George Cole considers the hardware highlights he would like to find when he wakes up on Christmas morning
This is the time of year many thoughts turn to Christmas, and whether Santa will bring every good computer user a gizmo. Top of many people's list will be the Apple iMac (Pounds 999), which not only looks stunning but also packs a powerful G3 processor chip punch, plus a built-in 56k modem, 24x-speed CD-Rom drive, lots of memory and a giant hard drive. One only hopes that Rudolph has been pumping some iron to prepare for the sleighs stacked with iMacs.
From the big to the small. The Rex PC Companion (Pounds 99, Franklin) has gained a lot of fans. The concept behind it is simple: why carry a large notebook PC when useful files (such as addresses, contact numbers and "to do" lists) can be downloaded on to a credit card-sized device and carried in a pocket? The Rex can store up to 3,000 files and optional software lets you download data from programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Schedule+.
Hand-held electronic organisers have many supporters who would never go back to a paper diary or notebook. Psion galvanised this market with its Series 3 organiser, and it has launched a newversion of the old favourite, the Psion 3MX (Pounds 270). It includes a word processor, spreadsheet, calendar and calculator. Sharp's SE-300 (Pounds 159) is a personal information manager that has an address book, reminder function and calendar. Canon's ZX-10 (Pounds 150) is a smart-looking hand-held computer with a brushed aluminium case. It has an electronic stylus and offers a database, diary and calculator.
The Philips Velo 500 (Pounds 450) is a hand-held PC which uses Windows CE, a cut-down version of the operating system used by PC computers. Users can download Microsoft Word or Excel files and use them on the move.
Digital cameras have gone from being expensive toys to useful products that can be used for sending images with email or publishing pictures on the Net. The Olympus C-840L (Pounds 599) has a mega-pixel CCD chip, which means that the image sensor has more than one million picture points. The result is much sharper images. The C-840L can store about nine high-quality images on a memory card or about 60 images in lower resolution. It comes with PC editing software.
Sanyo's VPC-250 (about Pounds 400) can store four five-second video clips with sound on a memory card, and its latest "clip-cam", the VPC-X350, includes a megapixel CCD (price to be announced).
And don't forget the good old floppy disk. Sony's Mavica MVC-FD5 (around Pounds 400) records up to 40 images on a floppy disk, which can be taken out of the digital camera and put into a computer.
To print your pictures, treat yourself to a colour printer. Epson's Stylus Photo 700 (Pounds 125) is a low-cost, quality printer that offers 720 dpi (dots per inch) resolution and prints two colour pages a minute.
Want a computer room with a view? Pace's Colour Video Camera (Pounds 89) uses the new Universal Serial Bus connector, which is found on the iMac and many of the latest PCs. The USB system makes it much easier to install peripherals on a computer. The camera records video clips which can be sent by email - friends don't need a video camera to view them but do need a sound card to hear them.
Philips DSS 370 digital speakers (Pounds 146) plug into a USB connector and work without a sound card.
f you want more thud and crunch from computer games, Logitech's Wingman Force joystick (Pounds 89) is every player's dream. Powerful motors drive this "stick with kick" so that you feel the recoil of a laser gun in space games or the strain of a plane rudder in flight simulators. Crashes and nuclear explosions have never been such fun. This joystick uses a USB connector to get best performance, though there is a standard plug to work with all machines.
A growing number of camcorder owners are downloading images on to a computer and editing their shots. Iomega's Buz (Pounds 189) is a cool-looking purple box which links up to a camcorder and computer. Shots can be downloaded and once they have been edited (Buz comes with video editing software), they can be recorded back on to video tape.
Drawing images on a computer is not easy, even if you have passed the mouse driving test. Calcomp's Creation Station (Pounds 95) is a graphics tablet which uses the keyboard as a power source and includes a pen and mouse.
Last, but not least, Lego Mindstorms (Pounds 160) features those well-known multi-coloured bricks. Mindstorms comes with 700 components (including sensors) that can be used to create robots, cars or whatever your imagination fancies. Devices are controlled by a program and instructions sent by an infra-red transmitter. Who says you have to grow old gracefully?
Apple 0870 6006010
Canon 0800 616417
Calcomp Art Systems 0115 943 1404
Epson 0800 220546
Franklin 01932 891025
Iomega 0800 973 194
Lego 0845 606 2043
Logitech 01306 734300
Olympus 0171 253 2772
Pace 0990 561001
Philips 0800 961 445
Psion 0990 143050
Sanyo 01923 246363
Sharp 0345 125387
Sony 0181 784 1144