Gadget Gift Ideas, Part 1

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It's dads and grads time. If you're looking for affordable, cool gift ideas, I've got two suggestions: Pure Digital's Flip ($120 to $150), a pocket-sized camcorder that lets you easily upload videos to YouTube, and Hewlett-Packard's Photosmart R837 digital camera ($229), with its unusual image enhancement features. These two products have an undeniable cool factor and would make great gifts, though each comes with some caveats. This week, I'll review the Flip; next week, the Photosmart.

The Backstory

The Flip Video Camcorder is Pure Digital's worthy successor to its One-Time-Use Video Camcorder and the Point and Shoot Digital Camcorder ($130). The Flip looks and operates similarly to its predecessors. But the Flip features some new and enhanced features (such as better video quality) and comes in two versions: one with 512MB of internal flash memory ($120) for up to 30 minutes of video and another with 1GB ($150) for up to 60 minutes of video. The Flip is available at Best Buy, Target, Amazon, and other retailers.

Quick aside: PC World's Single Copy Sales Director Holly Drawbaugh recently cited the Flip as a gift she'd have enjoyed for Mother's Day.

What I Like

The Flip is extremely easy to use--so easy, in fact, it would make a great gift for a kid. Turn the camcorder on, aim, and shoot. The camcorder uses AA batteries, which is convenient.

You can watch your video on the Flip's 1.4-inch color LCD; connect the camcorder to a TV monitor via the included cable; or attach it to your PC via the camcorder's clever pop-out USB connector. Check out the photo on my blog, Traveler 2.0.

The Flip has built-in software that launches on your PC when the camcorder is connected via USB. Among other things, the Flip software makes it easy to upload your videos to YouTube or Grouper, as well as share them as e-mail attachments or video greeting cards. The Flip PC software lets you add music to a video and capture stills from video frames.

The camcorder is compact, at 4.12 by 2.25 by 1.25 inches. The VGA image quality (640-by-480-pixel resolution at 30 frames per second) isn't as rich or detailed as more expensive camcorders and is on par with some cell phones, such as the Nokia N93i. It's good enough for online video, however, and files are saved in the MPEG-4 AVI format.

What I Dislike

The Flip camcorder I received for testing--the same week the product was introduced--wasn't fully operational with Windows Vista. For example, when I attempted to combine multiple clips into one "mix" using the Flip software on my Vista PC, the software repeatedly crashed. I had no such problems using the Flip software and camcorder on my Windows XP laptop.

Also, I could import videos from the camcorder into Windows Movie Maker for editing on my Windows XP laptop--but I couldn't perform that task on my Vista desktop. A representative for Pure Digital said the company plans to make the Flip Video Vista compatible, but no timetable had been set as of this writing. Vista compatibility updates will be available via download as well as in future versions of Flip Video camcorders, the representative said.

Uploading from the camera to YouTube using the Flip PC software was easy. But in the process, a brief, silent promo for Flip video is automatically inserted at the end of your YouTube clip. There's no way to delete it, according to the Flip spokesperson. Also, I'd like the ability to edit the video, but the Flip software's editing tools only let you determine new start and end points.

Who's It For?

The Flip is an ideal gift for dads and grads who aren't camcorder-savvy or picky about video quality, would enjoy an inexpensive camcorder "toy," and would love to easily share videos online. But those with more demanding video editing and image quality requirements are likely to be disappointed.

By the way: An alternative to the Flip is the Archos 404 Camcorder, which is $300 but adds video recording capabilities to a sleek portable media player.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Get a Look at HP's 20-Inch Screen Notebook: HP's gigantic Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook, which weighs a back-breaking 15.5 pounds and has a 20.1-inch wide-screen display, has to be seen to be believed. And we've got the pictures--a slide show of 17 images that showcase the behemoth's many cool touches, such as a display that's mounted on a hinged support for greater viewing flexibility. The notebook will ship in mid to late July with a starting price of $2999.

Intel's Upgraded Centrino Platform: Recently, PC World tested two notebooks equipped with Intel's upgraded Centrino platform (formerly code-named Santa Rosa). In our tests of the $1309 HP Pavilion dv6500t and the $2270 Gateway E-475M, we discovered that the new platform doesn't contain any truly revolutionary technology or establish big new performance records--but it does have its advantages. For example, the optional Turbo Memory capability enhances a system's responsiveness and multitasking ability, which should help you load apps faster and reduce battery consumption.

Updated MacBooks Feature Faster Processors: Apple has updated its notebooks with faster processors, 1GB of memory, and larger hard drives. The latest MacBooks are available in two white versions, one with a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor ($1099) and one with a 2.16-GHz chip ($1299), and a black model with a 2.16-GHz processor ($1499). All include a built-in video camera and the latest generation of 802.11n wireless networking.

Suggestion Box

Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.

Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
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