The list of nifty devices for technophiles is endless, but you have to start somewhere. So, why not start in the halfway affordable range? These 20 coveted devices from the consumer realm can transport you to new dimensions in the world of audio, video, even edible delights. Whether at home in your loungewear, braving the outdoors, or cruising the interstate, it will feel good to have at least one of these devices handy. A word about price: Most were suggested by the manufacturer and a few are firm, but don’t rule out finding a bargain online.
Video and Home Theater
Belkin TuneCommand AV for iPod
This dock makes it a snap to connect your iPod to your home theater system. In addition to passing music through to your stereo, the TuneCommand AV will allow you to view all of your iPod videos and photos on your TV. The gadget even comes with a remote control for controlling playback, although, as with other iPod docks, you must use the iPod itself to switch to a different video.
Canon Elura 100
If low-end video cameras seem too basic but a “prosumer” model seems like overkill, Canon’s Elura 100 could be just the ticket. In addition to being easy to use, the camera produces rich footage, and can even shoot in widescreen mode (but not in high-definition mode at this price). The Elura 100 records to Mini DV, but also contains an SD memory card slot for storing still photos.
Logitech Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote
Logitech’s Harmony series of remote controls has probably saved more relationships than Dr. Phil. After an easy initial set-up which involves connecting the remote to your PC or Mac, you’ll have one-touch access to your most popular activities -- “Watch PVR” or “Listen to CD,” for example. Your significant other won’t need to worry about turning on the TV, ensuring it’s on Video 1, then making sure the receiver is on Video 2, etc. The 890 can even beam signals through doors (thus the hefty price tag). If price is a concern, consider the more-affordable Harmony 550, which you should be able to find for closer to $100.
If you wanted an Xbox 360, you would have bought it a year ago. If you want a PS3, you’re probably out of luck for the next three months or so. So what’s a fun-loving geek to do? Pick up a Wii. At $249, it doesn’t require the same investment financially or emotionally as the competition. And the Wii’s controllers, which allow you to swing your arms around in the air to control the games, almost make it worth the price of admission. A Nintendo Wii: $249. A case of beer: $20. Seeing your friends make fools of themselves in your living room: priceless.
It’s hard to call anything costing more than a 1,500 bucks an impulse buy (last year’s model would have cost nearly double), but it may be time to think about an HD plasma TV. Panasonic continues to produce plasma sets that offer a pretty remarkable blend of price and performance. If you think 42 inches isn’t going to cut it, you can get yourself a 50-incher for another grand. Building a larger living room, however, will add substantially to your bottom line.
The Slingbox PRO is the latest version of one of our favorite gadgets of the past five years. After attaching the Slingbox to your home network and video source (cable, satellite, TiVo), you can watch whatever you would at home from anywhere in the world via PC. With the optional HD Connect adapter ($49.99), the Pro even supports HD programming although not of the quality you see on your TV.
Sonic Impact Video-55
At first glance, this little gadget looks like a portable DVD player, but it’s actually an LCD-screen that relies on your video iPod to supply the content. If your eyes have grown weary of watching videos on your iPod’s 2.5-inch screen, the Video-55’s 7-inch display will seem downright huge, and it produces decent sound to boot. The clamshell design also serves as a heavy-duty case for the iPod when you’re on the road, making this a perfect gift for the road warrior.
Sony Handycam HDR-HC3
At this price, the HDR-HC3 HDV camcorder is not going to be a stocking-stuffer -- but you can be one of the first kids on the block to have a home video camera that shoots in HD. With high-definition DVD burners just beginning to hit the market, however, you’re going to pay another grand if you want to make copies of your movies. Hey, nobody ever said being an early adopter would be cheap.
Cameras, Phones, and Accessories
Canon EOS Rebel XTi
$899 with lens
Canon has long been the king of entry-level SLR digital cameras. And even though competition has grown fierce, it’s still hard to go wrong with its latest version, the Rebel XTi. This 10-megapixel model is easy to use, and it can rattle off three frames per second and as many as 27 consecutive shots without coming up for air. It also includes a self-cleaning lens, which houses a vibrating filter to keep dust away from its sensor.
Cingular 8525 Pocket PC
$399 with two-year contract
One of the first handsets on the market to work on Cingular’s new high-speed Broadband Connect network (which is UMTS/HSDPA, if you happen to care), this Windows Mobile-based phone provides broadband-like speeds -- assuming you’re in a region that has the new network. The phone also includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which means you can connect to other networks, devices, and PCs without any problem. A full QWERTY slideout keyboard is at your command.
Motorola Talk & Tunes Wireless Internet Calling Kit
These Bluetooth-enabled headphones double as a Skype headset, enabling you to place free phone calls via your PC to any other Skype user in the world. You can answer incoming calls directly from the headset, which works as far as 30 feet away from your PC, and it even knows to pause your music when a call is coming in. The bundle includes a Bluetooth adapter for your PC, in case it doesn’t have one already built-in.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX3
A whole lot of camera for not a whole lot of dough, the 6-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX3 takes mighty fine photos -- especially in low-light or high-motion situations. And whereas most digital cameras can shoot short video clips, this one goes a step further, shooting widescreen (though not HD) video. For the fashion-conscious, you’ll have two colors to choose from: silver and black.
Plantronic Discovery 655 Bluetooth Headset
Although it doesn’t look like it would be all that comfortable, Plantronic’s Bluetooth pinky-size headsets are among the most comfortable you’ll ever try, and more importantly, they’ll produce superb sound quality. The 9-ounce earpiece is rechargeable, has a vibrating call indicator, and is good for 10 hours of talk time. It also comes with a AA-battery-powered carrying case that charges the headset when you’re not using it.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10
There’s no shortage of snazzy digital cameras that can easily slip into your pocket, but the 7-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-T10 still stands out. Available in four colors (black, white, silver, and “we dare you to buy it” pink), the camera is slightly larger than a credit card, and has a decent Carl Zeiss lens with 3x optical zoom. The T10 also has an extra 56MB of memory on board, which means you can store a few extra shots even after your memory card is full.
Zagat to Go
$29.95 per year
Fans say this software lets you “find a good restaurant faster than Emeril can say, ‘Bam!’ ” although naysayers warn that without an unlimited data plan on your Blackberry, Palm, or Windows Mobile device, your bill could leave you with “a bit of indigestion.”
Audio and Car Tech
Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones
We’ve tried nearly every set of noise-canceling headphones out there in hopes of finding something that provides the quality of the Bose line at a more reasonable cost -- but, to no avail. The Quiet-Comfort 3s are a bit smaller than the now “lower-end” QuietComfort 2s (only $299), but the big difference is that these headphones sit on your ear, instead of covering them. Unlike other on-the-ear models we’ve used, these do an outstanding job of blocking external noise -- especially on planes -- and they’re quite comfortable.
DICE iPod Integration Kit
If you’re comfortable monkeying around with your car’s sound system, installing DICE’s iPod Integration Kit will not only let you play your iPod through your car’s stereo system -- the iTrip will let you do that -- it will also allow you to control the iPod through your radio, steering wheel, or display (depending on how pimped your ride is). The company’s Web site (diceelectronics.com) walks you through finding the right model for your vehicle.
Infil T3 with StreetDeck
Still having those Knight Rider fantasies? The StreetDeck won’t transform your car into KITT, but it comes close. The system, which is simply a Windows XP box with a lot of add-ons, includes a touchscreen, a full GPS system, audio and video player, Bluetooth, and it even supports Wi-Fi, so you can sync the music in your car with your home PC while it’s parked in the driveway. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road.
$99 (1GB), $119 (2GB)
If you’ve tuned out the Zune and you can’t bring yourself to buy an iPod simply on principle, the mobiBLU Cube2 is an intriguing choice. The device itself is an amazingly petite one-inch cube, and unlike the aforementioned devices, can play a variety of music formats -- MP3, WMA, and OGG -- though, of course, not AAC files, which means you won’t be using iTunes. As a bonus, the Cube2 even includes its own FM radio. One drawback: Its interface is a bit cumbersome.
Sirius Stiletto 100
Sirius satellite radio subscribers finally have a terrific option for a portable player. The Stiletto 100 portable satellite radio is everything last year’s entry, the S50, is not. It’s intuitive, can play and record satellite broadcasts, as well as play both MP3 and WMA files that you transfer from your PC. The Stiletto 100 even includes a Wi-Fi antenna and can pick up programming over an Internet connection when there’s no satellite in sight. Of course, you’ll also need to spring for a Sirius subscription, so tack on another $12.95 a month.