TechMama's Holiday And Overall Cool Technology Gift Guide For Families
While my other blogger friends were busy putting their holiday guides out before Thanksgiving, I was busy making my garage into a playroom to get ready for the winter. Well, the good news is that our garage is now a playroom - but the bad news is that my holiday guide is out very close to "the" holidays. So I am going to call this the TechMama Holiday/Last Minute Shopping/Overall Cool Technology to Buy Guide. The other good news is that after holiday sales are coming soon...
First I will provide a summary (the lowdown for mom gadgets and more..) and then below I discuss some of my favorite family technology picks. There has been so much debate about kids and technology use, but my final word is wait until your child shows an interest, set up limits on screen time, take time to educate yourself and your child on the technology/ internet safety issues - then HAVE SOME FUN (click here to see my full post on this topic)!
This is a time where elementary school students are social networking online with Webkinz and using technology at school every day, tweens have their own blogs and highschool students are starting to use Facebook. Just check out this post from Mashable (Oct. 2007) that lists 350+ social networking sites available. While I am against baby computer toys, I do feel that parents need to get on board with technology and become part of the education process (technology safety is the new "birds & bees" talk). Especially with online privacy. I don't suggest buying all sorts of gadgets, as I said above - wait until they show an interest and then invest in the right technology. The holidays (and after holiday sales) are the perfect time to buy technology for families.
Here is the summary (or lowdown):
- If baby Jojo's only words are mama, peepee and dada, then no need to rush out to buy a baby computer system with phonics games, try some soft building blocks instead. If they can't say the word computer, then they don't need one yet....
- If your toddler/preschooler likes to build, try some basic building toys or building sets instead of building communities with SimCity (which is great for tweens and older).
- Gadgets for children/tween/teens: But if your child/tween/teen been asking for a Nintendo DS Lite, Wii, or their own laptop - then the holidays are a great time to surprise them. Or maybe they want to instant messaging
and call their friends with a cellphone, but you want a pay-as-you go
model that has controls for contacts and time so you look at the Kajeet. If they like science/technology projects, buy the book "Best of Make" and choose some to start on, search the Solaro website for chemistry/physics/solar powered projects or . And if your kids are asking for new twists on board games, try the electronic versions. Talk about electronics, if you are flying to see family this holiday, here are some gadgets to keep your kids entertained. Yahoo Shopping Blog also has a guide for Tech-Head Teens.
- Gadgets for Grandparents: If Grandmom and Grandpop can never access your emails or download their adorable family pictures, then give them the gift of easy access to pictures and email using Presto. Or a Bluetooth headset (Sound ID SM100 Ear Module recommended by Engadget) that uses technology similar to hearing aids to amplify sound.
- Gadgets for Moms: If Mom has been trying her best to work at home with the kitchen table as her desk, get her set up with a real desk, office supplies and updated networking/technology supplies at Staples (that is a big hint to my family - I am typing this from my kitchen table). If she is a moblie mom, splurge on a mini skinny business card holder along with a pouch from Coach that will fit her business card holder, cellphone/PDA, a small wallet and some personal items. How about a NeatReceipts Scanalizer to help get rid of reciept piles..Best yet, give her a laptop and set up wireless access so she can have free access to work anywhere in the house. Help mom make sure her email is always up to date by surprising her with a smartphone (BlackBerry Curve is my fav, but my friends also enjoy the iPhone) with a Bluetooth wireless headset for hands free chatting (and to help noise reduction for the kids screaming in the background). If she likes to moblog, surf the internet and listen to music on the go, the iPod touch is a great gift. Or similar to my house, give her the wireless router and let her set it up for fun. How about a lifetime TiVo service? Laptop Magazine had some other great gift suggestions: Pacific Design's line of bags by Chloe Dao (Project Runway winner) and the IRISPen scanning pen to digitize recipes or other paperwork. Engadget's Gift guide has some great gift suggestions for the whole family, but for moms the teal Sony Cybershot DSC-T2 looked interesting. Or surprise her with her own email-based assistant (Sandy) to bridge the gap between electronic calenders and paper. If she has a smartphone or Windows mobile phone, load Yahoo Go Moblie 2.0 to have access to maps, photos and news on the go. If she is a blogger, a "Stay At Home Blogger" or other hip tee shirts from Baby Brewing is a great gift idea.
- Dad Gadgets: If Dad never takes family pictures because the family camera he has is old and heavy to carry, then time to buy a lightweight digital camera like the Canon Powershot 850. Or get the Flip Video Ultra for another slim and light gadget to record family memories. Then set up a family media channel using EnjoyMyMedia. Or if he is having a hard time jogging, listening to his MP3 and answering his cellphone then get him bluetooth headset from Motorola. Top it all off with a GPS watch. If he is king of the remote but wants one that is computer programmable, search the Clicker Picker to find the right one for your family (like the Logitech Harmony 520 Universal Remote) Or just take a look at the Laptop Magazine(Dad) and Wired (Wish List) gadget guides for other Dad gift ideas...
- If the family always disagrees about directions, get a GPS for your car or load Yahoo Go For Moblie 2.0 (for free!) to Moms/Dad's PDA. Or better yet if your tween/teen is asking for a cell phone but has times where their whereabouts are unknown, a GPS phone will help with the hunt and give them the phone they have been asking for. Yes, it is ok if big mama and papa are watching, for safety reasons that is. Mom and Dad can also buy their own GPS phones, but if the GPS phone is from work just know that "tracking employees" is another function available. So, big mom, dad and boss can be watching you....
- If the family is having trouble finding ways to talk to out of town family members, introduce the concept of Voice-Over-Internet Protocol or VoIP. VoIP is a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line. For those that don't already have a webcam in their computer, they can be purchased along with Internet ear phones. Using the earphones with Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger allows you to talk using the Internet. Throw in the webcam with Skype or other applications and you can then see the family member while talking.
- Go Green, Take a look at the great list a green gadgets recommendations from the Yahoo Shopping Blog
- And just make sure that anything you buy is not a toxic toy or on the list of top ten worst gadgets of 2007. Also, instead of planning to find iPod's in popsicles, it is worth investing in one directly at a store.
Here are some of TechMama's Holiday Family Technology Favorites:
I used my own personal technology team to help identify my tech gift favorites (whoops, I mean tech websites and magazines - click here to see list-o-favorites for holiday gift guides and technology review sites.
The Greatest Gift of All:
Ok, here it is - my one mushy gift idea: Plan regular time just to be "present". Shut off all technology and talk with your family, then just take some time to listen.
Don't Forget, Geeks Like To Read...And Play With Science:
O'Reilly.com, a great source of technology books (along conferences) has book suggestions. One of our favorites is "The Best of Make". This book is a collection of DIY technology projects from the first 10 volumes of Make Magazine.
My oldest is 9 and he is ready to start the projects in this book. Some examples are the SketchUp Workbench using Google's free drawing application and a build your own Robot Mouse based on the Beam technology (or buy the Solarbotics kit).
Other brands are Snap Circuits Jr. and Slinky Science (that can be found online or at your local toy stores). Kiwi Magazine had an interesting Green Holiday Guide that listed a solar hybrid energy charger by Solio.com. Makezine has instructions on how to make your own Solar robot, but pre-made versions are also available from Uncle Milton (online or at local stores). If your child is already a Physics fan, earn some points and show him/her the Professor Lewin from MIT's videotaped Physics lectures online (click here for the direct link to the MIT Openware website), then buy some Physics books (here or the Let's Read and Find Out About Science 2 for kids) to back it up... Green gifts are a great way to teach children about the green options available. The Yahoo Shopping blog has a post listing green gadget gifts.
Or go electronic with Amazon.com's wireless reading device called "Kindle". More then 90,000 books are available. Loading books into a wireless device allows portability and is lighter then most paperbacks (10.3 ounces). Information Week has an interesting review of the Kindle. Sony also makes a digital book reader.
Amazon also has gift suggestions for Kids & Teens as well as Geeks. Parents completely confused with what their kids are doing online can get Totally Wired. For students, electronic dictionaries are great gifts. Franklin has a line of electronic dictionaries and SUDOKU games.
And for last minute shoppers, send an electronic gift card with an e-card. This can give children a chance to pick out their own books.
Another alternative is to give them a gift certificate to their local bookstore and make it a family activity. Book Sense.com is another good online resource because it represents 1,200 local bookstores across the USA.
Board Games are a great use of family time (even "jr" games for kids 5-7 like our favorite Monoply Jr.). An interesting twist is to buy the electronic versions of the board games. My almost 9 year old enjoys the electronic version of the class "Battleship" game, and many retail as well as online stores carry them. There is also a Star Wars version available. These are great "playdate" games. I also posted in August listing gadgets to keep kids on planes entertained, but this also applies to holiday travel. So if you are traveling on an airplane, the Leapster and the Boostaroo Portable Headphone Amplifiers are good pics to have on the plane with you.
Other electronic games I saw at the store were 20Q, Clue DVD game, Catch Phrase Jr. (teens try the music edition and adults can try the classic edtion), Cranium Hullabaloo or other Cranium games. About.com has a hobby section that lists electronic games. There is even an electronic version of Yahtzee. Weee...
Or Wii, two of the standouts for gaming that I have found are the Nintendo Wii and DS Lite. My 8 year old son had been begging for a Nintendo DS Lite for months before we magically received an email offering one for review. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I did not even have time to open the box before my son had turned it on and started playing (the DS Lite is easy to use). We started out with my son playing Brain Age 2 which inspired him to learn Suduko and draw pictures of how the blood flows through the brain (yes, really). Then he received Pokemon Pearl as a gift,which he uses on his own or plays with his school friend (with Pictochat and mulitplayer functionality) during their "screen time". This portable gaming device spans across generations, so Grandparents can enjoy their favorite puzzles with Planet Puzzle or Brain Age 2 for mental training games..
I had the chance to demo the Ninentdo Wii at a friends house and found the sports and dancing games addicting. I also found the multi-player functionality great for group play. The Nintendo Wii spans across age ranges -from preschoolers to adults. My preschooler twins were playing tennis one minute and the adults were playing golf the next....The website has information on setting parental controls. But when it comes to fun accessories, I would suggest the Nerf Sport Packs for the Wii.
Building games are also popular with kids. First that comes to mind is anything Lego, but the Technic and Mindstroms lines throws some technology into the mix. Younger kids can start out with the Duplo line.
I find that my twins boys started on regular legos by age 3 1/2 thanks to their older brother. Of course, older brother had to help put the Lego's togetherc. Laptop Magazine showed the Lego Monster Dino (for those 7 and above). If your child likes pink and princesses, Lego Belville has some fun sets. Erector sets are also a great basic building toy.
Music And Internet On The Go:
MP3 players are always a hot holiday gift. Wired Test has reviews for portable media including smartphones. My 4 1/2 year old even asked for an iPod (but he will have to wait until at least he is out of preschool!). My favorite is the new iPod Nano that has a video screen that can be used to watch 5 hours of video, is only 6.5 mm and made of anodized aluminum with polished stainless steel and does not have any moving parts so it is motion friendly. If you find an MP3 player that is really cheap, it could be a fake so watch out for counterfeit products. For a bigger splurge, Laptop Magazine recommends the iPod Touch that has the added functionality of the touch display, browser and downloading iTunes via Wi-Fi. The ipod touch is also a good gift for moms on the go that want music, Wi-FI internet access to browse the web and access some web applications like Facebook (yes, moms use Facebook).
Once you or your child has an MP3 player and chooses music, then that music is completely portable. My favorite examples of this are the new Pottery Barn's Smart Technology Furniture and the newborn soothing product called Graco Sweetpeace that has natural soothing sounds, calming music or better yet an MP3 attachment. Although my kids are too old for the Sweet Peace, I know I would have purchased one not only for the comforting but especially for the opportunity to share my favorite classical music with my kids when they were babies instead of the coined baby music that was included in baby gadgets of the past...
Or turn the iPod into a Karaoke maching with the Griffin iKaraoke (or other iPod accessories). Music Gadgets.net discussed one of our favorite family iPod accessories - the iPod guitar from MiJam - as well as other iPod toys.
My preschoolers use it without sound to play "air guitar". If you have
a budding musician who wants an electric guitar, About.com has guitar gift suggestions including the Top Five Beginner Electric Guitars.
Yahoo Tech also has some interesting "How To" articles on making the most out of your iPod. Laptop magazine has their top ten iPod accessories, but I like their suggestion of the Shure SE110 sound isolating earphones, Energizer Energi to Go portable power and the Timex Ironman iControl. Staples also has a wide selection of MP3 accessories, but my favorite is the Motorola S9 Bluetooth earphones that would allow my husband to jog, listen to his iPod using Bluetooth and easily pause the music to take a call on his cellphone...
The HP Photosmart line of printers were mentioned in multiple reviews as a photo printer pick for the holidays. Photobooks are also a popular gift and way to capture memories from holiday gatherings. HP (Snapfish) and Shutterfly offer photobooks and other photo gifts. Zazzle also has unique photo gifts and a area to create custom photo products (as in tee shirts). Or turn the holiday or everyday pictures into a book with Flattenme.
When it comes to taking photos, every family should have a digital camera these days - they are reasonably priced and have many options for storing/printing the pictures. The first decision to be made is if the person who is taking the pictures is a "point and shoot" type or someone who wants to have manual controls. There is a whole spectrum of options from ultra slim point and shoot, to point and shoot with some manual controls to digital SLR's that offer a high level of control. There are even more professional options, but many families do not need professional level controls.
Photo.net has a good beginners guide to understanding digital camera lingo. CNET has a digital camera and digital SLR buying guides, Digital Photography Review has a features guide to help select which camera's match the features you want, and Digital Camera HQ has their picks for best point and shoot, pocket cameras and digital SLR's. Staples has a digital camera and photo printer features search. Manufacturer sites, like Canon, have sections to compare features for their cameras. Alpha Mom had an interesting review of kids digital cameras by Chris Jordan. If you are looking for camcorders, Digital HQ offers reviews and CNET has a camcorder buying guide. But when it comes to videos, the Flip Video Ultra (with a pop out USB connector) was recommended numerous times.
Everyone should determine their own list of features. I was looking
for a point and shoot digital camera, that had good picture quality for
publishing on my blogs or for printing 5X7 pictures for family, face
recognition and image stabilization, automatic flash, quality LCD
screen for viewing, automatic controls that were easy to use,
rechargeable battery, USB port on the camera for me to load pictures
directly to my computer/printer and optical zoom so that picture
quality is good if I need to magnify/crop the picture in Adobe Photoshop Elements (optical zoom magnifies the image instead of just making them look larger) not that I was asking too much). By the way, Adobe Photoshop and other Adobe products are a great pick for photo editing software for families.
I also wanted movie modes on my digital camera just in case I needed
to take a quick movie of my kids on the go. I was looking for at least
8 megapixel but really as long as it was 4 megapixels or higher it
means that I could print 8x10 pictures if I wanted. As far as brands
go, I did see the Canon Powershot line with positive reviews across many of the review sites, but so where reviews for the Sony Cybershot and Nikon Coolpix lines.
I looked at all the reviews and gift guides to find two favorites: Canon Power SD 850 that met almost all of my needs and the teal Sony CyberShot DSC-T2 covered in the Engadget Gift Guide that has 4GB of internal memory so I don't need to worry about memory cards. The Yahoo Shopping Top Ten Digital Cameras list had the Canon but recommended the CyberShot DSC-T200 instead - which does look amazing (and it looks like Endgadget preferred that model anyway). But I still like teal.... Ohh, and the Cybershot DSC-T100 has direct HDTV output (which means that I would also want an HDTV to show it on....).
An easy to use camera for the gadget-challenged family members is Olympus FE line slim digital cameras, which I tried myself- and agree it is very easy to use. It has a rechargeable battery, USB port in the camera for easy downloading to a PC and a big enough LCD so they can easily frame their shots.
Digital camera accessories also peaked my interest. External hard drives like the Seagate FreeAgent Go and LaCie All-Terrain are great options for long term storing digital files (and for computer file back-ups). I saw a Eye-Fi Wireless Memory Card that would allow printing from a digital camera wirelessly (Walmart, Amazon, Costco and more). The New York Times wrote about two digital Wi Fi cameras: Sony DSC- G1 and the Nikon S21C. Slim camera cases give protection for the cameras in bags or briefcases.
Many digital cameras come with limited internal memory so external memory cards are needed to store pictures. Luckily you can get 2GB and more to provide ample storage space. Memory cards can also be used to store computer files and data. There are four types of memory cards (CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Secure Digital, and xD), different camera's accept different memory cards. For example, a 2GB compactflash card (depending the resolution chosen) can offer storage of around 1,000 digital pictures. Memory sticks are popular for storing data, some primary school students use them to store homework. For motorcycle enthusiasts who want performance in their memory sticks, Sandisk has a Ducati edition. IronKey has a secure USB flash drive for your little Einstein who wants to store files detailing his invention of the future, medical files or family financial/personal data.
Another hot holiday item are digital photo frames - the "Howstuffworks" website has information on how the digital photo frames work. The Ceiva 7" Photo Frame
captured my attention because it has a nice LCD display, multiple
control display modes, a built in card reader and best of all Wi-Fi and
Broadband read (yeah - wireless!!).
For those GPS obsessed, Sony has a GPS unit that calculates when and where the pictures were taken and has the software to display it all.
Talk about GPS, the GPS portable units are one of the hottest holiday gadgets. I think about having a GPS every time I get into my gadget free 2003 mini-van. I was always jealous of my friends that had newer minivans with car back-up displays and a GPS systems. Now there are devices that can be installed for those, like me, who crave it for their older cars. Consumer Reports discusses aftermarket car back-up cameras like the Grote Obstacle Detection System.
When looking for a portable GPS system look for ease of use, live traffic updates, Bluetooth capabilities, preloaded maps, points of interest and WiFi as icing on the top...... Two stand-outs from the review sites were the Garmin and TomTom brands. The TomTom has real time traffic services and a million points of interest to check along the way. Engadget recommended the DashExpress for it's WiFi capabilities. The HP iPAQ GPS and Digiwalker are handheld GPS systems. Or buy a smartphone that can be used as a personal navigation device (like an updated version of my BlackBerry Curve- the 8130)
While families speed ahead with adopting technology, it is not realistic to expect Grandparents to keep up with the pace. One item that would make a great holiday or anytime gift for grandparents who are not online or don't use a computer is the Presto Service with the HP Printing Mailbox. The printer can print out emails or photos from a simple phone jack (that can even be shared with the regular phone line) - no internet access required. Family members can set up the service. Then the Presto Service formats messages and the HP Printing Mailbox prints them out automatically. Only the approved list of friends and family can send documents, so no spam. The Presto Newstand provides free access newspapers, puzzles and articles.
Laptop Magazine also had some other suggestions including the Philips SPC715NC Webcam with a camera lens that follows movement and is compatible with free messaging services like MSN/Yahoo/Skype. Engadget recommended the Sound ID SM100 Ear Module Bluetooth headset that uses technology similar to hearing aids to amplify sound,
Voice Over IP:
VoIP is a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line. For those that don't already have a webcam in their computer, they can be purchased along with Internet ear phones. Internet phones can be found at your local Staples. Using the earphones with Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger allows you to talk using the Internet. Throw in the webcam with Skype or other applications and you can then see the family member while talking.
I suggest that every wired family home should utilize Voice Over IP by investing in earphones or internet phones (that can be found at your local Staples) that can be used with Skype/MSN/Yahoo/Google messaging programs. Throw in a webcam, and family communication will be made so much easier. About.com has a section with VoIP gift ideas.
Soon we will be watching TV using the Internet...
Talk about TV, there is lots-o-info about TVs but for families there
are two things that pop out for holiday gifts. A updated universal
remote like the Logitech Harmony 520 Universal Remote or find others with the Clicker Picker. David Pogue recommended the Tivo holiday gift: Tivo HD, Wi-Fi wireless network adapter, and lifetime service for $700. The best overall summary is the Wired Test 2007 Home Audio section.
Instant Messaging is lately one of the most popular activities for the tween/teen set (especially girls). If you are not ready to buy a phone for your child, Toys R Us has gadget called "IM Me" by Radica that only allows approved friends to send and receive messages. The only hitch is that the other friend also needs the "IM ME" product. Check the tech dictionary to see the text messaging abbreviations out there, and discuss what is and is not appropriate. A cheaper (but not as immediate) alternative is to set up email accounts. As always, set up the security controls for the email accounts (Yahoo even has a safety guide). And even more important, educate yourself and your kids on instant messaging safety, internet safety and cyberbullying. CBS News online also has interesting information teens online.
For those families ready to give their tween/teens cellphones, the Kajeet service is a good starting point for voice, IM and even taking pictures. The Kajeet configurator has a time, contact and wallet manager to help control security and cost. The phones have GPS capabilities and some have cameras to take pictures. If you tween/teen also wants an MP3 player, solve two needs at once, choose a cellphone that can play MP3 songs. Ben Patterson listed hottest teen friendly phones including the slim Samsung Juke as a phone teens can use that also allows songs transfers via USB.
Every Parent Needs a Smartphone:
All of the parents I know have their own cellphones, but only the working parents seem to have smartphones (adding contact, scheduling and emails). Devin Coldewey from CrunchGear commented "In fact, you could say with some conviction that anyone who is not using a smartphone at this point is either cheap, foolish, or a completely technophobic luddite" (click here to see the CrunchGear smartphone first time buyers guide). My philosophy is that all parents have their own type of work, whether it is working out of the house, at home or managing a family. Having access to scheduling and email on the phone is a great convenience. I know some families that don't want to look at email when they are off the computer and want their schedules on paper. For those ready to make the jump, smartphones can improve overall communication and family efficiency. That is, as long as they don't become addicted and answer emails during dinner! And most smartphones sync with computer calenders that can be printed.
Pocket PC & Smartphone magazine has an interesting list of software applications. A good example of a software application is Yahoo Go For Moblie 2.0 (and it's free) for Moms/Dad's smart or Windows moblie phone to have access to local info, maps, news, sports, finance, entertainment, weather, Flickr™ photos and search. Although smartphones have access to email already, with Yahoo Go for Moblie 2.0, they can also have access their Yahoo email folders.
Another frees software application called "Sandy" is helpful to bridge the gap between paper and electronic calenders. Parent Hacks posted more details about this email-based assistant.
There are many smartphone options available, but my favorite is the BlackBerry Curve.
Some of my other mom techie friends are hooked on the iPhone. My
BlackBerry curve has been completely reliable, takes decent pictures
and has great phone quality. So good, that my husband said that he can
hear the kids screaming when I am talking to him on my phone and begged
me to get a BlueTooth headset to help cancel the background noise.
Of the "fashionable" BlueTooth earphones listed in Laptop Magazine, the Motorola Mini H9 Bluetooth Headset would be good for parents that want to be inconspicuous while the red Jawbone is good for those wanting to stand out. For moms, Laptop Magazine recommended the Plantronics Voyager 520 Bluetooth headset.
Fashion Meets Technology:
There are also fashionable alternatives for carrying technology. Staples has a rolling laptop bag for traveling and the Mango Tango line of stylish laptop bags. Laptop Magazine's Best Gadgets for Moms had some other great gift suggestions: Pacific Design's line of bags by Chloe Dao (Project Runway winner) and the IRISPen scanning pen to digitize recipes or other paperwork (functional fashion). Another functional fashion suggestion is the M by Staples line of desk accessories to decorate Mom's desk area. Add in a slim NeatReceipts Scanalizer to help keep her wallet and desk area paper free.
On SFBayStyle I blogged about my most favorite fashion find: Coach pouch that holds my BlackBerry, personal goods and my Coach business card holder. My Coach bag is black but there are so many colors to choose from! If you are worried about your teen going out at night, suggest this led dress so she will never be caught in the dark...
When it comes to family computing, the first decision is budget and the next is to decide what the computer will be used for. Does your family need a stationary desktop computer or does your family need to mobility with laptops? Is screen size or weight more important? CNET buying guides (desktop and laptop), the Wired blog gadget lab & Wired Test 2007 and PC Magazine (Laptop and Desktop) are helpful with helping to determine which computer is best for your family. About.com has a Notebook PC Buyer's Guide to understand the basic features. Laptop magazine has a guide to help define the categories of laptops. Staples has information on a suite of important security products including shredders, software and digital storage. Mod*Mom has an interesting post on past predictions for the technology of the future coming true.
I always suggest at least 1 GB RAM (the memory that processes applications running on the computer without saving - 2 GB is best) and the appropriate:
- Hard drive (where files are stored permanently - more is best) a smaller hard drive can be used to store document files or a larger hard drive will be required for storing media such as MP3 and photos.
- Dual core processor if multi-tasking is a requirement
- Graphics card if the computer will be used for computer graphics design or gaming
- LCD or screen size needed, wireless card if wireless networking is a need
- DVD drive for watching movies or DVD burner for projects
- Multimedia connectors are needed (for gaming and movie devices)
- Wireless network adapter built in if networking is a need
- Integrated webcam is a nice option...
There are budget desktops and laptops available. CNET has 259 entries in their $500-$600 desktop category and has a comprehensive desktop buying guide. Most in that category will have enough power for basic PC applications like word processing, email and internet surfing. If your family wants to use their computer for gaming (where the appropriate graphics card is key) or as a home theater (where a HD DVD or Blue Ray drive is helpful) then a more powerful desktop will be needed. The only limitation with a desktop is that they can not easily be moved from one room to another. But they will be a great addition to a shared family space.
I suggest purchasing laptops to offer families mobility within their own houses or on the road. After looking through the review sites, I did see common recommendations. CNET, Wired Test 2007, Yahoo Shopping, Laptop Magazine, notebookreview.com and About.com Computer Gift Guide had the best selection of computer reviews per category. On the Apple front, the iMac desktop and MacBook laptops were mentioned across the board. On the Windows front the Dell Inspirion and XPS desktop and laptops, HP Pavilion and Sony Vaio lines had strong reviews across sites. Laptop accessories also make gifts. For example, how about a Atdec Slimdec Traveler Notebook stand and a Logitech wireless keyboard/mouse for ergonomic comfort.
Some of the standouts for me on the Apple front is the iMac as a great family desktop (and very space friendly), MacBook for teen/college kids and the MacBook Pro line for those performing more sophisticated graphics. On the Windows budget laptop front, Staples now carries the Dell Inspirion 1521 (15 inch) and 1721 (17 inch), HP Pavilvion dv6661se and the Sony Vaio CR 120 that are both family friendly and reasonably priced notebook computers. Dell also just came out with a slim Desktop similar to the iMAC called the Dell XPS One, click here to see the review from PC Magazine.
Test reviewed the Sony Vaio VGN-FZ180E, Apple MacBook
Pro, HP Pavilion
dv6500t, Sony Vaio VGN-TX750P, Dell XPS M1330 along with other laptops. About.com had some interesting budget notebook recommendations including the the HP Pavilion DV6605US and the Sony VAIO VGN-NR160ES Notebook which uses the Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 for strong performance. If your family likes touch controls, Mod*Mom posted about the HP TouchSmart IQ775 Desktop.
Laptop magazine pointed out that the Dell Inspiron 1420N comes with a pre-installed version of Ubuntu (Linux based). I have been interested in looking at a laptop with a Linux operating system because it is open source. If not Linux, my current favorite is Windows XP.
Another interesting alternative is the OLPC XO $188 laptop. I posted about the OLPC but there has been much debate on it (click here to see a relevant youtube clip and here to see the PC Magazine view). I think it is a great opportunity and worth investing in. Until December 31 there is a "give one get one" program. If a tablet PC is on the list, David Pogue wrote about the Flybook mini-notebook by Dialogue but there are also other tablet PC similar to the one Dell just came out with called Latitude XT.
How About Wireless Mobile Computing?
Simple cable connections are just not enough to satisfy the increasing technology demands of family life. Free your computers and your family with laptop computers and a (secure) wireless network. Whether it is a mom who wants to work near her kids while they are having a playdate, view recipes from the Internet while cooking, or take the computer to a coffee shop to have some "uninterrupted" work time. Or how about if Dad that needs to view Google Sketchup from his garage while doing a building project with his kids. Better yet, who needs portable DVD players when you can buy a HD DVD laptop (like the Samsung M55 HD DVD laptop) on the high end or even any budget laptop with a DVD drive to view movies while flying on the airplane. When you are a family with multiple kids that all need to do homework at the same time but seem to annoy each other, it is nice to know that you can split the kids up in separate rooms to do their assignments on computers.
What is a Wireless Network? I am using this definition to describe a wireless router with your home Internet Service Provider
(i.e. AT&T DSL), modem and laptops. When kids are young, a family desktop PC in a shared family area
is the way to go. But as the kids get older, their needs change.
Kids in high school are now starting to bring laptops to school while
middle schoolers are using flash drives to transfer their homework from
school to home. Third graders (or younger) will have the option of
doing typing their homework on a computer. A wireless network at home
or at your college student's apartment can allow freedom to use the
computer at any room.
What do I need? The holidays are a great time (especially after holiday sales) to make the leap or update your family mobile computing gadgets. CNET has wireless network buying guide. Laptops that have wireless cards can also used out of the house at any WiFi location. If you use wireless, it is important to set up security on your computer and on your own wireless network. I use AT&T DSL but my modem was 3 years old. Just recently I decided to purchase a new AT&T DSL modem, which was easy to install. Linksys has a learning center that discusses wireless home solutions. My recent pick for wireless routers is the Linksys Wireless N (confirmed by the Chiefus Techus Queen Grace). Some computers have broadband access built in to take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots or use wireless cards of their own. David Pogue's favorite high tech deal is the Tivo lifetime service that includes Tivo HD Wi-Fi wireless network.
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You acknowledge that any reliance upon any advice, opinion, recommendation, statement or other information displayed or distributed through the TechMamas site is at your sole risk. Techmamas did not receive financial compensation for mentioning any of these products. Techmamas received some products to review or email requests to review products, but only blogged about technology that seemed relevant for families.
I have not used all the products mentioned, so please choose at your own risk. Oh, and I am not a journalist - I am just a mom that is addicted to finding the latest and greatest technology for parenting. And is happy to share her thoughts with the blogosphere..That is between school drop-off and pick-up or after the kids go to sleep...