This Year, Smart Phones Are Holiday Must-Have

Every year there is a new gadget that everyone must have: last year, GPS units were hot. This year, it's the turn of smart phones. Omar Gallaga, technology-culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, shares information on smart phones and other gifts.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

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BLOCK: From Zhu Zhu hamsters to smart phones, there is a whole universe of holiday gifts out there with computer chips inside. And Omar Gallaga joins us to talk about tech related presents for the holidays. Omar talks with us most Monday's from Austin, Texas, where he is the technology culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. Omar, welcome back.

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Hi, Melissa. Happy tech holidays.

BLOCK: Thanks and same to you. And every year, there seems to be some kind of gadget that everybody has on their list. Last year, GPS units were really hot. What is being talked about as the most popular stuff this year?

Mr. GALLAGA: You know, over Black Friday and with all the search trends online we are seeing lot of stuff related to smart phones, eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook are very sought after this holiday season, and anything to do with HD TV and Blu-ray. I mean HD TVs have gotten so cheap now that they are getting pretty ubiquitous, but anything that you can connect to an HD TV like a game console that does HD or a Blu-ray player that plays Netflix movies over the Web, that stuff is very popular. And then lots of sales of netbooks, laptops and desktops over Black Friday, so the computer segment is definitely not dying off. So - and also we got some information from Google that Marshmallow Shooters and Magic Ears are two of the most trended holiday items this year. Marshmallow Shooters are sort of like Nerf guns that shoot actual marshmallows�

BLOCK: Yeah. Okay.

Mr. GALLAGA: And Magic Ears are a kind of ear-bud headphones that are very popular.

BLOCK: Omar, you mentioned smart phones in there and there was news over the weekend - big news over the weekend - that revolved around a rumor that Google is coming out with its phone and there's a lot of speculation about when exactly that will be. What have you heard?

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah, there's been a lot of rumors swirling over the weekend about Google's phone called the Nexus One. Now this is the phone built by the company HTC for Google and they have issued these phones out to their employees to try out Google apps that they're developing. Now, previously Google had been doing the Android platform which means Google developed the software that is on phones like the Motorola Droid and the HTC Hero, but this would actually be a Google phone, a phone that Google would sell directly to consumers on its Web site.

And now, what we know so far, and again this is a lot of speculation and rumors, this would not be on a particular wireless carrier. It would have GSM built in, so it would have to be on either T-Mobile or AT&T's network, but the idea would be that Google will sell it to you directly without a wireless carrier involved. So, this could be pretty revolutionary because smart phones like the iPhone and the Motorola Droid are so popular this holiday season, some people might want to think about waiting a little bit till early next year and see what Google does before you commit to a two-year contract on a phone.

BLOCK: Okay. Well, for people who aren't waiting but are shopping now, maybe shopping online at the last minute, where can they find the best deals?

Mr. GALLAGA: You know, most people assume that that a lot of best deals were on Black Friday or on Cyber Monday a couple of weeks ago. In fact, today is going to be possibly one of the best holiday shopping days of the year because there's still enough time to get stuff shipped to you and there's a lot of -the big retail online sites are offering special deals right up to Christmas. So, offers.com, pricegrabber, shopper.com, those are all really good sites that aggregate prices - are really good places to start if you just want to do some comparison shopping and see what prices are available online. Even Twitter is a good place to search for deals that are coming directly from companies like Dell or like travel through Jet Blue. I mean, they post their stuff directly to Twitter. I think the biggest tip though is definitely look at the shipping dates. Look - make sure that stuff's going to get to you by the date you want it to and have a plan in case it doesn't. A lot of people are doing comparison shopping on the Web, but still going to the bricks-and-mortar stores to actually make their purchase.

BLOCK: And if you are swiping your virtual credit card online this week, what are some of the best ways to protect yourself?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well, the things you would do any other time of year when you're doing online shopping, you want to keep your virus and spyware software up to date. Don't trust unfamiliar sites that are not retailers that you're comfortable shopping with. Don't buy anything from eBay, from someone who has no reputations score and someone that has no feedback from other users. And also, you know, watch out for emails. I mean, you might get a good holiday deal email that might send you to somewhere that you're not looking to go, that there might be a fishing scheme to get your password or your credit card information.

BLOCK: Omar, thanks so much.

MR. Gallaga: Thanks for having me, and we'll of course be posting links to a lot of these deals, sales information and tips on the All Tech Considered blog at npr.org/alltech.

BLOCK: Great. Omar Gallaga covers technology cultures for the Austin American-Statesman and for All Tech Considered.

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