The right tools can help put even the smallest of startups on the same playing field as giant blue-chip corporations. From smartphones and scanners to new-age projectors, shiny objects are often the entrepreneur's best friend. And they aren't just for geeks anymore.
Here's a roundup of our favorite gadgets for small companies looking for an edge.
The Loop pointer is a wireless pointer for computer presentations that works like an in-air mouse. It is a large ring, which is easier to hold and manipulate in open space than an in-hand mouse. While isn't nearly as easy as using a table mouse, it's much better at controlling a PC than existing control peripherals that don't need a hard surface. Getting the hang of the Loop can take time, but it gets high marks for overall design.
Price: $199 for a two-year plan from AT&T
The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is Research in Motion's attempt to stay relevant in the small-business smartphone discussion. The unit is less than six ounces and an inch taller than a deck of cards. It's a "slider" -- the qwerty keyboard slides in behind the screen that's just over three inches. The Torch features the app-friendly BlackBerry 6 operating system and is great for keyboard-based work like email. The interface, controls, camera, multimedia functions, Wi-Fi and battery life are excellent. It comes installed with the BlackBerry App World access software, which offers a few hundred productivity apps.
The limited-release Libretto W100 is a dual-screen touch-enabled ultraportable Toshiba PC. Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, the clamshell marries two seven-inch touch-ready screens with a hinge so they open and close like a laptop. Fully open, the Libretto presents a 14-inch image, split across both screens. When closed, the unit fits in the palm of your hand. With six virtual keyboard configurations, it can support all Windows-based image processing and presentation tools and even runs a word processor.
Price: $299 (includes two cameras) plus $20 for service after the first year
Ever want a quick peek at what's actually happening down at the shop? For about the price of a cell phone, the Vue Personal Video Network is wire-free, self-installable video system that gives business owners a video stream up on any broadband web connection. It can run for a year on a single battery. The system doesn't offer a live video feed but streams images only when prompted. The video quality is surprisingly good, but it is nowhere near a high-end video system.
Looking for a high-end business audio vibe without the high-end cost? Try turning your PC, iPhone or iPod into a professional-grade sound system with self-powered speakers that have their own amps and can plug directly into your computer or portable device. The HiVi Swan T200Bs come with not one but two separate amps (one for each speaker), making them essentially idiot-proof to install. And the speakers' distinct angular look adds value to even the most persnickety office design.
The Magic Wand is a scanner you can put in your pocket. The 10-inch long, 7.5-ounce hand-held imaging tool captures a high-quality scan of any photo, pattern or text up to 8.5 inches wide. It's one-button simple to operate. Slide it across the work and out comes a reasonably high-resolution, desktop-quality image of the original. No additional lighting required. Hundreds of images can fit into the 32GB max microSD card, and scanned content can be stored to your computer via a USB connection.
The Acer Aspire Z5600 is a 23-inch all-in-one touch-enabled desktop PC. It packs a hefty 2.33GHz processor, as much as 8GB of RAM and a full terabyte (1000GB) of storage in a single silver enclosure. The Aspire Z5600's functions can be operated with either a traditional keyboard and mouse or your -- or your customer's -- fingers. Touch-enabled desktops are being used as data entry points where customers can order food or view high-end cosmetics options at a retail store.
Welcome to the age of the multi-media elevator pitch. The battery-powered, pocket-sized MPro150 projects a bright, 8- to 50-inch image on anything from an elevator wall to the back of an airline seat. It features a relatively crisp LED picture, 20,000 hours of lamp life, two hours of projection time, as much as 3 GB of memory and adapters and control software that can project everything from your PC's desktop to those lingering episodes of Lost on your iPhone.