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Last holiday season's most-wanted tech gear? The showstopping crop of hang-it-on-the-wall flat-panel TVs (of course, nobody actually bought these exorbitantly priced beauties, and digital TV turned out to be not quite ready for prime time). This year's tech-toy crop lacks the shock of the new but features plenty of elegantly simple new designs at nearly alluring prices. For a loved one whose favorite gifts are invariably the ones that light up, buzz, beep, or whirr, read on:
Forget blueberry, tangerine, grape, strawberry, and lime. The season's essential desktop-PC color is graphite, as seen in the new tower-of-power Macintosh G4 series and the highly coveted (and usually back-ordered) iMAC DV Special Edition ($1,499, J&R, CompUSA). Basically, it's a souped-up iMac with twice the ram (128MB) and three times the sex appeal (those fruity colors are getting so played out). Marvel at your new little buddy's exquisitely arranged guts through its translucent graphite-tinted case and create your own damn Blair Witch Project by plugging your digital video camcorder right into this iMac's superspeedy (400Mbps) FireWire ports. It's got DV in its name, you see, because it's specifically designed for video editing. (The only disappointments? That still-lousy hockey-puck mouse and the fact that these babies ship with Mac OS 8.6 -- but soon they'll come with the brand-spanking-new 9.0, Apple's clever new operating system, which includes a virtual key chain on which you can "hang" all your Net passwords.)
Shopping for a Nethead who wants to connect away from home? Well, yeah, there's the iBook. And then there's the handsome new IBM Thinkpad 240 ($1,799.99, J&R), the smallest in the Thinkpad series. Not cartoonish in the least, this 2.9-pound (that's less than half the weight of the hernia-inducing iBook, f.y.i.) inch-thick mini-notebook has a 10.4-inch display, a 6.4 GB hard drive, Windows 98, a built-in 56kbps modem, and the best keyboard in its class -- considerably better in terms of "key travel" than the similarly teeny Sony vaio series mini-laptops that we raved about in these pages earlier this year.
Our very favorite portable computing device, though -- other than our Palm PDA -- is the Hewlett-Packard Jornada 820 ($799.99, J&R). You know how you feel yourself aging while waiting for Windows 98 to boot up? The Jornada -- which has a near-full-size keyboard -- is a Windows CE device (i.e., Compact Edition -- a sort of stripped-down version of Windows that can share information with your desktop PC). Which means -- ta-da -- it's instant-on. Flip it open, power up, and within seconds you're using special quick-loading, instantly familiar-feeling CE editions of Word, Excel, and Microsoft Internet Explorer (the 820 has a built-in 56kbps modem, too).
If there's a wheezer on your gift list -- or if you're just freaked about the latest reports on New York City's carcinogen-clogged air -- consider giving the Sharper Image Ionic Breeze Silent Air Purifier ($229; all locations). It really is silent; like the breathless late-night infomercial says, it has no fan and no moving parts (so it uses only about ten watts), and no filters to change. It doesn't slice, dice, or julienne, but it does electrostatically collect dust, pollen, tobacco smoke, pet dander, etc., on a removable row of metal rods. In our test of the Ionic Breeze in a downtown New York apartment, it gathered an alarming amount of dusty gunk on its charged rods within 48 hours, which we gleefully wiped off onto a paper towel -- a cheap, weirdly gratifying thrill akin to pulling a Bioré pore strip off your nose.
Cell-phone addicts are on the verge of having to upgrade -- not even the coolest current Motorola, Nokia, and Ericsson models are going to cut it anymore. These manufacturers and others are introducing so-called MCDs (multi-communication devices), in sleek new shells. You can't do any better than the just-out Motorola Timeport ($300 to $400; Omnipoint, Sprint) -- basically a Net-ready, gussied-up StarTac -- and the stunning (and stunningly expensive) Nokia 8860 ($800; AT&T), whose protective shell roughly approximates the jaw-dropping that occurs when we slide it down to reveal the keypad. Buy one, and at your next Lot 61 fête you can blind the paparazzi by repeatedly clicking its shiny silver mouth open and shut.
A year ago, Diamond Multimedia had a lock on the MP3 digital-music-player market. Now more than half a dozen manufacturers have entered the fray, including Sensory Science, Creative Labs, and I-Jam Multimedia. But it's the arrival of the big boys -- including Sony, Samsung, and RCA -- that will give Diamond (which still makes some damn good players, by the way) a run for its money. It's getting hard to tell one of these cigarette-pack-size units from another (the electronic innards are all basically the same), but the RCA Lyra ($239; Radio Shack) manages to stand out with its sleek design, backlit LCD display, customizable play list (scroll through tracks you've downloaded, "tag" your choices sequentially, and they'll play back in that order), twelve-hour playback time, and dual file format (it plays RealNetworks' G2 files as well).
Give the Panasonic PV-DC2090 ($599; the Wiz), and your recipient can give, too. That's because this 1.3 million-pixel digital camera has dual memory card slots, which means it can dupe an 8MB card (each of which holds 15 high-res images, or 100 low-res) on the spot, without hooking up to a PC. (Share that second card full of shots, or just use it as a back-up.) Hey, what else do you want? How about a self-timer, a video cable (so you can view images on your TV), 3x optical/2x digital zoom -- and even black-and-white image capture in case you want to engage in a perverse bit of digitally enabled nostalgia.
Icelandic pop goddess Björk has released her first "video edit" single (of "All Is Full of Love") -- and it's only available on DVD. Help a loved one brace for the coming deluge of such converged media with the Sony DVP-CX850D ($799; Harvey Electronics), a feed-it-and-forget-it 200-disc CD/Vido CD/DVD player that has an intuitively designed "Disc Navigator" to quickly locate what you've put inside, various 3D surround modes, and a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel decoder (not sure what that means, but it sure sounds good), because Björk deserves only the very best.