So, you got what you wanted - or perhaps what you hadn't expected - for the holidays. What now? Some ideas on how to care for and protect your new "toys."
Protection is important. If you have a new notebook computer, you probably don't want to see it fall to the sidewalk or floor and sustain damage.
For jaunts around home or the office, I've been impressed with products from Designer Sleeves (www.designersleeves. com) a company in Arroyo Grande, Calif., that offers padded sleeves for portable computers, fitting displays up to 17 inches. Models can be bought with handles and a carrying strap, making a mini- briefcase, if desired.
The designs are colorful, playful even. I'm carrying Blue Hawaii, which is not an homage to Elvis, but rather a nice beach scene, something to contemplate during a long, cold winter. Other sleeves might evoke "The Matrix" or the '60s, but all are eye-catching and cover their contents well.
On the road, you will want something more substantial. This year, I've been impressed - and saved - by McKlein- USA (www.mckleinusa.com), a Chicago-based maker of wheeled and non-wheeled cases for computers. My discovery, in a luggage store at Denver International Airport, was the R Series Division Nylon 18-inch Detachable-Wheeled Laptop Backpack, an unwieldy name for a very "wieldy" computer case. It can hold two notebook computers and even fit one that already has been packed in a Designer Sleeve product. It has a ton of pockets for pens, papers, phones and everything else - it's very difficult to overstuff this bag.
It maneuvers wonderfully through airports and fits nicely in either the overhead compartment or under a seat. The "detachable backpack" part also is very nice. I like the idea of detaching the wheels and carrying the case separately, even if, frankly, I haven't done it yet.
Protecting a mobile phone is even more important. There are tons of choices; just be sure what you buy accommodates your phone properly. Some users prefer to leave their phones "naked," but my experience has shown that having a carrying case is a good thing, especially to keep a phone in good shape.
If you are going to tote a phone "undressed," check out www.zagg.com, online home of the Invisible Shield, which offers scratchproof coverings for the T-Mobile G1, the iPhone, the latest BlackBerry models and about 2,500 other devices. Full-body coverage for the iPhone costs $24.95, and it has won legions of fans.
For digital camera fans who want the ultimate in protection, check out the Seattle Sling Dry Bag, a $149.95 zipperless camera bag that has a water- and dust-proof inner bag that folds over three times before snapping shut. There are no zippers to break, and access to your gear is fast. I've never seen a camera bag quite like this; it's a remarkable product.
Other forms of protection are useful, too. I've written before about the need to have a good backup system for your computer, and that need hasn't changed. Get a hard drive, get some software (if it's not included with your operating system) and get accustomed to using it. Trust me. You will have a problem at some point, and you will have data loss, and you will want to have a backup somewhere.
On the flat-panel-TV front - LCD or plasma - the options are a bit different. You may or may not want to buy an extended warranty for your set, but if your LCD is a rear-projection model that relies on a projector lamp, get that covered with a replacement warranty because the cost of a new bulb is substantial. For true flat panels, weigh the cost of a warranty versus replacement: As prices drop, buying a new set is a more viable option for some.
A word about HDTV cables: You don't need the most expensive ones available. Many big-box stores - I'm thinking in particular of Costco - have nice packages offering the cables you need at a reasonable price. Be sure to get a really good surge protector, though, because power spikes and the like can wreak havoc on electronics hardware.
In terms of cleaning and protecting your equipment, use products designed for your system, but don't go crazy. There are good products at good prices; you don't have to spend a fortune. Also, be sure to use the right tool for the task. So-called "screen cleaners" might do more harm than good. Apple Inc.'s service notes, for example, suggest this way to clean a notebook screen: "Dampen a clean, soft, lint-free cloth or paper with water only and wipe the screen. Do not spray liquid directly on the screen."
Water - who'd'a thunk it? And the price is right.
• E-mail mkellner@ washingtontimes.com