Category: Christmas Post

Last minute shopping ideas

Are you still at the shops looking for gifts to buy those loved ones? Have a look at this list of last-minute shopping ideas so you have something to give.

Headphones, Earphones and Speakers

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Whether someone is working with a poor-quality headset or simply has lost or damaged their headphones, a replacement or additional headset can earn its keep.

Similarly the headset that they are using may not suit a particular activity they are doing like jogging or listening to content in a noisy environment. For example some headsets may earn their keep better for on-the-road use compared to other headsets or someone who does a lot of air travel or commutes by bus or diesel-powered train may appreciate the active-noise-cancelling headphones.

Bluetooth headsets can be of benefit to smartphone, tablet ad laptop users as a way to achieve private wireless handsfree communication. Why I mentioned tablet and laptop users is because of programs like Viber, Skype and Lync that allow for audio or video calls using these devices.  There are the Bluetooth audio adaptors that can covert a pair of wired headphones to a wireless headset and most of these come in the form of “Bluetooth in-ear headsets” which have these adaptors supplied with a pair of bud-style earphones.

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker

Wireless speakers are still worth considering whethe they are Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based, most of which serve as Internet radios under the control of a software app for smartphones and tablets. The cheaper variety can work as an ad-hoc portable listening device for a smartphone, tablet or ultraportable laptop and better-quality units can work well as an adequate secondary sound system for a small area. If you are buying a Wi-Fi-based unit, make sure that it supports AirPlay and DLNA or is a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth type that supports DLNA for Wi-Fi use.

To the same extent, a Bluetooth-capable radio can serve as an alternative to wireless speakers if you are thinking of something for the kitchen, workshop or office and you want access to broadcast or, in some cases, Intenret radio.

Input Devices

External hard disk

A typical external hard disk

One last-minute shopping idea for most technology users would be an input device of some sort like a keyboard or mouse. This includes Bluetooth keyboards and mice that come in handy for tablets and some smartphones or a small USB “multimedia” keyboard for a games console or some smart TVs and video peripherals.

Examples where they could benefit would be to create a “full-sized” workstation with a full-width keyboard for an ultraportable laptop or a tablet or a proper keyboard to use with a Smart TV or games console to enter in login parameters or social-media text on these devices rather than “hunt-and-peck” or SMS-style text entry.

Of course, they would earn their keep with replacing that half-dead computer keyboard, mouse or games controller thus benefiting from increased reliability.


The USB memory key always earns its keep as a removable storage solution for most devices especially if you are doing things like printing photos from your image collection at commercial photo-printing kiosks, using as a “virtual mixtape” for music to play in the car or on another music system or simply to keep certain important data with you on the go. Blu-Ray player users can use these USB memory keys to locally store downloadable BD-Live content peculiar to their own experience with the BD-Live disc and player. This could even allow them to take the same data between many Blu-Ray players which comes in to its own with BD-Live interactive entertainment that maintains local scoreboards or progress charts.

USB external hard disks also serve a purpose for providing offline backup of large amounts of data or offloading a large quantity of data from a laptop. This is more important with users who operate an ultraportable laptop that uses lower-capacity solid-state storage or for travellers who want to make sure they have a copy of the data in their in-room safe. Some smart TVs and digital-TV set-top boxes also benefit form USB hard disks simply to allow them to gain PVR functionality.

Similarly, most digital camera users and Android phone users would benefit from a spare SD or microSD storage card. The camera users can see these cards serving as extra rolls of film that can be swapped out at will where you can gain access to the photos for printing or downloading. For Android and, to some extent, Windows Phone, users, the microSD card can work as infinitely-expandable storage or, as I use them, as the equivalent of the mixtapes.

Covers, sleeves and other accessories

One simple way to personalise any portable computing device is to purchase ta cover, sleeve or pouch that reflects the personality of the user. In the case of smartphones, cases that look like a wallet or notepad also can add that look of something that exists alongside one’s wallet and other personal accessories.

Similarly, “gadget bags” come in to their own with people who has laptops, smartphones, tablets or digital cameras. These can be small “toiletry-bag-style” bags or “school-style” pencil cases that can be used to keep chargers, cables and other accessories “rounded up” and hard to lose to neat-looking camera cases that can keep cameras and their accessories protected.

As wit these, pay extra attention to the quality of the material, the stitching and any fasteners that are part of these accessories because a lot of cheaper poor-quality types easily become undone by stitching coming apart or zippers giving way. This is because these cases undergo a lot of use as people use their portable computing devices through life.

Other notes

Have a look at the Essential Smartphone Accessories gadget list that I recently published because these highlight the kind of accessories a person who has a smartphone or tablet can never be without. Of course, it is so easy to think that you should have a certain quantity of chargers, extermal battery packs or similar devices but they are the kind of devices you never have too many of and are easy to lose or not have with you at the right time.

If you know what they like for music, video material, games or books, the right title can fill the spot easily. In some areas like Australia and New Zealand, these earn their keep as Christmas is immediately followed by the main summer holidays that most people take and it becomes the time to enjoy these titles more easily.

Of course, if you are not sure of what to give a person, a gift card to an online app store, online music store or “bricks-and-mortar” music, games, technology or similar store can answer you gift-giving needs. Some gift cards such as the JB HiFi gift card can be exchanged for credit towards another storefront like an online app store like the Apple iTunes storefront. Similarly, vouchers to the same merchant from different can be added towards a more significant purchase.

Christmas Post 2013

Christmas treeHi everyone!

This year and every year, after Thanksgiving has passed and those of you in the US have had that big turkey and apple-pie dinner, the shopping frenzy will be underway. In some cases, the ClickFrenzy heat will become intense around this time while those of you who aren’t in North America will probably see the heat come alive around the beginning of December. This won’t even die after Christmas Day with the hectic Boxing Day sales and specials.

But how do you know what to get when you are thinking of computing and related technology gifts to give your family and friends.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “adaptive all-in-one” computer

If you are considering a family computer, you could consider the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which I reviewed and its peers like the HP Envy Rove as an alternative to a desktop-replacement laptop or a small “all-in-one” desktop. This is more so for something that may end up being used on the coffee table or kitchen table so that two people can brows over the one Web pave for example.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11

A “convertible” laptop-tablet computer like the HP x2 series or the Sony VAIO Duo 11 may have an appeal as a tablet or as a small content-creation notebook computer but the size can pre-determine the appeal in either of the roles. For example 13” variants may not appeal as a personal-tablet yet they appeal more as the “portable-typewriter” notebook computer whereas the 11” variants appeal more as the personal-tablet types.

For that matter, we are also seeing an increasing number of laptops and all-in-one computers that have the integrated touchscreen function. This is capitalsing on Windows 8 with its Modern user interface and some of us may see it as taking the touchscreen interface of the smartphone or tablet to the regular computer.

Increasingly other companies like HTC and Sony are offering the 5”-6” “phablet-class” large screen smartphones which can be described as a bridge between a smartphone and a tablet. These are comfortable for those of us who use or have used a “many-function” pocket calculator such as the scientific, statistical or financial calculators.

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

On this same theme of covering the mobile lifestyle, I have reviewed  more headphones like the Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headset. This is  alongside Bluetooth speakers like the Sony SRS-BTM8 and the Pure Jongo T6 speakers which can serve most mobile devices adequately wherever you are and they, like other Bluetooth speakers, can work with your laptop computer as a sound-output device.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure Jongo T6 Bluetooth / Wi-Fi wireless speaker

I have refreshed most of the DLNA Home Media Network articles and have created some articles about linking Dropbox albums to your DLNA Home Media Network using your network-attached storage device. This is based around a Windows, Mac or Linux regular computer and uses basic file-system techniques alongside the use of Dropbox’s native client application. Similarly, I had drawn attention to FreeFileSync as a tool to allow you to use your regular computer’ media-management applications to organise your media and upload it to a NAS for sharing via DLNA.

This is alongside reviewing a few sets of wireless speakers that can connect to your home network and play from an AirPlay or DLNA audio setup as well as being an Internet radio in some cases. As far as buying these wireless speakers are concerned, I would look at what whether you need battery power so they can be used away from AC outlets or whether you need more sound power output say to cover a large listening area.

The multi-function smart TV may make for itself a plausible gift idea so you can have the ability to gain access to most of the online video services. But, on the other hand, a Blu-Ray player, home theatre system or network media player with integrated access to online video services can earn its keep by adding this functionality to an existing TV. This also includes the “big two” games consoles whether they come with the functionality out of the box or available through a software update. For that matter, upgrading to the PS4 or XBox One shouldn’t mean that you get rid of your existing PS3 or XBox 360 because these can also serve as secondary multimedia players for other locations.

A network-attached storage device can become a viable Cbristmas gift for anyone with a home network because these can end up not just as file backup or network-wide “file drop-off” destinations but can evolve to become a media library. As well, if you do upgrade to a higher-capacity NAS, you can spread the network storage load between both devices like purposing one specifically as a media library..

Of course, this article about what to set the “family house” up with may help with choosing the right technology for that location for this location where the whole family visits regularly. This includes even the computer equipment that is to be resident in that location. This is best read alongside my article about whether to run with full broadband at this location.

There are ways to assure that your recipients do get the gifts that are worth it and will see them through the ywars. One way would be for a group to pool resources towards the decent gift, but on the other hand, you could purchase a gift voucher or gift coupon which entitles them to buy goods to the value of that card. In some cases, if the recipient receives many of these cards for the same merchant, they could easily end up purchasing something bigger and better. To the same extent, prepaid payment cards that work with the VISA or MasterCard platform can also serve this same need and also allow them to choose their favourite merchants including the online merchants. These options can make sure that you are buying something that these recipients really want.

I wish you a very merry Christmas and a very happy New Year in 2014,

With regards,

Simon Mackay

Christmas Post 2012

Hi everyone!

Christmas fireplace decoration - courtesy Shinead FeehanAs the Christmas shopping season comes along, you will be led through a maze of confusion as the big stores put pressure on you to buy their specials during this frantic shopping period. Here, you could end up buying a device like a printer that is very costly to run or a special that is at the low end of the range and doesn’t have all the important features.


Fujitsu Lifebook LH772 notebook at Rydges On SwantstonThis year I have revised the Laptop Buyer’s Guide article to encompass the newer Ultrabooks and other ultraportable computers. These are portable computers that are made to be very light but don’t have enough in the way of connectivity or secondary storage to suit their use as a primary computer. Here, I have positioned them as to be specified as a “traveller” or other secondary computer while you maintain a desktop or larger laptop as the main computer.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computerSimilarly, I have seen desktop computers exist beyond the norm of the three-piece package with a system unit being in the form of a “tower-style” box. There are some of these computers that come with a system unit that is about the size of a toaster or a large book, if not smaller. Similarly, the “all-in-one” style desktop like the Sony VAIO J Series that I reviewed is gaining some respect as a legitimate desktop computing device. In these cases, the new chipsets are allowing the computers to perform as good in gaming and graphics as the classic desktop.

Windows 8 has come out this year at very affordable prices for upgrading existing computers or as part of newer computers. Here, this has made the touchscreen computing become mainstream and legitimised form factors like tablets and convertible laptops as regular computing devices.

Tablets and smartphones

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tabletThis year has become the year of the 7” coat-pocket tablet with this form-factor being useful for where portability is important. This is more so where you may want to carry that tablet in the average ladies’ handbag or in that coat pocket.

This has be underscored by the arrival of the iPad Mini which has brought Apple’s iOS platform to this particular form factor. As well, the Google Nexus 7 has shown how affordable tablets of this form factor can be when you are thinking of this form factor. Similarly, I have reviewed the Toshiba AT150 tablet as an example of this form factor earlier this year.

I also have written an article about what app classes to look at when you are filling that smartphone or tablet with new apps. This is more so for people who have just got in to the idea of these devices and are wanting to get an idea of what to purchase or download from iTunes App Store, Google Play or Windows Phone App Store.

Smart TVs, games consoles and network-enabled video peripherals

Increasingly, more of us are buying the smart TVs or enabling existing TV sets with network-enabled video peripherals like the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player. This has opened up paths like access to catch-up TV or video-on-demand services as well as the DLNA Home Media Network.

I have prepared an article about using the DLNA concept to show family pictures on the large screen of a Smart TV. This is something that can be of interest especially if you want to have your elderly parents have their family photos ready to view on the large screen. Even the idea of scanning the old family snapshots or having the slide collection scanned on to an optical disc to transfer to your network-attached storage can bridge these photos to the digital age.

Let’s not forget that the XBox 360 and the PlayStation 3 do still excel not just as games consoles but as multi-purpose network-enabled entertainment units. In some cases, these consoles could work with an older or cheaper TV as a DVD or Blu-Ray player and an on-ramp to the DLNA Home Media Network. This would be of importance as your older children consider the idea of leaving the family nest.

What to do for the Christmas season

It may be worth reading my article about getting Skype ready for the Christmas season. This would be important when you have distant relatives and you want to use this technology to catch up with them during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

To this same extent, it may be worth thinking about the issue of having the family house where you are having your Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas celebrations at connected to real wireline broadband Internet. In this same way, it could be worth encouraging people who have just retired not to leave their computer skills at the office door. In this way, you could think of encouraging the purchase of books about computer skills or choosing the right equipment for these people to have for their home computer.

Gift Ideas

Sometimes you may be stuck about what tech gifts to get for Christmas or what to write on that Christmas wishlist.

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headsetI have reviewed another pair of headphones and written up a buyers’ guide about headphones and earphones. Here, you can consider using different headphones or headsets for different purposes such as lightweight headphones for walking and jogging or enclosed headphones for games or music where the bass response is needed.  This can also go alongside a buyers’ guide that I have previously written about computer speakers. Similarly, I have written an advisory article on how to wirelessly play music from that smartphone, tablet or laptop through other equipment including the Bluetooth speakers and Wi-Fi wireless speakers that are on the market.

I have also written about whether to use a mouse with that laptop or just stick with the trackpad that is part of these computers. This includes some suggestions concerning what kind of mouse to buy for that laptop.

Similarly, I have written up an article about choosing TSA-compliant laptop luggage and focused on other factors to consider beyond that standard. This isn’t just about having that bag pass through security at US airports but encouraging you to be sure you are getting a good-quality piece of luggage.

If you can’t afford to, are embarrassed by or feel it’s out of place to buy that highly-useful but expensive gift for that person, I would recommend that a group of people like a household, family or friends pool resources towards buying that gift.

I am wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a very happy New Year

With regards,

Simon Mackay

Christmas Post 2011

Christmas wreathHi everyone!

No doubt, as the TV ads shout, you will be passing headlong through an intense selling period. If you are in North America, this will start just after you have had that big turkey and pumpkin-pie feast on Thanksgiving Day. But this is the time to make wise decisions about what technology to buy as Christmas gifts through this season.

I am writing this piece so that the gift that you buy doesn’t end up as a real turkey in the face of the recipient or that you don’t shoot yourselves in the foot when you buy those bargains during the sales.

Network media and Internet-enabled “smart TV”

This year, Internet-based TV is being promoted by the main TV brands. This will typically be offered in the form of newer LCD TV sets being equipped with this feature, but you can enable your older or cheaper TV with this technology by purchasing one of the new Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray home-theatre systems or network media adaptors from the likes of Samsung and Sony. These devices do have that same “smart-TV” functionality but are in the form of a video peripheral that connects to your existing TV.

Sony BDP-S380 Network-enabled Blu-Ray playerWhether you go for a “smart TV” or a video peripheral to benefit from the interactive TV trend, make sure the TV is DLNA-compliant and resist the temptation to use Wi-Fi as the network connection method for these sets. Instead, purchase a HomePlug AV kit to link your network-enabled video equipment to the home network. There are some of these kits which have one of the HomePlug-Ethernet bridge units equipped with a four-port Ethernet switch, which could benefit those households who have more than one network-enabled AV device in the equipment rack and makes the network setup more future-proof. An example of this kind of equipment is the WD Livewire HomePlug AV kit which came with 2 HomePlug AV 4-port Ethernet switches at each end which I have reviewed. Infact I had reviewed the Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray player that works well as an Internet-TV enabler for that existing TV.

As for reviews, I have covered some network-enabled media equipment other than tabletop and portable Internet radios. I had reviewed the Sony CMT-MX750Ni micro music system which could work as a secondary music system as well as a Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver which is the heart of a good-quality 3-piece hi-fi setup. These units both can connect to the home network and Internet, bringing the fun of Internet radio and the music collection on your network-attached storage to something more substantial than a table radio.

The “family house”

You may be having your Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas dinner at your family’s main “family house”, yet you might find that the Internet setup there may not match a current reality. When I talk of the “family house” here, I am talking of the house which most likely will be lived in by your parents but is the place where the whole family gathers for family celebrations, and where some members do stay on a temporary basis.

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

This is more so if your parents are cottoning on to the Internet or it is known around your family that there are regular houseguests staying or living at this house who make regular use of the Internet.

Here, I have written an article on whether to provide full broadband Internet and a home network in this “family house” and, if so, it could be a valid gift idea when it comes to what to give your parents or grandparents. I had compared the value of one of those 3G wireless-broadband setups serving one computer versus a wireline full-broadband service that is part of an integrated telecommunications / pay-TV deal.

Other gift ideas

I have written a buyer’s guide article on what you can buy to improve the sound quality of your computer equipment. Here, I have mentioned about the speaker-system opportunities, the use of regular hi-fi equipment as well as add-on sound modules for laptops. As well I covered the issue of making sure you have good connectivity options for those iPod speaker docks so you can gain more value out of them over the years.

I have also reviewed a good-quality Cooler Master laptop cooling pad which would come in hand with older laptops that tend to run hot easily. As well, it is worth paying attention to the quality of other accessories you buy as gifts for laptop users. For luggage, pay attention to how well the piece is built such as the stitching or the fasteners. Cheap poor-quality zippers can definitely cost in the long run, as I have experienced.

Those old-style tray tables are very relevant in the connected age, especially as a way to keep that laptop or tablet off the couch or bed. Why is this so because if you allow a laptop to exist on those pillows, cushions or doonas (Continental quilts / duvets / comforters), this can cause the laptop to overheat. It also avoids the risk of one sitting on and damaging that iPad that was left on the sofa.

As I have said before, if you can’t afford or feel worried about purchasing that big-ticket gift yourself, it could be worth pooling resources together to purchase that gift. This can avoid the need to resort to cheap poor-quality items as gifts.

I just wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year,

Simon Mackay

Editor –

Christmas post 2010

Hi everyone!

From now and through Christmas, right up to January 5th (Epiphany – 12th Night), you will find yourselves working through a maze of advertising pressure from many retailers as they run their Christmas and post-Christmas sales.

Here, you may be pressured to make buying mistakes like buying one of those very cheap printers that costs more than you bought it for to keep full of ink and is likely to start jamming the paper very soon.

Buyers’ Guides – laptops, printers

I have been reviewing many dedicated and multifunction printers on this site and have focused on equipment that is worth using in the long term. This is compared to those  specials that discount stores and supermarkets sell at rock-bottom prices but are more costly to keep with ink or are more likely to break down within or shortly after the warranty.

From these reviews, I have noticed that the mid-range network-enabled consumer multifunction printers are a sure bet even if you don’t have a network setup because most of these printers are typically durable products that are cheaper to run even on original consumables. As well, the network-enabled small-business printers are also worth considering for home use in the long term.

I have reviewed some netbooks and low-end laptops like the <models> and these are worth considering using as a secondary computer for setups where you have a desktop, “all-in-one” or large laptop computer. This is where you want a machine that is used by other members of your household in the kitchen; or simply as a computer to use while you are travelling.

Based on this, I have written some buyers’ guides for people who are buying laptop computers or newer printers. These will come in handy whenever you, your household or the small business or other small organisation that you are involved with takes advantage of the big sales that are on between now and Epiphany (5th January).

The DLNA Home Media Network

I am not forgetting about the DLNA Home Media Network and have a series of feature articles on this topic. This is becoming more relevant as more Internet-enabled media devices have inherent support for this function and nearly all network-attached storage devices can provide media to these devices using this standard.

The first article of importance is relevant if you buy any of the new Samsung or Sony large-screen TVs or an Internet radio, whereas the second article is relevant when you purchase or consider purchasing a network-attached storage device/

Gift ideas

A good issue to think of when buying gifts is to be able to work out a strategy when it comes to buying something that is of decent quality rather than working to a budget, even if you are financially constrained. This avoids the recipient using a “use once throw away” gift or something that is ho-hum. One strategy would be for two or more individuals or families who all know what to give to “pool resources” towards buying the gift. Similarly, vouchers to a favourite merchant can go a long way towards a good-quality item.

A good pair of headphones would be a must for anyone with a laptop, netbook, smartphone or portable media player. This is because the headphones that come with most smartphones or portable media players are made to a price and don’t yield good-quality sound and can be fatiguing to use. For laptop users who use their machines for watching video material; listening to music and other audio content’; or playing games as a way of whiling away the long journey, this is a must so they can enjoy the sound much more.

Similarly, laptop users could benefit from a powered speaker system which has an integrated power amplifier. This would come in handy when a large-form laptop is used at home or the office, especially as a “jukebox”. These same speakers also come in handy as external speakers for an Internet radio, especially where you want to seek more from its sound. The speakers must have “tight” bass and must not “rattle” during the bass notes. Also, the tenor and treble sound must be clear and distinguishable. If the speaker system uses a separate powered subwoofer or bass driver, it must be feasible to adjust the bass output so you can avoid that “pub jukebox sound” which is too bass-dominant and can cause listener fatigue.

As well, look for good-quality laptop luggage, whether as a “messenger bag”, backpack or satchel. For students, I would recommend a backpack so they can carry their books and other paper-based work alongside their laptop and its accessories. Some of these backpacks can also work well as overnight / weekend bags which can house a change of clothing and some toiletries alongside the laptop and its accessories.

Always make sure that the stitching and the fasteners on the luggage is of good quality. This is more important for backpacks because the damage can be done more severely if cheap zippers come away and the bag drops open disgorging its contents without the owner knowing. A good indicator of quality stitching and fasteners is how long the manufacturer will warrant the bag for.

Let’s not forget that computer games, whether for the computer or the network-capable games consoles, are highly valued my most computer users as valued gifts. Sometimes you may have to buy more copies of a game to allow concurrent play on multiple machines over a network or the Internet. It is also worth knowing that some games titles that are written for the Windows platform may also be written to play on a recent Apple Macintosh and you may have to look for the “Mac” logo to double check this fact with some titles.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year,

Simon Mackay