Cool Stuff: Your 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

All the best technology gifts to give (and get) this holiday season

Stumped on what to get the technology lovers on your list? Our Cool Stuff holiday gift guide can help with recommendations on the best in flat-screen TVs, digital cameras, smart phones and more.

Computerworld writers and editors selected their top picks in areas that would appeal to tech people who are on the go, at the office or at home and ready to enjoy the best in digital music and video. There are gifts for the gamer, the audiophile, the gadget buff and the technology fashionista.

Find the perfect gift for the tech lovers in your life -- or discover something to get for yourself. From digital musical players and headsets to computers and cool accessories, our guide helps you make the right choice and provides links for buying online. (A word to the wise: Be sure to use online retailers you know and trust.)

Let the "ooohs" and "aaahs" begin.

On-the-Move Music/Video

For the true music or movie lover, nothing but the best will do. Here's the cream of the crop in portable audio and video, with a pair of amazing earphones thrown in for good measure.

Personal audio player: iPod Nano

Despite increasing competition, the recently updated iPod Nano remains the most elegantly designed, fun-to-use audio player. The Nano is a marvel of miniaturization at roughly 1.5 in. wide, 3.5 in. high, less than a third of an inch thick and weighing well under 2 oz. Navigating with the iPod's oft-imitated click-wheel is intuitive, and sound quality is top rate.

The Nano ranges in price from around $143 to $249, and its storage capacity now ranges from 2GB to 8GB (gone is the original 1GB model). Another notable change is the gorgeous new burnished aluminum case, which comes in a variety of colors. The still smallish 1.5-in. display is brighter than before, and battery life is longer -- Apple claims 24 hours between charges.

The sleek and stylish iPod Nano. Courtesy of Apple Computer.

The sleek and stylish iPod Nano.

Courtesy of Apple Computer.

It might not be the most feature-complete audio player out there, but for sheer sex appeal, nothing can touch the iPod Nano. (product details)

Honorable mention: If you're looking for a few more features in a music player, SanDisk's Sansa e200 series ($99 to $250) is worth a look. The Sansa e200s are tiny, highly competent and far more attractive than any other non-iPod audio devices we've seen.

The Sansa's 1.8-in. screen is bigger than the nano's, if not as bright. Its sound quality is about equal and, like the new Nanos, built-in capacity ranges from 2GB to 8GB. However, unlike Apple, SanDisk added an FM tuner, a Micro SD slot for additional storage and a replaceable battery. The e200 also goes beyond Apple's iTunes to work with other music stores. (product details)

—David Haskin

Personal video player: Archos 604 WiFi

When it comes to portable video players, Apple Computer is snoozing and losing, for the moment, to relatively unheralded Archos. While users wait for Apple to release its long-rumored big-screen video iPod, the new Archos 604 WiFi is the best way to watch video, listen to music, look at still images and browse the Web while you're mobile.

Forget iPod and Zune. The Archos 604 WiFi is the top of the media player heap. Courtesy of Archos.
Forget iPod and Zune. The Archos 604 WiFi is the top of the media player heap. Courtesy of Archos.

The heart of the $450 device is its bright and sharp 4.3-in., 480-by-272-pixel touch screen. Its audio playback quality is also top-notch, but what makes this device unique is its Wi-Fi connectivity. (Don't talk to us about Microsoft's Zune player: It can use Wi-Fi only to connect to other Zunes, not to a wireless network.)

The 604's Wi-Fi worked right out of the box, finding our home network and connecting seamlessly. Surfing is via a built-in tabbed browser from Opera. The 604 WiFi has a Windows Explorer-like file management application, enabling you to use the wireless connection to find other computers on the network and transfer files from those computers.

At 9.3 oz. and roughly the size of a first-generation Palm Pilot, this device isn't as pocketable as flash-based audio players, but it's still small enough to tuck comfortably into a briefcase or purse. And its 30GB storage ensures hours of on-the-go entertainment. (product details)

—David Haskin

Music headphones: Shure E500PTH Sound Isolating Earphones

Over the years, we've become enamored with Shure's Ec series of headphones. They seal the ear so outside noise is drastically reduced and allow you to play music at a low volume and still hear everything. Then we found Shure's E500 earphones and were utterly blown away.

Incredibly, each headphone has three -- yes, three -- mini speakers, just like a great pair of stereo speakers. The frequency response goes all the way down to 19 Hz, so when listening to the cannons in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture or the TR-808 drumming machine in Outkast's I Like the Way You Move, there is no muffling or muting of the bass, just pure ecstatic rumble.

Treat your ears to the amazing E500 earphones. Courtesy of Shure.
Treat your ears to the amazing E500 earphones. Courtesy of Shure.

Shure has included a control called Push to Hear, which activates a switchable microphone that lets you hear what someone is saying without having to take out the earphones. That's very handy if, for example, you listen to music while riding the subway and need to occasionally converse with someone.

If you know someone who loves music, the Ec series is excellent, but the E500s (around $500) are the ultimate headphones -- the perfect gift to complement a portable audio or video player. (product details)

—Yuval Kossovsky

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