2011 Holiday Gifts for the Cool People You Know (Him or Her)

On Sunday, November 27, 2011 0 comments


So you've got the kid's holiday wish lists taken care of but what about that friend, special person in your life or family member that is hard to shop for? Don't you want to get them something special? One rule of thumb I have for getting friends and family gifts, is I look for something that is on the borders of "would like to have", "Wouldn't Mind it" but have "lived without it" until now. Well the following is a list of the cooler stuff out there that might fill that void and make someone very happy to "receive it".
If your gift recipient has not yet read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson (less than $20 for the hardcover), the book that borders on being called a tome of Steve Job's life is a great gift. It is a book that many would enjoy the quality read about his life and would love to have on their shelf after reading the 656 pages!

And if you have someone in your life without a ebook or tablet computer, a great starter in this realm is the Kindle Touch (with Special Offers = $99). This is a very lightweight and easy to read ebook solution as long as your viewing needs are in the realm of black and white print found in books and newspapers. In that area, it is a supremely capable device. Weighing less than 8oz. it is easy to hold and read for long, extended reading sessions.

A notch up the handheld reading device ladder is the Kindle Fire ($199) with its color display and Android tablet innards that make the device a nice small tablet for chewing through your basic media consuming needs. I do have to mention the Barnes and Noble NOOK Tablet as a viable competitor to the Kindle Fire but I'm going to favor Amazon on my presumption of the longevity of the platform being supported (Amazon's all-encompassing web business versus B&N bricks and mortar/online). By no way are either of these an iPad but they are light enough to hold for an extended amount of time.

When I am out and about, one of the most frustrating issues I run into is my phones battery getting low. I have to change my habits...I have to cut people short on phone calls, I can't play a game while waiting for something, I can't rely on my phone for navigation, etc. So a good, small backup battery can become a lifesaver. I should put a caveat in that I am not a fan of the battery cases available for many phones. I hate that when I go to get a new phone, the case is useless. I am less adverse to the devices with Apple iConnectors in them but still worry that I can't use the backup battery for anything else. So I tend to go with batteries with a USB port that most portable electronics can charge off of.

In the realm of companies that focus on a specific area and do it very well, New Trent is a brand you should get to know. This is probably the first time you are hearing of them but they are the masters of external battery pack. New Trent's products are extremely well produced, give you great value for the money and the New Trent ifuel IMP500 5000mAh External Battery (roughly $40) does a very good job at keeping your iPhone, Android, Blackberry...even your Windows Phone juiced when you need it.

And if you want to keep your iPad, tablet or portable gaming system powered up, check out the larger, more potent New Trent's Arcadia Pack IMP70D 7000mAh USB External Battery Pack (less than $50).

In a past WouldntMind article about managing your thoughts, notes and ideas I discussed the Livescribe Echo ($99-199 depending on your internal storage needs) which is a combination smart-pen, audio recorder and specialized digital dot paper. When combined, the information written on the paper is also saved digitally in the pen for later download into your PC or Mac. I received the latest version of this pen last Christmas and it is always at hand at any meeting or time that I want to jot down something. This makes a great holiday gift for someone looking to get better organized or handles a lot of information.

Couch potato's in your life without a universal remote? This must have accessory is something I can't more strongly recommend. The Logitech Harmony remotes are amazingly easy to configure using their online setup and easy to use with the combination of real and soft buttons (buttons that map to the small color display). I know that spending more than $30-50 on a remote might sound odd for some people but once you have a quality universal remote, you won't go back. Check out the Logitech Harmony 650 (less than $60)...its only limitation is that it only controls up to 5 devices. Check out their other Harmony remotes if you need to control more devices.

For your health conscious friends, what about getting them something to track their fitness efforts and keep them motivated as they set new goals. The Fitbit Ultra (under $100)is a new high-tech, wireless pedometer I reviewed in a recent Wouldn't Mind article that not only tracks your steps but it also has an altimeter to track the steps you climb and reports the whole set of information to a customized website where you can following your progress over time.

And no holiday list would be complete without some great camera options. The four I recommend cover the gambit of use cases as you might need to address...

Best Compact Travel Zoom - I wrote up the Canon SX230HS in a past WouldntMind piece if your looking for why to get this camera if you want a small camera to travel with but have a powerful zoom.

Highest Quality Pocketable Camera - My favorite Canon S95 has replaced with a new and improved Canon S100.

Best DSLR for under $500 - With the EOS Rebel T3 (roughly $479), Canon has bundled their new 12.2 mega-pixel sensor with an excellent 63 zone metering and 9 point auto-focus system. Combined, this set gives you amazing pictures for the price. The one aspect that really illustrates its position in the Canon DSLR hierarchy is the plastic body. This might not feel like a quality camera...but trust me, this is a great camera for the money! Keep in mind this camera sells for less that $500 with interchangeable Canon lens. If the person you are getting a new camera for already has Nikon gear or you can inch over the $500 barrier, the Nikon D3100 is a great update for them in the roughly $600 price range.

Best DSLR for under $1000 - From the rankings above you may have the impression that I am a Canon evangelist...and it is true that Canon is really leading the pack in quality digital picture taking through their investments in new sensor technologies and lens but there are some great options from other manufacturers. The Nikon D5100 (roughly $800) is a great example and a strong contender for this category. Featuring a 16.2 mega-pixel, 1080P high definition video recording and a very solid construction. The Canon EOS Rebel T3i with its 18 mega-pixels, HD video recording and great low-light picture handling make this a strong option in this sub-$1000 category.

And yes, the ultimate gift is an iPad 2. My only caveat is that I'm pretty sure an iPad 3 will be coming out in the late spring. Not really clear on what to expect from the new iPad.

Be sure to check out the other write ups on WouldntMind.com for other great gift ideas, like Bluetooth speakers or headphones, GPS solutions, flat-panel TVs, wireless hard disk storage for your smart-device, videogames, etc.

Okay...one last idea. Are you well-off financially? Are you getting a gift for someone really, really special? Cessna's CitationAir is running an end of the year promotion. You can get a 5-Hour Jet Card ($31,145-55,000 depending on the jet) that covers all expenses. They offer convenient payment options (wire transfer, check or credit card)!

And if you are looking for Holiday recommendations for the little ones, check out my other WouldntMind Holiday recommendations for kids.

Note: This is a work in progress. I am still churning through some other products that might make the list over the next couple days. I'll update this piece with details as they come around.

I am still looking for more great gift ideas for friends, family members or your favorite kids. Please feel free to share in the comments below if you have your eyes on something I haven't considered.

Also be sure to comment below and share your experiences with any of these devices in general. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

Just my 2-cents,
Larry

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Christmas Gifts for Good Little Boys and Girls (of any age) - 2011

On Friday, November 18, 2011 0 comments

Well by now you know you should not expect the usual list of gift ideas for your boys and girls from me. My lists will skew toward the cool, new and/or high-tech. I'm probably not going to dive into that new tricycle for your toddler unless it comes with OnStar location services! But that said, let's look at what cool things a kid can ask for this holiday that I wish was around when I was a little one.

Let's start with something to prime your youngest kids for a high-tech, interactive future! What about the gift of reading? Here is a great book for your geek-baby...Goodnight iPad storybook (less than $12). "Goodnight iPad, goodnight DOOM, goodnight Facebook friend, goodnight Nooks and digital books..." You get the picture :-)

What about a "pre-holiday" gift to really get the holiday spirit going? What about this great countdown LEGO STAR WARS Advent Calendar ($45)! And if the child you are buying this for is not a Star Wars fan...but I would question "why not?" Haven't you been watching the new Star Wars Clone Wars animated series? It is a great series that both adult and kids can get into...as long as you don't mind a few clones dying here and their. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. If, they are not Star Wars fans (still hard to write that), you can also consider this other very cool LEGO City Advent Calendar ($35). I know the kids that I've gotten these LEGO calendars for over the years really enjoy the countdown and simple daily LEGO building projects.

And if you have a true LEGO fan in the household, the LEGO Ideas book ($15) would make a great gift. Now be forewarned, this is a beautiful picture book to give your kids some inspiration but for the most part there is NO directions on how to build these amazing constructions. The book does feature all-new LEGO building projects, tips to supplement and enhance your LEGO creations, inspirational buildings, and expert advice from LEGO Master Builders...it is a truly inspiring book for any LEGO architect in your family.

What would a kids gift list be in 2011 without some Angry Birds items? And at the top of my list is the Angry Birds: Knock on Wood game (less than $30)! This is NOT a game app for your smart device like an Android phone or iPhone but instead brings the destructive powers of those Angry Birds to the real world. This is a great little tabletop game of flinging birds at a wide assortment of pig constructions. Hours of fun...just look at the picture to the left!

And if all that violence and destruction is unsettling for you...perhaps a nice soft 8" Plush Angry Bird (less than $15)?

If you have a Xbox 360 and haven't gotten a Kinect controller ($150) for it...get it. This is a peripheral that allows you and your kids to use your entire body to control the game. There is a slew of new titles coming out this holiday and definitely worth adding to the list. If you haven't got a 360 for your kids...why not? This is a great system and there is some amazing titles already available with new ones still in the pipeline. You can purchase the Xbox 360 console system w/Kinect ($400) as a bundle but I might have a hard time recommending getting the full system as we will probably see a new platform within 12-18 months. But there is a very solid line-up of titles that take advantage of the Kinect and make for some great family-time, multiplayer gaming...Just Dance 3, Kinect Sports: Season Two, Sesame Street: Once upon a Monster, Eden and Fruit Ninja.

A gaming console I can recommend is the Nintendo 3DS ($170). This new system was introduced this past spring and is continuing to build up a very viable line-up of portable gaming fun. The 3DS was the first portable gaming system to feature a 3D display with a slider that allows you to adjust the focus/depth for your eyes. You can even turn off the 3D effect...something I recommend as the displays are stunning without the 3D and the game will actually run at a faster frame-rate and smoother animations. I personally play with little or no 3D. Some games add a nice level of depth to the image with the 3D on. Some games worth checking out include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D ($40), Super Mario 3D Land ($40), Mario Kart 7 ($40), Pokemon Rumble Blast 3DS ($35), Star Fox 64 3D ($40)...are you catching a pattern here? All the hot titles are Nintendo developed. But there are some very nice 3rd party titles as well including; LEGO Star Wars III The Clone Wars 3D ($20), Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition ($20) and coming out in December is The Adventures Of Tintin: The Game ($40). You also have access to all the new DS games (without 3D) such as the latest Professor Layton and the Last Specter ($30), Kirby Mass Attack, Let's Draw ($20) and the incredibly amazing Super Scribblenauts ($30).

If you are looking for additional recommendations for the best videogames to gift your kids/friends/family, be sure to check out my Fall 2011 Top 10 Holiday game preview.

Stepping back into the real world again, some other cool toys include the new Hot Wheels Video Racer Micro Camera Car (a little over $50) series. These high-tech little new cars capture footage from the car's perspective as it races down the track and let the kids play back the video on a small LCD on the bottom of the car or download the footage to their Windows PC to edit the action with the included application you can download. For those of you with a Macintosh computer (isn't that everyone now?), the car when hooked up via USB appears like a regular camera on the computer and the video is transferable but you will need to use your own editing software. The cars store up to 12 minutes of footage before needing to be transferred.

Of course if you have a cool, new Hot Wheels car...you'll need some cool new stunt tracks to go with it and make some neat videos. Mattel has a new series of Hot Wheels Wall Tracks ($55) that are ingeniously adhere to the wall using 3M's Command Strips that hold the tracks in place while also not damaging the surface.

If a toy car is too mundane for you, how about the coolest, easiest to fly indoor helicopter I've ever used? Check out this Syma S109G Apache AH-64 (less than $30) indoor helicopter. It is amazing to see this little guy that will fit into the palm of your hand hover, turn and fly around with easy.

Now Activision is really playing up their Skylanders Spyro's Adventure Starter Pack ($70) but I am having a hard time recommending this as it feels like such a gimmick. I just feel the product lacks some depth but on the opposite side I am sure kids will love it. This is a crossover product that combines little toy figures and a videogame. The starter pack gives you a copy of the game for your favorite gaming console (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS, PC or Mac...make sure you get the right version for your gaming console), a "Portal of Power" adaptor to hook to your gaming device and three Skylanders figures. The figure connects to the console through the included Portal of Power adapter and your character shows up in the game. Take the figure with you to your friends because all the game data is saved inside the character. If you have played a Spyro game before, they are usually pretty decent action/adventure games and this one focus on the multi-player aspects of all the collectible action figure characters.

I previously wrote-up about the introduction of a new Toys R Us Nabi ($200) tablet computer that is coming out in December. There is also a new LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Game ($100) system that is a starter tablet for ages 4-9 available in both green or pink. It includes a built-in camera and video recorder, 5" touchscreen that works with fingers ro included stylus, four apps (Pet Pad, Story Studio, Art Studio and one app of your choosing). Compatible with a library of 100+ LeapPad Explorer games and applications.

But if you want to be the "ultimate holiday giver", you can not go wrong with an iDevice. On the top of the Nielsen's kids most wanted tech for the holiday poll (ages 6-12) is the Apple iPad ($500+), iPod Touch and iPhone taking the top three positions.
Apple iPad...clearly the best holiday gift for any good girl or boy!
I am still looking for more great gift ideas for kids. Please feel free to share in the comments below if your kids have their eyes on something I haven't considered.


Also be sure to comment below and share your experiences with Nabi, other kids tech or tablets in general. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

Just my 2-cents,
Larry


Tablets for everyone...including Kids!

On Saturday, November 12, 2011 0 comments

Toys R Us - Nabi Tablet
It is almost magical to watch young children take to their first experiences with a tablet computer like the Apple iPad. It comes so naturally for them, almost as easy as finger-painting and also akin to how they can naturally pick up a second language...the language of interacting with a computing device. You can only imagine what this new generation will be like brought up on such instant access, always available information at their fingertips.

And while it is true that young children are playing on all manner of smart devices like iPhones and tablets nowadays, it only makes sense that they would have their own tailored device as the price of technology continues to become cheaper. 

Personally, I know I would like my 9 year old son to have his own device. He is in the middle of playing through almost every game I have downloaded onto my iPad and leaves me with little to play with until he is done...which in this world of app updates every week is almost never! I really would have loved to play through Cut the Rope or Angry Birds from the very beginning, working my way up the accomplishments of unlocking new sets of levels but by the time I get to those games, he is pretty far along in the storyline :-(

So it is not surprising that this holiday season Toys R Us plans to introduce a small tablet aimed at kids ages six years and up. The device is called the Nabi and features a 7 inch multi-touch display, Wi-Fi connectivity and a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. The Nabi has a streamlined user interface with large application icons and a kid-friendly web browser that allows up to 5 hours of finger tapping education and entertainment.

Like other Google Android tablets (which is the software that the Nabi is built on top of), it allows the little ones to surf the web, watch high-def movies and television shows, read books and run Android applications. Prepackaged on the device is over $150 worth of games, music, apps and books as well as ready to run over 500 applications and games tailored to kids at the Nabi App Store.

Included content on the Nabi is the award-winning Fooz Kids University with over 22,000 state standardized math skills covering grades Pre-K through 5th. A Design Studio with 30+ apps for the kids to draw, paint and even create their own professional looking storybooks to share with friends and family. Speaking of books, the included library of 30 ebooks and interactive stories encourage kids to read and explore.

Angry Birds
And what would a kids device be without games! You get the prerequisite classics Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja as well as the car racing game Need for Speed.

And if the parents are feeling left out or the kids are off to bed, Toys R Us has a special "Mommy Mode" (no idea why us Dads were left out) which unlocks the full Android tablet within. 

Overall the device appears to be thoughtfully designed for kids with a rubberized/padded outer frame and recessed monitor. You can preorder the $200 Nabi at Toys R Us now with an estimated shipping date of 12/1/2011...just in time for Christmas.

If you want to read about my thoughts around the whole tablet marketplace as it currently stands...check out my other article titled "No idea why someone would buy any tablet other than an iPad".

Please be sure to comment below and share your experiences with Nabi, other kids tech or tablets in general. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

My 2 cents,
Larry


Who needs a standalone GPS nowadays?

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011 0 comments

I'm a heavy GPS users. I enjoy knowing that I am taking the most direct/shortest travel time route. I use it even in my hometown to avoid traffic and construction. But while I am a fan, the technology is built into pretty much every phone sold today...so I've been wondering "How long will they continue to make a standalone GPS?" With the world of convergent technologies, I just figured these standalone devices won't be around much longer. But I still see them advertised, I see people using them and often wonder..."Don't you have a smartphone?"

So I thought I would dig in and see what you get with a modern, standalone GPS. I'm focused on the standard automotive/portable type of GPS. There are a slew of other options for marine, motorcycle, outdoor or fitness products that I am not covering in this review.

There seems to be three key features to the standard breed of GPS today. First many of them have Bluetooth features like providing the ability to sync your cell as a speakerphone. Another great addition is real-time traffic information and routing options. And lastly, a new breed of voice command GPS units that make them ideal for hands-free use in a moving vehicle.

So I'm presuming with this write-up that you have a need for such a device and are starting there. You have a vehicle that did not come with navigation or have an "on-the-go" need for GPS guidance that a smartdevice doesn't cover. One benefit might be that you don't use "data" when traveling abroad and don't want to call up Google Maps on your phone. Data plans when traveling abroad are extremely cost prohibitive. And there are some smartphone solutions which I'll cover in a future article.

Under $200?
Nuvi 1490 LMT
My past experience has been with the Nuvi line from Garmin and found the 1400 series their popular line-up today. Last year's model the Nuvi 1490 LMT has been a runaway hit online and has garnered a lot of good buzz. It is an especially feature-rich product for the money. The large 5-inch diagonal LCD has a very readable resolution of 480x272. This product also features Bluetooth technology enabling hands-free calling. It retails for $260 but you can currently find it online in the sub-$200 price range. There are cheaper versions of this product but the LMT version includes Lifetime Map updates and real-time Traffic. The 1450LMT version is the same for under $170, if you can live without the Bluetooth hands-free features.

Overall I like the way information is displayed on this Garmin. The ability to preload 10 routes and saved waypoint can come in handy for long trips. The "lane assist" pops up a clear image of which lane you need to be in at major junctions along your travel plan. And the ecoRoute feature calculates the most fuel-efficient route and tracks your fuel usage.

Around a $100?
TomTom XXL 540S
This value GPS is not the latest model but proves to be a great buy at a street price under $100 (I've seen it for around $80 on occasion). You get a solid and reliable route finding product with a good 5-inch display. It is not the most user friendly but overall is a favorite for the price. It does an excellent job finding the fastest route and its Advance Lane Guidance clearly illustrates which lane you should be in. This base product does not offer Lifetime Map nor Traffic. The XXL 540TM model is available with traffic and map subscriptions for around $120 but once you get into this price range I would highly recommend the Garmin Nuvi 1350LMT for $130 online price. The Garmin has a slightly smaller 4.3" display but overall is a much nicer product.

Splurging on a GPS?
Garmin Nuvi 3490LMT
Nowadays it costs $1,000 or more to get navigation with a new car purchase, so $400 for the ultimate in a personal, vehicle GPS solution is a steal. If your car doesn't have navigation, this is a great add-on. Not only does it have all the must-have features like Lifetime Maps and Traffic, it is also voice activated and includes support for Bluetooth hands-free calls and reads your text messages out loud. Garmin's new Guidance 3.0 service offers an even more intuitive user-interface with pinch-to-zoom multi-touch features. Digital 3D Traffic provides real-time (every 30 seconds) updates and the system will work to dynamically route you around new traffic situations.

The 3490LMT is a sleek, attractive device that is 9mm thick and features a 4.3" monitor that displays landmarks and terrain in 3D.

TomTom Go Live 2535TM
In past years I have faulted TomTom for their user interfaces and it seemed like they were trying to appeal to the more geeky, gadget-savvy demographic. If you had fun tweaking several options to get where you wanted to go...their product was for you. The good news is TomTom has begun to make their products much more user friends and features some great advances in usability such as the "Google Local Search" and more intuitive setup screens found in their recently introduced TomTom Go Live 2535M. The device includes a 5-inch display and has a retail price of $300 and a street price around $270. To further aid your navigation needs, TomTom has included Voice Commands and Bluetooth hands-free calling. Their IQ Routes feature presents the fastest route based on the time and day of the week. I will say that the reason TomTom seems to have successful is their routing logic and I would say this continues to be true. The 2535M is a very reliable device that seems to do quite well in getting you from "Point A" to "Point B" pretty efficiently. The Live traffic information seems to be more up-to-date that the old ClearChannel FM subscription solutions of the past.

Smartdevice w/Built-in GPS?
Obviously most smartphones and tablets include a GPS in them today and feature an online mapping tool like Google Maps. But automated turn-by-turn with voice guidance tends to be an additional option in the form of a cell carrier extra feature or an app you need to download.

Goggle Maps for mobile "beta" is available for Android devices and features free turn-based GPS navigation. It includes 3D Maps, Offline functionality for areas you regularly travel, Voice Search, Street View and Traffic. All in all, it is a good, feature-rich but not a very flashy solution...and free for Android users. For non-Android users, Google Maps is just a mapping tool that can help you plan out your trip but lacks real-time updating and voice announcements.

I'll do a full write-up on the navigation software packages available for smart-devices in a future posting but currently I use Navigon for the iPhone in case you are curious.

Conclusion
Based on the mapset they each rely on there definitely seems to be a preference between Garmin in the US and TomTom in Europe but both products also work well in either part of the world. I really like the Garmin Nuvi interface and believe they represent the easiest products to use overall. The Nuvi 1490 LMT is a great product for the price but if you can live without some features check out the entire 1400 series for the right one for the dollars for you.

In closing, I do need to mention that both Garmin and TomTom offer voice packages for many of their GPS products so you can customize what your device sound like...or who they sound like. Both companies have Star Wars packs licensed from Lucasfilm - Garmin Star WarsTomTom Star Wars


Please be sure to comment below and share your experiences with these or other GPS/navigation products. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.


If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

My 2 cents,
Larry





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