Giving the gift of tech is more complicated than you might think.
There are things to consider when bestowing the latest media player, notebook PC, cell phone or geeky peripheral on a loved one. Though family politics and hectic schedules can be automatic sources of stress come holiday time, getting a present should never be.
To help make the lives of givers and recipients a lot more cheery this December, CNET News.com checked in with the Geek Squad, the Best Buy tech gurus dressed as mid-century television dads and charged with eliminating "all evil computer behavior."
Here are some geek-approved suggestions for this holiday season:
DO realize that you can create more work and stress for technophobes when you try to bring them into the 21st century with a fun, whizbang present.
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Even though the ability to pause live television and skip commercials may forever alter life for the better, the setup for it can be confusing and frustrating. Recognize this before wrapping up a TiVo for grandma or your electronically illiterate brother-in-law. Or just be prepared to set it up for them--and possibly be placed on hold while waiting for tech support.
DO pay attention to the system they own. Many times people receive the latest technology as gifts, but lack the up-to-date components or peripherals necessary to make it work, said Agent Matthew Dworkin of The Geek Squad's Stepford, N.J., "precinct."
For example, the iPod is a popular gift, but it requires a USB 2.0 connection in order to transfer music and other files to and from a computer. Most PCs and notebooks made in the last two years have USB 2.0 as a standard feature, but there are a slew of older models out there that don't. "It's a factor of 40 between how fast one version of USB works and the (second) version," Dworkin said.
DO understand their lifestyle. If the person you're buying for doesn't spend much time in front of the TV, don't buy them a Slingbox--just because you think it's the coolest must-have gadget doesn't mean the recipient will.
By the same token, consider how the recipient will use the gift. Buying someone a 42-inch flat-panel television is usually welcome, but not if it's too big for their living room. Sitting too close to a high-resolution TV can defeat the purpose of having one. "Don't get someone the biggest TV, get the best TV for that person," said Larry Toscana, director of customer strategy for Panasonic.
DO consider the associated costs of your gift to the recipient. Understand that giving an expensive present, like a high-definition television, may require the person to lay out more money to make it work. The additional cost of cables, wall-mounting or upgraded channel services is important to the recipient, so it should be important to the giver, said Panasonic's Toscana.
DON'T buy another person the gift you would like to get. The music lover on your list may be more satisfied with a portable CD player than a digital audio player, if file formats are not his or her forte. "They don't have to worry about going through the rigmarole of putting a CD into a computer and ripping it. If you don't know how to do that, it gets frustrating," Dworkin said.
DON'T worry if you can't set up a network or wireless router. Even the best at following manuals can get waylaid by these, Dworkin said.
"We have a lot of calls on those, specifically from people who buy a router, take it home, and it still doesn't work. The directions are well-written and clear, but still sometimes not enough," he said. It's unsurprising then that networking devices are one of the most frequently returned consumer electronics products, according to Dworkin.
DON'T buy an incomplete gift. You wouldn't serve someone a filet mignon without a fork and a steak knife, would you? In the same way, it's not nice to buy someone a slick new photo printer, but not the USB cable to connect it to the printer or camera. "You always want to make sure people can use the gift as soon as they get it," Dworkin advised.