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Gadgets for the stocking
By Nick Burklow

The holiday season is here. It's time for food, family and giving.

While I love good food and family, the text that follows is going to focus on giving. Giving to loved ones during the holiday season can be a rewarding experience. Putting big presents under the tree for them to ponder over is a fun and playful form of torture that most enjoy. My personal favorites, though, are the stockings.

I love coming down on Christmas morning to see them hanging there, stuffed with little trinkets. Candy is always good - so are die cast cars - but the items that follow, and I think you will agree, are sure to impress.

iPod Touch
Apple has recently put out its third-generation iPod Touch (I beg you, please stop calling it the iTouch; it's just wrong). It's using the same updated processor that you will find in the iPhone 3GS, which gives it the horsepower to run OpenGL 2.0 graphics. This makes for a great handheld gaming experience. Combine the iPod Touch's built in WiFi with mobile Safari and you can view the Web in its (mostly) true version. And let's not forget that it functions as a PDA as well.

With the ever-growing number of apps in the App Store, the functionality and entertainment possibilities of the iPod Touch continue to expand and you don't have to lift a finger. Well, maybe just one to purchase the apps. Those apps are available via the iTunes store, and you will have to use iTunes to manage your media on your computer in order to sync your device. The iPod Touch has a 3.5-inch multi-touch display, and comes in 32GB ($299) and 64GB ($399) flavors. Battery life is approximately 30 hours for audio playback and six hours for video. Get all the details at apple.com/ipodtouch.

Zune HD
Microsoft has a music player, too. And, it's on its third iteration. It's called the Zune HD, and it rocks - hard! Microsoft went all out with the new Zune HD and decided to give it the awesome new NVIDIA Tegra HD video playback engine. It has the inclusion of WiFi as well, a Web browser (this one needs a little work, though), and a 3.3-inch OLED touch screen that looks gorgeous. The HD radio tuner is a nice addition as well.

The Zune HD has a few apps, including a calculator, weather and a few games such as Texas Hold 'em and Sudoku. There is more to come on this front, according to Microsoft. Battery life is great, running 33 hours for music playback and 8.5 hours for video. Two options are available, running you $219 for the 16GB version and $289 for the 32GB version. Zune desktop software is PC only and is required to sync the device. You can also purchase a Zune pass for $14.99 per month for unlimited access to more than a million songs in the Zune marketplace. Zune.net has the rest of what you want to know.

The back-up plans
Batteries and flash memory are two things you can't have enough of these days. Both make great stocking stuffers, too. Plus, if done right, you can foreshadow a larger gift.

If you're giving batteries in the stocking, go for the rechargeables. Energizer sells a battery charger that will hold up to four AA or AAA batteries at once, and charge them in about 15 minutes. It will set you back about $30. Packs of AA and AAA batteries will run you in the neighborhood of $10 at Target. They may be a little more expensive up front, but their reusability and the fact that they are better for the environment make it worthwhile.

Flash memory is found in so many devices these days. Camcorders are using it in favor of tapes; every digital camera takes some sort of memory card, and heck, even most cell phones have a slot for a memory card to hold digital music and photos. Flash memory isn't limited to cards, either. USB flash drives are also great options. Flash storage in general has come down in price so much that it's sort of a no-brainer as a great Christmas stocking stuffer. When buying flash storage, try to stay away from the super-cheap "too good to be true" products. Brand names like SanDisk and Kingston can be had on the cheap and will last longer. Buy the largest size you can afford. If it's for a high-end digital camera or camcorder, I always splurge for the card with the faster read/write speed. They are the ones that say things like "extreme" or "ultra III" on them. There seem to be a million and one different types of flash cards these days. Make sure to check the manufacturer's specifications so you buy the right type.

Accessories
Laptop accessories can be a welcome addition to the stocking as well.

First up is the Logitech Webcam C905 for notebooks. It has a handy little latch that clips on to the top of your screen so you're always in frame. To help you look your best, it has a two-megapixel sensor, Carl Zeiss optics and Rightlight 2 technology. Logitech has a list price of $99 for this little guy. It truly is a great way to stay in touch with your loved ones when they're away from home.

Lastly, we have Logitech's Anywhere Mouse MX. This is the 4x4 of portable computer mice. It has a minuscule leave-in receiver, a compact ergonomic design, hyper-fast scrolling, and best of all, it uses Darkfield Laser Tracking. Like Cinderella's midnight reversal, standard optical and laser mice fail on glass and other semi-transparent or super-shiny surfaces. But the Darkfield Laser Tracking-equipped Anywhere Mouse MX works on all the above, as its name might suggest. It also provides extremely accurate cursor control. You can provide one for your laptop-loving friend or family member for $79.99.

That pretty much sums up my dream list of stocking stuffers. Unless you want to throw in the keys to a BMW M5 that is. The keys will fit; the car you will just have to leave in the garage.

 

Story published Friday, December 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 7 )

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