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    A smorgasbord of timely tech gift suggestions

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver December 9-15, 2008; issue 998

    High Tech Office column
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    Economic meltdown or not, Christmas gift-giving season is in progress. Here are some of the gifts the High Tech Office is considering giving or hoping to get.

    Many laptop users never quite get comfortable using their portable’s trackpad. While they may prefer a computer mouse, up until now they’ve had to choose between a standard-sized mouse, which is bulky to pack around, or a laptop mouse, which is more portable, but too small for optimal mousing. Microsoft’s wireless Arc Mouse ($70) combines the best of portable and full-sized models. Its full-sized crescent-shaped design can be folded in half to provide notebook mouse portability and can simultaneously shut down to save battery life. Unfolded, it offers full-sized mouse comfort and performance.

    Motorola’s MOTO Z6w is among the latest of that company’s slim and stylish mobile phones, featuring a slide-down keypad, two-megapixel camera, media player and all the standard bells and whistles. Crystal Talk noise reduction technology reduces that “cellphone” sound on your calls. In the crowded mobile phone market its built-in Wi-Fi lets it stand out. It’s useful for web browsing and for Fido’s optional UNO service, allowing for unlimited Internet phone calls across a wireless router. You can buy a voice-enabled Wi-Fi router from Fido or use one you already own and make free calls connected to public wireless hotspots. $60 with a Fido contract.

    BlackBerry’s Curve is one my favourite smartphones. It combines a usable QWERTY mini-keyboard with web browsing and webmail, camera and media player. Now Virgin Mobile is offering the Curve 8330 along with a $15/month rate on unlimited e-mail and instant messaging. An additional $15/month adds unlimited web browsing; $49 on a three-year plan.

    Even though you might think everyone already has one, music players like Apple’s iPod remain popular. If you’re considering buying an iPod online at, you have the option of personalizing it with a couple of lines of engraving. Trying hard to compete with the iPod, Microsoft’s attractive and capable Zune music players ($99 to $179 for four- to 16-gigabyte models) take that idea a couple of steps further. At, the company offers customers a $15 option to customize and personalize their player by adding not just a couple of lines of text (as with the better-known brand) but also one of a growing set of original designs laser-etched onto the back, including Western and Chinese astrology symbols and lots more. There are over 50 designs, in three series: artist, tattoo and Zodiac.

    If you’ve got – or are planning to give – an iPhone or Apple’s latest-generation iPod Touch, Nano four-gigabyte or Classic 120-gigabyte models, you may not realize that these models support audio input for speech or music recording, but don’t necessarily include any simple way to get sound into them.
    Griffin Technology has released two products to provide external microphones for compatible iPhone/iPods. Their TuneBuds Mobile ($40) combines a set of comfortable ear buds with a high-sensitivity, noise-cancelling microphone and control button with play, pause and skip forward controls. The company’s SmartTalk ($20) offers the same microphone and controls, while letting you plug in the headphones you already own.

    Sling Media’s popular SlingBox series lets users view cable and other TV content on computers across home networks (and the Internet). The company’s new SlingCatcher ($329) does the opposite. It uses the network to make Internet video and computer-stored video and other media content viewable on television sets.

    No network? No problem: users can connect a USB hard drive or flash drive, playing any media-stored media content. Combining a SlingBox and SlingConnect module lets users watch home TV content on a different set.

    Geographic positioning systems (GPS) are increasing popular, whether built into newer cars or as add-on units. TomTom’s flagship model Go 920 ($450) is easily mounted on most cars and comes pre-loaded with updatable maps of Canada, the U.S. and most European countries. And it supports speech – both in and out. You tell it where you want to go and it tells you how to get there, though if you’re uncomfortable talking to your gadgets, you can input your destination using its 4.3-inch touch screen or included BlueTooth remote control.

    Also built-in: an FM transmitter, so it can use your car’s sound system to speak to you. Enhanced positioning technology estimates your position, keeping you on-track even in the depths of big-city canyons, where satellite signals might be intermittent.

    Notebook computers have traditionally been both too large and too expensive to be considered stocking stuffers. This year, however, has seen explosive sales of so-called netbooks, small in size and small in price. Early models have tended to be from less well-known manufacturers. More recently companies like Dell and HP have entered the market. New is Toshiba’s Netbook NB100 ($479): nine-inch screen, small but responsive keyboard and touchpad, efficient 1.5 Ghz Intel Atom processor, 160-gigabyte hard drive, one-gigabyte of memory and Windows XP Home. Like other netbooks, it won’t replace a full-powered desktop system, but it makes an affordable ultra-portable second system. And it will fit in a stocking.

    A few issues ago, I looked at Storage Appliance Corporation’s Clickfree hard drive. It provides the easiest way I’ve seen to back up home or small business systems: just plug the portable drive (models range from 120-gigabyte to 500-gigabyte at prices from $129 to $199) into a Windows computer’s USB port and the backup software pops up, no installation needed. Storage Appliance has gotten into the holiday gift-giving spirit by offering a free 160-gigabyte HD801 to each of the first three readers of this column to e-mail Be sure to put “Clickfree contest” in your e-mail’s subject line. •

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