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Cool Stuff: Your 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

18 economical, expensive, and just plain weird tech gifts for your friends and family

By Computerworld staff
November 21, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The holidays can be stressful even in the best of times, but this year's dismal economic climate is bringing new headaches. Not only do we have to grapple with the usual questions about what to buy for whom ("Should I get an iPod case for Aunt Mabel? Wait, no, I got her one last year..."), we also have to look for ways to cut expenses.

That's why we've done something a bit different in our 2008 Cool Stuff Holiday Gift Guide. As usual, the staff at Computerworld looked for cool, fun and useful gadgets for home and office computing, for entertainment at home or when you're on the go, and for when you're traveling and taking photographs. But this time, we offer three specific suggestions within each category.

For those of you who have a lot of gifts to buy, we present our "On a Budget" choices -- gadgets that cost under $50 (some way under $50) but will still please the techies among your friends and relations.

If you're one of the lucky ones who can count on a big bonus or a golden parachute (or perhaps you're planning to buy just one big gift for the whole family this year), we've got suggestions that are, monetarily speaking, "Over the Top."

And finally, if you're just looking for something so weird that nobody else would think of it, take a look at our "Off the Wall" ideas.

As always, we've included links to Web sites where you can find more information about each of the products listed, as well as estimates of how much you can expect to pay for each online. Keep in mind that prices do fluctuate, especially during the holiday season. Happy clicking!


Mobile entertainment

It's great that you can carry your media with you everywhere -- but that's not enough. You want to be able to listen to it comfortably, watch it without squinting and not have to worry about when your battery will conk out. Here are three portable gadgets that will make sure your music won't die -- no matter where you are.

On a Budget: Acoustibuds

There are two kinds of people on your gift list: those who are fussy about the earbuds they use with their portable players, and those who aren't. Give the fussy ones Acoustibuds.

These silicone rubber adapters turn standard flat-front buds that sort of sit in your ears (like the ones that come with iPods and Zunes) into down-your-ear-canal, seal-the-exits-and-crank-up-the-party buds. The multiple circular fins on the Acoustibuds make a better seal to keep out ambient noise and improve volume and fidelity, and they hold the bud in your ear better.

They fit most flat-front earbuds and come in a package that includes two sizes (five-fin, for petite ears; and six-fin, for regular jug handles) in black or white.

And what should you get for the people who aren't fussy? Give them some Acoustibuds, too. Once they've slipped these hypoallergenic silicone jackets onto their whatever flat-front buds, they'll realize what all the fuss is about. For $13, how can you go wrong?

Acoustibuds have just hit the market and aren't available everywhere, but you can get them at Amazon.com, and they may find their way into other retail outlets in time for the holidays.

-- David DeJean

Street price: $12.99  |  Store locator  |  Phone: 231-845-5516
Summary: If you don't want to spring for premium earbuds, Acoustibuds can turn standard buds into snug-fitting, high-quality music makers.

Over the Top: InFocus IN1102 projector

Gift-giving is tough when the giftee is a media freak. These people tend to be hardware-obsessives who are way ahead of you. There's almost nothing you can give them for a reasonable amount of money that they haven't already given themselves. So do the obvious: Spend an unreasonable amount of money on something truly superb: the InFocus IN1102 projector.

InFocus IN1102 projector
InFocus IN1102 projector
Click to view larger image

InFocus has been the conference-room Cadillac of video projectors for years, and the recently released 1102 is the baby of the family. It lists for a breathtaking $1,199, but it's the real deal: 2200 lumens, 1800:1 contrast ratio, 1680 by 1050 maximum resolution, and image size from 28 inches diagonal at 3.9 feet to 304 inches at 39 feet, just in case they want to do auditorium shows. It's got necessary features like USB connectivity to laptops (PCs and Macs), wireless remote and digital keystone correction.

At 2.75 pounds and 2.5 by 8.3 by 7.1 inches, the InFocus IN1102 is not exactly pocket-size, but it will fit in a carry-on -- and give great, no-compromises media when it gets there.

-- David DeJean

Street price: $949 to $1,623  |  Tech specs  |  Phone: 800-660-0024
Summary: The InFocus IN1102 digital projector lets media fans create their own theaters wherever they travel.

Off the Wall: Eco Media Player

If you're trying to go greener with your gift-giving this year, here's something that will help: a hand-powered media player. Turn the crank on the Baylis Eco Media Player for one minute, and it will play audio for 45 minutes or video for about half that time.

Eco Media Player

Sleek is not a word you would apply to the Eco. In fact, it's a 4.5-by-2.5-by-1-inch, 6-ounce handful of clunky, mostly because of its built-in generator and crank. But it's also a big bunch of clever. It's actually a dual-power device -- its lithium-ion battery charges from USB as well as the hand-crank. There are 4GB and 8GB versions available, and both include a standard SD slot for expansion.

On the audio side, the Eco supports MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG and AAC files, and also includes an FM radio tuner. Its 220-by-176-pixel screen will display AVI and WMV files (it comes with conversion software for other formats) and photos.

This is no mere read-only device, either: The Eco records from the FM tuner, and includes a built-in microphone for recording voice memos and a line-in connector for recording from other audio sources. And beyond its media functions, it also works as a flashlight and cell phone charger. And all this is only $199.

-- David DeJean

Street price: $199  |  Tech specs  |  Store locator
Summary: You can literally crank out your mobile media with this eco-friendly player.


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