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
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
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!
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