The Second Annual Gearhead's Holiday Gadget Buying Guide

Larry Chu, MD

MDNG Primary Care, October 2008, Volume 10, Issue 10

A brief guide to the must-have gadgets for you and your loved ones this holiday season.

Walking through the streets of Tokyo in August is a hot and sticky proposition. The stream of tourists may slow slightly during the month, but the ebb and fl ow of the populace doesn’t change much, and the pace of life remains electric. Technology is what fuels the fi re in the Land of the Rising Sun, and Tokyo is ground zero for the “latest and greatest” in this gadget-crazy country. Therefore, it seemed appropriate that I was in Japan when I got an e-mail from the editors of MDNG reminding me of the impending deadline for my second annual holiday gadget buying guide. Little did they know I had come on vacation with an ulterior motive: I was searching for the one gadget that rules them all.

Nintendo Wii

Nintendo had no idea how successful it would be when it set out to develop the Wii gaming system in 2001. An outgrowth of the now-defunct Gamecube, the Wii was Nintendo’s attempt to jump off the microchip power race with its competitor, the Sony Playstation. Not able to compete on computing power alone, the folks at Nintendo instead decided to create a different type of gaming experience that would engage players with an entirely new interface. The Wii console connects users to the gaming environment through a wireless control stick that can sense motion in three dimensions. Other companies have since launched other wireless control devices, such as steering wheels, nunchucks, and even a “fi tness” board that lets Wii users practice yoga, balance games, and aerobics. The Wii has chronically been in short supply since its release in the United States, and so it was in search of the elusive Wii that I wandered the streets of Tokyo’s Akihabara “Electronic City” while on my recent vacation. The versatility, innovation, and ingenuity of the Wii console, controllers, and games are the reason it is my number one pick for this year’s gadget guide. It is the one gadget that rules them all!

Price: $250

New iPod Nano

Apple has done it again with its new multicolored iPod lineup (www. apple.com/ipodnano). These Nanos have a bumped-up, two-inch screen that provides a gorgeous display for photos and album art. A built-in accelerometer means that if you fl p it on its side, you can scroll through your albums with the nifty cover-flow graphics, and your photos automatically change orientation to accommodate the wider screen. In a nod to the quirky, Apple has enabled the player with the ability to randomly shuffl e to another song simply by shaking the tiny music player.

Price: $149—199

TiVo HD XL

Stop renting cumbersome and less-sophisticated DVRs from your cable company, and invest in some serious technology. TiVo invented the concept of “timeshifting,” which is the ability to watch television programs when you want and not when networks decide to air them. The digital video recorder (DVR) stores your television programs on a hard drive, and an Internet connection keeps the unit updated with the latest program listings. Tivo HD XL is the company’s latest model and features one terabyte of hard drive storage that is capable of storing 150 hours of high-defi nition programs. Several TiVo features that are sure to please include the ability to easily program your unit remotely by selecting TV programs from a website and special software that allows you to copy certain television programs to your computer or laptop to watch on the go. Amazon has also recently jumped on board to enable video-on-demand movie rentals.

Price: $600

Sony OLED TV XEL-1

Jaws dropped (including mine) during Sony’s OLED television display at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This new technology will redefi ne high defi nition for even the pickiest videophiles. Built using special organic, light-emitting diodes, the individual pixels that make up the OLED television picture can each be turned on and off. This results in a lifelike contrast ratio with blacks that are truly black and colors that are vivid and pure. Sony’s XEL-1 is the first OLED television to market, and thus the 13-inch television is very expensive. The incredibly thin display and the revolutionary picture quality may be worth it for some video connoisseurs. The rest of us will have to wait until OLEDs are mainstream and prices drop out of the stratosphere.

Price: $2,500

BlackBerry Storm

The long-awaited touch-screen BlackBerry Storm (supported exclusively for now by Verizon Wireless) will fi nally be released sometime later this year. It will come equipped with a 480x360, 3.25-inch touch-screen display that actually gives ever so slightly when pressed, providing a unique tactile sensation. The display also switches to landscape mode when the Storm is held sideways and boasts a full QWERTY touch keypad. The Storm will also have Bluetooth, GPS, 3G access, a 3.2-megapixel camera, a full HTML Web browser, a full-screen video and music player, and a host of other cool features. Price: $599—699 BlackBerry Bold My “crackberry” (so-named because of the addictive nature of the cell phone and texting device) colleagues and I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Research in Motion’s newest device, the BlackBerry Bold. This device has been dubbed the “iPhone” of the BlackBerry community, because it fi nally has the complete set of features many “crackberry” addicts crave. It boasts e-mail, instant messaging, 3G, GPS, wifi , video, and multimedia playback, all wrapped into a compact device with a large vibrant screen and tactile QWERTY keyboard for texting. The BlackBerry Bold is expected to be released in time for the holiday gadget-giving season.

Price: $630—700

Verbarius Clock, Studio Lebedev

Almost everything Art Lebedev’s studio designs is an artfully clever use of technology. His Verbarius clock is no exception. The sleek, black, monochromatic unit uses a glowing LCD to display time the way people speak. Every minute, it displays the time in a selection of various text phrases: “forty-five minutes past four,” “fifteen minutes to five,” “four forty-five,” or “a quarter to five.” Owners have the option to select different, preloaded languages (English, German, Spanish, French, and Russian) and can install additional languages through a built-in USB port.

Price: $221.88

Kindle, Amazon.com

Despite some flaws, Amazon’s Kindle electronic reader does many things right. It is a power-reader’s dream, because the small, thin unit can store vast amounts of information to keep even the most voracious reader busy at home or on the road. Kindle uses an e-paper interface, which is a new display type composed of a layer of encapsulated pigment spheres that modulate white and black pixels using a tiny electronic charge. This means that Kindle runs a long time on a single charge, which is ideal for any busy physician on the go. Kindle is also connected wirelessly to the Internet through a cellular 3G service that Amazon provides, making it easy to purchase new content even while you’re away from your home or office. There are a couple downsides however— content is not free, and you are held captive to Amazon’s prices. It is also cumbersome to get your own content onto Kindle. The device also doesn’t display .PDF fi les, which may make much of your existing electronic texts or journal articles incompatible. Still, even if Kindle won’t let you read the latest clinical updates in the New England Journal of Medicine, you can cozy up to the latest Steven King novel before bed.

Price: $359

MPro110 mini projector, 3M

I was at Popular Science editor Sean Captain’s CES talk when he demonstrated 3M’s mobile projector. It was a brief and almost cursory demonstration that electrifi ed many journalists in the room. He mentioned that 3M had developed a video projector that could fi t in the palm of your hand. He also mentioned that they were working on fi tting it into cameras and even cell phone devices. Sure enough, he soon began projecting images from a device in the palm of his hand. I wasn’t sure when or where I would use a standalone pocket projector, but I was convinced that I had to have one! The unit has various connections, including VGA and RCA, to allow for many imaginative device combinations and uses. Perhaps I will use it as an instant 30” (or maybe 100”, depending on the size of my room) laptop monitor displayed on my hotel room wall. Catching up on the latest episode of 30 Rock in my hospital call room might be vastly more enjoyable on a large screen. Imagine my delight when 3M fi nally announced that the unit would ship for $359 starting September 30th.

Price: $359

Canon 5D Mark II

Canon has finally done what I secretly hoped it would do: produce a professional-level camera for the regular Joe. What makes the 5D Mark II so remarkable is that it has a 21-megapixel, full-frame sensor that is very similar to the one found in its $8,000 big brother (Eos 1Ds Mark III) and the ability to shoot 1080 highdefi nition video, all wrapped in a very manageable compact body that everyday shutterbugs can handle. The ability to shoot high-definition video through high-quality Canon glass is revolutionary and will take your home movies to the next level. Further, the $2,700 street price fi nally puts a professional-grade camera in the ballpark for folks who want the option to take professional-quality photos without the stratospheric professional prices.

Price: $2,700

FoxL Portable Audio Speakers

I have searched long and hard for high-quality portable speakers to connect to my iPod for lulling me to sleep on my frequent overnight, hospital-based calls. It took a rocket scientist and former NASA engineer named Dr. Godehard Guenther to create the perfect balance of high-fi delity sound and compact size. The FoxL speakers are built into a bar about the size of a cell phone and really pack a wallop of sound. Even the folks at Sound & Vision gave their blessing, calling it a “David among Goliaths.” The FoxL comes in two fl avors: one with wireless Bluetooth playback and one without.

Price: $199 ($249 with Bluetooth)

Toto Washlet® S400 Toilet Seat

I will end my Tokyo-inspired holiday gadget guide with a technological revelation from my time in Japan: the infamous Toto Washlet. Leave it to the gadget-crazy Japanese to develop a commode that does everything except read you the Sunday newspaper. The Toto S400 is considered the Lexus of the lavoratory. As you approach, a sensoractivated lid automatically raises to reveal a gently warmed seat for your comfort. A wall-mounted remote control can also raise the seat if desired. Variable, three-temperature, warm-air drying; air purifying; and bidet functions hit the features package out of the ballpark. There is also a massage feature, which I was too afraid to try. Finally, a gift for the gearhead who has everything!

Price: $1,230—1,470

Dr. Chu is an MDNG editorial board member and assistant professor of anesthesia, Department of Anesthesia and Pain Management, Stanford University School of Medicine.