Technology suggestions for Christmas

7 Dec

December 7, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

Are you at wit’s end, wondering what to get that special someone for Christmas?  If so, I am happy to be of service!  In this column, I present a variety of technology items, all reviewed in the last year, beginning with the cheapest and working up to most expensive.

The digital picture frame makes a great gift, but if you don’t preload it with photos, you are giving someone a lot of work.

Kodak Digital Picture Frame ($89)

Digital photos are useless if they reside on your computer, where no one can see them.  With a digital picture frame, you can load thousands of images to a single SD card, slip it into the slot, then sit back and watch. It makes a great gift, but don’t give it to someone who is not technologically inclined – if you do, it will stay in the box. In fact, the gift will be much more welcome if you do the hard work – the photo selection and loading – in advance, then give the frame fully loaded and ready to play. For example, if everyone in the family collaborated on a gift like this, combining hundreds of family photos into a single gift for the grandparents, that would be a special indeed.

Flip HD Videocamera ($199 – $249)

It’s as tiny as a cell phone, but the Flip HD (for high definition) digital videocamera is the real deal. It shoots quality video that looks great on big-screen TV’s, and it’s mercifully easy to use. (The image quality is infinitely better than what you get from cell phone video.)  It’s also solid state, with no motor, belts or moving parts, which makes it highly durable and easy to take along on those rough-and-tumble outdoor adventures. It has a built-in USB connection, so you just plug it into your computer – no software needed – and drag the MP4 file to your desktop.  The Flip is a clever little device, at a decent price. However, be sure to purchase the optional battery charger, as mine doesn’t charge adequately from the computer USB connection. (The Flip HD lists for $249, but I found it for $199 at Costco.)

iPod Touch ($240 – $400)

If you know someone who doesn’t own an iPod Touch (or iPhone), you can’t go wrong giving one of these (unless the person is a total technophobe). It’s expensive at $400, but worth every penny. You can get cheaper models with less memory, but don’t skimp – go for the full 32 gig’s (and now, there’s a 64 gig model available). The iPod Touch is remarkably versatile, and fun to use with its innovative touch screen (think of it as an iPhone without the phone). It’s an MP3 player, yes, but it also plays video in crystal clear high definition. It has free wireless Internet (that is, you have to find an available signal, which is not too hard these days). You can choose from thousands of inexpensive and even free games, downloadable from iTunes, which look great on the small screen. You can even download an eBook reader application, which turns the Touch into a poor man’s Kindle. New applications are coming out all the time, which guarantees that the iPod Touch will never become boring or irrelevant. For example, you can download new software that connects adjacent units, enabling wireless peer-to-peer gaming.

Netbook ($300 – $400)

Do you and that special someone often jockey for position at the computer? Is there a line-up in your family to get a bit of surfing time, but you can’t justify spending $800 on another system? Then consider a netbook computer, which is half the size and weight of a regular laptop, and half the price ($300 – $400). This year, I purchased a Lenovo netbook, and took it with me on vacation. The wireless Internet worked well, and it had most of the functionality of a regular computer without all the bulk. On the downside, the netbook’s smaller size and price mean the graphics quality is not suitable for 3D games, and there is no CD or DVD drive. However, the ultra portability makes up for that. You can take it anywhere – bathroom, deck, bed, couch – and it fits into your carry-on bag as easily as a paperback.

The Zeppelin is designed for the iPod by one of the world’s leading speaker manufacturers. It really is ‘all that’.

Zeppelin ($700)

Okay, now we’re talking someone really special. Or perhaps you are very rich. Because one does not casually spend $700 on a gift for just anyone. However, if your giftee has migrated all their music to iPod and they’re still listening on dinky little speakers, then that person could really use a Zeppelin (by Bowers & Wilkins, makers of recording studio-quality speakers). It’s pricey, but component stereo sets are expensive too – and this speaker unit sounds as good as many of them. It’s also the best of the many iPod docks available. It really is ‘all that’. Before the Zeppelin, I was convinced that the inferior sound I was getting from my iPod was due to digital audio compression. The Zeppelin showed, to my great wonder and relief, that the iPod can sound as good as any other audio medium. If you are looking for that one ‘special’ gift, the big one, and the person on your list needs decent speakers, then give the Zeppelin a listen (it’s available only at West End Electronics).

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com. 


 


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