Originally created 12/08/96

Wish list for a high-tech Christmas

Dear Parents,

Hey, you wanna-be Santas, get off the dime and pull out that plastic! A computer system for your child belongs under the tree, and you know it.

Yeah, yeah, you've put it off, figuring that everything would get cheaper. And you were right. Processors and CD-ROM drives are faster than they were a year ago, more features have been added and yes, God bless America, competition has caused price wars.

So what should go in the stockings and under the tree? Here are some suggestions even the Grinch would have to grin at:

- So what's in that big box over in the corner?

How about the AST Advantage 824? It's highly rated by Family PC magazine for multimedia performance and ease of use and, perhaps most important of all, lists for under 2,000 bucks.

The 824 features a 133-MHz Pentium processor, 16 MB of RAM, a 1.6 gigabyte hard drive, six-speed CD-ROM, a 28.8 BPS modem, a 15-inch monitor, Windows 95 and a Santa-size bundle of kiddie and grown-up software including Lotus SmartSuite and Math Blaster.

- So what do we DO with this machine? Speaking of Family PC, it's renowned for reviewing hardware and software with the whole family in mind. And, in an amazing technological breakthrough, a man or woman in a little white truck will plop this big, fat, colorful beauty into your mailbox every month for just $14.95 a year. Contact ZDnet or call or (800) 413-9749.

- But what about little Joshua? Got a kid who's too small to manipulate a mouse? Not to worry. Microsoft's EasyBall ($55) is an excellent training tool for very small children, a mouse replacement that one reviewer said is as easy to push around as a rubber ball. Also consider the Smart Keys keyboard ($80), which boasts keys in alphabetical order rather than the traditional, goofy layout.

- Mommy, what's the Internet? It's what the modem's for, sweetie. For 20 bucks or less a month, the whole brood can get online and enjoy all the ever-growing wonders. A good bet to start would be America Online, which will begin offering unlimited, flat-fee access Dec. 1. And keep an eye out for Disney's new online offering.

- Can you LEARN anything from a computer?

Lots and lots. Microsoft markets the marvelous Magic School Bus titles (listing for around $40) that help kids explore the ocean, the human body, inside the earth and other topics. They manage to be fun, inventive and challenging all at once. For traditional-keyboard typing instruction, no program can approach Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing For Kids ($49.95) by Mindscape.

- What if we just wanna play around?

Then you'll want Disney's "Toy Story" Animated Storybook ($35.) It's the hot CD-ROM of the year, taking all the magic of the film, putting it inside your computer, then making it interactive.

- Can you use a computer to draw?

PCs and drawing programs are a natural match. The best of the bunch is Broderbund's Kid Pix Studio ($40), offering everything from simple coloring and drawing to elaborate productions with pictures and full animation. Also check out Diamar Interactive's How To Draw Cartoons and How To Draw Heroes and Villains (both $40). Bigger kids (and would-be cartoonists) will find real instruction and wisdom in these efforts.


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