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The Digital Skeptic: Pockets of Value in an Grim Google, HP, Sprint

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- With summer fading and a lackluster Q4 rising -- and, really, nothing but more lackluster Qs ahead -- we all need some reasons to get out of the investing bed. And in that spirit, today we share some ideas that, despite the now-and-forever 13,000 Dow, harbor a glimmer of gold.

Remember, even as information diminishes in value overall, there are still tiny pockets of growth. The trick is finding the things that have potential despite the thin air, stifling heat and noxious gases of the digital age.

Major caveat: I am specifically leaving out Apple (AAPL) products, since there is not a market this operation cannot revolutionize at will. What's the sport in mentioning the iPhone, iMac and the iPad over and over? If you want to pay the $675 for a share of AAPL, you don't need my help.

Google Nexus 7 Tablet ($199)
I know, I know, I am going to have my skeptic's chevrons stripped for seeing upside in Google (GOOG - Get Report), considering how dubious I am about this operation. But there is no denying that the Nexus 7 tablet is the category leader in the only-going-to-get-more-brutal small-tablet market. Google deserves real props for getting the size right, baking in the right features and finessing the ergonomics to not suck. The device also flatly proves that Google can blend hardware with its Android operating system effectively when it wants to.

So, sure, its recent Motorola Mobility purchase, which brings a full line of hardware under Google's direct control, has "DaimlerChrysler" written all over it. (That is, a devil's merger of two cultures that will never get along.) The Nexus 7 may been pure luck for Google. But this thing is the portable flat display of the moment. If Google can replicate the Nexus 7 across its now wider product line, and get the heck out of the no-win information business, watch out.

HP OfficeJet 150 Mobile All-In-One ($378)
Poor Meg Whitman. HP gets hammered for not selling enough computers. It gets hammered for not selling enough printers. It gets hammered for not being Apple. It, well, just gets hammered. But from the tech perspective, this operation still fills some lucrative niches.

One of the most interesting is one of the least known -- the Officejet 150 printer. This all-in-one desktop tool is, without question, horrifyingly overpriced. Most mobile printers cost well below $200. But I found it to be a desktop and mobile printer that can handle office printing in your office and office printing on the road. Quality was excellent. Scanning features worked well. And it's ideal for moving back and forth between offices, which is what being a road warrior is usually all about. On a larger level, though, this printer shows that HP can still add value.

Sure, major issues remain for Whitman -- like what the PC fallout will be from the Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 8 rollout fiasco. But if you have the courage to step past the negative hype, HP still knows how to make solid products. And somehow that should find its way to bottom line.

Sprint Phone Connect (free with two-year contract, $20 per month in voice access charges)
When I said that value comes in strange places these days, I meant it, and about the most obscure is in devices such as the Sprint (S) Phone Connect. this thing basically turns a digital cellphone network into a wireless access point for phone service that just about any phone can use -- cordless or otherwise. More importantly, the device gives a taste of the power of so-called fixed-wireless technology.

First the bad news: it can be simply awful to use. Call coverage can be spotty. Configuration takes real practice. And some control features are frankly unmanageable. But once I got the hang of the Phone Connect, heavens, did upside spring forth.

Monthly rates are fantastic -- just $20. Coverage is improving as a new generation of fast wireless networks quietly roll out across the country. (That's the LTE and WiMax hype you hear so much about.) And this type of technology offers a terrific potential market niche: a single cellphone that works really well on the road and really well in your home or office. Grim economy or not, that's a trend worth betting on.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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