By now you're probably scratching your head and wondering what to get the people in your life for the holidays. As always I urge people to shop locally whenever possible, but when it comes to high-tech gifts — which more and more people are asking for — sometimes it's better to shop online or make a trip to the city.
With the American "Black Friday" shopping melee last week, tech websites are starting to put up their lists of Christmas shopping ideas.
C/net (www.cnet.com) kicked things off with their list of the 10 Best Gifts Under $50, a nod to the ongoing recession and the fact that things are still tough for a lot of people.
Top of their list is the Roku XDS, a box that can stream movies to your television from your computer or services like Netflix. It makes more sense for American consumers with services like Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora and other services, but for $50 nobody is going to be disappointed.
Fifth on their list is a Lacie USB drive that looks like a key and fits on your keychain. Good for security, for backing up files, for restoring computers, for transferring large chunks of data from place to place.
Cnet's holiday gift guide also has a full slate of gift ideas, ranging from the cheap (popular video games and Blu-ray 3D movies) to the incredibly expensive (Audi A7).
PC Mag (www.pcmag.com) put together a list that's a little more comprehensive as it also has a list of gift ideas for kids of all ages, including teenagers, and suggestions for men and women.
It's somewhat limited, however — you won't find watches or gear but some good suggestions for cameras, televisions, computers and that kind of thing.
For the widest variety of products imaginable, I'm always partial to Popular Science (www.popsci.com), which reviews everything from cameras to ski jackets to power tools to the latest high-tech devices. Their holiday gift guide is sponsored by Stanley tools this year, but you can quickly navigate past the tools to check out some of the good stuff (a partial list at this point but a longer version will be available). Also check out their Gadgets section and a monthly feature called "The Goods."
PC World magazine (www.pcworld.com) was all over the Black Friday deals and posted a list of the best 100 products of 2011.
Some of the items I liked were the Jambox blue tooth wireless speakers (www.jawbone.com), the Toshiba Thrive tablet and the Wacom Bamboo Connect, an entry level drawing and note-taking input tablet that's a bargain at $80.
The Engadget Holiday Gift Guide also went up this week, starting with "accessories."
This list includes Logitech Tablet Speakers for your iPad, the Aviiq Portable Charging Station, Burton Mix Master Gloves (that can control your Apple devices using built-in buttons) and the Maxell Acoustabar soundbars.
I'll continue to check in and will report any unusual must-haves for the holiday season.
Turning driving into a video game?
While price and range have limited the success of the Chevrolet Volt, the concept of an electric car with a backup gasoline-powered electrical generator is here to stay — and so, no doubt, is the Volt.
The reviews have generally been good, but it's the latest review of the computer interface on Ars Technica that I think is the most telling about their approach.
"It's this (activity level) widget that has captivated me," wrote Jonathan M. Gitlin.
"It's designed to give you real-time feedback on your driving style. When your car is happy (i.e. being driven efficiently), the ball is green and in the centre of the gauge.
Stomp on the accelerator and it rises to the top, changing colour to yellow. Brake too hard (so you're bypassing the kinetic energy recovery) and it dives to the bottom, again changing colour to yellow. The more time you spend in yellow, the fewer miles you'll go before you have to starting burning hydrocarbons."
According to reviews, you can drive a Volt about 35 miles (56km) on battery power alone if you drive within the green zone.
If you veer into yellow, the gasoline-powered generator kicks in to supplement your battery. With both battery and generator you can get about 379 miles (610km) before you have to stop and recharge your vehicle.
Given that the average person drives less than 40 miles per day, based on feedback from their cars Chevrolet has determined that the average Volt owner is driving over 1,000 miles (1,600km) between trips to the gas station.