What to buy your family this year for Christmas? How about a slick laptop, O2 Joggler, or something to help everyone enjoy their favourite TV and movies.
Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: For the family...
Sony Vaio L
Windows 7’s launch means there’s a great reason to look at buying a new family PC. Slimline all-in-one models that hide all the cumbersome electronics within the flat-panel screen itself are particularly practical, since they take up little desk space.
The 24in Sony Vaio L is primed with Windows 7 Home Premium, an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and has a touchscreen overlay so you don’t need to bother with a keyboard for many routine tasks such as launching programs and surfing the web.
The Vaio L has its own Media Gallery where photos, music and video are stored and accessed. You can flick through a library of albums or images in much the same way as a jukebox or a photo album, zoom in to see more detail in an image and use gestures to rotate or edit them.
The Vaio L supports Blu-ray Disc movie playback but also comes with Vaio Movie Story, an application that makes home movie creation straightforward.
HP Touchsmart dv3
HP was quick off the mark in launching touch-enabled laptops and PCs primed to take advantage of Windows 7’s finger-friendly oversized icons and improved navigation. The £799 HP Touchsmart dv3 is a smart blue 13.3in laptop with 512MB of nVidia GeForce G105M graphics memory, a generous hard drive, its own media centre and an internal TV tuner.
A slew of HP Touchsmart 3.0 apps make this capable laptop more like a digital companion than a mere piece of useful technology. Touch-sensitive options include being able to tag, edit, resize and rotate photos. Gestures can be used to manipulate images and launch or dismiss apps or files.
The calendar, clock, onscreen notepad and RSS feed app have all been refined and HP offers plenty of customisation options in line with its marketeers’ insistence that “the PC is personal again”.
Digital photo frames have moved away from being merely a way of showing off your family snaps without dusting off the family album. The £149 O2 Joggler is a digital dashboard, providing calendar, appointments and text messages for each family member, acting as a prompt for tasks and showing the current traffic conditions and the weather forecast.
Built around a mobile internet device, the Joggler isn’t so much designed to be taken out and about as to remind you where you’re supposed to be and when – and which of many after-school pursuits little Johnny is due to attend. Sychronising with your Google or 02 calendar, it’s also a music, video and photo slideshow alarm clock.
Monitor Audio Airstream 10
Many Wi-Fi streaming devices are little more than bulky boxes that enable the content of your hard drive to be seen by other 'digital home' devices on the network. Not so the Monitor Audio Airstream 10, a seriously classy piece of kit that has the sleek curves that make you want to show it off and, even more importantly, it’s triumphantly user-friendly.
Made of solid aluminium that’s cold to the touch and with a retro-style wooden veneer on one half, the £225 Airstream 10 can connect to your PC to see what’s in your music library, play DAB and internet radio stations and serve up podcasts. It can also act as a speaker for whatever’s stored on your MP3 player or USB memory stick. Far too classy to hide away in a bedroom, the versatile Wi-Fi DAB music streamer is an ideal family home music centre.
Pure Sirocco 150
If you’re taken with the idea of a digital music centre but want a more traditional stereo system, you’ll find suitable micro CD systems with iPod playback functions from many of the major home electronics companies. Sony, Philips and Sharp all come to mind.
The Pure Sirocco 150 is a fairly unassuming-looking micro CD system with iPod dock that can play music from an attached USB device, an SD Card, an auxiliary audio source and serves up both FM and DAB radio stations. It comes with a pair of speakers that, combined, produce 25W.
The iPod/iPhone iDock has a 40cm cable and attaches to the Sirocco by a phono connection. Three inlays for different types of iPod are provided. These fit neatly in place but aren’t easy to retrieve, so we don’t recommend this player if you have several types of iPod you want to use.
Presets can be saved, there’s a search forward or back function to make it easier to find items you want to hear and the well-designed remote gives you easy control of the device’s functions. You can switch between types of music source, cycle through tracks, adjust the equaliser, bass and stereo settings, fast-forward or skip tracks, adjust the volume and set up an audio loop or complete-album replay. Mute, standby, alarm clock and timer can all be controlled from the remote control too.
You’ll have heard all about the digital switchover on the TV, even if you haven’t yet been prompted to make the switch in your area as yet. But you don’t necessarily have to get a Freeview box if you want to receive digital TV channels. One alternative is Freesat, an alliance between the main terrestrial broadcasters BBC and ITV.
Freesat lets you enjoy more channels than Freeview – 140 and counting – and, while you may need to pay around £80 to have the service set up if you don’t have a satellite dish, there are no ongoing charges after that.
Panasonic and LG are the first companies in the UK to start selling flatscreen TVs with Freesat tuners built in. Crucially, their sets include HD broadcasts as well as standard-definition ones.
The Panasonic 100Hz F10 (£589 inc VAT, panasonic.co.uk) supports 1080p video and comes in either 32in or 37in LCD sizes; the TV itself measures an amazingly thin 2in.
It has twin TV tuners, so you can record one programme and watch another.
LaCie LaCinema Play/Record
The LaCinema range of media streamers is another classy option for enjoying the photos, video and music stored on your PC – whether they’re YouTube clips, BBC iPlayer TV programmes or podcasts and albums in your Windows Media Player or iTunes library.
Available in three versions, with or without a TV tuner and personal video recording functions, the devices’ understated piano black design is spot on for an ultra-modern home entertainment setup and will look super alongside your HD TV.
All the ports and connectors are hidden round the back and you can attach any sort of digital or analogue audio or video device you wish – HDMI, DVI, component video and Scart are all offered. The 500GB LaCinema Play (bit.ly/2hCjsQ) costs £299 and supports the latest wireless-n standard.
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