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Treats for those on the move

December 07, 2007 11:35 IST

Following last week's guide to some of the larger and more expensive consumer electronic categories such as PCs, flat-panel TVs and home music systems that would make a welcome holiday season treat, this week focuses on mobile personal technology.

My top choices in each category are rated from one to five according to value for money (VFM) and kudos (K) -- the coolness factor in personal tech is increasingly important.

Mobile phones: For a treat to ease working life and look good, several smartphone contenders have emerged. But my favourites for work are two of the latest devices from Research in Motion: the WiFi-enabled BlackBerry Curve 8320 (VFM4, K4) available in the US from T-Mobile USA for $199, and the BlackBerry 8820 from AT&T in the US and O2 in Europe. Nokia's E61i ($450, £280: VFM3, K4) is a close runner up.

For folks who just want a cool smartphone, I would pick Apple's iPhone, which, in spite of some drawbacks, is a game-changing handset with lots of "wow" ($400, £269: VFM2, K5), and Palm's Centro ($199: VFM4, K3), currently available only in the US.

For anyone who is happy without a do-it-all smartphone, a good choice might be one of the multimedia-centric handsets such as those in Nokia's N-series range, including the N95, ($750, £370: VFM2, K3) or Sony Ericsson's K880i (VFM4, K3). If you live in the US, consider one of the new Voyager handsets or LG's Touch.

It is not a mobile phone but Nokia's N810 Linux-based tablet would be particularly cool for the family geek - the N810 ($500, £300: VFM3, K4) has a "real" rather than virtual keyboard and is a significant improvement on earlier iterations.

One of the most useful accessories is a headset and Bluetooth wireless technology has transformed the market. My favourite is the top-performing $120 Aliph Jawbone noise-cancelling headset. For drivers, look at Parrot's sup­erbly designed Bluetooth hands-free car kits at

Another great stocking stuffer is a mobile handset leather case from Prima, Fortte or DLO.

Portable music/media players: Apple's iPod family still dominates and remains top of many teenagers' wish lists. The new flash-memory based iPod Touch (from $300, £199: VFM2, K5) with its beautiful 3.5in touch screen, and tiny iPod Shuffle ($79, £49: VFM2, K4) are particularly nicely designed. However, for sheer storage capacity nothing beats a 160Gb iPod Classic (from $250, £159: VFM3, K3), which makes it ideal for anyone with a large digitised music collection, a portable photo/video enthusiast or a keen podcast/audiobook listener.

Alternatives include the excellent family of Archos hard drive-based media players, which are particularly popular in Europe, but my favourite non-Apple hard drive portable media player is Microsoft's revamped Zune 2 ($249 in the US: VFM3, K2).

If you want the reliability of flash memory but don't want an iPod Nano (from $149, £99) or Shuffle, consider Toshiba's Gigabeat MEU202, Samsung's K3 player or the new mini Zune 2, which costs $149.

The earbuds that come with most music players do not do the music justice, so treat someone to a set of high-performance earbuds such as Shure's SE210 sound-isolating earphones ($150, £71: VFM4, K1), or consider a set of noise-cancelling headphones such as the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 ($299, £224: VFM2, K3).

Digital cameras: Amid bewildering choice, generally you will do best to stick with one of the leading manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm Casio or Panasonic and pay attention to lens quality, battery life and ease of use as well as the megapixel count and other bells and whistles.

My favourite pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras include Casio's Exilim range, including the Z1080 ($210, £160: VFM4, K4) and Canon's 8Mp PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH (called the IXUS 820 in the UK) (from $310, £230: VFM3, K3).

If you want a long zoom without the hassle of a digital SLR, choose the Fuji FinePix S9600 ($581, £230: VFM3, K2) or Panasonic's Luminix DMC-FZ50 (from $460, £440: VFM2, K3).

For serious amateur photography the only choice is a digital SLR with the options it brings inc­luding interchangeable lenses and filters. My favourites costing less than $1,000 are Canon's Digital Rebel XTi - the EOS 400D in Europe - (from $610, £440: VFM4, K4) which features Canon's newly designed 10.1Mp sensor and lots of new features, including a 2.5in LCD screen.

Otherwise, choose Nikon's very easy to use D40 (about $480, £435: VFM5, K4) with an 18mm-55mm lens. Both are excellent, low-priced digital SLRs. If money is no object, choose the professionals' favourite, Canon's 21.1Mp EOS-1Ds Mark III (VFM1, K5) with dual image processors tucked inside a super-tough case.

Digital camcorders: If you want a serious digi-camcorder and have the time for one of this year's most arcane model numbers, take a look at Sony's high-definition HDR-HC3 HDV 1080i ($1,500: VFM1, K5). It comes with a 10x optical zoom and widescreen 2.7in touch screen display. Far cheaper, the Flip Video Ultra ($150: VFM4, K4) is a pocket-sized digital camcorder that plugs directly into a PC's USB port and is ideal for YouTube clips.

Display: If you want to generate a big- screen buzz with a presentation or even the family photos, consider Toshiba's ($699, £400: VFM4, K4) TDP-FF1AU mobile projector, which is built on digital light processing technology, weighs 1.7lb and comes with its own screen.

This year's crop of digital photo frames includes models from Kodak, an 8in wireless model from Ceiva for $225 that works with Ceiva's $99-a-year wireless subscription service, and one from Philips combining a digital photo frame with a digital alarm clock.

Personal navigation devices: My favourites include the TomTom One XL (about $300, £160: VFM4, K2) and the TomTom Go 920T (£356: VFM2, K2). Garmin's Nuvi 660 for $700 is also impressive.

Finally . . . If you live in the US, the e-book reader from Amazon, the Kindle ($400: VFM4, K5) is 3G wireless- enabled and is a worthy competitor for Sony's $300 Sony Reader.

Lastly, among the more quirky gifts, how about iRobot's gutter-cleaning robot ($100: VFM2, K5)?

Paul Taylor tackles your high-tech problems and queries at

Paul Taylor