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Gifts that keep on giving

With an abundance of nifty electronics and funky games, how can you narrow down the choices for what to give your favorite techie this year? For your shopping pleasure, we provide a cheat sheet.

What did your holiday wish list look like in 1993? If you were a technology enthusiast then, you probably wanted something like a portable CD player, a laser printer, a ZIP drive, or a stereo VCR.

Well, now, of course, many of you can fit all your CDs into one portable player–and that’s just one example of the many quantum leaps consumer technology has made in that long decade since the Florida Marlins were inept upstarts and Bill Clinton was starting his first term in the White House.

Digital audio and imaging products deserve their own gift guides, and they have them elsewhere in this issue. Consider this article a holiday stocking stuffed with a miscellany of other wonderful treats–some essential, some frivolous, all a lot of fun.

Nokia NGage Game Deck

We’ll leave it to the general-interest magazines to cover the big gift craze, whatever this year’s Tickle Me Elmo turns out to be. But the closest thing to that in the tech world might be this little gadget, a hybrid of mobile phone, game console, digital music player, and Web surfer. The NGage not only is it compatible with an ever-growing variety of games, but it allows wireless online gaming and multiplayer gaming over a shorter range using Bluetooth wireless technology. And the action looks amazing, thanks to a built-in 3D graphics processor.

Logicube Turbo hard-disk duplicator

OK, so it wouldn’t be the sexiest gift to ever appear under your tree, and at $1,199 retail, it’s not exactly a stocking stuffer. Still, the Solitaire Turbo is invaluable if moving huge chunks of data from one PC to another is your thing. It’s designed for UDMA/IDE hard drive duplication, at speeds of 1.8GB per minute and beyond (700MB per minute via USB). It can clone from target to master or master to target through an IDE interface or the parallel port connection, and its CleverCopy feature copies only data areas and skips blank sectors. The Turbo’s master hard drive can hold up to 24 partitions, and you can send some or all of them to your target drive. Does all of that make you say, “ho, ho, ho”? Then get cloning.

‘Madden 2004’ for PC

A big selling point for the 2004 edition of this phenomenally popular game is its franchise mode, which allows you to set up and run your NFL organization your own way, Sims-style, on down to the popcorn concessions. But we love Madden because of its realism and because it’s challenging enough to keep your interest without making you want to give up in frustration. And if all that realism gets to be too much for you, adjust the skill-level sliders for yourself and the computer’s team, and watch your guys roll to a 97-3 win over your most hated NFL rival.

Amoisonic MPEG-4 compatible DVD player

The Amoi NDP9200 might not be the networkable DVD player you’ve heard the most about, but it’s a bargain at $299 retail. It has most of the same features as more highly touted models in the same category, plus the ability to play MPEG-4/DivX video–and stream audio (MP3), video (MPEG-1, -2, and -4), and photos from a networked PC. It also boasts wireless-networking support and progressive-scan component video.

Siemens S56 mobile phone

Nothing beats a gift that you can actually use to thank the giver. With the Siemens S56 you can bombard your Aunt Elaine with phone calls, text messages, e-mail, and a smiley photo expressing your gratitude for the great cell phone she gave you. The S56 has a colorful display screen, Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), Bluetooth technology, wireless Java, and a digital camera with built-in flash. And it’s small enough to get swallowed up in a minimum of discarded wrapping paper, so be careful.

X10 Lola wireless music system

No wireless network? No problem. The Lola system sends music to a TV or stereo using 2.4GHz wireless transmitters and receivers. The wireless TV video system requires a computer with a TV video output hookups such as S-video or composite video; the wireless VGA system requires a Windows PC with a VGA video output for monitors. Either way, the result–music at your fingertips from anywhere in the house–is both holly and jolly.

IVL handheld karaoke player

Looking for the perfect item to break out once the eggnog starts kicking in? Try IVL’s handheld karaoke unit for that point in the party when everyone’s in the mood to get a little silly. You can adjust the IVL to turn yourself into anything from a squeaky soprano to a creepy alien to a basso profundo, and you can even ask it to keep you on key in case the merriment of the occasion starts to affect your sense of pitch.

AXIS 205 webcam

Sometimes it seems as if there are as many webcam options as there are computers to put them on. Many of the cameras, though, are clunky and have lenses that are unsettlingly similar to the HAL computer of “2001.” Enter the AXIS 205, a network camera small enough to actually be cute. It has a built-in Web server, three different resolutions, and can deliver up to 30 frames per second in all resolution modes. It supports up to 20 users simultaneously, so find 19 friends and let the fun begin.

Sirius Satellite receiver

Maybe owning the Sirius system won’t get Pamela Anderson Lee to wash your car, but it’s a very nice item just the same. Sixty commercial-free music streams (plus 40 more chat-oriented streams) that you can enjoy at home or on the move will make for the most musical of holidays. But if you get the Sirius setup for someone you love, be sure not to scrimp on the $13 monthly subscription fee.

Fireball E40 digital jukebox

Although it may seem like a rack-mounted server or a similar yawn-inducing piece of equipment, this digital jukebox doesn’t need to look pretty. For the person on your gift list lucky enough to score a $1,999 Fireball, it’s all about the sound. To call it a jukebox is misleading, since it does more than play music–much more. The device rips, burns, creates MP3 files, and can play it all through the TV. It also taps into Internet and Sirius radio stations as well as the Gracenote online CD-lookup service. Custom multifunction remote control means you can do it all from the comfort of your couch.

Sennheiser PC 150 headset

As sound and music get more sophisticated in the online realm, the days of wimpy headphones are on their way out. The Sennheiser PC 150 headset has a noise-cancelling microphone, inline volume control, microphone mute function, and a comfortable headband to boot. So, does this mean you’ll get more work done and be able to do Internet telephony? Sure, if that’s your groove. But the 150 seems best for those marathon gaming sessions, when the mic is used to talk trash to your enemies, and the sound of “Doom” has never been sweeter.

Digisette Dual-sports MP3 player

Juggling multiple devices is tough enough during the workday, but what about while exercising? Anyone who wants to monitor a heart rate while listening to their tunes had better have some serious pockets on those gym shorts. Unless, of course, they have Digisette’s Dual-sports MP3 player. About as big and weighty as a deck of cards, the player tracks heart rate and calories while delivering music either through the FM radio or the digital audio player. It comes with 128Mb of memory, but is expandable up to 256Mb. Gym towels not included.

Migo thumbdrive

Talk about a crowded market: Lately, USB flash storage devices have been popping up everywhere, with thumbdrives becoming as ubiquitous as Post-It notes and ballpoint pens. Well, maybe not that common, but our desk drawers are lousy with ’em. This year, it looks like the one to beat is the Migo. Unlike other devices that are basically just tiny electronic warehouses, the Migo comes with synchronization and data management software. This means you can replicate your work desktop on any machine, including Outlook files. After you’ve landed back at your main machine, the little Migo synchronizes the files as if you’ve never been gone. Hmm…suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a crowded market after all.

AOpen DVD-RW drive

AOpen’s 4410 drive is all you should need for making your own discs of any kind, be they CDs, DVDs, or anything in between. The follow-up to AOpen’s first DVD recorder, the DVRW2412Pro, the DRW4410 supports the DVD+R(W) recording format and can write both DVD+R and DVD+RW media at 4x. IT can also write to CD-Rs at 24x and CD-RWs at 10x. However you use it, you’ll be the enjoying the results in virtually no time.

‘Enter the Matrix’

Although the game has gotten mixed reviews, including one from ComputerUser, there’s something awfully funky about how well the Matrix overlords mixed the film with the game. Navigating the main characters, Niobe and Ghost, through various situations requires common game skills like kicking, shooting, and jumping. But it’s in the extras that the game really shines. Footage shot just for “Enter the Matrix” gives the movie fanatic a deeper level of understanding about the films, and bragging rights over anyone who hasn’t played. Really, is there anything more alluring than bragging rights, especially when someone as cool as Niobe is involved? The answer, my friend, is no.

‘America 24/7’

In the midst of all these gadgets and games, it may seem odd to choose a photography book that’s not technology-focused. However, America 24/7 has a neat gimmick going for it that will appeal to digital film buffs as well as photography aficionados. Purchasers of the tome can create their own book jackets by following directions on the book’s site and sending in a measly $5.99 for shipping and handling. These are no cheap digital photo paper jackets, either, but the real, glossy, pretty kind that grace coffee tables everywhere. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the book is pretty cool as well, with stunning photographs of ordinary citizens and American landscapes. And just think, it could be your mug on the cover of such a spiffy volume.

BowLingual translator

There’s a joy in finding useful gadgets that make work more efficient and streamlined. But every once and awhile, you find a device so ridiculous that it’s a must for your gift list. That gadget is the BowLingual dog bark translator, which does just what it purports to do: tells you what your pup’s talking about. Not only will the device give insight into those yips and growls, but also it can record any yapping while the dog is alone at home, and give you a “bark history.” A medical reference mode and a training mode give tips on keeping those barks sounding happy.

what did your favorite holiday gadget turn out to be? let us know at

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