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Holiday Mac Gift Guide

December 8, 2009
By Dave Hecei,

It's December and we all know what that means. It's time for crowded streets and stores while we try to find that perfect gift for someone special. It's also time for the annual holiday Mac gift guide.

Let's start out small with some stocking stuffers. Of course small could mean pricey, but there are plenty of inexpensive items that every Mac lover needs. USB memory sticks make great gifts. They are available in all shapes and sizes. Don't get anything less than 1GB since prices are lower than ever. A 4GB USB drive can be easily found around $15.

Another useful item is a USB extension cable. No matter how many USB ports they put on a Mac it's always one short. Instead of having to get behind the Mac, or crawl under the desk, use a USB extension cable and run that out next to the monitor. Now you have an easy to access USB port.

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Consumables make great gifts. Ink cartridges always seem to run out right in the middle of printing important documents, like at 9 p.m. on a Sunday. Being able to open the drawer and have a full set of ink waiting is wonderful. Other consumables: photo paper, batteries - if they have a wireless keyboard and/or mouse, and blank recordable DVDs or CDs - I always recommend DVD-R for Macs.

Software is an important part of any Mac. Without software the computer is useless. Luckily the Mac comes with a good set of useful tools already - OS X, iLife, etc. Snow Leopard can make a great gift for those with a modern Intel-based Mac. This is the latest version of OS X and is available as an upgrade for as low as $25. While this upgrade doesn't include significant feature upgrades, it does have plenty of new stuff under the hood. Because of this, Snow Leopard can be slightly problematic for those with older peripherals or software. If they can work around this, Snow Leopard does bring a boost in performance and future compatibility.

The iTunes Store has expanded greatly over the years. It now contains: music, movies, TV shows, movie rentals, podcasts (usually free), audio books, and now iPhone/iPod Touch Apps. Practically everywhere you go you can find a rack full of iTunes Gift Cards. These can be found in amounts from $15 to $100. These can be used for anything available in the iTunes Store.

The keyboard and mouse that comes with a Mac is pretty good. The latest Macs now come with wireless Bluetooth models. For those who don't have one of the very latest Macs, a wireless keyboard and mouse makes a great gift. Microsoft, of all things, makes great keyboards and mice. They also have a great wireless combo that is Mac compatible, the Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 v.3. I've recently seen this for as low as $45. It includes a slightly curved wireless multimedia keyboard and a five-button wireless 'laser' mouse. This model uses a laser light instead of just a red LED light, which allows it to track movements faster with more accuracy.

For the Mac music lover who doesn't have an iPod, or at least not one that has been sold in the last two or three years, then the new iPod Nano would make a great gift. This latest generation Nano looks almost identical to the last one, but it has some new tricks up its sleeve. First there is the video camera. Apple took the old Nano and added a small lens, similar to the iSight web cam, giving it the ability to record standard definition video, or 640 by 480 pixels. The video is pretty remarkable and can be edited and uploaded to a personal Web site or to YouTube. The Nano is available in a rainbow of colors, including silver and gray, and is $149 for 8GB and $179 for 16GB of storage.

For the budding musician why not get them a MIDI keyboard. Not a typing keyboard but a music keyboard. M-Audio makes the Keystudio 49 and 61. The Keystudio 49 has, of course, a 49-note synth-action keyboard. The Keystudio 61 has 61. They connect to the Mac using USB and is fully compatible with Garage Band, Logic, and most all other music software. For the budding singer a great mic is ideal. Instead of bothering with all sorts of mixers and cables, a USB microphone is much easier to deal with. For vocals and voice-overs, the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB microphone has great natural sound quality and can be found for just over $100.

For someone interested in doing their own podcast, basically an Internet based radio show, then you could go with the AT2020 USB microphone. A better solution might be a USB headset. This combines a good mic and headphones into one package. The Plantronics 3D Surround Sound Gaming Headset (I think the model # is .Audio 770) is Mac compatible and works as a great podcasting headset, plus it can do double duty as a gaming headset for a Mac or PC. The .Audio 770 has a street price around $50.

A Mac is a great multimedia machine. One thing it can't do out-of-the-box is watch TV. There are plenty of TV tuners available for the Mac and the best are made by Elgato. If you just want to watch TV broadcasts over-the-air or through a cable connection, HD or SD, then the EyeTV Hybrid USB stick would be perfect. This little device can receive analog and digital TV, clear QAM (the free HD content on cable systems), and FM radio.

Elgato also makes the EyeTV 250 Plus, which has all the same functions as the Hybrid but in a nicer package. The EyeTV 250 Plus has a big advantage of being a hardware encoder so it is not dependent on the Mac's processor chip, though this does add to the price. The 250 Plus also includes a nice IR remote control. Both units include the EyeTV software, which gives your Mac capabilities similar to a TiVo, allowing you to record your favorite TV shows.

The EyeTV software has basic editing abilities, allowing you to cut out commercials maybe. Both units also come with a copy of Roxio Toast 8 Basic, a great disc program to use to burn your recordings to DVD. The EyeTV Hybrid sells around $125, but I have seen recent sale price of $85. The 250 Plus has a street price around $170.

For more ideas check out my blog at Scroll down the list to the Mac Blog - 24 Days of Gadgets.



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