Digital Santa: Gadgets & Fun Stuff

Three tech gifts Santa might leave under the tree (from left to right): the Seagate 3.5-inch Pushbutton Backup External Hard Drive; the Magellan
All this week, tech guru Larry Magid looks at the latest in high-tech gifts for the holiday season.

After a week as Santa's technology gift advisor, it's time for me to wrap it up with all those miscellaneous ideas that didn't fit into my finely crafted categories. In other words, this last column in the series is about all those cool gadgets that I already have and love or that I might want a digital Santa to put under my holiday tree.

I'm going to start with a gift that may not seem like much fun but is pretty important: a backup system. I'm not going to preach about the evils of failing to back up your computer but I am going to say that a great gift would be an external hard drive that makes backing up a piece of cake.

I'm equally impressed with the 3.5-inch Pushbutton Backup External Storage Hard Drive series from Seagate as I am with the OneTouch External Drives from Maxtor.

Both companies make external drives that plug into the USB 2 port of a Mac or a PC and both come with software that makes it easy to backup your system by simply pressing a button. In addition to the safety factor of having a backup, you can also use them move large amounts of data from one computer to another. Prices start about $150 for a 100 gigabyte drive or about $200 for a 200 GB drive.

Another useful gift is a GPS (global positioning system). I've had a Magellan GPS installed in my car for years and it's gotten me out of being lost on many occasions. Mine is an old transportable unit, with a control unit the size of a large laptop, which takes about ten minutes to move from car to car.

The company now makes smaller units which in some cases offer more features for a much lower price. For review purposes, Santa (truth be told it was really Thales Navigation – the company that makes Magellan) loaned me a Magellan RoadMate 800 (about $900), which not only can get you to any location in the U.S. and Canada, it can also play digital music and display photos.

The device is smaller than a cassette tape which - unlike my transportable unit - makes it easy to carry on a trip to use in a rental car. Its turn-by-turn directions show and tell you where to go.

This GPS-to-go gadget is $1,500 cheaper than the bulky unit I have in my car and if you don't need the MP3 player and photo viewer (and you really don't), you can get the RoadMate 700 for about $600 or the RoadMate 300 for about $400.

Click here to listen to Larry Magid's podcast interview
of Marjorie Costello, Editor and Publisher of Consumer Online News,
on what's hot this season in tech-related gifts.

As long as we're on the subject of useful, be sure that Santa gets you a label printer. I know what you're thinking – boring. But I can no longer imagine life without my Brother QL-500 ($90) that I reviewed when it first came out more than a year ago. This one requires a PC or a Mac but you can get cheaper stand-alone label makers with their own little keyboards for as little as $29.

Most people already have a computer printer but they do get old and they keep getting better.

Hewlett Packard makes a line of photo printers starting with the $69.99 (after rebate) model 5440. Even this cheap one, with its four ink cartridges, prints good pictures and documents but if you want to go first class, consider the $200 HP PhotoSmart 8250 which has card readers that allow you to print directly from a digital camera's memory card or transfer the file, via the printer, to a PC or a Mac and an LCD color display to give you a preview of that picture.

You get photo realistic prints from HP's six print cartridges and the 4 by 6 prints take only about 15 seconds. I've used this printer for both photos and text documents and I came away impressed.