Make It A Techy Christmas

As we head into the holiday gift shopping season, just about everyone has someone with a technology wish on their list. Tech guru Mario Armstrong offers host Michel Martin some suggestions for the latest hi-tech toys and gadgets for children and adults.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

You know we want to help you out, so we are going to talk about holiday gifts. Now, it's not quite the time to hit the panic button, but you do not want to wait too long to chip away at that holiday gift list. There are 17 days left before Christmas, and if you're looking to go all-out for Hanukkah, well, the last day is tomorrow.

I need some help with cool gadget ideas. So who better to call then Mario Armstrong? He's a technology commentator and host of the DIGITAL CAFE on member station WYPR. He's with us again.

Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey. Thanks for having me on. It's a cool time.

MARTIN: Now, I'm not a techy. I think I can just tell you that, right?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: We're friends. I can tell you.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. You've been transparent with that. That's right.

MARTIN: So, what do you think is - if you are not a techy, should you even try to gift someone with a gadget? I mean, is it like golf balls? Just don't even bother? It's just too personal?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: No, it's not too - that's a great question, and yes, we do love to personalize our technology. But I do think that it's still not an area that you should be intimidated by. The main thing that you really need to pay attention to is really understand how - what's the person special interest? What do they really do?

For example, if you're getting a computer and they're a big gamer, then you want to tell the person who you're shopping to buy this computer from the store or the place you're buying it from that they are a big gamer, and that's going to help them identify the best laptop or computer for them. So just understanding their interests, what they really love to do and what their flow is like, what their day is like will help give the guy that you need to find the right technology for them.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, let's focus on three distinct groups. We'll talk about children, young adults or students - let's say high school, college students -and adults.

ARMSTRONG: Right.

MARTIN: So let's start with kids. Now, I understand that technology for kids can be a tricky area because a lot of parents see gaming or using video devices and stuff as the same as television.

ARMSTRONG: Right.

MARTIN: So their attitude is screen time is all screen time. But let's assume you got the parents' permission, right? So tell me what you - what do you recommend?

ARMSTRONG: Well, so there are a couple of things, right? I like technology gifts that can actually give back. So one is if you really have a kid that's like into tinkering, I would look at things like robotic kits and things where the kid has to put together or program and they don't know that their programming and all of this engineering, but they're having so much fun by putting these kits - whether it's cars or whether it's robotics, where they can actually automate tasks, I think those types of gifts are great because they teach, as well.

But outside of that, gaming is big, and gaming has really seen some new innovations, specifically this year. I mean, we're looking at Microsoft's new gaming system, which is called the Kinect.

PlayStation has a new gaming component called the Move. And so all of these companies are now using more of your gestures to interact with the gaming system. But Microsoft Kinect has been selling very, very well because it's a new way. It uses your whole body, Michel, as the game controller. So you're not holding anything in your hand to play, you are the controller, and you're dancing in the game. You're having fun in the game. And I think it's great because number one, I think it brings the family back to gaming. We used to play board games back in the day. And I think secondly, it gets kids up off the couch being very active, because they have to in order to play the game, because it uses their body for motion.

MARTIN: Okay. Now let's move on to young adults, and I'm thinking say, mid-high school to college.

ARMSTRONG: Okay. Here's the one that I really, really think is great, because a lot of those folks are in class. They're writing notes, and it's hard to process it all. So there is a product that I've used, and it's called the Livescribe Echo Smartpen. And this pen has a recorder on the pen, so it can record the audio that you're hearing in the room.

But here's the real kicker, Michel. While you're writing down the sentences or phrases of what the teacher is saying, you can then go back to that a day later, a week later, six monthly later, and touch that bullet point or touch that phrase and you will be able to hear exactly the conversation that was going on at that time. So I think it really enables students to pay more attention and consume the lecture better, as opposed to just trying to chase down and write every single word they're hearing, missing a lot of the substance of the content.

MARTIN: That is crazy. Oh, my goodness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: But it's cool.

MARTIN: I can't even imagine.

ARMSTRONG: It's like a TiVo for notes.

MARTIN: A TiVo for notes.

ARMSTRONG: It's like your DVR for notes. Yeah. It's great.

MARTIN: I love it. Okay, now, let's get to adults. And if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

We're visiting with Mario Armstrong. He's a technology commentator. He's host of the DIGITAL CAFE on member station WYPR. He's helping us figure out what the hot electronic gifts are for the holiday season. And even if you aren't planning to buy a technology gift, you will sound really cool at your next party. You can just throw down these terms and act like you just know what is up at all times.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: That's right. That's right.

MARTIN: But let's get to the adults.

ARMSTRONG: Okay.

MARTIN: Now, big screen TVs are the thing that people stand in line at four o'clock in the morning for.

ARMSTRONG: Right. Right. Right. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I would not be one of them. But what are...

ARMSTRONG: In the cold.

MARTIN: In the cold. But I see a lot of ads these days for 3-D TVs. Now let's say you got it like that. Is a 3-D TV the thing you think is worth spending money on?

ARMSTRONG: Well - and you prefaced this correctly: If you have it like that. If you don't have it like that, just don't bother with it. But if the television is not going into a second bedroom or it's just going into a kid's room, if this is the main TV for the household and you are looking at this purchase as a major investment for your household, then I think you need to do what I call future-proofing yourself. So there is not a ton of 3-D content out there, so it is early for that. But, wouldn't you rather buy a 3-D-ready television now so that you have it, as opposed to three or four years from now saying, oh, I wish I got a 3-D-ready TV, because now I really want to take advantage of that content?

I do think 3-D is a beautiful option. A lot of people get confused on 3-D, though, and think that it's all 3-D. Like when you buy a 3-D...

MARTIN: Right. That was going to be my question.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you have to wear the 3-D glasses all the time? Because that gets old.

ARMSTRONG: That would get old, right? And so the answer's no. You can watch a regular, standard 2-D television, like you do now. But when there is 3-D content available, whether it's coming from the networks or maybe you're playing a 3-D movie or a 3-D game, then you can put on the glasses and interact with that particular piece of content. So that is a misconception that a lot of people get confused about.

MARTIN: Oh, great, something else to lose with the remote, like with the remote.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Something else to be digging in the sofa cushions for. Just what I need.

ARMSTRONG: No, you won't because those glasses are little pretty penny, so you'll know exactly where those glasses are.

MARTIN: Don't assume.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: You better not sit on my 3-D glasses, Michel.

MARTIN: And finally, you know, I've seen that the electronic tablets or readers, the prices have really fallen in recent years.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

MARTIN: The question I have for you, if someone's buying an iPad, already has an iPad, does it make sense - or you think that person might, does it make sense to still buy one of these eReaders?

ARMSTRONG: Oh, no. If they already have an iPad, then they're certainly not in the eReader market, because it can do everything that the eReader can do a whole bunch more. But we are talking about a significant price difference. So the eReaders have received much more competition. Some of them are now in color, and that has dropped the price. I am, though, suggesting if you haven't purchased a tablet, an iPad or the new Samsung Galaxy or anything like that, you should hold off, Michel, because the Super Bowl of technology conferences happen this January at the Consumer Electronics Show, and I've been told by many folks so many new tablets are going to be released. And I think that's going to drive down the prices, because there will be more competition and more choices for tablet devices.

MARTIN: So is that a nice way of telling me that you're not getting me that iPad for Christmas?

ARMSTRONG: No.

MARTIN: You're just waiting, right...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...for my birthday. Your birthday. Hold on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: We have to start we're gradually getting you there, Michel. We have to move in increments so, you know...

MARTIN: Okay.

ARMSTRONG: ...we're way to get you a smartphone first, and then we'll go from the smartphone...

MARTIN: Oh, see, you didn't have to go there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You went right there. Tell everybody all my business.

ARMSTRONG: I've seen that flip phone. I've seen it.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mario Armstrong. I was going to get you something. But you know what? Now I don't think so. Lump of coal for you.

ARMSTRONG: Aw.

MARTIN: Mario Armstrong...

ARMSTRONG: Bah, humbug.

MARTIN: ...that's right - is a technology commentator. He's host of DIGITAL CAFE on member station WYPR. He's also a co-founder of the Urban Video Game Academy for Youth, and he was with us from Baltimore.

Thank you, Mario, and Happy Holidays.

ARMSTRONG: Happy Holidays to you, too, Michel.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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