Cool stuff: Your 2009 holiday gift guide

Find the best HDTVs, laptops, smartphones and some surprise goodies to give this year

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Smartphones for the smart set

Currently, the two stars of the smartphone show are the Apple iPhone 3GS, the reigning champion, and the Motorola Droid, the top contender. The iPhone is, of course, the market leader, although its association with AT&T (not a favorite service with many callers) is a major drawback.

The Droid, which uses Google's Android 2.0 OS and is allied with Verizon Wireless, boasts a slightly larger display and a pull-out keyboard, but that may not be enough to win against the iPhone's ease of use and huge range of available applications.

Since your giftee is going to be paying the monthly bills (unless you're being really generous), you may want to find out which phone service they like before making a choice. Fans of other services such as T-Mobile and Sprint have some good options as well.

(Note: While we list the prices for new devices direct from the manufacturers, there are some bargains that can often be found by going through stores such as Best Buy; sometimes you can also find refurbished units for a lower price.)

Apple iPhone 3GS (AT&T -- iPhone OS)

In the same way that the MacBook Air spurred the appearance of super-thin, high-style notebooks, the Apple iPhone has led the way in smartphone design.

Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GS  (Click to view larger image)

The iPhone's bright 3.5-inch multi-touch display, 3-megapixel still/video camera, 3G/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connections and awe-inspiring Apps Store make it one of the most useful mobile tools available today. Macworld's Jason Snell writes:

Yes, the launch of the original iPhone two years ago has spurred phone development, so now some legitimate contenders are beginning to approach the iPhone in terms of functionality. Apple will need to keep innovating to keep ahead of that competition. But as of right now, the best smartphone on the planet is the iPhone 3GS. Unless you simply can't abide AT&T's service or coverage in your area, the iPhone 3GS is the best choice around. (See the full review)

Of course, if your giftee is one of those who demands the bleeding edge, you may want to hold off for a while -- rumor has it that the Apple iPhone 4G is on its way next summer.

iPhone 3GS from Apple Inc.

Price: $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB) with two-year AT&T wireless service contract

Tech specs  |  Store locator  |  Phone: 800-MY-APPLE

Summary: The iPhone made having a smartphone a lifestyle choice -- and it could be the right choice for your giftee.

Motorola Droid (Verizon Wireless -- Android OS)

While a number of smartphones have claimed to be an "iPhone killer," the first with any real claim to the title is Motorola's Droid, a 6-oz. powerhouse that offers a 3.7-in. 480 x 854 screen, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 3G/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity, GPS -- and a strong association with Google, since it uses Google's Android 2.0 operating system. (Making this the perfect phone for the Google fan.)

Motorola Droid

Motorola Droid  (Click to view larger image)

And while the Android Market doesn't yet have the huge number of apps that Apple's Apps Store boasts, it's doing its best to catch up. Computerworld's David Haskin took his Droid on the road:

Did the Droid put an end to my iPhone envy? Absolutely. Sure, there are a few things that could stand improvement. Sideloading music should be easier, particularly from a Mac. And I can't wait for the number of apps in the Android Market to grow. But it has four significant features that the iPhone can't match: built-in turn-by-turn GPS, multitasking, a superior display and a keyboard. And, like the iPhone, the Droid is powerful and elegantly intuitive to use. Better still, it's fun.

(See the full review)

For many people, the keyboard seems to be the telling factor. While some users have reported disappointment with its feel, others find it practically a necessity.

Droid from Motorola Inc.

Price: $200 ($300 minus $100 rebate) with two-year Verizon Wireless service contract

Tech specs  |  Phone: 800-256-4646 (Verizon Wireless)

Summary: Motorola's Droid may be Google's answer to Apple's iPhone -- and will be welcome to Verizon customers.

Palm Pre (Sprint -- WebOS)

Palm used to dominate the PDA market when phones were phones and PDAs were the way you checked your schedule. While the iPhone OS and Android currently have center stage, Palm's WebOS and its Palm Pre smartphone have attracted some attention as well for their ease of use and nice design.

Palm Pre

Palm Pre  (Click to view larger image)

The Pre offers a BlackBerry-like slide-out keyboard, a 3.1-in. display and some very snazzy software. It also offers the Touchstone ($70), a base that charges the phone when you just place the Pre on top of it.

Computerworld's Brian Nadel found some other advantages as well:

I love that the Touchstone doubles as a stand for either horizontal or vertical viewing of the Pre. And when the Pre is in the Touchstone base, calls are automatically set to speakerphone mode. Pick up the phone and it's changed back to handset mode. This is so convenient that I think I'll dump my clunky landline speakerphone. Unlike the iPhone's $50 dock, though, the Touchstone can't synchronize with a computer.

(See the full review)

Palm Pre from Palm Inc.

Price: $150 ($250 minus $100 rebate) with two-year Sprint wireless service contract

Tech specs  |  Phone: 800-881-7256

Summary: Palm offers Sprint users a feature-filled easy-to-use OS along with a well-designed device (and a snazzy base).

HTC Touch Pro2 (T-Mobile -- Windows Mobile)

Although you may not want to remind your friends about business during the holidays, there's nothing wrong with buying them a smartphone that will also impress their boss. The HTC Touch Pro2 is not only a great mobile phone, but it includes some features that will make the office an easier place to be.

HTC Touch Pro2

HTC Touch Pro2  (Click to view larger image)

For example, the speakerphone that comes with the Touch Pro2 has the kind of clarity and volume that you don't expect from a mobile phone -- and if you're on a call and put the phone down, it will automatically go into speaker mode. It also comes with a responsive touch screen and a comfortable slide-out keyboard. Dan Nystedt from the IDG News Service explains:

The keypad slides out from under the screen, and the screen can tilt to a nice angle for keying in messages. I was able to tap messages quickly and comfortably, despite my big thumbs, thanks to the spacious lettering on the keypad. The raised keys are spaced apart and are large for a mobile phone. They also click when you have tapped a letter so you know the letter has been typed. (See the full review)

The HTC Touch Pro2 comes loaded with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, so it will work smoothly with Microsoft Office and other apps. If you're interested in the Touch Pro2, but not in T-Mobile, it's also available through a variety of other service providers.

HTC Touch Pro2 from HTC Corp.

Price: $350 with two-year T-Mobile wireless service contract

Tech specs  |  Store locator  |  Phone: 425-679-5318

Summary: If you want to buy a solid smartphone for a Windows user who needs a business tool, the HTC Touch Pro2 is a good choice.

-- Barbara Krasnoff

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