Top 10 Gift Guide insights

On page 36 this week we present our fifth annual "Cool Yule Tools" holiday gift guide, showcasing the coolest high-tech products of the year.

In addition to the 17 products listed in those pages, we've got more than 130 other fine gift-giving ideas online. Over the past few months the Cool Yule Tool elves have opened, installed, tested, re-tested, played with and re-packed several gadgets, devices and other entertaining products.

We're exhausted, but we have come away with some lessons learned, and in true Letterman style we present our "Top 10 Insights from This Year's Gift Guide." We're working on little sleep here, so no letters please.

10. A switch is not a gift. Despite the pitch to companies saying that it was a "gift guide," we still got pitched our share of routers, switches and other networking equipment. While we may look at some of these in the normal pages of Cool Tools and/or Network World, they don't really belong in a gift guide.

9. We get odd pitches. On the other hand, some companies failed to realize that we do write about technology. We received a pitch about a machine that paints JPEG images onto a person's fingernails (ImagiNail). It sounds like fun, but in the end we decided to pass (our idea of putting a Bill Gates photo on our fingernails didn't pan out).

8. We love geek stuff. Sure, there was excitement when the widescreen TVs started showing up in the office, but we were more excited about all-in-one devices such as the MicroSolutions RoadStor and the Addonics MultiFunction Recorder, which take several cool things (such as a CD player, DVD player and memory card reader) and present them in one package. They're not much to look at, but act like a Swiss Army Knife in terms of productivity.

7. The PC is not the center of the universe. From digital cameras and printers that don't need a PC to act as a middle man, to network-attached storage devices that don't need an always-on PC, it's clear that many manufacturers are trying to avoid relying on a PC for their products to function. Even laptops that can play DVDs or CDs without booting up the PC operating system are joining the fun of trying to work without Microsoft's help.

6. Robots are cool, and yet creepy. You can do a lot with the $100 Robosapien, including annoying co-workers by getting the robot to dance and make noise.

5. Storage size and dropping prices continue to amaze me. Yes, that is 2.2G bytes of storage in my pocket, and I am happy to see you.

4. Printer companies are evil. How else can you explain not including a USB cable for a USB printer? We understand not including a cable when a printer has different interface options (and you don't know what the end user will end up connecting with), but not including a USB cable when the USB port is the ONLY INTERFACE is just wrong.

3. Putting goo in your ear is worth it. In order to try the Ultimate Ears personal monitors, we had to travel to an ear specialist who had to take an impression of my ears in order to create the device. While the process was odd, getting something that enhances the digital audio player trumps it.

2. Don't be scared by little companies. Apple, Sony, IBM and Samsung might get all the headlines, but quality products are being put out by smaller companies such as Archos, Kanguru, SimpleTech and BenQ.

1. My 2004 Christmas list: Sweaters, socks and shirts. After testing for three months, I don't want to get anything this year with an on/off switch.

We'll try to present more gift ideas over the next few weeks as we continue our quest for the coolest products.

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2004 Cool Yule Tools Holiday Gift Guide

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