Gifting gizmos? Plan ahead

Gifting gizmos? Plan ahead

There you sit on Christmas morning. The cat has turned over the tree. Half the gadgets you bought as gifts don’t work. And you forgot to get batteries for little Alex's Wild World Alien Helmet.

Merry Christmas.

I can't help with the cat, but I can—in many cases from personal experience—warn you away from some of the high-tech gotchas that can turn a fine Christmas morning into a frantic mess. Stay with me today and I'll save you some pain.

Electronic toys and gizmos that require assembly top my list of potential trouble spots. The first thing to understand is that some of these things are packed in a haphazard manner—sometimes with a key component left out.

So my first bit of advice: If any of your gifts is in the “easy assembly" category, open the package before you wrap it. You’ll usually find a list of components in the assembly instructions. Make sure everything on it is in the box. Then return everything to the box and wrap it up.

The next pitfall comes when the yet-to-be-assembled device is unwrapped. In my house, wrapping and boxes litter the floor within the first few minutes of the gifting frenzy. It’s easy for instruction manuals, small components and rebate coupons to be discarded. So keep a good watch out. Provide an empty box or other safe place for instruction manuals and the like.

Next, let’s talk about an affliction that seems to hit even those who normally are cautious and precise.

Here’s what happens: The new computer (or talking robot or printer) has just been unpacked. Everyone has spent a few moments admiring it. Now, there is a herd-like rush to get it up and running. You tell yourself you are practically a genius when it comes to putting things together so there’s no need for the manual. But there’s something about doing all this in a hurry—perhaps with an admiring audience—that invites mistakes. And your new computer’s setup may be a bit different than your old one’s. So, consider reading the manual before Christmas morning. If that would spoil the surprise, then force yourself to read through the entire manual before you start setting it up.

Even when you’ve done that, slow down and carefully consult the illustrations in the manual that identify the various ports and connection points if you’re setting up a new computer. Mark any sections of the manual that are unclear. If you don’t understand something, use a website or knowledgeable friend to clear up confusion before you go further.

Finally, while setting it up, follow each step exactly. If the gadget—computers don't fall into this category—has a long series of assembly instructions, check off each step as it is completed.

My final tip applies to devices that need a battery. There’s a rule that goes something like this:

“If a device needs four AA batteries, you'll only have three. Or, if it needs AAA batteries you'll only have the AA size."

So make sure you have the right batteries and enough of them.

©2007/The New York Times