[IMGCAP(1)]I’ve been doing hardware and software reviews since 1978. There are some obvious perks that come along with this, but perhaps one of the best is that I get to find out what works in my office before I have to go out and spend any money.

There are some things that over the years I’ve found invaluable, so in the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d share a few of my “must-haves,” and maybe give you some ideas of how you can treat your office (and yourself) with some technology that I’ve found really does make life simpler (at least for me). This is a short list, but I’m certain you have your own ideas, so why not share them in the comments section.

One thing that’s been a lifesaver for me isn’t even what you would consider technology. It’s an inexpensive roll-around service cart. I actually have several of these, and they cost a bit more than $30 each at Harbor Freight. I had to assemble them myself, which took about an hour (I’m somewhat more technically than mechanically inclined), and with two of them, I flipped the top so that I have a flat surface, with the bottom shelf assembled as it should with the shelf edges facing the top. This gives me two nice roll-around tables. One generally has a printer or other piece of equipment I’m reviewing. The other, usually pushed into a corner, has a wide-format printer that I use to print out large spreadsheets and other documents that don’t fit on standard-sized paper.

This brings me to another piece of technology that’s proven itself over the years: a wide-format printer. These aren’t particularly expensive, though the one I have is a prosumer model that can take paper as wide as 17 inches. Office printers, which take paper up to 11 x 17 inches, are widely available for under $200. Leaving it on a rolling cart lets me keep it out of the way until I need it, and I store paper and extra ink cartridges for it on the lower shelf.

I also have another specialty printer that gets a lot of use, the Icon label printer from Leitz. This specialized printer takes cartridges of all sizes of labels as well as continuous 3.5-inch-wide adhesive label stock in white or red. It uses thermal print technology, so label stock is the only thing you have to buy.

The Icon requires Leitz brand label stock, but at least they’re honest about it upfront, since the label cartridge is coded so that the printer and software knows what has been loaded. I tend to label everything, since I’m fairly disorganized, a habit I developed with the original Dymo label embosser years ago. The Icon is pretty new and replaced a Dymo printer when Dymo started to require use of only Dymo branded labels and I got stuck with about $40 of useless postage stamp rolls.

One unlikely piece of technology that’s proven invaluable is a high-quality microphone. I record all interviews I perform. I’m a poor note-taker, and I like to concentrate on the conversation. My iPad serves as a great recording device, and I can make certain I quote someone correctly, but the internal mic leaves something to be desired as far as sensitivity and sound quality. Over the years I’ve used a series of microphones from a company called IK Multimedia. They mostly make hardware and software for musicians, and their iRig mics are really good. The latest, the iRig Studio, isn’t overly expensive, and even comes with its own mini-tripod. The free software for different tablet operating systems is good, but I spent the five bucks to upgrade it with features that process the recording to make the speech even more understandable.

One final gizmo I can’t live without is a portable USB CD/DVD drive. I have several of these, because at least one of them is always being used by someone in the house since laptop vendors stopped including optical disc drives. A couple of them are from Apricorn, but the vendor seems to be moving away from this type of accessory and more into security products like encrypted USB drives.

We also have two or three no-name drives ordered off of Amazon which seem to work okay when we need them. I also have a couple of Apricorn NetDocks, which the company also seems to be phasing out. These are terrific for use with a desktop that doesn’t have an optical drive or enough USB ports. The NetDock has an optical drive, four powered USB ports, and internal space for a laptop hard drive or SSD. It’s a great product, doesn’t take up much desk space, and I’ll be sorry when they are no longer available.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas for technology you might not have thought about. My philosophy on this kind of stuff is that if it makes life easier or me more productive, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, then it’s worth having.

Have a terrific Holiday.

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