2006 STREET TECH HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE (Part 1)
While we make a lot of noise here at Street Tech about consumer responsibility, environmental awareness, living lower on the hog (or forgoing the hog altogether), truth be told, we love buying shit just as much as the next conspicuous consumer. And we won't even try to deny our unwavering interest in new gadgets and cool tools. That said, we're also obsessed with high quality, intelligent design (of the non-theocratic kind), and products that perform as they're advertised. On top of all this, we love the act of gift-giving, showing our love and appreciation for people, in ritual gestures of exchanged beads and baubles. Combine all this: Great goods that are well- and responsibly made, that you get to buy and then give away to make fellow, beloved meatbots happy? Well that just sounds like a whole lot o' good times to us. So, here's our annual guide to giveable stuff. These are items that we have a certain degree of faith in, most of which, we've tested ourselves, in the real world.
This is only Part 1 of this year's Guide ("But wait, there's more!") We'll have the second installment up sometime after we unbloat from Thanksgiving [UPDATE: Here's Part 2]. Also be sure to check out the Federated Media Holiday Gadget Guide, the network gift guide we're doing with our Federated Media compadres.
TiVo Series 3 (Tivo, $710) It was years in the making, and hopefully (for TiVo, Inc. and the TiVo community), not too little too late: High-Def Series 3 TiVo. Boo-yah! This is a 21st century TiVo, with the ability to record two, count 'em, two high-def signals at the same time, which it rocks with THX-certified digital audio, HDMI output, 250GB of media storage, two CableCard slots, and even some A/V eye candy, such as a swankier-designed cabinet, and an orange LED display that tells you what's being recorded. The familiar TiVo remote, a.k.a. The Peanut, has been upgraded too, with back lighting, while maintaining a similar button layout. To read more about the Series 3, read Matt Haughey's (of PVRBlog) review on the FM Gadget Guide.
AudioStation Express (Logitech, $129) Following on the heels of their pricier AudioStation ($299) iPod speakers with built-in radio, Logitech released the Express, a smaller, cheaper set of speaks sans radio. For the $129, you get a nice compact set of surprisingly crisp, full-range speakers, two 2.5" Max-X high-excursion drivers and "tuned" bass ports, in a fairly rugged-looking enclosure that's designed to move about the house, from kitchen, to bedroom, to backyard (if not about the country). It also comes with a nice, slightly padded travel case. The Express has some thoughtful features, such as audio-in, so you can play other portable players through it, video out, so you can play your video iPod through it, and a sweet little credit-card remote that stows in a slot in the back. The unit works with any iPod model. While the sound is full-bodied, this is no "boom" box, this really is a personal speaker system. Don't plan to rock a party with it. I also found that the sound is much sharper with the case off. While it's designed to be used case-on, it tends to deaden the sound somewhat. At $129, it's a hair pricey, but you're likely to be able to find it soon for closer to $100, which is starting to hit my sweet spot.
Logitech VX Revolution Mouse (Logitech, $79) We sent off for an evaluation copy of Logitech's MX Revolution because of all the hype surrounding it. But because of all that media attention, they were fresh out of eval units, so they sent us the VX instead, the MX's little sister, designed for notebook computers. The VX comes with a 2.4GHz USB Micro-Receiver (think: Bluetooth's illegitimate brother) that you plug into a USB port on your computer or hub. Set-up is a snap. The driver and control software work on both XP and OS X, though Mac users will have to download the Control Center software from the Logitech site. After spending a few weeks with the mouse, I think I'm in love. I dig the ergonomics of the design and how it conforms to the natural resting shape of my hand. The specialty buttons -- the hyper-scrolling for blazing through long docs, the zoom button for zooming in and out of photos, schematics, and other docs, the search button -- are all great. Okay, so I haven't really used the on-board search button that much, but it's still a cool idea. And the sleek look and feel? It's all good. One of the things I like most about it as a travel mouse is that the wireless receiver stows inside the mouse itself for transport. Very smart. One of the things I don't like is an annoyance I find with most Bluetooth and other radio-tethered devices: the signal drops out from time to time. Also, the two side buttons are a little far back on the case, so I have to scrunch my thumb back to access them. But this is a minor quibble. A bigger quibble would be shelling out $80 for a mouse, but if you do spend the dough, at least you get the feeling that you got something of quality and exceptional design. Logitech has a habit of making grand pronouncements about their products "The ultimate" this, "The best, most advanced" that. They claim that this is the "Ultimate Notebook Mouse." It's definitely the best one I've ever tested.
2G iPod Shuffle (Apple, $79) Anybody who saw Jobs's "Showtime" event, where he premiered the new generation of the iPod Shuffle, couldn't help but think about last year's SNL sketch where Fred Armisen did an awesome job of spoofing the black turtlenecked and jeaned-one, releasing progressive generations of iPods on Weekend Update in real time as they got progressively bigger in features (holds "8 million songs and every picture ever taken") and smaller in size, until arriving at the "Invisa," the iPod you couldn't actually see. When the real Steve pulled the new Pod from his jean's pocket, I actually gasped. An entire iPod reduced to little more than the click wheel on the original Shuffle. It's basically a metal matchbook that holds 240 songs! And at only $79, it's almost a stocking stuffer price, the kind of price point that makes you think about maybe getting a second iPod just because. You could get one of these and wear it as a freakin' tie-tac (if you're a Suit). I can't wait to see what sorts of casemods people dream up for it.
APC BE500R Back-UPS 500VA (APC, $50 street) This isn't the sexiest present to find under your Hanukkah bush, but it's the kind of gift that the recipient will really appreciate when the lights go out and he has 10 minutes left of Lost to record, or she needs time to save all of her precious work docs before sparking up the hurricane lanterns. We have these back-UPS all over the house, in the Street Tech office, and on our media center. At only $50, it's not that much more money than a really good surge suppressor. I just replaced the battery in one of my APC UPS. I got it on Froogle for $14. Installed in half a minute. No tools.
Kensington 33185 Digital FM Transmitter for iPod (Kensington, $50 street) I reviewed this highly-recommended wireless iPod car stereo solution on the Federated Media Holiday Gadget Guide. Here's a snippet:
"Having lived with the 33185 Transmitter for a while now, and gone on several long trips with it, I can tell you that it's worth every penny. It's easy to use, doesn't require a lot of frequency-finding, and when you do lock onto a frequency, you get surprisingly decent sound. Even the best of these devices are prone to periodic bouts of static, dropouts, and this unit in particular is known for a slight case of sibilance (hissing "s" sounds), but this is a very minor quibble. Obviously, if you have a cassette deck in your car (remember those?) you'll want to use a cassette adapter with your mobile player, or better yet, if you have an Aux In, you should use that. But if neither of these options is available, then this unit is a good bet." Read my full review here.
Logitech FreePulse Wireless Heaphones (Logitech, $99) I reviewed these nifty, though expensive, wireless headphones on the Federated Media Holiday Gadget Guide. Here's a snippet:
"Armed with my new wonder toy, I've now been dancing a few songs every day and started taking a walk around my neighborhood after dinner each night: the daily exercise I could really use. Maybe it's just a passing fancy, spurred by my latest gee-whiz techotoy, but so far, I'm a true devotee of the FreePulse. As rare as it is to have an ecstatic experience with a gadget, it's equally rare to think that one might actually make you healthier, but I'm at least hoping that's the case with these headphones, which have finally made me and my music truly mobile." Read my full review here.
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Gareth Branwyn -[Friday, November 24, 2006]