Cool Yule Tools for the Home

Home is where all of the coolest gadgets live - here are some gift ideas to make your home more awesome.

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E Tape 16 Digital Measuring Tape


Everything else in this world has a digital component, so why not the tape measure? Old-school builders and handymen may scoff at this notion, but the E Tape 16 Digital Measuring Tape is a “cool tool” that you’ll want in your home or work tool box.

The device measures accurately in both inches and centimeters (you can change the unit at the click of a button), and two memory buttons let you store a measurement for later access. The device lets you measure in two different directions, so you can measure from the outside or the inside (a lot more useful than you’d initially think).

A center-line button calculates where the center is located on a particular measurement, very handy in case you’ve forgotten your math skills, or if you have a particularly tricky measurement. For example, if you’re hanging a photo on the wall, measuring the width of the frame and then calculating the center point is a great way to figure out where you want to pound that nail in.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

epson xp830

Epson Expression Premium XP-830


This year is the 30th anniversary of the “Back to the Future” film, but more important, 2015 is the year that Marty McFly traveled to from 1985 in the 1989 sequel (if you didn’t already know this, you weren’t paying attention last month when practically everyone on the planet covered this “story”).

One of the more interesting “predictions” about the future was that everyone would have fax machines everywhere in the house – in fact, the “old” Marty got fired from his job via fax in one scene.

Thankfully, that prediction didn’t come true, but we still have fax machines, and you’ve probably got one in your home. The multifunction printers that still give us printing, copying and scanning capabilities also include faxing as an option. It’s the fourth feature of these machines that often get overlooked, but it’s still there for any small business owner who might need one. Interestingly, the things that we used to fax to one another (contracts, letters, menus, etc.) are still done – but with extra steps – I usually scan the contract and email it to myself as a PDF, then attach the PDF to the person I’m communicating with.

Anyway, the Expression Premium XP-830 has a fax function, but like previous write-ups I’m going to ignore that. Like previous versions of this printer, you get awesome photo printing features (two paper trays let you print several different sizes of photos, including 4x6, 5x7 and 8x10 or letter-sizes, just to name a few) with great results. The printer uses five ink cartridges – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and “Photo Black”, which are relatively easy to install.

Photos look fantastic when printed with this printer, Epson means it when it says these are “lab quality.” For example, I printed several photos of my kids with this printer, and my wife said, “Gee, I wish you had told me about this before I ordered prints” – they were that good.

The printer supports printing from many different devices – you can print from your PC or Mac via Wi-Fi, you can print directly from an SD memory card, or directly from a mobile phone or tablet through the Epson iPrint app. If you’re really ambitious, you can try to connect to the printer via Wi-Fi Direct, but it’s easier to just connect the printer to an existing Wi-Fi router and print through that method.

The scanner is a flatbed unit on top of the device, which also doubles as the “copier” if you need to do that function. A very cool automatic document feeder lets you scan and copy several documents at once, something you usually see at the office copier.

All of the different tasks are handled through the very cool touch-screen display that pops out in front of the device – Epson has had this display for several models, and it has perfected the user interface very nicely on this version.

Network connections are supported through Ethernet, direct connection via USB, or my favorite, Wi-Fi. Setting up the network takes some time at first (especially if you have a long Wi-Fi password), but once it’s ready you won’t have to worry about it again.

There are lots of other options, including my favorites – the ability to print out a single sheet of lined paper or graph paper, or to take a scanned image and turn it into a coloring page. When Epson first started with this feature with its Artisan line of printers, I didn’t have school-aged children who would need this. Now that the kids are older and in school, I’m going to take advantage of this feature to great effect.

My favorite new feature on the printer is an automatic tray that slides out when you’re printing, giving your paper or photo a place to rest while you wait for it to be picked up. You can push the tray back in when you’ve grabbed your paper or photo, giving this printer a smaller footprint and giving you other options on where it can sit in your house.

This version of the Expression series is aimed more at the user who wants great photos – if you’re looking for similar functions but don’t want the extra features and superior photo abilities, check out the less expensive 320, 420 or 424 models.

-- Writeup by Keith Shaw

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NETGEAR ReadyNAS 214 Network Attached Storage

$499 (diskless)

While cloud-based backup is nothing short of essential these days, and while online access to files in the cloud might eventually become the norm, there’s still a huge need for local storage in today’s multi-device (to say the least) household. Any techie on your list will be absolutely thrilled to receive the Netgear ReadyNAS 214, the latest incarnation of NASs from Netgear, reflecting the company’s long history as a key player in the residential (and enterprise) NAS space.

Why go with NAS? Because contemporary storage needs can span literally dozens of devices in the modern home (such as handsets, tablets, and PCs of all forms). Centralized (and high-integrity) storage, control, and management make a lot of sense. Are people on your gift list streaming media to essentially all of those devices? Of course they are. Would any techie on your holiday list be satisfied with anything less than enterprise-class performance and features on their home network? No, they would not.

That’s why the ReadyNAS 214 will make a great gift. It’s available diskless, with four open drive bays, but can be configured with up to 24TB – way more than enough to store every episode of Family Guy ever made (and then some). Backup software, Apple Time Machine support, sync, replication, data integrity, anti-virus, and DLNA support are included. The two Ethernet ports can be aggregated. And, as a RAID system, data integrity is enhanced as well. In sum: enterprise-class features and performance; residential-class price.

Our test unit had two 1-TB drives installed. Setup is easy; install the drives, connect to power and Ethernet, and then use a browser to connect to Netgear’s ReadyCloud service. The device is discovered, and a few fill-ins and clicks later, you’re good to go. There’s an LED display on the front that’s activated with a single push of the power button, but it’s likely you’ll hide this unit out of sight in the back room. It’s compact and quiet enough to put anywhere, though.

A less-expensive two-bay model, the RN212, with pretty much the same set of features, is also available.

-- Writeup by C.J. Mathias

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