iPod Poppers: Many's the parental unit who's been given a spiffy iPod, only to let it languish in a drawer. Reason being, they're not computer savvy, not comfortable with downloading. And the core of their record collection may be on vinyl, not nearly as easy as CDs to transfer on a computer to iTunes and then the iPod.
Answer to their prayers is the Ion Audio iProfile ($199.99 on ionaudio.com) - a USB turntable with unique direct-to-iPod music-transfer capabilities. That means, NO COMPUTER is required, and the operation verges on child's play.
Here's how it rolls. An iPod is inserted into a special dock built into the base of the Ion turntable. Search on the iPod's menu screen to call up "Voice Recording." (If it's an older model that doesn't have that function, then it won't work.) Then put a record (33 1/3 or 45 rpm) on the turntable, position the tone arm above the track or side you want to record, tap a turntable button labeled "select" (or sometimes the iPod's own select button) to start recording, then lower the arm (with a lever) and you're in business. There's also a stop button on the turntable, of course. The arm automatically lifts off at the end of a side.
I pulled off a vinyl-album-to-iPod transfer without even connecting the turntable to a stereo system for monitoring the operation, though the latter certainly makes things easier. The Ion iProfile is switchable to connect to either "phono" or "line" input jacks on a stereo, and it also functions as a conventional record player.
To play music from a docked iPod or another device that's looped through the turntable, the "line" connection has to be selected.
There's also a USB output for linking the turntable to a computer, with companion software (supplied) to clean up the vinyl crackle when making an iPod-friendly digital transfer complete with album graphics and song titles.
Now that's the one shortcoming with the iProfile's ultrasimple, vinyl-to-iPod transfer. Your only visual clue to the contents of each file is the date and time stamp showing when you recorded it.
At iHome: There are dozens of nightstand-sized, self-powered speaker systems for docking, charging and blasting the sound of iPods. But until now there's been nothing that could also handle the larger dimensions of an iPad. The iHome iA100 ($199.99) fills that bill and then some.
Besides its top-mounted connection port for seating your iProduct, you can also make an easy Bluetooth linkup between the iA100 and an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, then wirelessly (!) beam the music from the player to the iA100 across the room.
Bolstered by shockingly effective Bongiovi enhancement technology, the sound out of this compact unit's front- and side-firing speakers is detailed and robust. I should mention that the iA100 also serves as a multifunction clock radio (waking/snoozing to FM radio as well as music from the attached iProduct) and as a "hands-free" Bluetooth speaker phone, linking to your mobile and ideal for answering those middle-of-the-night wrong (and right) numbers.
Keys to the Highway: For those who dislike typing on an iPad's virtual on-screen keyboard, Apple offers a nice wireless keyboard for $69. But if you're thinking portability, check out the spanking-new ZAGGmate with Keyboard ($99.99). It's an iPad-customized Bluetooth keyboard built into an ultrathin aluminum shell. Ready to travel? The rubber-rimmed keyboard side gets pressed against the face of the iPad, and ZAGGmate then becomes the Apple tablet's protective traveling case, barely thicker ( 1/4 inch) than the tablet computer itself and adding just 12.9 ounces of extra weight.
When in service, there's a pop-up stand on the keyboard for iPad positioning. This stand also holds a tablet encased in its official Apple accessory fold-back cover. While tight, the netbook-size keyboard is fully functional, with useful volume and instant screen blackout buttons. ZAGGmate's lithium-ion battery can stand by, ready for action, for "several weeks" before needing a recharging. Nab one before the holidays direct from www.ZAGG.com.
3G Without the Waste: You can spend an extra $130 to get 3G reception built into an iPad. Then pay an additional $14.99-$25 a month for AT&T 3G connectivity.
Or, for $150, you can buy a Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go MiFi 2200, a tiny (business card-size) "intelligent mobile hotspot" that brings Sprint 3G Internet service to the iPad (and up to four other Wi-Fi-connected devices, simultaneously!), with no-contract, pay-as-you-go plans starting at just $10.
In my testing, I've found the device and connection fine for browsing websites and streaming music on an iPad, though not robust enough for streaming Netflix movies. That little MiFi 2200 also functions (inadvertently) as a pocket warmer and runs for about four hours between charges.
Watch Time Is It, Nano?: When the tiny, square, touch-screened sixth-generation iPod Nano came out a few months ago, some wags taped it to their wrists, turned on the "clock" display and called it a watch.
Now the good folks at Griffin Technology have made that evolution official with the Nano-toting Slap Case, a flexible, spring-steel band wrapped in soft silicon. Snap it shut around your wrist, and Slap self-adjusts to your exact size (better have a pretty wide wrist, though, or this thing's gonna look goofy.) The case protects the Nano's connector port and volume controls, while leaving the headphone jack open to plug in and listen. Available in a rainbow of color options - red, purple, blue, green, black, orange, yellow and pink - to compliment your Nano tone. $24.99 at www.griffintechnology.com.
Sharing Is for Sneezers: Carry a new iPad into the office at your own risk. Many will want to put "hands on," and if it's just after lunch, they'll likely leave greasy paw prints and worse on the screen.
Now to the rescue comes Monster CleanTouch for iPad, iPhone and iPod ($20-$25). The special squirt-bottled solution (good for 300 sprays) not only removes fingerprints, oils and smudges but also leaves a micro-thin coating on the screen that resists future fingerprint buildup, prevents scratching and makes the surface silky to the touch. Plus, you spread and lift off the spray with a special antimicrobial cloth that eliminates "up to 99 percent" of problem-causing bacteria. Still, don't forget the flu shot!
Docks, Two: Want to enjoy your iPod/iPhone's stored music and video on a big A/V rig? The Connector from Tivoli Audio ($124.99 at www.tivoliaudio.com) is the way to go. It's a polished little power dock/charging station with a dedicated remote control, audio and video outputs and a nifty back support wheel that adjusts perfectly to the girth of your particular Apple.
Into the spiffy Sonos Internet music system? The brand's new Wireless Dock 100 ($119) - plugged merely into a power line - transfers music from a docked iPod/iPhone to any other Sonos receiver in the house, with operations controlled on a superslick iPad or iPhone app.
A Face in the Crowd: So how's a kid to tell his/her iPod or iPhone from everyone else's on the block? A custom wrap from www.music-skins.com sets 'em apart, while also offering scratch protection. Heavy on showbiz personalities, the skins celebrate everyone from Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift to Bob Marley and Miles Davis and, at another extreme, Kim Kardashian and Snooki. Also available for Blackberry Storms and Sidekick LX and easily removed if/when that fixation is outgrown. $15 at www.music-skins.com.