15 Hottest Holiday Tech Gifts of 2010
Discriminating techies are a hard crowd to please, which makes finding the year's "it" tech gift all the more difficult. But if you're unsure where to turn, and your goal is to please, look no further for ideas.
Read on as we count down the year's 15 most desirable gifts for people who love tech.
#15: The Perfect Point-and-Shoot Camera
Today's cell phones come with better built-in cameras than they offered in the past, but a phone is still no replacement for a high-quality point-and-shoot camera. And one of the coolest point-and-shoots around is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX9. This 12.2-megapixel shooter comes with a 3.5-inch touch screen (that's the same size as the screen on an iPhone 4), a 3D shooting mode, 1080i video recording, and a panorama mode--and yet it maintains a sleek, sexy design. Just try to find another phone that offers all of those features.
Priced at about $349, the Cyber-shot TX9 doesn't come cheap. If you don't want to shell out that much money this year, consider opting for one of the other models on our chart of the Top-Rated Point-and-Shoot Cameras. Or if you're buying for a photographer who wants a little more power, check out our Top 10 Pocket Megazooms chart for models that provide a larger optical zoom range than typical point-and-shoot cameras do.
#14: An Advanced Digital SLR
A point-and-shoot camera is perfect for someone who just wants to snap a few photos. But if you have an advanced photographer on your holiday shopping list--or a person who loves capturing high-quality images--a digital SLR camera may be a better match. Prices in this category are lower than ever, and the cameras themselves offer more tools for beginners and pros alike. One of the best-selling DSLR models is Canon's EOS Rebel T2i. This 18-megapixel shooter features a 3-inch LCD, a Full HD movie mode, and more.Its $750 price tag may seem steep, but cameras of this quality sold for twice as much a year or so ago.
When you buy a DSLR, make sure that you get a lens, too. Many cameras in this category are sold "body only," which means that you have to buy the lens separately.
#13: A Big-Screen 3D HDTV
Not every would-be Santa has $1000 or more to sink into a 3D TV this year, especially when you consider that the amount of 3D programming available is still pretty skimpy. And 3D TV is still in a rough enough stage of development that we don't recommend buying a TV just because it's 3D capable. But a 3D HDTV carries an undeniable "wow" factor, and we've identified three very fine TVs that also happen to support 3D programming: the 40-inch Samsung UN40C7000, the 40-inch Sony Bravia 40HX800, and the 55-inch Samsung UN55C8000.
Before you hand over your credit card, be sure to brush up on 3D TV technology, as not all sets--and accessories--are created equal. To get started, read "Everything You Need to Know About 3D TVs."
#12: A Connected Blu-ray Player
Looking for some hardware to complement the HDTV that a person on your list already owns? Consider a networked Blu-ray player. These set-top boxes--available from LG, Sony, and other companies--play back high-definition Blu-ray movies and offer connections to online movie services such as Netflix Watch Instantly and Amazon Video on Demand. Some even let you watch videos from YouTube or listen to music from Pandora. One Blu-ray player we like quite a lot is the $200 LG BX580.
If you're giving a Blu-ray player as a gift this year, make sure that you pick up the necessary cords and cables to run it. You may need an HDMI cord, if one isn't bundled with the player; and since a networked player requires Internet access, you may need a wireless dongle or a wired ethernet adapter to make the connection.
#11: Roku Set-Top Box
If you expect that movies on disc are going to be obsolete soon, you might want to skip the Blu-ray player and opt for a networked set-top box, like those from Roku, instead. These convenient devices connect to your television and to the Internet to deliver online content--such as movies and TV shows from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu--directly to your TV.
Roku sells three set-top box models: the $60 Roku HD, the $80 Roku XD (which adds support for 1080p video and Wireless N), and the $100 Roku XD/S (which adds dual-band wireless N and a USB port).
#10: The Perfect Game
No game is hotter than the new Call of Duty: Black Ops. It debuted to rave reviews last month and quickly broke sales records--and it sits atop many gamers' wish lists year this year. But if your favorite gamer already owns this first-person shooter, don't despair: Black Ops isn't your only gaming gift option. Also popular this year are Halo: Reach (one of the hottest Xbox 360 games ever) and Gran Turismo 5 (for PlayStation 3).
#9: MiFi: Still Hot
The MiFi, a slim card that you can use to create your own hotspot, has been around for a couple of years, but it's usefulness has exploded in recent months as more and more devices--like iPads and smartphones--stand to benefit from the wireless Internet access it offers. The MiFi picks up a 3G (or 4G) signal from a cellular carrier and uses it to create a personal wireless hotspot, to which you can connect as many as five devices.
Various cellular carriers--including Verizon Wireless (which bundles the MiFi with the iPad), Sprint, and now AT&T--offer the MiFi. You can buy the device itself for a low price upfront, but most carriers require that you commit to a two-year service contract, at about $35 a month, in order to get the card at a discount. Alternatively, you can purchase the MiFi from Virgin Mobile for $149 (a significantly higher price) with no service contract required.
#8: Apple iPod
The iPod is not new by any means, but Apple's portable audio and video player remains one of the most sought-after items year after year. Though other players may offer better audio quality and may support more audio and video file formats, Apple's models are easily the most recognizable. And they remain an attractive, easy-to-use option for almost anyone on your gift list.
#7: A Super Smartphone
In recent years, the Apple iPhone 4 would have topped most gadget lovers' wish lists. And the new iPhone 4 does remain a lusted-after item. But Apple's appeal has paled a bit this year, due in part to the iPhone 4's antenna troubles and in part to the ascension of smartphones that run Google's Android OS. Android phones have exploded in popularity this year, with more models than ever available.
Two of the best Android phones on the market are also the speediest: the Samsung Epic 4G, which runs on Sprint's 4G network, and the T-Mobile myTouch 4G, which runs on the carrier's enhanced HSPA+ network. Though it isn't a true 4G network, HSPA+ delivers better speeds than a typical 3G network can manage.
You can find either of these phones for $250 or less, but you'll also have to pay for monthly service and commit to a lengthy service contract. Be aware, too, that you'll pay a premium for Sprint's 4G service; T-Mobile doesn't charge extra for its faster service.
#6: The Gift They Really Want: Gift Cards
Let your favorite gadget lovers decide their own destiny by giving them gift cards. No, buying gift cards doesn't mean that you don't care enough to select the perfect present for each one. It means that you're thoughtful enough to recognize that your recipients may know more about the gadgets they want than you do.
Apple, Amazon, and Best Buy are among the retailers that top most techies' wish lists, as they offer a wide selection of today's most popular gear. Before buying any gift card, though, find out whether the retailer charges fees and whether the cards expire after a certain length of time. State laws exist to protect consumers who buy and receive gift cards; if you have any concerns, find out what the laws are where you live.
#5: GPS: Get Them Where They Want to Be
A cell phone or smartphone can function as a GPS device, getting you from point A to point B. But do you want your phone to pull double duty all the time? If not, a stand-alone GPS device can come in handy. And the best models, such as the Garmin Nuvi 3790T and the TomTom XXL 540m, have features that even today's best phones can't match. For instance, the XXL 540m packs in a 5-inch screen,and the Nuvi 3790T offers some of the best voice recognition technology we've seen in a GPS.
#4: Give Peace a Chance With the Beatles
It was a long time coming, but the Beatles have finally landed on iTunes. Mark the occasion this holiday season by purchasing one of the band's 13 original studio albums, each of which is priced at $13 each. Or make this a holiday season to remember by giving a special someone the Beatles Box Set. This $149 collection includes all 13 studio albums, plus Past Masters--mini-documentary features on each album, photos, notes, and video of the Beatles' 1964 concert at Washington Coliseum, in Washington, D.C.
To give gifts from the iTunes store, you click the option to buy an item, and then select 'Gift This Album' from the pull-down list of options that appears. The iTunes store will then ask you to provide the recipient's name and e-mail address, and you have the option to include a personal message with the gift.
#3: Get Them Moving
Motion-based video games are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the recent release of two motion controllers: the Sony PlayStation Move and the Microsoft Kinect. The Move, a wand controller for the PlayStation 3, and the Kinect, a hands-free controller for the Xbox 360, let players control their consoles through motion.
Before you buy either of these controllers, though, remember that your recipient will need the game console that goes along with it--and buying both the controller and the console can be an expensive proposition. Your gift recipient will also need a few games to get moving with.
#2: The Original E-Book Reader
Amazon's Kindle was the first e-reader to gain mass-market popularity, and it remains the device most people think of when they think of contraptions to read e-books on. Now in its third generation, the Kindle is more refined than ever, with a thinner and lighter design, and improved performance over earlier editions. The new Kindle is available in two versions: a model with Wi-Fi only for $139, and a model that offers both Wi-Fi and 3G for $189. If you'd prefer a model with a bigger screen, consider the Kindle DX, which features a 9.7-inch display.
If the person you're buying for appreciates color, the new Barnes and Noble NookColor may be a good choice. This Android-based e-reader has a 7-inch color touchscreen and will offer access to apps in 2011.
Whichever e-reader you opt for, remember that the device itself is only as interesting as the content it contains. So why not preload it with a few titles--Project Gutenberg has more than 33,000 downloadable public-domain titles and links to more than 100,000 more--or include a gift card so that your recipient can start gathering e-books right away?
The iPad revolutionized the market for tablet computers, quickly becoming the must-have tech gadget of the year. So it's no surprise that Apple's device tops our list of the must-have tech gifts this holiday season. It may seem obvious, but try to find someone on your holiday list who wouldn't love an iPad. And if you can't find anyone who wants one, feel free to send it to me.
You have plenty of options when buying an iPad. Apple sells the devices directly, offering Wi-Fi-only models (16GB for $499, 32GB for $599, or 64GB for $699), and Wi-Fi + 3G models, which come with AT&T service (16GB for $629, 32GB for $729, and 64GB for $829). The Wi-Fi + 3G model requires service from AT&T; though you don't have to commit to a service contract, you must pay $15 or $30 per month for the service if you want to take advantage of it.
Alternatively, you can buy the iPad at Best Buy or Walmart, both of which offer the same models and prices found at the Apple Store. Verizon Wireless sells the iPad, too, but it doesn't offer one with 3G service. Instead, the cellular carrier bundles the iPad with its MiFi 2200, which creates its own wireless hotspot. The MiFi is a pretty cool gadget on its own (after all, it already earned a spot on this list), so purchasing an iPad from Verizon is like getting two gifts in one.