Gear Up! Choose Your Budget

Making the right technology choices can help you work more efficiently and, ultimately, boost your productivity.

July 1, 2008

The sheer quantity of gadgetry is astounding, and prices keep falling even as features and functions improve. But with so many choices in every category today, the selection process can seem overwhelming, even intimidating.

How do you know which gadgets you need and what you need them to do? We’ve put together three packages of essential tools — a laptop computer, a digital camera, a smart phone, and a navigational device that uses global positioning system technology.

1. A notebook is the hub of mobile productivity for accessing the Web and all its resources.

2. A smart phone is a more compact extension of that computer, less intrusive and more effective for keeping in touch wherever you are.

3. A digital camera captures images for virtual online tours, printed flyers, or even video walkthroughs of homes. A GPS navigation system can guide you around in the most direct way, saving precious gas and time.

You can buy the economy package for less than $800 (suggested retail prices, not including sales taxes). If you’re ready to spring for the glitziest, most powerful high-tech toys available, we have a package topping $5,000 for you. In between, we’ve assembled a package that’ll run you a little over $3,000. 

Big-time Spending

Today’s top-of-the-line solutions deliver not just functionality but options that go the extra mile. Carrying these products announces that you’re a tech leader who demands the best and can afford it.

Notebook: Lenovo’s Thinkpad X300 delivers that rare combination of a fully featured notebook in a compact package. Weighing just 2.9 pounds, compared with 5.4 pounds for the midprice option MacBook Pro, and measuring less than three quarters of an inch thick, the $3,330 X300 configuration includes an Intel Core Duo 1.2GHz processor, 13.3-inch LCD display, 1GB of RAM, a 64GB solid state hard drive, ultra-thin DVD burner and Wi-Fi g compatibility. Many upgrade options are available.

Smartphone: No recently introduced product has generated as much buzz as Apple’s iPhone, a hallmark in mobile technology. The 16GB version, $499, is a fully functioned phone with a high-resolution touch screen and on-screen keypad, a 2MP digital camera, and an MP3 player. It runs special versions of Apple OS X, the Safari Web browser, and Apple Mail, and it can send and receive e-mail and text messages. It’s currently available only for use with AT&T cellular service.

Digital Camera: As the most compact digital SLR (single lens reflex) yet, the Olympus E-420 delivers the creative versatility of an SLR camera without the heft that once defined an interchangeable lens system. The $599 bundle with a 3X 28mm–84mm lens provides a wide-angle solution for shooting homes and rooms. The camera body has a 10MP image sensor, 2.7-inch LCD screen, and convenient automatic settings, with an ability to override them for tricky photos. Optional accessories include lenses and a wireless remote flash.

GPS: The $599 Magellan Maestro 5310 displays maps and directions on its touch-sensitive five-inch LCD screen. Surroundings can be displayed as 2-D or 3-D maps or images, and the screen’s contrast automatically adjusts to optimize night viewing. Programmed trips can include directions or voice prompts to as many as 20 destinations. A Smart Detour feature alerts you to reroute a trip around slowed or stopped traffic.

Midprice Options

When you move up from entry-level products, your choices increase dramatically. You may not find all the newest features, but there’ll be enough to make your purchases viable for at least the next three years, a full generation in the world of technology.

Notebook: Only Apple’s computers can be set up to run both Windows- and Mac-compatible software. The $1,999 entry model in its MacBook Pro line has a 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 15-inch widescreen LED backlit display, iSight camera, 2GB RAM, a 200GB hard drive, CD and DVD burner, andWi-Fi n (n is the latest iteration of WiFi technology; g is the older standard), plus Bluetooth.

Smartphone: Its design and functionality — and its availability from most cellular providers — make the BlackBerry Curve a popular choice. The unit includes BlackBerry desktop software for e-mail and contact management and a 2MP digital camera, mini keypad, 2.5-inch LCD color screen, and microSD expansion card slot. Its suggested retail price is $449, but it’s available for much less with service contracts from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon.

Digital Camera: The combination of its 18X optical zoom and its 27mm–486mm wide-angle lens make the $399 Nikon Coolpix P80 all the camera most practitioners will need. Its features include a 10MP image sensor, a 2.7-inch LCD monitor, 15 photo and movie modes, and software to optimize the image quality.

GPS: With Sony’s $299 NV-U73T and its suction mount, you can take your navigation system with you even if you switch cars. This system has a 4.3-inch LCD, touch-screen controls, map and 3-D street-level viewing modes, and spoken turn-by-turn directions. If your budget’s bigger, real-time traffic monitoring with automatic rerouting is an option.

Tech on a Budget

If keeping your costs down is your overriding concern, you’ll sacrifice some features but still stay productive with these selections.

Notebook: For just $399, Dell’s bulky Vostro 1000 is the entry model in this line. Its features include an AMD Sempron 2GHz processor, Windows XP Home edition, 1GB of RAM, a 15.4-inch screen, 80GB hard drive, combination CD burner and DVD player, and WiFi g card. If your budget’s flexible, Dell offers many upgrades.

Smartphone: The Palm Centro ($99 with a service contract) runs on Palm’s operating system and handles contact and calendar management along with voice calling, e-mail, and text and instant messaging. Despite its compact design, it still features a mini-keypad and touch-sensitive color screen. It’s available through AT&T Wireless and Sprint.

Digital Camera: A basic camera, the $149 Canon Powershot A580 will handle your essential photography needs. Its features include an 8 megapixel image sensor, 4X optical zoom lens, and 2.5-inch LCD. For wide-angle shots, you use included software to stitch images together.

GPS: Both Microsoft’s Streets and Trips 2008 with GPS Locator and DeLorme’s Earthmate BT-20 unite software with a GPS receiver for $99. Tethered to your notebook by cable or Bluetooth technology, these make the computer a fully functional navigation system with detailed street-level maps and spoken turn-by-turn directions.