Holiday Shopping the Smart Way

At first, I thought Retrevo was a typical shopping site (think PC World Shopping or Froogle). [Ed. Note: PC World has a partnership with Retrevo to provide online visitors with owner's manuals.]

Retrevo does supply information about retailers and online stores--but it's light years ahead of mere shopping sites. That's because it finds details about electronics, the minutiae that are essential when I'm looking for the ins and outs about a product before I buy it, or if I'm having a problem with a device.

With every search, Retrevo grabs information from blogs, forums, reviewers, and manufacturers, and gives me a quick overview in one easy-to-read panel. At a single glance I can get price examples and a few product specs, learn if other users like the product, and see what Retrevo thinks about the product's selling price. Scroll down from the overview and you'll find links in categories that include expert and user reviews, company information, and shopping sites.

Retrevo is also a good resource if you're having a problem with a device.

Think about the last time you needed troubleshooting advice for a printer, or maybe a manual for your MP3 player. Typically, you start with a Google search on the product's name and model number. Then you spend time scrolling through a heck of a lot of links.

Retrevo makes the process easier, not necessarily because it does a better job or it's more accurate, but because having things in categories really helps. For instance, I searched on "add POI to Garmin" and Retrevo's first entry under Manufacturer's Info was Garmin's POI loader software. When I needed info on my Brother HL-1450 printer, Retrevo got me a link right to the printer's manual.

Dig This: Troubled by pesky alien abductions? Only 32/1000 inch of Velostat will set you free. [Thanks, Tom C.]

Shopping for Video Games? Get the 411 First

Your 12-year-old's nagging you for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare or maybe The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

Of course you don't have a clue about either game and you're not sure if they're suitable for your shoot-'em-up-hungry kid.

Instead of relying on your child's assurance that the game's cool, or reading a magazine review loaded with specs, you might be better off looking at the reviews on WhatTheyPlay.

The site provides reviews focusing on the content of the game, including whether there's violence, inappropriate language, or sexual situations. You can search for a specific game or by console, genre, age, or rating category. The site's still fairly new, so there aren't lots of reviews; those that I've seen are comprehensive, nontechnical write-ups, perfect for parents needing a clue.

Dig This: Alan W., of Denton, Texas, writes: "I'm 50 years old and thought I knew how to tie my shoelaces. Yet I've always wondered why the bow knots on my shoes kept coming untied. Ian's Shoelace Site showed me that I was tying a granny knot and recommended a simple tip for making it better. My shoes never come untied now." [Thanks, Alan.]

Dig This, Too: This commercial from Turkey is neat. One YouTube comment: "I was in that commercial. Was shot in Cape Town, South Africa. True, no special effects were used except for the fact that we actually stood on a huge blue screen, which was then chroma-keyed out and changed to red. Was so much fun!"

Cheap, Decent Digital Camera for Teens

My 16-year-old niece has a trip planned and needs a digital camera. She's working on an angle: I have a high-end Nikon SLR and she wants to know if she can borrow it. Sure, and do you want to take the Mercedes, too? (That's a metaphorical Mercedes; I have a Subaru. She's not getting either.)

Here's a better idea: For under $100, I'm getting her a decent camera--and won't worry if she beats it up.

The DXG-711 is a slim, inch-thick, 7-megapixel digital camera with a 2.5-inch high-resolution LCD display and a 3X optical zoom--plus a 4X digital zoom that I told her not to use. Why, you ask? (I figured you would.) Well, read "Digital Zoom's Ugly Little Secret," one of Dave Johnson's Digital Focus columns. It's a couple years old, but the info's still valid.

Typical of a digital camera, it can record video--at 30 frames per second at 640 by 480, a handy extra that I wish my SLR had. The DXG also substitutes as a sound recorder and has a slot for an Secure Digital memory card.

It has the usual point-and-shoot, no-brainer, good-for-a-teen settings, and others, including night view, sports, monochrome, and blur reduction. The DXG-711 discounts for under $100 and keeps my Nikon safely in my office.

For a few more digital camera gift ideas, read Jim Martin's "Head-Start Holiday Gift Guide."

Holiday Shopping for a Good Cause

From November 23 through the end of the year, TigerDirect is donating a minimum of $100,000 from total sales and collected donations to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure for the fight against breast cancer; the company anticipates the total will reach a quarter million dollars. The promotion is taking place on the TigerDirect Web site and at its retail stores.

And talking about shopping, PayPal is offering a 20-percent cash-back promotion, to a max of $50, when you use PayPal to pay for your purchase. The only catch: You have to purchase items from a selection of about 16 companies, including Barnes & Noble, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Newegg.com, Overstock.com, and Ritz Camera.

Dig This: Extreme base jumping in squirrel suits... adrenalin junkies only, please. And if that's too scary, how about rigging up a camcorder to a model airplane. It's almost like flying.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer,available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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