Techno life Christmas Special: Give or get a gizmo

Last year's must-have Christmas present was the iPod mini, but now the discerning technophile has more to choose from. There are four new iPods, a crowd of music-playing rivals, Sony's PlayStation Portable, a slew of new digital cameras, and high-performance PDAs and accessories aplenty. Not much room on your list, then, for woolly jumpers and socks.

by Tom Dunmore, editor-in-chief, Stuff magazine
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

But whether you've embraced the digital revolution or are struggling with an ancient pocket calculator, Christmas is packed with exciting opportunities.

It offers the technophobe a chance to dip a toe into the water and give technology a try; for the gadget-lover, Yuletide brings a chance to expand your collection at the expense of others (even if that means giving inappropriate presents that you know will find their way back to you). And for the office goody-goody, Christmas is the perfect time to impress your boss with a thoughtful techno-trinket.

Next year promises to be another bumper year for technology, with the new version of the all-conquering Windows operating system, the launch of three new gaming consoles, including the hotly anticipated PlayStation 3, and - best of all - the arrival of high-definition (HD) television, just in time for the World Cup. HD-ready plasma screens are on sale right now, but it's not until Sky turns on its HD broadcasts in the spring that you'll be able to see just what an amazing difference hi-def makes to your viewing experience. When you do, you'll want to upgrade the office teleconferencing gear to HD so you can see what your colleagues in Australia really look like in the middle of the night.

Alas, few of us have a loved one rich (or devoted) enough to leave a 42in TV under the tree. But scaling down your desires could work wonders - all our picks are not only fantastically alluring objects, they're useful little beauties, too. In fact, we're so confident that our Christmas list is all killer and no stocking filler that we've come up with a watertight justification for each purchase. You could even slip them through on expenses if you're feeling cheeky...

FOR THE BRAINSTORMER

HP TC4200 TABLET PC

£1,100, www.hp.co.uk

If you're mad for meetings, captivated by collaboration or besotted by brainstorms, this is the laptop for you. It looks like any other ultra-portable computer, but that dull grey exterior hides a useful talent: you can write on the 12-inch screen. Or doodle. Or draft flowcharts, mindmaps, idea-o-graphs or any sort of diagram you wish. You can even fold the display back on the keyboard and use it like a writing pad. When write-on-the-screen tablet PCs were launched a few years ago, they were underpowered and oversized, but the new TC4200 is lightweight (at a mere 2kg) and powerful.

A 1.8GHz Pentium processor, roomy 60Gb hard drive and half a gig of memory give enough oomph for all your office tasks. It doesn't have a DVD drive, but with wi-fi and Bluetooth technologies, it's easy to get information on and off the computer, and an SD card slot is ideal for MP3 music.

The justification You no longer have to rely on unreliable minutes of your meetings, because all your notes and charts are stored in digital form.

FOR THE YOUNG (AT HEART)

SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE

£180, www.playstation.com

Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) takes personal entertainment to a heavenly level. As well as cramming PlayStation 2-quality gaming into a handheld device, it offers web browsing, MP3 playback and even movie viewing via shrunken DVD discs called UMDs (pre-recorded films are already available to buy at airports). But the PSP is also one of the smallest, slickest and cheapest wi-fi web browsers around. So when you're waiting in the airport departure lounge, you can log in to check your e-mail or do some competitor research on the net, as well as sharpening your putting and driving skills on Tiger Woods 2006.

The justification The PSP's versatility - as well as games, videos and the web, you can load digital photos onto the memory card supplied - makes it the perfect crossover gadget, equally at home keeping up with the news and markets or whiling away spare hours on a flight or in a hotel.

FOR THE STYLE-CONSCIOUS

FUJIFILM FINEPIX Z2

£250, www.fujifilm.co.uk

Miniaturisation used to mean compromise, but technology has marched on.

These days, a credit card-thin music player such as the iPod Nano can beat off heavyweight rivals, while this new superslim camera produces some of the best shots we've ever seen from a compact digital - and it won't ruffle the lines of your bespoke dinner suit. The Z2's predecessor was so good that it's hard to believe it could be improved, but it has been. The Z2 keeps the same 5 megapixel resolution (more than enough for A4 prints), but improves the quality of the LCD viewfinder and doubles the camera's light-sensitivity - so it'll take fantastic shots even in low-light conditions. If you're wondering how anything so flat, with such a tiny lens, can capture decent images, the answer lies in folded optics - a periscope arrangement of lenses inside the camera's body that allows for the 3x optical zoom.

The justification The FinePix is virtually future-proof, thanks to its full-screen video mode that captures a TV-friendly 30 frames every second.

FOR THE MUSIC LOVER

APPLE IPOD 60GB

£300, www.apple.com

Apple's latest addition to the iPod family is much, much more than a music player. It's a video player that displays your home movies or short films and pop videos downloaded from the iTunes music store. It's a calendar and address book that syncs with your PC or Mac whenever you download music. It's a photo album with space for tens of thousands of pictures, viewable on the 2.5in colour screen or on a TV. It even lets you listen to podcasts (radio shows from professionals and keen amateurs downloaded with the simple-to-use iTunes software). It's a great MP3 player too, storing more than 10,000 songs and delivering better sound quality than its predecessors, thanks to vastly improved headphones.

The justification This is the perfect presentation tool - a robust, ultra-portable 60Gb hard drive that allows you to take all your documents with you, wherever you go, and view them on a TV or edit them on any computer you come across. You can even use it to back up data from your laptop.

FOR THE FRUGAL MANAGER

OLYMPIA DUALPHONE

£75, www.dualphone.net

Want to impress your penny-pinching boss? This handset may look like any other cordless DECT phone, but it has an important difference. As well as working with a standard telephone line, it also hooks into your broadband connection to offer free Skype calls. You've probably heard of Skype but you might not know about its service. Skype lets broadband users make voice calls over the internet. Calls to other Skype users are free, and those to international landlines are much reduced in price. But you need to be sitting at your PC in a telesales-style headset to use the service - unless you have Olympia's DualPhone, the first cordless DECT handset to offer Skype compatibility.

The justification Internet telephony means drastically reduced phone bills. Frugal genius.

FOR THE BOARDROOM POSEUR

ITECH BLUETOOTH VIRTUAL KEYBOARD

£125, www.itechdynamic.co.uk

If you want bleeding-edge technology, look no further than iTech's Virtual Keyboard. This little black obelisk links to any phone or palmtop computer wirelessly via Bluetooth. Once your gadget is paired, press a button and it projects a Qwerty keyboard onto the surface in front of it - a tabletop, even a book on your lap. Then you just type. Somehow, the obelisk knows where your fingers are landing, and sends the corresponding letters over the air to your phone or PDA. It all happens instantly, so no more struggling with text messages or fiddly handwriting recognition. It's hard to imagine a more futuristic gizmo.

The justification Wherever you are, whatever the device, touch-typing increases productivity.

FOR THE BUSINESS TRAVELLER

T-MOBILE MDA PRO

from £150 with contract, www.t-mobile.co.uk

Is this the smallest laptop in the world, or the most powerful mobile phone? - it's hard to decide. Despite running the latest version of Microsoft Windows Mobile and packing a full Qwerty keyboard, the MDA Pro folds up and fits into your shirt pocket. And thanks to a 3G mobile phone connection and wi-fi wireless networking, it offers constant high-speed internet too. It has every wireless connection known to man - infra-red, Bluetooth and GPRS. And with two cameras, it's both a videophone and a 1.3-megapixel digital snapper. It can even be used to make voice calls. At its heart lies a 520MHz processor backed up by a hefty 128Mb of RAM - it's probably more capable than the PC on your office desk. Add Microsoft's latest software suite - Internet Explorer, Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc - and you have a fully functioning pocket computer. And because the 3.6in, 640x480-pixel screen is touch-sensitive, you don't even need a mouse to control it. It works: much of this feature was written on an MDA Pro.

The justification Why spend a grand on a laptop when you can be better connected and just as productive with a £200 pocket palmtop?

FOR THE TECHNOPHOBE

ROBERTS REVIVAL RD-50

£150, www.robertsradio.co.uk

If you need a gift for someone who believes that silicon chips are the devil's work, buy them a Roberts Revival digital radio. They'll know the name and feel comfortable with the old-school tuning dial, but they won't realise that beneath the leather and wood beats a cutting-edge digital heart. Yet they'll be magically transported to the 21st century when they turn it on and discover a host of new digital-only stations such as BBC's Five Live Sports Extra and Six Music. Or when they hear the clear, rich reception. But leave it a while before you show them its finest feature: they can now pause the radio and resume listening where they left off up to 40 minutes later.

The justification A standard FM tuner plus Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) technology will win over even a hardcore techno-refusenik.

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