At the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the big news for small business was in handheld devices. Conventional computers are not DOA, but consumers are looking to cram as much power as possible into their pocket. Here’s my shortlist of the more interesting gizmos I think will be useful for remodelers:

LiveScribe Pulse smartpen: Wouldn’t it be great if the note you just scribbled, “Counters ... green/purple,” could be accompanied by a recording of your customer telling you, “We definitely want the purple and green countertops and don’t care what it costs …”? That’s what the LiveScribe Pulse does ($169). It’s a pen that records both what you write and the sound in the room at the time. So now you can back up your notes with exact conversation. Great for design requirements, contracts, punch-lists, or anything else you need to remember.

The pen works by tracking a grid of tiny dots on special paper. You can buy pre-printed LiveScribe paper or you can print your own. Your “pencast” can be downloaded to the LiveScribe desktop software, shared on the Web, or you can just play back the audio by clicking the pen on the actual paper. Additional software is available ($29) that will convert the handwritten notes to searchable text.

Touchscreen tablets/netbooks: Tablet PCs work great for contractors who need to fill out forms and check off lists, but it’s tough to justify the $1,000 and up for a one-trick pony tablet. Enter Lenovo’s under-$500 convertible S10-3t IdeaPad. Its 10.1-inch screen swivels from standard clamshell/netbook configuration to tablet, and you don’t need a stylus, just touch with your finger. Its specs are good for a netbook: 320 GB hard drive and Atom processor running Windows 7 Home Basic. WiFi, 3G cellular, and GPS are all available. There’s a VGA output to drive a projector or second display; Lenovo’s DirectShare to sync files with another computer without the Internet; and an “Instant-On” function so you can access the Web, get e-mail, and make calls (using Skype) without booting Windows.

Pico projectors: As good as smartphones have become, it’s tough to review CAD drawings on a two-inch screen. But imagine if the same phone could project a decent three-foot image on the wall. Wait no longer: Pico projectors are being advertised both as stand-alone gizmos, for less than $200, and built into a few phones, making it possible to fire up that 3-D model, CAD drawing, installation video, or video conference call wherever and whenever you need to.

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. Reach him at Twitter,, or at