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Product Reviews

From Consumer Reports: Top gadgets, and how to protect them on the go

Nikon Coolpix

Nikon Coolpix

The latest hand-held devices are thinner, lighter, and more powerful than those of even a year or two ago, according to Consumer ­Reports. Despite those advances, prices continue to drop, with more $100 smartphones and $250 tablets on the market, to mention just two examples.

Gadgets are also becoming more versatile, but chances are you will still be toting around more than one these days. The smartphone is the closest thing to an all-in-one mobile device, but it still doesn’t offer all the capabilities of a standalone camera for capturing images, a tablet for Web surfing and gaming, or an e-book reader for reading type, especially when you’re outdoors.

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Consumer Reports recently featured more than 150 recommended tablets, smartphones, e-book readers, tablets, and other mobile devices. It listed 24 models that qualify as Consumer Reports Best Buys, including the following:

E-book readers: Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch Reader, $100. Why get an ­e-book reader when you could peruse ­e-books on a tablet or phone? Reader screens are bigger than those on phones and more legible outdoors than phone or tablet displays. Readers weigh less than same-sized tablets and run longer on a charge. And readers offer few distractions. With most, you can’t check e-mail or go online, so you focus on reading, just as you do with a physical book or magazine.

Tablets: Apple iPad 2 (3G, 16GB), $530. Tablets are the perfect choice for a take-it-with-you, do-it-all device, good for e-mail, Web surfing, action games, and more. Displays on these recommended models are crisp and bright enough for you to enjoy movies, books, magazines, or a video chat with friends and family.

Cameras: Nikon Coolpix S9100 digital camera, $200. Unless all you ever do with photographs is text them or upload them to Facebook, you still need a real camera. Even models that are barely larger than a phone offer optical zoom (some as high as 10x), along with a wider variety of controls than a phone. Advanced models let you shoot more types of subjects under more varied conditions, including very low light.

Tech to goGadgets go with us everywhere these days, including the beach and other places that are potentially dangerous for unprotected electronics. To protect gadgets from sand, water, and other messy stuff, Consumer Reports recommends using zipper or slider food bags. But also available are special bags that makers claim offer maximum protection.

To determine how well they worked, Consumer Reports tested Hefty Slider Bags, which cost as little as a dime per bag, against five specialty bags that ranged in cost from $16 to $29. The special bags stayed dry inside when Consumer ­Reports gave each a brief dunking in water and also kept out sand sprinkled along their seals. But so did the Hefty bags, meaning that roughly one dime is all it costs to protect gadgets from sand and water damage.

For beach-proofing tech gear, Consumer Reports offers the following tips:

Any zipper or slider bag will probably provide passable protection.

Buy a few bags in different sizes to see which ones fit the devices best, and consider replacing the bags periodically, particularly if sand has scratched the surface and affected how clearly the device’s screen can be seen and its controls can be used.

Beachgoers should place gadgets in bags before they leave home, and try not to remove them until they’re back home and have brushed off the sand and water.

To take decent photos, the phone or camera will have to be unsealed and removed from the bag.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.
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