Network World Gift Guide: How the iPhone stole Christmas

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Steve Jobs has made my job harder. If he hadn’t stood on the stage at Macworld Expo in January and unleashed the iPhone on the world, I’d probably be more excited about this year’s crop of Cool Yule Tools, Network World ’s annual roundup of the hottest technology toys and gift ideas.

As I opened up the hundreds of packages arriving in the office over the past few months, however, I began to realize that the iPhone has skewed the curve in terms of what’s really exciting, innovative and fun in technology. Like the Patriots compared with the rest of the NFL, there’s the iPhone—and then there’s everything else.

It also didn’t help that Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system has laid a giant egg—not just with corporate users but also with consumers looking to find some excitement in the PC space. When we were trying out the PCs and notebooks sent us this year, we could judge our enthusiasm for the hardware by looking at whether the system had XP (yay!) or Vista (ugh!).

But all is not lost. You’ll find the iPhone and eight more of our favorite technology gift ideas for the holidays. The 2007 Cool Yule Tools has more photos and reviews of this year’s other favorites.

Apple iPhone, $400

Hands down, the iPhone is the product of the year. Generating more discussion in consumer and enterprise circles than any other device in recent memory, the iPhone has revolutionized the way phone vendors think about user interfaces. In terms of a digital audio player, the iPhone (and iPod family) are light years ahead of everything else.

Sure, it’s been overhyped to the point of nausea, but once you hold it in your hands and see how easy it is to do things like initiate a conference call, you’ll be hooked. Yes, there are several issues surrounding enterprise compatibility, pricing and application openness with the iPhone, but this only paves the way for improvements in future devices. I have a feeling the iPhone family will make the list of Cool Yule Tools in years to come. (See a slideshow on other cell phones and smartphones selected for the gift guide.)

Apple iPod nano, $150 (4GB); $200 (8GB)

Apple took a lot of the good stuff from its iPhone software and put it onto the latest version of the iPod nano. The original Nano was a long, rectangular device that looked like a wide pack of gum; this one shrinks down to almost a square with its 320-by-240 resolution screen. Nano fans now can watch video on the display, as well as listen to their favorite music and podcasts. (See a slideshow on other portable entertainment selected for the gift guide.) 

Canon PowerShot A650, $433

Our favorite digital camera this year was rated as “diesel” by one of our teenage helpers (we think that's a good thing). The A650 features 12.1 megapixels, a 6x optical zoom lens with image stabilizer and tons of extra features. The coolest feature is a 2.5-inch LCD screen that folds out and swivels so you can flip it around to take photos of yourself and frame them correctly. The classic Canon handgrip body lets you point and shoot with one hand. Diesel. (See a slideshow on digital cameras selected for the gift guide.)

Boston Innovative Products iMep, $300

Because iPods now are multimedia players, not just music players, external speaker systems need additional features to play videos. The Swiss Army knife of iPod boomboxes, the iMep includes standard features such as a built-in iPod charger and stereo speakers, but adds a 7-inch LCD screen; a CD/DVD player; integrated TV tuner; AM/FM radio; USB port; and support for Secure Digital, MultiMedia and MemoryStick cards. Optical and coaxial digital audio outputs and composite video outputs let you connect the boombox to larger audio and video systems. 

Epson MovieMate 72, $1,200

The latest all-in-one DVD player and projector system from Epson now comes with high-definition 720p resolution support. The swivel base between the projector and the DVD player allows for versatile placement and easy adjustments. In addition to playing DVDs, the MovieMate 72’s numerous inputs allow for connecting game consoles, high-definition cable set-top boxes and other video devices. You don’t have to connect this to an external audio system or home theater system, but the connections let you do this for some extra wallop. (See a slideshow on home entertainment items selected for the gift guide.)

Plantronics Voyager 520, $100

We've loved Plantronics’ audio technology over the years, and are just as pleased with the Voyager 520, which is perfect for mobile professionals on your list who can’t live without their Bluetooth phone. The Voyager 520 has noise cancellation, a windscreen that reduces noise outdoors, and multipoint technology that lets you connect two Bluetooth cell phones to the headset. The earloop makes the phone extremely comfortable. You’ll probably forget you have this headset on, it’s that comfortable.

Myvu personal media viewer, $200

We’ve seen devices like this before, where you create a “virtual movie theater” experience by putting on a pair of glasses that project the movie’s image in front of your eyes. Those devices, however, have been expensive, heavy or not very good at letting users focus in the right location. With these glasses, Myvu has solved many of these problems. With the attached ear-buds for audio, you now can enjoy videos from your portable digital media player (or portable DVD player) as if you were sitting in the theater.

Mimoco Star Wars USB drive, $70 (1GB) to $140 (4GB)

There’s nothing super-innovative about these drives, but if you have any Star Wars fans on your list, pick up one of these storage drives, which feature designs of four different Star Wars characters (Darth Vader, Chewbacca, a Stormtrooper and R2-D2). The devices come with a detachable USB-port cap and a hoodie protector that attaches to a keychain. (See a slideshow on network storage items selected for the gift guide.)

This story, "Network World Gift Guide: How the iPhone stole Christmas" was originally published by PCWorld.

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