If you turned 50 in or around the Great Recession of 2008, there’s a pretty good chance that your employer at the time suggested you look for another way to make a living. Many of us figured out in short order that there were not exactly a slew of jobs out there just waiting for our skills. In fact, there were almost none. So many of us used our wits and started our own businesses. That meant a new life where you were paying the bills and not some huge corporate entity. Now each purchase is weighed based on cost, longevity, and productivity. And you found that instead of calling tech support, you were tech support. To help you out we’ve lined up some products that will be a good fit for anyone’s home office.
Desktop Computer There’s a pretty good chance that front and center in your home office is a desktop computer. We tend to favor one with a big screen as befits the needs of the 50+ generation. Of late we’ve been using the Dell XPS 27 All-In-One. The base model begins at about $1550 and includes a stunning 27″ 4K UHD display, a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor and 1TB of storage. It is equipped with Windows 10 Home Edition. Other models add more storage, a faster processor, and more onboard memory. One factor that sets this apart is that it comes with perhaps the best sound system we’ve ever heard on a desktop computer. It features ten speakers including two downward firing speakers that deliver room-filling sound. So if you need to take a break, you don’t need to go to another room to enjoy great music or a 4K video experience
Printer On a regular basis there may be few things as frustrating as having your printer run out of ink and not having a set of overpriced replacement cartridges on hand. The EcoTank printers from Epson resolve the issue by using long-lasting ink reservoirs that you refill with a bottle. We’ve been using the Epson WorkForce ET-4750 EcoTank All-in-One Supertank Printer, which is the stylish upgrade to the 4550 we’d been using for about two years and has yet to run out of ink. It will save you about 80% on ink costs. Among the features: enough ink to print up to 11,200 pages, and equivalent to about 30 ink cartridge sets. Plus, it features auto-stop ink bottles with each color uniquely keyed for easy filling of each tank. It has a high-capacity 250-sheet paper tray, fax, 2.4″ color touchscreen, 30-sheet ADF, fast auto 2-sided printing, and convenient wired and wireless networking. Price is just about $500.
Wireless Routers It wasn’t that long ago when swapping out a wireless router filled me with dread. But the current generation of routers are faster, have more range, and are getting to be pretty much plug and play. We found several we feel comfortable recommending.
The VELOP Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System from Linksys is a so-called mesh Wi-Fi system. Mesh networks use multiple access points instead of a single point, so data flows to the fastest connection. The process of setting it up was easy and smooth from beginning to end. When you open the box, you are directed to download an app (available on iOS and Android) which walks you through the step by step process. The app asks how your router connects to your modem. Initially, you connect the VELOP to your modem with an Ethernet cord. After that, the app walks you through the set up with naming, setting up a password and getting the devices online using a simple color changing spot on the sleek looking box (they come in black or white). After installing the first box in the office, next to the router, the app then asked if you are going to install a second. It suggests the best place to set up the next box (in range of the first) and begins the process again. Linksys makes the entire system simple to set up right out of the box. And after it was up and running we experienced a significant improvement in speed in watching videos and listening to music. Price on the Linksys website is just about $450.
Netgear Nighthawk X10 Smart WiFi Router If you feel the need for speed in your home office, Netgear claims the X10, also known as the AD7200, is the fastest router on the market, moving data at speeds close to 4.6 GB /second at 60GHz. This router is designed to blast a signal that will cover a large home or even a building. It has four external antennae to get the signal out there. And if you want to be wired, The Nighthawk X10 comes equipped with 6 Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and a single Gigabit Ethernet WAN port. Alongside the Gigabit Ethernet ports, users can also connect USB compatible peripherals to either of the USB 3.0 ports. Devices such as external storage drives and printers can take advantage of these USB ports making them accessible to users throughout the network. For a better streaming experience, the Nighthawk X10 supports the Plex media player, DLNA streaming, and the ReadyCLOUD app available for iOS and Android devices providing access to content stored on a connected USB hard drive. It’s available on Amazon at $422.08
Need even more reach? Netgear also makes the Nighthawk X6S Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender. This will work with almost any existing router to give you more coverage without losing speed or data throughput. It’s a good solution for multi-story dwellings where one powerful router just isn’t enough. It effectively teams up with your existing router to make a mesh network without having to buy multiple units. Amazon sells it for just about $230.
Internet-based Telephone System It’s commonly called VOIP, for Voice Over IP (Internet Protocol) and lots of folks provide them. If you have phone service from your cable company that’s what you’re getting. But you’re probably paying about $40 a month for the service. Ooma has offerings for both the home and the small business. In both cases, you buy the gear from Ooma. With the Ooma home system, you buy the Telo base (about $100) and as many HD2 handsets as you need (about $60 apiece), then pay only taxes and fees every month, just under $4.00. The system integrates with a number of accessories including Ooma’s recently launched home security system. The equipment is yours.
Ooma’s small office system costs a bit more, but you get enough gear and features to make anyone who calls you think you are a large organization. The base unit costs just under $200 and comes with two Ooma Linx devices which will let you hook up analog phones to your system. The monthly service fee, which includes unlimited calling to the US and Canada is $19.95. Among the features of the office system:
- Virtual Receptionist
- Extension dialing
- Call transfer
- Modes for business and after hours
- Music on hold
- Conference bridge
Storage Solutions The ability to store and retrieve ever-increasing amounts of data is critical for your survival as a business. And by only storing those assets on your computer you are basically shooting craps. Sooner or later most computers will fail. That’s why we have a range of storage options you might wish to consider depending on your needs. In addition to local storage, we also advocate a cloud account with a reliable provider (like Amazon or Google or Dropbox so you can access your files from anywhere.
The wireless solution Western Digital MyCloud This system will allow you to store photos, videos, and files from all of your devices including your smartphone then access them from anywhere using the MyCloud mobile app. That way instead of deleting photos from your phone you can just sync them to your MyCloud. The MyCloud comes in a variety of models with up to 16TB of storage. The MyCloud Home Duo system saves everything on two different disks for true redundancy. Prices on the MyCloud products begin at just about $160 for 2TB for all the way up to 16TB for $700.
Western Digital MyBook Duo The MyBook Duo system offers immense data capacity, but doesn’t have the wireless connectivity of the MyCloud. It does offer the ability to quickly create mirror backups. You can directly connect devices such as computers music players, and cameras since it comes with both USB Type 3 and USB Type C ports for high-speed data transfer. Capacities begin at 4TB for about $260 and go all the way to a whopping 20TB for about $800.
If you want your storage in a more portable format, WD also makes the MyPassport Ultra series of external drives that fit easily in a drawer, backpack, or briefcase. Capacities start at 1TB for about $70 and go up to 4TB for about $130. And using WD’s software, just like with its larger storage units, it can be set to automatically back up your computer. One use for these is to rotate two of them and store one in your safe deposit box. After all, aren’t your files just as irreplaceable as the family documents you have locked away?
Very Portable Storage
Sometimes you may want to move your data from point “A” to point B” with something even smaller than the small external hard drive. SanDisk, which helped create the SD Card market, has a complete range of portable solutions.
SanDisk SD cards and Micro SD cards – These are ideal for storing data on your smartphone (those that accept micro-SD cards), your music players, your cameras, or even data files from your computer. They come in a range of sizes beginning at 4GB and going all the way up to 512 GB. Prices range from about $7.00 and go up to about $300.
Solid State Drives (SSD’s) – The big advantage of SSD’s over portable external hard drives is that they have no moving parts and they are what’s known as non-volatile. In other words, your data stays put even without a power source. The price of these has dropped considerably in the past two years, though still more costly than traditional hard drive storage. SanDisk’s SSD’s range from about $120 for a 128GB USB to about $800 for a 1.92TB device.
2 in 1 Laptop Computer While Dell has been best known for utilitarian looking machines, of late it’s started making some very attractive and dare we say, sexy looking laptops. Most recent among them is the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-In-1. You can read our complete review here. This is a beautiful machine with an all-aluminum case. It has a touchscreen that flips so you can use it as a tablet or a stand for presentations. With a 15″ screen, it offers plenty of real estate for those of us who might find an 11″ or even 13″ machine just a little too challenging. It comes with the latest Intel core processors and storage that begins with a 256 GB SSD drive and goes up to 2TB. Prices start at just about $880 which we think makes this a pretty good value for a business class machine that’s got this much going for it.
Ergonomic Trackball A pointing device for your computer can be a very personal matter. Some like a mouse, some a touchpad, others still are comfortable tapping directly on a touchscreen. I have found that I really enjoy a well-designed trackball. The MX Ergo from Logitech is comfortable to work with, doesn’t require moving all around your desktop, and offers precision control. Price from Logitech is just about $100. Yes, it’s a little on the pricey side, but the comfort level may well be worth it.
Standing Desk If you’re concerned that you may be spending too much time sitting in front of your computer, you should be. Studies have found that taking a sedentary position for much of the day is really unhealthy. But there’s a way to beat it. There are a number of desks that convert from a sitting desk to a standing desk. You can work either sitting down or standing up. The WorkFit – T from Ergotron will raise your computer and monitor by as much as 15″ making it comfortable to work from a standing position while offering support for your wrists and more comfort in the long run for your back and neck. Price at Amazon is $396.23.
Java Break Coffee represents a significant part of my work day, from first thing in the morning often into the late hours if I’m working on a project. I don’t particularly like to brew a whole pot and then just leave it. So I’ve become quite fond of the Keurig one cup brewing system. One of the newest models is the Keurig K-Select Coffee Maker. This is a compact unit, great for the counter in your home office where space may be at a premium. And while you can buy K-cups in many flavors, we like to grind our own beans and use the reusable basket. Among its features:
o Brews multiple cup sizes
o Strong brew button
o Large 52 oz. water reservoir
o Smart Start brewing technology
o Programmable auto-off feature
It’s available in Matte Black and Vintage Red. Price is about $130.
Desk-Gripping Coffee Mug Mighty Mug, it is sad but true that sooner or later the contents of your coffee mug may well land up outside that mug – on your desk, in your keyboard, on your carpet. That’s why a father and daughter team came up with Mighty Mug. When something knocks into it, it automatically grips the desk so it won’t tip over. But it’s designed to lift up naturally. Mighty Mug comes in a number of sizes, colors, and finishes, and prices range from about $16 to about $30,