Digital Dan's 2005 Gift Guide

Digital Dan Dubno demonstrates the Bluetooth-enabled and mp3-playing sunglasses by Oakley.
CBS
'Tis the season to go shopping! Such fine holiday traditions: the roasting of chestnuts… the lovely Christmas lights… the bewildering stash of miscellaneous presents strewn under a tree. Well, heck with that. Sure, the season of giving is grand in theory, but in practice, we usually end up with a hodgepodge of misery: Who needs another fish-head tie? Another dubious food processor? Let's celebrate with an alternative tradition: self-gifting! So here's a short shopping list of cool gadgets and gizmos I gladly gave myself. (And, because I'm not a complete Scrooge, toward the bottom, a couple of devices for the kids!)

Oakley's Double-Header: MP3 and Bluetooth Sunglasses
First on my shopping list: not one but two high-tech sunglasses:

Oakley Thump 2: Digital Music Eyewear
Except for the fact that these sunglasses remind me of the bold wrap-around style worn by the late Ray Charles, Oakley's latest MP3 playing glasses are stylin', smokin' and sound just great. (The earlier version of Oakley's "Digital Music Eyewear" was a tad flimsy when they were released last year and held a mere 256 MB of music: space for a smattering of songs.) Oakley's Thump 2 is beautifully re-engineered: the earpieces swivel smoothly and fit precisely, rather snugly, to your ears. The sound clarity is simply fantastic. With one gig of music, you take about 240 songs with you. Just pray for sunshine, because you won't want to take these musical sunglasses off. The Thump 2 glasses connect via a mini-USB cable to charge the battery and to download music from your computer. Volume and song selection buttons are intelligently placed along both rims. Comes in 1 GIG; 512 MB and 256 MB sizes. The 1 GIG version retails for $449

Razrwire
My other "shades" double as my phone headset. Oakley's Razrwire Bluetooth headset snaps onto an elegant frame. A multi-function button allows you to connect to your wireless handset, place a call, and use voice activated dialing (now mostly standard on the latest Bluetooth-enabled cell phones.) The single ear bud fits well and the sound quality is respectable. Early pre-production tests had me worried about the battery life, but the production unit I have works fine and lasts for about two days between charges. A minor complaint is that turning the unit off should be a tad easier, but, in the main, I have no problem enjoying leaving this glasses-phone-headset on all the time. Again, when the sun goes down, it is kind of odd… (I guess this changes the lyrics of the old Corey Hart song: "I wear my sunglasses at night so I can hear the callers in my head…") Retails for $295.

Apple's Video iPod
The fifth-generation iPod is delectable. (I can almost stop complaining.) With a 60 GIG version, I can take a musical library with me… enough space for 15,000 songs. Since most people don't have that many songs stored up, they'll have plenty of space left for all your digital photos and even a couple of videos. The video screen is a tad dark but still quite lovely. The latest version of the free iTunes software is quite addictive, especially with access to a torrent of podcasts and far-fewer videos. I was very impressed with the simplicity of downloading my entire photo archive; with my thousands of digital images compressed into a tiny space on the new iPod. One petty disappointment, which I trust will soon be fixed, is that if you let iTunes select music for your iPod (and you have more music than space on the 30 or 60 Gig music players) you will not be able to store images or videos at the same time. It shouldn't be hard to let iPod users decide how many photos, or videos, or songs they want iTunes to synchronize. But, here I'm being churlish. The battery did last through a full twelve-hour plane flight and more. Having access to photos and videos of my kids in the palm of my hand is a great delight to me (and the bane of once-tolerant friends and relatives subjected to my unscheduled screenings.) Some great accessories include a video cable to connect the output of the video iPod to your tv and a dock with a remote control so you can connect your iPod to most speakers and have a pretty handy and ultra-portable audio system. Prices: $299 (30GIG) and $399 (60 GIG) Sadly, this does not include the vast spending I've done downloading songs and even audiobooks (like the latest Harry Potter) on iTunes.

Apple's iMac G5
Speaking of Apple, I happily gave myself the latest iMac G5 in the spirit of holiday giving. What a treat: the stylish, white console houses a brilliant screen and a super-fast processor with everything I could possibly need from a personal computer: built in iSight camera; high-speed 1.9 GHz PowerPC processor; SuperDrive; a 54 mbps Airport Extreme Wi-Fi connection. The built-in Bluetooth connection allows for easy connection to the optional wireless mouse and keyboard, which I truly love. But, best of all, a tiny wireless remote turns this robust computer into an elegant entertainment system: great for playing music and DVDs or showing photo-displays and more. Apple's aggressive efforts to provide easy editing solutions for early adopters of HD video cameras makes this purchase a no-brainer. My kids are also hooked on using the built-in camera allowing iChat A/V video conferencing and great photo fun with the exclusive Photo Booth software. The 17-inch iMac starts at $1,299 and the 20-inch 2.1 Ghz version at $1699.

Fingergear's Computer On A Stick
By now, I've gotten used to seeing people (including myself) carrying around small USB Flash drives on which they've stored documents, pictures... whatever they want to hold near and dear to them, without having to lug around a laptop or a hard drive.

Now, thanks to the folks at Fingergear, I can carry a mini comptuer with me. The aptly named "Computer on a Stick," is a small lighter-sized USB drive that carries its own operating system (Linux), a complete Microsoft Office-compatible suite of office software, a web browser, calculator, AOL-compatible chat program, email program... basically, everything in your current computer, only a lot smaller.

It works beautifully. Simply tell your computer to boot to the USB drive. You can do this even if your hard drive is fried, since you'll be working in the BIOS, which loads before any hard drive-based information. Your machine will boot to the Computer On A Stick, and you'll soon be doing everything you want to do without using your hard drive at all. Plus, the device also acts as storage, so you can still take your documents with you and work just about anywhere.

Computer On A Stick costs $99 for the 256mb model, $139 for the half-gig model, and $179 for the full gigabyte (our choice). What a wonderful and useful gadget!

Casio Ex-S500
Several camera nuts have asked me why I insist on mentioning my "must have" camera of 2005, Casio's Exilim EX-S500. That's because it is simply perfect. I admit that I've shown nearly every version of the Exilim line since Casio brought them out, always secretly waiting for this model. The Ex-S500 is a credit card sized 5-megapixel still and 30-fps MPEG 4 video camera. For $349, this camera is all you ever need to carry… and the 3X optical zoom lens and excellent "bestshot" settings make most photography idiot-proof. There are modes for photographing fireworks, birthday cakes, whiteboards, business cards, etc. Even though I have fancy cameras with fancy lenses, on my last big vacation overseas, I blew off the heavy gear and took great pictures with this lovely little card-cam. Perhaps the flash could be a little bolder; perhaps the color could be a little richer, but, my goodness, I took more than 200 great photos on a single battery charge with no fear and no hassle.

Suunto D9 Dive Computer Watch
This gadget has been out for a few months and I admit that it is esoteric and certainly not intended for everybody. But I'm delighted by the continuing ingenuity of Suunto, makers of some of the most ambitious watches. The coolest is the Suunto D9, the world's first dive computer watch integrates a digital compass. The D9 can be paired with an optional wireless tank transmitter to track all your dive data. The fully featured computer allows divers to graphically review dive history on a PC. By combining a dive watch, compass, dive computer, and data manager into a single wrist-worn device, Suunto has revolutionized diving gear and engineered a miracle.

Now that I've stuffed my Christmas stocking full of big boy toys, I guess I should spend a few moments thinking about the kids. Here's a fun device for the little ones:

FireFly's Phone for Kids, by Cingular
Should school-age children have their own cell phones? A tough question for parents now made easier with a new phone made especially for young children. The new "Firefly" cell phone is non-traditional, to say the least. This brightly colored, child-sized device is meant for communicating not socializing. With just five buttons and no traditional keypad, the FireFly features a "Mom" and "Dad" button, which each provide one-click access to a preprogrammed phone number. Parents can choose to have these be the only buttons that work, along with an emergency button on the side. Parents can also choose to add 20 other numbers in the phone's address book -- or not -- and can have the phone accept incoming calls from only those numbers. The Firefly costs just $50 after a rebate from Cingular.

Note: Producer Bob Bicknell contributed reviews of FireFly's Phone for Kids and Fingergear's Computer On A Stick.
By Daniel Dubno