Tech Gift Guide (San Diego Transcript)

Here’s my yearly assortment of tech gadgets that all make great gifts for this holiday season.  Many of these products are new this year so it’s unlikely you’ll be giving something your recipient already has. I’d also encourage you to look back over the past year’s columns for other products that reviewed well.

$10 to $50

Vinturi Wine Aerator –Vinturi of nearby Carlsbad, CA created the category of wine aeration and continues to lead with ingenious products.  They’re beautifully designed and constructed, and work by aerating Images the wine as it’s poured through the device, one glass at a time. As the wine flows through a small channel, it creates a pressure differential that sucks in and mixes air into the stream. In my tests I found that it reduced the harshness of younger and less expensive wines and opened up the bouquet, creating the same results in a few seconds that normally would take an hour or more of the wine sitting in a glass. If you’re still skeptical, the Vinturi products have been broadly accepted and recommended by wineries, wine retailers and experts.

 This year the company introduced a new smaller version for traveling. The Vinturi Travel is 5 1/2 inches tall, weighs four ounces and comes with a hard case for travel. $50. Vinturi.com.

OpenIt – If you give this as a gift, be sure to write “open me first” on the package. It’s a tool designed to open packages of all kinds. It snips open plastic clamshells with its pliers-like jaws, slices rugged cardboard with its retractable knife, and opens battery compartments with its screwdrivers. $12.  enjoyzibra.com.

 The Master Lock 1500iD speed dial is a reinvention and a vast improvement to the combination Images lock. Instead of a rotating knob with numbers, it opens on directional movements of a similar looking knob, moving it up, down, left and right in a particular sequence. That makes it faster to open; it works in the dark and you can set your own combination. About $10.

 

 

$51 to $150

Media Players  – Apple TV, Roku and WD Live are small boxes that plug into your TV and stream Netflix and other content to your set, bypassing your cable company. Each of these products is simple to set up and use. Roku ($60 to $100) and  WD TV Live Hub Media Center ( $130) offer the broadest range of content. AppleTV ($100) also works with iTunes. If you’re tired of cable fare and want to control what you watch, each of these products is sure to satisfy. (apple.com, roku.com, wdc.com)


The MoGo Talk XD is an iPhone 4 case and a matching Bluetooth headset. The ultra-thin headset snaps into the back of the case so you’re less likely to lose it. The headset worked OK, with similar performance to mid-priced models. When the headset is stored, it’s charged at the same time the phone is charged. $100. mogostore.com.

Here are two excellent new charging products.

Tekkeon myPower for iPhone 4 is the latest and most refined of the add-on battery cases for the iPhone 4. It’s slimmer than any of its competition, yet has a large enough battery to double the run time between charges. Its design takes pains to protect the back glass surface, a known iPhone 4 vulnerability with slide-on cases. $80 from tekkeon.com.

IDAPT I4 is an innovative charging solution that can charge up to four mobile devices simultaneously including the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Bluetooth products and most anything with a micro or mini USB connector. It provides a way to charge all of your devices while eliminating the tangle of wires.

It’s a flat platform with three snap-in modules that provide a direct connection to your device. Simply plug your device directly onto the connector extending up from the modules. An additional USB connector on the side allows you to charge one large item such as an iPad. I use it to charge an iPhone, Droid and headphone all at once. $60. (idaptweb.com).

 

$151 to $300

The Phosphor Curved E-Ink Watch is an ultra modern digital watch with a curved case with an E-ink display that wraps around the wrist. It’s just 9.3mm thick, provides the time for 24 time zones, displaying two at once, and can be set to display white numerals on black, or black on white. About $160 from phosphorwatches.com.

The Checkpoint Flyer Briefcase from Tom Bihn is one of the most unusual and flexible computer case designs I’ve seen. It’s like two cases in one. There’s a protective neoprene computer case that fits on the underside of a two-panel briefcase. The case can pass through security by unfolding the neoprene case without removing the computer. The main case is soft and flexible rather than structured, so it stays slim when not fully packed and expands as it’s filled up. The pocket layout is intelligently designed to accommodate everything from magazines to tickets to chargers and pens. The case is made by hand in Seattle and is offered in a variety of colors and sizes to fit most computers. $220. tombihn.com.

Windows 7 Mobile Smartphones – I’ve been trying the HTC Surround from AT&T, one of the many new Windows phones, and I like it a lot. (The Surround is named for its slide-up speakers that provide improved sound.)  The unique interface makes it easy to access what’s most important  to you from the front screen and eliminates the clutter of icons found on other smartphones. Small windows appear alerting you to new mail, Facebook messages and other timely information. The browser works well and the integration with you're your social sites is excellent. I particularly like the large fonts and animated screens.  While Microsoft has a ways to go to catch up with apps available for Android and the iPhone, it’s very impressive and a worthy contender that should only get better. 

 

Sangean PR-D8 AM/FM Radio-MP3 Player/Recorder from C. Crane is an attractive and Images powerful AM/FM radio with good sound and a built-in MP3 player and recorder. It’s one of the first radios that’s able to record AM into an MP3 format using SD cards, a problem made difficult due to interference from the AM circuitry. You can set a timer and record your favorite programs, much like a TiVo. You can also record from other devices such as a turntable by using the input jack, and can record directly using its built in mics.  It runs on batteries or the included AC adapter. While portable, it makes a great bedside clock radio. $170. Ccrane.com.

 

Livescribe Echo Pen – New this year is the Echo pen that lets you digitize your notes as well as record and play back important meetings and lectures.  This new version is lighter, easier to hold and simpler  to connect to your computer to save your information. $170.

 

$300 to $600

Compact Enthusiast Cameras – Among the latest cameras, the previously reviewed Canon PowerShot S95 and the new Lumix L5 that I’ve been trying this past week both take exceptional images for such small cameras. The S95 is the smaller and less expensive at $399, while the Lumix is $499 and provides more customization of the settings. The L5 is Lumix’s best compact camera, and I found it to be slightly improved from its predecessor, the L3.

Apple iPad – This year’s most desirable gift is the Apple iPad. It’s one of the few products, like a television, that provides entertainment for the entire family. My grandsons love the games, including Simon and 300 Bowl, and are glued watching episodes of Sesame Street and Little Einsteins their parents buy from iTunes.  The only difficulty they have using it is tearing it away from their dad playing Angry Birds. You can download movies from Netflix, use it for reading and writing e-mail or surf the Web. And surprisingly, it’s endured the rough abuse of a two-year-old. Prices range from $499 to more than $600. The $499 model is fine for most if you can access WiFi and don’t use the iPad to store huge video, photo and music collections.

 

Over $600

Flat HDTVs – Each year there’s no better time than to buy a flat screen TV, and this year it’s still a truism.  Look for LCD models in the 42-inch and smaller size screens and plasma models for the larger screens. I prefer the major brands such as Panasonic, Samsung, Vizio, Toshiba, Sharp and Sony and recommend stores such as Costco that have the most liberal return policies. It’s easy to find a top quality model for $700-$1,100. Look for 1080p resolution and don’t pay extra for a thinner model unless you plan on hanging it on a wall.

Pentax K-5 DSLR – I’m in the midst of testing the just-released K-5 DSLR from Pentax and from Images my results, I can recommend this as one of the best mid-price cameras, mid-price being between the entry-level models at $600 and the huge pro models at close to $3,000. It has a phenomenal new sensor made by Sony that lets you shoot great quality images at ISO settings of 3200 and even higher. That expands the opportunities for ambient light images beyond previous generation models. $1,600 for the body. pentaximaging.com.

Vibiemme Domobar Super HX  Espresso Machine – If you find you’re spending too much time and money stopping for your daily fix of espresso or cappuccino, you have more choices than ever to make one at home. I’ve tried many of the fully automatic grinders/espresso devices and single cup devices, but have not been able to match the results from the Vibiemme Domobar Super HX. I reviewed it when it first came out several years ago, liked it so much I bought one – a hazard of this job – and over the intervening time it’s proved very reliable and continues to make great espressos and cappuccinos. It has many of the same features of machines costing three times more, and beats what you’ll get at most coffee houses. $1,700. (1st-line.com).