Head-Start Holiday Gift Guide
One week from today, you'll awaken at dawn. Skip breakfast. Push your way through a crowded big-box store. Desperately search for perfect gadget gifts at bargain prices.
In other words, this time next week it'll be Thanksgiving: You don't have a minute to waste.
This week: a guide to digital camcorders and cameras that could make great holiday gifts.
Next week: laptops, GPS devices, and smart phones.
The Flip Video Ultra. The compact Flip Video Ultra offers better video and audio quality than its predecessor, the Flip Video. The Flip Video Ultra's video quality, at 640 by 480 pixels and 30 frames per second, is also sharper and has more realistic colors than its competitor, the Sony GC1 Net-Sharing Cam ($200). See for yourself: I've posted clips of the same scene shot with both camcorders on Traveler 2.0.
The Flip Video Ultra's LCD, though small (2.4 inches), is much brighter than the Flip Video's screen. In bright sunlight, you can actually see what's on the screen.
The Flip Video Ultra is available in 30-minute ($150 list) or 60-minute ($180) versions. The 30-minute (1GB) and 60-minute (2GB) models come in various colors with accents. All of the models store clips in internal memory. Also, the Flip Video Ultra's PC and Mac software (preloaded on the camcorder) have further simplified YouTube uploads.
The Flip Video Ultra makes a fun gift for kids or anyone who wants an easy-to-use camcorder for Web video. Purists will prefer higher-quality camcorders, however.
Canon ZR800. For about $200, you can buy a Canon ZR800, one of two MiniDV digital video tape camcorders that Consumer Reports included in its December 2007 gift guide.
MiniDV tapes are a cheap, easy way to capture and archive video. But you must import clips in real time into a video editing program. By comparison, the Flip Video Ultra and other digital camcorders that store to DVDs or flash memory create digital files, which can be more easily added to a video editing project. (Caveat: Check to make sure the digital camcorder you have in mind saves to a file format that your video editing software can import.)
Canon HV20. The HV20 is a bit bulky, but it records 1920-by-1080-pixel HDV-formatted high-definition footage or standard-definition footage to MiniDV tapes. Our reviewer gave the camcorder a PCW Rating of 85 (Very Good). Recent prices start at about $750 online.
For more camcorder information:
Compact Digital Cameras
Compact digital cameras don't have all the options, such as interchangeable lenses, or top picture quality that an SLR provides. But these small point-and-shoots are usually easy to use, so they make ideal gifts.
The Casio Exilim EX-S880. In my experience using this camera, most images were good--but nothing great. Still, this sleek ultracompact provides an easily accessed, one-button video capture mode (in addition to still image capture modes). You don't have to navigate through an on-screen menu to start recording video, as you must with some other point-and-shoots. Also, the EX-S880, like a few other recent Casio Exilim models, features a YouTube mode that captures clips optimized for the video sharing site.
The Sony DSC-T200. This tiny camera has a huge, 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD. It's gorgeous (in black, red, or silver) and has lots of compelling features, such as a Carl Zeiss 5X Optical zoom lens, Face Detection and Smile Shutter Modes, Double Anti-Blur Solution (for photos in dim lighting), and HD Output. But with online prices beginning around $352, it's pricey--and a touch screen in lieu of hardware buttons aren't for everyone.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100. Panasonic claims this model is the world's first 12.2-megapixel digital camera with a 28mm wide-angle lens. The lens is designed to let you easily capture a large group of people or an expansive landscape. Recent online prices began at $315.
For more compact digital camera information:
- "Top 10 Point-and-Shoot Cameras"
- "How to Buy a Digital Camera"
- Fujifilm Camera Offers Facial Recognition
Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
The Google Phone: Ever-ambitious Google, not content to photograph every street in America, has now set its sights on rebooting the cell phone industry.
Google recently announced an open-development platform, Android, for mobile devices. The goal is to spur innovation by simplifying and reducing the cost of developing mobile applications. In a press conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Android will "create a whole new mobile experience for users with new applications and new capabilities that we couldn't imagine today." The first Android-based phones should arrive in the second half of 2008.
Asus Eee PC 4G: The $399 Asus Eee PC 4G doesn't offer fancy specs. The Linux-based ultraportable has a small, 7-inch, low-resolution display; only 4GB of solid-state memory for storage; only 512MB of RAM; and a generic Intel Mobile Processor. Nonetheless, we believe the low-cost laptop will appeal to road warriors and students wanting an inexpensive computer for basic Web surfing, word processing, and e-mail.
Instant-On Notebooks Coming? Phoenix Technologies' new HyperSpace software platform will make possible notebooks with instant-on capability for multimedia playback, e-mail, instant messaging, Web browsing, and other applications. For this to become a reality, though, Phoenix must persuade developers to create software that work with HyperSpace--and PC manufacturers must adapt their products to incorporate the necessary software and hardware.
Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.