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Commentary: Top 10 devices for the holidays

There's a holiday gadget for every person and budget, from plasma TVs to the iPod, and from smart watches to an Internet mood globe.

Commentary: Top 10 devices for the holidays
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
December 10, 2004, 6:30AM PT

by Paul Jackson, Senior Analyst, and Ted Schadler, Vice President

Forrester has drawn on its research into consumer technologies in North America and Europe to suggest 10 products for your holiday shopping list. They include the latest in TVs, computers, cameras and music, and are perfect for friends and family or your favorite person--you.

There's a holiday gadget for every person and budget.

Consumer technologies are always a winner when they come wrapped in a colorful box with a bow. This season, avoid devices that require too much learning from the poor friend or family member who gets it. Instead, think about which product will slip into their lifestyle with barely a ripple:

1. Football families will get good value from a Sony or Toshiba sub-$1,000 HDTV. There's no need to go sleek and thin to get a great picture. If you had space in the den for the ancient 36-inch tube TV, then you can surely squeeze in its widescreen high-definition brother. And the falling prices of 32-inch HD-ready tube sets let you give the family a television that will show Curt Schilling's bloody ankle in all its gory glory at a price that won't force you to take out a second mortgage.

2. Space-conscious consumers will love you for an HD plasma or LCD TV. There's no denying the visual thrill of these HD beauties--especially for those space-constrained Europeans who don't have the room for a monster tube television. You'll have a wide choice in LCD TVs, as Dell and Hewlett-Packard have joined traditional makers Philips, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Sharp and Samsung in offering LCDs that fit cleanly into even small rooms. If you're thinking plasma, then don't forget to check out Dell's $2,999 42-inch plasma TV. If you still can't justify the money, hold off until Father's Day--an oversupply of LCD screens means prices will fall further next year.

3. Music lovers will fall in love with their iPod. Apple Computer's runaway success in MP3 players is built on design brilliance, an industry-changing deal with music publishers, the increasing quality of its iTunes store and its embrace of those wedded to the PC. HP's version of the iPod comes with customizable "skins," and there are plenty of options for those who have already drunk the iPod Kool-Aid--cool cases, voice recorders and for a premium add-on, a Bose or Harman/Kardon speaker docking station.

4. And the design-conscious will thank you for a sleek Apple iMac. The new iMac G5 combines excellent design, processing power, and the iLife application suite in one easy-to-install package. Finally, a home PC that the rest of us would consider having in the living room.

5. DVD-playing laptops will keep the kids quiet on vacation. Averatec, HP and Toshiba have introduced wireless laptops that can play DVDs for 6 hours on a single charge. Hint to Dad: Buy one for the one you love so she can surf the Net from the sofa, then hand it over to the kids for that trip across Kansas. The downside? Dad won't be able to resist staying in touch with the office while stopped for lunch on the highway in Arizona, where even rest stops are getting Wi-Fi.

6. "Prosumer" digital cameras and photo printers will please even ardent photo fans. Digital cameras like Canon's EOS 6.3MP Digital Rebel and Nikon's Coolpix 5700 deliver professional features at a high-end consumer price. Reassure your family's photography buff that these cameras have familiar controls and will take existing lenses. And third-generation photo printers like Canon's Pixma range and HP's Photosmart and Vivera ink mean that your lucky shutterbug can make large prints from the comfort of a well-lit room.

7. Home photographers and music librarians will thank you for extra storage. While storage isn't a very sexy present to find under the tree, all this digital audio, video and photo content has to go somewhere--and, ideally, be backed up, too. Working on the basis that it's increasingly easy to fill that seemingly huge 60GB hard disk, buy your PC junkie a storage box from a company like Iomega, LaCie or Ximeta.

8. Speed your teenager's carpal tunnel syndrome with a messaging gizmo. Youths who care more about instant and text messaging than voice will go for the Ogo from AT&T Wireless. This weird-looking gizmo lets them send an unlimited number of messages over the instant-messaging network of their choosing, plus SMS messages, for only $17.95 per month; additional IM networks cost only $3 more. More well-heeled messaging fiends--who also want voice as a backup--might prefer Motorola's A630, which looks like a standard candy-bar phone but flips open to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard.

9. Go high-fashion with your handset. Face it, your 2-year-old StarTac seriously reduces your street cred--you need a phone that everyone will envy when you pull it out of your pocket. The answer? Motorola's new super-thin, anodized aluminum-skinned Razr V3. Fashion-forward shutterbugs will opt for new megapixel camera phones like the Nokia 7610, Sony Ericsson s700i, or Samsung MM-A700.

10. A few "out there" ideas for the person who has everything. We all have at least one relative who seems to have everything already. Never fear, these new gadgets are so far out there that even these folks won't have heard of them yet:

The Ambient mood globe.This quirky $150 product from Ambient Devices sits on your desk and glows lovely pastel colors according to the mood of pretty much anything reported on the Internet--the weather, the stock market, a public opinion poll. The data flows in over FM airwaves, so no Internet connection is needed.

The Philippe Starck Weatherstation. Interested in the weather, but put off by faux oak barometers? The Weatherstation, designed by Philippe Starck, offers comprehensive weather, time and audio options in a minimalist case. The bad news: It's only available in Europe at the moment.

The Microsoft-powered SPOT Swatch. Microsoft's MSNDirect service uses the FM airwaves to send news, weather and even your calendar to your wristwatch. While Tissot brings sleek stainless steel, it's the kitschy orange Swatch that catches our fancy--the basketball-dunking watch face is only a bonus. Be sure to include a coupon for the first year's service fee to give this watch its information feed and pizzazz.

© 2004, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.