote about gesture interfaces way back in 2011. Back then, it took a room full of sensors, a glove, and some Hollywood magic to make gestures into reality. The Leap Motion, released this past summer, costs only $80 and lets you draw, paint, swipe, and grab using only your hands. The setup is ultra-simple and the device is a hair bigger than a deck of cards. It could be a great addition to your product and sales demos.
Mi-Fi devices--those small hotspot devices you can use at an airport--have been around for a while. And, Wi-Fi routers are ubiquitous in business. I've even seen routers that can share a cellular data connection. But none of them have been so simple and beneficial to small business as this 4G router from Verizon. You can plug network drives, printers, and desktops into the available Ethernet ports, create a Wi-Fi network, and connect at blazing speeds to the Internet with one product that's easy to set up.
This last item on my picks for the year is big and expensive--but also well worth the investment. The OfficeJet Pro X is rated as the fastest printer on the planet, pumping out 500 color documents in just over seven minutes (or about 70 pages per minute). Up to 15 users can connect over your network, and HP says new ink technology cuts the price of consumables in half. It's a time- and money-saver.
Read more: 6 Big Tech Debuts to Watch in 2014