Three-Point Plays: Quick Looks at Tech Stocking Stuffers

If last week's tech gift guide wasn't enough, there are plenty of other cool gadgets out there that might tickle a loved one's fancy. Here are four items that would fit nicely into a stocking.

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain

Navigon 8100T GPS Navigation System

This is the new top-of-the-line system from German GPS maker Navigon, which continues its tradition of great graphics and adds voice recognition as well as enhanced terrain views and drop-down lane assistance.

The almost 5-inch-diagonal screen does all of the functions you'd expect, and a few new ones to boot.

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From a visual perspective, it shows you surrounding terrain features in 3-D view as well as streets, etc. That means that if someone says, "Make the first turn after the steep hill," you'll be able to recognize it when you get there.

The unit also is a big help for forks in the road, especially when the forks are on freeways. The Navigon puts up big freeway-like road signs and points you to the correct lane.

The voice-recognition is only for address entry, so once you're on the road, you'll still have to punch in changes to menus, settings, etc.

I found the voice-recognition reasonable, but not great. Even after it was trained, sometimes it still needed several shots to nail down the correct instructions.

One very nice feature — traffic information is free for life. No subscription, no hassles. And it works, giving you lists of traffic problems within about a 50-mile radius.

The mounting arm is a little long, making it a little tough to tuck into something small if you want to travel with it and use it in different cars.

Here's the three-point play:

— Voice recognition works for address entry only, but even then it's a bit spotty

— Free traffic information for life means never having to pay for a subscription

— Great graphics with visualization of upcoming terrain features and wonderful drop-down signs for exits and forks

Suggested retail price: $600

Seeing Is Believing

iWear AV920 by Vuzix

Computer eyeglasses for watching movies and the like have been around for more than a decade.

This latest iteration from Vuzix is more lightweight than previous models and has some improved features, but I'm still hoping someone will bring these out in high-definition.

The iWear 920s are like watching a 62-inch television screen from 9 feet away. Visual quality is good and they're comfortable, with an infinitely adjustable nosepiece.

The speakers are flexible, but they're not really meant to be earphones. They slide off the temples quite easily, so it might be better to use your favorite earbuds or headphones.

I enjoy my commute home on the train watching episodes of "Eureka" stored on my iPod and listening through noise-canceling headphones. The biggest danger is missing my stop.

The iWear glasses come with a variety of connectors, so you can enjoy video output from most devices, including an iPod or anything with standard RCA plugs. A gentle press of a thumbwheel brings up a simple menu including brightness and contrast. The unit uses a rechargeable battery charged via a USB 2.0 cord.

The three-point play:

— Lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended stretches

— Removable speakers allow you to use your own headphones

— Compatible with iPod and video output from most DVRs and DVD players

Suggested retail price: $350

Juicing Up Your iPhone 3G

Juice Pack 3G by Mophie

We should have seen this one coming.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the iPhone is that it sucks power. If, like me, you use it for calls, music, e-mail, Web surfing and the occasional application, by the end of the day there's a good chance you're running on empty.

Here's a combination external battery and hard case that more than doubles the useful life of your iPhone 3G — you simply slide the phone in.

You'll still want a screen protector, but the battery has most of your back covered The design is simple. The fit is firm.

The battery has four blue LEDs to show you the charging status when it's plugged in. It uses a standard USB 2.0 cord, so you can either use a USB port on any computer, or a universal USB charger.

The only drawback I could find is that it doesn't have an external iPod/iPhone female connection, so you can't hook it up to a standard iPhone charger or any kind of iPhone docking device.

The three point play:

— More than doubles the battery life of the iPhone

— A firm-fitting, well-designed iPhone hard case

— Doesn't have an external iPod connector

Suggested retail price $99

Hearing Is Believing

Atrio Professional Earphones by Future Sonics

If you want to listen to music in a noisy environment, you basically have two choices: noise-canceling headphones such as those made by Bose, Sony and a variety of others, and sound-isolating headphones like the Atrios.

Noise-canceling headphones use a circuit which actually hears the ambient noise and then generates a countervailing signal to neutralize it. The resulting experience eliminates much of the noise but also takes away some of the response to the music.

The Atrio earphones were designed for studio musicians and performers to let them hear what's really coming out of their instruments and voices without hearing everything else around them — and even more importantly, without damaging their hearing.

The company's client roster reads like a who's who of the music industry, including Miley Cyrus, Carrie Underwood, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys.

These phones offer very snug-fitting earpieces that keep the noise out. But because they're not generating any signals, the sounds you hear are a true rendition of the music.

The instructions tell the user to either turn off any built-in equalizers or adjust them to the "flat" position. And with good reason: You won't need that bass boosted or that treble tweaked. This is really the way the music was recorded. The sound quality is just great with everything from Bach to Brubeck to Boston.

On my commuter train line, the Atrio phones didn't quite separate me from the ambient noise as much as did my Bose Quiet Comfort 2 phones. But they were still pretty effective and did offer the advantage of improved sound reproduction.

If the earpieces that come on the phones don't cut it for you, the unit comes with a variety of isolating earpieces, and the company sells custom-fitting ones online.

Here's the three-point play:

— Great sound reproduction

— Good, but not total, noise isolation

— Availability of earpieces to further improve sound isolation

Suggested retail price: $199