SHIFT: What are your favorite tech toys? (no iPhones, please)

As a technology writer, I'm often asked what gear I've chosen to open my metaphorical wallet on. In many cases, though, my choices aren't necessarily the best in their class. For instance, I got cheap and bought a 50-inch 1080i Hitachi plasma TV that I can't wait to replace with a new 800-series Panasonic, due next month. Yes, of course I'd rather have a Pioneer Kuro, but I'm only a poor corrupt tech writer. (In the meantime, anyone want to buy a slightly used 50-inch 1080i plasma?)

Are my favorites the best choices? They are for me, and after the jump you can read all about why I use an HD DVD machine as my primary disc player as well as how a simple flashlight earns the top spot in my gadget roster. But we'd love to hear from you, too — what are your favorite gadgets and gear? Let us know in the Comments section, and discover some of my favorite tech toys by following the Continue link.

First Things…
My favorite gadgets aren't necessarily bleeding edge. If you think about it, your least-sophisticated gadgets are among the handiest. For instance, as a gadget reviewer, I am constantly installing and uninstalling gear. And of course the plugs and jacks on this gear are always under or behind and impossible to see. So my most useful gadget is a flashlight.

But not just any flashlight — a SureFire Executive Series flashlight. Expensive, sure, but they shine the brightest, with a clean and even light that illuminates even the most tangled web o' wires. Plus, its high-intensity beam can blind a potential attacker, and its roll-of-quarters size and shape in your palm turns your fist into a brick. But I'm a runner, not a fighter.

The Equipment Rack
But what's in that dark A/V rack, you ask? The heart: a Denon 3808CI, the price and features sweet spot in Denon's receiver line. IMHO, Denon makes the best midpriced receivers. Aside from its sonics, the 3808CI's main selling points, for me, are its four HDMI connectors (which should suffice for the time being), it's jack layout that eases complex connections, and two remotes — a fancy touchscreen universal learning model and an old-fashioned all-button controller.

Jacked into the Denon, aside from an HD DVR cable box and a rarely used AppleTV, is a Toshiba A2 HD DVD player. Oh, go ahead and laugh, but it's actually a really good upconverting DVD player and will suffice until I get a Blu-ray player equipped with BD-Live. Panasonic's Blu-ray v2.0 deck, the DMP-BD50, is due in a month or so, and Sony's BD-S550 v2.0 edition won't be out till the fall.

I don't own a TiVo. The DVRs in my Scientific Atlantic Explorer 8300HD cable boxes (I have three of them) suffice. The great thing about cable-box DVRs is they don't fill the hard drive with programs I don't want, leaving no room for programs I do want. I do have a Slingbox, but its effectiveness is highly dependent on the speed of the Internet connection. I'll probably use the Slingbox a lot more when I can use it with my iPhone (whoops, we promised not to mention that!).

To hear what I see I rely on B&W; my fronts a pair of 15-year-old (at least) 802 Nautilus models that have a swivel-top tweeter to help direct sound, surrounds a set of LM1s, and a matching center whose model number has been lost to history.

At Home, At Work
Since I periodically review Windows-based gear, I do both Mac and Windows. My desktop is a Mac G5 PowerPC, and my laptop a black Intel MacBook. At the recent Sony line show in Vegas, I finished (purposely) second in a media Texas Hold 'Em tournament and scored a bitchin' and fully-loaded (including a Blu-ray writer) Sony Vaio VGN-FZ4000. (First place was a 42-inch Bravia, but I already have three HDTVs and I really needed a new Windows laptop that runs Vista natively, so I aimed to finish second. I might have finished first, but my pocket 5s got out-flopped by an AK after I went all-in on the button. I wasn't unhappy. But I digress.)

For my sneakernet, I use a surprisingly handy Kingston DataTravel Reader. Available in 1- or 2GB versions, this thumb drive has a rear hatch that accommodates an SD card, which vastly simplifies digital camera and cellphone file transfers.

I don't have a favorite digital camera. But the wide-angle lens on the recently discontinued Kodak dual lens V570 has spoiled me and I hunger for a Canon SD870 IS and a digital D-SLR with an LCD live view.

As mentioned in the headline, I don't need to talk about my favorite cellphone. But I'm in a fringe coverage area, so I rely upon a zBoost YX510-PCS Wireless Extender, which uses alchemy to turn 1 or 2 bars into a steady 5.

For non-cell communication, I use a Wi-Fi Philips VOIP8411B Skype/DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) cordless phone. Its base doesn't need to be plugged into a PC, just an Ethernet jack. You can choose to make calls via your landline or via the bargain of the ages, Skype.

Reach for It
OK, let's talk clock radios. I chose a HoMedics iSoundSpa SS-7000, which has an iPod dock. Its controls are a bit complex, but it's got this cool blue laser that projects the time on the ceiling or a wall. Even without my Coke-bottle glasses, I can look up and see the time.

Sitting right next to my home office desk is a Fellowes MS-450Cs shredder (the 460Cs is the current model). I'm not saying this is the best shredder — I haven't used that many — but it doesn't matter. In this age of identity theft, I feel a lot more secure shredding all those junk pre-approved credit-card applications and other personal documents rather then dropping them into the recycling bin. I wish I could shred my online risks as easily, but that's a rant for another time.

And last but not least, my most oft-used gadget: a Plantronics M214C cordless phone headset. Only my clothes spend more time on my body.

What are your favorite gadgets and gear? And why? Sound off in the comments below.