From Computing and Communication Services

Looking for the perfect gift for a gadget fan? Read on for the latest information and advice for December gadget purchases.

Home computers
You’ll need to make the basic decisions before you buy — PC or Macintosh? Laptop or desktop? However, almost all new home computers will come with certain basic equipment: CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, speakers and modem. If you spot a discount special that looks too good to be true, make sure that the monitor is included, and make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for three years of a specified ISP (Internet Service Provider) (unless you’re sure you’re comfortable with that. See our Free PCs article for more information on getting a good deal).

When buying a home PC, we’d suggest that you get a reputable brand. UST leases Dell PCs; there are plenty of other good brands, but beware of the “shop-mart special.” Ultra-cheap computers may contain substandard parts that won’t work once you’ve put them together.

For more advice on purchasing a home computer, along with recommended models, check out the desktop PC buying guide or the notebook PC buying guide on ZDNet.

Digital cameras
Digital cameras continue to come down in price, but you still get what you pay for. Digital cameras that provide photos with 640 x 480 resolution are available for under $100. If all you want to do is send snapshots via e-mail, that may be enough for your needs, but these will not look as good as conventional photos, especially if you print them out. Starting at about $200, you can find cameras that hold at least 1 megapixel of data per photo (about 1000 x 1000 resolution or better). Beyond that, digital cameras may have a zoom feature, removable storage options, voice memo options, etc. If you really have a lot of money to play with, you can get a digital video camera.

For more advice on purchasing a digital camera, check out the digital camera buying guide on ZDNet.

eBooks
You may be interested in an eBook if you don’t mind reading a screen instead of a printed page, and if you frequently find that you need so many books to get through the plane ride on your vacation, your carryon doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you. The eBook reader costs about $300; you can then download electronic versions of current books for a fee. You also can download books in the public domain for free from Project Gutenberg.

Of course, this isn’t a book you’d want to take into the bathtub. Also, if you have a PalmPilot or other PDA, you may be able to download electronic reader software for it (though it may lack some of the features of the eBook).

Personal MP3 players
Personal MP3 players are PalmPilot-sized gadgets that store and play MP3 sound files. These give you the convenience of portable music without having to carry the CDs or tapes along with the player. They generally cost around $250; you can copy sound files off your own CDs or download (legal!) music files direct to the players. (Some MP3 players have features to prevent music piracy that may be extremely inconvenient even to legitimate users, so check before you buy.)

For more about MP3 players, see the ZDNet review of five of the best.

The Tonka Dig-n Rigs CD-ROM playset
For when the Minnesota snows have covered the sandbox for the winter, this gadget provides a steering wheel and a set of controls that control a virtual bulldozer or wrecking ball on the computer screen. This is intended for kids ages 3-5, and costs about $40.

Merry Christmas!