Tips On Hot Gifts For Tech-Lovers

The clock is ticking on holiday shopping, but it's not too late to buy this year's top gadgets. Host Michel Martin gets the dish from AOL's LaToya Drake. Some of the items on her list include an interactive dancing toy robot for kids, and for adults, a device that measures the amount of deep sleep a person gets each night.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to turn, now, from selecting a mentor to tips on selecting the best tech gifts for the holidays. Now, you may want to play games, but the holidays are literally just around the corner. Christmas is less than two weeks away and Hanukkah - well, that begins in just six days.

That's probably one reason why, according to the research firm, comScore, this is expected to be the busiest online shopping week of the year. So just what is sailing off the shelves and maybe flying under the radar? Here to help us with some recommendations is LaToya Drake. She is a digital correspondent for AOL. She is also an adjunct instructor at New York University.

Welcome back. Thanks for joining us once again.

LATOYA DRAKE: Hi. Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Well, let's just start with gifts for kids. The first one you wanted to tell us about is a toy robot called Fijit Friends. And I'll just play a short clip from one of the ads. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

(MUSIC, ROBOTIC VOICE)/Soundbite>

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Introducing Fijit Friends, a girl's interactive best friend. Fijit Friends say more than 150 different phrases.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: Hi, Willa.

FIJIT FRIEND: You look fabulous.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: Thank you, Willa.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And respond to over 30 key words.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: What's up?

FIJIT FRIEND: What you up to?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR: Just hanging.

MARTIN: Let me just say that if I had to listen to that sound for more than like, a day or so, I'm already hating it. But that could just be me. Tell us what is cool about this.

DRAKE: Now, the Fijit is made by Mattel. It comes in at around $50 and, for quite some time, we've been struggling to find that toy that is the toy of the season. Think back to Tickle Me Elmo. But Fijit is making a run for that title. It is, essentially, something that came about because a lot of parents are saying toys these days allow their children to become too passive.

This is an interactive toy. It utters about 120 conversational phrases. So it's something to get the child off the sofa, not playing with something along the lines of - let's say a Nintendo DS, for instance, where the child is just playing with the toy.

This is that interactive toy that has parents at the store curious about it, wanting to know more about it and getting it for their children.

MARTIN: Maybe it's too soon for me to say, bah, humbug, but I'm close.

DRAKE: But, you know, what...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. What happened to just real friends? Sorry, sorry. Sorry, LaToya. I'm sorry. I just had say it. OK.

But I know you say that parents think this might be kind of educational, but some people really feel strongly that a toy should really be educational. So for people who feel that way, what do you have for us?

DRAKE: The Leapfrog has really been at the forefront in terms of reading systems that bring reading to life for toys, so there's something called a Leapfrog Tag and this is helping kids learn how to read and write. It acts as a pen. If a child is reading the Leapfrog book, they would tap the pen to a word. They would learn more about that word. It also allows the child to trace a word and trace letters so that they're learning how to write.

The thing about the Leapfrog that you have to know - it's not enough to just have the pen. You also have to go out and buy the books that work with the Leapfrog.

MARTIN: And the cost is...

DRAKE: It's $24 to $40, depending on where you buy those from.

MARTIN: And what about each book?

DRAKE: Each book - those have different price points. It certainly depends on the book. You can get them as low as $10, $15. They have some that are Disney-specific. So these are books that your children will be familiar with. They have one that's connected to Toy Story, so there is a lot of familiarity and it's not something that your child will be less excited about it because they don't know the material.

MARTIN: OK. Let's focus now on young adults and college students. It's always amazing to me how young adults and students have the money for Smartphones when I see grown people...

DRAKE: Right.

MARTIN: ...walking around with their old flip phone. But it is the case, so the young folks are the first to grab onto that new technology when they can afford it. So if a young person already has a Smartphone, is there something else that you could buy to enhance the use of it?

DRAKE: Right. And it's not so much about having the Smartphone. Again, it's about what you can do with it. It's about the apps on the phone. If you think back to games like Simon, where you had memory recognition, those games are now on your smart devices. There's an app called Memory Block. It's free on your iPhone. It's about $1.99, I think, for the app on your iPad and it's, again, just memory recognition. If you want to tax your memory a little bit, you want to get away from just using these devices to text or to make phone calls.

And then there's another one that I love. It's called Mint. If you're teaching your young adult about money management, if they have a bank account, this is the app that's going to help them really be on top of that. This is also a website, as well, but if you've got the Smartphone and you want to download the app, you're going to know exactly where that money is going in terms of what you're spending on books, what you're spending on games, what you're spending on entertainment.

So, when we head into the New Year, many people will make that resolution about managing their money better and this is certainly something that you can pass on to younger generations. You can teach them earlier.

MARTIN: OK. So I have to just ask you, how do you give a free app to somebody? How do you give an app, period? What do you wrap up?

DRAKE: This is for the person who's a last minute shopper and you don't have a lot of time to get in the store and grab an actual gift, but you can go to the app store and you can quickly email those apps or print them out and put that in a card.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. We're talking about hot gadgets for your gift giving needs or perhaps this will be a treat for yourself if you're having a tough year. Our guest is LaToya Drake. She's a digital correspondent for AOL.

All right. Let's focus on adults now. You actually are excited about an app that you use when you are asleep. I'm a little afraid to ask about this, but what is the Zeo Sleep Device?

DRAKE: The Zeo Sleep Manager is something that you use when you want to track your sleep. There are a lot of insomniacs in the world, people not getting enough sleep. This is something that will give you in the morning a report, a diagnostic, if you will, of how much sleep you're getting, how much deep sleep you're getting, how much REM sleep you're getting.

Now, there are some apps that you can do this with, but the one that we're speaking about retails for about $99 and it actually comes with a headband. Some people may be skeptical about sleeping with a headband, but it just makes it more accurate and then you synch it with your iPhone or your Smartphone, your Android phone, and it tracks your sleep throughout the night so that when you wake up in the morning you know exactly what happened and you can see how much time you spent in deep sleep and really work toward...

MARTIN: Well, can I just ask you - why do I want this?

DRAKE: Why do you want this? Because you...

MARTIN: Yeah. I know if you're tired or not.

DRAKE: I have a firsthand experience with this. My sister actually uses this and, in the morning emails me the diagnostic of her sleep. It gets exciting when you say, I'm not getting enough sleep. I'm not well rested. If you care about sleep, this is something that you may want to give as a gift or have for yourself because it's not enough to wake up and moan about being tired. This really brings in technology to make tracking your sleep a little bit more exciting and a little bit more fun.

MARTIN: And so your sister emails you her diagnostic, so you know why she's calling to curse you out? Is that it? I'm tired, LaToya. It's not me. It's because I'm tired. Look at my diagnostic.

DRAKE: When I call her in the middle of the night asking whatever random question that I have, she will email me and say, you're the reason why I didn't get a good night's sleep. Had you not called me at 12:15, I could have had a better night's rest.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. OK. And a final question. There are those among us who are still technophobic and they just say, I do not need all this mess.

DRAKE: You know...

MARTIN: Is there something that you recommend for somebody who just is not feeling it at all?

DRAKE: Everyone says I don't want it until they get the gadget and they start using it and see how exciting it is. One example of that, and one that I'm a fan of, is the Roku. Many people have heard of the ability to watch television shows on your laptop. Most people don't want to do that because you enjoy the living room experience. You go out and you buy TVs, large TVs over the holidays so that you can watch TV on a TV.

This is a device that allows you to do that. It's an over-the-top TV device. It retails for about $49 and goes up, of course, in price point. But you can watch all of the material that you watch on your laptop, be it Hulu or if you're watching Netflix. You can plug this device to your TV and watch those programs through your TV. Very simple, plug and play. If you can plug up a cable box, you can plug up a Roku.

MARTIN: Roku?

DRAKE: Roku, R-O-K-U.

MARTIN: OK. There's no app for babysitting, is there? Never mind. Just...

DRAKE: No, no, no. Technology can not be your babysitter.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Never mind. Look, I knew you were going to say that. LaToya Drake is a digital correspondent for AOL. She is also an adjunct instructor of marketing, advertising and public relations at New York University, and she was kind enough to join us from our NPR bureau.

LaToya, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DRAKE: Of course. Thanks, Michel.

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