- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In a year during which all three gaming-console makers have dropped their prices, computers continue to get cheaper and more powerful by the minute, and even a mystical Force from a galaxy far, far away has become a child’s hands-on reality, the possibilities for giving a high-tech gift have never shone brighter.

Here’s a look at some of the best items for the technophile in the family.

Rubik’s TouchCube
What is it? A high-tech version of the classic puzzle game
Price: $149.99
Gift group: Conundrum connoisseurs in the family
Santa’s scoop:Techno Source provides the world’s first electronic Rubik’s cube, featuring a six-sided color light display, touch-sensor technology and a motion-detecting accelerometer. After scrambling the cube to bury the player 40 moves down (it can be cut short for a less complex puzzle) solvers simply turn the cube to the face they want to change and gently swipe vertically or horizontally on the surface and watch the squares change color. A welcome Hint mode can offer the next move, or the Solve mode will show all the steps to the solution. If that’s not enough to impress, the TouchCube delivers a light show while recharging on its display stand.

The Force Trainer
What is it? The ultimate mind game
Price: $99.99
Gift group: Padawans looking to hone the skills of a Jedi
Santa’s scoop: The “Star Wars” fan in the family won’t believe it. Put on this wireless headset, and with the powers of concentration, move a training sphere through a translucent tower base. This is no cheap Jedi mind trick, Greedo breath; the billions of neurons in our brains release electrical impulses, and the headset’s sensors tap into them to start up a fan and move the pingpong-style ball in the tube. The role play offers the voice of Jedi Master Yoda to encourage the user through 15 Jedi trials. The kit also includes a pamphlet about the Force and EEG technology. Owners will need three AAA and six AA batteries to bring Uncle Milton’s Force Trainer to life.

Freaky Creatures
What is it? A collectible action figure incorporating a massively multiplayer online game and social networking
Price: $19.99
Gift group: Tweens ready for a fantastical fight
Santa’s scoop: Abandon Interactive Entertainment’s monstrous hybrids offer entrance into a virtual fantasy world loaded with dragons, apes, demons and mythical creatures.     For $20, a player gets two detailed, nicely sculpted and painted 4-inch-tall statues (Cyclopor is really slick) with limited articulation; a 1-gigabyte USB Flash drive containing software (PC, Mac and mobile compatible) to set up a game account; and a pair of cards to unlock each creature’s generous supply of body parts and powers.
    Action will be quite familiar to Pokemon and Tamagotchi fans, except a layer of sophomoric humor has been added. The player acts as a trainer and customizes and fights his monsters with plenty of opportunities to add power-ups and swap appendages during trials against others in the Freaky Creatures online universe.
    The Starter Kit offers 30 days of free combat, but then it costs $6.99 per month with four-month ($17.97) and six-month ($32.94) packages available. Additional solo creatures are available ($8.99 each).

HF-257HPB
What is it? A 25-inch widescreen, LCD monitor
Price: $259.99
Gift group: Computer owners enamored with high definition
Santa’s scoop: Hannspree’s incredibly easy to install viewing solution gives lovers of gaming and Blu-ray movies a 1080p (1920 x 1200 resolution) experience at a very affordable price. A blazing-fast refresh rate at 2ms and a color attack using a 15,000:1 contrast ratio lead the charge to eye-popping, cinema-style nirvana for the owner. The built-in stereo speakers won’t impress - buy a pair of Logitech to delight in decibels - but the monitor offers 170-degree horizontal and 160-degree vertical viewing angles, two HDMI slots and one VGA slot and includes a VGA cable, HDMI-to-DVI cable and plastic base.

PeeWee Pivot PC
What is it: A mini lapop computer loaded with Windows Home XP
Price: $599.99
Gift group: Multitasking children in the family
Santa’s scoop: PeWee PC delivers a fully functional, ultramobile laptop with a Disney theme for the young student. Most impressive is the 8.9-inch LCD color display, which doubles as a touch tablet. Use the included stylus and the handwriting-recognition software to turn the netbook into a note-taking machine. Features include an Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz processor with Intel 945GSE chipset, 1 gigabyte of memory, a 60 GB hard drive, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, built-in camera that rotates 180 degrees, microphone, memory-card slot, two USB ports, VGA port and accelerometer that rotates the screen display as the laptop rotates. Loaded software offers some educational games, Microsoft Works 9.0 and tePeeWee Patrol security suite for parents to curtail bad surfing habits and overuse of applications. Its price might make the frugal parent blink, but it will take not only a licking, but also the occasional liquid spill on the keyboard.

Prime-8
What is it? A robotic primate requiring eight AA and three AAA batteries
Price: $99.99
Gift group: Beast Wars lovers looking for some high-tech monkey business
Santas scoop:Bossa Nova worked with Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute to produce a new best friend for any ape admirer. This stout, armor-plated yellow gorilla was built for speed, fun and interactivity. With help from a 20-button wireless controller and autonomous programming, the boxy bot (roughly 9 inches square) can go on guard duty not only to identify intruders, but also to blast them with plastic missiles; get programmed to complete 10 actions; and go bananas as its eyes turn from blue to red, it pounds its fists and growls. It also can deploy and retract legs for movement, respond to sounds, use its environmental sensors to avoid objects, quickly roll around with its spiral speed propulsion arms and even play a game of laser tag (with another Prime-8) or Dodgeball (with the owner).

IGo Charge Anywhere
What is it? A universal charger for a wide range of mobile devices
Price: $49.99
Gift group: Techno-maniacs trying to get rid of the tangle of cords used to power up their Nintendo DS, iPhone, Sony PSP and BlackBerry, among other portable electronic items.
Santa’s scoop:IGo makes mobile multitasking easy with this charger, which may be the size of a wallet but has the versatility of a power-flowing chameleon. Owners use the included cord and pair of USB slots to charge up to two devices at once, and the unit shuts off when charging is complete to stop power waste. It works as a wall charger with foldable blades, contains a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack or charges off of a USB feed. The iGo Charge Anywhere comes with one voltage-regulating tip to power one device. Additional tips are available to cover more than 3,000 products from satellite radios to Bluetooth headsets to GPS devices for an additional charge ($7.49 to $12.49). Also check out the iGo Laptop Wall Charger ($99.99), an equally compact device that works worldwide and uses 85 percent less standby power than a standard charger with no need to be unplugged.

Zero Gravity Laser
What is it? A magical radio-controlled vehicle
Price: $49.99
Gift group: Children who excel at driving their parents up a wall
Santa’s scoop: Spin Master combined infrared, laser and vacuum technology to provide the coolest way to control a vehicle. A hand-held controller shines a red light on a surface, and the car follows. Big deal, right? Switch the vehicle to wall mode and watch it cling to a smooth, vertical surface as the operator continues to drive it using the controller’s laser light as a leader. Daring types can even try driving on the ceiling it works fr a while, but be prepared to play catch. If that’s not slick enough, the controller also acts as a charger to repower the vehicle. The only downside is it takes about 30 minutes to recharge the vehicle, which could cause some major stress for the impatient, overexcited child.

PSPgo
What is it? The latest hand-held media console
Price: $249.99
Gift group: Mobile gaming addicts who haven’t heard of the iPhone
Santa’s scoop: Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. delivers yet another version of its PlayStation Portable, more compact and powerful than ever. Besides playing games downloaded from the PlayStation Network (prices vary), it saves and plays music (from MP3 to WAVE), video (MPEG-4 to AVI) and photos (from jpg to png). Features include wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, 16 gigabytes of onboard storage, a sliding 3.8-inch display screen that reveals directional buttons, analog stick and action buttons, a slot for a Memory Stick Micro card and a copy of Rock Band Unplugged. The system comes with an AC adapter and a specially sized USB cord. (Don’t lose it.) Owners already entrenched with early versions of the PSP will find little reason to celebrate there’s no slot for UMD titles. As a gift for those new to the merits of the PSP, however, it’s a powerful multimedia machine.

Yoostar
What is it? A software/hardware package that places owners in movies
Price: $169.99
Gift group: Anyone who wants to act with John Belushi, Sylvester Stallone and Humphrey Bogart
Santa’s scoop: Yoostar Entertainment Group’s movie studio in a box enables folks to digitally insert themselves into scenes of classics such as “Field of Dreams,” “Rocky” and “Forrest Gump.” Using green-screen trickery and a teleprompter from a user’s PC (compatible with Windows XP SP2 and Vista), a user directs himself and records the action with a wireless, remote-driven camera. Once the work’s completed and tweaked in the computer, the social humiliation begins when users upload their performances to the Yoostar Web site (www.yoostar.com). The package includes a 6-foot-square green screen with mount, a 2-megapixel high-resolution Web video camera and stand, software and a dozen movie clips. Extra clips are available online at $2.99 each. The software uses 10 gigabytes of space and wants at least 2 gigabytes of memory along with a broadband connection. To make a truly effective and realistic clip, owners will need a lighting tutorial from Academy Award-winning-visual effects master John Dykstra (hourly rate negotiable).

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