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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Less than two weeks left to finish off your Christmas shopping, NPR's Farai Chideya joins me now to talk about some gifts that are especially hot this season. Farai.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Hey, Ed. Well, you know, I'm like most people. I don't want to blow up my bank account balance, I don't want to support too much consumerism, but I do like to go out and buy the people who I love a little something. And in that vein, I haven't picked out anything for you. What do you want?

GORDON: Well, you know, Farai, I've got an 11-year-old, so I don't think about me and Christmas at all. It's all about her. But I tell you, like most men, I love technical gadgets.

CHIDEYA: It's absolutely amazing the array of products that are coming out this year. And we spoke with NEWS & NOTES tech guru, Mario Armstrong, who says there's a high-tech gift fit for everyone on your list.

MARIO ARMSTRONG:

You're seeing everything from things for the couch potato to the mobile professional to Mom and Dad. Even Grandma and Grandpa aren't exempt.

CHIDEYA: Well, let's talk on the budget tip first. What are some of the lower-cost items that you could give to folks in your life?

ARMSTRONG: Lower-cost items are great things like USB drive, which is a small little flash drive. It's about the size of something that can hang on your key chain and it plugs directly into the USB port of your computer. And it allows you to transfer files so that you can take those files with you to another computer.

CHIDEYA: I've seen people wearing them as necklaces. So I guess it's--you know, it's also a fashion accessory.

ARMSTRONG: Another high-tech fashion accessory, laptop bags are now becoming stylish. I've seen them in key lime, I've seen them in watermelon, all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. One of the places that are really cool online is Casauri. Two African-American females out of New Jersey have created this nice mesh, if you will, of fashion and technology and are producing some of the hottest gifts for the holiday season for laptop carriers.

CHIDEYA: Now you mentioned something called a couch potato. What is that?

ARMSTRONG: This is the resident couch potato that just has to have either that universal remote in their hand--they usually have that La-Z-Boy chair and that big-screen television. And so for the couch potato, the big thing this year is obviously high-definition television screens. They are coming down in price. Even plasma screens are coming down in price. But the game system of the holiday season is the Xbox 360. This is what every couch potato should have in their household this holiday, if you're lucky enough to get one.

CHIDEYA: What about people who aren't such big video gamers? Could they be enticed by this into trying it out?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. They may be enticed by this, but if you're not a big video gamer and you really want to give another nice gift for folks, a subscription to maybe a DVD online rental service. Places like Netflix.com or Blockbuster.com have great gift certificates during the holiday season, so that you can have people sign up for whatever DVDs or movies they want to have delivered to them. You're doing your friends a favor. They no longer have to go into shopping lines just to find out a movie they wanted is no longer there at the store.

CHIDEYA: What about somebody who is not at all tech-savvy? What kind of gift could you give them that's still technology but something they can relate to?

ARMSTRONG: One of my favorite gifts that I like for, let's say, the grandma and grandpa; they may not be very techie or they may not even have a computer in the household but they would still love to be in touch with their family from across the country. And one of the ways you can do that is through digital photos. So one of the coolest gift items that you can look at for this holiday season is a thing call the CEIVA digital frame. And this is great for the grandparents. Essentially it allows grandparents to view digital photos on a picture frame. All they have to do is plug it into a home phone line and into a wall outlet, and they're up and set, ready to go, no computer needed. You basically e-mail that picture frame with your latest photos, and each morning it gets updated automatically.

CHIDEYA: You e-mail the picture frame. That is...

ARMSTRONG: You e-mail the picture frame.

CHIDEYA: That is a phrase I never thought I would have heard. You could send a picture--this is me brushing my teeth. This is me combing my hair. OK, it's much better for the kids, then, if you're over the age of, say, 25. But that's interesting but kind of...

ARMSTRONG: It is interesting. I mean...

CHIDEYA: ...bizarre.

ARMSTRONG: And you can even send it through your camera phone, so if you're feeling spontaneous and you have a great picture and you feel like someone else needs to see that, you can e-mail that photo right from your phone, right through that picture frame without having a computer.

CHIDEYA: `Grandpa, I'm out at the club. Wish you were here. Love, your grandson.'

Anyway...

ARMSTRONG: `Grandpa, they're playing your favorite cut right now.'

CHIDEYA: Exactly.

ARMSTRONG: `Wish you were here.'

CHIDEYA: Exactly. So speaking of entertainment, what about music? What digital music systems are going to be hot this season?

ARMSTRONG: There are a couple different ones out there. I know, Farai, you've been checking out the Olive stereo. And...

CHIDEYA: The New York Times wrote about it so I'm a sucker and I had to look it up.

ARMSTRONG: It is, from all accounts, a very good unit. This is called the Symphony by Olive stereo, and it's really marketed towards classical music fans so if you are an audiophile that is into classical music, you'll appreciate how this digital music system treats the sound quality but if you're looking for something that's a little bit less or just more mainstream, I would look at the Sonos Digital Music System, which allows you to have one sound system but play different music in different rooms of your house up through 29 rooms if you have a house that big.

CHIDEYA: Wow. So is this a wireless device that beams to different stereo components or how does it work?

ARMSTRONG: It is in itself a stereo system and so what you do is you connect any of your music to it via a CD or you can even connect old vinyl turntables to it if you have that, MP3 players, and it wirelessly broadcasts those signals throughout the house and you have a remote in your hand that allows you to treat each room like its own music zone. So therefore, you can apply different music to different zones. But it is wireless and it is a stand-alone system.

CHIDEYA: Well, Mario, thank you so much for these holiday tips.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Farai.

GORDON: All right, Farai, so you asked me before we started this segment about hints for me and what I would like and with all of what Mario talked about, so many people looking at the digital musical systems, do you think anybody's going to hear this and get one for you?

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, my sister actually bought one for me so I cannot complain at all. Santa has come early.

GORDON: All right, Farai. Thanks so much. Mario Armstrong covers technology for Baltimore-area NPR member stations WEAA and WYPR, and, again, Farai, thanks, and happy holidays.

CHIDEYA: Same to you. Thanks, Ed.

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