Washington writer Gretchen Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is busy deciding what to do with all her new free time.
Take a Load Off
No need to shift clothes from spin cycle to tumble dry in the Equator Combo Washer Dryer. There's no filter to clean, either, in this all-in-one appliance. It costs $1,042; see brilliantstore.com.
Phone calls from telemarketers, a nosy neighbor, and even your mom can come at inconvenient moments. Caller ID has gotten so sophisticated that it can name names. The system is provided by your local phone company, usually for a few dollars a month. Caller ID boxes that display the information begin as low as $15, but many phones now have LED windows for Caller ID. Service ranges from "basic" (the caller's number) to "enhanced" (caller's name and locale). Other options: You can block calls, either selectively or completely, and intercept callers that show up as "unknown" or "out of area"–forcing them to identify themselves on a recording before your phone rings. Your phone then gives a distinctive ring, and the recorded name is heard upon answering. Verizon charges $5 a month for this service.
How much time do you waste getting lost? Let a Global Positioning System guide you to your kid's soccer game, that home superstore, or a weekend fishing spot. GPS navigators have easy-to-read color displays that give turn-by-turn directions. Prices start at $94.95; see thegpsstore.com.
Turn-On for TV Addicts
Have trouble programming your VCR? Consider TiVo. It operates a digital video recorder, or DVR, which is like a VCR but with a hard drive that can tape up to 140 hours of whatever shows you tell it to, every time they're on. You can zip through commercials and pause and rewind live TV. Comcast offers its own version of DVR (On Demand) for a small monthly fee, as does DirecTV. Or buy a DVR at prices starting at $129 usually plus a monthly subscription; see tivo.com.
Sweep While You Sleep
Suck the dirt off floors while watching the soaps from the couch. The Roomba Pro Robotic Floorvac from iRobot spins through three average-size rooms in 1H hours, picking up dust, Cheerios, and pet hair from carpets and hard surfaces. A sensor keeps it from falling down stairs and guides it through doors and under furniture. A remote control stops and starts it without any bending to push buttons. Retail $229.99; roombavac.com.
Cut Lawn Time
Just hit the "go" button and RoboMower cuts the grass as it crisscrosses the yard, guided by perimeter wires. Then set up a weekly program and the 50-pound, battery-powered robot will automatically set out from its recharging docking station for its next mowing mission. A 24-hour charge lets the biggest model cut between 4,000 and 6,000 square feet at a time. List price $700 to $1,800, depending on size; friendlyrobotics.com/robomo.htm.
The Motion Sensing Trash Can is ideal for cooks with both hands full. A motion sensor triggers the lid to both open and close automatically. The plastic seven-gallon can is $39.95 through Hammacher Schlemmer; hammacher.com.
Start dinner while you're still at the office with Whirlpool's Polara Refrigerated Range or Tonight's Menu Intelligent Oven. Both keep food cold while you're gone all day, then cook it at a preset time. And if you don't make it home on time? The Polara (retail prices $1,799 and $1,899) turns back into a refrigerator so food won't spoil. With the TMIO (available in January at a suggested price of $7,500) you can call from your cell phone or log on to the Internet to delay cook time or change the temperature. See whirlpool.com and tmio.com.
The BlackBerry wireless palm computer lets you send and receive e-mail, make phone calls, and browse the Internet from just about anywhere. Nextel, Verizon, and AT&T offer the most competitive pricing; the devices start at $349 and service at $40 a month. For more information, see blackberry.com.
Who Needs a Secretary?
Save time and money with a combination printer/fax/copier, like the Brother MFC-8440, available for $499.99 at Fax Connections in Fairfax (4009 Williamsburg Ct.; 703-359-1466).
No Time Flat
The CO2 Bike Repair & Inflate Kit can fill flat bike tires faster than you can say pothole. The tiny pump attaches to either Presta or Schrader valves and instantly inflates the tire from a CO2 cartridge. Inflators start at $17.49 and cartridges at $5.49. See innovationsaz.com.
Your brain's probably on overload from all those passwords you have to remember. The eToken Pro from Aladdin Knowledge Systems stores all your passwords inside a protected "Smart-card chip." The house-key-size token plugs into a computer's USB port and downloads account names, numbers, and passwords in seconds. It lists for $115.75; see ealaddin.com/eToken.
One Bad Apple
Americans waste billions of pounds of produce every year because of spoilage–then waste hours shopping to replace it. The Thermoelectric Cooling Fruit Saver bowl circulates air at the right temperature to keep produce fresher longer. It's $69.95 at appliancecreativity.com/67667.html.