Low-priced high-tech holiday gifts


POSTED: Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I don't want to be called a Grinch or Scrooge this year, but times are a bit tight so I'm going to keep the price of suggested holiday gifts low.

The good news is that vendors are whacking prices big time in an effort get people to buy.

» My first case in point is the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 which represents a new inexpensive class of low-cost, low-power laptops called “;Netbooks”;.

This is Dell's first entry into this category and it's a good one. No, you're not going to store a ton of music or photos or get the best quality sound from a $350 laptop with a 16-gigabyte drive, but it's perfectly usable for Web surfing, e-mail, and even playing music files.

It has many of the features you'd find on more expensive machines, such as three USB ports, headphone and mic jacks, a VGA out, an SD card slot, and an Ethernet jack. For a student on a budget this is a great way to go.

» Looking for a decent digital camera under $200? I was at Costco the other day and picked up a Casio Ex-Z85, a 9.1 megapixel camera for $129.00 (which included a $20 rebate) for a friend. I've seen this as high as $200, so it's a great deal.

It came with a kit that included a case, a 1-gig SD card and a YouTube capture mode that allows you to record videos you can upload to the Web.

It's compact, so it can be stuck in a purse or a glove box. It also has some manual controls, a variety of image presets, good construction and a low price.

» Also at Costco, I saw the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 for around $230 which was rated by CNET as an editor's top pick. It has above-average photo quality for its class and a good feature set, with a lens that can zoom during movie capture. I've seen it priced over $300, so it's also a good buy.

» Want something for that special geek? How about an external drive made from bamboo and recycled aluminum?

The SimpleTech (Re)Drive is the most environmentally friendly external hard drive out there. Priced at around $150, it has 500 gigs of storage and works great as a USB 2.0-only device.

The drive's packaging is as green as it gets—no plastic bag, no CD and no extra paper; the installation instructions are printed on the inside of the cardboard box.

» How about a 3.3 ounce straight-to-Web mini camcorder, that fits in your pocket?

The Flip Video Mino series is designed to make shooting and sharing videos easy. It comes in several flavors. The mid-range unit with VGA-resolution video (for around $160) comes with 2 gigabytes of memory, capable of storing 60 minutes of its VGA-resolution video.

The upshot: it's easy to use; has decent sound and video for its class and a one-touch system to upload to YouTube and AOL.

The Flip Mino HD ($230) is the world's smallest, lightest and least-expensive high-definition camcorder.

Considering its size and price, the Mino HD takes really good video, with crisp definition and wonderful colors that work in low-light situations. The audio is good, too, and will pick up speech as far as 10 feet away.