With the holiday season fast approaching, here's Phil Baker's annual list of recommended gift ideas for the gadget lovers on your holiday list. The selections are based on first hand experience, including those that have been or are under evaluation. All are attractive, well-designed products, among the best in their category.
$1000 to $2000
Gaggia Titanium SS Espresso Machine -- A super automatic espresso machine that has great looks and great performance. Add water and beans, press a button and out comes freshly brewed espresso, thanks to the microprocessor-based electronics. Use the built-in frother to quickly make a cappuccino -- two stainless steel boilers let you switch from brewing to frothing with no waiting. The temperature and cup sizes are easily programmable and the results are so much better than store bought. From www.wholelattelove.com, a website that's to espresso machines what Amazon is to books. $1,899
ThinkPad X41 Tablet Notebook Computer -- Looking for a new laptop? Consider a convertible that's both a notebook and tablet in one. My top choice is Lenovo's ThinkPad X41 Tablet. It's one of the smallest and lightest. $1,899. (www.thinkpad.com). There are some great Apple notebooks as well, like the 15" PowerBook, but I recommend waiting for their new Intel-based designs due out early next year that are expected to be smaller and less expensive.
$500 to $1000
EOS Rebel XT 8.0MP Digital SLR -- Canon's hugely successful consumer digital SLR takes gorgeous images up to 8 mega pixels. It's lightweight yet rugged and works with all Canon lenses. With a 18-55mm lens $900. (www.canon.com)
Garmin's Street Pilot 2720 GPS -- Comes preloaded with maps and a database of North America and has a sharp, easy to read touch screen that can display maps in perspective 3D. It receives traffic reports and routes you around the congestion. Even speaks the actual street names. About $930.
Nespresso Romeo Coffee Maker -- This top of the line Swiss-made machine produces espressos and single cups of coffee using coffee capsules - ground coffee sealed in individual containers. Features include a frother for cappuccinos, automatic capsule insertion and disposal, a warming tray for the cups, LED display -- all in an attractive aluminum enclosure. It's less flexible than the Gaggia and more time is needed to make cappuccinos, but Nespresso offers 20 different types of coffee for about 49 cents per cup. $799 with other models starting at $179. (www.nespresso.com).
$250 to $500
Apple Video iPod - Apple's latest model is thinner than ever and has a larger 2.5 inch display. In addition to playing music, podcasts, and audio books, and displaying photos, it now plays videos. $299 for the 30 GB model. (www.apple.com)
Seiko Worldtimer Quartz Watch - Seiko's new SNJ005 Sportura is a handsome feature-filled world time watch. It's has an analog dial and inset white on black LCD to display the world time, plus a variety of other functions. $480. (www.seikousa.com).
Motorola's RAZR V3 - Still one of the thinnest and coolest phones. Now that its cost has fallen, it's a good deal as well. $200 to $250 with a new plan from Cingular or T-Mobile. (www.motorola.com)
$100 to $250
Pentax Papilio Binoculars - Available in 6.5x and 8.5X strengths, these well-made compact binoculars focus as near as 1.6 ft, specifically developed for close-range observation of butterflies and other insects. They're durably constructed of coated glass and a rubberized covered metal housing. $130 and $150. (www.pentaximaging.com).
Tivoli Model One AM-FM Table Radio - One of the best sounding mono radios, resembling the famous KLH table radio. It has just a few simple controls and a large speaker in a beautifully finished wooden cabinet. $119. (www.tivoliaudio.com).
$50 to $100
Olympus Digital Voice Recorder - The compact, brushed silver WS-100 digital voice recorder replaces the tape with solid state memory to record up to 27 hours. The recordings can be transferred to a PC to be saved, played, transcribed or emailed. Great for students. $100. (www.olympusamerica.com).
Belkin Router - Belkin's Pre-N router is one of the best available for its ability to extend your Wi-Fi signal and increase its speed, even if your computer uses the slower 802.11b standard. $100. (www.belkin.com)
Seagate USB 2.0 Pocket Hard Drive - Looks like a yo-yo but it's a tiny pocket size 5 GB hard drive that can store files, photos, and more. Features a built-in retractable cable and a shock absorbing enclosure. $99 (www.seagate.com)
TiVo- TiVo is offering their 40-hr digital video recorder for $49.95 with rebates when you pay in advance for a year's subscription ($155.40 or $12.95 per month). Most TiVo owners wonder how they ever got along without one, even those that don't watch TV very much. Not only does it record programs you request by program name, but you can pause live TV to take a call and then resume where you left off. Or start the program 15 minutes late and zip through all the commercials. (www.tivo.com).
Kensington Travel Adapter No. 33117 - One of the most compact and well-made plug adapters for international traveling, usable in more than 150 countries. Just slide out one of the built-in plugs and plug in your device. A must for world travelers. $20. (Also available under the Tumi brand for $50 with case). www.kensington.com and www.tumi.com.
Random House Webster's College Dictionary - Published electronically by WordGenius, The Random House Webster's College Dictionary gives you access to more than 87,000 word entries, 207,000 definitions, American slang definitions, a reverse dictionary, and search for words by meaning. Works with Microsoft Office. $19.95. (www.wordgenius.com)
CDs - CDs make great gifts, but be aware of CDs from Sony BMG. If they're played on a PC, a number of them load spyware that's difficult to remove and opens your computer up to virus attacks. Sony has apologized and promised to end this practice.