flights of fancy and other Christmas 2006 gift guide favourites by
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
December 5-11, 2006; issue 893
High Tech Office
It might seem that the most hyped tech gifts this season aren’t
available this holiday season.
would-be iPod-killer Zune has been released in the U.S. but not in
Canada (and its Windows Vista and Office 2007 software won’t be
on shelves until January). Sony’s
Playstation 3 game console is officially released but no one seems to
have it in stock.
But no need to despair: there are still lots of tech toys worth putting
under the holiday tree.
Among my favourites:
Let’s not get lost
Microsoft’s Streets & Trips has long been a
nice piece of software,
combining road maps of Canada and the U.S. with route and trip
planning. The $49 2007 standard edition offers newly updated
information, but the $155 Streets & Trips 2007 with GPS Locator
package ups the ante, bundling the software with a compact SiRF Star
III GPS unit. Plugged into a USB port it works with the software to
turn your notebook into a large-screen in-car navigation tool,
displaying maps and route information in real time. Searching for
“coffee,” “gas,” or “ATM” quickly shows what’s nearby at any point en
If you would rather fly without leaving the
comfort of home,
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X ($60- Standard, $80- Deluxe) updates
this classic airborne simulation with planes and landscapes that are
more realistic than ever. This 25th anniversary edition offers more
aircraft types and detailed city and landscapes along with new optional
missions, making it more like a game, while keeping the realism that
has long made it a favourite with both real and wannabe pilots alike.
Flight Sim players can now interact with others worldwide, from their
virtual cockpits. (Note: you’ll need a hefty free 15 GB of drive space
for this one).
It’s not an iPod, but
Zen V and Zen V Plus MP3 players compete with Apple’s
popular iPod Nano products, but arguably offer more features in a cuter
(and scratch-resistant) package at a better price. With one-gigabyte,
two-gigabyte and four-gigabyte durable flash-memory versions, (prices
ranging from $110 to $220) all models include a bright colour display
for storing and showing photos and include an FM radio receiver and
voice and line-in recording capabilities. The V Plus models, for a
modest $10 to $20 premium, add video playback capabilities. Weighing a
svelte 44 grams, the curvaceous body fits neatly into jean coin pockets.
Creative’s Zen Aurvana light-weight in-ear earphones ($150)
come with two sets of three different sized rubber inserts ensuring
comfortable fit for most ears, and offer good sound quality while
blocking out much background noise. Both high-end and bass sounds are
noticeably better than the headsets bundled with music players. They
come with a nice travel case, an airplane adapter and a tool to remove
ear-grunge. And, yes, they work fine with music players from other
On the phone
is perhaps the most popular way to use the Internet to reduce
long-distance phone charges. But Skype users are typically forced to
make their calls from their computer. GE’s
DIC 6.0 phone leads a double
life, however. Plugged into a telephone socket, it’s a standard
wireless phone. But the cradle also sports a USB connector: plug it
into a computer with an Internet connection and it becomes a Skype
handset, able to make your Internet-based calls simple and comfortable.
$200 for a two-handset package (the phone supports up to six handsets
from a single base system, using only one phone jack).
LG8500 Chocolate mobile
phone is about the size and shape of a chocolate bar and includes a 1.3
megapixel camera with digital zoom and night mode, mobile music and
video players, Bluetooth connectivity, MicroSD memory card storage, a
pull-down glowing keyboard and high-speed EVDO networking. Instant
messaging supports the popular MSN and Yahoo services. $130 with a
three-year Telus plan ($330
with no plan).
And the LG1000 Migo is a cellphone that parents
may want to give to a
child who’s not quite ready for a full-fledged phone. Cute in a bulbous
sort of way, Migo lacks a full phone keypad. Instead there are a
handful of programmable buttons, allowing the child to call just a few
parent-approved numbers along with an emergency button. (Mom and Dad
can call it, however, to stay in touch with their child wherever he or
she may be). Free with a Telus plan ($100 with no plan).
Prints when you want them
I’d bet that most High Tech Office column readers already have
digital cameras, perhaps from previous holiday seasons. And
they’re probably going to get used taking photos this holiday
season. One of everyone’s favourite features of digital cameras
is the ability to look at the photos right away. But getting quality
prints doesn’t require a trip to the photo finisher.
HP’s new lineup of photo printers, for
instance, is faster than ever at
getting those prints into eager hands. And while they can be used for
printing digital images stored on your computer, you can also connect
many models of digital cameras or insert your camera’s memory card.
especially like the new Photosmart A716 Compact Photo Printer ($199),
which boasts a one-touch PhotoFix button to remove red-eye and sharpen
blurry shots and includes four gigabytes of memory to store thousands
of photos. With one of these, you can take digital photos of your
holidays, and have 4x6-inch glossy printouts just moments later,
without having to go out in the rain.