Online's very own Inspector Gadget, Roger Frost, looks at what he'll be asking Santa for this year
With the festive season approaching, spare a thought for the technology lover as a mass of quality merchandise hits the market. And if you don't already suffer from the same desires, you may well do after browsing through this selection of goodies. Each item is priced to include VAT and boxed.
They've been around for years, but digital cameras are still hot favourites and proof that there is no going back to film and developing. In this fast-moving market, it's looking positive for those poised to make the switch. For example, pound;150 to pound;200 now buys a good brand, good quality (2 megapixel) camera. It will come with a flash, produce 6inch x 8inch prints and have a preview screen to show (and delete) pictures.
Shop around and you'll find familiar names like Sony, Kodak, Pentax or Fuji. Type the model number into google.com and you'll find lots of reviews to weigh them up. While good optics and battery life are crucial, extra picture memory helps (pound;40's worth should be ample). And as a near luxury item, picture storage is a fair Xmas gift in itself.
Good printers are easy to find, but the Epson Stylus Photo 925 (pound;220) is one that distinguishes itself as a photo lab. It prints right to the paper edge and even cuts the pictures off a paper roll. Remarkable are its quality, menu screen and slots to print directly from a camera card. Another model, the 950 (pound;330) even has a special tray that prints on the back of CD-Roms.
As an item that people hesitate to buy, ink-jet printer paper could be a stocking filler. For example, Ilford's "Printasia" range comes in glossy, satin and a surprising matt finish to make photos look a little arty.
Mouse and keyboard
If your mouse clogs and its wires snag, it's worth moving to a cord-free design. The Logitech MX700 (pound;59.99) is a top-of-the-range mouse with a silky executive feel that befits a gift. It uses a no-moving-parts optical sensor and it's as fast and responsive as a corded one. Unlike models that eat batteries, it charges in 10 minutes from a storage pod while no-gimmick "cruise control" buttons make for effortless scrolling.
Similarly innovative is the Cordless Presenter (Logitech, pound;169) which one moment can be used to advance PowerPoint slides and the next as a mouse. It uses radio frequency (Bluetooth) to communicate with the computer so you really can wander round the class and use it when you want. A tiny (USB) unit plugs into the PC to give it a 10-metre range.
The GyroMouse Presenter Mouse (Gyration, pound;217) not only has an optical sensor that works on the bench, it also has internal gyroscopes to sense when you move it in the air. It sits in a base where it charges, but pick it up, wave it around and you're into a whole new ball game.
For the full cordless effect, the Cordless Desktop Optical (Logitech, pound;99) is a keyboard and mouse set. Used in classrooms and meetings, it aids discussion - although if you've a keyboard that can't find a home on your desk this is a perfect solution. Try the keyboard if you can. Tastes vary, but this one is unusually comfortable and has extra buttons for playing music.
So where are we heading? Most likely today's digital camera will become tomorrow's camcorder, but until then you could get up to speed with editing digital video. We tried this earlier in the year with Apple's iMac with great success. While the iMac reigns supreme, there's now respite for PC users with Pinnacle's Studio 8. This lovely, intuitive package, which comes as software (pound;55) or with video capture kit (pound;80 to pound;120), is the thing to start dabbling with.
Also recommended, as a beginner's package, is Expression (pound;30) which, as well as video, makes slideshows out of the masses of digital photos you'll soon have. Cheap and easy to make, slideshows with music are great attention grabbers for lessons, assemblies and Christmas afternoons.
* Manufacturers' recommended prices are quoted including VAT, but products may be cheaper from e-tailers and other resellers.