Tech Toys for the Late Holiday Shopper

Last-minute technology gifts can make you smarter, lighter, happier and more blissful via excellent sound. We asked some techie friends for recommendations. And surprise -- none of their choices starts with an "i."

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  • Jawbone Jambox Speakers

    Remember when you had to figure out how to get those speaker wires across the room? Not an issue when you buy the Jambox speakers. They’re colorful, deliver good sound — and connect wirelessly to your iPhone or computer. The Jambox also doubles as a speakerphone, making a conference call a lot easier to manage. Any of four colors for $199.99 at Amazon.com.

     

    Captions by Joel Dreyfuss and Karen Grigsby Bates

  • Beats by Dr. Dre

    Over-the-ear headphones are back in a big way. The sound the BeatsPro headphones deliver — and their ability to shut out outside noise — just can’t be matched by buds, no matter how good. In this case, producing legend Dr. Dre collaborated with Monster in developing this very cool-looking option. These phones come in black or white, and yes, they sound really, really good. They list for $299.95 at Amazon.com.

  • Urbanears Plattan

    OK, so you don’t want to spend that much on a headset. Urbanears offers a less pricey option in its Plattan line. These headphones sound good, and the makers realize that listening to your music on-the-go can be a fashion statement. The Plattan line comes in 14 luscious colors, from plum to pink. And at only $59.99 a pair at Amazon.com, it may be worth picking up several to make sure they always match your outfits.

  • Slingbox Pro-HD

    Mario Armstrong, who comments about tech on cable’s CNBC and other places, loves the Slingbox, a slick little box that forwards programs from your TV set to your laptop — in full HD — wherever you are. Says Armstrong, “I can take the home theater with me at no extra fees wherever I travel — can’t miss my Ravens games when on the road.” You can also record programs remotely for viewing later, especially if you’re in a different time zone. Slingbox will cost you $299.99 at Amazon.com.

  • Canon PowerShot S95

    Canon consistently wins raves for the quality of the photos its digital cameras deliver. Maybe it’s not surprising, since, unlike a lot of usurpers, the company has been in the camera business for 79 years. The Root‘s tech editor, Omar Wasow, likes the S95. The little black box may not wow anyone with its styling, but hey, do you want to look good taking pictures, or just take good pictures? The S95 sells for $399 at Amazon.com.

  • Fitbit Wireless Personal Trainer

    After the holidays, you’ll probably try to keep that New Year’s resolution to lose weight. The Fitbit is a high-tech pedometer that can help. Stick it in a pocket and it tracks how many steps you’ve taken, calculates how many calories you’ve used — even how well you’ve slept — and dumps the daily tally into a database when you come within range of your computer. Fitbit will cost you $99.99 to $149.99, depending on the vendor.

  • Parrot AR.Drone Quadricopter

    The company calls it a flying video game, and that’s not far off the mark. Mario Armstrong says it’s “for the tech kid in all of us!” Unlike the toy helicopters of your childhood, this one comes with four rotors and two video cameras that broadcast wirelessly what they see. You pilot this nifty toy-tool by tilting your iPhone. Priced at $299.99 at Amazon.com.

  • Etymotic Research ER-4P

    Those white buds that came with your iPhone or iPod may make you look as if you’re in an Apple ad, but their sound is pretty mediocre. Etymotic’s buds will elevate your life track to audiophile quality. Etymotic delivers what the experts call “flat” response — as close to natural as possible. No booming basses, no screeching violins (unless the violinist screeches, of course), but you can hear that guitar string scrape and feel the vibration of the drum. Ahh, yes — they cost $299.99 at Amazon.com.

  • MimoBot USB Flash Drives

    Flash drives long ago replaced floppy disks for carrying data around, but it’s only in the last few years that manufacturers realized thumb drives didn’t have to look ordinary — or alike. Mimoco has more than 40 “designer” drives, from Star Wars characters to Hello Kitty. Sure, the kids will love them, but the cute characters can help grown-ups remember what is stored on which drive. The price range is $30 to $60, depending on capacity.

  • Philips GoLite Blu

    Expecting to feel a little down after the holidays or as winter stretches on? Philips, the Dutch electronics giant, makes lots of medical devices. The Root‘s techie Omar Wasow flagged the GoLite Blu, which has actually been clinically proven to fight seasonal affective disorder (yes, SAD), brought on by winter gloom and lack of sunshine. Lists for $199.99 at Amazon.com.

  • Microsoft Kinect

    The guys up in Redmond, Wash., don’t often leave the tech world gaping. Microsoft products tend to be solid, safe and very me-too. Take the Xbox. It had good success but never managed to match the buzz of Nintendo’s Wii and its wireless controller. Now Microsoft has done Wii one better: no controller at all. The hot-selling Kinect has 3-D motion sensors that read your body movements and interpret them for the video game you’re playing — no controller, no wand. If you’re playing baseball, you just pretend to swing or throw! Oh, and you need an Xbox to hook it up. $149.99 at Amazon.com.

  • Amazon Kindle

    The Root contributor Karen Grigsby Bates has been playing with the latest e-books. She says the third and newest model of Amazon’s Kindle is smaller, lighter and cheaper than ever. The price for the base model is $139 with Wi-Fi. An extra $50 gets you a free 3G connection, which is great when Wi-Fi service is iffy. Pros: Feather-light; runs for days without having to recharge (with Wi-Fi turned off until you need it); gives you access to Amazon.com’s huge library of books. Cons: You can buy books only through Amazon; balky Web browser.

  • Barnes & Noble NookColor

    After a very rocky start last year, says contributor Karen Grigsby Bates, Barnes & Noble finally got the Nook right: The new NookColor has a beautiful, backlit, color touch screen with sharp pictures and crisp text. Unlike the iPad, the NookColor has an anti-glare screen — and a very decent Web browser. More than an e-reader, but slightly less than a tablet computer. Pros: Touch screen, great color, MP3 capability, extra storage. Cons: Significantly heavier than the Kindle; all that color sucks up battery life — eight hours and it’s time to recharge; and a higher price of $249 at the B&N store.

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