Cool Yule Tools for Work

Make the drudgery of the office go by a lot faster with some cool work gadgets this holiday season

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Once you understand how to set up shots to take advantage of these features, taking photos with the camera is pretty fun – instead of having your two kids stand next to each other, for example, you’ll put one in front of the other and fiddling around with the focal depth. By no means am I a professional photographer, but I felt like I could create better shots than what I get with my cell phone or other digital cameras. Examples of much better “living pictures” created with the camera are available at the Lytro Illum website.

The system comes with additional apps – a free desktop app lets you import the images and do additional work with it, especially in the re-focus perspective. Because the image data includes so much information, you can also create animations and 3D images from the single shot. The company also provides a mobile app that lets phone and tablet users see images from the camera (via a direct Wi-Fi connection).

I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface with the types of photos I can create with the camera – if you have a serious photographer enthusiast on your holiday gift list, check out this camera.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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Kangaroo Mobile Desktop PC


The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop claims to be the world’s smallest Windows 10 PC, and it’s hard to argue with that statement. This tiny device provides a full Windows 10 experience, making this a very interesting proposal not just for work, but for at-home use as well.

The device comes with a small docking station, to which you connect an HDMI cable to provide video and sound to a compatible monitor or TV (the hardest part for us in our review process was finding such a monitor here at the office). Two USB ports on the Kangaroo let you connect a keyboard and mouse – but you can also connect Bluetooth keyboards and mice after you configure the system, freeing up those ports for other peripherals (additional storage, for example).

But that’s not all – with the OSLinx app via the Apple Store, you can connect the Kangaroo device via USB cable to an iPad and get the Windows 10 experience on the iPad. Furthermore, the Kangaroo can operate in this mode without having an external power connection (it will run for about four hours on its battery with “casual use,” Kangaroo says).

The Kangaroo includes the 64-bit Home version of Windows 10, runs off an Intel Atom x5-z8500 processor, has 2GB of RAM and a 32GB hard drive. Extra memory can be added through a microSD card or by attaching an external USB hard drive to one of its ports.

My only complaint with the device is that 2GB of RAM isn’t really enough – during my review I wasn’t able to install an app that required 4GB; this could limit what you do with the system – Kangaroo, can you make a 4GB or 8GB version?

As long as you have the additional gear for a computer experience (an HDMI monitor/TV, keyboards and mice), the $100 price tag is a huge selling point as a possible extra PC for home or work scenarios.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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Apple iPhone 6S

Starting at $649 (64GB model tested; other capacities and financing options available from Apple and carriers)

This writeup comes from the perspective of moving from the Apple iPhone 5 to the new 6S model (the regular size one, not the 6S Plus). Between the 5 and 6S there were two other models from Apple (the 5S and the 6), so this upgrade is about three years apart for me, a bit longer than the typical two-year upgrade cycle.

The biggest change for me is dealing with the size of the 6S – the size also changed for the 6 – it’s more in line with the larger Android phones from Samsung and other vendors. The days of having a tiny smartphone appear to be gone, but at least with the 6S you can have a slightly smaller phone.

With iOS 9 on the phone, you get a bunch of new features, as well as feature upgrades from the previous two phones if you’re like me and haven’t upgraded in a while. This means I get to experience photo features like slow-motion and time-lapse video features. The 6S (and Plus) also feature the new “Live Photo” option, which gives you some animation before and after the image to give you a sense of what was going on before you snapped the photo. It’s that “Harry Potter” effect that everyone seems to be giddy about, but in my limited use of this feature I haven’t been that excited about it.

More exciting for me is the ability to do Burst mode on my pictures, which gives me multiple shots to try and find the right image, especially helpful when taking photos of multiple children at the same time. The video options, especially being able to shoot in 4K resolution, are also a big incentive for owners of older iPhones looking to upgrade.

The iPhone 6S also features Force Touch on its display, which gives you some additional app functionality. For example, pushing down harder on the Messages app lets you pick directly from a list of “most recent” text message senders/recipients, getting you to the area faster than before. Not every app has Force Touch features on them yet, but they likely will if they can figure out a useful function for it. For example, the Facebook app will let you take a photo/video, upload a photo/video or Write a Post via Force Touch, instead of having to do those things from the opened app.

This was also the first time I experienced the Touch ID fingerprint sensor – the only issue I had was remembering to use it to login or turn on the phone (you can still type in a longer six-digit PIN instead of the older four-digit method). After a few weeks I was able to remember. Colleagues who upgraded to the 6S from the 6, in which Touch ID was first enabled, say that the sensor is much faster in recognizing the print.

Battery life still isn’t that optimal – one of the big reasons I upgraded was dismay at how fast I drained the battery, so I was a bit disappointed that I’d still need to carry around charging options, cables and battery packs. But at least there are some good options there – see other parts of this guide for suggestions.

At this point in the lifespan of your smartphone experience, you’ve likely made the OS choice and are unlikely (or unwilling) to switch. If you’re in the Apple camp and you have an iPhone 4 or 5, the time is right to make the jump to the larger model to experience some of the cooler new features that Apple has on its iPhone.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Starts at $249 (with two-year contract, plus data and voice plan, 32GB capacity)

This year’s model of the latest phablet from Samsung is the first time I’ve experienced their S Pen, the very cool stylus that lets you write notes or draw things on your screen. This may bring you back to the early days of the PDA such as the Palm Pilot or the Handspring Visor, but Samsung puts the S Pen on the device not to be nostalgic, but to let users be more productive with their activities.

The biggest decision to make in considering the phablet is the size – are you ready to carry along a 5.7-inch screen, whether in your pocket or in a bag? As a longtime iPhone 4 and 5 user, I’m just getting used to the larger iPhone 6S, so the larger size of the Galaxy Note 5 is pretty daunting at first.

Once you get past the size, you’ll be amazed at the high quality display on the device - the Quad HD Super AMOLED screen is awesome. The two cameras are also impressive – a 16 megapixel rear camera provides fantastic images, as well as the ability to shoot 4K video. A front-facing camera (now known as the “Selfie Camera”) is 5 megapixels.

The Android phone comes complete with a vast array of applications and the ability to download more through the Google Play store, so you’ll be integrating this into your work and personal life a lot. The phone looks great, feels great and makes for a wonderful holiday gift this year.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+

Starts at $349.99 (32GB model), with two-year contract, plus voice and data plans.

The original Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone extended the display on the phone around the edges of the device, creating this very cool looking curved screen. The newest version, the Edge+, adds some additional size to the device – the phone now sports a 5.7-inch display, similar to the size of the Galaxy Note 5 device.

The phone now sports a Quad HD Super AMOLED display, and includes 4GB of RAM, as well as the ability to shoot video in 4K resolution and photos of 16 megapixels. A front-facing (aka “Selfie”) camera lets you take 5 megapixel images, and includes a 120-degree wide-angle feature for better selfies (because that’s what the world is all about now).

The edge of the phone lets you do some additional things, such as list your five most important contacts (Samsung calls this “People Edge”), or your five favorite apps to launch quickly. The Edge lighting feature can be set to light up on the bottom of the edge when a call or notification comes in. News, weather and sports scores can be accessed on the side of the device as well. You can turn the device into a nighttime clock display for quick access on the nightstand (perfect for when you’re in a hotel room and need to know how much extra time you have to sleep in).

Lastly, the edge display is a nice conversation starter, especially if you’re one of those people who like to show off their phones to others and impress them with new features like this.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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Logitech K380 Multi-Device keyboard


I’m usually not a fan of tiny keyboards, as they tend to interrupt my extremely awesome touch-typing skills. In order to shrink the size of the keyboard, manufacturers usually shrink the size of the keys themselves, causing more typing errors than with a full-sized version.

Still, I was pretty impressed with the K380, as it adds functionality and portability that a larger keyboard lacks. First and foremost, the keyboard lets you connect seamlessly via Bluetooth to three different devices. This can include Windows or Mac computers, as well as iOS or Android smartphones or tablets. Switching is as easy as pushing the appropriate yellow button at the top left part of the keyboard.

Second, the smaller size of the keyboard means you can pack this away in a laptop bag quite easily if you’re one of those people who want to ditch their laptop and try to do all of your work via a tablet.

The keyboard also has nice labels on some of the more confusing keys, such as letting you know which key to press for the CMD key on a Mac, something I always have to remember with some other keyboards I’ve used. In addition, extra buttons at the top let you control the volume on the device and use the play/pause functions if you’re listening to music while getting your work done.

The keyboard operates on two AAA batteries, and there’s an on/off switch on the side to let you conserve battery life if you desire. Logitech promises up to two years of battery life, but all that depends on how much you use it.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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SanDisk accessories (Ultra microSDCX UH-I Card; Dual USB Drive; Dual USB Drive 3.0 flash drive for OTG Smartphone)

Prices range from $13 to $249.99

The kind folks at SanDisk sent over a bunch of small storage memory-related accessories that you’ll likely find yourself using over the next few years – like the big package of AAA batteries that you always forget buying until right before the holiday, these will enhance any other electronic devices and gadgets that you may be buying for the holidays. Here’s a quick overview:

The Dual USB Drive has two connectors – a traditional USB 3.0 connector lets you access today’s and yesterday’s computers, providing a quick way to transfer data from one device to another. The second connector (on the opposite side of the stick) is the new USB Type-C reversible connector, which promises easier ways to connect since you don’t have to worry about which side is up and which side is down. Many new computers will utilize this port, so this adapter will help you transfer files between the older computers and newer ones.

The Ultra microSDXC UHS-I Card Premium Edition provides you with a microSD card capable of expanding storage for things like Android smartphones. The card we tried had an additional 200GB of space on it, making it more appealing to take some 4K videos and high-quality photos. If you find that your smartphone is filling up with photos and videos all the time, expand it by getting one of these cards. The card comes with a regular SD card adapter that lets you transfer the media to a computer.

The Dual USB Drive 3.0 Flash Drive for OTG Smartphones and Tablets is another two-part converter/adapter. On one end, you have a regular USB dongle, which can be used to transfer data from a computer to the drive (we tried a 32GB version). On the other end is a smaller dongle that connects to your smartphone (we tried with a few Samsung devices). This lets you move content from one device to the other, with the most likely option being moving photos and videos taken with the phone to the computer to save space on the device itself. A retractable slider lets you easily choose which dongle to extend.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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AVer VC520 Conference Camera


USB cameras are not quite to the dime-a-dozen level yet, but many sure seem that way in terms of video (and audio, if they support it at all) quality. Professional videoconferencing settings require high-quality video and real PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) capability, but many camera systems with these features have been difficult to use and often surprisingly disappointing in terms of the aforementioned quality. The Aver VC520 is designed to remedy this situation in midsize-to-large conference rooms – but note that this is an enterprise-class product, so it’s only for the very special people on your holiday gift list.

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