Times are tough and the chances of you getting (or giving) a fully-equipped laptop with all the extras this holiday season are about as slim as the new MacBook Air.
But don't despair. There are still plenty of cool gadgets out there that cost around $100 or less.
The five products I selected here--the new Apple TV, a pocket camcorder, a Logitech HD Webcam, TomTom's entry-level GPS and a Wacom tablet--all make great gifts, but they really just scratch the surface.
In order to stick with the $100 price limit, I did not include e-readers here but with price on Amazon's Kindle Wi-Fi down to $139, it is likely to be a very popular gift this holiday season.
The older Nintendo DS Lite is also approaching $100 with the newer models (the DSi and DSi XL) on the market and a 3D version in the pipeline for next year.
I also left out mobile devices that require a monthly fee, but if that's not an issue, there are many good smartphones and mobile hotspots that you can get for $100 or less with a contract as well.
No doubt when Black Friday rolls around, there will be even more tech gifts that fit within your budget too.
This is one of those rare cases where the sequel is better than the original.
Just in time for the holidays, Apple went back to the drawing board for the Apple TV, redesigning the device inside and out, slashing the price to $99 and adding new features such as high-def TV show rentals and Netflix streaming.
The revamped Apple TV is much smaller than the old model--it no longer has a hard drive-and it is designed to slip easily and unobtrusively into your home theater. Apple TV receives video and other content over 802.11n WiFi (or Ethernet, if you prefer) and outputs it via HDMI. It comes with a minimalist remote, but you can also use the free Remote app with your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
The excellent Apple TV interface makes it easy to navigate quickly through content, which centers around iTunes and Netflix but also includes access to other services such as YouTube and Flickr. AirPlay, a new feature that is part of the iOS 4.2 update, promises to let you push any content playing your iPhone to Apple TV.
The selection of TV shows is still very spotty--Amazon's Video On Demand service has a broader selection-but overall the new Apple TV is a great gift for Apple fans.
Flip UltraHD pocket camcorder
HD pocket camcorders have become a popular category, with solid models available not only from Pure Digital, which makes the Flip and is now part of Cisco, but also from the likes of Kodak and Sony.
While these are much less expensive than traditional camcorders, most pocket camcorders-including the latest Flip Ultra HD and Flip Mino HD-cost more than $100. But I've included them here because if you shop around you can find last year's models for less than $100.
For a little extra, you can pick up the latest version of the Flip UltraHD, which shoots 720p. It is available in either one-hour version (4GB) for $129 or a two-hour model (8GB) for $179-both in white or black. Both models shoot video with surprisingly good quality, but the two-hour version can capture video at 60 frames per second and has electronic image stabilization, making it a better choice for fast-moving subjects.
The included FlipShare software makes it easy to edit video and upload it to YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter and MySpace.
The beauty of the Flip Ultra HD is its simplicity. It won't match the quality of a standard camcorder, but for quickly capturing video anywhere, anytime it is tough to beat.
Logitech C510 HD Webcam
At around $60, the Logitech C510 HD webcam is an inexpensive upgrade for laptops (or desktops) that lack an integrated Webcam or have an older VGA camera.
The C510 has a 2-megapixel image sensor that is capable of capturing 720p video or still images. The camera comes with its own video chat software, but it also works well with Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger and Google Chat.
The Follow My Face feature works exactly like it sounds, keeping the camera centered on your face as you move around. RightSound filters out ambient noise and enhances voice quality and RightLight auto-compensates for poor lighting conditions, resulting in crisp, and clear 720p video calls-provided your hardware meets the minimum system requirements.
Logitech's software also offers simple one-click uploads to sites such as YouTube and Facebook,--features now found on nearly all Webcams-and effects that you can add to videos (you can download additional effects from Logitech's site).
TomTom Ease GPS
TomTom's entry-level GPS doesn't have the bells and whistles of more expensive PNDs, but it will get you from point A to point B, and it has some nice features you wouldn't expect in a unit that can easily be found at places such as Target for less than $100.
The Ease has a 3.5-inch QVGA color touchscreen and it comes in three different colors (black, white and red); TomTom also sells replacement covers in other colors. TomTom's standard interface can be confusing, but this model includes simplified interface and the home screen has two basic choices: Plan route and Browse map.
But the Ease also has some advanced features found on more expensive PNDs including a text-to-speech engine that reads street names aloud when giving turn-by-turn directions; TomTom's IQ Route's technology, which uses historical speed data to create smart routes; and Map Share, a free user-generated map corrections network.
TomTom's Home software lets you download (or upload) these Map Share updates, get map updates, manage points of interest and create custom routes, Because the Ease does not have a card slot, you can transfer these updates to the unit using a USB to mini-USB cable.
The performance of the Ease is rock solid, and because it is compact and gets around 3 hours of battery life, it is also easy to carry around.
You can occasionally find TomTom's higher-end units for around $100, and these offer added features such as lane guidance, more points of interest and maps of Canada and Mexico that some users may want. But for the price, it's hard to beat TomTom's Ease and it makes a great gift for someone who has never used a GPS before.
Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch
Long before touchscreens made it big, Wacom was cranking out professional tablets for designers and digital artists. Not surprisingly, the company is pretty good at it.
Its latest line, the Wacom Bamboo, is designed to reach a broader audience and consists of three base models. The Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch CTH460 ($99) comes in black, and has both multi-touch and pen capabilities. It has a 4.9 x 3.4 inch active touch area, and a 5.8 x 3.6 inch active pen area. It includes with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Nik Color Efex Pro software.
The Wacom Bamboo Touch CTT460 only has touch input and the Wacom Bamboo Pen CTL460 only has pen input. Both look identical to the Bamboo Pen & Touch and each costs $69. The Bamboo Pen also includes a copy of Corel Painter Essentials 4. CNET reviewed Wacom's flagship model, the Bamboo Fun Pen & Touch, which costs more ($199), but is larger (7.5 x 5.1 inches for touch input, 8.5 x 5.4 inches for pen), comes in silver and Corel Painter Essentials 4, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Nik Color Efex Pro software.
But the basic features are the same as in the smaller version. The Bamboo provides multi-touch controls for Windows and Mac OS X and the pressure-sensitive stylus works great for simulating brushstrokes in painting programs. The device automatically switches back and forth between touch and pen modes depending on which is in use.
If the recipient is a Mac OS user, you may also want to consider Apple's Magic Trackpad ($69), but Wacom's Bamboo Pen & Touch offers more features.