A little imagination can go a long way
The ubiquitous microchip has given human ingenuity the freedom to run riot when devising ever more intelligent, interesting and sometimes downright incomprehensible gadgets with which to tempt the rest of us into parting with our money.
From tantrum-throwing alarm clocks, to the Femisapien female robot that has three different attitude settings and can mimic dance steps, to an ATM piggy bank that will teach toddlers financial basics and how to use PIN codes, we now take for granted that the only real constraint on what is available is the imagination of the designer - even if we sometimes can't for the life of us work out why they bothered to imagine it in the first place.
What, though, are the gadgets available today that can make a genuine positive difference to the quality of our everyday lives? More specifically, what can help you improve things both at home, and when you're out and about.
The best gadgets need to fulfil three basic criteria: they should be practical, portable and preferably elegant in their design.
Excluded are cameras, media players and gaming consoles from this brief list on the grounds that everybody already probably owns at least one of those. Or, in the case of hard-core gamers, already know everything they would ever need to about them.
Cut the noise
Bose QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones: the new reduced size rests on ears rather than around them, they fold flat, come with a rechargeable battery and can be used with portable audio devices including stereo-enabled mobile phones. New design features promise better audio quality at all frequencies and superior noise reduction.
Project your image
The 3M Micro Professional Projector MPro110 Handheld Projector: the gadget that will let you project anything, any time, anywhere, from your bathroom to the boardroom. You can even hook it up to your mobile phone. The 3M MPro110 displays a VGA image at a resolution of 640 x 480 up to 50 inches, it has built-in VGA and composite video inputs. www.3m.com/mpro.
Monster offers big sound
Monster Turbine High Performance In-Ear Speakers: the latest ear buds from Monster which promise to deliver 'big sound, power and clarity that you'd expect from full size high-end speakers' - which is why they're called speakers rather than headphones. Features include 8mm high-efficiency closed dynamic type drivers with low mass, and wide bandwidth driver for precise accurate response.
Surround sound on the move
Portable speakers: again, there is no shortage of these. A recent one is the iLuv iSP100 Mini Portable Stereo Speaker for iPod, iPhone 3G, 2G and MP3 Players. It boasts 720 degrees of surround sound, 4W speakers, and a 3.5mm jack for connecting to any audio source. http://www.i-luv.com.
A budding journalist's dream
The Livescribe Pulse Smartpen: every student's and budding journalist's dream. The Pulse Smartpen records high-quality audio while you write: perfect for lectures and interviews and, with 1GB or 2GB of memory, you can leave it running for hour after hour. But that's not all. The Smartpen will upload all of your notes, doodles and artistic graphics to your PC (there's additional software that can transcribe your handwritten notes into typed text, too, although not yet available for Mac), and then afterwards, if you go back to your notebook and use the pen to simply tap on anything you wrote while you were recording (it works if you click on the uploaded version, too), it will instantly search and play what you were listening to at precisely the moment you wrote that text. Only available in the United States at about HK$1,200 to HK$1,600 depending on memory size (plus shipping), this is the tool that allows you to sleep through every lecture and not miss a minute of class. www.livescribe.com/smartpen/index.html.