On your mark, get set ... : This product-tester procrastinated on gadget suggestions for Mother's Day. So I'm making amends with this month's early roundup of techy toys for the dads and new grads on your shopping list.
Take me out to the ballgame: Most radios made today have lousy AM band reception. So how's a guy who likes to listen to baseball games on AM supposed to tune in? With a battery or AC-powered CCRadio-EP from C.Crane. This portable boasts a spartan design with analog tuning dial and four-inch monaural speaker that makes AM and FM broadcasts sound good. EP's special tricks include a fine-tuning knob to eliminate adjacent AM channel interference, a back light for night use, music/talk switch that sharpens the play-by-play, separate bass and treble controls, headphone jack and an input for an external source like an MP3 player. $69.95 at www.ccrane.com.
How's Tryx?: A proud new papa's gonna enjoy getting his hands on a Casio Tryx ($249 at Best Buy). With its twistable metal frame, this unique digital camera easily captures images overhead, off to the side or close to the ground. Then with the touchscreen flipped over, you can hold the camera at arm's length, stand it up on a table or even hang the shooter on a hook to get into the shot yourself. (Yes, Dad was there, too!) The 12-megapixel camera is excellent at capturing 1080i high-definition video to SD memory cards. Outdoor stills likewise come out well, and there's very smooth panoramic "stitching" mode. But a bunch of my inside snapshots came out soft, despite fancy face focus/scene detection. Onboard software uploads images to websites. A mini-HDMI output jack lets you play back stuff on a big-screen TV. Stuffing a Tryx-recorded SD card into the card slot of a new TV proved a bad idea, though. The TV picture began to pulse erratically.
Wake-up calls: Elder dads and college-bound grads both have needs for the Amplicom TCL 200 Digital Alarm Clock ($120 at www.iltsource.com). The adjustable alarm cranks to 90 decibels, with top-mount LED lights a-flashing - making you feel as though a subway's running through the room. Plus, this rig comes with a wireless vibrating pad, likewise good for shaking/waking both the hard of hearing and the badly hungover with an 8 a.m. class to make. The alarm clock speaks the day and time with a tap of the snooze button or automatically every hour. And you can connect the thing to a phone jack to emit a piercing wail when a landline call comes in. Excuses end here!
Safety first: Here's another gift that pays back with personal peace of mind: the Jabra Freeway Bluetooth in-car speakerphone ($126.43 at Amazon). The newest and best performing of a bunch I've tried, the sun-visor-mounted, voice-activated Freeway encourages a driver to answer and initiate calls from any Bluetooth-enabled phone without taking hands off the wheel. Stereo-speaker performance is so good, a user will happily stream music to the Jabra from their phone. And the device comes with a free year's subscription to "enhanced" voice-to-text/text-to-voice services, a $60 value.
Mikey sent me: New accessory microphones for your PC and Mac, iPod and iPad up the ante for serious jabbering and music capture. The Mikey from Blue ($46.97 at Buy.com) is a prograde stereo microphone that plugs into all but the most recent (sorry) editions of the iPod Touch and iPhone. Used with a free (then $10 upgradable) BlueFire app, it can record a lengthy lecture and capture live music at CD quality.
Podcasters, Skypesters and music-makers will appreciate the Samson Meteor Mic ($99 at bhphotovideo.com). Easily plugged into the USB port of a PC or Mac or (with an Apple camera-adaptor kit) into an iPad, this snazzy, compact, retro microphone has its own flip-down tripod legs for easy tabletop placement. Lean in close and the mic makes you sound like a professional broadcaster. And at distances up to two feet, it's excellent for adding instruments and singing voices to your latest Garage Band project.
Am I Blu?: I read a funny user review of the new Panasonic DMP-BDT210P (discounted to $169), a device so attractive I recently bought one myself. Although marketed primarily as a high-quality Blu-ray/DVD disc player with 3-D functionality (and a free 3-D copy of "Avatar" thrown in), this other buyer had used his, so far, only for the Viera Link extras. With a reasonably fast (mine's 7-10 Mbps) Ethernet or close-by Wi-Fi (wireless hub) Internet connection, this Panny player smoothly delivers standard and high-definition movie streaming/download services like Amazon Instant Videos (free to Amazon Prime subscribers), Netflix, Vudu and Cinema Now. It also taps into Twitter, Pandora music and Picassa photos. And with an accessory ($99) video camera and SD card installed, you can carry on two-way Skype video conversations and even leave audio/video messages! The box is super slim, the remote's decent and the top-mount touch control is magical. Don't need the wireless connectivity feature? The Panasonic DMP-BDT110 ($120) is otherwise equal. Just remember to upgrade player software periodically!
Showstoppers: Action-adventure "buddy pics" - both new and new-edition - tell Dad he's your best bud. We're talking the Blu-ray book editions of John Wayne (and Stuart Whitman) in "The Comancheros" (Fox), directed by the same guy who did "Casablanca," and Sean Connery and Michael Caine in the exotic John Houston/John Foreman production "The Man Who Would Be King" (Warner Bros), plus the 25th-anniversary edition of Oliver Stone's "Platoon" (MGM/Fox). And for someone now or soon getting 3-D gear, the bundled 3-D/2-D Blu-ray version of Nicolas Cage's made-in-hell partnership with hottie Amber Heard in "Drive Angry" (Summit Entertainment) and 3-D/2-D Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of "The Green Hornet" (Sony) are eye-popping blasts.
Console gamers (Xbox 360/PS3) will get a thrill and a half if you give 'em "Portal 2" (Valve) or "Crysis 2" (Crytek/EA.) 'Tis also the season for "Major League Baseball 2K11" (with Roy Halladay on the cover mound) from 2K Sports, and the PS3 exclusive, 3-D/Move compatible "MLB 11 - The Show" (Sony).
Case Closed: A 14-inch computer (and a few books) pack away safely and handsomely in the charcoal-toned Case Logic DLBP-114 slim-line backpack ($37.49 at Amazon.com). Dads 'n grads also travel lightly and well when their iPad is wrapped in a Built Neoprene Messenger Bag ($60 at www.builtny.com), available in three color combos.