GIZMO GUY'S GOT a sack full of super toy suggestions for the tech lover on your shopping list. Let's dig in!
THE PHONE OF THE SEASON: The Motorola Droid from Verizon is the first smart phone that challenges the AT&T-sold Apple iPhone in sex appeal, user friendliness and growth potential. Droid's finely machined metal case feels weightier (by an ounce) in a good way, and boasts the slimmest, slide-out keyboard ever. The touch screen (with virtual keyboard) has twice the resolution of an
iPhone, the 5-megapixel digital camera with flash is likewise superior, and the learning curve for the Google Android operating system isn't too steep. The app(lication) count is growing nicely. And Droid ($199 with two-year contract) works on the more reliable Verizon network.
A "MUST HAVE" MOBILE PHONE ACCESSORY: Avoid getting arrested when you take mobile-phone calls in the car with the BlueAnt Supertooth 3 ($85-$100). Magnetically attached to a sun-visor clip, this hands-free speakerphone pairs easily with a Bluetooth-equipped mobile phone, has text-to-speech technology to announce incoming callers and answers with voice command or the push of a button.
For mobile phone users who prefer a wireless Bluetooth headset but forget to recharge the darned thing, the new Jabra Stone ($129 at AT&T stores) and Plantronics Discovery 975 ($107-$144) are apt gifts. Both recharge when reinserted in their small (battery-equipped) base/carrying case. Jabra's packaging is cuter, but the 975 performed better for me.
A NEW-AGE DAWN: For those loath to wake to the typical radio/alarm clock, the Philips Wake-Up Light (HP3480, $140-$170) is a dream come true. This bedside table companion turns on and brightens like the sunrise over a 30-minute span, then adds tinkly music, bird calls or an FM radio station transmission to gently complete the wake-up call. A dusk simulation also is available to put you out in an equally mellow way.
VIDEOS TO GO: What's as small as a candy bar yet "throws" a large, reasonably sharp image onto a wall from a computer, camera, mobile phone, portable DVD or a/v player source? The 3M MPro120 ($295), one of the new breed of "pico" video projectors. Even the most avid techie on your shopping list probably doesn't have this gizmo yet.
DOUGIE, CAN YOU SEE ME: Keep in sight and sound contact with distant relatives and friends this holiday and beyond with a Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 ($90-$100). This attractive, clip-on webcam jumps out of the pack with its razor-sharp Carl Zeiss lens, 2-megapixel HD sensor, image-brightening Rightlight 2 technology and noise-reducing RightSound technology that works with the built-in microphone (no headset required).
SERIOUS LISTENING: A true blue music fan deserves better than the cheap earbuds that come with an MP3 player. Popular alternatives include the small, "noise-isolating" models that fit into your ears like earplugs, producing a bigger sound while sealing out ambient noise.
Of the half-dozen premium models I've recently tested, the Atrio M5 ($199 from Bristol, Pa.-based Future Sonics at www.futuresonics.com) best delivered the goods with superior fit, sound quality and noise isolation.
For extended listening in a noisy environment, opt for over-the-ear headphones that monitor and cancel out background noise. Bose reasserts its leadership position here with the new QuietComfort 15 ($299.95) noise reduction headphones.
Truly music to your ears, they are tonally well-balanced and exceedingly comfortable. And talk about noise reduction: QC 15s so hushed a super-loud (89 DB) vacuum cleaner, I didn't notice when I accidentally pulled out the vac's power plug!
PHOTO FUN: Not too big, not too small, just right. We could be talking Goldilocks' favorite bed. Or the new breed of digital cameras using a format called Micro Four-Thirds.
These mid-sized cameras are designed for the shooter who likes to change lenses and desires a larger/sharper image capturing chip - as found on a digital SLR. But a Micro Four-Thirds is smaller and lighter, friendlier to pack and carry.
I've had fun testing the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 ($899 with lens), a Micro Four-Thirds camera boasting superfast autofocus with face detection, excellent optical image stabilization, a decent pop-up flash and a high-definition movie shooting mode.
Panasonic offers six Leica branded lenses for the system. Compatible lenses are also sold for/with the Olympus E-P1 ($800) and E-P2 ($1,000) cameras. Be forewarned: Santa's offering very little discounting on these cameras.
INTERNET MUSIC "TO GO": The best music is already on your computer via thousands of free Internet radio stations and economical musical streaming services from Rhapsody and Napster ($5 to $15 a month). The hangup is hearing that good stuff in other rooms. To the rescue come two new sound machines that easily connect to your computer music stash and directly to Internet-based services via Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet connection.
The Sonos S5 ($399) is a handsome, self-amplified, five-speaker system controlled by the excellent (and free) Sonos app for iPhones and iPod Touches. At $199.95, the Logitech Squeezebox Radio is the latest and cheapest introduction to the Squeezebox family of products.
Interested in taking "Rhapsody to Go" music with you?
FUN WITH ELECTRICITY: For a gift that saves the recipient moolah and "greens" the environment, consider a PC TrickleSaver ($25-$35) or Monster GreenPower Digital PowerCenter MDP 900 ($80-$130) to eliminate "vampire power" drain from inadvertently left on PC peripherals. Monster's much more elaborate device shuts down any product connected to its eight AC outlets when the computer (attached to outlet nine) goes to sleep.
Energizer's Flat Panel 2X Induction Charging System ($30) recharges two Wii remotes when you lay them down on a special charging pad. The secret is in the rechargeable batteries included with the system that replace the conventional batteries inside the remotes.
As advertised on TV, PowerMat has similar "lay it down and walk away" induction recharging for iPhone, BlackBerry and Nintendo DS users. Recharge pads and cases (packed with additional batteries) each sell for about $100.
There are dozens of battery-equipped cases that boost the use time of iPhones. But the new iflashcase ($69.99 from Philly-based Adade Technologies at iFlashCase.com) stands apart by including a built-in LED light you switch on to snap close-up photos in a really dark environment like a nightclub.
CAR TALK: Does your honey grouse that he doesn't have time to visit a mechanic every time the "check engine light" comes on in the car? Give him a Black & Decker SmartScan ($60-$70), a car diagnostic tool that works with most vehicles built after 1995.
An urgency level indicator announces right away if it's still OK to drive. You can do routine checks even when the warning light is not on, and turn off the check engine light with the push of a button.
Have a safe and happy holiday.