Mother’s Day is usually the day not just to give a small gift to Mum, but some families may see this day and Father’s Day as opportunities to “pool resources” and purchase a higher-value gift. So I am writing blog posts that appear on these days to provide guidance in purchasing and setting up consumer-electronics and IT-related gifts for your parents.
The kind of gifts that may appeal to Mum include:
- Electronic picture frames
- Internet radios and similar network-based media devices
- A computer that is suited to Mum’s needs and
- Internet service (if there isn’t any at the place she lives at)
Electronic picture frames
You may think of picking up that cheap digital picture frame at a “big-box” discount store for use as a gift, but there can be some nasty limitations concerning its use. For example, a lot of cheap frames may only source their pictures from a memory card or USB thumb-drive plugged in to the side of the frame. This can cause the frame to be useless if you or someone in your family need to remove the media to revise the pictures held on the frame. This is a very typical situation because you might place a small collection of pictures on an SD card or thumb-drive just to “get it going”, then remove that card or thumbdrive to fill it with pictures derived from various household photo collections.
I would suggest keeping an eye out for frames that either have a large integrated memory or can work with two or more memory devices at the same time. Better off, I would keep an eye out for Wi-Fi picture frames that can work with a home network and bring content in from an Internet service. The service should support “email-to-frame” functionality so you can send a picture from your computer or smartphone directly to the frame. This functionality would be very important when there are the family events like a wedding or the arrival of a new baby.
A Wi-Fi frame with UPnP AV / DLNA functionality can work with a network-attached-storage device that is used as a primary image library. This can be of benefit if you keep adding pictures from different household collections as each family occasion passes through; or as you scan more regular pictures out of the family photo collections.
If your mum likes radio content from a favourite country, you may wish to provide here with an Internet radio. These units offer access to the kind of radio listened to by locals of a favoured country, or other radio programming through the use of Internet audio streams. In some cases, there are channels which play a lot of the “old-time” radio serials like “The Goons”.
These sets are very flexible in the way that they work because of the provision of an auxiliary-input jack and / or an iPod dock. Most of these sets can work with a DLNA-compliant network-attached storage and turn this device into a multimedia jukebox.
The more-expensive sets can work as a primary audio system for a studio or other small apartment due to them having high-quality sound. It may also be worth looking out for Internet-radio “tuners” like the Revo Mondo RadioStation or the Sangean WFT-1 Series, that connect to an existing stereo system so your parents can have Internet radio through their favourite stereo system.
I have written an Internet radio buyer’s guide and have reviewed three Internet tabletop radios – the Kogan WiFi Digital Radio with iPod Dock and two Revo radios – the iBlik RadioStation and the Domino; as well as an Internet portable radio – the Pure Evoke Flow.
An upgradeable DLNA-compliant network-attached storage device can work well alongside a compatible Wi-Fi electronic picture frame or Internet radio as a media library. These units don’t necessarily need to have a computer on the scene at all times. It then means that you can transfer media from a laptop computer that you bring around to one of these devices, which can be of benefit if the only reason for the home network is to provide media to these devices.
Getting Mum who isn’t tech-literate set up at home
A modest laptop with a built-in Webcam and running Windows 7 Home Premium or MacOS X Snow Leopard could work well as an email terminal for your parents. This could be connected to the Internet through an entry-level wireless router on the network-Internet edge and a modest Internet plan. You may gain best value with an Internet service provided by the Internet arm of the retail telephony carrier that they use. The email should be provided through an entry-level desktop client like Windows Live Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird or Apple Mail in conjunction with the POP3 / IMAP email system provided by the ISP.
If they like to be able to type mementos and similar things, you could deploy OpenOffice, Apple iWork (Mac OS X) or Microsoft Office Home And Student Edition (Windows, MacOS X). These suites can give you an adequate word processor, spreadsheet and presentation creator for a cheap price.
You may have to pre-configure the computer to suit the Internet service and email arrangements that your parents use, and may have to set them up for Skype. As well, you will have to teach them how to use the computer for these basic tasks and, perhaps, point them to services run by the local council or other community groups to help with computer familiarisation.
You might consider buying Mum one of those “tablet” computing devices like the Apple iPad, but most of these devices may be very expensive and some of them may lock you in to their platform tightly. For example, you may have to pay dearly if you want to use a keyboard. Another more affordable alternative may be to get a “convertible” notebook which has the screen on a “swivel” head and the screen is able to work as a touch screen or as a stylus-operated tablet screen. This can cater for people who still can type but like the idea of the touchscreen.
Once you know how to go about choosing and setting up that consumer-electronics or IT-related high-value gift for Mum, you can be sure that she will enjoy using it fully for a long time.
This post will appear in March, to cater for UK and European readers who celebrate Mother’s Day in March; and again at the end of April to cater for US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand readers who celebrate it on the first Sunday of May.