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Personal Technology Resource Center


See the Technology That Can Make Life Easier

A tiny elliptical and a pillow that stays cool are just some of the new solutions to old problems

Scanners organize your photos

Deep in one of your closets is a box of old photos. You’d love to digitize them, but placing each picture, one at a time, on a flatbed scanner just isn’t happening. Epson’s FastFoto FF-680W ($600) auto-feeds and speed-scans stacks of up to three dozen snapshots as speedily as one per second. The device also automatically enhances faded images, differentiates portrait from landscape orientation and can organize photos by year or event. It then transfers them all to your PC via Wi-Fi in minutes. A less expensive option is the Plustek ePhoto Z300 ($200), which isn’t quite so quick, and the scans are lower resolution. It features a convenient feeder on the top of the unit, but you need to insert each photo individually.

A digital photo scanner

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

Lasers take measurements

Hanging pictures or shelves is literally an exact science. But as anyone who’s tackled a DIY project discovers, precision accuracy isn’t so easy to achieve. Try the pocket-sized Bosch Blaze GLM 20 laser measure ($50), which uses a light beam to measure distances up to 65 feet. Or check out the dual-laser digital tape measure Cubit Plott ($100), which provides vertical and horizontal measurements simultaneously — or lets you get a measurement by rolling it across a surface. Plott even helps in the planning stage: Use its app with your smartphone camera to capture the dimensions of a wall and determine your planned wall hangings. Plott then pinpoints precisely where you need to drill or nail.

A laser beam that looks like a tape measure

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

Pill box sends reminders

The Pillbox by Tricella ($75 or $130) will send text message alerts based on dosage information entered into an app. With the Smart Pillbox Memo Box ($40 to $200), you take a photo of each of your medications on your phone. Then, when the box sends you a reminder, you also see exactly which pill to take. Another option is the Pillsy Smart Pill Bottle ($40), which is good for a single medication. Its cap is outfitted with wireless technology that links with your phone. Enter the dosage times in the app, and when it’s pill-taking time, the bottle beeps!

A pill container with various pills

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

New machines make workouts more convenient

The Treadly ($850) is a fraction of the size of a traditional treadmill — only 4.5 feet long and thin enough to be stored under your bed. It’s quiet, too, for apartment or condo dwellers. Without a big control panel, you start the treadmill by taking three steps onto the belt; increase speed by stepping closer to the front of the machine, decrease speed by moving back. Lift the handrail into place for stability so you don’t fall during your workout. Another workout option for small spaces: The Cubii ($250-$400) is an elliptical of miniature proportions. Put it under your desk at work or in front of your couch while watching TV.

A mini stepper

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

Chargers juice up your phone

Portable chargers have been around for years, but often they’re clunky and inconvenient. Backup power has gotten lighter. Mophie’s Juice Pack Air ($100) is super-convenient because the extra power is stored in a phone case. Similarly, the Lux iPhone Battery Case ($100) extends your phone’s battery life by about 150 percent and you don’t need another charging cable — just plug in your existing Apple Lightning cable and it charges when your phone charges. If you’re looking for a budget option, try the Anker PowerCore 10000 ($32), an external battery pack that weighs less than a pound.

A charging device that snaps on to the back of a cell phone

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

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Tools help with jars

Jar lids can be tough for anyone to twist off — even more so for people with arthritis or limited dexterity. The Hamilton Beach Open Ease Automatic Jar Opener ($35) does all of the grunt work. Just place the gadget on top of the container and press a button. One set of rubber hands clenches on the base of the jar while a second set secures onto the lid and twists. The only hitch is that it doesn’t work with smaller caps, such as for ketchup bottles, or with plastic jars. If those containers plague you, here’s an option: OXO’s Good Grips Jar Opener ($11). Slide it onto the top of the jar or bottle, and this 2.4-ounce tool gives you the right amount of leverage to twist it open.

A jar opener

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

True videophones are here

Laptops, tablets and smartphones have allowed video calls for a long time, thanks to services like Skype and FaceTime. But shouldn’t video calling be easier? It’s getting there. Amazon’s Echo Show ($230) is a smart speaker with a 7-inch video screen. Just make sure your family and friends either have one too or have the free Alexa app on their smartphone to receive your calls. Amazon also offers a less expensive device that supports video calls — the futuristic-looking Echo Spot ($130), with a 2.5-inch round screen. Not an Amazon customer? Another option is Lenovo’s Smart Display ($200), with an 8-inch screen. Recipients can answer your video calls on a free Google Duo app on their smartphones.

A video monitor

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

Your pillow keeps you cool

If your and your bed partner’s internal thermostats just aren’t in synch, the BedJet ($500) may help. It’s a climate control system for your side of the bed. It blows warm or cold air under the covers specifically where you’re sleeping. Wake up in the middle of the night and tap on the remote control; it takes about three minutes to feel toasty or cooled down. Another option for warm sleepers is the Tanda pillow ($75). It’s made from a special material that retains less heat. No more sweat head in bed. Or use one as a body pillow to chill out throughout.

A pillow

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

Mugs keep drinks warm

Your coffee turned room temperature? Gross. Glowstone’s smart mug ($150) is equipped with a base that maintains the temperature of your beverage. Similarly, Ember’s ceramic mug ($80) keeps your beverage warm via a rechargeable base. You can also set your preferred drinking temperature on its corresponding app. But if you need a mug that keeps your beverage warm for the entire day, try a temperature-control travel mug, like the Cauldryn Coffee ($130). Its digital display shows the temperature of the beverage inside. You don’t even need to pour a drink that’s already hot into the mug — it can boil water itself.

Steam coming from a coffee mug

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

Your shirt tracks the sun

Skin damage from UV rays isn’t limited to summer. While you can’t see the invisible rays of the sun, new technology can. The Shade wearable UV sensor ($250) snaps onto your shirt with a magnet. Then, check your smartphone for charts tracking your UV exposure; it will even tell you when to reapply sunscreen based on conditions. Another option is the La Roche-Posay UV Sense ($60) from L’Oreal. This button-sized nub — a battery-free, electronic sensor — is small enough to stick on your thumbnail. Or you could just let your bottle of sunscreen do the work. Blue Lizard sells its lotions ($15-$30) in plastic bottles and caps that change color from white to blue to dark blue when damaging rays strike them, so you’ll know when to slather up.

A shirt with a UV monitor on the front

Ted and Chelsea Cavanaugh

 Tiffany Kelly, Lexi Pandell, Jason R. Rich and Stewart Wolpin contributed to this article.