Great presents for everyone 
'Tis the season for high-tech gift giving 

by Alan Zisman (c) 2001
First published in Business in Vancouver, CurrentZ section. Issue #630 Nivember 20-26, 2001, GearGuide column

This year, as in the past, there's lots to choose from if you're shopping for tech toys as holiday presents for your loved ones -- or even for yourself. 

Throw away your keyboard... 

...and get yourself a new and improved model. Microsoft's new Office Keyboard abandons the space-age ergonomic curves of some of the company's previous models, but like its other recent models it includes bunches of new keys and buttons. 

Previous models sported buttons that may have looked good on paper, but were rarely used. (Did anyone really need an Internet Shopping button on a keyboard?) This time around, the new features tie closely into the widely used Microsoft Office suite: they can start up the spell checker, save or print a document, undo and redo an edit, open multiple programs, switch between open applications, and more. Each button is customizable and can even be set to point to non-Microsoft applications. 

About $100. 

Throw away your monitor... 

...and start staring at a space-saving and easy on the eyes LCD (aka flat panel) display. Like a notebook display on steroids, these lack the flicker that's built-into traditional cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors. Various manufacturers have some displays with prices now starting just south of $500, though the models you really want will be far north of there -- such as Apple's 22" Cinema Display (about $3900) or Viewsonic's 50" plasma VPW500 display for, oh, $8,100 or so. 

Throw away your notebook... 

...and travel lighter with a pocket-sized computer featuring the new Pocket PC 2002. Once marketed as "PC Companions," these little gadgets have evolved to the point that they are nearly notebook replacements. 

Both HP's 32-Mb Jornada 565 ($895) and 64-Mb Jornada 568 ($999) have very viewable 65,000-colour TFT screens. Their built-in mikes let you record brief messages or notes. With pocket-sized versions of Word and Excel, you can go beyond basic calendar and contact lists. Add on a compact flash memory card and they can double as MP3 music players. 

A monochrome Palm or Handspring Visor will do the basics for less, but this month we're looking at the toys you really want! 

Throw away your pet! 

Forget about a "PC Companion." Sony's Aibo promises to be an actual companion. In other words, a robot pet. This 1.5-kilogram, second-generation product is the size of a cat, but seems more dog-like. Its software allows it to mature and learn or, if you prefer, you can make it instantly full-grown. 

Eighteen motors let it walk, sit, sleep and even wag its tail. It indicates emotions my moving its ears and tail and flashing lights in its eyes. Touch sensors let it know when you are patting it on the head or scratching its chin. 

Aibo learns to respond to a name that its owner gives it, can recognize up to 50 words and can take photos through its eyes, transmitting them wirelessly to a PC. 

Aibo comes in your choice of metallic shades of silver, gold or black. It's surprisingly cute and cuddly. 

If you find its $2,300 price a bit much, you can move down the robot pet evolutionary ladder. Hasbro's B.I.O. Mechanical Bug retails for around $60. Just as real bugs are not as smart as real dogs, Hasbro's robot is nowhere as clever as Sony's. However, the designer, Mark Tilden, has pointed out that "Ninety-nine percent of creatures on this planet do very well without a brain at all." There are four different "species" of robot bugs, each with different characteristics. 

This holiday season, you just might want to collect them all! 

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