TRAVEL: Gift ideas for the out-and-about

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Earloomz GL-311 Bluetooth Headset


Bluetooth headsets still make great accessories for mobile handsets, and the stylish (well, many of the color schemes for this product are stylish) GL-311 from Earloomz is the latest in a long line of these from more vendors than I can count.

What makes the GL-311 interesting is the single-button/single-LED (although both blue and red are used) user interface. This limited set of objects controls power (on/off), pairing, call answer/end/reject, and redial. There's an audible beep when the headset needs to be recharged.

I paired the GL-311 with my shiny new iPhone 5. The process is trivial and was completed in seconds. I then placed a test call and the party at the other end reported excellent sound quality - as good as the default microphone in the iPhone 5. The over-the-ear design is simple and comfortable, as well as secure in that it would be hard for the headset to fall off accidentally. It's easy to get used to the command set, and I think everyone will be happy with this one.

My sample unit was a black-and-grey argyle, which, while matching my socks, just isn't me. There are many other colors and patterns to choose from, and should meet the fashion needs of even the most discriminating giftee. Your hardest decision may be choosing the design rather than the technology inside the headset.

- Craig Mathias

Blue Tiki USB Microphone


In general, I love Blue microphones. I've used them in the studio many times - this is a company that makes microphones that can cost thousands of dollars, so it knows what it is doing.

The little Tiki USB microphone we tested is a clever idea - a high-quality microphone at the end of a USB cable. The device features two modes of operation. One auto-mutes when the ambient sound level drops, making it ideal for conference calls. The second mode is continuous, making it more suited for podcasts and other audio recording. A little button on the front switches between the two modes.

The microphone itself is quiet and even stylish, although I'd prefer it had a real stand rather than an included USB extender.

Unfortunately, the Tiki is no match for a good-quality studio microphone, and it really wasn't any better than the built-in mic on my iMac in sample test recordings. That's the bottom line - if your built-in mic isn't so hot (and most aren't), the Blue Tiki can be a great upgrade. But don't expect to get professional recording-studio sound out of this one.

- Craig Mathias

netTALK DUO and DUO Wi-Fi

$50 (netTalk DUO); $65 (netTALK DUO WiFi)

We realize that most people can get by with a mobile phone. But there are times when a second phone line comes in handy. Maybe your handset battery goes dead, or your household just needs more phones.

The netTALK DUO is a dual (USB and Ethernet) phone line emulator that costs little and offers inexpensive voice service, even for international calls. All of the usual phone-line amenities are included, such as call waiting, voice mail, etc.

The DUO can be connected to a PC via USB, or you can connect it directly to your wired network for PC-free operation. For the ultimate in flexibility and convenience, the netTALK DUO Wi-Fi eliminates the need for wired Ethernet (although a port is there if you ever have the need); a simple setup program connects it to your Wi-Fi network, letting you place a phone line literally anywhere.

Call quality was excellent - both of these devices are small, cheap and even a little cool. 'Tis the season of giving - help your giftee port and preserve that precious landline phone number with one of these.

- Craig Mathias

Brenthaven Pacific Backpack for MacBook


I've had my computer backpack for about 10 years now, and it's starting to show its age. It's had a great run - it was a very nice padded unit that could not only carry my work notebook, but also the assorted power chargers, gadgets, paperwork and other gear that I needed for covering trade shows or just going back and forth to work. But the pockets on the side started to rip, so I wanted to see if backpack technology has improved in the past decade.

The Brenthaven Pacific backpack is definitely smaller in size than my previous model, but has many more pockets and space for different devices. The unit's main pocket will protect a 13- or 15-inch MacBook (you could probably put a non-MacBook in this if you wanted to), and there's also an additional pocket to keep an iPad safe. The secondary pocket includes spots for a smartphone, pens and a few other smaller pockets that can be secured with Velcro snaps.

The arm straps are solidly built (with nice adjustment ability), and the opposite side has a nice cover that lets you place a small jacket or sweatshirt inside it, closeable with bungee-type cords. Finally, a pocket on each side lets you store a water bottle or other refreshment.

There's even a nice small bonus that you might not immediately discover - a protection whistle. Located on the "sternum strap" (the strap that connects the two arm bands) is a plastic whistle that can alert other people if the user is feeling threatened by someone or is in trouble. Nice!

If you're in the market for a new computer backpack, this one is a very nice option.

- Keith Shaw

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