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Tech Lab

Gadgets to polish off your shopping

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By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / December 16, 2010

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You may still be scrambling to finish your holiday shopping, but it’s always Christmas around here. All year, I spend half my time ripping open mysterious boxes and plugging in whatever’s inside, looking for the best new tech products to review. The goodies get better, cheaper, and more innovative every year. So if you’re still scouring the malls, check out a few of the gadgets that have caught my eye this year — including the newest Android smartphone, a Web-savvy alarm clock, and a clever little gizmo to connect your camera to the Internet.

Samsung Nexus S Google Inc. got burned when it tried selling its Nexus One cellphones directly to consumers. Too bad; the Nexus One was a nice phone. But Google’s not giving up, and its new phone, the Nexus S by Samsung Corp., is a lovely little handset that goes on sale today, priced at $199 at Best Buy stores with a two-year T-Mobile USA service contract.

It uses Samsung’s radiant OLED touchscreen, a technology that produces richer, deeper colors than the common LED screens on most phones. The Nexus S is the first phone to come with Gingerbread, the latest upgrade to Google’s Android software, which is supposed to deliver longer battery life and faster performance from software apps. The new phone also boasts a feature called near-field communications, or NFC, that’s not of much use now. But in the near future, credit card companies plan to let consumers make purchases by waving NFC-equipped phones past a payment terminal. Bank of America is already testing such a system in New York. If the technology catches on, phones like the Nexus S could replace credit and debit cards. Better not lose it.

Nio Bluetooth Security Tag Here’s a gadget that will keep your phone close at hand. TenBu Technologies of Edinburgh dreamed up a device that uses your phone’s Bluetooth short-range radio as a locator beacon. Just sync the phone’s Bluetooth network to the Nio, and install Nio software on your Android or BlackBerry phone — no iPhones yet. Now attach the Nio to a key ring. If you walk too far away from your phone, your Nio flashes a blue light and starts beeping. Conversely, if you’ve got your phone, but have misplaced your keys, you can tell the Nio software to send a homing signal. If your key ring is nearby, it starts beeping at you.

Nio is relatively pricey, at about $68 from www.bluenio.com, but it’s a handy defense mechanism for the absent-minded.

Sony Dash Personal Internet Viewer My least-favorite alarm goes off at 6:30 every morning. But Sony Corp. makes the wake-up call slightly less traumatic with the Dash, a $150 Internet-enabled device that does far more than force you out of bed.

The Dash hooks up to your home Wi-Fi network and runs dozens of Internet-enabled apps, like the ones you’d find on a smartphone. You can scroll through the top news stories from The New York Times and financial TV network CNBC; you can play YouTube videos or full-length Hollywood movies from Netflix, or order up streaming music from thousands of Internet sources, including popular services like Pandora and Slacker. I particularly like an app from the digital mapmaker Navteq that displays driving conditions between any two points. A traffic jam between you and the office? Roll over and go back to sleep.

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC27 Noise-Canceling Headphones Bose Corp.’s popular QuietComfort headphones do a remarkable job of filtering out unwanted noises while you listen to music. At $300 a pop, they’d better.

Luckily, you can get the same benefits for a lot less money. These Audio-Technica headphones can’t match Bose products for fit, finish, or comfort. They’re too tight on the ears, and look a little plasticky and cheap. But then, they are cheap — $59.95 at Amazon.com. And they sound great. I tried them out in the Globe’s fitness center. Amidst droning TVs and whirring treadmills, my favorite Aerosmith tunes and John Williams film scores came across superbly. Wrap these around your ears, and make the world go away.

Eye-Fi Wi-Fi-enabled SD Memory Card I’ve found a new way to post my digital photos online: just take the camera to Starbucks.

But you will need an Eye-Fi SD memory card, a device that instantly uploads your pictures to the Internet through a Wi-Fi network connection. Two Eye-Fi models, priced at $99.99 and $149.99, connect automatically to public hotspots at places like Starbucks and McDonald’s. The service is free for one year and can be renewed thereafter for $29.99 a year.

Without a laptop, you can’t tell that your camera is uploading the pictures. So I carried a laptop to my local Starbucks. It works. Pictures appeared in my browser two minutes after I’d shot them. It was better than a double latte.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.