Budget-Minded Tech Gifts from $8

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By BARBARA ORTUTAY -- AP Technology Writer

Economic meltdown and financial crisis are not phrases you want to hear as you ponder your holiday shopping. But it is possible to find tech-related gifts on a recession-minded budget, be they handy, entertaining or irreverent.

Roku Netflix Player ($100; see picture above)
This is the perfect gift for the friend who gets bored waiting for the next Netflix DVD to arrive in the mail. Connected to a high-speed Internet line, this tiny box brings movies and TV shows from Netflix's Internet library to a TV set. Remarkably, it doesn't cost anything to watch as much as you want, provided you're already paying Netflix at least $9 per month for DVDs through the mail. It's very easy to use, and comes with a remote. The movie selection is limited and the image quality can be iffy, but some of the TV shows actually look better than DVDs. For the best quality, the user should have an Internet connection faster than 1.5 megabits per second.

SwissFlash 1 GB ($50 and up)
A different take on the classic Swiss Army Knife for people who are just as comfortable building a campfire as they are reformatting a hard drive. In addition to the usual blade, nail file with screwdriver, scissors and key ring, the SwissFlash comes with a removable flash drive, and can also include a retractable pen and a mini LED light. Could be a good gift for the MacGyvers in your life, although I can't truly endorse a Swiss Army Knife without a corkscrew.

Music video games ($50 and up)
A music game, whether it's "Rock Band," ''Guitar Hero" or "Wii Music," is a good antidote to the cabin fever your family will start to feel around mid-January, having canceled winter travel plans because of the bad economy. "Guitar Hero III" with a Gibson Les Paul controller sells for $80 at Best Buy. The "Rock Band" special edition bundle for the Wii or the PlayStation 2 is available for about $100 and includes a microphone, drum controller and a Fender Stratocaster-modeled guitar controller so you can rock out to Metallica with Mom and Dad.

Tao Electronics photo key chain ($30 to $50)
Have you ever wanted to bring photos along with you on a tiny screen, perhaps to show off your new baby or puppy? No, not on a phone, silly. This rechargeable key chain-sized digital photo frame connects to your computer's USB drive and lets you load about 100 photos (56 on the cheaper version), which you can then scroll through either automatically or manually. It's a neat idea, but the first device I received malfunctioned, and the resolution on the stamp-sized screen leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Flexible mini-tripod (about $22 to $55)
For photo-savvy friends who always carry their digital cameras, a flexible mini-tripod such as the Joby Gorillapod could be a good stocking-stuffer. The Joby has bendy legs that can attach to anything from tree branches to fences, to help you take group photos or shoot in low-light conditions without a flash. They are available for point-and-shoot as well as SLR cameras, and come in fun colors.

Flickr Pro account ($25 for one year)
Yahoo's photo-sharing site lets you organize vacation snapshots and fall foliage photos for free, but you can upload only 100 megabytes of photos per month and must fit them in three sets if you want to keep them in order. A pro account offers unlimited photo and video uploads, as well as ad-free browsing and sharing, and as many sets as you want. This could be a good gift alone for cash-strapped photographers or combined with a digital camera.

Sansa Slotmusic player ($20, cards are $15)
This itty-bitty music player won't show you playlists or hook up to your computer. Nor will it shuffle your songs. It runs on one AAA battery and plays music from fingernail-sized albums called microSD cards. In some ways it's a throwback to my Walkman years — simpler times when I was content playing just one album from beginning to end and that was that. The player feels sturdy and fits comfortably in the palm of my hand or in my pocket. The cards are so tiny, though, that I worry about losing them or dropping them on the filthy subway floor. While the device doesn't connect to a PC, the microSD cards can, using a special case that plugs in a computer's USB port. For the price, it's a good gift for your technophobe uncle who still swears by his Discman and doesn't see the point of having to use his computer to play "Dark Side of the Moon."

Better rechargeable batteries ($12 and up)
Rechargeable AA batteries have been around for a long time, but they've had one big weakness: Whether you used them or not, they lost their charge in a matter of weeks. If you plopped them in a camera two weeks ago, they're already ripe for a multi-hour visit to the charger. But a new generation of rechargeables can keep their charge for up to a year. They're sold under the brand names Hybrio, Sanyo Eneloop and Duracell Rechargeable Pre-charged. This could be a thrifty standalone gift, or a good accessory if you're giving someone a battery-powered gadget. You can get a four-pack of AAs with a charger for $20.

"I can has Cheezburger?: A LOLcat Colleckshun" ($8 on Amazon.com)
OMG. I wantz it now! This is the book version of the popular I Can Has Cheezburger web site, which pairs photos of cats with misspelled, funny captions. Like the one of a tabby kitty sprawled on top of a row of books: "I lernz bai osmozzis." May not be suitable for dog people or 5th grade English teachers.

AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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