THE GIZMO: How'd you celebrate the Earth this month? We've been checking out new products that use precious resources more responsibly, saving our planet one gizmo at a time.
IT'S A GAS (HYBRID): Love the petrol-sipping charms of the Toyota Prius hybrid, though not its relatively compact proportions? Maybe you'll be won over by the Prius V, now making the rounds of car shows and coming to dealers late summer. That's if Toyota can get its earthquake-shaken Japanese parts suppliers and assembly lines running at peak volume again.
Although just 1 inch wider (69.9 inches) and 6 inches longer (181.7 inches) than the standard Prius, the V's squared-off hatchback rear raises the roof line and helps increase cargo volume by almost 60 percent. The numbers presume its reclining rear seats are fully flopped down.
In a recent once-over of a preproduction Prius V, I also was impressed by the new Entune Multimedia System. And especially its instant access (via a free SiriusXM satellite data stream) to custom information.
The less aerodynamic, slightly larger V gets 40 mpg overall vs. 50 for the sedan version.
SAVE WATER: In the early flower-power daze of Earth Day, exponents liked to exclaim, "Save water, shower with a friend!" Today we've got alternatives that don't put the squeeze on.
Plumbing-fixture maker Moen has lowered the output of select new faucets and showerheads to deliver up to a 30 percent water-flow reduction from the industry standard of 2.5 gallons per minute. Moen's Nurture showerhead offers three lever-controlled settings and sells for $29.98 in fixed showerhead and $39.98 in handheld showerhead versions. Available in chrome or matte silver finish at Lowe's.
Garden stores promote capturing and recycling water in rain barrels. But when you connect a garden hose to the faucet at the barrel's bottom and open the valve, the water just dribbles out. Attach the new, eco-friendly Rain Perfect pump system, though, and you can extract water with enough pressure to run a sprinkler or wash the car. Backed by ITT, the Rain Perfect system includes a battery-powered pump charged up by a companion solar panel that can pump up to 100 gallons off a single charge. $139, www.rainperfectpump.com.
SAVE ELECTRICITY: Incandescent lightbulbs are soon to be outlawed for their energy-hogging ways. (California has already banned the 100-watter.) Compact fluorescent and LED-based lightbulbs have been billed as successors, though both have problems. The CFLs are slow to warm up, not dimmable and contain pollutants. LED-cored bulbs, while long-lasting, can be harsh on the eyes (when unshaded) and cost $40 a piece in "60 watt equivalents."
Now lightbulb giant Philips is introducing another "sustainable" alternative, the EcoVantage. It's an energy-efficient incandescent bulb that uses halogen technology to deliver a 28 percent energy saving. Plus, it's dimmable and puts out a pleasant light.
The new bulb is similarly rated for 1,000 hours' use and available exclusively at Home Depot, with a two-pack selling for about $4.
OK, SAVE EVEN MORE ELECTRICITY: Belkin has some smart new accessories to reduce or eliminate the "vampire" or "phantom" power drain of electronics.
Up to four USB-powered mobile devices can simultaneously be plugged directly into Belkin's Conserve Valet Smart USB Charging Station. As many as three sit neatly on its rubbery finish, nonslip top. The device can turn itself off when all the devices' built-in batteries have been recharged. This saves you the thought and bother of unplugging the gear. $39.99 at Belkin.com, Amazon.com and Best Buy.
Belkin's Conserve Switch AV ($49.99) is a surge protector with a difference. Two of its outlets remain "always on" for connected devices like digital video recorders, wireless routers, modems and phones. The power center also has eight switched outlets to which you'd connect devices like a TV, DVD player, gaming system, computer, monitor, printer and lamps. All can be simultaneously clicked off with the single push of a companion wireless remote switch that worked well 30 feet away from the power strip. (There's also a little off/on button on the Belkin base, should you misplace the wall-mountable remote.)
Want to "guilt out" a family member who never turns off the TV? Plug it into Belkin's Conserve Insight Energy Use Monitor ($29.99). This desktop (or handheld) LED display then spells out the consumption of energy in watts, monthly and yearly projected cost and also the harmful carbon dioxide produced in said power generation.
SAVE A TREE: After loading a free "QR" (Quick Response) app, many camera-equipped smart phones and tablet computers can now point and shoot at those arty-looking mobile bar code symbols in print advertisements, owner's manuals and the like.
A second later, the phone automatically connects with an online site and downloads extra information for local storage and display on the screen.
Sure could reduce paper consumption. Try out this new tech at a Phillies game, where a QR code has been painted on every drink cup, to download and store the complete season's schedule on your mobile.