The great thing about shopping for the techie on your list is that there's always something new, something better, something different. It's the upside of the rapidly changing, dizzying pace of technological advancement that can make any purchase almost instantly outdated. For the ever-connected Wi-Fi addict on your list, we've compiled this buying guide full of fun and useful Wi-Fi-enabled or Wi-Fi-related items or services. Below are 20 of our favorite gadgets, services, and software that we think make the perfect gift this year--for yourself or for others.
Music to our ears
Listening to real radio stations via their live Web streams generally means better reception and no geographic limitations. There are lots of options on the market, but we like the Asus AIR Internet Radio ($199). You have to plug in speakers or headphones for stereo sound; the retro design only has a mono speaker. It also doubles as an alarm clock, comes with 10,000 pre-programmed stations, and, as ASUS points out, running the AIR Internet Radio draws less power than keeping a PC on, so you're doing the earth and your energy bill a favor, too. For a full review, click here.
The pricier Tivoli Audio NetWorks ($599.99) comes in three finishes and sits 5.5- by 8.7- by 5.1-inches with a four-line display on the front face. The sleek design is nearly free of buttons; you use a small remote for most functions. On its bottom you'll find ports for an additional speaker or an external device, such as an iPod. Myriad stations will come in and optional add-ons include a subwoofer, matching CD player, and FM functionality. For a full review, click here.
Watch meThe Apple iPod touch, 2nd generation (8GB, $229; 16GB, $299; 32GB, $399) is slimmer in profile, but huskier in offerings than its predecessor. The new version of the iPod touch has external volume controls and a speaker (for listening without earbuds). The pre-loaded software allows access to the App Store and it also has Nike+iPod support, which means it's ready for data from a Nike+ sensor in certain running shoes. Of course, it has Wi-Fi for Web browsing, e-mail, game-playing, and everything else you do online. Far more than a music player, it still offers ample space for a diverse library of listening options. For a full review, click here.
Whether it's movies or TV shows that has someone in your life going ga-ga for Netflix, the Roku Netflix player ($99, pictured right) will make the relationship even stronger. The player gives instantrather than via snail-mailaccess to some 12,000+ of Netflix's offerings. You'll need robust broadband Internet service to get the best picture, but the opportunity to watch offerings from Netflix whenever you want--on your TV rather than your computer--promises you more time on the living room couch and less in a desk chair. Easy and fast set-up means this gadget isn't limited to the most technically-savvy consumers. For a full review, click here.
Take a shot
The Eye-fi Explore ($129.99) takes your computer out of the loop by letting you upload images directly from your digital camera when you're in range of an open Wi-Fi network. Photos automatically go to your computer or your designated photo-sharing site so you can share them instantly. Geotagging gives them a location stamp. The card is compatible with SD (secure digital) memory slots or you can get an adaptor for cameras that take compact flash (CF) cards. For a full review, click here.
Maybe the photographer on your list is ready for the true marriage of Wi-Fi and digital imaging: the Wi-Fi-enabled camera. This emerging technology hasn't quite shaken the growing pains yet, but we like the Nikon Coolpix S52c. Small and sleek, it's a pocket-sized point-and-shoot that can upload images to your photosharing site or blog, or it can send them to an e-mail address anytime you're in a Wi-Fi hotspot. Plus, the 9 megapixel camera takes sharp images and includes some fun stuff, like pre-loaded music (and the ability to add more audio) that can play as you watch your images in a slideshow format. For a full review, click here.
Back-up technology may not be flashy, but it is necessary. For Mac aficionados, Apple offers the Time Capsule ($299.99), a 500 GB, Wi-Fi-enabled hard drive that doubles as a wireless router. With this slim white box, not only can multiple computers back-up their files, the machines can also share a USB printer wirelessly. The combination could be the perfect solution for simultaneously upgrading your backup system and maximizing your existing printer--a great gift for a couple trying to share a home office. Also available in 1TB for $499.99.
Mac lovers who covet the newest, sleekest designs and crave something lighter to tote around will want the MacBook Air ($1799). Billed as the world's thinnest laptop, its body is created from a single piece of aluminum, making it both sturdy and light. Weighing in at three pounds, it offers great graphics, a full-sized keyboard, and 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity.
A less pricey option for portable Mac computing is the slightly chunkier White MacBook ($999). It's got the same quality 13 inch display with 1280 x 800 pixel resolution and 120 GB hard drive, but a slower processor, less memory, and the white plastic shell bring down the price.
For users committed to PC operating systems, the new line of netbooks promises reasonably-priced, powerful computers that can connect to Wi-Fi networks. Great for students of all ages, we like the Acer Aspire One (starting at $329). The 120 GB hard drive is robust--and you can load it with Windows XP or Linux.
Sprint has begun rolling out its Xohm WiMAX service in some metropolitan areas, starting with Baltimore. Sprint intends to take the network national and says Washington, DC and Chicago are "coming soon". If you live in one of these areas and want to be on the cutting edge, Lenovo has a whole line of WiMAX-compatible notebooks (starting at $579 with WiMAX adaptor). When selecting one, be sure to specify that you want the Intel WiMAX/Wi-Fi Link 5350 LAN adaptor, which raises the price by $80. WiMAX allows for uninterrupted Internet access in an area that could be 30 miles square, much larger than what a Wi-Fi network can offer, and the speed is great for video streaming and gaming. If you know a tech-savvy high school senior heading for college in Baltimore, this might be the perfect gift.
The D-Link Xtreme N Dual-band Gigabit Router ($189.99, pictured right) may not be sexy, but it's handsome enough. The SharePort feature makes USB devices, such as printers and external hard drives, available to multiple computers over Wi-Fi or wired connections. This is a great router choice for busy families with someone wanting to watch movies or play games while elsewhere in the house someone needs to finish an online project or upload large files.
A multifunction printer you can access without cableswhat could be more welcome in a SOHO? Whether it's projects requiring intense graphics or snapshots of the kids, the EPSON Artisan 800 ($229.99 with instant rebate) offers crisp colors and speedy print jobs. The inkjet machine covers your fax, copy, and scanning needs, as well. Two paper trays let you keep one loaded with photo paper at all timesor, fill one tray with recycled paper and one with fresh. The options are myriad.
Wi-Fi is rapidly becoming a standard feature on smartphones. With Wi-Fi on your phone, you can move much of your data activity--and, in some cases, voice--off your cellular plan and onto Wi-Fi networks wherever you have access.
Both the BlackBerry Bold (MSRP $549.99, $299.99 from AT&T with contract and rebate) and BlackBerry Pearl Flip (MSRP $349.99, $149.99 from T-Mobile with discounts and contract) have easy-to-use Wi-Fi connectivity. The stunning display on the Bold makes video a pleasure to watch and gives everything a crisper feel. It's big and bulky, though, thanks in part to the QWERTY keyboard. So the Pearl Flip is a better choice for someone looking for a smaller, easier-to-pocket option. And speaking of pockets, the flip design prevents "pocket calls" (dialed accidentally while the phone is in your pocket).
Google's introduction of the Android operating system for smartphones launched this year with the G1 from T-Mobile ($179 with a 2-year contract). Truly a toy for early adopters of new technology, the G1 purports to be the first in a new line and is, therefore, something of a rough draft. Still, it offers a touch screen often compared to the iPhone's, but a slide out QWERTY keyboard, as well. A music player, picture viewer, and decent selection of free downloads, means it's great for personal use and will satisfy some SOHO business users.
No doubt for many, Apple's iPhone ($199 8GB; $299 16GB, from AT&T) has become the standard against which all smartphones will be measured. The 3G connectivity offered by the second generation iPhone, released this summer, brings the touch-screen, brilliant display device to the fore of many people's radars. Apple's App Store further enhances an owner's love of the phone. The new iPhone also supports Microsoft ActiveSync for Office users who want push support for e-mail, calendar, and contacts. And it's not just for Apple-lovers. Read a full review here.
Wi-Fi radios and 3G networks conspire to suck the life out of batteries. So, if you're shopping for someone you know already has the iPhone 3G, consider the Mophie Juice Pack ($99.95). It's the first third-party, "Works with iPhone 3G-certified" attached battery pack. The added power should double the time an iPhone can run between charges. The Juice Pack's rechargeable lithium polymer battery is housed in a non-slip, soft grip case that attaches to your iPhone with Apple's proprietary connector.
For happy Wi-Fi phone users, consider getting a software service that lets them make Skype calls from their phones. IM+ for Skype ($20) does for voice what simple Wi-Fi does for datamoves it off your cell plan and into Wi-Fi land. Skype-to-Skype calls are then free. Calling people who don't use Skype? You'll get lower per-minute rates than you're probably paying with your cell service.
Still not sure what to get the iPhone/iPod lover on your list? There's always plastic. From the Apple Store online or any retail location you can buy iTunes or Apple gift cards. Apple cards you can designate any amount from $25-$2500; the iTunes cards come in denominations of $15, $25, or $50 (and several colors and styles).
On the road
Frequent travelers who rely on Wi-Fi will welcome all the Wayport prepaid access cards (available in $25, $50, and $100 denominations) they're lucky enough to receive. The cards buy a set number of connections (3, 8, and 20 respectively) for high-speed Internet access. A connection is defined differently depending on the hotspot location, but for hotels it's from when you log in until the next check-in time; you get 'til midnight at airports and two hours at McDonalds. Other Wayport hotspot locations include Hertz rental car locations, IHOP restaurants, and HealthSouth facilities.
Amy Mayer is a freelance writer and independent radio producer based in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Read and listen to her work at her website.
This article was first published on WiFiPlanet.com.