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Tech Gift Guide: Quick ideas for everyone

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As we close in on the prime holiday shopping season, everyone is wracking their brains trying to figure what, exactly to get for the special people in their lives. Here are some ideas to get you started:

For the reader: The Amazon Kindle Fire is probably the hottest gift on the horizon for those who love to read, and at $199 it’s not too hard on the wallet either. The Fire will straddle the line between tablet and e-reader, giving you access to all of the Kindle’s features plus video and music.

One caveat, however, is that the LCD screen won’t be quite as great in direct sunlight as the versions with e-ink readers. Other options you might consider include the lower-end Kindles, which start at $79, or the Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch, which is a $99 touch screen e-ink reader that’s easy to use and has a great selection of titles. Barnes and Noble also recently revealed a revamped Nook Color, which runs Google’s Android operating system for $139 and the $249 Nook Tablet. The tablet is geared more heavily at bibliophiles who may want to use their tablets for video and e-mail as well, but will lack access to the full media ecosystem that Amazon offers.

These are great options for news junkies as well, and it’s a breeze to throw in subscriptions to several publications (yes, including The Washington Post) onto most e-readers.

For the gamer: My favorite new gaming gadget is Sony’s PlayStation bluetooth wireless headphones, which offer surround sound and a built-in microphone for voice chat. They should also work for video and voice chats on your PC, if you plug its receiver into your computer. The sound quality probably isn’t enough for true audiophiles, but the surround sound adds depth to gameplay and the mic is great for in-game chat.

If you’re looking for a grander gesture but don’t know quite what game to buy for your armchair warrior, you can get them a subscription to GameFly, the Netflix-like service for video games. Players can set up queues of their most-wanted titles to try, and GameFly will send them as they become available.

For the traveler: For the tech-minded family member who’s always on the go, a fun gadget that comes in handy more than you'd imagine is the roll-up keyboard. There are quite a few models out there, but Brookstone has a Bluetooth version at its store that will save you a USB port. Made of silicone and designed to work with the iPad as well as Android, Mac and Windows platforms, this rechargeable gadget is a cinch to tote around for quick e-mails to accompany travel pictures. It’s not a high-performance keyboard — you may need to slow down the typing, but it’s easy to stash and easy to clean.

But you may want to hold off for just a little while on the go-to gadget for the traveler in your life and wrap up your prettiest IOU instead. A great gift for travelers who like to capture casual snaps is headed to the market in the form of the Lytro light field camera, which will let you refocus your pictures long after you’ve taken them. The Lytro will set you back at least $400, but lets you get more out of every photo.

For the homebody: A subscription to a streaming video service is a great gift for those who like quiet nights in, particularly now that there are so many ways to take videos from your computer to your television. Hulu Plus and Netflix will stream to the Xbox and the PlayStation and start at $7.99 per month. You can also, of course, watch on a variety of tablets. Sure, you can watch Hulu for free on your computer, but paying up grants your friends the option to access more content and liberate their favorite shows from their Mac or PC.

If you want to take the living room to another level, consider set-top boxes and integrated TVs. These systems aren’t perfect, but might be worth looking at for tech-minded multimedia junkies who don’t mind evolving with their devices. Apple TV is an easy way to centralize your techy life into your living room, while Google TV has been making strides to improve its services by including more Android apps. The Apple version is a set-top box that only needs an HDMI cord and a wall outlet to work; Google’s version will work with your cable provider and requires either an Internet-connected TV or a separate box and keyboard.

Connected TVs aren’t really my thing, but if I had to choose I’d say that Apple TV, which costs just $99 and doesn’t require a cable subscription is the better option. Google TV has had some trouble taking off because of clunky user interfaces, though it works well for watching Internet TV on the big screen — thanks to YouTube — and for web browsing.

One caveat: both of these products seem to have their best times ahead of them, but not by this year’s holidays. You could wait for the vaporware that is Apple’s iTV, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to launch by this Christmas. Google, meanwhile, is trying to gain traction in the space and is reportedly in talks with cable and telecom companies to launch a pilot offer for paid cable-TV services, The Wall Street Journal reported.

You can also take a look at the Roku line, which offers streaming video and has a deluxe model with some, limited, gaming capabilities.

For the tech geek: Tech geeks are hard to shop for because you never know exactly which gadget they want or need for their next project. That’s where the tech site Newegg comes in: the site sells computers, computer parts and software on the cheap and is a likely bookmark for any do-it-yourself tech geek. It may be worth getting the certificate now and finding a smaller stocking stuffer to unwrap on Christmas day — the site is having a “Black November sale” that will give customers the most bang for their buck.

On the cheaper side, it’s hard to think of a geek who’d turn down a nice USB hub. You can get them in a ton of interesting styles from the super nerdy to the design-driven, and it will almost certainly be a welcome gift for anyone with just a few too many gadgets to juggle.

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