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    Gift suggestions for the technophile on your Christmas list this year

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver December 4-10, 2007; issue 945

    High Tech Office column

    Satirical 1950s and ’60s songwriter Tom Lehrer sang: “Christmas time is here by jolly, disapproval would be folly.” So here’s a collection of gifts for this Christmas season for fellow high- tech office readers or maybe for yourself.

    Much of the time we spend with technology involves using keyboards, but far too many of us are using the keyboard that came with our computer, a choice based on cheapness rather than comfort, productivity, stylishness or fun. A new keyboard can be an affordable way to perk up someone’s computing experience.

    Some options:

    Logitech Wave keyboar Logitech’s Wave, as the name suggests, is a curved alternative to familiar straight keyboard. The design is not as extreme as ergonomic models like Microsoft’s Natural models, and Logitech isn’t making any health-related claims. But designed to reflect the fact that fingers vary in length, the Wave is among the most comfortable keyboards I’ve ever used. Included software lets its extra buttons be customized as shortcuts to commonly used commands and applications for Windows and Mac users. Available in a $50 wired version and a $90 cordless mouse and keyboard package.
    Apple keyboard Apple’s new iMac models, released in August, debuted a new sleek silver keyboard model. Thinner and quieter than most keyboards, the low-profile keys are separated from one another, delivering a different feel from most keyboards. (Some users love it, others hate it.) The new keyboard is available on its own: $50 for the wired version, $80 for a shorter wireless model that’s minus the numeric keypad. Either make a stylish upgrade for older Macs. Another gift for the Mac owners on your list: Apple’s iLife ’08 software ($80); this bundle replaces the pack of media programs installed on their Mac with improved versions of iPhoto, GarageBand music creator and more. The biggest changes are to iMovie. Apple rewrote iMovie from the ground up to make it quicker and easier to take footage from a digital camcorder and turn it into a viewable movie. Or just buy someone a new Mac. The iLife ’08 is pre-installed on all new Macs; the new keyboard comes with all new desktop Mac models.
    Targus flexible keyboard While notebook computers have built-in keyboards, many notebook users prefer to plug in a full-sized keyboard. If the Logitech or Apple models are too bulky to tote around, consider Targus’ Flexible Mobile Keyboard ($30). This silent, easily transportable full-sized keyboard can be rolled up or folded and is sealed with a wipeable silicone covering that keeps dirt and spills from the keys.

    With notebook computers making up an increasing proportion of the computers we work on, here are a few more gifts aimed at notebook users.
    Targus Notebook Mouse/Internet Phone
    Movie fans may remember the scene in the 1986 Star Trek IV movie when Scotty, back in the past, picks up a computer mouse and speaks into it. Now you can do that too with the $50 Notebook Mouse Internet Phone, also from Targus. Two devices in one, it’s a compact two-button scroll wheel mouse designed to plug into any notebook’s USB port. Pick it up, and use it with Internet phone services like Skype or Vonage and instant messaging services like MSN, via the built-in microphone, speakerphone and headphone jack. But, no, there’s no keypad for tapping in the number you need to call.
    Microsoft’s $120 Mobility Pack also offers notebook users two devices, though not in a single gadget. Instead, it bundles the company’s Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000 and LifeCam NX-6000 webcam. The mouse is small, but not too small, designed for equal comfort used with right or left hands and able to communicate with a small plug-in receiver. Features include smooth scrolling, precise tracking and a four-way scroll wheel, along with up to six-month battery life. The webcam features 2.0 megapixel video and 7.6 megapixel still images, 3x digital zoom, a wide-angle lens and a built-in microphone.

    With many notebooks being used for listening to music, watching video and DVDs and playing games, users will appreciate the ability to improve their often wimpy sound quality. Creative’s $75 Blaster X-Fi offers Windows XP or Vista notebook users what the company refers to as Xtreme Fidelity sound in a small express card that’s easy to plug into the slot built into most recent notebooks. It enhances the sound of compressed music and movie file formats and can expand stereo sounds into 3D space. A $35 optional docking module lets you plug in 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speaker systems.
    Aurvana hearphones Music lovers may appreciate another Creative product: Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling Headphones ($300). A big step up from the ear buds bundled with iPods and other music players, these over-ear padded headphones eliminate most background noise while using the company’s X-Fi Crystalizer technology to boost musical highs and lows for a fuller sound. They can be used with iPhones and other recessed input jacks; adapters are included for use with one-quarter-inch audio connectors and airplane jacks. A stylish case lets them travel well.
    Ferrari F-80 Music lovers will also be impressed with the way British high-end audio manufacturer Meridian has reinvented the tabletop radio. Its F80 Ferrari is a home entertainment system that sits on a shelf, but offers sound that fills a room and is surprisingly good for such a compact unit. Packed into the small semi-circular case are a pair of front-mounted speakers, a back-mounted subwoofer and 80 watts of amplifier along with a Ferrari logo and colour touches from the Italian sports car maker. More than just a radio, it also plays audio and MP3/WMA CDs and DVDs and connects to iPods. There’s even a clock. Like Meridian’s speaker systems, each F80 is hand-assembled in England. The price?
    For $3,000 it’s Meridian’s most affordable product, and a lot cheaper than a drivable Ferrari. Available locally from La Scala Integrated Media. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan

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