GIFT GUIDE: SOME TECH GAD­GETS THAT AC­TU­ALLY FILL A REAL NEED

Techlife News - - Summary -

Some­times you can sense that tech prod­ucts are striv­ing to solve prob­lems that are man­u­fac­tured by their man­u­fac­tur­ers. Smart­watches, for in­stance, have long been a nifty idea — but they’ve of­fered few tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for any­one but health and fit­ness en­thu­si­asts.

That’s why it’s no­table when a par­tic­u­lar gad­get fi­nally breaks through. The lat­est Ap­ple Watch, for in­stance, has heart-mon­i­tor­ing fea­tures that will ap­peal to those who aren’t ac­tive. Like­wise, an Ama­zon dig­i­tal video recorder makes cable cord-cut­ting far more prac­ti­cal.

Oth­ers re­main hang­ing in not-quite-there limbo. A minia­ture smart­phone from the re­vived brand Palm has the germ of a good idea, though it can still leave you feel­ing per­plexed.

If you’re still con­sid­er­ing tech gifts in your last­minute hol­i­day shop­ping, bear these items in mind. And when look­ing at other prod­ucts, ask your­self if they’re re­ally ready for prime time or des­tined to gather dust some­where.

AP­PLE WATCH

The new­est fea­tures in the Se­ries 4 Ap­ple Watch are ac­tu­ally any­thing but flashy. But they could save lives.

With a built-in EKG fea­ture, you can share de­tailed heart read­ings with your doc­tor with­out vis­it­ing a clinic. Doc­tors get a PDF file show­ing the peaks and val­leys of your heart rhythm, just as they would with an EKG on paper.

Ap­ple’s EKG sen­sors take mea­sure­ments only on your wrist and fin­ger, while EKG ma­chines in clin­ics typ­i­cally mea­sure 12 points. That means the watch can’t de­tect heart at­tacks and other con­di­tions. But Ap­ple says it can pro­vide early de­tec­tion of atrial fib­ril­la­tion, an ir­reg­u­lar heart rhythm that in­creases the risk of stroke and heart fail­ure. The com­pany tested the watch against stan­dard EKGs to win U.S. reg­u­la­tory clear­ance.

The new watch can also tell if you take a hard fall — and it will call 911 if you can’t get up. If some­one on your gift list is el­derly, you might en­joy greater peace of mind.

The Se­ries 4 watch starts at $399 and re­quires an iPhone. The EKG fea­ture is for U.S. cus­tomers only.

AMA­ZON’S DVR

DVRs have lost their al­lure in the stream­ing age, when en­tire TV sea­sons drop at once on Net­flix. Still, some broad­cast shows aren’t avail­able for stream­ing at all, or with­out a sig­nif­i­cant de­lay. If you’ve dropped cable TV ser­vice, you can still watch those shows for free with an old­fash­ioned TV an­tenna — but then you’re back to watch­ing only when they air.

En­ter Ama­zon’s Fire TV Re­cast DVR. It will record over-the-air pro­grams and let you watch on your TV, Ama­zon’s Echo Show or an app on the go.

You need to buy an an­tenna, which could be the rab­bit-ear kind or an in­door one you stick on your win­dow. Thanks to Wi-Fi, the Re­cast can be near that win­dow rather than your TV.

While the Re­cast can tech­ni­cally work with just a phone app or the Echo Show, you need a sep­a­rate Fire TV stream­ing de­vice ($40 and up) for full func­tion­al­ity. Among the lim­i­ta­tions: You can’t delete shows through the app. The Re­cast it­self is $230 for 75 hours of stor­age and two si­mul­ta­ne­ous record­ings, $280 for dou­ble the stor­age and si­mul­ta­ne­ous record­ings.

TiVo, the gold stan­dard in DVRs, has eas­ier ways to skip com­mer­cials and more flex­i­ble op­tions to record. But TiVo also gets ex­pen­sive. A model aimed at cord-cut­ters, the Bolt OTA, costs $250 — but then you have to pay ei­ther a re­cur­ring fee of at least $70 a year or an­other $250 a sin­gle time to get the pro­gram guide. Re­cast doesn’t carry on­go­ing fees.

Ama­zon col­lects data on the shows you watch to per­son­al­ize and im­prove its ser­vices. If you find that creepy, Re­cast won’t be for you.

PALM’S CON­NECTED COM­PAN­ION

Be­fore smart­phones, there was Palm and its hand-held dig­i­tal as­sis­tants, which of­fered emails, cal­en­dars, notepads and many of the func­tions seen in apps to­day. Un­der new own­ers, Palm is back with a mini smart­phone de­signed, it says, to let you leave your big­ger phone at home and en­joy the mo­ment — with­out cut­ting your­self off com­pletely.

The new phone, sim­ply called Palm, is about the size of a credit card, but nearly as thick as a reg­u­lar phone. It’s meant as a stop­gap for when your main iPhone or An­droid phone isn’t with you, so bat­tery and speeds are just good enough. It’s great for the es­sen­tials, such as maps, Yelp lookups or texts to co­or­di­nate mee­tups with friends. The wa­ter-re­sis­tant phone fits in run­ning shorts dur­ing work­outs.

The Palm is premised on the idea that you can — or need to — leave your main phone be­hind. The com­pany says you can rely on just the Palm as you at­tend a kid’s soc­cer game or meet friends at a bar. You’re still con­nected, on your terms, to pay some­one back with Venmo or re­quest a ride on Lyft. Ver­i­zon, the ex­clu­sive seller of this phone in the U.S., syncs phone num­bers, so calls and texts to your main phone au­to­mat­i­cally reaches this mini phone.

When peo­ple are out on the town, they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily wor­ried about miss­ing out on calls and texts, but rather miss­ing the shot to post on so­cial me­dia. Pho­tos from the Palm cam­era range from blurry and dark to ad­e­quate — nowhere near the qual­ity of an iPhone or Sam­sung Galaxy de­vice. Palm says the pho­tos are good enough for on­line posts, but the qual­ity isn’t there should you want to fea­ture one on your next hol­i­day card or fam­ily photo book.

And no­ti­fi­ca­tions don’t sync, un­less you man­u­ally in­stall the same app on both.

The $350 phone is avail­able only if you have an­other phone on Ver­i­zon, and Ver­i­zon charges an­other $10 a month for ser­vice. If you’re al­ready pay­ing as much as $1,100 for a top-end phone, you might not want to spend an­other $590 over two years just to leave it be­hind.

A bet­ter so­lu­tion: Ac­ti­vate some of the screen­con­trol fea­tures now found on iPhones and An­droid phones. Though that takes dis­ci­pline, it’s free.

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