10 Tech Gadgets to Help Manage Your Business
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When it comes to tech, it pays to think small. Whether you work on the road, in the corner of your garage or from a tiny rented office, space is at a premium for startups. And in the guerrilla struggle of taking on your bigger competitors, you'll want to be able to move fast and light.
Luckily, startups are built for this kind of action. With the right combination of tools--including low-footprint tablets and pocket-size peripherals--you should be able to find most everything you need to run your business out of a backpack.
Here's our big list of little tools that can make your small business a huge success.
1. iPad 2
True Apple devotees might write off the iPad 2 as last year's news, but don't be fooled. This is still the tablet to get for slimness and size. It's actually thinner than the new iPad, but the screen is still plenty bright and clear. And, starting at $399, the iPad 2 is a hundred bucks cheaper than Apple's latest model. That's actually a great value considering it gives businesses just about everything they would want in a tablet. The iPad 2 is small enough to easily slide into a briefcase or a large purse without weighing you down, but powerful enough to handle critical business tasks. It's great for writing e-mails and reports, perusing documents or even basic videoconferencing. It also makes a flashy sales presentation tool.
2. HP Folio Ultrabook
The zillions of super-thin, so-called ultrabooks flooding the market this year offer a lot of choices for businesses looking to go small. These new notebooks are significantly smaller and lighter than full-size laptops, but just as powerful.
The HP Folio is one of the best. At just over 3 pounds, it's slightly heavier and thicker than the MacBook Air, but for $999, the Folio is filled with all the business features you need, including a surprising amount of connectivity for an ultrabook. It sports an ethernet jack, a USB 3.0 port and an SD card slot.
And, without question, it has the most user-friendly keyboard on the market. If there is a small-business ultrabook, this is it.
3. Samsung Galaxy Note
Most of the geeks have dismissed the Galaxy Note smartphone and its 5.3-inch screen as a monstrosity, but they've got it all wrong. Sure, it's chunky for a phone, but think about it as the smallest tablet on the market. The Galaxy Note, which costs $299 with a two-year contract from AT&T, works well enough that you could theoretically give up your tablet and laptop entirely on the road. The large screen is perfect for reading e-mail and using other Android-based business apps and office functions, but the device is still small enough to fit in your pocket. There's a stylus that takes some getting used to, but it's great for taking notes and marking up documents. And you can load the Note with data: up to 32 GB with an add-on SD card.
4. Logitech BCC950 ConferenceCam
For serious videoconferencing, it's possible to go too small. Built-in webcams that come inside laptops or tablets are sufficient for one-on-one chats, but add any more than two people and things get crowded pretty fast. The BCC950 ConferenceCam by Swiss device-maker Logitech is just the right size. It's surprisingly nimble for a full-motion, HD studio-quality webcam that zooms, pans and tilts. Picture the cameras you see following the action on ESPN, except the BCC950 is about $250 and you don't need a camera crew or pulley system to move it around the office. At less than 20 ounces, the Logitech BCC stuffs major videoconferencing features into one very small package. The unit requires high-quality broadband internet service to work properly, but assuming the right connectivity, this tool provides top-notch video and sound for small meetings.
5. Clear Hub Express
If you are lucky enough to live in one of the 80 or so cities with 4G WiMax coverage from Bellevue, Wash.-based Clearwire, the company's teeny-weeny mixed modem and router offers unlimited web access at great rates. Clear Hub Express is a cool $99 and Clear's blazing-fast 4G service starts at about $35 per month with no long-term contract. The modem-router combination means setup is no fuss (basically plug-and-play), and the device can fit discreetly just about anywhere. For the big-picture web stuff, Clear brings clarity.
The reams of office paper your business uses to print contracts and other official documents do more than take up cabinet space--putting ink on those bad boys costs serious money. San Francisco-based DocuSign is an extremely effective online tool for inking deals with contractors, vendors and clients. The cloud-based service lets you upload critical documents and share them securely with anyone. Accounts start at $15 per month with an annual plan. Your clients are notified via e-mail that they need to sign a document; when they log in, they are prompted to draw their signature or initials in the appropriate blanks and boxes. It's the slickest way to get your clients' John Hancock no matter where they are.
7. Moo MiniCards
Makers of smartphones will tell you that the paper business card is dead. Don't believe them. The old-school paper business card is still the smart way to put some marketing punch in your pocket. MiniCards by East Providence, R.I.-based Moo are distinctive, tiny business cards that your clients will love. It's easy to slip a whole pack in your pocket, and they won't overcrowd an already-stuffed wallet. Ordering cards is a three-click affair: Go to the website, enter your data, grab a design you like and then wait for the cards to show up. Designing cards is a snap and they really do look cool. Prices start at about $20 for 100 MiniCards.
8. Jaybird Freedom Bluetooth Headphones
For hands-free calling, ditch the clunky, plug-in headset and go with a pair of low-profile wireless earbuds with a built-in mic for taking calls. Headphone company Jaybird, based in Sandy, Utah, gets serious credit for making a wireless headset that actually doesn't suck. Even though they are marketed to the exercise crowd, Freedom headphones are great for business use. For $99, you get high voice quality, easy wireless setup and, best of all, a sleek design.
9. BlueAnt S4 True Handsfree car kit
Work never ceases on Planet Small Biz, and that means you will almost certainly be working in your car. But texting while driving is illegal in many places, and picking up your smartphone to answer a call isn't much safer. The S4 True Handsfree kit from Melbourne, Australia-based BlueAnt Wireless is a true touch-free speakerphone. This slim gizmo costs about $100 and attaches to the sun visor in your car. It's voice-activated, meaning you can answer and make calls using simple spoken commands, and it's compatible with most BlackBerry and Android smartphones. It also reads incoming text messages and even driving directions if you're using certain GPS-based apps. Your focus will be on the road, but you won't let any business pass you by.
10. ChicoBag Messenger10 rePETe
The best thing about a tiny tech arsenal is that you can carry your entire shop with you. But a sweet setup requires a sweet ride, and in this case the Messenger10 rePETe delivers. The urban messenger bag from Chico, Calif.-based ChicoBag costs about $25 and boasts a light, simple design that comes in five colors to suit your style. Best of all: The bag stuffs down into a palm-size pouch for storage (it's even small enough to store underneath a bike seat). Other bags cost more and have lots of extraneous features. For a lightweight, professional-looking carryall for your tech goodies, ChicoBag is the chic choice.