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Great Grown-up Gadgets

An open letter to Santa lists the best in electronic gifts for adults
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

Dear Santa,

Not sure if you remember me. I'm the little boy who crashed right into the reindeer as I fled in panic from your hearty "Ho-Ho-Ho" at Macy's back in 1959. At any rate, I've been following your career closely since then, and considering how busy you've been, what with managing the elves and riding in parades and battling the Martians, I thought I'd help out just a little. Here are my picks for 10 of the hottest tech products on the market today—just the thing for the really, really good grown-up boys and girls on your list. I don't ask for anything in return for this sage advice—consider it my contribution to the holiday spirit. Of course, if I happen to find the Nikon among the gifts at my house this year, I wouldn't complain.
Best, Steve

Nikon D50
Every grown-up, or soon-to-be grown-up, for that matter, should own a serious camera. Yes, I know everybody is grabbing crappy little snapshots with cell phones, but let's buck the trend. Instant gratification is great, but what about lasting mementos? Do you really want an 8 x 10 cell-phone snap with digital grain the size of Rice Krispies hanging on your office wall? No, you want the "keeper" photos—and the instant gratification—you can only get with a quality digital SLR.

Why digital? Because you can shoot as much as you want, experimenting with wild ideas without paying an extra nickel for film and developing, and you see the results right away.

Why an SLR? Because SLR cameras shoot instantly when you press the shutter, focus quickly to catch moving subjects, reset for the next shot in a fraction of a second and let you choose just the right lens for the job at hand.

And finally, why the Nikon D50? Because Nikon delivers all the features a serious amateur wants in a digital SLR, with impeccable performance and image quality, in an easy-to-use camera that's a pleasure to hold in your hand. Compared with its brand cousin the Nikon D70s, the D50 is slightly smaller, lacks a few tweaky pro settings and uses SD memory cards instead of compact flash (a minor disadvantage). The only significant feature I miss is a depth-of-field preview button that shows exactly how much of the image will be in focus. On the other hand, the key issues are not compromised: the razor-sharp image sensor, the smooth, whisper-quiet mechanical operation, fast, precise metering, the ability to shoot in uncompressed RAW mode (useful for advanced image editing) and the option to use a wide array of high-quality Nikon lenses and accessories. And since it sells for $400 less than the D70s, the Nikon D50 is not just a great camera, but a great deal.

$800 including 18-55mm lens, or 800-645-6689

My dog, Gracie, generally isn't fazed by the devices that zip, whir, clunk and buzz through our home. Radio-controlled cars? No problem. Robotic vacuum cleaner? As long as it doesn't have designs on her tail, she takes a live-and-let-live attitude. But she doesn't trust Roboraptor, and I'm not sure I blame her. No, it doesn't smell alive, but it sure does move as if it had sinister intentions. Roboraptor is a substantial mechanical critter, measuring a full 32 inches from stem to stern, with articulated neck, tail and leg joints and five motors that let him move with surprising, lifelike speed. Some of the designers at WowWee Ltd., the creators of Roboraptor, used to work in the movie business, and it shows—think of the kitchen chase scene in Jurassic Park and you'll have a sense of Roboraptor's animation style. Kinda creepy, and very cool.

You can "drive" the dino directly with the wireless remote control, making him walk (at three speeds), turn, swish his tail and bite. Far more fun, though, is watching Roboraptor interact freely with his environment. The digital dino is festooned with sensors that include stereo "ears" on either side of his head, infrared "eyes" up front and touch sensors on his tail, back, chin and mouth (the better to eat you with, my dear). Put him in "roam" mode and he'll explore his world, avoiding objects in his path and reacting to sharp sounds with a quick turn of the head. Depending on the "mood" you set via the remote, Roboraptor may back away from danger, hunt for prey or nuzzle your hand. Kids with a little respect for high-priced playthings can certainly have fun with this digital-age dinosaur—he's solidly built, though you don't want to send him plummeting off the kitchen table. But it was the grown-ups in my household that found Roboraptor thoroughly intriguing, whether they were fiddling with the wireless remote, petting the dino's tail or barking furiously from under my desk.

$120, or 800-310-3033

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