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The Top Gadgets Of 2011


Amid the gift-wrap rubble and the post-holiday cleanup, many people are probably playing with new gadgets they received - high-tech toys, tablet computers, mobile phones.

Rich Jaroslovsky reviews gadgets all year for Bloomberg News. We asked him to pick the ones he liked so much that he actually went out and bought them for himself without waiting for Santa.

Good morning, Rich.


WERTHEIMER: So I understand that one of the items you brought with you would be very useful for the hosts of MORNING EDITION.

JAROSLOVSKY: Indeed. It's called the Time Command. It's an iPad/iPhone alarm clock dock. And then there's a free app that you can configure so that you can wake to your own music. You can even plug a lamp into it and have the lamp come up at the same time your music comes on. So you're basically turning your iPad into the world's most expensive dimmer switch.

WERTHEIMER: So what did you pick?


JAROSLOVSKY: Well, I figured this was, this seemed sort of appropriate, "Good Day Sunshine" by The Beatles.


WERTHEIMER: That would not be at all bad to wake up to, I have to say.

JAROSLOVSKY: No, I've tried to keep away from acid rock...


JAROSLOVSKY: ...because I find that just doesn't work for me.

WERTHEIMER: For families that travel but can't agree on the in-vehicle entertainment, you've told us that you like something called Seagate GoPro Satellite.

JAROSLOVSKY: Yes. This is something that came out a few months ago. And what you do is you set your mobile device to this is if it were a WiFi network. And then, it will stream the movies or whatever you've stored on it to up to three devices, which means if you've got two kids in the backseat, each of them can plug into whatever it is they want to be watching and let you focus on driving.

WERTHEIMER: Is it expensive, this gadget?

JAROSLOVSKY: No, it's $200. And when you stop and think about it, there's a $200 price gap between the most expensive and the least expensive iPad. And what you're paying for that $200 is storage that goes from, you know, 32 gigabytes or 16 whatever to 64. Here you're paying $200 and getting half a terabyte, which is a lot of storage.

WERTHEIMER: One of the items that you suggested we look at I actually have here in the studio with me. It's a little round silver and black device. Now one of the things I especially like about it is that it's easy to get it out of its box. Almost nothing is easy to get out of a box. This is a thermostat and it's called Nest.

JAROSLOVSKY: Exactly. This one was designed by a guy named Tony Fadell. He's a former Apple engineer. And...

WERTHEIMER: So that's why he likes this Apple-y(ph) packaging, which you don't have to like get a chisel in order to get the thing unwrapped?

JAROSLOVSKY: They make a little show of the un-boxing, they call it, where you...


JAROSLOVSKY: it up and it presents itself - very much like an iPod.

WERTHEIMER: And what does it do?

JAROSLOVSKY: For one thing - and this maybe the most important thing is that it has although it's very sophisticated, there are a lot of sensors - motion sensors - it's WiFi connected so that you can actually control it from anywhere in the world. But the most important thing is it has an Apple-like simplicity to it. But behind the scenes, it's learning about your patterns, about how you prefer temperature when you're in the house and when you are away, and it begins to tailor a plan for you personally and for your home that will - at least in theory - increase your comfort and decrease your energy usage.

On the other hand, this is $250, which is a lot more than you would pay for one of those normal round dumb ones. So, you know, you're paying...

WERTHEIMER: Well, even more than you would pay for your common or garden variety smart one, which can be set to do all kinds of things.

JAROSLOVSKY: That's true. The main problem that I think many people have encountered with programmable thermostats is that they are theoretically programmable, but they're very difficult to program.


JAROSLOVSKY: So this one, because it is self-learning, makes it much, much easier to do so.

WERTHEIMER: You have any high-tech toys that are just for fun, that are like toys; completely useless, time wasting, but somehow wonderful?

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, the one that we've been playing with periodically for months now in the Bloomberg office is something called an AR drone. What this is is a toy hovercraft. It has gyroscope. It's got little helicopter-type blades and you control it with app on your iPhone or Android smartphone. It's also got two built-in video cameras. So you can send it up into the air, pilot it around on your mobile device, see what it's seeing. And in my case, I found the cameras to be very useful because I'm able to see what it is I'm about to crash into just before I crashed into it.


JAROSLOVSKY: And for sheer time wasting fun, it's kind of hard to beat.

WERTHEIMER: So there you have it: top pick from Rich Jaroslovsky, technology columnist for Bloomberg News. Rich, thank you.

JAROSLOVSKY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.