MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm back now with our tech guru, Omar Gallaga. And Omar, you've got a holiday gift guide for those of us who have not yet finished our shopping or are still looking for good ideas. So, where should we start?
Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Technology Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Well, we want to start with the basics. If you've got video game consuls with wireless controllers or a remote control for your TV, you're going to need batteries, specifically rechargeable ones.
NORRIS: Now, one of the questions I've always had is do rechargeable batteries work as efficiently as just plain old batteries?
Mr. GALLAGA: They've gotten a lot better, and they also charge a lot faster now. One of the issues with rechargeables in the past was that you really had to think ahead and recharge them ahead of time, and it could take all night to do it, and also the pricing. And we've seen both of those things resolve to some degree. Energizer has a set of batteries that can charge in 15 minutes. And Duracell has even more instant gratification. All of their rechargeables now come pre-charged. You just load them out of the box, put them in your devices, and you're good to go.
NORRIS: Well, let's talk about what might very well be a popular tech gift where you could use some of those batteries and a gift that might have broken the bank last year but seems to have gotten much less expensive this year. I'm talking about digital picture frames. I seem to see these things everywhere I go.
Mr. GALLAGA: Right. Last year, they were a really big holiday item and unfortunately the pricing was all over the map. This year, we've seen the quality improve and the prices drop quite a bit. Kodak's EasyShare line of picture frames tends to get really good reviews and the prices start at only $50. Some of them even have Wi-Fi built in, so you can stream photos from your computer or from an online service like Picasa or Flickr. And you want a picture frame that has at least 640 by 480 pixel resolution. Otherwise, your photos might be little grainy.
NORRIS: Digital picture frames are a wonderful way to preserve family memories when you've already got those memories on your computer. But we've got a lot of listeners who are writing in and asking for help saving their old VHS home movies, transferring those so that they're also stored in their computer. Any help for those folks?
Mr. GALLAGA: Right. Well, we've all got old media lying around. We've got vinyl albums or VHS tapes or cassettes, but a lot of us don't even have the devices to be able to play them anymore. So, there are companies like Ion Audio that put out devices that allow you to interface that old media with your new computer. They have a line of turntables, cassette decks, even VCRs that can plug into a computer. Transfer all of that old information and convert it into digital files. They usually cost between 100 and 200 dollars, and they usually come with the software to convert it as well.
NORRIS: OK, Omar. We have covered a lot of ground. But this is the moment where you were supposed to surprise me, and I have set a very high bar here. This has got to be something that I did not know that I needed, something that I absolutely can't live without.
Mr. GALLAGA: Well, the device that I keep getting asked about this holiday season is the Magic Jack. They've been very aggressive in their advertising, and everybody wants to know if it really works. What it is, it's a little plastic stick that you put in a computer's USB device, and it allows you to make unlimited long distance calls for only $20 a year. Now, the device itself is $40 but that includes your first year of service. Now, this doesn't work for international calls, and you have to leave your computer on if you want to receive calls. But you don't pay any additional fees, and you can use any existing phone that's got a phone jack. You just plug in your old phone into it, and you're good to go.
NORRIS: Omar, thanks so much for these shopping tips. Dare I ask if you have finished your holiday shopping?
Mr. GALLAGA: No, I am lagging behind. I've not even done the online shopping that I thought I was going to be doing. But I'm going to be posting links to a lot of these devices and two gift guides that I've written on the NPR site. That's npr.org/alltech.
NORRIS: That's Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman.
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