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2009 Holiday Gift Buying Guide

This Holiday, with the economy in the tentative state that its in, I’ve had a number of people approach me with similar questions about techie gifts for their loved ones.  What should I get?  How much is too much to spend? Where do I start?

Those are all great questions.  I’ve got a couple of suggestions for the technology minded.  Let’s take a quick look at what’s available and you can make the best decisions for you, your family, and your budget…and don’t worry.  This really isn’t as difficult as you think it is.  Oh; and by the way. Just for the record, I am NOT an Apple fan boy… You’ll understand why in a moment.

Mobile Devices
Yes, kids…its a Smartphone kind of year.  HTC is tearing it up with introductions in the Windows Phone and Android platforms, on nearly all four major wireless carriers.  However, before you can get started, you need to pick a wireless carrier. If you have a regional carrier (like US Cellular, here in the Chicago-land area) with a killer deal, look at it long and hard before passing it up for one of the majors.  However, here’s my quick set of guidelines for the major carriers:

Verizon Wireless

    1. – If you do a lot of travelling, go with them.  They have signal everywhere (there IS a map for that).  However, be prepared to pay a premium for the better coverage.  They have to make up the cost of implementing their network somehow, and they’ve passed it on to their customers.  Their phone choices are getting better with the Motorola Droid, but they generally suck.

Recommended Device – The Moto Droid.  This iPhone competitor won’t replace the iPhone, and its not without its own challenges, but by all accounts, its a great device.

The Motorola Droid on Verizon Wireless


AT&T Wireless – Depending on your geographic location, your coverage may be better than what we have here in Chicago-land.  For me, the coverage is WAY less than desirable; but they have decent phones, including the iPhone.  Pick AT&T (generally) if you’re looking for the latest devices, or if you gift of choice this Holiday Season is the iPhone. Its going to exist nowhere else until June 2010 at the earliest.

Recommended Device – The Apple iPhone (obviously).  If you’re looking for the iPhone experience, NOTHING out there on any other carrier is going to be able to replace it.

The Apple iPhone is THE quintessential Smartphone…


Sprint – Sprint shares some (but not all) towers with Verizon Wireless.  They are a middle of the ground carrier when it comes to service, rate plans and phone choices.  Be careful when looking at Sprint, their retention rates are low, and there’s rumors that they are being looked at by Deutch Telekom (they own T-Mobile).

Recommend Device – The HTC Touch Pro 2.  This Windows Phone is one of the best on the market, made by the darling of the Smartphone arena.


The HTC Touch Pro 2 is a great Windows Phone…


T-Mobile – They have the best rate plans in town. Period. Their coverage generally stinks so if you’re budget minded and looking for a phone for a loved one this Holiday Season, check T-Mobile’s coverage map first. Travelers will be out of luck with T-Mo, as their National coverage tends to stick to about 1500 yards either side of a nearby interstate highway.  Here in Chicago-land however, their coverage is better than AT&T.  Their phone choices are also not too bad, with at least two new Windows Phones and three Android phones.

Recommended Device – The Moto CLIQ. This Android powered phone is a social network junkie’s dream, bringing all of your favorite networks down into one convenient interface.  Watch for my review of the device on Just Another Mobile Monday.

The Moto CLIQ’s strengths lie in social networking…


MP3 Players
Despite what Microsoft is trying to do with the Zune and the Zune HD, Apple really wrote the book on the portable music player. If you’re looking to get a loved one an MP3 player, in my mind the question to ask yourself is what kind of iPod to get, and how big.  In my mind, there are really two choices – iPod Shuffle, the iPod Nano, or the iPod Touch.

No…I didn’t miscount. The Apple iPod is the quintessential music player. Its form, function and unfortunately, its price point singularly distinguish it as the multimedia player to have.

iPod Shuffle

      1. The Shuffle is the entry level iPod, giving you random playback of selected songs.  If budget is an issue for you, this is the way to get the iPod experience at under $100. Its a difficult deal to pass up; and the iTunes experience is worth the cost.
Starting at just $59, the Shuffle just may be the iPod for you…


iPod Nano
The Nano, with its new video camera offers video (obviously…movies and TV shows), pictures, and music for under $200 bucks. With the inclusion of the aforementioned video camera, it takes social to a whole new level.  This is the iPod that most teens and tweens want. Its small, offers varying color choices and gives them a creative outlet with its internal video camera.  Starting at $150 bucks, this is a really nice holiday gift, one that most everyone would like.

Starting at $159, the iPod Nano with video is a teen’s holiday dream come true…


iPod Touch
While Apple will tell you that the Touch is for everyone, its really a high end device, targeted at gamers and geeks. Starting at $199 for a meager 8GB, this device is the next portable, handheld gaming platform of choice, provided Apple doesn’t annoy all of their developers out of the business.

Starting at $199 for just 8Gb, the Touch is a high end gaming device…


Without getting into a netbook, because some of them are just too small in size for some people, basic laptops can cost anywhere from $299.99 to $499.99. Be careful here.  If you’re in the market for a new portable PC, get something that provides anywhere from 1.5-2.0gHz of speed and at least 1GB of RAM.  Any speed CD/DVD writer will work, and any size hard drive 160GB or higher will provide adequate storage for a reasonable price.  RAM and hard drives are easy upgrades for notebooks later, and with prices on both coming down, you can add extra life later to a purchase today.

Recommended Budget Buy – For $389.99 you can get this Acer Aspire AS5517-5086 Notebook from Tiger Direct.

Refurbished or used Mac desktops can be a GREAT value.  Macs tend to hold their value longer than Windows PC’s; and used or refurbished Macs are WONDERFUL media PC’s when hooked to an HDTV or HT monitor.  They also make a great first PC for young kids and educational software, especially if the desktop you find is an Intel based Mac (so it can run Windows in a Boot Camp partition).  Check eBay or Craig’s List for these kinds of deals.

Recommended Budget Buy – For a mere $189.99, you can get an eMachines ET1810-01 desktop computer from Tiger Direct. 

Check out Tiger Direct, near Aurora, or New Egg for some other really great deals.

I hope this buyer’s guide has given you some ideas. Buying tech-toys or gifts isn’t hard when you understand what’s out there and what their limitations are.

Have a Happy Holiday!

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