Where once the microwave, VCR and cell phone seemed impossibly modern and just as impossible to master, well, that was then. Cool new technology really gets things done in a gadget world — and it isn't all just unnecessary silliness. • Here are some of the latest tech tools that can help you preserve those crumbling photos, reconnect with your high school sweetheart or just improve your ability to go from here to there. Technology is a good thing.
Ivan Penn and Mimi Andelman of the Times
FILM AND SLIDE CONVERTERS
Who doesn't have boxes of slides and negatives from family vacations and special events from years ago? Film and slide converters will bring back those memories to view on a computer or TV.
For example: Ion Audio 35mm Slide and Film Scanner (shown), $89.99, Best Buy (bestbuy.com).
Surprise your parents: Transfer their old photos and put together a DVD of images or a digital picture frame. Too techy? Organize some fresh prints in a lovely album. (That's a good time to ID that great-aunt whose name you've forgotten.)
THE USB TURNTABLE
Just take those old records off the shelf . . . and plop those old LPs onto a USB turntable connected to your computer, where you'll then turn them into digital audio files. Don't have a computer? Offer to share the turntable with a friend who has a computer. After transferring, you can listen to the music on CD, on an iPod or on another audio player.
For example: The Sony USB Stereo Turntable System, $199 (sale price $104.19), amazon.com.
Make it pay for itself: After you're done transferring, put the old records out at your next garage sale.
The webcam lets you chat by video with far-flung family, indeed anywhere on Earth. Download Skype onto your computer, attach a webcam, put on a headset and you're good to go, for free. Whoever you're chatting with will have to have a similar setup.
For example: Logitech Quickcam Orbit, $62.99; Freetalk Everyman Headset, $29.88, skype.com; shop.skype.com.
But before you shop: Many new computers have built-in cameras. Consider that option if you're in the market.
Many people love getting cozy with a good book. But Amazon and Apple, among others, now offer the ability to pack hundreds of books into thin, handheld devices. Download new books or revisit Moby-Dick instantly with Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook (no computer needed; black and white).
THE APPLE iPAD
With its color touch screen, it opens the world beyond the book (though it has that, too). Surf the Web, store photos, listen to music and watch movies. (You'll need a computer for the iPad if you want to back up, that is, save copies, of your downloaded movies and books, as well as get updates, and that's highly recommended.)
For example: Kindle 2, $259, amazon.com; Nook by Barnes & Noble, $259, Barnes & Noble stores (bn.com), Best Buy (bestbuy.com); iPad, $499 for a 16GB WiFi model, higher for more storage, connectivity, apple.com.
Consider this eye-opener: The e-reader lets you increase the type size. Can't do that with a book — without a magnifier!
Don't get lost while driving — there are tools to help get you where you want to go. A good GPS system, technically a "global positioning system," mounts in your car, offers street maps and voice guidance as you drive.
For example: Garmin Nuvi 765T, rated by Consumer Reports as a "best buy," $169, radioshack.com, electronics and big-box stores.
For your Grandma, who has everything: She doesn't have this — yet — but she should.
THE SMART PHONE
What makes a phone smart? If it does more than call people, then it's smarter than the average phone. Text messaging, Web browsing, still and video camera options, listening to music and other features make some phones very smart.
For example: Depending on the type of phone, as well as the telephone service plan (just as you would buy with any cell phone), prices vary from free to more than $200. Check out the various cell phone carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and others. Or browse from a website like bestbuy.com, entering "smartphone" in the search field.
Some familiar models: They include, from left, the Motorola Droid, the iPhone, the BlackBerry, the Palm Pre and the HTC Touch Pro2.
A location-based mapping service helps you find someone when they get lost, such as an Alzheimer's patient. A computer at home monitors the precise location of someone wearing a beeper or other device.
For example: The Alzheimer's Association's Comfort Zone, $99 to $600, alz.org/comfortzone.
THE LAPTOP COMPUTER
If you're considering your first computer purchase, you might like a laptop. It's portable, and that convenience alone is a big draw. And for folks who are looking to untether themselves from the cable wire or phone line, the laptop lets you go wherever you want in the house using WiFi Internet access. Imagine video chatting from your easy chair, catching up on e-mail while watching the evening news or doing anything else you currently do at your stationary desktop computer.
For example: Laptops range widely in price, depending on the features you'd like (among them, webcams, DVD players, storage space, processor speed), from about $350 to $1,200 and up.
Some familiar brands: Mac, Dell, Compaq, Gateway.
MEDICAL JEWELRY ALERT SYSTEMS
You've seen the commercials. Programs like Life Alert allow the home user to touch a pendant button to receive emergency assistance when they have fallen or become incapacitated, or are endangered by a house fire or other crisis. The signal is sent to a center that immediately conveys information to the proper emergency team.
For example: Prices, about $30 to $60 a month, depend on service choices: VRI, monitoringcare.com, toll-free 1-800-860-4230; Walgreens Ready Response, walgreensmedicalalertsystem.com, toll-free 1-866-310-9061; LifeStation, lifestation.com, toll-free 1-866-500-4101; Life Alert, lifealert.com, toll-free 1-800-360-0329.