The Multimedia Junkie
Chauncey, a thirtysomething guy who knows how to combine his twin passions for music and technology, is listening to music in his kitchen on a recent fall evening. The music is parked on a computer in the basement, which is connected wirelessly to a laptop in the living room, which is plugged into his stereo, which is wired to speakers in his kitchen.
Chauncey's renovated townhouse on Capitol Hill is decorated with framed album covers and concert posters of the Beatles and Miles Davis. When he's out and about, he can access and listen to music from his 180-gigabyte music collection on his WiFi-connected handheld computer anywhere he can find wireless Internet access.
There are six computers parked around the place, though some of them are pretty obsolete, he says - old gear doesn't get thrown out; it gets repurposed as a storage device or as a spare CD burner. Chauncey doesn't buy the latest flashy gizmo; in other words, he's more a guy who likes to get every last bit of functionality out of the toys he already owns.
For all his gadgets, Chauncey admits that he might be evidence that people tend to specialize when it comes to their tech toys. Though he knows everything about streaming media wirelessly across his home, he's in the market for a new digital camera but isn't sure which one to get.
He's also tempted to get a TiVo, but he prefers to wait until shows he's interested in come out on DVD so he can check them out from Netflix.
With a new baby in the family, a better purchase might be a digital camera or digital camcorder.
Gift suggestions for the multimedia junkie on your list
$ iTunes gift card - Apple's iTunes Music Store (available on both Windows and Mac computers) is easy to use and includes a large selection of songs at 99 cents each. Cards are available in Apple stores or online at www.apple.com. Also consider gift cards or subscriptions from Napster, Rhapsody and others.
$$ Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Notebook card - The card plugs into the side PCI port in a laptop to deliver high-quality sound. Plug speakers or headphones into the card for a great movie-watching, game-playing, music-listening experience. $99. Also consider: Thumb drive - These miniature USB drives, which come in many shapes, colors and brands, are fast replacing floppy disks as a way to move documents, music, photos and more from one computer to another. A onegigabyte drive, which plugs into a USB port, holds about as much data as about 70 floppy disks. $60 and up.
$$$ DVD recorder with TiVo - Never miss an important show with TiVo. Better yet, burn that show to a blank DVD and watch it on the bedroom TV, on the car's built-in DVD system or on a portable player during a crosscountry flight. $299.
$$$$ Digital camera - The prices are down, the resolutions are up and the choices are plentiful. Hobbyists should look for three megapixel or better. $300 and up. Also consider: a digital camcorder. Tapes are being replaced with small recordable DVDs for quick camcorder-to-DVD-player viewing. $500 and up.
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She's an honor roll fourth-grader who likes swimming and gymnastics.
When Aneya is online, she likes to visit educational, kid-oriented sites such as FunBrain.com or interactive entertainment sites such as Disney-Channel.com and Nickelodeon.com. Apart from those kid-safe areas, she sometimes likes to shop for shoes on Zappos.com.
The Dixon family computer, an old eMachines desktop running Windows 98, is parked in Aneya's room, though mom Tonya uses it when she needs to get online for some classes. Not all of the programs that family members need are compatible with the older Windows 98 software, so they have been thinking about getting a new computer with wireless access.
Aneya's father got her a Nintendo DS last Christmas, but she only started to use the gaming device in the past few months, playing with titles such as Lizzie McGuire: On the Go. Her father also got her a PlayStation 2, which she mostly plays when she has friends over. She prefers driving games and even has a steering wheel that hooks into the system.
Aneya is angling for a cell phone this year - many of her friends at school have one - but her mom isn't on board with that plan.
"I don't agree with cell phones at her age," says Tonya, who is amazed at how savvy kids are about what's cool when it comes to cell phones. Still, she says, she's not having that discussion. "We don't make purchases just because something's the new thing."
Gift suggestions for the grade-schooler on your list
$ I-Dog - It's one of the most talked-about toys this season. Hasbro's I-Dog is a fun, yet inexpensive, electronic "pet" that doubles as a speaker for any portable music player. Lights on the dog's face blink, and the ears and head move to the beat of the music. It also barks when it needs attention and whimpers when it's being ignored. $30
$$ Fly Pentop Computer - It looks like a pen but functions as a computer of sorts. Create and play music or do math homework with a pen that will amaze you. Visit www.flypentop.com for a great interactive demo. $99. Also consider: the Game Boy Advance, the handheld gaming device that has a long list of games appropriate for all ages. $80.
$$$ Firefly - The Firefly is a working cell
phone that calls - and receives calls from - numbers pre-programmed by parents. The phone itself is $99, and minutes are $10 for 40 minutes, $25 for 100 minutes and $50 for 200 minutes. Visit www.fireflymobile.com to learn more. Also consider: the iPod Shuffle, a flash-memory iPod that stores 512 megabytes ($99) or one gigabyte ($129) of music on a device no bigger than a pack of chewing gum.
$$$$ Desktop computer - With prices the way they are and so many people leaning toward laptops, a topnotch desktop PC with several years of use ahead of it can be found at a bargain price. The eMachines model T6524, for example, comes with 200 gigabytes of hard drive space and Windows Media Center Edition 2005 - all for $600.
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Visitors sometimes get a warning when entering the downstairs gamer's cove at the Bonds house: "If you can't hang, you get demoted."
That is to say, if you can't hold your own while playing the latest Xbox or PlayStation 2 games on the Bondses' jumbo set in the basement, you'll get booted to an off-to-the-side 13-inch TV, out of the way so the big boys can play. The coffee table holds five game machines, including the PlayStation 2 to the obsolete Sega Dreamcast.
Nicholas is interested in "all things electronic." He carries an iPod Shuffle and a digital camera. He's hoping to get a PlayStation Portable for Christmas this year, but he also has a list of alternative and equally expensive gadgets if that doesn't work out.
He and his father used to build computers and sell them to friends and family members in the area; the hobby once paid for a family trip to Orlando - and when they took that vacation, they brought a game console with them. The computers they didn't sell have ended up as table stands in the family's home theater in their Clinton home.
Nicholas wants the latest video-game console, the Xbox 360, mainly because it will play the next version of the game Halo, even though Microsoft hasn't announced a release date for the next sequel of the bestselling video game.
His father, Kevin, advises him not to hold his breath waiting on the device, which costs up to $400 - a price that doesn't include games. "I can't shop for him anymore," he shrugs. "I created a monster."
Gift suggestions for the teenager on your list
$ Xingtone ringtone software - The software allows users to create custom cell phone ringtones using tracks from their personal digital music libraries. $20. Visit www.xingtone.com to download the software or learn more. Also consider: Pretty much any ageappropriate video game will do. Most games for handheld and console gaming devices are in the $40 to $60 range.
$$ Turtle Beach gaming headsets - When you're playing interactive video games against others on the Internet, why compromise the sounds of the game with the conversation of the gamers? Have both with high-end headsets designed for the interactive gamer. $80.
$$$iPod Nano - The ultra-popular, thin-as-a-pencil music player holds two gigabytes ($199) or four gigabytes ($249) of music. Also consider: the Sidekick II, a "smart phone" with service by T-Mobile that also plays games, surfs the Web and allows users to send and receive instant messages while on-the-go. $250 and up.
$$$$ The PlayStation Portable - The name alone tells you that this is a gaming device, but the portability and its capability to play music and video clips puts it into a new popular league. $250. Also consider: Xbox 360 - The highly anticipated, more-than-just-a-gamingconsole hits the shelves this week. $300 and $400.
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The Road Warrior
Gary, an XM Radio executive, found out his wife was pregnant via BlackBerry message. During recent business trips to New York to oversee a new commercial, he and his wife exchanged Black-Berry notes about possible names for the latest addition to their family, a boy due in April.
Yes, he's one of those Black-Berry guys, perhaps even the ultimate BlackBerry guy. He has a reputation at the office for walking the corridors, talking on his cell phone while punching away at the mobile e-mail device. He dressed up as a BlackBerry for Halloween one year. When he lost his beloved device outside XM headquarters one day, people he didn't even know at the company sent him consoling notes and offered their regrets at the in-house cafe.
When a conversation starts to drag, he finds his eyes pulling toward the device. "I look at it before I go to sleep, and it's the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning," he said.
Though he's practically attached to the gadget, Gary doesn't like technology for its own sake. "The irony is, I'm not known for being an early adopter," he said.
Gary just got a new car, an Acura that has built-in wireless Bluetooth technology that links his phone to the car's built-in speaker system. Being an XM executive, he picked a car that also has his company's satellite radio service built in. But it doesn't sound as if he has much time to listen to music, as he's on the phone for most of his commute from Potomac to XM's headquarters in Northeast Washington.
Though he loves his new ride, it's equally as important to him as a communications device: "It's the most expensive XM radio-slashcell phone speaker system you could buy," he joked.
Now, if only the system could read his e-mails to him.
Gift suggestions for the road warrior on your list
$ T-Mobile HotSpot gift cards - A quick connection to the Web can be found at almost any Starbucks via the T-Mobile WiFi HotSpot connection. A $10 one-day card (or several of them) or $20 seven-day card will come in handy for the frenzied road warrior. $$ Portable speakers - Great for the traveler, a set of portable speakers - powered by batteries, electricity or both - can enhance the hotel experience when you plug an MP3 player or laptop into a sound system that folds up to fit nicely in a suitcase. There are many brands to choose from. $50 and up. $$$Bluetooth headset - Bluetooth is a wireless technology designed for close distances, such as the phone on your hip (or in your bag) and the earpiece on the side of your face. The headsets come in many sizes and shapes (designed for comfort in your ear) and brands. From $50 to $150. $$$$ BlackBerry - The BlackBerry 7105t may look more like a phone than the traditional BlackBerry. It's both - and much
sleeker than the older versions of the e-mail device. $300. Also consider: Palm Treo 650. It's a smart phone that checks e-mail, surfs the Web, plays games, shoots pictures and video and, of course, keeps a calendar and address book handy. $250 and up.
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Nora Taylor is pretty computer literate for a grandma. She's on her fifth or sixth computer, and few 86-year-olds keep back copies of Wired magazine in their living rooms.
Though she likes to read about the cutting edge, Nora doesn't tend to spend money for the latest gadget. Her seven-year-old Compaq computer runs Windows 98, and she uses a $10-a-month dialup connection service called Blue-Light to connect to the Web.
She uses the Web to stay in touch with family members in Florida and Arizona, to run genealogy software programs and to keep up an e-mail list she administers for retired federal employees like her. More a reader than a computer user, Nora also buys books on Amazon.com and eBay; when a library book is due, she gets an e-mail reminder from the Montgomery County library system.
The best upgrade she's made to her Compaq is an optical mouse, which she recommends highly. Recently, though, her computer picked up a problem that's keeping her offline. After hours on the phone, the troubleshooters at her Internet service provider told her the machine had a hardware virus, though she wasn't sure what that meant.
The problem was almost enough to get her to upgrade, but one thing is keeping her from moving on: New computers don't have 3.5-inch floppy-disk drives, and much of the data she wants to access is on that now mostly phased-out format.
What would her next computer be? "I think I do want a laptop, but I haven't looked enough," she said. That way, maybe, she could connect wirelessly into her 17-year-old granddaughter's cablemodem connection upstairs.
Gift suggestions for the grandparent on your list
$ Customized photo book or calendar - It's low-tech for Grandma but high-tech for the gift-giver. Load those digital photos of the grandkids into a customized calendar or, better yet, create a hardcover coffee-table photo book that friends will admire. Those products and other custom photo gifts are available on the Shutterfly, Snapfish, Kodak EasyShareGallery and other Web sites. $20; Also consider: a USB floppy disk reader for access to those older files. Look for an all-in-one reader, such as the Iomega Floppy Plus 7-in-1 card reader, which will also read memory cards found in most digital cameras. $40.
$$ Zooba - It's where the book-of-the-month club meets Netflix. Members list the books they'd like to receive in the mail every month - not the ones someone else selects for you - by creating and updating a list. Visit www.zooba.com for more details. $10 per month.
$$$ XM2Go portable satellite radio - Few stations devote themselves solely to Big Band music or Frank Sinatra-era tunes from the 1950s. But XM Radio has them. And a portable player - tell Grandma it's just like a transistor radio - allows her to walk around the house while strolling down memory lane. $200; Also consider: products that operate on the competing Sirius Satellite Radio network.
$$$$ Laptop computer - A laptop computer can bring Grandma into the 21st century, but settling for the basics in a machine instead of grabbing a top-of-the-line unit will keep from breaking the bank. Take the Dell Inspiron 2200, for example. It comes with built-in WiFi, a 40-giagbyte hard drive, a CD burner and more - all for less than $700.