The reviews this week continue our series of gift ideas, be it for the last-minute shopper or those who have some money to spend after the...

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The reviews this week continue our series of gift ideas, be it for the last-minute shopper or those who have some money to spend after the holidays.

Laptop computers

There has never been a better time to buy a laptop computer. Prices are the lowest they’ve ever been and features are good, even on entry-level machines.

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Here are my laptop and notebook recommendations:

Apple 15-inch G4 PowerBook

Starting at $1,999, it isn’t cheap by today’s standards. But the spiffed-up new G4 PowerBooks are sleek and stunning, delivering outstanding graphics and plenty of horsepower on a machine that weighs just 5.6 pounds. Battery life routinely exceeds four hours.

There are rumors Apple will come out with an upgraded G5 processor next year, but the G4 is impressively adequate. It comes with Apple’s SuperDrive combination CD-DVD burner, an 80 GB hard drive, built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and a full load of Apple music and video software.

Great for: People interested in video editing, digital music and photography besides the more mundane laptop functions such as Web surfing, word processing and number crunching. This is a great desktop replacement that many use as their main computer.

Toshiba Satellite M45

At just a tad over 6 pounds and an inch thick, this solid and streamlined laptop starts at a suggested retail price of $949 and is my top recommendation for those looking for a full-featured Windows XP machine. This is a terrific multimedia laptop, great for listening to CDs and watching DVDs. It also records onto CDs and DVDs.

Wi-Fi is standard, and the ultrawide 15.4-inch screen is enhanced with a technology called TruBrite that makes images pop with brightness and detail. The screen is easily comparable with many desktop systems in both real estate and image quality.

Great for: With a standard 512 MB of memory and an 80 GB hard drive, this could be a main PC for anyone. Toshiba makes a first-rate notebook, and the new Satellite 45 line offers some of the most impressive and affordable features I’ve seen.

Fujitsu LifeBook P1500 Tablet PC

If portability, compactness and ease of use are what you want in a notebook, this is the one for you. This is the lightest and most full-featured tablet PC available anywhere, weighing in at just 2.2 pounds.

It’s convertible, meaning that when the screen is raised, you have access to the keyboard and type just as you do on any laptop. But by twisting and swiveling the screen down and over the keyboard, you can use it to take notes, with any kind of stylus, even a finger, in your handwriting, just as you would on a pad of paper.

The screen is just 8.9 inches wide and a little more than 4 inches tall. You can get about three hours of use with the standard battery.

Great for: Students and professionals who take lots of notes; people looking for a super-lightweight, easy-to-take-along second computer that doesn’t take up a lot of room.

This is probably not suitable as the main computer. The base model has a 30 GB hard drive. The standard 256 MB of memory needs to be doubled, and a CD-DVD drive is optional.

To get this equipped the way I recommend pushes the cost up to around $1,800.

But this is such a convenient machine and so lightweight and easy to use that I think it’s worth it.

— Mike Wendlund

Detroit Free Press

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1

Shopping for a new digital camera? The new 10.3-megapixel camera from Sony could quickly leap to the top of your list.

The Cyber-shot DSC-R1 not only takes spectacular photos, it also borrows one of the most popular features of digital point-and-shoot cameras: the ability to preview photos on an LCD screen.

I’ve always wondered why high-end digital single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras like my Nikon don’t let you use the giant LCD screen to frame and take pictures. The only time you use the screen is to inspect the photos after the fact.

Turns out, this is a limitation of the giant light sensors in these cameras.

These sensors, 10 times the size of those found in point-and-shoot cameras, provide super-sharp images. That’s because they’re 10 times as sensitive to light.

But they’re also power-hungry, so they’ve only been used fleetingly, at the moment you snap your picture.

Sony redesigned the chip to reduce power consumption to one-tenth that of similar-size sensors. This allows it to be operated continuously, so that it captures the picture and also generates a live preview.

This innovation makes it possible for Sony to offer the first high-end digital camera with live previews on the LCD screen.

You can still focus the image the old-fashioned way by looking through the viewfinder. Or you can use the swivel-mounted LCD, which flips up and pivots from the top of the camera, to pull your best paparazzi move at your child’s next school play — holding the camera aloft and snapping photos over the heads of other parents.

Some photo enthusiasts probably will take issue with Sony’s decision to offer a fixed lens — even though its 5X zoom is a true 35mm equivalent, going from 24 to 120mm. You can’t swap the lens with anything else in the camera bag.

Nor does it have video capabilities.

The R1 is also a handful compared with cameras such as the Nikon D50 or the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, weighing in at 2 pounds 5 ounces.

The array of more than a dozen controls signals that this camera is clearly not for the casual user. Thankfully, it has an automatic setting for amateurs like me.

That said, there’s no dispute over the picture quality.

The images I took with this 10.3-megapixel camera were exquisite. It frankly put our 8-megapixel Nikon to shame.

But beauty sometimes comes at a price: $999.95 for the R1.

— Dawn C. Chmielewski

San Jose Mercury News

iRobot Roomba

I’m lounging on the couch with my feet up, sipping a soda and watching the late-night sports recap. I reach over to playfully wrestle a squeaky toy from my dog’s grip.

Believe it or not, I’m also busy mopping the kitchen floor. The latest wonder machine from iRobot is whirring and slurping around my house.

The company that gave us the button-cute Roomba robotic floor vacuum has now unleashed Scooba ($399), a smart mop that further shortens the list of domestic duties.

In one pass, Scooba can pick up loose dirt and debris, lay down a cleaning solution, scrub the floor and then squeegee it dry, according to iRobot.

Most of that proved true in testing a loaner from the company. Not all, but most.

Scooba, like its older sibling Roomba, is nicely designed. The pale-blue, round chassis is about 3 inches high and 14 inches in diameter.

The top comes off easily, revealing the rechargeable battery in the base. The hood holds the cleaning solution and a receptacle for the dirty water sucked up by rubber tubing during scrubbing.

Scooba uses 2 ounces of a special, bleach-free Clorox cleaner, with the rest of the tank filled with water. If Scooba grows in popularity, expect to see this solution at a supermarket shelf near you.

Once I’d fully charged Scooba, it was only a two-button process to get the little guy started. I pressed “power” to wake Scooba up and “clean” to start him scrubbing. Scooba came to life, emitting a few tones of agreement to tell me he was on the job, and began his duties.

At first, Scooba spun around in a widening spiral. Eventually, it set out on a few straight paths across the sealed cement floor. As the unit reached table legs and chairs, it nudged them and redirected itself.

Scooba has a very gentle touch in this respect and didn’t leave marks on the walls or topple my guitar resting in a corner. It simply made its rounds.

I score this one a major victory for progress in task-oriented robotics.

Its cost may scare away some potential buyers, but not having to scrub floors could make it well worth the price.

— Ron Harris

The Associated Press