THE CLOCK IS ticking, and you still haven't finished shopping for the high tech gadget lover on your gift list? This last-minute buyer can certainly sympathize - and offer up these suggestions for gifts I've found in local stores and tried out over the last few days.
STOCKING STUFFERS: At my friendly neighborhood hardware store (Cohen and Company on Passyunk Avenue) I snapped up a 7 LED Super Light from Wilcor Outdoors ($8.99). This chunky little flashlight uses an array of LED bulbs to put out a very bright and true white beam.
The bulbs last up to 10,000 hours and sip battery power slowly. Clicked on in a dim room, the small print on a menu or labeling on your remote control will light up like a Christmas tree. Radio Shack has several variants, too, at prices up to $30.
iFlops is a cuddly stuffed toy! No, it's a music player! Stop! You're both right.
The (non-removable) headphones i- Flops huggables wear are really mini-stereo speakers that put out an acceptable amount of sound in a quiet bedroom. Just plug iFlop's cable (hidden in a pouch) into any music-maker's headphone jack. Get them in multiple animal forms at Bed, Bath and Beyond ($9.99).
Also cute for young 'uns is the Sansa Shaker MP3 player ($39.99 at Best Buy). Shake, shake, shake it to advance to the next music track or story stored on its 1 GB memory card. The Shaker has its own built-in speakers, or you can plug it into earphones - or iFlops.
The 4GB Apple iPod Nano ($149) was the No. 1 electronic product purchased on Amazon.com last week. This music and video player is so small and pretty (in a variety of metallic finishes), it could be an ornament on the tree.
For someone who's already scored an i-
Pod, consider an iTunes download gift card, available in denominations of $15, $25 and $50. Also new this year are gift cards for specific full album transfers by talents like K.T. Tunstall, Norah Jones and Eddie Vedder.
iPod and iPhone owners also will get a boost (literally) out of the TurboCharge TC2 Portable Charger ($30) that lets 'em re-energize their music-maker or smart phone miles from the nearest power outlet. The TC2 is guaranteed not to overcharge or damage a device. Less than $30 at Staples, Target.com and at the parent company's Web site, www.turbocell charge.com. Additional cellphone adapters are also available.
Flat-screen TVs and laptop computers are tops on many gift lists. Keep those displays pristine with a Monster FlatScreen ScreenClean kit, a safe, non-scratching, alcohol- and ammonia-free solution and applicator/polishing cloth for removing dust, grime, grease and fingerprints. Available with small and large capacity bottles ($15-$30) at Staples, Radio Shack and Best Buy.
The Nintendo Wii has been difficult to get this season. But if you go to a GameStop or EB Games store on Friday, you can order a Wii for guaranteed late January delivery and get a special certificate (indicating pending ownership) to put under the tree.
While there, pick up a Nyko Charge Station ($29.99) which comes with rechargeable batteries for two Wii remotes. It's ecological and likely to save plenty in the long run.
HOUSE WARMERS: When the Christmas cookies crumble or the needles start falling off the tree, a Dirt Devil Kone or Kurv will come in handy. Boasting clean, sleek designs and fashion forward metallic colors, these cordless mini-vacs are meant to be displayed in the open rather than hidden away. They have good suction power (the Kurv's motor is 20 percent bigger) and a small rubber tip that gets into tight spots. $39.99-$49.99 at Target, Best Buy and www.dirtdevil.com.
Speaking of baked goods, don't tell my wife what a deal I scored for the KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer she's getting to make me cookies, cakes and other low-cal treats. (Hey, she asked for it!) While most merchants stick with the model's $299.99 list price, amazon.com has it for $199.99 with no tax and free super saver shipping - as long as you're willing to take an Artisan home in white, black or red. Ours showed up on Monday, just three work days after I placed an online order. (Ostensibly faster, expedited shipping adds about $20 to the bill.)
And for European-style cutlery with a 20 degree blade bevel, the Chef's Choice Professional Sharpening Station ($149) is rated the "Rolls Royce" of the breed by Cook's Illustrated. At Fante's.
In the old days, families would gather round and coo over photo albums. Now, with most still images residing on memory cards, it's good to have a Digital Picture Frame on hand when you share the good times. This festive season, established makers like Philips, Pandigital and Kodak are offering 6-, 8- and 10-inch models priced as low as $79 at WalMart, Sears, Target, Radio Shack, Linens & Things and well, practically everywhere.
TOY LAND: Nobody knows toys like Jonathan Samet, publisher of Toy Insider (www.thetoyinsider.com) and the trade's best monthly, The Toy Book. We asked him to tip us to the five hottest items of the season, available at toy stores everywhere:
_ The realistic looking, Gibson-style Power Tour Electric Guitar teaches kids (9+) to play pre-loaded songs or plugs into an MP3 player. You gotta press light-up fretboard buttons (a la "Guitar Hero") while working the strum bar and whammy bar. $69 (companion amplifier optional), from Tiger Electronics.
_ One of the year's many new Internet-connected toys, Mattel's Barbie Girls doll and music player links to a virtual Web world (barbie.girls.com) where your darlin' can access downloadable music and dress up an on-screen version of her dream girl. For ages 6 to 9, $39.99.
_ Pre-schoolers to second graders can get a leg up with V Tech's Whiz Kid PC Learning System, a portable device featuring a flat-panel touch screen with 120 games and activities. Works alone, or it can be connected to a PC for enhanced visuals on the screen, without concern that your youngster will mess with installed computer programs. $49.99.
_ New and novel in the remote-control toy category is Air Hogs Havoc Heli-Laser Battle featuring two wirelessly controlled mini-helicopters that shoot "laser" beam lights to "hit" and bring the other one down. $69.99 from Spin Master.
VIDEO DELIGHTS: DVD packages of video shows make great last-minute gifts for devotees. There are some really hefty bundles out there, such as the complete nine seasons of "Everybody Loves Raymond" (210 episodes on 44 discs, from HBO Video), packaged in a cardboard house; the complete "Gillmore Girls" (Warner Bros.), stuffed in an oversized, puffy pleather diary; and the complete "Stargate SG-1" (MGM) in a spiffy box with a 3-D spaceship porthole.
But be forewarned, these beast boxes go for around $200 (or more).
Also in that price range is season one of "Star Trek - The Original Series" (Paramount), finally out in a keepsake silver- and clear-plastic box. The only way to buy it is in a compatible DVD/HD-DVD set (standard def on one side of each disc, high def on the other).
Disney's got a lock on the best animated family flicks on DVD, including picture of the year contender "Ratatouille," the futuristic "Meet the Robinsons" and "Cars," all three also available and looking extra sparkly in Blu-ray HD.
And let us not forget "The Simpsons Movie" (20th Century Fox), blowing up for your big-screen pleasure with an environmental disaster theme, likewise in DVD and Blu-ray.
American movie historians will relish "Ford at Fox - The Collection" - all of director John Ford's movies in a massive box; also, more manageable and affordable sets break the down into silent epics, comedies and the drama heavy "The Essential John Ford."
There's lots new in the music video aisle, too. Best Buy has an exclusive on the four-disc DVD set, "The Biggest Bang," capturing the Rolling Stones last and biggest stadium tour with two complete and very slickly shot concerts, a third disc with assorted other show highlights and guest appearances, and a fourth platter serving a tour documentary. Not bad for $29.99.
Classic rock fans will likewise appreciate some "Under Review" documentaries from Sexy Intellectual/MVD that focus on a specific artist and album: AC/DC's "Back in Black," U2's "Achtung Baby" or David Bowie's "The Berlin Trilogy," plus career-overviews devoted to Keith Richards and the Byrds.
If you're a Celine Dion fan who never ventured to Las Vegas, you can finally see what all the fuss was about with a double-disc DVD version of her just-concluded, five years running mega-stage show "Celine Dion - A New Day: Live In Las Vegas" (CMV), created by the former Cirque du Soleil master director Franco Dragone.
Devotees of musicals will relish two new sets that deliver excellent value.
"The MGM Classic Musical Collection" (spotted at $33 to $60) packs the five-star "West Side Story," "Guys and Dolls" and "Fiddler On The Roof," plus "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
Likewise worth giving is the same studio's "American Movie Musicals" triple bill of "Hair," "A Chorus Line" and "De-Lovely."
MIXED MEDIA: Feed a TV fanatic's love of the high-tech medium and its creative magic with seats to the new Broadway stage play "The Farnsworth Invention" at the Music Box Theater in Manhattan (about $100, www.telecharge.com).
Written by Aaron Sorkin ("West Wing") in his typically rapid-fire, information-crammed fashion, the play lays out the development of television (and radio) technology and the resulting patent war in a breezy, highly entertaining fashion that only bends the truth a little. Hank Azaria is most compelling as David Sarnoff.
Also offering a terrific backstage look at the artistic and technological process is record producer/engineer Phil Ramone's five-decade-spanning autobiography, "Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music" (Hyperion, $24.95), leading us into the studio with the likes of Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Luciano Pavarotti, Barbra Streisand and more. *