by Reid and Heath Acoustics Ltd.
$39.95 at Amazon.com
Like many of you, I burn through earbud-type headphones pretty fast. So several times a year, I pay $10 or $15 for a cheap-looking, cheap-sounding replacement that will last a couple of months. Well, here's an idea: Why not spend a little more for phones that are tougher, more comfortable, and deliver outstanding sound?
I had never heard of Reid and Heath until recently. But this Glasgow outfit knows how to make a very sharp set of earbuds.
The tiny speakers are machined out of aluminum and feature snug rubber earpieces that seal out most external noises. The sound quality is exceptional.
Yes, Apple's done a nice job with its new-style earbuds for the iPhone 5, but I'd say these Reid and Heath phones are better. Treble tones are a bit too shrill, but midrange sounds nice and mellow, and bass is better than it has a right to be. Top it off with woven fabric cables and you've got phones that aren't going to fall apart after a few weeks' use.
I've seen a few premium earbuds, but none that match the MA-350's blend of lovely sound, smart, durable design, and moderate price.
Wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse,
by Favi Entertainment
$44.50 at Amazon.com
Our smartphones and tablets have made us accustomed to jabbing at icons on a glass videoscreen. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. Sometimes you want the substantial feel of a pushbutton keyboard. This handy gadget from Favi gives you exactly that.
The keyboard connects to any device with a built-in Bluetooth chip.
Once it syncs up, you can use it to type messages or enter commands. Prop your phone in front of you, then use the keyboard to check e-mail and peck out your responses.
A mini-touchpad on the right side of the device gives you mouse control, as well. In addition, there's a built-in laser pointer.
The possibilities are endless, and aren't limited to controlling your phone. For instance, you could use the keyboard to run a PowerPoint slideshow from a Bluetooth-
enabled laptop, and the laser pointer to highlight important details on the screen.
For the typical smartphone user, a spare keyboard isn't exactly a necessity. But e-mail mavens and texting addicts should check out this well-designed accessory.
Google Search app for Apple iOS
Free from the Apple iTunes App Store
It has become fashionable to criticize Siri, the speech-controlled digital assistant found in Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad. I refuse to join the mob. I've often found Siri quite useful. Still, there's plenty of room for improvement, and now Apple's smartphone rival Google has stepped into the breach. Its new Google Search app for Apple phones has a speech-controlled search feature that frequently leaves Siri in the dust.
This shouldn't surprise anybody. Google is all about search and gets billions of chances each day to practice its craft. As a result, Google Search is superbly responsive. Its speech-recognition feature starts translating your question even before you've finished speaking it. While Siri often takes five or 10 seconds to find an answer, Google Search often responds in just three or four. When Siri can't find an answer, it asks for permission to run a Google search; the Google app just does it, saving more valuable time. And Google Search responds to more questions orally, in a voice that sounds far more human than Siri's robotic chirp.
Of course, Siri lets you launch other apps with voice commands, something Google Search can't do. But time and again, I found that Google Search was better at answering everyday questions than Siri. I always figured that rivals would catch up with Apple's vaunted digital assistant. But it turns out that Google is in the passing lane, and stepping on the gas.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.