Business-like, isn't he?



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    Gift ideas for the techie on your list, from affordable stocking stuffers to fantasy wish list

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver December 13-19, 2005: Issue 842- GiftGuide column
    Cult of iPod
    Don't drink the Kool-Aid

    Leander Kahney's The Cult of iPod (No Starch Press, $35) is as much a treat for the reader's eyes as Apple's best-selling music player is for the ears of its 30 million users. It takes a loving look at the hardware, the users and their new behaviours, and the industry that's grown up around the iPod. With hundreds of photos, it's as attractive as it is fun to read.

    SanDisk Cruzer

    Is that software in your pocket?

    Tiny thumb-sized USB portable drives make practical stocking-stuffers, holding as much as a blank CD but fitting on a keychain. While any thumb-drive will let you fit your saved documents in your pocket, standing out from the pack are SanDisk's Cruzer Micro smart drives ($65 for the 512 MB model, $120 for 1 GB) featuring U3 technology, allowing the user to carry a private and secure computing experience with them. CruzerSync software shipping on the drives lets users carry along Outlook e-mail, calendar, contacts and work with them on any Windows-based computer. A growing range of U3-compatible software, from anti-virus to games, is available for download.

    Samsung a660 phone

    Instant Messaging wherever you go

    Virtually every child from 8 to 80 seems to rely on instant messaging software to keep in touch with their buddies; Microsoft's MSN Messenger is the Canadian IM software of choice. Bell Mobility is first to offer MSN Messenger on some of their range of cell phones, including the Samsung a680 ($80 with plan). And unlike some of its competitors, Samsung makes wireless data access available at rates that your instant message-loving teen may be able to afford out of his or her allowance.

    Fossil Palm Wrist PDA

    A PDA on your wrist

    Fossil's Wrist PDA offers a complete Palm-powered organizer that doubles as a somewhat bulky wristwatch, complete with mini-stylus tucked into the watchband ($95). Available in either brown or black, the watch lasts about 3 days between charges, can be synched with a PC and sports a customizable face. Tapping with the tiny stylus or reading your contact or calendar information on the one-inch screen can be a challenge, but those with good eyesight may welcome the opportunity to move their data from overcrowded pockets to their wrists.

    Panasonic XM satellite radio

    Music, hockey and news go digital

    This holiday season, Canadians finally get to join our neighbours to the south with digital radio. XM, one of two licensed services, offers some 80 commercial-free channels, broadcasting more than 1,000 NHL games, stock prices, 60 music channels, talk, comedy and more, for a $13 a month subscription. Unlike traditional radio, satellite radio lets subscribers access their favourites coast to coast (and even in the U.S.). You'll need to buy a new digital radio; there are XM-compatible models from Delphi, Pioneer and Panasonic for home, car and pocket priced from $100 to $400.

    Belkin TuneStage

    Broadcast your iPod

    While satellite radio subscribers can access their favourite music continent-wide, Belkin's TuneStage ($270) is less ambitious. With TuneStage you can tote your iPod around, broadcasting your music anywhere within a 10-to-12 metre range. You get a tiny Bluetooth radio module that plugs into most iPod models and a base station to plug into your home stereo. With both RCA and mini-jacks, it's easy to connect the base station into a wide range of audio gear. The sound quality is pretty good, and the silver and white base station has an attractive high-tech look, making your iPod a private radio station that fits in your pocket.

    Palm TX

    The ultimate connected Palm PDA

    Palm's new TX handheld ($400) is the most-connected Palm PDA ever. You can use it for Web browsing, e-mail and more, with built-in support both for WiFi hot spots and for dialing out on a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. Included Documents to Go software lets you view and edit Microsoft Office documents, while you can also use its 128 MB of memory to store photos, video clips and MP3 music files, using an SD memory card for additional storage as needed. It's got a big (320x480 pixel), bright, 65,000-colour screen that can be viewed vertically or horizontally, can sync with Microsoft Outlook and plays nice with Windows and Macs.

    Olympus Stylus 800

    A camera for rainy Vancouver

    In a crowded digital camera market, Olympus's compact eight megapixel Stylus 800 ($500) has a number of features that stand out. You'll appreciate its large (2.5 inch), bright Hypercrystal LCD screen, viewable from an exceptionally wide range of angles. Nineteen easily accessed scene modes make it easy to get good shots of fireworks, candle-lit dinners, text-filled documents, and more, while a "guide" button gives instant-access to on-screen help to improve difficult shots. Aperture and shutter priority modes are available for more advanced users, and video clips (with sound) can be taken at a relatively high-quality 640x480 resolution. And a weather-resistant sealed metal finish will let you use it outdoors in light rain.

    If you're looking to make your own 4-by-six-inch prints, Olympus's toaster-sized P-11 photo printer ($200, with a $50 rebate if purchased in December or January) pops out two borderless prints a minute using dye-sublimation technology for better-than-inkjet quality, at a cost of about $0.70 each.

    Zen Vision

    Going the iPod one better

    Apple got a lot of press recently for giving its top-of-the-line iPod the ability to play video. Creative Labs had already been there; its Zen Vision ($500) is the company's second-generation handheld music and video jukebox and in a number of ways it outperforms the iPod. Its 30 GB hard drive can be used to store and play your choice of video, music (in both MP3 and Windows Media formats), and photos. It packs a much larger, higher-resolution screen for a better experience watching video clips. And unlike Apple's player, it's got FM radio and voice recording capabilities built into its sleek black design.

    Converting video to play on the Zen Vision is a time-consuming chore, and Creative's software limits the resolution of converted clips, failing to show the Zen Vision at its full potential. Still, if you're a Windows user who can resist the iPod's siren call, the Zen Vision is a compelling package.

    Blackberry 8700r

    Blackberry: not just for business anymore

    Canadian high-tech success Research In Motion's Blackberry PDA has addicted many business users with go-anywhere access to e-mail. The company's latest 8700r ($500 with a 3-year Rogers plan) continues the product line's best-of-breed mini-keyboard, PDA functionality, and quad-band cell phone. It adds the ability to connect to fast EDGE networks and a big, brighter-than-ever screen; unlike its predecessors, it does a decent job of displaying photos and (gasp!) playing games. But it still excels at the business functions, synching with calendar and contact info from a wide range of sources, and collecting e-mail from up to 10 separate accounts. Users can filter messages to deal with less important ones later.

    Epson MovieMate Moviemate: from the board room to the rec-room

    Epson’s MovieMate 25 ($1700) could be used to project those PowerPoint presentations, but its built-in DVD/CD drive, JVC stereo speakers and subwoofer makes it equally at home projecting DVD movies, CD-R recorded videos and digital photos and even playing music CDs. With its set of audio and video inputs, it can be connected to a wide range of home entertainment devices, including iPods or Creative’s Zen Vision, for a portable big screen viewing experience.

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