Christmas is only 2 1/2 weeks away, but that's plenty of time to put these online resources to use this holiday season.
Of course, shopping is a big concern at this time of year. The hottest tech tools this season are barcode-scanning apps for the iPhone. Just point the iPhone's camera at the UPC on a product, and the apps instantly compare prices online and at other stores to see if you're getting a good deal. They also can create a wish list simply by scanning the UPCs of the stuff you covet. RedLaser ($2, www.redlaser.com) has been the No. 1 paid download at the iTunes App store, but it has come under fire for a recent update that changed its search provider. The newer ShopSavvy (www.biggu.com), although not rated as highly, is free and also available for Android-powered smart phones.
When it comes to looking for online deals, I always start at Dealnews (www.dealnews.com), which even offered a free Black Friday app this year to track sales. It recently added a section detailing holiday shipping deadlines for various online retailers. Other deal-tracking sites include Fat Wallet (www.fatwallet.com) and Slickdeals (www.slickdeals.net), as well as Boddit (www.boddit.com), which aggregates those and others.
Even though the various deal sites are good about listing any applicable promo codes to get further discounts, I always check the user-contributed RetailMeNot (www.retailmenot.com) to be sure. I got free in-flight Wi-Fi on a recent trip, an $8 savings, thanks to that site.
Get some free holiday music
Amazon has revived its 25 Days of Free music giveaway (www.amazon.com/25daysoffree), in which an MP3 of a great holiday song is offered free each day through Christmas. It started last Tuesday with Casting Crowns' "Joy to the World," followed by seasonal offerings from the likes of Tori Amos and the Mediaeval Baebes. A new song is unveiled each day. Many are from recent releases, but classic recordings pop up, too, such as a cut from Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" last year. So bookmark the page and check it regularly to load up on free holiday tunes and discover some new music. And scout the site for other MP3 deals, including Bing Crosby's fantastic 16-track "Christmas Classics" for only $2 and many other new and old albums for $5 and less.
Send a little cheer overseas
Once again, Xerox is making it a cinch for people to send holiday greetings to military personnel stationed overseas through its Let's Say Thanks program. Just go to the website (www.letssaythanks.com), pick a design created by a school kid, write a message with your name and city, and hit send. Your postcard will be printed out and sent to deployed troops -- all for free. What a lovely gesture.
Go paperless with greetings
There are free options for sending holiday wishes to friends and family, too -- as long as you don't mind sharing them online. Through Animoto (www.animoto.com/create), you can make and e-mail a personalized 30-second video clip with a holiday theme using your own images and videos. (Click on "Holiday," which will bring up a pitch for a longer paid version, and then click on "Or make a 30-second greeting for free.") The classic Elf Yourself (www.elfyourself.com) lets you upload the faces of up to five people and turn them into elves for hilarious dancing and singing clips. And you can now use Facebook profile photos and share the finished videos on the social network. Both sites require free registration.
Make photo gifts a snap
Many sites offer ways to make gifts from your photos, but it's hard to beat the options, convenience and ease of Snapfish (www.snapfish.com). From hardcover photo books to mouse pads to coffee mugs, gifts can be created quickly using the site's Web interface and shipped to you or, for photo cards, picked up at a Walmart or Walgreens store. Using a coupon code from the previously mentioned deals sites, I created a 4- by 8-inch holiday photo card of my family and paid $24 shipped for 40 cards with envelopes; they arrived in less than a week.
Keep track of gifts
Many free websites offer ways to create gift wish lists so that you can track what you'd like for Christmas and share it with others. It might sound greedy, but such sites can help ease the stress of finding and getting gifts. They include Keep and Share (www.keepandshare.com), Wish Central (www. wishcentral.com) and the aptly named Greedy Me (www.greedyme.com).
Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542