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Tech toys for the holidays

A solar-powered crank-operated radio? It's just one of the nifty gadgets you can get your loved ones this holiday season.

Usually I try to ignore the “holiday season” until about December 23. Even as the stores are putting up their decorations the day after Labour Day and Christmas carols start warbling through the air of every shopping mall in mid-October, I determinedly soldier on, oblivious to the Santas, trees and tinsel.

But in a moment of weakness I agreed to write something for the Observer about tech gifts for Christmas, and I suspect the editor would not be too keen on me posting it on Christmas Eve. So, here goes -- my pick of holiday gifts with a high tech twist.

iPad (Apple, $549.00-$879.00, www.apple.ca). I already have one, so my loved ones won’t have to bankrupt themselves on my behalf, but if you can afford it, this is a gift that will make someone very happy -- or at least keep them absorbed and enthralled. The iPad is a portable computer with a multitude of possibilities. You can surf the web, write and read e-mail, listen to music, play games, write novels, crunch numbers, divine the future, post witty and scintillating comments on your favourite blog, download and follow recipes, edit and show photos, watch movies, read books and magazines, check the weather, drift off to sleep while it plays soothing tones and wake up as it plays rousing music. And more. Other tablet computers are beginning to be released, but Apple still does it best. My previous musings on the iPad can be found here.

iPhoto Calendar (Apple, $19.99, purchase inside iPhoto). Not all Apple products break the bank. Every year for Christmas we give my mother-in-law a personalized photo calendar. It’s easy to create inside iPhoto -- you select your theme, click and drag photos, add birthdays and holidays and other significant days, and click “Buy Calendar”. Your data is then sent to Apple’s printing contractor, the calendar is produced and mailed to your loved ones. And one of the best things about it is that you’re never stuck for gift ideas, because the recipient is going to need a new calendar next year.

Eton Scorpion Solar Powered Digital Weather Radio (Future Shop, $59.99, www.futureshop.ca). It may not look “high tech”, but this funky looking weatherproof solar powered radio uses technology to help minimize our impact on the planet. It’s solar powered, but even us waterlogged Vancouverites can use it as it also has a crank for charging when the sun isn’t shining. And you can also use it to charge most USB-compatible devices (such as the iPad you’re getting for Christmas).

Nikon Coolpix S1100pj  (Nikon, $349.95 MSP, http://www.nikon.ca/). Digital cameras have been around long enough that they’re almost a commodity. It’s hard to differentiate between them on image quality, so manufacturers are adding bells and whistles such as wifi connectivity and, in the case of the Coolpix S1100pj, a built-in projector so you can show off the photos you just took to a large group of people. It has a built-in stand, touch screen interface, editing tools and slide show function. 

Microsoft Xbox 360 4GB Console with Kinect (Microsoft, $299.99 MSP, www.microsoft.ca). This is the must present for the gamers on your list. Kinect (which I wrote about a few weeks ago) takes the complexity out of console gaming and makes it fun and natural again. It comes bundled with several games, and you can buy others as slightly expensive stocking stuffers.

Buy-a-Tab (Buyatab.com, price varies) is an online electronic gift voucher I wrote about last year. Created by two local university students, it allows you to treat your loved ones, friends or coworkers at dozens of local restaurants, spas, etc. Select the restaurant, select the amount of money you want to put on the "tab", pay using Paypal or your credit card and an electronic voucher will be sent to your recipients.

Finally, as we all know, it’s better to give than to receive, a sentiment especially important during the holiday season. Instead of splurging on expensive and unnecessary toys for your loved ones, why not make a donation in their name, online? Many charities allow you to donate online and if you’re stuck for ideas, check out the “A Time For Giving: Free Donations at Christmas” webpage. It’s U.S.-focused, but even if none of the listed charities particularly appeals to you, it may inspire a few ideas.

Happy Holidays. Let me know when it's December 23 so I can start my own shopping.

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