It’s that time again, and Black Friday is just around the corner! Time to start thinking of what technology should be landing under your tree this year! Fortunately for you, I’ve been doing all the research and have just what you need for the kids, spouses, and even the grandparents! Never fear – if it looks like I’ve missed something you want assistance with, just leave a comment below!
Smart TVs are all the rage, and its hard to deny the convenience of integrated Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, etc. This year I went hunting for some TVs that display both great performance and exceptional entertainment value. ALL the TVs I’ve selected for the list this year have built-in wireless, Smart TV apps, and full HD (1080p). Here’s my favorites for this year:
- Samsung PN60E550 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Slim Plasma HDTV (Black) - $1300 – Currently qualifying for a free Blu-Ray player, free shipping, and 2 pairs of active shutter 3D glasses!! This TV is a steal! (Also available in 51″ and 64″)
- Panasonic VIERA TC-P60GT50 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz Full HD 3D Plasma TV – $2000 – Currently qualifying for free shipping. This screen has an incredible picture with awesome color responses. Perfect for movie night! (Also available in 50″, 55″, and 65″)
- Panasonic VIERA TC-L47ET5 47-Inch 1080p 120Hz 3D Full HD IPS LED-LCD TV with 4 Pairs of Polarized 3D Glasses - $900 – Great TV with good picture quality, viewing angle, and a good frame rate (120Hz). Plus, it includes the gear to get you into 3D movies without having to buy a whole bunch of high-end, expensive equipment! (Also available in 42″ and 55″)
- VIZIO M420SL 42-Inch 120Hz LED-lit TV – $550 – High definition for a Low price! This one suffers from some minor motion blur as it doesn’t seem as responsive as the more-expensive options shown above. However, it’s still one of my favorite options AND it includes a 2-sided remote perfect for making use of the Smart TV features.
There’s no denying it, the smartphone market is still chock full o’ devices! However, the three phones below are easily the leaders in their respective operating system categories: Google, Apple, and Microsoft. I picked the three below because out of all the competitors in their class, they have the longest battery life for talk time. Here’s my picks for this year’s “hot ticket” for smartphones:
- Apple iPhone 5: If you’ve already got a huge iTunes library, just go with the iPhone. You’ll save yourself lots of headaches from trying to “sync” your iTunes library into something else. If you hate iTunes and plant to migrate to something else, consider what you already have: Kindle? Go Android (Samsung). Xbox? Go Microsoft (Nokia)!
- Samsung Galaxy S3: (Sprint [$50], Verizon [$150], AT&T [$100]) Awesome Screen, killer hardware. I’ve had hands-on time with the Samsung line, and I like this one most of all. My second choice would probably be the Galaxy Note II (Sprint [$300], AT&T [$300]).
- Nokia Lumia 920: (AT&T [$100]) Microsoft teamed up with Nokia for one heck of a smartphone! I’ve had some hands-on time with Windows 8 and it’s definitely a much better experience than the windows-phone of past. Don’t count out the Windows phones anymore, especially given the hardware this particular phone is packing (wireless charging, large display, and a wicked camera with better-than-the-rest low light performance). Additionally, if you’re jumping into the Windows 8 bandwagon on your home computer, this phone will be a natural extension of that experience and will tie in nicely with your XBox 360 if you have one!
The options for computers are endless, and prices span the gamut from hundreds to thousands of dollars. So how do you make sense of it? If someone you love has a computer on their Christmas 2012 wishlist, these few picks will help you get the biggest bang for your buck.
NOTE: If you’re going to buy a new laptop, skip the Windows 7 laptops and buy one with Windows 8. The user interface may have a *slight* initial learning curve, but the OS is far superior in stability and battery life than Windows 7 in my experience.
- Samsung 3G 11.6-Inch Chromebook - $330 – With 100Mb of free data from Verizon, this is the ultimate notebook for web surfing and travelling (especially if you find the point-and-peck of a tablet computer annoying). None of your critical data is on the laptop, there’s built-in Wi-Fi and webcam, and it boots in 8 seconds. I also recommend this as a great computer for the older generation folks in your family - free Internet, accessibility features, and pretty much impossible to “break!” If you’re content with just Wifi, you can get these for as little as $250!
- HP – Pavilion Sleekbook 14″ Laptop – 4GB Memory – 500GB Hard Drive – Black - $400 – Great entry-level laptop with Intel’s latest-generation CPU, and a decent display. Won’t break the bank, and won’t break your back when you carry it around!
- Asus – 156″ Laptop – 6GB Memory – 750GB Hard Drive – Black - $630 – Great Mid-level notebook with latest generation Intel i5 processor, larger-than-typical RAM and hard drive, and acceptable battery life… all in a black aluminum body! Nice!!
- Dell XPS 12 Convertible Laptop – Starting at $1200 – This combines the best attributes of a laptop with a mobile tablet computer. The touchscreen is incredibly responsive (trust me – I’ve had hands-on with this laptop), and you can pack some serious horsepower into it if you want. The SSD and i5 or i7 CPU makes this thing wicked fast!!
- Lenovo – IdeaPad 156″ Laptop – 8GB Memory – 750GB Hard Drive – Dawn Gray - $1010 – This laptop (while not nearly as “pretty” as others) packs LOTS of hardware. Quad-core CPU, dedicated graphics, 1080p display, and good size RAM and hard-drive. This is as close to a “gamer” laptop as you can get without getting into “gamer laptop” prices (i.e. >$1500).
- Apple MacBook Pro 13.3-Inch Laptop - $1140 – Apple recently refreshed the Macbook line, and brought better graphics and connectivity (USB3) options to all the models. I chose the Macbook Pro (MBP) 13 (rather than the Air as I did last year) because it’s design allows for relatively cheap upgrades which will extend the life of this notebook if desired. If you need more “screen real estate,” go for the 15″ MBP.
NOTE: It is hard to deny that the new Apple “Retina” Macbook Pro laptops are sweet. The display is amazing, and they pack some pretty impressive hardware specs. However, their upside in awesome is quickly balanced by their downside in supportability. Since the RAM is soldered to the motherboard and the “hard disk” is a proprietary form factor, don’t count on extending the life of a Retina MBP by upgrading components. As such, stick with the “old school” Macbook Pro!
Tablets are still a hot item on the christmas 2012 wishlist. Many folks predicted the “end of the computer,” but it looks as though many folks are still using BOTH. Tablets are most popular for their multi-use capability (e-reader, movies, music, and web), portability, and long battery life. Unless you’re buying for a die-hard computer junkie, one of these devices will cover all the basics. Here are my 2 favorites:
- Kindle Fire HD - $199 – As I mentioned last year, Amazon has definitely taken a page from Apple’s book and given you the entire “experience” – ebooks, streaming tv shows and movies (via Amazon Prime), an app store, and music all tied to your amazon ID and all backed by “the cloud.” This year the Kindle is slighly improved with better resolution and an optional upgrade to larger screen (8.9″) or 4G LTE wireless connectivity!
- Apple – iPad with Retina display Wi-Fi – 16GB – Black - starting at $499 – As I’ve said before, I love my iPad. I have the first generation with 3G built-in, and I find it incredibly convenient. The new iPad mini looks like an attractive entry into the iPad fray, but there have been numerous reviews and user complaints about the screen versus the regular-old iPad 2 and/or the iPad Retina. I’ve played with both at the Apple Store… and for the money I’d rather pony up the extra bucks for the full-blown iPad!! If you want to go “mini” or save a few bucks… go Kindle HD.
- Microsoft Surface – $499 – If you own a Microsoft xBox, you may want to give this tablet a look. Heck, even if you don’t own an xBox, you should still give this a look. With Office RT apps pre-loaded, this tablet is probably the closest you can get to a sub-$600 tablet-based desktop replacement for home. It’s got excellent build quality and a great screen. I also really like how the “cover” contains a trackpad and a keyboard!!
IMPORTANT: I have found myself in places where either there was no Wi-Fi or it wasn’t free. I have come to depend on the 3G connection quite a bit more than I initially expected, as many of the apps I use (Mint, USA Today, social networking, etc) deliver real-time Internet-based content to the device. Keep this in mind and know the habits for the person receiving a tablet before you pull the trigger! Only the 8.9″ Kindle Fire HD and iPads can be purchased with cellular Internet connectivity.
Accessories, Peripherals, and Software:
If you’re buying for someone with a computer, you can always find some fun gifts that will add to their experience. Here’s a few of the typical “add-ons” that can enhance those electronic workhorses.
- Wireless Speaker Systems: Some of my favorites include the Jawbone JAMBOX Wireless Bluetooth Speaker and the Sonos system.
- Wireless Mouse: My favorites include the Microsoft Blue-Track mice (“works on any surface” – Mac and Windows) and Apple Magic Trackpad (Mac Only).
- Widescreen Monitor: Sometimes staring at the tiny laptop screen gets annoying. Hook your laptop up to one of these bad boys: Viewsonic 22″ LCD Widescreen ($140) or Viewsonic 24″ LED Widescreen ($190).
- Online Backup: I preach the importance of backups all over my blog, so much that I probably sound like a broken record. However, I noticed that my favorite online backup provider (BackBlaze) just released an update that made the service handy for both techie’s and non-techie’s. For a $60/year investment, you’ll have all the info on your computer (photos, music, docs, movies, etc) backed up. What’s different this year? They eliminated restrictions on file types (so now “virtual machines” are included for you techies), restrictions on file sizes (yes, now you can back up files larger than DVD sizes), and also removed some performance bottlenecks!
Need More Ideas?
Thanksgiving is only a few days away, and Black Friday is just around the corner! However, I caution against going crazy for the black friday deals as it will overrun your Christmas 2012 wishlist with poor performing gadgets. As I’ve found during my research, there are still some good deals to be had for better quality computers, tablets, and accessories.
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