Thoughts on tech toys for Christmas

21 Dec

December 21, 2006

By Geoff Meeker

Yes, it’s late to be offering tips on technology gifts for Christmas, but some of this might still be of value.

The big sellers this year are iPods and iPod Nanos, and the many other cheaper mp3 players that are clogging the market.

If you’ve bought an iPod for someone close to you, then you’ve made a good choice. The device has been on the market for more than five years, and has matured into a mighty fine line of mp3 players.

It’s impossible to debate the quality of the iPod without talking about the iTunes software that drives it. I gave my oldest son a cheaper RCA mp3 player last year and the music loading software that came with it was so clunky, he now uses iTunes on his home computer, opening the MusicMatch software only when he actually has to update his player.

If you are buying an mp3 player for someone you really care about – and who really cares about their music – spend a few extra bucks on an iPod. They will love you for it.  The iPod and smaller Nano are great, but avoid the Shuffle – it chooses songs at random and gives no choice in what plays next. And don’t forget that these devices are electronic instruments that are not indestructible. If you are buying for a child who is likely to drop it into a mud puddle, get something cheap for now.

If you have purchased the Zune mp3 player, Microsoft’s version of the iPod, you might want to bring it back for an exchange. An Internet search for Zune followed by the word “sucks” will yield some interesting results. A similar search using iPod will also reveal detractors, but there is no question that iPod is far more evolved and less buggy than the Zune.

The most popular game consoles this year are Playstation 3 (PS3) and the Nintendo Wii – that is, they would be if you could fine one.  Both consoles are new this year and much in demand, especially the Wii (pronounced ‘we’), with its motion sensitive controller that actually gets players physically active. The action games require players to mimic the motions on screen rather than sit still, a vast improvement over the existing couch potato technology.

My boys have a Gamecube, which was introduced in 2001 and is slowly becoming obsolete. So when they asked for a Wii, I readily agreed (I am so looking forward to seeing them work up a sweat while playing). However, a quick scan of local stores and the Internet revealed a problem – there was more demand than supply for the Wii (and the new PS3) and scalpers were selling them at grossly inflated prices, both locally and on eBay.

With no option of getting the Wii, it was time for a creative alternative. My son had complained several times that the Guitar Hero game was only available for PS2 (not Gamecube). Now, Guitar Hero is a great bit of fun. You plug in a dummy guitar that comes with the game and ‘play’ along with the band as it performs hard rock standards on the screen (it’s like air guitar, in that you don’t need to know chords, but the game does measure your timing and dexterity).

Then it hit me – why not but him a used PS2 console, and the Guitar Hero game? I browsed the classifieds in The Telegram and Buy & Sell, and there were plenty available. You can also buy used units for a decent price at places that sell and rent games, but there are better deals in the classifieds. For example, I purchased a PS2 console, memory card, line splitter, a bunch of controllers and 20 games for $220 (many of these games would cost $75 new). There are similar deals out there if you look, and not just for PS2 – even the Xbox 360, last year’s Next Big Thing, is starting to show up in the classifieds.

To cap things off, my son approached me since then and said ‘Dad, I heard they’re having problems with the Wii system controller. Maybe you should get a PS2 or something instead.’ Yessss!

One final note: If you are buying a handheld PDA for someone, because of the new improved Internet functionality, maybe you should hold off a bit longer… at least until you read my next column!

Techy Christmas everyone!

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