Even with the dour state of the economy, there are still gifts for technology lovers that don't break the piggy bank.
In his holiday gift guide, Omar Gallaga, technology culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, tells NPR's Michele Norris how to stretch tech dollars and find deals, including a few new gadgets that aren't fancy — but are useful.
No tech guide is complete, Gallaga says, without first talking about what's needed to keep things running: batteries. They don't seem to last in many of the modern gadgets. So what about an option that makes economic — and environmental — sense?
If you've used rechargeable batteries in the past, Gallaga says, you probably remember how long it took them to charge. But now, chargers can fuel a set of batteries in 15 minutes. Energizer has a set that includes two double-A batteries, two triple-A batteries, a car adapter and charger for $33. They take only 15 minutes to charge, and they can be used hundreds of times over 6 months before they lose their charge. Duracell's rechargeable batteries are pre-charged.
And "smarter chargers" can tell which batteries need charging and for how long. A company called Ansmann makes a charger that can refuel up to 16 batteries at a time for about $120.
Rechargeables that are said to last longer than regular rechargeables are PowerEx — and they don't cost much more than the more popular brands.
Digital Picture Frames
A popular tech gift is digital picture frames.
Last year, digital frames were a hot item, but the quality and pricing were all over the map, Gallaga says. But this year, the quality has improved and the prices have dropped. The key is to check out the image quality of a frame in the store before you buy.
Kodak's EasyShare frames have received good reviews and some of them have built-in WiFi so you can grab family photos from the computer or an online service like Picassa or Flickr without messing with memory cards.
You'll want a resolution of at least 640 by 480 pixels, Gallaga says, or else your photos might be grainy. Kodak frames start around $50.
How To Save Old Home Movies
Digital picture frames are a wonderful way to preserve memories when the photos are already on your computer. But what about a gadget for saving old VHS home movies to computers?
You've got a couple of options, Gallaga says. Ion Audio has a line of digital VCRs and turntables that plug into a computer's USB port. You stick your video tapes or albums onto these, and they'll be converted to digital video files or MP3s. They run about $100 to $200, depending on the product, and they usually come with the software to convert it.
A cheaper way to do it is with a device like Pinnacle's Dazzle DVD recorder. It's $50, plugs into the computer, and can accept a video or audio connection from practically any camcorder, VCR or music player. It includes software to transfer this stuff to your computer or burn your old movies to a DVD.
For The Techie Who Has Everything
If the tech guru in your family makes a lot of long-distance phone calls, a popular device this season is the magicJack, says Gallaga. It's a little plastic stick you plug into a computer's USB port to make the calls through your computer.
It costs $40, and that includes a year of service. After that, you pay $20 a year to make unlimited calls through your computer. It's not for someone who wants to make a lot of international calls, Gallaga says, but it works fine within the U.S. and Canada.
There's also 3M's Mobile Privacy Film — a piece of sticky tinting you can put on a cell phone screen or a BlackBerry that keeps people next to you from being able to see what's on it. It's perfect for anyone who travels a lot and wants to keep information safe from prying eyes. And it's under $10.