Holiday Gift Ideas For Keeping Families Connected

When you’ve got a large family spread out across the country, or even the globe as I do, the holidays can be a bit hard. Finding the right gift is difficult regardless of distance, but when the only interaction you’ve had for months or years is via phone and email, finding ways to stay close and connected is important. Fortunately, that’s what technology is for. Here are some gift ideas for far-flung family members.

Digital Frames

pix-star webframePix-Star Webframe – a digital frame that connects to the web and streams music from Internet radio stations may seem like overkill, but web frames have a huge advantage over non-connected frames. The Pix-Star has a web-based management interface, so the giver can help set it up from across the country or across the world. It has a pretty simple set up procedure in general, so even the less tech-savvy can get through the initial steps.

After it’s all connected and ready, anyone can email pictures directly to the frame so the content is always fresh. The management interface allows for access to dozens of cloud photo sources from Flickr to Facebook to Picassa to all the services hooked into FrameChannel.

$224 at Amazon

ceiva pro 80 -- image: African Village at Arts Centre by macinate on FlickrCeiva Pro 80 – If your relations don’t have wi-fi or even an Internet connection at home, then check out this frame. It comes with one free year of Ceiva’s PicturePlan service for photo sharing online or to the frame. The Ceiva Pro is capable of connecting directly to a phone line to dial in to PicturePlan each night to download 60 photos a day, no extra charge. This frame also gets its own email address, so your family can send photos directly, and a Facebook app for grabbing photos uploaded there.

The Ceiva frame doesn’t offer as many choices for downloading from the cloud as the Pix-Star, but does include remote web management so you can help keep the device stocked with the newest photos. I found the frame somewhat difficult to set up, but since I reviewed it (for the December issue of LAPTOP) they’ve added a Connection Wizard that aims to make the process easier.

$147 at Ceiva.com

Webcams & Headsets

Photos are great and all, but I’d rather see a video of my nephew taking his first steps or singing his favorite Michael Jackson songs then see a picture of it. If your family has a broadband connection then there’s no reason they shouldn’t have a free Skype account for video chatting. If they don’t have a webcam, then there’s your perfect gift!

lifecam cinemaMicrosoft LifeCam Cinema – There are a ton of webcams available for low prices, but a low-grade model can make for bad video chats. After all, you want a clear picture and a good mic (just in case your computer doesn’t come with one). For Skype or video Gtalk sessions the LifeCam Cinema is a good choice. Easy to set up, detailed images, and the microphone picks up audio well. Plus you can add fun special effects while chatting, which should keep younger family members entertained. And if there are some budding Spike Lees amongst your family members, this webcam is capable of recording HD video. Perfect for making video birthday or holiday cards, YouTube reaction vids, or even really barebones home movies.

$48 at Amazon

everyman headsetFreetalk Everyman Headset – This is a great accessory to send along with the webcam or to those family members who already have them. Anyone who has used Skype extensively knows that sometimes chats are plagued with audio issues. Either there’s an annoying echo because the balance between speakers and mic is off, or the mic doesn’t pick up sound very well, or audio is just sucky on their laptop (or yours). You can fix all of these problems by sending an Everyman headset.

Certified by Skype, this headset plugs in to a USB port and bypasses your existing soundcard to deliver quality sound. I’ve used this on several calls and video podcasts and never had to raise my voice to be heard or speak softly to avoid blowing anyone’s ears out. You can also use the headphone jack on its own just in case you want to use the headset to listen to your MP3 player or something. The best part is the price — at just under $23 you can afford to send a pair to everyone in the family and not bust your budget.

$22.88 at shop.skype.com

How do you stay connected with family across the country or across the globe?

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