Hardware would seem to be a pretty easy category: go to Apple's online store and say, "I'll take one of everything, please!" What's more tricky is finding good hardware that adds to the Mac experience. This year's suggestions range from the practical to the whimsical. Don't forget to also peek at previous years' suggestions, and continue the discussion at TidBITS Talk about this year's picks.
Shuffle and Color Coordinate -- Someone had to say it, and Marilyn Matty stepped up to the plate. "The new iPod Shuffle ad campaign, which I think is great, says it all. At $80 plus free shipping from the Apple Store, a second generation iPod shuffle is a great gift for anyone."
But Marilyn didn't stop there, since although she may be giving an iPod shuffle to others, what she really wants are the flower-shaped JBL Spyro speakers and subwoofer from Harman Audio. "They look and sound beautiful, and are reasonably priced at $130. An added benefit is that they can be tricked out with optional and interchangeable colored covers. There's a basic iPod white model, but I'm waiting until after 19-Dec-06 to order the black model to match my beloved new iPod with video."
(Hard Disk) Space, the Final Frontier -- Jim Carr offers a tremendously practical solution to your holiday gift giving dilemmas. He wrote: "As we accumulate more songs, more videos, and more photos, it may well be time to upgrade internal storage if you aren't planning to replace your Mac. And you need an external backup drive big enough to match your internal storage." Be sure to buy the right sort of drive for the Mac in question; either IDE/ATA (sometimes also called parallel ATA or PATA) for older Macs, and serial ATA or SATA drives for newer Macs. And remember that laptops take 2.5-inch drives, whereas desktops use 3.5-inch drives.
Lewis Butler chimed in with a recommendation. "I think Seagate is the brand to go with. I used to buy nothing but Maxtor drives, but I've suddenly started having a rash of problems with them (four failures in the last year, all on drives under two years old). Sure, they get replaced, but the replacement gains the original's warranty with no extension, so now I'm looking at a terabyte of Maxtor drives I don't really trust. I've been about to click "Buy" on a 500 GB SATA drive for $150 all day. Not that I need it. I just _want_ it." Our usual approach when buying drives is to start scanning dealnews or Pricewatch for deals; our last 500 GB PATA drive cost only $150. Also note that Seagate bought Maxtor earlier this year.
Don't Eat That! Nigel Stanger offered a tasty-looking suggestion, but unless you're a robot, you probably wouldn't want to ingest these. "In the Just Plain Weird hardware category, how about a USB drive to match your favourite food?"
Fit to Be Printed -- Some gifts offer utility while lacking pizzazz (socks, anyone?), but we certainly wouldn't be sorry to see Rick Cricow's suggestion under our tree. "I just bought an HP LaserJet 1022nw ($400) and cannot say enough great things about it. I will say it's really well priced, prints nicely, and is wireless! I've had many laser printers in my life - small little Apple units, huge Canon multitasking digital printer/copier things, and color units. The technology continues to get faster, print better, and the price is amazing. And now, wireless! It installed quickly, saw my network, and shows up nicely using Bonjour. A fine gift for yourself, or for anyone needing a network printer."
Scan Those Slides -- Paul Atroshenko must not be quite sure that these newfangled digital cameras are truly here to stay, or perhaps he has a lot of old slides and photos around, since he's looking at a photo scanner this year. "My vote for the best hardware gift would have to be the new HP Scanjet G3010. For just under AUS$200 one gets an amazing scanner which can do scans of colour slides at 4000 dpi. The advanced sections of the accompanying software give good control of exposure settings. The leap in the quality of the scans is quite astounding. You can process two slides, or two negatives, at a time, but I have found it is best to do one slide at a time. This machine is not for the professional wanting to do big batches of scans at once, but for the genteel photo hobbyist it is more than adequate. The scanner also makes PDF files and does OCR." We had trouble nailing down the HP Scanjet G3010, which may imply that it's either an older model or one that's sold outside of the United States. From what we can tell, though, it's similar to the HP Scanjet 4850, which costs $150.
Speak Clearly into the Monsterphone -- For the Skype aficionados on your list, Taree Vriesman has a cool suggestion. "Verballs are very funky hands-free speakerphones that actually wave when a call comes in!" They're USB-powered and cost about $55 (though we could find them only from stores in the United Kingdom).
Keep It Simple, Camcorder -- Sure, you could spend hundreds, or even thousands, on a digital camcorder, but if you want something small, simple, and cheap, John Droz, Jr. suggested the Pure Digital PSV-351 30 Minute Point-and-Shoot Camcorder. It costs $100 at Amazon, and PC Magazine gave it a positive review. Although no one but Pure Digital seems to mention this, it is compatible with the Mac. John also points out that there's a seemingly identical product - the RCA EZ101 Small Wonder Camcorder - that may be a bit cheaper.
Prevent VHS Conversion Procrastination! Jim Carr noted that in 2004's gift issue, the Canopus ADC 100 was recommended as a way to convert VHS video tapes to QuickTime movies. In a thinly veiled hint, he noted that he doesn't yet own a product to perform this conversion, but he was happy to provide a link to Canopus's current product lineup. But he's absolutely right; if you have video you want to save that's still on VHS tapes, those tapes are 2 years older than they were the last time such a product was recommended. (And yes, we plead guilty to this same sin; finding the time and disk space to convert all those Compact VHS tapes to QuickTime keeps falling off the to-do list.)
Put a USB TV in Your Mac -- Between DVDs from Netflix and YouTube videos, plain old TV is looking a bit long in the tooth. But TV still has some life in it, and Paul Brians offered some suggestions for integrating TV with a Mac. "I'm thinking about getting the Pinnacle PCTV HD Pro Stick High-Def USB Tuner & DVR for my daughter who lives in a cramped apartment in Manhattan and would like to watch TV on her new iMac. The name pretty well describes the product: a little USB 2.0 device you can use to tune in digital and analog TV signals and feed them to your PC and use the latter as a DVR. It works with Windows Media Center Edition, but that's not a huge obstacle for someone with an Intel-based Mac with Boot Camp and a copy of Windows Media Center Edition. Pinnacle recommends an external antenna, but reviewers have had success feeding it from an indoor antenna in a window. It can also accept cable coaxial input. It lists for $130, but can be had for less online, such as for $120 at Amazon.com, where the reviews are worth reading, and on The Green Button. It has only composite and S-video inputs, but that's not too limiting for a relatively small screen. It does require a fast computer with a large hard disk, since it uses about 9.5 GB per hour recorded. Some people have had problems with the included software, including frequent crashes, but others have been very happy. Evidently the included remote control has very limited capabilities."