Last-minute tech toys


21 Dec 2006

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Christmas is almost upon us but many stockings are still to be filled. Anyone seeking last-minute inspiration for the gadget lover in their life, look no further.

Business devices

Business phones are more or less business computers these days and being out of the office is no excuse for not reading an important email or having a conflicting appointment.

A neat pick for this year’s Christmas stocking would be the new BlackBerry Pearl from O2, which looks dinky but packs a load of business firepower.

Not only is it a phone but a perfect push email machine with a good-quality colour screen.

The Pearl has plenty of style and elegance and is perhaps the lightest Research In Motion RIM device ever made.

It is also the most feature rich, coming with a digital camera with built-in flash, expandable memory, a media player and voice-dialling capabilities. It also comes with Bluetooth connectivity.

The Pearl costs only €199 and O2 offers unlimited email access for €40 a month for mobile email users who want to access the company server and their corporate email account or €20 a month for those who want to send and receive emails on the move from internet hosted email accounts (prices exclude Vat).

If the love of your life is, however, a dedicated Palm user since the Ninties then, like his wardrobe, his PDA may need sprucing up. The latest offering from Palm is the 750v, which includes the latest Microsoft Windows 5.0 operating system that synchs neatly with the computer at home or in the office.

As an organiser, the full-colour screen is very swish and it can double up as an excellent push email machine or as an entertainment device capable of playing videos and listening to music.

The Palm device is a 3G-enabled phone — ideal for net surfing — and features Bluetooth, a Windows Media Player and can read Word, Excel, PDF and PowerPoint files.

It also comes with a 1.3-megapixel digital camera that can take snaps or record videos.

The Palm 750V sells for €399 including Vat and at present is only available at the Vodafone Grafton Street store.

Anyone who combines lots of time on the road with a love of gadgets might appreciate the TomTom ONE, an in-car satellite navigation system.

The kit comprises a 3.5-inch colour touchscreen display that can be fixed to the car windscreen by a sucker and rotated so it can be easily seen while driving without distracting from the road.

It works very quickly out of the box: before setting off on a journey, you type a destination into the mapping system and the TomTom plots a course in advance.

To save looking at the screen, a voice will alert the driver to turns and impending junctions.

Additional services such as traffic and weather reports are available on the device. These require a mobile phone with Bluetooth and a wireless data connection. The TomTom ONE has a suggested retail price of €399.99 but some outlets are selling it for less.

Cameras

We’ve probably never lived in a more filmed or photographed time. The latest camcorder devices come with a hard drive or recordable DVD function that allows you to make authentic home movies.

The Hitachi HS301 Hybrid Camcorder is unique as it’s the first and only DVD hard disk drive camera on the market.

It has an 8GB hard drive to store footage as you film but it also enables you to burn straight onto DVD and reproduce multiple copies, which means you can share your masterpiece with family and friends. It retails for €649.99 including Vat and is available exclusively at Dixons or Currys.

For people who want something a little more discreet but packed with functionality the Fuji Finepix F30 Zoom is a robust and tidy piece of technology with an outstanding LCD display and is full of useful features that you would not expect in a digital camera at such a low price.

The 6.3-megapixel device features a long-life battery capable of taking 580 shots in succession and some nifty anti-blur and anti-redeye technologies.

It also boasts a VGA movie capture of 30 frames per second with sound.

The F30 also includes an intelligent flash system that combines natural foreground illumination with balanced exposure in the background, thereby avoiding the messy background blur of a traditional flash.

Another slim profile camera to consider is the mid-range Canon Ixus 60, a 6-megapixel camera equipped with an optical 3X zoom lens.

The camera comes with DIGIC II technology that makes it possible to take pictures with up to 2,816 x 2,112 recording pixels.

The camera employs a large 2.5-inch LCD screen at the rear and extra features include image stabilisation and anti-blur and you can take pictures in a dark area where the shutter speed is on a slow setting. The camera retails at most Canon stockists for around €299.

Mobiles

How’s this for a provocative price tag: Nokia’s 8800 Sirocco Edition phone will set you back €1,000 and is due to go on sale nationwide soon after a limited exclusive run at Brown Thomas.

It’s encased in a steel enclosure and the colour screen is protected by sapphire-coated glass — you could almost imagine Paris Hilton wielding it as a weapon in the next celebrity cat fight.

Other flourishes include ‘crystalline designer ringtones’ composed by Brian Eno.

It’s technologically up to date as opposed to breaking new ground. This is arguably a ‘statement’ phone: slick, beautiful and very expensive — a gift with intent.

For a more serious businessperson, albeit with a sense of style, there’s the SGH-D900 from Samsung. It’s a slim, matt-black slider phone that’s just 13mm thin and light.

The phone interface is slick with colour-coded options for each of the tools. The SGH-D900 has business features such as a document viewer and the ability to read email.

It also comes with a powerful 3.13-megapixel camera, which is at the high end of cameras that are built into mobiles.

Similarly the K800i from Sony Ericsson has a 3.2-megapixel resolution, to stand comparison with regular digital cameras. Likewise with features such as a Xenon flash, auto focus and imaging software.

The settings are easy to negotiate, which can’t always be said for digital cameras. In two clicks you can reduce the size of photos you want to take.

A Blog It feature lets you upload photos directly from the phone to an online blog.

The K800 also gives one-touch access to a music player through a dedicated hard key. It’s available from 3 Ireland starting at €149 for bill customers or €349 on a prepaid contract.

For an inexpensive stocking filler, how about Motorola’s new KRZR? It has a starting price of just €29 from O2, Vodafone and Meteor and boasts many of the same features as more expensive phones, albeit with some compromises.

The operating system is beginning to look a little tired next to competitors and the camera isn’t top of the range.

Appearance-wise it looks the part though, with a cosmic blue reflective glass finish and a thin body.

Entertainment

High-definition (HD) TVs could be a good bet: this technology is still at the very early stages of adoption, largely because there’s currently very little content available in this format, either on mainstream TV or on DVD.

That hasn’t stopped Irish people buying them in large numbers in advance of their mass popularity, as prices are falling and there’s a wider choice of products. One option is Samsung’s R73 40-inch digital LCD HDTV, which costs €1,849.99.

Music buffs are never short of options at Christmas and the latest batch caters to the fan of new technology as well as the old-school enthusiast.

On the MP3 side, Apple’s iPod nano got a slight makeover in the company’s recent round of upgrades with a new more durable casing.

The previous version was the biggest seller on the market last year and is now available in 2GB or 4GB versions — holding 500 or 1,000 songs — for €159 and €209 respectively.

It’s also available in a variety of colours but the ones to get, seemingly, are the silver and pink models.

Best of the rest are offerings from Creative, which has carried its expertise in PC sound cards into its Zen range of digital music players.

Though not as easy to use at first as the iPod, these devices beat it for features and sound quality.

For anyone who steadfastly refuses to give up their vinyl, how about Ion’s USB turntable? This lets you convert old 45s (or even 78s) onto CDs or into MP3 format to preserve their contents.

The package also includes software for recording to a PC or Mac as well as an application for cleaning and restoring vinyl records. It costs €179.99.

A useful accessory for those already possessing iPods or MP3 players is a speaker set. There are portable options from around €100 through to ghetto blaster-style speakers from €200 to €350, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

If you’re thinking of more than just speakers, why not consider a music-enabled house? Residents of Adamstown will be able to avail of a system that lets home owners access up to six separate iPods in stereo quality in every room of the house.

The contents of every iPod are accessible in stereo through a specially designed keypad, which recognises the features and settings of each iPod plugged in.

As a result, you can listen to your favourite album, a playlist or a podcast in one room while somebody else listens to their iPod in another.

The multi-room audio system also includes settings to allow you programme favourite radio channels, which are also accessible in each room of the house.

The company behind the initative, Smarthomes of Dundalk, will be installing the system in the Paddocks housing development at Adamstown but it’s also open to anyone building or redeveloping their own home.

The projected cost is upwards of €5,000 and while it might not arrive in time for Christmas, it would definitely qualify as a present to remember.

By John Kennedy and Gordon Smith

Pictured — Motorola KRZR

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