A gift guide for graduates
For high school or college seniors, senior executives, and senior citizens alike, these new gizmos--from wafer-thin phones to hot laptops--are the class acts of commencement season.
By Peter Lewis

(FORTUNE Magazine) – CONGRATULATIONS, Class of 2005. Whether you're heading off to university this fall or collecting your sheepskin and preparing to enter the business world, you now face the big questions that were never on your classroom tests. Are you prepared to compete in the new job market with your peers from India and China? Will you ever be able to match or exceed the financial success of your parents? Are any of your relatives cool enough to give you an iPod as a graduation present?

It's possible that you really do want a pen-and-pencil set, a wristwatch, a dictionary, a set of luggage, or any of the other traditional, practical graduation gifts you're likely to get from relatives. But I suspect you'll have more fun with one of the newer grad gifts and gadgets that Uncle Pete has graded as best in their class. Whenever possible, I've offered an educational or professional rationale for why these products are essential to your future success.

Personal organizer: palmOne Life- Drive. The folks who invented the PalmPilot and the Treo smart phone have just come up with a new device that could be indispensable for the mobile student or professional. The $499 LifeDrive is a wallet-sized four-gigabyte (3.85 GB usable) portable hard drive with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking; e-mail and web-browsing capabilities; SD-card expansion; support for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat files; and full Palm OS capabilities, including appointment calendar, contact lists, e-book reader, calculator, and memo pad. It also doubles as an alarm clock to get you to class or to work on time and a voice recorder for capturing lectures or those fleeting flashes of brilliant business insight.

But the LifeDrive gets extra credit, serving also as an MP3 music player (you'll have to supply your own earphones), a video player, and a storage case for digital photos, all displayed on an impressively bright, business card--sized LCD color display that shifts from portrait to landscape orientation, depending on your needs.

The LifeDrive isn't a substitute for a PC, but palmOne's smart file-management software makes it easy for Windows users to move files and digital content to and from the computer and to keep the files in sync. Mac OS X is also supported but not quite as smartly.

With an optional portable keyboard (about $70), the LifeDrive becomes the ideal way to take notes in class, check e-mail, or work on Microsoft Office documents on the plane. The LifeDrive is a new category of gizmo for people on the go--not as flashy as a portable media center but far more productive.

Mobile phone: Motorola's V3 Razr from Cingular is simply the sexiest-looking phone on the stateside market. Razor-thin (hence the name) and weighing just over three ounces, it appears to have been carved from a block of aluminum. On the plus side, the Razr has AOL Instant Messenger for sending jokes or flirting when talking out loud is inappropriate. But otherwise the Razr is an ordinary GSM world phone with a so-so digital camera and MP3 ringtone capability, and a great body. Cingular sells it for $200 with a two-year contract. That's cheap for instant coolness.

MP3 Player: Creative Zen Micro. Face it, you either have an Apple iPod already or you've decided that, since everyone else has one, you want to be different. The 5GB Creative Zen Micro is the best alternative to the iPod Mini for Windows PC users. The user interface is decent although not as smooth as that of the iPod, but everything else about the Zen Micro rocks. Unlike the iPod, which works only with the Apple iTunes Store or ripped MP3 files, the Zen Micro can play songs in MP3 and WMA formats from nearly all the other online music stores. It also whups the iPod by adding an FM radio, a voice recorder, and a removable rechargeable battery good for up to 12 hours of play time. Small and light, the Zen Micro syncs with Microsoft Outlook to keep track of your daily schedule and to-do lists. It comes in ten colors, and you can snag one online for less than $200.

Voice Recorder: Olympus DS-2. This $150 digital voice recorder is smaller than a candy bar, but it records--in stereo --up to 22 hours of class lectures or business meetings. Even better, it stores the recordings in either DSS or WMA audio formats, which can be transferred to a PC, archived, and played back at your convenience. Plus, with an optional $10 software upgrade from Olympus, the DS-2 can integrate with newer versions of speech-to-text programs like Via Voice or Dragon NaturallySpeaking (sold separately), for semiautomatic transcription of the voice recordings. It also features five qualities of voice recording, and variable speeds that can accelerate or slow down playback.

Laptop computer: Dell Inspiron 6000. Just because a computer is essential doesn't mean it has to be boring. The Inspiron 6000 is the best value in portable computing, especially the $1,039 "enhanced performance and superior graphics" model, on sale at www.dell.com. It has a 15-inch-wide screen, an Intel Pentium M processor, and great battery life. The "enhanced" model also has an ATI graphics card for those rare moments when you pause your studies for some hand-eye coordination improvement software (pssst: killer games) or a DVD educational video (movies). The standard 256 megabytes of memory should be bumped up to at least 512 MB, which adds $50 to the pricetag, and the basic 40-gigabyte hard drive will soon fill up with homework (MP3 and video files), so you'll either have to pay $100 extra for the 80GB upgrade or plan to buy an external hard drive later on.

If you've been a really good student, steer the parents toward the Dell Inspiron 9300, a Microsoft Media Center portable PC that, with the addition of a TV tuner card and some external speakers, can serve not only as your computer and Internet hub but also as your stereo system, 17-inch television, digital video recorder, and digital photo album. A fully rigged system can cost $3,000 or more, but remember: Your parents will be immensely relieved that you're graduating, so it's an ideal time to hit them up for the big bucks.

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