Holiday gift guide for the techie
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What are the Santas in your life planning to buy you for the holidays this year? Maybe a beautiful cashmere sweater? A rare old first-edition? A bottle of 30-year-old Port?
Bah, humbug! Anybody knows that the gifts that really send your gratitude meter to 11 run on electrons. Plug it in, fill it with batteries, charge it up and flip the "on" switch--those are the presents that count for those of us living in the digital present. So grab a yellow highlighter, mark off the items that really get you where you live, and leave the magazine conspicuously, but casually, open where the family can't miss it. And while you're at it, why not photocopy your favorite pages and send them up to the North Pole. Those elves are doing amazing things with microprocessors nowadays.
CREATIVE LABS NOMAD JUKEBOX
The Nomad Jukebox looks like an ordinary portable CD player, but it's actually a digital music system on steroids. The device houses a high-capacity hard drive with room for roughly 150 CDs' worth of music--you can carry your entire music collection wherever you wander. To cram all that music into a 14-ounce gizmo, you first convert the CD audio tracks into MP3 files on your PC or Mac (a simple process, and the software's included), then connect the two via cable and start pumping music into the portable. Of course, the legally nebulous process of downloading music from the Net is another practical way to fill Nomad's capacious memory. $499
BOSE QUIETCOMFORT NOISE REDUCTION HEADPHONES
You're flying in coach. Your stomach is complaining, your knees are aching and your bladder's prodding you to climb over the enormous sleeping salesman next to you. At least you can make your ears happy with these incredibly comfortable headphones that filter out the rumbling, droning sound of planes in flight, leaving only crystal-clear movie soundtracks and audio CD playback. Using Acoustic Noise Cancelling technology developed for aircraft pilots, the QuietComfort headphones also work well in trains, cars and even noisy urban environments. If you crank up the audio loud enough, they'll even drown out that screaming kid across the aisle. Well, at least they'll come close. $299
NOKIA 7100 SERIES MOBILE PHONE
The handsome Nokia 7100 is the company's first WAP-enabled phone, designed to put the wireless Web at your fingertips. The LCD display screen is big, bright and nicely backlit, and the roller controller located beneath it makes scrolling through screens a whole lot easier than the constant button-pecking needed to work your way through Web content on other cell phones. Additional features include voice-controlled dialing, an extensive built-in calendar and phonebook, and, to make it practical, cable and software are included to synchronize the telephone with your PC-based PIM software. $300 SUUNTO
METRON WRISTOP COMPUTER
Granted, you may only be checking your watch and wondering why the waiter's taking so long to bring the Cabernet, but isn't it more fun doing it on a great-looking timepiece that combines an altimeter, barometer, digital compass, dual-time readout, stopwatch and heart-rate monitor? And, oh yes, if you do happen to climb a mountain any time soon, you'll also have easy access to daily total vertical ascent/descent data. $339
You can easily get photos into your computer today--shoot them with a digital camera, scan in your existing snapshots, or ask to be given a disc along with your prints when you bring film in for development--but how are you going to show them off in a suitably Jetsons-like manner? For digital pictures, you need a digital picture frame, and Digi-Frame makes the best we've seen. With a nice, bright 5.6-inch, diagonal LCD screen and a selection of colorful snap-on borders to match your decor, the Digi-Frame sits on a desk or table, displaying an automatic slide show of your favorite images. It's undoubtedly the only time your neighbors will hear the words "slide show" without running for the door. $599
TAG MCLAREN APHRODITE MUSIC SYSTEM
Most audiophile gear consists of very expensive components housed in decidedly ordinary-looking boxes. Now the folks who build handsome TAG Heuer watches and powerful McLaren race cars bring a combination of style and performance to high-end audio with their Aphrodite Music System and Calliope speakers. This is curvaceous, solidly built gear, sleekly styled right down to the CD compartment's elegant motorized sliding door. As for sound, CD playback is crisp but well rounded, with surprisingly hefty bass coming from the Calliope bookshelf speakers, and the AM/FM tuner displays admirable sensitivity and selectivity. $5,000 for Aphrodite system unit, $3,000 for Calliope speakers
A combination powerhouse video game console and DVD movie player, the PlayStation 2 is this season's must-have electronic purchase for teenagers and guys who still think like teenagers (in other words, guys). The performance specs are impressive if you're fluent in geek-speak: a 128-bit processor running at nearly 300 MHz, 75 million polygons per second from the graphics engine, and 6.2 gigaflops floating point performance (gotta love those gigaflops). What it all boils down to is the most realistic graphics and fastest action available in a console game machine at a price not much higher than an ordinary DVD player. $299
A movie lover's dream come true--a changer that holds up to 301 DVDs, ready to play at the push of a button. Going for mega-changer convenience doesn't mean sacrificing audio or video performance--the Onkyo delivers state-of-the-art playback, whether you've filled all those slots with DVD movies or slipped in a few audio CDs. Of course, the downside of conveniently packaging 600 hours of entertainment in a single box would be losing titles in a sea of choices. To avoid that, the player incorporates a sophisticated indexing system, recording disc title and artist's name in a searchable database. When you just want to watch a single DVD (a rental title, for example), one button-press swings the single-play slot into place, and another starts the show. $949, popcorn not included
RIM BLACKBERRY 957
Ordinary pagers have all the style and sizzle of soggy Corn Flakes. But paging technology isn't dead--it's morphed into a two-way medium that lets you not only be reached, but reach out as well, to another pager or via the Internet to anywhere on the planet. The new RIM 957 from Research in Motion is a wireless communicator/PDA hybrid. The screen is big and crisp, displaying a generous 20 lines of text. Thumb typing on the keyboard is surprisingly easy, and the RIM software gives the Palm PDA a run for its money, with access to contact info, calendar, to-do list and notes, all easily synchronized with your desktop computer software. $499
SIMS SVR-5285 VOICE RECORDER
This slender, featherweight (2.26 oz.) handheld voice recorder has a voracious appetite for vocalizing--it can digitally store up to eight hours of audio, far more than competitor's models. The SVR-5285 can record your own musings with a built-in or clip-in microphone, or set it down in a conference room and discreetly capture the proceedings for later review. It even comes with an adapter to tape phone calls, plus software for uploading and editing voice files on your PC. Whether you're a busy exec who needs to dictate voice memos or just love great James Bond toys, this one's a winner. $189
BANG & OLUFSEN BEOVISION AVANT
The Danish audio/video/industrial design team at Bang & Olufsen, best known for sleek, modern stereo equipment, turns its attention to television with this wide-screen HDTV-ready set. Typical TV screens have a 4:3 width-to-height ratio, creating a boxy rectangle that makes it impossible to watch full-screen movies the way they were originally shot. This B&O set, though, has a cinema-friendly 16:9 screen, plus built-in Dolby decoding to make the most of DVD movie soundtracks. And it offers distinctive convenience features, including a remote-controlled motorized stand so you can rotate the set to match your viewing angle, and a sensor that automatically brightens or dims the picture in response to room light. $8,500
COMPAQ IPAQ POCKET PC
Like the familiar Palm PDA, the iPAQ lets you carry your address book, schedule and to-do list in a convenient handheld device--but that's just for starters. Boasting a beautiful color screen that's legible indoors and out (other color PDAs we've tried wash out in sunlight), the iPAQ lets you play MP3 music, work on Microsoft Word and Excel documents, read and write e-mail, browse a digital photo album, display full-color interactive city maps, and much more. It even makes a pretty good Web-browsing device, though you will have to add Compaq's PC Card Expansion Pack ($150) and a phone modem (about $100) to get connected. $499
REPLAY TV3030 DIGITAL RECORDER
The most significant development in couch-potato tech since the wireless remote control, digital video recorders provide unprecedented power over your TV viewing routine. Say you're watching your favorite show and the phone rings--just hit the pause button and live TV stops and waits until you return. If you miss a line of dialogue or a key fumble, you can rewind and play it over. And if you want to record a program, just choose it from the on-screen program guide and, with a click, it's scheduled. The Replay TV3030 shown here provides up to 30 hours of recording time, a 30-second Quick Skip feature to buzz through recorded commercials, and a free on-screen program guide service. (The Panasonic PV-HS2000 is its virtually identical cousin.) $600
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