An iPhone that actually makes calls

This year, Crave contributors compiled a collective holiday wish list and checked it way more than twice (hey, we're compulsive writer-editor types; what do you want?). First up is an iPhone-related wish.

Please Santa, just make my iPhone cell service work.

Aside from a holographic version of myself to entertain my cats while I'm at work and a robotic assistant to do all my cooking, cleaning, and car repair, what I really want for the holidays are clear, uninterrupted calls on my iPhone.

I want my iPhone to function as a cell phone, in addition to being the fun computing device it is.

I've written about my iPhone woes and about being barraged with reader e-mails from people around the country voicing identical complaints. At least one of my CNET colleagues said she would make this her top wish list item, too.

So, that's my final answer: an iPhone that has reliable reception and doesn't repeatedly drop calls from the places I want to use it most--my apartment and my boyfriend's apartment in San Francisco, and my parents' homes in Phoenix. An iPhone that doesn't force me to pay for a landline just so I can actually make calls on days I work from home. An iPhone that doesn't require me to start conversations with, "Can you hear me?" and to hang up and redial because it sounds like the person I'm talking to is under water.

I've been a good girl, Santa. Please, just let me make phone calls like other people do.

--Elinor Mills

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Photo by: James Martin/CNET / Caption by:

Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens

My now 18-month-old daughter, Callie, loves having her picture taken almost as much as I love taking it. One of my favorite times to snap her photo, though, is while she's eating, as it's kind of like watching a small woodland creature. Generally, though, this means shooting indoors in the low-light conditions of our dining room. Combine that with the fact that she's constantly moving her hands, face, and head, and well, it's not easy getting a clean shot without using a flash.

However, if I had the Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens I'd be able to snap away with just the available room light, freezing every moment. Every bite, chomp, and gulp. The f1.8 prime lens is the perfect complement to my Nikon D60 dSLR getting me as close as a foot away from the action (she eats like it's a competitive sport).

It's also just an all-around awesome lens. So compact. So lightweight. And only $200! Of course, it's $200 that I don't have, so that's my holiday wish. A simple lens giving me the ability to take pictures of my kid without having to blind everyone at the table with my flash or crank the lights.

--Joshua Goldman

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Photo by: Nikon, Joshua Goldman/CNET / Caption by:

A bigger TV

This holiday, I admit, I don't have much to wish for. I have a lovely 14-month-old boy, a fantastic wife, and more games than I have time to play. I already own an iPhone 3GS, which I use nearly every minute of my life. What I don't have, alas, is a large TV to sit back and enjoy all my entertainment with.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm stuck with a 32-inch Samsung LCD TV--not a bad set by any means. But it's run its course, and I am in heavy desire of an upgrade.

This season has been full of bargain HDTV offers. Forty-six-inch LCD TVs can be had for a song. 1080p sets, from Samsung no less, have been advertised for $899. The recent Sony PS3/HDTV promotion, offering the whole shebang plus a game and Blu-ray disc for $950 at Best Buy, is absurd. And yet, I cannot upgrade. My wife OK'd my last purchase in 2006, and finances are tight to nonexistent. Plus, to watch TV is to be a nonproductive husband, to be a potato.

Am I humiliated to admit I have a 32-incher? Yes, I am. New HDTV adoptees are lapping me with their sudden plunge into 46-inch land. My brother-in-law and dad, both doctors, have 50-plus-inch Pioneer plasmas. Oh, Holiday Gift Man, give me a larger TV. And let me play my Xbox 360 and PS3 games in 1080p. I'll take any one, but preferably a 120Hz LED-backlit LCD with plenty of HDMI inputs.

And while you're at it, give me a proper audio system and a soundproof room. Not only do we generally pipe audio through our pathetic Samsung built-in speakers, but we keep the sound turned down in our small apartment lest we wake our sleeping son. I desperately need an incredible 7.1 surround wireless headset, or the aforementioned padded home entertainment vault.

Until then, I'll continue to lose my eyesight on smaller screens.

--Scott Stein

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Tauntaun Sleeping Bag

The holiday season and sliced-open animals just go hand in hand. With this in mind, I couldn't not choose this for my top holiday wish.

From the deviant minds at ThinkGeek, it's the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag, now officially licensed and everything. Now you can re-enact the classic scene from "The Empire Strikes Back," or as I like to call it, "The Best Star Wars Movie," in which Han Solo keeps an injured Luke Skywalker alive by cutting open his dead tauntaun and tucking Luke inside to keep him toasty-warm.

The tauntaun's head doubles as a comfy pillow, and the inside even resembles the tubular innards of the hardy beast. It's big enough for an adult, provided you aren't Wookiee-sized. It has a plush lightsaber zipper pull to open and close the bag. And worry not, animal lovers; no tauntauns were injured in the production of these sleeping bags.

No word if it smells worse on the inside. That probably depends on what you had to eat before hopping in.

Screw the Snuggie; this is what I want for Christmas. It only costs $100. Did I mention that I've been really, really good this year?

--Jeff Sparkman

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Apple-shaped Beatles USB drive

Dear Santa,

I'll get right to it: I want the Beatles apple-shaped USB drive containing the Fab Four's digitally remastered catalog in stereo.

OK, I'm asking for a piece of fake fruit, but I love fake fruit (didn't your grandmother have plastic grapes on her coffee table?) And it's a limited edition piece of fake fruit.

Sure, I already have nearly all the same 14 Beatles albums on CD and then some--and even a few on vinyl--but they're not the remastered ones. And this USB device would be a different format. (Yes, I've already loaded my Beatles music into iTunes.) Add to that the 13 mini documentaries about each of the studio titles, expanded liner notes, and rare photos! And all this for $279.99. It's even cheaper here. Plus, this device would complement my shower curtain.

I can't buy it for myself because this is the season of giving and I confess I already gave myself a camera. And I might feel like I'd been duped into buying something I already had. I have attempted to create a facsimile using items around the house (see image at left), but my version isn't quite functional. Help!

Sincerely,
Anne Dujmovic

P.S.: If any of my siblings claim that I don't believe in you--and never have--well, they never did either. It's hard to completely shake being a tattletale.

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Photo by: Anne Dujmovic/CNET / Caption by:

Sony Vaio X

The laptop I crave I actually had in my hands, but only for a week or two as a trial. It's Sony's amazing 1.5-pound Vaio X.

It's basically a Netbook on the inside, but its flash-based solid-state drive allows it to run super cool and it's just SO light. Sending it back was far more painful than sending back any device in recent memory.

The standard battery only lasts for a couple of hours. An included extended battery gives several times that much battery although the add-on battery is nearly as heavy as the X itself. In any case, including both batteries gives users two good options.

I'm not sure I am ready to plunk down $1,300 for it, but I sure would be happy if it showed up under the Hanukkah bush.

--Ina Fried

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The ability to stop time

2009 has been an extremely demanding year. I know, "QQ, everyone has problems," especially these days. I've never felt so stretched, though. Work and home life are pulling me in seemingly every direction.

From getting married, to reviewing and blogging constantly, to caring for two full-grown cats who seem to have the smallest bladders on the planet to not answering enough reader mail (sorry), I am becoming Mr. Fantastic, or more like Plastic Man. No, a more C-list super hero...ah, Elongated Man!

And in what's probably the biggest draw on my time, late 2009 has seen a large number of high-quality video game releases! From Dragon Age to Assassin's Creed 2 to the latest Warcraft patch, I actually get stressed out deciding which game to devote time to.

My wife tells me I should strive for balance, make time for what's important. To which I say, "I've got a better idea, love. What if I had the ability to stop time?!" That's what I want for the holidays.

Think about it: with just the snap of my fingers, I could devote a whole two weeks to just playing video games, then another three days three weeks to romantic QT with my wife. You know, taking her to the places where she wants to shop.

Work would be just as fulfilling.

Boss: "Eric, how'd you write 10 reviews in one week?!"

Me: "Hey, I'm just a humble employee with a whole lot of talent."

Co-workers: Deafening silence...

The possibilities are endless.

Sure, it's a little evil, but it's the easiest remedy I can think of. So, Santa (or whomever this is for; actually, this seems more appropriate to a jinni). Please get on this stat. I don't have all the time in the world ;)

Ha-ha! See what I did there. I brought it back home and even added a wink so you'd be in on the joke too...

--Eric Franklin

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Get MacBook Pro fixed

I write almost every day, including weekends. But I don't have it in me to work at home. I have a cute chihuahua, an Xbox, and a sink full of dirty dishes I need to get to. That's way too much distraction.

So I'm a laptop user. And my laptop for the last year has been my lovely Apple MacBook Pro. I take it around the city with me every single day and it's held up nicely. It's one tough notebook, and I'm not easy on it.

But it's taken everything I've thrown at it in stride. Nothing would stand in its way. Not spilled beer. Not being left in a cab (twice). Not being stuffed into airplane overhead compartments on a dozen cross country flights.

It was a trooper. Without it, none of the Crave articles you've read by me would have been possible. But it's retired.

You see, my "T" key stopped working. Happily, Apple said it would fix it under warranty. But then the morning I was going to take it into the Apple store for a repair Seattle was overrun by a ferocious thunderstorm. A huge crash happened just above my building. And that cute chihuahua I mentioned earlier got scared. And knocked my MacBook Pro off the couch. The LCD shattered, and I know Apple won't cover that.

So I'm on my back-up white MacBook for now. It works fine. But it's not my trooper. It's not my sidekick. My holiday wish is that my roullette luck holds during my Vegas trip in January so that I can get it fixed in the next couple of months. It wants to go to work again, too. I just know it.

--Matt Hickey

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Marantz UD9004

A few months ago, my DVD player froze up while playing the first DVD in the "From the Earth to the Moon" series. After several frustrating attempts to view the disc, I learned that the particular DVD player I had enjoyed for a few years without incident was mysteriously prone to seizing up with some discs.

Luckily, a new Blu-ray player given to me by a friend was gathering dust in the garage. I had procrastinated installing it for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it didn't play the DVD-Audio and SACD discs I had spent a fair amount of money and time tracking down.

Then, recently, I stumbled upon the Marantz UD9004, a universal disc player that supports a dizzying array of disc and compression formats, including Blu-ray, DVD, DVD-Audio, and SACD discs. It has dual HDMI outputs for separate output for video and audio signals, and an intriguing feature allows those with an anamorphic lens on their projector (and the appropriate size screen) to stretch a 2.35:1 movie vertically, removing the horizontal black bars. I don't have such a lens or screen, but it's nice to know I'd be covered if the need arose.

Unfortunately, it doesn't support streaming or download services. And it's kind of expensive: $6,000 to be exact. Honestly, this unit would likely occupy the same parking spot on my wish list as a new Porsche GT3 (which, by the way, I'm still waiting patiently for, Santa). Sure it's pricey, but it would get me to "The Dark Side of the Moon" in style.

--Steven Musil

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Spawn Labs HD-720

Topping my holiday wish list this year is an HD-720 from Spawn Labs. This little black box of goodness can be hooked up to your router and your game console to let you place-shift your high-def video gaming to anywhere with an Internet connection and a browser--just like you can do with a Slingbox and your home DVR.

The system works with remote gamepads, so you can plug in any USB-based controller to the remote computer to use it like you would your home console. It comes with one adapter, and additional ones can be purchased for $30 a pop. These let you play split screen multiplayer games on the same machine. The Spawn box is also capable of turning your system on and off, so you don't have to leave it running when you're out of the house.

The $200 device was supposed to launch in November, but it's now delayed until late January, meaning it won't make it in time for the holiday gifting season. There are still many reasons to love it, though--the main one being that $200 is a small price to pay to knock out a round or two of Call of Duty from just about any old computer--even the one at work.

--Josh Lowensohn

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Photo by: Spawn Labs / Caption by:

Cord-detangling solution

This holiday season, I would like the cord-detangling fairy to sneak into my home office in the middle of the night and organize the gnarly nest of cords to the left of my desk into an orderly flow.

I've gone to great lengths to create a pleasant, peaceful home working space (thriving house plants, desk overlooking the garden, muted green walls, even a meditation cushion in the corner), but the dust-trapping cord eyesore in that cramped space between the wall and desk really gets in the way of the feng shui.

The cord fairy could, alternately, wave a wand and forever free my laptop, printer, lamp, router, and DSL modem from all wires.

Absent this sort of magic, I'd like a cord-organizing solution like the sleek little CableBox from Bluelounge Design (pictured below). For $29.95 it neatly holds a power strip or surge protector and all its plug-ins and could go a long way toward restoring domestic-design harmony.

--Leslie Katz

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