My favorite techie things: holiday shopping guide 2007

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by Curt Bucy
Gadget Guru

I can’t believe it, but the holidays are here yet again. Just like last year, I’m here to share my favorite technology gadgets with you for the techie geeks on your holiday shopping list (and for those of you with them on your own lists).

TiVo HD
Let’s face it, Comcast’s DVR (digital video recorder) solution supersucks. It has a horrible interface, it doesn’t record what it’s supposed to, it isn’t Wi-Fi enabled, and mine seemed to be possessed by a demon – it just did whatever the hell it wanted most of the time. 

I tried the Comcast DVR when I first upgraded to a high-def television. Switching back to TiVo was like reuniting with an old friend – I didn’t realize how much I missed it until it was back. The newer version of TiVo is capable of recording high definition programming and just plain rocks. You can record two channels at once, log into TiVo’s Website and schedule recordings from anywhere (no more missing a show because you’re out of town), and connect to Amazon’s “Unbox” service to rent or even buy movies at very reasonable prices. Use TiVo to access Rhapsody Music Service and listen to almost anything you can imagine at any time. 

Acquiring TiVo is easy – instead of renting a DVR from Comcast, you buy the TiVo unit outright and pay TiVo a monthly fee (the amount varies depending on which billing option you choose). Then go to the Comcast office and pick up a multi-stream CableCARD (return your current cable box or DVR because you won’t need it). Stick the card into TiVo and follow the simple directions on the screen and you’ll be enjoying the advantages of TiVo service in no time. 

The only problem I had was getting Comcast to activate the CableCARD remotely. Initially a customer service representative told me that a technician would have to install it on-site, but a supervisor was able to handle it over the phone. TiVo HD has a MSRP of $299 but better deals can be found online. The monthly fee can vary from $13 a month to a three-year prepayment plan of $299 (best deal in the long run). Keep in mind that TiVo communicates via one of two ways – through a telephone cord or through Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi option requires the purchase of TiVo’s proprietary Wi-Fi adapter. It’s worth the investment as updates are easier, faster and you don’t have all those wires running everywhere. More information can be found at www.TiVo.com

Slingbox
If you’re like me, you travel quite a bit and hotel room cable choices are not always the best. What if you could watch your TV from anywhere in the world at any time? Well you can – through a little device called Slingbox. By hooking up this little device to your network (either hardwired by a Ethernet cord or through a wireless access point), you can enjoy your TV (and with the Slingbox Pro – several other devices including your HD programming, DVD player, DVR, TiVo, etc.) from your computer (and certain Wi-Fi enabled PDA devices) through Slingbox’s software. Slingbox has a whole family of products and you should research which one best suits your needs. Information about the whole family of products can be found at www.slingbox.com.

A word of caution: this gadget isn’t for your technologically challenged Grandmother – this one took even me a little time to get all the kinks worked out, so make sure your gift recipient is tech-savvy. Prices range from $129 to $229 depending on which model you choose. As always, you can find better deals online.

Flip Video Ultra
This little camcorder is pretty awesome. It uses flash memory instead of tapes or a hard drive to record either 30 or 60 minutes of video with only eight simple buttons. It has a little USB dongle that flips out to hook up to your computer to transfer the video via Flip Video’s included software. You can upload to YouTube or AOL Video or post to a Website without much work at all. It is about the size of a small compact camera (4.17” x 2.16” x 1.25”) and can slip into a pocket for ready access. The MSRP is $149 for the 30 minute and $179 for the 60 minute model (better deals online!). The video quality isn’t superb, but it is SO easy to use. Just point and hit the record button – it’s really that simple. 

GREAT gift for anyone in your life – grandparent, parent or teenager alike. More info can be found at www.theflip.com.

Sony Reader Digital Book
You may have read my review of the Sony eReader in July 2007. Since that review, Sony has released a newer version of this device with more storage and a slightly improved design. This is really a cool product, and I use it ALL the time. I can store up to 160 eBooks on it, and it saves so much room in my bag when I’m traveling. 

For more details check out my past review in July’s issue or go to www.sonystyle.com for more information. It retails for $299.

iPod touch and iPhone
Last but not least, we have probably the two most advanced pieces of consumer electronics released this year. The iPod touch stores 8GB or 16GB of music, music videos or pictures and uses an amazing multi-touch interface that is all controlled by your touch. 

You can surf the net via Wi-Fi access points and even buy music from iTunes and download it to your iPod immediately. All of this is delivered by a gorgeous 3.5 inch wide-screen display. The iPod touch is priced at $299 (8GB) and $399 (16GB). 

If you’re looking for a new phone, the iPhone has all the features of the touch with the added cellular features including a 2 MP camera, SMS and MMS messages, visual voicemail and unlimited data access (for a monthly fee). The iPhone is available in one size (8GB) and is priced at $399 plus your choice of cellular and data plans. You will have to sign up with AT&T, which is the exclusive service provider for the iPhone in the USA. 

For more information on both these devices visit www.apple.com.