Graduation is just around the corner for the nation's campuses, where a generation of students has grown up in a life of high-tech study and entertainment. The electronics store is a natural place to ponder gifts for work and play, and we save you some of the browsing with these 10 suggestions of useful and unusual devices from the tech world:
1. Widescreen Handcam ($280): Flip is famous for a big red button that makes it simple to start—and stop—the camcorder rolling. The latest Flip SlideHD moves the button onto a 3-inch touch screen that now fills much of the camera's back, which also slides up to make it easier to show the video to a group.
The Flip shoots up to 4 hours of 720p resolution video, which isn't as good as the 1080p that some of its competitors can capture. But nobody tops the Flip's ease of use, which starts with the button, includes a built-in USB connector, and ends with software that loads onto a computer for simple editing and sharing across the Internet.
2. Ad Hoc Speaker ($40): The palmsize OrigAudio Rock-It turns just about anything into a speaker. Plug it into the headphone jack of a music player, and attach the Rock-It's pod to whatever's handy. The pod's vibrations produce surprisingly good sound, working best with hollow objects like boxes, cups, and lampshades. But even doors and picture frames generate decent music.
Audiophiles won't swoon at the sound quality, but it's convenient and fun with groups or parties. The Rock-It powers off of a pair of AA batteries, or an included cord can plug it into a computer's USB port.
3. In-Drive Movies ($100): Backup is boring, so a special Seagate FreeAgent Go drive adds fun with preinstalled movies from Paramount Pictures. The movies can be watched on a desktop or laptop computer, or on a television attached to a media player that's also available from Seagate.
A copy of last year's Star Trek can be unlocked for free, and 20 other movies areavailable at $10 to $15 each. Titles include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Nacho Libre and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The movies, which can be erased, take up only about 10 percent of the drive's 500 GB of storage. The drive also includes backup software for its more mundane use.
4. Do-It-All Tablet ($500): The Apple iPad's bright, 9.7-inch touch screen covers a versatile, thin computer that connects via Wi-Fi to the Web. Apple software makes the tablet as easy to use as an iPhone, but it's more responsive with its heftier hardware and will be able to multi-task with a software update due this summer.
While also targeting fun like video streaming, the iPad comes with work-oriented software including a word processor and spreadsheet. It will run the 150,000 apps available for the iPhone, and more than 1,000 are customized for the iPad's bigger display. More expensive versions, due out today, can connect to AT&T's 3G network, but it's unclear how many people will travel with a computer that comes without a hardware keyboard.
5. Flexible Tracker ($240): With its waterproof touch screen, the Garmin Dakota is good for the trail and bike as well as the car. The small handheld (roughly 2 inches by 4 inches) is light in the hand or on the hip and can run 20 hours on a pair of AA batteries.
The 2.6-inch display fills most of the front of the Dakota, which comes with basic maps that cover the world. Detailed street and topo maps can be bought from Garmin. In a nifty innovation, new Garmin software lets users load maps they already have—including digital or scanned paper maps—and synchronize them with the Dakota's location data.
6. Sharp Shooter ($230): The compact Canon SD1400 IS offers a stylish camera of good value with its anti-shake technology and HD video recording. The 14-megapixel sensor captures detailed stills, a 4x zoom brings them closer, and the optical image stabilization helps keep them sharp.