Maybe everyone on your holiday gift list already has an iPod and a Flip videocam. Fret not. The proliferation of personal-tech gadgets means there’s a present for every personality type, interest and need. For instance:
The Couch Potato: While this was the year 3-D television arrived in the mainstream, its high cost and limited content made for a slow start. Meanwhile, 2-D high-definition sets continue to get better and cheaper. At the head of the pack: Samsung, whose LED sets such as the 6800 series ($2,299 to $2,999) provide jaw-dropping picture quality in a panel that’s less than an inch-and-a-quarter (3.2 centimeters) thick.
The Early Adopter: Speaking of 3-D TV, of all the things holding it back, the dumbest has to be that you can’t use one manufacturer’s set with another’s 3-D glasses: The two pairs that come with most sets make for an awfully small Super Bowl party. XpanD’s X103 Universal glasses ($129) work with sets from 10 companies. It’s still a bit of a hassle to change the settings from one set to another, and some TVs require using an extra transmitter. But it’s at least a step toward liberation from the tyranny of specs.
The Audiophile: Cue Acoustics’ Model R1 tabletop radio ($399) packs a lot of volume and beautiful sound into a handsome, compact box that also includes an integrated iPhone/iPod dock. If you can spend a little more, Cue’s $99 S1 satellite speaker provides extra stereo separation. It’s remarkably good -- and even more remarkable, it’s hand-built in Massachusetts.
The Lazy Housekeeper: IRobot’s Roomba may have pioneered the look-ma-no-hands vacuum cleaner, but Neato Robotics’ XV-11 ($399) is the latest generation. It uses a laser sensor to create an internal map of its surroundings that it uses to plot its path and minimize collisions with walls and furniture. In terms of cleanliness, the Neato is no substitute for a human wielding a Hoover -- but it’s a whole lot less work.
The Game Player: Imagine playing Xbox- or PlayStation-quality games on your TV without the Xbox or PlayStation. That’s the idea behind the OnLive Game System ($99). The games aren’t downloaded; they reside on the Internet and are played entirely online. The initial selection is limited but has some recognizable names --“Batman: Arkham Asylum,” anyone? -- and the adapter uses a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi. On the other hand, watch for a soon-to-come $9.99 monthly all-you-can-play service: think “Netflix for games.”
The Road-Warrior Speed Freak: Who needs a Wi-Fi hotspot? Verizon Wireless’s new 4G network delivers a song in four seconds, and a 35 MB video clip in less than half a minute. The new network went live last weekend in 38 metropolitan areas and 60 airports. Laptop users can plug into speeds five times greater than 3G with the LG VL600 USB Modem ($99.99 with a two-year contract). Look for new smartphones to take advantage of the network early next year. How long until one of ‘em is an iPhone?
The On-the-Go Media-Muncher: For anyone who travels with an iPhone, iPad or other Bluetooth-enabled device, Aliph’s Jawbone Jambox ($199) is a palm-sized package of sonic fun. Roughly the size of a blackboard eraser, the Jambox is a wireless speaker that can be tossed into a suitcase or computer bag to enliven a soulless hotel room. Play music out loud, watch a movie without using headphones and catch every pig-grunt in “Angry Birds.”
The E-Reading Reader: Amazon.com managed to make the thin, light, easy-to-read Kindle even thinner, lighter and easier to read -- to say nothing of cheaper -- than the one it replaced. Still, Barnes & Noble won the race to color with the Nook Color ($249), a handsome Wi-Fi tablet that, besides providing an excellent reading experience, is also the best dedicated e-reader for magazines or surfing the Web.
The Anti-Apple Activist: Yes, Apple’s iPhone 4 is beautiful, and all that dropped-call fuss turned out to be much ado about very little. But 2010 will go down as the Year of Android, and for those who would rather tie themselves to Google’s software than Steve Jobs’s, there are the Samsung Galaxy S smartphones ($199 to $249 with a two-year contract). Gorgeous screens, robust performance -- and versions are available on all major U.S. carriers.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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