Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.
Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris
The gift of gadgets
High-tech electronics would please kids of all ages, and some are small enough to fit into a stocking.
By JEFF GUSSOW
Published December 1, 2003
The Eye Toy for the PS2
VTech V Mix Cordless Phone with a digital answering system
Hit Clips Themed
Spin Master Crash Zone Regenerator
Texas Instruments TI-83 Plus Silver Edition and Keyboard
It's time again to decide which necktie to buy Dad, or which outfit to get Mom. But the real challenge is what to get tweens and teens.
Many kids will ask for electronics, and this year good things come in small packages - some very small.
Some tech suggestions will fit both electronic and fashion requirements. Most won't break the bank. And gadgets that do more than one thing seem to be all over the place: cameras that play music, phones that take pictures - you get the idea.
The Panasonic SV-AS10 $299.95, www.panasonic.com is slick, colorful and packed with features. It's a 2 megapixel camera that captures digital and video images, plays music and can record voice messages. And it's only 41/8 inches long, 2 inches wide and 1/3-inch deep.
Getting a bit smaller, the Veo Mini Capture digital camera $69.99, www.veo.com is about the size of a car alarm remote. Its 1.3 megapixel sensor can produce 3 by 5 prints, and an extra slot for a storage card means it will handle plenty of photos. The camera easily fits on a key ring, so you don't have to worry about finding the camera before you go out, assuming, of course, that you remember where you left your keys.
The ZVUE $99, www.zvue.com from Hand Held Entertainment can play videos, music videos and MP3 digital music files. It's about the size of a deck of cards and has a 2.5-inch full-color screen.
The downside to this personal video player is that, though you can put your own downloaded music in it, you can't play your own videos. Those are available only on Zcards, which start at $5.99.
The Nokia N-Gage $299, www.n-gage.com has lots of features, and a big price tag. The N-Gage is a mobile phone, digital music player and e-mail and message center. Games are available on N-Gage game cards ($30 to $40 depending on the game) and include titles such as Tony Hawk Skateboarding and Tomb Raider With Lara Croft. For $9.99 a month, players can get an unlimited wireless gaming service, which allows them to post best game scores, download strategy guides and game cheats, and shadow-race other N-Gage deck gamers. Adding to the cost is a voice plan for the N-Gage as mobile phone.
Speaking of cell phones, some gifts don't have to be that expensive. Adding text messaging to a teen's account costs only a few dollars a month, and accessories such as cool face plates are available for less than $10.
If you're thinking that you actually would rather have a phone in your room, then the VTech V Mix Cordless Phone with a digital answering system may be what you need. The phone $69.95, www.vtechphones.com is specifically for teens and tweens who can customize its look, ringer tones and animation. The ringer can play We Will Rock You, the James Bond theme or Lady Marmalade, among others. Or you can use the downloadable ringer to convert your favorite song to a ring tone.
Music players are a must for many teens, and the selection this year is growing. Gateway's DMP-200 (www.gateway.com) MP3 player comes in a 128 megabyte model ($130), which can hold up to two hours of music, and a 256 MB model ($170), which, doing the math, can hold up to four hours of music. The intriguing thing about this player is that it's plug and play. Just drop the music files over an icon on the computer desktop and get ready to listen.
Key chains have sometimes been popular collectibles, but now they're also tech toys. The Philips Camera Key Rings $99, www.doyourthing.philips.com and the Audio Key Ring ($99-$149) are made for key chains. The camera key ring weighs a bit more than an ounce and has a 64 MB storage capacity (up to 400 pictures). When you transfer photos to the PC, the USB connection recharges the battery. The Audio Key Ring, which weighs less than 2 ounces, has enough storage for two hours of music in its 64 MB model, and four hours in its 128 MB model.
For younger kids, Hit Clips Themed Deluxe Player from Tiger Electronics $9.99, www.tigertoys.com seems to be a key chain right up their alley. It plays music by artists such as Justin Timberlake, Avril Lavigne and the Goo Goo Dolls, and it comes in 12 styles, such as a cat, butterfly, motorcycle and car.
If you're into smashing things up and you're 10 or older, then the Spin Master Crash Zone Regenerator $59.99, www.spinmaster.com may be the remote-controlled car for you. The car has five different crash zones and collapsible parts. After a side-swipe or a fender-bender, you just push the red button, and the Regenerator is as good as new.
On the educational front beats underwear, Leapfrog Electronics has a line of gadgets good for preschool up to high school. The Leapfrog iQuest ($59.99, www.leapfrog.co) is a handheld device that allows middle school students to study for math, science and social studies. Subject cards cost about $15 each. It also can be an organizer, note pad and calculator. For older students, the iQuest Test Prep ($24.99) helps prepare for the PSAT, SAT and ACT standardized tests. The Test Prep includes a 600-page workbook for practice tests.
Handheld devices such as the Palm Zire $99, www.palm.com have become affordable for students.
If you don't want to spring for a handheld, though, most high school students can use a graphing calculator, which does a lot more than math. For example, Texas Instruments' TI-83 Plus, TI-83 Plus Silver Edition, TI-89, TI-92 Plus and Voyage 200 $80 and up, www.education.ti.com have games and study programs available online that can be transferred between calculators. In addition, with Texas Instruments' TI Keyboard ($44.95, www.education.ti.com/keyboard) a student can take notes or write journals during class. The keyboard is about a third the size of a regular keyboard. Files can be transferred from the calculator to Microsoft Word in a PC.
Last but certainly not least, video games are big for all ages. Parents are running out of excuses for not buying a game console, especially those who say they're too expensive. Prices for Xbox $179.99 with two games, www.xbox.com PlayStation 2 ($179, www.playstation.com and GameCube ($99, www.nintendo.com have been cut.
Microsoft's Xbox game library is not as extensive as others, but it has great graphics. Sony's PS2 has the largest selection of games. If you want to use it as a DVD player, you don't need a special remote; the Xbox needs a $30 remote. For younger gamers, Nintendo's GameCube has popular titles such as Mario and Donkey Kong.
But there's more to games than the consoles. Online games are becoming popular, such as Xbox Live ($69.99 for a starter kit that includes a year's service and a headset). You also can network the PS2 for online play, but you need a $24 memory card and a $39.99 network adapter.
Add-ons also make the consoles more complete fun machines. The Xbox Music Mixer ($39.99) brings karaoke home. It can remove vocals from CDs and PC audio files, or the user can download songs - for a fee. It's a party DJ that lets you customize playlists, put 2-D and 3-D visuals on the television and create slide shows.
The Eye Toy ($49.99) for the PS2 is billed as a "party gaming experience." It tracks the movements of the gamers, who become characters onscreen in their own game. It plugs into the console with a USB connector.
And remember, if you don't get the tech toy you want this year, don't worry. It'll probably be cheaper next year.
- Jeff Gussow, 18, is a senior at Palm Harbor University High School.