THE BLOG
12/08/2014 11:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Writers Workbench: 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

Let it snow, let it snow, let it..oh, okay, you get the point. 'Tis the season for my annual Holiday Gift Guide, where we look back over the previous months and pass along some of the products that got reviewed during the year that might make a nice gift, for thems who like getting electronics as a present.

Fa la la...

  • Harmony Touch Remote
  • Energizer LED Folding Lantern
  • Lenmar Portable Power Pack for Laptops
  • Juno Power JUMPR
  • Energizer 180 Watt Cup Inverter
  • ASUS Transformer Book T100
  • Lenovo Yoga Tablet
  • Nomad NomadKey
  • TYLT Energi 3K / 3K+

HARMONY TOUCH REMOTE

Logitech has long had an impressive line of universal remotes, from basic models to those you think might be able to control the Lunar Space Module. Their new Harmony Touch is a replacement of their popular Harmony One, which uses a color touch screen. It's high end, though not at the top of their line. Still, it retails for $249 (at the time of writing), so it might be more than some people need, if you just want to operate a couple, basic devices. The two biggest differences from its predecessor are that it's smaller to fit better in your hand, and (most notably) it relies heavily on touch screen icons. Much more on this later. But first, you have to get the thing set up.

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With universal remotes, there are two important aspects you'll deal with - not just how to use it, but also programming the unit. (Not just for the initial set-up, but also adjusting things later.)
There are two ways to configure different remotes - either directly on the remote itself or via software, connecting the remote to your computer. Both have advantages: the former doesn't require any fiddling with computers or websites. However, the latter gives more flexibility for updating for the latest devices and their codes.

The Harmony Touch is the latter. You run the My Harmony software, which connects you to your personal settings webpage. If your needs are basic, setting up the Harmony One is incredibly easy, giving you simple and clear prompts all along the way. Little in life is perfect, and you will likely have to do some adjusting. It's still handled well with helpful prompts, but with any universal remote, especially the more devices in your home theater, there will be tweaking, and not everything can be perfectly clear.

In short (after such a long review...), this is one of the best firmware updates I've ever come across for any product, period. They took a very good, though problematic product and made it something that's now a joy.

If you have simple needs, something so elaborate isn't necessary. If you currently have a Harmony One, and it's working fine, there's no need to upgrade. And if you are looking for a new remote, and the Harmony One is now available at a low price, it might be the way to go. But all other things being equal, the Harmony Touch is an extremely good improvement.

ENERGIZER LED FOLDING LANTERN

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the Folding Lantern when I first got it. It's oddly shaped and seemed to be much more a lantern than flashlight. But then, that's what it says it is. And by the time I got finishing testing it - especially since I had reason to actually put it to full use (more on that later) - I came away blown away by how good it was.

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The Lantern pivots open and can go from illuminating a 180-degree area when closed and compact, to providing 360-degrees of full floodlight when open. It can deliver a glowing 300 lumens - or less when dimmed. (So, again, yes, it's dimmable.)

The Folding Lantern isn't something for everyone - but if you have need for such a thing, or if you want a back-up light in case of black outs, it was absolutely wonderful, and one of the most unique battery lights I've come across. It retails for $35 and at the time of can be found online for $25.50.

LENMAR PORTABLE POWER PACK for LAPTOPS

For all my love of portable chargers, one of the more difficult to find are those for laptops. The issue tends to be the size and voltage. So, it was a pleasure to find this product from Lenmar. The laptop model is very thin, making it easy to slide into a briefcase or your laptop case, and acceptably light at just over one pound. To be clear, it's not "light" per se, but enough so when traveling to make it very convenient, particularly on long distance flights. It measures 7"x5" by .5".

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The capacity is a solid 16,500 mAh (milliamp). This won't fully charge your laptop, but will still give you several hours extra, which should be plenty for most circumstances, not leaving you stranded in mid-flight, say.

Unlike tablets and mobile phones that tend to have standard ports, most laptop manufacturers have proprietary plugs. As a result, you can't just snap this charger in, but need adapter plugs, which the Lenmar comes with. Find the right one for your laptop and attach it to the charger's cord. At the time of writing, it could be found online for $81.

JUNO POWER JUMPR

On the surface, the JUMPR is a respectable portable power bank, about the size of a smart phone, with some downsides. It holds 6,000 mAh, enough for around four full charges of a mobile phone and is very thin with a lithium polymer battery, though unfortunately doesn't have any attached cables, so you have to carry around your own.

But the JUMPR isn't about the surface and is far from ordinary. Indeed, it's main purpose is that it can output 12 volts of power at 300 amps - which means that the JUMPR can charge your 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder car battery if it dies on you. Yes, you read that right. It might take a few minutes for the charge, but that beats being stranded.

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Consider that the standard portable car battery/generator that you might stick in the trunk weighs 25 pounds. The JUMP is only seven ounces, and you can store it in your glove compartment - or purse, or carry it in your pocket. To be clear, it can also do regular charging of portable devices, even tablets which requires a more powerful 2.1 amp output than the 1 amp which mobile phones require. At the time of writing, the JUMPR was on sale online for $70.

ENERGIZER 180 WATT CUP CONVERTER

This is an offbeat product that you might never use, but if you ever do have need of it - and that need is not uncommon - it's incredibly useful. Basically, what an inverter does is connect to your car battery, adapts the car's battery to AC, and lets you plug an appliance into it. So, for instance, if you're having a power failure and working on a laptop and you run out of power, you're not out of luck. You can just go to your car, connect the inverter (it's brain-dead easy, using the cigarette lighter slot) and plug your device in. Any device that requires an AC plug, as long as it fits under the 180 watt ceiling.)

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To be clear, it's only this particular device that has that 180 watt requirement. Energizer makes a line of inverters, from a low of 120 watts up to a larger, heavy duty 2,000-watt unit.

The device is called a "cup inverter," because it's somewhat shaped that way and conveniently sits in your car's cup holder. By the way, your car doesn't even have to be turned on for the device to work, though that will drain you car's battery under those conditions. At the time of writing, the 180-watt version could be found online for $30.

ASUS TRANSFORMER BOOK T100
The ASUS T100 is a Windows tablet, a branch of tablet devices I find quite intriguing, particularly for productivity. And among the smaller, more portable of those I've tested, I was very impressed with the ASUS T100, though it comes with some drawbacks you have to live with - but they're livable, particularly if you want this for a backup device or something to carry along with you, not as a desktop replacement. But it's an extremely good tablet / laptop hybrid. And it comes at an extremely respectable price, around $350 at the time of writing.

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The tablet has a 10.1" display and comes with a keyboard that doubles as a cover. They snap together and lock, making the device easy to pick up and carrying around when connected. The display can be angled like any laptop. Pulled separate, it works very well as a standalone tablet, though it's a little thick, but not problematically so, and weighs 1.2 pounds. With the keyboard, they're just under 2.4 pounds.

Using an Atom processor, the speed is reasonably crisp, though sluggish if you want to run perhaps half a dozen programs at the same time. And the keyboard is a little thin and light, and would be cramped for especially-chubby fingers or for extended typing of several hours. But it's a good keyboard, and I found it easy to type on, albeit slower than on a desktop. The layout isn't the same as a standard keyboard, but I found it easy enough to get used to, and I was able to do serious work with it - the great advantage of a Windows 8.1 tablet/keyboard.

LENOVO YOGA TABLET

Lenovo's Yoga tablet is an Android device that has some intriguing, indeed unique things about it, which is rare for a tablet these days. Most notably, it has a battery rated at 18 hours, which is remarkable. And with a microUSB socket, this incredibly long-life battery can also (and impressively) be used to charge other devices, like your cell phone, so you don't necessarily have to carry an extra battery pack. Also, very noticeably unlike other tablets, the Yoga isn't completely flat - it has a sort of rounded "handle" on the side. This makes for a better, more comfortable grasp, and it also can fold down to a tilt stand position for typing, or as a full stand for watching movies.

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(That said, I'm not 100% sold on the handle. It does make it easier to hold, though it adds some weight - in fairness, I believe that's where the batteries are installed that allow the long-life. But it also means its back won't lie down perfectly flat. The trade-off is a better grip and 18 hours of battery life.)

The Yoga comes in both 8" and 10" models. The price retails at $249 for the smaller until, but what jumps out is its low $275 retail price for the 10" tablet.

NOMAD NOMADKEY

The NomadKey is an extremely small and portable USB cable that hooks onto your keychain. The company makes models with either a micro-USB connector on the other end (for Android or Windows devices), or an Apple Lightning connector.

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The NomadKey is made of high-grade, thick-but flexible rubber, and only a touch over just 2". This allows for charging from or connecting to any USB port. In fact, if you love the ease of portability, this means that in some instances you almost don't have to worry about even carrying around a portable battery charger - just use the Nomad Key to connect between your device and a computer. It does make your keychain a touch bulkier, but only by very little. The NomadKey is seriously small - but sturdy. It retails for $29, but could be found for $25 at the time of writing. Yes, this is more than most basic cables (though Lightning cables can be costly), but with far more convenience. (One caveat: the company has upgraded the product, which is A Good Thing. Though the previous model was sturdy, it had an issue with the top strip of some clips from a manufacturing run breaking, and the product was on back-order. The company says the issue has now been fixed and is back on sale.)

TYLT ENERGI 3K / 3K+

TYLT has a line of impressive portable chargers, and this is one of the best. Very small and light - you can stick them in a shirt pocket - they're half as thin as a pack of cigarettes, and weigh just 3-3/4 ounces, very easy to carry on your person. Yet the ENERGI 3K/+ holds 3 mAh of power, which is almost two full phone charges, more than enough for most people out for the day.

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The difference between the two models is that the 3K has a micro-USB (for Android or Windows phones) on the 3K, while there is or an Apple Lightning plug with the 3K+. And they both have a standard USB port to use with a personal cable. At the time of writing, the 3K model could be found online for $40, while the Lightning 3K+ was $50.

Bonus:

The Holiday Gift Guide is for products that were reviewed here during the year, but I wanted to add a quick mention of one item that wasn't. However, I've written the review, just not posted it yet, and it seemed a particularly good gift for the holidays, which are a time for travel. It's the Tarriss Jetsetter Digital Luggage Scale What sets it apart is that it's extremely light for packing, has a convenient strap for hooking most things you'll want to weigh, a comfortable handle, is pretty accurate (I do find it best to do a few weighings just to be safe), has a crisp digital display that locks the weight, and even comes with a free subscription to a pretty good travel newsletter. Given how airlines seem to be paying more attention to weight, most especially for overseas travel, it's a good type of product to have around. The Tarriss scale retails for $40, but right now online can be found for just $20.

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To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.