We all love gadgets, and gadgets make great gifts. Especially for the holidays. So we collected a ton of gadgets and gizmos and electronics to test out, many of which we’ve already reviewed, and many more currently in the review queue. However, every single product listed in these pages is a product we’ve played around with, to some extent, and are familiar enough with to comfortably say “yes, this will make a great gift”. A few others, which make the cut but are odd in their own right, made their way into our Unique Holiday Gift Guide, so be sure to check that out for interesting product buys.
For Photography Lovers
As we learn daily, photography is an incredible art, one we try to show daily through various products we test and see. Perhaps more importantly, we all want and need a camera, and while our cellphones all have one, our memories are best saved on large, beautiful images, not small, pixelated, noisy ones. That’s why we’ve picked some great camera choices for gifts this holiday season, to match any need.
Not only is the Nikon’s S1100pj a decent point and shoot, it also has a powerful built-in projector, so any pictures or video you take can be shared with anyone. The 3″ touchscreen makes it easy to scroll between images and videos, and the projector works in semi-dark rooms fairly well. It makes for a great gift for anyone who likes to share their photos and videos, all without forcing them to carry cables and a TV set to do so.
The Nikon P100 is the ultimate superzoom, and the closest thing you’ll find to a DSLR. It’s a great gift option for someone looking to step out of using point and shoot cameras, but isn’t quite ready for the more professional DSLRs. With 26x zoom, full 1080p video recording and an adjustable 3″ display so you can hold the camera however you want when shooting, the P100 is a great camera for anyone looking to step up their photography game.
The Canon S95 is the ultimate point and shoot. With a 1:2.0 lens, there is nothing faster at this size, and it takes the same imaging hardware as the acclaimed Canon G11. There is little this handheld camera can’t do, but bare in mind that for all that promise comes a hefty price of $350 plus.
I (James) can’t even express how much I want the Nikon D7000. So much that I actually purchased the wild beast myself, but good luck finding it in stores. After two months of searching every major electronics store and camera shop in Los Angeles, I purchased it online because, according to local stores, it’s impossible to keep in stock because so few trickle in from Nikon, and they’re immediately bought by customers. Mine will be coming in later this week. I honestly can’t wait. If you go this far for a gift, the recipient may well soil themselves.
Giving cellphones as gifts is tough. Unless it’s for family members sharing a plan, there are too many options and service contracts to realistically worry about. Cellphones are very personal gadgets, one which you should be absolutely certain of when deciding a gift before even considering it as a present to give. Don’t forget, the first reason we purchase new phones is when service contracts expire.
That said, our picks are easy.
Android models may be the safest bet because they work for just about anyone. We recommend any of the Samsung Galaxy S phones, such as the Verizon Fascinate or Sprint Epic 4G. The Fascinate proved to be an excellent phone, and thus far so has the Epic 4G. Having played with both models and plenty of others, it’s difficult to recommend anything else running Android.
After our first look of the Samsung Focus, one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices, we believe it will make a great gift, but not for everyone. Current smartphone owners will be confused by such a gift, but for family members looking to upgrade away from the dumbphone will quickly fall in love with the simple and intuitive Focus and it’s unique user interface.
For T-Mobile users, we’ve also heard many a great thing about the HTC G2, though have unfortunately not had the chance to test it ourselves except in-store. Trusted colleagues swear by it, and while we normally wouldn’t include a product we haven’t played around with ourselves in a gift guide, everything we’ve heard thus far points to the G2 being an excellent phone that shouldn’t be disregarded.
What about the iPhone?
It’s our opinion that the iPhone 4 will not make a good holiday gift, for two major reasons: first, because we all know that the next model will release next June/July, meaning once the holidays roll around, it’ll only be six months until an upgraded models comes out. You’ll want that upgraded model, because Apple will fix the antenna problem that had plagued the iPhone 4 earlier this year. Second, while we don’t expect the next iPhone model to be a huge improvement over the current model (there’s only so much Apple can change in one year, as we’ve seen with the 3G from 2G, and 3GS from 3G), the fixed antenna should be enough to keep you from buying a new iPhone 4.
That is, unless Verizon officially gets one for themselves. Several media publications have “confirmed” that it will hit this January (which is too late for the holiday), though without word on a fixed antenna, and with no official statement from Apple on the subject, we’ll have to wait and see.
We’ll just come out and say it: Apple normally dominates in this field, but this is the first year where we had trouble naming off worthy competitors in the field of media players. You may say it’s because so many have opted to leave the field outright due to Apple’s success, and worse yet, with so many people using their phones as media players, and there is certainly truth in that, but Apple has continued to improve in this field while so many others have not.
The iPod Touch 4G is the best media player on the market, by far. I’ve almost completely replaced my iPhone 3GS because the Touch is just so much faster, looks so much clearer, and is better in almost every way…except that it isn’t a phone. It’s even replaced some of my iPad’s functions, because of the handheld form-factor. Read our review of the iPod Touch 4G and see why this media player makes a great gift.
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth it, because in 7-8 months a new iPod Touch will release, don’t. We don’t expect the next generation iPod Touch to be such a significant improvement that it makes this one antiquated. With good care, there’s no reason this iPod Touch can’t last over a year and a half.
For those not interested in a long list of apps or who just need a smaller device, the iPod Nano is your best bet. With a familiar touchscreen display and interface, anyone can pick up and use the Nano within seconds. The included FM radio and 8GB of space makes it the perfect companion when exercising or on the move. The clip-and-go system is convenient, and it feels like Apple thought of everything with the Nano. See our full review for more on the Nano.
Computers & More
Far too many of us sit in front of a computer screen for far too long. It doesn’t matter if that’s due to work or play, the best gifts are the ones we can never use too much. These gift ideas are for anyone who spends at least two hours a day hunched over a keyboard.
The Das Keyboard Model S Professional Silent is, right now, our favorite keyboard. We haven’t tested one with a better typing experience, though that claim will be to the test in the near future. Regardless, you can’t go wrong with this model, which is the quietest of the Das Keyboard line (but still pretty loud!) and feels absolutely great. A great gift for anyone who spends inordinate amounts of time writing, in front of their computer, or both!
Logitech’s G700 is a great gaming mouse, and makes an excellent gift for both gamers and non-gamers alike. The Madcatz R.A.T. 9 is equally precise and fast. Each offers something unique to the table. The G700 comes with Logitech’s renowned (and our adored) frictionless scroll wheel and an excellent design. The R.A.T. 9 is completely customizable in size, shape and weight, so it’ll fit any hand with excellent comfort, no matter what. Both are wireless, both track excellently, and both are great for gaming and general computing.
If the $100+ price tag is too steep, you can step down to a wired R.A.T. 7 , which has all the functionality as the R.A.T. 9.
There is no better PC Gaming headset, and perhaps PC headset overall, than the Logitech G930. We loved it, and we guarantee that you’ll love it. It provides spot-on 7.1 and stereo audio, lasts 10 hours per charge, and is one of the most comfortable headsets around. We use it daily thanks to excellent sound insulation and great sound quality.
The Dell Inspiron Duo looks gimmicky, but it isn’t. It’s a netbook-tablet combination, running Windows 7 and working a capacitive touchscreen, so you can choose whether to type or to touch. For people who have been dying to watch TV in bed on a larger screen, but can’t because Hulu or other media websites don’t work on their iPads or Android tablets, the Duo is the perfect solution. The Duo will also replace your netbook with a more powerful Atom processor and a huge 320GB hard drive. It’s available for pre-order for $550, and will officially release December 15.
For a gamer, there’s nothing worse than not being able to play when on the road. For netbook owners, there’s nothing worse than finding out your computer is too slow to do everything you need. Dell and Alienware have fixed both problems in one sweeping move with the M11x, including the latest Intel i5 processor and enough powerful hardware to make even the most intensive programs weep. It all comes in a small 11″ formfactor, and will still last you a good 5-6 hours per charge. Starting at $950.
It may only be for your most loved and favorite person in the whole world, but we’ve found that the Macbook Air 11″ is a tremendously successful gift. Field tested with one writer’s sister, who received one for her pre-holiday birthday, she loved it has used it happily ever since. Indeed, the Macbook Air may be the best gift you could ever give someone for this holiday season. It’s thin, it’s light, it’s fast and it’s just plain cool. We’ll have a full review shortly, but be content with the knowledge that if you’re willing to put down the cash, the Macbook Air is an instant hit. Starting at $1000.
Gifts for Gamers
Gamers are a special breed…you’ve probably noticed already. Thankfully, there are tons of great gifts you can buy for gamers this holiday, so we’ve limited our list to the absolute best gift ideas.
From top left, clockwise: Logitech F540, $150, is a wireless stereo gaming headset we reviewed that proved excellent thanks to great sound quality and convenience through wirelessly working with a TV and two consoles simultaneously. OnLive’s Microconsole, $99, is like an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, but instead of putting in discs to play games, OnLive streams games from the company’s servers. I tested it out and the service really works, if you’ve got a fast internet connection. The Apple iPad, $499-$829 and iPod Touch 4th Gen, $219-$399 are both great gaming devices, and have thus far proved superior to their game-console competitors, both in available games and overall quality and use. If there are any games you should look to buy, it’s definitely Red Dead Redemption and it’s Undead Nightmare downloadable content or Call of Duty: Black Ops.
But by far, the most fun with gaming over the holiday season is going to be had with Microsoft’s Kinect, $150, which we looked at and have enjoyed quite a bit. PC gamers, however, will definitely want to upgrade their hardware, and the mouse is the most important part. Madcatz’ RAT 9, $130, is a fully adjustable mouse, so it’ll work for anyone! And it’s wireless too, making it not only a great gift, but a great mouse. For mobile gamers looking for a more intensive gaming experience on the road, we recommend picking up the God of War PSP bundle, which includes a custom red and black PSP, along with a few extra goodies. Finally, a gift any gamer will love even if they have no use for it, the Collectors Edition Tron Controllers, $50, which light up any dark room with bright blue lights reminiscent of the film.
Hardware and Bundles
Know someone who just loves Halo? Surprise them with one of two gifts, the Halo Reach Xbox 360 Bundle, $500, which sports two special edition controllers, the 250GB Xbox 360 Slim with a custom Halo: Reach decal, and a copy of Halo: Reach. Or, if they already own an Xbox 360, you can instead get the Halo: Reach Legendary Edition, $99, which comes with the game, statue, special case and book. Finally on the subject of Halo is the Halo Reach Wireless Headset, $45, to replace that old dinky wired one.
For non-Xbox owners, a brand new Xbox 360 Slim is a great option. There are many deals for both the 4GB and 250GB models, though we recommend the latter. That extra space will significantly improve the quality of the console over the long term. Some models are bundled with Kinect, and a few are selling for very cheap with several Kinect games.
While we’re sure everyone already owns a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops, no one in their right mind can turn down the Prestige Edition, a $150 package with the game, several special download codes, an honorary medal, poster, and a sweet RC car. Anyone you give the Prestige Edition will feel like a million bucks.
For Nintendo Wii owners, the gift buys are very easy to make. A Tron Collector’s Edition controller, or FlingSmash bundled with the new Wii MotionPlus remote, are both great buys at $50 each. Goldeneye, a remake of the Nintendo 64 classic which inspired great FPS titles like Halo, is exclusive for the Wii console and includes online play. To take advantage of that, we recommend the Call of Duty headset from PDP, $25. It’s comfortable to wear and requires no batteries to operate.
Actual games may be the best gift for gamers, as long as you know what they don’t already have. That may be tough…but don’t despair! Here’s a quick list of great titles so you have plenty of backups, just in case!
Red Dead Redemption + Undead Nightmare (PS3, 360): Red Dead Redemption may well be the best game to release this year, and developer Rockstar Games just released the Undead Nightmare DLC disc, which includes four add-ons, three for multiplayer and a fourth zombie-licious single-player addition of Undead Nightmare, a fun and exciting fight against the rising dead in the wild west. There is no game we could recommend more. The Undead Nightmare disc is also a standalone, and does not require Red Dead Redemption to play (but the DLC, if purchased through PSN or XBL, will require the disc).
Rock Band 3 (PS3, 360): It’s the ultimate band game, one you’ll play either alone or with friends for hours and hours daily. It’s also the best way to learn a real instrument (for a videogame, that is), thanks to the pro guitar and “keytar”, a piano controller. With an all-new training regiment made specifically to teach players how to play these real instruments, and a huge tracklist of 80+ songs plus any game in the previous Rock Band titles, Rock Band 3 makes for one of the best gift ideas, especially in a bundle package with the pro instruments.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (PS3, 360): Assassin’s Creed has always had a lot of problems as a game, but it’s still a fun game that is a good holiday buy. The thrill of the chase is now supplemented by multiplayer, so your gift may well work in your favor. Pick up two copies, one for you and a friend.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3, 360): The big racing game this year may be Gran Turismo 5, but Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit isn’t looking for realism. It’s looking for good, fast fun. And it succeeds beyond our wildest dreams, making it often more enjoyable than racing simulators with high-speed chases down Pacific Coast Highway, ridiculously fast and powerful cars, and a lot of epic crashes.
DJ Hero 2 (PS3, 360, Wii): DJ Hero is not the type of game one might expect for a gift, and indeed it’s a weird little game. It’s also tremendously fun, and with a great tracklist, even one player can enjoy mixing with the turntable controller. DJ Hero 2 a huge step up from the original, and up to three players can play, two on turntables and one singing.
God of War 3 (PS3): The final chapter in the acclaimed franchise, God of War 3 pushes the boundaries in gaming with incredible scope and detail. Levels atop titans, swooping backgrounds that appear completely fluid in-game…these technological marvels are stunning, and only supplement the greater narrative and gameplay aspects of the title. Anyone who hasn’t played God of War 3 is surely missing out. Just make sure you don’t give this one to the kids.
The Sly Collection (PS3): Anyone familiar with the Sly Cooper games will immediately know that they are excellent, fun games that anyone can enjoy. Sony has done a great job at remastering the three titles for the Playstation 3, and has re-released all three for the price of one! They’ve even included Move and 3D support, for anyone with the motion controllers and/or a 3DTV.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii): Everyone and their mother with a Wii has played Super Mario Galaxy 2, but Kirby’s Epic Yarn is Nintendo’s latest smash hit, one that’s cute and playful while still very enjoyable for all ages. You can’t go wrong with this gift, whether it’s to an adult or their kids, with this one.
Goldeneye 007 (Wii): A remake of the N64 original, Goldeneye brings back the famed multiplayer that made the original so promising to the Wii, with Online play and a full new campaign. Play with either the Wii remote or classic controller (or Gamecube controller) with friends and have a blast, just like we did over 13 years ago.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP): It’s Metal Gear. For the PSP. Your kids won’t get it, but you certainly will.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP): God of War 3 is the end of the series on the Playstation 3, but Ghost of Sparta is the finale on the smaller PSP. It’s as grandiose as ever, with a daring tale and remarkably huge gameplay and visuals that makes the dated console feel young again.
Warioware: DIY (DS): The Warioware franchise has always been about solving puzzles quickly, but DIY goes a step further by letting players make their own puzzles. The puzzle creation system is easy, and anyone can make one in just minutes. It’s like a digital Lego, with motors and points.
Super Scribblenauts (DS): Scribblenauts, the acclaimed Nintendo DS title which allowed players to type in words to magically create objects on-screen to use for solving puzzles, returns wackier than ever with an even larger dictionary and even more puzzles to solve. Kids and teens alike will enjoy Super Scribblenauts, and chances are they’ll even learn something from it!
Sonic Colors (DS): It’s a new 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game, that isn’t bad like the recent slew. ’nuff said.
Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty (PC): If whomever you’re getting gifts for doesn’t already have this, it should be because they couldn’t afford it, and only because of that. Otherwise, you’ll either reignite some addiction or be hated for givingthem a game that kills all their time. Great for people you want to keep away for weeks at a time.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC): The scariest game to come out ever, according to many a bed-wetting fans, who have literally soiled themselves while playing this indie game. We have heard too many terrible stories to describe here, but there is no doubt that for PC gamers, while it may not seem like a great gift idea, most people haven’t even heard of Amnesia.
For PSP owners not living in Japan, there hasn’t been a camera available for the console after years of promises and demands. That’s finally changed with the release of Invizimals, an augmented reality game where unique creatures appear in the real world, but only on your PSP screen. It’s great fun, especially for kids, and we highly recommend it for PSP owners.
Stay tuned, more updates will come as…well, as they come!
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.