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2015 Technology Gear Guide

16 gadgets to make this your best tech year ever

  • Hi-Tech Earphones

    En español | Earphones don’t have to cut you off from the world. The AfterShokz AS500 Bluez 2 (pictured, $99.99) and the Panasonic BTGS10 ($199.99) use the principle of bone conduction: Tiny speakers sit just ahead of your ear, sending vibrations through your cheekbones and bypassing the sensitive eardrum completely. It’s a funky-looking contraption that really works, though sound quality can’t compete with conventional headsets. (And high volumes generate freaky-feeling cheek vibrations.) Wireless Bluetooth connectivity is easy to set up, and the phones are said to be effective for people with conductive hearing loss. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • A Better Pillbox

    Forget a pill? No wonder: Nearly 40 percent of Americans 65 and older take five or more prescriptions each month. Vitality’s GlowCap ($79.99) offers a clever fix: The twist-off cap blinks and chirps when it’s time for a dosage, while a separate plug-in wall unit glows and emits escalating alerts for two hours. Then it dispatches emails and phone calls, including “buddy reminders” to family members or caregivers. Press the button beneath the cap to arrange a refill. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • Make Your Home Smarter

    When I had Belkin’s line of WeMo products installed in my apartment, I never had to get out of bed to turn off the living room light, and I had the sci-fi thrill of getting a text message from a pot roast. It’s an early taste of the connected “smart home.” Plug the Insight Switch ($59.99) between electrical outlets and home appliances and you can turn them on via the WeMo smartphone app. There’s even a connected Crock-Pot ($129.99), so that you can turn the chili down while you’re at work. (It’ll ping you when it’s done.) See also: the Wink line of connected home products and the Hue lightbulb set from Philips ($199.95), which is controllable via tablet or smartphone. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • A Mightier Pen

    A digital twist on a very old technology, the smart pen could revolutionize your note taking. The Livescribe 3 ($149.95) will write like any ordinary pen, but Bluetooth syncing transfers the written word to the accompanying Livescribe app on the iPhone or iPad. From there, notes can be digitized with the swipe of a finger and emailed — helpful when I forgot to pass off the handwritten grocery list to my fiancée. One drawback: You need special paper for the pen to work. For Android users, the similar Equil smart pen ($149.99) comes with a mobile-syncing device that’s placed at the top of a sheet of paper before writing, meaning that any paper notebook can be used to digitize notes. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • Key at Last

    Who hasn’t misplaced their keys? A host of new gadgets use wireless transmitters to end that nuisance. The Where’s My Keys? key finder ($24.95) comes with four different-colored receiver fobs with key rings, along with a central unit with corresponding buttons. If your keys wander off, hit the right button and head toward the (piercing!) noise. The Click ’N Dig ($19.95) works the same way, but comes with just two receivers ($28.95 for four). I found them all reassuringly loud and durable enough to take the kind of abuse you expect your keys to take. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • Improve Your Snooze

    Wearable fitness trackers can also help you catch more winks: The Polar Loop activity tracker ($109.95) and Jawbone’s UP24 band ($129.99) are comfy enough to wear 24/7. Movement sensors monitor how fitfully you’re sleeping, and the corresponding apps display how much deep and light sleep you’re getting. After I discovered I was only averaging five hours of restful sleep, I started turning in earlier, and gradually both bands were telling me I was pulling a solid seven hours per night. The UP24 triples as an enlightened alarm clock: Once it learns your sleep patterns, the clock will gently awaken you by vibrating when you’re in your lightest sleep period. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • The Super Shoe

    Think of it as Find My iPhone for a person. The GPS Smartsole ($299) is a shoe insole with a built-in GPS tracking chip that works with a variety of smartphones, computers and tablets. Anyone wearing one can be instantly mapped anywhere in the world on the Smartsole’s online tracking portal. Designed for those prone to wandering — from dementia sufferers to curious kids to executives who fear kidnapping — the sole is discreet-looking, waterproof and as comfortable as a regular insole. The battery, which can last up to five days, is easily recharged like a cellphone. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • Follow That Car

    The Zubie ($99.95) works like an automotive fitness tracker: A small “key” plugs into the 16-pin diagnostics port hidden on your car’s dashboard, syncing to a smartphone app that keeps tabs on the health and location of your vehicle. The app has a map that pinpoints where the vehicle is at all times, a gas price and mileage tracker, and battery and engine monitor that sends alerts if either is malfunctioning. (No more driving around with the “Check Engine” light on for weeks.) It also tracks how you drive, noting sudden stops and excessive speeds. (Zubie awarded me the “Average Joe” and told me to ease up on my hard braking.) Only invited users can follow a particular car — which means parents with the Zubie app can see where their teen is. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • Watch This Space

    The long-rumored Apple Watch ($349 and up) debuts in early 2015, boasting a built-in fitness tracker and “watch-ified” apps. (You’ll need an iPhone to make them work.) Transformative gadget or just a toy? We’ll see, but the handful of smart watches already on the market offer a hint. I found the neatest trick of the Samsung Gear 2 Neo ($199.99) is its double duty as a portable music player. Motorola’s Moto 360 ($249.99) goes for a traditional circular face and analog display. Voice-activated controls mean you can get directions by talking to your wristwatch, Dick Tracy-style. — Courtesy Apple

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  • A Steadier Hand

    People with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease often find that the involuntary tremor makes eating difficult. To the rescue comes Liftware ($295), a self-stabilizing device that connects to a spoon (or fork) attachment; sensors in the base detect shaking and compensate with motor-driven countermovements that dampen vibrations by 75 percent. It recharges on a base, like an electric toothbrush. The buzzy handle isn’t loud enough to disturb diners in a restaurant (it comes with a travel bag), but the mesmerizing motion-stabilized wobble might draw a few curious looks. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • Tools for Talking

    The GreatCall Touch3 ($149.99) is a Samsung smartphone running a simplified roster of apps: The home screen includes only texts, phone and photos, plus a suite of health and safety apps. With the GoPlan phone service ($24.99/month), users can connect with emergency responders and receive medication alerts. Landline diehards might appreciate the Amplicom PowerTel 785 ($249.99), which boasts big buttons and equally outsized volume capacity. (I could hear it several rooms away). A separate wristband unit vibrates when a call arrives and lets you answer without picking up the phone. — Courtesy Great Call

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  • Simpler Tablets

    AARP’s RealPad ($189) is designed to make tablet use easier for non-techies. It's a Wi-Fi-only Android-based tablet that runs a simplified roster of apps and boasts 24/7 customer service support. U.K.-based Breezie ($349 and up) is a similar product that's due to hit on our shores in 2015 as software or preloaded on a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. You see only the apps you use the most; as digital literacy grows, you can add additional features via the Breezie Hub. — David Arky (Prop Stylist: Kellie Murphy)

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  • One Card to Rule Them All

    Several tech firms are racing to establish a secure electronic wallet that might be more fraud-proof than plastic credit and debit cards. The one that looks easiest for older users to adopt is Coin ($100, available spring 2015). An all-in-one e-payment device, the Coin card looks and functions like the plastic you’re used to flashing. Using an Android- or iOS-equipped smartphone, users snap photos of all their gift, debit, and credit cards and load their numbers into Coin’s app. A small display allows you to select which digitized card to use. For security, the Coin card is encrypted, and it will function only when it’s near your synced smartphone. — Courtesy Coin

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  • Keeping Tabs

    Be your own Big Brother (or keep tabs on a loved one) with an activity tracker such as Lively ($49.95 device charge, $34.95/month subscription). Adhesive sensors attach to the refrigerator, car keys, even the shower door, sending wireless signals to the Lively hub activity logs can be seen only by Lively users and the people with whom they share, and when something looks amiss, alerts are blasted out with a text, email and a phone call. Lively recently added a waterproof “safety watch” unit — it combines the usual medical alert functions with an activity monitor, medication reminder and fall detector. (It tells time, too.) — Courtesy Lively

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  • Better Bionic Ears

    New smartphone-powered hearing aids are a step up from the squealing contraptions Grandma used. The ReSound LiNX ($2,400 and up per ear) syncs with iPhone via Bluetooth; three clicks on the iPhone’s home button will pull up a control panel that lets you make fine adjustments to treble and bass, use the phone as a remote microphone and create custom hearing settings. If your favorite restaurant is always too loud, you create a saved setting in the app and cue it up when you sit down to eat. In tests, the sound was superhuman sharp. Less feature-packed but more affordable: Audicus hearing aids ($599 and up per ear), which are sold online and shipped direct by mail. — Courtesy ReSound LiNX

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  • Clear Streams

    Adding a streaming device is a quick way to connect your TV to the Internet. Here’s a breakdown of the most popular devices. The remote-controlled Roku 3 ($99.99) connects to your TV and home Internet and allows you to cue up shows and movies available on streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, and as individual apps. The similar Apple TV ($99 and up) has the added benefit of being able to broadcast photos stored in iCloud, while disciples of Amazon may favor the company’s Fire TV ($99). It also has a microphone-enabled remote so you can speak to search for shows and movies. A cheaper option: Google’s tiny Chromecast ($35), which allows you to control the television via smartphone or tablet. — Courtesy Amazon, Google, Apple, Roku

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