We doubt anyone would object to receiving a snazzy new iMac, PowerBook, iBook, or Power Mac as a gift this season (certainly not your humble editors). But this year’s hardware gift suggestions focused on peripherals ranging from essential additions (better mice, more storage) to clever spins on mundane devices (a FireWire-breathing thunder lizard).
For a few more ideas, be sure to check out past hardware gift suggestions; everything on last year’s list would still be welcome to most Mac users. You can purchase many of these items from TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics, a philanthropic-leaning company which includes an option at checkout to match donation amounts to a number of charities. Also, visit another TidBITS sponsor, Dealmac, to find daily hardware deals. Finally, our friends at DevDepot have set up a special page containing many of the items suggested along with some other similar gifts.
Stomp l’Oeil — We all think of toys at Christmas, computer and otherwise, and Derek Miller highlighted his favorite combination of both. "Many people have whimsical toys atop their desks, but these toys rarely have any real use. So how about FireWire Dino (formerly known as Hubzilla), a FireWire hub that’s well, lizardly? I’m not sure if it’s available for Christmas, since CharisMac seems to keep selling out of them."
We’re hoping to see a horde of Dinos at the holidays, if only because we want to support any company that includes the following disclaimer on its Web site: "Charismac claims no responsibility for broken personal or business related property should FireWire Dino go on a rampage. As always, a clean and fed FireWire Dino results in a happy FireWire Dino."
Expand Your Horizons — Adding screen real estate to one’s computer has traditionally been an expensive proposition, but prices of second (or third, or fourth) monitors have continued to slide downward. CRTs seem slowly to be going the way of 8-track tapes, though if you need color calibration or displays larger than 19 inches, prices can be found below $300. For general purposes, LCDs are now the way to go, with 15-inch models going for between $200 and $250 and 17- and 18-inch LCDs dropping below $500. Chris Pepper pointed out that "the power and space savings over CRTs are significant. I’ve bumped my old display to secondary status several times after getting new LCDs, and I’ve been happy each time."
When comparing higher end models, Chris suggested looking for dual inputs (VGA and DVI or two VGA ports) for sharing between computers, USB hubs, and built-in speakers; some monitors also work as TV sets.
In the same spirit, Alpha Walker recommended Dr. Bott’s $150 DVIator, a DVI to ADC adapter that enables the use of two Apple Studio Displays with one Power Mac G4. Let the salivating commence.
A Mouse in Every House — The humble mouse received numerous nods from TidBITS readers, whether for adding a second button, going on the road with a laptop, or cutting the ubiquitous tail connecting it to the computer. Best of all, mice are relatively inexpensive and slip easily into a stocking. David Weintraub said, "In this era of sudden layoffs, how about something light on the old pocketbook like a Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical? The cost is about $25, and it is a two button mouse with a wheel that makes scrolling much easier – great for Mac OS X. What’s really neat is that it glows. You can see the red LED through the sides of the mouse."
For PowerBook and iBook owners, Andrew Cohen and Peter Haglich suggested Kensington’s PocketMouse Pro, which we reviewed in TidBITS-630. "With a gentle tug," said Andrew, "the cord and USB connector completely retract into the body of the mouse and snap securely behind the cover. The mouse is small and light enough that I keep it in my computer bag at all times and never have remember to pack a mouse. The body of the mouse is large enough that even with my large hands, I can use it comfortably for extended periods. It’s a reasonably priced gift at $44."
Kensington also sells a wireless version for $50, though Ben Rubinstein notes a potential snag for frequent travellers: "I’ve not come across this on a U.S. airline yet, but I was on an Italian airline last month and ‘wireless mouse’ was included in the welcome video’s list of things that may be not used at any time on the flight."
Back on the ground, but not for long apparently, Don Foy recently bought a Gyration Ultra Cordless optical mouse. "I love this mouse and recommend it for any gadget lover," he said. In addition to working out of the box (after you charge it), the Gyration mouse has two buttons and a scroll wheel, which can also be clicked as a button. It’s rechargeable, so there are no batteries to buy. But that’s not all. "What makes this thing special is the gyroscope inside that allows you to use it in midair," he said. "It has a range of 25 feet. I love it. I can even play Bejeweled on it." The $80 mouse requires a USB port and an electrical outlet for the battery charging dock.
The Gift of Power — It may not glow, beep, or entertain your friends, but having more power for your laptop is often a worthwhile investment. If you know someone whose laptop goes back and forth from home to office, Bill Raush suggested giving them a second Apple power adapter ($80) so they can have one plugged into the wall at each place.
If you’re looking for power you can take on a trip, or looking for another replacement option, Kevin van Haaren recommended MadsonLine’s $76 MicroAdapter. It’s lighter and smaller than Apple’s adapters, encased in aluminum for protection, and the plug is bent at a 90 degree angle to avoid fraying caused by constant bending and flexing.
Stay Cool — Julio Ohep attempted a bit of reverse psychology when bringing up potential gift ideas for himself: "As usual, my suggestion is something I would love to have but am probably not going to buy for myself (there’s no way I could justify it). The FlyFan, by Kensington, particularly here in the tropics of Venezuela, looks like a great gadget to take to the park or beach with your iBook."
Go Wireless — Nik Friedman painted a lovely holiday postcard: "Nothing says the holidays like sipping eggnog and surfing the Web from in front of the fireplace. Wireless is the gift of the year, if you ask me. Access points can be had for under $100 and can bridge together all your home Macs. Set up an older machine to dial in (or splurge for a real AirPort Base Station) if you have a modem connection and all your computers can share access. Another good trick is to take advantage of the Mac OS’s software base station support, so you can just get an AirPort card and get going.
"For Titanium PowerBook G4 owners upset with their lame AirPort range, take a look at Sony’s beautiful and slim wireless PC card (model PCWA-C150S). It matches the TiBook’s brushed metal look perfectly, and has a slim antennae so you can leave it plugged into the PC card slot 24/7 without worrying about knocking it off. It also works fine with the various open source wireless drivers."
Folks with different PC Cards than those supported above can try a driver for Mac OS X from IOXperts.
While you’re wirelessly downloading movie trailers to the latest batch of holiday movie releases, be sure to add to your list Adam’s new book, The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, coauthored with frequent TidBITS contributor Glenn Fleishman.
The Key to Better Memory — Remember all the fuss when Apple decided years ago to stop using floppy drives? If you or someone you know is still grumbling, the time has officially come to move on: for less than the cost of an external floppy drive, you can buy storage "keys" that plug into any USB port. The devices include a memory card in sizes up to 1 GB, don’t take up much more room than a fat pen or key chain holder, and are perfect for making quick file backups. They draw their power directly from the USB port, and most don’t require the installation of special drivers.
Judi Carter wrote, "I have a son going to school in Ireland this year. He bought a Titanium PowerBook G4 and an iPod right before he left. Since Queen’s University is a PC school, one item which has been invaluable to him (he doesn’t have a printer) is a DiskOnKey, which was a stocking stuffer last year. He writes a paper on his PowerBook, puts it on the DiskOnKey, and goes to the computer lab to print it. I am also a school district’s Technology Coordinator and have found this device to be invaluable in my work. I travel between buildings and can easily move files around. The DiskOnKey or any USB flash storage device is my first choice."
For a variation, Larry Wink suggested the SanDisk Cruzer, a portable storage device starting at about $45 with a unique advantage – upgradable flash memory. "Using removable SD (Secure Digital) flash memory cards (with capacities up to 256 MB), the Cruzer has infinite expansion possibilities and the flash memory cards can also be used in newer Palm PDAs and some digital cameras and camcorders."
When looking into USB memory, keep in mind that most people have multiple USB devices, and the size of a memory key might obstruct other ports.
Pick a Card, Any Card — When our colleague Glenn Fleishman got married last year, he knew many wedding guests would bring digital cameras. To capture the day’s events in pictures, he set up an iBook with a USB memory card reader and was immediately able to get a copy of pictures taken by anyone who wanted to share them. (As a bonus, he also used iPhoto’s slide show feature to display all the pictures for people who wandered by the table.)
Such USB card readers proved to be popular gift suggestions this year for transferring all types of data. Peter Haglich wrote, "One of the best gifts I received last year was a Zio USB card reader. This small $30 USB gadget allows me to mount a MultiMedia/Secure Digital (SD) card on a Mac or Windows PC as a removable hard disk. I have found this to be the fastest way to put Palm files on the SD card. I have also used it to share files with a PC via a kind of sneaker-net in several business settings."
Kevin van Haaren uses his card reader almost as a portable computer: "I keep my SSH digital keys and a Windows SSH program on one card so I can control my servers remotely from any Windows XP or Mac OS X computer in the world (other operating systems need drivers first). Another card has the VLAN software for my office and the drivers for the Linksys wireless card I bought to use in the Windows laptops I bring home from work."
If you must deal with multiple memory formats, there are several USB card readers that handle many types of cards. "We purchased the Acomdata multi-card reader for $40 for use at work," said Kevin. "I prefer a smaller and lighter single card reader for carrying around with my laptop, but the multi-card reader has really come in handy with visitors carrying around the odd memory chip we don’t normally use."
PowerMate — Mark Kottman made sure we got our shiny knob fix this season (see Kirk McElhearn’s review in TidBITS-653). "The $45 Griffin Technologies PowerMate is the perfect accessory for the Mac," he writes. "It has multiple uses such as scroll wheel and volume control, a great high-quality feel, and it looks as cool as any Mac. It’s USB, so it works with any recent Mac and it’s a perfect companion to the Apple Pro Mouse, which doesn’t have a scroll wheel. If you haven’t seen one in person, stop by an Apple retail store and take a test drive – that’s what sold me!"
One-Handed Keyboard — For those revelers whose idea of chording is more high-tech than a performance of Handel’s Messiah, Paul Durrant pointed to a small one-handed keyboard. "The CyKey is the latest incarnation of the Microwriter keyboard, previously seen on the Agenda PDA. It’s now a small unit that communicates by infrared, either to a Palm or to a Mac via a USB/infrared adapter. Suitable for left or right handed use, it’s an entire keyboard for a single hand, using multiple-key chords for each letter you want to type."
Digital Cameras — Our digital camera guru, Arthur Bleich, will return next issue for his yearly take on the latest developments in the digital camera world, but a few TidBITS readers took their shots before we could. Iain Anderson wrote, "This didn’t occur to me at first, as it seemed almost too obvious. A digital camera will revolutionise the way you take photos, so if you haven’t already made the switch, think about it. I bought one for my wife (no, not for me at all) last Christmas and we’ve (um… she’s) taken over 3,500 photos already. We far prefer an iPhoto slide show to a heavy album, and we can send as many photos to as many relatives as have computers. Plus, since we can back it all up, we can’t lose these memories as easily as a negative can be misplaced or scratched.
"Many models are available, so refer to a current digital camera review magazine for the latest. Don’t be afraid to try a cheaper 2 megapixel option either. With a 2.1 megapixel Fuji, we’ve had results roughly equal to some of our regular 35mm film and developing (shot on an SLR) without the cost or delay. Oh, and if you make the leap and you’re still not sure what to do, I’m sure a copy of Adam’s iPhoto book wouldn’t go astray."
Dan Cottler cautioned that the digital photo bug can be an entertainingly dangerous creation. "There is a slippery slope here, folks! We started with a single 1-megapixel Olympus camera for Christmas two years ago. We’ve moved up to 3- and 4-megapixel cameras and handful of SmartMedia cards (which make great stocking stuffers!). Now, we’re looking at our Wall Of Slides… 30-plus years worth. This Christmas, we’ve asked Santa for a slide scanner, a bigger hard disk, and a faster CD burner!"
Eyes on TV — After all the relatives have gone home, what better way to spend the latter part of a holiday vacation than watching a bit of telly? Judy Bell raved about her favorite device: "One of the best pieces of hardware I bought this year was EyeTV from El Gato Software. It’s a digital video recorder that compresses TV signals onto a CD, making either a Video CD or QuickTime movie – one hour of TV onto a standard CD that can be viewed on a DVD player. But wait, there’s more! For those of us who admit to watching, it’s a TV tuner, so you can watch TV on your Mac. It’s a whole lot of fun and a great way to archive those upcoming episodes of Six Feet Under.
"Oddly, although the current software allows QuickTime but not VCD to be watched on a Mac (and I’m sure El Gato will remedy that in the next update), a shareware program called MacVCD fixes this."
Ears on Mac — Cool as EyeTV is, way more Mac users listen to music on their Macs than watch TV. Fred von Lohmann believes that everyone should have clean, digital audio output from their Macs, and since many inexpensive stereo receivers have digital inputs, you can make a digital connection between your computer and your stereo. Fred was amazed at how much better things sounded when compared to the analog audio output on his Mac. As how to accomplish this feat, he wrote, "I’ve been extremely happy with the $70 DG2 from Xitel. Smaller than an iPod, it’s generally marketed as an accessory to facilitate a computer-to-MiniDisc connection, but it works perfectly well with any receiver or other outboard D/A converter that accepts an optical Toslink digital signal. No drivers to install, no hassle, just a simple USB-to-Toslink optical audio output from any USB-equipped Mac.
"M Audio’s Sonica may also be worth considering. It requires drivers and costs $75, but it offers both digital and analog outputs, plus support for more surround sound."