- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

Maybe it is the time change, or the flip-flops the weather has been performing around my part of the country — or perhaps it’s the early run of decorations I’m seeing in the stores — but I’m thinking about the holidays.

The holidays have a way of sneaking up on even the most conscientious of us and that can be a problem if you are shopping for the right holiday computing gift. Because getting it right can take time.

Here are some general principles to keep in mind as you work up your holiday list.

First, new isn’t necessarily better. Even as the latest computer models arrive in stores, many fairly recent models might be a good bargain.

Some of these might have just been discontinued; others are refurbished, returned items. Manufacturers such as Apple Computer Inc. (http://store.apple.com) have “special deals” on such items, including some of their latest products. Dell Computer Corp. (www.dell.com) calls its bargain spot the “outlet,” which is also the term favored by Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com).

Selection, specifications and savings vary by store and the time you shop. My best advice would be to shop early, because good items tend to sell quickly.

Outlet stores tend to offer items that are still fairly recent, within the past 12 to 18 months from their introduction in most cases. You can find older items via online auctions and resale stores, but anything much older might not have as long a useful life.

If you are shopping for a brand new, out-of-the-box computer and hoping to save money, be sure you understand all the claims about rebates and “instant savings.”

Frankly, such tactics confuse me: A maker, especially one who sells online, shouldn’t require you to send in a rebate coupon once they have captured your data via the Web. An alternative is to eschew such tactics in favor of resellers who do all the heavy lifting for you. Such stores are out there, but you might have to shop around a bit.

Also, while the latest PC or Mac may not be necessary in all cases, be careful about display technology: CRT displays, those TVlike monitors still seen on many business desks, are, frankly, passe when it comes to home use. You can get a thin, light, stylish LCD display — also called a “flat panel” — for around $200 or so, and it’s one area where I believe some splurging is a good idea. Make sure the computer you buy has the proper connection for your intended LCD monitor, either SVGA or DVI, and all should work well.

Printers are one other big holiday purchase where it might pay to shop early. For one, there’s a wider range of choices in some categories than ever. Also, you’ll want to carefully compare features and costs before taking the plunge.

Low-price makers such as Lexmark International Inc. and Samsung deliver some very nice models, but you’ll want to check the cost of the ink or laser toner before taking the final plunge.

Those who depend on an inkjet printer to turn digital photos into prints will be especially interested in supply costs; some of the best I’ve seen are in printers from Epson and Canon.

In short, open your eyes before you open you wallet. Some careful shopping can make the gift-giving not only fun, but rewarding for the giver as well as the recipient.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit http://www.kellner.us.

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