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Have a Happy High-Tech Holiday

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
October 31, 2011 Deadline
December 2011 Issue

Have a Happy High-Tech Holiday

Holidays are about faith, family, and friendships, with some gift giving as an added bonus. If you can be with loved ones for the holidays, that’s the most important gift. Still, giving that perfect gift is a challenge we all face. The best gifts reflect how well you know the recipients. Allow me to offer some ideas from the Virtual Valley.

Idea 1: Earphones.

If the music lover in your family is still using “buds” instead of headphones, consider the gift of high-fidelity sound. Yes, old-fashioned headphones. Until I tried a pair of Skullcandy Throwback headphones, I had no idea how great an iPod could sound. Skullcandy (skullcandy.com) sells “over the ear” headphones resembling the old padded ones my father used in the 1970s. They might look odd to young people, but the sound difference is astounding.

Marshall headphones (marshallheadphones.com) are a great gift for anyone familiar with Marshall amplifiers. Serious audiophiles tell me Bose (bose.com) headphones are better and nothing beats Shure (shure.com) DJ headphones. Anything is better than having something shoved into my ears.

Idea 2: Phone Accessories.

You might not give it a thought, but I know several people who color-coordinate their cell phone cases with their outfits. A coworker told me her daughter buys her cell phone covers as gifts, matching the covers to purses and favorite outfits. I asked her how many covers she had, since it seemed she had a different cover daily.

“I lost track. At least twenty,” the coworker answered. “They sell them in the malls for $10. I spent $60 for one at a store, but the cheap ones are more fun and easier to change.”

Maybe fashion isn’t a top priority. For me, a case has to protect the cell phone from drops and the elements. My Ballistic iPhone case was $25 and is not meant to be removed. The case is water resistant; I can vouch that it has a tight seal. Ballistic describes their cases as “Designed for Life.” The rugged case is ideal for me. Ballistic (goballisticcase.com) and OtterBox (otterbox.com) offer some great cases for most popular phones, tablets and eReaders.

Idea 3: Photo Printers.

With the shift to digital photography, we’ve lost the fun that used to accompany Polaroid instant film and the trips to Fotomat. Remember taking pictures at Christmas and watching them develop before the last gifts were unwrapped? Thankfully, you can buy a personal photo printer. The two best photo printer lines are the Canon SELPHY and the Epson PictureMate. Kodak, Olympus and Polaroid used to sell personal printers, but those printers lacked the quality and features of the Canon and Epson models.

Personal printers are portable. Canon and Epson photo printers have handles for carrying them. Both lines also support rechargeable batteries, for printing on the go. While I love the high-end Canon and Epson professional photo printers, you wouldn’t want to be carrying them to special events. Personal printers were designed for the bumps of travel.

The Canon SELPHY line retails for $100 to $150. The Epson PictureMate printers are twice the price, but claim to print “archival quality” images that will last a century.

Idea 4: Anything from ThinkGeek.

The technophiles dream store, ThinkGeek (thinkgeek.com) has an odd assortment of potential gifts. While not every item is high-tech, everything in the online store has geek appeal. The “USB Gadgets and Gizmos” section of the store is where you’ll find the most entertaining gift ideas. Most gadgets and gizmos are less than $25, with dozens available for $10.

The $5.99 USB aromatherapy warmer is one of the odder gift ideas. The USB-powered pet rock is a good gag gift. For the hardcore geek, I’d suggest the R2-D2 or Doctor Who Tardis USB hubs.

Idea 5: $250 Netbooks.

Tablets, such as the iPad, are trendy, but there are times when having a keyboard is handy. The market for ultra-light and small “netbook” computers has cratered, resulting in an oversupply of these handy systems. Most netbooks are less than ten inches wide and weigh less than two pounds. They are ideal for students and anyone who primarily needs a word processor.

These are not powerful computers, but they are great for typing on the go. If you don’t try to surf the Web or play games, the batteries can last six hours or more on a charge. With the right settings, you can get eight hours of use per charge.

I recommend Asus and Acer netbooks to my students. As long as you realize the netbooks isn’t going to play movies or most games, it is a great option. The Asus models are $149 to $300 online. Acer netbooks are available at retailers, including the popular discount stores. It is hard to imagine $149 computers could be practical, but they are.

Idea 6: Graphics Tablets

One my favorite “toys” is a Wacom graphics tablet. It’s like having crayons, charcoal, pastels and oil paints available anytime I’m in a creative mood. The first time you try a tablet, it feels a little strange. When you move the stylus across the tablet, lines appear onscreen. I found myself looking down at the tablet, as I might look at a piece of paper. It took me several weeks to “sense” the tablet while watching the screen.

Tablets are wonderful gifts for anyone with a passion for sketching or painting. I couldn’t draw with a mouse, but I can with a tablet.

Tablets from Wacom (wacom.com) and Adesso (adesso.com) range in price from $80 to several thousand dollars. I am happy with an inexpensive tablet because I’m nothing more than an amateur artist. There are also “sketch pens” for the iPad and other tablet computers. For $50 or less, you can turn your iPad into a digital canvas.

As this list of holiday gift ideas demonstrates, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to give a great technology gift. Sometimes the most affordable gift is also the most fun.

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