With the holiday season once again with us, it's time to start looking for something for that hard-to-please technophile on your gift list. All too often, high-tech gifts seem like nothing more than overpriced toys for oversized kids. Do not be fooled by your first impression, though; to some of us, nothing says "I love you" like a new scanner or Zip drive.
Sure, you may not be able to spring for an in-home virtual reality set, or one of IBM's new Internet-enabled minivans, but there is a treasure of affordable hi-tech gizmos, hardware and software on the market this year.
One of the hottest trends in tech this year has been the market acceptance of powerful electronic organizers such as 3Com's PalmPilot and handheld computers based on Microsoft's Windows CE. Throw out your stale DayTimer; the new wave of productivity tools allows you to synchronize (and, importantly, make copies of) daily schedules, phone numbers and memos.
In fact, this season there is more reason than ever to pick up one of these as a gift: falling prices. 3Com has slashed prices on the PalmPilot, the best-selling handheld computer of all time. An entry-level Personal model can be found for around $200, while the Internet-ready Professional model is retailing for under $300 in some locations.
A less expensive alternative is the new REX from Rolodex and Franklin Quest, available for less than $150. About the size of a credit card, the REX holds hundreds of appointments, contacts, and notes, but lacks any input mechanism; all data entry is done on your PC.
Slide the REX into a notebook's PCMCIA slot or a special desktop docking station and all your data is transferred in seconds. Despite the lack of on-board data entry, the sheer size of the REX has made it a big hit. Look for it to be a big seller in the coming year.
Mobile communications products are proving to be a popular gift item this year as well. The trend in 1997 has been towards wearable electronics; a cellular phone does you no good if it is a pain to carry with you.
Enter Motorola with the hot new StarTAC series of wearable cell phones. About half the size of a floppy disk and weighing just a few ounces, the StarTAC can clip right onto your clothes. Even the lightweight standard battery delivers a full hour of talk time, while thicker batteries have enough juice to rival fullsized cell phones. The StarTAC costs anywhere from $250 to $800, depending on features and activation plans.
In the world of paging, Motorola has teamed up with Timex to produce the world's first wristwatch alphanumeric pager. More convenient than clipping a standard pager to your belt, the new $130 Beepwear offers a choice between a silent flashing alarm or an audio tone to signal incoming pages. Right now, only the California Good Guys chain is selling the Beepwear line, but these watches will work in any metro area that offers Motorola FLEX coverage; talk to your paging company for details.
Looking for a productive gift for someone who owns one of the popular Hewlett-Packard personal laser printers? H-P's ingenious LaserJet Companion for LaserJet 4L, 5L, or 6L printers. The Companion contains a fax-modem device and black-and-white scanner. Plug it in between your computer and printer, instantly adding basic fax, photocopy and document imaging, capabilities to your system. The Companion costs about $220 via mail-order.
A good choice for bargain-conscious shoppers is one of the new scrolling-wheel mice from Microsoft, Genius or Logitech. These mice place a thumbwheel between the right and left mouse button, making it much easier to scroll through Word documents or Web pages.
The year hasn't produced any new "must-have" computer games for the kid at heart on your list, but few new titles may hold the interest of avid gamers. Id Software released the long-anticipated Quake 2 last month, providing hours of mindless, violent, inhumane ecstasy.
Whatever you choose, remember that the Web is becoming a great place to shop--more secure online shops and low overhead mean bargains without leaving the house. Check out Yahoo or Lycos' commerce sections to get started in the hunt for the great electronic mall; just leave me a parking space while you're at it.
--Kevin S. Davis '98, a Crimson editor, is an independent computer consultant and student director of HASCS's Advanced Support Team.