Tech it out

Hi-tech holiday toys for him, her and whomever

The leaves on the trees have turned yellow, red, bright orange and are falling fast. Nights are getting colder and the final month of the year is right around the corner. These last 31 days in fall contain many of the holidays that have become synonymous with gift giving. And if you’re giving the gift of microchips this holiday season, you’re in luck as there is no shortage of tech toys.

Ladies first: A short and unscientific survey of women’s tech wishes yielded extremely consistent results: women want cell phones. And guys, you’re not going to get away with that cheap phone you got for free with your own two-year contract. Women want phones with all the bells and whistles, from mobiles that take photos and shoot video to smart phones like the Blackberry 7290 ($399 or $199 with plan) and the popular Treo 650 ($549 or $399 with plan). A less expensive Bluetooth/MP3/photo/video phone is the Motorola ROKR ($150). I would start with your service provider and see what deals they have. Refurbished is an option as well.

MP3 players were another hot item, with the Apple video iPod mentioned most often (white or black - $299 30GB, $399 60GB). Some women wanted smaller models to work out with such as the nano ($199 2GB, $249 4GB) or the shuffle ($99 512MB, $129 1GB). Don’t forget that other companies make the mini music players as well, such as the Sony Network Walkman NW-HD5 ($300 20GB), the Archos Gmini XS202 ($250 20GB), the stylish Cowon iAudio U2 ($169 1GB), the Creative MuVo TX FM ($80 256MB) and the Rio Carbon ($180 5GB).

One last wish that seemed to resonate in the female population was for digital point and shoot cameras. The Cannon PowerShot A520 Digital Camera ($300) is probably this season’s hottest camera at a price that won’t put you in the red. For those who want a bit more control, the Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom ($699) should satisfy. The ultracompact Casio Exilim EX-Z750 ($450) can be concealed easily, and for those looking to go a bit more pro, try the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT SLR ($1500) with a 18-55mm Lens.

The men we spoke to wanted all the same things the women wanted and so much more. Most of the above gadgets will work for the males, though maybe a few are a bit on the feminine side. Cell phones, MP3 players and digital cameras aside, men also wanted Plasma TVs. These are not cheap, so if you’re not enjoying an income on the healthier side of five digits, you may want to fast forward. Most men agree that bigger is better and televisions are no exception. One of the least expensive, quality options you’ll get in the plasma department would be the 37” Panasonic TH-37PHD8UK ($2595). If money is not an object, the 43” Pioneer PDP-4350HD ($7000) will surely fulfill his viewing needs. If you want to go for broke and get that 50” plasma, check out the Panasonic TH-50XVS30 ($8000).

Now what will he do with all of those high-definition pixels when there is nothing to watch on 120 channels of satellite television? Play XBox 360 of course (core system $299, souped-up version $399). This is one of the hottest hunks of plastic-encased circuitry this season and if you don’t have your name on a list somewhere, you better either be crafty or hope your giftee is willing to take an I.O.U. into the next year. With 720p and 1080i wide-screen HDTV images for all games, multichannel surround sound and the capability of handling up to four wireless remote controls, you may not see him much but he’ll be happy.

One gift desire that was exactly 50/50 across the sexes was a laptop. Not a cheap present but a useful one on many levels. A very popular portable this year is the light-weight Dell Inspiron 9300 ($1,299) with its 17” monitor, double-layer DVD burner with fast enough performance for gaming. The entry-level Mac 12” 1.33GHz iBook ($999) with Bluetooth built-in, DVD reader/CD burner and an AirPort Extreme wireless card for café surfing is fashionable and easy to carry.

If you’re looking to keep it under a clam, there are a number of options that will bring a smile to the tech geek in your life. CDs and DVDs are the obvious choice with a box set in either category being a substantial step up. Most console games (XBox, PlayStation, etc.) are under $50. If your special one gets their music online, iTunes has gift certificates in the $15, $25 and $50 sizes. Another good, low-budget tech gift is a memory card. So many devices use them—digital cameras, PDAs, smart phones, hand held media players, games, etc. Just make sure you get the correct type. A few of the flavors include SD (secure digital), CF (Compact Flash), Sony Memory Stick or Smart Media Cards (all about $40 - $50 for 512MB). To keep the gadgets going, stick rechargeable batteries with a charger in their stocking (four AAs and a charger for less than $25). Just keep in mind that many tech toys have internal, proprietary, rechargeable batteries (a spare would be a great gift if you can get the battery out of their device and write down the model number).

Almost forgot about the kids. Now I’m not advocating plugging the little ones in, mind you, but there are some good tech toys for the tots. For the bigger ones, I’m sure they have clued you in on the PSP ($250). You might find yourself in a tug-of-war with your offspring for this hand held game system that also plays movies. The Mattel Vidster ($100) and the Hasbro VCamNow ($75) are both fully functional MPEG4 camcorders aimed at the kid market. Game Boy Advance SP ($80) will give little Johnny’s/Jane’s thumbs a workout and for less than $25 you can have hours of fun teaching the little ones how to play the classic Atari games Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede and seven more ’80s favorites with the Atari 2-Player Paddle Controller (okay, this is for the grown-ups). One of the more kid-friendly computer games is Sims 2 PC ($40, ages 13 and older) and for the real wee ones, parents have overwhelmingly approved of the Baby Einstein DVD series ($20 each or $320 for the 16 DVD set).