Mr. Gadget's Favorite Holiday Picks

Walkie-Talkies and cell AP

The latest in cell phones, CD players, cameras, camcorders, DVD players, computers, you name it. Steve Kruschen (aka Mr. Gadget) offers advice on what to get the hi-tech enthusiast in your house.

Here are his recommendations.

Cell Phones

Sony Ericsson T68i
  • Tiny (but not too small) two-ounce, user interface with computer-like icons on a bright color screen

  • Outstanding battery life (up to 7 hours of talk time)
  • Games, organizer, text-based mobile Internet, snap-on color camera, built-in Bluetooth wireless communication can be used with special wireless headset (expensive at about $200, but very cool)

  • For communicating with nearby computer such as Apple's iBook via $50 adapter to synchronize appointments and address book and to dial the phone through the computer. For use on Cingular and AT&T for their mMode service), with prices ranging from $100 or less to $200 (depending upon plan and carrier) and may include the CommuniCam camera.

Siemens CT56: Another two-ounce wonder, with Enhanced Messaging Service (add installed sounds and pictures to messaging),
  • Text-based Internet browsing, black-and-white screen.

  • Five-hour talk time, built-in voice dialing, and built-in speakerphone, which is the feature Mr. Gadget likes best. No straining to hold the phone to the ear when writing notes or waiting on hold.

  • The phone will be about $150 exclusively for Cingular Wireless. Introduction is slated for the week of Dec. 16, 2002.

The T-Mobile Sidekick, according to Mr. Gadget, is the most innovatively different mobile phone around today.
  • The big black-and-white screen pivots up and over the QWERTY keyboard that lives beneath it.

  • Equipped for high-speed data services, cruise the Internet with text and graphics, use the built-in software for AOL Instant Messenger (extra monthly cost of about $5), send and receive real e-mail, use the address book, notepad and more.

  • A real and functional conversation piece, and comes with plug-in camera. About $200 including rebate, only for T-Mobile.

Mr. Gadget's advice is, no matter which phone is purchased for personal use or as a gift, the old rule still applies: First, select the mobile phone service provider based upon what's best for the user, considering where the phone will be used. Then choose the phone.

The Sidewinder - A new and inexpensive stocking-stuffer discovery is the Sidewinder, advertised as the world's smallest, lightest, and most powerful portable cell-phone charger.
  • Innovative design that really works in a little two-ounce device the user can always keep handy in the car, pocket or purse. When the phone is almost out of juice and the charger is not available, plug in the Sidewinder, turn the crank (for both right-and left-handed users) at moderate speed for two minutes and get six minutes of talk time.

  • Works with many of the popular phones (all without batteries). Includes a built-in powerful LED flashlight - 30 seconds of cranking yields five minutes of light. Other accessories are promised. $25 delivered.

Walkie-Talkies

A new generation of walkie-talkie communicators was introduced a few years ago. Called FRS (Family Radio Service) radios, they have a range of up to two miles, generally offer seven to fourteen channels and carried a cost of about $80 each. Today, the next generation is here, called GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) and the original technology FRS radios can be found for as little as $30 a pair.

Audiovox An excellent example of how things have improved is from Audiovox, a technology leader in the two-way radio category. The Audiovox GMRS7000CH is the only two-way GMRS radio on the market that provides consumers up to seven miles of range.
  • Sold with a desktop charger, it's ideal for families to keep in touch, as well as skiers, camper and adventure sports enthusiasts. Best price found was $60 each through amazon.com.

  • The GMRS7000CH is commonly available for a suggested retail price of only $99 each. To find out more, call 1-800-229-1235.

CD Players

A popular gift is the portable CD player, once costing up to $200. How about the Sony Psyc CD Walkman players D-E350 and D-E330, each retailing for only about $50?
  • The D-E350 Psyc CD Walkman player is available in red, blue and gold liquid jewel tones. The D-E330 model comes in pink, blue and green sugar-and-spice pastels.

  • Both full-featured Psyc CD Walkman stereos have a new compact design and incorporate CD-R/RW playback (for playing MP3 music CDs created on the computer), along with skip-free ESPMax electronic skip protection, which reduces skipping during many active uses.

  • Great for the beach, the colorful Walkman players' heat-resistant lids help protect them in hot climates.

  • Extended battery life provides up to 33 hours of playback on two "AA" batteries. To enhance the listening experience, the D-E350 and D-E330 models come supplied with Street Style headphones.

Moving upscale to the ultimate in portable audio players is the personally coveted favorite of those in the know, Apple's iPod. Mr. Gadget says iPod is, quite simply, the best in the world. When it was introduced (just one year ago), it was compatible only with Macintosh computers. Not any more.

  • The "new" iPod is now compatible with both Macs and Windows-based PCs. While the original could hold 1,000 songs on its 5GB hard drive, the new models can store up to 4,000 songs on up to a 20GB little hard drive.

  • New software allows the iPod to synchronize contacts and appointments with the computer and access the information on its crisp, clear, easy-to-read backlit display. Music and important info in the palm of your hand.

  • The 10-hour battery life has been retained in the new products.

  • In addition to storing music, appointments and contacts, the iPod also does a superb job storing files and applications because, after all, it is a portable hard drive connected via super-fast FireWire. FireWire is fast enough to transfer an entire CD in less than 15 seconds, and 1,000 songs transfer in less than 10 minutes.

  • For more details, call 1-800-MY-APPLE (1-800-692-7753). The 5GB model sells for $299, the 10GB model is $399 and the 20GB model retails for $499. iPod is also compatible with audio books from audible.com, as recommended by Mr. Gadget. The iPod will not disappoint the recipient.

Digital Cameras

Mr. Gadget recommends the kodak DX-4330, now retailing for only $299.
  • 3.1 megapixels for prints up to 11" x 14", 3X optical zoom (the better way to zoom) plus 3.3X digital zoom, multizone autofocus, bright indoor/outdoor LCD, continuous video with audio recording, auto picture rotation (take the picture with the camera turned for a portrait shot and the LCD screen shows the reviewed shot correctly oriented for viewing) and more.

  • With just about the easiest computer connectivity and software for Macs and PCs, it's an unbeatable package.

  • With the optional $80 docking station, push one button to transfer photos to the computer and then organize and e-mail anywhere. It's a terrific camera in every respect.

Looking for something very basic in a digital camera, perhaps a starter camera? Interested in the ultimate in simplicity in a digital camera ideal for sending photos via e-mail, snapping photos for use in school reports and for placing on Websites?

Simplicity is what you get in the $50 Vivitar Vivicam 10. Fixed Focus (no zoom), flash, 640 x 480 resolution, and not much else. Available at retailers including Kmart, Wal*Mart and Target.

Film Cameras

Film is still a popular format, especially 35mm film cameras. Not everyone wants or needs a digital camera. Film, 35mm and NOT APS, is still the easiest and best quality. Point and shoot, push-here-dummy 35mm cameras make great gifts.

For as little as $140 through online retailers, Mr. Gadget found this full-featured Fujifilm Zoom Date 125EZ 35mm Camera. Auto-everything, with date imprinting, 3.3X zoom, Fuji's Sure Loading System (Easy loading with pre-winding), and more. It's a great camera, easy to use and sure to please. At most retailers selling 35mm camera equipment and at online retailers.

Photo Calendar

Give the gift of a personalized photo calendar you create online at ofoto.com. The gift starts with digital photos either from digitizing film in a scanner attached to a computer or from originally digital photos. Follow step-by-step online: Choose the background, themes and other design elements, and upload the photos.

  • Ofoto prints and ships the calendar to the recipient at a cost of $25 plus tax.

  • Video Camcorders

    An easy-to-use, inexpensive digital video camcorder with bright LCD display and optical viewfinder makes the cut this year. Consider the sharp, clear digital images from an 18X optical zoom in Canon's ZR45 that Mr. Gadget has found (and loves) online for as little as $449 through pricegrabber.com. More information about this outstanding value is at canondv.com. Connects to Macs and PCs for digital editing.

    DVD Recorder

    Get those aging, deteriorating VHS tapes onto DVD NOW. Did you know tapes do not last forever? Mr. Gadget recommends the family gift of a Pioneer DVR-7000 DVD recorder at under $1000, about half the price of what they were last year and better quality.
    • This is the preferred method with the least quality loss from the transfer, much better than using a computer-based DVD burner, and much easier to accomplish.

    • Plug in the video source, be it a conventional VHS VCR or the latest digital video camcorder, insert the blank DVD (about $3 - 5) and make a direct recording in real time, with excellent quality at the "2-hour" speed.

    • Perform simple editing cutting out mistakes in the original as the DVD is made. Use high-quality blank media such as the Verbatim brand and those homemade DVDs can last up to 100 years. Pioneer uses the DVD-R format, which is generally regarded as the most compatible with other consumer DVD players.

    • Once transferred to DVD using this method, the videos can even be brought in to the computer, cleverly edited, music added, titled with menus created and then put back on DVD with no further loss. The DVR-7000 is also a top-flight DVD player.

    DVD Player

    If you're interested in giving a great new DVD player, with all the important bells and whistles including superior picture (from something called Progressive Scan), Mr. Gadget says to look no further than the Toshiba SD3800 which can be found at retailers such as Best Buy for as little as $160 and online through pricegrabber.com and www.nextag.com for as little as $150. Check other top brands including Panasonic, JVC, Philips, Sony.

    Drives

    One of the most useful tech gadget categories is something that replaces those low-capacity and often unreliable computer floppy discs. Known as keychain drives, thumb drives, and USB drives, among other names, they are tiny (under 3 inches long) plug-in devices that connect to PCs and Macs using the now-ubiquitous USB plug. Inside is a little memory chip with capacities ranging from as little as 16MB up to an amazing 1GB.

    They require no power supply or special software to use with Macs or Windows PCs running XP. Plug it in and it works, the computer treating is as if it is just another connected hard drive.

    They're great for moving data between computers, for temporary data backup and lots more. Store reports, music, video clips, and any other data. They make great gifts because they never wear out.

    Prices start as little as $30 for 16MB, with the $70, 64MB capacity the most popular. Reliable product providers include USBDrive usbdrive.com, Iomega (www.iomega.com and Lexar Media.

    The newest models are featuring the faster transfer rates of Hi-Speed USB, the next generation of the USB technology that is totally backward compatible with the original USB, known as USB 1.1. The current speed champ seems to be the Lexar Media Jump Drive 2.0 Pro, compatible with the USB 2.0 specification, it supports read speeds up to 6MB/sec and write speeds up to 4.5MB/sec. That's fast enough to stream video. Mr. Gadget says these are among his favorite, useful products for home and when he travels, and for student use.

    Computers

    Mr. Gadget refers to the new HP Media Center PC ($1349 - $2000 depending upon configuration; $1700 as shown, excluding monitor) as the Swiss Army Knife of computers. An ultimate computer gift for the family, it can take the place of lots of other components, saving space and maybe even saving money. That's because it's all in there, more than any other computer, ever.
    • The first (and currently the only) computer to use the new Microsoft Windows XP Media Edition operating system, the HP Media Center PC starts with a super fast Pentium 4 PC, with loads of RAM, a huge hard drive, DVD burner AND CD burner, TV tuner, outstanding Klipsch audio system, and a TV-like remote control.

    • Add the special software and now, through the easy-to-use onscreen interface accessible from the remote control, watch, record, and pause live TV choosing programming from an on-line guide customized for your area and your TV service provider.

    • Load tons of digital audio from CDs or from the Internet and organize it under a simple interface. Transfer digital videos from a digital camcorder to the computer, edit and create DVDs. Load digital photos similarly and easily organize them, display them in one-button slide shows with the digital music playing underneath.

    • Watch DVD movies. Listen to CDs. The HP Media Center PC really does have it all, and it's a pretty good gaming machine, too.
    • Tatiana Morales

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