Mountain View Voice

News - December 16, 2011

Gifts to brighten the holiday for tech-lovers

by Angela Hey

According to Comscore, 50 million Americans shopped online on Black Friday. The leading websites for buyers were Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Apple. If you haven't finished your holiday shopping yet, here are some gift ideas, found both locally and online.

Parks Associates claims that 16 percent of broadband households intend to purchase a tablet, after smart phones, flat screen TVs and laptops. Other top electronics gifts are photo frames, game consoles, Microsoft Kinect and e-readers. Google's Android software is powering Motorola's Xoom, Barnes and Noble's NOOK Tablet and Amazon's Kindle Fire. Parks Associates claims that the choice between the Kindle Fire and iPad 2 is close, with older consumers preferring the Kindle and richer consumers preferring the iPad.

NOOK and iPad users can get help in their vendors' stores, at Barnes and Noble in Sunnyvale, and the Apple store in Palo Alto. Motorola's Xoom has a big 10.1-inch screen, slightly bigger than that of the iPad's at 9.7 inches. The Kindle Fire has easy connection to Amazon's cloud storage and online streaming. The iPad has leading market share, easy connection to Apple's iCloud and iTunes, and can connect through AT&T or Verizon. You can check out all these tablets at Best Buy. Radio Shack has some great add-ons for iPhone users ranging from an iGrill cooking thermometer to an iHealth blood pressure monitor. If you want a close-up lens or microscope attachment for an iPhone, you'll have to buy online.

For small gifts, consider LED lights. For hikers, an LED headlamp; for campers, an LED camping lantern; for readers, LED book lights; for a handyperson, LED workbench lights; and for homes, LED holiday lights. Juggling balls with LED lights that change color are great fun and you can find those on Jugglo.com. The price for home lighting bulbs is still high — a floodlight sets you back $30 to $60. Home Depot in East Palo Alto has an excellent selection of large LED bulbs. Walmart and Best Buy in Mountain View still feature lower cost, compact fluorescent bulbs.

You can find something for every taste, including chocolate cellphones, at the Computer History Museum's store, where you can buy an "irresistorable" necklace made from resistors, a pendant created from a circuit board or a tree ornament displaying an early Apple Mac. African baskets are woven from phone wire.

Retail manager Sandra Shu-Lee told me that Buckyballs — not carbon molecules, but highly magnetized ball bearings — are popular. You can endlessly rearrange them to provide desktop fun. Keep them away from pacemakers, insulin pumps and credit cards, though. Entrepreneurs can sketch business plans on Official Silicon Valley Napkins. Toys for children include robots and electronics kits, as well as plush Angry Birds. Wrapping paper featuring 0s & 1s or equations makes any gift geeky.

Finally, for the person who has everything, you can buy an experience. Opposite the Computer History Museum you can check out Laser Quest or Shoreline Billiards. At Shoreline Billiards, manager Jerry Leo told me that whereas billiard cues have been improved using golf club technology, the biggest change that people notice is red spots on the traditionally white cue ball. The spots help TV viewers see the spin on the ball. Jerry then explained how to control his TouchTunes juke box from the myTouchTunes app on iPhones and Android phones.

Whether you shop online, shop locally or don't buy gifts at all, have a great holiday season.

Disclosure: Angela Hey is married to John Mashey, who is a trustee of the Computer History Museum.

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