20 Hottest Tech Gifts of 2011
This year the hottest holiday tech gear is all about being really big or really small, whether it's a massive HDTV or a svelte ultraportable laptop. Following is a list of what industry experts say are 2011's hottest holiday tech gifts.
Whether you want to spend $50 or $500, we can help you find the right gift for anyone. And relax: You still have plenty of shopping time left!
Apple's List-Topping Tablet
Apple iPad 2 ($499 and up)
No, it isn't new. And Apple may soon replace it. But that doesn't mean that the iPad 2 isn't this year's must-have item. It is. This is the year of the tablet, and the tablet that everyone wants is the iPad. Enough said.
Amazon Kindle Fire ($200); Barnes & Noble Nook ($250)
With the cheapest iPad selling for $499, Apple's tablet certainly won't land under everyone's tree this year. But have no fear: Less expensive--and yet equally capable--tablets are also available. Currently the spotlight is on Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's $250 Nook. Both run the Android OS, both serve as e-readers, and both offer access to plenty of content.
Hot Holiday Smartphones
Apple iPhone 4S ($200 to $400 on AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon); HTC Rezound ($300 on Verizon); Motorola Droid Razr ($300 on Verizon)
Though 2011 may be the year of the tablet, smartphones remain a must-have item. Apple's latest iPhone, the iPhone 4S, boasts an impressive camera and the best smartphone display around. Android fans will enjoy HTC's multimedia-friendly Rezound, which will come prepared to support Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. And don't forget Motorola's Droid Razr, which features the slim design made famous by the very first Razr handset, but adds the brains of a smartphone and 4G speeds.
Really, Really Big TVs
Samsung UN55C7000 55-Inch LCD TV ($1700)
With a price tag that's even bigger than its screen, Samsung's slick HDTV isn't for everyone. But giant TVs are topping some wish lists this holiday season: This model was the most searched-for electronics item on PriceGrabber.com on Black Friday. Here's hoping my husband was among those looking for it this year--I'd love to have this screen grace our living room.
Samsung LN32D403 32-Inch LCD ($330); LG 32LV3400 32-Inch LED TV ($330)
Don't have room in your budget--or your living room--for a monstrous HDTV? You're not alone: Plenty of shoppers are opting for HDTVs with smaller screens. And you can find all sorts of bargains. As Consumer Reports has pointed out, many TVs are available for right around $300. As of this writing, BestBuy.com offers Samsung's 32-inch TV for $330, and Walmart.com sells LG's superslim 32-inch LED TV for $330 as well.
LG BD670 ($180); Sony BDP-S780 ($230)
If you weren't one of the lucky (or, perhaps, crazy) Black Friday bargain hunters who scored a $40 Blu-ray player, you have plenty of other models to consider. LG's excellent 3D-ready player impressed PCWorld's reviewer with its superb image quality, while Sony's more expensive Blu-ray player scored points for its connected services and its Web browser.
The Force, in Full HD
Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray ($90)
Now that you have the big-screen TV and the Blu-ray player, it's time to add the ultimate gift for the Star Wars lover in your life: all six Star Wars films, now on Blu-ray Disc. The Complete Saga release features each movie on its own disc, plus three discs of extras. May the Force be with you as you watch.
Lenovo IdeaPad U300s ($1000 and up)
Let's face it: Looks matter, even when you're talking about laptop computers. That's why Ultrabooks are hot. These thin-and-light laptops take a page from Apple's playbook, and offer attractive designs coupled with beefed-up specs. One of the hottest Ultrabooks on the market is Lenovo's IdeaPad U300s. It's a Windows PC that's as pretty as Apple's popular MacBook Air.
A Full-Featured Laptop
Dell XPS 15z (starting at $900)
Sure, Ultrabooks are sleek and stylish--but they aren't for everyone. Sometimes, a bigger, beefier laptop is a more appropriate gift. If you're in the market for one, check out Dell's XPS 15z. This laptop actually offers a pretty slim design, but packs in plenty of power for all your computing needs.
Amazon Kindle ($79); Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch ($99)
For those folks on your list who don't need a full-fledged tablet and who simply want to sit and read, an ebook reader is just the thing. These days, you have more models to choose from than ever before, and they offer better features and lower prices than we've seen in the past. Amazon's basic Kindle starts at $79, though you'll have to add $30 if you don't want the recipient to be bothered by Amazon's "special offers," aka ads. Barnes & Noble's entry-level model is the $99, ad-free Nook Simple Touch.
Microsoft Xbox 360 ($150 and up); Sony PlayStation 3 ($250 and up); Nintendo Wii ($100 and up)
Sure, these game consoles aren't new. But they remain popular with shoppers and recipients alike (popular enough to incite a pepper-spray attack, it seems). If you're planning to scoop up one of these consoles, remember to keep an eye out for deals (similar to the price cut on the PS3 last August) and consider buying a bundle that includes a motion controller, such as Microsoft's Kinect or Sony's PlayStation Move.
Games, Games, Games
3D Gaming, Gone Mobile
Nintendo 3DS ($170)
Nintendo has taken handheld gaming to another dimension with the 3DS. This little device offers glasses-free 3D viewing that worked well enough to impress PCWorld's Game On blogger. Nintendo is working on some of the handheld's biggest flaws (high price, lack of available titles), making the 3DS a must-have on many holiday lists.
Digital SLR Cameras
Canon EOS Rebel T3i ($800)
Sure, smartphones may be pushing simple point-and-shoot cameras out the door, but there's still a market for higher-end digital SLRs. Lots of folks (me! me!) want one, thanks to the impressive image quality, fast shutter speed, and excellent video quality they offer. One of the most requested DSLRs is the Canon Rebel T3i, which PCWorld lauded as an excellent choice for beginners.
Set-Top Media Streamers
Apple TV ($99); Roku LT ($50)
Plenty of people want to watch all of the excellent video that's available online, but few people want to be chained to their computer to do so. That's why a media streamer such as the Apple TV or Roku's inexpensive LT can come in handy. These little boxes connect to your TV, streaming content from your computer over to your bigger screen, where it's meant to be seen.
The Story of an American Legend
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson ($20)
You don't need to be an Apple fan to have an interest in the story of Steve Jobs, but Apple devotees in particular will appreciate the insight that Walter Isaacson's biography offers. The book, which was released earlier than expected after Jobs's death in October, provides insight on his true feelings about Android (he hated it even more than you might think), and relates the story of how a simple kitchen appliance inspired the design of the Apple II.
A Tablet for the Pint-Size Crowd
LeapFrog LeapPad ($100)
Worried about handing your iPhone or iPad over to your little one? Get Junior a tablet made just for young users. LeapFrog's LeapPad is ruggedized, so you don't have to hold your breath every time it hits the floor. (Trust me, it will.) And although it may not let your youngster play Angry Birds, it does come with access to an assortment of more-educational titles.
AblePlanet Clear Harmony, NC1100B ($300); Logitech Ultimate Ears 700 ($120)
Your music player or smartphone likely came with its own headset. But audiophiles know that the best music quality comes from the best headphones, especially those that incorporate noise-canceling technology. AblePlanet's pricey Clear Harmony headphones will please those who prefer the earmuff-style headset, while Logitech's Ultimate Ears will appeal to users looking for a smaller set of earbuds.
Bluetooth Speakers and Headsets
Jawbone Era ($80); Creative D100 ($70)
Can't decide what to buy for the smartphone addict in your life? Consider a Bluetooth accessory. Jawbone makes an excellent line of hands-free headsets, including the Jawbone Era, a slick-looking device that lets you answer calls simply by shaking it. For something a little more fun, check out Creative's D100, a wireless Bluetooth speaker for playing tunes.
You can never go wrong with a gift card, especially this year. With all of those tablets and smartphones that will be unwrapped, everyone will want content to enjoy on the go. An iTunes gift card will please the iPad or iPhone owner in your life, while an Amazon gift card offers plenty of options in all sorts of product categories. And those are just the beginning; most other major stores and sites offer gift-card options too.