Check out this gloriously nonessential gear that you never knew you wanted.
By Crispin Boyer
Orange • $1,500
These days, a computer is as crucial to garage-band success as a Marshall stack and a mini fridge full of PBRs. Amp maker Orange has combined at least two of these necessities into a striking aluminum-and-wood speaker/PC combo bristling with instrument inputs and A/V outputs. The rig’s hardware—including an i3 dual-core CPU, a 500-gigabyte hard drive, and four gigabytes of RAM—is a workhorse at lag-free audio processing and storage. Stereo speakers built into the cabinet work whether the PC is on or off, but most musicians will covet this system for its incredible suite of recording, instrument-effects, and tutorial software.
Roku 2 XS streaming player
Roku • $100
The original Roku media player—which was invented by the guy who created the DVR—was a simple idea that gave cable companies a big headache. Roku users just jacked the little box into their TV, connected it to the internet, and used the easy interface to browse hundreds of video and music channels—or their own local library of ill-gotten entertainment—in HD resolution. This follow-up device sticks to the same straightforward formula, but adds an extra layer of entertainment: Gamers can play using the motion-sensing remote. The fun but ubiquitous Angry Birds leads the charge, with more titles on the way. It’s no Nintendo Wii, but then the Wii can’t replace your cable box.
Kobo eReader Touch Edition
Kobo • $130
The high-contrast E Ink displays of the competing six-inch eReaders all capture the readability of conventional paper books, but the low-frills Kobo Touch tops them all when it comes to the sheer simplicity of leafing through a novel. Flipping pages is as easy as swiping or tapping its touch screen, which also grants access to readability options and Wi-Fi settings. Support for the widely accepted EPUB (electronic publication) format means you’ll never run out of stuff to read, while the touch-screen interface lets you scroll and zoom PDF work documents with iPhone-like simplicity. At just 6.5 ounces, the Kobo Touch is among the lightest and most comfy-to-grasp eReaders, and it’s just small enough to cram into your back pocket.
Motorola • $300
With its vibrant 4.1-inch screen, one-gigahertz Snapdragon processor, decent front-and-rear cameras, and stout rubbery case, this is a more than-adequate Android smartphone that delivers zippy performance via a conveniently streamlined interface. The phone’s real draw isn’t the hardware or software, though—it’s the lack of a network-service contract. Virgin Mobile’s billing structure starts at just $35 a month for unlimited data usage and 300 anytime minutes. If you’re a smartphone user who texts more than you talk, consider making the switch. The money you save—to the tune of up to a grand per year—could be your own.
Livescribe • $100 for the basic two-gigabyte model
In a world of smartphones, tablets, and eReaders, it seems silly to settle for a pen that’s just analog and ordinary. The Echo “smartpen” digitally records everything you write or doodle on paper and imports it to your PC or Mac for later reference and easy sharing. Its built-in microphone also records audio that you can review via the pen’s speaker or headphone jack. Games, language translation, handwriting-to-text conversion, and many other functions are available via apps you install on the pen. It’s the perfect gizmo for students, journalists, artists, and anyone else who still relies on the written word.
Photojojo • $149
Even if you don’t have a clue what tilt-shift photography is, chances are you’ve seen it. This flavor-of-the-moment photo effect turns scenery and cityscapes into miniature models that look as if they’re straight out of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Phone apps and software simulate the effect, but you can’t capture true tilt-shift images unless you own an expensive custom lens or buy this five-megapixel digital point-and-shoot that takes tilt-shift photos at 2560 x 1920 resolution, as well as trippy 640 x 480 videos. A built-in flash, 8x digital zoom, and a 2.4-inch LCD round out the paltry specs. It’s really more of a novelty camera, but you’re guaranteed to have the funkiest profile pic in any friends list.
DPF-HD1000 digital photo frame
Sony • $120 to $170, depending on size
The photo-sharing functionality of smartphones and tablets has turned digital picture frames into a waste of wall space. At least Sony’s new HD series—available at seven, eight, and ten inches—brings some new tricks to your Aunt Ethel’s doily-covered photo shelf. Along with standard still photos, the frames play movies in resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 on their ultra-crisp backlit LCDs. Each frame has two gigabytes of internal memory and supports a variety of video and photo formats—even MP3 files, so you can play “The Way We Were” while looping that video of you taking a football to your nuts.