28/11/2011

By Nigel Kendall, Business Sense

Cars: Lexus CT 200h, from £23,485

The latest hybrid vehicle from Toyota’s luxury brand is an explicit attempt to wrest premium mid-market hatchback sales from the likes of BMW and Audi. With claimed fuel economy of 68.9mpg and emissions of 94g/km of CO2, it combines frugality with low-carbon tax relief and should — like most Toyota/Lexus hybrids — hold its value well. The cabin is well appointed in black and silver and feels as well put together as that of any bigger luxury saloon. The illusion of size extends to the driving experience, where engine noise is minimal even when revved hard in Sport mode, one of the four driving modes available. In heavy traffic, of course, even this muted noise is replaced by silence, as the electric motor kicks in. With a 0-60 time of over 10 seconds, the CT 200h isn’t going to set any track records, but in a car this cosseting, you hardly mind the extra time at the wheel. (www.lexus.co.uk)


Tech: MacBook Air, from £849

While the world’s attention has been distracted by the iPad, Apple has quietly updated its smallest notebook computer with faster processors and a new ‘Thunderbolt’ port for connection to external displays. This is the computer for the busy person on the road who needs the portability of a machine that weighs just over a kilogram, allied to the precision of typing on a full-size computer keyboard. Thanks to its solid-state drive, the MacBook Air awakes from sleep almost instantly, and the 11- and 13-inch screens are bright and clear. Cloud storage features present in Apple’s new OS X Lion operating system mean that any work completed on the MacBook Air can be made instantly accessible to other connected users. (www.apple.com)


Tech: Livescribe Echo Smartpen, from £99.99

Livescribe makes pens that can transform the lives of habitual note-takers such as students, doctors or journalists. As you take notes in the special notebook provided, a microphone in the pen captures all of a speaker’s words. To replay or re-listen to a selected moment of the speech, simply tap on the handwritten note, and the pen will instantly access that part of the recording. Linking your computer with your pen allows you to see your handwritten notes or drawings on screen, and then share them instantly via Google Docs, Evernote, Facebook and more. You can also generate PDFs and email them. (www.livescribe.com)


Tech: Bose® Bluetooth® headset, £129

For a device that’s smaller than an adult thumb, Bose’s telephone earpiece packs a lot of technology. Once paired with a Bluetooth-enabled phone, the headset allows users to answer and conduct conversations with a push of a button. Ambient noise is filtered out both by the earpiece and the microphone, resulting in calls that are often clearer than on a standard telephone. The device is good for over four hours of talking, or 175 hours of standby between charges. As a better-sounding alternative to a hands-free car kit, it’s a difficult proposition to beat. (www.bose.co.uk)


Apps: Tripit, free

Going on a business trip can be a fraught affair as you struggle to keep details of flight bookings, hotel reservations, car hire and more in a place where you won’t lose them. This brilliant free service combines all the details of a trip into one chronologically ordered file, which can be viewed online, or via the app. Simply email your booking confirmations to a special address, and let the app do the rest. A premium service adds features such as alerts, itinerary sharing and fast flight re-booking. (www.tripit.com)


Apps: Dropbox, free up to 2GB

This app makes cloud computing as simple as working on a PC. Once you sign up, you can save vital files in the Dropbox folder that appears on your computer. All of those files can then be accessed from any computer or smart mobile device anywhere in the world. Dropbox is so impressive because it works invisibly; only when you suddenly remember an important document and can then instantly download it to a different device do you start to wonder how you ever lived without it. A paid service is available for customers requiring more than 2GB of storage. (www.dropbox.com)


One to watch: Squareup, commission-based

Sign up for this service and you will receive a small device that, when connected to the earpiece socket on your smartphone, turns it into a credit card reader for taking payments on the go. At present this ingenious service, which charges a 2.75% commission to process card payments, is only available in the United States, but plans are well under way for international expansion. (www.squareup.com)


Business Books
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass R Sunstein, Yale University Press, RRP £18

Like it or not, this book will influence your life — it made PM David Cameron’s reading list in 2008. Its central thesis is that human beings are not always the rational creatures that economists assume, and that our behaviour is better controlled by ‘nudging’ us to choose a certain path rather than mandating it in law.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, Collins, RRP £10.99

In a book that has become holy scripture for anyone interested in promoting their business or work, Dr Cialdini backs up his assertions with rigorous clinical tests to show how people reach decisions, and what tricks can be used to manipulate them.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Vermillion, RRP £8.99

First published in 1936 and never out of print since, Carnegie’s celebrated classic extols the power of empathy in a business context. It may be a little long in the tooth, but its overriding message is still relevant.

Public Relations and the Social Web: How to Use Social Media and Web 2.0 in Communications by Rob Brown, Kogan Page, RRP £19.99

The most readable of the plethora of books on new media explores the increasingly important role played by sites such as Facebook and Twitter in the promotion of business and good customer relations. At two years old, it already lags current technology a little, but the lessons and tips are valuable.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, Simon & Schuster, RRP £14.99

One of the first of the new generation of self-help books, this has sold over 15 million copies since its debut in 1989. The first half of the book deals with goal-setting, the second with working with other people, and its principles are the foundation stones of good business practice.

The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, Portfolio, RRP £19.99

Sound, practical advice for anyone thinking of starting up a business. Kawasaki’s core assumption is that the would-be entrepreneur is long on talent but short on cash, and this book is packed with anecdotes and tips to help you lift yourself up by your bootstraps.


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