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Code.org’s Hour of Code got some very high profile endorsement videos from President Obama, Majority Leader Cantor, Bill Gates and other luminaries. To view videos:
Tech Gifts are expected to be extremely popular this year but sometimes it can be tough to find just the right one. Below are some of my favorites along with links to reviews from CNET, Engadget and other tech sites I respect.
General advice: Surprises are great but it’s usually a good idea to do a little homework to find out what the person wants. People tend to be pretty picky about their technology. An Apple fan might not appreciate a Windows PC and vice versa. The same goes for smartphones and tablets. People often have strong feelings about what they prefer, so make sure you know before you buy. And, just in case, have a backup plan that includes the ability to return what you buy.
Tablets and E-readers are great. If money is an object, consider a refurbished iPad or iPad mini or one of the relatively low cost Android tablets like the Nexus 7 ($229). Amazon’s Kindle Fire line of tablets are well priced, starting at $139 and even though they use a non-standard version of Android, there are plenty of great available apps. CNET has reviews of other tablets under $250
A Smartphone will be used and appreciated every day but before you buy consider two important issues. First, people tend to be very picky about the type of phone they want — if they’re deep into Android or just love iPhones, anything else might be a disappointment. And, second, as know, the biggest cost of a phone is the ongoing service and possible two-year commitment. With a few exceptions, most models of phones have versions for each cell phone carrier but you have to make sure the phone you buy will work on whatever carrier the person wants to use.
Video streaming devices the enable you to watch Internet programming on your TV come in a lot of shapes, sizes and prices from the $35 Chromecast from Google to the Roku (starting at $50) to the Tivo, some Blu-ray players Apple TV and all the game consoles. I’m partial to Roku because it offers a great deal of content at an affordable price but — eventually — the Google Chromecast should catch up and there’s plenty of great content on Xbox One and other game consoles (though they’re far too expensive to buy for this one purpose).
Smart watches/wearable tech will get a lot of attention this holiday season but probably won’t be jumping off the shelves. Frankly, the ones I’ve looked at just don’t seem all the compelling and I tend to agree with Rachel Metz overview and review article, “So, far Smart Watches Are Pretty Dumb.” Still, if you’re so inclined, consider the $150 Pebble Smartwatch. It’s cheaper than most of the competition and even though it has just a not-so-flashy monochrome screen, you can use it to read e-mail and texts, see incoming calls, run exercise and other apps and — believe it or not — tell the time. There are also fitness devices you can wear such as the Fitbit (various models) that measure steps, calories and even sleep
Gaming consoles, including the new PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One make great gifts but they may be in short supply. Even though, at $499, it’s $100 more than the PlayStation 4, I’m partial to the Xbox One because it’s a versatile living room hub not just for gaming but for streaming video, Skype calls, fitness apps and more.
Digital cameras might not make as much sense as they once did because you have one built-into your phone. And it’s true, cell phone cameras are getting pretty good. But they’re still not as good as mid to high-end stand alone digital cameras. I’ve been really happy with a couple of compact Sony cameras I bought last year — the RX 100 (expensive at $548) and the even more expensive RX 100 II ($749). Even though these cameras are small enough to fit into your pocket, they produce stunning pictures thanks to an extra large sensor. And though the pictures aren’t as stunning, I’m also happy with the even more compact and less expensive ($199) Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W690 with a 10 x zoom. Why do I like Sony? Well, besides the picture quality, I like the fact that you can charge the battery inside the phone with a standard Micro-USB connector — the same one used for many smartphones and other devices. That means that if you lose your charger or cable, you may already have a spare but — if not — you can pick one up almost anywhere for under $20.
One unique camera is the Sony DSC-QX series which is a digital camera that’s shaped like a lens that you stick on the back of your smartphone. But before you buy one, read CNET’s not-so-positive review and comments from Engadget.
Smoke detectors are hardly the type of thing you’d expect to find under the tree, but Nest Labs new $130 Nest Protect is not your father’s smoke detector. Instead of an alarm, a calming voice tells you if there is an issue and if you have to silence it you can just wave your hand. And instead of waiting for it to beep to tell you the battery is low, it sends an alert to your smartphone.
A USB charger can make a very inexpensive stocking stuffer and could be quite welcome for those (like me) who sometimes misplace the one the came with their device or just want antoher for travel. Consider getting one that can charge two devices at once like the Ventev Ventev Wallport r2200 Charger, dual USB universal rapid charger ($15.65 at Amazon with free shipping). It works with both Android and Apple devices (cables sold separately) and it puts out enough juice for a tablet as well as a phone. If it’s just for a phone, consider the less expensive Motorola Eco Friendly Dual port charger ($6.99) or a dual port charger that plugs into your car’s power port.
A USB mobile hotspot such as the MiFi or the Verizon Jetpack will be a welcome addition to a road warrior’s toolkit to keep them online while on-the-go. But before spending money on a dedicated device, see if the person’s phone can be used for the same purpose. Either way there are usage charges that can be hefty so consider that along with the sale price.
A case for just about any device — phone, tablet or laptop — may be well received, especially if it’s a fashionable accessory. There are tons on the market starting at practically nothing and going up to, well, if you have to ask …. If it’s for a phone or a tablet, you have to know the exact model. Laptop cases pretty much go by screen size.
Gloves are a must if you’re outdoors in a cold climate but what do you do if you have to use a touchscreen device while you’re in the cold. No problem as long as you’re wearing Etre FIVEPOINT Wool Gloves with “contactwoven fingertips that don’t get in the the way of the touchscreen. They cost £45 in UK money which is about $73 US. Oh, and there’s the cost of having them shipped from Scotland so it’s probably cheaper to buy them on Amazon for $49.99.
You can’t have too much storage and now you can get a really small hard drive that stores lots of stuff for not much money. Western Digital, for example, sells a 1 TB little USB drive for $89 and a 2 TB version for $130 that come in all sorts of colors. That’s a lot of storage, even for those of us with thousands of digital photos to hold on to. I have all my crucial data backed up to a small drive like this that I store in a fire proof safe — just in case.
Micro finance – the gift that keeps on giving. One gift that I often give to young people in my life is an investment in either Kiva or MicroPlace. These are microfinance projects that enable you to invest as little as $25 in a project, typically in the developing world. With either project, you (or the person you give the gift to) get to decide where to invest the money. They’re not giving it away — they’ll get it back when the loan is repaid. Your risk of losing money is extremely low. Both Kiva and Microplace say they have better than a 99% rate. Microplace, which is owned by Paypal, typically pays interest on most investments. Kiva is a non-profit organization that doesn’t pay interest but works very hard to make sure your money is safely and well invested. You can purchase a Kiva gift card here. Microplace doesn’t offer gift cards but adults can create accounts and designate a beneficiary.
For those with money to burn, consider the “ limited edition smartphone, Antare” from Lamborhini. While it is cheaper than the company’s automobiles, it will still set you back $4,000. Its “quad-core 1.5 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal memory and a MicroSD card slot with up to 32 GB (included)” justify a few hundred dollars of its price tag, but you’re mostly paying for the “body’s smooth contours and strict lines, the elegant finish of details and the combination of metal and leather, typical of luxury iconic sports cars, – everything is produced with the highest taste required of each model that comes to the market under the Tonino Lamborghini brand.”
But this $4,000 watch is cheap compared to the products described in the Forbes post, Tech Gifts for Billionaires. Here you can read about a $45,000 TV, a $35,000 + $500 per movie home cinema, a $6,000 tablet, an $82,000 amplifier, $5,500 headphones, a $150,000 turntable and other more gifts that you probably can’t afford.
More gift guides
CNET’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide
CNET has put together a comprehensive guide that includes tablets, smartphone, PCs, gaming devices, cameras, portable audio, peripherals and more.
Huffington Posts’s 12 must have gadget gifts for the holidays
On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told Charlie Rose that his company is working on “octocopters,” which, he said, “are effectively drones but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles.” The vehicles the company is working on would have a flight path of about 10 miles from a distribution center and be able to deliver a 5 pound or lighter package within 30 minutes, according to Bezos. Unlike drones currently used by the military, there would be no human pilots sitting in operation centers. “These are autonomous,” Bezos told Rose, “so you give ‘em instructions of which GPS coordinates to go to, and they take off and they fly to those GPS coordinates.”
As I watched the broadcast, my thoughts were that this is no pipe dream. Most of the underlying technologies required for such vehicles are already in place so it’s a matter of building them and creating the software that can make them fly without falling out of the sky, crashing into each other or landing in the wrong place. But that, too, is doable. Bezos told Rose that it will be at least 2015 before the FAA can issue a ruling to allow for such flights and that he hopes to see the idea take air within four or five years.
Jono Millin, co-founder of DroneDeploy told CNET News that ”as an industry we know it’s totally possible.” DroneDeploy makes software “to safely operate and manage multiple drones,” according to its website.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to get someone as a holiday gift, and that’s one reason gift cards are so popular. A survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation found that 81 percent of holiday shoppers plan to buy at least one gift card. On average, shoppers will spend $163 for such cards for a total of just under $30 billion. That’s 4 percent higher than last year and the highest in the survey’s 11-year history.
Interestingly, a significantly smaller percentage of people — 59 percent — said they’d like to receive a gift card.
For some types of gift cards, count me among the 40 percent or so who say humbug. The reason is that I sometimes fail to use cards that people have sent me. An unused gift card is a boon to the company you bought it from (and I think they count on a certain percentage of people not cashing them in), but of no use to the person who got it. Also, cards can expire and there are sometimes inactivity fees that can be charged against a card that isn’t used.
The good news is that the Federal Trade Commission put some new rules into affect in 2010 that prohibit a card from expiring within five years of its purchase and require issuers to wait a year before assessing inactivity fees. The rules also require that the expiration date and any fees be printed on the card, but that doesn’t prevent people like me from throwing the card in a drawer and forgetting about it for a year or two.
The types of gift cards I like are deposits into accounts that aren’t tied to a physical card. If someone gives you an Amazon gift card, for example, the card comes with a code that you enter into your Amazon account so the money is there for you to use at any time. It doesn’t expire and you no longer need the card.
If there is a physical card, I want it to be registered so that if the card is lost or stolen, I can still use the money.
For example, Starbucks lets you register your card so that if you lose it you can get a new one and transfer the entire balance. You can also get your caffeine fix by using the company’s smartphone app, which means you don’t even have to carry a card in your wallet. I know it seems like no big deal, but I try to keep the number of cards in my wallet to a minimum so that it doesn’t get too bulky and to reduce the hassle of canceling and replacing cards if my wallet is lost or stolen.
Just be sure to register any gift cards as soon as you get them so you don’t forget.
You can buy gift cards online and — in some cases — have physical cards sent to the recipient or just have the card issuer send the person an email telling them how to redeem the credit online.
Apple lets you buy gift cards for the Apple store or the iTunes store, depending on whether you want the person to be able to use the card for a physical product at the retail store or a virtual one — like music, video, a book or an app — via iTunes. Either way you can have a physical card sent through the mail or have the card delivered by email.
Christmas is still a few weeks away, but we’re already in the middle of Hanukkah so if you’re thinking about a last Hanukkah present (or wind up procrastinating on your Christmas gifts until on or just before Dec. 25), an electronic gift card may be the only way to redeem yourself in time. But if that’s the case, what do you put next to the menorah or under the tree?
The solution is simple — make your own card that tells the person to expect a virtual one. I like to download some appropriate graphics (sometimes including the logo from the online store where I purchased the gift card) and make my own card that I can print out and give to the person. One year I even gift-wrapped a card. I’m not sure it was quite as exciting as unwrapping a physical gift, but it kept the suspension alive for awhile, gave them something to unwrap and — assuming they redeemed the card — ultimately gave them something of real value.
One of my favorite holiday gifts, especially for preteens and teens, is an investment at Kiva or MicroPlace.
This post is adapted from one that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News
It’s hard to believe Black Friday and Cyber Monday are only days away. If this year is typical, throngs of people will be crowding stores starting on Friday, and those not pounding the pavement at brick-and-mortar stores will be pounding their keyboards or mobile screens to shop online.
Cyber Monday, which is the first working day after the Thanksgiving weekend, is a marketing term used to persuade people to shop online that day. It started years ago when relatively few people had high-speed connections at home, so shopping from work was a much better experience. Besides, why waste your weekend shopping when you can do it from work at your boss’ expense?
Shopping online can be a great way to save time and — in some cases — money on holiday gifts. Another advantage is that you can have the gift shipped directly to the recipient, often gift wrapped and with a card for a small extra charge. Disadvantages include diverting money away from local merchants and not able to touch the merchandise or take it home with you. So I still urge people to shop locally while also taking advantage of online deals.
With a couple of exceptions, I’ve had good experiences shopping online. I’ve never been a victim of merchant fraud, but I once did order a camera at a price that was “too good to be true” and wound up getting the camera minus the battery, and charging cable. After a bit of arguing on the phone they did take it back — the merchant may have been sleazy, but not criminal.
Still, you need to be careful. Symantec reports that “every second, 18 adults become a victim of cybercrime, resulting in more than one-and-a-half million cybercrime victims each day on a global level.” You don’t want to be one of them.
Just because you haven’t heard of a company doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not trustworthy. But if you venture away from the major e-retailers or retail chains, it’s a good idea to do a little homework before forking over a credit card and your home and email address.
- Google (or Bing) them to see what folks are saying. Sometimes I’ll type in the name of the merchant and the word scam to see if people are accusing them of anything, but I take those results with a grain of salt. It’s extremely common for even the most reputable companies to get some negative comments. What I look for is a preponderance of comments or ones from highly reputable sources like a Better Business Bureau or a trusted editorial site.
- Look to see if there is a physical street address and a phone number, and sometimes call them to just see what kind of vibe I pick up from a brief conversation. I always use a credit card because that affords me some protection against scams and fraud. Debit cards and PayPal also offer some protection, but I still prefer using a credit card because if there is a problem, the card issuer will suspend the charge while it’s being investigated. With a debit card or PayPal, you have to get them to put money back in your account.
- When you’re on a retail site, look for a https in the browser’s address bar. The “s” stands for secure, indicating that the information is encrypted. It doesn’t absolutely guarantee security, but it’s important.
- And be sure to use secure and unique passwords that you change periodically. For more on this, visit ConnectSafely.org/cybersecurity.
- If you have a choice, avoid shopping or otherwise giving out credit card information on public Wi-Fi sites. It’s better to do it from home or a site protected with a secure password. I have to admit I sometimes don’t take this advice, but it does increase the risk a bit.
.Regardless of how you do your online shopping, keep a close eye on your credit card statements, especially during the holidays. Almost all banks and credit card companies offer online access and they usually post debits immediately or within 24 hours of a charge. If you see something you don’t recognize, call or send them a message right away to make sure your card number isn’t being misused.
During the holiday season you might get email with product pitches or charity appeals. If so, be careful about clicking on links. It could be a “phishing” scam designed to send you to a site that looks legitimate but isn’t. If you’re interested in what they’re offering, type in the address manually in your browser to be sure you’re going to the right place. Be very careful if the URL doesn’t end in the actual Web address of the company. For example, email from Chase bank ends in chase.com. If it were something like chase.youracountinfo.com you’d have a very good reason to be suspicious.
And as wonderful as it is to be generous during this season (and take advantage of last-minute tax deductions) it’s important that your money go to a real charity, not a scammer. Beware of any email pitches even if they appear to come from legitimate charities. If they do seem legitimate and you’re inclined to give, don’t click on a link, but go directly to that charity’s website to make your donation.
And don’t forget to be careful if you shop in retail stores. Keep your eye on your credit cards and wallet and drive and walk carefully. When it comes to physical injuries, shopping mall parking lots are infinitely dangerous than the Internet.