EDGE Holiday Gift Guide :: Gadgets
I love gadgets. Of all of the gift guides that I write or supervise each year, this one's my favorite. Picking a dozen (or so) tech items from among the hundreds of new products available is never easy, but once we choose, playing with them is a blast!
If you know someone who stood in line for the iPhone (twice), got the Nintendo Wii the first week it came out, and who always knows about the latest, hottest, and most advanced gadget or gizmo, this guide's for you. Whether your lucky recipient is a guy or gal, if you pick something from this list you're guaranteed to win them over.
And maybe they'll even let you borrow their new toy!
Turn your Mac into the best TV in the house
TiVo is great, but it’s far from perfect. Sure, it lets you record your favorite shows, but you’re pretty limited as to what you can do with them. If you’ve got a DVD burner you can make discs, but that’s about it. You can rip them to your computer’s hard drive, convert the file, and then watch them on your laptop or iPhone, but after all that work you’d probably need a vacation- and an assistant.
The EyeTV 250 Plus from Elgato has changed all that, and I’ve got one thing to say about it: it’s about time!
The Eye250 Plus is the best hybrid TV tuner of its kind, thanks to its flexibility and ease of use. It lets you watch and record TV (including analog, digital, and HD), and then translate those files into formats that you can watch on your iPod, iPhone or Apple TV. The VHS Assistant also allows you to convert videos from VHS tape to DVD-video (guiding you through the step-by-step process), which are compressed into small files, and the included Toast program lets you burn shows to DVD.
For people who travel a lot, have long commutes on a train or bus, and parents looking for a way to distract their kids on long road trips, the EyeTV 250 Plus makes a fantastic gift. $180 at www.Elgato.com
Straight from Star Trek...
Without a doubt one of my favorite gadgets this year, the Solo Plus from Myvu connects to your media player- iPod, iPhone, portable DVD player, etc.- and displays the video inside a pair of futuristic looking glasses, which appears to the viewer as if they’re watching the video on a large screen TV from six feet away. Basically, it’s like having a huge home theatre in your pocket! As a frequent traveler, the Solo Plus has become my best friend on planes and in airports- I can’t tell you how much better it is than trying to watch Hancock on the screen of an iPhone! (Hint: If you’re in an airport, find a somewhat private corner somewhere or be prepared to answer a ton of questions from everyone around you; the glasses are too cool to not attract attention.)
Using the Solo Plus is as easy as putting on a pair of sunglasses and earphones; and the ones attached are noise-cancelling earbuds from Ultimate Ears, which are perfect for airplanes and also provide incredible bass. The unit comes with a 4-hour battery that recharges by plugging into your computer’s USB port.
Available for $130 at www.Myvu.com and Amazon.com.
TiVo to go (put it in your pocket!)
So now you can take your favorite TV shows and movies with you and watch them en-route via the Solo Plus, but what about once you get where you’re going? If you travel for work -like me- you’re probably sick of watching MSNBC, the BBC, and CNN International (as much as I love Richard Quest!). Luckily, you don’t have to.
The HAVA allows you to watch TV programs and movies from your TiVo, and even live TV, anywhere you go; your hotel room in Taipei, the airport in Stockholm, even the back of a cab in NYC! As long as you’ve got a WiFi connection, you’ll never be without your favorite shows!
Once you setup the box and plug it into your home theatre system, the HAVA lets you watch your DVD player, TV, or TiVo in real time, from your laptop or any handheld device with Windows Media Center. It can also stream video to multiple locations in your home network, so you can play your favorite programs or movies in various rooms around your house. It’s perfect for the Superbowl- or more likely with EDGE readers, the VMAs! Like TiVo, the HAVA lets you record, pause, and rewind live TV, works as a virtual tuner, and has Wi-Fi and HD capabilities.
From $100 at www.MyHAVA.com
Simplify your surfing
We had originally planned to include URC’s Digital R50 Universal Remote in the gift guide for Dads (since they’re the ones who always seem to have dibs on the remotes), but after testing it out and realizing how fantastic it is, we decided that we needed to share the love with everyone!
Like most universal remotes, the R50 allows you to control your TV, DVD player, VCR (do those still exist?), receiver, cable or satellite box, and even iPod docks, all on one remote. Unlike most others however, the R50 doesn’t require you to have an advanced degree in both computer programming in order to program it. In fact, setting up this universal remote is simple, easy, and fast, because you do it entirely on the unit’s color LCD screen- no PC or internet connection needed. In fact, the remote actually uses an intuitive setup wizard that guides you step-by-step on the unit’s two-inch screen.
Once programmed, the remote is extremely easy to use (our grandmother had no problem with it), comfortable to hold, and perhaps best of all, affordable. It can control up to 18 home theater components, displays options on the screen, and when new technology comes out down the road, the R50 can "learn" functions and commands to make sure that it never becomes obsolete! Now if it only made popcorn and brought you a martini...
The URC Digital R50 is available at Best Buy, www.BestBuy.com and other major retailers for $150.
Better than the iPod?
I never thought I’d say this, but I think that I may have found a music player that can compete with the iPod (and no, it’s not the Zune; one of the dumbest products ever released). The Slacker G2 is a stylish, easy-to-use portable music player that plays music from personalized Slacker Radio stations you create, based on the artists, songs, and albums you like. (Imagine a more advanced Pandora, in a pretty package.)
Like Pandora, the Slacker learns about your musical preferences based on your choices- and the more you listen, the smarter it gets. Pretty soon it’s suggesting songs that you’ve never heard before, but which quickly become favorites. Of course there are also pre-programmed stations (more than 100 in fact), including Top 40, Holiday, and every other style you can imagine. The device stores dozens of Slacker Radio stations, which are always available whenever you want to listen to music. As you listen, you can "banish" songs that you don’t like from your station, or mark the ones you love as favorites, which will then be played more often (as well as help Slacker decide what other songs to play for you).
The basic service is free (you’ll hear one or two short ads per hour), and allows you to listen to unlimited music, skipping up to six songs per hour, per station. Premium service gets rid of the ads, and allows you to request songs, skip as many songs as you like, and save songs to your library so that you can listen to them on your Slacker- or computer- whenever you like.
One of my favorite things about the Slacker G2 is that it looks sleek and sophisticated- yet nothing like the iPod. Even the packaging is great! I love holding it, it’s easy to use, and it displays album artwork and artist bios on the 2.4" screen. It also plays your MP3s (PC only), and the battery lasts all day.
The Slacker G2 starts at $200 at www.Slacker.com and Amazon.com.
Music anywhere you want it- wirelessly
Unless you’re completely renovating your home, installing speakers in every room of your house is both expensive and complicated. Of course you could get speakers for every room, connect each set to an Airport, and play music through iTunes, but this would get extremely expensive as well. Luckily there’s another option.
The rechargeable, portable, and wireless S-50 speakers from HMDX Audio give you the freedom to listen to music nearly anywhere in your home, wirelessly. Simply plug your iPod, MP3 player, or laptop into the base unit (which also charges your iPod), and you can listen to music on the portable speakers, which can be moved up to 150 feet away from the base. The speakers hold a charge for about five hours, recharge quickly, and look great in any room. And if the party moves from the kitchen to the bedroom, no problem- just bring the speakers with you!
About $130 at Kohl’s, JC Penny’s, and at HMDX Audio|www.HDMXaudio.com.
First there was AM, then FM, followed by (the way too expensive) XM. Now- finally- radio is catching up with video. HD radio is free (no monthly subscription fees), easy, and offers a better listening experience than standard old-school analog. To take advantage of this new technology all you need is an HD radio receiver, which are available in various styles- personal portable devices, alarm clocks, and home stereo systems.
Since most EDGE readers already have a good home theatre system (at least you better- we’ve written enough guides that you should know what you’re doing by now!), we picked the HDR-650 Component HD Radio Receiver, from COBY. The most affordable HD Radio receiver on the market, the HDR-650 is a sleek capsule-like radio with a brushed-aluminum casing that looks good next to pretty much any stereo system. It has an LCD screen that displays the station, artist, and song title information, it’s got a built-in alarm and sleep timer function, and frankly, radio’s never sounded better.
Best of all, the HDR-650 sells for less than $100, bringing you HD radio for next-to-nothing! Available at Target and Amazon.com.
The last earbuds you’ll need
We know that the trend among the under-30 crowd is the DJ-style headphones that completely cover your ears, but guess what? We’re not DJs- and we’d like to be able to listen to music without completely messing up our hair too, thank you.
If you still want incredible sound quality and music experience however, there are a few options- most of which are made by Ultimate Ears- the company who supplies nearly all of the in-ear monitors for most of the singers you see performing live. We like the Super.fi 5 model, which are ideal for a wide range of music genres and deliver great sound in a small package. They’re also extremely lightweight (so you can wear them comfortably for a long time), and look great too- a factor we never take lightly.
The Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 earphones come with three sizes of soft silicone eartips and two pairs of Comply Foam Eartips for about $170. Available at www.UltimateEars.com and Amazon.com.
Form + function = Jawbone
Style and substance are a rare combo when it comes to Bluetooth earpieces. You’ve probably seen Beckham’s little blue thing (dirty!), but if you’ve ever tried to stick it in your ear (even dirtier!) you know that a) it’s very difficult to keep it in, and b) the sound quality is less than perfect (read: completely sucks).
Not so with the new Jawbone. To start with, the look of the earpiece is exquisite- in fact, if it were up to me they’d be sold in jewelry stores. Rather than try to hide the unit, they’ve managed to create something that’s small and unobtrusive, but large enough to hold the technology needed to deliver the goods. Those goods, it turns out, include impeccable sound quality- on both ends- and the elimination of surrounding noise (even wind) better than any other headset on the market.
Jawbone does this through patented technology that separates and filters ambient noise- and did I mention it looks great? The new model works just as well as the award winning original, features no visible buttons, and thanks to advances in technology it’s now 50% smaller. And while I’m still not a fan of wearing earpieces outside of the car, the Jawbone is the only one that allows the wearer to avoid the d-bag label in my mind- it’s that beautiful.
Available for $130 at www.Jawbone.com and Best Buy Mobile.
Extend your iLife
If you watch a lot of video on your iPhone or iPod, you know that the biggest challenge is running out of battery power before your movie (or in my case, the entire season of Project Runway) is done. The new 2-in-1 Charger & Back Up Battery from i.Sound solves that problem, giving you up to 30 hours of additional music, 6 hours of video, or 3 hours of talk time.
The smallest, most compact battery/charger of its kind, the i.Sound is compatible with all iPod/iPhone models with a 30-pin connector (everything but the Shuffle), and it’s the first charger and backup battery to include a combination USB AC adapter, which doubles as an iPod/iPhone charger when used with your original sync cable.
$50 at www.isound.net and Amazon.com.
With everything going on today, sometimes you need to simplify; rather than doing 10 things at once, how about just focusing on one? While I love my iPhone, the idea of a gadget that’s only for reading and responding to email appeals to me- which is why I like the Peek.
The Peek is a new, email-only mobile device that’s intuitive, easy to use, and offers the one function most people want most when it comes to staying in touch with family and friends- email. Not everyone out there is a gadget guru (or wants to be), and for many people (my mom, most grandparents, your crazy "uncle" Jesse) it can be overwhelming to try to learn how to use a smart phone/PDA. The Peek solves this problem by offering something simple and easy to use.
Startup is extremely easy- the whole process takes less than five minutes- and reading and responding to emails is simple and intuitive. Peek works with most popular email providers (Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, AOL, etc.), and costs a flat-fee of $20/month for unlimited emails.
Peek is available at Target, www.Target.com and www.GetPeek.com for $80.
400GB in your pocket (is it magic?)
&creativeAlthough I’m pretty tech-savvy, I found it very difficult to believe that the new- and extremely small- Portable External Hard Drive from Toshiba could hold 400GB of data. Given that it’s barely bigger than my iPhone, I just don’t understand how it’s possible- and yet it is.
The design of these new portables is simple, sleek, and sexy, and like other Toshiba drives, they’re exceedingly easy to use. With up to 400GBs of storage, most people can backup their entire hard drive- and store the portable drive somewhere safe in case your computer crashes. In fact, the 400GB model (it’s also available with 160, 250, and 320GBs) can hold up to 114,000 photos, 177 hours of DVD video, or 105,000 MP3 music files.
What’s perhaps most amazing is the fact that the 400GB model is only $150! Available at Best Buy, Office Depot, ToshibaDirect.com and Amazon.com.
(Like most portable external hard drives, this Toshiba may require more power than is available from one USB port on some older laptops. In this case, you can contact Toshiba Technical Support for information on obtaining a Y-cable, which combines power from two ports to power the drive.
Speaking of "magic" (and good deals)...
While all digital cameras continue to get smaller, I’m especially impressed with the EXILIM line from Casio, because while they seem to shrink in size and weight each year, the LCD screens get larger (2.7"), the features more numerous, and the cameras themselves easier to use.
Super sleek, the EX-S10 is the world’s smallest and thinnest 10-megapixel camera. It takes high quality photos and video, and yet is still only about the size of a deck of cards. New features include a YouTube Capture Mode (for uploading directly to the site), face/smile detection, and an Auto Shutter Function that detects the perfect time to capture the picture, effectively eliminating blurry photos. The S10 is iTunes friendly (you can drag and drop videos), and features a 3x optical zoom. It doesn’t get more user friendly than that!
The Casio EX-S10 is available for about $175 at electronics and camera stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com.
Hands-free- and no earpiece needed!
Finally, you can go hands-free without having to stick something in your ear! Don’t get me wrong- I understand the convenience of Bluetooth earpieces, but after a few minutes, they’re usually not the most comfortable thing in the world (and don’t even get me started on the people who wear them outside of the car). If you (or someone on your gift list) understand what I’m talking about, you’ll appreciate the SP700 Smart Series Bluetooth Speakerphone from Jabra.
The SP700 allows you to make and take calls safely and easily using your car stereo. It requires no installation, the sound quality is great, and it even features voice announcements, so you can keep your eyes on the road. You can charge it from your car’s power outlet- or a USB port- and it gets 14 hours of talk time (or 255 hours of standby!) on one charge.
$100 at www.Jabra.com and Amazon.com.
Say goodbye to piles of cords
Another gadget that looks like it came straight from Star Trek is the WildCharge- a small, flat, flexible device (think mouse pad) that looks like a little heating pad, but in actuality allows you to wirelessly charge your gadgets- up to four or five at the same time.
To use the WildCharge you simply plug it in and set your devices on top. Devices charge through specially designed ’skins,’ which fit over your cell phone, iPod, iPhone, etc., and which you can leave on your devices - in fact, they offer some protection against scratches and look pretty good too. Skins are available now for the Motorola RAZR, and the Blackberry Curve and Pearl; iPod and iPhone skins will be available soon.
The WildCharge is great for people with a lot of gadgets, and even better for multi-person households because you can get rid of a lot of cords and clutter, and reduce your electronics mess. It’s a great gift for frequent travelers too, since it eliminates the need to carry multiple bulky chargers, adapters, and cords. The device can charge the common devices of most families overnight.
For more information (including where-to-buy) go to the WildCharge website.
The only home phone...
Last month, if the topic of landline home phones had come up I would have told you that they were unnecessary and useless; now I’m not so sure. While I still think that most people can get by solely with a cell phone, for those who like the idea of a landline- or who can’t get cell reception in their home- the LS5145 by Vtech is the only way to go.
One of the best looking cordless phones on the market, the LS5145 5.8 GHz Digital Cordless Phone System with Bluetooth Wireless Technology (say that quickly three times after a few martinis!) offers a ton of advanced features, including the ability to expand the system with up to a dozen additional handsets, with only one main base. The phone has incredible range and clarity, and offers more security than 2.4GHz phones; built-in Bluetooth technology allows you to wirelessly connect your cell phone so you can make and receive calls from either source on one phone.
Other features include a speakerphone (for hands-free conversations), a 100-name/number electronic phonebook with caller ID (which displays clearly on the high-res color display), and a microchip based digital answering machine that gives you instant access to your messages and allows you to selectively save and delete them as you please. For fun, the system comes with animated wallpapers, polyphonic musical ringtones, and can even record ringtones from your PC, MP3, or stereo. As a final bonus- and green points- the LS5145 is ENERGY STAR qualified!
The Vtech LS5145 is available for $150 at Best Buy, www.VtechPhones.com and Amazon.com.
Tributaries T12 power strip
Look behind the console of most people’s home stereo system and you’ll discover a hot mess of cables, cords, and wires. Not only is this extremely ugly, but it also puts your electronic equipment at risk of a blowout, should your home ever experience a power surge. It also makes it extremely difficult to figure out which cord goes to what piece of equipment should you need to troubleshoot your home theatre system.
And did I mention how ugly it looks?
The T12 from Tributaries addresses all of these technical challenges, while also eliminating the most pressing problem- piles of ugly cords. While a lot of multi-outlet surge protectors help guard against unexpected power surges, the Tributaries T12 is the first and only power strip that we’ve found that actually makes managing AC adaptors and cords simple.
What sets the T12 apart from other power strips is its flexibility; eight of the outlets can be rotated 90 degrees, allowing you to actually use all 12 outlets- what a concept! Of course it also provides surge suppression, noise filtering for AC power, and line protection for various kinds of cables, antenna, and satellite signals. LEDs indicate the status, letting you know when it’s grounded and protected from surges. It’s rated ’Heavy Duty,’ which means it can handle an entire home theatre system- even high performance setups- with no problem.
Available for about $120 at big electronic stores nationwide.
The only ’insect’ I like
I’m not a big fan of "bugs," but when it comes to the Cricket Laptop Stand I make an exception. The first laptop stand that’s easily portable and fully adjustable, the Cricket elevates your laptop- to keep it cool- and allows you to choose the angle that best suits you for comfortable viewing and typing. The Cricket accommodates any screen size, yet folds-up to easily fit in the pocket of a computer bag or tote.
The Cricket is great for business travelers, students living in dorms, and anyone who uses a laptop for work, or who needs to adjust the height and angle for better viewing of TV shows or movies.
$40 at www.lcdarms.com
Be sure to check out the rest of the famous EDGE Holiday Gift Guides, and if you like what you’ve seen here, head over to the EDGE Giveaway Center, where you can enter to win some of these things for yourself!
Jason Salzenstein is a writer and editor; design, image, and marketing consultant; and professional shopper. His work has appeared in numerous national and international publications and he has clients around the world. For more information :: www.JasonSalzenstein.com