Macally Ecofan Pro
Like a lot of folks, I use a laptop as my main computer (a MacBook Air, specifically), but it's often set up more as a desktop. That means an external monitor, mouse and keyboard, with the laptop itself propped up to serve as a second screen. Until recently, that latter part has alternately been done with various books and boxes, but I finally switched to a proper laptop stand a few months ago in the form of the Macally Ecofan Pro.
Unlike many laptop stands, this one actually looks like something you'd want to put on your desk, solidly crafted from bamboo with an unassuming design that should fit well in most work or living spaces. Macally has even kept its branding to a discreet minimum. It's also about as functional as you could ask a laptop stand to be: it can be left flat or angled in one of three positions, and can even hold up a 17-inch laptop. Two USB-powered fans are hidden inside as well, and are appropriately quiet. One possible fault is that its design means wedge-shaped laptops like the Air are slightly more likely to slide off if you bump it or your desk, although I haven't yet run into any problems myself.
At a list price of $40 (though often on sale), it's certainly a more expensive option than a box or stack of books -- and many other laptop stands, for that matter -- but that price is more than reasonable given the no-nonsense design and quality of construction. And if you're at all like me, anything that helps make your desk look a little less cluttered is well worth investing in.
-- Don Melanson
Nexus 4 on Telus
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the months since the Nexus 4 arrived: we're now in an era where quad-core chips and 1080p displays are commonplace. That makes Google's flagship more of a budget smartphone. But is it any good in that role? I've been using the Nexus 4 on Telus to see whether it still holds up.
Having used recent flagship devices, what stuns me is the speed. While the Nexus 4 may not have the raw number-crunching ability of the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S 4, it sometimes feels faster because of that lightweight Google interface. The rear camera may have an odd tendency to refocus, but it's still one of the better shooters in this price class. And it's hard to ignore the value of having a Nexus phone for long-term updates: there's a real chance that you'll still have the latest version of Android a year later. It's rare when a budget device gets more than one major software update during its lifespan, but the Nexus 4 could easily get two or more.
I don't even miss the lack of LTE... much, that is. Telus supports 42 Mbps HSPA+ data, and the Nexus 4's real-world download speeds hover around 17 Mbps downstream and 1.7 Mbps upstream. Those were both more than good enough for the usual Instagram posts and Twitter checks. The relatively slow upload speeds were only truly noticeable with big media uploads, such as Google+ photo backups. I just wish the coverage were better; Telus' signal tends to drop off quickly while indoors, at least in my favorite parts of Ottawa.
If there's anything that could sour the Nexus 4 as a budget smartphone, it's the battery life. While some of my colleagues can get through a day of average use, I regularly need the sort of afternoon top-up I don't require with most other phones, even when they're smaller devices like the iPhone 5. There's no question that I'm more likely than most to tax a phone, but my experience doesn't bode well for those who just want some energy left over for the evening. If you don't expect such problems, grab the Nexus 4 from Google Play if you can -- it's far more capable than other off-contract phones in its price range. Otherwise, it may be worth looking for a good deal on the phone's longer-lasting cousin, the Optimus G.
-- Jon Fingas