Passé though the example may be, putting technology to the ultimate usability benchmark, The Mom Test (can my mom use this without any help or training?
), may mean you've got an especially discerning technology customer on your hands this holiday season. We won't try to pretend gadget shopping for mom is easy; in our experience, many moms simply don't want to load up on toys that run on electricity. (Imagine that!) But if she's of a certain generation and needs a gentle push into your gadget-filled world, check out some of these baby-tech-free suggestions. Of course, none of them are as obvious or easy as a box of fair-trade organic chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, and a call from her little sweetiepants (read: you).
$0 - $100
Zen Stone Plus or iPod shuffle
- We won't presume she's into managing her music via drag and drop or iTunes (that is, if she's moved over off of CDs at all yet), but it's hard to deny the simple utility of these little buggers. They're absurdly easy to use, go anywhere, and are too cheap not to buy. And if she's not into iTunes, well, good for her -- you can get an 8GB Zen Stone Plus for only a bit more than Apple's aluminum-clad player (when they're back in stock, anyway).
$70-90 - Buy from Creative
Cheapy photo printer
- We're not saying it has to be the $80 Canon Pixma MP210 listed above or anything, but your mom might miss having paper prints of her photos when you pry that familiar analog camera from her clutching hands. You can send her to the local drug store to do her digital photo printing there, or you can show her how it's done at home by hooking her up with something she can use herself. Brownie points for you if you select one that has networking (for the rest of the family), and an integrated media reader so she can print without having to even use her computer.
$70 and up! Buy 'em anywhere
- Your mother may not need all that texting, videoconferencing high speed wireless that we know and love, but get her to put away the Zack Morris-edition cell with Verizon's simple Coupe. You'll have an easier time explaining how to set up the In Case of Emergency buttons than why this phone is named the "coupe", but she'll appreciate the simple, slim design and you'll appreciate the low cost. Of course, if your mom is too old even to appreciate this, you can always go with service on Jitterbug
$39.99 w/ contract - Buy from Verizon
- We all know who killed Mom's Umbrella Plant when she went on vacation last year, and her Peace Lilies the year before that. To stop history from repeating itself, again, grab a bundle of these ThirstyLights. Since plant evolution hasn't progressed to the point of monitoring water saturation once per second, all you have to do is keep an eye out for the blinking LED as the "Drypoint Digital Circuit" tells you when there's too much water or not enough.
$9.95 each, less in bundles - Buy from ThirstyLight
$101 - $250
- The Everex gPC obviously isn't the rig we'd pick for ourselves, but for our mom's more basic online needs (email, browsing and the occasional Flash game), this VIA powered PC will suffice. And that same mom who got after us for leaving the lights on in an empty room and the fridge door open will appreciate that this "green" PC is a real power-miser. So what if it's ugly? "If those people won't be your friends because of how you look, they wouldn't make good friends anyways."
$199 - Shop for Everex gPC
Plantronics Voyager 855
- Like most people, she probably has no clue what A2DP actually is -- but that shouldn't stop you from giving her options. The Plantronics Voyager 855 helps (un)hook her up not only with a solid Bluetooth headset, but the ability to pop on the earpiece cable get wireless stereo Bluetooth. Really, though, we'd just suggest you take it slow and show her the latest in hands-free calling before graduating to the next geeky level. (Or you can just step it down a notch and keep things simple with a Voyager 815 or Discovery 655.)
$125 - Shop for Plantronics Voyager 855
XtremeMac Luna Alarm Clock
- Your mom woke to the reveille of your early morning screams for years. And while she might not mind the clamoring of children on Christmas day, the rest of the year she deserves better. The stylish Luna alarm clock will let her wake (or fall asleep) to whatever tunes she wants from her iPod; or she can use large button on top to enjoy a well-deserved snooze. But if you really want to give her sleep / wake cycles a hand, check out the next up.
$150 - Shop for XtremeMac Luna
- It's your call whether the Sleeptracker (and the new Sleeptracker Pro) is the real deal or simply SkyMall snake oil, but you might consider making mom a guinea pig -- it's for her own good, after all. She's supposed wears the watch to bed and as it collects sleep data (which she can later sync with PC-based sleep history software) it decides the optimal moment to ring the alarm in the morning, waking her during light sleep and not a deep REM cycle (which is likely to leave one feeling cranky).
$180 - Shop for Sleeptracker Pro
Noteworthy mention: Mobile Edge Komen laptop tote
$251 - $500
- If she's ready to make the jump to a smartphone, but isn't so stoked about the concept of learning Windows Mobile or some other nefarious mobile OS (and really, who is?), the iPhone should do the trick. It's a snap to set up and use, and your mom might be browsing the mobile internets before New Year's.
$399 - Buy from Apple
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T2
- With a pocketable design, variety of colors colors, and some user-friendly specs, this is the ultimate mom cam. She won't have to worry about memory cards thanks to the 4GB of built-in storage, and the "smile shutter" face detection and 2.7-inch touchscreen should make it a snap to use.
$319 - $399 - Shop for DSC-T2
- If she just wants to shoot footage and store it for posterity -- none of this fancy editing stuff -- then she'll probably love the DC-210. Granted, it only shoots standard def video to mini DVDs, but the price is hard to beat and if you pre-record some footage of yourself she'll be all the more stoked. Moms love that stuff.
$300 - $400 - Shop for DC-210
- You might need to do some taste recon to see if the BlackBerry Curve fits your mom's sense of style, but it's hard to argue with the functionality here. The keyboard will make it easy for her to text her modern friends and email the slower ones, there's WiFi for faster browsing, and the GPS will put her one feature up on her iPhone-toting friends. Some moms we know swear by this thing -- but be warned, others wouldn't touch any gadget like this with a ten foot pole.
$199 - $249+ plan - Buy from AT&T
$501 - $1000
- We know it's taken you longer to wean mom off traditional photo prints than it took to wean you off mom, but you can't blame her, she knows what works. But maybe a digital frame will do the trick. With WiFi and RSS feeds, you can set this up to keep track of your Flickr feed, meaning she'll never be without a fresh shot of your smiling face on this 19-inch screen. Overprotective mothering was never this easy.
$899 - Shop for PhotoVu
- Will it blend? You're damn right it will. Any other blender would be a helplessly cliché mom-gift and should be avoided at all costs, but Blendtecs speak to one's soul. Plus, the mental image of mommy dearest blending up iPhones
and Gibson X-Plorers
(and advising the neighborhood children not to breathe the smoke) is too good to pass up.
$799 - Shop for Blendtec Connoisseur
- This one won't be in-hand until early next year, but it's worth pre-ordering for mom just the same. The built-in internet connectivity, via WiFi and cellular, allows her to track down nearby restaurants, look up theater showtimes, see local gas prices, and even check on traffic. It won't change the world, but with all the niceties of an internet-connected GPS device on her dashboard, your mom won't want to go back.
$599 - Pre-order from Dash
- If your mom has an HDTV and a desire to store and edit video on the computer -- hell, even if she doesn't -- the HDC-SD7 as as straight forward a way to archive full 1080p HD home video as you're likely to find. The unusually minuscule camera stores footage on standard SDHC cards so it's a snap to pull video down to her machine, and the 3CCD sensor ensures she doesn't have to be Julie Taymor to capture quality video. Just don't be mad if she ends up just sticking clips on YouTube, though, at least you tried.
$769 - $879 - Shop for HDC-SD7
Samsung Bordeaux LCD
- Everybody watches TV, so why not let your mom do it with a bit of panache, courtesy of a Bordeaux LCD from Samsung? The 720p resolution will be plenty, and with displays ranging from 23-inches to 40-inches -- and some of the sexiest looks in the industry -- you can match one of these to any room.
$699 - $1399 - Shop for Bordeaux LCDs
- If you're mom's already well entrenched in a PC kind of lifestyle then she might be a bit resistant to the idea of a Mac, but any way you slice it these are some pretty friendly, easy to access machines. You can hand deliver it running a copy of XP or Vista (her choice), and when she's ready to try out OS X she'll already be set up with everything she needs to manage her iPod, jump on the internet, and even use iWork '08 to design a Keynote presentation describing her favorite child. Hope that it's you.
$1,199 - 2,299 - Buy from Apple
Ford with Sync
- Do you have any idea how painful childbirth is? Stop screwing around and buy that woman a car already. And if Ford is her type of horseless carriage, make sure you toss Sync in there, which will help her pair her Bluetooth phone and media players with minimal hassle. Which, of course, means she'll just get that much more mileage out of the rest of those gadgets you like to push on her, despite her continued protests.
$395 + cost of Focus, Edge, or Lincoln MKX - Buy at your local dealer
Did we miss something good? Let us know in comments what that she really wants, maybe we'll find some place to work it in.