Cool Stuff: Your 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

All the best technology gifts to give (and get) this holiday season

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Five Under $50

So, what about the people on your list you don't necessarily want to spend lots of money on? Try these nifty presents on for size.

Color-Call Caller ID System

From Brookstone comes the Color-Call Caller ID System ($30). You have to think about this one for a moment, because at first blush it just seems like a weird gadget. But consider how convenient it'll be to glance across the room during the ballgame and immediately know that it's the office calling so there's no need to miss the next play.

Sadly, only four colors are available, but you can store 100 numbers, so in a way it's a Caller ID categorization device. Make your friends green, your kids blue, your co-workers purple and your spouse red. If a stranger calls, you get scrolling colors.

See at a glance whether friend or foe is calling with Color-Call Caller ID. Courtesy of Brookstone.

See at a glance whether friend or foe is calling with Color-Call Caller ID.

Courtesy of Brookstone.

There's also a three-line LCD display so that you'll know exactly who is on the other end of the line before you pick up. (Obviously, your phone line must have a Caller ID service enabled for the device to work.) (product details)

—Peter Smith

iPod Radio Remote

Apple's iPod Radio Remote ($37 to $49) solves two problems at once. First, it adds a remote to your iPod, allowing you to switch tracks and adjust volume while your iPod stays safely tucked away in a pocket or bag. Second, it adds an FM tuner to the iPod.

The device draws power from the iPod, so there're no additional batteries or cords to worry about. The iPod itself displays the station information and supports RDS (Radio Data System), which means if the station you're tuned into supports it, track information also appears on the iPod's display.

As a bonus, the device comes with a new pair of Apple earphones with a shorter cable than normal to account for the length of the Remote's cable. (product details)

—Peter Smith

Aleratec DVD/CD Disc Repair Plus

We all know by now that CDs and DVDs aren't as indestructible as the manufacturers claimed back in the day. If you know someone with a lot of scratched old discs that refuse to play properly, do them a big favor and give them the Aleratec DVD/CD Disc Repair Plus.

This self-contained unit ($25 to $40) is about the size of a portable CD player and uses three sets of interchangeable plastic wheels that perform disc cleaning, basic repair polishing or heavy-duty polishing. You install the appropriate cleaning wheels, depending on the condition of the CD or DVD disc you want to repair. Once the wheels are installed, you click the "repair" button and the repair cycle runs on its own for about three minutes. If the repair wheels can't fix the problem, you can attack the damage with the heavy-duty pink buffing wheels.

Fix scratched discs with DVD/CD Disc Repair Plus. Courtesy of Aleratec.

Fix scratched discs with DVD/CD Disc Repair Plus.

Courtesy of Aleratec.

So, does it actually work? You bet. The repair wheels completely fixed our beloved Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits CD, which skipped badly on "The River." Our DVD of the charming movie The Station Agent, which was so badly scarred that it skipped to the next scene every couple of minutes, required the use of the buffing wheels. After one cleaning cycle with the pink buffing wheels and one cycle with the normal repair wheels, the DVD worked like new.

We've used the machine to fix several other damaged discs with great results. The manufacturer says the machine works on all CDs and DVDs, including video game, music, data and movie discs, but it can't repair deep scratches that reach the data layer or that damage the label side of the disc. (product details)

—Todd R. Weiss

Lexar 1GB JumpDrive Mercury Flash Drive

The tech in your life might already have a USB flash drive (sometimes called a thumbdrive), but you know the old saying: "You can never be too thin or have too much portable storage space."

Honestly, most flash drives are fairly similar. The Lexar 1GB JumpDrive Mercury Flash Drive ($48 to $49) is interesting because it has a capacity meter. You can tell at a glance if the thing is almost filled up, without plugging it into a machine.

See how full your Mercury flash drive is -- even when it's not connected.  Courtesy of Lexar.
See how full your Mercury flash drive is -- even when it's not connected. Courtesy of Lexar.

The drive comes with Secure II software to encrypt and digitally shred files (Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.3+ required). Portable applications are becoming more and more common, so not only can you back up your data on a flash drive these days, but you can take your apps with you, too. (product details)

—Peter Smith

Wireless Weather Forecaster

If there's one thing the popularity of WeatherBug and various other desktop weather applets has shown, it's that techies love meteorology. The Oregon Scientific Wireless Weather Forecaster ($30 to $45) combines alarm clock functions with all the weather data you'll need to be properly equipped to face the day.

Check the weather without getting out of bed with the Wireless Weather Forecaster. Courtesy of Oregon Scientific.
Check the weather without getting out of bed with the Wireless Weather Forecaster. Courtesy of Oregon Scientific.

The time is set automatically by contacting the atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colo., assuming it's within range of its signal. What's the range? Two thousand miles. That alone is enough to excite any self-respecting techie.

Data is gathered from outside via a wireless sensor with a 100-foot range. (The Forecaster supports up to three sensors. You can buy additional sensors separately.) In addition to getting indoor and outdoor temperatures (-22F to 140F) and a weather forecast, you can check the phase of the moon and get alerts if the temperature is approaching freezing -- just in time to cover the vegetable garden. (product details)

—Peter Smith

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