Last Updated Jan 8, 2010 10:47 AM EST
Electronic gadgets are supposed to help you be more productive, on as well as off the job, but many of them can simply complicate things. Have you ever tried to consolidate e-mail accounts on a company BlackBerry in the interest of "efficiency?" And would it be that hard for printer companies and software makers to work things out so you don't have to install a driver?
The latest and greatest devices may sparkle with the promise of time saved, but behind that glossy sheen often rests an instruction manual that’s twice the size of the gadget itself and takes months to master. But it doesn’t have to be that way. An array of new electronics can make your life faster, better, and smarter — without requiring a lengthy boot camp.
Here are seven of the best new gadgets to help you streamline your work life. Prices reflect retail availability at press time.
Scanner: NeatReceipts Mobile Scanner
Copying receipts to fill out expense reports can be a real drag. The one-pound NeatReceipts portable scanner captures the key information on receipts — as well as business cards and other documents —and organizes it in a digital filing system that you can search from your computer. The data can also be exported to Microsoft Outlook, a feature that should save you lots of time sorting through business cards after your next trade show.
iPhone App: Dragon Dictation
- Price: Free
- On ZDNet: Best iPhone, iPod Touch apps of 2009
Look Ma, no hands! The free Dragon Dictation application allows iPhone users to dictate text messages and e-mails, thanks to speech recognition technology made by the developers of the popularDragon Naturally Speaking software for the PC. Just launch the application, press the record button, and start talking. Once the app crunches your speech into text, you can edit it, e-mail it, send it as a text message or put the result in your clipboard to paste elsewhere.
Handheld: Apple iPod Touch
Apple’s iPod Touch is more than a fancy music player. It’s an iPhone without the phone — a 3.5-inch portable computer, with the capability for handling both personal and corporate e-mail (it connects via wi-fi), headline news from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, stocks and personal finance apps such as Mint, which can track your cash and help you budget. It’s a one-stop productivity shop.
Camera Accessory: Eye-Fi Explore
For people who need to take digital photos for work — real estate agents and anyone in the beauty and fashion industry for example — digital photography was way better than sliced bread. But even though you don’t have to drop off the film at the drugstore anymore, you do have to spend time uploading all those pictures. The Eye-Fi Explore is an SD memory card that fits into most digital cameras and can automatically upload your photos via a wi-fi network. Better still, the card can “geotag” your photos with the location where you captured them. If you’re a real estate agent, that means you won’t have to remember which condo had the high ceilings.
GPS Navigator: Garmin Nuvi 265WT
For road warriors, there is nothing less productive than hitting an unexpected detour on the way to an appointment. A good in-car GPS navigation device offers turn-by-turn directions, as well as the ability to re-route if you make a wrong turn — or get waylaid by road construction. Garmin’s Nuvi 265WT fits the bill with a compact widescreen footprint, a small price tag and the ability to read you directions out loud; it also has a database of relevant points of interest, such as gas stations and hotels.
Monitor: Samsung SyncMaster XL2370
Whether you work on a desktop or laptop computer, your productivity can be artificially limited by how much screen space you have to work with. A 2008 study by the University of Utah found that an extra six inches of screen space gave users 52 percent more productivity. The 23-inch Samsung SyncMaster XL2370 lets you place Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations side by side without running out of screen real estate.
Laptop: Dell Vostro V13
Dell’s brand new Vostro V13 is a business-minded laptop that’s made for travel. It’s just 0.65 inches thin, weighs 3.5 pounds, and features Intel’s new ultra-low voltage processor — meaning this energy-efficient system sips battery power. Its reinforced zinc hinges are designed to handle the jostling that occurs on the road, while a full-sized keyboard, two USB ports, a software suite for videoconferencing, and optional online secure data backup make it business-ready. With prices starting at just $449, the V13 is easy on your wallet as well as your shoulders.
Andrew J. Nusca is an associate editor for ZDNet and SmartPlanet.
More on MoneyWatch: