Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Surface Pro 3, Microsoft Corp. ()

The last few months of the year typically bring a flood of new technology products that can fill out one’s wish list—and clear out one’s bank account. This year, however, is different. Many of the laptops that have been released are only modest upgrades, since Intel Corp.’s most potent new chips won’t be available until 2017. Tablet makers, meanwhile, are scaling back their plans as they contend with a market that is no longer on fire. And then there’s the new smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, that had the unfortunate habit of setting itself on fire. But that doesn’t mean you need to go low-tech this holiday season. What follows are some great gadgets that can boost your productivity, enhance your leisure and sometimes even do both.

Kindle Oasis (Amazon.com Inc.; $290)

My first thought when Amazon introduced the Kindle Oasis? “They’re nuts.” In a world of surprisingly decent $100 tablets—including a few put out by Amazon itself—here was a monochrome e-book reader for nearly $300. But the Oasis is far and away the best e-book reader Amazon has ever released.

The Oasis embodies everything Amazon has learned in its years of building e-book readers. It has the built-in light of the Kindle Paperwhite ($119) but uses more LEDs so the light is brighter and more evenly distributed. It has the touch screen of more recent Kindles but also includes mechanical page-turn buttons, since some users prefer those. It’s shaped better than other Kindles, featuring a squarer, shorter design that is easier to use with one hand.

A few caveats—besides the price, that is. The screen itself is the same one found on the Paperwhite, and also on the $200 Kindle Voyage. So while those additional LEDs make for better lighting, resolution is the same 300 pixels per inch. Page turns don’t execute noticeably faster, and the Oasis drained its internal battery faster than my Paperwhite does, which probably explains why the leather cover Amazon includes contains an additional battery. But these quibbles were far outweighed by how good this device felt in my hand. Even at its high—and frankly, questionable—cost, this is the Kindle that Kindle fans are going to want.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Type Cover 
(Microsoft Corp.; $130)

Keyboards have always been the glaring weakness of tablets. Usually your choice boiled down to two less-than-desirable options: Buy an external keyboard that felt great to type on but meant carrying around another device; or buy a keyboard cover that traveled light but whose small or cramped keys meant a subpar typing experience. Given that context, Microsoft has always deserved credit. With each Surface tablet, it has released a keyboard cover that has come successively closer to getting the usability-portability balance right. The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover is its most successful effort yet. The keys have better travel and are more widely spaced than those on any previous Surface keyboard. And Microsoft pulled that off without sacrificing backlighting or a thin and light design.

But this keyboard cover fits and works perfectly on older Surface Pro 3 models, as well—and that tablet is in widespread use, especially within law firms. For me, the updated keyboard has transformed my experience using the Surface Pro 3. I’m not so quick to grab—or more precisely, lug —my laptop anymore.

Sony MDR-1000X Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones (Sony Corp.; $400)

Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless Headphones 
(Bose Corp.; $300)

For frequent fliers, noise-cancelling headphones are indispensable devices, with the best blocking out most, though not all, ambient noise. We recently looked at some current favorites ["Quiet Time," October], and Bose, which has dominated the field for years, came out on top with its QuietComfort 35 model. But since that article went to press, two new contenders have come out, both worthy of consideration.

The standout is Sony’s MDR-1000X headphones. Like the Bose QC35s, these are wireless and expensive. In fact, at $400, they run $50 more than the Bose offering. But these are the first noise-canceling headphones I’ve used that truly compare to Bose, and maybe even beat them. While I would give the QC35s a slight edge on noise cancellation (Bose almost completely eliminates the hiss that often accompanies noise cancellation, while Sony still retains a bit of it), the Sony headphones produced sharper sound. The MDR-1000Xs also have an innovative control mechanism that allows you to raise and lower volume, pause music and take calls by tapping or swiping an ear cup. Note, though, that Sony is missing one key feature Bose has: the ability to connect, via Bluetooth, to two devices simultaneously. That feature can be handy, since it lets you answer a phone call while you’re watching a movie on your tablet.

The second new entry comes from Bose itself, and this model, the QuietControl 30, gets a more qualified endorsement. It’s more portable than the Sony and QC35 headphones, featuring an in-ear design rather than a traditional, and bulkier, over-the-ear form factor, but the noise cancellation wasn’t as potent. In a unique turn, the QC30s let you adjust the level of noise cancellation you want. But even on the highest setting, you’ll hear more of the world around you than you will with the Sony or the QC35 models.

Fliers who like to watch seatback videos should also note that this device is 100 percent wireless. Unlike the Sony and QC35 headphones, it has no ability to plug into an in-flight entertainment unit. On the plus side, you are able to connect to two devices simultanously via Bluetooth.

Apple Watch Series 2 (Apple Inc.; starting at $369)

I’ve long thought that the Apple Watch has gotten a bum rap. The problem is expectations: Many people anticipated a miracle device, a gadget to change their lives. But with a tiny screen and little space for semiconductor wizardry, there was a limit to just how revolutionary it could be.

In fact, Apple didn’t build a wonder watch. But it did make a terrific notifications device, one that gives real-time, unobtrusive updates on email, messages, flight status, appointments and more. And now it’s even better. The device’s new iteration, the Series 2, has an on-board GPS chip, so you can track runs and workouts without taking along your phone. It loads apps faster than its predecessor, draws maps faster and even lets you scroll through menus at a speedier rate. And while the original version was splash-resistant, the new one can actually be worn while swimming (as long as you’re in a pool and not scuba diving old shipwrecks). Software updates have made the first Apple Watch a better device than it was at launch, but this new hardware takes things up a significant notch still.

Anker PowerLine+ 10-foot Lightning Cable 
(Anker Technology Co. Ltd.; $40)

Anker PowerPort 2 (Anker; $50)

RAVPower Savior External (RAVPower Inc.; $100)

SwifTrans Lightning to Micro USB cable
(SwifTrans; $20)

Finally, I’ve got some unexciting but eminently practical items. All can be found for around half the list prices above. First, two products from Anker, a vendor that is rapidly becoming a techie favorite. The PowerLine+ isn’t just a lightning cable for iOS hardware—it’s a 10-foot lightning cable. If nothing else, it will double the number of seats you can choose from at Starbucks when your phone’s battery is low. I also like Anker’s PowerPort 2, which plugs into a wall outlet and charges two devices at a time via its USB ports. One of these ports uses Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, which means compatible devices will charge much faster than normal.

Also on my list: the RAVPower Savior external battery pack. This is a nifty gadget that not only provides 9000 mAh of power (enough to top off your phone two or three times), but has both a lightning cable and AC plug built in. So you can charge it via a wall jack and in turn, charge an iOS device, without needing to carry any other cables. It’s not the most svelte solution—the pack weighs about half a pound—but I love being able to toss it in a bag and not worry that in my haste I may have forgotten a cord, rendering my backup battery useless.

And while we’re on the topic of cables, a particularly handy one is the SwifTrans lightning to micro USB adapter. This one is clever: Pop off the lightning connector at the end of the cord, and you’ll see a micro USB connector. This two-in-one capability is convenient when you’re carrying around iOS and non-iOS devices. Sure, it’s the pocket protector of the 21st century, but at least you can keep this badge of geekiness out of sight.

Contributing editor Alan Cohen writes about law firms and technology. Email: alanc31@yahoo.com.

The last few months of the year typically bring a flood of new technology products that can fill out one’s wish list—and clear out one’s bank account. This year, however, is different. Many of the laptops that have been released are only modest upgrades, since Intel Corp.’s most potent new chips won’t be available until 2017. Tablet makers, meanwhile, are scaling back their plans as they contend with a market that is no longer on fire. And then there’s the new smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, that had the unfortunate habit of setting itself on fire. But that doesn’t mean you need to go low-tech this holiday season. What follows are some great gadgets that can boost your productivity, enhance your leisure and sometimes even do both.

Kindle Oasis ( Amazon.com Inc. ; $290)

My first thought when Amazon introduced the Kindle Oasis? “They’re nuts.” In a world of surprisingly decent $100 tablets—including a few put out by Amazon itself—here was a monochrome e-book reader for nearly $300. But the Oasis is far and away the best e-book reader Amazon has ever released.

The Oasis embodies everything Amazon has learned in its years of building e-book readers. It has the built-in light of the Kindle Paperwhite ($119) but uses more LEDs so the light is brighter and more evenly distributed. It has the touch screen of more recent Kindles but also includes mechanical page-turn buttons, since some users prefer those. It’s shaped better than other Kindles, featuring a squarer, shorter design that is easier to use with one hand.

A few caveats—besides the price, that is. The screen itself is the same one found on the Paperwhite, and also on the $200 Kindle Voyage. So while those additional LEDs make for better lighting, resolution is the same 300 pixels per inch. Page turns don’t execute noticeably faster, and the Oasis drained its internal battery faster than my Paperwhite does, which probably explains why the leather cover Amazon includes contains an additional battery. But these quibbles were far outweighed by how good this device felt in my hand. Even at its high—and frankly, questionable—cost, this is the Kindle that Kindle fans are going to want.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Type Cover 
( Microsoft Corp. ; $130)

Keyboards have always been the glaring weakness of tablets. Usually your choice boiled down to two less-than-desirable options: Buy an external keyboard that felt great to type on but meant carrying around another device; or buy a keyboard cover that traveled light but whose small or cramped keys meant a subpar typing experience. Given that context, Microsoft has always deserved credit. With each Surface tablet, it has released a keyboard cover that has come successively closer to getting the usability-portability balance right. The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover is its most successful effort yet. The keys have better travel and are more widely spaced than those on any previous Surface keyboard. And Microsoft pulled that off without sacrificing backlighting or a thin and light design.

But this keyboard cover fits and works perfectly on older Surface Pro 3 models, as well—and that tablet is in widespread use, especially within law firms. For me, the updated keyboard has transformed my experience using the Surface Pro 3. I’m not so quick to grab—or more precisely, lug —my laptop anymore.

Sony MDR-1000X Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones (Sony Corp.; $400)

Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless Headphones 
(Bose Corp.; $300)

For frequent fliers, noise-cancelling headphones are indispensable devices, with the best blocking out most, though not all, ambient noise. We recently looked at some current favorites ["Quiet Time," October], and Bose, which has dominated the field for years, came out on top with its QuietComfort 35 model. But since that article went to press, two new contenders have come out, both worthy of consideration.

The standout is Sony’s MDR-1000X headphones. Like the Bose QC35s, these are wireless and expensive. In fact, at $400, they run $50 more than the Bose offering. But these are the first noise-canceling headphones I’ve used that truly compare to Bose, and maybe even beat them. While I would give the QC35s a slight edge on noise cancellation (Bose almost completely eliminates the hiss that often accompanies noise cancellation, while Sony still retains a bit of it), the Sony headphones produced sharper sound. The MDR-1000Xs also have an innovative control mechanism that allows you to raise and lower volume, pause music and take calls by tapping or swiping an ear cup. Note, though, that Sony is missing one key feature Bose has: the ability to connect, via Bluetooth, to two devices simultaneously. That feature can be handy, since it lets you answer a phone call while you’re watching a movie on your tablet.

The second new entry comes from Bose itself, and this model, the QuietControl 30, gets a more qualified endorsement. It’s more portable than the Sony and QC35 headphones, featuring an in-ear design rather than a traditional, and bulkier, over-the-ear form factor, but the noise cancellation wasn’t as potent. In a unique turn, the QC30s let you adjust the level of noise cancellation you want. But even on the highest setting, you’ll hear more of the world around you than you will with the Sony or the QC35 models.

Fliers who like to watch seatback videos should also note that this device is 100 percent wireless. Unlike the Sony and QC35 headphones, it has no ability to plug into an in-flight entertainment unit. On the plus side, you are able to connect to two devices simultanously via Bluetooth.

Apple Watch Series 2 ( Apple Inc. ; starting at $369)

I’ve long thought that the Apple Watch has gotten a bum rap. The problem is expectations: Many people anticipated a miracle device, a gadget to change their lives. But with a tiny screen and little space for semiconductor wizardry, there was a limit to just how revolutionary it could be.

In fact, Apple didn’t build a wonder watch. But it did make a terrific notifications device, one that gives real-time, unobtrusive updates on email, messages, flight status, appointments and more. And now it’s even better. The device’s new iteration, the Series 2, has an on-board GPS chip, so you can track runs and workouts without taking along your phone. It loads apps faster than its predecessor, draws maps faster and even lets you scroll through menus at a speedier rate. And while the original version was splash-resistant, the new one can actually be worn while swimming (as long as you’re in a pool and not scuba diving old shipwrecks). Software updates have made the first Apple Watch a better device than it was at launch, but this new hardware takes things up a significant notch still.

Anker PowerLine+ 10-foot Lightning Cable 
(Anker Technology Co. Ltd.; $40)

Anker PowerPort 2 (Anker; $50)

RAVPower Savior External (RAVPower Inc.; $100)

SwifTrans Lightning to Micro USB cable
(SwifTrans; $20)

Finally, I’ve got some unexciting but eminently practical items. All can be found for around half the list prices above. First, two products from Anker, a vendor that is rapidly becoming a techie favorite. The PowerLine+ isn’t just a lightning cable for iOS hardware—it’s a 10-foot lightning cable. If nothing else, it will double the number of seats you can choose from at Starbucks when your phone’s battery is low. I also like Anker’s PowerPort 2, which plugs into a wall outlet and charges two devices at a time via its USB ports. One of these ports uses Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, which means compatible devices will charge much faster than normal.

Also on my list: the RAVPower Savior external battery pack. This is a nifty gadget that not only provides 9000 mAh of power (enough to top off your phone two or three times), but has both a lightning cable and AC plug built in. So you can charge it via a wall jack and in turn, charge an iOS device, without needing to carry any other cables. It’s not the most svelte solution—the pack weighs about half a pound—but I love being able to toss it in a bag and not worry that in my haste I may have forgotten a cord, rendering my backup battery useless.

And while we’re on the topic of cables, a particularly handy one is the SwifTrans lightning to micro USB adapter. This one is clever: Pop off the lightning connector at the end of the cord, and you’ll see a micro USB connector. This two-in-one capability is convenient when you’re carrying around iOS and non-iOS devices. Sure, it’s the pocket protector of the 21st century, but at least you can keep this badge of geekiness out of sight.

Contributing editor Alan Cohen writes about law firms and technology. Email: alanc31@yahoo.com.