During the past few weeks, Scott and I have frequently found ourselves at each other's desks, eyeballing cool accessories for laptops and other mobile products that we never got around to reviewing, but nevertheless deserve a nod. For more gift ideas, check out the CNET 2011 Holiday Gift Guide.
This funky-looking laptop desk doubles as a portfolio-style case, and has gotten a surprising amount of use around the office, thanks to its most important feature: a stiff pull-out mouse pad. Blackfly refers to it as a "retractable wing," and it's big enough to use for couch-based gaming.
The case is designed for 15-inch laptops, at least if you want to close the case and carry your laptop around with the included shoulder strap. We ended up using it mostly for larger 17-inch gaming laptops on an ottoman, forgoing the attempt to zip up the case around the too-large laptop. $80
Direct from Japan and available for order on sites like JetPens.com, the Wise-Walker isn't exactly cheap. However, this extremely lightweight anorak-style nylon bag has a multitude of expanding pockets perfect for everything from an iPad or Kindle to a 13-inch laptop.
We've packed our test unit full of gear, a laptop, books, even clothes, and still had room to spare. It's not exactly the most stylish bag around, but at the end of 2011 it just might be the most universally practical--and it packs unbelievably flat and small for travel inside a suitcase. $73
Are you a pen-and-paper artist put off by the harsh cruelties of a digital world? The Wacom Inkling might be the perfect tweener device for you. Attach the Inkling's wireless clip to any pad of paper, and the included pressure-sensitive pen instantly transmits whatever you sketch to the Inkling's internal memory.
Connect via USB to a computer, and your sketchwork can be imported and even used as Photoshop layers. The setup works surprisingly well, and the Inkling comes with a clever compact charging case with extra pen refills. $199
Intel's Wireless Display, or WiDi, technology is a great idea, but is only built into a handful of laptops. Plus, it has lag that makes it unacceptable for twitch gaming. A more flexible option is WHDI, a competing standard, otherwise known as Wireless Home Digital Interface.
The system we're using here is from Shenzen, but we've also tried similar units from Asus (the WiCast EW2000) and HP (Wireless TV Connect). All have a transmitter that plugs into the HDMI port on your laptop, game console, or Blu-ray player, and a receiver that plugs into your TV.
We especially like this version because the transmitter is smaller, like an oversize USB memory stick, and if you're too far away, you can boost the range at the expense of image quality. $150
Having reviewed Pad & Quill cases for the MacBook Air and iPad, we already know they're sturdy, attractive, and well-made. But having spent a few weeks walking around with the new-ish iPhone 4S version, we can say it's definitely the one that gets the most attention from passersby.
It's called the Little Black Book, and that's exactly what it looks like, and should really come with a tiny pen (or iPhone stylus) to complete the illusion. The only drawback is how much thicker and heavier it makes my phone, but it also feels a lot safer than the plastic Griffin case I had on there before (which broke almost immediately). $80
It looks just like a real paintbrush, but the Nomad brush is a cleverly crafted capacitive brush designed for use with tablets like the iPad. A walnut and carbon handle and a delicate mix of natural and synthetic fibers on the brush combine to give a beautiful feel. Brushing, even delicately, on the iPad's screen works perfectly. Combine it with an art app like Brushes or ArtRage, and you'll feel like a true iPad Picasso. $24
Ultrabook users, here's an idea: what about expanding your onboard storage by 50 percent with a plug-in USB 3.0 flash drive? The Kingston HyperX flash drive isn't cheap, but the 64GB of storage has extremely fast throughput over USB 3.0. A 128GB module is also available for the princely sum of $250, but at that point you're probably better off simply upgrading your onboard SSD. $149
There's no good reason for an Opena. It's utterly absurd. And yet, this Kickstarter-initiated polycarbonate case for the iPhone 4 and 4S is nearly a shoo-in stocking-stuffer. The case, when on, is actually quite stylish--note the circular metal hole that allows the Apple logo to shine through. The metal bottle opener slides out via a mechanism that protects the glass back from scratching.
Sure, there are trust issues galore: what if sand got into the case at a beach party? What if your bottle of beer had a ton of foam (although the bottle opener design does have an extra bit of metal to shield the iPhone from splash)? We can't give you all the answers, but you can't deny this would be a show-off case for any upcoming holiday shindigs. It comes, of course, in black or white. $40
The new OnLive wireless controller, an updated version of the previous PC/MicroConsole OnLive wireless controller, uses Bluetooth to connect to iOS and Android devices, working hand-in-hand with a dedicated OnLive app for each platform (although the iOS app version we demoed has not been approved by Apple yet). It also works with the existing PC-based version of OnLive, which is a great resource for playing higher-end PC games on a lower-end computer. Read more about it here. $50