Cool Stuff: Your 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

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

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Yak, Yak, Yak: Smart Phones and Cell Phones

C'mon, if you're going to give somebody a cell phone or smart phone as a present, make it a cool one. Here are today's hottest phones and a couple of mobile headsets that will do them justice.

Cell phone: Helio Drift

The new Helio Drift slider phone built by Samsung is all about style -- and location. Sure, it's packed with amazing features, such as a 2-megapixel camera with a built-in flash, an outstanding 2.12-in. QVGA 262,000-color display, MP3 music support and built-in 3-D games. But Google Maps and integrated GPS set the Helio Drift apart from the pack.

Google Maps on the Drift works just like the real thing. You can zoom in, pan in any direction, and view "Map" or "Satellite" views. The Drift's built-in GPS, however, makes it even more powerful. The GPS/Maps combo gives you step-by-step directions, and it lists restaurants and other services along your route, and even offers real-time traffic reports in 30 U.S. cities. A new "BuddyBeacon" service shows you where up to 25 family members, friends or co-workers are located in real time. You can turn it off whenever you want, and nobody can find you.

The Drift phone slides open to reveal its keypad. Courtesy of Helio.

The Drift phone slides open to reveal its keypad. Courtesy of Helio.

(Click image to see larger view)

You can have the phone in any color you want, as long as you want black or white. Like other slider phones, the Drift splits in half, with the back half sliding down to reveal the keypad. The phone is very small for a GPS device -- 3.8 by 1.8 by 0.7 in. -- and it weighs only 3.53 oz. You can boost the Drift's 128MB of storage using the phone's MicroSD slot. It also supports Bluetooth -- which is important in states like California where it will soon be illegal to talk on a phone without a wireless headset while driving.

The $225 Helio Drift is available only on the Helio network. And that's not cheap -- from $65 to $135 per month for service -- but all extras are included, including the GPS service and BuddyBeacon. (product details)

Honorable mention: If you've got one of those weirdos on your gift list who just uses a cell phone to make voice calls, check out the tiny Pantech C300 ($119 with mail-in-rebate from Cingular). It's not the most feature-packed phone, or the highest-quality or the newest. But at just 2.7 by 1.7 by 0.7 in. and 2.5 oz., it's the smallest flip phone sold in the U.S. -- and it still manages to pack in some amazing features for the size, including internal and external screens, an 800-person contacts database, MP3 ringtone support, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calendar, a memo pad, a camera and even a one-minute voice recorder. It's the perfect gift for the teenager in your life. (product details)

—Mike Elgan

Smart Phone: Palm Treo 680

The brand-new Treo 680 ($399) is the best smart phone in the world. This light and sleek gadget packs unprecedented power into a marvel of warm-and-fuzzy usability.

Don't let gadget snobs tell you the 680 is a low-end device for newbies. The 680's fruity colors (orange, red, white and gray, the first three of which are available only from Palm's Web site) and simple, friendly design mask serious power and extreme capabilities. The Treo 680 is powered by a 312-MHz Intel chip and 128MB of memory -- half of it available for storage, which can be augmented with up to 2GB of SecureDigital (SD) storage. The 320-by-320-pixel, 65,000-color TFT color touch-screen display makes your applications, videos and photos look beautiful.

The Treo 680 features new, fruity colors. Courtesy of Palm.

The Treo 680 features new, fruity colors.

Courtesy of Palm.

Bluetooth v1.2 wireless and IR support lets you do incredibly powerful things, such as use your Treo as a wireless laptop modem or zap info directly to another Treo. The smart phone's backlit QWERTY keyboard lets you touch-type full e-mail messages, URLs and notes-to-self quickly. The installed Blazer Web browser will show you most Web sites as they appear on a PC, albeit smaller. And as with all Palm OS devices, you can choose from thousands of mini applications that mirror capabilities available on full desktop PCs -- many of them free.

Did we mention that it makes phone calls? The 3GSM/GPRS/EDGE phone boasts multiparty conference calling and a speakerphone. The 1200 mAh rechargeable battery gives you four hours of talk time and 300 hours of standby. And its signature internal quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) antenna works better than any other Treo's. At deadline, only Cingular had announced support -- and it's offering a rebate of $100 with a new two-year commitment.

The Treo 680 is this season's perfect gadget gift. Everyone from jaded power users to the most technophobic neo-Luddite in your life will love it. Just make sure you pick the right color. (product details)

Honorable mention: For the CrackBerry addict in your life, the hot new BlackBerry Pearl 8100 smart phone is your best bet. The Pearl ($200 after discount and rebate ) competes feature-for-feature with the latest Treo, Motorola Q and Sidekick, but it's closer in size to a chocolate bar than to a grilled cheese sandwich. The black or silver Pearl is powered by an Intel XScale processor and has a respectable 64MB of memory, and its features include voice-activated dialing, picture caller ID, trackball navigation, a 240-by-260-pixel light-sensitive LCD screen, BlackBerry Maps functionality, a Micro SD slot, and a redesigned QWERTY keyboard -- all in a tiny 4.2-by-1.97-by-0.57-in. frame that weighs just 3.1 oz. (product details)

—Mike Elgan

Mobile headset for noisy environments: theBoom v4

Have you ever tried to use your cell phone headset in a really noisy place like the streets of New York City, a busy airport or a meeting hall? While most headsets claim to have noise-canceling features, theBoom v4 ($150) is the first unit I've tried that really works. I tested it in front of my TV, turning up the sound so loud that no one sitting near me could hear what I said, yet the person on the other end received the message clearly.

The ultimate headset for privacy: theBoom. Courtesy of UmeVoice.
The ultimate headset for privacy: theBoom. Courtesy of UmeVoice.

The key to theBoom's success lies in the physical design of the microphone. Developed by UmeVoice, this technology ensures that only the sound going directly into the front of the microphone is taken as input, while all other noise is discarded.

TheBoom is a wired headset (for extra security) with a microphone that sits in front of your mouth and an earpiece that sits inside the ear. You can speak very quietly and still be heard, so eavesdroppers are less of a worry. If you really want to keep your conversation private, step into a loud bar and speak softly. The noise floor will mask your voice to those around you, but theBoom will ensure your caller hears every word. (product details)

—Yuval Kossovsky

Bluetooth headset: Plantronics Voyager 510

If you're looking for hands-free cell-phone talk without wires, a Bluetooth headset is the way to go. The Voyager 510-USB Bluetooth headset system ($115 to $170) features the same excellent sound quality as its in-office counterpart, the Plantronics CS70, but is meant to be used with either a mobile phone or a PC soft phone.

The USB Bluetooth adapter allows you to switch between mobile phones and softphones by pressing a button, and you can roam up to 30 feet from your Bluetooth device. (product details)

Get great sound with the Voyager 510 Bluetooth headset. Courtesy of Plantronics.

Get great sound with the Voyager 510 Bluetooth headset.

Courtesy of Plantronics.

Note: Those who use Skype VoIP might consider Plantronics' Audio 910, which adds Skype support to the 510. When a call comes in via Skype, the USB dongle will trigger a ring to your headset and allow pick up and hang up via the headset unit. It's convenient and works seamlessly.

—Yuval Kossovsky

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