THE GIZMO: Gifts for dads and grads.
Forget the ties, the jewelry and the gift certificates for clothes. What dads and grads really want for their big day are high-tech gadgets. And do we ever have some sharp ones to suggest for shoppers this season.
THE COOLEST PHONES: No need to wait for the iPhone to give/get a really cool multimedia mobile phone. Three new rivals now vie as the, um, apple of our eye.
Sprint is offering the aptly named Samsung Upstage ($150 with two-year contract), a unique, two-faced mobile with dedicated music controls and a sharp 2.1-inch display on one side, and with dedicated phone buttons with a smaller screen on the other side.
A wallet case with second battery increases talk time to six hours. More good news, Sprint has cut the price of direct-to-phone music downloads to 99 cents.
AT&T/Cingular and T-Mobile stores are your places to discover the Nokia N95, a non-subsidized and thus super-pricey ($749) phone that offers an unprecedented five-megapixel camera, built-in global positioning capability, and shockingly listenable, music-celebrating stereo speakers.
Verizon has really won our heart with the LG VX9400, now available in select markets including Philadelphia ($199 after rebate with a two-year plan). While all kinds of multimedia-savvy, this phone's killer app is V Cast Mobile TV, a new, $15-a-month service that delivers eight "live" TV channels from NBC, Comedy Central, Fox, ESPN and MTV to the phone's uniquely pivoting, razor-sharp 2.2-inch widescreen. Transmitted digitally on a separate network/frequency from the voice and data services, the TV image quality is terrific, as long as you're in transmitter range. (Verizon's project partner Qualcomm has considerable work to do here.)
Battery drain when watching V Cast Mobile TV is much lower than with competitive products like Sprint TV, which rides on the phone provider's core network.
SWEET SOUNDS ARE MADE OF THIS: Is there an iPod owner on your list? Of course! Expand his listening opportunities with a clock radio that also holds, charges and wakes up its owner with a docked iPod. Perfect for a tight bedside table is the TI7000 Timex Alarm Clock ($69.99 from SDI Technologies).
Sound is just fair, still I like that it tunes stations well, has channel preset buttons, a light level adjustable Indiglo clock face, dual alarm functionality and a credit-card-sized remote control.
For a small table top system with stereo sound that's true "high fidelity," good enough to serve as your core music system, look no further than the new Cambridge Soundworks 745i ($399). There's even a separate, powered subwoofer hiding inside, along with an excellent tuner and CD mechanism (that also handles MP3/WMA encoded CD-Rs, and displays CD text). An iPod gets seated (along with the 745i's small remote) in a separate but connected dock.
Dual alarm clock functionality and even accommodations to plug in another audio component (like a satellite radio tuner) close the deal.
Another smart way to move sound around a house or apartment is with JBL's new On Air Control 2.4 G Loudspeaker system ($349 list, but spotted at amazon.com for $259). Plug the tiny transmitter into yer sound maker - an audio receiver, computer, portable music player, TV set, whatever. Then locate the compact, two-way speakers anywhere up to 70 feet away. (While not wired to the base station/transmitter, the amplified speakers do require one AC power line connection, plus a single wire link from one speaker to the other.)
Unlike previous wireless speakers I've tested, the sound emanating from this system is very clean and dynamic - with enough "crank" to please a party crowd.
GAMESMANSHIP: Both dads and grads will get a major charge out of this season's hottest video games. Everyone can be a star with "Guitar Hero II" (Activision/RedOctane, about $80) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation II systems which comes with its own, strap-on guitar controller. Master the chord buttons, strummer and whammy bar on tunes like "You Really Got Me," "Message In A Bottle" and the immortal "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" and rise through the ranks (the 360 version lets you post scores online). This is one gift sure to make your freshman the hit of the college dorm, come fall.
Other video game picks to click: Nintendo Wii's 2-D/3-D mind-meld "Super Paper Mario," the online friendly "MLB 07" for PS3 and "Major League Baseball 2K7" for Xbox 360, "Spider-Man 3" and "Shrek the Third" for DS and "Test Drive Unlimited" and "Virtua Tennis 3" for PSP.
LAP THIS UP: Usually the smaller and lighter a laptop computer is, the more it costs. One ultraportable exception that's also quite durable - with a shock resistent 160GB hard drive - is the Toshiba Satellite U205-S5057, a relative "bargain" at $1,199.99. Weighing just four pounds, its metal case is strong and compact, the keyboard is comfortable, and the 12.1-inch screen is very clear for work and pleasure cruises with the on-board, recordable DVD+R Dual Layer/CD drive.
Only tinny speakers and the underwhelming battery capacity (just enough for a two-hour, 15-minute movie) remind you that this is a bargain machine.
PRINTING PLEASURES: Generally, ink jet printer makers lure buyers with a low price for the hardware, then sock it to you with wacky expensive prices for the ink. Kodak is now upsetting that marketing apple cart with its new line of EasyShare photo and text printers/scanners/copiers, starting with the EasyShare 5100 ($149) and more modestly priced ink cartridges. You'll pay just $10 for a high capacity black ink (print) tank, and $15 for a good-sized, five ink color photo cartridge.
The Kodak printer works reasonably fast and well. Both text and color photo images come out (not surprisingly) sharp and well toned. Kodak isn't making claims yet about its prints' long-term fade or water-resistance (as rivals do), but has unfurled a serious test comparison that shows its cost per page works out to about half the price of competitors' ink and paper! That's reason enough to send Junior out into the real world with an EasyShare.
E.T., PHONE HOME: Philips also is looking to cut your offspring or hubby's monthly expenses with the VOIP841 - a dual mode cordless phone ($199). It's both a traditional landline and an Internet phone, in the latter mode making free Skype-to-Skype calls everywhere on earth, via an Ethernet connection to the phone's base (but with no need to switch on a PC). You can conference landline and Internet callers together, and talk hands-free with speakerphone.
Communications between the base station and the cordless phone are carried via state-of-the-art, digital DECT 6.0 technology.
AUDIO/VIDEO INSURANCE POLICY: For the guy who has everything in audio, video and computer products, nothing will say "I love you" like the gift of a Zero Surge Power Quality Filter, an exceptional power station. A user can plug up to eight products into the Zero Surge 8R15T ($249) and be certain that the devices won't be damaged in a power surge - like a lighting strike, appliance spike or power outage.
Designed by Frenchtown, New Jersey-based engineer Jack Harford (and built there, too), Zero Surge's unique, patented technology totally cancels damaging surge energy. And unlike many conventional power strip/suppressors which lose their protection ability after just one hit, these military-grade (and utilized) black boxes are certified to withstand up to 1,000 worst-case surges (6,000 volts/3,000 amps), and come with a 10-year guarantee. Get more info or place an order at www.ZeroSurge.com or 800-996-6696. *