WORK: Gift ideas for the office (or home office)

With today's flexible workstyles, your office can be in a corporate workspace or the dining room table of your home. No matter the place, sometimes you need more than just a notebook and a mouse to get things done - so we're here to help.

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The following are a bunch of gift ideas aimed at the workplace - whether that's an office or a home office, as part of the 2012 Cool Yule Tools holiday gift guide.

Holiday gift guide 2012

A quick guide to Network World's favorite gifts

Note: Products are listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Amazon.com. Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.

HP Passport 1912nm Internet monitor

$200

The 1912nm is an 18.5-inch monitor with a very basic, non-PC operating system built into the back of the monitor, that lets users connect to the Internet via a Web browser (a basic version of Firefox), as well as view photos, videos or listen to music (via attached SD cards or USB flash drives).

The goal is to provide companies with a Web experience for users without needing to go and use a full PC - think of locations like a hotel lobby, office reception area, Internet café or airport. The business can provide Internet access via the browser as well as the other basic entertainment options - music, video, photos. The system comes with a USB wired keyboard and mouse, and three additional USB ports (for access to USB-attached storage devices for file access).

The $200 price tag should appeal to businesses that want to provide basic browser access to customers/guests/users without having to go out and purchase an entire PC, whether the PC is an all-in-one system or not.

However, there's not much in terms of configuration or tweaking - settings changes are minimal. You get what you see - browser access, videos, music, and photos. If you want to add software to this, no such luck. If you want to change the resolution, you can't - you're at 1,366 by 768 (which seems off when using the browser). Also, it seems odd that the system requires an Ethernet connection - this potentially limits places where you can place the unit. While I could visit any website through the browser, I couldn't stream Netflix instant content, which requires an OS to run on it.

- Keith Shaw

AOC Portable USB Monitor (model e1649Fwu)

$100

The name says it all - The AOC Portable USB Monitor is an additional monitor that you can attach to an existing PC or Mac to provide some extra screen real estate. The 16-inch monitor connects to your system via USB cable only - no extra power cables are needed to run the monitor (the cable provided has two dongles if you use this on older systems). A swivel kickstand on the back of the unit lets you run the monitor in horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait modes). The monitor has a 16:9 aspect ratio, 5 ms response time and 1,366 by 768 resolution (the same as the HP monitor, but this one looked a lot better).

The monitor is extremely portable - at 2.3 pounds, it feels lighter than my iPad. For business travelers who want to take along an extra screen for presentations (or if they just want to extend their existing notebook screen), this is a very lightweight option for a very reasonable price. I've seen several USB monitors that can extend a user's display - this one, by far, is the lightest and most impressive.

Unfortunately, there's no sleeve or protection for the monitor if you want to travel with it - you may have to look at buying a separate 17-inch notebook sleeve to try and protect the screen surface. In addition, you can't adjust the brightness on the display, and Mac owners need to download a separate DisplayLink driver (the provided CD only gives a Windows driver), which could cause some confusion. Also, Mac users can't get the pivot feature, which lets you display the monitor in portrait mode.

- Keith Shaw

ViewSonic Smart Display (model VSD220)

$543 (amazon.com)

Imagine a giant Android tablet that went well beyond its 10-inch display, say more than twice that amount, at 22 inches. While that device would stop being mobile, if you put a stand on the back of it, the device would be able to sit on a desktop or tabletop and look a lot like a computer monitor.

That's basically what ViewSonic has done with its Smart Display, a 22-inch monitor that also contains the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system. Running off a TI Dual-core ARM Processor, the Smart Display has a touch screen for navigating the interface, although you can also plug in a USB keyboard and/or mouse via two ports on the side. Like other all-in-one systems, the Smart Display features a Webcam (1.3 megapixel), Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. An Ethernet port and SD card slot on the back of the unit lets you connect wired Internet and transfer data from a memory card to the device. Rounding out the unit is built-in stereo speakers and a headphone jack on the side.

There's also an HDMI input port, so if you want to connect another computer to the display (or an HDMI-supported gaming console), you can via this port. The unit also would seem to support a Windows 8 computer system with its touch-screen functionality. In other words, you're not necessarily stuck with just the Android OS on the Smart Display.

The processor seemed to run things slower on the Smart Display than what I had experienced with smaller Android tablets. But this could be a misperception on my part - the unit looks and feels so much like an all-in-one computer system, I was trying to compare speeds/activity based on my use of a computer rather than a tablet. Accessing content and apps is done the same way that you would with a tablet, except ViewSonic also created its own app store, hopefully to showcase specific apps that take advantage of the 22-inch screen. Here it fails a bit - the interface of the app store is not very good, and several of the apps I tried didn't work (for example, the CNN app kept failing). Luckily, you can head to the Google Play store and download regular apps if you don't like the ViewSonic app store options (which also require a separate login/account).

The Smart Display seems to be the answer to the question, "Hey, let's build a combination monitor and Android tablet" - a solution looking for a problem. The additional functions of allowing HDMI input and support for Windows 8 touchscreen features may give this device a longer lifespan as a computer monitor rather than a giant tablet.

- Keith Shaw

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