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The Best and Worst of the Holidays 2005

Each year at this time I survey the high tech landscape and place my bets.
Published: November, 2005

It seems that every year the experts tell you what to buy but no one tells you what you can expect when you buy some of these products. And it’s not always good. Compatibility issues, features with unexpected results, and just plain old impractical gifts abound.

The worst things I’ve seen this year is what I call good products gone bad. Take the iPod as an example. Great product, and one that everyone wants on their gift list. But if your “everyone” is a minor you’d be well advised to understand the newest craze: iPorn. Since the introduction of video on the iPod, pornographers have a new playground. iPorn is free and readily available. Even Apple’s own iTunes has tons of explicit content like porn podcasts for free. Parents can block explicit content on iTunes but they really need to make sure to look at what their kids have on their iPods.

Other concerns are with a new generation of video gaming systems. Gizmondo, for example, is much touted multimedia gaming system launched last month. One of its coolest and most hyped features is a built in GPS locator. This lets kids find and be found by other Gizmondo users. There’s even a video game for the unit that lets kids play with real live streets as their gameboard. But, it also means that criminals can track your kids too.

A safer choice this season may be to go retro. Remember Coleco? There’s a two-player plug and play Coleco console available from TechnoSource. It costs $19.99 and has 12 classic arcade games from the early days. Plug the unit into your TV and you’re all set; there’s never a compatibility issue since it’s a self contained unit. Great stocking stuffer for game-o-philes.

Another old favorite, and good choice is PacMan. After 25 year’s imagining what he might sound like, this year, you get to hear Pacman. That’s right, on his 25th birthday, Namco is bringing out a talking version of the game that’s bound to be a hit with old and young alike.

Another positive influence this season are games inspired by Japanese anime and artwork. A good example is We Love Katamari. It’s an enchanting game that involves a good King rebuilding the universe, and the whole family can play it together.

If you’re looking for something practical, remember that “practical” is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, don’t buy the pet mobility collar (a cell phone your pet can wear and receive calls to hear your voice) for anyone who doesn’t really want one. I love the Scooba (a wet version of the robotic vacuum cleaner, Roomba, but not everyone will appreciate the household chores sentiments. Instead — this year’s practical stocking stuffers should include flash memory from companies like SanDisk and Lexar. And if you’re buying digital cameras, MP3 players or other entertainment devices don’t forget to pack extra batteries. We just tested Panasonic’s Oxyride batteries and found that with digital cameras they can last for more than twice as many photos as Panasonic’s other alkaline battery. Oxyride is the first new technology for alkaline batteries to come along since the 1960’s.

PixelChix is this year’s “pet rock” meets “valley girls”. If you don’t nurture your chick you’d better close your ears.

Another product on my personal worst list? It’s Pixel Chix, and incredibly popular miniature doll house with a 3D teen girl trapped inside. It looks great and it’s sort of like buying a a pet rock for valley girls because the more you feed it and play with it the happier it is. But if you don’t nurture your “chick” she’ll dish out really annoying lip and attitude. And you’ll pay $35 to hear her teach your kids how to be obnoxious.