Great deals on gizmo gifts
Nov 23, 2012 (Philadelphia Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
WE'RE ALL looking for deals. Why else are Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales so popular with holiday gift buyers
When it comes to gadget-buying, though, this Gizmo Guy insists on value, and a great price. If that $10 waffle iron or $20 powered speaker you picked up at a Black Friday blowout gathers dust, what's the point A gifted gizmo should generate excitement and long-term "playability," a term first used in the toy industry and equally applicable to today's grown-up toys.
Here's a fresh bunch that fills our bill.
Keep tabs on these
Tablet computers are the most coveted tech gift for 2012, reports the Consumer Electronics Association. Super-polished Apple iPads will claim almost 60 percent of the business, for good reason. But other tablets make more sense for some recipients.
The much smaller and cheaper Kindle Paperwhite is really all (and as little) a dedicated reader of books and magazines desires.
Paperwhite is the first self-illuminating and sharpest-ever Kindle - thus suitable for reading in the dark. But it maintains the unique skill of a monochromatic, 6-inch e-ink screen to stay usable in bright sunlight and to run for weeks before needing a battery recharge. Just $119 buys the Wi-Fi-only Paperwhite (with mildly intrusive ad placements); $40 buys the companion leather case with auto-off feature.
A hardworking soul who already has everything iPad would still appreciate a Microsoft Surface. It's smartly tooled with personality, plus the 10.6-inch screen surface is designed for business and pleasure. It has a mobile-oriented version of Windows 8 and Office Suite, instant boot-up and quick-connect, slim-line keyboards that double as screen covers.
Windows 8's distinctive on-screen menu with regularly updated "live tiles" keeps your social life moving as fast as your workload. Starts at $399 for tablet; add $100 and up for a keyboard.
Game system of the year
Until now, Nintendo versions of popular video games have always seemed compromised, with dumbed-down graphics and operations squeezed for the sake of "family" appeal and instinctive control.
But the new Wii U system, which integrates a "second screen" handheld display/controller, shows what a university education can accomplish.
On this high-definition (finally!) and more powerful Nintendo system, Wii U versions of "Madden NFL 13," the brutal slash-and-burn "Ninja Gaiden 3 -- Razor's Edge" and superpopular "Call of Duty -- Black Ops II" make no graphics compromises and provide tactical challenges not available on Xbox 360 and PS3.
Some Wii U games (such as the barely different "Super Mario Bros. U") can be played on the portable Gamepad's 6.5-inch screen -- freeing the TV for other uses - as long as the player and Gamepad still linger near the core console.
Wii U also lets Netflix subscribers view movies and TV shows on the portable screen or "throw" the action to a big TV in a second. Buyers note: Do not skimp with the 8 GB, $299.99 Wii U "Basic" system. The upscale, $349.99 "Deluxe" bundle boasts a most excellent "Nintendo Play" carnival of games, 32 GB of onboard memory, plus a docking stand for easier tablet recharging - which it needs (or a hardwired AC connection) after just 90 minutes of play.
Gizmo Guy tip: To avoid the holiday-morning jam-up, connect (via Wi-Fi) and upgrade Wii U's operating system before putting it under the tree.
Until now, only superexpensive microwave ovens offered an infrared-heating option to help speed cook and brown the food. Now bright-as-day infrared heating elements power up a dandy new toaster oven, the Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P.
Instantly heating to the full-blast temperature, toast is evenly browned and crisped in just two minutes, versus five in a conventional toaster. A 9-inch frozen pizza comes out piping hot and perfect in 12 minutes.
This holiday (and every day) entertainer is specially priced at $99.99 (with a $20 instant rebate) from jr.com and amazon.com.
Let there be light
As both Hanukkah and Christmas qualify as festivals of light, how about offering the practical gift of a newfangled, high-tech LED lightbulb or flashlight
Almost as decorative as tree ornaments, LED bulbs boast curious metal trimming (actually a heat sink) and light-diffusing ornamentation. And the big deal is that these ultradurable LED bulbs last for decades and save a huge amount of cash over time, consuming much less energy than comparably bright 60- or 40-watt incandescents.
The 3M LED Advanced Light offers the most interesting design and even light distribution. It sells for about $25. Best Buy has just jumped in with the Insignia LED Light Bulb, glaringly bright (demanding a shade) but priced as a relative bargain: $17. Both LED bulbs work with recent Lutron-brand dimmers.
My friendly neighborhood hardware store (Cohen & Co. Hardware, Passyunk near South) turned me on to the coolest LED flashlight, the Nebo Larry Light 8 LED Work Light, a/k/a "The Larry." This small, wand-shaped illuminator lines up eight bright long-life LED bulbs to create a light path wide enough for reading a full newspaper page or searching a dark closet. Available in blue, yellow or black rubberized finish for $11-$13.
E (veryone) T (oday), phone home
A U.S. State Department-deployed bud called from Recife, Brazil, the other day, though it sounded like he was in the next room. That's because we were both talking on an Ooma Telo Internet phone system ($150-$180) and companion Ooma high-definition cordless phones ($60 each), which come with free calling to any domestic phone number and between Internet-connected Oomas EVERYWHERE on Earth.
Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
Just in time for the holidays, Ooma has upgraded its offerings with the Ooma HD2 Handset, newly supporting Picture Caller-ID, among other enhancements. Other garden varieties of corded and cordless phones and telephone-linked devices are easily connected to an Ooma too, either at the Ooma Telo base station or to a new Ooma Linx ($50) signal-spreading peripheral, which plugs into any AC outlet in your house.
Bluetooth on my mind
Bluetooth headsets were first introduced for hands-free chatting on mobile phones. Now there's also a bunch with higher-quality sound to deliver beautiful music from mobile phones, tablets and video-game systems.
For the active guy on your shopping list, the DJ Slims Wireless Headphones from Outdoor Technology are a fine and affordable choice ($69.95 from dogfunk.com). Light and stylish, Slims have a good but not oppressive grip on the head. Rectangular foam pads double as ear muffs. Dedicated control buttons skip tracks or pause the music to take a call.
Gamers will relish Bluetooth headsets that link, via audio cables or a plug-in USB dongle/transmitter, to their favorite game system.
Customized for the PlayStation 3 is the snazzy Pulse Wireless Stereo Headphone Elite Edition ($133.25 at newegg.com). It's so smart it moves both power and sound through one PS3 USB connector and automatically shuts off sound to the TV's speakers when you turn on the headphones (and vice versa). This newly updated Sony model remains comfortable on the ears for hours.
The Afterglow Gaming headset ($89.99 at GameStop) has a dashing futuristic look, with an illuminated Plexiglas headband and exposed components. Plus, these "universal" headphones can be used wirelessly with a variety of game systems and other audio sources. Sound quality is pretty good, but it took a lot of fussing to make the Afterglow's bulky ear pads sit flat and not squeeze my glasses into my temples.
When the party's over
The holidays are a lousy time to try losing or even just maintaining your weight. But with the New Year comes the resolution to work it all off.
Give a weight-watcher a jump up with the Striiv Play Smart Pedometer ($60 at amazon.com). Tiny and techy, with a bright LED display, this cute thing can be carried discreetly in pocket or purse while still keeping (mostly) automatic daily track of an exerciser's steps, stairs climbed, distance traveled, minutes in motion, weight and calories burned.
The rechargeable battery goes for seven days.
If you're really gung-ho, the Bluetooth-enabled Striiv works with a companion iTunes app for iPhones (4S and 5) and iPod Touch to earn you trophies, play games and share your exercise experience via Facebook.
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