'Tis the Season To Be Thrifty
A collection of older, cheaper gadgets that still make great gifts in 2009.
Earlier this year, when the blogger and tech entrepreneur Anil Dash traveled to India to visit his family, he was struck by his uncle's choice of gadgetry. "We were standing in the middle of a rice paddy in one of the poorest regions of India," Dash says, "and I saw he was using a pretty recent Nokia Smartphone." It was the same phone that Dash himself had been using a couple years before—but Dash had gone through three different phones since then.
That observation prompted Dash to wonder what satisfaction he was getting from "chasing novelty." If his uncle could make do with an old cell phone, why couldn't he? Thus, a small movement was born: In April, Dash and a few tech-luminary friends launched Last Year's Model, a one-page site that encourages techies to consider the old before jumping into the new. The response, Dash says, was overwhelming—people posted hundreds of comments on the site and on Twitter and Facebook explaining how the economy, the environment, and general thriftiness had prompted them to stick with old phones, music players, cameras, video game consoles, and other devices.
Dash acknowledges that his movement faces a tough battle during the holidays, when giving something secondhand or slightly out-of-date might be considered uncouth. But let's help change that. As it happens, Slate has been pushing old stuff since 2007, when Paul Boutin went over all the stuff from 2006 that could still make great gifts.
Here's another list for 2009. I've picked out a bunch of gadgets that work fantastically well yet have been largely forgotten on account of the latest and greatest tech tools. Rather than buy what's hot today, take a shot at these oldies but goodies—your friends and your pocketbook will thank you.
The first Kindle. A few weeks ago, I warned readers against running out to buy a new e-book reader. My reasons: They're too expensive, the e-book format is unsettled, and there are too many possibly great new e-reader-like inventions on the horizon. OK, but what if you want one anyway? Well, you're in luck: There's an e-reader that's just as good as today's models, but it costs two-thirds as much, or less.
I'm talking about the Kindle 1, Amazon's first e-reader. The most important differences between the old Kindle—which made its debut late in 2007—and the 2009 model are physical. Compared with the new one, the old Kindle is a bit thicker and heavier and has a face that's slightly off-putting. The Kindle 1 is Luke Wilson in those AT&T ads; the 2009 edition is the Kindle's circa- Royal Tenenbaumslook.
But, hey, you're buying the thing for reading, not preening, right? On that front, the old Kindle's a fine machine—it has a nice E-ink screen, downloads books wirelessly, and holds 200 titles (the new one holds 1,500, but who are you, Harold Bloom?). The new Kindle sells for $259. An old one can be had on Craigslist or eBay for less than $160.
TiVo HD XL. Just before the holidays last year, TiVo unveiled the Hummer of its line—a DVR for people who watch more television than is probably advisable. The HD XL records up to 150 hours of high-definition programming, or a staggering 1,300 hours of standard-def TV (that's nearly two months' worth!) It's got two tuners, meaning it can record two shows at once, and it can be used in place of your cable box. Last year TiVo sold this beast for $600. It's now going for $380.
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.