Need a cool gift for that certain someone on your list this year? Well, look no further. High-tech gadgets just keep getting faster, smaller, cheaper, more powerful, more portable and easier to use. And the new items available now are no exception. Tech editor Paul Hochman was invited to appear on “Weekend Today” to show off some of the hottest gifts on the planet.
If there is one unassailable fact in the world of high tech, it’s that things must get smaller, faster, and more powerful. And this year, thanks to the shrinking size and exploding capacity of memory, things have indeed gotten faster and less expensive. But there's another twist — now, some of the coolest tech for the holidays is not only fast, portable and (in many cases) cheaper, it’s actually easier to use. One big trend — even neophytes can use a lot of the gear, right out of the box. And another trend: Almost no wires will be coming out of that box. The hard wire is going the way of the dinosaur. Wireless is in, plugs are out.
Here's the hot list:
Best multimedia phone: The LG VX9800 phone makes Blackberry and Palm Treo look clunky by comparison. What’s cool? The brand-new phone hides a generously-sized typing keyboard under the outside keypad ... so you can send and receive e-mails easily, but still make calls and not look like you’re holding a brick. Opening it automatically switches it to speakerphone. Add a fantastic 1.3 megapixel still/video camera, and you’ve got one of the first do-it-all devices that actually works. ($300 with multiyear Verizon Wireless plan, www.lgusa.com).
The most affordable wireless PDA in the world: For $299, here’s what the amazing Palm TX handheld lets you do — browse the Web or check e-mail from any wireless hot spot on the planet. Starbucks? Sure. Your home’s wi-fi? Why not. No lugging around your PC, either — the Palm TX weighs about seven ounces and actually reads Microsoft Office software, including Outlook, so you can edit documents on the fly. Oh, and about that, there's also the portable, full-sized Palm One Keyboard you can get to go with it. No more hunting and pecking for letters. No more 20-minute e-mail responses. Palm’s infrared wireless keyboard folds up to about the same size as the Palm itself, letting you type e-mail responses at full speed. ($69, www.palm.com)
Hands-free speakerphone for the car: The Motorola HF 820 hands-free speakerphone is the perfect solution for driving. Why? It’s big enough to include a large, powerful speaker and a great microphone (no shouting necessary), but it’s small enough to clip to your car’s sun visor, so it’s out of the way. Plus, big volume and power controls make it easy to use while driving — a $99 Bluetooth solution. (www.hellomoto.com)
Ultimate digital camera (D-SLR): The Olympus E-Volt 500 is the best of both worlds — a digital camera (easy to download, easy to store pictures) that has an SLR (single lens reflex). SLR is what all pros use to completely control their picture-taking process. And the E-Volt’s huge, 8.0 megapixel chip produces pictures that are totally indistinguishable from film. Why? It has the only high-end lens system in the world designed specifically for digital cameras. ($800, www.olympusamerica.com)
Ultimate digital camera (pocket-sized): Canon PowerShot SD450. This is the first camera I’ve ever used that was so easy to figure out, I simply didn’t need a manual. I was shooting in seconds. In a world of phone-book-sized directions, that feature alone sells me, but the 5-megapixel SD400 also has great video, a huge LCD readout, fantastic images (lest we forget), and it looks slim and great. ($450, www.usa.canon.com)
Best photo printer: Canon iP90 wireless color printer to print out a card version of the photo. ($249/$279, with optional Bluetooth.)
Tapeless camcorder: The one-time-use Pure Digital Technologies camcorder. Yes, the big trend is toward camcorders that need no videotape — in fact, some memory cards can now hold up to 4.5 megs (1.5 hours) of high-def video. But they’re still pricey. The one-time use camera is an alternative. Just take the thing to a parade or a birthday party or a wedding bash, record 20 minutes of video, take it to a CVS, and an hour later, you’ll have a CD. ($43, including processing and a CD. Available at Rite Aid and CVS.)
The ultimate desktop computer: The new Apple iMac G5 desktop looks simpler and cleaner than any other computer, which matters, since you’ll have to look at it for years. But it’s what’s inside that counts here — an iSight camera is built into every iMac, so you can start a video chat with any other iMac owner; all of the controls on the computer can be accessed using a remote control; so you can run a slideshow or start a movie from across the room. And the integrated music, video and “mighty mouse” remote are all included. ($1,299, plus add-ons; www.apple.com)
Best accessory: Sonic Impact iFusion is the best solution I’ve ever seen for traveling with your iPod. An ingenious, protective case the size of a handbag unzips and pops open to reveal speakers. Just slide your iPod in the slot, and voila, the big, beautiful sound of your music comes with you wherever you go. It's a revelation for business travelers. ($150, www.si-5.com)
A stocking stuffer: The Dynamism USB “Sushi” & “Rubber Duckie” USB drive lets you save up to a gigabyte of information, totally portably (weighs less than two ounces) and looks like sushi or a little rubber duckie (so you won’t mistake it for other drives). ($39, www.dynamism.com)
Beautiful wireless headphones: The Sennheiser HD595 headphones sound fantastic, especially for the price, but it’s their big, wireless, living room-sized range that makes them great. Late night movies or music, turned up loud, won’t bug your housemates. ($290, www.sennheiserusa.com)
Affordable brilliant TV: Um, has anybody noticed that flat panels are great but they’re still really ... expensive? And has everybody forgotten that the picture on a regular tube (CRT) television looks, um, better? If you don’t absolutely have to have a flat screen, and you want to hold onto the extra $4,000 it would take to get a similar picture, get a wide-screen, 30-inch Sony KV-30HS420 television. Fantastic colors, better pictures, less expensive. ($900, and can be found for under $800; www.sonystyle.com)
Best universal remote — hands-down: The cheapest and best (a rare combination) is the $35 Sony RM-VL710, which has none of the idiotic LCD lights you’ll see on much more expensive versions. Plus, the VL710 learns commands directly from all the remotes you’re getting rid of, so programming is a snap. Drawback: It only controls five devices at a time, which believe it or not is not many in our gear-heavy world. ($35, www.sonystyle.com)
The ultimate power play: The ingenious Solio power supply is a solar array for your iPod. Or your cell phone. Or your PDA. Or your Blackberry. Whatever. If you're out of power, this little guy opens up like a flower, grabs the sun's energy (using three polycrystalline panels) and then charges your accessories in a matter of a couple hours. Or keeps them going when they're on. Fun facts: A fully charged Solio will completely charge an average completely dead cell phone. One hour of sunlight will provide your iPod one hour of play time. If your GPS is out of gas and you're in the middle of nowhere, now at least you're not out of luck. ($99.95, www.solio.com)
Control freaks, unite: Now you can control your iPod from across the room ... even while it's playing through your stereo. The new ABT iJet is nothing less than a wireless remote for your iPod, with a 150-foot range, and an adapter that lets you play your iPod's music directly through your stereo. Just attach the iPod to the iJet, and then attach the included audio cable to your big home stereo. Using the iJet's powerful remote, control your music. Stop, pause, play, and change the songs that are now playing through your huge home speakers. And the remote is so strong, you can control the iJet through walls. ($39.99, www.abtech2.com)
Goodbye VHS tapes: No, really — this may be what we've all been waiting for. Or at least what your Aunt Sadie has been waiting for. Sony has created the DVDirect, which takes virtually any formatted tape you have — your old VHS tapes, your old analog mini tapes, your new digital MiniDV tapes, just about anything — and burns them directly to DVD. No computer necessary. Just plug the VCR or the HandyCam or whatever you have into the DVDirect, and out comes a DVD. Did somebody say Eureka? ($245, www.sonystyle.com)
Never miss a game: OK, it's baseball season. Or football season. And you absolutely love your team. But if you've ever traveled to another state for a quick visit with the relatives (or to another country, for a quick visit with the French) during the season, you quickly realize that there's no way you're going to be able to watch the game. Enter the amazing Slingbox. Now you can watch your home TV shows ... anywhere in the world on your laptop. As long as you have a high-speed internet connection at that little French cafe or in that little Omaha hotel room, you can do it — attach the ingenious Slingbox to your cable box at home, and attach it to your modem, and the signal can be accessed by you from anywhere, any time. You can even change channels. And there are no (none, zero) subscriber fees. So you can watch NBC or Bravo or CNBC or MSNBC all day long. ($249.99, www.slingbox.com)