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Six unusual and useful gadgets for small offices

I work out of a small office, and there are six products that I find I can’t live without. These things make my job much easier, so I figured that this week, I’d share my favorites with you.


Livescribe Echo Smartpen

This pen has a built-in recorder and a camera which synchronizes (if you use the right paper) what you are writing to what you are hearing. In other words, if you are like me and take really crappy notes, this pen can save your ass. All you have to do is tap the pen tip on the word you no longer recognize to hear what was actually being said at the time. The pen can actually do a number of additional things with the addition of inexpensive applications that include translators, games, music players, and topics of interest, but its core function is the most valuable. It has 4GB of memory, and the files can be offloaded to a PC for archiving. It is a little geeky, but very handy. Paper comes in a variety of sizes and costs about the same as most high-quality stock. This is one handy pen, and LiveScribe just reduced the price to under $100.


Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500

This has to be the handiest scanner in the market. We all have hard-copy documents and forms that have to be filled out and physically signed. You can fax them, but that takes a lot of time and fax machines have a tendency to tie up your phone line and jam. This thing screams through documents at 20 pages a minute, almost never jams, and outputs a PDF file to your PC, so you can e-mail the high-quality result. This finally had me put the fax machine in mothballs, and it saves a ton of time. At $429, it isn’t cheap, but if your time is money, it pays for itself.


Polycom Soundpoint Pro SE-220 2-Line Conference Phone

Most of us still haven’t moved to VoIP yet, or pulled the plug on our wired lines and moved directly to our cell phones. For those who haven’t, the Polycom Soundpoint Pro SE-220 2-Line Conference Phone stands out. Most office phones for small offices are cheap and sound like crap. This one doesn’t, and the speakerphone function is particularly useful. It has a fabulous speakerphone built in, which can be handy when you aren’t wearing a headset and don’t want to hold onto the phone, or have more than one person in your office. The electronic features of the phone are a bit out of date, but that’s true of most analog phones, and I’ve been living with this product for a number of years now and fully endorse it.


Plantronics Savi Office Convertible

If you are like me and often switching between VoIP and landline calls, the Plantronics Savi Office Convertible is a lifesaver. It can pull sound from your PC or a phone, and when coupled with the handset lifter option, you can answer calls from anyplace within its 350-foot range. The sound is crystal clear, and it switches seamlessly between Skype (my VoIP provider) and the Polycom Phone. It runs about $379, and the optional lifter is an additional $45, but if you live on the phone this is very handy. If you don’t use VoIP, the Plantronics CS70N comes with the lifter, is less complex, and costs $399.


Innergie mCube Pro Power Adapter

Most of us have laptops that go where we go, and we often have to charge them up on airplanes or in cars. These laptops generally come with cheap, inefficient power adapters that don’t work in cars or planes with a DC plug. In addition, we have to lug other power adaptors for our smartphones and gadgets like Kindles, which take up space and add weight. The Innergie mCube Pro Universal Power adapter has adapters for nearly any notebook, accepts AC or DC power input, and it has a USB plug to power your smartphone or other electronic gadget at the same time. You still have to bring the USB cable for that extra device, but you end up carrying a ton less weight, and ready to work on a plane or recharge your laptop in the car. It kind of looks like it was designed by Apple as well, because it is white, sleek, and pretty. It costs about $119, but it is well worth it for those of us who want to get over lugging a bunch of redundant (and often useless) power supplies.


Clickfree Automatic Backup C2 500GB USB Portable External Hard Drive

Recently, a scientist working on the cure to cancer, and who was reported to be very close to that cure, lost his laptop. He hadn’t been backing it up, and two years of research and that potential cancer cure were lost as well. While it is unlikely you will have something so critical on your PC, backing up a laptop that might be lost, damaged, or stolen is critical, yet it’s still not done as often as it should be. We don’t backup because it is simply pain in the ass to do backups. The Clickfree product line is the easiest I’ve reviewed, and the company has a variety of products, including a dongle you can attach to an external drive to get the core features. The product I recommend is the C2 500GB, because it has enough capacity for growth and it costs under $100 on Amazon. The dongle, if you already have a drive, is only $30, and that $30 could have saved that cancer research. It could save your work as well. Hard drives do fail and PCs do get lost or stolen. Make sure you don’t lose your work as well.

What Are Your Favorites?

These are the small business products that have been the most useful for me. If you have a moment and want to comment, what are the unusual and useful products that you have found particularly useful for work or school? I’m always looking for ideas.