They’ve been around for years, but digital cameras are still hot favourites and proof that there is no going back to film and developing. In this fast market, it’s looking positive for those poised to switch. For example, £150-£200 now buys a good brand, good quality (2 Megapixel) camera. It’ll have a flash, produce 6 x 8 inch prints and have a preview screen to show (and delete) pictures. Shop around and you’ll find familiar names like Sony, Kodak, Pentax or Fuji. Type the model number into google.com and you’ll find loads of reviews to weigh them up. While good optics and battery life are crucial, extra picture memory helps (£40’s worth ought to be ample). And as a near luxury item, picture storage is a fair Xmas gift in itself.
Good printers are easy to find but the EPSON Stylus Photo 925 (£220) is one that distinguishes itself as a photo lab. It prints right to the paper edge and even cuts the pictures off a paper roll. Remarkable is its quality, menu screen and slots to print directly from a camera card. Another model, the 950 (£330 incl) even has a special tray that prints on the back of CD-ROMs.
As an item that people hesitate to buy, ink jet printer paper could be a stocking filler. For example, Ilford’s “Printasia” range comes in glossy, satin and a surprising matt finish to make photos that little bit artistic. Try the DIY greeting cards, and cover them in photos which grandparents really appreciate.
Mouse & keyboard
If your mouse clogs and its wires snag, it’s worth moving to a cord-free design. The Logitech MX700 (£59.99) is a top-of-range mouse with a silky executive feel that befits a gift. It uses a no-moving-parts optical sensor, and it’s as fast and responsive as a corded one. Unlike models that eat batteries, it charges in 10 minutes from a storage pod while no-gimmick “cruise control” buttons make scrolling effortless.
Similarly innovative is the Cordless Presenter (Logitech £169 inc) which one moment you can use to advance PowerPoint slides and, the next, use as a mouse. It uses radio frequency (Bluetooth) to communicate with the computer so you really can wander round the class and use it from the back. A tiny (USB) unit plugs into the PC to give it a 10-metre range while a very “kewl” laser pointer lets you point at things on the screen. Not cheap, but a cutting edge mouse to put beside the GyroMouse Presenter Mouse (Gyration £193 incl).
This not only has an optical sensor that works on the bench, it has internal gyroscopes to sense when you move it in the air. It sits in a base where it charges but pick it up, wave it around and you’re into a new ball game. For the full cordless shirt-and-tie effect, the Cordless Desktop Optical (Logitech £99) is a keyboard and mouse set. Used in classrooms and meetings, they aid discussion -- though if you’ve a keyboard that can’t find a home on your desk this is a perfect solution. Try the keyboard if you can. Tastes vary but this one is unusually comfortable and has extra buttons for playing music, which surely beats work.
What are we heading? Most likely today’s digital camera will become tomorrows camcorder, and then it all goes expensive. But until then you could get up to speed with editing digital video. This we tried earlier this year with Apple’s iMac and with great success. While the iMac reigns as the system to turn raw movie into home DVD, there’s now respite for PC users with Pinnacle’s Studio 8. This lovely, intuitive package, which comes as software (£55) or with video capture kit (£80-120), is the thing to start dabbling with. It lets you edit, add titles, and now this latest version also burns video to CD-ROM discs that work in DVD players. Also recommended, as a beginners package, is Expression (£30) which as well as video, makes slideshows out of the masses of digital photos you’ll soon have. Cheap and easy to make, slideshows with music are great attention grabbers for lessons, assemblies and Xmas afternoons.
Gadgets - You want more?
A second camera
One of the coolest new items is Pocket Digital (Logitech £119) an eye catching credit card size camera. At barely the thickness of a pencil, it’s light enough to take everywhere and discreetly take pictures to email. With a brushed aluminium finish, it has executive looks, while a lithium battery that charges though its PC (USB) cable is a sign of good design.
If you’ve seen phones with cameras, a pair of binoculars is the next unlikely item to have a built-in camera. The combination works surprisingly well on the Pentax Digibino DB100 (£270) which offer a very reasonable (7x) magnification in a pocket-able design. You can take in a clear view through the eyepiece or on a flip-up screen, but either way you can take a snap with a well-placed button. As a world first, the very low photo resolution might be excusable but nature lovers, among others, will want to keep an eye on this.
For those who have yet to get the knack of taking notes on a Palm-type organiser, the Keycase Keyboard (Logitech <£99) looks like a solution. It is a soft neat case, made of fabric that wraps around to protect it. Open it up and it’s a keyboard that docks with the unit in readiness to write a novel. Intriguing to see, put it beside a laptop on a train, and you’ll find here a very portable writing tool.
Keep your work safe
The need to carry a life’s oeuvres between home and school or college has long been met by the Iomega Zip 100 Mb drive. New is the Zip 750 Mb USB (<£170) with as much storage as a CD-ROM on a shirt pocket-size disc. The discs cost about £11 each and are endlessly re-useable. A second solution is a portable hard disk – the Iomega HDD 20Gb (<£150 for USB1 or 2) is a slick way to carry around everything or simply add more storage. Even larger versions are available but any of them could be just the thing to back up, say, a laptop.
Television in the bathroom
If that’s too serious, Tile TV is the logical next step for flat panel displays. Starting at £1,000 plus fitting you can have a TV flushed within the bathroom tiles. The unit comes in 6, 10 and 15-inch varieties and features a heated screen to keep your viewing mist-free. A must to catch up on news in the kitchen and soaps in the shower.