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What NOT To Give This Holiday Season

What NOT To Give This Holiday Season - PCSTATS
Abstract: It’s Christmas time and PCSTATS is feeling generous. So for the holidays I've prepared a short guide on what types of gifts to consider for the technology-challenged.... all so you don't become someone's personal help line.
Filed under: Editorial Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Nov 21 2008   Julian Apong  
Home > Reviews > Editorial > PCSTATS

Geeks usually know what they want. They read reviews online, do research and compare lists of technical features before setting foot in a store. Once the packaging is ripped apart and all the cords are plugged in, geeks are willing, nay eager, to sit down and troubleshoot their new prized possession until all the blinking lights are twinkling in unison.

Unfortunately, the majority of folks – you know, normal tech-semi-literate people, those who can set up a VCR but don't necessarily care why Blu-Ray is better than DVD - really don't like technology that doesn't work. If opening the User Manual and flipping to paragraph 5 on page 2-34 can be avoided, then all the better! Within this group is a small sect of people who co-exist with computers in an uneasy balance. Their computers take exactly ten minutes to boot up, are decked out in custom cursor themes, and feature a surprisingly broad history of AOL desktop search popups which have accumulated since their HP Multimedia desktop was first flicked ON in 2001.

But it’s Christmas, and PCSTATS is feeling generous. So for the holidays I've prepared a short guide on what types of gifts to consider for the technology-challenged.... all so you don't become someone's personal help line.

Rule 1: You don’t want to set it up

Computers and technology-based gifts are notorious for being difficult to set up – a new graphics card, CPU or (god-forbid) a TV capture card can be a disastrous gift for those with bigger aspirations than their hardware know-how. They'll likely install the videocard themselves and fry something in the PC. I've seen it countless times. In goes the PCI Express videocard into an AGP slot, at a healthy 30 degree angle. Even if you generously offer to pop the hardware in yourself, getting a new graphics card to work in an aging spyware infected PC that’s contently running Windows ME is on par to filling out 10 tax returns at once, with a dull pencil.

It's much easier to consider things like a bigger monitor, or nice computer speakers that don't sound like a subway intercom at rush hour. Nearly everyone has an LCD monitor nowadays, but a lot of people are still stuck with boxy 17" CRTo monitors from yesteryear. Upgrading to a 22” Samsung widescreen LCD can be as easy as swapping a VGA cable (although beware, older computers running obscure integrated graphics processors are occassionally resolution limited). There is a glut of LCD glass coming out of the factories right now, and that's driven down the price for a 22" LCD display further than you might have ever thought possible. Big monitors are easy to connect, easy to read even for aging eyeballs, and best of all don’t require any special sessions peering through a 12-language manual to use.

A decent pair of speakers can have much the same effect. I like the Logitech Z-2300 2.1's personally, but there are plenty of comparable packages to pick over. Good speakers mean you dear gift recipient can finally listen to their music at full volume, with actual sound quality. Gasp. On second thought, given their taste in music, you might want to them a set of decent headphones instead.

Rule 2: No one ever uses more than three features. EVER.

Features are the blind man's bluff of tech marketing departments. When all things are equal between their product and a competitors, they hedge bets that the "Bonus blahhhhh...." will seal the deal. Let's face it, it doesn't help matters that geeks to get really excited about a comprehensive feature set. Geeks thrive off the knowledge that one thing is just a little better than another. More megs! Yeah!! Bigger screens! Oh YEAH! Faster performance! Load it on! 5.1 channel audio vs. 7.1 channel... the choice is obvious!?

Most non-technophiles don't nit pick the obscure details, so the comparative advantages of a really really long feature set aren't as persuasive, and ultimately become largely irrelevant. What matters is their experience using the device - the basic and all important bits.

Shopping for a digital SLR with the longest list of shooting modes ever seen is a waste unless your gift recipient is an experienced photographer. Anyone else won't much savour the prospect of reading through a three hundred page manual to dig out the meaning of a postage-size menu screen just to take a snapshot of their kids. For casual photographers a compact camera with simple modes like SHOOT and REVIEW, automatic focusing and decent battery life are more important than a higher megapixel count and RAW support. The Canon Powershot E1 fits that bill quite nicely.

PDAs and smartphones are also guilty of packing in more features than most buyers ever need or want. As nifty as the Blackberry Curve is, and as tempting as Quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE/802.11/B/G sounds, it takes a certain type of person to delve into the settings and modes that these devices offer. Most likely a cheaper phone with fewer features is better.

Oh, and one more thing - don't get suckered into the $40 leather case. Mobile phones have no resale value whatsoever and most are replaced by a newer model after a year or two. The display screen is covered by scratch-resistant plastic on most phones anyhow, and the few superficial dings to the case won't make a bit of difference in the long run.

Rule 3: Sometimes Doing-It-Yourself is a really bad decision

If you've read this far, you can probably think of a couple PC enthusiasts who vehemently turn up their noses up at pre-configured computer systems from large vendors like Dell or HP. They'll probably mumble something along the lines of; "why get a desktop PC that has limited upgradability, comes pre-loaded with bloated software and includes a useless printer, webcam and other junk I don’t want?" While it’s true that you probably could put together a desktop PC for about the same amount with much better parts by building it yourself, consider this - do you really want to be the one providing tech-support for it when it inevitably breaks? Do you want to be the one cleaning off the viruses and wading through the mixture of broken freeware, shareware and malware that gets installed on the average desktop computer? I thought not.

Sometimes it’s easier to just to give in and go for a completely pre-packaged computer where every last component and piece of software is integrated.

That’s right, sometimes the best tool is the one with one button, an iMac. A PC enthusiast will suffer tech withdrawal at the prospect of nothing to open up or overclock, the lack of dual videocard upgrade paths, and inability to swap out the processor or put in a watercooling solution, but really that’s not point. The person to whom you're giving the gift of a PC just wants a computer. If it works out the box, that's fun, and that's good.

Stick to these three easy rules you’ll find your loved ones will enjoy your nerdy gifts. Almost as much as you’ll enjoy not having to troubleshoot your loved one’s tech problems. And remember, all the goodwill you’ll receive from the smart gift giving you did this year can be credited to your own nerdy wish list for next year – Santa always rewards good little geeks!

Find out about this and many other reviews by joining the Weekly PCstats.com Newsletter today! Catch all of PCSTATS latest reviews right here.

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