If you’re like most people, you’re watching the wallet a bit more closely these days. If you have a techie on your list, it makes sense to get the most bang for your buck.
Wireless Notebook Mouse. Stick in the accompanying USB plug and these mini-mice will work on almost any surface — bed linen, couches, wooden tables. They are much easier to use than the mice built into laptops. Cost—about $20
Mini-notebook computers. A new class of laptop, minis are relatively inexpensive and easy to tote around. They are half the weight of a traditional laptop and have smaller screens. Mini-laptops are great for writing and surfing the Web, but lack the power and memory to handle intensive audio or video tasks. One complaint: some minis have cramped keyboards. Give them a test drive first. Cost—in the $400 range
LCD monitors. If you haven’t replaced that big old box-like monitor hogging up precious real estate on your desk, buy an LCD. Luxurious 19-inch screens from top brands such as Dell and HP can be purchased for under $200 at Best Buy. Some 17-inch screens sell for less than $150.
Pocket camcorder. Shoot high-definition video with small cameras such as the Kodak Zi6 or the Flip Video Mino Series Camcorder, both $160. They are easy to carry around and simple to use. Video looks great on an HDTV and pocket camcorders provide an easy way to direct your own clips for sites like You Tube or My Space.
Satellite-navigation system. It’s small and fast, with voice turn-by-turn directions and other nifty features. Less costly models also work well, but a feature that’s worth paying for is voice directions. Cost—around $200
Universal remote. A device like the acclaimed Logitech Harmony One eliminates remote-control clutter. It connects to a computer for easy setup and can control virtually any electronics product ever made. With a push of just one button, Harmony One simultaneously turns on a TV, DVD player and receiver, adjusts the volume and starts a movie. Cost—about $200
Clock Radio. Replace that awful-sounding alarm clock with a new generation of dual-purpose devices that deliver great sound and wake you up. Most clock radios have two alarms for him and her. The Polk I-Sonic has an iPod dock and HD radio capability. It even “tags” music on the radio that you like and uplinks information to your iPod if you want to buy the song. Cost–$400
Powered speakers. The AudioEngine A5s deliver punchy bass and excellent overall sound. Hook them up to a computer or connect them to your iPod. Cost–$325
Earphones and headphones. You can pay hundreds of dollars for top-line plugs, but plenty of models deliver great sound at a great price. For in-ear versions, the Etymotic ER6i and Shure SE110 are good options at $80 each. For old-fashioned, over-the-ear headphones, the USA-made Grado SR80s ($95) cannot be beat.
Wireless music system. The Squeezebox Duet by Logitech makes it easy to listen to your music anywhere inside or even outside the house. Forget expensive wiring. Just connect a Wi-fi receiver to a stereo or powered speakers and gain immediate access to any music or CDs stored on your computer. Use the Duet to listen to popular Internet-radio services; listen to NPR podcasts; or even read RSS news feeds. Cost—between $300 and $400
Blu-ray player. Movie lovers with an HDTV can now watch high-definition movies in their full glory—and for a lot less money, since Blu-rays are coming down in price. Of course not every expert is sold on Blu-ray as a good investment in a bad economy. Most people just won’t notice a significant difference between Blu-ray and DVD. Especially if they have a small TV, sit too far back or have poor eyesight. Cost—between $200 and $300
New-generation rechargeable batteries. They hold their power for much longer than older ones, which lost much of their power in a few months. Newer batteries keep a charge for up to a year. Cost–$15 or less