Third Annual Gearhead's Holiday Gadget Buying Guide


Larry Chu, MD, is an


editorial board member and assistant professor of anesthesia, department of anesthesia and pain management, Stanford University School of Medicine. This article appeared in the November 2009 issue of

MDNG and is available on

What a year. Despite procuring highly coveted press credentials, I sat out the famous Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2009, mainly because the event had been reduced in size, as Seagate, Logitech, Cisco, Yahoo!, Sanyo, Phillips Electronics, and other major gadget makers opted not to incur the expense of a Las Vegas exhibition in light of the global economic crisis. Yet, life goes on. Some great new gadgets have come out this year. I thought hard about whether austerity was in order for this year’s guide, given the state of the economy. However, we need good gadgets now more than ever, both to help us maintain or increase our productivity, and of course, to keep us engaged and enthralled as we seek the next greatest thing. CES 2010 is just around the corner and is marked prominently on my “to do” list for next year. Unlike past CES shows, rooms in Vegas are plentiful and inexpensive right now. There will also be some attractive bargains this holiday season for vigilant gearheads. That might help ring in a happier and more prosperous 2010!

1. Flip Mino HD or Flip Ultra

These compact, durable, and easy-to-use video cameras by Flip are so popular and inexpensive you may wish to buy more than 1. Cisco loved them so much, they bought the entire company! The primary advantage of these cameras is their attractive price and small form factor. These cameras allow you to shoot high-quality (Flip Ultra) and HD (Mino HD) video in settings you may never have thought possible. I find them extremely useful for filming instructional videos for our residents at Stanford. Flip makes it easy to edit and share your videos using free software that comes with the camera. Best of all, there are no cords to lose: the USB connector that you plug into your computer is built into the device! I even took the camera to a recent vacation in Cancun. I was able to film underwater sea turtles and coral using an inexpensive underwater case I purchased as an accessory.

From $149 (Ultra) to $229 (Mino HD)

2. Zoom H4N

Anyone who knows anything about filmmaking knows that it’s all about the sound! Unfortunately, the Flip cameras, and most consumer video cameras, suffer from poor sound due to cheap, built-in microphones and fixed microphones that cannot be properly placed for optimal recording. Luckily, the folks at Zoom have created a super easy device that will let you record amazing, high-quality stereo sound to make your videos “pop.” The Zoom H4N has 2 microphones that can be manipulated for narrow or wide field of sound recording, and writes the audio files directly to an SD flash card. It even comes with a foam wind sock so you can maintain great sound even when outside on windy days. You can then reunite the audio file with your video using a video editing program, such as iMovie for Mac or Powerdirector for PC. The editing is not that hard, really. Although it might be overkill for baby’s first steps, your friends and family will think you are the next Scorsese, and you can take all the credit.

$299 on

3. Canon Eos 7D SLR Camera

I have been searching for a new, high-quality SLR for the past year, but not because I want to take photographs. My work in medical education informatics has led me to quite a few educational films. Yet, I have always desired to take my work to the next level with a better video camera. It turns out that the best video camera value you can buy isn’t a video camera at all. It is the Canon Eos 7D.

The Canon Eos 7D is a revolutionary new camera that takes motion picture—quality video. It has an 18 MP APS-C sensor and can record in 1080p HD with native 24 and 30 frames per minute. What makes this camera unique is the large APS-C sensor that allows you to create motion images with shallow depth of field so that your subject remains sharp, but the background can be blurred out. The Canon Eos 7D is also compatible with Canon’s large collection of interchangeable, high-quality camera lenses. These are features that until now have only been available on very expensive digital motion picture cameras or still cameras in the $5000 range. Of course, the 7D is also a marvelous professional-quality still photography camera.

Some examples of films taken with the Canon Eos 7D include the opening title sequence for

Saturday Night Live

and a recent


documentary in Afghanistan shot by embedded photojournalist Danfung Dennis called

Obama’s War

. You may also wish to check out Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Vincent Laforet’s film La Reverie, which uses a similar Canon camera. Take a look at the films, and you will be seduced by the potential.

$1699.00 body only; $1899.00 with EF 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM Zoom Lens

4. Barnes & Noble Nook e-Reader

I’ve advocated the potential of e-Paper and electronic readers for years, and Amazon’s Kindle made my 2008 gadget guide list. However, I’m going to go against the conventional wisdom and point out the Barnes & Noble Nook e-Reader for your holiday gadget-buying consideration. Like the Kindle, you can purchase new books via wifi and AT&T’s 3G wireless connection. However, the Nook also allows you to view PDF files, which the Kindle does not. This is really important for those of us who have large collections of PDF documents, such as scientific articles from the medical literature and custom-created PDF documents that we generate for our own use. The Nook also lets you browse an entire e-book when you are connected to wifi in Barnes & Noble stores, enabling you to do some pleasure reading while sipping a latte on a Sunday morning. You can check out and read local library e-books for free, and even lend your own e-books to other people for 2 weeks at a time. A nice additional feature is the color touch screen at the bottom that lets you browse e-book titles.

$259 from Barnes & Noble

5. Apple Multitouch Magic Mouse

I admit, not everyone will care to purchase a Magic Mouse from Apple. The Cupertino, California—based computer company is perceived by some folks to be overpriced and focused more on form than function, if you believe the many Microsoft-funded advertisements featuring everyday people claiming “I’m not cool enough to own a Mac.” However, Apple’s Magic Mouse is, in my opinion, where form not only meets function, but enhances it. The new Bluetooth wireless mouse by Apple is the first “multitouch” mouse on the market, and it allows you to replicate the “2-finger swipe” that advances through Web pages and flies through photo albums in a snap, as well true 2-finger clicking (PC users, think “left” and “right” mouse buttons). Features used less often include the 360 scroll (move the window with 1 finger on the mouse) and the very cool screen zoom to get close to the action, especially when viewing small photos or text.

$69 from Apple

6. Palm Pre

In the first edition of the

Gearhead’s Gadget Guide

2 years ago, I complained that Palm computing had lost its footing in the medical computing world due to lack of innovation. I bemoaned how it hadn’t updated its operating system in years and that its leadership in mobile computing was being taken by the likes of Apple’s iPhone. That all changed in 2009. Palm computing finally released its brand new incarnation of the Palm OS and a new phone/communications platform and user experience. The Palm Pre really needs an entire review of its own, so I will not provide an elaborate one here. However, I will point out that it has an appealing form factor that innovates on the best of what we loved about the Palm computing experience. It is definitely worth a look for those considering a smartphone purchase.

$149 with activation from Sprint

7. Bose SoundDock Portable

The first time I heard the Bose SoundDock Portable was in a loft apartment with 20-foot ceilings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where my brother is studying to become a tango master. The device holds a simple proposition: fantastic sound, filled with rich trebles and deep bass, coupled with convenient portability. The SoundDock Portable is designed to work with many audio sources, but excels with iPhones and iPods because it has a built-in dock for these devices. The sound generated by the Bose unit completely fills even large spaces like my brother’s loft, but is portable enough to take on trips to the beach or park for impromptu tango lessons. The iPod dock rotates and stores for travel. The device comes with a remote control and built-in carrying handle, and works on A/C power or a rechargeable built-in lithium ion battery.


8. iPod Nano

Apple’s iPods always seem to make it onto my gadget list, and for good reason: they work well and come in models with price points that appeal to every level of consumer. I am a particular fan of the new iPod Nanos, because they pair well with the Cinemin pico projector (see below), and this latest generation includes FM radio to keep me updated on the latest news. The built-in camera that takes video clips seals the deal.

$149 (8GB version)

9. Moo MiniCards

Though not technically a gadget, Moo cards definitely appeal to the gadget-inclined. I recently attended the Medicine 2.0 conference in Toronto, an annual gathering of physicians, medical students, and researchers from over 20 countries who use the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies to advance the practice of medicine. Many of our younger European colleagues have adopted the use of small “mini” cards (about half the size of a normal business card, split lengthwise) that they use for their e-mail and social media account addresses (eg, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace). The cards can be highly customized in many visually engaging ways, and a pack of 100 cards can be printed with many different individual themes. I love the concept of separating business from social media, while also customizing cards for people whom you would like to see your Tweets, but not necessarily play a round of golf or be “Facebook friends” with.

$19.99 for pack of 100 cards

10. Cinemin Swivel

The folks at Wow Wee are known for their robotic toys and general playful approach to technology. Their Cinemin Swivel could have just as easily been named Cinemin Swirl, as it is a very tasty gearhead treat, indeed. The first of a series of planned pico projector devices, the Swivel uses Texas Instruments’ DLP technology to project crisp images using a small, handheld form factor. The Swivel is the only pico projector on the market that has a projection head that swivels up to 90 degrees, allowing you to project movies and slides on a wall without propping the projector on a stand. The Swivel projects images up to 5 feet wide from 8 feet away. A built-in speaker and easy iPhone connectivity make spur-of-the-moment film screenings easy. A rechargeable, 2-hour battery lets you enjoy it with a picnic and a good bottle of wine if you want to have an outdoor screening. One slight drawback of the Swivel is the lack of internal storage or flash drive, essentially tethering it to an iPod or similar media device. Those of you wanting the storage option will have to wait for the Cinemin Stick, which has yet to be released.

$299 available for preorder online from Wow Wee

I always check these Web sites for potential gadget bargains, and suggest you do the same this holiday season:

For other articles in this issue, see:

Talk of Tiger’s “Ambien Sex” Arouses Public Interest

Actor Dennis Quaid Praises Efforts to Reduce Med Errors

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